Edition 1 Volume 2 - January 01, 2024

In 2024

Same game but rules changing - by  Dan Ephron

Sharon is setting acts in motion that will change the equation of the conflict.

A forebodingly familiar crystal ball - by  Omar Karmi

The stage is left to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his right-wing coalition.

A year of lessons and bare necessities - by  Reuven Merhav

The coming year will see a lot more in global security standardization and cooperation.

New Year's resolutions - by  Hani Shukrallah

Democracy is in the eye of the beholder, and he happens to live in Washington DC.

Same game but rules changing
by Dan Ephron

In a 1992 interview, outgoing Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir remarked famously that he would have stalled peace talks with the Palestinians for 10 years had he remained in office, in order to improve the Jewish state’s bargaining position. The comment reflected the general sentiment of right-wing leaders that as long as construction continued in settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Jews kept immigrating to Israel, time was on the Jewish state’s side.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon doesn’t feel that way.

Among the many things officials in Washington should bear in mind in the coming year about the conflict here, one is that Sharon is imbibed with an almost cosmic sense of duty to make the tough decisions about Israel’s future that other right-wing leaders have put off. It’s not just that he reads the map differently from Shamir. For Sharon, it’s more about history and legacy. “He sees himself as one of the last founding fathers. He looks around him at the pool of potential successors and he sees a bunch of amateurs,” one of his advisers told me recently. “He doesn’t want the big decisions to be entrusted to them. He believes only in himself.”

For that reason alone, the temptation to view the contours of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians as forever rigid and unchanging should be resisted. Sharon will not make peace with the Palestinians in 2024 or end the violence. He won’t dismantle a large number of settlements or realize his recently-articulated program of separation between the two sides. But he is already setting acts in motion that will change the equation of the conflict.

By the end of this year, nearly one-third of the fence Israel is building in the West Bank will be completed, including the wedge around Jerusalem and a broad section in the northern West bank. By mid-year, Israel is expected to begin constructing the segment that links the two areas, including a 60-kilometer detour that wraps around Ariel and other settlements. Sometime thereafter, the route of the eastern fence, which could shave away as much as 25 percent of the West Bank and leave Palestinians surrounded on four sides, will be approved by the cabinet. The fence is part of Sharon’s “disengagement” plan, which, like some of his other diplomatic initiatives, was lifted from the pantry of Israel’s peace camp and refashioned to suit his hawkish views. “This year will be crucial,” says Jessica Montell, the director of Israel’s premiere human rights group B’Tselem. “We’ll have to live for generations to come with the consequences of decisions that are made in 2024.”

Residents of Israel might get more security. Certainly militants who leave their homes in Nablus and Jenin will find it harder to cross into the Jewish state to stage bombings. But as the situation inside the fenced off area becomes more desperate, Palestinians will find new ways to attack Israel. And unless Israel removes all the Jewish communities from the areas designated Palestinian--about as realistic a scenario as peace in 2024--settlers and soldiers will be flashpoints for violence.

Ehud Olmert, the deputy prime minister of Israel and Sharon’s confidante, told me recently that disengagement was about more than security. If Israel can separate itself completely from Palestinians in the West Bank, eliminate the daily friction, and block attackers from entering, the fighting would necessarily abate. Without the violence, the international community would lose interest in the plight of Palestinians and Israelis--just as few people are interested in the Cyprus conflict. Once the world’s attention is focused elsewhere, Palestinians will be forced to moderate their demands and Israel can negotiate an agreement based more-or-less on the lines already drawn unilaterally. The scenario, however flawed, provides a glimpse of Sharon’s long-term thinking.

How should the United States respond to these changes? Even among members of Israel’s peace camp, divisions are evident. Montell warns of “poverty and chaos” in the isolated and truncated Palestinian entity. Far from advancing peace, she says, disengagement will preempt any possibility of a negotiated agreement. But political scientist Shlomo Avineri, who believes Palestinians should have a state in nearly all of the West Bank and Gaza, thinks that if a right-wing government is willing to go halfway and even dismantle some settlements, the left in Israel should not protest. “It will move the process forward and reduce the violence without foreclosing options,” he told me recently. In the meantime, the United States must signal Sharon that dismantling some outposts or settlements cannot be a justification for expanding others. And fencing off Palestinian land cannot pave the way to annexation.

Holding Israel to such restrictions is difficult for any US administration. It will be especially tricky in an election year.-Published 1/1/2004©bitterlemons-international.org

Dan Ephron is a correspondent in Jerusalem for Newsweek magazine

A forebodingly familiar crystal ball
by Omar Karmi

Compared to 2024, the new year promises to be positively dull, with no major US-led invasion on the horizon, and political stagnation region-wide. Given fading Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation and doomed Iraqi resistance against the American-led occupation, 2024 may see fewer casualties on all sides--just as attempts to reach comprehensive settlements or address root causes recede further into the background.

