Obama and Netanyahu are missing the boat


There is no doubt that Barack Obama and, certainly, Benjamin Netanyahu have to date missed the boat launched during the Arab Spring and heading to the Middle East and North Africa with promises of more glorious days ahead for the Arab world.How long will the 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 United States. It underlined that in “some issues such as counter-terrorism and efforts to fight money laundering, the Saudis will continue to be a strong U.S. 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 Center for Research & 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 U.S.-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 was also scheduled to meet separately with Jordan’s King Abdallah last Tuesday, and three days later with Netanyahu the day after he delivers his “major” address directed at the Arab and Islamic world, which 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 had 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.

Another former U.S. 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. Chas W. 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 Center in Washington earlier this month, Ambassador Freeman 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 United States, 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 United States 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 behavior is reproach to the American reputation as well as its own.”

Ambassador 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 defense to U.S. 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 U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia explained that “the inability of United States 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 U.S. 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 toward the U.N. General Assembly in September for a way out of this morass.