Gaza, Pakistan and ignoble US legacy

The anti-government protests now raging in Pakistan and the travails of Hamas in Palestine remind me of Nurul Amin, my mentor. He served, at different times, as prime minister of Pakistan and Bangladesh, which was then East Pakistan.

In February 1972, in Rawalpindi, Amin was telling me about the political intrigues that had led to several military-bureaucratic coups against democratic governments in Pakistan. “Did you notice,” he asked, “that all of those who threw out democratic governments kept promising to give us ‘true democracy’?”

Nevertheless, the elder statesman was hopeful of the eventual triumph of democracy in Pakistan and elsewhere. Like the proverbial cat, he said, “democracy has nine lives.” Pakistanis would take time to cultivate “the art of democracy and guard it” against usurpers, as did most Western countries. Until then “you will see our generals and politicians giving lip service to democracy,” while scrambling to “grab power by any means.”

In Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League party won the 2013 parliamentary elections, which it probably rigged. Opposition leaders Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, instead of working to insure that the next elections are free and fair, have paralyzed parts of Islamabad, the capital, with crowds agitating for Sharif’s resignation as prime minister. I wonder if they’re playing into the hands of Pakistan’s notoriously power-hungry army generals. In the past, Pakistani generals have used most of the country’s major political crises as excuses for military coups against civilian governments.  I’m especially disappointed by Imran Khan’s role in this anti-democratic drama. I admire his progressive social and political agenda.

Egypt is another stark example of the betrayal of democracy. In 2012 Egyptians had their first-ever free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections. Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood won and formed the government. But the Egyptian military and “liberal” groups didn’t like it. They called in the army and got President Mohammed Mursi’s democratic government overthrown, returning to the military-led pseudo-dictatorship with which they’re more familiar.

More ironic is the assaults on Palestinian democracy by the world’s most eloquent advocate of democracy and human rights: the United States. In 2006 the Palestinians, prodded by Condoleezza Rice and other Bush administration officials, held their first-ever free and fair elections. Hamas won the parliamentary vote by a landslide and formed the government. The Americans and Israelis didn’t like it. Instead of congratulating the Palestinians for ushering in democracy in hostile environment, they instigated the losers in those elections, the Fatah, to stage a coup against the Hamas-led government. President Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader, held on to power in the West Bank, now in the ninth year into his four-year term! Hamas continued to rule the Gaza Strip, as it carried on its armed struggle to liberate Palestinians from the Israeli colonial rule.

That wasn’t the end of the punishment Hamas has suffered for winning the Palestinian elections. With American blessings, Israel collaborated with pro-Israeli Egyptian dictatorships to place the 1.8 million people of Gaza under a most gruesome economic blockade. Americans and Israelis had hoped that the extreme hardships caused by the blockade would turn Gazans against their Hamas regime. They haven’t.

Israel remains undaunted by these setbacks. Early last month the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led Israel into its third war against Hamas, vowing to disarm it and other Islamist groups in Gaza. The war ended with Hamas and the Islamic Jihad standing and valiantly fighting the invading forces. In a charade of truce talks held in Cairo, Israel and Egypt pressured the Islamists relentlessly to achieve what the powerful Israeli armed forces couldn’t: Disarm Hamas. They couldn’t. Hamas and Jihad have resumed their armed struggle for freedom, while Israel rains its U.S.-supplied bombs on the already devastated Gaza.

Sadly, America has set the precedents for the assaults on democracy in non-Western societies. Successive U.S. administrations coddled all five Pakistani dictatorships that had supplanted democratic governments. Besides, America used the CIA to overthrow nearly a dozen democratic governments in South and Central America, the Middle East and Asia, and replaced them with repressive pro-American dictatorships.

All the same, I see the masses in Pakistan and around the world pulsating with democratic fervor. I remember Nurul Amin’s prediction about the eventual success of democratic movements. Britain went through seven turbulent centuries – marked by regicide, religious pogroms, and bloody ethnic and trans-national warfare – to mature as a full-blown democracy.

America needed two centuries to settle down as a real democracy. American women didn’t win their voting rights until 1920 and African Americans didn’t achieve theirs until 1965. As I wrote elsewhere, developing countries should be able to build enduring democratic institutions much faster than did Westerners. Among other things, the dramatic spread of education and modernization will help them to do so.

As an American citizen, however, I’m troubled by the United States’ legacy in man’s epic march toward freedom and fulfillment. When future historians would be recounting democratic movements in non-Western societies, they wouldn’t, I’m afraid, condone America’s continual hostility to those the edifying and heroic human endeavors.

