I agree with Israeli peace advocate Uri Avnery that George Mitchell, America’s Middle East peace envoy, should stop wasting his time and our American taxpayers money. (see Uri's article below).
As an Arab-American , I disagree on everything else with my friend Uri.
Primarily, the notion that the USA ''owes'' anything to the Palestinians, the Arabs or for that matter Israel is wrong. We tried for decades and succeeded in mediating two peace treaties between Egypt, Jordan and Israel. For that America is owed gratitude, but it has no further obligations to do more.
If anything, we overpaid Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinians and Israel and continue to shell out $ 5 billion a year in aid to those countries, money that we should put to better use in America.
Furthermore, it's patently false to repeat the empty refrain that unless the Arab-Palestinian conflict is resolved nothing else in the Greater Middle East-- from Iraq to Afghanistan can be resolved. The problems of Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan , indeed the whole Muslim world, have nothing whatsoever to do with Palestine or the Palestinian-Israeli problem.
Most Muslim people are fighting their own terrorists, their own illiteracy, their own corruption. Indeed many Pakistanis could not show you Palestine on a map, if they can read at all.
That Palestinian-Israeli conflict has lasted a 100 years, if you assume it began in 1917 with the Balfour declaration made by the British Empire to European Jews. There was no Palestine then and America had no involvement whatsoever with the issue of the Middle East. We do not have to babysit someone else's problem. The Israelis have a democracy which unmasks their own corrupt people by free elections as we have seen numerous times. They take care of themselves. I find it amazing that everyone today mimics , without a moment of thought that America ''must'' force Israel to do this and do that. Why?
If the Arabs want Palestine liberated, go ahead, liberate it. Why do you need America to do it for you? We do not want to be involved, but it is in the strategic American interest to Israel's basic right to exist as a Jewish state. It is a crucial strategic ally in our war against terror. We do not have to agree with it, but we surely will never help the Arabs attack it. We have no further Middle East obligations than that. If anything the Arabs need us a lot more than we need them. Without US protection, most Arabs will soon be speaking farsi, or Persian, the language of Iran in a few decades. But should we care? I argue the answer is no. Iran is not an enemy of the US. And if it attacks Israel, the Israelis will bury it under 200 atomic bombs.
But Arabs do have a problem all right: It is called Iran. But any objective analysis would show that if Arabs and Iranians went at each other, the vital interests of the USA would not be affected.
Iraq and Iran fought an 8 year long war from 1980 to 1988: American interests were not in least bit affected. In fact we sold weapons to both sides.
The real problems facing the Middle East today are all local: They include several Arab-on-Arab and Muslim-against-Muslim conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon, Algeria. They also include a feverish spread of Islamic terrorism within each Arab country and the widening of conflicts between Sunnis and Shiites.
None of these have anything to do with the USA-- nor with Palestine.
Indeed the biggest Palestinian problem today and the for the past 40 years has been war among Palestinians themselves. Not only are Palestinians killing each other but most of their political factions have been ''hiring themselves out'' as killers to other regimes: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen etc. In fact even Israel is using and funding it own Palestinian factions within both Hamas and Fatah.
When people like Avnery feel so much compasssion asking for pressure on Israel to help, they never tell us how to solve the other puzzle which is to get Palestinians to talk to other Palestinians. Today there are at least 9 various Palestinian armed groups-- they include Hamas, the PLO, Fattah, Jihad Islami, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the National Front for the Liberation of Palestine and several other ''fronts'' spread over 10 countries as far as Yemen and Iran in addition to Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.
In a political sense, the Palestinians have become the Arab world whores.
Mr Avnery and Jewish liberals never explain how to address this conundrum.
There is, too, the Palestinian-Arab problem.
One is with Egypt which is now defending its own borders against Gaza's 1.5 million Palestinians of Hamas.
Then there is a conflict between half a million Palestinians who live in Lebanon and who went to war back in 1975 as that country still refuses to even let them work.
And there are another half a million Palestinians who live in Syria and have a problem with that country which refuses to give them citizenship. And then there are a million Palestinians living in refugee camps in Jordan and also went to war against Jordan in 1970 known as the Black September war led by Yasir Arafat against King Hussein.
Speaking as an Arab-American and more important, as a taxpayer in these USA, I do not want any more of my money wasted playing peace maker in the Mideast. The USA accomplished peace between two Arab countries and Israel. To help keep that peace, the USA agreed to pay a ''bribe'' -- or financial aid to Israel, Egypt and Jordan which so far added up to more than $ 150 billion since 1979 : $ 3 billion (with a B) to Israel per year; $ 2 billion (with a B) to Egypt per year since 1979 ; and more than $ 200 million (with an m) per year to Jordan.
And what did the USA get in return? Read and watch the Arab media.
Everyday, Al Jazeera, Al Ahram, the Jordanian papers and the UAE Television daily, Moroccon news, Algerian news agencies , all , call the USA the ''enemy of Islam'' , the '' imperialist neo-colonial superpower'' , a ''nation of infidels’’.
