wags say that a second marriage represents the triumph of hope over
experience (though I can attest that sometimes it works). So what
would you call the umpteenth effort by outside powers to impose
a settlement on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute through a combination
of nice talk and veiled threats?
the administration says, the United States will once again try to
broker a Middle East peace with a conference. The key is that this
is supposed to be a "ministerial-level" conference which
means the issue of whether Arafat and Sharon would be at the same
table can be finessed and a lot more outsiders will be invited.
Saudi Arabia, Russia and the European Union are supposed to show
up to schmooze and wring hands.
biggest new factor, however, appears to be the new activism of Saudi
Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah. Chris
Suellentrop had an interesting piece as an "assessment"
on Friday’s Slate.com, on the emergence of Abdullah, at the
ripe old age of 78, as something of an international player.
notes that Abdullah, since becoming de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia
in 1995 when King Fahd had a stroke, has undertaken some interesting
policy steps. He appointed a Sunni ambassador to Iran and has played
footsie with that regime, and has taken a few steps to try to reduce
corruption and malfeasance in the widely extended Saudi royal family.
At the same time he has undoubtedly at least been aware of and has
probable encouraged support for various Islamic radical guerrillas
around the world.
cynical among us might note that as the scion of a Texas oil family,
George Bush is probably more comfortable speaking to Saudis than
most Americans might be. Texas oilmen long ago not only resigned
themselves to dealing with a regime where women are kept under male
thumbs, most dissent is repressed cruelly and the bosses rule by
hereditary right and sheer power, one could suspect that they kind
of admire such a system. Admire or not, however, they certainly
have experience dealing with those guys.
comparison, reasonably sincere conservatives like Rich Lowry at
National Review (and I think he’s reasonably sincere though I recognize
some might disagree) have been bashing the Saudi regime fairly steadily
since 9/11. Now their maximum leader seems to be getting in bed
with the avatars of evil. It’s just too delicious.
Abdullah is sincere in wanting to see some resolution to Middle
East crises before he dies or is just trying to keep domestic discontent
with his corrupt regime under control and I claim no special insight he and Colin Powell and George Bush and all the other would-be
healers will be operating in a context. The problem can’t be approached
as if there were a clean slate.
seemed to be a bit of release last week. Emotions from anger to
joy ran high in Ramallah Wednesday night as Palestinian Authority
leader Yasser Arafat emerged from an isolation that had lasted since
early December in the Palestinian headquarters compound in Ramallah.
But it is more than likely that Mr. Arafat’s newfound freedom changes
nothing essential in the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation.
the United States should have inserted itself into the conflict
to the extent of brokering an agreement that led to the withdrawal
of Israeli troops besieging the Ramallah compound in exchange for
six Palestinians wanted by Israel for alleged crimes being confined
control is even more dubious.
big picture, as I suggested a few weeks ago and as some news reports
are beginning to acknowledge, is that the United States (although
there are reports of divisions within the administration) desperately
wants to attack Iraq and oust that country’s dictator, Saddam Hussein,
from power as part of its overall war on terrorism.
quickly became clear, however, as Secretary of State Colin Powell
traveled through the region recently, that "moderate"
Arab states, and especially Saudi Arabia, were demanding a more
active US role in trying to mediate the Israeli-Palestinian dispute
which would mean more US pressure on and less support for
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as part of the price
for supporting (or not opposing) an attack on Iraq.
President Bush began calling for more Israeli withdrawal from the
West Bank and over the weekend offered the idea of exchanging the
Palestinians wanted by Israel for an Israeli withdrawal from Ramallah.
If various news reports are reliable (and who can be sure?) the
implicit deal seems to be that the US will pressure Sharon and the
Israelis and the Saudis will pressure Arafat and the Palestinians.
this small bow toward a diplomatic approach will yield even a temporary
cease-fire is questionable. Yasser Arafat emerged from his confinement
angry and provocative, calling the Israelis "terrorists, Nazis
and racists." Later he talked of peace, but it was obviously
not foremost in his mind. The last few days have not seen a notable
reduction in expression of mutual hostility and dislike.
US willingness to involve itself more closely in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian
dispute will lead to support from regimes like Saudi Arabia or Egypt
for a US attack on Saddam Hussein is also questionable. Arab leaders’
attitudes toward attacking Saddam range from lukewarm to hostile.
United States, of course, might well be able to undertake an attack
on Iraq alone, but it obviously wants at least lip-service support,
and perhaps permission to put bases, stockpiles and other military
facilities in place, from other Arab governments.
the price of "moderate" Arab support is something resembling
a resolution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however, the prospects
are dubious. The roots of that conflict are deep and there are few
signs of either war-weariness or second thoughts on either side.
FROM AN AGREEMENT?
the small success if that is what it is of ending the siege
of Ramallah may do little to bring about peace between Israelis
and Palestinians. "If anything, both sides seem to have become
more radicalized over the past several months," Ted Carpenter,
vice president for defense and foreign policy at the Cato Institute
told me last week.
for peace based on anything resembling mutual respect might be less
promising than in 2000, when former President Clinton tried so desperately
to "force" an agreement and had the effort blow up in
Carpenter believes that Yasser Arafat, after a period of strong
support from Palestinians during his confinement, will have to rebuild
not only the Palestinian Authority’s infrastructure but his own
standing. Considering the growing power of more militant factions,
this is likely to translate into anti-Israeli intransigence.
Mr. Sharon is likely to assess the US domestic political scene
noting non-binding resolutions in both houses of Congress
and conclude that his country’s $3 billion aid package is not in
serious jeopardy if he continues to conduct an "aggressive
defense" especially if there are more Palestinian suicide
broker an agreement the United States will have to convince the
opposing sides that it is acting in their interests. Considering
how divergent their interests are just now, this will be difficult
to impossible. A ministerial-level meeting would undoubtedly get
lots of media coverage and provide a find platform for various blowhards,
but the prospects for real progress toward peace seem minuscule.
would love to be wrong in this assessment. I certainly wouldn’t
mind seeing evidence emerge in the next few weeks or months that
Israelis and Palestinians have become war-weary enough to begin
talking and negotiating rather than using bombs and bullets. But
events of the last few months have done little to instill or increase
confidence in diplomacy on either side.
all its military and economic might, the United States can do little
to bring about conditions conducive to real peace in the Middle
East. Realistic statesmen as President Bush seemed to be at the
beginning of his term acknowledge that the combatants must want
peace for a settlement to be genuine.
of now the US and other outsiders seem to want an agreement, for
reasons of their own, much more than the combatants do. This is
almost always a bad sign. Certainly it does not augur well for diplomatic
hope Israelis and Palestinians prove me wrong. And I also entertain
a certain hope that the United States emerges from its ill-advised
venture in peace processing less damaged than is likely. But experience
is almost certainly the better teacher.
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