New birth pangs for the Middle East

An protester in Cairo holds a newspaper featuring a photo of Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit meeting with his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni, 28 December 2008. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice famously celebrated Israel’s 2006 aggression against Lebanon as “the birth pangs of a new Middle East.” She could say the same thing about Gaza today, but it will not be the birth of the Middle East she wanted.

Israel’s savage attacks on Gaza come after months and weeks of repeated threats and secret planning. The shockwaves are rumbling all over the Arab world, as much because of the official Arab silence and international cowardice and complicity as because of Israel’s barbarity.

Israel has never behaved otherwise. Right from the beginning, and even before Israel was founded, Zionist gangs led by future prime ministers were the first to introduce terrorism to the Middle East. Israel and its founders were the first to carry out political assassinations of United Nations officials and Palestinian leaders, as well as other truly terrorist attacks against hotels, railway stations and civilian Palestine government departments.

Israel brought nuclear weapons to the region and its chief innovations have been how to occupy, build settlements, usurp lands and rights by every means, commit massacres against civilians with advanced weapons, and invent new justifications for each crime. These have been its chief contributions to the region for 60 years.

Israel’s butchery in Gaza is therefore nothing new, even if its brazenness and cruelty set shameful new records. The pain penetrates deep into every soul as ordinary people in Arab capitals voice their anger at Israel, at their own indifferent governments, and the duplicity of an “international community” that automatically supports the aggressor and blames the victim.

It is true that what is happening in Gaza happened before: the massacres there earlier this year, in Lebanon in 1982, 1996 and 2006, among many other examples. The reactions are similar too. When Israel attacked Lebanon in 2006, it also had a green light from international and regional powers. Then, as now, the United States and United Kingdom refused to call for a ceasefire, to give Israel time to continue the killing and to try to achieve its goals. But in 2006, Israel failed to achieve anything but defeat, despite massive political and military support.

In Gaza, Israel created through the siege, and through the continued occupation and oppression of Palestinians everywhere, conditions that made its attack a self-fulfilling prophecy. Israel cornered itself. The indiscriminate murder of hundreds of civilians in Gaza (300 dead and 700 injured in only the first 24 hours) generated the usual bleats of “concern” from the “international community.”

Israel is ignoring the weak statement calling for an end to violence issued by the UN Security Council because it knows that the statement is meant only as political cover for those who issued it, not as a real effort to end the aggression.

As with Lebanon, Israel is quick to start a war, but the question is how to end it. Hamas — and the steadfast Palestinian people — are not an army to be defeated on a battlefield with a declaration of victory. Of course, Israel has the military might to destroy all of Gaza and kill every Palestinian there. But no matter how many atrocities it commits, the Israeli army will end its attack with no victory. Israel will reap another defeat in Gaza, to add to its harvest of defeat, and death.

With its latest massacres, Israel has ensured once and for all that it will never be accepted as a normal, permanent state in this region. That is a decision that can only be taken by the people of this region — not by declarations from their leaders — and the people have made their views clear every time they were given a chance to express themselves. For that Israel can also thank its so-called “friends” who never heeded the calls to restrain Israel even for its own good if not for the good of its victims.

Israel has been pushing events such that any chance of reconciliation and peace has been destroyed. It has embarrassed and humiliated the Arab states that signed peace treaties in the hope that this might encourage Israel itself to pursue real peace, especially with the Palestinians. It has seized every Arab opening and initiative as a sign of weakness to be exploited instead of built upon. While claiming to desire nothing but peace and security, it has all along been acting as a rogue state with disrespect, lawlessness, bigotry, racism and a savage disregard for human life.

The end of this process has not been reached. Israel will push things until even the meagre remaining peace “achievements” — the peace treaties themselves — are undone. It seems that is what Israel truly desires no matter how much it claims to want peace.

No one can say with certainty what Israel’s new aggression will unleash, but one can point to some likely outcomes.

The attack on Gaza will not destroy Hamas, and even if Israel kills every person who ever supported Hamas, the attack will not end resistance. On the contrary, resistance will be strengthened throughout the region, undermining the notion that resistance is outdated or impossible and that the only remaining “strategic choice” for the Arabs is negotiation from a position of weakness.

The Gaza attack will weaken and discredit even further the so-called “moderates” who did their best to extinguish any form of resistance and bet heavily on the failed peace process and its sponsors.

We may also see an awakening of the role of the Arab public, which has been extremely patient with the sterile negotiations and summitry conducted by its leaders. It will be impossible to counteract the now firmly rooted idea that there was official Arab complicity in the Gaza attack. No one will forget that Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni issued her threats against Gaza from Cairo on 25 December, while Egypt’s foreign minister stood smiling next to her without saying a word of protest. Neither will it be easy for Egypt to further justify its role in tightening the siege on the Gaza population by keeping the Rafah crossing closed.

The reality is that the starvation siege Israel has imposed on Gaza could not continue so long without Arab complicity. These facts leave indelible marks of shame on Arab history.

Finally, Israel may recognize what it should have learned after its invasion of Lebanon in 1982: its enemies do not have the might that it has, and it can invade and kill with impunity, but military force does not bring security. In fact, all it has done is to make Israel less secure and more hated for its crimes.

Israel continues to isolate itself, to enlarge the constituency of its enemies and, at the same time, works hard to eliminate the number of any left “friends.”
We are undoubtedly at the end of the era which started with the Madrid peace conference 17 years ago. The “peace process” that conference inaugurated, based on sidelining international law and institutionalizing Israeli dominance, has failed and cannot be revived. The alternative must not be a continuation of violence. There are other paths. One, long neglected, stands out: a return to international law, legality and accountability.

That would require real courage from an international community that has for too long abdicated its duties. Governments and international bodies may continue to evade those duties, but they should know that they will not be immune from the spreading shockwaves emanating from Gaza.

Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations. This essay first appeared in The Jordan Times and is reprinted with the author’s permission.

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