Two scenes from the Middle East this week offer an amazing study in contrast. They demonstrate how the region has dramatically changed over the past few years. And yet, the more the Middle East changes, the more it remains the same.
Just look at the warm reception Israel’s foreign minister Tzipi Livni got in Doha, Qatar. The tiny emirate, home to Al Jazeera, rolled out red carpet for the visitor, who had ostensibly turned up to attend a regional forum on democracy and development.
Qatar Amir Shaikh Hamad Al Thani himself took the lead in enthusiastically welcoming the guest. Later, Arab officials queued up to shake hands with Ms Livni.
Around the same time, as Ms Livni was enjoying the traditional Arab hospitality in Doha, a frail, 83-year old peacemaker who happens to be a former US president was being given a taste of Israeli hospitality in Jerusalem.
Jimmy Carter, the original architect of Arab-Israel peace process and the Egypt-Israel accord in 1979, was made to feel as welcome as Bin Laden would be at Bush White House.
Israel refused to offer security cover that is given to all visiting dignitaries. The Israeli agency Shin Beth refused to liaise with the security team that accompanies all present and former presidents.
Carter, the soft-spoken Democrat who received Peace Nobel in 2002, was not allowed to visit Gaza, the world’s biggest prison run by Israel.
What is Carter’s crime?
He is guilty of believing that Palestinians are human too. And even as Israel, the US establishment and the whole of Western media have ganged up against Hamas and the Palestinians, this lone ranger has the audacity to engage its leadership.
More important, Carter seems to think there will be no peace and no solution to this most impossible of all conflicts as long as Hamas is not involved in the peace process.
Now what’s wrong with that? Anyone with a nodding familiarity with the Middle East would agreeably acknowledge Carter’s perspective.
In spite of a relentless campaign by Israel and its friends to discredit and destroy the resistance movement over the past several years, Hamas only continues to grow in stature and influence not only in the Territories but also across the Middle East and the world at large.
In fact, the more West tries to prop up the corrupt elite of Fatah, the more they drive the Palestinians into the Hamas’ arms.
This despite the fact that Hamas is today without power thanks to Israeli and neocon machinations. Even the constant onslaught of Israeli jets on Gaza killing innocents on a daily basis hasn’t succeeded in driving the Palestinians away from Hamas.
The question is why? It’s because Palestinians and the larger Arab world view the Hamas as genuinely representing them.
They see it as a force that is seeking to challenge the might of an arrogant and powerful state and its equally arrogant and powerful friends. More importantly, it is seen as a movement that can deliver them from this bondage and homelessness in their own land.
In fact, this is NOT about Hamas. This is about the cause that it has come to represent. This is the same cause that Arafat’s Fatah and PLO once heroically represented and inspired imitation everywhere.
So regardless of what Israel and the US have to say about Hamas, Palestinians see it as their hope and future. For the Palestinians, Hamas is not a terrorist outfit but a powerful force that is fighting for what rightfully and legitimately belongs to them.
This is a reality that is recognised by the Arab and Muslim world and some sensible souls like Carter elsewhere.
This is no defence of Hamas. But as long as the Israelis, the Americans and the West do not face up to this reality, there can be no peace in the holy land or the Middle East or the world for that matter.
Israel can go on fooling itself and the whole world that it can ever win this war on the ‘Islamist terrorists.’ Because Hamas is Palestinian people and their struggle; just as Mandela’s ANC represented the people of South Africa and Gandhi’s Congress represented the people of India.
And you can’t wipe out a people and their quest for freedom and dignity, not when they are as free- spirited as the Palestinians are.
If Israel and company indeed want peace – I mean real P-E-A-C-E, not Sharon’s idea of peace – and security, they wouldn’t be playing these futile games with Palestinians. They would be talking to the people who really represent and speak for Palestinians.
Which in this case happens to be Hamas. This had been demonstrated in the elections held in 2006. Hamas swept those polls, only to be cheated out of power soon afterwards.
The argument that Hamas can’t be part of the peace process because it is a terrorist organisation, holds no water.
Hamas leadership has always argued that it’s engaged in a legitimate freedom struggle and is fighting occupation, just as other resistance movements around the world have.
Let’s not forget that this resistance, with its homemade rockets that seldom hit their target and occasional attacks on Israeli checkpoints and targets, is only responding to a far more brutal and devastating Israeli aggression on a defenceless population.
A case in point is the raid near Nahal Oz fuel terminal this week that killed three Israeli troops. In response, the Israelis killed 20 Palestinians, most of them civilians.
Even as the Arab and Muslim states are bending backwards to woo Israel, offering peace and so-called normal relations, the Jewish state is doing everything to infuriate the Muslims around the world with its persecution of Palestinians.
The Israeli war against Palestinian civilians has included methods and tricks that would shame the Nazis, from assassination to kidnapping, from imprisonment to torture and from racist segregation to old-fashioned all-round destruction.
Again, this is no apology for Hamas. All of its actions may not be above board. Some innocents might indeed have suffered thanks to its attacks on Israel. But they are nothing compared to what Israel has been inflicting on the Palestinians, day in and day out.
Besides, this is Palestinian land and all they are doing is fighting to get it back. This is legitimate resistance. Hamas is not the first organisation and it wouldn’t be the last to do so.
As for the accusation that Hamas does not accept Israel’s right to exist, Hamas refuses to recognise Israel and continues to fight it because the Jewish state refuses to acknowledge the Palestinians’ right to exist and their rights over their land.
The world has to recognise this home truth just as it has done in the case of the IRA, ANC, the Viet Cong, the Afghan mujahideen and America’s own independence struggle against the British empire.
If the world is indeed looking for a solution to this conflict, it has to drop its double standards and persuade the usurper to give up what doesn’t belong to it. So who’s ready to stand up for peace with Carter? For, as the Bible says, blessed are the peacemakers!
[Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Dubai-based journalist and commentator. Write to him at Aijaz.Syed@hotmail.com]