Lame Duck Politics, Part II: Are the Democrats campaigning in Palestine?

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The situation in Palestine is worse than at perhaps any other time in the history of the occupation. The people are starving, and there is limited fresh water. They are living under curfew, the violation of which can lead to death. Since March 29, 2002, Israel has subjected the people of Palestine to a most brutal military onslaught, and yet it is now the Palestinian people, along with governments of the East and West who are calling for an end to “Palestinian violence.” Many are saying that it is Palestinian violence that is causing Israel to retaliate, and to carry out a threatened permanent re-occupation of the lands previously under Palestinian control in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian writers are accusing Hamas and Islamic Jihad of creating the present situation, even though most of the suicide attacks which have taken place since the beginning of the intifaada have not been carried out by Hamas, or Islamic Jihad. One writer even claims now that the Likud p! arty created Hamas, this no doubt in an effort to exploit the growing backlash against the Islamic movement, timed to coincide with Arafat’s capitulation, and acceptance of what is being touted as the “Clinton Plan.” By taking political shots at Hamas, these writers no doubt feel that along with saving Arafat by insinuating that Hamas is provoking Israel, or vice versa, they can eliminate Arafat’s only real competition for the unsolicited affectations and respect of the Palestinian people, fearing this might translate into votes.

President Bush, who has been working on his own plan for peace in the region, is being put off by the current wave of violence, and bombings. He is being upstaged by the “Clinton Plan,” the very bargain that was previously rejected by Arafat, and whose rejection led to the present situation.

Following the failure of the now infamous Camp David II Summit, newspapers in the United States were ripe with the writings of pro-Israeli pundits who laid out the plan for Israeli action that is now being carried out against Palestine. Whereas there was no talk of Sharon’s visit to al-Aqsa mosque, there was plenty of chatter about the proposed “limited war” and now imminent re-occupation. Israel wants the people of the world to believe that it is “reacting” when in fact, it is more likely that Israel is implementing its plan, a contingency plan drawn up long ago, designed to finalize its conquest of Palestine. One need only look back to the writings of people like American University professor, Amos Perlmutter, who wrote several articles on this issue, published by the Washington Times, following Arafat’s departure from Camp David. Perlmutter’s comments were speculative, yet, most people that read the articles might have understood quite well from his statements wha! t the next stage in the conquest of Palestine would likely be, and sought to discourage Israel from its ambitions, but failed.

None of this means very much now since as was anticipated, attempts to create increased tensions between the Islamic movement and the PA is paying off. The idea that Israel had been pushing for a Palestinian civil war, as in a military confrontation, is perhaps now better understood. Having convinced Arafat and others that their plight lays in the hands of suicide bombers, it might be hoped that it would only be a matter of time before the Palestinian people would turn against one another. Either this, or they will become so polarized from one another politically that the idea of statehood will be squashed, and it was the political polarization that was always the primary goal, since Palestinian against Palestinian violence could never have the powerful and long-term affects of deep political divergence. There is a big difference between political party strife over ways to achieve a common goal, and the type of polarization that is now being created in Palestine. If ! we have one group contemplating putting off statehood under the guise of a pragmatic solution, while the other might bid to stay the present course, the positions could harden, turning into political ideologies rather than strategies. One group is being blamed for causing the fall of the PA, and Israeli reoccupation. Another submits to the people that acceptance of a less than adequate plan is the way to end the unbearable hardships created by the Israeli punishment. There are more than a few people who believe the present punishment and redeployment was the result of the initial Arafat rejection. Yet, it is being sold to the Palestinians, and the public, as a reaction to suicide bombings. This might rent the Palestinian political consensus for statehood, since the real argument being asserted is that once Palestinian retaliation against Israel end’s, Palestine will be safe, and there will be food, even if there is no state.

