[News] Israel and the politics of friendship

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Feb 4 12:16:11 EST 2009

Israel and the politics of friendship

Joseph Massad, The Electronic Intifada, 3 February 2009

The status of Israe  as the enemy of the Arabs has largely depended 
in the last six decades on its enmity or alliance with Arab regimes 
and not with the Arab peoples. Insofar as Israel threatened Arab 
regimes, it was depicted by them as the enemy, insofar as it did not, 
it was welcomed as a friend.

This was certainly the case in Israel's ambivalent position toward 
the Jordanian regime with which it has allied itself since the 1920s 
while at the same time working to undermine the regime when some of 
its strategies changed. This in turn explains why the Jordanian 
regime was historically ambivalent about whether Israel was an enemy 
or an ally. In 1967, some in Israel contemplated unseating King 
Hussein from the throne while in 1970 Israel sought to extend its 
military assistance to buttress his throne. While King Hussein became 
convinced that Israel's ambivalence had been resolved by the early 
1990s in favor of an alliance, many Jordanian nationalists as well as 
Jordanian chauvinists were not. It is in this context that many 
anti-Palestinian Jordanian nationalists opposed the peace agreement 
that Jordan signed with Israel in 1994 and pointed to the continuing 
Israeli ambivalence towards Jordan. They correctly observed that 
Israel would sacrifice the regime in favor of establishing a 
Palestinian state in Jordan after expelling all West Bank 
Palestinians to the country, a project that Ariel Sharon had been 
proposing since the 1970s and that retains support among key people 
in the Labor Party. Indeed, Sharon wanted Israel to support the 
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1970 against King Hussein.

The recent indecisiveness of the Jordanian government regarding the 
best response to Israel's carnage in Gaza was on account of the 
regime's uncertainty of where Israel's strategy lies at present. At 
the outset of the carnage, Jordanian intelligence chief Muhammad 
al-Dhahabi, who reopened talks with Hamas a few months ago, was 
dismissed from his job, while at the same time the government allowed 
massive demonstrations across the country with limited but evident 
police repression. But US, Saudi, and Egyptian pressure on Jordan 
have clearly won the day, especially in their insistence that Jordan 
return its ambassador to Tel Aviv whom it had recalled for a few days 
in protest. These developments show that the Jordanian government has 
a different set of priorities and worries than its Egyptian and Saudi 
counterparts, but that it hopes and prefers that Israel remain a 
friend and not become an enemy.

The Egyptian regime, which considers Israel its most important ally 
in the region after the United States, believes correctly that Israel 
is not trying to undermine it, which is why Israel has not been an 
enemy of Egypt since the mid 1970s. The days when Israel tried to 
destroy the Arab nationalist regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser are over, 
and since his successor Anwar Sadat's capitulationist overtures, 
Israel has been a sure supporter of the Egyptian regime, which 
supports Israel in turn, sometimes as many have recently speculated, 
to the regime's own detriment.

Since the Reagan years, Israel has also become the friend of the 
Saudi regime and later the rest of the Gulf monarchies, not to 
mention its longstanding friendship with the Moroccan kings. The 
Tunisian regime of Habib Bourguiba also refused to consider Israel an 
enemy since the 1960s as had fascist Christian forces in Lebanon 
which considered it and still consider it a friend. Most important in 
this context is how the Palestinian Authority (PA) under Yasser 
Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas no longer considered Israel an enemy, except 
briefly under Arafat before he died and when he realized that Israel 
was out to unseat him. Otherwise, both Arafat and Abbas, whose term 
as PA president expired on 9 January, could not and cannot get enough 
hugs and kisses from Israel's war criminal leaders.

This is a far cry from the 1950s when the Shah's Iran, Turkey, and 
Haile Selassie's Ethiopia were key allies of Israel and the US and 
the first two sought alliances then with the Hashemite regimes in 
Iraq and Jordan. The Arab regimes consensus then was that the 
alliance between Turkey, Iran, Ethiopia and Israel was a 
pro-imperialist anti-Arab alliance. The fact that today it is Iran 
and Turkey's political leadership that are the only regional forces 
insisting on regional and local sovereignty against imperial 
invasions and occupations has reversed this trend.

