Ramzy Baroud: Palestine Remains the Core Struggle in the Middle East

Interviewed by Info-Palestine

(This interview was originally published in French.)

Info-Palestine: Our interview with Ramzy Baroud is concerned with the situation in Palestine, the raging conflicts in the Middle East and the role of the International Solidarity Movement.

— Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include ‘Searching Jenin’, ‘The Second Palestinian Intifada’ and his latest ‘My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story’. His website is: www.ramzybaroud.net.

Western interventionism in the Middle East in the last 25 years has been particularly destructive, beginning with the first Iraq war in 1990-91. Israel has either been the perpetrator of this chaos, or has tailored it to fit its own objectives. In the final analysis, do you believe that Israel was the ultimate winner in these conflicts?

Historically, chaos, whether that managed by or provoked in its entirety by Israel and its Zionist and neoconservative supporters, has largely served the objectives of successive Israeli governments. Whatever benefits Israel reaped from conflicts, tend to serve it in the short term only. In the long term, agitated conflicts often backfire.

This has caused Israel an unsolvable dilemma: it is a state that engenders perpetual conflict, yet invariably seeks normalization, security and stability, all at the same time. In reality, however, the position that Israel managed to carve for itself is that of a warring, barbarous nation – a scenario that explains its rise, but also its inevitable downfall.

History is of the essence here. Israel was established as a direct outcome of war and genocide. Without conflict, and all the plotting that followed World War II and the Nakba, or Catastrophe, which the Zionists wrought upon Palestinians in 1948, there would be no Israel to speak of. Large numbers of Palestinian villages and towns needed to be destroyed, and a million ethnically cleansed in order for scores of Israeli towns and Kibbutzim to be erected in their place.

That original scenario has been duplicated numerous times in the last 67 years: Israel invites war, engenders chaos, ethnically cleanses, and destroys, in order for it to illegally expropriate land to house people who are not descendants of a land, and build its settlements.

While this formula has served the immediate objectives of Israel, the colonizer, it has never created peace, invited stability, or inspired co-existence. In fact, there can never be any form of real, lasting peace with the current Zionist thinking and behavior.

Israel’s downfalls are intrinsically linked to its own hypothetical success. The barbarity of the Israeli army in Lebanon gave rise to the kind of resistance that eventually liberated Lebanon and kept the Israelis at bay. A similar scenario is being enacted in Gaza. Palestinians there are fighting back so ferociously, because they have no other option. But, Israel’s only recourse to violence is further violence, which inspires even more resistance, and so the cycle continues.

However, the chaotic principles according to which the model of the Israeli state is operating will eventually collapse. The same conclusion can be reached regarding the overall Western intervention in the region.

But will Palestine remain a central question in the Middle East, pervading Arab consciousness and surpassing the religious, sectarian and other ethnic divisions and allegiances at work in the region at this moment in time?

The so-called ‘Palestinian question’ has been a central problem in the collective mind-set of the Arab people, and is now making a crossover to a global audience as well. It has been and remains vital not just because of the historical link between Palestinian and Arab identity, or because of the centrality of the holy land for Muslims. It is more organic than that, in the sense that the entire region cannot achieve stability and growth when one entity is being subjugated, destroyed and violated.

For example, if Palestine was located within the Scandinavian hemisphere, the outcome would still be the same. Norway and Sweden would not prosper, embrace principles of socialized democracy and still be expected to grow, when, say, Denmark is forced to exist under a cruel and illegal military occupation.

So naturally, the Arab world cannot be ‘okay’ if Palestine is not ‘okay’.

The current turmoil in the Arab world however, has sidelined the Palestinian tragedy, but only temporarily. Arab countries have an incredibly heavy burden of sectarian divisions, tribal conflicts and regional rivalry that has been in place since most of these countries gained independence in the mid-20th century and later years. That political hierarchy, itself a relic of British and French colonialism, was an inherited legacy of injustice for years, and it was a matter of historical imperative that it eventually fell and broke into a thousand pieces.

This does not mean that Palestine is no longer important or central to the overall Arab political consciousness. The region is currently experiencing the most unprecedented trauma in its modern history, starting with the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, all the way to the present, with its revolutions, wars and host of conflicts – violent or otherwise. Once a new reality settles in, Palestine will again find itself in a central position, not for any emotive or sentimental reasons, but simply because stability will continue to elude the Middle East as long as Palestine is undergoing military occupation, war and genocide. It is simply unsustainable.

If we are to view the Palestinian resistance within regional conflicts, how is one to approach the subject, especially when each government has its own unique sets of interests and political agendas?

By and large, Arab countries are undemocratic, authoritarian regimes that are either controlled by an individual, his/her cronies and the small class of wealthy elites that feed on their perks (as in Egypt), or by agreed-upon platforms that bring together various competing groups that share power based on tribal lines (as in Libya) or sectarian ones (as in Lebanon).

The main objective of these regimes is either to maintain their own survival, or the political balances required of their countries to stay afloat. That can only be achieved if they align their politics and policies with powerful countries that are dominating the region. This stands as a sharp contrast from an ideal democratic model, where the people matter most.

