After many years, I came back to Italy during the summer. As many of you may have noticed, I have been on holiday even from my blog. Yet today I have decided to make an exception and comment on a debate that for three days (from 13th of August to the 15th) has made the headlines. The Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, has unceremoniously broken one of the main rules which have governed the last six years of the ‘War on Terror’: never speak to the bad guys, just isolate and, if you can, bomb them. My fellow citizen Machiavelli used to say that the end justifies the means.
Today, the failure of the War on Terror, the more real war in Iraq and the more than ever entangled Israeli-Palestinian conflict, seem to suggest that actually it has been the means that has justified the end, i.e. the total failure of the ‘the new order’ neo-conservative. The Italian Prime Minister, on the 13th of August, said ‘Hamas exists. We should help it to evolve. The situation of Hamas [which controls the Gaza Strip] is very complicated…we need to speak to everybody, and within this logic, it means to speak also to Hamas….we’ll never have peace until Palestinians are divided in two nations.’ Of course, floods of criticism welcomed Prodi’s suggestion. Israel criticised it as a ‘serious mistake’. Two days after the shock, and in some cases the indignation, the Italian Prime Minister has phoned Olmert and written a letter in which Prodi clarified that for an official political dialogue with Hamas, four points must be respected. If you can’t already guess them, here they are: 1) the cessation of any violence, 2) the acceptance of all agreements existing with Israel, 3) to recognize Israel as a legitimate state with an equally legitimate right to exist, 4) to restore the authority of Abu Mazen within Gaza.
In other words, the international requirements as have been known since Hamas won legally and democratically the elections. Yet the only answer that Hamas can give is ‘No, thank you’, since were Hamas to accept all four points, it would be nothing else than a religious copy of Fatah. So, we are where Prodi started: two Palestinian states, an increasingly less legitimated half Palestinian President, Gaza Strip hungry and suffocated by international sanctions, a West Bank suffocated by corruption and political intrigues.
Let me say immediately that I agree with Prodi. We can only make peace with our enemy. Today we want enemies that have to become friends before making the deal. As we can see, we are in serious trouble, unable to win wars, we have even lost the capacity of making peace. The reason is clear in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Israeli government has decided, despite the fact that the Brigade Al-Aqsa (the armed section of Fatah) are still attacking Israel, to take advantage of Abu Mazen’s weakness and to reach a deal, at least for the much colonised West Bank, divided by a new ‘great wall’ and easy to reoccupy if needed. For Abu Mazen, it would be extremely difficult to resist the temptation of the unspoken Israeli offer to help retake the Gaza Strip. Israel is also understanding that it may be better to have a friendly, better if smiling, dictator as neighbour, than an unpredictable, though noble, democracy.
This is an old dilemma, but we know, from the political history of the US, that democracies, when they have some interest in a region, do not spawn democracies, but rather prefer friendly dictatorship. I can even read Bush’s failure in Iraq as the fact that he really believed to develop a pro-American democracy in Iraq. He was wrong. For what he wanted to achieve, he needed only to substitute Saddam with a much friendlier, maybe Musharraf-style, dictator. However, if we believe in democracy and in the democratization of the Middle East, we should be ready to accept whatever the democratic process produces.
I have the impression (but I will leave this point to another post) that it is not that the Middle East is not ready for democracy, but rather that the US and the European mainstream countries are not ready to accept that a democratic Middle East will be inevitably a very unfriendly one. France, which interfered with 1990s Algerian elections, understood it and supported the dictatorships, contributing to the inevitable civil war. I think that the Italian Prime Minister may have understood two important things that other politicians have not, or may not want to.
Firstly, the isolation or even the dissembling of Hamas can provide new forces to terrorist franchises like Al-Qaeda. Finally, if Hamas, which has won the election but with it also the international isolation, is not included within the dialogue for a future Palestine, the only option left is an undemocratic, banana-republic, Palestinian State. “What is wrong with it?” Somebody can ask. Well, these kind of 1970s political operations have gifted us with the bin-Ladens, the Khomeinis, the Saddams, and the Ahmedinezhads, just to limit the list to a few in the Middle East.