Both Lebanon and the Palestinian territories are in crisis.
Superficially, their respective problems appear very different, but, in fact,
they are similar in more ways than one. The troubles of both Arab nations in
large part stem from divisions deliberately engendered by major powers for
their own ends.
Divisions in Lebanon have virtually paralyzed the country.
The government is rudderless, disunited and, according to the opposition,
unconstitutional due to the Shiite bloc�s walkout. It cannot even agree on who
should fill the void left when Emile Lahoud moved out of the presidential
palace last November. The Hariri coalition insists the army chief, Gen. Michel
Suleiman, should be president. Hezbollah is rooting for the Free Patriotic
Party�s Michel Aoun, who accuses the US of blocking his candidacy. Stalemate!
Laws needing to be passed are left pending while the economy totters. Rampant
inflation has triggered strikes and violent demonstrations. The capital�s
beating heart, Downtown, has been taken over by opposition protesters complete
with tents and primus stoves. Tourism, once a money spinner, is practically
nonexistent. Donor countries that pledged huge sums in aid to Lebanon at last
January�s Paris conference are reluctant to cough up due to the unstable
The pro-Western March 14 coalition, led by Saad Hariri and
Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, blame Hezbollah and its foreign backers for the
country�s woes. Conversely, Hezbollah accuses March 14 leaders of being
Washington�s puppets. Stalemate!
It�s a similar story with the Palestinians, who, unlike the
Lebanese, were united against a common enemy until the death of their former
president, Yasser Arafat, in 2004.
Nobody can say he was faultless but he was the glue that
kept Palestinians together, perhaps because his patriotism and his credentials
as a freedom fighter were never in question. Arafat had, albeit reluctantly,
anointed Mahmoud Abbas as his successor and to the latter�s credit he managed a
reasonably seamless succession.
Then, in 2005, along came the so-called international
community that takes its marching orders from the US. Palestinians must have
free, fair and internationally monitored elections, said the Westerners.
The Palestinians enthusiastically fell into line and the
result was a massive parliamentary victory for Hamas. Well done on your fair
and free elections was the international community�s verdict with the caveat
�Sorry, we can�t accept the result. Hamas is, after all, a terrorist
organization.� Worse, it then orchestrated a deliberate campaign to bring down
Hamas based on bringing the Palestinian people to their knees. It backed the
losing side, Fatah, and encouraged its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to confront Hamas
in a power struggle with devastating results in terms of division and
The labeling of Hezbollah and Hamas as �terrorist� by
Washington and its allies is the crux of the problem in both Lebanon and the
Palestinian territories. Both are groups that emerged in answer to Israel�s
respective occupation of Palestine and southern Lebanon. Both are committed to
freeing their lands from occupation.
Furthermore, both Hezbollah and Hamas boast large followings
and cannot be written off as inconsequential splinter organizations. So when
they are treated as terrorist, so are their followers, who make up a large
percentage of Lebanese and Palestinian populations.
Such Western-imposed labeling stands as a barrier to unity
governments in Lebanon and Palestine, and pits one side against the other
without providing any channels for dialogue. In both countries under
discussion, the side that is backed by the US is either forbidden from
accepting olive branches from the other or decline to do so for fear they will
be internationally tarred with the same brush. Stalemate!
Political and economic inertia in Lebanon, and the
separation of the West Bank, governed by Fatah, from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip
plays right into the hands of Israel. As long as the Lebanese and the
Palestinians are busy warring against one another, they remain perpetually weak
Certainly keeping Palestinians divided is in Israel�s
interests because it can shore up international good will with gestures toward
the creation of a Palestinian state and, at the same time, bemoan the fact it
doesn�t have a credible peace partner. There also remains the possibility that
Israel is following another agenda: the creation of a non-threatening mini
Palestinian entity on the West Bank with Gaza left to fend for itself or turned
over to Egypt.
There will be no light at the end of the tunnel for either
the Lebanese or the Palestinians unless they can free themselves from foreign
interference and bury their differences. Ideally, they need leaders in the mold
of Nelson Mandela able to inspire all factions and persuade them to adopt a
policy of forgiveness and reconciliation. If not, the crack between the secular
progressives and the religious ideologues will widen until it becomes an
eternally impassable chasm.
When will people in this region learn that those lurking
foreign powers are out to further their own agendas? They care not one jot for
the well-being of either the Lebanese or the Palestinians. Theirs is a deceptive
and deadly dance of power with the soil of Lebanon and Palestine their chosen
They tease the audience with their cash and weapons. Like
sirens they sing out unattainable promises of freedom and democracy or of
helping to eradicate an enemy. Their smiles are as empty as their hearts, while
under their elaborate cloaks hides a sword. In truth, they are the enemy and
the only hope for the peoples of Lebanon and Palestine is to quit internal
squabbling and unite against them . . . all of them.
The strategy of divide and rule, perfected by the British,
is one of the oldest known to mankind. It�s time Lebanese and Palestinians
recognize they are currently its victims before it�s too late to turn back the
bloody tide of hatred and despair.
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.