Left Is Right(tm)
May 8, 2002
If the conflict in the Middle East were a television biography, we'd be in the second hour of the "E! True Hollywood Story" with Aretha Franklin during her '80s comeback.
Throughout the last several months, the negotiating players (besides Palestinian President Yasser Arafat) have changed in the seemingly, endless Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Perhaps like Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, it's time we conduct a 'wartime update.' The Americans, the Israelis, or the Saudis, who is best influencing (or managing) the Mideast peace crisis?
In terms of the United States, President Bush, while looking 'presidential' giving his talking points for peace, cannot hide the administration's lack of leadership in the region. As the U.S. has been noticeably absent from the Mideast peace process in 2001, the Bush administration has tried to play catch up with Rt. Gen. Anthony Zinni and Secretary of State Colin Powell with limited results. Ironically, foreign diplomacy has fallen to the key person who should be meeting heads of state, President Bush. The push for peace could have made progress on two fronts with both envoys Zinni and Powell making headway, but Bush wanted to play 'tough' with Arafat.
With neither Israel nor Palestine budging away from their right-leaning constituencies, the past week's Bush-Sharon summit seemed like a place where the two parties could make 'multiple lines to peace' as White House Chief Spokesman Ari Fleischer put it. Bush's belated comments about 'building a Palestinian state' and how Arafat must be a' key partner for peace' appears to have fallen on deaf ears for Sharon (who wants his old nemesis Arafat removed from the negotiating process). The result of the Bush-Sharon summit? As Sharon, aka 'the General,' says it most eloquently, they [Bush and him] have a 'difference of opinion.'
But, it is precisely this 'difference' in opinion that is holding up any progress in the establishing a baseline for talks to resume the peace process (which fell apart after the Clinton administration). The longer Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's will is bent towards 'un-cooperation' with Arafat; nothing in the Mideast (or with Israel and Palestine) will change.
Out from the political ether come the new regional, negotiating partner, Saudi Arabia and their politically savvy leaders, King Fahd and Prince Abdullah. Unlike their Palestinian counterparts, these regional Arab leaders have the charisma and the resources to counteract the 24-hour p.r. machine spinning from the Israelis.
Such influential quantities were on display during Saudi Prince Abdullah's visit with President Bush at his Crawford ranch in Texas. These Arab men were infallible in their conservative prowess at dealing with the American media and their ability to vocally describe the political condition of the Palestinians and how their abject condition in turn inflames the population of the Muslim world. In fact, Prince Abdullah seemed so captivated by the ending volley of questions asked by the American press, he stayed almost another week in Houston, meeting with the Bush administration officials, calming down the 'anti-Palestine' rhetoric.
As a result, one would think that with both the Israelis and the Saudis offering their counseling services to the Bush administration that the Israeli-Palestine conflict would be solved within days. However, President Bush has two priorities in dealing with the Mideast conflict: #1, the United States must protect its economic and strategic investments with Israel and #2, he [Bush] still has a promise to keep in bargaining or talking with terrorists via his "us or the terrorists" pledge from the early post-Sept.11 days. With Bush's hands bound by his words, the stalemate in this 'war of wills' between Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and President Bush will probably last even longer than the siege of Palestinian soldiers in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Thus, in the Mideast crisis, Israelis appear to have the edge over the Palestinians in the battle of American influence. Not only in the number of advocates interviewing with the American press several times daily but also the power of Jewish-American political organizations lobbying Congress on their behalf (i.e. the successful passing of House and Senate pro-Israel 'non-binding' resolutions).
Despite the question of donation to the families of suicide bombers and their monarchal government, the Saudi royal families is the 'dark horse' in the conflict, perhaps ultimately deciding whether Arafat retains his revered status for resisting American-Israeli imperialism, or is rendered "obsolete" by the younger, more militant (and fundamental) voices of Hamas and the PFPLO (gradually moving away from Arafat's Fatah party). (And I am not even including the influence of another up-and-coming 'player,' Jordan's King Abdullah.)
With all the moves, counter-moves, and double-talk between world leaders to find an end to Mideast standoff, people have to wonder, like Aretha, "who's zooming who"?
Just like any used car professional, it's probably the one saying the least (Saudis), while having the most to gain (world influence).