Sunday, July 22, 2012

We’ve been consistent (Consistently Unfair)

Three days ago, I attended a lecture by the American Ambassador to Singapore, HE Mr David Adelman at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS). His lecture was about the American Strategic position in South and Southeast Asia. As happens at ISAS lectures, I felt obliged to ask him questions. So, I questioned on how he though America’s policy towards Israel was playing out in South and Southeast Asia.

He argued that he didn’t think American Middle Eastern Policy was playing out in South and Southeast Asia (despite the fact most of the world’s Muslims live in these two regions). He made the point that “We have been consistent in our policy in the Middle East,” and when I pointed out to him that many people around the world, particularly in the Islamic World think American policy in the Middle East is “Unfair” his reply was, “We’ve always been fair that suggestions that we need to be more fair are ‘unfair.’”

Although his responses were more open than his French counterpart, I’ve been struck by how easily Americans sometimes fail to see the obvious even when it’s painted itself purple and is dancing naked in front of them. The American Ambassador is correct in the sense that American policy in the Middle East has been consistent. However, it has been consistently unfair.

Let’s face it, when was the last time anyone remembered an American President telling an Israeli Prime Minister to stop building illegal settlements on Palestinian territory? If memory serves me correctly, that was two-years ago and Mr Obama was considered radical for actually suggesting that Israel was not an innocent party. What should also be noted is the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Nethanyahu promptly ignored the suggestion that he stop violating international law and continued to build settlements on the West Bank.

By contrast, American Presidents have made it a point to lecture Palestinian and Arab leaders on a consistent basis about the need to stop using terrorist methods. Palestinians and Arabs, it seems are consistently at fault for not making the Middle East a more peaceful place. That is despite the fact that the last known push for a comprehensive peace plan was initiated by Saudi King Abdullah in 2002 and 2006. The proposal was very simple, Israel would withdraw to its 1967 borders and in return it would receive diplomatic recognition by all 22-members of the Arab League. This simple proposal was flatly rejected by the Israeli end without a squeak from the American Administrations. In fact, when President Obama went as far as to suggest that negotiations should start based on the 1967 Borders, the Israeli Prime Minister gave him the proverbial middle finger.

The difference in the way it treats both sides becomes even more glaring when you look at the actual conflict itself. In 2006, we had Condolezza Rice openly declaring that the bombardment of Lebanon was called, “Birth pangs of a New Middle East” and the US couldn’t help but to rush cluster bombs over to Tel Aviv. When it came to the Israeli Bombardment of the Gaza Strip in 2008, the Americans proceeded to admonish the Palestinians for voting Hamas, an organization that does not recognize Israel.
Then there’s the issue of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Much is made of the necessity of stopping Iran from acquiring Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). The media gladly misquotes Iranian President Ahmadinejad as wanting Israel to be “wiped off the face of the earth” (He was quoting Khomani who said that the Zionist Regime would eventually disappear into the sands of time) as an example of why Iran must not have nuclear weapons. That is despite the fact that Iran actually has signed up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. By contrast, Israel has never signed a nuclear treaty and simply works on “neither admitting nor denying” that it has nuclear weapons.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that American policy in the Middle East has been consistent – it has been consistently stacked against the Palestinians and other Arabs in the region. George Bush made a point that, “They hate us because we are free,” however, as an opinion piece in the Financial Times pointed out, “They hate us because we have supported the people who have suppressed their freedoms.”

The Ambassador did make the point that, “Our intentions have always been noble,” and in the case of the Middle East, there’s always been the “noble” intention of protecting Israel. However, in the act of trying to protect Israel and stopped terrorism (mainly the Islamic variety), US policy has ended up creating a reason for Israel’s destruction and creating reasons for terrorism.

Let’s look at who the Americans have supported in the Middle East. The name that comes to mind is Egypt’s previous President, Hosni Mubarak. As far as most Egyptians were concerned, Mr Mubarak was a strong man who kept them down and enriched his cronies. As leader of the most populous Arab state, Mr Mubarak made his presence known throughout the Arab World. Former Editor-in-Chief of Arab News, Khaleed Almaeena once noted that he was fired by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia because Mr Mubarak complained about him.

Yet, despite all of that, Mr Mubarak continued in power for over three decades. How did he do it? Answer was simple, he controlled the military, which in turn was supported by America (Egypt receives more US aid than any other country except Israel). The regime Mr Mubarak ran had a peace treaty with Israel and the “cold peace” with Israel was bolstered by the fact that Israel and Mr Mubarak had enemies in common (the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas). When Israel decided to blockade the Gaza strip, Mr Mubarak supported it by keeping the Egyptian side of the border sealed.

America had no problem with Mr Mubarak ‘stealing’ from the Egyptian people as long as he supported their policy towards Israel. Unfortunately for Mr Mubarak, the average Egyptian did not see things this way and people like the Muslim Brotherhood knew it. While he may have feared and the given the Americans the same idea, that he would be deposed by a group of radical Islamist, he was in fact disposed of by Egyptians from all walks of life and all religious persuasions.

The Ambassador had talked about being a “true friend” of Israel and having a “true friend” in Israel. While this sounds nice, America and Israel are not friends. America simply bankrolls whatever Israel does, regardless of the legality of Israel’s actions. This is not the action of friends. America needs to stop funding activities which are illegal. It has to stop making peace treaties with Israel an excuse for Arab regimes to behave badly. It’s only when America reverses this consistent policy, will it really gain the hearts and minds of the world’s billion odd Muslims and secure a sustainable peace for Israel.

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