Thursday, September 22, 2011

Misguided Quest for Stability -- The Arab - Israel 'peace process' is mostly irrelevant to Middle East Stability

Diplomatic dogma has it that the lack of a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians contributes "dangerously" to regional instability. Still, no matter how much the international community caters to the Arabs on "Palestine" the truth is that the benefits of trading Israeli security for regional stability will prove ephemeral.

For the Mideast boils for reasons altogether unconnected to the Jewish state.
The number of Arab League member-states not riven by violence and upheaval can be counted on one hand – with fingers to spare. Misguided U.N. action on the Palestinian issue will not provide breathing space for Arab and Muslim rulers threatened at home or abroad or both. It will have no constructive impact on regional turmoil.

Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began, remains a desperate place where unemployed teachers have threatened to commit suicide. Ascendant Islamists have agreed that a yet-to-be elected assembly will write the country's new constitution. Given their imprimatur the odds are low that Western-style democracy will emerge from the process.

In post-Mubarak Egypt, visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was reminded that the benefits of Israel-bashing go only so far. Having won the adoration of Cairo's masses, old guard Muslim Brotherhood leaders pointedly warned non-Arab Turkey against making a play for Middle East hegemony. "We welcome Turkey and we welcome Erdogan as a prominent leader, but we do not think that he or his country alone should be leading the region or drawing up its future," said Essam El-Erian, deputy leader of the Brotherhood. The Turkish leader was discouraged from visiting Gaza or Tahrir Square and his Obama-style Opera House speech was not broadcast live in Egypt. No matter who rules Egypt, Cairo will view Persia and Turkey as rivals.

In near forgotten Iraq, Sunnis and Shi'ites are still at each other's throats. Over in Syria, violence has claimed more than 2,200 lives with no end in sight. Shi'ite Teheran will stand by its client Bashar Assad come what may (though it has moderated its public backing). In contrast, Saudi Arabia has sided with the Sunni Syrian street. And Sunni Turkey has brashly hosted disparate anti-regime opposition groups. The possibility that Syria will fragment can't be ruled out. Israel is nowhere in the picture.

Lebanon's fate remains ever more precarious; its Syrian hegemon lies politically stricken while Beirut's more distant Persian overlord is riven by acrimony between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. No wonder that Hezbollah's puppet Prime Minister Najib Mikati has railed against the “unhealthy mood” within Lebanon's waning polity. Lebanon's Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai’s, Hezbollah's boot on his neck, found himself praising the Assad regime. Yet other Christian leaders have felt emboldened to challenge Hezbollah's corruption.

Israel or no Israel, instability driven largely by the absence of political legitimacy is endemic throughout the region. Take oil-rich Libya. It's anyone's guess how well the country can hold together in a hoped for post-Gaddafi era. Centrifugal tribal forces, fractious Islamists beholden to the Gulf States and comparative modernizers all vie for control. Neighboring Sudan has been partitioned yet north-south fighting along the new border continues. The situation in Yemen is no less bloody. Saudi Arabia has been trying to finesse a deal that would protect Riyadh's Sunni interests there against those of the Iranian backed Shi'ite Houthis. Can the war-ravaged country hold together? Iranian-Saudi rivalry plays itself out, too, in Bahrain. Israel is not in this equation.

Nor are Palestinian advances at the U.N. likely to secure the long-term stability of Jordan's Hashemite Kingdom. Ostensibly angered over remarks by a former Israeli aide implying that Jerusalem might promote a "Jordan is Palestine" strategy, King Abdullah last week lashed out at Israel and protested his fidelity to Palestinian statehood.

Yet the king surely knows that Israel is his bulwark, that the threats to his throne come from Jordan's Islamist opposition, from deep-seated economic woes, and the kingdom's episodically restive Palestinian Arab majority, not to mention the nightmare scenario of a Hamas takeover in the West Bank.

Speaking of Hamas, it is ironic that prospective U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood, on the PLO's terms, won't guarantee stability even within the Palestinian polity. Can anyone imagine Hamas granting Mahmoud Abbas safe passage to visit Gaza?

Irrespective of what happens on the Palestinian-Israeli track, the turmoil in the Arab world also continues to produce foreboding among the Christian, Druze, Alawite, and even Berber minorities in the region. Not to forget the Kurds whose homeland stretches across parts of Iran, Iraq and Turkey, and whose rightful case for self-determination has been oddly shunted aside by champions of the Palestinian cause.
To be gripped by the delusion that solving the "Question of Palestine" will deliver stability to the Middle East requires overlooking intrinsic regional, tribal, ethnic and religious fault-lines.

The Middle East will continue to boil no matter how much "Palestine" is empowered; no matter the extent to which Israel's security interests are denigrated; and no matter how much diplomatic capital is invested to assuage the bottomless pit of Palestinian victimization.



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