|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
15 - 21 March 2001
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Protect the Palestinians
When Colin Powell undertook his first visit to the Middle East, the American magazine Newsweek asked whether he was capable of resolving the Middle East quagmire and guiding American diplomacy at a time when American politics, from the perspective of the world community, occupies centre stage. The magazine did not think so: his good reputation aside, according to those who have worked closely with him, he is not an outstanding strategy builder but rather a motivating force and a competent executive.
Powell, however, is not the only figure in the US administration lacking a lucid strategic vision of the world's problems, and especially of Middle East issues. Evidently neither the US administration as a whole nor President Bush possesses such a vision. US officials may have preconceptions that stem from their Republican roots. If any, the vision they profess is static and isolationist, promoting the use of military power as well as political and economic sanctions. This was at the heart of Powell's failure to persuade the Arabs to postpone or forget Israel's occupation of their land, and instead look to the terrible dangers the Iraqi regime now poses. The Arab countries, Powell explained, should revive the alliance with America to get rid of Saddam Hussein's regime.
The same logic dominates the Bush administration's view of other world issues -- for instance, the new missile defence programme and North Korea.
It is thus clear that Powell's statements to the US Senate regarding the Bush administration's plans (moving the American embassy to Jerusalem; demanding that Syrian forces withdraw from Lebanon; and, more naively, insisting that the Egyptian ambassador return to Israel) accurately reflect the way the Bush administration thinks about the complex problems of the Middle East. Having rejected Clinton's suggestions, it has no precise plan. Yet instead of drawing the outlines for a comprehensive strategy aimed at bringing security and stability to the Middle East and resuming the peace process on a just, sensible basis informed by eight years of trial and error, the Bush administration has resorted to threats and denials, employing brute force to curtail Iraq on one hand and threatening to let Sharon run amok on the other, while letting Israel prey on the Palestinian people as it pleases.
To this day, the Bush administration has remained perfectly silent regarding the war, the massacres and the siege launched by the Israeli government against the Palestinians. It did not even attempt to persuade Israel to loosen the embargo on Palestinian towns or release the money belonging to the Palestinian Authority. Welcomed -- inexplicably -- by the Arabs, the Bush administration finds it easy to exercise blatant pressure on them, in a bid to render the next Arab summit unimportant and to break the Intifada while displaying American military might in Iraq. The Arabs, in the meantime, are still counting on a change in American policy, or on an explosion within Sharon's government perpetrated by internal disputes. Both eventualities, alas, are fantasies rather than facts. Following recent shifts in the Israeli perspective, based on the principle of security (for Israel) in exchange for bread (for the Palestinians), what America should do now is to stop the war the Israeli government is waging on the Palestinian people, and to install international forces to protect the Palestinians prior to resuming the peace process. It remains up to the Arab summit to work out a unified Arab position.
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