Sunday, January 11, 2009

Gaza Conflict Will Shake the Arab World - Ismail Patel

The Guardian, January 11, 2009 - The human cost of Israel's decision to attack Gaza is being paid by the Palestinians. However, the fallout from this wanton violence is going to have long-term political consequences throughout the Arab world. The Israeli attack on Gaza is likely to bring to the fore political trends that up to now have remained just below the parapet of influence. The situation has brought the Arab world to an historic crossroads, where leaders will either move towards Arab independence from western policies, which is likely to be driven by popular grassroots support, or continue to toe the line of Israel/US influence. Much of this will be determined by the duration of Israeli attacks and the survival or demise of Hamas.

The first and obvious fact in the current war is that since the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, this is the first war that Israel has launched that Palestinians have defended themselves without any neighbouring Arab country militarily intervening. The Palestinians have taken up arms independently, whether home-made or imported, to defend their land and people against this full-scale Israeli military attack from the air, sea and ground. This could be argued to be the first Palestinian-Israeli war.

If Hamas emerges from this brutal Israeli onslaught still politically operational against the odds of the high number of civilian injuries and deaths and severe structural damage to infrastructure, it is bound to empower the Palestinians, and Hamas itself. Despite the lethal Israeli military firepower there are logical reasons to assume that this is a possibility. Hamas is a political party with a solid structure that has popular support and deep roots within the Palestinian society stretching some 20 years. It is thus implausible to envisage its total demise even if Israel manages to reach one of its desired ambitions of eliminating the present leadership....

The greatest impact of the political shockwave from the Palestinian resistance is most heavily felt in Egypt. Here, the dictatorial "life" regime of President Hosni Mubarak continues to march in a diametrically opposite position to the sentiments of the public, whose sympathies are with the Palestinians, leading the government and people to a collision course. As Jack Shenker noted here on Cif, the people on the streets are getting bolder by the day. Despite the heavy hand of the police in Egypt, which could see protesters imprisoned, thousands have taken to the streets daily and the chorus is getting louder with chants that are both anti-Israeli and anti-Mubarak.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which is the only credible opposition to Mubarak, has joined hands with the secularists, leftist and others in denouncing Mubarak's ties with Israel and his choking of the Palestinians by keeping the Rafah crossing shut. Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader in Lebanon who is viewed as a hero by many on the Egyptian streets for taking on the might of the Israeli army in 2006, and surviving, has weighed in strongly against Mubarak. Short of calling for an uprising, he has encouraged the Egyptian public to take action and force open the Rafah crossing....

The future of Israel's allies in Egypt and the other neighbouring states depends on whether Israel can reach a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians or independence and freedom is created by the Palestinians through successful resistance.

Ismail Patel is chair of the Leicester-based campaign Friends of Al-Aqsa. He is also spokesperson for the British Muslim Initiative and senior advisor to the Conflicts Forum.

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