In my last piece I mentioned Mark Perry, someone who co-directs Conflicts Forum, an organization of former diplomats and foreign service professionals that has been talking with groups like Hezbollah and Hamas to, in their words, "increase understanding between western policymakers and leaders of political Islam," working by principle of increased "understanding between western policymakers and the leaders of political Islam through a series of dialogues and exercises of 'mutual listening.'"
It's a powerful mandate, though honestly, it seems to me that until it expands the dialogue to include the actual neighbors of Hezbollah and Hamas, specifically Zionist Israelis, Conflicts Forum will be suspect among many folks genuinely committed to co-existence in the region as well as the world.
Just as the Israeli political establishment wasted years trying to deny a Palestinian people even existed, groups like Hamas and Hezbollah (as well as their supporters) seem to be doing the same today. At a time when fve minutes, nevermind years, are too painfully precious to waste.
Regardless, Perry is no naive idealist. Indeed, he and his co-director, Alastair Crooke, have an awful lot of experience in this area. They are also substantial thinkers. Read the link Mark Perry offered me below. Their reflections are thought provoking.
As mentioned above, while I think they're doing something worthwhile, my hesitance in mailing in a check to support them (so to speak) is that I don't yet understand where a Zionist Israel fits into the maps Conflicts Forum is trying to explore in emergence.
Nevertheless, Perry is a generous man, writing back quickly and taking the time to actually read what I'd sent him. I hope someday he allows That's Capital to interview him, specifically to explore what he senses are the economic infrastructure possibilities Hamas and Hezbollah might be considering in their desire to remake their region. But more I hope Conflicts Forum, in its creation of "mutual listening" manages to bring some mainstream Zionists to the same table.
In the meantime, below are his thoughts. One final comment. In my own post, I criticized media narratives that seem less like analysis and more like rabble rousing. I should have included Bernard-Henri Levy's NYTimes article about Israel at war last weekend.
Though Levy's book on the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl was, for much of it, rivetting, in Sunday's piece the French Jewish essayist committed every pathetic instinct that his anti-Israel enemies too often indulge. Namely romanticizing their heroes.
Describing Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Levi writes "I have never seen... a defense minister answering so exactly to the famous saying by Malraux about those miraculous commanders who 'wage war without loving it' and who, for this very reason, always end up winning."
You could imagine a sophisticated publicist writing similar sentiments about Hezbollah military chiefs operating in bunkers from Beirut. It's not just overwrought. Rather it's intelligence in the service of pandering, the type of dubious lionization that too many fans of the Palestinians have done "for the cause," the type of exploitive cheering that more often serve the outsider's own angels or demons more than any of the players actually impacted by those causes.
Anyway, here's Hezbollah in Perry's words, which I don't find overwrought, even if he still hasn't convinced me that peace between them and Israelis is possible.
FROM MARK PERRY
Thanks for your email and your questions. I have been quite consistent in my view that the US, and particularly the Bush Administration, has regularly misconceived the political spectrum in the Middle East. They continue to talk of empowering moderates -- but by this they mean pro-US forces that are largely secular, that have no legitimacy in the region. These forces are secular and Westernized and willing to make peace with Israel. This latter is a requirement put forward by the Bush Administration as a litmus test of moderation.
By conflating and failing to differentiate among political movements, the Bush Administration has placed the five truly moderate movements in the region -- Hizb a-tuira, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood and Pakistan's Jamaat e-Islami -- in the same category as al-Qaeda. This is wrong-headed, superficial, potentially fatal to our political efforts in the region and designed to undermine our promotion of democracy. Jamaat e-Islami is the largest political party in Pakistan and promotes democracy, the Muslim Brotherhood would have swept the elections in Egypt had it not been for the "moderate" forces of Hosni Mubarak (who regularly tortures his opponents) Hamas won the elections in the Palestinian Authority (we immediately initiated a program to starve them out of office -- which will fail) and Hezbollah which stood for and won parliamentary seats in Lebanon.
In each case we have opposed these movements -- though the evidence is clear that al-Qaeda and other takfiri groups hate them and have told them that the US and its allies will never let them participate in reshaping the region. Al-Qaeda has even called for the assassination of the leaders of these groups because they have followed "the colonialist-Zionist program" of democratization. Yet, we continue to treat them all alike. It is as if we viewed socialist parties in Europe in 1950 as the same as the communists of Moscow. That would have been fatal to our efforts to hold Europe.
Hezbollah leaders have made it clear that they do not like Israel, they view Israel as a threat (they seem to be right on that score, wouldn't you think), but that they would be willing to live peaceably with Israel if, and only if, the Palestinian issue could be resolved. They have said this again and again. Proxies for Iran? There is no doubt that Hezbollah is a strategic ally of Iran, but it is a mistake to believe that the Hezbollah leadership takes orders from Iran. It is simply not true -- and akin to my own generation's mistake of assuming that Ho Chi Minh took orders from Moscow. It is an over-simplification, matched on the Arab side by assuming that the US ordered Israel's attack on Lebanon.
To get a fuller understanding you may wish to read this:
August 11th 2006