One of the requirements for the U.S. Secretary of State’s job, especially in the contemporary post-Cold War world, is to be a sort of therapist engaged in listening to the quarrels of the time and offering constructive advice, even when not heeded.
So when Condoleezza Rice set out to kick-start the stalled road map diplomacy between Israelis and Palestinians during the same week U.S. President George W. Bush got busy explaining his new Iraq policy to the American people, the Secretary of State was engaging herself in a predictable routine.
But her job is not easy given the intensity of Muslim on Muslim violence across the greater Middle East and the Horn of Africa, and the malaise of a civilization that is more or less irreparably broken.
This is a region where illusions thrive, where old grievances continue to cause mayhem and murder.
It is also a region where prophets were born bearing Islam’s message of peace.
Now it is left for the Americans to keep alive that elusive and often illusory promise there.
It is a safe bet to predict U.S. troops will be in Iraq long after the Bush administration has passed into the history books—consider, for instance, South Korea’s history and the role of America in helping that republic turn into a modern industrial power with democracy taking root.
It is also safe to predict that—because of American sacrifices—there will emerge gradually in the land of the two rivers a respectable, modern, democratic society, unique in the Arab Middle East, akin somewhat to the making of modern India after the bloody aftermath of the subcontinent’s partition in 1947.
However, the same cannot be said for the Palestinians.
Here are a people and leaders who have made a compact with extremist forces in the region.
These forces have turned themselves, in the name of Islam, into a spearhead that seeks to obliterate Israel.
No Arab state is prepared to disown this movement.
Palestinians could have settled into a state of their own since 1947—Jordan being de facto a Palestinian state created by Britain by partitioning its Palestine Mandate in 1922—or at any time since.
That is if they accepted Israel and reconciled themselves to the rights of the Jews in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
But their acceptance, even when it came after the 1993 Oslo Accord, remains hemmed in by the militancy of those who insist, as the Hamas Charter (Article 11) proclaims:
“The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf (endowment) consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgment Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up.”
This is piffle, not a serious argument derived from the Koran by Muslims to deny Jews their rights to statehood in Palestine.
Nor has any secular argument been advanced by the UN, the great powers or Israel, to deny Palestinians their similar rights.
So where is the problem? It is in the Palestinian mindset – shared by too many Muslims in general – glorifying ancient conquests as a matter of faith and insisting, in the words of the Hamas Charter (Article 8), that for Palestinians, jihad (holy war) is their duty and death for Allah’s cause is their loftiest wish.
No one denies the Palestinians have suffered. But there is no root cause of the Palestinian problem to be found in the Israeli occupation and poverty. If it were so, then following Palestinians, Tibetans would be blowing themselves up in Beijing and Darfurians in Khartoum.
Only Palestinians can fix their problem, and until then, American Secretaries of State may offer counsel, knowing well it will remain unheeded.