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The Watch on the Jordan

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Cross-posted from Gush Shalom


Arab Turmoil
(image by Oriental Review)
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THE ARAB world is in turmoil. Syria and Iraq are breaking apart, the thousand-year-old conflict between Muslim Sunnis and Muslim Shiites is reaching a new climax. A historic drama is unfolding around us.

And what is the reaction of our government?

Binyamin Netanyahu put it succinctly: "We must defend Israel on the Jordan River, before they reach Tel Aviv."

Simple, concise, idiotic.

DEFEND ISRAEL against whom? Against ISIS, of course.

ISIS is the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham -- a new force in the Arab world. Sham is Greater Syria -- the traditional Arab name for the territory that comprises the present countries of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel. Together with Iraq, it forms what historians call the Fertile Crescent, the green region around the top of the desolate Arab desert.

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For most of history, the Fertile Crescent was one country, part of successive empires. Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Ottomans and many others kept them united, until two foreign gentlemen, Sir Mark Sykes and M. Francois Georges-Picot, set about cutting them up according to their own imperial interests. This happened during World War I, which was set in motion by an assassination that happened 100 years ago last week.

With sublime disregard for the peoples, ethnic origins and religious identities, Sykes and Picot created national states where no nations existed. They and their successors, notably Gertrude Bell, T.E. Lawrence and Winston Churchill, put together three quite different communities and created "Iraq," importing a foreign king from Mecca.

"Syria" was allotted to the French. An imperial commissioner took a map and a pencil and drew a border in the middle of the desert between Damascus and Baghdad. The French then cut Syria up into several small statelets for the Sunnis, Alawites, Druze, Maronites etc. Later they created Greater Lebanon, where they set up a system that installed Maronite Christians on top of the despised Shiites.

The Kurds, a real nation, were cut up into four parts, each of which was allotted to a different country. In Palestine, a Zionist "national home" was planned in the middle of a hostile Arab population. The country beyond the Jordan was cut off to provide a principality for another Emir from Mecca.

This is the world in which we grew up, and which is crumbling now.

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WHAT ISIS is trying to do now is simply to eradicate all these borders. In the process, they are laying bare the basic Sunni-Shiite divide. They want to create a unified Sunni-Muslim Caliphate.

They are up against huge entrenched interests, and will probably fail. But they are sowing something much more lasting: an idea that may take hold in the minds of many millions. It may come to fruition in 25, 50 or 100 years. It may be the wave of the future.

Seeing this picture developing, what should we do?

For me, the answer is quite clear: make peace, quickly, as long as the Arab world is as it is now.

"Peace" means not only peace with the Palestinian people, but with the entire Arab world. The Arab peace initiative -- based on the initiative of the Saudi (then) Crown Prince -- is still lying on the table. It offers full and unconditional peace with the State of Israel in return for the end of the occupation and the creation of the independent State of Palestine. Hamas has officially agreed to this, provided it is ratified by a Palestinian plebiscite.

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Gush

Uri Avnery is a longtime Israeli peace activist. Since 1948 has advocated the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In 1974, Uri Avnery was the first Israeli to establish contact with PLO leadership. In 1982 he was the first Israeli ever to meet Yassir Arafat, after crossing the lines in besieged Beirut. He served three terms in the Israeli (more...)
 

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