Pressures Building for Mideast Political Shift

The current political context—Hezbollah’s powerful electoral showing, Western contacts with Hezbollah and Hamas, Israeli anti-Palestinian terror, Obama’s insistence on justice for Palestinians, Ahmadinejad’s victory– suggests that the Mideast political pump is primed for change.

Contrary to the mainstream American media interpretation, Hezbollah was hardly “defeated” in any long-term sense in the recent Lebanese election. The Lebanese opposition coalition of which Hezbollah forms the core won a majority of the votes (around 54%) in the recent election, not to mention getting all of its own candidates elected. What would happen if Lebanon replaced its semi-feudal confessional system that apportions parliamentary seats on the basis of religious identities of half a century ago with a decently designed democracy (e.g., fairly apportioned electoral districts based on an accurate census) is pretty obvious: the influence of the Shi’a would take a huge leap forward, and at the moment Hezbollah is the party of the Shi’a.

Second, Solana’s meeting with Hezbollah follows only by a couple days President Carter’s meeting with Hamas and his call on Washington to wake up and accept the reality that Hamas must be part of a Palestinian solution.

Third, the verbal insistence by Obama and Mitchell on dealing with Israeli repression of Palestinians seems to be reaching the point where actual steps will occur. They have invested too much “face” in advocating the end of illegal settlement growth and a two-state solution (including Mitchell’s call for the development of institutions to support that solution) to accept the humiliation that defeat by Netanyahu would entail (or so, at least, moderates might hope).

Fourth, anti-Palestinian terrorism by Israeli settlers is intensifying. To continue to ignore the spreading attacks on Palestinian homeowners, the wanton burning of olive groves, and the calls by Zionist rabbis for the increasingly extremist soldiers in the IDF to rebel against Netanyahu should he cooperate with the U.S. would be to encourage a movement that is beginning to look very much like the Nazi movement in the years leading up to Hitler’s seizure of power.

Fifth, the apparent consolidation of the Iranian “neo-con” (violence-prone, anti-democratic, super-nationalist, aggressive) faction and resultant heating up of extremist Israeli calls for nuclear war against Iran raises the danger of allowing that issue to continue unresolved. Obama needs to make every effort to use his admission that Iran after all does have the legal right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to refine uranium as the basis for making a deal with Iran and putting a firm end to Israel warmongering. The level of irresponsible emotion in both Israel and Iran makes this issue an imminent threat to peace: there is no time for temporizing.

All these aspects together mean time is short for moderates trying to resolve outstanding Mideast issues. The political context suggests that real change is imminent in the Mideast:

  1. extremists in Iran and Israel could provoke each other into a war…or moderates can prevent Israeli aggression and offer Iran a fair deal that it might accept;
  2. Zionist “greater Israel” proponents can derail the move toward justice for Palestinians…or Israel’s friends can, as many Israelis have already pointed out, save Israel from its leaders;
  3. Syria can be pushed more firmly into the arms of a triumphant Iranian extremist faction…or treated with respect and given back the Golan Heights, perhaps turning Damascus into a channel to reach accommodation with Tehran;
  4. Lebanon can be destabilized, radicalized, and made more of a magnet for Tehran… or helped to continue incrementally adjusting its political system in a way that both acknowledges that its Shi’a deserve more influence and encourages Hezbollah to participate more fully as a normal political party.

All four tracks are connected. Moderation on one track will facilitate moderation on the other tracks. In contrast to the nonsense being offered by Netanyahu, trade-offs make no sense: extremism on the Iranian track does not “balance” moderation on the Palestinian track. Quite the contrary: extremism on any track is likely very rapidly to pollute the process on the other three. Progress will require simultaneous progress on all four tracks. That is a tall order, necessitating skillful diplomacy. A million roads to war exist, and those roads are clear. Roads to peace also show through the veil of time…but vaguely. Talking with adversaries will be an essential ingredient for finding a road that will please moderate, democratic forces.

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