b i t t e r l e m o n s. o r g
    May 3, 2004 Edition 15                       Palestinian-Israeli crossfire
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  Palestine = Iraq?
. Until now, Israel has benefited        by Yossi Alpher
Though Iraq really is not Palestine, the veneer is wearing thin on the American grand strategy in the region.
  . Linked in their solutions        by Ghassan Khatib
Israel does its best to identify with the United States and the war in Iraq.
. Is there a linkage?        by Israel Elad Altman
In real political terms, pan-Arabism exists no longer, and inter-Arab commitment is symbolic rather than real.
  . Evocative impressions        a conversation with Akram Atallah
Here in Palestine we are speaking about another people that want to replace us.

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Until now, Israel has benefited
by Yossi Alpher

If we examine the past year's events in Iraq as one important dimension of the United States' post-9/11 strategy in the Middle East, it seems clear that, on balance, Israel has benefited. But this might not continue for long to be the case.

True, the US occupation of Iraq did not bring about the much ballyhooed positive domino effect of peace and democratization in the region. Yet on balance, and to date, America's actions in the region over the past two and a half years have been good for Israel. They have eliminated any vestige of a coordinated Arab military threat ("eastern front") against Israel, begun to roll back the weapons of mass destruction threat (Libya, hopefully Iran, Pakistan's proliferation mania), and provided Israel with a powerful ally in its struggle against the Islamic radical movements that target it.

After 9/11 Israel joined the "good guys", while Yasser Arafat maneuvered himself into the ranks of the "evil ones", along with Saddam Hussein. Even the uglier aspects of the American war on terror-regrettable civilian casualties and damage in Iraq, the daunting specter of the Guantanamo detention facility, and the recent revelations regarding American and British torture of prisoners-reflect favorably on Israel, by demonstrating to its critics in the West that its treatment of Palestinians in wartime, however problematic, is probably more humane than the "dirty war" norms of what other civilized countries end up doing as they fight back against terrorism.

At the grand strategic level, the American offensives in Afghanistan and Iraq and against al Qaeda are predicated on a notion that is very welcome in Israel: that the real Middle East dynamic around which US policy should be organized is not the Israel-Arab or Israeli-Palestinian dispute, but rather the need to counter Islamic terror, WMD, and radical rogue states, all of which directly threaten American security.

Those who now argue that "Iraq = Palestine", that in both countries Arab freedom fighters are struggling against imperialists and colonialists, hold that, in effect, there are no Middle East solutions-no peace, no democracy and human rights, no prosperity, no stability-without a Palestinian solution. That is what moderate Arab countries like Egypt and Jordan told the Bush administration before the invasion of Iraq.

In is now clear that US President Bush barely paid lip service to this notion. He adopted the roadmap prior to the war to help out British Prime Minister Tony Blair politically, and made a mild effort to "launch" it shortly after the occupation of Iraq was completed. But the administration's heart was never really in this enterprise. It assessed, with some degree of accuracy, that the moderate Arab states with their concern over Palestine were nothing but "paper tigers" in the Iraqi context. What became important for Washington was installing a stable and friendly regime in Baghdad and, as a consequence, winning the November 2004 election.

In this regard, the noble goal of democratization in the Middle East has emerged during the past year as nothing but old-fashioned regime change. Ask Yasser Arafat, whose removal Washington and Jerusalem adamantly demand because he condones terrorism, even though he was elected more democratically than any other Middle East leader. Further, Bush signaled Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon just under a year ago that American electoral and Iraqi concerns require that there be no messy Israeli-Palestinian peace process at all. Bush went out on a limb to embrace Sharon's problematic disengagement plan only on condition that it not take place in 2004 and that the preparations provide Washington with "peace" dividends in return for minimal investment; now even that deal has been jeopardized by the negative Likud referendum vote.

Despite Israel's improved strategic status, not all of the post-9/11 related developments are good for its long term interests. A vigorous US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace process would certainly be better than the administration's indifference. Meanwhile, even though Iraq really is not Palestine, the veneer is wearing thin on the American grand strategy in the region, and that is definitely bad for Israel. Indeed, the more the American armed forces sink into a violent morass in Iraq and possibly in Afghanistan, lose their deterrent effect and fail to stabilize a single Arab country into which Washington has invested nearly 150,000 troops and hundreds of billions of dollars, the worse it is not only for the United States, but for its ally, Israel, as well.

If the US now opts to extricate itself from Iraq by adopting more traditional Middle East expedients-Israel may pay a price. In retrospect, the red line may have been crossed with the enthusiastic introduction and endorsement by Washington of a UN special envoy for Iraq, Algeria's Lakhdar Brahimi, for whom Israel is "the big poison" in the Middle East (talk about linkage!), followed by a plan to promote a compromise caretaker commander for Fallujah drawn from the ranks of Saddam's most trusted generals. -Published 3/5/2004©bitterlemons.org

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.

