The Arab World’s Political Dilemma: Between Islamic “Resistance” and the Western State System

, January 18, 2007

Vol. 6, No. 17      January 18, 2007

  • What type of political system does the Arab world want to have? Normal statehood, or a belligerent “resistance” in which the state is only a platform to provide infrastructure and services to the “resistance.”
  • What should the Palestinian Authority become? A platform for future intifadas against Israel, or an infrastructure for advancing the Palestinians toward a normal life. This is an inter-Arab decision, and neither Israel nor the international community can make this decision for the Arabs.
  • There are currently three active “resistances” in the Arab world: the Iraqi “resistance,” Hizballah, and the Palestinian “resistance.” If successful, they may serve as the model all across the Arab world. If they fail, this may help to advance the alternative model of normality and push back the Iranian drive. The model of “resistance” is a major tool for Iran to dissolve the Sunni governments.
  • Hizballah leader Nasrallah made it clear that Israeli withdrawal from the Shab’a Farms will not end the “resistance,” noting the case of seven former Shiite villages inside Israel. He also made it clear that Hizballah will dismantle its weapons only after it takes over Lebanon and becomes its formal army.
  • It is of prime importance that Arabs deal with the problem of militias, and not Israel or Western Christian powers. Sending Christian armies to Lebanon was a mistake, as it has delayed the time of resolution of the question of statehood versus resistance in Lebanon.
  • Any exchange of prisoners with the PA will be credited to Hamas and the “resistance,” and deliver another blow to the model of a “normal” state. When the issue of exchange of prisoners comes on the agenda, Israel must be careful not to release militia leaders who might bolster the model of a “resistance” state in the PA rather than the model of a “normal” state.

 

What Type of Political System Do Arabs Want?

The war in Lebanon, instigated by the Hizballah terrorist militia, brought the Arab world face-to-face with an existential dilemma. What type of political system do they want to have? Normal statehood, or a belligerent “resistance” (muqawama) in which the state is only a platform to provide infrastructure and services to the “resistance.”

This has been exactly the Palestinian dilemma since the Oslo agreements. What should the Palestinian Authority become? A platform for future intifadas against Israel, or an infrastructure for advancing the Palestinians toward a normal life. This is an inter-Arab decision, and neither Israel nor the international community can make this decision for the Arabs.

The Lebanon war ended with a UN decision that does not impose a model of normal statehood on Lebanon. The UN did not outlaw the model of “resistance” represented by Hizballah, and rather than encouraging the normal Arab states to take responsibly in their region, the task was largely given to Christian countries instead.

 

“Resistance” = “Jihad

There are currently three active “resistances” in the Arab world: the Iraqi “resistance,” Hizballah, and the Palestinian “resistance.” If successful, they may serve as the model all across the Arab world. If they fail, this may help to advance the alternative model of normality and push back the Iranian drive. Although they operate in different arenas, their websites contain a joint vocabulary that reflects a shared set of values and state of mind, which hints of some degree of cooperation. Even a quick reading of “resistance” websites reveals that “resistance” and “jihad” are actually synonyms.

While Syria and Iran are the main instigators of “resistance,” they do not permit any “resistance” whatsoever on their soil. Syria hosts “resistance” headquarters that operate in all three arenas, jealously guarding its own appearance as a “normal” state while encouraging “resistances” in other domains.

The “resistance” model is a tool in the hands of Shiite Iran to dissolve normal Sunni societies and regimes. There is no way around a direct confrontation between the normal governments and the “resistances” in order to prevent Iran from dismantling the Sunni fabric.

Some may claim that once they achieve their goals, the “resistances” will dismantle and give way to the model of “normal statehood,” but recent developments prove that “occupation” is only an excuse. Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza did not lead to any cessation in hostilities by the “resistances.” To the contrary, the aim of liberation from “occupation” changed to the aim of wiping Israel off the map. Hizballah leader Nasrallah made it clear that Israeli withdrawal from the Shab’a Farms will not end the “resistance,” noting the case of seven former Shiite villages inside Israel. He also made it clear that Hizballah will dismantle its weapons only after it takes over Lebanon and becomes its formal army.

 

Sending Christian Armies Was a Mistake

What can Israel and the international community do? First and foremost, they should calculate their steps in ways that will dismantle militias and empower central governments. It will be the business of every central government to spread its authority over militias and dismantle them. It is of prime importance that Arabs deal with the problem of militias, and not Israel or Western Christian powers.

Sending Christian armies was a mistake, as it has delayed the time of resolution of the question of “statehood” versus “resistance” in Lebanon. UN Resolution 1701 may mean that Hizballah may preserve its medium- and long-range missiles north of the Litani River. Furthermore, it may insert new impetus to an anti-occupation “resistance,” one that develops into anti-Christian jihadism, al-Qaeda style.

 

Confront the “Resistance” and Bolster Central Governments

Instead of confronting the “resistance,” a trend has developed among the Europeans to “bolster” Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas against Hizballah and Hamas through Israeli concessions. In Lebanon, this comes in the demand that Israel withdraw from the Shab’a Farms, and in the PA through demands to release prisoners. Linking anything to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or to the Shab’a Farms will only bolster the “resistance” model.

In Lebanon it is difficult to understand how yielding to Nasrallah’s demands will bolster Siniora. To the contrary, this will grant final recognition to Hizballah’s victory in the war. The same is true regarding the PA. Any exchange of prisoners will be credited to Hamas and the “resistance,” and deliver another blow to the model of a “normal” state. When the issue of exchange of prisoners comes on the agenda, Israel must be careful not to release militia leaders who might bolster the model of a “resistance” state in the PA rather than the model of a “normal” state.

As the issue of reconstructing Lebanon is under consideration, it is of primary importance to block any channeling of Iranian money to Hizballah, and to channel all reconstruction money exclusively through the central government. Hizballah’s Nasrallah has promised that he will be the one who will take care of the reconstruction. This should be denied to him by all means.

The same policy should be implemented in the Palestinian arena. A central anti-militia government should be empowered, helped by Arab governments. Ideas formerly rejected by Israel like dispatching the Badr forces to the West Bank should be re-examined. The Badr forces are Palestinian units trained by Jordan but remaining under Jordanian command. The role of those forces should be the eradication of the militia system and paving the way for the establishment of an ordinary state in the PA territories, one that will develop toward “normality” and reject the idea of “resistance.”

Decisions taken now may decide whether we are moving toward a long-term period of stability bolstered by strong Arab central governments, or experiencing another shaky cease-fire with “resistance” governments preparing for the next round of violence.

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Pinhas Inbari is a veteran Palestinian affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper, and currently reports for several foreign media outlets. He is the author of a number of books on the Palestinians including The Palestinians: Between Terror and Statehood.

Pinhas Inbari

Pinhas Inbari is a veteran Arab affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper, and currently serves as an analyst for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.