Monday, May 2, 2011

The Ghost of Peace

There is a ghost going round in Europe, the ghost of communism. 

It is May 1 2011 as I am writing these lines (and Osama bin Laden is probably still alive in his Abbottabad hideout) and the famous phrase from the Communist Manifesto written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848 has me thinking of the many ghosts that have since haunted Europe: the ghost of fascism, the ghost of war, hot or cold, the ghost of nuclear deterrence, the ghost of terrorism from Germany's Red Army Faction and - as a rather new ghost - the ghost of Islamophobia we are seeing today, even in societies that claim to have written "liberté, égalité, fraternité" on their flags.

Let's flash over to the Middle East, where on this Labor Day Palestine seems definitely destined to go into labor, with an estimated time of birth in September 2011 when the UN General Assembly convenes in New York. The Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad looks to me like the hardest working man in diplomatic business, incessantly active behind the curtains of political deal making to get Washington, London, Cairo and - yes! - Ankara to the point of no return, to get to Palestine. Fayyad is exactly doing what Mr. Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks want us to believe is no longer tolerable: a secret diplomacy aimed to achieve a political end before the good plan has been eaten in the press (or devoured on an Israeli cabinet session table for that matter).

More news coming out of Palestine last week: Hamas and Fatah, the brotherly arch-rivals, are destined to sign a reconciliation contract this week and to form a common interim government. The Egyptian military, interim themselves, at least so they say, announced that they will open the Rafah border crossing to Gaza in the coming days. And a new flotilla, the Freedom Flotilla II, will soon set sail towards Gaza to break the Israeli siege of the strip by the sea once and for all. 

The political landscape in the Middle East has truly changed in 2011. For the Palestinians, the new rulers in Cairo, acting more hands-free than Mubarak ever thought he could (or wanted) is a blessing brought upon them by the brave protesters of Tahrir Square. None of these developments make Israel happy. A Hamas - Fatah unity government? The Palestinians are crossing a red line here (drawn by whom?), so the "ach so schreckliche" Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Israel's army radio. Opening up the border gates in Rafah? That is like opening up the gates of hell, if one was to ask the Israeli government, and in a certain way they are right. If this is hell, they want to control it. A new flotilla coming the Israeli way? Netanyahu is travelling all over Europe to pressure European governments into actions to prevent the "all aboard!" of the maritime siege busters. 

crossing a red line: Avigdor Lieberman

All signs indicate to a more peaceful, a more democratic Middle East and yet, Israel is rotating in diplomatic overdrive. The true state of mind of this unhappy people comes to light. They need the war to live in peace. Only if others are at least as unhappy as they are, they shine. Their unhappiness is a negative happiness at the expense of their neighbors. Their security environment, established with the help of their big brothers in Washington, is a yoke of insecurity and oppression for their fellow Middle Eastern citizens. 

Don' get me wrong here. A Palestinian state is a first step towards a sustainable solution of some sorts, but I don't think a two-state solution will be viable in the long run. A Palestine will always be dependent on Israel - for work, for logistics, for security, for anything. By the end of this century we will see a one-state configuration between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea, everything else won't work. But in order to accomplish this, the recognition of Palestine as an independent state is an important precursor. Only if you recognize the other as such, you are able to interact in a meaningful way with him or her.  

And what about the Freedom Flotilla II? Should it be cancelled, now that Rafah is open? Of course, that is for the flotilla organizers to decide. Would you cancel the Olympics? Flotilla has become the activists' Olympics, for which you have to qualify and where only the fiercest and fittest can participate, going against the world's best and most ruthless anti activists' force, the Israeli navy. (I acknowledge though that their Olympic title in this rather dubious discipline is heavily challenged by the likes of the Libyan loyalists and the Syrian Mukhabarat.) So, I'd say let's go ahead with the flotilla, even if it is running in open doors. But for next year, they might look for another venue: Bahrain under Iranian siege, Zimbabwe after the Mugabe election fraud or Cuba and the Castro brothers rest home come to mind.

Peace in the Middle East is like a love - a woman, a man - you are craving for a long time to be with but when the possibility is nearing to present itself, when the plane ticket is booked, the bags are checked in, you suddenly feel the fear of an encounter creeping up inside yourself. You take a step back and would opt for the status quo, as unsatisfactory it might be, if someone asked you, because you are afraid of the consequences of love, of the daily life of living together, of making love work, of making peace work.

The new government in Cairo changing its policies towards Palestine and particularly Gaza? Bashar al-Assad sitting on a red hot seat in Damascus? Fatah and Hamas to unite, stopping to fight each other, at least for now, and instead "smarting" their way to NYC? Israel running against her own wall with her strategy of divide and rule, with "my security is your insecurity"?

There is a ghost going round in the Middle East, the Ghost of Peace.