Emile Hokayem
The National (Opinion)
January 28, 2009 - 1:00am

A dark spectre hovers over the Arab world: the cult of muqawama – resistance – and false promise of radicalism. Indeed, with every appalling Israeli bombing campaign comes a quixotic victory for Hamas and Hizbollah that leaves their societies in tatters but strengthens the sentiment elsewhere that complete victory over Israel is within reach, if only Arab governments could step aside and let the muqaweemen carry out their glorious mission.

On the surface, what’s not to like about resistance that restores Arab dignity, humiliates the Israeli enemy and mobilises millions of otherwise subdued Arabs?

The bombastic rhetoric of Hassan Nasrallah and his copycat, Khaled Meshaal, their military’s unabated firing of rockets and the mere survival of their organisations have had the unmistakable effect of rekindling Arab pride – and, worryingly, of promising a bleak future to all.

And for doing so, Hamas and Hizbollah enjoy ever greater support, especially in far away places. Indeed, what is the downside for average Arab citizens to express their absolute support for them? None: their righteous indignation costs them nothing.

Indeed, both organisations are probably more popular abroad then they are at home, just as Latin Americans cheered and romanticised the Cuban revolution but certainly did not wish it for themselves.

The Arab world is now contending with similar demons. After recovering from past dreams of triumph against Israel, many in the Arab world have been infected again by the bug of resistance. This may prove to be a passing condition, but if it does not, this fantasy can do enormous damage to the Arab future.

There are certainly many obstacles to peace, but two fallacies, both getting stronger by the day, stand out: from the Israeli side, that bombing the Palestinians into submission can perpetually delay Palestinian statehood and from the Arab side, that the collapse of the rotten Israeli society is a few victories away.

For their own purpose, Hamas and Hizbollah have every interest in promoting the latter. Nasrallah describes Israeli society as a spider web that could be easily broken. And because of his aura, his words carry significant weight, mobilising support throughout the region and embarrassing Arab states.

Indeed, Arab states once manipulated the Palestinian issue to divert attention from domestic matters. This is no longer the case: frustrated Arab publics have become enthralled with the Palestinian cause just as Arab governments seek a settlement, some to preserve their arrangements with Israel and others because they understand that their national development and populations’ well-being are ill-served by being sucked up in this intractable conflict. But the political cost of being out of step with the public and of supporting an ever more unpopular peace with Israel is severe.

For sure, expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people and wholeheartedly adhering to the radical agenda of Hamas and Hizbollah are two different things. But many of their sympathisers tend to gloss over their nationalistic credentials and ignore too gladly the radical streak that underlies their ideology and activities, probably because they don’t realise or have to live with the enormous damage they inflict on their societies.

Indeed, the culture of resistance has proven devastating for the sophisticated but weakened Lebanese and Palestinian polities. Under Hamas and Hizbollah, resistance is quickly becoming the ultimate form of political expression and participation, to which all other considerations – social, economic and political – are subjugated.

Consider this startling pronouncement by a Hizbollah official: “Today we are gradually working on absorbing Lebanese political forces within the framework of the resistance.” Instead of resistance serving a broader political purpose (the defence of the nation or the strengthening of its institutions), it has become an end in itself for guerrilla organisations ill suited for the challenges of nation-building. Sadly, average Lebanese and Palestinians are now constantly radicalised, mobilised and militarised.

To be sure, both Hamas and Hizbollah have some legitimate grievances and prosper on the failings of their governments, but in fact they seek far more questionable objectives. Far from being modern Robin Hoods or romanticised Arab versions of Che Guevara, they are essentially dogmatic in their ideology, politics and propaganda. Whatever pragmatism they appear to practice is essentially tactical and in the service of greater, unattainable goals.

The reality is that they enrol their populations, often without their consent, in vain and destructive adventures. For them, merely surviving an onslaught is victory enough, even as the rest of society pays a horrendous price. Who can dispute that Lebanon is in a much worse place than it was before the 2006 war that Hizbollah ignited, as is Palestine today?

The Palestinian right to resist occupation and to live in a sovereign, peaceful state is not in question. But the notion of certain and absolute victory only prolongs Palestinian misery and alienates the large and indispensable but dwindling segment of Israeli society that adheres to a two-state solution. Moreover, too tight an embrace of the Palestinian cause may actually do a disservice to the Palestinians themselves by stripping them of the ownership of their cause, as Hamas’s foreign alliances show.

The road to peace has never been more bitter or difficult, and yet the other direction is perpetual conflict. Once emotions subside, these choices will become more stark than ever before.


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