January 2, 2001 Special Dispatch No. 169

An Egyptian Intellectual in Support of Peace

January 2, 2001
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 169

Since the outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian violence in September, 2000, the voices supporting negotiations with Israel within the Egyptian peace camp have significantly diminished, while anti-Israeli statements in the Egyptian media have increased. Peace advocate Amin Al-Mahdi is one of very few to continue advocating negotiations with Israel in the Arab press. Following are excerpts from a recent article by Al-Mahdi in the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat.[1]

Arab Extremism Prevents a Real Peace

"...Arafat needed an Arab umbrella [in order to accept the Camp David proposals]. But this umbrella was slow in coming-- and Arafat began, once again, to talk about a war of independence, like someone shooting himself in the foot."

"This was the latest of [many] missed opportunities for peace in [the history of] the Palestinian problem-- It was clear from the first moment that the demonstrations that erupted in the Arab world did not enrage the Arab governments-- In some Arab countries, demonstrators who ravaged and burned public property and seriously injured dozens of security officers did not even face investigation."

"In this atmosphere, fundamentalist slogans have popped up, while justice, humanism and human rights have been forsaken. The president of one Arab country [Iraq] requested land adjacent to Israel so that he could command the war for the liberation of Palestine; the president of another country [Syria] asked to annul all Arab agreements with Israel; a third president [of Yemen] demanded that a a Jihad be launched to liberate Jerusalem and the Palestinian lands from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea-- The head of a certain Egyptian political party declared that 'Israel must be thrown into the sea' -- a statement that was altered by the Egyptian press to read: 'Zionism must be thrown into the sea;' one of the heads of the Fatah movement even stated: 'The Intifada must be exported all over the Arab world in order to overthrow the traitorous rulers, so that Palestine may be liberated.' Indeed, they are Arabs."

"Thus, in an inconceivable cycle, the Arabs have been indefatigably and hopelessly reproducing the same historical moment for the past 50 years. The first time was on May 14, 1948-- when they rejected Partition Resolution 181, which led the following day to the war [of 1948], and we know the rest of the story. The second time was on June 4, 1967, when [Egypt] closed the Gulf of 'Aqaba to [Israeli] ships-- a move that ended in the 1967 war, and the rest of that story is known as well. The third time were the suicide operations in Israel in May 1996, after which Netanyahu came to power-- After each one of these historical moments, Arab whining was quick to follow--"

Intifada '87 vs. Intifada '00

Al-Mahdi criticizes the prevalent claim that today's struggle is similar to the 1987 Intifada. He points out the following differences between the 1987 "Intifada" and the 2000 "war":
1. "The 1987 Intifada helped to divide the Israeli public into a peace camp and a war camp-- The 2000 war, on the other hand, has unified the Israeli society.
2. The 1987 Intifada focused on the right of citizenship, on justice and humanism; Most of the slogans of the 2000 war, on the other hand, are religious and vague.
3. The 1987 Intifada mustered overwhelming international support-- while the 2000 war is being conducted within a sort of [international] isolation--
4. In the 1987 Intifada, Israel was conceived of as the only guilty party and the Palestinians as the only victim; in the media's portrayal of the present war, on the other hand, both sides are guilty, even if to different degrees.
5. The 1987 Intifada broke out against the backdrop of the occupation-- while the 2000 war broke out in territories under Palestinian control, after several peace agreements, and while negotiations for a settlement were being held.
6. As a result of the 1987 Intifada, the PLO entered the occupied territories: The 2000 war, on the other hand, has worn out the Palestinian entity. The infrastructure, institutions and symbols of the PA have been destroyed, and Arafat's own existence has been jeopardized. The war opened up a window to the disintegration of the Palestinian society and government into local, tribal and fundamentalist elements.
7. The 1987 Intifada was a popular struggle in every sense of the word. Military operations were at a minimum-- In the present war, however, there are many organized and armed forces like the police, the Preventative Security Apparatus, the intelligence and security apparatuses, the Tanzim and the Fatah's armed militias.
8. The civilian character of the 1987 Intifada brought to the forefront the political and cultural elite who led the public--; In the present war, on the other hand, the status of military and security figures like Muhammad Dahlan, Marwan Barghuthi, Hajj Isma'il Nasser and Tawfiq Tirawi, has been upgraded...
9. The number of dead and injured in the five years of the Intifada is equal to the number of casualties in the [first] six weeks of the 2000 war--"

Facism Drives Conflict

Al-Mahdi makes several observations about the roled of Arab political culture in the current violence:

a. "--The main reason for Sharon's visit to Al-Aqsa was his desire to undermine the peace agreement with the Palestinians-- The Arabs, however, completed what Sharon started. Thus, they adhered to one of the more important rules in the Middle East conflict: the indirect alliance between the forces of Zionist expansion and Arab fascism--

b. --There is another alliance between the authoritarian political regimes and the fascistic forces representing both Pan-Arab and religious [Islamist] ideologies.

c. History teaches us that the goal of Arab peace agreements with Israel has never been to attain a true peace that entails democracy, modernization, development and regional cooperation. The true goal has been, and continues to be, to solve [domestic] crises-- to cover up the inability of the Arab regimes to adapt to modern life, and to justify territorial ambitions in the region--

d. The Palestinian leadership has demonstrated disregard for a basic historical fact: peace agreements with Israel have always been in the Arabs' favor-- the wars brought the Arabs casualties and defeats, while all of the [Arab] gains have been achieved through negotiations.

e. The Arab Summit in Cairo delivered an important message of peace.[2] However, at the same time, the Arab media launched a war and created an atmosphere of violence using fundamentalist slogans--

f. --It is time to review the behavior of the Palestinian leadership in times of crisis: from the events of September 1970 [in Jordan], to what happened in Lebanon--, its position in the Gulf War, and finally the establishment of 11 security apparatuses on 450 square kilometers [of PA territory] in the first stage of the Palestinian entity. In other words, another Arab police state was founded, with its usual Mafia gangs--

g. The Arab politicians and media have exaggerated the magnitude of the Lebanese Resistancess [Hizbullah] achievement and victory... which was merely a limited tactical accomplishment on a small front, that in no way influenced the regional balance of power. This exaggeration was the reason for the revival of the war mentality in the Arab mind--

h. While the world becomes unipolar and the US fills diplomatic, political and economic roles all over the Arab world--voices are popping up calling for boycotting American merchandise, severing relations with Washington, and even launching war against the US. [These cries] have turned into a regular folkloristic ritual reminiscent of the use of Tam-Tam drums in Africa--"

Peace Requires Arab Democracy

"The Arab mind has proved itself time and again to be merely a religious mind-- Thus, [the struggle for] the Palestinian right has transformed from a rational action into an expression of hate and violence. Political emotions have taken the place of reason; the glory of suicide, killing, and the disrespect for human life have become prevalent [values]-- The Arab mentality has not realized that even imperfect peace agreements are preferable to war. Indeed, such agreements do not entail all of the rights or a comprehensive peace, because true peace is democracy, co-existence, development and modernization -- things that the authoritarian Arab regimes are not ready for--

[1] Al-Hayat (London-Beirut), December 6, 2000.

[2] A reference to the resolutions of the summit ignoring cries of war by the extremist factors in the Arab world, and to the adamant words of the Egyptian President against war with Israel.

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