The United States can’t expect to regain its moral stature in the world until it realigns itself with forces of freedom and democracy. A good place to start would be Palestine. The Obama administration should dissociate America from the scandalous anachronism of Israeli colonialism. It should stop shielding Israel against charges of war crimes in Gaza, brought by the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Nothing could have been more shameful for Americans than seeing their government casting the solitary vote against opening the U.N. investigation.

This Gaza war is a watershed in Palestinians’ 66-year struggle for freedom and independence from Israeli subjugation. It has shown that Israel, the superpower in the Middle East, could slaughter more than 2,000 Gazans and destroy their homes, economy and infrastructure, but couldn’t dent their resolve to rid themselves of Israeli suppression and oppression. It has shown, too, that the world, with the deplorable exception of the United States, has little patience for Israeli colonialism.

I know that Palestine will jettison, sooner than later, Israel’s colonial tutelage. I don’t know how long it will take America to jettison its ignoble role as the lone defender of the world’s lone colonial power.

  • Mustafa Malik, an international affairs columnist in Washington, hosts the blog ‘Beyond Freedom,’ http://beyond-freedom.com.

 

 

Back to old Palestine?

Political columnist Pat Buchanan once described Capitol Hill as the third “Israeli-occupied territory” after the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  Those days the White House frequently resisted Israeli pressure to support its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, while Congress routinely supported the Israeli stance.

Thursday, the Obama administration voted against the U.N. resolution that recognized the two Palestinian territories as a “state,” which has yet to become a full member of the world body. The U.S. vote was a high watermark in the current and last administrations’ support of  Israeli colonial policies. Meanwhile, Israel has pulled out of Gaza.  Buchanan could now argue that the White House has replaced Gaza as the third Israeli-occupied territory!

Israel has retaliated against the U.N. recognition of the Palestinian state by announcing the revival of a 3,000-home Jewish settlement project in a territory adjacent to Jerusalem, known as E1.  The project would cut through the West Bank, making the creation of a viable state impossible,. Hence it had been suspended in 2009 under intense international pressure.

So  what could come of the 138-9 U.N. vote recognizing the Palestinian state? Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president,  had told cheering General Assembly delegates that their  landmark resolution would “save the two-state solution and  salvage peace,” which he vowed to pursue through “negotiations” with the Israelis.

I wish I am wrong, but I see his vow to achieve negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians a pipe dream.  It’s  19 years since the Oslo Peace Accords launched the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations. During those on-again, off-again talks, successive Israeli governments — both right-wing and centrist — have made abundantly clear that their maximum concessions would fall far short of Palestinians’ minimum demands.  Those demands include the creation of a sovereign state in the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in East Jerusalem and return of thousands of Palestinian refugees to their homes and lands in Israel from where they were expelled by Jews in 1948.

The Oslo Accords created the Palestinian Authority and assigned it the task of freezing the Palestinian struggle that could threaten Israel’s security.  While the PA kept a lid on anti-Israeli protests and violence in the West Bank, Israel went on gobbling up  large swaths of the Palestinian lands through the creation of new Jewish settlements. Together with the E1 project, these settlements are meant to be “facts on the ground” that would leave no room for a workable Palestinian state.

On the Palestinian and Arab side, swirling democracy movements have created another set of facts on the ground, which  has further diminished the prospect of a “two-state solution,” meaning the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.  Democracy has cost Israel the two biggest pillars of its regional security system: Egypt and Turkey. For decades pro-Western secularist regimes in both these states maintained extensive security and commercial ties with Israel, defying their citizens’ overwhelming support for Palestinians and their nationalist cause. In both countries now, democratically elected Muslim governments are strongly opposed to Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and suppression of Palestinians. During the recent Gaza conflict, the intervention of the Egyptian and Turkish governments, along with those of Tunisia and Qatar, prevented Israel from launching a land invasion of Gaza, which would have defeated Gaza’s Islamist Hamas regime.

So what lies ahead for the Palestinians and Israelis?  The Gaza war has shown that Palestinian missiles can now rain on just about all parts of Israel, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Imagine Israel’s national nightmare when Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Lebanese Hezbollah will be able to equip those missiles with GPS and target them to Israel’s population centers and vital economic and industrial facilities. More significantly, while Israel’s  E1  project is putting the last stitch on the coffin of the two-state solution, the old Palestine — comprising Israel, the West Bank and Gaza — is becoming a de facto bi-national state with a Palestinian majority. In such a state Jews can rule only by disenfranchising the majority Palestinians. Would the 21st century, especially the resurgent Arab Muslim world, live with apartheid in the Holy Land? If not,  will most Jews reconcile with living under Palestinian domination?

Mustafa Malik, an international affairs columnist in Washington, hosts the blog site ‘Islam and the West.’