Friday, June 21, 2002

Daniel Johnson has an interesting interview with Bernard Lewis , prominent Middle East expert, in today's Telegraph. Registration is required. Here are a few excerpts (I have emphasized a few things):

...Lewis contrasts the Israeli attack on Jenin with the late Syrian President Assad's treatment of Hama in 1976.

"He had the city bombarded by artillery, then moved in tanks, then bulldozers and flattened the whole city, with the loss of tens of thousands of people. He didn't have to worry about booby-traps or snipers. This did not prevent two American presidents, plus many secretaries of state, from meeting Assad; Jacques Chirac walked a mile at his funeral.

"This is something which really infuriates Arabs, who say: 'This means you don't consider us as suitable to be judged by civilised standards.' When Saddam slaughtered hundreds of thousands of his own people after the Gulf war ceasefire, not a dog barked in the West - not even an indictment in Brussels. This is deeply insulting to an ancient and civilised people."

Is there a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? "As long as the Palestinians cling to the hope of eliminating Israel, obviously there is no solution. Once it is normalised, then there can be.

"Once you have two states existing side by side, well, there is a border question. I don't think it's all that difficult. Jerusalem is more difficult, but a compromise could be worked out. Settlements: clearly Arabs can live under Israeli rule; about a million do. The assumption seems to be that Jews cannot live under Arab rule. This is probably a regrettable but indisputable truth.

"The 'right of return' of Palestinian refugees: that is clearly a deal-breaker." Lewis points out that both sides had similar numbers of refugees in 1948; the Jews were resettled, the Palestinians were not. Other partitions, such as that of India, led to the resettlement of far larger numbers.

"Arafat, I think, is in no way a partner for peace. In 1991-92, Arafat was in a very bad situation. He had lost his superpower patron, the Soviet Union. He had lost his Arab patrons by his support for Saddam Hussein in the Gulf war: 750,000 Palestinians were summarily ejected from the Gulf states, with not a murmur of protest from Europe.

"At that moment, it seemed a wise and magnanimous gesture to throw Arafat a lifebelt, bring him on board and start on a peace process. I thought so at the time, and said so, and it turns out that we were all mistaken.

"He had no intention of making peace. As long as there is this situation, he is a world figure. If there is peace, he becomes the tin-pot dictator of a petty state, with the prospect that he will sooner or later be assassinated or thrown out."

"...Lawrence of Arabia wrote that it was a stroke of good luck for the Arabs that the Zionist colonisation of Palestine had started, because this would bring them the possibility of acquiring top-level Western technology and science, without submitting to Western imperial domination. He saw Zionism as a stimulus rather than an alien presence."

...(Lewis) finds many (Arabs) are struck by the spectacle of Israeli democracy on television. Some students learn Hebrew just to understand what the Israeli politicians are screaming at each other.

Might the war against terrorism actually increase Muslim respect for the West? "One has to impress people that one is serious and one is strong, yes."

Lewis quotes a classical Arabic writer, Ibn Hassan: "...if you treat your friends and enemies alike, you will arouse distaste for your friendship and contempt for your enmity. The Europeans insult the Arabs by implying that they are not answerable to civilised standards of behaviour, that they are not the same as Europeans, either in what is expected from them or what they can expect.

"At the same time, Europeans behave in a way that looks like self-seeking ingratiation. When democratic regimes do emerge in Iraq and Iran (Lewis says that these two countries are most ripe in the region for becoming democracies - J.P.), they will not look with favour on those who have developed close relations with their present rulers."

..."A lot of people are saying, 'We must do something to settle the Palestinian question before starting on Iraq.' This is, of course, a direct message to Saddam Hussein to make sure that we don't get anywhere on the Palestinian question. There is no doubt at all that the serious worsening of the situation in the past year has been due to Iraq and Iran intervening."

...He asks me whether anti-semitism is a factor in European attitudes to the Middle East. "Bin Laden," he muses, "is usually very eloquent and very clear in what he says. In earlier statements, he gave the Palestinian question a rather low priority.

In more recent ones, he has raised it to a much higher level. And the reason is very clear: he found that by blaming the Jews he could get a gratifying response in Europe."

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