As Americans (and many others in the world) were marking last Tuesday the 11th anniversary of the horrendous 9/11 terrorist attack by Al Qaida, there is no doubt that many are still wondering whether the US is now a safer place or US governments can avoid similarly devastating incidents. The obvious grievances that motivated the attackers were attributed to the one-sided US policies in the Middle East, still a source of great concern to many inside the US and others elsewhere. The resort to arms is not the only way to settle disputes but in desperation and extremism some groups may just do that. Hence it is up to world leaders to be more balanced and reasonable in tackling regional conflicts.
One outstanding problem has been the Arab-Israeli conflict where, to cite but one example, Israel has been in full control for the past 45 years of the Palestinian West Bank, which in accordance with the 1967 Arab- Israel truce was to remain under Palestinian control, as well as the Gaza Strip, which but remains under a suffocating Israeli siege. In the meantime, the 22 Arab states in the region have proposed a peace plan but Israel has yet to accept to come to the negotiating table and agree on a final and fair settlement. As has been witnessed recently, during the Republican and Democratic national conventions, foreign affairs had regrettably much to Arab disappointment assumed a minor role.
“Obama boasted,” The Washington Post editorialised, “of foreign policy achievements and challenged his opponent’s views and credentials in that area”. But, the Post added, “some of his boasts were justified, others less so; it had to be galling for Syrians to hear him present himself as a champion of ‘the rights and dignity of all human beings’ without mentioning their country, where civilians are slaughtered by the thousands while the United States stands by”.
In turn, the Post and the Democrats failed to say anything about Israel’s occupation policies, the continued turmoil within Iraq since the US intervention, and the likelihood of a nuclear conflagration in the Middle East thanks to Israel’s repeated threats against Iran. More shocking for the Palestinians have been the bitter exchanges, prompted by the sharp Jewish organisations that followed the Democratic Party’s new platform position which dropped its former recognition of Occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
What was however noticeable about the new platform was it no longer ruled out the Palestinians’ right to return to property in Israel under a final peace agreement. Regrettably, there was hardly any mention of the “Forgotten Neighbourhood,” as The New York Times described last Monday a shocking neighbourhood in the Gaza Strip. Jodi Rudoren described houses there as having walls “but no floors: people sit, eat and sleep on the sand”. The more than half-page report about life there had many heart-wrenching accounts. A recent UN report questioned whether the Gaza Strip will be “a livable place” in 2020, citing shortage of food, water, electricity, jobs, hospital beds and classrooms “among an exploding population in what is already one of the most densely populated patches of the planet”.
There is no doubt that these Israeli restrictions in the Gaza Strip and even the larger West Bank areas affect the psyche of many a Palestinian, some of whom, are now demonstrating against the Palestinian National Authority. But how all this turmoil in the occupied Palestinian areas affect US interests in the Middle East remains to be seen but this and similar turmoil in many countries in the Middle East and elsewhere merit sincere US attention and particularly even-handedness.
George Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.