Bad News in Pakistan; Hope in the Mideast


The most accurate metaphor for the ever-changing events in the volatile region of the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent is that they are as unsteady as the shifting sands in the deserts of those regions.

The secular year 2007 marks the 60th anniversary of the decisions to use political and ethnic/religious partition to resolve the situations in the British Mandate territory of Palestine, and the Crown Colony of India. On Nov. 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly, by a majority vote, approved the United Nations Partition Plan, dividing Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem designated as an “international city” under United Nations trusteeship. That same year, over the objections of former and future British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Great Britain decided to partition the Indian Subcontinent into two separate states: India, with a Hindu majority, and Pakistan with a Muslim majority.

In the case of Palestine, the Zionist-Jewish Agency leadership, under David Ben-Gurion and Dr. Chaim Weizmann, accepted the Partition Plan, which became the internationally legal basis for Ben-Gurion’s issuance of Israel’s Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948, at the formal end of the British Mandate over Palestine, which had been granted by the League of Nations after World War I. The Palestinian Arabs, meanwhile rejected the Partition Plan, insisting on an “all-or-nothing” control of all of the territory. Meanwhile on the Indian Subcontinent, Britain’s decision to grant independence to India and Pakistan did go forward; a bloody period followed in which over 15 million people crossed the borders between the two new nations, mostly along religious or ethnic lines.

Under the enlightened leadership of Mohandas Gandhi, India’s founding prime minister, India established what was to become the world’s largest democratic nation, even though Gandhi and future leaders were assassinated. Pakistan has not fared as well, often having to resort to military dictators to assure stability, such as its current President, General Pervez Musharraf, who is now being challenged for leadership by former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. In Israel and the Palestinian Authority, current Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas, have been meeting in preparation for the upcoming Middle East peace parlay called by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which is scheduled to take place in Annapolis, Maryland.

There is some positive news from the talks among Olmert, Abbas and their top aides, that both sides hope to resolve the issues regarding the creation of an independent Palestinian State before the end of President George W. Bush’s term of office. If most of the issues standing in the way of the realization of a two-state solution can be resolved in such a short period, it would be a most welcome and positive development. But history has painfully taught us not to let our hopes get too high in view of the pattern of extremists who resort to violence to prevent any peaceful development from leading to a permanent solution.

Last week, at the 2007 St. Louis Jewish Book Festival, attendees heard a compelling talk by Dennis Ross, the former chief Middle East peace negotiator for both former Presidents George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton. Ross said that at Camp David in July 2000, the two sides were “very close” to an agreement, but in the long run, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat could not transform himself from a revolutionary and violent symbol into a real statesman. If Arafat had been like Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first President, who negotiated black majority rule with F. W. de Clerk, there would have been a peace agreement.

The situation in Pakistan, meanwhile, has gone from bad to much worse with each passing hour. When former Prime Minister Bhutto first arrived in Karachi for what was to have been a triumphant return to leadership in a power-sharing deal with Musharraf, suicide bombs went off, killing 140 innocent men, women and children. Miraculously, Bhutto escaped injury, but Musharraf has imposed an “emergency decree,” and has twice placed Bhutto under house arrest. Musharraf has promised that elections will go forward in January, but it is hard to see how they will be fair if the emergency decree remains in effect, and prevents meaningful political campaigning and free press coverage.

Let us hope that law, order and calm can be restored in the highly dangerous nation of Pakistan, whose stability is essential in the war against Al Qaeda, and that the moderately encouraging steps toward agreement undertaken by Olmert and Abbas will truly move the process forward toward a meaningful and lasting peace agreement among Israel, the Palestinians and their neighbors.