Saturday, August 05, 2006


Palestinian, Iraqi Dialogues: Containment as Tactic

By Nicola Nasser

Arab News
Monday, 3 July 2006

In both Iraq and Palestine dialogue is being used as a containment tactic to maintain an unsustainable status quo, to disarm and “divide-and-rule” an armed resistance to the occupation. This despite the differences in the historical backgrounds, the initiation and context of dialogue and national credentials of the “peace camps” in both cases.

A divide between those who are betting on the “good faith” of the United States and those who have lost faith in Washington has developed into internal strife in Iraq and Palestine, though in the Palestinian case the United States has an Israeli face or could it be the other way round? Dialogue in both occupied countries is either being used or offered to resolve the ensuing internal conflicts. In practice, the internal crises, conflicts and disputes are direct products of the occupation in both cases.

Ironically using the Palestinian-carved up metaphor of “the olive branch” to describe it, Iraq’s US-backed Premier Nuri Al-Maliki has announced a “national reconciliation dialogue” to politically disarm the Iraqi resistance after the US failure to defeat them militarily in spite of efforts lasting more than three years.

Late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat used the metaphor to offer a peace alternative to “armed struggle” against the Israeli occupation while addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 1974.
Then, Arafat was described by the United States and Israel as the leader of the “terrorist” Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Maliki’s use of the metaphor is “ironical” because it was first offered by a national liberation movement — the PLO — in the hope of ending a military occupation by peaceful means. But in the Iraqi case it is used by Maliki to institutionalize and legitimize — in parallel with force — a regime change brought about by an occupying power. But the comparison with the ongoing Palestinian national reconciliation dialogue doesn’t stop at the “olive branch” metaphor.

In both cases the occupying powers are ostensibly not parties to the “national” dialogue, which is conducted by nationals who are divided over the feasibility of armed resistance to occupation.

But in both cases the dialogue was a means that was directly or indirectly initiated, proposed or inspired by the occupying powers, or at least approved, encouraged or given a nod by them.

The United States is the key player in Iraq and it was the US administration that initiated the idea of engaging the “armed men” in dialogue before the tactic was officially adopted by the Iraqi ruling elite.

It was to contain and abort the burgeoning Palestinian national movement, the Israeli occupying power and its strategic US ally initiated first covert and later overt channels of “dialogue.”

The quid pro quo was a promise to establish a Palestinian state on the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Palestinian concession was a strategic coup that accepted a two-state solution instead of the original PLO’s “one democratic and secular” state.

The trickery and evasive commitment of the Israeli occupying power to the signed Oslo accords and the double-speak, biased and double-standard policies and unkept promises of the US sponsor of the ensuing “peace process” doomed the Madrid and Oslo process, leading the Palestinian people under occupation since 1967 to “armed struggle” again after 14 years of futile peace-making since 1991.

But the Palestinian peace camp has been all along an integral part of the national movement, even before the PLO leadership was sneaked into the Israeli autonomy trap in the West Bank and Gaza, and was never perceived as a proxy or an interlocutor for the occupying power. Hamas’ engagement in dialogue with this camp negates such a hypothesis while the rejection of the mainstream Iraqi resistance groups of Maliki’s dialogue offers hints to the contrary, at least for the time being.

This difference is highlighted by the stance the respective occupying power is taking vis-à-vis the dialogue in each case.

The US wants the Iraqi dialogue to succeed, at least temporarily until its peaceniks muster enough force to go it alone.

In the Palestinian case, there is common ground for the dialogue to conclude a middle way compromise between those who are committed to the two-state peaceful solution through negotiations with Israel and those who adopt all means of resistance against the Zionist occupation of all Palestine.

In the Iraqi case, the dialogue offer is doomed because it is a non-starter: First because Maliki ruled out a timeline to end the US-led military presence, which is the common ground for any Iraqi national consensus.
Second, because Maliki’s offer of amnesty excluded those who had killed both Iraqis and Americans. The US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad torpedoed the offer when he publicly objected to pardoning the killers of American troops.

Accordingly Maliki has practically confined his proposed dialogue to the parties of the bloody sectarian conflict, thus killing his own initiative before it took off.

True Iraqis need to reconcile their sectarian divide, but this divide is a direct product of the US-led invasion, the making of Maliki’s ruling elite, and has nothing to do with the real divide in the country between the pros and cons of the invasion.

The core of any reconciliation in Iraq is a common stand against the foreign presence in the country. The other prerequisite is an accommodation with the real political presence of the former ruling Baath party on the ground, a fact acknowledged by more than one speaker during Maliki’s announcement of his dialogue offer.

Evasive dealing with this real political fact will not lay any realistic ground for any meaningful and successful national dialogue in Iraq.
*Nicola Nasser is the editor of the English website of the Palestine Media Center (PMC) and a veteran Arab journalist based in Ramallah, West Bank.

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