A Palestinian family reacts after Israeli bulldozers demolished their home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Feb. 5, 2013. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Newly elected Israeli Knesset member Yair Lapid (l), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the hard-line national religious party the Jewish Home, during a Feb. 5 reception in Jerusalem marking the opening of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES)
Richard Curtiss at work in his Washington Report office. (STAFF PHOTO D. HANLEY)
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney (l) and Likud chairman Benyamin Netanyahu, out of office at the time and serving as the official Israeli opposition leader, at a March 23, 2008 breakfast meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (r) shares candies with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim during a Feb. 11 visit to the rebels’ stronghold in Sultan Kudarat on the island of Mindanao. (KARLOS MANLUPIG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Emad Burnat views his five broken cameras in his documentary of the same name. (PHOTO COURTESY KINO LORBER)
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May/June 2005, pages 7-9
U.S. Effort to “Spread Democracy” Leaves A Trail of Conflict and Suffering
By Rachelle Marshall
|As a Palestinian family looks on, Israeli soldiers invade Nablus on April 11—the same day President George W. Bush hosted Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his Texas ranch. Israeli occupations troops searched homes and arrested a dozen suspected militants in the West Bank city (AFP Photo/Jaafar Ashtiyeh).|
ONE-TENTH of Arabs live directly under foreign occupation.
—Statement by Rima Khalaf, assistant secretary-general of the United Nations Development Program, New York Times, April 6, 2005.
Given George Bush’s practice of saying one thing while doing another (hailing the “advancing rights of mankind” at the United Nations while his Justice Department was jailing immigrants without due process), it is not surprising that his campaign to bring democracy to the Middle East so far has only meant replacing unfriendly regimes with more obliging ones. The people of Afghanistan and Iraq are still waiting for real freedom.
After spending seven hours in Afghanistan on March 17, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “There could be no better story than Afghanistan’s democratic development.” Laura Bush spent six hours in Kabul on March 30 and declared, “The power of freedom is on display across Afghanistan.” The two visitors might have been less impressed if they had stayed longer. Three years after the United States went to war against the Taliban, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in a New York Times interview that private armies pose a serious danger to Afghanistan today, and corruption is rampant. Elections have had to be postponed three times because of fears that powerful regional commanders, armed by the United States to fight the Taliban, would dominate the process. Despite vows by international donors to help rebuild it, Afghanistan is still one of the five poorest countries in the world, with a literacy rate of 28 percent. It is once more the world’s leading source of opium.
In an article for the March 10 New York Review of Books entitled “The Real Afghanistan,” Pankaj Mishra reported that much of the aid intended for reconstruction has gone for Land Cruisers and high-rent housing in Kabul for foreigners. The U.S. military continues to hold thousands of Afghan prisoners in undisclosed locations across the country, and tribal elders complain about the presence of heavy-handed American soldiers in their villages. Women outside Kabul are still without rights. Afghan human rights activist Sima Samar said to Mishra, “Democracy and freedom are meaningless without justice.”
The Bush administration’s dedication to freedom is limited in any case. Washington threatened to hold up funding this year for the U.N.-sponsored Arab Human Development Report unless its references to Israel and the United States were toned down. The study by Arab scholars called for sweeping democratic reforms in the Middle East, including freedom of opinion and expression. Publication was delayed when U.S. officials objected to passages blaming Israel’s occupation of Palestine and America’s occupation of Iraq for impeding Arab development and causing “increased human suffering.”
A State Department spokesman called those statements “gratuitous,” but he could not deny their accuracy. In Iraq, the state of emergency remains in force and some 9,000 Iraqis, including children as young as 12, are in prison. Insurgent attacks continue, electricity and clean water are still scarce, and gasoline is often unobtainable, Even the mobile phone system no longer works. A young Iraqi woman complained to San Francisco Chronicle reporter Colin Freeman that before the overthrow of Saddam Hussain she could go to her job alone without worry. She used to meet her friends in clubs and parks, but she can no longer go out at night. The novelty of being free to criticize the government is wearing thin, she said.
Journalist Dahr Jamail, speaking at Stanford University in March on his return from Iraq, showed slide after slide of bomb-shattered buildings, streets littered with bodies, and hospital beds filled with sick and injured children. Hospitals lack antibiotics, pain medication, surgical equipment, even clean water. The Health Ministry was supposed to receive $1 billion but the money has never arrived. There is a six-month wait for prosthetic devices and they may soon be unobtainable.
