CounterPunch’s website is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. We are supported almost entirely by the subscribers to the print edition of our magazine and by one-out-of-every-1000 readers of the site.
Autumn in the Middle East hasn’t the melancholy connotations you attach to it in the West. For you, this is the season of dying; leaves change color and fall and birds fly south. For us, this is the jolly season of awakening after stupefying summer heat; grass hatches again on the burned-to-reddish-brown lawns and trees are heavy with ripe figs and pomegranates.
Arab Spring, as the wave of spectacular February risings was called, gave way to Arab Summer, that hot and meaningless season of vainly seeking shade or a cool dip under a mercilessly blazing sun. In Egypt, the military junta continued Mubarak’s policies; in Libya, armed gangs prowled the desert under the expensive parasol of the NATO Air Force; in Syria, mythic adventures of a Damascus Lesbian Blogger unfolded, penned and composed by a middle-aged American ex-intelligence agent from his Scottish retirement. Palestine was easily forgotten, and a neocon observer happily and hastily announced that “the Arab Spring has rendered the Palestinian issue irrelevant”.
Autumn came, and the summer haze dissipated. The first fruits sown in the spring budded forth: the Israeli Embassy fortress-on-the Nile was stormed, Turkey recalled last year’ s insult, and the Saudis threatened the US for the first time ever. Palestine is center stage again, and the UN application for Palestinian statehood of Mahmud Abbas is the centrepiece of the new mosaic. Now we can reassess the evidence and finally begin to understand what is actually happening in the Middle East: is it an authentic drive for liberalization and democracy, a credit card revolt, a carefully orchestrated plot? And where is it all leading to? Apparently our region is being re-formatted just like the hard drive on your computer, and at the end of this brief process, a long-forgotten Caliphate will rise again, as we shall further explain.
Why Palestinians are applying for UN recognition
Palestinians are tired of never-ending negotiations. They were promised speedy independence in long-gone 1993, the year Mandela got his Nobel Peace Prize and Jurassic Park was a box office hit. The Oslo Agreement between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin was expected to solve the whole problem very soon after a brief autonomy interlude. It didn’t work out: Arafat was poisoned, Rabin was shot, consequent Jewish governments played for time and intermittently massacred the impatient Palestinians. The negotiations went on, nevertheless. . . and on, and on …
The Palestinian people got tired of and lost faith in the negotiations long time ago: in the first free democratic elections in 2006 they voted against Fatah, the party of negotiations. Now, five years later, Mahmud Abbas and his Fatah party have also gotten tired of wasting their time, and fear the possibility of losing everything in the end. Abbas has lost a lot of face. His adversaries consider him an Israeli sock puppet sitting on Israeli bayonets. They say that he has no mandate to rule. He is worried that the next intifada wave will sweep him away like another Mubarak, and the Israelis would not — will not — save him. His only other option is to become irrelevant to the great new reformatting of the region. That is why he has made peace with Hamas and applied to the UN for recognition, whileatthesametimeordering anti-riot equipment — just in case!
Unless he and his Fatah plan to cultivate an orchard and sell olive oil in retirement, they need to show some results, but the time – and the reformatting – make Abbas’ position precarious. Fatah belongs to the vaguely socialist nationalist Arab movement, that of Baath and Nasser, and this movement is dying. In Iraq it was destroyed by the US invasion; in Egypt, it was wasted by Mubarak’s policies; in Libya, it was bombed out of existence by NATO and in Syria it is being severely undermined. These Arab socialists have made too many compromises with the neoliberals, encouraged their new super-rich billionaires, taken too many bribes and have lost public support to a great degree. Like salt that has lost its savor, they have lost their meaning. They are suffering the fate of the US trade unions, the Mexican Institution Revolutionary Party and the European social democrats, while their inherent post-revolutionary inflexibility did not allow them to change.
Mahmud Abbas understands as well as anybody that the UN resolution will not give him a viable state, but he will regain some annoyance value vis a vis the Israelis. He is very pro-American, his security forces are trained by the Americans, and he was hoping that his bid will be accepted. This would be a reasonable hope in light of Obama’s Cairo speech, and indeed Obama would like to play along. However, US Jews are too powerful and too proudly nationalist to give him some leeway. They prefer Netanyahu with his silly intransigence. The US political class has accepted this as a given, and Netanyahu was greeted by ovations that would make even Comrade Stalin or Colonel Qaddafi proud. The unexpected loss of Weiner’s seat in the Congress, and the fear of Jews derailing the President’s reelection, compelled the Obama administration to promise a veto in the UN Security Council.
It is a forced decision, but not a wise one, for the UnitingforPeace process allows an override of the US veto, and apparently this Doomsday weapon of international politics will be employed for the first time since the Korean war in 1950, this time against the US. In a way, by thus demonstrating its submissiveness, the US has disqualified itself from ruling in the Middle East.
Who will rule the Middle East?
No one can rule (let alone reformat) the region after the defeat of Arab nationalism unless he enjoys popular support. People should like their political direction. And there is no better puller in the Middle East, from Athens to Cairo, than offering fight to the Jewish invader. The reason is not some kind of prejudice or a mythical anti-Semitism, but rather, a pervasive love for the Holy Land, and its native inhabitants so terribly mistreated by the Zionists. Proverbs (30:22) explains: “Under [this] the earth trembles: a servant who becomes a king”; and an Israeli writer has argued that this applies to the Jews in his country. Used to serving other rulers, they have not developed sufficient charity, compassion and moderation, they mistreat the natives cruelly and unfairly, and as a result, they succeed only in uniting the Middle East in rejection of their enterprise.