Americans Christians and Jews are regularly referred to -- in every Muslim mosque every Friday-- as as ‘’sons of pigs and monkeys’’ .
Save for Israel the rest of the Middle East is of no strategic value today to the USA. This id 2010 not the 1950s. In fact, we can strategically state that if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not resolved for another 100 years, nothing at all will happen. Nothing at all expect a few more wars that do not affect US interests at all.
As for those Arabs -- and Europeans -- who so hate Jews and want Israeli wiped off the map, why don't they do it, if they can?
We will be glad to watch who wins the nexty wars as we watched in 1956 , in 1967 and in 1973 in which Arabs lost more and more lands. If some folks think Israel was beaten by Hizbollah in 2006 , why do they not fact check that the Lebanese who did not think they won anything and watch their country being destroyed.
And if the Palestinians of Gaza think they humiliated Israel in the last invasion, why does Hamas not attack Israel again with rockets? They have been rather quiet ever since. Arab people should stop fooling themselves.
Israel is here to stay. The West , even the Europeans, will not allow any combination of Arabs or Iranians to cross a red line.
The Palestinians will continue to try and drag more Arabs into loosing war after war as they did with Egypt and Jordan, but in the meanwhile the only piece of land they will have left to negotiate an independent state is shrinking by the week. In the end, when Palestinians are ready to say yes, maybe in a hundred years, they may only be negotiating on a small national park outside the mayor's home in Ramallah , the place where their current leader Abu Mazen lives. Uri, my friend, If the dispute has waited all that time -- 2000 year plus-- I do not see why we are in hurry. Your grandson can still write about it in 100 years. Relax.
By Uri Avnery Jan. 30, 2010
GEORGE MITCHELL looks like a kangaroo hopping around with an empty pouch.
He hops here and he hops there. Hops to Jerusalem and hops to Ramallah, Damascus,Beirut, Amman (but, God forbid, not to Gaza, because somebody may not like it). Hops, hops, but doesn’t take anything out of his pouch, because the pouch is empty.
So why does he do it? After all, he could stay at home, raise roses or play with his grandchildren.
This compulsive traveling reveals a grain of chutzpah. If he has nothing to offer, why waste the time of politicians and media people? Why burn airplane fuel and damage the environment?
THE DECLARED aim of Mitchell is to “get the peace process going again”. How? “Get the two sides to return to the negotiating table”.
There is a naÃ¯ve American belief that all the problems of the world c! could be solved if only the parties would sit down at the table and talk. When reasonable people talk to each other, they will eventually arrive at a solution.
The trouble with this is that the people responsible for the fate of nations are not, in general, reasonable people. They are politicians with passions and prejudices and constituencies, who are driven by the mood of the masses. When one is dealing with a 130-year old conflict, the naÃ¯ve belief in the value of talk borders on folly.
Decades of experience indicate that negotiations are useless if one of the parties is not interested in an agreement. Worse: negotiations can actually cause damage when one of the parties uses them to waste time while creating a false impression of progress towards peace.
In our conflict, peace negotiations have become a substitute for peace, a means to obstruct peace. They are an instrument used by successive Israeli governments to gain time - time to enlarge the settlements and entrench the occupation.
(In an interview with Haaretz published yesterday, Ehud Barak accused the “left” in general, and Gush Shalom and Peace Now in particular, of not supporting Netanyahu’s call for negotiations. He got close to accusing us of treason.)
Anyone who now proposes negotiations “without prior conditions” is collaborating with the Netanyahu-Barak-Lieberman government in a ploy to sabotage the chances of peace. Indeed, Mitchell has become - perhaps unwittingly - such a collaborator. When he exerts pressure on Mahmoud Abbas “to come back to the negotiating table”, he is playing the game of Netanyahu, who presents himself as the great peace-lover. Abbas is being pictured as a man who has “climbed a high tree and doesn’t know how to get down again”. There is no occupation, no ongoing settlement activity, no Judaization of East Jerusalem. The only problem is to get a ladder. A ladder for Abbas!
All this for what? What is the kangaroo hopping for? It’s all to help Obama, who is thirsting for a political achievement like a man in the desert thirsting for water. The start of negotiations, however meaningless, would be presented as a great diplomatic success.
THE OTHER day, Obama himself made a rare gesture: the President of the United Statesof America declared publicly that he had made a mistake and apologized for it. He admitted that he had not properly understood the difficulties involved in the restarting of the peace process.
Everybody praised the President. Such a courageous leader! Such nobil! ity!&nbs p! ;
To which I would add: And such chutzpah!
Here comes the most powerful leader in the world and says: I was wrong. I did not understand. I have failed. For a whole year I have not achieved any progress at all towards a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Look how honest I am! Look how ready I am to admit mistakes! That is chutzpah.
That is chutzpah, because a whole year was lost due to this “mistake”, a whole year in which 1.5 million human beings in Gaza, men, women and children, have been suffering utter destitution, many of them without sufficient food, many of them without shelter in the cold and in rain. A whole year in which more than a hundred Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem were demolished while new Jewish housing projects sprang up at a crazy pace. A whole year in which settlements in the West Bank were enlarged, apartheid roads were built and pogroms, under the “price tag” slogan, were carried out.
