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Television Panel Discussion
America - Inter American Forum
The Rice Visit with Abbas and Olmert:
Why the US is not considered an "honest broker".
Adriana Amat: The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has gone on for more years than we can count. Never the less, the desire to end this conflict seems to be alive in different Arab countries and the United States. The Secretary of State of the United States Condoleezza Rice visited the region recently. Rice met with the Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Olmert and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The Secretary of State said she would soon return to the region, but made no announcement of progress toward peace talks. On their part, the Prime Minister and President agreed to meet again.
To analyze this theme we have with us Grant Smith from the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy. Grant, welcome.
Grant Smith: Thank you very much.
Adriana Amat: What do you think was the result of Condoleezza Rice's visit to the Middle East? We saw photos, Ehud Olmert shaking hands with Mahmoud Abbas.
Grant Smith: You just covered the result: the appearance of movement. Basically, we can see the Bush Administration looking for support in the Arab world, particularly Sunni governments, to form a common front against Iran. Toward this, they've received a lot of input from
countries like Saudi Arabia and others, that they should push forward the peace process. They've done basically nothing for six years. I think the objective of the meeting was precisely to have photo ops and a meeting. At the end of the day, we've seen nothing more.
Vanessa de la Torre: And the commentary we've seen after this meeting is that the meeting had no significant result.
Grant Smith: Well, they did pile on a number of conditions on the Palestinians, which, from their point of view, aren't very helpful. Basically, they have been economically strangulated since the entry of Hamas into the government. Now, according to the advice of Condoleezza Rice they should formally recognize Israel, although given that Israel hasn't even declared its own borders that's a bit difficult to require of Palestinians; they should abandon the use of violence, and recognize past promises.
So she put a lot of conditions on the Palestinian side, without asking much of the Israelis. Because of that, there's not much of an appearance of balance, but it is very much aligned with Bush administration objectives. Since taking power, this administration has said it would take the diplomatic sides with the Israelis, and this meeting is basically another extension of that.
Adriana Amat: Grant, many experts say that this trip was arranged now because the US needs allies in the region. For the case of Iran. Do you agree with that opinion?
Grant Smith: Absolutely. I completely agree with that view. It is obvious. A real meeting would not take place in the hotel where the secretary of state is passing through. There would be more real planning, and a meeting site communicating that the meeting was important. So I agree completely with that view.
Adriana Amat: Did they meet their objectives?
Grant Smith: I don't think so. There have been some really good diplomatic negotiations coming from the Arab side. The Beirut Declaration, in which the entire Arab League said it would recognize Israel, twenty-two countries, if the Israelis return to pre-1967 borders and return occupied territory. They promised to recognize and established normal relations. This latest effort, which took place in Mecca, in which they united Fatah and Hamas, after weeks of factional violence between the two, armed, unfortunately, with the support of the US and Israel, a plan was established to reunite them and jump start the Palestinian economy with $1 billion of financial aid. This is yet another plan that is not receiving much US support, right now.
Vanessa de la Torre: Mr. Smith, when one visits the Middle East, in particular Israeli territory, the border between Israel and Palestinian land is absolutely clear: on the right side, you see Israel, which is like, Miami, more or less a city completely developed and very pretty, where everyone has a job, with watermelon patches, huge watermelons growing in the desert, and on the other side, Palestinian land where there are only hovels, people who are abandoned and misery at its highest splendor, in one second of clarity. This panorama, what can the US says? Condoleezza Rice goes and asks Palestinians to recognize Israel as a state, but what about realities on the ground? Opportunities for development? What?
Grant Smith: Well, since 1948 when the Palestinians were expulsed and Israel was recognized as a state, Israel has received tremendous support from the United States. There is no Palestinian lobby in the United States. There are many faith groups, Christians, particularly evangelical groups, giving massive support. If you watch cable TV in the US, you'll find a couple of channels dedicated to soliciting money to transfer immigrants and created more colonies on Palestinian lands, in support of Israel. So, as part of religious devotion, and political support, the US maintains a position 100% behind the Israelis. The Bush administration has abandoned and pretense of US objectivity. He said it upon entering office that it was time to "tilt" toward the Israelis.
Vanessa de la Torre: So what are the prospects for peace in that panorama?
Grant Smith: It is pretty dark. Truth be told, we'll se a few more steps, with marginal results as we've seen, but I don't think there'll be any launch, as in the Clinton or Carter administrations, any real peace process that receives world respect. I don't see that happening.
Adriana Amat: Grant when we talk about the Quartet in the negotiations, we always imagine the US, Russia, the EU, and UN. We never imagine Jordan, Egypt, UAE, or Saudi Arabia.
Grant Smith: That's right, that's why they've felt the need to launch their own initiatives, and they've done it. But, for example, when the monarch of Saudi Arabia visited President Bush in Texas a few years ago, he asked Bush, "What can we do to push forward the Beirut Declaration?" Bush's assistants, Dick Cheney, and the rest of the team surrounding Bush had not bothered to brief him on the plan. So there was another summit with not results
because there are no discussions with a common denominator. There's an Arab plan, a plan from the Quartet, they neither cross nor leverage one another.