The acid test for a ruler in the Middle East is his attitude towards the Holy Land . Our people are concerned with its fate more than they are concerned with elusive democracy and liberalism — more than they are interested in Facebook and Twitter. In February we wrote: this is the end of the Israeli-American order established by the Camp David Accords. Now we begin to see a new order coming.
Whoever wants to rule the region should think of Palestine. Moreover, demonstrating this is the prerequisite for a leadership bid. It was done by Turkey: After long wait, the Erdogan government made a few striking moves: it sent the Israeli ambassador packing, it stopped military cooperation with and military purchases from Israel, and Erdogan promised to come in person to Gaza on board of his navy’s protective fleet. The results were impressive: upon his visit in Cairo, this heir to the Sultan was called “a new Saladin”, after the Sultan who defeated the Crusaders on the battlefield of Kurun al Hattin above the Sea of Galilee in 1187. He was treated by the people as a liberator and savior. If this was the reward for his words, what will be his reward for his deeds?
Egypt is ripe for a new revolution: Egyptians tore down the wall around the Israeli embassy and stormed the building. They expressed dissatisfaction with the ruling military junta for its lack of action and for its continuation of Mubarak’s policies sine Mubarak. Indeed the Egyptians have precious little to show for their February uprising and its thousand martyrs. General Tantawi had been chosen by Mubarak himself to become his successor years ago. The political regime has not changed, elections are being postponed, the Gaza blockade goes on, and even the killing of Egyptian soldiers by Israelis did not disrupt normalcy.
Turkey has the legitimacy to provide the new order, call it a Caliphate, for Caliphate is another name for the Ottoman Empire, the equivalent of the EC or of NAFTA. Istanbul (Constantinople) was the last seat of the Caliphate till WWI, and the natural capital of the Middle East since the fourth century. The end of violently secular Kemalism and the rise of the Islamic AKP has opened gates for Turkey’s bid for the resurrection of the Caliphate. Turkey is a natural leader, and in case Syria should fall apart, Turkey will be able to reintegrate it within the Caliphate.
But Turks are not the only claimants. A new force has arisen meanwhile in the Middle East. It is led by the Saudis and their close allies, including Qatar. They have plenty of money, and they have a most powerful media tool, al Jazeera. They are fervent Muslims, strictly anti-socialist, and they plan to reformat the region according to their tastes. They are the main beneficiaries of the NATO attack on Libya, and they have invested a lot of resources in the destabilization of Syria. Until recently, they remained almost invisible and did not show their hand. It is the issue of Palestine that brought them out into the light.
Prince Turki al Faisal wrote in the NY Times: Saudi Arabia will part with the US if it vetoes the Palestinian bid. This is not only done out of sympathy for the people of Palestine, but is also an apparent bid for regional supremacy. The Saudis are contesting for the crown of the Caliphate, no less — they want it for themselves. To this end, they have spent a lot of money over a long period of time; they destroyed Qaddafi and are undermining Assad. They have good working relations with the Turkish AKP; Erdogan and Gul are familiar with the Saudis, spent some time in their country and benefited from Saudi support. If the Saudis want to be top dogs, however, they are going to have to put more effort into Palestine.
Probably Turkey is the more realistic claimant: it is a big, prosperous, modern country; its orthodox Islam has a strong touch of Sufism (think of Rumi, the greatest Sufi poet and saint adored by the Turks). Saudis with their Protestant-Puritan branch of Islam (Salafist or Wahhabist) have less chance to succeed. Historically, the holy cities of Mecca and Medina were unable to keep the seat of Caliph to themselves; probably they will fail this time, too, unless they are willing to moderate their goals and play second fiddle to Turkey.
The UN bid
The US has some hard choices to make. Vetoing the Palestinian bid will become an empty gesture, but a vivid demonstration of the Americans’ bias. Europeans will not help them: they did not bomb Libya in order to pass the gains on to Zionists. The US administration can’t get out of the Jewish embrace.
Perhaps Israel will come to its senses and relax about the UN vote, as proposed by Kadima leader Tsipi Livni . Even if the Palestinian resolution should carry the day, Israel still has the most powerful army in the region and enjoys unqualified US support. Israelis can ignore the resolution as they have ignored hundreds of General Assembly resolutions, repeating Ben Gurion’s maxim: “Who cares what the Goyim say? What’s important is what the Jews do”. American-Arab philosopher Joseph Massad wrote that Israel will win anyway: if the Palestinians win their bid they will have a small Bantustan, if they fail, they will lose momentum.
Ali Abunima has listed many reasons against the bid. Indeed, the independence of PNA (Palestinian National Authority) is not the ideal. It will not solve the problems of refugees, of separation between the West Bank and Gaza, of discrimination within Israel proper. But don’t worry: Mahmud Abbas’ bid will not create an independent Palestine. It will get the Palestinian train out of impasse, it will wipe the snide smirk off Netanyahu’s and Lieberman’s faces; it will undermine the US hold on the region. More importantly, it will support a new dynamic, extremely negative for Israel, even if this straw does not break the camel’s back. Anyway, the Palestinians can’t solve this problem themselves: elimination of the apartheid regime in Israel/Palestine will be effected by the future Caliphate, which is sure to enhance its legitimacy and popularity.
Israel Shamir can be reached at email@example.com.