Image and Reality: The Role of the U.S. in the Middle East


At no time in history have the short sightedness and narrow self-interest of American policy makers had such a devastating impact on the realities of the Arab world and the Middle East, and by necessity on American national interests and standing.

Without delving into the historical roots of repeated American blunders in the region, it is time to point out the dangerous implications of the current American policy and its potential for generating massive instability and conflict.

The most glaring fault lies first and foremost in the total subjugation of American decision making to the priorities and policies of the Israeli government-a government that happens to be the most extremist, ideological, hard line, militaristic, and irresponsible since the creation of the state of Israel (see Georgie Anne Geyer’s “Faltering U.S. policy in the Middle East,” The Washington Times, Dec. 20, 2001, p. A 19).

Whether as a result of gullibility, inherent (strategic) bias, or a determined avoidance of any confrontation with major Jewish and pro-Israeli lobbyists and campaign funders, both American executive and legislative branches seem to be bent on pursuing a precarious course that threatens not only to wreak havoc in the region, but also to lay to rest any hope of salvaging the image, influence, and interests of the US throughout the region.

Instead of hiring suspect spin-doctors and Hollywood image-makers, it behooves the US administration to re-examine both its words and deeds (as well as its silence and inaction) when it comes to the Palestinians, the Israelis, and the Arab world.

Arab public opinion, hitherto blithely ignored by successive American administrations, relates to the US in relation to its role in, and impact on, fundamental regional/national issues-the most compelling, emotive, and visible expression being the Palestinian question.

Over five decades of dispossession and displacement, over three decades of military occupation, over a decade of American involvement in the “peace process,” left the Palestinians more visibly victimized with a daily loss of lives, rights, lands, and even the most basic human consideration.

Throughout, the US was seen as the staunchest ally of Israel, supplying it with billions of dollars (estimated at $ 92 to date), sophisticated weaponry (used to shell, bomb, assassinate, and kill Palestinians on a daily basis), and with blind political cover (24 UN Security Council veto’s to date).

Turning a blind eye to the ongoing, extremely provocative, and illegal Israeli settlement activities, the US also “sponsored” a peace process that gave Israel a free hand in acquiring more Palestinian land and in carrying out other “unilateral actions” (particularly in the illegal annexation of occupied East Jerusalem) with full impunity.

With every agreement renegotiated, modified, or even negated in action, the American sponsors exonerated all Israeli violations and abuses while putting intolerable pressure on the weaker Palestinian side to show “flexibility” and seriousness of intent.

Such a punitive peace process became an abstract political exercise for its own sake, with no legality, substance, or relationship to behavior on the ground. Deliberately ignoring the increasing pain of the Palestinian people and the escalating cruelty of the Israeli occupation, the US exhibited alarming insensitivity to the victims and total collusion with the occupiers, leading ultimately to the tragic breakdown of September 28, known as the second intifada. The fact that all signs were in place, all symptoms visible, was brushed away by the willfully oblivious “sponsor” who failed to acknowledge the most basic human component of this “political process.”

This has been the most consistent aspect of the oft-repeated double-standards charge leveled against the US, a negation of the humanity of the Palestinians and the dubious or suspended or negated applicability of international law and legality to the Palestinian condition.

The only America expression of regret, sorrow, or outrage over loss of life came when the victims were Israeli, while thousands of Palestinians were killed or assassinated by the Israeli occupation with full impunity and total human disregard.

Overall, the negotiating process ignored the applicability of UN resolutions, the asymmetry of power that required protection for the Palestinians and accountability for the Israelis (at least in compliance with the Fourth Geneva Convention and international humanitarian law), and an effective system of mediation and arbitration to resolve disputes in a decisive and objective manner.

With the added (or basic) consideration of Israel’s disproportionate power and influence in the domestic arena, US policy became hostage to the enormous pressures and influence of a major special interest group-the pro-Israeli lobby and its institutions in the US.

