Friday, July 21, 2006

The real challenge

June 21, 2006
The real challenge

ANYWHERE else in the world, a gathering of Nobel laureates and celebrities discussing ways of transforming the world's "challenges into opportunities" would be expected to make a real difference to efforts to solve regional conflicts. Such hopes are also attached to this week's conference in the ancient Jordanian city of Petra attended by some 25 Nobel laureates in chemistry, economics, literature, medicine and peace along with 30 celebrities. They will seek, organisers say, to deal with some of the world's most intractable problems.
"In the 21st Century, humankind must find new ways of dealing with emerging threats and develop a deeper understanding about the connections between them," says a statement from the organisers.
"Petra II: A World in Danger, provides a forum to reflect on both old and new problems, and propose novel strategies for transforming challenges into opportunities," it says.
Participants will focus on non-proliferation of mass destruction weapons, education, health and poverty, and economic empowerment — key issues that are plaguing the Middle East region. Had the region's governments and people been unpreoccupied with fears and problems to security, then these issues would not have festered. The governments would have had the time and resources to launch projects and schemes designed to address and rectify problems in the education and health sectors and to uplift people living in poverty.
Instead, time and money are spent on security-related issues. Countries are being forced to spend billions on military equipment that are unlikely to be used at all, but are deemed to be — and portrayed as — a necessary part of national defence by those who peddle them around.
Such diversions owe their origins to the festering conflicts in the region being waged, at least in party, to serve vested interests. Therefore, any effort should take into consideration the root causes of insecurity and instability in the region, and one does not have to look far to identify them as Israel and its US-supported quest for regional domination and elimination of all challenges at whatever cost.
However, realism dictates that what the Nobel laureates and celebrities have to say about the Middle Eastern conflicts is not going to count much in practical terms if only because the players involved in the conflicts are very much a closed club, with little room for additional entrants.
The gathering is expected to host the first, albeit not very formal, meeting of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert under an initiative undertaken by King Abdullah II of Jordan. There is little at this point in time to give anyone any hope that the Abbas-Olmert meeting would lead to anything concrete in terms of reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. The best persuasive skills of the Nobel laureates and celebrities are not enough to make a difference, if only because the political imperatives deprive Olmert of a choice to embrace a just and fair option to end the conflict with the Palestinians, regardless of whether Abbas's Fatah or Hamas is in power.
Apart from Palestine, where hopes for peace is are all but disappeared, the Iraqi crisis is spinning out of control, regardless of whether the US and the US-backed government in Baghdad admit it.
We in this region are watching with trepidation the unfolding scenario in Iraq that is definitely pointing in the direction of disintegration of that country as it existed pre-March 2003. We had warned it would happen, but our words were summarily brushed aside. Indeed, what we are witnessing today in Iraq is the result of powers that matter ignoring the region's warnings.
Those participating in the Petra forum might not be directly affected by happenings in the Middle East, but they should be naive not to realise that the region's problems are not created by the region's players alone. External medding in their affairs is one of the key reasons for the region's current state of insecurity, instability and apprehension over the uncertainty of what lies ahead.
The gathering in Petra should serve as an eyeopener to the realities of the conflicts in the Middle East. It is not Hamas's refusal to recognise Israel or renounce armed resistance that has stalled efforts for peace. The root causes is Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories and refusal to return them to the Palestinians.
It is not the presence of "international jihadists" in Iraq that is worsening the crisis in that country. It is Iraqi resistance to foreign domination and the US refusal to give up its quest for indirect but absolute control of that country against the backdrop of Washington's biased policies that is behind the crisis.
It is not fears of Iranian threats to the US that is behind Washington's drive against Tehran. It is concerns that Iran might acquire a deterrent against the nuclear supremacy of Israel in the region and Iran's refusal to toe the American line that has sparked the crisis.
No doubt, the organisers of the forum are aware of the limitations. However, that has not dissuaded them from setting goals high.
They are calling on international community "to work in unison to counter mounting threats to peace and stability" — a reference the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
They are calling on the forum's participants to explore ways to develop education across the globe as "a tool in the fight against intolerance and hatred," and to improve the quality of education for boys and girls alike.
They are urging governments enhacing access to information via the Internet as part of efforts to close the knowledge gap between developed and developing countries and prepare students to compete in the modern world.
The forum is called upon to devise ways "to deal with global health pandemics caused by HIV/AIDS and the avian flu," and to ensure that the most vulnerable, namely children and women, are provided with adequate health care.
Participants also face the task of coming with realistic measn to alleviate the global scourge of poverty, which organisers say "is a source of instability, creating breeding grounds for fanaticism, radicalism and terrorism."
Simply put, the challenges facing the Petra conference are more complex that those facing the key players in regional conflicts around the world. That in itself should be an incentive to the intellectuals and celebrities gathered in the Nabataeen rose-red city of Petra to rake their brains and come up with recommendations addressed to world governments.
After all, international efforts have to be launched at some point towards at least understanding the real roots of the problems before attempting to solve them.
Hopefully, that is the best purpose that the Petra gathering would serve.