Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Notes for Today: The Big Story Being Missed & Trying to Ignore Wikileaks

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By Barry Rubin

In all the excitement over the Wikileaks story, I want to remind people that there's another big story  being ignored. You will be reading about it in the mass media in two or three months.

The Obama Administration has messed up its attempts to get Israel-Palestinian negotiations going. The whole misplaced emphasis on a freeze of construction on settlements--something this government initiated--continues to put a freeze on talks. The presentation of the proposed three-month-long freeze to Israel was done so badly that nobody is quite sure what's in it.

U.S. policy on the issue has lost its way. Looking back over what is now almost the first two years of the Obama Administration, one finds an unbroken record of bungling here.  I wouldn't say that irreparable harm has been done to the region or to U.S.-Israel relations, precisely because there was no chance of great progress on the peace process any way and nothing much has actually happened despite all the rhetoric. But a huge amount of U.S. prestige, time, and resources have been squandered.

Here's a quiz for you: What is the one factor regarding the Israel-Palestinian conflict that the Obama Administration has changed and which is disastrous? [See end of article for the answer.]

If you haven't read it yet, you might want to look at my analysis of this issue HERE.

Speaking about the Wikileaks story, it is amusing to see how the champions of the 1980s' conventional wisdom--that everything in the Middle East is about the Arab-Israel conflict and not about Islamism versus nationalism, and Iran-Syria versus the Arab states--are telling people to ignore that man behind the curtain.

One such person remarked that the Arab rulers didn't say nice things about Israel in the many meetings described in the leaks. That's true. But the point is that they didn't say nasty things about Israel either and, generally, spoke of it as a normal regional power.

Others have pointed out one or two instances where Arab leaders, in passing, gave lip service to the notion that the best way to fight Iran and Islamism was to have an Israel-Palestinian peace. That's true. But the point is that hardly anyone said that and when they did they passed over it briefly.  When the Emir of Qatar tells Senator John Kerry that Israeli can’t be blamed for mistrusting Arabs, because “the Israelis have been 'under threat' for a long time,” that qualifies as a breakthrough statement.

Here's the best one-sentence summary I've seen, from Lee Smith, author of The Strong Horse:

"What comes through most strongly from the Wikileaks documents, however, is that U.S. Middle East policy is premised on a web of self-justifying fictions that are flatly contradicted by the assessments of American diplomats and allies in the region."

I read one distinguished British journalist who wrote--no exaggeration--that this shouldn't distract us from seeing that the real problem is that the US government--that's the Obama administration, mind you--is dominated by a right-wing Zionist cabal (no kidding). A USA Today article said the leaks proved that an Israel-Palestinian peace settlement would help get Arab support on Iran, etc.

The admirable Jeffrey Goldberg points out that the leaks should also put an end to the exaggerated (sometimes crazed) talk of the all-powerful Israel lobby since Israel, even with agreement from  Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other Arab governments, couldn't get the United States to act more toughly against Iran.

Of course, the people who hold to this false and outdated image of the Middle East don't want to admit we are right so they keep talking about details, atmospherics, etc., without pointing out the conclusions to be drawn from this material. BUT this is one more step in turning the tide and more and more people are starting to question the conventional wisdom.

Another point is this: As I've been saying, the problem is in the White House more than in the State Department. A lot of the reporting is good and America's allies are telling it the truth. But this is not being reflected in top-level policy decisions and strategies.

Answer to Question: By  pressuring Israel to end high-level sanctions on the Gaza Strip and greatly increasing its own aid, the U.S. government has in effect accepted long-term Hamas rule there, making peace even harder to achieve and strengthening the Iran-Syria axis.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.

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