Iran as the de facto Hegemonic Power in the Middle East
Does the US-Iran agreement (14 June 2015) that calls for Iran to abandon nuclear weapons ambitions in exchange for lifting of Western sanctions mean a new era in relations between the US and the Middle East? Syria, Turkey, and Egypt publicly praised the deal as a step forward because it would mean greater regional stability and greater economic integration that would benefit all the economies. The Palestinians are also hopeful that the international community would exert pressure on Israel for a political solution to settle the chronic dispute. Unlike Iran, however, the Palestinians have no leverage wile Israel enjoys enormous influence because the US is solidly behind it as it has been since the Truman presidency.
There are those who applaud the US for ignoring Israel and its extreme right-wing allies in the US that have done everything in their power to sabotage the negotiations between Iran and the West. Naturally, there are the pro-defense industry elements that regret these developments as much as those hiding behind a right wing ideology to justify animosity of any kind of rapprochement between the West and Iran, an Islamic republic that has been openly anti-West since 1979. Others see this deal as an opportunity to contain Israel from pursuing military adventures, as well as Saudi Arabia funding jihadists while claiming to support the struggle of the Palestinians but all along siding with Israel on its opposition to Iran as the major power that has a dominant voice to determine the regional balance of power.
No matter where one stands ideologically and politically, the Iran deal has sent a very strong signal across the world that the US and its EU partners finally acknowledge that Iran is the most important regional power in the Middle East after a power gap created by the US-led overt and covert military destruction of Iraq and Syria. After decades of trying to contain Iran and undermine it in every possible manner from economic sanctions to military action in surrounding countries, the US and its EU partners have finally acknowledged that Iran is the catalyst to the regional balance of power in the Middle East.
On major issues that include stabilizing Iraq and defeating the jihadist ISIS fanatics that the US and its Arab and Turkish allies helped to create in order to bring down Syria’s Assad regime it is important to have Iran’s cooperation. Moreover, it is futile to isolate Iran from the Western World, given the increasing global position of China that has cordial relations with Iran. In short, the strategic and economic benefits to the Western countries and multinational corporations are such that it was simply detrimental to their interests to continue the sanctions when it was possible to use them as a bargaining chip for preventing Iran developing nuclear weapons.
What does the Iran-US deal mean for the Palestinians? Israel was and remains adamantly against Iran-US rapprochement and has done everything it can to make sure it is never implemented. One reason is that it feels threatened, although it is Israel that actually possesses nuclear weapons today not Iran, and although the US guarantees its security. Israel simply does not want a US-Western acknowledgment that Iran is indeed the real regional power that has the capacity to contain its neighbors, including its arch enemy Saudi Arabia. The US, however, is driven by the reality of limited resources, including the prospect that foreign aid including aid to Israel must be trimmed back to realize savings to pay down the debt. In short, Israel sees the US as a less friendly than ever because Washington has failed to follow Tel Aviv in foreign policy, regardless of the US pledges about providing for Israel’s security.
Does the new role of Iran as the presumably acknowledged hegemonic power of the Middle East mean a settlement of the Palestinian Question? Some may believe so, just as they did when the Cold War ended when there was no reason to hide behind the East-West confrontation as a pretext to perpetuate the status quo as the permanent occupation of Palestinians by Israel. Certainly, the South African apartheid system came down, the Irish conflict ended, so why not a solution for the plight of the Palestinians after seven decades? On the surface, it certainly appears that the Iran deal works in favor of the Palestinians, but it actually strengthens Israel because it is on the same side as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Gulf states, while Egypt is positioning itself to see what perks it can derive from any forthcoming deal on the Palestinian issue.
In the final analysis, major US and European corporations, top banks, airplane and energy, consumer product and pharmaceutical companies, all wanted to be a part of the rapidly growing Iranian economy in which China and Russia enjoy a role. In short, the benefits of integrating Iran are simply enormous for the 21st century. Can the same be true if Israel settles its chronic dispute with the Palestinians, or is it simply an issue of ensuring stability that defense contractors and right wing ideologues oppose in any case because this is contrary to their interests?
Israel and Human Rights
Is there a chance that Israel will stop violating the human rights of Palestinians because of the Iran-US deal? On the contrary, my guess is that Israel will become even harsher. World-wide moral support for the Palestinians on the part of people, organizations such as the United Nations, and governments is very nice, but it hardly constitutes leverage to move the process forward. Boycotting Israeli businesses in the same manner as US businesses boycotted South African businesses shortly before Mandela is more tangible and some companies are doing as much, but this too is not having much impact because it is not like the Western sanctions on Iran. Precisely because Israel is adamantly opposed to any change in the domestic or regional status quo, it is more likely to move in the direction of military confrontations with the Palestinians than a political one based on the Iran-US deal. This means more human rights violations, no matter what the UN and world community say about Israel.
