Isolating the Maccabees

“The only way to save Israel from itself is through a complete international boycott.” - Prof. Neve Gordon, Bryn Mawr College

In an impassioned speech at Vienna’s Amerika Haus on Monday, Dr. Mohamed Rabie said: “The only remaining solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict is the complete economic and political isolation of Israel from the international community.” A hushed silence seemed to follow these words, reverberating around the room. It wasn’t negative silence – the audience appeared amazed that someone would say such controversial things in a public forum. The magnitude of this stance has sweeping implications on not just Israel but on the international community as a whole. One always expects at least one Israel supporter to make an equally sweeping statement in reaction, accusing speakers like Rabie of presenting only one side of the coin. At this event, however, there was no backlash whatsoever. The audience seemed strangely subdued.

Perhaps this silence was actually intimidation. Rabie is no spring chicken to the messy world of Middle East politics. His experience is extensive. He has served on The Palestine National Fund, Search for Common Ground Middle East Initiative and the steering Committee of the Euro-Arab Dialogue. He is a member of the Authors League of America, the Arab Thought Forum, and the World Council for New Ideas. Between 1989 and 1992, he was a member of the Harvard University Team for peace in the Middle East. Most importantly, he conceived the idea for the U.S.-PLO dialogue, drafted the original document that guided negotiations and coordinated contacts that finally led the US government to recognize PLO. He has published extensively in both Arabic and English. He is not just an academician and advisor, but also a poet and a novelist. He articulates with conviction and passion. Having grown up in refugee camps, Dr. Mohammed Rabie is a man who has seen it all. He is also a man who seems to know what he is talking about.

Rabie is averse to accepting any Israeli offerings for negotiation – a break from present policy advice. “Many years of negotiation have not resulted in any concrete agreement for resolution of the conflict. This failure to reach an agreement is because the Israeli elite is determined to continue their occupation of Gaza, build settlements on the West Bank, and deny the Palestinians any rights to self-determination.” He recounted the Israeli reaction post-Oslo Accords, “When Shimon Peres returned to Israel after the Oslo Accords he said that Israel will negotiate for years without coming to an agreement.” Shaking his head in disbelief, he said, “Israel is the only country in the world that does not recognize its own borders.”

He also expressed disappointment with the attitude of the U.S.; “I find it unbelievable that the American delegation sent to the region during President Bush’s regime did not include a single Arab American. It was supposed to be neutral but it was represented entirely by Jewish Americans. I am not saying that Jewish Americans should not represent America but the failure to find even one single Arab American for such a delegation was a failure of the Bush administration to do anything about this conflict.”

Assuming that the Israeli elite is unwilling to come to an agreement and U.S. initiatives are biased at best, what are the alternatives for peace in the region? Are there any? Rabie outlines two: “First and foremost, the international community led by the U.S.A. or Europe must draft a comprehensive plan for resolution of the conflict. More importantly however, they must be willing to use both carrots and sticks. They must be ready to threaten Israel and carry out those threats in the case of non-compliance. On the other side, the international community should also offer incentives to both Israel and Palestine in the form of economic aid and security agreements. The U.S.A. can form an aid agreement with Israel as long as it complies with the peace plan.” In the Q&A session that followed, questions were repeatedly asked about the nature of this “comprehensive peace plan.” One of the students present asked: “Could you outline the material steps that would be taken by such a plan because it was precisely the absence of such a plan that created the Israel-Palestinian problem. The British made neat boundaries for Israel in the Arab Peninsula and conveniently left out material steps that would guide the implementation of those boundaries. For example, what happens to the already existing illegal settlements? What happens to the Arabs living inside Israel? What happens to the refugees who were forced to flee from Palestine? If they come back, the region suddenly has an overwhelming Arab majority. What are its security implications for the State of Israel?” In response Rabie referred to his website. “I have a detailed plan on my website that you can view free of charge, but my purpose today is not to spell out a plan but to plant seeds for these ideas into popular culture and dialogue. Who thought the world would bring an end to Apartheid? It was people like you and me. It is people like you and me.” The people in the audience however, clearly seemed to need a plan if they were to support this idea.

Perhaps the absence of a possible uproar from Israeli supporters was because it was overpowered by waves of shock as Rabie drew parallels between the Apartheid South Africa to the discrimination practiced in Israel: “The international community must acknowledge that Israel currently functions in a system that is similar to the Apartheid regime in South Africa. It is worse because the Israeli government discriminates on the basis of both race and religion. This has to be recognized by the international community.” Who are these victims of discrimination? “The Russian Jews and the Arabs. I didn’t even know that Israel practiced such large scale discrimination towards the Russians until I worked with a U.S. Professor who is a Russian Jew in Israel.”

International acknowledgement is necessary for Rabie‘s long-term vision for the region. Most experts believe that a two-state solution is the path to a white flag, but not Rabie: “In the long run, the territory of Israel and Palestine should be a single, secular state from sea to land where Jews and Arabs live together in harmony.  This vision might seem idealistic, but the Jewish people cannot wall themselves in from their surroundings. Right now, Israel is building a wall; it is locking itself in and away from all its neighbors in the Middle East. In that region, or anywhere else, no state can survive in self-imposed isolation.’

The Middle East has been a hotbed of conflict since the end of World War II and the Israel-Palestinian conflict is a knife that continues to stab at any dredges of peace that remain. With millions of casualties to date, increasing volatility in the Arab region, and the impending threat of Iranian claims to nuclear power, the continued existence of the Israeli-Palestinian battleground in the Middle East is a shameful reminder to the international community that something needs to be done. Rabie believes that the only way out is to erect an international wall of isolation around Israel: “Much like the real wall Israel builds around itself as we speak, enclosing itself in a fortress against the Arabs.”

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