One of the casualties of Israel’s war on Gaza is the current US-dominated world order, proclaimed by President George Bush Sr. following the collapse of the Soviet Union and America’s triumph in the first Gulf War.
Bush, speaking to Congress in his 1991 State of the Union address, said that “this new world order would be organised around the international communities’ efforts to halt aggression by the powerful over the powerless.” According to pundits, the speech has often been cited as the administration’s principal policy statement on the postwar order in the Middle East.
Moreover, Bush said, “it should be plain to all parties that peacemaking in the Middle East requires compromise. At the same time, peace brings real benefits to everyone. We must do all that we can to close the gap between Israel and the Arab states — and between Israelis and Palestinians. The tactics of terror lead nowhere. There can be no substitute for diplomacy.”
Test of fairness and security
He added that “a comprehensive peace must be grounded in United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and the principle of territory for peace. This principle must be elaborated to provide for Israel’s security and recognition, and at the same time for legitimate Palestinian political rights. Anything else would fail the twin tests of fairness and security. The time has come to put an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
Finally, the US president said, “now, we can see a new world coming into view. A world in which there is the very real prospect of a new world order. In the words of Winston Churchill, a “world order” in which ‘the principles of justice and fair play ... protect the weak against the strong ...’ A world where the United Nations, freed from cold war stalemate, is poised to fulfil the historic vision of its founders; a world in which freedom and respect for human rights find a home among all nations.”
It was a historic speech that promised a lot, in the wake of the end of the Cold War polarising politics. Bush later called for the Madrid Peace Conference, which launched talks between the PLO and Israel and resulted in the historic signing of the Washington (Oslo) Accords in 1993. The rest is history.
Ironically, it was Bush’s son, George W. Bush, who toppled his father’s legacy. Under him, the neocons had another vision for America’s role in the world. Under them, two wars were launched with devastating effects on the inhabitants and the region as whole. The Middle East never recovered from such wars.
The US military interventions triggered sectarian and ethnic divisions in a region that had been known for its tolerance and coexistence for centuries.
Still, the US-led world order survived somehow. The US remained the only superpower with the largest military in the world. But its leadership had come under pressure. The world was not a better place and the Middle East’s core conflict; the Israel/Palestine Question had gone from bad to worse under Bush’s successors. UN resolutions were never implemented and justice was never delivered. Land for peace; later the two-state solution remained bogged down.
The current world order, led by the US, has failed to deliver a just and lasting settlement to the Palestinian tragedy. No one can defend Israel’s refusal to abide by international law, Oslo agreements, and UN resolutions to deliver a two-state solution.
One can present multiple pieces of evidence of how successive Israeli governments have derailed any settlement and how the current Far Right Israeli Cabinet is doing its best to deny Palestinians any rights.
The Israeli war on Gaza has crippled the current US-dominated world order. With thousands of innocent lives taken, with vastly un-proportional Israeli response — bombing of hospitals, killing of civilians, including children, medics and journalists — the world looked in awe and disgust at the Israeli war machine as it carried out collective punishment, ethnic cleansing and in many documented cases flagrant war crimes in the beleaguered Gaza Strip.
What is the alternative?
Global public opinion has denounced the open massacre that is taking place. But the question that lingers on is this: What happens once the killing spree is over?
The current world order cannot continue. Israel’s impunity and exclusiveness have damaged the credibility of such an order. Once human rights and UN missions go into Gaza, home to 2.3 million, 70 per cent of which were already refugees, it would be impossible to defend what Israel has done. So what comes next?
Will there be an independent and impartial investigation of possible war crimes in Gaza? Will the International Criminal Court (ICC) be allowed to issue warrants and summon witnesses? Will there be accountability for the mass murder of civilians?
A unipolar world has failed to deliver what President Bush Sr. had promised. The carnage in Gaza will bring this order down.
So what is the alternative? There would have to be a global shift to a more balanced world order: One where the countries of the region have a say about their future and long-term stability. It may be a tall order at this juncture. But the alternative will be frightening.
Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.