Lakhdar Brahimi, a leading United Nations troubleshooter in the Middle East, who also presided over the Bonn conference in 2001 that created the post-Taliban government of Afghanistan, is a former Algerian foreign minister who has tracked the growth of Islamic militancy across North Africa and in the wider Muslim world. In an interview with The Nation, Brahimi talks about the potentially dangerous fallout in the Mideast and beyond of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, and the burden it puts on president-elect Obama as he tries to improve the image of the United States.
Why have the Israelis done this now?
What I’m hearing and reading is that it must have a lot to do with the forthcoming election, and that the people who are in not doing so well in the polls. They want to improve their ratings once again at the expense of the people of Palestine. That may be one reason. But whatever the reason, this is going to make things much worse, not only for the Palestinian people, but also I think for the whole region.
And this is not going to make things easier for the next [American] administration to deal with the problems of this very, very sensitive region–not only Palestine itself but a host of other problems, from Iraq to Afghanistan.
It has been suggested that the Israelis are showing their muscle to compensate for their disaster in attacking Hezbollah in Lebanon.
That is quite possible, too. But it is so terribly sad that whenever you have a problem, then you just punch the Palestinians and you think you can solve some problem. Because you didn’t do well against the Lebanese two years ago, well why don’t we do much better against the Palestinians. This is a reminder of the invasion of Iraq–that we’ve been attacked by a group of Muslims, so let’s attack a Muslim country, even if we know perfectly well that the given country had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attack.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Egyptians and others simply cannot sit by and watch this assault on Gaza go on, can they?
I’m afraid they are. This is at the very least a terrible embarrassment for Mahmoud Abbas, who has put all his money on working with the Israeli establishment, and also with the American administration, believing–as I suppose he has–in the promises that some kind of solution will take place, or at least some improvement in the condition of the Palestinians. But he has absolutely nothing to show for his line of policy.
I think the Arab governments that supported him must share in his embarrassment. And once again the so-called militants, the resistance, those who people call extremists, will be in a position to say once again, We told you so; we told you that your belief in the magnanimity of the Israelis, your belief in the promises of the American administration–that there will be a two-state solution before the end of this year–was naïve at best and irresponsible, probably, at worst.
What will happen in the West Bank as the result of the assault on Gaza?
If the past is anything to go by, these kind of total attacks that do so much harm to civilians generally reinforce the so-called extremists, not the moderates. I think it was said in Ha’aretz that no military action has reinforced the moderates in the history of Israel. One has to suppose that in this particular case Hamas will come out politically reinforced, no matter how much they will lose militarily. That is true not only in Gaza but also in the West Bank.