Monday, January 11, 2010

Middle East: Leaders scurry to talk about what to do or not to do, and how to do it or not to do it

BY Kareem Ezzat*

Republished kind permission of IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

(IDN) – Ridiculous as it may sound, one can well have the impression that the Middle East leaders are behaving as if they were not outright responsible for the most conflictive region on Earth, but top managers of a private company for luxurious jets.

In fact, the so-called negotiations to put an end to the longest living conflict in the world have been intensified, making the concerned regional leaders to shuttle back and forth between each other’s capital -- to talk about what to do or not to do, and how to do it or not to do it.

Take just a handful of last days: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Cairo to meet Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

Immediately after, the chairman of the so-called Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas took his jet to the Egyptian capital also to talk with Mubarak.

Soon after, Abbas flew back to Egypt, this time to Mubarak’s Red-Sea presidential palace-resort in Sharm El Sheikh. Not willing to stay behind, Jordan's King Abdullah II also took off for Sharm.

After talking to Mubarak, Abbas flew to Doha.

The Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on his part decided to travel to Damascus.

Subsequently, almost simultaneously, Arab Mediterranean foreign ministers jetted to Cairo to talk to Mubarak and – lo and behold -- their French colleague Bernard Kouchner attending a meeting on the Union for the Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Abul Gheit, and his colleague in charge of Egyptian Intelligence Service, Omar Suleiman, packed up to fly to Washington.

HAMAS political leader, Khaled Mashaal, on the other hand, landed in Riyadh for talks with Saudi King Abdullah.

The ‘consultation tours’ joined by kings, presidents and foreign ministers spanned several other Arab capitals.

The aims of all this flying around the world has been to talk and talk and talk about the Middle East.


But what are all these flights really for? Somebody wanted to relate them to a leaked version of a possible U.S. new plan to resume Israeli-Palestinian talks. But everybody in the region has systematically assured that they do not know anything about such a plan.

If they were to be trusted, would all these flights be meant just to talk?

There would be an argument to possibly think so -- and that’s, in substance, none of the Middle East leaders, at least and certainly the Arabs, has the power to take any decision regarding the conflict.

They are all worn out.

No wonder. They have long years of rule behind them, which have proved useless as far as the Middle East conflict is concerned, precisely because they do not have power to act in the region; they are neither allowed to nor are they keen about wielding such a power.

Maybe they are not aware that one of the most experienced statesmen in recent History, Italian Giulio Andreotti, stated years ago “power wears out those who don't have it”.

Of course, Arab leaders do not worry about the huge costs of so many special presidential or royal flights. Nor do they care about the horrendous costs of the highly sophisticated security apparatus accompanying them, let alone the legions of advisors and assistants and other characters of their ‘courts of miracles’.

Not to mention the tons of ink that journalists, experts and political analysts are obliged to shower in daily newspapers, or the hundreds of TV on-air interviews that have to be run, for the very sake of attempting to find any meaning in the tours.


Why should Arab leaders care? After all, they might claim that all these flights may very well prove to be necessary and that what counts is the result.

This is the point -- the result is so far zero.

Consider what happened after so many talks: Two foreign ministers -- Egyptian Ahmed Abul Gheit and Jordanian Nasser Judeh, went to Washington to seek information about the so much rumoured new U.S. plan for the conflict.

As a result of their consultations, a series of public statements tried on Jan. 8 to clarify so many ambiguities.

These are some of them:

- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggests that talks are the sole way to deal with the issue. "Resolving borders resolves settlements. Resolving Jerusalem resolves settlements."

- "We need to lift our sights and instead of ... looking down at the trees, we need to look at the forest", Clinton added in her ‘clarification’ exercise.

- Washington is considering what kind of assurances it might give to Israelis and Palestinians to encourage them resume negotiations. But such assurances, which would be produced in the form of letters, appeared to have vanished. In fact, Clinton avoided addressing the issue in a clear, open manner.

- Clinton said she could envisage an accord that "reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure ... borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements".


It is now clearer than ever that the Arabs do not simply have the needed power to take a decision. That power lies somewhere else, in the U.S. but not necessarily really in the hand of its president, whoever he is. But this is a different issue all together.

The fact is that while the new talk-show about the never-ending Middle East conflict is being prepared, millions of people are desperately craving for peace.

These are the helpless elderly people; the injured in hospitals with no medicines; the young widows, and the little orphans.

These are the jobless, hopeless youth which represents more than half of the entire population of the Middle East; students with no school to attend; the mid-age fathers and mothers who are not in a position to feed their families; the homeless, the displaced and the refugees.

All of them have been waiting over long decades for their Western backed, self-imposed leaders to do something for them, while living day and night under huge bombings.

Isn’t that the reality of millions of people in Gaza? Iraq? Somalia? Yemen? And till sometime ago, also Lebanon?

*Kareem Ezzat is a Middle East political analyst.

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