Hazem Saghieh

On a Region that Despises Politics

Israel, today, is blind violence. It is the perfect embodiment of what happens when modernity's arm seizes its conscience and heart, and its laws and humanity are beholden to technology. With what it is doing, Israel takes democracy backward, back to its inception, to a time when it coexisted with colonialism and its religion was to rule not by politics, but by bureaucratic decisions and raw violence.

With these attributes, if the Israeli army would make progress on the ground in Gaza and kill, destroy, and eradicate Hamas, it will not create an opportunity for politics, not for Gaza or itself.

Some with a greater degree of foresight and a stronger sense of justice presented broad objectives and aspirations that they hoped would materialize: the emergence of a Palestinian state and the dismantlement of the settlements in the West Bank... However, so long as its overwhelming drive for revenge and its conceit keep politics off of Israel’s agenda, all that would remain after the military campaign is problems without solutions.

This will have implications for Israel’s position in the region, the extent to which its allies will tolerate the harm it does to their interests, and the persistence of its impunity for violations of international law, as well as fueling antisemitism across the globe, with all the questions this raises for the safety of both Israelis and Jews around the world.

This in addition to the more direct and pressing questions, from those linked to security and its institutions in Israel, and the heavy toll that will be taken on the economy as investment and tourism become less appealing, to how Gaza will be governed in the future and what its relationship with the West Bank will look like, and of course Israel’s internal disputes, which are now silenced by war, but aggravated by the hostage situation beneath the surface. As always, the wretched figure of Benjamin Netanyahu is at the heart of those problems.

Israel’s Spartanism, though it may be nuclear, will not help much beyond allowing for a military victory. It will probably create new problems more grave than the older ones the very next day.

This state of affairs is a culmination of the Israelis’ obsession with strength and security, which the “Al-Aqsa Flood” has made hundreds of times more pronounced. But it seems that this aversion to politics is mutual: Israel takes an action that strengthens the illness in its enemies, and its enemies’ background strengthens Israel’s illness. No side can make politics tempting to the other, because no Levantine actor is drawn to politics in the first place.

The Arabs’ culture of rage, whose grip becomes particularly firm during crises, has closed off any real path to politics. This is despite the fact that the balance of power always offered less than the proposals put forward in attempts at reaching a settlement.

It has become tedious to bring up the speech Bourguiba gave in Jericho suggesting that the Arabs belatedly adopt the 1947 partition plan. That day, the Tunisian president was called a traitor, and this was on the eve of the 1967 defeat, which snatched large swaths of territory away from the Arabs instead of shifting the discussion toward the restitution of the territory that the implementation of the partition plan would have granted them.

Nasser was accused of treachery himself after agreeing to UN Resolution 242 in 1967, and then again when he subsequently accepted the Rogers Plan. In 1978-1979, the Camp David Accords were concluded, allowing Egypt to take back control of the Sinai, and it was the first time that the Arabs retrieved territory that Israel had occupied.

As is well known, the Camp David Treaty had initially included provisions that would have gradually allowed for Palestinian autonomy over three stages. However, the Palestine Liberation Organization boycotted the entire process, as the Baathist machine in Damascus and Baghdad portrayed the peace process as a blatant betrayal. Sadat was killed soon after, and his killer, Khalid Al-Islambuli, was declared a hero in Iran.

When Lebanon and Israel signed the 1983 agreement, which did not amount to a peace treaty, domestic battles for control of the central government in Beirut directly backed by the Syrians broke out.

In early 1985, King Hussein of Jordan and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat reached the Jordanian-Palestinian Joint Action Agreement, which "was launched in the spirit of the Fez Arab League Summit and United Nations resolutions regarding the Palestinian cause, and in alignment with international law." However, Hafez al-Assad's campaign of assassinations and accusations of treason thwarted this joint agreement.

After the Oslo Accords of 1993, Arafat and "Arafatism" were denounced once again, and the antagonistic brothers sought to nullify the agreement. Thus, religious extremists in Israel assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, and, with the support of Tehran and Damascus, Hamas planted explosives targeting civilians. Then, in 2007, Hamas launched a coup against the Palestinian Authority and split Palestine despite calling on the "Muslim Ummah to unite, " effectively ending the enforcement of the Oslo Accords in Gaza.

All of this is done under the pretext that deals do not grant us all of our rights in one go; indeed, settlements don’t do so by definition. As well as disregarding the balance of power, the critics painted the rulers who had chosen compromise as dubious squanderers. However, these rulers, however bad they may have been, obviously sought, rather had a personal interest in obtaining, more than they ended up receiving; nothing but the weakness of their negotiating position stood in the way. Here, too, patriotism and moral clarity become increasingly tied to a single regional leader, Hafez al-Assad.

Thus, no peace offer could be as popular as not-so-innocent calls for resistance. When tyrannical rulers were condemned, they were rarely criticized for this stance in particular. On the contrary, they were often reproached for not being radical enough in their resistance.

Moreover, this rejection of politics was not limited to the Palestinian-Israeli issue alone. The leaders who came to power through coups and subsequently destroyed their countries' politics and took hold of public life, became the region's most influential figures. As for Lebanon, where the leeway afforded to politics was relatively broad, it was stabbed repeatedly by the various radical movements obsessed with militancy and resistance.

Only a return to politics and compromise can grant the Middle East a future. The Israelis must recognize the inevitability of an independent Palestinian state, and the Palestinians and Arabs must recognize that Israel is here to stay. Both parties must be genuine in their recognition, it cannot be mere lip service. Only those who do this do not have the blood of the children in Gaza on their hands.