The Palestine Question in the New World Order

By Bahbah, Bishara A. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January 1991 | Go to article overview

The Palestine Question in the New World Order


Bahbah, Bishara A., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Day in and day out, we are witnessing the unfolding of a new world order. Inescapably, the Question of Palestine, an issue of international concern for more than four decades, will be directly affected. At first glance, it would appear that the changes in the world order are to the Palestinians' detriment. In reality, however, the new world order could prove to be a godsend that will benefit the Palestinians in the long run.

End of the Cold War and the Demise of the Soviet Empire

With the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet empire, the world is no longer divided into East and West politico-military alliances. The new world order is a multipolar system, with the United States as godfather.

Viewed in this new context, the Palestinians no longer benefit from automatic Soviet and East bloc political and material support. The Soviet economy is in shambles and the Soviet Union is no longer politically stable. East bloc countries are looking to the West for financial and technological assistance and are clearly unwilling to challenge the West for Palestine's sake.

The Palestinian cause is still just, but under the new world order Palestinians will nevertheless have to work harder to secure the votes of these countries at international forums. What Palestinians probably can no longer count on from these countries is support for controversial international resolutions against Israel. If, for example, the United Nations General Assembly were to vote today on the issue of equating Zionism with racism, it would be of little surprise if a majority of East bloc countries voted against the resolution for fear of offending their new Western partners.

Nor can Palestine rely any longer on East bloc countries as primary sources of military supplies and training. These are losses to be reckoned with, but they need not be devastating. Military supplies and training can also easily be secured from third parties.

The loss of the Soviet and East bloc's automatic support may, in fact, make the Palestinians more realistic about what is achievable under the present circumstances. Some would even argue that the Palestinians were aligned with the losing team from the beginning. The new world order could force the Palestinians to be more creative in pursuit of their goals.

The Emergence of the United States as the Only Superpower

The demise of the Soviet empire has ushered in the United States as the sole superpower in the new world order. Although the United States in general has acted as Israel's guardian and protector over the past few decades, US attitudes toward Israel, fortunately, are changing.

First, the Bush administration is neither as ideologically nor emotionally attached to Israel as was the Reagan administration.

Second, US public opinion is much less sympathetic to Israel than it was a few years ago, even among American Jews. Israel has already lost its iron grip on the hearts and minds of the general American public. This will make any shift in official US policy much easier and less costly to the administration that dares to initiate it. It may even turn out to be a domestic political plus.

Third, Bush's approach to the new international order is based on close cooperation with the international community. His main objective is to maintain world order and stability under US tutelage. In this regard, Bush cannot get away with treating the world with one set of principles while using a different, more lenient, set of principles with Israel, if he expects to keep international respect and confidence.

Fourth, the Bush administration is preaching to the world the virtues of international law and principles. Eventually, these same principles would have to be applied to Israel's actions and behavior vis-a-vis the Palestinians. In October, the United States voted twice against Israel in the UN Security Council. Normally, the US would have vetoed Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, alleging, in most cases, that they were one-sided. …

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