Welcome to the New Middle East

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Jordanian soldiers watch over Syrian refugees fleeing violence in their country after they crossed into Jordanian territory with their families from Syria into Jordan, Ramtha, September 15, 2012.Credit: Reuters

This is a new Middle East, but not the kind envisaged by Shimon Peres some years ago. It has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and if by some stretch of the imagination we were to imagine that Mahmoud Abbas would get his wish, we would still be left with a Middle East that millions are trying to abandon. Millions are attempting to run away from the Middle East and they are running for dear life, endangering themselves and their children in the hope of saving themselves from the brutality and the cruelty that characterizes the new Middle East.

They are not only abandoning their homes and their land, but are also throwing overboard outworn national affiliations in their flight. To them, ideologies seem of little importance compared to the dangers threatening their lives and the lives of their families. They are a mass of humanity united only by the search for safety. As some of the refugees succeed in reaching a European country that is prepared to receive them, they are being joined by others from the Middle East just looking for a better life away from their ravaged homelands.

They are leaving behind them a Middle East consumed by religious fervor and a Syrian dictator using any and all means in his fight for survival, regardless of the cost in human lives. We have no country left, says Jebrail Mohammed, a refugee from Aleppo, to a Washington Post reporter in Hungary. Now all we do is to wait for passports to go somewhere.

Artificial countries established by the Great Powers after the First World War are disappearing. There go Syria and Iraq. And with them are disappearing the Iraqi and Syrian nationalist ideologies artificially foisted on the people living there by the former colonial powers and then by the dictators who ran these countries – Saddam Hussein and the Assads, father and son.

There may yet be other Middle Eastern Arab countries that will fall by the wayside, unable to withstand the fanatic Islamic wave rolling over the area. It is going to be a new Middle East. It may yet also be a new Europe when Sunnis have slaughtered Shiites and Shiites have slaughtered Sunnis, and both have massacred the Middle Eastern minorities that have survived so far, and millions have found a new home in Europe.

In this Middle Eastern turmoil who is not trying to escape from their homes? Who would rather stay put than leave their home? There are the Jordanians, whose security services have been able to control Islamic fanatics. And, of course, the Israelis – Jews and Arabs – living in an island of tranquility. There are the Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip. Many of those in the Gaza Strip might want to join the refugees in Europe if they could get away, while those in Judea and Samaria probably feel they are better off where they are than they would be on the road with other refugees. How about the half-million Palestinians in the refugee camps in Syria? Many of them can probably be found among the stream of refugees in Europe right now. And the half-million Palestinian refugees in the Lebanese refugee camps may well follow them. There goes the right of return.

And what is happening to the Palestinian ideology? The demand for a separate Palestinian state in addition to Jordan? It was a latecomer, born in 1964, which came years after the Iraqi and Syrian nationalist ideologies, and although receiving international recognition these days, just like the Iraqi and Syrian nationalist ideologies did in their day, it may not survive in the new Middle East. The specter of the fate awaiting such a state falling prey to the ISIS fanatics might be enough to discourage the most ardent supporters of a Palestinian state.

Would it be able to survive in the New Middle East? On the answer to that question hinges the viability of the two-state solution.

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