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From the September 2001 issue of World Press Review

Holding the Carrot and the Stick

U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East

Basim al-Jasr, Al-Sharq al-Awsat (Saudi-owned), London, England, July 11, 2001.

America Israel Palestine
Cartoon: Sadeq, Arabia.com, Amman, Jordan
The United States is the biggest player in the peace process. Although the new administration had initially indicated, right after the election of Bush Jr., that it was backing away from its main role, leaving the Arabs and Israelis to work out the issues on their own, the White House and State Department have returned to their former commitments and show daily concern for the Middle East peace process.

This has taken the form of communications between Washington, Tel Aviv, and Arab capitals and the exchange of visits between American, Arab, and Israeli authorities. Yet does this new American role—or interference or mediation—seriously influence the path toward peace? And to what extent does Washington desire or want, or is it able, to force or persuade or spur the Arabs and Israelis to end their historical conflict?

Before answering these musings, let’s review the opinions of Martin Indyck, the [outgoing] American ambassador in Tel Aviv, one of the “engineers of peace,” as he has been called by the Israeli press. Indyck has said that “in 1993, we entered into the peace process believing that we were able to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, yet today, after eight years, we recognize that we failed. Why? Because the Arab leaders didn’t have the courage to take the decisive step to bring about peace—and [President Yasser] Arafat particularly— because Arafat, in the depths of his thinking, didn’t quit believing that the use of violence would bring about his goals.”

Indyck’s views don’t officially express the American position vis-à-vis the process. However, the increasing role that this Jewish-American diplomat to Tel Aviv is playing in the peace process before and after coming to Israel strengthens the belief that Washington has come closer to his thinking and believes that Arafat and the Arab leaders, not [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon, [former Prime Minister Ehud] Barak, [former Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, and [Foreign Minister Shimon] Peres, are responsible for obstructing the path toward peace.

So let’s listen to another American expert on Arab affairs, Howard Schneider, speaking about the failure of the peace process and on American policy in the Arab world: “There were big hopes at the outset of the 1990s of reaching Arab-Israeli peace. But today these hopes have abated significantly. The Palestinians and Israelis are resolute in opening fire on one another, and American citizens face threats in Jordan, an Arab country aligned with the United States. The Gulf nations threatened to boycott the United States economically if it continues to support Israel, and in Iraq, Saddam Hussein is still in power and the United States is incapable of applying sanctions on his country.

“The reputation of the United States in the Arab world during the past 10 years has not been as debased as it is today. And feelings of hostility toward Israel in the Arab streets are associated with the view that the United States—instead of being the intermediary that brought about the peace process—is responsible for obstruction.

“Examination of the failure of the peace talks finds that resorting to the Intifada and armed resistance has become the reasoning of the majority of the Arabs. And this is what supports and strengthens the activities of Islamic extremists like [Osama] bin Laden and others who proclaim war on America.”

It is correct that U.S. policy since the Gulf War and the Madrid conference is built upon the necessity of continued support of Israel while increasing relations and alliances with Arab nations to benefit their mutual interests. In this regard, the United States has been successful in establishing excellent relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. It has also facilitated the convening of peace talks between Syria and Israel.

Of course, we must list the Oslo accords, which returned part of Palestine to the Palestinian Authority and launched talks between Palestinians and Israelis with the goal of ending their historical conflict. So what brought everything back to square one? And has the belief become prevalent that the United States cannot support Israel and be friends with Arabs at the same time?

As for the American view, an American expert became famous for words overheard by former Prime Minister of Jordan Taher al-Masri: “The American administration doesn’t consider the Middle East as having changed much in the past 10 years. Secretary of State [Colin] Powell is from the Old Guard, which doesn’t take the possibility of change in the region into consideration; they also didn’t take into consideration the general Arab views, which differ with the U.S. on the issue of sanctions on an Arab country like Iraq during a time in which Israel opens fire on Palestinians and pressures Washington on their policies. In the Arab view, Israel is the United States—and only means to persuade Israel is [through] the U.S.”

We find further evidence of American interpretations of Arabs in the sentences of American officials such as Edward Walker, one of the former assistants to the secretary of state, who characterizes Arab leaders and arbitrators as “two-faced” and “harmful to the peace process,” because “they attack the United States publicly in their speeches to please their people and in secret say to us: Why don’t you get more involved and do more in the peace process?”

An article by Robert Satloff analyzes the opinions of other American experts on Middle Eastern affairs, saying that the U.S. today is at a dead end and that there isn’t in the foreseeable future any option except managing the conflict, not solving it.

The biggest problem remains: Tel Aviv and Washington know what they must do and are able to do during the upcoming months or years to activate, obstruct, or postpone the peace process. As for the Palestinians and the Arabs, there is no plan—or even a strategy—to deal with peace or war and the perpetual Intifada, which has consumed years and generations.

This is what we should be asking ourselves instead of posing questions about the American role in the peace process.

As the above quotes and opinions show, the American role is obvious, curtailed, and well-known.

December 2001 (VOL. 48, No. 12)Overline Overline Overline OverlineHeadline Headline Headline HeadlineName
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