August 17, 2019

Like Israel’s occupation, the Qatar crisis, London attack have old roots

I recently argued that the 50-year anniversary of the Six-Day War has little significance: “What was then is history. What is now is reality,” I wrote. “The fact that the Six-Day War is or isn’t the reason for some of the challenges Israel faces today hardly matters.”

I contended that what most of the world calls the “occupation” “has lasted for 50 years is not relevant. It was not ideal in the first 50 years, and it will still not be the end of the world after 500 years.”

The last week has provided me with proof of that. Terrorism in London makes it clear that focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will do little to remedy the grievances of radicalized Muslims around the world. Palestine is not the source of the problem; it is merely one manifestation of it. And a new Arab coalition trying to pressure and isolate Qatar because of its ties to Iran and to other problematic elements in the Middle East proves that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the main item on the Arab agenda.

Both events demonstrate why arguments such as “Fifty years is too long,” “The world will not tolerate another 50 years of occupation,” and “If Israel doesn’t end the occupation, it will become a binational state” have little merit.

Fifty years is a long time? Sure it is. It is a long time in which relative stability was maintained for Israelis and Palestinians — except when Palestinians turned to terrorism.

The world will not tolerate it? I’d pause before making such predictions. The world has showed a great ability to tolerate much more severe situations, for which there were much simpler remedies, for a very long time.

Will Israel become a binational state? Nonsense. Israel always can choose to withdraw from territory to prevent such a scenario. Why do it now? Why do it when the dilemma is not yet acute, and the price of such an action would be higher than the benefit?

The conflict between Qatar and other Arab countries is a complicated story. It also began much longer than 50 years ago. It also has ups and downs, but no end in sight.

There is Arab infighting involved — the Egyptians, for example, are furious because of Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood. There is the larger story of Sunni versus Shiite, with Qatar playing the odd country out by having good relations with Shiite Iran. And while the United States, on the one hand, has military infrastructure in Qatar, it also encourages the Sunni states’ anti-Iran alliance.

There is the impact on other conflicts in the region, too. For example, there are questions about the impact of this strife on Hamas in Gaza, which relies heavily on Qatari support. There is the story of Turkey, another country that is trying to have it both ways and is not trying to mediate between the Qataris and the other Arab countries. Finally, there is Iran and its ability to take advantage of the situation (or lose as a result of it, depending on what happens next).

This is not the first crisis between Qatar and its Arab neighbors, but this one feels somewhat different, more severe. “The other Gulf leaders’ patience with Doha’s sometimes-maverick regional policies may have finally snapped,” wrote Kristian Coates Ulrichsen in The Atlantic.

That’s exactly what this looks like. It also looks like a crisis that was born in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s summit in Riyadh. So a summit that seemed successful and reassuring two weeks ago could end up igniting an unforeseen crisis of great consequences.

Trump will once again need to address a situation that his administration is of (at least) two minds about. The administration showed a tendency to partner with a Saudi-Egyptian led coalition against Iran, but it has interests in Qatar that it does not want to lose. Ideally, the U.S. will be able to navigate these treacherous waters and come out dry. But if the Saudis and the Egyptians insist on upping the ante, and force Qatar’s hand, this could become impossible.

Qatari and Saudi presence are both visible — highly visible — in London. Arab infighting is not something that Britain and other countries with large communities of Muslims, some of which are radicalized, can ignore.

What was the motivation behind the London attack? It is hard to define an exact motivation. Radicalized Muslims attack to wreak havoc. Election time provides them with an opportunity to make their attacks of greater consequence.

It is clear that Britain, like other countries in Europe, has a problem integrating some communities of Muslims. There are Muslims succeeding and excelling in Britain. But there are also too many who do not succeed, nor excel, nor appreciate British values and the great life they can have in this country.

How old is this problem? Its roots are surely more than 50 years old. Look how the numbers and percentages of Muslims in Britain jumped from 1961 to 1971 to 1981. From 50,000, to 250,000, to 500,000.

These attackers are influenced by outside forces in Pakistan, Syria, Iran and Libya, and they are financially supported by outside forces, as well. The groups they associate with have ties to governments, or to emissaries who speak for governments. Many of these governments talk out of both sides of their mouths. When they meet with Trump, they oppose terrorism. When Trump is back in Washington, they make sure to keep some channels to terror groups open.

This is just one fact that makes the fight against terrorism in London complicated. There also is the fact that many of the terrorists are home-grown Brits. There is the fact that some of the neighborhoods where these terrorist grew up are impassable to regular policing. Yes, there is also “political correctness,” as Trump implied in his ill-advised tweets lambasting the mayor of London for an innocent remark. But in truth, political correctness is fast disappearing in Europe’s fight against home-grown terrorism — and with every attack it will further erode.

Apparently, when people feel endangered, the layer of political correctness proves thin.

Now think again about Israel and the Palestinians. Political correctness is not an issue for us — we are experienced enough in fighting terrorism to be able to generally avoid this illness.

Complications are many. We know this. We don’t expect the conflict between Qatar and the Saudis to be resolved very soon, and we also don’t expect the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to end only because a long time has passed.

As for remedies, we know that actions often have unintended or unexpected consequences. President Trump could not foresee the impact of his Riyadh visit. He ought to remember that as he attempts to move the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward.