Saturday, January 08, 2005

Cautious Optimism for a Troubled Land

An election is being held with monumental consequences for U.S. foreign policy...and it's not the one on January 30th, as important as that may be. The Palestinians are preparing to elect a new leader, and in all likelihood, the winner will be Mahmoud Abbas. While Iraq is the focal point of our current policy, and rightly so, given the continuing deaths to brave Iraqis and coalition forces, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has served as the launching pad for much of the Radical Muslim hatred of the West. A peaceful resolution there would rob the biggest terrorist organizations of one of their most potent rallying cries.

I don't intend to go into the root causes of the conflict here, and I'm not particularly concerned with who was right and who was wrong in the past. Nations, like people, have to focus on the here and now to be successful, civilized members of the world community. Have some Palestinians been wronged by Israelis? You bet your life...and, of course, vice versa. The point is how to move forward from here. If I governed my life the way the Middle East is governed, I would still be nursing enormous grudges against every woman I ever dated (uhhmmm, bad example, that - in fact, my love life is very much like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, now that I think of it).

What are the prospects, then? The optimist and the pessimist can both find nourishment in Abbas's public statements. What a breath of fresh air to hear a Palestinian leader condemning violence, even if only from a PR standpoint, and speaking of a revival of Road Map negotiations. How disappointing, then, to hear the same leader speak of the Zionist enemy, the heroism of the militants, and the non-negotiability of the 'Right of Return' (both sides agree that this would completely destroy Israal as it currently exists; the only disagreement is over the desirability of that event).

Ultimately, the prospects for near-time peace in this most unpeaceful environment may hinge on this question: who is the imposter? Is Mahmoud Abbas a visionary who is forced to indulge the 'Arab street' to secure his election? Or is he yet another cynical politician willing to give lip service to the democratic impulses of the West in his rhetoric, while working to ensure the flames of the conflict are fanned behind the scenes? I don't dare hope for the former, yet can't reconcile myself to the latter. As always, time will provide the answer.

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