The Middle East – heading where?

By Johan Galtung

Washington DC

It’s anybody’s guess. But something is going on.

Look at the two strongest actors: Israel and the USA. Israel autistically locked into becoming the region’s military champion, not only by its overwhelming military destructive power but by cutting all neighbors down to a size commensurable with Israel, and divided by their own conflicts. With the help of their instrument, US military might, Israel has had success of sorts with Iraq, Libya, maybe Syria; and Egypt back to normal as military dictatorship benefiting from most of the Camp David rewards. Goodbye, Arab Spring.

What is left is Iran, too big to exist, also too big to fail; with Israel doing its best to make the Geneva conference fail. No worry about Syria peace; the Islamists have announced they will not participate in peace talks. They go for a win, amply armed by the USA, with Israel backup.

Israel’s goal: to eliminate any threat, singly or combined, from Arab-Muslim neighbors–far beyond the wrongly termed “Israel-Palestine conflict”–and to expand. Next Eastern border: the Jordan River, by annexation, the goal of a key Likud group (Washington Post, 6 Nov 13). Next: the old mandate, the Jordan-Iraq border? Genesis 15:18, Nile-Euphrates? For legitimation and theory: see Isaiah 2:4-5.

Then the USA. There are signs of dynamism, of something brewing, looking like some kind of disengagement. Two causal factors stand up as obvious, but insufficient to explain: the USA cannot afford to pay not only its own but also Israel’s warfare; freshly printed $ has some limitations. Plus, ground troops have some limitations: however indispensable for deep changes, soldiers become prone to breakdowns, suicides, thus a threat to US social stability upon return. The US suffers ever more damage to its reputation because of the brutality and the killings, with few visible gains. Better do it through drones and SEALs. Let Israel do the job, let dog wag tail, not the humiliating opposite.

Are we witnessing a process of the USA detaching itself from an Israel bent on unlimited expansion, bribing Senators, Representatives with campaign money+? USA detaching itself from the G7 Gulf monarchies with Saudi Arabia now protesting everywhere? If so, we are living world history right now. Has the White House, from which the changes come, not Congress, seen what most of the world has seen: that the path of Israeli warfare-expansion at the expense of Palestinians and other Arabs-Muslims leads but to death? A “non-starter”? That the US better no longer be in it, like they once detached themselves from Apartheid in South Africa, no longer being a party to it?

Maybe. Maybe Kerry more than Obama; but that is uninteresting. What matters is where the Middle East is heading. A map, please!

Robin Wright of the US Institute of Peace and the Wilson Center did that in “Imagining a remapped Middle East: How 5 could become 14″ (IHT, 30 Sep13), predictably dividing the region in smaller units, by and large along ethnic-religious lines. Thus, Syria in 3, Iraq in 3, Yemen in 2, Saudi Arabia in 5, Libya in 3; but the Kurds, and Sunnis, in Syria and Iraq, are both merged into one. Doing so Wright shows the madness of Italian-English-French colonialism breaking up the Ottoman Empire, putting what belonged together apart and what should have been apart together, drawing lines serving only their own interests.

Yet that map harbors its own double madness. No doubt this might in the short run serve Israel’s policy of divide and conquer–meaning expansion–but demolishes the long term Arab policy of unity, wherever the center of that unity, Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo, Istanbul retraces Muslim history. Istanbul is out, but not the history of the Ottoman Empire; and their map of the region was constructed with more wisdom.

There were provinces, vilayet, potentially autonomous but also serving the direct Sultan rule from Istanbul. They had councils of four members, 2 Muslims, 2 not, and the millet, non-Muslim autonomies.

There was some unity in diversity, some cooperation in conflict. The Wright map has none of that, except two mergers. No Arab dream.

The Egypt-Syria short-lasting union, the semi-secular Baath party and its program of Arab socialism were efforts. The dream is a fact, accommodating a Kurdistan–not Arab–as a confederation of the Kurdish autonomies in five neighbor countries. Intensive work on solving the Sunni-Shia divide is indispensable. There would have been no European unity had the Catholic-Protestant divide not been softened. And then accommodating a state with Jewish characteristics in West Asia, with eastern border close to 1967, in a Middle East Community. “Secure and recognized borders” not by conquest-expansion-annexation but by making equitable peace, with open borders that will also benefit Jews.

How about the USA? They like visions of subdividing whatever is too big for their taste, like Russia in 3, China in 5 detaching Tibet- Xinjiang-Inner Mongolia–40% of the territory–keeping Taiwan apart. They, in turn, might love a USA in Civil War 2, Union and Confederacy. But there is nothing really big in the Middle East, the US split and rule policy has succeeded so far–with fragile states that may fail.

The Wright map may be OK with the USA but not necessary–it now seems to prefer peaceful solutions with Iran, inside Syria, to Israel’s dismay. But Israel, with much of the democratic opposition having emigrated, plays a very risky game. There may be Arab Robin Wrights imagining a remapped Israel in 4: the West Bank-Gaza-East Jerusalem fully recovered, not beleaguered; northwest Israel also as a part of Palestine; southwest and northeast as Israel proper, a Jewish homeland (the UN 1947 division plan); and Negev under international control, inside a supervised regime for a nuclear free Middle East.

It is too much for today’s USA, being too similar to Israel as “people without a land in a land without people” with the same divine mandate. Goes one, goes the other. But maps breed maps. And History unfolds.

First published at Transcend Media Service

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