Winning an Earthquake
By Toh Hsien Min
A friend who knew my political beliefs asked me last week if I was going to add Israel to the list of countries in my personal economic sanctions list. "No," I said, "because they weren't the aggressor." At once my response felt both right in principle and wrong in spirit, like trying to eat one's cake and have it. But therein is the quandary. There is no single good answer. In voting for the non-binding UN resolution to urge a humanitarian truce, Singapore itself tried to keep some cake off its chocolate-fudged lips by noting "two glaring and significant omissions": the "Hamas' role in perpetrating the massive and coordinated terror attacks" and "Israel's legitimate right to defend its citizens and territory". I might add that my own caveats on the matter included how the majority of Palestinians had not wanted the outbreak of hostilities.
Now I'm not going to wade into a debate on the 1947 partition plan or who came first in Canaan - leave that to politicians who have not yet managed to find a solution. The truth is that there is so much more riding on a truce than a densely populated Palestinian territory. With America and Europe already treading carefully in seeking a contained resolution to the Ukraine war, a second front involving a combustible Middle East is bad news for global order and security. This is not even confined to the prisoner's dilemma for the US of sending aircraft carriers to the region to discourage other Middle Eastern powers from expanding the conflict by threatening even greater hellfire and brimstone. One may recall that during the Yom Kippur War, the United States and the Soviet Union resupplied their allies and almost got drawn into the conflict. So the challenge is that American distraction in the region now might have wider implications, in seeming to lower the cost for a powder keg to go off elsewhere and spark a new Triple Alliance (which, while discussing with a friend who did in fact lecture on geopolitics, we termed 'CRINK') contesting a new Triple Entente. A solution in the Middle East is therefore not peace at any price, but peace as the only price that must not be paid.
By coincidence, this issue of QLRS has a number of references to the delicate state of affairs in the Middle East and beyond. In 'Monkey Business', Emil Rem refers to the Yom Kippur War, which was fought almost exactly fifty years ago between Israel and a coalition of Arab states; the story was submitted in August and selected by Kai Chai in early October, before his trip to Ghana. In the poetry section, Desmond Kon's 'Conversation on Mount Olivet' ranges over many Biblical locations, which are located in present-day Israel. Again, this was submitted in September, a whole fortnight before Hamas' sneak attacks. Then we have another Ukrainian poet, Dmitry Blizniuk, whose poem is heavy with allusion. However intriguing the rhyming of the work we put out in QLRS with current events might be, the only logical thing to wish for is no such echo of the sound of munitions going off.QLRS Vol. 22 No. 4 Oct 2023