17 June 2007

And the war drags on...

Never mind which side, Hamas or Fatah, is most responsible for the current civil war within the Palestinian Territories. The tragedy is the fact of the war itself. For the Palestinians, it tears up and throws away so many hope which have, however tenuously, shimmered on the horizon. For Isra'el it is a blow to hopes for peace.

And, besides, if we are seeking to allocate blame, we should be looking at ourselves: the western world outside. The US is always talking about the need for democracy to flower; but when democracy spoke in the Palestinian Territories, eighteen months ago, with the popular success of Hamas in elections, the response was a rapid and determined dose of US weed killer. The EU hesitated hardly at all before following suit.

Hamas may not be the west's preferred party of government, but it was the democratic choice. Beyond that, the elections were a stage on Hamas' journey of development, already well under way, from activist guerrilla group to political movement. That journey had even shown signs of emerging willingness to acknowledge the separate existence of Isra'el.

The resulting financial boycott did many things. One of them, in practical terms, was to undermine not Hamas but the infant Palestinian administration itself. That administration had not, thus far, been a model of civil polity ... but then, how could it be, in e circumstances of its birth. The elections, regardless of who won, were an important building block in the delicate improvement process.

Another effect, political this time, was to tell the Palestinian people that imperialism is alive, well, and just as determined as ever that they shall not be allowed to decide anything of any significance for themselves. Many Palestinians had begun to cautiously believe that the future might be built, one grain at a time, if they invested them selves in it; the boycott told them that they would only be allowed to invest themselves as they were told.

For many in Isra'el, there is a knee jerk reflex to assume that anything which divides the Palestinians weakens the threat against them. The modern state of Isra'el has, over the years since its birth, developed the same reflex. Early experience provide strong reasons for that reflex; but for decades, now, the reflex has been one of the main obstacles to peaceful change. Isra'el is not a monolith, with only one opinion or view of the world; there are also many there who know that pain turns outward, and the only hope for peaceful Isra'eli life is a Palestinian neighbour whose people also have tolerable lives of upwardly developing prosperity and a stake in peace. An Isra'eli friend (I have friends on all sides of this ongoing tragedy; often they are also friends of each other, across the divides) said recently:

"Isra'el could be a model for the region, a beacon of what other states and communities could be and achieve. But nobody is going to want that model while it includes putting the boot into any face which dares to look up from the dirt. We should be offering a hand up to anyone who tries to improve their own position, whether we like them or not. At worst, we would bind an enemy into a spiral of mutual need; at best we would help to build a new friend. Instead, we go on in the old way, allowing fears to drag us on through the old cycle of 'Cet animal est tres mechant; quand on l'attaque, il se defend'."

And the west, of course, has its own reflex: to support Isra'el, right or wrong, at any cost. The US leads in this but Europe (despite the presence of France and Britain, both traditionally Arabist) follows close behind.

Since the boycott, support has poured into the camp of Hamas' rivals, Fatah. Despite being democratically relegated to second place in government, they have received a flood of money and arms from outside.

Try a quick thought experiment. Imagine that Martian ships appeared in our skies and, immediately after an election in the US had returned a Democratic legislature under a Republican president, started financing and physically arming Republican militias. (Feel free to reverse the parties involved. If you are British, make that Labour and Conservative; if you live somewhere else, you get the general idea.) Imagine, further, that Martian ships were blocking economic activity by your country, and Martian intelligence agents were encouraging executive action against the legislature. Now, regardless of which party you support internally, ask yourself how you would feel about Martians in such a scenario?

Nobody wins in this situation. Palestinians lose, whether they support Hamas, Fatah or someone else entirely. Isra'el loses. We in the west lose. We have all been put back at least a decade, maybe more. And it's our fault.

Tony Blair, whom I often criticise, did have a passionate belief in the importance of encouraging a two state, mutual development future for Isra'elis and Palestinians. What a pity he didn't focus more on that, and less on the uncritical loyalty for his new best friend George Bush to lead him into Iraq.

Musical note: my post title is taken from the final line of Donovan Leitch's Ballad of a Crystal Man (1964), released on the same EP as Universal Soldier upon which I called a couple of weeks ago.

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