Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Saudis prepared for Israel-Arab rapprochement?

In his November 16, 2008 column in the Saudi-owned London Arab daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Saudi liberal columnist Turki Al-Hamad said:

"For were it not for Israel and Zionism, and the colonialism, imperialism, and occupation they brought in their wake, there would not have been any division, backwardness, ignorance, illness, or wretchedness, and thus no one would have died of starvation, drowning, illness, or poverty. Israel was always sought out [for blame], to the point where one can't imagine that the Arabs are really serious in their hostility to Israel, since if the real, earthly Israel were to disappear, how could they preserve the Israel of the mind and the imagination, without which Arab political life would be choked off, as it would have lost its justification and there would be no longer any direction towards which the Arab compass would point.

"In modern Arab political life, Israel and Zionism have become the be-all and end-all, just as the past, and the glorification of it, became the unquestioned givens of 'modern' Arab culture. "

Here is an excerpt from an Interview With Al-Jazeera Editor-in-Chief Ahmed Sheikh, making the same point as the columnist above, minus the sarcasm. He really believes it:

Why not?

In many Arab states, the middle class is disappearing. The rich get richer and the poor get still poorer. Look at the schools in Jordan, Egypt or Morocco: You have up to 70 youngsters crammed together in a single classroom. How can a teacher do his job in such circumstances? The public hospitals are also in a hopeless condition. These are just examples. They show how hopeless the situation is for us in the Middle East.

Who is responsible for the situation?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most important reasons why these crises and problems continue to simmer. The day when Israel was founded created the basis for our problems. The West should finally come to understand this. Everything would be much calmer if the Palestinians were given their rights.

Do you mean to say that if Israel did not exist, there would suddenly be democracy in Egypt, that the schools in Morocco would be better, that the public clinics in Jordan would function better?

I think so.

Can you please explain to me what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to do with these problems?

The Palestinian cause is central for Arab thinking.

In the end, is it a matter of feelings of self-esteem?

Exactly. It's because we always lose to Israel. It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West's problem is that it does not understand this.

Fouad Ajami wrote about this pathology. Here's Martin Kramer's review:

It was Ajami's earlier book, The Arab Predicament (1981), that finally broke the spell of The Arab Awakening. In it, Ajami probed the discontent that spread with the failure of the nationalist project following Arab independence and the debacle of 1967. It was a harsh indictment of the post-colonial Arab condition — a condition that has continued to deteriorate, necessitating another regression report. This new book draws its title from the claim by T.E. Lawrence that he had acted in Arabia to give the Arabs "the foundations on which to build an inspired dream palace of their national thoughts." If the dream has become a nightmare, and the palace a prison, who must accept responsibility? For Ajami, this has never even been a question: It was not the Lawrences, the well-intentioned or malicious foreigners, but the Arabs themselves who put bars upon the windows of their "dream palace," and posted executioners in the gardens.

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