On several occasions Hamas founder and spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, has said that a military confrontation between Hamas and the PA would never be allowed to happen, and most agree that Palestinian vs. Palestinian violence would be a tragedy. There is nothing more painful and sickening than to watch victims turn upon one another, and destroy one another at the behest of people who couldn’t care less about either side. Yet, this is what happens when leaders of people align themselves with powerful outside interests, who plot with them, and scheme, and appeal to their greed for power and wealth. They incite such leaders against their brethren, with ridiculous claims like the one that suggests that it is the Palestinian people who are “provoking” Israel’s “reaction.”

There is of course something good to be said about the idea that any deal is better than no deal, or that a good deal is better than a bad deal. Concerned that the Bush plan would be less generous than the Clinton Plan, formerly the Oslo plan, perhaps Arafat feels that it is smarter to take what might appear to him, a more generous offer. Although the Bush plan has yet to be presented, for some strange reason it is already being characterized as less seductive than Clinton’s. Still, an Arafat reversal does not explain why he walked away from the Clinton plan to begin with. This reason says something about the potential success of any plan, since he passed up the deal for a reason, and this reason deserves serious contemplation and analysis, since it has something to do with how 1.2 billion Muslims view Palestine, and what its Muslim holy sites represent to them. Enticing Arafat to capitulate on statehood and the right to return is one thing, while readopting Oslo is ! quite another.

Yet, if there is no substantive reason for the first rejection, only two things can be reasonably assumed concerning Arafat’s sudden change of heart. Arafat is either willing to say and do almost anything to remain in power, and skirt reforms, or there are hidden hands guiding the Arafat response. Hidden hands that are not aiming so much to empower Arafat, but to decrease the energy behind the push for Palestinian statehood, while hoping to derail Bush’s popularity among Muslims in the United States resulting from his call for a Palestinian state. The left has upped the ante and pulled Arafat out of political obliqueness, and hard left. The Israeli left, perhaps feels that the Bush administration is bogged down with its Homeland security initiative, along with FBI and CIA reforms, and other issues related to homeland security. Hoping to exploit the supposed distraction, the Israeli left, which is closely linked to the left in the United States, and especially with Arab ! Christians and Muslims in the United States, might be working through their contacts with the PA, to resell the Clinton/Oslo Plan. In so doing, they may hope to undermine Muslim American support for the Bush administration, empower the left in Israel, and give Democrats in the United States bragging rights, and another chance to court, this time around, the Muslim American vote. Their success would also hand Clinton the peacemaker legacy that he sought before leaving office.

If these possibilities are indeed facts, that might indicate that the coveted prize is not peace in Palestine at all, but Muslim American votes in the upcoming November elections, and the 2004 presidential race. Success for the left in this respect would lead to further demonization and isolation of the Islamic movement, and an overwhelming victory for the left in Israel and the U.S. The Likud, for its part, is served either way, since its primary objective at this point might be simply to prevent statehood, and this is the point of ideological congruence between the PA, the Israeli left, and right, and the left in the United States. There is no real difference in the objectives between the left and right in Israel on the issue of statehood. One says publicly “absolutely not,” while the other says perhaps, and continues to push Oslo, which simply avoided the issue of Palestinian statehood, which might also be the neo-con position.

