Tags: Moderate | Arabs

Book Searches for Dwindling Moderate Arabs

Wednesday, 28 May 2008 02:38 PM

By Arnaud de Borchgrave

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The book title — "The Arab Center: The Promise of Moderation" — conveys an academic exercise for eggheads who made a career of the Middle East peace process.

It's about the peace process all right, but also a fascinating inside look by a 50-year-old Arab statesman, the first to write a book in English, who was privy to all the secret machinations since the age of 30.

Marwan Muasher was the first Jordanian ambassador to Israel in 1995, where he quickly acquired movie star celebrity, and from there went straight to Washington as ambassador.

He then served in quick succession as foreign minister, powerful head of the diwan (royal court), government spokesman, deputy prime minister before leaving government service to become senior vice president for international affairs at the World Bank.

He started his career as a journalist for the Jordan Times, skills he put to good use as he navigated the secret world of Arab inner sanctums. It was Mr. Muasher who convinced President Bush in 2003 the time was ripe for a two-state solution to the Palestinian quest for a separate state in Gaza and the West Bank.

But, says Mr. Muasher, Mr. Bush did not give the roadmap a real push until the Annapolis summit last November. By then it was much too late. The two-state solution is now a bridge to nowhere. And the roadmap is for a road that is no longer on the map.

The $2.2 billion, 420-mile physical barrier between Israelis and Palestinians that snakes in and out of the West Bank to include major Jewish settlements, ostensibly to keep suicide bombers out, had another objective, writes Mr. Muasher.

"The real purpose behind the wall was to establish unilaterally the new borders of Israel . . . and to make living conditions for Palestinians . . . so difficult as to drive them out of the West Bank and Jerusalem," he states.

The barrier, for the most part, was built "within the occupied territories, thereby consuming Palestinian land [17 percent of the West Bank] and cutting off tens of thousands of Palestinians from access to their property, schools, places of work, and contact with relatives and other Palestinians."

"More alarmingly," writes Mr. Muasher, "the wall effectively cantonizes the West Bank, separating not only the West Bank from Israel, but also cutting it into pieces and effectively killing the prospects for the emergence of a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous, defensible borders."

For Mr. Muasher, there was an even more sinister objective: "the immigration of large swathes of the West Bank population, largely to Jordan, by making living conditions in the occupied territories impossible for the Palestinians." This would make Jordan the de facto Palestinian state while the West Bank became a buffer zone under Israeli control, a construct that elicits fear and trepidation in Amman.

Mr. Muasher's insights into internal Arab politics dramatically illustrate how the "Arab center" collapsed, along with the "oromise of moderation." He examines why current tactics by the West to deal with Islamist extremism are doomed to failure.

Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, and increasingly in the West Bank as well, coupled with the White House's stubborn refusal to be evenhanded between Israel and the Palestinians, all have cowered moderate voices.

The Middle East's moderate leaders gradually concluded the United States was not serious about a permanent settlement between Israel and the Palestinians when a bold Arab proposal, initiated by Saudi king Abdullah at an Arab summit meeting in Beirut in 2002, was ignored by Mr. Bush and Israeli leaders.

All Arab nations, including Libya and Iraq, the latter then still under Saddam Hussein's dictatorial rule, agreed to establish normal diplomatic and economic relations with Israel in return for Israel's withdrawal to its pre-1967 war's frontiers.

Israel ignored something it said it had been seeking. So did President Bush.

Thus, the Arab world's moderate voices were ridiculed and silenced by their radical detractors.

The invasion of Iraq followed a year later, and what was left of the Arab center collapsed. It could not survive on lip service alone, Mr. Muasher says, "and if its advice continues to be largely ignored and if the United States continues to behave as if it did not exist, it may well soon vanish. The Arab center must be able to show results or no one will listen to it. And it will . . . be outpaced by extremism."

Mr. Muasher says his book is also a call for Arabs and Israelis to "embrace diversity in the region rather than demonize it as a destructive force, and to adopt policies of inclusion.

"If Israel wants finally to abandon its iron-wall policy and be accepted in the region, it needs to accept, indeed work for, the right of Palestinians to live on their land free of occupation. And if the Arab center is to triumph, ridding itself of the image its opponents paint of an apologist for the West or a compromiser of Arab rights, it must plant the seeds for a time when the peace process will end and the challenge of a robust, diverse, tolerant, democratic and prosperous Arab society remains."

Or "Waiting for Godot."

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