Excuses, Excuses – Sueddeutsche Zeitung

A flurry of leaders, panels and groups are pointing their fingers in the same direction. Solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Baker-Hamilton Committee argues that, “the United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair declares that, “any solution to the Iraq crisis must involve a “whole Middle East” strategy that starts with addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” A UN-sponsored group called the Alliance of Civilizations releases a report calling the conflict over Israel and the Palestinian territories “the central driver in global tensions”. The German Chancellor recently told the Guardian that, “We know that the issue of the two-states solution is of the greatest importance for many other conflicts in the region”. And President Bush said after the German Chancellor’s visit to Washington that, “When we solve that problem, a lot of other problems will be easier to solve.”The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has reached a mythical status that exceeds its objective proportions. For more than a century it has commanded the attention of world leaders, UN forums and public opinion. It is a conflict about which people have passionately held opinions even if they live thousands of kilometers away from the region and have no personal stake in the conflict. Yet, it is a local conflict, which has been responsible during more than a century of conflict for fewer than 100,000 deaths on all sides. There are violent conflicts, natural disasters and health epidemics responsible for deaths and misery orders of magnitude greater than that of the Israeli-Arab conflict that do not receive 1% of the attention and resources it receives.Given the enormity of hopes that many in the west place on the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the amount of energy expended in repeated attempts to bring about its resolution, it may be worthwhile to explore the possibility that the festering conflict is not a key to anything in the Middle East or the world, but merely an effective excuse used by Arab and Muslim governments to do nothing about the real problems – an excuse, which the west, at its own peril, is mistakenly buying.Muslim and Arab cultures are plagued by an inability to assume responsibility for their own fate. There is no external hindrance preventing Arabs and Muslims from achieving freedom, prosperity and intellectual progress. Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims have absolutely no reason to blame anyone for their sorry condition. They have within their reach all the tools of governance, economy and culture to lead different lives. That they choose not to do so is very much of their own doing. People and nations who seek excuses for their behavior have no intention of changing it. They merely seek ways to justify it and avert the pressure to change.The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a particularly good excuse, because the west seems to accept it. On the rare occasions that Muslim and Arab leaders are reproached for their democratic deficit, violations of human rights, economic backwardness or violent terrorist acts perpetrated in the name of Islam, they need only cry out “Israel is killing Palestinians” to be excused, or at least understood.Some leaders and thinkers in the west acknowledge that radical Arabs and Muslims use the Israeli–Palestinian conflict as an excuse to carry out attacks that have nothing to do with it. But even they argue that it’s worthwhile to resolve the conflict, if only to take a key excuse off the table. What these leaders fail to understand is that when an excuse is this good there is no incentive to get rid of it. It is in the interest of Muslim and Arab leaders from Iran and Syria to Saudi Arabia to stoke the flames of the conflict, whether through funds, arms or hate filled Madrassas, at the same time that they are telling the west to resolve it. In this manner, they are guaranteeing for themselves that their best excuse would always be there for them to use and abuse.As long as the west fails to confront Arab and Muslim leaders directly on the real problems of their societies and accepts their excuse that the problem of the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it makes the conflict’s resolution less likely. As long as the west accepts this excuse Muslim and Arab leaders have an interest in keeping it alive. The western logic towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs to be turned on its head. Rather than trying to resolve the conflict in the hope that its resolution would spread peace and goodwill around the world, it must first work with Muslims and Arabs to deal with the true underlying problems of authoritarian, fear-based, hate-fostering societies.The delusion that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a key to world peace is precisely that – a delusion. If anything, it is the other way around. The conflict, like tofu, takes on the flavor of whatever global conflicts are in the world. These conflicts feed it and use it as its arena of experimentation. In the past, the conflict was fed by colonial wars, and then by the Cold War. In the 1990’s, for a brief moment, it had the flavor of global reconciliation and even then, Palestinians and Arab leaders were loath to let go of such a wonderful excuse for their misery. Now, when the world is racked by new global tensions and an existential conflict between opposing ways of life, the conflict has the flavor of this global face-off.Europe rightfully takes great pride in having built a system built on reason, negotiations and infinite patience. But as the Quartet gathers again this week, it should not be forgotten that only after the complete and unequivocal defeat of the forces of violence that Europe was able to build its present system of peace. In the Middle East, there are still too many of those who find violence preferable to any negotiated solution. It is only when these forces are exhausted and their sustenance by global conflicts severed that a true window for peace in the region would be opened.To read the article as it appeared in German.