Politics, Power and the Palestinian Issue

By Ed Corrigan. B.A., M.A., LL.B.

Published in The Human Rights Report (South Africa) May 2002

We have been all asked to sign petitions and a friend has recently suggested that these exercises are of little benefit. I agree with my friend that petitions are of limited value. They do show some organizational abilities but often distract from the main issue. Letters to the editors, articles, speakers, photo ops, marches and protests are only expressions or images of power. They are illusory and signs of interest only but not examples of real power.

In the economy and in politics is where the real battle must be fought. Public opinion is not given any weight by elected politicians unless it is backed up with real power or threatens their reelection. Public opinion is also fickle and prone to wild fluctuations based on the last media image.

The real test is at the key pressure points in the political system; i.e., nomination meetings, leadership races, political party elections and conventions, primaries and general elections. You must be able to demonstrate organizational ability, fundraising capabilities and that you matter politically at the above noted pressure points. Sometimes the legal system can be a key pressure point as the rule of law and our legal system represents significant power.

Public opinion is much harder to reach and is far more easily manipulated by events and timing. A survey published in The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs in December 11988 reported that 53.4 percent of Americans supported an independent Palestinian state. Only 13.4 per cent were opposed, 30.8 percent had no opinion. This survey was before the attack on September 11, 2001. A big part of the problem is that the vast majority of Arabs and Muslims do not vote, or when they do vote it is on the basis of irrelevant side issues like opposing gay rights or embracing the conservative agenda of Christian fundamentalists who are hard core supporters of Israel.

Stockwell Day, of the Canadian Alliance Party, is an excellent example of this tendency, as many Muslims supported his conservative agenda and then expressed surprise when he repeatedly attacked Palestinians and supported Israel uncritically. Arabs and Muslims who do vote often cancel each other out so that the political impact is virtually zero.

An excellent example of this fact is the 2000 U.S. Presidential election. Some commentators thought that an Arab and Muslim backlash against the pro-Israel policies of Democratic Presidential Candidate Al Gore, an ardent supporter of Israel, and Joseph Lieberman, his vice-presidential running mate and an Orthodox Jew, would be a factor in the U.S. election. Republican Presidential Candidate George Bush was expected to benefit from this factor in the key electoral states of Michigan, Illinois and California where there are large Arab and Muslim populations.

The Democrats won every one of these states confirming the impression that the Arab and Muslim vote was of no consequence. Now President Bush courts the pro-Israeli vote and bows to the Christian fundamentalists in the Republican Party on the question of Israel. Bush is now waging a "war on terrorism" and virtually all of his targets are Arab and Muslim countries. The only exception is North Korea.

The problem is that there is virtually no real power or organization supporting pro-Palestinian opinion. The pro-Israeli forces control the agenda because they have organization, power and money and use it effectively. The Zionists, both Jewish and Christian, have political impact and can mobilize their constituency in support of Israel. Zionists consistently support their friends and consistently attack their enemies. As a result a politically effective minority dictates policy on the Israeli/Palestinian issue in the United States and Canada

The issue is of course a lot more complicated, with oil, geopolitics and social/political considerations involved. But in the context of electoral politics the above analysis is accurate in terms of North American politics and governance. Until these political factors change, it is nearly impossible to address the other factors.

The Arab World (more than 300 million people) and the Muslim World (more than a billion) complain but refuse to use their economic and political power to support the Palestinians and fellow Arabs/Muslims. They only give lip service to their opposition and do not put real pressure on the United States to change its policy. If every Arab, and every Muslim, would boycott American products U.S. policy would be forced to change or they would have to pay serious economic consequences. If Arab governments refused to support America because of its massive and uncritical support of Israel and for the U.S. not criticizing Israel's treatment of the Palestinians American foreign policy would be under considerable pressure to change.

The same principle applies to countries which have a Muslim majority or where Muslims are a political force. Instead the successive American governments isolate and fragment the Arab World and play one state off against the other. The old divide and conquer strategy. The Americans also exploit divisions in the Muslim World and render it impotent. An effective and unified response from the Muslim World is virtually impossible. Meanwhile Israel continuously expands its settlements, ethnically cleanses the Palestinians and intimidates and attacks its neighbors. All done with the express intent of expanding Israeli territory and power.

Israel lacks the natural resources to become a self sufficient and viable state. Israel needs water and material resources to survive independent of the $5 billion and more it receives from the United States each year. Israel's founders and current leaders are working hard so that Israel can achieve independence and not be controlled by Great Britain, the United States or any other power. The difficulty is that the national survival strategy of Israel means genocide for the Palestinians and a series of wars for the Arab states not unlike the settler/Indian wars in North America which resulted in the near genocide of the indigenous population.

The Arab states do nothing in response, except to try and not antagonize Israel and try to avoid being singled out for the next attack. What do you think Israel and Sharon plan to do with the 100 F16s Israel has recently ordered from the United States? Israel is by far the most militarily powerful state in the Middle East and it does not need these war planes for defense or to suppress the Palestinian Intifada.

At present the most significant opposition to Sharon and the Zionist establishment comes within the Jewish community in Israel and the Jewish diaspora around the world. The Arab World and the Muslim World do nothing of any consequence except weakly complain and wring their hands. This approach does not help the situation but as a recent article in Ha'aretz, a leading Israeli newspaper, commented on the aftermath of 9/11 this passive response "creates strategic opportunities for Israel."