There is no doubt that US President Barack Obama and, certainly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have to date missed the boat launched during the Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa with promises of more glorious days for the Arab world.
How long will American and Israeli leaders continue to bury their heads in the sand without appreciating the golden opportunities roaring above, now that democracy and freedom are being slowly and hopefully firmly established in some of these Arab countries?
The first serious consequential tremor occurred this week when all of Israel’s borders and armistice lines were crashed by Palestinian refugees for the first time since the United Nations sanctioned on May 15, 1948 the partitioning of the Holy Land among Palestinians — Muslims and Christians — and Jews who received the bigger share of the former British mandate.
More than a dozen Palestinians were killed and hundreds of others were brutally injured when Israeli troops countered the young and unarmed infiltrations mercilessly.
Simultaneously, an Op-Ed column published in the Washington Post last Monday revealed publicly a serious rift between Saudi Arabia and the US. It underlined that in “some issues such as counter-terrorism and efforts to fight money laundering, the Saudis will continue to be a strong US partner [but] in areas in which Saudi national security or strategic interests are at stake, the kingdom will pursue its own agenda”.
The writer of the column, Nawaf Obaid, a senior fellow at the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies, explained that “there is simply too much at stake for the [Saudi] kingdom to rely on security policy written in Washington, which has backfired more often than not and spread instability”.
Although there was no indication that this column was officially sanctioned by the Saudi government, it is unlikely that the writer would have attempted it without official blessings, highlighting the point that “a tectonic shift has occurred in the US-Saudi relationship”.
A third earth-shaking event was the surprise resignation of George J. Mitchell, which the New York Times described as “a move seen as emblematic of the frustrations and disappointments of the administration’s two-year effort to revive the Middle East peace process”. Mitchell’s departure was followed by two run-of-the-mill op-eds by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the New York Times and another by a key staffer of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Middle East Policy in the Washington Post.
These cataclysmic developments occurred as Washington was marking Middle East Week, which will include two presidential speeches on the Middle East — one at the State Department and another at the annual conference of the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Obama met Jordan’s King Abdullah on Tuesday and will meet Netanyahu on Friday, the day after he delivers his ‘major’ address to the Arab and Islamic world. This comes two years after his famous Cairo speech, which to date has not yielded anything memorable.
What Obama has under his sleeve is anyone’s guess but few expect him to reveal any momentous step along the lines that Jeremy Ben-Ami, the leader of a pro-Israel advocacy group said would allow his administration “to engage more actively to help end the [Palestinian-Israeli] conflict”.
Aaron David Miller, a former State Department official who was involved in the long-winded peace process has opined: “The sad reality is that the administration threw a highly talented envoy [Mitchell] at a problem for which it never developed an effective strategy.”
One wonders whether Mitchell, who had help settle the Irish conflict, will spill the beans now that he is no longer part of the administration.
Chas W. Freeman Jr, another former US ambassador who made it to the higher ranks of the Obama administration, but resigned shortly thereafter following an intensive campaign against him by pro-Israeli groups was more forthright in unearthing the roots of the conflict.
Freeman Jr, author most recently of America’s Misadventures in the Middle East, and seen as an ‘ideal candidate’ for the chairmanship of the all-important National Intelligence Council (NIC) did not conceal his disappointments. In remarks at The Palestine Centre in Washington earlier this month (www.thejerusalemfund.org), he castigated “the racist tyranny of Jewish settlers over the West Bank Arabs and the progressive emergence of a version of apartheid in Israel” which he said have been “deeply troubling to a growing number of people abroad who have traditionally identified with Israel”.
Moreover, he added, “for the Palestinians, America’s slavish support of Israel has meant an unending nightmare, trapping them in limbo in which the protections of both law and human decency are at best capriciously applied”.
He continued: “For the US, deference to Israel’s counterproductive policies and actions has become a debilitating drain on American power to shape events by measures short of war. The US is now so closely identified with the Jewish state that Americans cannot escape perceived complicity with any and all of its actions, whether we agree or disagree with them. In the eyes of the world, Israel’s behaviour is reproach to the American reputation as well as its own”.
Freeman did not leave any stone unturned: “Perceived American double standards and hypocrisy on matters related to the Israel-Palestine conflict account for much of the recent decline in international admiration and defence to US leadership in the Middle East and elsewhere.”
And, in a slap at some of his unidentified colleagues whom he called “Israel’s lawyers”, the former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia explained that “the inability of US to build on the obvious shared interests of Palestinians and Israelis is, at best, damning testimony to the incompetence of those Americans who have made a career of processing peace without ever delivering it”.
Consequently, he stressed, the “protracted failure of US diplomacy in the Israel-Palestine arena, Palestinians and others may be forgiven for believing that it is time to entrust peacemaking to other parties who are more objective, less politically constrained and less emotionally biased”.
No wonder the Palestinians are heading to the UN General Assembly in September for a way out of this morass.