An arrogant state and a stateless people
There are some strong arguments Muslehuddin Ahmad puts across in this extraordinary analytical study of the Palestine issue. You would have thought the Middle East was an area where only its nation-states and the western powers would take interest. Ahmad puts holes through those thoughts, assuming of course that you had any such. As one who has served Bangladesh with distinction abroad in various diplomatic positions in various capitals, he brings to his work, indeed to his worldview, a degree of sophistication that ought always to be the underpinning of modern diplomacy. Just how involved Ahmad remains in foreign affairs comes reflected in this work, fundamentally his ruminations on the state of Israel and the extent to which it has gone in upsetting the normal order of things on the global scale.
The book is a composite collection of essays, largely published over a period of time in the Daily Star, aimed at drawing public attention to the myriad issues which have laid the Middle East waste, politically as also diplomatically, in the years since the Balfour Declaration came to pass in 1917. The writer gives you food for thought, through constant and insistent references to history as well as the religious background against which the Middle East has operated for aeons together. Take the matter of terrorism, which today most power players in the West are inclined to think is a particular invention of the Palestinians and by extension Islamic extremists. Ahmad takes you back, in no uncertain terms, to the terror that men like the young Menachem Begin unleashed in the late 1940s through bombing the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. The group of fanatics that Begin led was the Irgun, a point noted by US President Harry Truman in his memoirs. 'Only a few days before,' says Truman, 'Jewish terrorists had blown up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem with considerable loss of lives.' Note that Truman is particular in his assessment of the situation. He refers not to Zionism but describes the bombers as Jewish extremists in Palestine who 'were continuing their terrorist activities.'
Muslehuddin Ahmad builds up his case methodically. Religion, in that particular historical sense, naturally comes into the narrative. Refuting the Zionist argument of Palestine being the Promised Land for Jews as ordained by divinity, he remarks with decisiveness that never in the history of the world has there ever been any instance of God promising a piece of land exclusively to any religious or ethnic group. That is how he demolishes the argument that men like David Ben Gurion and Theodore Herzl, in the past, and their acolytes after them, have peddled over the years. And those who have mattered in Israel since May 1948 have held on to that misleading notion, the repercussions of which one comes by in the continuing tussle over Jerusalem. The city, home to Judaism, Christianity and Islam for centuries, was occupied whole by the Israeli army in the June 1967 Six-Day War. For the past many years, the Israelis have regarded it as their capital and have been dismissive about any suggestion that it be restored to its pre-1967 status, namely, an Arab east Jerusalem and a Jewish west Jerusalem. Ahmad is appalled, as millions around the world are, by the systematic and focused way in which the state of Israel has gone about changing the demographic features of the city. This it has tried doing through encouraging increasing numbers of Jewish settlers to live in the city while at the same time stealthily pursuing a policy aimed at driving its Arab inhabitants out of it.
For all his documentation of facts, though, Ahmad remains a realist. Diplomacy is, in any case, a calling where a refusal to accept reality can only result in disaster. Ahmad agrees that there is no alternative to accepting Israel's existence as a state. But such an acceptance rests on the degree to which Israel and its leadership are willing to heed global opinion. In 1967, a few months after the Six-Day War, the United Nations passed Resolution 242 calling for Israel to step back to the frontiers existing before the outbreak of the conflict. Tel Aviv (and that was the Israeli capital at the time) paid no heed. Of course, over the years and beginning with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's ground-breaking trip to Israel in November 1977, Israel has moved away from such areas as the Sinai as part of bilateral deals with Egypt and Jordan. But the rapprochement was not enough to cause any positive change where the status of the Palestinians is concerned, despite the deal, eventually fractured, brokered by Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Ahmad makes the point that while a two-state structure would be a feasible solution, it must come with some important points attached. And the most important one is a total withdrawal of the Israel state from the West Bank as also a giving up of the eastern half of Jerusalem it occupied in 1967.
Muslehuddin Ahmad goes on dismantling one Israeli argument after another. The Israeli point of view that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people is, he believes, bunkum for not till recently was this demand made by the Israeli leadership. Ahmad goes on to inform his readers that morality is not what the state of Israel can apply in its religious claim for all of Palestine. He serves the reminder that Palestine has been in existence, in both the literal and figurative sense, for thousands of years. But the writer makes it clear, through the modalities he employs in his presentation, that he is unwilling to link the Jewish people, who have suffered through the centuries, to the Zionism its founding fathers adopted as the guiding ideology behind the creation of the Israeli state. His forays into history make the point clear. There is a sweeping survey of history as Muslehuddin observes how men and women have embraced the Jewish faith in places as diverse as China, Ethiopia and the Caucasus.
There is then the bottom line: Israel, for all the pomposity and arrogance of its successive streams of leadership, is in dire need of peace and within secure borders. The siege mentality it has lived through since its creation in 1948 can only lift if it returns, fully and unequivocally, to the borders existing before June 1967. For Ahmad, that is realpolitik, not Israel's defiance of the world.
The argument over Palestine goes on and will go on. Muslehuddin Ahmad knows it. Like so many others, he believes Israel's intransigence has rendered complex an issue that ought to have been resolved ages ago. The problem, therefore, remains intractable.