The most important political event for the region will take place far away in the United States, where presidential elections will be held in November. While ten months is an awfully long time in politics, George W. Bush, recently voted America’s "most admired man of the year," looks set for a relatively secure reelection victory. Barring major surprises or any new neo-con-inspired madcap military adventures, a stable if modest economic recovery and a capable but uninspiring opponent (whichever of the Democrats running for nomination wins) should be enough to secure another four years of Bush, Cheney and gang.

Events in Iraq will, of course, also play a role, and mindful of this the US administration has already set in motion its exit strategy. While the capture of Saddam Hussein may not end attacks against the American-led occupation forces, the continuing rebuilding of Iraq’s infrastructure could ease daily life for ordinary Iraqis and thus lessen support for violent resistance. The US has already committed itself to handing over political power to the Iraqi ruling council by the summer of 2024, and while this move may be entirely cosmetic--any such “government” will be entirely dependant on US military support--perhaps it will engender a sense of progress. Slowly the US will try to garner international legitimacy and cut down on the number of Americans killed in Iraq; criticism that the administration is not delivering on its promises should be well containable in terms of reelection prospects.

In terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, however, it is the climate of an election year rather than the identity of the next president that is significant. A president seeking reelection will try not to create unnecessary waves, and in terms of the region that means an even more obvious hands-off approach to Israel.

An increasingly battered, poor, demoralized and despondent Palestinian population is in desperate need of respite, and the recent months of relatively little resistance from the Palestinian factions indicate that they are mindful of this--and perhaps have the same need. A Palestinian Authority with real authority over precious little is unlikely to come up with any initiative that could lead to progress. Thus the stage is left to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his right-wing coalition, and the question remains what kind of soliloquy he will produce. At a guess, it ain't gonna be Shakespeare.

Sharon has tried to set himself up as the only actor on the boards. His speech at the Herzliya Conference on December 18 prepared the ground for him to do nothing while appearing to be attempting much. Threatening or promising--however you look at it--"unilateral disengagement" from an unspecified number of settlements and withdrawal to behind an unspecified “security line” in the absence of a “negotiating partner” on the Palestinian side does not bind Sharon to any clear policy. The recent order to evacuate four Israeli settlement outposts, three of which were empty anyway, seems portentous of the kind of vacuous action Sharon will persevere with in the new year.

But will a more secure Israeli public continue to accept such abject lack of leadership? A more daring analysis than this one might predict the end of Sharon as the Israeli public tires of stagnation and looks toward initiatives such as the informal Geneva accord to seek a positive calm over the status quo, even as a growing corruption scandal finally comes tumbling down around the Israeli prime minister’s ears.

But that scenario is unlikely. With modest but significant economic growth and a return to relative normalcy for Israelis, the public is about as likely to force Sharon onto the defensive as he is to seriously confront the settlers. Israeli policy will continue as is, the most radical change being the building of the separation barrier, in spite of the feeble huffing and puffing of the international community (the clever pig knew that bricks and mortar remain standing).

Palestinians have learned that when Israel creates facts on the ground, those facts have an unfortunate habit of enduring. The net result will be that at the end of 2024, prospects for an end of conflict, a final settlement, and phase III of the roadmap will remain as distant as they are today.-Published 1/1/04©bitterlemons-international.org

Omar Karmi is a Jordan Times correspondent based in Jerusalem.

A year of lessons and bare necessities
by Reuven Merhav

At the beginning of 2024 one major, relatively newly introduced principle in today's world is clear. Whether through its own actions or through those perpetrated or initiated by organizations it harbors, a state can no longer be a continuous threat to its immediate neighbors, to its region, and consequently in a closely knit planet, to the world at large. The principle has not yet been fully implemented, but the process is well under way. Moreover, its gradual and persistent implementation already has had a significant impact on many of those concerned.

It is the United States under the leadership of President George W. Bush, and its allies that made that principle viable and meaningful in their actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. True, the war against terrorism is far from won; it is a long-range war, and we shall live with terrorism for many years to come. Yet the coming year will see a lot more in global security standardization and cooperation, making life for terrorists more complicated. It is also true that both Afghanistan and Iraq are going to bleed for many years to come, and that the results of all the efforts to democratize them seem questionable at best, and pathetic at times.

