Who Benefits From Strife In The Middle East
By Mazin Qumsiyeh
Hartford Courant March 6, 2002
Those who think the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a never-ending war because "these people have been killing each other for ages" have failed to read history. Britain and France fought many wars including the Hundred Year War (which actually lasted more than 120 years). Both now have free movement of people and ideas, and it would be unthinkable for anyone to imagine a resurgence of conflict in Western Europe between those two great powers. The Berlin Wall tumbled, and apartheid in South Africa was dismantled. The hundred-year-old Middle East conflict remains one of the few of the 21st century left to be resolved - but it is not unresolvable. It is also clear that the conflict is not a religious conflict. Founding Zionists were never religious (many even despised religious Jews), and the worst periods of conflicts occurred when Arab nationalists battled both Israel and conservative Muslims in their midst.
We need to dispense, moreover, with the myth that a military solution is possible. Any individual, such as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who tries to impose a military solution is ignorant of history. Perhaps one way to look at the situation in the Middle East is to identify who benefits from a lack of a peaceful and just resolution. Such a resolution could result in economic development, respect for human rights and the exchange of people and information. Such a resolution could be a threat to these groups:
The arms industry. The US is the largest exporter of weapons in the world and 60 percent of our exports go to the Middle East.
The oil industry. Less US involvement could spell an end to dependence on oil, development of alternative energy sources and energy conservation
Think tanks and their employees in Washington. No less than two dozen such groups receive significant funding from special interests ranging from oil and military industries to lobbies for Israel.
Many Zionist leaders . Some get significant attention, hefty lecture fees and adulation. Collectively, they can maintain the Jewish character of Israel under their guidance and avoid needed democratic reforms, separation of state and religion, and economic development that they cannot control.
Religious zealots (whether Christian, Jews or Muslims) who believe in doomsday scenarios. These zealots ignore clear admonitions in their religions calling for mercy, love and respect for others. The fanatical Jewish colonizers/settlers in Hebron are a good example of this, as is Osama bin Laden.
Many Arab leaders. A resolution could take away the only crutch left for their dictatorial powers, which benefit immensely from lucrative oil and arms deals and which distract their constituents from local problems.
U.S. office-holders who receive millions of dollars in donations for re-election from pro-Zionist and other groups who benefit from the status quo. The absence of a Middle East conflict could deprive them of money from segments of their voter pool.
Five million of the 8 million Palestinians in the world remain displaced, prevented from going back to their homes and lands. Yet Israel, established to provide a safe haven for Jews across the globe, is ironically the only place where Jews remain endangered and subjected to violence.
It is time for those of us who do not benefit from the continuation of this tragic conflict to support a solution based on human rights, such as the right of refugees to return to their homes and lands. Building a pluralistic society in Israel/Palestine would cause a dramatic shift in repressive Arab regimes, which would no longer have that most crucial crutch.
But even if those regimes resist change, the tremendous economic development that would be unleashed by the two most highly educated people in the Middle East - Israelis and Palestinians - living and working in tandem would undoubtedly result in dramatic and positive ripples across the globe.
There need not be any losers, only winners. Understanding the obstacles is a first step toward solutions.
- Mazin Qumsiyeh is an associate professor of genetics at Yale University School of Medicine and a co-founder of al-Awda, the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition, a charity supporting Palestinian refugees.