RFalkThe first lecture of the week was from visiting professor Richard Falk hosted by the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago.  I’m not sure if we got a whole lecture.  His opening comments took up the better part of half an hour.  It left him to quickly summarise his address and conclude.  Nevertheless I consider what we got was dense in information, and note-taking, and reflected a movement in international thought that I have already heard this semester.

The prospects for peace in the Middle East are limited.  They depend on overcoming the obstacles for peace in the Middle East.  Even that much is an exercise in utopian dreams, the politics of impossibility.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War there was a shift of focus in world affairs from Europe to the Middle East.  The Middle East has the oil reserves; the United States is pre-occupied with the security of its Middle Eastern ally Israel; there was the risk of unstable nuclear proliferation; and the risk of the rise of political Islam.  The revolution in Iran was the first blast of the trumpet against the West.

There is a causal connection between the turmoil in the Middle East and the First World War.  Imagine the counterfactual that could have been if the natural political communities that existed in the Ottoman Empire had transformed into sovereign states.  The vision of a broader Arabic nation encouraged the Arabs of the Middle East to rise up against their Ottoman masters.  Instead Britain wanted to secure its control of the Suez Canal and France favoured a Christian Maronite state in Lebanon.  The Middle East was partitioned into British and French mandates, a compromise between colonialism and self-determination.

The British promised a Jewish homeland (not the same thing as a Jewish state).  They knew how to play off both sides against each other, they had had plenty of practice.  The United Nations agreed to a partition.  A decision rejected by the Palestinians and the Arab countries.  The Jewish people were compensated at the expense of Arab people.  Palestine was promised 45% of the land and after conflict held 22%.  Even that has been penetrated and occupied by Israeli settlers.  Israel rejects compromise by the Palestinian Authority and the Arab League.

Cold war thinking still demands military intervention.  However since 1945 conflict is won by legitimate causes over superior military strength.  Defeat on the battle is irrelevant.  Apparently there is an Afghani saying, You have the watches, we have the time.

While conflict continues in the Middle East, climate change, water shortages, and rising sea levels to which low-lying urban populations in the region are vulnerable cannot be addressed.

The conflict in the Middle East is exceptionally complex: it’s us versus them, and both sides can be internal to groups, or external.  It intervention from outside: colonial powers, the United States, and for a while, the Soviets.  It’s regional tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran, representing the opposing poles of Sunni and Shia sects.  It’s the rise of non-state agencies who can out-govern formal state structures: the Islamic State, the Kurds.

People prefer one hundred years of tyranny to a single year of chaos.

It’s a Life of Brian moment: “What have the Romans ever done for us?”…

In Israel more needs to be done to engage diplomatically, to seek a sustainable and just peace for the equality of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples.  In the Syrian war Iran is a stake-holder in the diplomatic process, a political actor with real grievances.  Military intervention is no longer a rational option, self-determination is the most viable option.