Monday, December 13, 2004

The linkage 

You can't escape the linkage, now at the meeting in Morocco:

"Officials from more than 20 Islamic countries said Saturday that political, economic and social reforms must go hand in hand with steps toward settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
The countries gathered chose to ignore Colin Powell's advice before the conference: "We can't keep pointing to the Middle East peace process as the reason we don't undertake reform efforts that are needed by these nations and as these nations have identified for themselves."
Even if I did not want to see the resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for so many other reasons (mostly to do with, well, Israelis and Palestinians), I would be agitating for peace so as to finally remove the "Palestinian abuse excuse" from the Middle Easter discourse. There is, of course, no logical link between the issues, other than an artificially created one - there is no question you can pursue political reform in Saudi Arabia or economic liberalisation in Egypt without the change of the Israeli/Palestinian status quo - that you choose not to do so, or at best "go slow", only means that you're engaging in a political equivalent of a hunger strike. Except the states, of course, don't go hungry - their citizens do, and for a few generations now the people of the Middle East have been starved of political and economic freedom and opportunities because their rulers have insisted on "the linkage".

Cynical observers might suggest that the Mid East rulers are not all too keen to share political and economic power with their subjects; hence their use of the seemingly intractable benchmark of "a just, comprehensive and lasting settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict" as a wide and convenient escape clause - a sort of a nicer way of saying "we'll reform when the hell freezes over."

But I'm not a cynic - hey, just look at all my "Good news" segments! - and I'm hoping that we might soon see breakthroughs on both fronts - the conflict and the reform. The region is more ripe for an Israeli/Palestinian settlement today than it was in 1993 or 2000, partly because Arafat is dead, and partly because on the Israeli side the search for resolution is being pushed by Likud and not the left. On top of that, the American drive to "drain the swamp" and democratize the Mid East is stirring up reformist sentiments on the grass roots level throughout the region as well as acting as a timely wake-up call to the elites - the change might be painful, but the status quo is no longer sustainable.

I could be wrong - and the realists will tell me I probably am - but the Middle Eastern regimes might be approaching the moment of truth the communist world had to face in 1989. Fifteen years later, the Eastern and Central Europe is far from perfect, but it's unquestionably better. I could only wish the same thing for the Mid East.


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