It is now Arab regimes that push for imperial and colonial 
sovereignty in Palestine, Iraq and Iran, while Iran and Turkey are in 
the forefront of resisting it. That popular forces across Arab 
countries and in Iran and Turkey continue to oppose US imperialism 
passionately leaves most Arab regimes as the major pro-imperial 
forces in the region. It is in this context that Saudi-, Egyptian-, 
Jordanian-, and even the Palestinian Authority-sponsored anti-Iranian 
and anti-Shiite chauvinism (launched at the behest of Israel and the 
US) have failed to sway the Arab masses from their anti-imperial and 
anti-colonial position. The entry of Turkey into the camp that 
supports local and regional sovereignty has complicated the 
hate-mongering of the Arab regimes allied to the US, on account of 
Turkey's Sunnism, or at least its non-Shiism. As a result, the only 
regime that Israel continues to threaten openly is the Syrian regime, 
despite its ongoing secret negotiations with it. This is why Israel 
remains an official enemy of Syria.

The most dangerous enemy for any Arab regime today is any local 
opposition that seeks regime change while offering the range of 
services to the US that the current regime offers. This is why the 
Muslim Brothers are considered the biggest threat to the Egyptian 
regime. The regime would have been unperturbed had the Muslim 
Brothers been anti-imperialist and were they to refuse to provide 
services to the US. The regime, in fact, would have loved for them to 
be more radical, as this would have proved to the US that the current 
regime is the only one that could offer obedient services to its 
imperial white, or in the case of Obama, half-white master.

That the Muslim Brothers are willing to serve the US is precisely 
where their danger to the regime lies, as the US could easily abandon 
the current regime if it becomes a liability and switch support to 
the Brothers. Herein lies the enmity that the regime has shown and 
continues to show toward Hamas, and why regime allies in Egypt, 
including liberals and leftists, support it in its hostility to 
Hamas, which they see as an extension of the Brothers. The problem 
here is that in conjunction with Hizballah in Lebanon, Hamas, unlike 
the Brothers, is the biggest opponent of Israeli colonialism and US 
imperialism. In the Palestinian context, it is the PA under Arafat 
and Abbas that established an alliance with Israel and the US and not 
Hamas. Indeed, the competition between Hamas and the PA is not over 
services to the US but rather over serving the interests of the 
Palestinian people. By contrast, the sometimes tense relationships 
between the PA and Egypt or the PA and Jordan have been based on 
precisely the former chipping away at some of the latter's role in 
serving US interests and in wanting a piece of the pie.

West Bank-based Palestinian intellectuals, like their liberal 
counterparts across the Arab world, have been active in the last 
several years in demonizing Hamas as the force of darkness in the 
region. These intellectuals (among whom liberal secular Christians, 
sometimes referred to derisively in Ramallah circles as "the 
Christian Democratic Party," are disproportionately represented) are 
mostly horrified that if Hamas came to power, it would ban alcohol. 
Assuming Hamas would enact such a regulation on the entire population 
were it to rule a liberated Palestine in some undetermined future, 
these intellectuals are the kind of intellectuals who prefer an 
assured collaborating dictatorship with a glass of scotch to a 
potentially resisting democracy without. This is not to say that 
Hamas will institute democratic governance necessarily; but if 
democratically elected, as it has been, it must be given the chance 
to demonstrate its commitments to democratic rule, which it now 
promises -- something all these comprador intellectuals were willing 
to give to Fatah, and continue to extend to the movement after it 
established a dictatorship. Indeed, much of the repression that took 
place in the West Bank during the carnage in Gaza had been 
legitimized by the ongoing efforts of these intellectuals just as 
they previously legitimized the "peace process" launched by the Oslo 
Accords and during which Israel continued its massive colonization of 
Palestinian land while the PA suppressed any resistance. The scene in 
the West Bank, except for Hebron, was indeed a scandal. Arab capitals 
like Amman and Beirut, not to mention Palestinian cities and towns 
inside Israel, saw massive demonstrations that were at least a 
hundred times more numerous than the couple of thousands who tried to 
march in Ramallah but were beaten up by the goons of the Palestinian 
Collaborationist Authority (PCA).