On 23 July 2014, Navi Pillay, UN high commissioner for human rights, announced that Israel's military action in Gaza during July may constitute a "war crime" because the targets were children and the demolition of houses. The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva has convened an emergency discussion on the matter. However, there is absolutely no doubt that the US will block any effort to bring to justice the war criminals, largely because Washington had given Israel the green light on the operations that resulted in war crimes.
There is no doubt that even the most monstrous human being that is still in possession of his faculties, a modicum of moral fiber, and just a touch of humanity would not admit that it is appropriate to kill children, that they are collateral damage victims, or any other excuse that we have heard from Tel Aviv and its supporters in the US and the West. This is not a lesson in moral absolutism, but at least human beings ought to agree on some basic principles, including killing of children is immoral and a war crime to be punished accordingly. The exact same principle is applied to all people, including Hamas when it too engages in killing Israeli children, and the same punishment must be accorded to that group as well for its war crimes. The World Court at the Hague has only proceeded with cases against Africans and some from the former Yugoslav Republic, leaving out anyone from the white-dominated Western World, thus making a mockery of the court.
At the root of this conflict is US complicity because of massive aid provided to Israel on a sustained basis, but also broader Western complicity that simply follows the US lead on Middle East policy. The other major issue is Arab indifference, largely because the West has been very successful in keeping the Arabs divided, and they have been using the Palestinian conflict largely as a pretext to maintain the status quo, while in essence cooperating with the US that always backs Israel no matter what war crimes it commits. In addition, Saudi Arabia sees Iran as an arch-enemy largely because it realizes that Iran is the hegemonic regional power. Therefore, Saudi Arabia has been financing jihadists in Syria and Yemen with the aim of undermining Iran, a futile endeavor that has gone nowhere, except to enrich Western defense contractors selling weapons to Saudis.
The Israeli war and collective punishment of Palestinians that has women and children as the majority of the victims is causing a great deal of guilt among humane and rational secularist Israelis who want to see an end to the conflict and a permanent political solution. Demonstrating Arab indifference to Palestinians, an article in the Jerusalem Post noted that during the war (July 2014) the Arab media was more interested in the Soccer World Cup out of Brazil than it was on what Hamas and Israel were doing. The Israeli newspaper notes that with the ISIS Jihadists in Syria and Iraq attracting attention, a possible Kurdish declaration of independence from Iraq, and a host of other areas of conflict in Muslim countries, from Yemen and Libya to Afghanistan Arab media has not taken as much notice. This view was confirmed by Turkey’s Premier Erdogan who insisted that Arab indifference is as reprehensible as the silence of the US and the entire Western World over this issue.
It is estimated that in the last fourteen years, about 1400 Palestinian children have been killed and many more wounded; more than seven thousand children have been detained, interrogated and tortured by Israeli authorities; about half of the children exposed to intermittent war conditions suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders. Israeli policy under the current and past regimes has been that the only children taken into account as human are Israeli, while Palestinian children are those belonging to terrorists. This view was very clearly expressed in a letter from Prime Minister Netanyahu to Obama in December 2012 on the occasion of the Sandy Hook massacres in the US. Reverting to the “victimization” mindset and using the reprehensible holocaust of Jews by Nazis, the Israeli government gives itself license to engage in collective punishment and insist that it is beyond accountability of international war crimes laws. The reason for this is only because the US that enjoys military superpower status provides all the diplomatic, military, economic, and massive propaganda cover for Israel whose only issue is security for itself even if it means killing en masse and indiscriminately.
The more serious issue is how the US and Western media cover the slaughter of Palestinian children by Israel. Amid the mass destruction of Gaza, the US and most Western media outlets have been focusing on other stories. Even the New York Times that likes to claim “objectivity” has been almost silent on the massacre of Palestinian children, while devoting lots of space to the three Israeli teens missing since July 2, 2014. The three innocent Israeli teens deserve lots of coverage without question, but do the 1400 massacred Palestinian deserve any? Perhaps more absurd as well as grossly inaccurate is another New York Times story on why many Americans are siding with Israel the militarist aggressor intent on ethnic cleansing rather than the Palestinian victims.
To justify its biased pro-Israel coverage, the New York Times argued that Arab Spring failed to bring about democracy in the Arab World, thus Israel stands alone as a “true democracy”, no matter its war crimes against Palestinians as the UN has concluded. In the entire history of Israel is there any time when war was launched against Palestinians and Arab neighbors that the US and the media-manipulated public opinion ever sided with Palestinians? Blatant racism on the basis of religion and skin color is very evident here, but even worse, we have a very clear case of journalism that is hardly worthy of the title.
