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Opinion

Who’s writing the script in the Middle East?

If we could write the script for the events unfolding in the Middle East, peaceful demonstrators would overwhelm the dictators, who would quickly agree to democratic transitions without bloodshed.

The newly liberated countries would proclaim, with universal approval, a future of tolerance, peace and friendship at home, among people of different tribes, religions and beliefs, at home as well as abroad, with all their neighbors. Extremists of all stripes would recognize the error of their ways; militants would lay down their arms, and all would join the march to freedom.

A newly democratized Middle East, soaked to its core with the inebriating juices of victorious nonviolence, would become a zone of peace and prosperity. All disputes would end with friendly negotiations. Sunnis and Shiites, Israelis and Palestinians, Christians and Muslims, Arabs and Kurds, all would swiftly disentangle their disagreements.

In this imaginary script, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas would pick up the phone and call Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “It’s time to make a deal,” he would say, agreeing at last to return to peace talks. “I was expecting your call,” Netanyahu, would reply, as both leaders, grasping the significance of the moment, embraced the promising new future.

Understanding Abbas’ worry that his people too might demand an end to his rule, and knowing he had refused to talk to Israel unless all settlement construction stopped, Netanyahu would tell him he was ready to confront his coalition on settlements. Both leaders would find strong reasons pushing them towards an agreement.

Abbas, seeing other Arab regimes under pressure, would decide he urgently needed to show his people a major accomplishment. He would also see that the people of Egypt, Tunisia, and other Arab countries, now busy rebuilding, had little time to worry about the problems of Palestinians. Netanyahu, in a transformed Middle East, would position Israel at the forefront of the new peaceful and tolerant Arab century, clasping extended hands from the neighbors, and freeing up Israeli brigades in case any of those neighbors’ hands suddenly turned to fists.

Watching the fast-moving agreement, Hamas, the Islamist rulers of Gaza, would announce they had given up their wish to destroy Israel.

By then, of course, the people of Iran would have also broken their chains. Without support from the regimes in Syria and Iran, and with democracy flourishing, Hamas’ extremism would have started wilting. In a newly tranquil Lebanon, Hezbollah, too, would have turned into a normal political party, not a paramilitary organization stoked by anti-Jewish venom.

The rosy scenes come to mind looking at other promising revolutions. In 1917, not long after the people toppled the czar in Russia, Theodore Roosevelt sent a note offering his congratulations “to the men who have led the Russian people in this great movement of democratic freedom.” It was not to be.

In 1989, however, victory over tyranny did bring freedom, peace and prosperity to Eastern Europe.

We fervently hope that, at the very least, important elements of the idealized script will come true. But already much has not.

The comically flamboyant, but very seriously brutal, Moammar Gadhafi has slapped awake anyone who was still dreaming, caring nothing about shedding “rivers of blood” from his own people.

Rockets have started raining into Israel from Gaza. Peace seems no closer with Palestinians, and the peace that existed across the Israel-Egypt border seems less secure.

There is no sign of the Abbas-Netanyahu conversation. Instead of agreeing to talk, Palestinians now turn to the United Nations to isolate Israel. And there is no sign that changes in the neighborhood are easing Israeli nervousness or slowing settlement construction. Instead, the instability around them is causing more worries among Israelis. Netanyahu maintains his call for face-to-face talks with Palestinians, but positions on both sides, stagnated since before the uprising started, seem locked in place.

The inspiring people at the forefront of this revolution hope for a scenario of democracy, peace and coexistence. But not all their elders share their views. One of the most prominent clerics in the Muslim world, the Egyptian Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has given religious approval to murdering Israeli children, returned to Cairo and spoke to massive crowds, urging them to “conquer” al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem ― not through negotiations. While protest organizers want efforts focused on building a new Egypt, some, including respected reformers, already vow to reconsider peace with Israel.

Those who would write a script of freedom and peace are working to make their idealistic narrative come true, but many others are already following an entirely different storyline, hoping for a sharply different ending.

Frida Ghitis writes about global affairs for the Miami Herald. Readers may send her e-mail at fjghitis@gmail.com ― Ed.

By Frida Ghitis

(McClatchy-Tribune Information Services)

(McClatchy Newspapers)
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