Interview with Fateh Sheikh
From 11 September onwards, the US' stance on the question of Palestinian and Israeli peace and particularly towards Israel's brutal atrocities against the people of Palestine has been, at least on the surface, contradictory. What is your general analysis of Bush and his administration's stance on and role in this issue?
Fateh Sheikh: The contradiction in the policies and stance of Bush and the USA towards the Palestinian question and Israeli atrocities are a reflection of the contradictions of the 'new world order' and the 'strategy' and policy of Bush and the Right-wing of the US administration. The US government lacks an international strategy after the Soviet Union and the Cold War; in particular its policy in the critical and important region of the Middle East lacks a coherent framework. Its only 'rational' and guiding light in recent years has been to safeguard its military superiority and bullying at any available opportunity. After each military bullying, however, it has been forced to face new political embellishments and real challenges and still the problem of an absence of a coherent strategy. Following the Gulf War, George Bush Sr. was confronted with the Palestinian question and the Arab- Israeli conflict but could not offer a solution; his Democratic successor, Clinton, was also unable to bring the 'Oslo' solution to its conclusion because of the Israeli Right-wing's impediments. Today, the US is once again confronted with the Palestinian question in an extremely dangerous precipice of this 50 year- old cycle of war and crisis - and this follows Bush Jr.'s jingoism and intoxication after a semi-victory in the 'war on terrorism'; this has added to the old problem of an absence of strategy.
Seven months after the 11 September terrorist atrocity, the US is confronted with a situation that if it does not stop the unrestrained fascism of Israel, it will lose all the ideological justification it was provided by Islamic terrorism on 11 September; and the extensive coalition which stood behind it will not only fall apart, but most of its members will even stand in opposition to it. The world after 11 September, which has up to now been advantageous to US international bullying, can quickly become detrimental to the US' position on the Israeli government's atrocities against the people of Palestine and Bush's support for Sharon. Europe and Russia are laying in wait for any change to challenge US international domination. Then Bush, with his usual clumsy approach, will return the US to its position of last summer vis-à-vis Europe and be completely isolated in the Middle East. The warning of this isolation was given with Dick Cheney's failed mission to the Middle East, in which his snub of Arafat and warm support of Sharon's war-mongering lost the support of Arab governments on the issue of Iraq. The Arab summit and the subsequent US green light to Sharon's war have pushed the issue to a dangerous point.
Colin Powell is in the region at a time when the people's angry march has heated up the streets of the Arab world and forced the regimes in Arab countries to a position of no return in confrontation with the USA and Israel. Today, they are resisting the US because of people's angry and wrathful protests, the distancing of Europe from US policy as well as the difficult and disintegrated US position. The US was victorious in its 'war' in Afghanistan over the Taliban (minus Bin Laden and Mullah Omar) but it has failed up to now in the Middle East, which is the main battleground between the two camps of international terrorism; and this is the direct result of its one-sided support for Sharon's fascist war. If this continues, the decline of the US position in the Middle East will become a certainty; and if the Russia is unable to, then the European Union will and wants to replace the void. Then the entire Bush Sr. and Jr. 'new world order' will be over. Colin Powell's mission to the region is taking place in this situation and unlike Cheney he will meet Arafat in Ramallah 'detention'. Ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine and establishing a Palestinian state is a historical necessity and the main key to peace in the Middle East. The US position in the Middle East depends on its role in the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. In fact, today, both the fate of war and peace and also the US role in the Middle East have reached a decisive point.
Are Sharon's recent actions to completely defeat the peace process compatible with the US strategy after 11 September? How would you explain the US disregard for the dissatisfaction of nearly all other countries over the continuation of Sharon's atrocities?
Fateh Sheikh: The US lacks a strategy. Military logic is leading its politics. This lack of strategy and bullying 'logic' are more apparent after 11 September. To galvanise Arab governments' support at the beginning of the war with the Taliban, Bush and Powell spoke of the necessity of a Palestinian state which distressed Sharon. With the collapse of the Taliban, however, they quickly supported Sharon again. This to and fro gave leeway to Sharon's aggressiveness and caused the serious distrust of Arab states and the Palestinians. Meanwhile, the suicide bombings and assassinations of Israeli citizens by Islamic groups also effectively served Sharon's warmongering in the same way that the 11 September catastrophe served Bush's warmongering. The terror race and Sharon's determination for a full-fledged war have placed the US in a difficult position. The US' 'disregard' for the dissatisfaction of other countries is in fact a reflection of the US' conscious intention to impose its will on its opponents and even its allies. This was of course not realistic and also further exposed Bush and the US Administration's gullibility. Sharon's crimes were met with not only dissatisfaction but with vast international condemnation, minus the US. This political isolation, particularly after Blair and Bush's meeting, has seemed to make the US aware of the seriousness of the situation. Sharon's policy is not in the interest of the US and if the US fails to stop it and becomes a plaything of Israel's fascism, then it will become isolated very quickly.
