Tuesday, July 27, 2010

War is tedious business By: Claude Salhani

IT’S about time that the antagonists in the Middle East begin growing up. With their rich history the peoples of the Middle East gave the world much of today’s basic needs, from algebra to zoology, allowing modern society to function as it does. Yet despite this wonderful past filled with glory and stories of grandeur, what will these peoples leave as a legacy to their children?

“A good politician thinks about the future of his children and grandchildren and what sort of legacy he will leave behind him for them,” said Avishay Braverman, Israel’s minister of minority affairs during a recent meeting in Washington, DC. That is precisely dead on target, so to say. But you rarely find that sort of thinking in the region where hate seems to be the favorite pastime of most actors involved in the conflict. Israeli leaders for example complain that Palestinian textbooks used by children in Gaza and the West Bank continues to promote violence and incite hatred of the Jews among Palestinian children. That may well be the case and while by no means

justifying such despicable behaviour as to instill hatred in the minds of young people, many Israelis continue to look down on Palestinians as though they belong to some form of sub-human group.

That same thought about caring for our children struck me while reviewing the recent Israeli film called ‘Lebanon’ that tells the story of a tank unit going into south Lebanon during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The film shows life inside a tank, in the small compartment where a three-man crew live, sleep and work, filled with fumes of diesel oil, high explosive ammunition, grime and perpetual fear. And the thought crossed my mind: that regardless of what atrocities these young men commit in the name of their beliefs, of God and country, the real guilty parties are the older men who send their children to battle in this manner.

The Middle East conflict is now 60-plus years old and it’s about time that the nations (and nations to be) in this dispute begin growing up somewhat. Time to take a reality check and to accept the facts as they are. Israel is a reality. Many in the region may not like that but those who remain the most concerned by the Middle East conflict, the Palestinians, have come to grip with that and they realise that Israel must be engaged in dialogue rather than conflict. Other members of the so-called frontline states, Egypt and Jordan have also come to accept Israel. Indeed, rather than simply sign a peace treaty these two Arab states have gone a step further, they went ahead and established full diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, exchanging ambassadors and establishing diplomatic legations in each other’s countries.

Ironically, today it is the states that are least concerned with the Palestinian-Israeli issue that are becoming the most belligerent towards Israel, as with Turkey and Iran. It would greatly benefit the countries concerned to look at the European Union as an example of how to conduct foreign policy and avoid conflict.

After centuries of wars that have devastated the continent the Europeans realised that continued confrontation is simply not going to make life better for any of their citizens. The EU was founded on the basis of an economic agreement that would give the member states financial incentives to avoid war. Today it is simply unimaginable for Germany and France to go to war as it is equally unthinkable for say Austria to try and conquer parts of Hungary. The European states have reached maturity in that respect. Isn’t it about time that those involved in the Middle East conflict did the same?

Time will tell and history will be the judge. But so long as the leaders of the Middle East continue to ignore the plight of their children and grandchildren, it is the leadership who remain the real guilty parties. During a radio interview some years ago I was asked if I thought there would ever be real peace between the Arabs and the Israelis; and I was told to answer in less that 30 seconds, before the next commercial break.

I replied that I thought there would be peace the day the antagonist in the region would develop greater love for their children than the hate they have for their enemies. Only then would young men and women be sent to fight and die in horrible conditions.

Claude Salhani is a veteran Arab political analyst specialising in the Middle East and terrorism