Might can crush, it cannot conquer
‘The News’ dated 17 October 2000
The Oslo peace process lies stained with blood in the dusty streets of Ramallah and Jerusalem. The excessive use of force by the Barak regime against Palestinian protesters has sparked anger across the Muslim world. Too many human lives have been lost, including those of Palestinian children.
The recording of the brutal death of a small child nestled in the father’s shadow, whose protection he sought, was cruel and inhuman. For many, it shocked and symbolised the senseless violence that has gripped the Middle East for more than half a century.
The inability of the Israeli regime to order an inquiry into that brutal murder, or to reign in the security forces, reinforced old stereotypes and led to the lynching of Israeli soldiers.
The inability of the world community to step in quickly enough to prevent the loss of almost 100 lives, mostly Palestinian, in two weeks shook the peace process. It also re-ignited memories of the killings of Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya played, and replayed, on television screens.
Once again, the international community was found slow in responding to a crisis that could lead to far and wide ramifications. To many, it appeared that the unfortunate lynching of the two Israelis soldiers was the catalyst that moved the world community to finally seek to politically intervene.
The perception within the Muslim community, whether right or wrong, that the lives of two Israeli soldiers are more valuable than the lives of ten score Palestinians is what feeds anger and fuels extremist movements across the Muslim world.
The United Nations, Washington and the foreign capitals of the G-8 are too far away. Most people vent their sentiments on their own rulers, seeing them as weak and inept. This undermines the politics of moderation.
The Cold War world was built on the structure of two superpowers. Countries, and people, who felt aggrieved could look for solace and hope towards one of the superpowers. The end of the Cold War has led to a unipolar world. That unipolar world is still to construct the pillars upon which the foundations of redress can be laid. Most of the international community looks towards America. The United Nations, or even the Security Council, is still to come into its own.
Global institutions for conflict resolution and conflict prevention are necessary to enable quick responses. Otherwise the danger is that the politics of blood will feed the politics of hatred. The politics of elections, and of ratings, also determines the ability of governments to respond. Or not respond. America, caught in a presidential election, was less focused on international affairs. Electorally, the weight of the American Muslims was too weak to pressure a stronger response in the face of the early killings.
Meanwhile, the violence curve provoked by the visit of controversial Israeli leader Ariel Sharon to Jerusalem had profound electoral results. The sagging political fortunes of Prime Minister Barak more than doubled. His ratings went up from 20 per cent to 50 per cent.
More and more, in the world of Gallup polls and influential groups able to articulate their views effectively, leaders respond to ratings. Statesmen are too few and far between. Yet, a peaceful world needs more states people, those leaders able to look beyond today to take decisions that may be unpopular but necessary.
Changing the status quo requires courage. It also requires the capacity to absorb a momentary loss of support for a permanent place in history.
Perhaps the recent wave of violence will lead to a review of the geographical unit and religious composition that can better police peace. The segregated, and non-contiguous Palestinians enclaves, surrounded by Israeli-controlled borders, has kept tensions running high. It might have been right at the time when the Palestinian Authority had yet to be established. Now a better rationalisation seems in order.
The road to peace is difficult. Extremists on both sides demand too much. And inflame passions. President Arafat and Prime Minister Rabin both demonstrated courage in moving towards peace. In a world of instant information the expectation is of instant solutions. Yet, the world is based on human passion. Human Passion has yet to allow for instant political solutions. Yes, there are unresolved issues. It takes time to deal with each one.
Pakistan and Bangladesh, both Muslim countries, are yet to resolve the outstanding issues springing from their separation in 1971.
Those who blame President Arafat for accepting a less than perfect initial resolution are harsh. The foot has to get in the door before the house is accessible. In accepting a torn and tattered peace, President Arafat opened the door to a solution. To expect that was the solution is simply short-sighted.
There are one billion Muslims in the world today. The demographic pressure creates a power of its own. But many within the Muslim community are caught in a cycle of cynicism and bitterness. That cycle began with the Palestinian dislocation in 1948. It deepened into frustration when large numbers of Muslims perceived themselves as caught between injustice and helplessness. Violence was a by-product.
As we enter the twenty-first century, the peace process that promised so much in the last century, is in danger. It rests on the ability of the ailing President Arafat and the intractable Barak regime to move forward. The use of helicopter gunships and heavy artillery hardly helps. It gives the impression that, rather than seek peace, the Barak regime is seeking to intimidate a surrender.
Israel is militarily more powerful with a suspected nuclear arsenal. That military might ought to give Barak the security to surmount fear and take steps to reach out to the Palestinians. In the ageing Palestinian leader, peace has a chance. It ought to be taken. Otherwise, the danger is that the past ghosts will come back to stalk the Middle East again. If history has a lesson, it is that might can crush but it cannot conquer.