Guilt and principles create dilemma for West in Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Guilt and principles create dilemma for West in Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Demonstrators rally in support of Palestinians in Gaza along Steinway Street, New York City. Oct. 18, 2023 (File/AFP)
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In an increasingly interconnected world, the West finds itself torn between its historical guilt complex and its commitment to upholding global principles. Throughout history, the West has defended the rights of peoples and nations and laid down rules to regulate relations and protect human rights. However, when it comes to the Palestinian cause, the West has renounced the very principles and rights it claims to champion. Moreover, Western governments have displayed absolute support for Israel, turning a blind eye to the Israeli army’s excesses, which are being labeled, in Western quarters themselves, the worst in history due to their gruesomeness and violation of all international rules, laws, norms and values.

Perhaps this renouncement, contradiction and duality raises questions: Are these positions being taken due to a historic guilt complex toward the Jews, who have tasted persecution and injustice at the hands of Europeans at different points in history? Or is it a clash of civilizations, in which the Europeans are harnessing all their sources of strength to serve their expansionist schemes and ambitions? Or does (political) realism dictate the existence of Israel and ensure its superiority to safeguard the West’s clout and ensure the flow of interests?

One possible explanation for the biased support of Israel is rooted in the West’s guilt complex. This guilt stems from a historical context where Jews faced persecution and injustice at the hands of the Europeans. Some Western governments have even offered compensation for the suffering inflicted on Jews during the Nazi era. Yet, using guilt to justify the violation of Palestinian rights is counterproductive and morally unjustifiable.

Using guilt to justify the violation of Palestinian rights is counterproductive and morally unjustifiable

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

But the guilt complex alone does not provide a sufficient interpretation for this biased Western position. Two wrongs do not make a right. How can you get rid of a historic guilt by creating a bigger historical guilt against the entire Palestinian people — the real landowners — their children, women, land, trees and environmental resources and components? And why do other governments, which do not have historical precedents related to persecuting Jews, insist on embracing the Israeli narrative, siding with it and granting Israel an absolute right to commit injustice and aggression?

What guilt complex could compel the West and its successive governments to suspend international laws and norms, reverse their principles and destroy humanity’s accomplishments in the field of protecting and defending rights? Western governments have granted Israel an absolute right to do whatever it wishes despite the fact that it is not self-defense in the general sense, given that Israel is an occupying force.

Another perspective suggests that the West’s support for Israel is driven by political realism. By aligning with Israel, Western governments serve their expansionist schemes and ambitions. The fear of being labeled as antisemitic also plays a significant role in influencing Western governments’ stances, given the legal implications such an accusation carries.

Despite growing criticisms of Israel’s actions, the country has succeeded in leveraging its vital strategic importance to the West. By presenting itself as a democratic state and playing the victim card, Israel has secured support from Western governments, influential pundits and elites. This further complicates the situation, as the Western media struggles to counter the dominant Israeli narrative and exert influence on global public opinion in favor of the Palestinian cause.

The global order, governed by a balance of power, primarily serves the interests of the powerful. Even democratic values and rules often take a back seat to those in power who prioritize their survival and flow of interests. Israel recognized this early on and invested in creating lobbies, controlling media outlets and influencing election campaigns in major capitals like the US. As a result, unconditional support for Israel’s policies persists despite the suffering of the Palestinians.

By aligning with Israel, Western governments serve their expansionist schemes and ambitions

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

However, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Support for the Palestinian cause is gaining momentum, paralleled by Israel’s increasingly egregious actions. Protests and demonstrations worldwide, as well as actions like stopping ships bound for Israel in rejection of its aggression, suggest a growing opposition to the biased Western stance. The rise of alternative narratives on social media and in the virtual space challenges the decades-old Israeli narrative. At the same time, our media has been unable to cope with and refute the Israeli narrative and reach out to the global public opinion and convince it that the Palestinian cause is a just one.

Furthermore, Western governments are facing widespread criticism for their positions, threatening their political careers and party futures. Opinion polls in the US demonstrate differences within decision-making circles, while leaked cables from American diplomats reveal their protests against the Biden administration’s stance on the conflict. Regionally, Arab and Islamic voices of dissatisfaction with the West’s positions are growing stronger, with countries severing diplomatic ties with Israel and filing lawsuits against top Israeli officials at the International Criminal Court.

This mounting pressure has succeeded in placing the Palestinian cause on the agendas of governments, making it a matter of interest. It is a crucial step toward reconstructing the global image of the conflict and shaping a new policy that is aligned with principles and international law. If this activism persists, it has the potential to reshape the reality that Israel has imposed for more than seven decades and reaffirm the existence of a rules-based global order.

In conclusion, the West’s dilemma lies in navigating its guilt complex and protecting its principles in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While historical guilt and political realism may provide partial explanations for biased Western positions, it is through continued activism and pressure that real change can be achieved. Only then can the West prove its commitment to a just rules-based global order.

  • Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is the founder and president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). X: @mohalsulami
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