Bush has in various ways referred to the ineffectiveness of Yasser Arafat as the leader of the Palestinian people and in the peace process. Does the US intend to eliminate Arafat from future peace talks? Even if Sharon steps aside, what will the peace process between Israel and Palestine be like without Yasser Arafat?
Fateh Sheikh: Bush's comments about Arafat are things he hears from his even more jingoistic advisors and associates and then utters without any reflection. Reality has imposed the opposite on the US: in the recent press release issued by the Madrid Quartet - the US, EU, Russia and the UN - which was signed by Powell, Arafat was referred to as the elected and recognised leader of the Palestinian people. They cannot exclude Arafat from the process of resolving the Palestinian question. If this were possible, Sharon would not have any qualms in doing it. Sharon and the US know that the exclusion of Arafat will lead to a loss of control.
Does the Saudi peace plan, agreed to by leaders of Arab governments, have any new aspects? Could this form the basis of a durable peace?
Fateh Sheikh: This plan is a summary of issues mentioned in UN resolutions. Its new aspect is the recognition of Israel by Arab states if Israel accepts the plan. The other reason that makes it important is US and EU support for the plan. For these reasons, of course this plan could be a basis for peace. The issue is not about plans; there are no lack of plans and resolutions on the Palestinian question and the Arab-Israeli conflict (there are over 250 resolutions and agreements that have gathered dust at the UN for years). The decisive factor is international pressure, and today specifically, US and then EU pressure on Israel, which could make this plan useful for peace under the current circumstances.
What do you think of Khamenei's recent comment about suspending oil exports to Israel and its supporters for one month and Saddam Hussein's decision to do so?
Fateh Sheikh: Khamenei thinks the time is ripe to reap people's wrath for the benefit of the Islamic Republic of Iran and political Islam. Of course, Israeli fascism and the US' support for it serve the revival of a weakening political Islam. The situation of the Islamic Republic, however, is much more disastrous and contradictory than to reap any gains. Khamenei's proposal and Saddam Hussein's lead has firstly, already created a headache for the Islamic Republic and exposed its contradictory situation. Secondly, it does not seem that Saddam Hussein's gesture will be welcomed by others under these conditions, but this will in any case make the actualisation of the US threat against Iraq more difficult.
What is the role of Right-wing religious forces in Israel and Islamic groups such as Hamas and the Islamic Republic of Iran on the one hand and the peace movement inside and outside Israel on the other in resolving the Palestinian question? What demands should progressive people insist on to support the people of Palestine?
Fateh Sheikh: The extreme Right in Israel, religious and non-religious, is currently completely behind Sharon to the extent that he does not need Labour's support to continue his atrocities. With an increase in international and particularly US pressure, they will not be able to resist and maintain unity. They will be isolated very quickly, particularly with the extensive insecurity they have created for the people, offering no future prospects other than war and insecurity. I believe that the extreme Right in Israel has hit the ceiling and reached its end in Israeli society. If there was no 11 September followed by US warmongering and the assistance of Islamic terrorist groups, Sharon would have been forced to leave the scene a lot earlier. Even now, the recent fascistic offensive and Sharon's doggedness have received a response and can be driven back and defeated by the firm resistance of the Palestinian people, Yasser Arafat's stand, the widespread and anticipated sympathy and support of public opinion all over the world and international condemnation. Then the people of Israel will have a fresh opportunity to come to the fore and liberate themselves from the legacy of ethnocentric-religious hatred and a fascist government based on it.
Islamic groups have been revived under the current situation and correspondingly their capacity to serve Sharon's war aims have proportionately increased - just as they served Sharon in his recent fascist offensive by killing Israeli citizens during the Arab Summit several weeks ago. It is not inconceivable that they will carry out terrorist activities during Powell's mission as well.
Peace groups in Israel are doing a commendable job, but naturally the escalation of the terrorist race and war will limit the expansion of their activities. The peace movement in Israel desperately needs the support of progressive people worldwide.
The immediate demands of progressive people should focus on Israel's immediate withdrawal from the occupied territories, the formation and immediate recognition of an independent and equal Palestinian state, the prosecution of Ariel Sharon and all those responsible for crimes against the people of Palestine as war criminals and perpetrators of crimes against humanity.
The above is a translation of an interview first published in International Weekly number 101 in Persian on 12 April 2002.