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Middle East News: End The Policy Of Isolation

End The Policy Of Isolation

Middle East News Service

[ Middle East News Service comments: The English edition of Haaretz carries this as its leading opinion piece item (I’m not sure where it fits in the Hebrew edition, if at all.) It is a message directed mainly to the US Administration and people, and to a lesser extent the people of Israel and the rest of the world. It is one of the most lucid messages from a Palestinian one is likely to see in a mainstream newspaper.

Mousa Quos is the Arabic media coordinator of Miftah, the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy. Like Miftah’s founder, Hanan Ashrawi, he is no stooge for the West nor is he lined up with those whose commitment to a two-state solution is not wholehearted. Those of us who wants see a peaceful and just solution to the conflict need to sit up and listen. The message is simple: a solution can be found but the US needs to reverse the policy of isolating its opponent and involving the Arab states and Europe in a major conference that can solve the conflict.

In an another Haaretz article Putting Assad to the test the veteran Ze’ev Schiff hints at the prospect of Israel being caught in a Billy McMahon moment. [Back in 1972 the then Australian Labor Party leader, Gough Whitlam, visited China and met with its leaders. McMahon slammed Whitlam for the silly notion of dealing with the government of China. It was suggested that such an attitude as Whitlam would surely alienated the US administration. The ink had barely dried on the papers reporting McMahon statement when it was announced that Chinese had another, secret, guest at the same time –Henry Kissinger who had arranged for an invitation to President Nixon.] In the current context Schiff writes:

“One of the explanations given for rejecting talks with Syria is based on the claim that President George W. Bush is asking Israel not to hold them, because of the Syrians' behavior vis-a-vis Iraq and Lebanon and because of their support for Palestinian terror. However, it must be recalled that another voice is being heard in the United States - that of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, which recommends opening contacts with Syria. Israel must therefore take into account that it could find itself in a situation in which Washington is holding talks with Damascus and Israel is out in the hallway. What will we say then?”

But knowledgeable and well-informed as Schiff may be, and a s significant as his warning is, the important message is Quos’s. It is the kind of message that should reach every politically minded person but unfortunately won’t [Any bets on the prospects of an Australian newspaper running it?] So maybe readers can do their bit, particularly over the holiday season.]

I take this opportunity to wish you a Chag Hanukkah Sameach, Merry Christmas and Id Mubarak for Id el Adha (Bayram/Chag HaKourban –Feast of the Sacrifice – expected on or about 31 December) –Sol Salbe

End the policy of isolation

By Mousa Qous
Last update - 03:20 22/12/2006

With Palestinians on the brink of civil war, it has become impossible to separate this crisis from the overall situation in a region polarized by the United States into "moderate" Arab regimes versus the "axis of evil," which includes Iran and Syria.

The conflict between these two poles, which has manifested itself in the crises in Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine, is a result of the erroneous foreign policies of President George W. Bush's administration. After categorizing Iran and Syria as part of the "axis of evil" (along with North Korea), the United States proceeded to boycott and diplomatically isolate these countries in the hope that by doing so, they could somehow force them to moderate their positions.

But the result was just the opposite. Both Syria and Iran hardened their stances toward America and their influence in the region only increased. In the most recent Israeli war on Lebanon, both Israel and the United States predicted the wrong outcome. Largely because of Iranian and Syrian support, Hezbollah proved to be strong both on the battlefield and among the people, and the group ultimately foiled Israel's objectives in going into Lebanon in the first place.

But the U.S. policy of isolation had already spilled over into the Palestinian arena. As just one more way of imposing his foreign policy in the Middle East, Bush called for a boycott of Hamas once the movement won democratic parliamentary elections last January. Thus, when Hamas formed a government at the end of March, the United States and Israel led the international community in isolating, rather than dealing with, the newly elected Palestinian leaders.

The United States had been an active advocate of democratic elections during the rule of the late president Yasser Arafat, but when the time came the results proved not to be to America's liking. As a result, neither the United States nor Israel allowed Hamas the opportunity to prove itself competent or otherwise in governing the Palestinians.

Instead, Hamas was squeezed diplomatically and financially, and by a tight economic siege on the Palestinian leadership. The movement was forced to turn elsewhere for support. Since the so-called "moderate" Arab governments followed America's lead and turned their backs on the newly formed government, the only support Hamas could find in the region came from Iran and Syria.

In addition, Hamas' election victory also led the Americans, Europeans and certain Arab countries to more actively support Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in assuming greater authority over the security forces and the media - Palestine Radio and Television is under the direct supervision of the presidency - thus stripping a number of key authorities from the government.

With whatever international funding still coming to Palestinians being funneled through the presidency, the Western powers and their regional allies only helped to exacerbate an already escalating crisis between the presidency and the government.

Contrary to its purpose, however, this support did not always serve Abbas well: American and Western support for the president in the form of training and financing his security forces in fact helped weaken Abbas' popularity on the street.

All of these factors led to a situation in which foreign actors had an undue influence on Palestinian politics. Whenever Palestinians came close to resolving significant issues, especially regarding the formation of a unity government or the formulation of a prisoner-exchange deal - either Hamas or Abbas would pull the plug due to pressure from Iran or the United States.

As long as the United States does not change its policies toward Iran and Syria - that is, open the lines of communication and break their diplomatic isolation as well as the isolation of Hamas - there can never be a solution to the Palestinian problem.

This also forms part of the recommendations issued in the Baker-Hamilton report, recommendations that Bush still seems very hesitant to adopt. Unlike Syria. In an interview with the Italian paper La Repubblica, Syrian President Bashar Assad said he was ready and willing to reinitiate peace talks with Israel. He has yet to receive an answer, because Israel is waiting for its cue from the United States. Washington continues to cling to its hard line toward Damascus. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mualem has even gone so far as to offer to jumpstart peace talks with Israel without the precondition of returning the Israeli- occupied Golan Heights to Syria.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres responded by saying that it would be a grave mistake for Israel to start negotiations with Syria as long as such a move would be in contradiction with Washington's policies.

If the United States truly wants to right the situation for itself and for the Middle East as it claims, it must abandon categorizing countries in the region as those belonging to an "axis of evil" and those that do not. It must also abandon its policy of isolation - of Iran, Syria and Hamas - and allow for the lines of communication to be opened.

America has tried a policy of boycott and isolation, and it has failed repeatedly. Now is the time to try something new. The ideal solution would be to hold an international conference and for the United States to allow the international community, particularly the European Union and Arab countries, to play a larger role in resolving the Palestine question (and the Iraq debacle).

The 2002 Saudi initiative, in which the Arab world offered full normalization with Israel in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from all land occupied in 1967, provides a sound and solid foundation for a just and lasting peace in Palestine in particular, and in the Middle East in general.

Mousa Qous is the Arabic media coordinator of Miftah, the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy.

By arrangement with


[The independent Middle East News Service concentrates on providing alternative information chiefly from Israeli sources. It is sponsored by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the AJDS. These are expressed in its own statements]

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