Saturday, June 11

The Naqsa and Syria

President Bashar al-Assad of SyriaImage via Wikipedia
The Naqsa, also known as "the setback", is commemorated by Palestinians since Israel's victory after the Six Day War in June 1967. There are descendents of Palestinian refugees who fled from Israel during the 1948 War of Independence and settled in squalor in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, and of course, the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Nothing was done to rehabilitate these refugees and they lived in dire poverty for at least three generations. They were fed on anti-Israel propaganda and were brainwashed in hating Israel. All this had created a very embittered society. The successive autocratic, despotic rulers kept the flames of hate burning, destroying the dignity of the Arab people, and the Palestinians, the latter became stateless refugees. All their failures were blamed on Israel's existence and, after June 1967, the Palestinian status was exacerbated. This mantra of hate served the interests of despotic Arab tyrants whose failures and abuses fed the hate for Israel forming a semblance of unity and a common motive to destroy Israel.

The uprisings in the Arab countries by pro-democratic youthful demonstrators initiated the movement to overthrow the despotic tyrants. New opportunities for all the peoples of the Middle East were created to move towards a new order - hopefully a democratic system, but there is no guarantee.

The despotic rulers oppressed their people. Now with the uprisings in the Arab world, some autocratic states are clinging to power with a resilience that is bloody and relentless. The despots of Tunisia and Egypt fell because of the peoples' determination to fight corruption and despotic dictatorships. They fell with relative ease. However, the human spirit for change in Libya, Syria and Yemen is meeting with a cruelty by the despotic rulers with an unprecedented tenacity.

The battle for overthrowing Muammar Qaddafi of Libya and Bashar el Assad of Syria is far more complicated. While Syria's army remains strong and supportive of Assad, the chances of success of the Syrian uprising are slim. There are signs of desertion of Syrian Army officers joining the demonstrators, but at this stage, it is not in large numbers. Maybe it will increase when the situation of Bashar Assad gets more complicated.

Many Syrians are fleeing for Turkey whose borders are porous. The cruelty of the Assad repression and the brutal killings has created a very tragic situation in Syria.

While the world stands by and voices are being heard in the UN Security Council condemning the Bashar Assad regime, the latter decided to use the usual Palestinian mantra to divert world pressure on his regime. The Syrian Palestinians were encouraged to demonstrate and infiltrate Israel's northern border at great risk to their lives. The death toll was 22 Palestinians on that day. Assad knew that Palestinians would be killed by the IDF which would divert the world's attention away from Syria and condemn Israel for killing Palestinian infiltrators. More than 300 Syrian demonstrators were massacred by the Syrian Army at the time.

He could then continue slaughtering his opponents while the UN condemns Israel. The number of Syrian opponents to the cruel Assad regime is now running into the thousands and the rate of killings is increasing.

Many Palestinians born in Syria fell for this ruse of the Assad regime. As expected, Palestinian lives were lost for maintaining the diversion and decreasing world pressure on Assad's crimes against his own people. A new Syrian refugee problem has been created seeking refuge in Turkey.

The Arab uprising is continuing. Nobody can predict how it will end and whether a democratic change will occur in the Arab countries. If there is no serious attempt to write a constitution that guarantees human rights, free democratic elections, and serious reconstruction of state infrastructure, then all these attempts will be futile.

These countries have no democratic traditions and the future governments will have to do much hard work to ensure the success of the Arab uprising. The danger of military dictatorship in Egypt cannot be denied. This could happen. The balance of power is in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The situation in Syria is unpredictable. Here a brutal and tenacious leadership stops at nothing. There is a wholesale massacre unknown anywhere else in the area.

The Palestinians here are a diversion serving Assad's desire to cling to power by using the anti-Israel mantras that is part of his regime.

The Arab uprising has filtered down to the Palestinian people as well. The Arab countries are very busy in their revolutions and the Palestinian issue is very much on the back burner. It remains to be seen what will happen on September 2011 when a Palestinian state is declared unilaterally.

Israel's occupation of the Palestinians is now entering its 45th year. The IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, put it concisely when he addressed the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday 31st May, 2011. He said: "We have a new central player in the region, the street".

The circumstances in all the Arab states undergoing transition are different where regime change is occurring. The bloodiest changes are occurring in Syria.

The Palestinians are in a different situation entirely no matter where they reside. They have two problems in their quest for democracy:

  1. They have to achieve an end to the Israeli occupation in order to reach a stage of self-determination.
  2. They have to challenge the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza so that they can demonstrate support of the Arab uprisings in the neighbouring Arab countries.

Israel cannot afford to be indifferent to the changes in the Arab world. The Israeli Government can show support for the Arab uprisings and condemn the massacres of pro-democracy demonstrators in Syria and everywhere else. Israel arrogantly claims that it is "the only democracy in the Middle East" now is her chance to turn words into deeds.

The importance of changing attitudes to well worn mantras on both sides is more than overdue. Time is moving against Israel and the Israeli Government is sending its diplomats to many countries in the world to prevent them from supporting a unilateral declaration of independence of a Palestinian state. Whatever happens, the US will use its veto to prevent this eventuality.

The failure of Israel to engage in serious negotiations towards the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel could result in a severe blood bath and Israel's increased isolation. Violence could develop which will be a catastrophe for both Israelis and Palestinians. The IDF is capable of putting down violent unrest but the loss of Palestinian lives could be horrific. This is a real cause of concern. Even a high ranking officer in the IDF stated that "the Palestinians now have the initiative. If they decide to go down that path, there is little we can do to stop them."

The Israel Government must show willingness to negotiate with the Palestinians despite the presence of Hamas in the Fatah - Hamas agreement. Israel cannot dictate to the Palestinians with whom they are prepared to negotiate. The same applies to the Palestinians. In the Israeli Government, there is the arch racist, Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister and croneys. I am sure that the Palestinians are not happy to have him in the negotiation team either and with every good reason. Nevertheless for the good of both sides, pre-negotiation comprises must be made and accepted so that the peace negotiations can begin in earnest.

Israel could on the other hand grant asylum to an agreed number of Syrian refugees fleeing the Assad regime. Oh yes, I sense a severe opposition in the Israeli side at this suggestion! That is tantamount to heresy! However, it would also go a long way to improve Israel's status in the world and would not be a danger to Israel’s existence which is used as an excuse for every opportunity to prevent any negotiations from being initiated. Also more goodwill measures must be made to end the occupation and move towards a solution. The Netanyahu Government does not have it in them to move towards a solution. Further settlement plans to appease the extreme right wing parties in his coalition is more of a priority.

Another move on Israel's part that would go a long way in improving the atmosphere for peace negotiations with the Palestinians is the acceptance of President Obama's suggestion as mentioned in his speech last month. Two states for two peoples based on the pre-June 1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps.

However, it is not certain whether Hamas will accept the Obama plan. If this is the case, the agreement between Hamas and Fatah will collapse. This will also affect the Palestinian declaration of an independent state in September 2011.
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