Long before the present Arafat capitulation, pro-Arafat and secular leftist infiltrated many of the Muslim organizations in the United States, seeking to direct Muslim American support away from the Islamic movement, and towards the PA, and back to Oslo. Their focus was primarily the Palestinian organizations, but they also, through various methods, sought to turn Muslim American public opinion generally against the Bush administration, the Republican Party, and the Islamic movement, not because these represent any type of union. Their common and shared trait is that they represent various ideals viewed as counter to the left’s secular liberal ideals. Fearing that conservative Muslim Americans would lean right, and thereby support a Bush re-election, as well as the inclusion of Islamic Movements in the Palestinian political structure, the left has been vying for Muslim American support, and have received little competition from the Bush administration. The FBI raids ! on Muslim organizations helped this leftist initiative considerably, since organization heads felt betrayed and humiliated by what they perceived as an administration willingness to throw Muslims to the wolves upon any opportunity to appease the Zionists and Christian Zionists lobbies. The Bush administration has had a difficult time following 911, walking the tightrope between Muslim Americans and Zionists in the United States, who are identified as both Jewish and Christian Zionists. These two, arguably the most powerful lobbies in the country, may also wish to push Muslim Americans away from the Bush administration. Muslim Americans represent a potentially very influential and sizable block of votes, and could compete with the traditional majorities in the party, should they push for input in the formulation of party agendas and platforms. It seems that the strategies of the Zionist right has not been so much to attempt to push the Muslim American vote left, but rather to! intimidate Muslim Americans away from the process all together. Charging that Islamists are out to sink the U.S. government, and form a radical Islamic state in the United States, when most Muslim Americans are not “Islamists” though many do support the right of religionists to share in governing their countries, has the potential to further demonize Muslim American political participation, and to cast it as another Communism that has a subversive intent in the United States. Through discouragement, and resistance to their inclusion, along with potent condemnation of Islam, from pulpits, cable newscasts, and televised evangelical programs, Zionist and the Christian right has sought to foment ill-will against Muslim American political participation. This would hamper the Republican Party should conservative groups seek to coalesce with Muslims, and keep Democrats at arms length from Muslims in the United States, soliciting only their votes, but not their activism. The logic ! being that it might be better to avoid Republican or Democrat party strife by refusing to encourage, or facilitate Muslim conservative, or liberal political participation. This would mean business as usual, and all things controlled mostly by Zionist and Christian Zionists on the right, and the other minorities mostly supporting the left.

Palestinians and Muslim Americans might be wise to consider that there is a train of thought, which suggests that it is problematic to free, or fully include peoples in societies prematurely, which no doubt includes the recognition of statehood, and any amount of significant participation in mainstream politics. James Madison said in his “Memorandum on an African Colony for Freed Slaves, ” the law permits Masters, under certain precautions to manumit their slaves. But the continuance of such a permission in some of the States is rendered precarious by the ill effects suffered from freemen who retain the vices and habits of slaves.”

For years, many Muslim Americans have cautioned their pro-Palestinian counterparts in the United States, to moderate their language, public views, and political objectives in respect to Palestine and Israel, easing fears that Muslim American participation is aimed solely at destroying Israel, or an abrupt U.S. departure from support for Israel. As for Palestinians in Palestine, they might consider that the world is watching. The world is considering Palestine as a neighbor, not only to Israel and the Arab states, but to the world at large. They might also consider that this is perhaps the premise for the President’s call, and pressure from others, for deep reaching reforms, not only in the Palestinian political structure, but also in its political culture, as a pre-requisite to statehood.

Whereas calls for reform are being characterized as imperialism and stalling tactics, the truth might be that people are simply discouraged by either the inability or unwillingness of a people to recognize their basic needs as a priority, and to act in their own interests.  Before a desire for statehood is likely to be realized, the Palestinian people will have to organize themselves socially and politically in such a way that they can be viewed as an independent, viable, responsible, and conscientious actor on a world stage. Weary of deep ideological cleavages between nation/states East and West, and dangerous economic disparity, it seems that increasingly the major influences in the world are adopting an unspoken criterion for inclusion and acceptance in what might be seen as a universal culture. This might be an attempt to eliminate, or prevent situations that increase the likelihood for conflicts between nation/states. It might also be a response to prognosticat! ions set forth in Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations theory, even though many believe that Huntington was actually predicting a war between Islam and the West, rather than between nations, East and West. In this respect, it is noteworthy that efforts are also underway to reclaim and restore Islamic, Christian and Jewish doctrines from the more radical influences that has shaped their interpretations, as well as their responses to modern social, economic and political challenges. This is not the same as the United Nation’s initiative to eliminate “all barriers” to women’s empowerment, defined within many of its working documents as religion and culture.  

