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 'Avoid the Algerian precedent' By FIAMMA NIRENSTEIN

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Bernard LewisPrinceton scholar Bernard Lewis, universally accepted as the world's leading expert on the history of the Middle East and author among other works of The Crisis of Islam and, most recently, From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East, discussed with the Jerusalem Post developments in Iraq and Israel, during a visit to Tel Aviv early this month.

Is Israel violating international law in its building of the fence?

Are you in favor of immediate elections in Iraq?
I don't want us to repeat what happened in Algeria, where elections quickly devolved into a massacre. We need to tread very carefully. Elections have to stabilize Iraq, not upset it. Otherwise, countries like Iran and other Middle Eastern dictatorships have an interest in seeing to it that democracy never takes root. Much of the funding and organizational support for terrorist groups comes from Iran.

Can the US really take on countries directly responsible for terrorism?
I don't think that there's a need anymore for other wars. If the opposition isn't blocked, Iran is poised for a democratic revolution. As for the other countries involved in funding terrorism, I can imagine the collapse of corrupt minority regimes in crisis, ones which persecute and impoverish their citizens.

Do you have faith that, in spite of everything, democracy will prevail?
Saddam Hussein, a Ba'athist-minority dictator, was nourished by Nazism first and then by communism, both European totalitarian ideologies. If anything, the risk of not succeeding in dismantling these fragile Middle Eastern dictatorships today lies more in the history of the rapport between the Muslim and the Western worlds than it does in Muslim roots. Islam, which has been weak for two centuries, has always sought backing to help it fight the enemy - Western democracy. First it supported the Axis against the Allies, then the communists against the US: two disasters. Today it is seeking the protection of Europe against the US, which it sees as its principal enemy. And Europe is facing a difficult debate between those who want to accept that role and those who don't. Please, I have no intention of comparing Europe to Nazi Germany or the USSR, I'm only talking about the position in which the Arab world is trying to put the old continent.

How has America's war on terror affected the terrorists?
The war, which has set the entire Middle East in motion, threatens terrorism, and so it contributes to the terrorists' activating their defenses. You see, Iraq today could become a democracy in the middle of the Middle East. In the papers we may only read about terrorist attacks, but in reality Iraq is bustling with all kinds of movement - new newspapers, new local forms of self-government, young people signing up to be in the police or the army. Things are incomparably better than they were under Saddam. And we can proceed with caution, without rushing to carry out elections that would require local electoral lists, laws and structures that still need to be defined.

How will the trial in the Hague affect the Middle East peace process?
What's happening in the Hague is absurd. It's a matter of common sense.

Everyone knows it's not a legal question, but rather a political one, one which can only be resolved when the two sides have decided to treat it as such: politically.

The world has always been tormented by border issues. Alsace and Lorraine spent hundreds of years establishing their borders and only now, just maybe, have they succeeded.

The UN may pose the question in legalistic terms - and in a minute I'll explain why I mean legalistic, not legal - but this is really not about what the UN says it's about. My impression is that the UN has taken up a debate from the Palestinian side, so we can't be sure whether the discussion concerns the dimensions of Israel, its behavior, or its existence.

Is Israel violating international law in its building of the fence?
The only Armistice Agreement that deals with borders is the one signed in Rhodes on January 6, 1949. The second part of article five says that the cease-fire lines are "not to be interpreted as political or territorial borders and their delineation in no way affects the rights, demands or positions of any of the parties to the cease-fire agreements regarding the final disposition of the Palestine question." The subsequent UN resolutions are built on this one document, and defer to a political structure not yet established.

But what if the fence were built on the Green Line?
It wouldn't make any difference. The Palestinians have been offered borders in which to establish their state many times: In 1936 by the Peel Commission, then by the UN itself in 1947, then in many Israeli offers, the most recent one at Camp David in 2000 with Arafat, [Ehud] Barak and Bill Clinton. History teaches us that Palestinian policy is informed by an implicit refusal to accept the State of Israel. They won't change their tune this time either.

Israel says it's putting up the fence to defend against terrorism. It's a very serious direct measure, and one that makes one think that terrorism in general is not on the wane - not in this area, not in Iraq, where there are terrorist attacks every day, and not in the rest of the world, which is in a constant state of alert.

There are two kinds of terrorism, but, mind you, they're not in conflict and are often unified in their actions. The first kind is always armed with highly ideological means and is aimed at preserving existing tyrannies. The second, al-Qaida kind, is aimed at subjugating the entire Western world.

What do you make of the UN's transition from creator to prosecutor of the Jewish State?
Let's look at the facts.

First of all, Palestinian rhetoric hasn't changed since 1947. It still continues to reject the existence of a country it considers an enemy, a stranger in the region. Its schools, radio and television continue to teach incitement.

Now let's consider another Palestinian issue in which the UN is also involved: the refugee problem.

In pushing for the right of return, the Palestinians are essentially proposing the elimination of the Jewish state. And the UN has never proven that it differs from the Palestinians on the refugee question. History is very clear. In the last century, millions of refugees moved between war-torn countries. The most important migration was between India and Pakistan in 1947, which involved at least seven million people. In 1945 millions of people moved between Poland and East Germany, and all were resettled.

With the partition [and creation of the State of Israel], 725,000 Arab refugees were relocated, and the UN immediately created a fixed institution, [the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], which has literally prevented the Palestinians from resettling.

In 1929, Jews were killed or forced out of Hebron, and in 1948 others were killed or forced out of Jerusalem, but have you ever heard them referred to as refugees, protected by the UN? What about the 800,000 Jews expelled from Arab countries? The UN never bothered with them.

I'd like to add that when on December 17, 1947 the Arab League rejected the resolution that established the partition - within the confines of international law, I might add - the UN didn't make a sound. Nor did it say a word when the Arab countries forbade Israelis of any religion from entering its borders - preventing even Muslims from making their obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca - and closed its borders to Jews regardless of their citizenship. Nor did the UN speak out when Jordan in 1954 offered citizenship to any inhabitant of Palestine, except Jews.

Translated from Italian by Rachel Donadio


(source Jerusalem Post)

 

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