Middle East’s problems more complex than ever

Eyad Abu Shakra
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The blood that was shed in the occupied Palestinian territories on the anniversary of ‘Land Day’ will be followed by more of the same if the ‘March of Return’ continues until Nakba Day on May 15.

The Palestinian wound has been bleeding for 70 years and, with the current Israeli and global leaders in place, the prospect of any meaningful compromise is virtually non-existent. Rather, it may be said that the conflict has never been so far from settlement as it is today, and there are a number of reasons for this.

The first reason is Palestinian division. This division serves the tactical interests of many regional and international players, as well as serving opportunistic groups within the Palestinian territories that benefit from the division. Therefore, despite the desire of every sincere Palestinian for unity, the beneficiaries are not willing to give up their gains.

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Second, Israel’s continued evasion of peace. Any real peace must be based on a sincere desire for a coexistence that rejects oppression, domination, captivity or ‘transfer’. But, when we look at the political programs of the partisan Israeli forces, we can only conclude that the Israeli evasion of peace is fixed and that any other talk or goodwill is a variable.

A third reason is the regional reality. Despite the centrality of the ‘Question of Palestine’, it is no longer the only issue in the Middle East. As well as the occupied lands in Palestine, there are occupied lands in the ‘Palestines’ of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen; and in addition to Israeli occupation, we now complain of Iranian, Turkish, Russian and American occupations in the region.

A deep understanding of the Middle East is vital, not only for the forces concerned with their own destinies but also the powers that deal with the region as a mere chessboard

Eyad Abu Shakra

The state of Israel

Fourth is the international situation. The state of Israel was originally established by a resolution adopted by the UN Security Council, which became the representative of global legitimacy after the end of the Second World War.

Yet, over the past 70 years, Israel has been one of the leading violators of UN resolutions, either through total disregard or thanks to the protection provided by the American veto. In fact, a major part of the region’s dilemma — and indeed the world’s dilemma — is the reliance of rogue governments on absolute power, or the protection of the American veto in the case of Israel, and Russian and Chinese vetoes in the case of Syria.

With regard to Syria, US President Donald Trump — in the midst of the tit-for-tat diplomat expulsions with Russia, and the accelerating sectarian cleansing by Moscow and Iran in Syria — announced his intention to withdraw US troops after “knocking the hell” out of ISIS.

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Up to this point, the statement was clear. However, the second part of his speech was a bit strange, as he went on to say: “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.”

In Syria, the “other people” he referred to are Russian and Iranian forces, which are supposed to be Washington’s most serious opponents, both globally and regionally. Therefore, there is a need to clarify the background of what the American president meant; and here the issue of different priorities within the administration arises.

Apart from the recent changes that affected prominent figures — including replacing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Mike Pompeo and the appointment of John Bolton as National Security Advisor instead of H.R. McMaster — the power struggle within some US institutions is familiar, particularly, during Republican administrations. It is no secret that the biggest role in the preparation for the 2003 invasion of Iraq was played by the Pentagon and the ‘hawks’ in then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s team.

The ’big stick’ approach

Over the past two weeks, Washington observers have seen the removal of Tillerson and McMaster and the choice of Pompeo and Bolton as a double victory for the ‘big stick’ approach to foreign affairs at the expense of those who cherish compromise and soft diplomacy. A number of European allies have even expressed fears that the White House would adopt radical positions, but Trump’s words gave a completely different indication.

Undoubtedly, US foreign policy is not limited to one region of the world and is generally based on priorities, strategic and tactical balances, and compromises. Besides, many statements and initiatives are meant to be testers for the intentions of friends and foes.

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However, as far as the Middle East is concerned, it is wise to deal with crises with two different approaches. First, the specifics of each case should be taken separately due to the different ‘composition’ of Arab entities and their geographic locations and demographics. Second, there is a need to recognize there are more pervasive dangers, beyond the current existential limits, that seek to change the broader regional reality.

A deep understanding of the Middle East is vital, not only for the forces concerned with their own destinies but also the powers that deal with the region as a mere chessboard. Consequently, if the policy used to deal with the phenomenon of Daesh — i.e. to treat the symptoms and neglect the causes — is repeated, the world will have to wait much more than 70 years before it is relieved of its Middle East concerns.

This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances. Eyad tweets @eyad1949.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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