Middle Eastern name-calling

Mutually dominating the front pages and news broadcasts of media outlets throughout the world in recent days, two deeply divisive European conflicts became exacerbated to climactic but contrasting extremes this past week. One of the conflicts could potentially lead to a regional, even global war. The other signifies a positive change in leadership, potentially leading to friendlier ties among neighbors in a region dominated by civil war and age-old animosities.
In the Balkans, Europe’s last semblance of communism has at least briefly ended when Serbians revolted against former President Slobadon Milosevic last week and claimed Vojislav Kostunica their chosen leader. This is likely to lead to improved relations between Yugoslavia and the international community, not to mention its independence-minded provinces. Not far away in the Middle East, however, an entirely different and much more bloody conflict is now in its eleventh day and shows few signs of abating any time soon. The Palestinians apparently feel the time is right to reclaim at any cost the land occupied by the Israelis since 1967. (Islamic youths are taught if they die for an Islamic cause they go straight to heaven.)
In stark contrast to the peacemaking ovations of both the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Barak, Palestinians and Israelis have wandered back into the habit of dehumanizing the opposition and declaring uncompromisingly, “It’s us versus them.” Nearly every letter and opinion send to the Daily recently concerning the Middle East violence has placed all the blame for the present melee on their “enemy,” rather than demonstrating a respect for the conflict’s complexities and shared responsibility.
In a column published Friday, David Dreyster blamed Arafat for the Palestinian uprising, “Yasser (sic) Arafat seems to be using the violence to improve his bargaining position in the peace process by gaining the sympathy of the international community.”
Many of the letters written attacking Dreyster’s views are equally one-sided in their implications, blaming Israel or simply the Jews for all of the Palestinian misery of past and present conflicts. One letter put all the blame on “the right wing, blood thirsty fool” Ariel Sharon, whose visit to the Temple Mount on the West Bank precipitated the violence.
Whether Sharon’s appearance at the temple — accompanied by somewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 Israeli troops, depending on how you like your facts seasoned — was intended to derail the peace process or not (which it probably was), that does not justify the violence initiated by Palestinians throwing rocks and shooting at Israeli troops, who often have little choice but to fire back.
After Israeli soldiers fled Joseph’s tomb — a small, Israeli-controlled enclave into the Palestinian-dominated West Bank — young Arabs “liberated” and then desecrated the area, which holds sacred value for Jews, despite Palestinian security assurances that the holy site would be protected.
Similarly destined to lead only to misunderstanding and provocation, Dreyster’s comment blaming Arafat is an unfortunate oversimplification of the conflict. Palestinians are, for the most part, fed up with concessions Arafat was prepared to make to negotiate a peace deal. Additionally, his postponement of a declaration of statehood on Sept. 13 enraged many Arabs in the region. The Palestinians do not want to compromise, but want the West Bank and Jerusalem returned to them. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s threat to quell the situation through armed force if Arafat does not calm his people’s fury will probably not work. As with the Intifada of 1987, Arafat has little if any control over Palestinian action.
Israel has repeatedly promised the United Nations that it would withdraw from the Gaza Strip and has vetoed United Nations resolutions asking it to do so. Besides all-out war, Israel’s withdrawal from the contested regions seems the only way there could be peace in the region.
It is unlikely a peace deal as equitable as the one offered at Camp David will emerge again after the killing has ended in the Middle East. Barak will establish stronger alliances with the rightist elements of his government, like the Likud Party, and peace will seem like a dream.