Maintaining such a biased and one-sided monopoly on the politics of the region and the course of the peace process, the US excluded all other global players, including the UN, the EU, major Arab countries (including close American allies), and anybody else who wanted to invest in peace making or who could counter the extreme one-sidedness of the Americans-even for their own good.

Hence, Israel ended up calling the shots, not only as the occupying power wielding force against the Palestinians, but also as the formulator of US policy and conduct (sometimes by proxy through its American lobby and institutions), and finally for the whole world.

The ultimate “triumph” came when the European and UN leaderships adopted wholesale the political diction and parameters of the Israeli-American alliance as the defining factors for their role and activities in the region. Israel became the gatekeeper of the peace process, and all stood in line waiting for permission to play a role and expressing their willingness to pay the price.

The natural outcome was a flawed peace process, non-binding agreements with no applicability on the ground or legitimacy, and the escalation of Palestinian victimization.

Now that these fatal flaws have run their course, leading to the tragic breakdown and the intifada of September 2000, it is time to learn from the mistakes of the past.

The post September 11 world has signaled an end to American isolationism or to its selective intervention with no consequences. The question of the “responsibility of power” has become more compelling.

However, the danger inherent in the concept is its exclusive translation into military power or negative intervention, while claiming sole rights on redefining friend and foe, ally and enemy, in accordance with temporary and subjective criteria.

Therein lies the difference between “responsibility” and “arrogance” of power.

Its moral imperative lies in positive, constructive, and peaceful intervention that focuses on human, rather than on military, security.

In the Palestinian-Israeli context, this requires a rapid and effective “interventionist” peace initiative to replace the current lethal dynamic and to provide the parties with a political alternative.

First and foremost, it should bring about a “separation” of the parties by lifting the Israeli siege and blockades on Palestinian areas and curbing Israel’s brutal assaults against the Palestinians.

Instead of adopting the “terrorist” label and repeating the “stop the violence” mantra, the US, more than ever, is called upon to demonstrate its own distinctiveness and to carry out a parallel “separation” from the language, policies, brutality, extremism, and violations of the Israeli occupation.

As a major liability, Israel has done the most to discredit the US and undermine its standing, not only in the region, but throughout the world.

A courageous distancing (as well as a critical distance) is essential if the US is seeking to address the causes of conflict and terrorism by adopting a responsible and long-term strategy.

Pounding the Palestinians into submission, or delegitimizing their leadership as well as their human reality, will succeed only in fanning the flames and discrediting the US even further.

Restoring confidence and hope require the full mustering of US prestige and standing behind a legitimate and politically forceful peace offensive.

Sharon must understand that he does not own the agenda, but that the peoples of the region are in possession of their own futures through a legitimate alternative that only the US can bring about to nullify the Israeli war offensive.

A clear articulation of the objectives has to follow the framework of the Powell speech of November 19, 2001: ending the occupation, withdrawal of Israel to the June 4, 1967 lines, removal of settlements, establishing the independent and viable Palestinian state, and bringing about a just and equitable solution to the Palestinian refugee question-all based on the appropriate UN resolutions and the land-for-peace equation.

The road map must include the implementation of all agreements and of the Mitchell and Tenet plans immediately and without any preconditions or forced sequencing.

Unconditional negotiations must also proceed immediately with full third-party participation and guarantees, including the US, Europe, the UN, Arab countries, Russia, and Norway-among others.

Mechanisms for even-handed intervention and arbitration must be in place, with the prior consent of the parties to ensure compliance.

On the ground, international monitors must provide the “quiet” and “ceasefire” conditions required for the conduct of the talks.

Simultaneously, the reconstruction of all that had been destroyed by Israel must commence, while the Palestinians must commit to the nation-building process that would ensure a genuinely democratic state with full respect for the rule of law and human rights, and with accountable and efficient institutions.

Clearly, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. All the building blocks of peace have been identified and are accessible. The real need is for the political will on the part of the US and the international community to start the process.

That, in itself, is a good thing, with an intrinsic value.

Its impact on peace making, on Palestine and Israel, and on the image and credibility of the US will be beyond measure.

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