SAUDI COLUMNIST: 'We Need to Get Over Our Obsession with Israel'

Finally, some common sense from the Middle East.

In his November 16, 2008 column in the Saudi-owned London Arab daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Saudi liberal columnist Turki Al-Hamad argued that the Arabs had been in thrall to the Palestinian issue for too long, and that they should view both Arab politics and U.S. policy towards the region through a broader prism. The next day, ‘Abd Al-Bari ‘Atwan, editor-in-chief of another London Arab daily, Al-Quds Al-‘Arabi, took issue with Al-Hamad’s premise in his column, warning also that the publication of articles like these in the Saudi media was a harbinger of Saudi-Israeli rapprochement.

Following are excerpts from the articles by Turki Al-Hamad and ‘Abd Al-Bari ‘Atwan:

The Issue of Israel Has Been Used to Justify Every Failure in Arab Life.

“Israel has been, and to a great extent still is, the cornerstone of modern Arab political culture and the primary measure of politics in the region. Despite the fact that the Palestinians themselves, whose cause this is first and foremost, have in effect lost consciousness of their cause, and have entered a stage of political infantility and childish quarrels over trivial matters – despite this fact, the status of the ’cause’ in political culture and modern Arab political behavior has not changed much in many respects.

“Israel and Zionism have always been the axis around which the other components of modern Arab political culture revolved, and the measure against which the compass of Arab politics was largely set. This is in addition to the fact that [this axis] has been the primary ‘justification’ for every failure and disaster in modern Arab life: from the failure of the project of the great Arab renaissance and of the great Arab unity, to a child’s death by starvation in Basra in Shatt Al-‘Arab and an emigrant’s drowning in the Mediterranean or the Atlantic, to a woman’s death from poverty on the banks of the Nile in the Nile river valley.
“For were it not for Israel and Zionism, and the colonialism, imperialism, and occupation they brought in their wake, there would not have been any division, backwardness, ignorance, illness, or wretchedness, and thus no one would have died of starvation, drowning, illness, or poverty. Israel was always sought out [for blame], to the point where one can’t imagine that the Arabs are really serious in their hostility to Israel, since if the real, earthly Israel were to disappear, how could they preserve the Israel of the mind and the imagination, without which Arab political life would be choked off, as it would have lost its justification and there would be no longer any direction towards which the Arab compass would point.   

If Israel Disappeared, the Arabs Would Look for a New One.

“In my opinion, the Arabs… have reduced everything to one sole issue – the Palestinian issue… They have become prisoners of it, and in reality have put it to death…
Israel should not be our greatest concern, nor should Palestine be our be-all and end-all. For even if Israel disappeared entirely, and we had a new Palestinian state from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea to add to the list of Arab states, the situation would still remain the same….
“Israel, and behind it the West and America, has not prevented us, and cannot prevent us, from building good schools if we want to, and putting in place forward-looking curricula. Israel will not prevent us, and cannot prevent us, from respecting humans and human rights in our countries, if we really wanted that. Israel will not prevent us, and cannot prevent us, from eradicating illiteracy in our countries or rooting out corruption.

Why are some Saudi Writers Turning the Palestinian Issue into a Scapegoat?

“If we are to say that there is an official Saudi desire to establish relations with the Israelis – whether under the aegis of activating the Saudi-originated peace plan, or [under the aegis of] the dialogue of religions – and this for reasons that have to do with transformations in the strategic balance in the region, due to the emergence of Iran as a great power and the ebbing of Iraq as a factor balancing [against Iran] following the American invasion and occupation – the question is: What is driving some Saudi writers to place on the Palestinian issue more than it can bear and to make it a scapegoat to justify this new and unprecedented orientation?
“When Dr. Turki Al-Hamad and others intimate that interest in the Palestinian issue and the placing of it as the foremost and central issue came at the expense of development, human rights, education, and other important and vital issues – this is a great falsehood that cannot be allowed to go without refutation and rebuttal.
“The last war the Arabs entered under the [slogan of] liberation of Palestine was 35 years ago. Years later, and in particular since the signing of the Camp David accords, the military option was removed completely, and we saw Arab states take advantage of the interim Oslo agreements – which came after the siege and fatal isolation of the PLO – to sign peace accords with the Hebrew state. So why didn’t violations of human rights stop and these countries become full of justice, democracy, equality, and [an independent] judiciary?”

When the Arabs Were Fighting Israel, Education Was Better and the Economy Was Stronger

 “The crises in education and health services, the rise in unemployment rates, the acute water shortage, the absence of a sewage system in a large city like Jedda, and the expanding cordon of shanty towns around Riyadh – all these crises were not because of the Palestinian issue and the Saudi government’s being preoccupied by it and giving it priority over local issues. They were caused rather by corruption, mismanagement, and writers being silent and not speaking courageously about the true issues in the country.   

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