The Fifth Column

Remember ‘the fifth column’? This phrase came out of the Spanish Civil War. It’s reputedly what one of Franco’s generals said about a small Spanish town he was about to attack. He had four coulmns of infantry.But he also put great faith in what he called his ‘fifth column’–namely sympathizers and clandestine supporters of the rebellious Franco army who hid away in the town among the populace which was largely pro the legitimate Republican socialist government.

The ‘fifth column’ term was adopted by the English in the Second World War when Churchill and his coalition government declared war on Germany. Those in Britain ( particularly some prominent aristocrats) who sympathized with Hitler’s aims and Nazism, were called ‘fifth columnists’.

What has this got to do with the current controversy over President Obama’s call to Israel to resume peace negotiations on the basis of the 1967 pre-war border with Palestine? Well, first of all there was nothing new in this proposal. Even Bush called for a Middle East road map that started with the old border. My second point is this: when does adamant opposition to the duly elected U.S. government’s Mideast foreign policy–the constant hysterical screams from Israel’s supporters from AIPAC to the right-wing Republicans and the Rapture-obsessed religious zealots–become the ‘new fifth column’?

To continually take Israel’s side, to never break from total support of all Israeli positions (including the freeze on talks with the Palestinians brought about effectively by Israel’s defiant refusal to even pause in the construction of settlements on Palestinian land) not only sabotages the U.S. Administration’s efforts for a final two-state solution, but also fans the flames of resentment and disillusion nursed by Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza as well as the entire Arab world. This is hardly in the best national self-interest of the U.S. going forward. Blind support of an intransigent Israel will breed more antagonism (and even terrorism) from a now restless and unstable Arab world.

Some salient facts: Population of the Arab world is some 350 million. Egypt’s population alone is some 78 million. Israel’s population totals 7.7 million of whom some 20 per cent are Arabs. U.S. aid to Israel (mostly military and defence) is around $3.0 billion a year. Pre-revolution aid to Egypt was some $1.3 billion.