By Ted Lapkin
Sunday Age – 10 December 2006
It all comes down to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. At least that’s what one of the dominant mantras on Middle East politics would have you believe.
Former US Secretary of State James Baker made that argument just this last week in Washington. The much anticipated report of Baker’s Iraq Study Group declared: “the United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
But the view that places Jews at the core of an entire region’s trials and tribulations is founded upon misinformation and spurious reasoning.
With a handful of exceptions, the Islamic nations of the Middle East have been independent for over a half-century. And throughout that period, Arab rulers themselves have made catastrophic policy decisions that have wrought havoc upon their own people.
It is said that with power comes responsibility. But despots from Baghdad to Benghazi have schemed and manoeuvred to enjoy the former while eluding the latter.
The dominant political discourse of the Islamic Middle East has long featured the propensity for avoiding unpleasant home truths by shifting blame to external enemies. And Israel has served as the scapegoat of choice for Arab autocrats who are desperate to deflect attention from their corruption, brutality and incompetence.
The domestic political repression, economic backwardness and sexual inequality that have spawned so much Middle Eastern misery are not Israel’s doing. And from the civil war in Algeria to the current genocide in Darfour, Arabs have decimated each other in bloody conflicts to which the Jewish state was entirely irrelevant.
Arab society is overdue for a long hard look in the mirror that will reveal its wounds to be largely self-inflicted. On moral grounds the statute of limitations on blaming the West for the misfortunes of the Middle East should have long since expired. And on practical grounds this eternal quest for the guilty ‘other’ has an infantilising effect that precludes any possibility honest self-appraisal.
The resulting political culture of delusion and denial has sown the seeds of social and economic stagnation throughout the Levant. It is not happenstance that the Islamic Middle East ranks among the lowest regions of the world in the categories of educational achievement, sexual equality and liberty. Nor is it coincidence that a recent United Nations human development report found 90 per cent of the Arab world suffers severe “deficits of freedom, knowledge and gender”.
The proponents of conventional Middle East political wisdoms also tell us that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute fuels global terrorism by exacerbating Islamic discontent. In a recent speech, British Prime Minister Tony Blair described the conflict as the “core” to a broader cause of world peace.
But the Muslim extremists who wage a terrorist war against the West have no interest in a benign settlement to hostilities between Arabs and Jews. The jihadi worldview sees Israel as a colonialist trespasser that was illicitly built on land granted through divine dispensation to the Islamic ummah, or nation.
In radical eyes, the only acceptable outcome is one that must encompass the complete destruction of the Jewish state. And of course, national suicide is not a policy option that finds much favour in Jerusalem.
The current Palestinian government also maintains an attitude towards Israel of negation rather than negotiation. But even if Hamas were one day to miraculously see the diplomatic light, a Middle East peace treaty would do nothing to slake the blood thirsty ardour of al-Qaeda. In fact, any such neighbourly arrangement that recognised the existence of a Jewish state would serve to inflame jihadi passions rather than assuage them.
The logical lapses and non sequiturs that cloud the vision of Tony Blair on the Middle East are bad enough. But far worse is the perverse value system from which this proposal has sprung forth.
The practical import of the British prime minister’s proposition is to appease extremist Islam rather than oppose it. His plan would reward the radicals by making Israel pay the price for jihadi fanaticism.
And after sacrificing the vital interests of the Middle East’s sole democracy in the vain pursuit of peace through propitiation, what would be next?
hould we surrender the principle of universal suffrage because female participation in the political process enrages jihadis to the point where they bomb our planes and trains? Should we jettison freedom of religious conscience because such liberties offend the totalitarian doctrines that Wahhabi Islam seeks to impose at the business end of a gun?
Rather than sating the ambitions of al-Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah, concessions by the West will only further whet the boundless appetites of their extremism. By contrast, the mere fact that the jihadis happen to want something should be reason enough for us to ensure they don’t acquire it.
As much as this is a shooting war, the global conflict with Muslim extremism is also a war of competing value systems. And if we vacate the ideological battlefield, we will soon be vanquished on the military battlefield as well.
Ted Lapkin is Director of Policy Analysis at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council