Those who will argue that Israel did not have the same burden of performance, prior to its recognition as a independent nation, should keep in mind three important things 1.) Most immigrants to Israel immigrated from the United States and Europe where they had commandeered numerous political movements, left and right. 2). Their social and political culture is European, and American, not Middle Eastern, a political culture that is seen as repressive and despotic. 3). The Israel that the world is coming to know, is very different than the image of the Jewish homeland that most Americans and others envisioned, making this argument that Israel did not have this same burden to perform before being recognized as an independent state, perhaps better suited to substantiating a need for caution, rather than the opposite.

Prior to Palestinian statehood, the Palestinian people should take the initiative to establish a system whereby they can control their own internal politics peacefully and democratically, and lay the foundation for an independent economy. Rebuild the healthcare system, and the educational system, and the infrastructure. Israel, which has already done all it can do to destroy any hope of a Palestinian state, should not be allowed to succeed. It will take the assistance of Muslims, and Palestinians from throughout the world to assist and to rebuild Palestine, in spite of Israel’s mischief and injustices. Freedom begins in the heart, and manifest outwardly as a result. There is an important role now for the religious leadership, Muslim and Christian, to build the people’s morale, and help them to find the inner peace and confidence to move on, and to end their dependency upon Israel for either direction, assistance, acceptance or permission to live. Palestine doesn’t need I! srael. Palestine needs Palestine.

It is more than apparent that increasingly U.S. domestic and international policies are tied closely to Israel. Palestinian statehood, sovereignty and independence are no exception. The Bush administration should understand that in its attempts to formulate a plan for peace, it must also consider that it must speak to the people in that region in the political language they understand. Its message is lost through unfamiliar terminology that is being interpreted to the people in a way that serves other agendas. It should relieve itself of the burden of perception among Muslims and Arabs, that the administration is a puppet of the neo-cons and the religious right. The issues at play are far too important to be reduced to such simplistic conclusions, never the less, they are. The new language of the left is a language that has developed over the years, and shapes political, economic and social perceptions from a leftist view very persuasively. The neo-cons are an example. O! nce liberals, neo-cons mastered the art of political conquest through the use of terminology and language, and used what one Muslim political analyst has termed  “mimetic warfare” to spread their ideas among conservatives in a way that not only made them less offensive, but almost indiscernible as ideas that originated among liberal thinkers, and not conservatives. They successfully translated the liberal agenda into conservative language, and in so doing etched out a place for neo-conservatism on the political landscape. This position has allowed them to play all parties against the other, yet completely in favor of Israel, and by extension, themselves, since it is believed that Israel is their primary reason for existence.

Republicans over the years have earned whether deservedly or undeservedly a reputation for being unconcerned with the poor, uneducated, common people and minorities. This makes the idea that far right Christians and Zionists control the party, and therefore the administration problematic, both domestically and internationally, as are claims that it is controlled by neo-conservatives. Such characterizations create advantages for the left that could significantly impact the outcomes of elections, and the acceptance and implementation of administration initiatives overseas. It might also cause Muslim Americans, who are mostly cultural and fiscal conservatives, and yet, socially compassionate voters, and other moderates of all faiths and persuasions, to loose faith in the ability of the Republican Party to represent them, particularly the younger people.

As for Arafat and the Clinton Plan, there is clearly no apparent advantage to the acceptance of a well known and previously rejected Clinton, or Oslo plan, over an unveiled Bush plan. This might indicate that there is something else at play. Whatever it is, it is doubtful that it has either understood, or addressed the reason Arafat, when he had the chance to accept the Clinton Plan at Camp David, walked away.  The late Yitzak Rabin’s daughter declared on Israel radio that Oslo is dead. Someone should inform the  Democrats, and Arafat, meanwhile the Palestinian people should move on, and reach out to their brothers and sisters throughout the world, their children in exile and Muslims and Christians, and everyone should help build Palestine, the same as we helped to build to Israel.

The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women.

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The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women. The author is also head of the International Assoc. for Muslim Women and Children, an accredited NGO with the UN Division on the Rights of the Palestinians. She is a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN).

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