History?s Road Map

The defeat of Saddam Hussein?s regime presents the opportunity to reconfigure the Middle East. However, President Bush?s vision of both Iraq and a Palestinian state living in peace with Israel is doomed, because it ignores historical, religious and ethnic factors.

Rachel Neuwirth,

Rachel Neuwirth
Rachel Neuwirth
The defeat of Saddam Hussein?s regime presents the opportunity to reconfigure the Middle East. However, President Bush?s vision of both Iraq and a Palestinian state living in peace with Israel is doomed, because it ignores historical, religious and ethnic factors.

Prior to WW I, there was no country called Iraq. Instead, there were three separate provinces that were part of the Ottoman Empire ? Mosul, Baghdad and Basra ? with no real connection between them. Only by taking this into account can a road map be drawn that leads to peace and regional stability.

After the demise of the Ottoman Empire in 1916, Britain and France redrew the map of the Middle East, (The Sykes Picot agreement, see map - http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/History/sykesmap1.html) creating artificial states that had no common history or national culture. From their birth, these states have been inherently unstable, resulting in political and economic stagnation, coups, and the rise of autocratic regimes that have caused civil wars and major international conflicts, such as the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Millions have died as a result of these artificially created states, which have also become the womb of international terrorism.

In fact, the appeal and success of radical Islam in this region are predicated on the political instability of these false entities.

Yet, there have been exceptions to this rule. Israel is a democratic republic based on separation of powers and the protection of human rights. At various times, Lebanon, too, has flourished as a free society, and Turkey continues to evolve in this direction.

The challenge faced by the American administration today is how to create democratic republics that safeguard human rights, ensure freedom of religion, implement the rule of law and foster economic development. For the first time since 1916, and as a result of the American-led victory in Iraq, these foundations of modernism can be firmly established in the Arab World.

And in this new Middle East, old conflicts will dissipate as a result of economic and political development.

This historic opportunity will be squandered, however, if the map drawn in 1916 is not radically revised to reflect the historical, religious, and ethnic realities of the region. The three provinces of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra could be resurrected, with modifications that apply to today's political and religious realities. There may be some who fear that creating these entities will cause great instability and chaos, but attempting to forge an Iraqi republic with its present, very diverse ethno-religious groupings is a prescription for internal strife that could give rise to another Saddam Hussein.

Such a reconfiguration of the Middle East is the natural outgrowth of its history, and to redraw the borders of existing regions is not an untested idea. In recent years, similar major re-configurations successfully occurred in the former Yugoslavia and in the former Soviet Union.

Kurdish and Sunni states
The first step in reconfiguring the map of the Middle East is to eliminate Iraq as a unified entity, creating instead three new independent states based on the above criteria.

First, a new Kurdish state in the north should be established, granting the right of Kurds living in Syria and Turkey to live in this "New Kurdistan." An accommodation will have to be reached between Turkey and the new Kurdistan, which will allay Turkish fears ? something similar to what was negotiated between Germany and Poland after WWII.

The second state to be created would be a Sunni state comprised of what is now the central part of Iraq combined with Sunni-dominated areas in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank.

Why should a Sunni state be created from this vast area?

One major problem in the Middle East is the artificial division of the Sunni people. By consolidating them into one state, their chances for economic and democratic development will be greatly enhanced, as they will have the resources necessary for this to evolve. This will speed their progress in developing secular, republican institutions and reduce the appeal of Islamic fundamentalism in the region.

One religion, one people
Although this may seem like a radical idea, it is only the logical result of what the Sunni people have been seeking since the demise of the Ottoman Empire. One only has to look at the numerous statements of Sunni leaders to understand this -- namely that the Palestinian Arabs, the Jordanians, the Sunnis of Iraq, the Syrians and the Lebanese Sunnis (which include the Palestinian Arab refugees) are, in reality, one people.

Beginning in 1920, the League of Nations assigned pieces of the Ottoman Empire to the victors of WWI, putting Mesopotamia under a British administration. This arrangement charged Britain with establishing a responsible Arab government. The rulership of Syria and Iraq was assigned to Emir Faisal ibn Hussein. The French and the British later ousted him from Syria, but he remained the ruler of Iraq. When Faisal died in 1933, his son, King Ghazi I, succeeded him. In 1938, King Ghazi I announced from the radio station at Qasr al-Zohour that he was looking forward to the day when Syria, Palestine and Kuwait were united to Iraq.

This view has been held as the ultimate goal of several Arab leaders, as evidenced by a statement of King Hussein of Jordan in 1962: "Palestine and Jordan were both under British Mandate, but, as my grandfather pointed out in his memoirs, they were hardly separate countries. Trans-Jordan being to the East of the river Jordan, it formed, in a sense, the interior of Palestine." (King Hussein of Jordan, Uneasy Lies the Head, New York, 1962, p.118)

Syrian President Hafez Assad said on March 8, 1974: "Palestine is a principal part of southern Syria, and we consider it is our right and duty to insist that it be a liberated partner of our Arab homeland and of Syria." Assad continued to hold this view, as can be seen in his statement of April 1976, when he said to Arafat, "You do not represent Palestine as much as we do. Never forget this one point: There is no such thing as a Palestinian people. There is no Palestinian entity; there is only Syria. You are an integral part of the Syrian people. Palestine is an integral part of Syria. Therefore it is we, the Syrian authorities, who are the true representatives of the Palestinian people."

