The history of crusades is distant and long gone, but I still hear people talking of the Sultan of Egypt and Syria and the founder of Ayyubid dynasty — Sultan Salah ad-Din or Saladin — and the return of someone like him to reclaim Jerusalem for the Muslims. The voices for the return of Saladin are once again being heard after what happened in Al Aqsa Mosque few days back when Israeli security forces entered the Mosque in Jerusalem and attacked the worshipping Muslims with stun grenades resulting in the escalation of the clashes between the security forces and the worshiping Arabs. In the ensuing four days’ time the Israeli-created problem has taken a shape of boiling crisis with Islamic Jihad and Hamas firing rockets at Israel from Gaza, and Israel responding disproportionately with air strikes and thus killing indiscriminately people including innocent children in Gaza. Are we looking at the beginning of a third Intifada? But first why I think there will no more be another Saladin to return the Arabs and the Muslim world their pride and dignity.
Saladin was a Kurd and he did nothing for Kurdistan. In fact, while teaching international relations the one question that always gets answered by the students is when I ask them to give an example of a nation without a state. The answer invariably is always correct and it is ‘Kurds’. Between 30 and 35 million Kurds occupy the land around Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia yet they don’t have a state to themselves. Simply put, why Saladin despite being a Kurd did nothing for Kurdistan was because in the 12th century he was not fighting for any ethnic or national identity but he was fighting only for Islam. Look around you and see what we have done to our religion and to us with our world view based on shallow and selfish self-interests. Obviously, it is now a military situation which the residents of the world’s largest open-air prison, Gaza, are dealing with. But long before becoming a military situation it has remained a political situation. See how the Arab world has dealt with it. Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994) had signed peace treaties with Israel. And just last year, Israel was able to establish diplomatic relations with four other Arab League countries — UAE, Sudan, Bahrain and Morocco.
Everything that Saladin did was for the greater glory of Islam and everything that the Arab world is doing is narrowed down to securing its own petty self-interests and that stands out as a reason why there will no more be a Saladin. Arab countries have a right to disconnect themselves from the Palestinians and their conflict with the state of Israel on the issues of territory, security and refugees, but what right do they have to withdraw from the larger conflict of the dispute between Israel and the Muslim world on the issue of control over places of religious significance?
Israel is a superpower in the Middle East and no Arab country has the military muscle to match its military prowess but what about the diplomatic initiative? What stops the Arab world from disconnecting its diplomatic relationship with the state of Israel? Unlike what Saladin did, there is not a drop of blood that the people of Palestine are asking from the Arab world. All they are looking forward to is diplomatic support and if even that is not coming then all the serious readers of this piece must understand there will no more be a Saladin coming or in the making.
The only good news in the whole situation and the uncertainty surrounding it is the reality that the Palestinians are going nowhere and no matter what the Israelis may do one day this problem will be sorted out. There is this role of outsiders which is pitiful, tragic and pathetic and there is this role of insiders, the Palestinians themselves, which is consistent with what they want — a free state of their own. Also, there is this consistent response by Benjamin Netanyahu who sells this narrative of ‘not willing to sacrifice his country’. The longest serving Prime Minister in the history of Israel yet he leads the worst Israeli political stalemate in which the people of Israel have gone to four elections in the last two years and yet PM Netanyahu has not been able to form a governing coalition. Despite being accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, the Supreme Court of Israel allowed Netanyahu the permission to form a government. That is a kind of a similar relief that one associates with courts in a country like Pakistan.
Two things are apparent. First, Netanyahu is smart and the Al Aqsa Mosque provocations that he has engineered will help him win the support of people of Israel as he keeps all the options of any solution under the table and takes the Palestinian problem into a new phase of the conflict. A representative of ‘national security point of view government’ he plays with the insecurity of the Israeli people and by going hard against the Palestinians (the threat posed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad) he tells them that he has got this managed for them. Second, he knows that he is better of as a Prime Minister facing the legal charges than facing them being a political nobody.
The divided religion, the divided nature of society, and the divided regions — in fact all the divisions and polarisations that we see in the world are mostly the work of not the outsiders but the insiders like the Modis and Netanyahus of this world. They create circumstances for the locals to take the law in their own hands and then project to the world their right to control the uprising and also stopping the outside world in interfering in their internal matters. Political instability suits the employment of their coercive methods and in its guise, they continue to bring in more and more settlers in West Bank as well as in Kashmir — all too good a strategy to progressively effect and change the demography of the geographical space. They look for the political instability and the security threat that it entails as ‘continuity’ because it helps them to remain in power and they engineer the demographic changes in its shadow to fool the outside world.
But what is this outside world? Israel over the years has become a very powerful state and it no more looks upon the US for any support except the crucial one that the US gives it at the UNSC. No wonder no statement of condemnation comes from there as the US blocks all such statements with its immoral use of veto. The joint US-Israeli mantra on Palestinian issue today is — security first and peace only if possible. The outside world and the brokers and sponsors of any Palestinian peace accord have all grown controversial and the Palestinians have lost trust in them.
Very weak and hardly supported by outside world, Palestinians living in Gaza and West Bank pose no strategic threat but only annoyance to Israel. There will be no Saladin, and it will not be the outside world. The eventual two-state solution will primarily remain dependent on what shapes the Israeli and Palestinian domestic politics in future — negotiations or the coming of a third and a fourth Intifada?
Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2021.