Palestinian resistance, whether Islamic, socialist or otherwise is, by definition, at odds with the interest of such powers as the United States, Britain and others. These countries played a major role in creating and sustaining Israel. Palestinian resistance against Israel is in fact a component in a much larger liberation struggle against imperialism, colonialism and, of late, neo-colonialism.

Hence, one can imagine a scenario in which an Arab dictator, a king or a prince would have to make a choice between supporting Palestinian resistance, which is hardly of any direct benefit to him and his regime, or tow the America, British, and by extension, Israeli line. For them, as experience has shown, the American-Western alliance always comes first, as Egypt’s Sisi has amply demonstrated.

So the problem is not with Hamas per se, but is essentially with the concept of Palestinian resistance altogether. If Hamas is to change its attitude towards Israel, but maintain its religious appearances, it is likely to be embraced, at least by Arab regimes, and most likely, by Egypt.

We ought to remember that the conflict between Arab regimes and Palestinian resistance groups has been displayed on many occasions, years before Hamas was created in 1987. This played out in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, and so on, in fact, as early as the 1960s.

Is there a kind of an ‘Arab NATO’ that is being formed? And is that a reflection of the failure of direct Western interventionism in the Middle East?

Yes, US-led interventions have proven disastrous, even if examined via the commercial analysis of loss and benefit. The Iraq war did not usher in the rise of American hegemony, as hoped by some, nor did it guarantee American control over the region’s resources. Considering that Iraq is cozying up to Russia at the moment, and the fact that Russia is taking the lead in Syria, indicates the failure of the military intervention and ‘state building’ formula altogether. In other words, the United States has lost in Iraq.

Among other US failures was the seemingly bashful intervention in Libya, where the burden of war was divided among all NATO members, and where the US was ‘leading from behind’ as it was termed, supposedly to support a homegrown revolution. Now Libya is run by two governments and hundreds of armed militias.

The Western-NATO-Arab bombing of Daesh in Syria, and of Iraq, was the most watered-down form of Western military intervention so far, and that too has failed to yield results. It failed to eliminate Daesh, and also failed to breathe life into or re-assert the intervention model as a somewhat workable archetype that can be replicated in the future.

With failures on all of these fronts, and because of the political necessity for the West to sign a nuclear deal with Iran, there was a need for a fourth model, which has not been tested before in the region, at least in terms of an all-out war. This was exemplified in Arab countries, which are allied to the West, resulting in the war in Yemen.

It is important to remember that the US has been leading its own protracted war on Yemen, in the name of fighting al-Qaeda. That too has failed since al-Qaeda is more powerful than ever before. But the current war in that extremely poor country, is aimed at regime change and offsetting Iranian influence over the Houthis, who are fighting against Saudi allies in the country.

Even if there was a ‘victory’ in Yemen over the Houthis, it would not be a clean one. In my opinion, that war is unlikely to reap the intended results and ultimately weaken US allies. But more importantly, it is likely to prove that even distant, indirect military intervention will not pay much dividends.

Even though violence does not seem to pay, the appetite for intervention is unlikely to be diminished entirely, for it is part and parcel of Western power and influence in the region.

Back to Palestine – how can international solidarity be more effective? Does the Solidarity Movement show signs of maturity, or espousing discussions and debates over its role and overall mission and directions?

One of the main advantages of the Solidarity Movement is the fact that it is de-centralized. This means it is a collective that advocates the rights of the Palestinian people through engaging civil societies, while holding world governments accountable when these rights are violated. A model like this might experience occasional demoralization but it cannot be defeated.

However, one of the main challenges of the Movement, is its inability to go beyond these goals considering that the supposed moral authority of the Palestinians is either corrupt (the Palestinian Authority), outdated and sidelined (the PLO), or incapable of leading a universal initiative using appropriate and unifying discourse (Hamas).

We are hopeful that Palestinian mobilization in Palestine itself can provide an alternative platform so that the Solidarity Movement can be entirely guided and directed by Palestinian priorities and initiatives. Until that happens, solidarity has to be channeled in as effective a way as possible, challenging itself through discussions, debates and constructive criticism.

Whatever the scenario, the Solidarity Movement has to find the balance between the Palestinian people’s agenda, and its own local environment. Only then can it be true to itself and also achieve its goals.

On the subject of solidarity, do you consider the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the head of the Labour Party in the UK a reflection of a changing attitude in the West towards the Arab-Israeli conflict?

Generally, British society has always been quite progressive in its understanding of the conflicts in the Middle East. It has been more sympathetic to the Palestinians than its American counterpart which has been inherently overwhelmed by and largely acquiescent to a regressive Congress, religious zeal, media propaganda and so on.

Moreover, British society came out largely against the Iraq war, and marched in its millions to make its voices heard even before the Iraq occupation began. It displayed the same attitude during the Lebanon wars, the Gaza wars, etc.

Thus, the election of Corbyn is a reflection of the already existing progressive sentiment in British society. The same logic can be applied to other European societies as well. The main difference is that the British voters managed to circumvent the hegemony of the traditional ruling elites, media and the politically and socially detached politicians, by placing someone who truly represents the majority of Labour voters at the helm of the country’s largest opposition group.

– Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include ‘Searching Jenin’, ‘The Second Palestinian Intifada’ and his latest ‘My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story’. His website is: www.ramzybaroud.net.


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