The public would have far greater respect for such media outlets if they simply stated that they are mouthpieces of Tel Aviv and Washington, rather than projecting their reporting as “objective”. Instead, we have a double-standard practiced on a sustained basis not just by the US media, but the European as well, trying to find just about any pretext to demonize the victims in the conflict. Under such conditions, why is anyone surprised when Turkey’s premier Erdogan lashes out at racism of the West against Muslims? All studies show that Western media is heavily pro-Israel and anti-Muslim, depicting Muslims as terrorists with strong racist undertones and stereotyping them, while personalizing the stories of the Israelis. In short, there are no limits to the political propaganda promoting militarism and aggression and suppressing the option of a political solution when it comes to resolving the conflict in question. The role of the media is indeed an obstacle to cultivating a constructive climate to reach peace between Israel and the Palestinians, especially in the absence of Palestinian leverage that Iran enjoys internationally.
This is not to argue that Hamas is made up of boy scouts that the Arabs are angels by nature and the Israelis are inherently evil. Nor does it help those interested in a Palestinian solution to argue that Israelis are the new Nazis in the Middle East, despite their policy of apartheid that is very similar to that of former South Africa. Israel has every right to self-defense and peace within its own borders. Because Israel never approved of US diplomatic solutions in Syria and Iran, nor US rapprochement with Iran, Obama had to give the green light to the Gaza military operations in July 2014, while in return promising as few million dollars to the Palestinians to take care of their medical and other needs.
The ultimate insult in military confrontations that Israel engages periodically is that the US, which has approved and backed them, steps in after mounting world protests to present itself as the "peacemaker" and objective intermediary. That the militarist super power behind Israel tries to present itself as the peace broker is insulting to all people, but especially to Palestinians who know that the US has had a role in killing their children and backing the status quo of no permanent peace on the Palestinian Question.
The media always projects the image of Israel as the real victim in the wars it launches against the Palestinians and the US as the peace broker. Anything that the UN does to condemn Israel has no impact because it enjoys US support in the Security Council where veto is readily exercised, no matter the magnitude of the problem, from war crimes to seizing land illegally. Although Israel has historically ignored the UN on many issues from seizing Palestinian land and resources to systematically violating human rights, it has suffered no consequences because the US as patron state is behind Israel.
There are those who maintain that every conflict in which Israel has been engaged involves economic interests, directly or indirectly. For example, it is no secret that Israel controls the water resources, but it also has an interest in securing control of energy resources. It has been in negotiations with Cyprus for undersea explorations of natural gas and oil, and it has also been interested in undersea oil of Greece. When Russia decided to cut out Israel from the GAZPROM gas pipeline and run it from Syria and Lebanon to Gaza, Israel went to war in June 2014. The idea is to deprive Palestinians from having any access to natural resources that can be used as leverage or would make Palestinians more self-sufficient.
One-State or Two-State Solution?
The two-state solution has failed because it brought nothing but war and destruction to the Palestinians for many decades. Moreover, the end of the Cold War with the US decision to replace the Cold War with the war on terror meant that the stigma of having the label “terrorist” as Israel and its right-wing allies in the US and Europe insisted on calling Palestinians cried out for a new strategy. Working within the system to support left wing Israeli parties as part of a coalition is one strategy to change the political dynamics inside Israel.
The failure of uprisings and guerilla military conflicts, combined with the absence of any Arab state backing Palestinians, the US insisting on blind support of Israel no matter how destructive its policies and detrimental to US interests have convinced some Palestinians that an internal solution is about the only leverage the people have left. Some view guerrilla war as a thing of the past, or they associate it with ISIS and al-Qaeda or other jihadists groups, rather than liberation armies. Of course, Israel and the Western press and governments go out of their way to portray Palestinians as terrorists simply because they are fighting for a homeland and against colonial oppression.
Abandoning the armed struggle and working within the system would mean securing basic rights and sharing power at all institutional levels, at least in theory. This would then be the Palestinian leverage that is more powerful theoretically than anything coming from the outside world. If there is no leverage that the Palestinians can use to negotiate a solution to their satisfaction, then the only thing left to do is work within the Israeli parliamentary system. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the full support of right wing political elements is a committed Zionist who wants neither the two-state solution nor the single-state state solution as many Palestinians envision it. Palestinians know that the majority of Israeli Jews strongly oppose a single-state solution and it is not just the Zionists who want a religious identity to transcend the democratic image of the state. The Russia-Jewish influx has made the right wing parties more popular and a right wing coalition regime will probably remain in power for many years, unless an economic crisis impacts the country in a detrimental way.
