Monday, February 9, 2009

Post Gaza round up



The financial crisis is possibly the most significant global event, and it doesn’t look like there will be a band-aid solution. According to the most optimistic estimates, this might be a 5 years recession. The Davos meeting produced nothing of note except for the Erdogan coup de theatre, which might improve his national ratings but probably not the Turkish economy.

Confidence and trust in the world of finance is at its lowest. “Confidence grows at the rate a coconut tree grows and falls at the rate a coconut falls”. This is how Montek Ahluwalia, an Indian policymaker, summed up the 2009 gathering of the World Economic Forum. As long as confidence is not restored, the crisis will continue to evolve. And as dumb as we might be, it is going to take a while before we forget the deeds of the Wall Street pirates.

As much as I love to see free market and capitalism fail, I cannot help fearing that the poor will end up paying the price. True, a few CEOs may get the axe, but they’ve made tons of money, and they have their stash and they will not fall into poverty. And while the workers of Europe are taking to the streets in what is a breath of hope in a possible change, it is far too early to declare the death of capitalism, or even of neo-liberalism; especially that the alternatives have not yet fully evolved, and are not tested and tried. Countries like Venezuela and Iran are mining their natural resources capital to finance a social system of sorts. And countries like Syria and Lebanon, who pride themselves for having avoided the global crash, can only do that because they do not have a real economy. Chindia and Latin America may eventually bear the brunt of the crisis because they are in the middle of their growth spurt. In any case, the amendments that are currently being developed aim at making the capitalist financial system more secure for the major players, and not at creating a more equitable system based on redistributive justice. In other words, global capitalism is drawing lessons on how to create a more resilient capitalist system.


The dynamics global food issues closely follow that of the global finances. Although food prices have decreased from last year’s spike, they are expected to remain high and therefore an increase in the number of those who are food insecure is to be expected. Meanwhile, the patterns of consumption of the rich and of the would-be-rich in the US, in Europe but also in parts of Chindia continue to evolve towards lower sustainability: more meat, more refined products.

Regardless of the reasons underlying the food crisis, which include biofuels, droughts, low agricultural productivity in Africa and speculations by traders, there appears to be two philosophies in addressing the food issue. One is to throw money at it, through raising large amounts of development aid, and funding the existing international research institutes and development agencies to come up with new technologies and spread them in Africa, where productivity gains can certainly be made. This increase in production will then form the basis of a lucrative global trade in commodities. This is what has been dubbed “The Second Green Revolution”, and it is championed by the governments of rich countries, the Bretton Woods institutions, the UN and multinational corporations.

The other approach is based on the premise that the problem is not technological, but political. According to its proponents, trade policies inherited from colonial times have destroyed the food security of communities in the developing world and disempowered small and medium farmers. Therefore, trade policies need to be corrected and countries and communities ought to regain sovereignty over their food. This will enable the rebuilding of local food systems and their sustainable evolution.

The Madrid high level conference brought together these two groups on 26-27 January . The food sovereignty militants were in the fringes, and the rich ran the debates, Davos style. Needless to say, they did not see eye to eye on anything, except the diagnosis of the problem. So we haven’t advanced very much. One must remember, however, that the WTO Doha round on agriculture has been derailed because of the joint efforts of the rich and the poor. Paradoxically, both the rich countries, headed by the US and the EU, and the food rights militants headed by pressure groups such as the IPC want the Doha Rounds dead: the rich because they want to retain their subsidies and the poor because they do not want a free trade agenda that applies only to them.

In all this, the Arab Countries are not players. They are net food importers and technologically retarded. The rich among them are looking towards buying colonies in Africa and South East Asia to produce their foods, forgetting that colonial powers were only able to retain their colonies because they had military power. The individual wealth of their rulers may be used to temporarily plug the holes of the financial system, but they are not playing any significant role. They do not control the price of their oil; it is the price of their oil that controls them. They are inert bodies bobbing in the turbulence.



The Israeli elections represent probably the most critical regional event. The Gaza massacre was one of the activities of the electoral campaign, even though it does not seem to have helped the Kadima party. Netanyahu will probably make it, in spite of the fact that both Likud and Kadima are closer than ever on all important issues. At the end of the day, it won’t make much difference. As someone put it, the murderers are fighting the fascists in the polls. The peace process is dead and buried, under the rubbles of Gaza.

The polls conducted during the Gaza massacres have shown overwhelming support by Israelis for the murders, in spite of the mounting international pressure. But one has to note that while pressure might have come from the international grassroots, from Nepal to Chile, the rulers of the world except for Venezuela and Bolivia have unanimously sided with Israel. The Israeli terrorist army was cheered by world leaders as it destroyed buildings over the families that inhabited them, using new age weaponry. As Bechir put it in this post, the Gaza massacre was the consecration of a new era in which the ruling world elite states can now commit any kind of crime in the name of their “security” and their “protection”. This is the natural outcome of the Afganistan and Iraq wars. Expect to see more of that, not least from Israel.


