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Falling apart
One fallen and weakened state will not do much harm to the Middle East, but the same thing happening to many states at the same time... that would be one big mess


December 26, 2006

I just found out that the Israeli authorities are going to release funds to the Palestinian president, Abu Mazen, collected by the Israelis as taxes that belong to the Palestinians. They did so by taking all possible measures so that the tax revenues would not go to the Hamas government of the Palestinian territories.

People, masses better said, have very short memories. Politicians usually know this very well. This is true for the majority of the electorate all over the world. It's therefore true also for the majority of the masses, no matter democracies or not. Does anyone remember how the Palestinians got the post of prime minister the first place? Palestinians, during the time of Arafat, did not have a prime minister. They only had a president. The president was Yasser Arafat and nobody could contest his authority, and he was popular, so the outcome of any fair election would be Yasser Arafat's re-election.

But the Israelis, backed by the US, thought that they could not deal with Arafat. So they thought that the only reasonable way to undermine Yasser Arafat would be to create the post of prime minister, so that they would be dealing with a more "reasonable" prime minister rather than Mr Arafat with whom decades of negotiations had reached almost nothing. This is what the Israeli and American leaderships thought, not necessarily me. And they acted upon it. So the Palestinians got a prime minister.

The second prime minister who survived was Abu Mazen, who later became the president of the Palestinians. Israelis and Americans dealt well with Abu Mazen, as the prime minister, and they pressured Arafat to give up the roles of the president, so the prime minister would have more executive authority and the president would be more symbolic than anything. And Arafat reluctantly did so.

Times changed, and Abu Mazen who was and is supposed to be a symbolic figurehead as elected president has become the favoured counterpart for negotiations, and the Hamas-ruled government has become the "unreasonable" actor in the whole Middle East peace affairs. So, the Israelis and the Americans themselves created the post for prime minister and undermined the presidency a couple of years ago and they are the ones who are doing exactly the opposite, negotiating with the president and undermining the prime minister now!

In the past few years there have been so many lessons to be learnt from the Middle East, obvious to any clear mind, and all these lessons have been the outcome of wrong American interference. What Israel does to the neighbourhood is Israel's burden, and although it may cause global outrage or other conflicts, the more important issue is that Americans with their more authoritative and masculine approach that go beyond Israel's immediate borders cause much greater problems.

The wrong policies have been toward Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine, ie everywhere Americans have done anything or have decided anything about, regarding the Middle East. None of the affairs have been fruitful. I don't necessarily blame America. I always thought America was and is a far better bully than any other possibilities out there, such as Russia, China, or powerful European countries. Nevertheless American wrong actions are often directed not by a person or a clique but by democratically elected governments, who are also open to change in ideologies, from liberal to conservative and vice versa. Opposite to the past experiences of world bullies who were bound either to a dictator or a single ideology.

Putting aside the philosophy of American supremacy, my point is to show what America has got wrong, especially the Bush administration, regarding its approach to the Middle East. Hopefully there will truly be lessons learnt and maybe the Middle East could move toward a better future.

The quintessential idea that America did not understand and still does not seem to have understood is that people are different. You shall not approach other peoples as if they saw things like you do. This seems quite straightforward but not as clear to comprehend as it sounds theoretically. For example, in Afghanistan, America thought that so long as the Taliban were weakly armed and few in numbers all the allied forces needed to do was to put a new government in place and keep a very small number of troops to guard the high-ranking officials in the Afghan government.

The result has been that it has been more than 5 years and the Taliban are still powerful, far from having died out. In Iran, Americans thought that the Islamists are so weak that there is a great chance of them imploding easily if pressured, and the result has been that the Islamists have become even more powerful. Iraq is such a clear mess there is no need to go in detail, because that would take too long. Lebanon has not only lost the chance of becoming peaceful and a functional democracy, but Hezbollah has become stronger, and it has been the American opposition that has actually made Hezbollah stronger. And in the Palestinian territories American favouritism toward the moderate president has also made the president seem like a puppet, therefore making him weaker, and making Hamas stronger.

Americans do not yet understand that the Middle East is at least a century or two behind where the Western world stands now. The best way to deal with the Middle East, is to have as little interference as possible, but at the same time, in order to secure the flow of oil and also to maintain some sort of security, to follow a policy of pursuing overall stability, rather than overall mayhem, as is the case now.

One fallen and weakened state will not do much harm to the Middle East, but the same thing happening to many states at the same time is a scenario that can be best exploited by terrorists, and not even a superpower like the US can face a mess extending from Sudan, to Somalia, Palestine, Lebanon, and Kashmir or even Indonesia.

And local strongmen are usually best equipped to create stability, so if America wants to promote democracy it'd better concentrate on one state, to see how things go, rather than putting up with many local bullies at the same time. Even bullies at the lowest stage of bullying where all they control is an alley, or a village, know that in order to continue bullying you need to have as few enemies as possible at one time, and deal with them one after another, and not all at the same time. Afterall angry people can do a lot, even if they are weak. And the possibility of controlling one angry man is far greater than two, three or more angry men. Comment


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Ben Madadi



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