Year XLIV, 2002, Number 1, Page 3
The Tragedy of the Middle East
The tragic events in Palestine have shocked to the core all those who believe in the values of peace and the coexistence of peoples. It is clear that we are faced with a situation whose solution cannot be sought within the narrow confines of Israel alone. This is a situation that involves deeply the region’s Arab states, the United States — the alliance with and support received from the US is crucial to the survival of the Jewish state — and the European Union — quite apart from all the humanitarian considerations, peace in the Middle East is very much in Europe’s interests, as is continued collaboration with all the countries of the region. A further escalation of the violence there would only inflame Arab public opinion still more, endanger the region’s moderate regimes and possibly prompt Israel’s neighbours to take up arms — and the consequences of that do not bear thinking about.
As always in politics, it is pointless, when faced with tragedies of this magnitude, to seek to apportion blame. Efforts to do so are nothing more than pretexts, their real aim being to strengthen one of the alliances that are inevitably formed in these situations. The truth is that the real victims of this spiral of violence, whichever side they belong to, are mainly innocent men and women, united solely by their desire to live in peace.
But violence leads to violence, creating a vicious cycle that fuels the progressive radicalisation of the peoples involved. This, in turn, leads to a situation, within the political class, in which the hawks are allowed to dominate the doves.
It goes without saying that lulls, attributable to the weariness of the parties involved in the conflict, are inevitable in processes of this kind, and that the periods of relative calm can be consolidated and prolonged through the reaching of interim political agreements and fragile institutional solutions. A definitive end, on the other hand, depends on the coexistence of certain conditions, internal and external. The former are first, a definitive inversion of the deadly cycle of hate, thanks not to a state of transient weariness, but to an out-and-out rejection of a level of violence that is at last deemed intolerable, and second, the emergence of leaders with great political standing and moral fibre who are truly able to understand the people’s deep desire for peace. The external conditions, on the other hand, depend on a change in the international situation. One need only think of how the Second World War and the start of the process of European unification promoted by Monnet, Adenauer, de Gasperi and Schuman brought to an end the centuries-old hatred between the French and the Germans, a hatred that had caused such bloodshed in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth. Or of how the sanctions imposed by an international community no longer prepared to tolerate the existence, in a great country, of extreme forms of racial violence, together with the action of de Klerk and Mandela, supported by the consensus of two communities wishing to live in peace, finally ended, at the start of the ‘90s, South African apartheid.
Any provisional solution (such as the creation of a Palestinian state, substantially devoid of autonomy and split into two non-contiguous territories, or the intervention of an international peace-keeping force), however weak and transitory, must clearly be welcomed, in so far as it would mean a reduction of the bloodshed and an easing of tensions. But solutions of this kind cannot remove the reason for the violence. Instead, they allow the original grievances to simmer below the surface, ready, at the first opportunity, to explode once more. These solutions must therefore be pursued with full awareness of their provisional character, and of their role as steps along a road that must lead ultimately to stability of the region and to the peaceful co-existence of its peoples. And yet, as world watches, in horror, the unfolding of events in the Middle East, it cannot help but note the failure of such provisional solutions to emerge. Neither of the two communities caught up in the conflict has, in its efforts to destroy its adversary in order to save itself, yet given any indication of weariness, while the leaders of the two factions continue to give voice to the most extreme groups within their respective alliances, or at least to accept that their views must prevail over more moderate positions. The United States, still reeling from the shock of September 11th, is proving unable to mediate between one of its most established allies, which, moreover enjoys the support of a strong lobby within America, and a Palestinian leadership that is unable to prevent acts of suicide terrorism on the part of extremist groups, and in some cases is even party to such acts. Furthermore, the United States has driven a wedge between itself and the last remaining support it enjoyed in the Arab world, which now makes no distinction between American and Israeli presence in the region. Europe is divided and powerless. Having been the Palestine’s leading source of financial support, it has stood by and watched the fruits of its efforts destroyed in a civil war that it can do nothing to prevent.
A definitive solution to the Palestinian tragedy is certainly not going to be found quickly, as if by magic. For one to be found at all, a situation will have to evolve in which, on both sides, religion is less closely bound up with politics and the economic conditions of the two communities are not so starkly different. But a medium-term solution can be envisaged, and a broad appreciation of this fact is essential in any endeavour to manage, in some way, the present situation and to lessen the destruction it is causing.
