We cannot afford the hubris of another ‘Deal of the Century’

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At the height of World War I, British diplomat Mark Sykes stood with the prime minister, poring over a map of the Middle East. The two men had before them what they mistook as a simple task: to divide the former Ottoman Empire for the best interest of their own empire.

Sykes pointed to the map and told the prime minister: “I should like to draw a line from the ‘e’ in Acre to the last ‘k’ in Kirkuk.”

That line, from what is now northern Israel, to the east-northeast to Kirkuk, in Iraq, became the division between French and British mandates after the war — France to the north, in Syria and Lebanon; Britain to the south, in what is now Iraq, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories. It was, to say the least, the deal of the century.

Simple enough. And, with the region neatly divided by the white masters, the Middle East settled in for a golden century of peace and prosperity.

No. Of course that didn’t happen. The British-French pact ignored sectarian, cultural and historic boundaries, and carved up a region for empire and capitalism, all with no regard for and no consultation with those whose lives were most affected — those who lived there.

And, when Arabs and Palestinians who had been promised freedom if they rose up against the Ottoman Turks found themselves under the yoke of new masters, they rose up again. And we continue to see the fallout of imperial hubris to this day.

The Israeli State was created by British and American politicians, again, with little to no consultation with the people — Palestinian Christians, Muslims and Jews — who lived there, and had lived there, for centuries.

Add in hundreds of billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Israel, and almost constant U.S. and British meddling in the governments of Israel’s neighbors – usually at the behest of corporations — and you have a powder keg of regional conflict, all of our own making.

I had the opportunity to visit both sides of this conflict during my younger years, in 1993 to Jordan and Syria, with the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, and in 1997 to Israel, with the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

In Jordan, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza, I met families whose land, which had been theirs for generations, was taken from them. I walked among the rubble of family homes destroyed by Israeli bulldozers. I visited refugee camps and saw the spiritual death — worse than starvation — that comes when hope has systematically been sucked out of a human being.

They wanted nothing more than a safe home — a place for their children to prosper. Healthy and happy.

In Israel, I got to know and love men and women whose parents and grandparents had perished in Nazi death camps. I met veterans who had fought in every fight from 1948 to the Intifada. They served because they felt they had to.

They wanted nothing more than a safe home — a place for their children to prosper. Healthy and happy.

And, in both visits, on both sides, I met members of the oldest sects of Christianity — men and women who worshiped, lived and died in the very footsteps of Christ.

They were caught between all the powers and proxies fighting over this small corner of the globe.

They wanted nothing more than a safe home — a place for their children to prosper. Healthy and happy.

The people all wanted the same thing. But, on both sides, I constantly heard two versions of reality.

From government officials: “There is an ominous threat, and we cannot stand for it.” And, from everyday people on both sides, just trying to make a living and raise their children: “We have no problem with our neighbors. We just want to live in peace.”

The people all want the same thing. But, they all are held back by the same problem: governments concerned more with power, ideology and greed than with peace, or truly serving the well-being of their people.

Unfortunately, President Trump’s inaptly named “Deal of the Century” does nothing but worsen this problem.

With the same unenlightened hubris of Sykes in 1916, Trump in 2020 has redrawn lines on the map to isolate and control a people he does not understand and does not represent, all without them being at the negotiating table.

In its analysis, the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), a multinational think-tank, said Trump’s ill-conceived plan “is not offering Israelis and Palestinians a viable and peaceful future in their own states. Instead, its proposal would cement a one-state reality of open-ended occupation and unequal rights for Palestinians.”

The ECFR aptly likened the president’s partitioning of Palestinians to the creation of “Bantustans” in the West Bank and Gaza, referring to the Bantu settlements created to enforce apartheid in South Africa.

We’ve been down this road before. And, just as in 1916, this road has two sides.

For those who constantly cry out “ominous threat,” this road is paved with profit and promises of empire.

For those who yearn to simply live in peace beside their neighbors, this road is paved in blood, anguish and the soul-crushing cancer of hatred.

That path was unjust and untenable in 1916. It remains unjust, and even less tenable, in 2020.

And we cannot afford to let another petty, would-be empire builder walk us, and the millions of innocent people who actually live in the middle of this mess, down that path once more.

2 thoughts on “We cannot afford the hubris of another ‘Deal of the Century’

  1. Okay as I have not walked in your shoes and spoken with people on both sides of this issue I am ready to listen. I am not sure myself whether this side of the return of Jesus there is any resolution possible. If you have some positive suggestions that might actually be accepted by both sides of this debate I would love to hear them. My own position is that during WW2 the Jews who could get out of Germany and it’s occupied lands had virtually nowhere on earth to go. Concentration camps run by the British in Cyprus, or illegal entry into the Palestinian mandate were both dangerous places to be for the women children and small numbers of men who could escape. The point of a Jewish homeland which seems an anathema to political leaders in Iran, Gaza and even the West Bank. So what would you suggest as a viable alternative to what seems to me also one more hopeless attempt at reconciliation in the Middle East?

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