Global Inertia, Regional Impotence, and Palestinian Despair

What Is Left But More ‘Terror’?

When it comes to atrocities committed by Israel against the Palestinians the world appears to be in a stupor. There is nothing new about this, although the recent acts of violence and wanton pillage and destruction of property have surpassed anything seen before.

The Oxford Dictionary defines impotent as being decrepit. This is an apt description of the Arab states. They are unable or unwilling to exercise any form of power, even if the act were purely symbolic.

Despair of course does not need any explanation. The ordinary Palestinian, whose most ardent desire is to live in peace, must be in a state of utter despair. After decades of oppression and violated rights, the Palestinians are being buried under the rubble of their own homes, bombarded by meaningless expressions of ‘brotherly solidarity’ from their Arab neighbours, and branded by the Bush administration as terrorists who threaten the security of Israel.

Bewilderment

However, there is also a great deal of bewilderment on the part of the Palestinians. Basically, these events are more than just confrontations between Jews and Arabs, or between rich and poor or whatever. They are also confrontations between cultures separated from each other by vast historic and ideological chasms. The Palestinians find difficulty in interpreting the world outside, and in understanding the world’s indifference to their long sufferings.

Their homes and lands were taken away from them; by acts of terrorism exercised by militias such as the Irgun and the Stern gangs whose activities in the 1940s were so brutal that 750, 000 people simply left their homes and fled into exile. They were never compensated for that loss. On the contrary, they were, and are, castigated as aggressors.

The aim of both Western states and terror groups was to create a home for the Jews who endured dreadful persecution at the hands of Europeans, mainly but not exclusively Germans. By an act of unsurpassed indifference the outside world took an active part in turning the Palestinians into refugees in order to make room for the Jews. But then the outside world went out of its way to support and arm Israel to ‘enable it to defend itself against its enemies’! It was truly ironic to hear the German Chancellor say in late April 2002 that Germany is steadfast in its ‘traditional’ support for Israel come what may! Presumably, the Nazis were Palestinians!

The same generosity and compassion could not, however, be offered to those who lost their lands and possessions when the Western powers decided to atone for the sins committed against the Jews by Germans and other Europeans. The Palestinians, the new victims, are now called terrorists by Bush and his cohorts. Is it any wonder that the Palestinians are bewildered?

Essentially, the Palestinians have been taken in by Western propaganda about justice and human rights, by the good intentions of the ‘mother country’, and by the supposed willingness of Arab leaders to help them to seek redress. In other words, the Palestinians and their leadership have misunderstood the world and how it functions in real life. Admittedly might is right, but there are simple reasons for the indifference of the outside world to Palestinian, and Arab, causes.

Absence of Democracy

The Palestinian Authority and Arafat are undemocratic and they have no wish to adopt even the trappings of democracy. That is fact. The intention in saying this is not to condemn but to underline the heavy price paid by the Palestinians for this basic oversight. There is an unwritten convention on the world stage that undemocratic regimes are fair game. They, and the unfortunate nations that fall under their jurisdiction, can be ignored, abused, humiliated and ridiculed with impunity.

Israel is supported, and its acts are condoned or tolerated no matter what, because it is ostensibly a democracy. It enjoys legitimacy. The Palestinians are dismissed because they are undemocratic. Their leaders do not enjoy sufficient legitimacy to allow their voice to be heard. The Arab world suffers from the same malady. Needless to say the Jewish lobby is powerful. Jewish individuals could be seen at all the levels of governments, business, and the media. But the lobby’s task in pushing Israel’s interests is made infinitely easier by the style of government that currently pervades the Arab countries.

This is a difficult problem to resolve. By definition, the leaders do not want the status quo to change. The opponents, Israel. the USA, etc., do not want the present situation to change either. Undemocratic regimes are easier to control, intimidate and discredit. Everyone is a winner apart from the populations at large, including the hapless and hopeless Palestinians.

Inability to Communicate

The Palestinian cause suffers from another related malady: inept communication skills. ‘Image’ is of critical importance in international relations and encounters. Game Theory has left little doubt on that score. The basic plan is to gain a ‘good image’ and to give your opponents a ‘bad image’. Lack of democratic norms provides the ‘bullets’. Inability to communicate well helps the bullets to hit their target.

The Arab world in general, and the Palestinians in particular, complain about the bias that is evident in the way the media treat their affairs. Yes, the media are controlled to some degree by Jewish interests but that does not stop ‘good’ stories from appearing in these same media (see hypocrite for example). Sadly, the Palestinians, following a long tradition prevalent in the Arab countries, are their worst enemies.

The contest could not be more uneven at the best of times. Many spokespersons, government officials, cabinet ministers, and media people in the West are Jewish as well as being American, British or whatever. It is not considered politically correct to suggest that they might not be completely objective and unbiased. They speak perfect English and they use idiomatic language to put their message across. Israeli spokespersons are in the same fortunate position. They seem, to Western eyes, ‘less foreign’.

Then we come to those speaking on behalf of the Palestinians and the contrast could not be more striking. The Palestinian, and Arab, decision-makers have never appreciated this difficulty. Naturally, and rightly, they are proud of their heritage and their language and no one is suggesting that they should think otherwise. However, when it come to communication on the world stage and with the media they will have to change or continue to be at a massive disadvantage.

The sight of Arafat in his funny (to Western eyes I must strongly point out) headdress and his not so impressive military uniform is a handicap in communication with the outside world. Here, presidents and prime ministers are chosen for their looks, their dress code and their ability to inspire confidence and a friendly image. Wearing a military uniform does not make a leader more powerful, and when that leader has little military power the whole affair descents into farce. For many decades, Latin American dictators suffered from the same delusion and they were treated with utter contempt by one and all as a result.

The solution is readily available: allow the thousands of Palestinians and Arabs who have been trained to communicate to come into the picture. But that is easier said than done in societies in which the leaders feel, wrongly, that they have to be everywhere and do everything themselves.

A Window of Opportunity

The present crisis in Palestine will pass. At some point in time, even Sharon will come to the conclusion that he has killed enough Palestinian ‘terrorists’ (of all ages down to infants and old men and women!). Suddenly, the tenth or twentieth call from Washington for the Israelis to withdraw will be heeded. Sharon, hilariously described by Bush as ‘a man of peace’, will emerge as a ‘man of compassion and sense’. In time he will be awarded the Nobel Prize and all will be forgotten. A new generation of ‘terrorists’ will also emerge, better trained and more determined than ever before. They will know the score better than those who came before them and they had seen what the enemy could, and would, do.

In the midst of all that, negotiations will commence, and here we come to choices. Israel holds all the winning cards. If Sharon is still in power and if he is aided and abetted by a US president who could not see further than his nose, then an offer will be made to the Palestinians that ‘they could not refuse’ (in the words of the Godfather). The outlines of that plan are already in the public domain: a Palestinian state of some sort in Gaza and a colonised West Bank administered on behalf of Israel by puppet Palestinian governors. Whether the plan is accepted or rejected, fighting will continue and Israel and the Palestinians will not know peace.

However, a better deal for the Palestinians might be put forward, particularly if the European Union and Russia are seriously involved in the negotiations. The Arab states will take part but they will be irrelevant to the outcome. The plan might allow a Palestinian state of some sort to be set up in Gaza and the West Bank. In that case Sharon will be finished.

However, it is of little relevance who governs Israel. The underlying policies will remain. On the other hand, the Palestinians will have to move quickly to consolidate their state and then move on to promote Palestinian interests more effectively.

The first task will have to be the removal of Arafat. He and Sharon are yesterday’s men. It goes without question that for a very brief period Arafat would have to be appointed as the first president for the Palestinian state. He deserves that accolade after years of struggle and effort. Nonetheless, shortly thereafter free and open elections, preferably supervised by the UN, should be held to find new leaders to take the fledgling country onto the next stages of nationhood and statehood.

The process does not end there. The new government will have to overhaul all the institutions of government to ensure that democratic norms are observed at all levels. Otherwise, the Palestinian state will end up being the same as the other Arab governments. It would drift from crisis to crisis and its people will not coalesce into a properly functioning nation that has some voice on the world stage.

Will it Happen?

The omens are not good, I accept. However, omens for the new state will be even worse without adopting the reforms suggested above. The options before the Palestinian people are crystal clear. But then the Arab nations face the same options and so far they have not taken any steps to change direction.

Will they reform? Unlikely. Will they be allowed to reform? Even more unlikely. Will they fail without reform? Most certainly.