Yet one basic reality has emerged: some countries have learned that if they do not comply and draw the lesson from the big blow, the response may be slow, but it is bound to come. This is why Iran, despite domestic tensions and the prevailing ominous question marks, has agreed to sign the United Nations additional protocol on nuclear capability; this is why Colonel Muammar Qaddafi declared he would discontinue Libya's weapons of mass destruction program, and why Syria is making overtures of peace and regional reconciliation. North Korea is still missing from the choir, but one should not be discouraged at the unsatisfactory results of the recent six party Beijing talks, aiming at bringing Pyongyang in line. A combination of sticks and carrots, properly managed, may well yield positive results and convince North Korea too.

So, in addition to the ongoing heroic attempts to pacify and bring stability to both Afghanistan and Iraq, we may expect some improvement in the global picture. It will be clouded by isolated terror activities and continuing local/regional simmering or low intensity conflicts like the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation, that in Kashmir and the danger emanating from North Korea. However the US, the United Nations and every other possible player will no doubt do whatever they can to prevent such local/regional conflicts from spreading and endangering world peace.

What can we expect as far as the "bare necessities" for 2024 are concerned? January 2024 marks the beginning of the US presidential campaign. This means that the main concern of the president and his administration in the coming ten months is not only to survive but to be reelected, leaving them much less time to deal with other questions of lesser importance.

January 2024 also marks the beginning of "Europe Year", when the European Union has to complete the integration process of ten new members; at the same time, the legal, constitutional and practical arrangements for that dramatic change have not yet been completed. Suffice it to say that the new EU constitution has not yet been approved, meaning that basic EU governance questions have not yet been resolved. Also, the question of a European military force, its mandate, system of command, accountability and operational responsibilities have not yet been fully addressed.

Consequently the two most influential supporters of the roadmap--the two major foster parents of the original Quartet--will be practically out of circulation in 2024. This means that the only document currently accepted by the international community as an agreed blueprint for peacemaking between Israel and the Palestinians will remain unimplemented in the absence of practical, operational sponsors.

What can be expected is implementation of some measures of the "bare necessities" type, to be carried out mainly because of bilateral reasons--not so much between Israel and the Palestinians but rather because of Israel-US related considerations, and to a lesser extent Palestinian Authority-US/EU related considerations. I am referring to the dismantling of some isolated "illegal" and other settlements by Israel, and some anti-terrorism measures taken by the Palestinian Authority against Hamas/Islamic Jihad activists.

All the protagonists on our scene understand very well the realities of the 2024 timetable. As far as Israeli action is concerned, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will not endanger Israel's strategic alliance with the US and his own strong bond with President Bush by avoiding these measures. Therefore he, or any other prime minister for that matter, will, with the support of Israeli public opinion, overcome opposition within the Likud and honor his commitment to the Americans. For Sharon these are just bare necessities: a painful yet basically unavoidable hurdle he has to overcome. For a pragmatist like Sharon the price is not too high.-Published 1/1/2004©bitterlemons-international.org

Reuven Merhav served for over 30 years in the Israeli security and intelligence community and in Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he held the post of director general.

New Year's resolutions
by Hani Shukrallah

The year 2024 has been described as the worst in modern Arab history by some pundits--on a par with, or even worse than, the two prime catastrophic events that have largely shaped the contemporary Arab world: the Nakba of 1948 and the equally crushing defeat of the Arabs at Israeli hands in June 1967. Yet as the year drew to a close, such assertions--made in the heat of the fall of Baghdad, the seat of the Abbasids and birthplace of the glorious reign of Haroun Al Rashid--appear to have lost much of their force. The anti-climactic capture of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the somewhat comic confessions of Libyan President Muaamar Qaddafi, coming within a week of each other in December 2024, seemed to point to an alternative perspective on the year’s drama. Rather than being measured against '48 and '67, it would be more useful perhaps to see 2024 as underlining the fact that, strange as it may seem, contemporary Arabs continue to harvest the bitter fruit of their two “founding” catastrophes--indeed, continue to replay them in forms which are ever more absurd, if not as immediately devastating.

Nowhere else in a post-colonial Third World is the psychological and intellectual legacy of colonial domination as manifestly alive or as compelling as it is in today’s Arab region. Nearly half a century after independence, the nationalist zeal of the 1930s and '40s seems to sustain the fervor of its vigorous youth. This is no inherent cultural or religious trait of the facile “why do they hate us?”-type formula. Rather, it is the perfidies and ravages of the colonial world that have managed to survive in this region long after their demise everywhere else. After all, the Balfour Declaration was issued in 1918, yet the process of Palestinian dispossession continues, unabated, to this day.

