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Ray Hanania
Ray Hanania
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Can There Be Peace in the Middle East?

Comment

I am asked many questions by readers, but the most common is this one: "Can there be peace in the Middle East?" And it is usually followed by, "How can we achieve peace?"

Yes, there can be peace in the Middle East. It doesn't matter how vicious one or both sides are during this unending conflict. It doesn't matter how vicious the people are on both sides. It doesn't matter about the obstacles.

What matters is the will to make peace. Do both sides want peace? I believe the problem is that Israelis today lack this will.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the momentum for peace was driven by the Israelis, who publicly appealed for a peace based on compromise. The Arab side didn't want peace, believing they could turn the clock back to the 1930s, and reboot Palestine as a secular, democratic state where Christians, Muslims and Jews could live together in peace.

The Arabs had been humiliated, and humiliation is a contributing factor in stubbornness.

As the conflict continued, emotional rhetoric ratcheted up and the small extremist groups that embraced violence, on both sides, began to grow in influence and size. The dynamics of the Middle East conflict shifted in a circuitous fashion.

By the 1980s and early 1990s, radicalism and rejectionism rose among Israelis, while more and more Arabs voices were urging peace based on compromise.

The influence of extremism in Israel was reflected in the increase in Israeli violence against the weaker, less-armed Arab targets. It then exploded in November 1995, when an Israeli extremist assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin because he signed a peace accord with the Palestinians and shook the hand of Yasir Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Today, the dynamics are crystal clear. Israel's government is the primary obstacle to Middle East peace.

After Rabin's murder, the assassin was feted as a hero by many in Israel. And to reinforce the growth of Israeli extremism, Israeli voters overwhelming rejected the Israelis who advocated peace, like Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak, and instead embraced the fanatics who advocated violence, conflict and continued war, like Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu.

The flip-flop in Israel and the Arab world was reinforced. Arab governments began opening their doors to the concept of recognizing Israel formally and informally, while softening their support for civil rights for Palestinians.

The weakening of support for Palestinian civil rights in the Arab world was a reflection of the increase in influence of tyranny in the Arab countries themselves.

Civil rights and freedom of expression continued to be victims of this growing tyranny. And Israel's rejectionists saw the shift in the winds.

Western nations, like the United States, were more than willing to close their eyes to violations of civil rights and freedoms in Arab countries that sought to work with them. This model of American foreign diplomatic strategy was based on America's morally impaired relationship with the Shah of Iran, one of the most brutal and oppressive tyrants in the region.

Basically, the United States bought off justice with foreign aide, trade and an agreement from the Middle East dictators to respect America's foreign goals and agenda. In exchange, the United States closed its eyes to the most outrageous violations of civil rights and freedoms by its Arab allies.

Those Arab countries that didn't align themselves with the Western and American foreign policy goals ended up in turmoil, like Iraq and Syria.

One of the most oppressive Arab countries, Egypt, spiraled into collapse in the face of the Arab Spring, which crashed into Tahrir Square in Cairo in January 2011. First, the Muslim Brotherhood bullied its way into government by overwhelming the elections. In the face of rising Islamism, the Egyptian Military staged a coup and imprisoned Egypt's first truly democratically elected President, Mohammed Morsi.

Turmoil ensued in the Arab world lead by: the hypocrisy of the American administration; the weakening of the influence of Europe and the counterbalance of the old Communist regimes of the collapsed Soviet Union; and China's shift from an oppressive socialist state to an oppressive economic world bank.

For Israel, the Middle East is the perfect storm.

Surrounded by Arab nations that have either been bought off using American foreign aid and military support, or that have collapsed into chaos and anarchy, Israel has no reason to make peace with the Palestinians.

Israel's government extremism is not the result of a military coup like in Egypt. It is the result of the people of Israel embracing rejectionism over peace. It's the result of the majority of Israeli voters consciously backing an extremist government that has openly stated it will oppose any concessions to the Palestinians.

Although peace is at a distance, the truth is that rising extremism in Israel is the primary obstacle to peace in the Middle East. It's not Palestine that is rejecting Israel. It is Israel that is rejecting Palestine.

Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American columnist managing editor of The Arab Daily News at www.TheArabDailyNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @RayHanania. To find out more about Ray Hanania and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

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