It took more than two months of heated bargaining before Iraq’s major political parties were able to agree on a president, Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, and two vice presidents, Adel Abdul Mahdi and Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar. The three make up the presidency council, which appointed Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shi’i, to the powerful post of prime minister. But there was still no new government by mid-April as Shi’i and Kurdish politicians remained divided over control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, the role of religion in a new government, and the disposition of cabinet offices.
A powerful Sunni leader, Sheikh Harith al-Dari, insisted that he and his followers would not take part in the political process until the Americans announce a timetable for withdrawal. The continued alienation of the Sunni minority, and the deep divisions between Kurds and Shi’i, will make writing a new constitution a difficult and contentious process, and leave open the possibility that Iraq could split into an independent Kurdistan and a Shi’i theocracy, or end up ruled by a strongman who holds the country together by force. Democracy in Iraq is still a long way off.
Undaunted by the misery and disruption its policies have caused, the Bush administration is aiming to carry its campaign for regime change to Iran, Lebanon, and Syria. Bush and other top officials charge Iran and Syria with harboring terrorists and providing arms and funding to Iraqi insurgents. Vice President Dick Cheney has hinted that Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. Under presure from the Europeans, Bush agreed to allow the Iranians membership in the World Trade Organization if they would give up their uranium enrichment program. The Iranians insist the program is designed only to produce electricity, which the nuclear nonproliferation treaty allows, but Bush continues to threaten punishment if they refuse to comply with his demands.
A Different Message for Palestinians
A few weeks before Syria announced it would withdraw all of its military and intelligence forces from Lebanon by April 30, Bush urged that it do so, saying, “The Lebanese people have the right to determine their own future, free of domination by a foreign power.” Palestinians could use the same message of support. While Bush was ordering the Syrians out of Lebanon, the Israelis announced plans to build 3,500 new housing units in Ma’ale Adumim, a settlement housing 30,000 Israelis on West Bank land just east of Jerusalem. Construction of the additional units will result in splitting the West Bank in two and eliminate any possibility of a viable Palestinian state. It will also be illegal.
All Israeli settlements in the occupied territory violate international law and U.N. Security Council resolutions. The road map to peace that Bush initiated calls for a freeze in settlement construction. Israel has ignored all of these prohibitions, knowing it can count on Bush’s support. After all, the U.S. president contravened his own road map and 30 years of U.S. policy last April when he agreed in a letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that a final peace settlement should reflect “new realities on the ground.” The letter called for Israel to remove all Gaza settlements and four small outposts in the West Bank, but allowed for “natural growth” of the huge settlement blocs. This meant Sharon was free to carve away as much of the West Bank as he chooses and leave Palestinians with the remnants.
The White House responded to the proposed expansion of Ma’ale Adumim with a slap on the wrist and a wink. Soon after Israel’s announcement, Bush said, “The road map calls for no expansion of the settlements.” He repeated this message almost word for word when Sharon visited the Bush ranch in Texas on April 11. But when Sharon stood firm on Israel’s right to achieve “contiguity between Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem,” Bush did not press the point. Instead he praised Sharon as “a strong, visionary leader” and promised Israel more economic aid.
The administration has re-emphasized its support for Sharon ever since the Israelis warned that right-wing Knesset members would increase their opposition to the dismantling of Gaza settlements if the expansion of Ma’ale Adumim did not go forward. On March 25, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer assured the Israelis that U.S. policy is to support “the retention by Israel of major Israeli population centers as an outcome of negotiations.” Rice followed him on Israeli radio a few days later with a similar message, saying, “the existing population centers will have to be taken into account in any final status negotiations.” (Note that Israel’s colonies in the West Bank are no longer settlements but “population centers.”)
The negotiations that Ereli, Kurtzer, and Rice referred to are a fiction. Sharon has made clear that his terms for a final settlement—a token Palestinian state surrounded by Israel—were not negotiable. He refused to negotiate with former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, and he has avoided substantive discussions with Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas. In February Sharon declared, “There will be no diplomatic progress, I repeat, no diplomatic progress, until the Palestinians take vigorous action to wipe out terror groups and their infrastructure.”
Abbas cannot fulfill Sharon’s demand without risking civil war. At his urging Hamas and Islamic Jihad agreed to a truce on Feb. 8 that resulted in an almost total halt to Palestinians attacks and lasted for two months. The Israelis violated it on April 9, as they have almost every previous cease-fire, when soldiers shot to death three Palestinian teenagers as they were playing soccer in Rafah refugee camp. The army said the boys were involved in “smuggling across the border,” but witnesses said they were chasing a ball when they were shot. Such Israeli actions make it impossible for Abbas to persuade militants to lay down their arms.
