Monday, 19 April 2010

The word from Jordan

While in Washington for the nuclear summit, Jordan's King Abdullah has taken the opportunity of fulfilling one or two speaking engagements. Last Wednesday evening he addressed the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, non-partisan organization committed to influencing the discourse on global issues.

Speaking to a sold-out audience in Chicago's Four Season's hotel, Abdullah declared that solving the Israel-Palestine struggle was of central importance for two vital reasons – as a catalyst for resolving other world conflicts like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, and because an independent, viable Palestinian state would be in the security interests of the United States.

Though the king's intentions were doubtless admirable, both legs of his argument are somewhat wobbly.

If the Palestinian Authority and Israel reached total agreement on a two-state solution tomorrow, al-Qaeda and its satraps would scarcely blink. The on-going Israeli-Palestinian problem has only a peripheral influence on extreme Islamist objectives, which are concerned with expanding Islamist rule wherever possible, and challenging Western-aligned ruling regimes in such Muslim countries as Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Pakistan. Their final aim? To establish as broad-based a pan-Islamism or caliphate as possible, based on the shariah. Israel, as a western-orientated, democratic and decidedly non-Muslim state sitting plumb in the middle of the region is certainly an irritant, ideally to be eliminated as soon as possible. But the Israel-Palestine issue scarcely affects broader Islamist aims and activities in conflict zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, though it suits pro-Islamist propagandists to portray it as a crucial component in inflaming Muslim sensibilities.

On the other hand, where moderate Muslim opinion is concerned, an accommodation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority would undoubtedly have a significant effect world-wide, and might well result in a diminution of both passive and active support for al-Qaeda and the groups associated with it.

As for the security interests of the United States, an independent Palestinian state could be of value only if it were clear of the internal conflicts that currently ravage the Palestinian body politic. Hamas and Fatah are literally at daggers drawn. A peace agreement with Fatah – which is currently all that is on offer – and a new Fatah-ruled sovereign Palestine would simply be a seedbed for future conflict. Hamas is beholden to both Iran and Syria for military and financial support, and those two states are totally rejectionist as far as a peaceful accommodation with Israel is concerned.

This is why the Obama administration is laying such emphasis on a comprehensive solution in the Middle East, going well beyond a resolution of the Israel-Palestine dispute. It has come to realise that, like love and marriage, they go together like a horse and carriage – and you can't have one without the other.

Still each journey starts with a single step, and the only way to move forward at present is to ensure that the proximity talks, brought to a standstill by Israel's ill-timed announcement towards the end of March of the planned 1600-apartment development in the Jerusalem suburb of Ramat Shlomo, are reactivated. This, King Abdullah has been pressing for. He told the Council on Global Affairs - and doubtless President Obama previously - that he believes there is still a chance to have the parties come together to discuss a peace treaty that serves the interests of Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs and the rest of the world. To disregard the option of peace, he asserted. means leaving the arena to other parties that seek conflict and destruction.

“Whenever there is a lull in the peace process," he said, and never was a truer word spoken, "there are others out there that take advantage of that to create mischief. So what we don’t want is the possibility of a crisis happening between Gaza and Israel, between Lebanon and Israel, or Iran and Israel. These things do happen when there is an absence of a process moving forward.”

The King made another observation of more than passing significance. He expressed the hope that Israel would, as he put it, "shed the fortress mentality" and become part of the regional neighbourhood.

Despite the best efforts of PA prime minister Salam Fayyad – and they have been formidable – a newly-created sovereign Palestine sitting alongside Israel would struggle to reach viability, let alone prosperity. However, with a sovereign Palestine up and running, the way is open for a new configuration in the region – a formal economic and commercial confederation of Israel, Palestine and Jordan, possibly to be augmented in due course by a Lebanon freed from the shackles of a militant Hizbollah. An economic alliance along these lines, paralleling the Benelux countries within the EU, could open the way to dynamic growth and development in the region on a previously unimaginable scale.

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