The world is in need of wise men and women
Judging by the way politicians in the West have been scrambling to express their support for Israel in the aftermath of the attacks by Hamas on Saturday, one is appalled at the degree of indifference with which they have ignored the calamity that has always come the way of the Palestinian people.
The attacks by Hamas on Israel and its capture of Israeli soldiers and civilians are to be condemned by people everywhere. Missiles launched against civilian targets in Ashkelon and Tel Aviv were an outrage and civilised people around the world have felt deeply disturbed at the action undertaken by Hamas.
But, then again, double standards, where coming down hard on all perpetrators of violence is called for, the position adopted by western leaders — they have all been proclaiming the cliché of standing solidly behind Israel because Israel has a right to self-defence — is a negation not only of morality but of diplomacy as well.
As we speak, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza are dying in Israeli bombardment and hundreds of homes are being reduced to rubble because Benjamin Netanyahu has promised vengeance against Hamas. Israel’s defence minister has ordered a stop to supplies of food and water and electricity and other essentials for all Gazans. The deeply upsetting images of children dying in the bombardment pain people around the world.
But there is no pain in western leaders as they hold high level security meetings to discuss what they call Hamas terrorism, as some of them attend prayer services for Israelis killed by Hamas. No one among them offers any prayers for the hundreds of Palestinians the Israel Defence Force (IDF) has been killing in nightly raids on Gaza. The developed world does not care, for the developed world has little of sympathy for Palestinians.
One day, many more dead Palestinians later, many more Israeli and Hamas missiles later, the fire will die down and the smoke will clear. What will not go away is a sense of the new bitterness that has arisen out of this fresh new burst of conflict in the Middle East. One could well raise the question of whether a peace move, a process of mediation will then come into play in the region. But that raises a worrying query: Where are the men who, armed with diplomacy, will go to Gaza, to Ramallah, to Tel Aviv to persuade Palestinians and Israelis into going for a deal that may not be of peace but might be one of no-war-no-peace?
Such men are absent. In the past, every time the Middle East exploded into a new conflagration, diplomats were despatched by governments in the West to the region to attempt bringing about a settlement, however fragile. That situation simply does not exist these days because all governments in the West are at this point of time waiting for Israel to pound Gaza into a situation where Gaza will be too enervated to rise and speak for itself. Once Gazans fall silent from the sheer exhaustion of running for their lives every night or die in the rubble of the buildings felled by Israeli bombs, the world’s powerful men just might step out and go busily about trying to stitch a bad deal in place.
The hypocrisy of policy, or an absence of wisdom constructed on the edifice of policy, is at play today. Not one western politician has shed a tear for the men, women and children pounded to death by Netanyahu’s forces. Not one of them has asked the Israeli leadership to call a halt to its war against Gaza. Pity has gone missing and with that any hint of statesmanship in Washington, London, Paris, Berlin and Brussels. The landscape of diplomacy suffers from aridity these days.
It is a picture in stark contrast with the past. The 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War of October 1973 was observed just a day before the Hamas assault on Israel. In that war too, the West expressed its support for Israel but at the same time was careful to keep the doors of diplomacy open for it to step in. President Nixon lost little time in empowering Henry Kissinger to speak to President Anwar Sadat and Prime Minister Golda Meir on the need to pull back from the brink. Prime Minister Edward Heath counselled restraint. The Soviet Union maintained communication with the US administration in order to ensure that the war did not broaden out into a wider crisis.
President Jimmy Carter, driven by a sheer sense of religiosity, was not willing to be seen as taking a stand for one side to the detriment of the other. He brought Sadat and Menachem Begin together. President Bill Clinton had Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres share the peace stage in the 1990s. Such men — and we speak both of American presidents and the combatants in the Middle East — possessed wisdom enough to understand that beyond the present there was always the future to build in the interest of future generations.
Today, with every western politician standing behind Netanyahu and saying nothing about the bloodletting in Gaza, you feel the absence of quality leadership in the West. The present generation of western leaders should have made moves toward restraining both Israel and Hamas in their violence against one another. In the volatile region which the Middle East is, it is unwise to make sweeping judgments. It is equally foolhardy to describe one side as terrorists but look away from the terrorism and apartheid perpetrated by the other.
In effect, no diplomats possessing the ability and the influence to talk to the Israeli leadership and Hamas are around, for the simple reason that their governments have caught themselves in a bind through their inability to reassure the world that they are willing to and capable of using their clout to bring the current hostilities to an end. The clout is not there.
It is rather queer that in these past couple of years the West has singularly failed to draw on the examples of its statesmen of yesteryears to exert its power and sense of realpolitik in troubleshooting in the world’s conflict regions. The attitude has left the West weakened. Western leaders damaged themselves through lionising — and arming to the teeth — Volodymyr Zelensky against Russia when they should have gone for a purposeful mediation between Kyiv and Moscow.
Diplomacy went dead in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. And one can be sure that the story has been repeating itself in the fire raining down on Gaza night after night from Israeli armed might. There are many fires to douse in the region — the one ignited by Hamas, another lit by Israel and now Hezbollah shooting from across the frontier in Lebanon.
The world is in need of wise men and women in the mould of Conor Cruise O’Brien, Dag Hammarskjoeld, Le Duc Tho, Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter, Mary Robinson and Harold Wilson. Sadly, they cannot be spotted anywhere.
Afghans die of hunger. Azerbaijan and Armenia are locked in conflict. Battles rage on between Kyiv and Moscow. And Palestinians die in the terror of Israeli bombardment.
We have not had such a miserable paucity of statesmanship in modern times.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is Consultant Editor, Dhaka Tribune.
Source: Dhaka Tribune.