Western Involvement in Middle East Processes – A Recipe for Disaster

The current peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have created new hopes. Many believe that this could be the beginning of a new direction which could result in positive developments in our region. However, we must take care to avoid being swept up in the euphoria of hope, as the size of our hopes and expectations is often comparable to the size of disappointment and letdown if the talks do not work out.

Political sciences are not exact sciences. The possibility of drawing exact conclusions and to make accurate predictions is more difficult than in natural sciences. However, the past 100 years of political and military upheaval in the Middle East, from 1917 until today, has provided enough facts with which it is possible to attempt to scientifically analyze the situation.

In 1917, the West received the Middle East as the shattered leftovers of the Ottoman Empire, which had dissolved. Instead of investing in a new society based on the needs and desires of the various sects and tribes in the region, who lived under imperial rule for 600 years, the powers viewed the Middle East as an area that could be exploited for their own imperial and economic needs. Thus, states with impossible borders were established, while unfit leaders were propped up, based on their allegiance to specific Western powers. Various religious sects and tribes who never viewed themselves as parts of the same nation were forced to live under the auspices of falsely created nation-states.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Treaty of Sèvres created an infrastructure for conflict, unrest, and destruction across the region. By the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century, various superpowers including the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, and others had become militarily involved in the Middle East in order to face various threats, while often attempting to enforce democracy in various parts of the region. Wherever these powers became actively involved, democracy did not advance, human rights were not granted to minorities, and there was no progress towards a peaceful co-existence. In fact, in these areas, the situation further deteriorated into a reality of chaos and terror.

At the beginning of the 21st century, various phenomena that we hoped would be relegated to history returned with more power and determination than ever. While we believed that we would only encounter pirates in Hollywood films, they became a reality in various seas in the Middle East and North Africa. While we hoped that terrorism was only a passing trend, it has become a threat to the entire world. Indeed, in most places in the Middle East where civilians have demanded a regime change, their protest has been “hijacked” by the forces of terrorism. In addition to the dangers of sea travel, convoys crossing various deserts are frequently attacked by robbers and thieves. The face of air travel has changed, as the elderly, women, and children all must undergo the same humiliating examinations before boarding an airplane, for fear of terrorist hijacking. Indeed, all forms of travel have been affected by terrorism, and the technologies used by terrorists are only becoming more advanced.

In conclusion, the social and political deterioration in the Middle East is the result of the total failure of the West’s involvement in the region. The various border disputes and civil wars can all be traced back to the mistakes that began after the First World War. We fear dealing with this truth in an honest way. Furthermore, areas from where the West has retreated with its tail between its legs have only resulted in failed states. Libya is under a state of chaos, Iraq is still plagued by a type of sectarian civil war, Afghanistan is a terror state, and Pakistan poses a threat to the entire Indian peninsula.

When the West attempts to offer a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is imperative to understand that this “doctor” has yet to perform a successful “surgery” on a patient in the Middle East. In many instances, the patient died following surgery. Indeed, given the West’s history in the region, it has no moral stature to dictate the terms of any agreement based on the concept of justice. This is a clear recipe for failure. The West cannot assume the position of an objective judge nor can they convince one side of the justice of the other side’s claim. Any attempt to impose a peace agreement will only end in disaster.

The peace agreement between Israel and Egypt was only achieved after each side realized that it would have trouble surviving without such an agreement. In order to achieve results, we must look at the past with open eyes and acknowledge mistakes that were made, and try to learn from these mistakes.

Peace agreements can only be achieved either when one side is defeated by the other or when both sides negotiate according to the rules of the Middle Easter bazaar, in which both sides have something to give and something to receive. Only under these conditions can a stable peace be achieved, rather than through an ideological approach. The principles of justice cannot govern such negotiations towards success.

We should be thankful that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have begun. However, we must ensure that the correct path is taken, and that unwanted foreign involvement does not make peace impossible.

About the Author
Dr David Altman is senior vice-president at the Netanya Academic College and vice-chair of the college's Strategic Dialogue Center
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