Monday, November 9, 2009

Sanctioning Shalom

According to Deena Jawhar in the Middle East International, Bahrain's elected lower house of parliament has unanimously passed a bill sanctioning all contact with Israelis. If also passed by the upper house, a simple Shalom could result in fines up to $25,000 or five years of imprisonment.

Jawhar explains that while Bahrain's government (read: King Hamad) does not officially recognize Israel, it has taken several measures in recent years such as

the closure of an Israel boycott office in 2005; a proposal by the foreign minister last year to establish a regional forum including Israel; a call for dialogue with Israelis made by Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin-Hamad in a Washington Post article published in July; and King Hamad's regular meetings with pro-Israel groups during trips abroad.

As such, the King views the bill as an affront to his prerogative to formulate foreign policy. In fact, the crown prince has argued that normalisation with Israel could bring economic benefits to the country - an argument to which the lower house of parliament and its constituents obviously don't give much credence. However, the upper house may have little choice but to follow the government's line, given that they are appointed by the King himself. Therefore, it is unlikely the bill will ever become a law.

This episode serves as a reminder about how deeply and pervasively hatred towards Israel flows through the Arab world. I can understand why Arabs feel so strongly about the plight of the Palestinian people. I can even comprehend why, at the cost of their own economic welfare, the Bahraini parliament is willing to shoot symbolic salvos at Tel Aviv. But what I don't understand - and what I don't think they have considered - is how their anger also hurts the very people they ostensibly seek to help.

An Israel that feels under siege will not and cannot make peace. Nor is there any shortage of reasons for Israel to feel in danger. If not Hamas, then Hezbollah. If not Hezbollah, then Iran. Then let's not forget Syria. Oh, and al Qaeda-inspired Sunni splinter groups. So does Israel need to feel threatened by Bahrain's lower house of parliament? No, but it's just simply one more excuse to retreat into a psychological bunker.

For there to be a political peace, there must first be a minimum level of mutual trust and mutual confidence. And there can be neither trust nor confidence without contact between the Arabs and Israelis. That is why it is so essential, as President Obama has urged, for both sides to offer gradual confidence-building measures to undergird any political negotiations.

But episodes like these make me wonder whether the anger is simply too great right now to move forward. While President Obama was correct to make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a top priority from the get-go, it might now be better for everyone to take a breather and try again after tempers have cooled.

No comments:

Post a Comment