Although it is obviously quite impossible to describe this solution in any detail, we can try to indicate its general nature and the conditions in which it could emerge. First of all, it must be a solution whose scope is not local, but regional. As long as Israel continues to be surrounded by states that would like to see it destroyed, the possibility that it might abandon its militaristic and national-religious approach, and accept a compromise with neighbours it considers enemies, is clearly nil. What needs to be proposed therefore is a project that embraces the whole of the Middle East, and that creates federal ties between the states of the region, including Israel and a Palestinian state. Not only would a solution of this kind guarantee fulfilment of the primary objective (peace); it would also make Israel’s economic and technological resources available to Arab countries, while offering Israel a vast market for its products. This is not, let it be clearly understood, an imminent solution. But neither is it an impossible goal, or, therefore, one for whose achievement the region’s better forces cannot, immediately, begin to strive.
One need only recall Shimon Peres’ proposal (advanced in a 1993 book entitled The New Middle East) for a sort of Israeli-Arab union, developed along the lines of the EC, and which would be responsible, above all, for the distribution of water resources, improving agricultural productivity, planning road and rail networks across the whole of the Middle East and developing programmes and regional infrastructures for tourism.
However, none of this could ever come about without the strong political and economic support of the international community. This kind of assistance, which would guarantee the region’s internal and external security and provide it with the means for its economic recovery, could, in an arrangement reminiscent of America’s provision of aid to Europe through the Marshall Plan and the OEEC, be subject to the condition that the programme be jointly managed. But it must be underlined that for as long as the current world equilibrium prevails, an equilibrium characterised by the unchallenged, yet fragile, global hegemony of the United States, the unconditional alliance between Israel and the United States, and by growing Arab hatred of both these countries, this intervention, albeit essential, will remain inconceivable.
In order to open up the way towards a solution to this problem, a new actor is needed on the world stage: an actor able to wield considerable political influence and equipped with vast financial resources, an actor that might act in concert with the United States, but that is independent of it, an actor with the capacity to offer the Palestinians and the other Arabs of the region the guarantee of impartiality that the United States is unable to provide. Europe is the only actor that might conceivably have the requisites to play this new role. But it would have to be a Europe that, through political unification, is equipped to live up to its enormous potential — a potential attributable to its advanced level of economic and technological development, the size of its population and its high level of interdependence with the Middle Eastern region — an interdependence that is destined to become increasingly marked as the United States starts to look to “safer” countries (i.e., countries that are easier to control) for its oil supplies.
Arafat, and other Arab leaders, continue to appeal to Europe to intervene, in a peace-making capacity, in the Middle East. But, ritual gestures apart, Europe (because of its impotence, which is in turn the product of its division) cannot be drawn. While the governments of the Union’s member-states murmur their disagreement with US policy, they lack both the clarity of vision and the courage to propose a different policy from the one pursued by the Americans. This stems from their knowledge that fifteen governments united only by weak confederal links cannot voice a common will and, even if they could, would not have the power to impose it. Thus, all that Europe is able to offer the world is the sorry spectacle of a group of states that are failing to shoulder their historical responsibilities and that consider the quest to ensure that their own national interests prevail over those of their partners as a more important motivation than the values of unity and peace.
In the course of the second half of the twentieth century, European integration advanced to extraordinary levels. Had Europe had the capacity to see this process right through — to federal unity — then it would, today, be in a position to make a decisive contribution to efforts to achieve economic development and peace in the world. Furthermore, it would stand before the rest of mankind, and the Middle East in particular, as an example of how a group of states, historically divided by wars and violence, can overcome their differences once and for all and offer their citizens a secure and prosperous future. But this has not, as yet, come about, and today, because of the turn of events within the Union, and the situation internationally, even the conditions that underpinned Europe’s birth and evolution as far as the creation of the single currency are being lost. Unless there is a radical change of direction — and it will take a strong act of will in order for this to come about — Europe, rather than being a factor essential to peace and stability in the world, will run the risk of a return to the nationalism and conflicts of the past, and to an ugly degeneration of civil cohabitation.