Oil And Palestine: The New Cold War
By Am Johal
Am Johal is a writer from Vancouver, Canada who completed an
internship with the Mossawa Center, the Advocacy Center for Arab
Citizens of Israel.
Two significant events happened at the end of April - both of which
carried more meaning than their literal interpretation. But they both
had everything to do with the New Cold War and the reality of
As Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, touched down in Israel on April
27th, he became the first Russian or Soviet leader to visit Israel or
the Palestinian territories.
Increasingly under siege at home on the domestic front over issues
like privatization, cuts to social services and pensions, Putin has
continued to push through economic reforms through his centralized
political apparatus. He has also seen the pro-Western uprisings in
the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. Mr. Putin has
also been witness to the decline of Russian influence on the world
stage for the past fifteen years.
But now there is a genuine Russian fear, that the oil rich Central
Asian republics could very easily fall under American and Western
European influence. It is as if there is a fear of the old domino
theory happening in reverse.
There is very much a feeling that the push for democracy and free
markets in the Arab and Central Asian world is a Western agenda that
comes at a high price and involves a high degree of social rupture
for the nations involved.
No longer a superpower, Russia is keen to redefine itself.
Having seen much turmoil since the days when an entire political and
economic system was reduced to Boris Yeltsin standing on a tank in
Moscow while leader Mikhail Gorbachev was held captive at his dacha
on the Crimea, Russia seems ready to once again assume a significant
role in international affairs.
Though its influence has waned since the collapse of Communism, its
old connections to the Arab states still remain. More than a million
Russians have moved to Israel since the mid-eighties. Russia is one
of the Quartet, the four signatories to the Roadmap to Peace with the
United States, the European Union and the UN. Russia was also once
known as the chief patron of the Palestinians and always shared
communist roots with many of its nationalist Arab allies.
As Putin visited with Israeli dignitaries last week including Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon and President Moshe Katsav, he was widely
criticized for Russia's decision to sell anti-aircraft weapons to
Syria and for continuing its support of nuclear development in Iran.
Later in Ramallah, Putin was greeted with a cheering crowd as he
became the first foreign head of state to visit Palestinian leader
Mahmoud Abbas since the Palestinian elections earlier this year.
Putin laid a wreath at Yasser Arafat's grave site and promised Abbas
a helicopter and military equipment to help him rule over militant
groups in the Palestinian territories.
"If we expect Chairman Abbas to fight terrorism effectively, he can't
do it with slingshots and stones. We must understand this," declared
Mr. Abbas, like many in the Palestinian leadership, studied in Russia
and also speaks some Russian. Abbas knows that he can expect little
from the Americans based on the peace process thus far.
Mr. Abbas also endorsed Mr. Putin's plan for a Middle East conference
which would be held in Russia despite the idea being rejected by the
United States and Israel.
Meanwhile, at a conference of oil industry executives in Edinburgh,
Matthew Simmons, an advisor to George W. Bush and an industry
executive, commented that the world was reaching "peak oil" and he
expected the price to skyrocket to $100 by 2008 as supplies failed to
meet demand. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is
presently pumping at 25-year highs, with the extra supplies pushing
world oil prices below $50 a barrel.
A number of commentators, however, predicted that the entire oil
industry is in for an extended period of restricted economic activity.
It seems clear now that Russia's role in international affairs will
be to buttress American influence in the region while the US will be
looking to secure its oil supply for the future while maintaining its
role in the Middle East.
The new Cold War looks a lot like the old one, but this time it is
about Oil and Palestine.