Raghida Dergham
Dar Al-Hayat
February 20, 2009 - 1:00am

There is an urgent need for redefining priorities and for profound thinking about the choices available to issues that pertain to the fate of the Middle East and of its relations with the outside world, with the aim of setting a comprehensive and lucid framework to prevent the shower of rumors, claims, predictions and impressions, as well as their harmful results. Among the issues that require responsible focus are the following:

* The rise in popularity of the resistance in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the shrinking possibilities of sound settlement through negotiations, with increasing calls for giving the Hamas movement a central role (as the de facto alternative to the Palestinian Authority) by other Arab and Middle Eastern governments that claim that Hamas is ready for the two-state solution. Such contradictions are not random but rather calculatedly aimed at achieving several objectives.

* The initiation of a noteworthy kind of discourse by US experts, some of whom claim intimate knowledge of the mind of the new president, Barack Obama, which calls for the willingness to overlook Iran's possession of nuclear capabilities, on the basis of the countdown of US policy, starting from deciding against the military option towards Iran and allowing the Iranian nuclear issue to remain obscure. Along with such a proposition comes promoting deals that would sacrifice Lebanon as a base for Iran through Hezbollah, and would prevent whatever could lead US-Iranian relations to a military confrontation. In other words, dialogue between the US and Iran would begin based on the goals of building trust where it can be built with cooperation, in Afghanistan and Iraq, regardless of Tehran's insistence on possessing nuclear capabilities. This would involve Iran continuing to hold Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine as assets, and waiting patiently for long years to build US-Iranian relations, until the growth of a mercurial yet sought-after trust.

* The clash between the policies of countries, at the limit of revenge, to the point of dangerous provocation and even of encouragement to destroy stability out of revenge. This is what is taking place with regards to Egypt, with all that this involves in terms of grave danger if Egypt were to fall into the vortex of instability and extremism.

* The outbreak of policies of "containment" for countries in the Gulf region, so as for contained parties to become instruments of influence for the country exercising containment, especially in its aspirations with the US Administration, or for such containment to aim at draining the harm which might come to the country from a bigger and more violent neighbor, particularly Iran.

* The abundance of efforts to deepen the inter-Palestinian dispute at the Arab level, and not only at that of Iran or Israel, so as to promote Hamas.

* The increasing clarity of the lack of a desire for the two-state solution by the Israelis, as they constantly evade the peaceful solution and its requirements, while working in parallel to strengthen extremism and weaken Arab moderation.

Faced with prevalent situations such as these, it is imperative to frankly discuss the available options and to reorganize certain terms and their perspectives.

The ranks of Arab moderation, which has firmly resolved to reach a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict on the basis of establishing the State of Palestine alongside Israel in the lands occupied in 1967 through negotiations, are afflicted with depression. Most of them have reached the conviction that Israel does not want the two-state solution, but rather a purely Jewish state devoid of Palestinians. Thus the next crisis will not be restricted to the fate of Palestinian refugees and to what has happened to the right of return and compensation. The crisis will be about what to do with the implicit Israeli thinking based on the purity of the Jewish state, which requires solving the problem of Palestinian citizens within Israel, either through gradual "transfer" by way of negotiations or through communal expulsion by force. Such a formula is dangerous not only for the Palestinians, but also for Arab moderation, which has built its moderation on the two-state solution.

On the other hand, there is the option of resistance, which the ranks of the defiant claim to be the only option and accuse of treason all those who do not support it according to the defiant way of thinking, and nothing else. First of all, and with the utmost clarity and precision, resistance is one of the rights of Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese under Israeli occupation. Resistance is a legitimate right and not just a slogan to be raised in protests and in the discourse of the defiant for different purposes. Resistance must be a strategic choice. It is neither merchandise nor the property of one party or another for the purpose of compromising. Either resistance is a strategic choice, with all that this entails in terms of meanings, duties and commitments, or it must be rejected as merchandise for compromises. The Syrian President's advisor, Butheina Shaaban, in her speech before the US-Islamic World Forum organized by the Brookings Institution in Doha last week, said that "resistance is very popular" these days. When the author of this article asked her if Syria intended to open its own front with Israel to resistance, since it has perhaps turned into a strategic choice for the country, Shaaban replied that Syria's strategic choice was that of negotiations with Israel, and that there was no need to keep repeating talk of opening up the Syrian front. In turn, Officials in Qatar back down when asked if Qatar would be willing to provide military support or funding to arm the resistance, but they at the same time insist on resistance and promote it in Al-Jazeera with armed resistance in mind, yet without strengthening it.