Arab statements and historical documents substantiate this belief. Here are some examples:

* A local Arab leader, Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi, to the British Peel commission, 1937: "There is no such country as Palestine. 'Palestine' is a term the Zionists invented... Our country was for centuries part of Syria. 'Palestine' is alien to us. It is the Zionists who introduced it."

* Professor Philip Hitti, Arab historian to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, 1946: "There is no such thing as Palestine in history ? absolutely not."

* Arab Higher Committee representative to the United Nations in May, 1947, in the general assembly: "Palestine was part of the Province of Syria? Politically, the Arabs of Palestine were not independent in the sense of creating a separate political entity."

* The Constitution of the Arab Ba'ath party, mostly Sunnis, stated in 1951: "The Arabs form one nation. This nation has the natural right to live in a single state and to be free to direct its own destiny... to gather all the Arabs into a single, independent Arab state."

* Statement by Zahir Muhsein, then-head of the PLO's military division and a member of its executive committee: "The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality, today, there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians, and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak, today, about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct Palestinian people to oppose Zionism. For tactical reasons, Jordan ? which is a sovereign state with defined borders ? cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa. While, as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beersheba and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan." (Amsterdam-based newspaper Dagblad de Verdieping Trouw, March 31, 1977)

* And the Jordanian National Charter, which is still in effect, says: "The facts of the close historical and geographic relationship between Jordan and Palestine over the ages, together with the nature of the national affiliation and cultural position of Jordanians and Palestinians in the present and the future, have endowed this relationship with a special and distinctive character. It is bolstered by the strong ties and deep common interests that exist between them. It is imperative, therefore, that this relationship be preserved and strengthened in the racist, Zionist, and imperialist threat which endangers the existence, civilization, and sacred heritage of the Arab nation and marks Jordan out as a target as it had previously targeted Palestine." [See chapter 7 at http://www.kinghussein.gov.jo/charter-national.html.]

Numerous benefits, East and West
The majority of Sunni Syrians (74%) have been ruled by the minority Alawite (less than 10% of Syria) in a brutal dictatorship for over 35 years, during which ten of thousands of Sunnis were murdered. Integrating the Syrian Sunnis into a new Sunni state will enable them to realize their political aspirations and put an end to the current regime. For many decades, the Hashemite monarchy ruled Jordan and Iraq. Reintegrating the Sunnis of Iraq with their Jordanian brothers will return things to the natural state of affairs that existed prior to WWI. The evidence overwhelmingly shows that this people, who have been divided since 1916, need to be reunited in a new nation, which will geographically and politically reunify the Sunnis of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the Arab Palestinians.

The third and final part of reconfiguring the Middle East is to create a Shiite state in southern Iraq. An independent Shiite state in southern Iraq will have a great influence on the political development in Iran. It is possible, in fact, that an Iraqi Shiite state would cause the theocratic regime in Iran to fall. This is the belief of the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, who recently said: Iran "needs a democratic regime which does not use religion as a means to oppress people and stifle society." (http://www.shianews.com/hi/middle_east/news_id/0000935.php) The holiest places in the Shi-ite religion are Najaf and Karbala, which are in southern Iraq. With the removal of Saddam Hussein, the center of the Shia religion has shifted from Iran to Iraq.

Another benefit of creating a greater Sunni state is that it may hold the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Over 90% of the Arab Palestinians are Sunnis. They should be granted citizenship and full political rights in the new Sunni nation.

Historic Palestine, comprised of what is today Israel and Jordan, was to be a Jewish State based on the Balfour Declaration. Therefore, Israel should comprise all the territory it was promised, including the West Bank. This should be done not only for its security, but also to maintain the Jews' historical connection to the land. Abba Eban ? one of Israel's leading politicians who served as Israel's UN ambassador ? stated that Israel would never go back to what he called the "Auschwitz borders" of June 5, 1967.

This raises the question of what to do with the Palestinian Arabs who live in Gaza. They should not become part of the greater Sunni state, because historically they are linked to Egypt. Gaza is overpopulated, about 2/3 of Gaza's residents are refugees and it is not economically viable on its own. The solution to both of these problems is to reintegrate Gaza with Egypt. The Sinai desert has sufficient space to relocate the refugees and, with its oil reserves, it has the financial capacity to transform the northern Sinai into a prosperous area.

International support essential
This reconfiguration of the Middle East will leave significant minority populations living in these new states, including Christians, Assyrians, Turkmen, Shiites and the Druze, who are scattered throughout the region. The West would need to ensure that the reconfigured Middle East develops political institutions that will protect them.

Creating states with borders based on their historical configurations and ethnic and religious affiliations offers the greatest opportunity for a peaceful and stable region. The international community should give legitimacy to these three new entities by recognizing their sovereignty, admitting them into international organizations, and providing economic, political, and even military assistance to ensure that these three new entities become successful and evolve into mature democratic republics.

This will give them opportunities for economic and political development, which will provide the prosperity and personal freedom that will undercut radical Islam's ability to strengthen its foothold and expand in the region.

It is, therefore, a key component to winning the war on terrorism.