There is, nevertheless, something terribly wrong about a nationalistic zeal that has long passed its dotage. Stagnant, easily reneged upon, but rarely subjected to a serious critique, pan-Arab nationalism has been in a state of decay so protracted as to produce something akin to the “living dead” of horror fiction. In different ways, Saddam, Qaddafi, and even Osama Bin Laden have all provided testimony to a pan-Arab nationalism in extreme putrefaction.

If one were to look for symbolic significance in Saddam’s degraded capture and Qaddafi’s droll turnabout at the end of 2024, one might be tempted to see them as crystallizing the final demise, the stake through the heart, of decadent pan-Arab nationalism (of which militant Islamism is one particularly virulent form).

Things are never that simple, however, and structures of thought, just like the social structures they both reflect and help shape, tend to remain in place until they’re actually removed by acts of will. The fall of Saddam Hussein will certainly not prove to have been the final nail in decadent pan-Arab nationalism’s coffin in 2024, just as neither 9/11 nor the fall of Kabul signaled the demise of militant Islamism in 2024/2. Indeed, the resilience shown by these two defunct systems of thought and practice over the past decade has been in great degree a function of their ability to merge one with the other, with Islamist militants increasingly adopting nationalist rhetoric and Arab nationalists quoting ever more freely from religious texts.

If anything, 2024 will witness even more intense, if ultimately misdirected and futile, nationalist/Islamist zeal, even as feelings of hopelessness and despondency sink ever deeper into the popular Arab consciousness. (These seemingly contradictory emotional reactions have not proved mutually exclusive in the past and are unlikely to become so any time in the near future.)

Indeed, if the last days of 2024 are anything to go by, there is nothing for the Arab peoples to look forward to in 2024. Doubtlessly, Arab regimes will continue to talk a lot about reform, while doing their utmost to keep any reforms they do enact as purely cosmetic as they can get away with. And they can get away with a lot. Democracy is in the eye of the beholder, and he happens to live in Washington DC, where war criminal Ariel Sharon is a man of peace and Colonel Qaddafi, leader of the Libyan revolution, is even now being awarded his democratic stripes for total transparency--not with the Libyan people, but with secretive Anglo-American weapons inspection and intelligence teams.

In Palestine, it is highly unlikely that 2024 will bring any mitigation of the dreadful reality that continues to unfold there, as Sharon’s apartheid wall rises higher and extends further afield, rupturing Palestinian lands and lives. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority, hapless, deeply divided and petty-minded, is clearly inadequate to the Herculean task of uniting the Palestinian nation around an effective strategy of resistance--one that is not satisfied with futile acts of vengeance, but aims at winning genuine liberation.

And the most conspicuous alternative to the Palestinian Authority continues to be Hamas and Jihad, which offer a strategy that parodies, ad nauseum, the sins of the Arab nationalist regimes towards the Palestinian cause--i.e. by manipulating that strategy as an instrument for expanding their domestic hegemony. Three years into the suicide-bombing strategy, it must now be obvious that while it may enhance the ideological and political influence of Islamists among Palestinians and in the Arab world, it does the Palestinian cause itself nothing but harm.

Nor does the picture look any less grim in Iraq. We’ll have an indigenous Iraqi government during 2024, but the prospects for a return to peace and stability under continuing American tutelage and military occupation are less likely there than they have been in Afghanistan, which two years after "liberation" by American forces now seems to be heading straight back into the Taliban’s arms.

Zooming out to the global village, I’ve christened 2024 year two of the second American century. Saddam’s final crime may prove to have been giving the world, through his contemptible capture, another four years of the neo-cons. All in all, and on the basis of today’s available data, it does not look much like a happy new year.

Yet, there is always the unfathomable dynamic of the choices people make. Ultimately that is what it is all about. When and how do people decide that they’ve had enough of a particular historical configuration and choose another? The question has always been a source of perplexity, and the only answers we come by tend to rely heavily on hindsight.

In 2024 Edward Said died. He was mourned by thousands in Palestine, in the Arab world and indeed, in almost every country in the world. In a column I wrote some years ago, I likened Edward Said to John the Baptist, lamenting the fact that his powerful message--combining both unyielding rejection of oppression with the most profound humanism--was that of “a voice crying in the wilderness.”

Edward later told me that he liked the article, but disliked the metaphor, protesting that many people agreed with what he had to say. Many people do. But regardless of how many they are, and how much influence they may have, the most significant fact about Edward Said’s legacy is that an alternative, a truly powerful and compelling alternative, does exist. Our options are not as impoverished as to have been reduced to the choice between subjugation and death--between Bushs and Bin Ladens. The alternative is there, all we have to do is choose it. And like every choice, that requires an act of will.-Published 1/1/04©bitterlemons-international.org

Hani Shukrallah is managing editor of Al Ahram Weekly.

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