So, with all due respect, Mr. President, the word “mistake” hardly suffices.
The Bible says: “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). Obama covereth not his “mistake”, and that is good. But it is the second half of the verse that counts: “confesseth and forsaketh! ”. No me r! cy for one who “confesseth” but not “forsaketh”. You have not hinted with a single word that you are about to forsake your old ways.
It is chutzpah for another reason, too: You say that you have failed because you did not properly appreciate the domestic problems of the two leaders, Netanyahu and Abbas. Netanyahu, you say, has an extreme right-wing coalition, and Abbas has Hamas.
Sorry, sorry, but what about your own “coalition”, which does not allow you to move an inch in the right direction? What about the two houses of Congress, which are completely subservient to the pro-Israel lobbies, both the Jewish and the Christian-Evangelical? What about your fear of your extreme right, which is supporting our own extreme right? What about your inability - or unwillingness - to exercise your leadership, invest political capital in a confrontation with the lobbies and move forwards according to the real interests of the United States (and Israel) - as did President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his time, and even, for a short period, Secretary of State James Baker?
THE TERRIBLE blow dealt to Obama in the Massachusetts by-election has dumbfounded many people. It has changed the texture of American politics and is endangering the health system reforms, the jewel in the crown he has put on his head. It threatens to turn him into a lame duck that may not only lose the midterm elections this year, but even fail t! o be ree l! ected less than three years from now.
Many ask: what happened to the shining candidate who enchanted the entire United States and mobilized millions of enthusiastic new voters? Where is the man with a vision who aroused the masses with the battle-cry “Yes, We Can”?
How did the inspiring campaigner turn into a so-so president, one who does not excite anyone? How did the candidate, who always hit exactly the right note, turn into a president who is unable to touch the hearts of the people? How did the candidate, who made all the right decisions, turn into a president who cannot make decisions? How did the anti-Bush turn into another-Bush?
It seems to me that the answers lie in one of the fundamental paradoxes of the democratic system. I have thought about this many a time while sitting through boring speeches in the Knesset.
A democratic leader who has a vision and wants to realize it has to pass two tests: to win an election and to govern a country. If he does not get elected, he will not have a chance to realize his dream. If he fails in governing, his election victory loses its meaning.
The trouble is that these two tasks are very different. Indeed, they tend to contradict each other, because they demand very different talents.
The candidate must make speeches, excite the imagination, make promises and convince the voters that he is capable of fulfilling them. These talents can indeed be of help to the ruler - but they do not suffice to enable him to rule. The ruler must make hard decisions, withstand extreme pressures, manage a huge apparatus with many contradictory components, convince the public of his country and the leaders of foreign countries. He cannot satisfy all sectors of the public and all the interest groups, the way he tried to do as a candidate.
The most inspiring candidates often turn out to be disastrous heads of government. They are swept into power by the enthusiasm they evoke in their voters, and then suddenly find out that their brilliant speeches have no impact any more - not on the members of their parliament, not on the public, not on foreign leaders. Their brightest talent has become useless.
I have the impression that Obama’s numerous speeches are starting to tire people and are losing their appeal. When he turns his face from left to right and from right to left, from one teleprompter to the other, he starts to look like a mechanical doll. The millions viewing his speeches on TV see him turning to the left and turning to the right, but never really looking them in the eyes.
The candidate is an actor on stage playing the role of a leader. After the elections, when he actually becomes a leader, he can become helpless. The man who plays Julius Caesarin Shakespe! are’s play can be a great actor - but if he were Caesar in real life, he would not have a clue what to do. (When I put this to an actor, his retort was: “But Caesar himself would not be able to play Caesar on the stage!”)
Barack Obama is no Caesar. Rather he is Hamlet, Prince of America. Enchanting, attractive, full of good intentions - but feeble and hesitant. To rule or not to rule, that is the question.
IT IS much too early to announce Obama’s political death. Contrary to Mark Antony, who declares in the play “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him”, I am not yet ready to bury the great hope raised by him.
A year has passed since he entered the White House. A year wasted to a large extent. Three more years are left until the next elections. True, in the first year, after such a dramatic victory, it would have been much easier for him to do things than in the following three years, but Obama can still recover, draw the necessary conclusions from the experience and manage a comeback.
One of the roads there leads through Jerusalem. Obama must keep his kangaroo tied up at home and take the initiative into his own hands. He must announce a clear peace program, the one about which there is now a world-wide consensus (Two states for two peoples, a Palestinian state in all the occupied territories with its capital in East Jerusalem and the disma! ntling o f! the settlements in Palestinian territory) and call upon the two sides to adopt it in theory and practice - perhaps by a referendum on both sides. When the time is ripe, he may come to Jerusalem and address the Israeli people from the Knesset rostrum with a clear and unequivocal message.
In short: exit Hamlet, enter Julius Caesar.