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Thursday, August 03, 2006

ROOTS OF MIDEAST DISSENSION

By Salam Al-Marayati
DenverPost.com, 7/28/06 and OC Register*, 7/31/06

In the past quarter century, Lebanon has had its infrastructure destroyed twice by Israel, financed in part by the United States. The Palestinian territories have been under military occupation by the government of Israel for 40 years. The excuses for invasion and occupation are always the same - self-defense and rooting out terrorists. The results are also the same - humiliation of the Arabs and more extremism.

In 1982, the Israeli military bulldozed its way to Beirut with the stated purpose of destroying the Palestine Liberation Organization and liquidating its boss, Yasser Arafat. After some negotiations, the PLO leadership fled Beirut, and Israel forcefully occupied southern Lebanon. Hezbollah was founded in 1982 as a byproduct of the Israeli invasion and occupation of Lebanon.

This time around, the excuse being employed to justify bombarding Lebanon is to deal Hezbollah a fatal blow. Same plot, different characters. War and occupation are prime ingredients in the recipe for radicalization and increased terrorism in the region. What we're witnessing in Iraq is a case in point.

Let's measure U.S. successes and failures within the parameters of stated American interests:

Establishing the Rule of Law
It is nothing short of amusing to see the government of Israel cite United Nations resolutions, when there are at least a dozen U.N. resolutions citing its illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories and its well-documented abuse of human-rights standards dictated by international and U.S. law. And when was the last time you heard of a government kidnapping and arresting more than 60 elected leaders of a neighboring land? Meanwhile, more than 9,000 Lebanese and Palestinians remain in Israeli jails.

Countering Terrorism
Terrorism in the region is on the rise and shows no sign of waning. When coupled with high unemployment and poverty, dehumanization and indignity are known causes of terrorism. Despite this, Israel continues to subject the Palestinian and Lebanese peoples to large-scale military aggression that is annihilating the modest infrastructure they've managed to build after decades of conflict. Bombing densely populated areas for the purpose of forcing civilian populations to change their government is a clear case of state terror.

Promoting Democracy
In its decision to remain a sideline observer with the dismantlement of two emerging democratic societies - Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian Territories - the United States is sending a message to the Arab and Muslim worlds about where its interests lie.

It is now clear to the people in the Middle East: Democracy means elect the people the U.S. government wants. Otherwise, you'll be starved and suffocated like the Palestinians.

Restoring Human Rights
The guarantee of human rights for the Muslim and Arab peoples is not absolute. Of the more than 200 Lebanese deaths in the past week, 14 were noncivilians.
Millions in the region are seeing cities demolished, fleeing populations and dead bodies depicted on their TV screens.

These images are being seared into their minds, confirming their worst fears.

Helping America's Allies
Two of the most humiliated Arab allies of the United States, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and President Fouad Siniora of Lebanon, have learned that the seed of their continued engagement with America may never bear fruit but only further suffering and destruction. It's no surprise that an alliance with the U.S. government by any political leader in the Middle East is viewed as a liability.

When measured by the U.S. yardstick, our policy in the Middle East is a failure, and Washington needs only to look to its own miscalculation of the region as the reason. While there is much talk about religion and culture as an explanation for the conflict, it is the government policy that needs to be scrutinized for root causes.

In order to find a way out of this morass, the United States must recognize that Palestine's right to exist is as crucial as Israel's right to exist. Instead, U.S. energy is spent on regime change, which has only brought about more radical regimes. While the current governments of Iran and Syria are far from ideal, the prospect of military action against them will likely bring about more entrenched, more anti-American governments.

If we "stay the course" with belligerence to the Arab and Muslim worlds, then we should not be surprised when they respond with belligerence to continuing humiliation and not-quite-human treatment by the international community.
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Salam Al-Marayati is the Executive Director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

* OC Register printed the op-ed under the title "No way to win hearts, minds".

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