Palestinians in the West Bank were watching Al-Jazeera instead of 
demonstrating in solidarity and refused to challenge Israel's PCA 
agents who rule them. While the repression by the PCA and the Israeli 
occupation army is an important factor, the quiescence of the West 
Bank was also on account of the psychological warfare of demonizing 
Hamas to which the PCA and its cadre of comprador intellectuals have 
subjected the population for years. Moreover, the fact that a quarter 
of a million West Bankers work in the bureaucratic and security 
apparatus of the PCA and receive salaries which feed another three 
quarters of a million West Bankers, makes them fully dependent on the 
continuation of PCA rule to ensure their continued livelihood. This 
structural and material factor is indeed paramount in assessing the 
contemptible quiescence of West Bankers during the recent carnage in 
Gaza. Indeed, some of the staged Fatah participation in 
demonstrations in Ramallah (where the PCA women's police beat up 
Hamas women demonstrators) included people who openly suggested that 
the demonstrators march by the Egyptian embassy in Ramallah to show 
support for Egyptian policies toward Gaza and Hamas.

The journey of West Bank liberal intellectuals, it seems has finally 
come to this: after being instrumental in selling out the rights of 
Palestinians in Israel to full equal citizenship by acquiescing to 
Israel's demand to be recognized as a racist Jewish state, and the 
rights of the diaspora and refugees to return, they have now sold out 
the rights of Palestinians in Gaza to food and electricity, and all 
of this so that the West Bank can be ruled by a collaborationist 
authority that allows them open access to Johnny Walker Black Label 
(their drink of choice, although some have switched to Chivas more 
recently). In this context, how could Israel be anything but a friend 
and ally who is making sure Hamas will never get to ban whiskey?

In the meantime, the coming Israeli elections are being awaited with 
much trepidation. PCA strategies will be of course different 
depending on who wins. If Netanyahu wins, and he was the spoiler of 
PA rule and the Oslo understanding in 1996, Abbas can try to sound 
more nationalist in opposing Israeli practices in the hope that the 
Obama administration would support him against the Israeli right 
wing. The PCA hopes that Obama can put pressure on Netanyahu that he 
would not be able to in case Labor Party leader Ehud Barak wins. If 
Barak wins, then the PCA would be happy as they can go back to 
business as usual. As a close friend of the corrupt Clintons, Barak 
will also be a friend of his namesake in the Oval office, and Hillary 
Clinton will make sure that no pressure goes his way. Of course as 
far as the Palestinian people are concerned, it makes no difference 
who is at the helm of Israeli politics, a right-wing war criminal or 
a left-wing war criminal. As for those who still have hope in the 
Israeli public, the latter's overwhelming support for the carnage in 
Gaza should put this to rest. If Germans spent the day on the beach 
when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, and Americans cheered in bars 
and at home the fireworks light show the US military put up over 
Baghdad while slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in 1991 
and in 2003, Israeli Jews insisted on having front row seats on hills 
overlooking Gaza for a live show, cracking open champagne bottles and 
cheering the murder and maiming of thousands of civilians, more than 
half of whom were women and children.

The Obama government as well as the Israelis and the Arab regimes 
have only one game they are willing to play, and it is hardly 
original. Ignoring and delegitimizing Hamas is a repetition of the 
delegitimization of the PLO when it represented Palestinian interests 
in the 1960s, 1970s, and part of the 1980s. At the time, the 
Jordanian regime was entrusted by the Israelis and the Americans with 
speaking on behalf of West Bank Palestinians until the PLO pledged to 
be a servant of Israel and US interests and began to view both as 
friends, and not as enemies. While this strategy has worked superbly 
in ending the enmity between most Arab regimes and Israel, it has 
failed miserably in convincing most Arabs that Israel is not their 
enemy. Israel's recent military victory in slaughtering defenseless 
Palestinian civilians and its losing the war against Hamas by failing 
to realize any of its military objectives have hardly endeared it or 
its Arab supporters to the Arab peoples at large or to Muslim 
regional powers who are not fully subservient to the US. The Israeli 
settler-colony might have become the friend of oppressive regimes 
across the region, but in doing so it has ensured the enmity of the 
majority of the peoples in whose midst it has chosen to implant itself.

Joseph Massad is Associate Professor of modern Arab politics and 
intellectual history at Columbia University in New York. He is the 
author of The Persistence of the Palestinian Question (Routledge, 2006).

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