Kurdistan, Palestine and '08 elections

Voters must ask themselves whether candidates understand Mideast reality.

us special 2 224 (photo credit: )
us special 2 224
(photo credit: )
Whatever the outcome the 2008 Elections will likely be a dramatic turning point in the way the United States conducts its foreign policy, particularly here in the Middle East. Throughout most of its term in office, the current Bush Administration pioneered a bold new direction in American policy in the region, as it took an aggressive stance on combating terror and cultivating democratic values in an area that has been resistant to Western ideas of democracy. In the context of the Israeli-Arab conflict, the Bush Administration set an important precedent in calling for the establishment of a Palestinian State but was careful to do so by stipulating a number of prerequisites to Palestinian independence. In his landmark address of June 24, 2002, the President stated that such a state must embrace true reform requiring "entirely new political and economic institutions, based on democracy, market economics and action against terrorism." Logically, these reforms cannot be achieved by uttering magic words or waving a magic wand. They take time, national commitment, sacrifice and perseverance. Thus it is amazing to see so many in the international community, including the recidivist Clinton-Oslo team and the even more radical Obama Democrats, the reigning Israeli Prime Minister and his Foreign Minister, and even, quite inexplicably, the current US Secretary of State, maintaining that the key to serenity and security in the Middle East is the establishment tutto pronto of a Palestinian State west of the Jordan River. Instead of seizing the unprecedented opportunity extended to them by President Bush, the inhabitants of the would-be Palestinian state have brought us Hamas, Islamo-fascism, terror, and repression of women and non-Moslem populations. Self-determination for Palestinians in those areas where they achieved it has come to mean the daily rocketing of Israeli cities and towns, an unabated stream of terrorist acts both in and around Gaza and in the West Bank, the importation of increasingly sophisticated weaponry at the cost of social and economic development, and the consistent failure to create viable democratic institutions in any of the areas under their control and continued. It is a tragic fact that Palestinians have had innumerable opportunities over the last three-quarters of a century to found their state. They have such an opportunity today. But for some reason it just has not happened, is not happening and is not likely to happen in the near future. Why? To answer this one must ask a basic question about the current state of Palestinian nationalism and its relationship to nation-building. Recently the author returned from an extended stay in Kurdistan in Northern Iraq principally in the capital city of Erbil. Erbil is a city that works in a region that works. Massive infrastructure projects are under way (streets, parks, schools, sewer systems, water treatment systems, electricity, etc.). A modest but modern international airport has been built with regular flights to Europe and Jordan. Even modern shopping malls have opened stocked with the latest merchandise and filled with eager consumers. New five-star hotels are fully booked. New residential communities are springing up in and around the city. Consumer goods abound. There is plenty to eat. The streets are clean. Government services are provided. The Kurdish militia keeps the peace and makes development possible so much so that the Iraqi parliament recently extended their mandate to strife-torn Kirkuk outside the jurisdiction of the Kurdistan Regional Government. A middle class is emerging. People aren't killing one another and people at all levels of the society are beginning to enjoy the fruits of economic prosperity. There is even a primitive but viable democracy at work - personal liberty is protected and is steadily increasing. These are developments about which both Kurds and Americans can be justly proud. All this progress in a country whose existence is threatened from all sides: Turkey, Iran, Syria not to mention fanatic fringes in Iraq itself, like Al-Ansar/al-Qaida. This the Kurds have done with relatively little financial assistance from abroad; certainly nothing like the billions that have been donated and pledged to the Palestinian Authority. There is some humanitarian aid and they have benefitted from US military protection (the No-Fly Zone) since 1991, but the economic and political miracle that is happening daily in Kurdistan has been fueled largely by the Kurds themselves. The conclusion is inescapable that the Kurds of Iraq are on the their way to realizing a centuries old dream of autonomy - may be not true independence, since the geopolitical realities would not permit such a step - but a viable, prosperous regional autonomy - a state in everything but name. One cannot help but contrast the success of the Kurds in Northern Iraq with the situation in the Palestinian territories. The Palestinians have orchestrated over the decades a hugely successful public relations effort designed to call their plight to the world's attention. Yet despite the fact that the Palestinians have had the opportunity to build their own state for some 70 years and despite the fact that they have been the recipients of billions of dollars in international aid, the Palestinians have failed utterly to create the social, economic and political institutions necessary for a modern national state to function. Indeed, the Palestinians have had more opportunities handed to them to build their state than any other community on the planet, yet they have consistently missed the boat. When one looks around the Palestinian territories from Gaza to Shchem (Nablus), it is the same sad affair. There is little if any building of infrastructure, even the most modest attributes of future independence are lacking. There is, to be sure, much demagoguery and propaganda, blaming Israel, the Jews and the Americans. But no tangible progress. In stark contrast to the unfortunate Kurds, the Palestinians are perhaps the most educated, most affluent group in the Arab world. The Palestinians are quantum levels ahead of the Kurds in terms of their personal wealth, experience, and educational opportunities. Palestinians enjoy a privileged diplomatic status at the United Nations and are the darlings of the international community. Yet notwithstanding all the international attention and support and a history of political support that has lasted for about a century, all that can be seen in the Palestinian world is destruction, chaos and corruption. The financial contributions have been squandered or pocketed by the Palestinian leadership. Weapons intended to fight terror have been turned over to the terrorists. Raw materials and technology have been perverted to produce missiles and anti-tank weapons. Children are used as human shields, while hundreds of thousands of civilians have been exploited by their leaders as mere pawns as they tear down Egyptian border fences and flood the Sinai in pursuit of new terror objectives. How then can the tragic failure of the Palestinian to build even rudimentary foundations for statehood be explained in light of the enormous success the Kurds have achieved in this area in a far shorter span of time? The answer given anonymously by many in the Palestinian community is that the Palestinians have yet to come to see themselves as a cohesive national community. What knits them together is a firmly grounded disdain for Israel and a desire to dismantle or supplant the Jewish State. Beyond this there is no consensus; there is no common vision; there is no sense of common destiny; there is no sense of nationhood. There is not even the elementary desire to build the rudimentary structures of self-governance. This is not to say that this self-awareness and national yearning will not occur. President Bush in his recent trip to Israel described his vision for a Palestinian State, but for that vision to become a reality, true reform must first occur. There must be fundamental transformation of the Palestinian consciousness from a community held together by hate and the wish for destruction to one, such as the Kurds have nurtured for millennia, which strives for the establishment of a national community that is based on principles of self-expression, economic independence, social justice and liberty. American voters, particularly Jewish and other concerned friends of Israel and supporters of democracy, should keep these facts in mind as they weigh their vote in 2008. While the Presidential race in both parties is far from being resolved and as Super Tuesday approaches, these voters must ask themselves whether the candidates understand the realities of Middle East politics and Arab-Israeli conflict in particular, or whether those candidates are captives of anachronistic thinking that views the establishment of a failed Palestinian State that cannot and chooses not to build stable institutions of government, west of the Jordan as a cure-all for the regions ills. This is a kind of litmus test for a candidate's foreign policy acumen. In today's increasingly multi-polar world, the stakes are simply too high for the kind of naive approach to terror and foreign policy that characterized the Carter and Clinton Administrations. President George W. Bush had it right when he said in June 2002, the United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure and until the Palestinian people adopt true democratic reform aimed at bettering their future through construction and not destruction, just as the Kurds are doing in northern Iraq. When these factors are considered, voters will understand the importance of returning a competent Republican to the White House.