Linked in their solutions

Whether the people of Palestine, Iraq or elsewhere like it or not, the perception in the region is that Iraq and Palestine are linked. Palestinians in general would prefer to say that their cause is different because they are rejecting an illegal occupation through a resistance that stands in harmony with international standards. But the fact that these two areas are at war and both are causes that enjoy great sympathy and popularity links the issues in the eyes of the region’s publics.

Ironically, it is supporters of Israel that are most avid in trying to create connections between these two tragic situations. Israel, as part and parcel of its attempts to identify with the United States, always attempts to give the impression that its fight with Palestinians is part of any disagreement that the United States has with just about anybody. For example, when the United States launched its war against terrorism, especially the front in Afghanistan immediately after the events of September 11, Israel exerted great efforts in telling the world that Palestine was also part of the same fight. Similarly, Israel does its best to identify with the United States and the war in Iraq.

But apart from aggressive attempts to shape the perception of events, the realities themselves and the images flowing from here and there are inviting public opinion in the region to find similarities. The images of heavily armed soldiers raiding homes, frightening civilians, conducting operations that end in heavy civilian casualties, the shelling of populated areas, declaration of curfew and so on all link the two conflicts.

On a deeper level of analysis, one observes other connections between the two arenas. The American vision of the future of the Middle East provides Israel with a major regional role and ultimately, hegemony. Such a vision can only materialize when the United States is able to meet certain goals in the region, including accomplishing what it set out to do in Iraq. The failure of the United States to achieve what it wants in Iraq will prevent the American administration from achieving its vision of the "new Middle East." One component of this regional overhaul is a major role for Israel, despite its continuing occupation, which seems certain to come at the expense of the basic rights and political positions of the Palestinian people.

On the other hand, there are significant differences in what is going on in the two fronts. The Palestinian problem is not a new issue and is not related to the immediate needs of the United States. It is a long-standing conflict with deep roots and religious and national dimensions. While the Iraqi conflict is fierce and carries heavy losses, it does not have the same complicated burdens of religion and history.

Having said that, perhaps the most significant similarity is that neither conflict will see significant progress as long as the parties follow the approach of resorting to force and physical power, rather than international legality. If international bodies such as the United Nations are given a chance to play a role in the solution, then we may see a decline in the suffering, and a return to the hope of constructive peace negotiations, and finally a return to security and peace.