Talisman Gate

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Usual Suspects

Copyright 2004 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC
All Rights Reserved
The New York Sun

November 11, 2004 Thursday


LENGTH: 1318 words

HEADLINE: The Usual Suspects

BYLINE: Nibras Kazimi


Who will succeed Abu Ammar? Will it come to be what the pundits are saying, a toss-up between Abu Mazen and Abu Ala'a, or will the outcome be settled after a protracted gang war between Abu Fadi and Abu Rami?

If that sounds like gibberish, here's a scorecard: The "Abu" stands in for "Father of," and Palestinian Arabs involved in politics usually adopt this form of social reference as their nom de guerre, traditionally deriving from the name of the eldest son. "Abu Ammar" is Yasser Arafat, who, unlike most Arab rulers, does not have any male progeny to bequeath the mantle of leadership to. "Abu Mazen" is Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization and prime minister for a few months last year, and "Abu Ala'a" is Ahmed Qureia, who is the current prime minister. "Abu Fadi" is Mohammed Dahlan and "Abu Rami" is Jibril Rajoub, who are respectively the former security bosses of Gaza and the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.

And, just to further confuse matters, Arafat's real name is actually Mohammed Abdel-Raouf Abdel-Rahman Al-Qidwa. That is his given name at birth in a Cairo hospital on August 24th, 1929, but it is unlikely to be etched on his gravestone.

Ashraf Al-Kurdi, Arafat's longtime personal physician, was once a student at Baghdad Medical School, where my father taught him biochemistry in the early 1960s. He has declared in the Arab press that Arafat, now expiring in a Parisian hospital, is "not brain-dead," a statement he has had to repeat often within a closed circle over the past 30 years. Joking aside, what is happening is a seminal opportunity to head-hunt for a Palestinian leadership that can actually lead. And it may be squandered through short-term fixes by those who have most to lose from another 50 years or more of Arab-Israeli conflict - the Americans and the Israelis.

The Americans and Israelis trying to find a quick fix to this conflict are going to squander this historical opportunity because their policymakers are - with a few important exceptions - stupid, lazy, and racist. They are stupid because they think in terms of election cycles and Camp David photo-ops, and their strongly held belief that the battle to win the hearts and minds of Middle Easterners can be measured through instant polling and Nielsen ratings of Arabic-dubbed game shows. They are both lazy and racist because they postulate that a Palestinian democratic and liberal partner for peace does not exist and that they shouldn't waste time looking for such a political species in that neck of the woods.

When trying to sort out conflicting claims to 5,000-year-old property title deeds and turf squabbles over Jerusalem's square mile of stone, mortar, and Holy Spirit, one should be extremely patient. And one has to be extremely careful: the Palestinians and Israelis are ex changing blows against the backdrop of worldwide jihad, a holy war that seeks the destruction of Western civilization and the annihilation of the State of Israel. The attack on September 11, 2001, was part of the jihad. If this post-Arafat transition goes badly, it will further embolden the enemies of America and Israel and equip them with another enraging symbol of malice toward Arabs and Muslims. In other words yet another example of stupidity, laziness, and racism, and this was the subtext of bin Laden's broadcasted pre-election harangue of the West.

But Osama's message revealed a glaring weakness: he said that he is fighting for "freedom," fully realizing that this is what is going to win the hearts and minds of Middle Easterners.

President Bush won the election, which is good news for the Middle East and the war on terror, not because Fallujah is about to be leveled and FBI agents are camped out in Peshawer but because it is bad news for the keep things-the-way-they-are bureaucracies at State, Defense, and the intelligence community who handle the Middle East. For all their flank maneuvers to isolate Mr. Bush from the "revolutionaries" in their midst, or the ones they refer to as "neo-cons," the forces of the status quo have missed one important detail: Mr. Bush is fluent in "neo-conese." Mr. Bush speaks "neocon" and understands "neo-con." Freedom and liberation of captive peoples are personal articles of faith for this president, and no amount of rear-guard action is going to change the course on which he has personally set American policy toward the Middle East. Those petrodollar- driven loyalties and the inclination of the bureaucracies toward stale and unimaginative analysis are going to be challenged over the next four years by his freedom-oriented foreign policy.

Mr. Bush should constantly, actively demonstrate that America is fighting for freedom in the Middle East. There is plenty to get done in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and post-Arafat Palestine.

But I suspect that the bureaucracies are going to attempt to confuse Mr. Bush by offering up only four alternatives to Arafat: Abu Mazen, Abu Ala'a, Abu Fadi and Abu Rami. The first two are going to be interim caretakers who are incapable of filling Arafat's guerrilla boots since they cannot live up to Arafat's symbolism among Palestinians, and they can neither reach the power levers of Arafat's legacy: the vast sprawling kleptocracy of the thuggish Palestinian Authority, or rather the Palestinian Autocracy. Not to mention that for the past four years the Palestinian-Arab people have endured low-intensity warfare in their own backyards as bloody terror attacks unleashed bloody Israeli reprisals.

The West Bank and Gaza are a complete mess, and in such a situation, the CIA comes to the rescue, or as the Arabic proverb goes, "he came to apply mascara to her eyes, but mistakenly blinded her." The spooks, like their Israeli counterparts, only trust those whose loyalties they can purchase, oblivious to the hard fact that they can be outbid. And the CIA trust Mohammed Dahlan and Jibril Rajoub.

Mr. Dahlan and Mr. Rajoub have the firepower to impose their will and those of their benefactors on the Palestinian people, whose own national will seeks, as is human nature, dignity and a better life. The Israelis are busily erecting their expensive Concrete Curtain across the West Bank to seal off "Area-B" Palestinian ghettos, and can't be expected to offer much by way of helping the Palestinians express their will. The Israelis see the Palestinians in their midst as a scenery-spoiling nuisance and not as a stark reality, but no number of Russians or Argentines making aliyah is going to change the fact that several million Palestinians exist in Palestine. Pending a nationwide paradigm-shift of Israeli soul-searching as to what exactly is the nature of their state, it is again America that must lead the way at this fork-in-the-road juncture unfolding in Paris.

The groundwork for elections is in place, and these elections will lend legitimacy to those who can offer their people a way out of this mess, if given the time, means and secure environment to articulate their message. Otherwise, the pragmatists will cower into the shadows and the more-of-the-same demagogues will carry the day.

The Palestinians are a talented and hardworking people, just the kind of success-oriented rags-to-riches crowd that incur jealousy and animosity in the lands of their Arab exile. In fact, the stereotype of Palestinians among hostile host populations like the Jordanians, the Kuwaitis, or the Lebanese, corresponds to the same themes of anti-Semitic rhetoric throughout right-leaning Europe toward the Jews. Such a people can produce a democratic and liberal leadership that leads them into the future. And America, guided by freedom-loving Bush, can help foster such a leadership through patience and care.

The State Department and the CIA will round up the usual suspects and cobble together a quick-fix leadership, but Mr. Bush should demand more Abu-Somethings to chose from.