The rightist trend of Israeli politics has been a reality in the last two decades. This does not necessarily explain the unwillingness to find a solution to the Palestinian Question as some Jewish and Palestinian analysts believe because they hold hope for a solution with a leftist regime that favors a secular rather than a Zionist state. After, all, for decades the center-left was in power and the Palestinians suffered wars and repression just as they have under the right wing. That the center-left identified with the secularists and not the Zionists like the right wing is far more interested in co-opting the Palestinian population in total and extending the same rights and privileges is an attractive idea. However, even non-Zionists committed to Israel as a secular state may have a concern about integrating the entire Palestinian population that would then have a major voice in public policy and society’s direction. There is the fear that more than 3 million Palestinians who live in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria would return and become the majority, a fear hardly justified by the reality of economic limitations within Israel for all of those people to make a living.
A more likely scenario is that the Palestinians as a minority in society would meet a fate no different than black South Africans after Nelson Mandela ended apartheid. Another likely scenario is that the Palestinians would be no different than American blacks before the Civil Rights movement. I am not at all amazed that according to a public opinion poll in Israel, one-third to as many as one-half of Israelis do not want Palestinians working for them or work next to them. Denying Palestinians the right to live in peace and harmony because Zionist ideologues leading the country have convinced the masses to live in fear of the Palestinian “terrorist monster”, because a handful of weapons producers want to make greater profits by keeping conflict alive, because the Jewish Diaspora feels better about themselves supporting militarist solutions with its checkbook, because the Israeli lobby is extremely powerful in US politics is at the core of maintaining the status quo that is as criminal as it was for the Christians to stand by and watch governments from the Black Death to the Third Reich persecute European Jews.
Are there enough enlightened Israeli Jews to collaborate with Palestinians in finding common ground through the one-state solution process? My view is that it is worth further exploration because Palestinians have no friends in the outside world that would do anything for them other than express moral support. Palestinians must at least explore the solution from within and see how far they get while at the same time see who on the outside is able to offer assistance toward a solution both sides would accept. The two-state solution has run its course as has the idea of peace negotiations that Israel under the right wing regime will not accept without essentially forcing Palestinians to live in ghettos and reduced to the class of the “untouchables”. Integration within Israeli society will not be difficult because of profound suspicions on both sides, and in the end it may not work any better than Jim Crow laws in the US.
Despite the Iran deal, US behavior in the Middle East has been to destabilize the region, to keep it as integrated as possible to the West by any means including military intervention, and to continue providing massive foreign aid to Israel that contributes to instability and opposes any kind of settlement with the Palestinians unless it is one that reduces the tiny occupies lands into an even worse ghetto than it has been. In short, US foreign policy does not offer hope for a Palestinian solution just because Iran struck a deal with the US and the West.
The new role of China in global affairs may indeed change the dynamic inside Israel and force the US into a compromise. In August 2014, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced China's five-point peace proposal on settling the Israel-Palestine conflict, which included abandoning military solutions and seeking a political settlement in order to advance regional and global stability.
It is of the utmost importance that all people recognize basic human rights laws as the UN has estiablished them, and this includes Arabs and Jews. Negotiations cannot take place otherwise. All forms of racism and disrimination must never be a part of a dialogue to settle any dispute, otherwise there cannot be a permanent solution, Hugging each other will not do it, but seeking a politically, socially, economically and culturally viable solution with which the majority - certainly not all people - will be able to live with is the goal. To do this, Israel must realize it is fighting the battles of the mid-20th century in the early 21st century. The only issue is to have Israeli government move forward with a solution based on human rights as well as social justice for all people who live in Israel and the Territories. The object is not to promote hatred on any side, not against the Jewish people not against Arabs, not against anyone, and certainly no double-dealing Saudi Arabian style. This too is a dead-end strategy and eventually it runs out of steam.
Unless there is goodwill to sit together and find a solution to this issue, I just do not see how this is in the interests of the the Palestinians but especially Israel that will find itself increasingly isolated by the world community as more governments and companies refuse to do business with it. Already, there are corporations under pressure to divest and China has set terms of its own in order to do business there. C hina wants Israeli technology, but it can get it elsewhere. Israel needs Chinese investment and does not wish to be left out. China is already economically nmber one in the world - PPP terms according to the IMF - and number one economic presence in Africa, As the century unfolds, China will replace US influence not just in Africa but in the Middle East. Unlike the US, China will not cave in to Israel's political will on the Palsestinian Question because the internal and international dynamics are very different for China than the US.
China is a prominent player in Africa and will be even more so in the 21st century, so it has a major interest in regional stability at a time the US has been working directly and indirectly to create instability. While China’s role can be significant and will become even more so in the decades ahead, without the US stepping forward to lead on this issue now, the otherwise politically divided Palestinians are left on their own to pursue varieties of solutions, which includes working within the Israeli parliamentary system to influence progressive politicians into reaching a permanent settlement. Israel will be wise to look down the road and figure out if it wants peaceful co-existence with the world's number economic power as the US will cut aid to Tel Aviv, or whether it wants to pursue Zionism and hardhsip that comes with it in every respect.