Linked in their solutions
by Ghassan Khatib

Whether the people of Palestine, Iraq or elsewhere like it or not, the perception in the region is that Iraq and Palestine are linked. Palestinians in general would prefer to say that their cause is different because they are rejecting an illegal occupation through a resistance that stands in harmony with international standards. But the fact that these two areas are at war and both are causes that enjoy great sympathy and popularity links the issues in the eyes of the region's publics.

Ironically, it is supporters of Israel that are most avid in trying to create connections between these two tragic situations. Israel, as part and parcel of its attempts to identify with the United States, always attempts to give the impression that its fight with Palestinians is part of any disagreement that the United States has with just about anybody. For example, when the United States launched its war against terrorism, especially the front in Afghanistan immediately after the events of September 11, Israel exerted great efforts in telling the world that Palestine was also part of the same fight. Similarly, Israel does its best to identify with the United States and the war in Iraq.

But apart from aggressive attempts to shape the perception of events, the realities themselves and the images flowing from here and there are inviting public opinion in the region to find similarities. The images of heavily armed soldiers raiding homes, frightening civilians, conducting operations that end in heavy civilian casualties, the shelling of populated areas, declaration of curfew and so on all link the two conflicts.

On a deeper level of analysis, one observes other connections between the two arenas. The American vision of the future of the Middle East provides Israel with a major regional role and ultimately, hegemony. Such a vision can only materialize when the United States is able to meet certain goals in the region, including accomplishing what it set out to do in Iraq. The failure of the United States to achieve what it wants in Iraq will prevent the American administration from achieving its vision of the "new Middle East." One component of this regional overhaul is a major role for Israel, despite its continuing occupation, which seems certain to come at the expense of the basic rights and political positions of the Palestinian people.

On the other hand, there are significant differences in what is going on in the two fronts. The Palestinian problem is not a new issue and is not related to the immediate needs of the United States. It is a long-standing conflict with deep roots and religious and national dimensions. While the Iraqi conflict is fierce and carries heavy losses, it does not have the same complicated burdens of religion and history.

Having said that, perhaps the most significant similarity is that neither conflict will see significant progress as long as the parties follow the approach of resorting to force and physical power, rather than international legality. If international bodies such as the United Nations are given a chance to play a role in the solution, then we may see a decline in the suffering, and a return to the hope of constructive peace negotiations, and finally a return to security and peace. -Published 3/5/2004(c)bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is minister of labor in the Palestinian government and for many years prior was featured in the press as a political analyst.

Is there a linkage?
by Israel Elad Altman

Since the outbreak of the war in Iraq, a constant feature of the political debate in the Middle East and beyond has been the argument that the conflicts in Iraq and in Palestine are essentially similar, that they are closely linked together, influence one another and are but one struggle fought on two fronts.

The claim that Iraq and Palestine are interlinked was invoked in the past by Iraqis seeking to capitalize on the Arab commitment to Palestine in advancing Iraqi interests. One recalls Saddam Hussein's attempt in 1990 to mobilize Arab popular support for his plans for Kuwait, claiming that Iraq's struggle for Kuwait was part of the Arab struggle to liberate Palestine, and receiving an enthusiastic ovation from Yasser Arafat. Later on Saddam bought Iraq's shares in the Palestinian struggle by subsidizing families of suicide bombers. Nowadays Muqtada al-Sadr is the most outspoken Iraqi figure endorsing Hamas (as well as Hizbullah).

Stories about American-Israeli cooperation in counterinsurgency, including guided tours presumably conducted by Israeli officers for their American opposite numbers in the Jenin refugee camp, are quoted by proponents of the linkage argument. Analysts offer a variety of ways by which the two conflicts influence each other or are expected to do so.

Thus it is suggested that as the insurgency in Iraq gains momentum, it will uplift the morale of its Palestinian counterpart and instill in it increased drive and initiative, and the revived Palestine armed struggle will in turn bolster the resolve of the Iraqi insurgency. Moreover, the linkage between the two conflicts is said to have already enhanced the centrality of the Palestine problem: America's difficulties in Iraq, as well as the growing hostility it faces from Arabs and Muslims, are bound to force it to change its attitude and start exerting pressures on Israel.

A parallelism has even been found between the people of the besieged Fallujah in Iraq and the Egyptian soldiers trapped in Fallujah and in Iraq al-Manshiyyah in Palestine during the 1948 War, an experience which provided one of them, Gamal Abd al-Nasser, with inspiration for his pan-Arab vision. The view that the two conflicts are linked, and that one cannot be solved without the other, is voiced by realistic and pragmatic political figures and commentators.

Yet the two conflicts are not really interlinked. Their respective sources and trajectories are profoundly different. In Iraq the violence is obviously a manifestation of an inter- and intra-communal struggle for power in preparation for the departure of the coalition forces, and fighting against those forces is one of the cards used by competing parties. The conflict in Iraq did not break out as a result of developments in Palestine, and its resolution does not depend on resolving the Palestinian problem. Similarly, were the main parties in Iraq to agree on a formula opening the way for internal peace and departure of coalition forces, would this change the basic positions of Israelis and Palestinians in their conflict, or the balance of power, or the situation on the ground?

