One of the most difficult things to do when engaged in a life and death struggle is to entertain internal critiques that go beyond hand wringing. Critique is a fundamental necessity in order to develop concrete steps of action. It is also difficult to remain dispassionate when passion is one of the few things with which we are left.
But it appears to me that many of our leaders and activists have embarked upon a course that is more than fruitless, but counter-productive. We have become a people so completely absorbed by the US agenda that we feel impotent in the face of the US juggernaut. We make the same appeals over and over again while expecting a different outcome. This is one psychiatrist’s definition of insanity by the way. A few quotations may illustrate my point:
“The American administration should take a firm and strong position to put an end to the Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people and to force Israel to return to the negotiations table and deal positively with the international initiatives.“
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, Yasser Arafat’s Media Advisor
“Go and beg the Americans for aid, because they are the only ones that can do anything for you with Israel.“
Qatari Foreign Minister
“Instead of hiring suspect spin-doctors and Hollywood image-makers, it behooves the US administration to re-examine both its words and deeds (as well as its silence and inaction) when it comes to the Palestinians, the Israelis, and the Arab world.“
Hanan Ashrawi, Minister of Information for the Arab League, Palestinian Legislative Council Member
“President Bush’s position …presents a serious danger not only to the peoples of the Middle East region, but also to the American nation itself. This position strongly contradicts the American nation’s interests, which are strategic and sensitive interests in the Middle East.“
Bassam Abu Sharif, Advisor to Yasser Arafat
What each of these quotations has in common is the appeal to “the Americans.” Either an appeal to US interests or outright pleading is the theme of most of our best and brightest. After years of listening to Israelis telling us “what is in the Palestinian best interests” or listening to the endless stream of advice from our chief tormenters as to what we need to do to achieve our aims, it is ironic that we should attempt this same strategy addressing the most powerful nation on earth.
Is it really the case that the US needs us to instruct them as to what is in US best interests? Is not that Colin Powell’s, George Tenet’s, and Condoleeza Rice’s job? And how many times must we be rebuked or ignored when offering advice to seemingly deaf ears? Yet we continue the steady stream of rhetoric.
It is sheer arrogance on our part to suggest to Americans that we understand what their interests are better than they do…just as it is American arrogance to suggest what is in Palestinian best interests. The US will act in accordance with their perception of US interests. If we seek to change those perceptions, then we must fundamentally understand that the only thing the US fears in the region is instability. Unstable regimes would lead to a catastrophic period of American occupation of the oil fields. The United States is run by corporate, economic interests and a very precise kind of regional stability is the overall animating principle for US policy.
But the selection of the quotations above clearly demonstrates that the Palestinian agenda remains one not of our own making. We “think about US interests.” We think about “Israeli security.” We think about what others need to do instead of thinking about what WE NEED TO DO. By adopting the frame of reference of the “other”, we lose our sense of self.
To add insult to injury, it makes our own people feel impotent. It reinforces the notion that our destinies are not in our own hands. When an adversary is successful in controlling the agenda, they control the situation. We, as a people, have too often been willing to adopt the frame of reference of others.
So what should we do?
We must understand the frame of reference of the US. We must understand the frame of reference of the Israelis. But we must not internalize them. We should stop trying to lecture the US on what is in their best interests and try to INFLUENCE those interests…not by preaching to them, but by understanding dynamic forces that animate US policy. Then we may construct strategies that push at the buttons.
Right before Clinton left office, there was a flurry of visits to the Middle East by top Clinton officials. Why? US officials did not (and still do not) believe Arab leaders that the region is as stable as Arab leaders proclaim. One can almost hear Mubarak extolling that “everything is under control”, just as the Shah of Iran assured the CIA in 1979. Cheney, who has been the “Invisible Man,” since 9-11, will soon undertake a tour of the region. He wants to see for himself if the Arab street is as docile as it appears. This potential unrest is what worries the US administration. It is the Achilles Heel for US policy.
Jerusalem is an issue that ignites the passions of the Arab and Muslim street. Yet it is not a Palestinian priority to make this an issue to 1.2 billion Muslims. A demonstration of 250,000 Arabs in Egypt protesting the Occupation of Islam’s third holiest site would do more than all the pleas to Powell and company. Organizing a peaceful Palestinian march to Jerusalem to pray would be broadcast to the entire Arab and Muslim world, and let Israel turn away our people. Would this harm Palestinian aspirations or forward them?
We instead opt for the defeatist attitude that Arab public opinion does not count. We adopt the notion that influencing someone in Idaho or New York is worth more of our time than applying our skills to connecting with our own people. We feel “abandoned” by our seemingly indifferent cousins and thus “abandon” the Arab and Muslim street in favor of the tired appeals to US officials.
Once Arafat said words to the effect that “The Palestinian people are the glue that holds the Middle East together, or the dynamite that blows it apart.” Those words are truer today than ever before. The only thing that stands between Palestinians and genocide is a fear of what this would do to regional stability. It is not a sense of morality by Israelis that retards their version of a “final solution” and we fool ourselves if we believe US morality is any more of a restraining factor. US interests restrain Sharon’s passions.
It is a cosmic irony that Palestinian interests are now aligned with US interests like never before, yet we have not recognized this. The latent potential of regional identification with Palestinian pain and suffering is our asset. You notice this immediately if you go to Hajj, when upon hearing one is a Palestinian, hugs and kisses follow.
It is not our brethren, who have abandoned us. They have their own conditions with which to deal. Their hearts are with us and if we ignore these in favor of trying to appeal to the “American heart”, we abandon our chief asset. If our best and brightest turn to exposing how we have endured against the might of 50 years of US-Zionist collusion, the sleeping giant, our Arab and Muslim street shall awaken. The events of 9-11 may have delayed awakening from the slumber, but it has not altered the existential equation of regional economics. The US will necessarily dump Zionism when it behooves them, and the time is coming.
We have lived the Dalai Lama’s words when he said,
“It is in the inherent nature of human beings to yearn for freedom, equality and dignity. Brute force, no matter how strongly applied, can never subdue the basic desire for freedom and dignity.“
Let the truth of our cause be the beacon of light. Let us turn toward our own people, educate them, speak with them and indirectly we further the process of De-Zionization. We should assume that the US follows its interests. We are now at a precious moment that allows for cleaving those interests from the historic Zionist colonial enterprise by focusing our efforts to the Arab and Muslim street.