Regionally again, the Iranian nuclear empowerment will continue to occupy the minds of the rulers of the world. Obama appears to want to give it some time, maybe a year. He is too busy with the other dossiers at hand, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and of course the monstrous US economy. He can afford to do that, as Iran is still years away from an atomic bomb. Whoever gets elected in Israel will probably respect the double honeymoon of a new Israeli government and a new US president, but this does not mean that they will not put pressure on Iran via Syria and Lebanon. Something might be cooking.

Arab regimes are also absent from their own regional geo-politics.


Meanwhile in Lebanon, all are immersed in the upcoming elections. Sectarian agendas are intersecting with regional agendas: the “moderates” align with the US and Israeli vision for the region, and the “extremists” with the Iranian and Syrian plans. Of course, the moderates are pretty extreme in their moderation, and the extremists are quite nicely moderated by Iran and Syria. Each side is trying to strengthen their position, but there is really not much they can do. Lebanon will continue to be a failed state. This does not mean that one cannot die from a stray bullet or an inadvertent car bomb. All it means is that the sectarian parties fighting it in Lebanon today will not -cannot- bring the much longed for social justice. Unfortunately, these parties enjoy broad popular support, which they obtain through a combination of money and fear.

However, one must keep in mind that any agenda that intersects with the Israeli agenda must be opposed by any means. This is not only because Israel is racist entity established on land stolen from Palestinians, following their massacre and mass displacement. This is not only because Israel still occupies large parts of South Lebanon, including 7 villages from Jabal `Amel it has annexed in 1948. This is not only because Israel has repeatedly destroyed Lebanon and cold bloodedly killed and maimed thousands of civilians over the past 60 years. It is also because we have a moral and ethical duty to fight racism and discrimination and injustice wherever they exist. If our greater goal is social justice and equity, then this goal is incompatible with the existence of entities where racism, discrimination and injustice are institutionalized.

The struggle against Zionism takes many forms. Arab states have dismally failed in their attempts to oppose the 5th largest army of the world with conventional military means. Israel has consistently shown utter disrespect for any international convention, resolution or agreement, and its roguishness has been encouraged by its western protectors. The UN and the “International Community” clearly do not constitute effective platform to confront Israel. The Resistance has been able to advance the cause much more than all the Arab armies and diplomacies together. If it wasn’t for the operations of the PLO between 1963 and 1982 (with all the criticism one can have about these operations), the Palestinians would have met the same fate as the Native Americans, and would be parked in reservations throughout the Arab World. The Islamic Resistance in Lebanon has, in 2000 and again in 2006, shown that Israel could be defeated. Most recently, Hamas’s ability to withstand the blows without bowing made this small, ill equipped, disorganized group claim victory over its historical oppressors.

However, these “victories” are coming at great costs, and reflect the state of despair, hopelessness and powerlessness in which the Arabs, especially the Palestinians and the Lebanese are. What else can you call the fact that we feel victorious because not all of us have been killed?

The struggle

The Gaza massacre has created a wave of international popular outrage against Israel. There were demonstrations in most countries of the world and some are still taking place to this date. Internet communication has facilitated the organization and the linkages between activists in the whole world. However, one has to read the event very objectively.

There are few newcomers to these demonstrations. There are few new supporters. The power of the existing supporters from civil society, in the Arab World and worldwide is still very limited and their numbers are very small: we are talking of thousands when we need millions, tens of millions. The few who are committed are dispersed, atomized, and often in disagreement over core issues. In the Arab world, they are severely repressed and have to be acceptable to the State in order to demonstrate, which paralyzes their discourse. This is why, in spite of the great efforts made by civil society movements in the Arab World and elsewhere, and in spite of the tremendous facilities offered by web-based communications, I disagree with Sate` Noureddeene’s statement in this recent op-ed in Al Safir, in which he predicts that armed struggle will soon be replaced by civil society struggle, as desirable as this might be. In the wake of Gaza and considering the current dynamics of Israeli politics and the endless subservience of Arab leadership, it looks like armed struggle by highly trained and well armed guerilla groups will continue to be the Resistance’s approach to confronting Zionist aggression. As my friend K put it: "not until the Mossad starts assassinating civil society activist will I start to believe in the superiority of vigils and banner-waving over Grad rockets and kornet anti-tank missiles."

However, the Resistance needs political and financial support from at least one international pole. It cannot exist and operate in a political vacuum, or without money. This, of course, brings us back to the financial crisis and to regional geopolitics.

1 comment:

northshorewoman said...

thank you for this detailed overview. It is very helpful for someone like myself in the northwest of Canada who mines knowledge from the net. However, I do think that in pockets in North America there are more previously silent folks who are willing to step out of safe spaces and speak out on Israeli Zionism and racism. I do think that the differences between Judaism and Zionism, which is elided in much of North America, has been exposed to more people. I feel hopeful about that small gain; hopeful for Palestinian human rights, justice, and claims.