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Oh, the pity of it
By M. Zeyaul Haque

Z HaqueThe bloodbath in Palestine -- almost all of it Palestinian blood-- begins to look futile as Arab positions remain unchanged, Israel sticks to its guns, and the PLA's debility becomes evident.

Way back in early 1968, I was in Saudi Arabia for a few months. As an undergraduate student, I had hardly any inkling of Middle East politics. The place looked incredibly prosperous from South Asian standards; everybody seemed to be well-fed, well-clad, well-shod and naturally, quite well off. Nobody seemed to have any care in the world. Then I visited a book shop and bought a book on Middle East, which had a map of Eretz Israel (Greater Israel), a replica of a map hung in Israeli Knesset (parliament).

The map showed much of Syria, Iraq and the Muslim holy land in Saudi Arabia inside Eretz Israel, which, the book said, Israel still claimed as its patrimony. I began to wonder. And from whatever little I knew of Israel, I did not know how the Arabs could stop Israel if it really decided to get those lands back. (I did not know then that it could be just a way for Israel to justify its size which is really four times bigger than what it got through the Balfour Declaration.)

Amazed and still wondering, I asked a Saudi, with whom I had contracted a friendship: ‘What would you do if Israel attacks to get back the lands it claims?’ My friend, who was not very well educated, paused for a while. Then he said, with a smile of reassurance: ‘They will come.’ Not enlightened by the reply, I asked: ‘Who will come?’ This time his reply was more categorical: ‘Al-Amreekan. They are our friends.’ I began to wonder even more. The kind of goodwill America had earned in Saudi Arabia seemed truly astounding.

This showed that the Saudis envisaged a substantial role for the US in the defence of their country, which meant that they were still to acquire a credible defence capability. Somehow, this weakness, amidst the dazzling prosperity, looked deeply saddening. Soon I forgot this episode.

Nearly a quarter century later, when US troops began to land in the Saudi desert to fight the Mother of All Wars (Umm al-ma’arik, as Iraq called it) ostensibly to free Kuwait from Iraq, I remembered my Saudi friend's words: ‘Alamreekan will come. They are our friends!’ I wrote a piece for a newspaper, with the heading: ‘Alamreekiya is here, finally.’ 

I wrote about my friend's words coming true. The only point of difference from the original context was that Alamreeka had come to Saudi Arabia not to help it against Israel, but to fight against a fellow Arab country, and fight in such a manner that Iraq would not recover from the impact for another 50 years.

Again I forgot my friend's words for an entire decade. Only when Israel issued an ultimatum (in the first phase of the present uprising) to take action against Lebanon and Syria (for helping militant Palestinians), I remembered my Saudi friend. Although that ultimatum turned out to be a mere bluster, the fact remains that Israelis can strafe any site in any Arab country without fear of meaningful reprisal. They bombed a nuclear installation in Iraq even at a time when Saddam Hussein was still friendly with the West. Nobody raised an eyebrow. They bombed and levelled any number of sites in Lebanon and nobody fired a shot at the Israeli aircraft. Over the years they have butchered a large number of Palestinians, bulldozed uncounted number of homes, confiscated huge tracts of Palestinian land. Nobody said anything. The violence we witness today is there because of this lack of balance of power between the Arabs and Israelis.

The imbalance is so glaring that it cannot even be called imbalance. Recently, the Arab League ambassador in New Delhi, His Excellency Mahmood Gadafi, wrote for the journal I edit a piece on Israeli military capability. The ambassador, a former Libyan naval officer, is a western-trained strategic analyst. The account he gave of Israel's nuclear capability alone sounded as if Israel is an armoury for the defence of the entire Middle East. Compared to that, the defence establishments of Arab countries look like puny caricatures.

In an interesting article in the prestigious Foreign Affairs (January-February 1997), Middle East expert Bernard Lewis made some startling observations. One of these was that Middle East had ceased to be a challenge for the West, and even if the countries in the region acquired weapons of mass destruction (WMD), they would only destroy each other, but would not be able to hurt the West. One would like to add that they would possibly not be able to stand up to the western outpost in the Middle East ( that is what Zionism's founder Herzel called his proposed state, Israel) either. The reason, Lewis says, lies in the absence of a sound scientific and technological foundation in the Arab countries. On the other hand, Israel has a surfeit of such establishments and an army of highly trained scientists and technologists. Lewis lauds South and South-East Asian countries for having built a good scientific and technological foundation since the end of colonial rule, something that West Asia has singularly failed to do.

Now, getting back to the situation in Palestine, it is quite evident that the Al Quds Intifadah (this is what the present uprising is called because of its association with Al Quds, Jerusalem) would end sooner than later. Both the Israeli power elite and PA leaders have made up their mind to ultimately reopen peace talks as they have hardly any other option. A major difference between this Intifadah and the last one is that the last one came when the PLO was in Tunisia and the Intifadah was conducted by Hamas leaders inside Palestine, while this one is still largely in the hands of PLO, which should prevent Arafat's credibility from being totally destroyed. It is good for Israelis also because they would find it far more difficult to deal with Hamas or Hizbullah.

Resumption of peace process is not unlikely in the mid-term, which means a temporary stoppage to the gruesome murders of young people on a daily basis. However, as that peace will be built on an unjust basis (and on the weakness of Arabs and strength of Israelis), it would not be enduring. For, were not the seeds of World War II within the Treaty of Versailles itself which was signed at the end of World War I. The patently unjust treaty was one of the principal reasons for the outbreak of World War II.

That brings us to the heading of this column, with apology to Shakespeare: Oh, Arab brothers, the pity of it! Arab brothers, oh, the pity of it.

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