By Hasan Abu Nimah
This year, the holy month of Ramadan arrived during the hot summer months of July and August, when fasting time exceeds 13 hours a day. With the weather hotter than usual, Ramadan evenings are always the right time for socialising, outings, family gatherings and serious group discussions.
One cool evening last week, I attended a post-iftar gathering in the garden of a northwest Amman residence. The idea was to conduct an informal conversation with Prime Minister Fayez Tarawneh who arrived with a number of his Cabinet members.
The main issues the prime minister chose to discuss were the recent Elections Law and Syria. He briefed the group on the government’s concerns with respect to Syria, the impact of the arrival of Syrian refugees, which adds to the financial strain on the budget, and possible border tensions in case the chaos in Syria spills over.
As expected, the prime minister, with support from his Cabinet companions, defended the Elections Law, which many guests criticised as divisive and not adequately representative.
Although each side was firm in presenting its arguments clearly and boldly, the debate was positive, mutually respectful, dignified and calm. However, it did not lead to any narrowing of the gap.
What was mentioned in passing towards the end of the lively four-hour session was the Palestinian issue and how much it has been ignored of late.
The remark was put in a negative context, hinting that this important issue is becoming a victim of the uprising in various Arab countries, and the disarray and upheaval is distracting attention from the central cause of Palestine.
Let me be frank. It is not as if the Arab states were doing very much to rescue Palestine; we can only look back on decades of accumulated failures.
One could say that by seeking to change stagnant systems, people are creating the conditions in which the Arab world could indeed finally mobilise its latent strength for the cause of Palestine.
The notion that Israel is benefitting from the existing turmoil in much of the Arab world is not uncommon, and in the short term, it may be true. Israel never wanted stable, democratic, prosperous and progressive Arab states around it. It always sought domination and superiority, something it can only be sure of if Arabs are weak.
Despite its history of massacres, occupation, colonisation and racism, Israel never stopped bragging about being the only stable “democracy” in the region.
Such parasitism on the misfortunes and tragedies of other nations has served Israel well until now, and however immoral it may seem, that is how international relations are often viewed and conducted. But that did not discourage our host from hurriedly putting on display his latest find in The Jerusalem Post that just proves how right this perception is.
He referred to a recent article by Barry Rubin, an analyst with a long history of anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian positions, which claims that Israel emerges as a winner from the region’s chaos because many Arab countries around Israel will be so weakened by the developments within them that they would hardly be able to attack Israel.
The host alluded to Rubin’s conclusion that any future conflict in the region would not be with Israel but between Muslim Sunnis and Shiites. Many around the table gestured approval. Few did not.
Some questioned who Rubin was to take his words as the gospel.
Rubin writes that the new regimes in countries like Egypt and Syria will only refrain from attacking Israel because they would be “less able to do so effectively”, as if attacking Israel is otherwise a foregone conclusion.
Rubin does actually write that “the big Middle East conflict of the future is not the Arab-Israeli but the Sunni-Shiite one. But a series of conflicts have broken out all along the Sunni-Shiite borderland as the two blocs vie for control of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Bahrain”.
He then turns to the “surviving regimes, notably Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the five Gulf emirates”, which the writer says, “know the main threat to them is from Iran and revolutionary Islamists at home, not Israel. In fact, they realise Israel is a kind of protector for them since it is motivated and able to strike against those who also want to put their heads on the chopping block”.
That Israel and many of its supporters hold the belief that chaos around is a guarantee of stability for it could be understandable. This is an idea that has been nurtured and pushed from Israel’s Washington think tanks for years, including by the influential AIPAC group and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The problem is with many Arab intellectuals and analysts who implicitly or explicitly accept this faulty reasoning. By confusing the cause with the effect, they actually ignore decades of Israeli intransigence, aggression and creeping colonisation even when many “stable” Arab states were constantly grovelling and begging for negotiations.
Israel successfully picked off one Arab regime after another — starting with Egypt at Camp David — and felt comfortable that it could do as it wished, facing no greater challenge from the Arab world than the occasional empty Arab League statement.
Now, Israel is not so certain of the future. That is why many Israeli leaders lamented the departure of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, on whose authoritarian regime Israel had come to rely, and some now worry that the possible fall of President Bashar Assad in Syria will rob Israel of the stability and predictability that has allowed it to settle the Golan Heights with total impunity.
That is why in every country where there has been an uprising, outside powers are doing their best to restore the status quo in some form or another.
In the short term, attention is turned away from the cause of Palestine and Israel may take misguided comfort in that. But in the medium to long terms, truly democratic, sovereign and popular Arab regimes would be a development Israel would rightly view with great apprehension.
There is no contradiction between the struggle for Palestine and the struggle of Arab peoples for their rights. The latter is the necessary prerequisite for the former. The two complement each other.