THINKING ALOUD: The fallout of a fall —Razi Azmi - Saturday, February 26, 2011

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The Palestinians may seem defenceless against the military might of Israel, but time is on their side, besides numbers. To borrow the words of the great Karl Marx, they have nothing to lose but their chains, they have a country to win

Now that the modern pharaoh of Egypt has been toppled from his pedestal, it is time for the man in the White House to reflect and draw some lessons. As for the remaining pharaohs of this world, the autocrats, kings and tyrants of the Middle East and elsewhere, they will learn their lesson the hard way, if at all.

Mubarak’s end brings to mind this caution from the Mahabharata: “What is the rarest thing? To know when to stop.” Hosni Mubarak, president since 1981, did not know when to stop, nor will the following:

Kim father/son (ruling North Korea since 1948), Bongo father/son (Gabon, 1967), Muammar Gaddafi (Libya, 1969), Assad father/son (Syria, 1970), Sheikh Khalifa (Bahrain, 1971), Abdullah Saleh (Yemen, 1978), Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe, 1980), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda, 1986), Omar al-Bashir (Sudan, 1989), Islam Karimov (Uzbekistan, 1990), Nuruddin Nazarbayev (Kazakhstan, 1991), Alexander Lukashenko (Belarus, 1994), Abdelaziz Bouteflika (Algeria, 1999), Vladimir Putin (Russia, 1999) and Laurent Gbagbo (Ivory Coast, 2000).

The Mahabharata’s millennia-old warning will remain unheeded, at every level and in every sphere of life, by all but a few. One hopes that the US president too will reflect on the events and learn a thing or two.

The US has often sacrificed principles for short-term advantages in its international relations, with the result that its association with dictators and autocrats obscures its many good deeds. The US’s name — and sometimes its soldiers — is dragged through the dust and its flag burned all across the Third World.

Few people know about the sheer amount of economic, educational, scientific and technical assistance provided by the US to Third World countries over the last six decades. No Muslim would ever allude to the decisive US military intervention in the former Yugoslavia on behalf of the Muslims of Bosnia and Kosovo — for whose sake US bombers bombed the hell out of ‘Christian’ Serbia.

Muslims do not care that three Muslim countries — Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan — have been among the top four recipients of US aid during the last three decades. And for good reason — this aid has done little to improve their condition. It has been used to enrich the corrupt ruling elites and fatten the armed forces, which protect them.

Pakistanis have a hint but far from a full knowledge of — and certainly no feeling of gratitude for — the colossal amount of US aid that their country has received for very nearly its entire life — $ 27.8 billion in direct civilian and military assistance.

American lives and dollars are now propping up a corrupt regime in Kabul. In Pakistan, nearly $ 10 billion of US money in the last decade alone has little to show for it, except a bloated military machine, an omnivorous, corrupt and callous ruling elite and an anti-Americanism of Himalayan proportions.

Washington must now begin to think outside the box and let the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan stew in their own juice, if that is what they want. US involvement in both countries must stop quickly. Besides being detested and seen as the source of much misery and all evil, it is unnecessary and guaranteed to fail.

If US help is needed anywhere, it is in Palestine. The people there are crying for help. It may be a Palestinian issue, but it is not merely a Palestinian cause, for it agitates all fair-minded people the world over and not just Muslims.

However, the unstinted US support of Israel even as it rides roughshod over the Palestinian people has reached scandalous proportions. The injustice in Palestine is so obvious and manifest that all, except a very small minority of bigoted, racist and Islamophobic individuals feel the Palestinians’ pain to a greater or lesser degree.

The US has just vetoed — the first veto of the Obama administration — a UN Security Council resolution, which would have declared the Israeli settlement buildings in the occupied West Bank “illegal” and “an obstacle to peace”.

Barack Obama had launched his Middle East policy with a bang early in his presidency, determined to establish a viable Palestinian state. But in the face of opposition by the Israeli and Jewish lobby in the US, this policy has collapsed with a whimper. This veto is the last nail in the coffin of that policy!

The world knows that Israel cannot sustain the occupation even for a month if the US seriously threatens it with a termination or drastic reduction of the massive amounts of financial and military aid it receives from the US. But that subject is taboo in official Washington.

The best the Obama administration can now do is to repeat the mantra that there is no alternative to direct negotiations between the two parties. Everyone knows — except the Americans, it seems — that direct negotiations are meaningless when one party — Israel — holds all the cards and the other party — the Palestinians — none.

For years, Israeli leaders harped on the theme that Israel had “no partner for peace”. We now know, thanks to WikiLeaks, that the Palestinian Authority has not only been a genuine partner for peace, but it offered major, even stunning, concessions for peace. The Palestinian side’s maximum demand now is a state less than half the size of the Palestinian entity that the UN Partition Plan of 1947 envisaged. The Palestinians are now prepared to compromise even on the 1967 border, which the UN Security Council affirmed through its resolution of 1967.

Israel and the US have long bragged that Israel needs to be commended and rewarded as the only democratic country in the Middle East, regardless of the occupation. It is a strange irony, then, that the prospect of a truly representative, freely elected government in Egypt has been greeted in Israel with nervousness and in Washington with anxiety.

The Palestinians may seem defenceless against the military might of Israel, but time is on their side, besides numbers. To borrow the words of the great Karl Marx, they have nothing to lose but their chains, they have a country to win.

The world balance of power is changing fundamentally and inexorably. The aura of invincibility that surrounds Israel and the US may prove just as illusory and transient as was the myth of Hosni Mubarak’s infallibility. Pharaohs fall and superpowers go. The message from Cairo’s Tahrir Square is not only for the Arab autocrats.

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