Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Obama Doesn't Get It

US president seeking instant Mideast solutions that show his ignorance

Guy Bechor
Israel Opinion

When I read that President Obama will call for normalization of ties between the Arab world and Israel at the early stages of his “peace plan,” I shrugged. Yet when I read that he intends to settle the Palestinian refugees in the Arab states they currently live in, and grant them monetary compensation, I was amused.. These are pipe dreams, just like the “Arab democracy” vision of his predecessor that collapsed loudly and brought disaster to the region. This is a rookie plan of an intern who believes that the Israeli-Arab conflict can be resolved with a quick and arrogant gesture. It is clear that whoever came up with this plan lacks understanding of the history, demography, and mostly the fears of the region.

Arab states will never renounce their demand to send back Palestinian refugees to Palestine, that is, to the State of Israel, and some of them, maybe, to the Palestinian Authority. Why? Because these are holy issues.

These refugees define the aspirations of the Arab world, its politics, and its article of faith; this is something that one does not renounce. The demand for returning the refugees is the only common denominator connecting Hizbullah and the Christians in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Iran, and it’s worth more than gold.

The Arab political establishment wishes to realize the “right of return” not for the sake of the Palestinians, heaven forbid, who are hated in most Arab States, but rather, in order to weaken Israel, destroy it from within, and sink it in the sea of returning Palestinians.

For the Arab world, this is not about the fate of the “Palestinians,” but rather, the fate of the “Palestinian problem,” and these are two separate issues: They hate the Palestinians, but admire the Palestinian problem. They hate the refugees, but admire their right of return. The Arab states have not been maintaining the refugee problem for more than 60 years in order to renounce it.

Disregard for regional fears

Over the years, the notion of “return” in the Arab world has turned into something that is above any discussion. Like religion. When Mahmoud Abbas visited Beirut in 2005 he met with refugee representatives and promised that they will return to their homes and villages, as if they still exist, and as if Israel doesn’t exist. And this is the heart of the matter: For the Arabs, this is a metaphysical matter, larger than life, whereby the refugees are supposed to return not to Israel, but rather, to the year 1948, to the moment of departure.

The Lebanese added a problematic clause to the Saudi “peace” initiative when they ruled that refugees must not be settled in Arab states. Should Lebanon grant Lebanese citizenship to the Palestinians residing there, this will completely change the ethnic division of power and hugely increase the number of Muslims, at the expense of the Christians. No Christian will agree to that, and certainly no Shiite, as the Palestinians are Sunni. Yet most refugees, about 700,000, live in Lebanon, without ID cards, without work permits, and without citizenship.

Syria hosts them but doesn’t want them, and the same is true for Egypt. Kuwait already expelled them (250,000 people) after the first Gulf War. The Shiite Iraq would like to see them disappear, and in any case a sort of ethnic cleansing campaign against them is taking place. Only Jordan granted them citizenship, and they are Jordanians in every way.

And what does Barack Obama offer us and them? An instant solution meant to advance his personal agenda, alongside ignorance, disregard for regional fears, blindness, and pretenses. Just like the Sykes-Picot Agreement, where borders were drawn in the Middle East while disregarding the people, tribes, and religions, the same may happen this time around. The bitter price will be paid by the Middle East, as usual, in local blood.

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