Something new in Middle East

Submitted by AWL on 23 July, 2003 - 10:34

Mark Osborn’s “alternative analysis” (Solidarity 3/32) of the Middle East “roadmap” misses all the important points.

He does, however, give the reader fair warning, right at the start, with his series of dogmatic assertions, that that is what he is likely to do.

The editorial (Solidarity 3/31) attempted to analyse and report on the document (“the roadmap”) and assess what may be new in the situation registered in the document and in the unwonted American postures behind it.

The “alternative analysis” starts from dogmatic assumptions, indeed from one great a priori assumption: that the “roadmap” counts for nothing. That starting point sterilises the “alternative analysis”.

Things which the editorial lists as possibilities, or even probabilities—that it will all come to nothing, etc—Mark thinks should have been listed as certainties. He is more certain about everything here than I am about anything! “The Americans do not intend to force Israel to accept a sovereign, independent and viable state,” etc. He knows!

But it is not certain that the roadmap will count for nothing.

It does, plainly, talk about a sovereign Palestinian state with contiguous territory. If words mean anything, that rules out “bantustan” scenarios. This strong emphasis is new for the US. So is Bush’s subsequent face-to-face confrontation with Sharon where he is reported to have reiterated the demand for Palestinian freedom in a contiguous territory.

For sure, we shouldn’t trust Bush. But we should pay attention to what is going on in the world.
Either one analyses what is new in the roadmap, assumes that the formulas in the roadmap are there to serve some American purpose, and tries to think through what they might mean. Or else, rigidly looking at the past, one does what Mark Osborn does and dismisses it out of hand.

That approach would have saved Solidarity the space given to the editorial and Mark Osborn’s “alternative analysis”. It would, however, have rendered us dumb in more senses than one.

For a certainty there is something radically new in the Middle East now—the US drive to remodel Middle East politics, starting with Iraq. In their own direct interest, they must find some sort of settlement of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict—one that has at least the possibility of satisfying the Palestinians or a sizeable number of them.

That will satisfy Arab opinion throughout the region, or a weighty part of it.

That is the fundamental reason for taking their “roadmap” seriously. For thinking it can not be dismissed with a mind-weary backward-looking shrug as “more of the same”.

The Middle East cannot be “stabilised” without a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
One of the foolish and historically ignorant assumptions that shapes the pseudo-left consensus on the Israel-Palestine question is the idea that Israel has been no more than a stooge of imperialism against the Arabs: and some, of course—Tam Dalyell recently, for example—think that America is only a stooge for “Israel”.

Mark Osborn’s piece is shot through with the mistaken idea that Sharon and Bush are on the Middle East politically identical, and the linked idea that “the Israeli chauvinists” in Bush’s entourage will serve Israeli interests—and Sharon’s version of Israel at that—rather than US interests.

If he follows through on that idea seriously he will find himself in company a lot stranger than poor old Tam…

It is these assumptions that render most of what Mark Osborn says beside the point.

In fact Israel, and before Israel the Jewish settlements, have been a major liability, first for the British and now for the US, which needs a Middle East Pax Americana.

As early as 1930 British politicians—Sydney Webb, then Colonial Secretary, and others—tried to get out of Britain’s 1917 commitment to a Jewish homeland in Palestine. On the eve of the Second World War, and all through the war and the Holocaust, Britain, intent on placating Arab opinion, turned savagely against Jews trying to flee for their lives from Europe to Palestine.

They refused them the right to land and interned those illegal immigrants they could catch.

Israel is now a major obstacle to US plans for the
Middle East; a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict a necessity to them. Will they turn on Israel as the British after 1937 turned on the Jews? That is not impossible, though now it seems very improbable. They don’t need to.

Achieving the goals set out in the “roadmap”
would go a long way towards what they need.
Will the Bush administration persevere with it?

The answer is another question: will they
persevere in what they started to do with the Iraq war?

If the answer to the second question is yes, then yes, they will most likely persevere with the attempt to find a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. They will have no choice.

It is improbable that we would think the settlement they might achieve one we could uncritically endorse. But that is another question entirely.

Will they succeed? I don’t know. But it is not certain that they will fail.

Mark Osborn insists: “They do not intend to use a great deal of force against Israel.” I agree. But where does the idea that they might “use a great deal of force against Israel” come from? He implies: from the Solidarity editorial. Nothing like that is in the editorial! Or in the roadmap it analysed.

Blind polemic and thoughtless, foolish rhetoric in lieu of analysis is a waste of everyone’s time—here in the first place of Mark Osborn. It wouldn’t have been a proper response to the roadmap either. Try re-reading the editorial, Mark!

Sean Matgamna