Almost apocalypse

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Who said that apocalypse is the only alternative to the “peace process”? True, the statement is entirely familiar; it has been an article of faith of the peace processing discourse for many years, even at the days of its “heady” successes, when Nobel peace prizes seemed a dime a dozen. At each and every juncture of the process (its innumerable stalls, deadlocks and crises, as well as its countless breakthroughs, 11th-hour rescues and great-moments-for-peace) we’ve been warned, in no uncertain terms, by the various parties, and by hosts of governmental, academic and media busybodies, that it’s either a deal (any kind of deal), or all hell will break loose: unbridled violence and terror will drown the region (even the world) in blood.

For years, the process has been marching to the deafening din of warning bells pealing away: in Washington, New York and Moscow, in European capitals and Arab capitals, in Jerusalem and Gaza. From big, resounding cathedral-sized bells, to tinkling little service bells, everyone seems to have had a warning bell of some sort to sound. Even the odd, obscure north European monarch would take the trouble to slip, for a moment, out of the pages of Hello and onto CNN screens to ring his or her own little glockenspiel.

And they’ve all been sounding the same admonition: save the peace (process), keep it going at any cost, or it’s the apocalypse.

The most powerful argument was yet to come, however: it seems, after all, to be born out by developments on the ground. The “ides of March” are upon us; the prophecy is being fulfilled. The peace process has broken down. And does it not look very much like the apocalypse now?

Why must it be so? One needs only to shut out the din of warning bells, big and small, to realise that there is absolutely no intrinsic rationale behind the all-pervasive proposition. Anti-colonial struggles have gone on for several hundred years. Decades would pass without any deals being offered; decades would follow unacceptable deals. Nelson Mandela, even as he appeared destined to spend his remaining days in prison, rejected for several years a proposed deal stipulating that the ANC “renounce violence.” The struggle continued. There was no apocalypse.

And why on earth must there be a process? The alternative to submission has always been continued struggle. Where’s the riddle?

It is not all ideology, however. Or rather, the ideology here serves as the grotesquely magnified and distorted expression of the adversaries’ reality, to borrow the idiom of a certain well-known 19th century German. It does so in two ways. The first is gimmicky; it is the great spin lying at the heart of the peace process since its inception.

All the parties have had a profound interest in maintaining the semblance of movement towards a continually deferred final settlement. The goal is spurious here: movement, or the process, is all — and not because non-movement means imminent catastrophe.

The gimmick is actually grounded in the fundamental contradiction in the Zionist colonial enterprise since June ’67. What most people seem to forget is that Israel needs the peace process much more than the Palestinians, let alone the rest of the Arabs, do. One is always tempted to say to the Israelis: You want the land and the water — it’s your ancestral home, the burial ground of your patriarchs and matriarchs, and all the rest of it? OK, then, take it. But come on: really take it, annex it. There’s the rub, though. The land is inhabited; in 1947-’48 a world war had just ended, the holocaust was headline news, not history, the post- was yet to be affixed to colonialism and there was no cable or satellite TV. The big lie of Israel’s founding is no longer possible; “transfer,” if it’s to be done, will now be done on prime time TV. And, thank you very much, no one is about to leave so that the Arab armies of salvation can step in and save the day — there will be a Palestinian fighting, even with bare hands, for every square metre of land. Take the land with the people (you do need the cheap labour and the market, after all), and it’s good-bye to “the Jewish State” — already a dubious proposition, since 20 per cent of its population (despite the free and blood-drenched hand ’47-8 made possible) is, after all, Palestinian Arab.

Apartheid is the solution, naturally. But it is rather passé. “Interim” arrangements whereby you maintain dominance over the land, the water and the people, while deferring, as much as you can, the acknowledgment of that dominance, is then a tailor-made way out of the dilemma.

Everyone else wanted a piece of that action. The US would like to see Israel get away with the venture, while maintaining, as far as possible, the stability of its friends in the region — there’s still plenty of oil down here. The friends, for their part, are desperate for American goodwill, aid, investments, armed protection (for an influential section at least), and, naturally, the stability of their regimes. The Palestinian leadership, especially since Tunis, had been a hovering bureaucratic spirit waiting for a state (any kind of state) to materialise — in every sense. All are concerned (to varying degrees) about opposition movements, in particular the “Islamic threat,” for which the Israeli occupation is a constant source of ammunition, however misfired. The Europeans in particular, I have long suspected, are especially worried about the waves of secularist asylum-seekers which Islamist takeovers across the Mediterranean may send slapping against their shores. Their societies are already too “mongrel” to bear.

After a spin in the ideology of the peace processor, the failure to meet these needs takes on apocalyptic dimensions.

But what of the Apache helicopters, the F-16s, the ceaseless suicide bombings, the talk of regional war — does not all this substantiate the supposition that the apocalypse, if not already here, is around the corner? My answer, however, will have to wait until next week.

Mr. Hani Shukrallah is Managing Editor of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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