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the September 2001 issue of World Press Review
(VOL. 48, No. 12)Overline Overline Overline
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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.
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 roleor
interference or mediationseriously 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, lets 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 didnt have the courage to take
the decisive step to bring about peaceand [President Yasser]
Arafat particularly because Arafat, in the depths of his thinking,
didnt quit believing that the use of violence would bring
about his goals.
Indycks views dont 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 lets 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 Statesinstead of being the intermediary
that brought about the peace processis 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 doesnt consider the Middle East as
having changed much in the past 10 years. Secretary of State [Colin]
Powell is from the Old Guard, which doesnt take the possibility
of change in the region into consideration; they also didnt
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
Statesand 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 dont 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 isnt 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 planor even a strategyto
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.