No doubt, the Middle East is surely a tinderbox. Jimmy Carter has called it such in a recent editorial, but I would have expected better from this world-weary and world-experienced man.
Better metaphor at least.
Internationally, hands are wrung (mostly) over Israel. One or two think to blame negotiation-failure, no matter that the Arabs won't have and won't allow progress in that arena.
The focus is on Israel's intrusive existence, although it's well into its second half-century of that condition in a God-forsaken, stony, inhospitable but biblically important part of the world. Current crises, coming hard on the heels of one another, tend to forget or wrongly attribute blame as to how Israel got there. The mistakes are not all Western, not all (although initially) the fault of 'infidels.'
Desertsheik Western errors go back eighty or ninety years, their arrogance and strategic duplicity attributable to having ruled too much of the world for too long and off-handedly undervaluing the societies they governed. The derogatory 'camel-jockey' and 'rag-head' for these proud Arabs are the stinging reminder of toxic times and attitudes.
Israel was a mistake, no doubt of that. It is always in error to give away someone else's land in order to solve your own difficult problem. The 'problem' of the world's Jews was 90% European and Europeans chose to give away Middle Eastern lands to solve that problem. Why? As Newt Gingrich said in other circumstances,'because we could.'
Balfour Well, certainly we could, and 89 years after Britain's James Balfour took on the mantle of God's messenger in delivering His 'promised land' to the Jews, we (and they) are still trying to hold on to it.
Old history. A Brit Earl giving a faraway land to someone else, then off to shoot driven birds and a jolly brandy by the fire. Unchangeable (yet unforgivable) history. A mistake nonetheless and inconvenient, providing countless Arab firebrands a rally point for Muslims whose complaint is elsewhere.
The Arab complaint isn't (or shouldn't be) so much Israel or Palestine or even the American incursion into Afghanistan and Iraq. The Arab complaintshould more equitably focus on what occurred in their lands since Balfour and the resulting opportunities their own sovereign governments wasted.
This is the reckoning that needs to happen between Arab and Arab, before any peace will come to the region. Because that reckoning has not yet happened, all negotiations between Israel and the Arab world are doomed to failure and continued bloodshed.
Oil changed it all. Amazing how, politically and environmentally, oil took a mere hundred years to wreck the planet.
Desert sheikdoms, the overly-romanticized nomadic culture of these empty lands, suddenly turned (in the 1920's) into fabulous reserves of an underground wealth no one knew was there. Not only didn't they know it was there, but had no use for it. Not until the replacement of coal by this new-found oil, combined with the rise of the automobile and the modern-day ubiquity of plastics.
Saudikingabdullah Enormous wealth poured into the Middle East. The opportunities that untold wealth offers to poor countries is, without fail in history, squandered among the elite power structure. It was (and is) no different in the Arab world. It's a slap in the face of Christian as well as Muslim justice that a Saudi (or Iranian, Jordanian, Syrian, you name it) self-sustaining hierarchy is allowed to point an accusatory finger at Israel. What a travesty.
These above-named Arab societies (with the exception of Iran, which is not Arab) have done not a thing with their accidental riches but to keep the poor poor and themselves wallowing in comfort. As that inequity became more and more apparent to Islamic clerics in the poorer nations, they took over andbecame the very evil they proclaimed as enemy. In the rich nations, clerics were bought-off with money and social position, as well as madrasahs--the fundamentalist schools that exist almost entirely to teach a reactionary Koranic interpretation that vilifies the West.
West-oriented hatred and (by default) Israeli hatred was encouraged by the kings, sheiks, dictators and mullahs, because it served as an escape-valve for pent-up discontent and provided a handy straw-man. A versatile distraction to the thievery. The evil West and it's evil client, Israel, became state-supported targets of civil disobedience, obscuring just who it was that horded all the oil-riches.
Arab against Arab was reinvented and became all Arabs against Israel, including the 'West' that supported Israel. Thus was born Palestinian Hamas and thus was conceived the Lebanese Hezbollah.
Arabcivilians Israel is a fact and its patrons are too powerful for it to fail. The kingdoms, dictatorships and false democracies of the Middle East are on the brink of civil collapse. It serves Iran and Saudi Arabia, the two most powerful (with the most to lose) uncommonly well to allow an endless state of mutual torture among the populations of Israel, Lebanon and Palestine.
Hamas and Hezbollah have quite different ambitions. While Saudi and Iran strive to hold on to a power in decline, Hamas and Hezbollah represent powers ascendent, subject only to the extinguishing drench that peace between adversaries would bring. Their resident populations (as in all countries of the world) thirst for peace, caught as they are between the ambitions of militancy and the greed of sovereign leaders.
But when have the needs of civil society ever counted for much among power-brokers?
As a political commentator, Jim Freemans op-ed pieces have appeared on the pages of The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The Jon Stewart Daily Show, The New York Review and a number of magazines. His commentary is available at http://www.opinion-columns.com/