Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The following article is a 'raw' translation of a Dutch original that I wrote last week, right after the killing of Ahmad Yassin, and that appears today in the Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad. ( Het Nederlandse origineel zal later deze week op het blog verschijnen ). Save us from our non-leaders! By killing the leader of Hamas the Israeli government has shown that it thinks it should and could wage the war against terror by military means only. As many times before in history, considerations of a domestic-political nature determine government policy outside a nation’s borders. Israelis and Palestinians cannot trust their own leaders to serve their nations’ most essential interests. Aid and pressure from Europe are more than ever of vital importance. After Ahmad Yassin and some of his followers were killed by Israeli rockets we heard, saw and read several stories told by people who – whether or not maimed and/or handicapped for life – survived attacks perpetrated by Hamas, and by relatives of victims who were murdered by terrorists whom Yassin had guided and sent. It comes as no surprise that nobody here shed a tear because Ahmad Yassin paid with his life for his crimes. Still, a fierce discussion has started concerning the question whether it has been necessary and wise to liquidate terrorist leaders in general - and this one in particular -, whether the human and political costs of a policy of deadly pursuits against terrorist leaders are outweighed by its benefits, and especially whether or not the timing of the attack against Ahmad Yassin was determined very much by domestic-political concerns. During the last months Ariel Sharon has had to make bigger efforts than ever before in order to survive politically. Entangled, both personally and through his youngest son, in a complicated financial-juridical net, the old fox started his survival campaign by openly talking about a possible Israeli withdrawal from important parts of the occupied territories, something which provided him with support and sympathy from a large proportion of the Israeli population and from the American government. Until now he has only been talking about it. This results in an absurd situation, in which the leftwing opposition is afraid to politically attack the Prime Minister because it considers him to be the only one who somehow will be able to more or less end the occupation, whereas all parties on the right side of Israel’s political spectrum hesitate to stop supporting for Sharon, as in their eyes he remains the only effective bastion against the Left’s fatal indulgence. By occasionally satisfying this or that party through some tentative suggestion or by means of a perfectly timed military action the current Prime Minister of Israel managed to remain at the state’s helm longer than each of his two predecessors. The timing of the rocket attack against Ahmad Yassin should also be viewed within this context. One day after Sharon’s proposal for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza-Strip met with serious opposition within his own Likud parliamentarians, the threat that for many months had been launched at the paraplegic Hamas leader were finally translated into action. Of course the terror attack in the port of Ashdod early last week played a role here, but it is obvious that the timing of this attack against a man who for a long time had appeared on Israel’s hit list and who, because of the limited deviations in his daily routine, could be liquidated by the army on any moment once the political green light was given, was determined most of all by (party-)political factors. Even though their actions, world views, goals, and methods are incomparably different, the so-called leaders of the Palestinians and Israelis have more in common than they care to acknowledge. The Sharon government as well as the different Palestinian terror groups and the Arafat-led elite within the Palestinian Authority have all indicated more than once that they neither are interested nor believe in a political solution for the conflict which has been dragging on far too long already. In addition, all of them – when making decisions of a military or terrorist nature – frequently were led by considerations that are not exactly linked directly to the interests of their state or people. Obviously when we are talking about political and military conflicts this is not a unique phenomenon. Nevertheless in the case of the Palestinian-Israeli war it is more worrisome than anywhere else, because of the consequences each drop of blood shed here has on the stability in many parts of the world. This is illustrated by the developments on the international stock markets and the threats by various Islamist organizations against a number of potential Western targets, right after the death of Ahmad Yassin. More than ever there is a direct connection between Israeli and Palestinian suffering and violence on the one hand, and violence, political, economic and social unrest in large parts of the rest of the world. According to almost all experts, an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a sine qua non if one wants to reduce the tensions between the West and ‘the Muslim world’ to reasonable and workable proportions. Since the non-leaders of Israel and the Palestinians are unwilling or unable to end the conflict in a way that is just and satisfactory for most of the parties involved, active involvement from outside is essential. Such an involvement should consist of practical aid and carrots, as well as of political pressure and the possible use of some sort of stick. Under the label ‘the Quartet’ four world powers tried to play a mediating role. The United Nations are not decisive enough and never gave Israel the chance to become a truly full member of its main bodies. On the other hand, the United States – in particular under the current government – did not generate any trust among Arabs and Muslims when it comes to a minimal impartiality. Besides, the presidential elections in November paralyze that country’s foreign policy during the coming year and a half. Russia has too many internal problems and not enough military and economic influence outside of its national borders to play any significant role. The only Quartet member that could play a decisive role is the European Union. Not only does the Union – more than any other world power – have a direct interest in an end to the conflict, but because of the different foreign-political traditions of its individual member states it also should be able to convince both Israelis and Palestinians that it aims at a balanced and fair approach, which takes seriously the interests of all parties involved in the conflict. In addition, the EU possesses the economic means necessary to help set up – together with other donor states, such as Japan and the United States – a viable Palestinian state. Such a state, together with Israel and other states in the region, could cooperate with an extended European Union, offering the people of the Near and Middle East economic cooperation, growth and prosperity as an alternative to divisiveness and religious and ethnic hatred. In order to be able to take up such a role, the EU should stop automatically issuing gratuitous condemnations or calls for self-control after each and every dramatic development in the Middle East. There is no lack of comprehensive blueprints for peace in the region. What is lacking – and the European Union could fill that void – is a determined willingness to participate actively in the execution of those blueprints and in the processes that take place here, a willingness that should not exclude the possibility of physical intervention, obviously with respect for the sovereignty of Israel and other states involved. A framework for such an involvement can be found within the already existing Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. If the EU is to commit itself fully and with conviction to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, more than ever before peace, stability, and a more than considerable decline in the number of terror attacks and threats will come within our reach. Never were such aid and commitment needed as much as they are today.

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