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.’

U.S. liberals callous to Libyan uprising

By Mustafa Malik

 President Obama always makes good speeches, and he gave an excellent one defending his administration’s participation in NATO’s military intervention in Libya.

The coalition bombing has averted, as the president pointed out, a “brutal repression and looming humanitarian crisis” brought on by Muammar Qadhafi’s forces.  Even though   the Qadhafi forces have halted the rebels’ advance toward his eastern strongholds, the United States and its allies aren’t going to let the dictator prevail.

I’m concerned about the resistance to the mission that the administration is facing from America’s political and intellectual establishments. Republican and Tea Party opposition to the operation was predictable.  I’m disappointed, though not surprised, by the Democratic and, especially, liberal resistance to it.  It’s hard to imagine more liberal Americans than Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations, Washington Post columnist Mark Shields and Rep. Denis Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio. They’re leading a range of American liberals and progressives who oppose the U.S. role in the U.N.-sponsored military action. I’m not surprised by their stance because I have known conservative and liberal Americans who profess support for “universal” human rights and freedoms, but view their “universe” to be the West. (The neocons’ “democratization” propaganda about the Iraq war meant to camouflage a clumsy imperial project.)

I was a member of an “International Congress” that was pushing for military intervention to stop the Serbian slaughter of Bosnian Muslims.  At our August 1995 conference in Bonn, Germany, my fellow U.S. delegates and I were elated to hear American liberals being hailed as “the bastion” of support for such a campaign. Coincidentally, the NATO bombing of  Serbian aggressors began while we were heading back home. I didn’t hear Kucinich, Gelb, Shields or any other well-known American liberals denouncing the Clinton administration for leading that operation.   Four years later when the United States led the NATO air raids to stop the Serbian army assaults on dissidents in Kosovo, American liberals applauded it.  Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are part of the West.  Libya isn’t. Neither was Rwanda or Congo.

Kucinich and other liberals are criticizing Obama’s failure to obtain prior congressional approval of the Libya operation.  More revealing, however, has been their silence about the morality of the campaign. Shields and others have offered a moral argument, which is equally telling. The administration, they say, didn’t prove how defending the Libyan uprising would serve America’s “vital interests.”

Suppose tomorrow troops loyal to a neo-Nazi dictator begin mowing down protesters in the streets of Berlin or Vienna. Would we hear them denounce U.S. involvement in a NATO military assault to stop it? I believe that Americans, including Shields, would then find it in America’s “vital interest” to support such intervention, just as they did in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.

I see defending the pro-democracy upheavals in Libya and other Arab countries serving an over-arching U.S. interest.  Most Muslims and Arabs in west Asia and North Africa have been deeply anguished by the United States’ long-standing support for their repressive autocracies. Their resentment is the biggest challenge to U.S. security and economic interests in the Arab world.  Embracing the “Arab spring” would help Washington douse the toxic anti-Americanism and court tomorrow’s rulers, generals and diplomats in that region.

Can Jordan monarchy survive?

By Mustafa Malik

(Published in the San Francisco Chronicle, February 20, 2011)

Admiral Mike Mullen recently visited Jordan. The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff assured King Abdullah II of America’s commitment to the security of his kingdom. As Jordan has a peace treaty with Israel, it doesn’t really have an external security threat. A growing internal threat looms, however, to the Hashemite monarchy. The Arab revolutionary movement snowballing from Tunisia and Egypt has exacerbated that threat.

What’s likely to fuel a large-scale uprising against the Jordanian monarchy? And if that occurs, can the Pentagon help the king ride out of it?

As in other Arab states, Jordan is afflicted with a high unemployment rate (officially 13% but actually much higher), low living standards (per capita GNI $3,300) and widespread official corruption. But the biggest challenge to the throne comes from it not having local roots. The Hashemite family’s ethnic roots lie in the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The British Empire planted the scion of that family, Abdullah bin al-Hussein, in 1923 as the king of what was called Transjordan. The state was carved out of the remains of the Ottoman Empire, which had been defeated and dismembered by the Allied Powers in World War I.

About 60 percent of Jordan’s population of 6.5 million is Palestinians. They’re mostly well-educated, urban and enjoy much higher income levels than the remaining 40 percent or so, made up largely of rural Bedouin tribes. The Palestinians and Bedouins have been estranged from each other since the inception of the state.

The Bedouin tribes have been the monarchy’s main support base, especially since 1970 when then King Hussein brutally suppressed a revolt by Palestinians. Thousands of Palestinians were slaughtered or expelled from Jordan. That was the beginning of the monarchy’s secret outreach to Israel, the nemesis of the Palestinians and other Arabs. In 1973, for example, Hussein, Abdullah’s deceased father, had a clandestine meeting with then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir during which he warned her of Egyptian preparations for war against Israel. Egypt would later attack Israel in what would be known as the Yom Kippur war. Hussein also began working secretly with then Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to conclude a peace agreement with Israel. The treaty was finally wrapped up and signed in 1994.

While the Palestinians resent the monarchy’s courtship of Israel, the Bedouins are being alienated by the current king, Abdullah, especially because of his efforts to placate the Palestinians. The outreach to the Palestinians is led by the king’s Palestinian wife, Rania. She is instrumental in providing Jordanian citizenship to a large number of Palestinian refugees, and helping Palestinians with jobs, business opportunities, and so forth.

On Feb. 7 the Bedouins staged a demonstration against the Abdullah government, a first in the history of the Hashemite-Bedouin relationship. They criticized Queen Rania’s meddling in government affairs and voiced other complaints against the regime. “The situation,” said their spokesman “has become unbearable. Corruption, nepotism and bureaucracy (sic) are widespread and the rich are becoming richer, while the poor – like many Bedouins – are becoming poorer.”

Meanwhile, the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings have triggered several mainstream opposition rallies in Jordan. The protesters demanded democratic reforms, curbing nepotism and official corruption. The Jordanians haven’t called for an end to the monarchy yet, but they could do so if the public discontent escalates into a full-scale uprising.

So what could the Obama administration do to help the Jordanian royalty stave off an Egyptian-style revolution? Whatever else it can do, sending the head of the U.S. armed forces to Amman was a mistake. Many Jordanians saw it as America’s threat to use its military might to defend one of its Arab cops against the repressed people of the state. Moreover, a U.S. military intervention in Jordan’s political crisis would be counterproductive. Could American soldiers be shooting Arabs in one country without provoking Arab protests against the U.S. military presence and other vital interests in others?

Americans can’t really beat the brewing pan-Arab revolution in Jordan and most other countries. They should join the revolution now to preserve their vital interests in the Middle East.

Mustafa Malik, host of the blog Beyond Freedom,  is a columnist in Washington. He conducted field research on U.S.-Arab relations in Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen as a senior associate for the University of Chicago Middle East Center.