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Bush in the Middle East


US President Bush is coming to Israel for his first official visit as he swings through the Middle East. Though originally perceived as a bid to jump start the Israeli Palestinian peace process, Washington Post analysts point out that the purpose of the visit is no longer so clear, and that the real issue may be crumbling US prestige due to waffling on the issue of Iran.

A summit of Bush, Israeli PM Olmert and Palestinian PM Abbas was ruled out, shifting the focus away from the peace process. Bush will be stopping in Riyadh and other Gulf state capitals to reassure Arab countries about US Iran policies following the National Intelligence Estimate report that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program. According to the Post,

...in Arab Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia, which feel threatened by the rising Shiite power that Iran represents, the NIE renewed doubts over whether the United States might be seeking an accommodation with Tehran.

In an interview yesterday, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa cited recent overtures between Iran and Arab countries and said Arab nations are exercising a prerogative to set their own course on Iran. "As long as they have no nuclear program . . . why should we isolate Iran? Why punish Iran, now?" he asked.

One senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly about the trip said many Middle Eastern governments were "confused" by the NIE. "No Arab regime understands why the United States would publish an intelligence estimate." The official said Iran will be an important focus of Bush's conversations with regional leaders, with the president seeking to reassure them of U.S. staying power in the Middle East.

...some Arabs suspect the Bush administration may decide it has to work with Iran to preserve security gains in Iraq. Khalid al-Dakheel, a political scientist at King Saud University in Riyadh, said "some people here think, or have the jitters, that this administration or the next administration . . . might find themselves in a position to reconcile themselves with the Iranians."

The Arab countries are confused about US policy or lack of it, and Americans may be confused by Sunni Arab cozying up to Iran in public while complaining more quietly about lack of US leadership. Perhaps in the ideal world, what the Sunni Arabs would like is for the United States or Israel to somehow make Iran "go away," after which they could passionately condemn Zionist neocon aggression against a brother Islamic state. Indeed it is not unimaginable that the US will "cut a deal" with Iran, as it seems to have few options. The mythical air attack on Iran might stop a nuclear program, but it would certainly not stop Iranian subversion in Iraq. Quite the contrary, it would give the Iranian government every incentive to raise hell in Iraq if it can. At the same time, the Arab league has not been notably helpful in stopping the flow of terrorists and supplies into Iraq either, nor have they been really serious about implementing sanctions against Iran.

With the Palestinians, it seems that the Saudis and the Egyptians are carrying out a policy that is quietly but determinedly opposed to that of the United States. The Saudis and Egyptians insist on legitimizing the Hamas government in Gaza at the expense of the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas, encouraging talk of "unity." Apparently bowing to Saudi pressure, Egypt allowed returning Hajj pilgrims, including a good percentage of Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives carrying money, back into Gaza without inspection. It is hard to say where the circle of blame begins. Faced with U.S. lack of will, it is hard to blame the Arab countries for pursuing an independent policy. Faced with Arab "independence," inability or unwillingness to act to protect their own interests, continued support of Jihadists and cooperation with Iran, it would be hard to blame the U.S. for deciding to "cut a deal" with Iran and/or Syria.

The decline in U.S. prestige and ability to control its "allies," and its murky policy on Iran makes it even more unlikely that Israelis and Palestinians will follow the US lead and get serious about peace. In Israel, a major selling point of the peace process and the need for compromise has always been the perceived threat of Iran, and the need to form alliances to confront Iranian ambitions. But the coalition against Iran is proving to be a delusion, and US support against Iran seems to be worthless. At the same time, and for some of the same reasons, the US is no use to Mahmoud Abbas: It can't prevent Egypt and Saudi Arabia from supporting Hamas, it can't eliminate Iran as factor that supports both Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and above all, it is losing its leverage with Israel. Abbas is not going to take the political (and health!) risks involved in giving up "Right" of return for refugees, recognizing Israel as a Jewish state or making any other concessions if he knows Israel won't make the required concessions for its part, and if in any case, there cannot be a peace agreement and a Palestinian state because of the continued rule of Hamas in Gaza. In that scenario, by making concessions for a theoretical state, he would simply be painting a target on his forehead for the extremists supported by Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Bush's pledge that the US would defend Israel if it is attacked by Iran was no doubt intended to allay Israeli fears and convince Israel that the rationale for progress toward peace in return for protection against Iran is still in place. However, it was far from convincing. After an Iranian nuclear attack, US help would not be of much use, and it may not have much credibility as a deterrent either.

The truth, as Hillel Halkin notes, is probably that nobody in the Middle East really wants an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. Halkin deludes himself if he believes that a unilateral partial Israeli withdrawal can really provide a stable solution. Nonetheless, one suspects that option is preferred by much of the Israeli government, and may be preferred by the Palestinians and the Arab states. Halkin notes the long history of failed Jewish-Arab peace schemes, always offered by outsiders and generally rejected by the Arab side.

A non-peace "solution" would allow Israel to keep territories it would have to give up otherwise and prevent formation of a state that could well become an irredentist terror state. It would allow Palestinians to maintain their claims and national aspirations and avoid politically dangerous compromises. As for the Arab states, they have never been interested in a Palestinian state, and did their best to prevent the formation of such a state since 1948, as it was viewed as a potential source of radical ideology. As they demonstrated at Annapolis, Arab leaders have a cultural aversion to "Zionists" - they would not shake hands with the Israeli delegation or even allow them to enter the conference hall through the same door. Peace would mean that they would have to embrace the anathema. Removal of the Israeli-Arab conflict from the Middle East political scene would produce a revolution in Arab politics, because that conflict has been the lynch pin of Arab national movements since 1948 and before. Revolutions are risky affairs - especially in the volatile political and social conditions of the Middle East.

Since 1975 and before, the US has predicated its Middle East policy on the idea that everyone in the Middle East would view a settlement of the Israeli-Arab conflict as a great boon. Consequently, the US may be surprised to learn that it has to use pressure not only to get material concessions out of the parties, but just to get them to agree to the idea of peace. The bride and groom are not just haggling over the dowry. They really aren't interested in marriage. Arab-Israeli peace is not a panacea that will lead the way to solving the Iraq problem, to enhancing US prestige, and to stability, democracy and a flourishing Middle East.

Arab-Israeli peace is a moral goal worthy of pursuit for its own sake, but it can't happen unless the US is strong and the Middle East is stable. From the policy point of view, peace is an end, and not a means. Once President Bush understands that, he is far less likely to be disappointed by the almost certainly meager results of his trip and the "peace process." He could then have a good basis for formulating a US policy that has a chance of at last achieving Arab-Israeli peace, by laying the prerequisites for it.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 2 comments

United State of America (USA)looking for another oil field, because they are bankrup,so where are United nation?, please don't ask! because when USA attack Irak they do nothing.And until now USA can't prove it anything about Irak.United Nation still do nothing, and for the last why it can be happen?, i think this is the answer :
1. Middle East must be one vote
2. Say no to war
3. Stop USA and Israel in Middle east
4. Palestine must be free
5. Save Iran
6. Say no to economic embargo for Iran

Posted by teguh @ 01/15/2008 04:01 AM CST

the solution is for israel to repent for stealing the land of the pals.

Posted by scottsoperson @ 03/22/2008 09:26 PM CST

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