Nevertheless his efforts have created an opening in which serious peace negotiations can take place. Hamas not only has agreed to take part in the July parliamentary elections but has told Abbas it will accept a two-state solution in a final settlement and recognize Israel within its 1967 borders. Since many Israelis support such a solution, Hamas’s change of policy means that a peace agreement acceptable to both sides is well within reach. But the opportunity will be lost if Sharon insists on the destruction of armed groups as a condition of resuming negotiations.
Abbas made a plea for Israel’s cooperation in his speech at an international meeting in London on March 1. “Experience has taught us,” he said, “that security measures which are not part of a serious political path do not achieve peace and security. We are going forward...to address our commitments. We only have one demand—which is reciprocity, according to the main elements of the road map.”
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat appealed directly to Bush. Referring to the expansion of Ma’ale Adumim he said, “The land that is supposed to be for a future Palestinian state is being eaten up. With this settlement building, and the wall that is being built, the question for President Bush is: What is left to be negotiated?” He urged Bush to intervene directly with Israel to stop further construction. Erekat’s reference to the wall was especially relevant. In mid-March the Israeli cabinet approved a route that would put part of the city of Bethlehem on the Israeli side of the wall, along with the entire village of Shuafat. This latest land grab by Israel, which will affect more than 11,500 Palestinians, went seemingly unnoticed by the Bush administration, whose campaign for the rule of law in the Middle East stops at the Israeli border.
That campaign was compromised in any case by Bush’s appointment of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations—an organization he has sharply criticized. Like his mentor, former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), Bolton is a fierce pro-Israel hawk. In 1989 he blocked admission of the PLO to the World Health Organization and UNESCO and pressed for repeal of the U.N. resolution equating Zionism with racism. As a member of the board of advisers of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), he is a close associate of Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and others who in 1996 served as advisers to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Their strategy paper, titled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” urged that Israel downplay peace efforts with the Palestinians and focus instead on ousting Saddam Hussain. Another author of the paper, David Wurmser, was Bolton’s senior adviser in the State Department until 2003, when he became Vice President Dick Cheney’s Middle East adviser. Wurmser’s book, Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein, published in 1999, is a polemic urging U.S. action to depose Saddam Hussain. According to Wurmser, Saddam’s regime was a product of “pan-Arabic nationalism,” which is a source of tyranny also exemplified by the rulers of Iran and Syria. The PLO, “a close and powerful ally of Saddam,” is part of this movement and like Iran and Syria “wishes to damage U.S. interests.” The author accuses the PLO of hiding Iraq’s nuclear plans and materials in its Baghdad offices to keep them out of reach of U.N. arms inspectors.
Wurmser writes that “most Middle East regimes shun losers and embrace winners.” Therefore, carrying out a policy that “razes Saddam’s Ba’athism to the ground” will “cause our regional enemies to wilt.... and promote pro-American coalitions in the region, unravel hostile coalitions, and profoundly frighten those states and factions that have thrived on anti-Americanism.” Not incidentally, he points out that Iraq “occupies some of the most strategically blessed and resource-laden territory of the Middle East.”
The administration’s foreign policy statement, released in September 2003 and titled the “National Security Strategy of the United States,” clearly was patterned on such recommendations, especially in asserting America’s right to take pre-emptive action against any state perceived as hostile to U.S. interests. “Iraq would be the first test [of this policy] but not the last,” an administration official said.
The strategy recommended by Wurmser and his fellow hawks so far has not produced the benefits they predicted. Given the hostility aroused by the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Washington’s continued support for Israel, Arab leaders would risk overthrow if they formed “pro-American coalitions.” Al-Qaeda is recruiting new members. Violence and disunity continue to plague Iraq, and it is not certain the next Iraqi government will be a desirable ally. The rulers of Syria and Iran have not wilted and, faced with threats from the United States, are more likely to clamp down on internal dissent than move toward democracy. In the absence of Syrian troops, Lebanon could again erupt in sectarian violence.
Bush claims his policies are promoting democracy, but the administration’s record of human rights abuses at home and abroad suggest that freedom and the rule of law are not what he has in mind. The permanent bases the military is building in Iraq, and the influence on U.S. policy of pro-Israel fantasists such as Bolton and Wurmser, suggest that the Bush administration’s ultimate goal is U.S. domination over the oil-rich Gulf region, and an Israel free to maintain its occupation of other people’s land. A truly democratic Middle East would make it impossible to achieve these goals.
Rachelle Marshall is a free-lance editor living in Stanford, CA. A member of the Jewish International Peace Union, she writes frequently on the Middle East.