Adriana Amat: Because the core objectives of each group are completely different?
Grant Smith: Well, one can see in the broader dynamic the US and Israel against the world. That Israel will never be left isolated before a world that is forcing a peace plan onto it. This dynamic can also be seen in the Iran confrontation. There are visible US objectives at the center of the conflict. Basically, the US has settled on "regime change" as the core policy toward Iran. Because of that, so many lines of action are restricted.
It is the same. 100% unconditional support for Israel doesn't leave much room for considering alternative, real peace plans.
Adriana Amat: Now that you mention Iran, what do you think about IAEA report that came out yesterday saying Iran has not suspended uranium enrichment?
Grant Smith: Well, that's one more very preoccupying step. It is comparable to the confrontation between the US and Russia over Soviet missiles in Cuba, except right now there is no "out" for Iran. They want to develop their uranium enrichment program. when Russia and the US came head-to-head, Russia was given a face saving "out" of the situation. What they achieved for backing down was the US withdrawal of intermediate range missiles from Turkey.
So, what can be done right now to convince Iran to back down and stop enriching uranium? Is the US ready to give assurances of Iranian territorial integrity, or guarantee they won't try to topple the government of Iran? No. That is precisely the objective of the Bush administration. So there is no real basis for negotiating.
Adriana Amat: What options does the US really have? Trade restrictions don't seem to have any effect. They depend on oil for export exchange, and the price is over $60 dollars a barrel. So?
Grant Smith: Right, all of these trade restrictions aren't worth much. These days, we've got a global economy. If Iran wants some advanced technology, all it has to do is cross the straits of Hormuz, visit UAE, and buy whatever they want. Restrict the movement of Iranian diplomats also doesn't have much impact. We have a mini cold war with Iran right now. The Bush administration is attempting a financial blockade, restricting global financial flows to Iran. Both sides are conducting military exercises in the Gulf. It is a grave crisis very similar to the Cuban missile crisis.
Vanessa de la Torre: Do you think president Bush is going to invade Iran?
Grant Smith: My prediction is there is no scenario for invasion. It is possible that at some point in 2008 there'll be a US aerial bombardment of the nuclear sites.
Adriana Amat: The sad thing is in this fight with the US, they forget about their country. Look at the economy of Iran. The popularity of Ahmadinejad has gone down a great deal because he has not met his campaign promises to the people.
Grant Smith: Sure. They've got tremendous reserves of natural gas they can exploit, they've got world class petroleum reserves to develop, but they can't finance development. the Iranian investment climate is very complicated, yet another country that because of a financial blockade, is starting to
Vanessa de la Torre: After 9/11, "the Arabs" generalizing a bit here, turned into the world's villains...
Grant Smith: In the US news media and popular culture, yes.
Vanessa de la Torre: The world was divided between the "good" and the "bad". The "bad" the Arabs, the "good" the US. Do you think this narrative continues to this day?
Grant Smith: It is starting to change. For example, because of visa restrictions, Arab visits to the US have been cut in half. What the "good and bad" purveyors did not contemplate is that that mentality does not affect only tourism, but has lowered US exports by $101 billion in the last five years. There is a group working now to reestablish normal person flow and throw out all of these damaging paradigms that we've got to prohibit all Arab visitors, or delay them indefinitely when processing their visas. Why? Because the US is beginning to suffer economically for that type of mentality of "enemies" and "the US against the world". Times are changing.
Adriana Amat: What possibilities for peace in the Middle East do you see, between Israelis and Palestinians, and returning to psychological warfare, children in school are taught from a very young age to hate "the enemy". The enemy is Israel, or the Palestinian. In an opinion survey, there are people who don't want to appear on camera, who have a strong opinion about this on the Palestinian side. One asks them
"what do you want to happen" and they take out a map of Jerusalem and say, "this is my land. And I am going to teach my children to fight for this land." You go and ask an Israeli the same question, and get the same answer.
Grant Smith: Well, for many centuries, Jerusalem was a city shared by three faiths. It is not impossible that it will return to that status. We are always directed to focus on "Palestinian terrorism" forgetting that in 1948, the terrorists were the Israelis.
Yitzhak Shamir was considered by Britain to be terrorist #1 of the Middle East. Israeli terrorist groups such as Irgun and Stern were integrated into the Israeli military.
There was more consciousness and tolerance for the transformation of the "terrorist fighting for his land" toward a state. However, the world, particularly the US no longer has this same type of patience for the Palestinians, who are the true victims in this case.
Adriana Amat: Very quickly, what do you think of this book written by President Carter about the Palestinians, in favor?
GRANT SMITH: In truth, Carter is receiving his punishment from just about every component of the Israel lobby in the United States. Unfortunately, some forums are rejecting the book out of hand, in other is it is opening more minds in the US. We'll see in a few years whether the book has had an effect.