There is another option, one that does not fall into exploiting the resistance's popularity to use as a trading chip or to bow down before the status quo. This option is that of civil resistance, supported from the outside and from the inside equally, with well-planned work to build Palestinian institutions and Palestinian individuals capable of deciding their own destiny. This is exactly what Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority Salam Fayad is doing: building credibility for Palestinian individuals and institutions brick by brick, and resisting Israeli occupation with international support and with a clear strategy based on removing pretexts from Israel, in parallel with efforts to reinforce the Palestinian scene in terms of infrastructure for a people that have the legitimate right to resist occupation. Salam Fayad's choice is necessary especially during precisely this period, because Barack Obama's administration speaks this language and because the new US President's mindset is based on the civil aspect of resistance and disobedience to create the required change. Indeed, those who wager on the willingness of the US Administration to embrace Hamas as an alternative to the Palestinian Authority are only once again exploiting the popularity of the resistance to Israeli occupation to drain it of the kinds of compromises that may really be required of those who steal them and use them as merchandise for trade, by misleadingly suggesting that Washington has almost reached the point of recognizing the "success" of the logic of armed resistance and of yielding to the inevitability of Hamas's "victory" and of its consequences on dialogue.

At the greatest extent, what the US Administration may support would be for Hamas to have a place at the dialogue table through the Palestinian Authority. This is what the Palestinian Authority has clung to and approved more than once, to avoid repeating the rejection of the reality of the matter by Hamas/Gaza and Hamas/Damascus. The man in the US Administration who can play the most important role in the Palestinian-Israeli issue may not be the President's Special Envoy George Mitchell alone, but also National Security Advisor to the White House, General Jim Jones, who understands this issue perfectly, and supports Salam Fayad's choice fundamentally. The major difference today is the necessity for Jim Jones to take the initiative in extending tangible support to Salam Fayad's efforts by going much further, broader and deeper than the implementation of Palestinian security commitments. What is required is for the US and the international community to reinforce Salam Fayad's efforts, both in terms of tangible support to build Palestinian institutions, and of pressure on Israel to implement its commitments to the international community. The time of accountability has come, the time to investigate all of Gaza's crimes, and the time to end the era of Israeli impunity. It is also time to stop burying Arab heads in the sand, only to raise it from time to time to shout treason at those who oppose exploiting the blood of the Palestinians for outbidding. Indeed, the people of Gaza do not approve of Hamas and of it using them in the battle of rockets that has brought them the indiscriminate Israeli war machine. The people of the Arab street are demanding to hear the people of Gaza and to listen to what they have in terms of needs and options. The people of Gaza do not want to be a resisting merchandise to serve a public that only knows to shout in protest. They need a sincere strategic choice to resist occupation. Images of the torn bodies of Gaza's children are not passing advertisement posters. They are a timeless testimony of the violence of occupation and of the need to delve deeper in examining the options and their requirements.

The people of Gaza do not want to be turned into a base for Iran and for Israel's constant revenge. Indeed, if Hamas is certain of the choice of armed resistance, let it demand of its allies in the axis of defiance that they arm the resistance and open all fronts, most prominently the Syrian-Israeli front, to armed resistance. If, on the other hand, is it truly ready for the two-state solution, as some of its allies in the axis of defiance claim, let it enter into negotiations and stop being Israel's partner in the dance of killing the Palestinian Authority, entrusted with conducting negotiations. Talk of compromises is increasing, some of it of what is being said at Hamas's expense in terms of future Syrian-Israeli-US nonsense, and some of it about a reshuffling of alliances due to elections in Iran. The most prominent fronts for compromises are Damascus and Tehran, their influence extending to Palestine and to Lebanon through Hezbollah. There are those who say that the US has always historically sacrificed Lebanon in any deals because it is the weakest link, and that this will be repeated in the deal of US-Iranian understanding and Syrian-Israeli-US understanding.

Washington's road with Tehran will be complicated, and the first complication will be Iran's resolve to use the bazaar mentality in compromising to delay and the US's concern for Barack Obama's administration not to appear naïve and to fall in the trap of Iranian skill at negotiating and striking deals. Iraq may seem to be the easiest part of the US-Iranian understanding as a result of President Obama's desire to leave Iraq as soon as possible. However, the important question will emerge later: will the US President accept to waste all the US's investments in Iraq and hand it over to Iran, as a surrendered state, lacking both independence and sovereignty? It is better to wait before giving answers to that question. Indeed, the road is long and hard until then, not just at the Iraqi level, but also at the nuclear, Lebanese and Palestinian levels, and in the arena of coalitions and the battle between defiance and moderation. Afghanistan may be the key to the new chapter in the US-Iranian understanding, but it will not alone be the headline of normalization and partnership as long as Tehran clings to its stances on the nuclear issue, on the Middle East peace process, in Iraq and in Lebanon. Even the "respect" from the Obama Administration praised by the rulers of the Islamic Republic as recognition and rehabilitation of the regime may clash with the arrogance of Tehran's mullahs and the sarcastic ways that accompany the ruling mentality in Iran. Indeed the road is long and hard. Talk of nuclear obscurity and of striking deals in fact still dwells in the imagination and assumptions of "experts".

Thus the people of the Middle East must cease to wager their future solely on their aspirations and expectations of Barack Obama's administration. The international community, and primarily the US Administration, the American people and its elite, must also come out of dwelling on what the George Bush Administration has done and what mistakes it has committed. We must look at what is behind these policies on the Middle East's political scene, and we must adopt corrective policies, not the kind of policies that reinforce the results of the precious administration's adventures and its failed policies, whether towards Iran or Israel, or in terms of the path of moderation and the battle against extremism in the Middle East. Indeed, the responsibility is shared in sorting out and determining choices.


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