Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

"Threat From the East" No Longer Exists
HIRAYAMA Kentaro / Former NHK Commentator

December 26, 2003
The capture of Saddam Hussein produced predictable reactions from both Israel and Palestine. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon lost no time in congratulating U.S. President George Bush by phone and declaring a united front with America in the 'war against terrorism.' Israel's relationship with America had lately come under strain due to the 'separation wall (fence)' being built on the West Bank of the River Jordan, and this was an opportune moment for confirming solidarity. On the Palestinian side, radical Islamic groups such as Hamas hinted at revenge by saying "America will pay a high price," while Chairman Yasser Arafat and his entourage have been conspicuous in their silence. It is reminiscent of the confusion demonstrated by the Palestinian authorities when it scrambled to confiscate film and video shot by foreign media showing crowds of jubilant Palestinians in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Saddam's capture is no guarantee that security in Iraq will rapidly improve. It is yet unclear how the Shi'ites, who had been either cooperative or 'neutral' in their attitude towards the U.S. Forces out of fear Saddam may return to power, will react. There is also concern the complicated conflict of interests among different ethnic and religious groups would create another 'Lebanon' after the U.S. retreat. However, one thing seems clear - there is no longer any possibility Iraq will pose a military threat to countries in the region the same way Saddam's government had. This change is also an important factor in resolving the Palestinian issue. That is because there is little persuasion now in Israel's logic of treating territories it occupies on the West Bank of the River Jordan as a "deep line of defense" against the "military threat from the east."

During the Gulf War, 39 scud missiles launched from Iraqi territory flew high above the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and over the occupied territories on the West Bank and bombarded Tel Aviv. At the time the attacks raised doubts in Israel over the effectiveness of the concept of using its West Bank "territories" as a "defensive depth" against the hypothetical advance of ground-based forces. And this led to the recognition that priority action for Israeli security was to improve relations with neighboring Arab countries centered on a reconciliation with local Palestinians, rather than securing a buffer zone, and in turn laid the foundations for the peace process that followed.

Nevertheless, the idea of a "threat from the east" lived on. Not only the Jewish settlers and right wing politicians who claim the entire West Bank territories as god's "Promised Land," but even the Labor Party, which advocates making significant compromises on the territorial issue to attain peace, persisted on securing a "security belt" along the Jordan Valley. In July 2000 at the Camp David talks, Prime Minister Ehud Barak proposed leasing the region on a long-term basis and was turned down by the Palestinians. Then in January 2001 Israel presented its final compromise proposal based on recommendations made by U.S. President Bill Clinton, from which the "leased land" idea was dropped. The talks entered the final phase, leaving the issue of security along the border with Jordan to international inspections including U.S. forces.

In December, Prime Minister Sharon stated that Israel will unilaterally establish the borders if talks with the Palestinian side are not concluded over the next several months, inviting Palestinian criticism and American "concern." The Sharon government's construction of the "wall" - on the pretext of preventing infiltration of terrorist elements - is generally understood as an attempt at establishing a fait accompli. It isn't hard to see that the idea behind the wall is to cut off a major portion of the West Bank where most Palestinians live from Jordan, thus fencing it in from the east as well.

Soon after attacking Iraq, the Bush administration announced its so-called "Road Map," a schedule for peace in which a "viable Palestinian state with territorial contiguity" is to be established by the end of 2005. However, the issue of national borders was left as an "agenda" to be settled between the parties involved, and the United States did not suggest its own plan. The Bush administration should present a more concrete vision, in light of this new situation it has created in the aftermath of the Iraq War, where Israel's "threat from the east" was eliminated.

The writer is a former NHK commentator.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

平山 健太郎  / 元NHK解説委員

2003年 12月 26日






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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > "Threat From the East" No Longer Exists