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October 7, 2010

Israel and the Monty's Python's parrot

Yvonne Ridley

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(Damascus) How many of you remember Monty Python's dead parrot sketch? It was a wonderful comedic routine that transcended nationality and culture. Timeless in its appeal, it is often cited in doomed or desperate situations when a bit of gallows humour is needed.

I was reminded of it on the road to Damascus the other day as news filtered through that the Middle East peace talks had stalled and failed; well, I wonder who saw that one coming?

Yes, Barack Obama’s peace initiative is even deader than the Norwegian Blue parrot “bought from this ‘ere emporium” by John Cleese. Just like the Monty Python pet-shop owner, played so brilliantly by Michael Palin (“It’s stunned; it’s pining for the fjords!”), Obama is in complete denial that the peace talks are a busted flush. Can he resurrect them, like Michael Palin tried to resurrect the extremely dead parrot? Can he do it? No, he can’t!

My travelling companions, a gaggle of assorted journalists and travel writers from various media outlets, expressed no surprise either. Later that day we walked through the ancient ruins of the oasis city of Palmyra north-east of Damascus, and I began to realise then just how insignificant Israel really is in the grand scheme of things in the Arab world.

The state is just over 60 years old and in that time it has never known a day of peace for itself or its neighbours.

It is in a permanent state of advanced paranoia and is always on a war footing, real or imagined.

That sort of negative energy and existence can never be sustained for very long but, in the Middle East, time is measured in centuries not months and years.

Sitting in a magnificent, ancient open-air amphitheatre in Palmyra, I watched a play about Zenobia, a 3rd century Syrian queen of the Palmyrene Empire. Portrayed as a magnificent, fearless warrior who led a revolt against the mighty Romans, Zenobia’s story was inspiring.

As the drama unfolded, she expanded her own territory and even conquered Egypt, but it was obvious before the curtain call that it would all end in tears. And it did – the invincible female warrior’s reign was finished after a handful of years and she was shipped off to Rome to be paraded through the streets in gold chains and cuffs, humiliated and defeated.

As I wandered through the ruins of Palmyra after the performance, it occurred to me why many in the Arab world seem laid back and disinterested in the latest failure of yet another round of faux peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

You see, in the history of the Middle East there have been hundreds of rulers, men and women like Zenobia who believed themselves to be invincible; with the exception of a very few, most of their names have disappeared beneath the sands of time.

The moral of this tale is simple: nothing lasts forever; empires and emperors come and go; borders disappear and expand; and so will arrogant, vicious little Israel.

Not even the size of an African game reserve it is already experiencing the first stages of its death throes. The Zionist State is a failed project with very high maintenance costs and a simply unsustainable future.

Conversely, no matter what wars and natural disasters engulf the region, or borders change, or countries appear and disappear, the Arab world will always be there.

In terms of history, seven decades – the blood-soaked lifespan of the Zionist state of Israel – barely registers as a blip on the Arab world’s timeline. The author of its own misfortune, this pox on the region’s landscape will disappear. History tells us that. The Zionist State’s demise is inevitable.

All that remains of Palmyra is a series of magnificent ruins which fire the imagination, but I can almost guarantee that after another thousand years the name of Zenobia will still be talked about because of her legendary courage and spirit.

I wonder if anyone will remember Israel and, if so, for what? It’s illegal and immoral occupation of the Palestinians, perhaps, or its complete disregard for the rule of international laws and conventions?

Perhaps someone should explain this to the other new kids on the block: the Americans. And if Obama still doesn’t get it then maybe one of his special advisors should run the Monty Python dead parrot sketch in the White House’s private cinema one evening soon.

Mr. President, to misquote John Cleese’s character, I think it is fair to say: “These peace talks are no more! They have ceased to be! The process has shuffled off this mortal coil and gone to meet its maker! It is expired, bereft of life. The peace talks are dead, mate. They’ve snuffed it!” And, despite being nailed on by US support, all we need now is for Israel to fall off its somewhat precarious perch. What a day that will be.

Yvonne Ridley is the European President of the International Muslim Women's Union.

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