Furthermore, the two conflicts clearly evolve independently of each other. Jenin has indeed declared itself a twin city with Fallujah (the one in Iraq), yet the siege of Fallujah, and the intensification of the insurgency in Iraq in general, have not been accompanied by a similar intensification of Palestinian operations, at least thus far. Similarly, America's difficulties in Iraq have not forced it to change its policies vis-a-vis Israel, again at least thus far-witness the recent Bush-Sharon understandings.

Events in Iraq since March 2003 have only underlined what had been obvious for some time, namely that in real political terms, pan-Arabism exists no longer, and inter-Arab commitment is symbolic rather than real. The struggle of the Palestinians is their own, and its fate will be determined by whatever happens on the ground, and not far afield.

Still, Iraq does have implications for the Arab-Israel equation in a wider sense. One is the removal of the potential eastern front threat, following the demise of the Saddam regime. It is difficult to imagine the reemergence of an Iraqi military threat to Israel in the next few years. In hindsight it can be argued that the Iraqi military did not constitute a formidable threat in the first place. Nevertheless it had such an image, and its removal allows the introduction of changes in Israel's strategic and political planning.

Secondly, the continued military presence of the United States in Iraq, and its inability thus far to lead the local forces to form a legitimate, effective and stable government, seem to erode its image as the one power capable of setting the Middle Eastern agenda. The longer it stays in Iraq, the harder it will be for the US to revive and lead the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. This serves the interests of neither Palestinians nor Israelis. -Published 3/5/2004©bitterlemons.org

Israel Elad Altman is director of studies, Institute for Policy and Strategy, The Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.

Evocative impressions
a conversation with Akram Atallah

bitterlemons: What did you see in your recent trip to Iraq that evoked for you similarities or differences with Palestine?

Atallah: We were traveling between Baghdad and al Halla and we had to find a bypass road to avoid an area that had been closed by the Americans. We were stuck for more than one hour, and I thought--I even wrote it down--that I didn't see any difference between what was happening here and in Palestine.

This put me in the psychological situation of being at home. At times I was frightened, not because the Americans were there, but because I was thinking that they were Israeli soldiers--that impression was living inside of me.

There were checkpoints and bypass roads and requests for IDs. But here in Palestine, [the Israelis] are more hi-tech. When you get to a checkpoint, they easily record your ID number and check the computer to see if you are wanted. In Baghdad, the Americans don't have such things. They are a new occupation.

Another issue that reminded me of home was the cement walls.

bitterlemons: The army is building walls?

Atallah: The walls are closing roads, cutting off entrances to military camps and hotels and ministries, or the way to the airport from Baghdad. Of course, these are not dividing the country, but it does make life difficult.

bitterlemons: From a political standpoint, what are the comparisons that can be made?

Atallah: I heard from Iraqi intellectuals about how the Iraqi and Palestinian authorities are similar, in that they are called "authorities", but are not responsible for more than education and health. This was a joke they told.

But in truth, the political situations are entirely different. There, we are speaking about "occupation"--even those in the Iraqi council call it an occupation. But there are still some Iraqis who believe that the American occupation is necessary in order to manage the internal divisions.

Al Iraqiya television, one of the TV stations founded by the Americans and an official Iraqi channel, speaks of Palestine as an "occupation", but when it talks about Iraq, it talks about the "coalition forces." These people also do not find the two cases similar. They see the Palestinians as having the right to rebel against the Israeli occupation, and the Iraqi resistance as illegitimate.

bitterlemons: When you spoke with Iraqis about how they see their future, what did they say? Do they sound like Palestinians?

Atallah: We were there supporting the Iraqi implementation of a large survey about living conditions. We traveled all over Kirkuk, Halqut and Yacouba. The Iraqis say they are unsure about their future. At the beginning of the war, they had a lot of hope, but now they are not sure how things will be.

My Iraqi friends said that those of us living in Palestine and Iraq are going to compete with each other for quite a long time over whose situation is worse. But even as they make this comparison, most of them believe that the Iraqi problem will be solved more easily than the Palestinian problem.

bitterlemons: In your experience, how do Palestinians view Iraq?

Atallah: A lot of Palestinians make the comparison in the sense that when they watch television, it is hard for them to distinguish [visually] between Iraq and Palestine. But the context is very different. Here in Palestine, we are speaking about daily conflict, not only with Israeli soldiers, but with the Israeli people in the form of settlers, the bypass roads, the fence.

I believe that the Iraqi problem is easily solved, when compared with Palestine. Here, on the other hand, we are speaking about another people that want to replace us, not only occupy us. They want our land. There, it is more economic and another kind of political agenda, for which there might be an agreement that you can be happy with. But for Palestinians, any new agreement is difficult--even [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's proposal was rejected by the Likud. Our issue is much more complicated. -Published 3/5/2004©bitterlemons.org

Akram Atallah, a refugee from Zakariya who lives in Dheisheh Refugee Camp, visited Iraq for two months as a researcher.

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