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June 21, 1991 - Image 36

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-06-21

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36

FRIDAY, JUNE 21, 1991

A Dissenting Arab View
Of The Middle East

IRA RIFKIN

Special to The Jewish News

F

ouad Ajami is a rare
duck — a widely rec-
ognized Middle East
scholar with a penchant for
speaking in sound bites, a
trait that made him a famil-
iar TV face during the Per-
sian Gulf war.
But what really sets him
apart — given that he is a
Shi'te Muslim from Lebanon
— is his outlook on the Arab
world in general, and the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict
in particular.
Mr. Ajami — director of
Middle East Studies at the
Johns Hopkins University
School of Advanced Interna-
tional Studies in Washing-
ton —believes the prospect
for a Palestinian state is a
pipe dream promoted by
Arab governments to avoid
dealing with serious inter-
nal problems and their own
relationships with Israel.
"It is too late to introduce
a new state into the Middle
East between Israel and
Jordan," he said May 23
during a talk at the annual
meeting of the Baltimore
Jewish Council, that federa-
tion's community relations
agency. "Anyone who tells
the Palestinians that a state
for them is on the menu is
deluding them." .
Better, he said, to strike a
deal with Jordan for some
sort of Palestinian self-
determination than to con-
tinue trying to get Israel and
the Palestinian Liberation
Organization to reach
agreement.
He believes that Arab
leaders — no less than the
Israelis — would prefer not
to deal with the Palestinian
issue right now and that
President George Bush and
Secretary of State James A.
Baker 111 are wasting their
time by nagging both sides
to make compromises that
neither is ready to make.
"The U.S. has a wrong
reading of what the Arab
world really wants at this
time," Mr. Ajami said.
He explained that in the
aftermath of the Persian
Gulf war, what Arab leaders
are most concerned with is
sorting out their region's
new balance of power. That,
he said, is the Middle East's
real new world order, and it
is far different from the

Ira Rifkin is assistant editor of
the Baltimore Jewish Times.

White House's perception of
the facts on the ground.
"I love Bush's 'new world
order,' " Mr. Ajami said.
"It's just business as usual
in the Middle East. There is
no 'new world order.' It's just
a brave new gimmick."
For the 45-year-old schol-
ar, who was born in a village
just a few miles north of the
Israeli border and came to
the United States at 19, the
most compelling question in
the Middle East today is
whether Saddam Hussein's
defeat has jarred Arab socie-
ty enough to shake its con-
fidence in what he termed
"the false gifts of despots."
The true irony of the Arab
world, he maintained, is that
"tear gas in the West Bank

"Anyone who tells
the Palestinians
that a state for
them is on the
menu is deluding
them."

Fouad Ajami

receives more attention than
the use of poison gas in Kur-
distan."
The "most serious" issue
facing the Arab world is in-
creased poverty, not the solu-
tion of the Israeli-Palestinian
or the larger Israeli-Arab con-
flict, he said.
"The massive growth of
young, urban poor Arabs —
that is the real problem," he
said.
With statements like
those, one might conclude
that Mr. Ajami, now an
American citizen, is a darl-
ing of the Jewish rubber
chicken circuit; that he is
besieged with requests for
speaking engagements from
Jewish organizations.
But he isn't. When Mr.
Ajami addressed the
Baltimore Jewish Council,
his talk was greeted with
lots of agreeing nods and a
standing ovation. Yet, he
said, it marked only the se-
cond time he has ever
spoken to a Jewish audience.
"I'm just not asked, and I
haven't really considered
Why not," Mr. Ajamai said
in an interview before his
talk.
Nor, it should be noted, is
Mr. Ajami often asked to
speak to Arab-American
groups. The reason for that,
however, is abundantly
clear.
His views, coupled with his

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