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Home > Special Topics > Europe Report Last Updated: 15:16 03/09/2007
Europe Report #82: April 28, 2004

Sharon's View of the Arab World

J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)

In this fourth segment of his speech, Zalman Shoval explains why the Sharon administration opted for unilateral disengagement. He also gives an extremely negative assessment of the Arab world, looks at President Bush's plan to democratize the Middle East and concludes by saying that the terror attacks of 9/11 were what motivate current American policy in the Middle East.

The first part of this speech can be found here

Ambassador Zalman Shoval:

Israelis, quite understandably, after 100 years of terror and violence are inclined to look at things through a glass darkly. They are not very hopeful about agreements or anything like that, especially if there is not much evidence on the Arab side that indeed there has been an ideological acceptance of the Jewish people's right to a national state in an area in which many in the Arab world still regard as being exclusively Islamic and Arab, or at least one [of these].

As former Prime Minister [Ehud] Barak said after his Camp David conference, he understood after that conference especially with regard to Yasser Arafat that Arafat not only did not recognize the state of Israel but did not even recognize the existence of the Jewish people. The Israelis when they see that both the Oslo agreement and indeed the Road Map have actually led to an increase in violence and not a decrease are asking themselves a great many questions.

Therefore, I think most Israelis have reached the opinion, 'Yes, we must do something.' Even if we do not have a partner at this time, even if the minds in the Arab world and amongst the Palestinian community have not yet changed. Let's try the unilateral way and perhaps this could move things forward and all the agreements which we had in the past, whether it was Madrid or Oslo or indeed the first Camp David agreement. [These agreements] did not result in what we expected and what we hoped.

Ladies and Gentlemen, no talk about the Middle East, even a perfunctory one, would be complete without referring to America's new initiative to further restore democracy to the Arab world. Although, I harbor few illusions about its speedy success, at least. Some critics, and not just in the Arab world, say the appeal for Arab democracy is meaningless unless generated from the inside. This may be true, but then [you] would also have a counterargument, namely that without outside prompting the Helsinki process [would not have got started]. [Without outside prompting], there would never have been those changes which one eventually saw behind the iron curtain.

When people speak today of the great resistance which is occurring, and one reads about it every day in the newspaper, what they really mean is the Arabs and some parts of the Islamic world. As in the pre-WWI era, the Ottoman Empire was spoken of as the 'sick man of Europe.' The Arab world is often referred to today as the 'sick man of most of the rest of the world.' A region in which international terrorism is promoted or at least tolerated; a no-growth area in economic terms; a region in which because of its internal corruption and inadequacies could explode any day soon with the pieces flying all over, especially to Europe and already have flown towards Europe; and last, but not least, the region is seriously affecting the demography of Europe.

Now, to take these different points on the Arab side in this respect. I am sure you have heard of, or read about, the Arab human development report which was prepared by Arab scholars under the auspices of the UN. It reached very clear, and I would say sad, conclusions that there is a basic freedom deficit, human rights deficit, knowledge deficit, and so on [all of] which are the reasons for their situation within this Greater Middle East. [The late] King Hussein of Jordan, who may have been here before, I think, has said that Arabs have been humiliated and marginalized by their own governments.

I have to tell you, recently, most of the talk of democratization in the Middle East was anti-rhetoric. The reason that this has all changed is 9/11, when the Americans reached the conclusion that it is indeed the political dysfunction, the failure of corrupt autocracies [that is the problem]. They identified them as the main reasons for breeding fundamentalist inspired terrorism in the Arab world.

The above transcript is based on a presentation given at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London on 1 April 2004.

The first part of this speech can be found here

The second part of this speech can be found here

The third part of this speech can be found here

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