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MANILA, Nov 2 2010 (IPS) - For more than half a century, the gushing wound of Palestine has assaulted the global conscience, continuously reminding people everywhere of the imperial atrocities of Israel and the US in the Middle East and other areas.

However, we are yet to see a just resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In this moment of reflection and gathering, the question is who bears responsibility for such a protracted humanitarian tragedy if not the “Empire”.

In the last 200 years, French and British colonizers subdivided the region into separate spheres of influence. In the early 20th century, the British laid the foundation for the rise of a “Zionist” exclusionary state, with active French military assistance and partnership. The birth of the colonial settler state of Israel in 1948, though under the auspices of the United Nations, was masterminded by the US. Israel’s blatant land grabs during the Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973 could not have been carried out without the unconditional support of the US.

Most deserving of condemnation is the impunity with which Israel conducts its vicious military operations in Palestine, thanks to the blind, unwavering, and unconditional support of the US. It is precisely this culture of impunity that results in the reckless pounding of Palestinian homes and the massacre of innocent individuals in Lebanon, West Bank, and Gaza. The imperial hypocrisy involved is despicable. How can the ‘mighty’ and ‘benevolent’ America speak of ‘democratizing’ the Middle East – through its invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq -when it turns a blind-eye to crimes against humanity perpetrated by its regional ideological ally, Israel?

In his famous Cairo speech, President Barack Obama promised a new era in US relations with the Islamic world. In fairness to him, Obama is among the few recent American presidents to have focused on the peace process right off the bat, signalling a more constructive vision for the region. However, Obama’s eloquence is yet to translate into a substantive change in the perennial, unexamined support for Israel. The White House has failed to exert effective and sustained diplomatic pressure on the hardliners — Netanyahu, Lieberman and his acolytes- who have captured the Israeli state apparatus.

However, our hopes for a freer and more just world should be anchored in a propitious development: the imperial decline of an enfeebled arrogant America. The global financial crisis has exposed the weak foundations of the real US economy.

In the context of the Middle East, what we are witnessing today is not only the gradual decline of American power, but also the increasing isolation of Israel. The rise of anti-Israeli hardliners in Iran, growing discontent on the so-called “Arab street” with their subservient governments, and the emergence of a more ‘assertive’ Turkey are fundamentally altering the balance of power in the Middle East. America’s decline is creating a huge regional political vacuum, which is being increasingly filled by regional powers -mainly Iran, Turkey, and even Qatar- though some, like India, have used their increasingly important global profile to shore up US influence in the region.

The deepening crisis in occupied Palestine, instability in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the proliferation of piracy and terrorism across the region have encouraged local powers to step in and resolve conflicts on their own more nuanced, farsighted, and hopefully more constructive terms. What these regional powers understand is that while the US can leave whenever the going gets tough -as in the Vietnam War- they will be left to clean up America’s mess. Thus the local powers’ consideration of building a more constructive security and conflict-resolution framework to bring about stability and a just peace in the region.

Ironically, while America preaches democracy and human rights in Iraq and Afghanistan, or in Iran, it says little about gross human rights violations in allied Arab autocracies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It is precisely such hypocrisy that has frustrated growing numbers of young Arabs, and even the educated middle class, and radicalized them against the US. Although the Arab autocrats seem to be reluctant to confront Israel on the issue of Palestine, the ‘Arab Street’ is neither pacified nor indifferent.

While the Arab states remained submissive toward Israel, the emergence of a new player, Hezbollah in Lebanon, gave hope, inflicting two military defeats on Israel, in 1992, which it forced to withdraw from Lebanon, and in the summer of 2006, when it defeated the invading Israeli Defense Force. This did much to revive Arab pride and demonstrate to Israel that the military equation is changing and the only hope for Israel’s survival in the end lies in a just, negotiated solution to the Palestine issue.

At the end of the day, the twilight of the empire, the growing isolation of Israel, the rise of Iran and Turkey, the growing radicalization of the Arab peoples, and the rise of new actors like Hezbollah and Hamas will contribute to moving the region toward a just and viable and long-term solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Nonetheless, unless President Obama begins to discipline the hardliners in Israel, a just and peaceful solution is highly improbable. This is Obama’s chance to prove that his eloquence is not just hot air but instead reflects a genuine commitment to bring about a just and lasting peace in the region. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Walden Bello is a member of the House of Representatives of Philippines representing Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party and senior analyst of Focus on the Global South; Richard Heydarian, is a political scientist and expert on Middle Eastern affairs.

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