Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

President Bush: Post-Tour Reflections - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
Select Page

With the end of President Bush’s tour of the Middle East, I cannot find a better way to start my column than by quoting from a commentary by the Herald Tribune on 15 January in which it said, “The US President has shown an unusual sense of diplomatic haste in stressing the need that Israel and the Palestinians should reach a peace agreement before he leaves his office in the beginning of 2009, and trying through words to push forward the peace process. There is not doubt that words are better than nothing, especially after Bush has refused to intervene for seven years. However, the problem is that time is running out. While Bush has to worry about his legacy, the rest of the world worries about more disappointment and anger that will stem from the failure of this push for peace that has been delayed for too long. Six weeks have passed since Bush hosted the Annapolis peace conference, but nothing has changed on the ground. The Israelis – despite their promises – refuse to stop expanding the settlements, while the Palestinians are not exerting enough effort to stop the violence against Israel.”

This is enough from the commentary, which even if it contains fallacies, it reflects the reality that President Bush has not understood the essence of the issue that he decided to handle after a great deal of hesitation. The basis of the problem is the continued Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people, land and life, and its insistence on usurping the greatest possible part of the Palestinian people’s rights. This is based on a racist and aggressive philosophy and US relentless support even in case of the most atrocious practices that reflect a disregard of human life and of all the foundations the world believes to govern international relations after the end of Nazism and the ratification of the UN Charter.

Perhaps it is odd that all these practices have accompanied every stage of Bush’s latest tour. Not a single day has passed without an Israeli incursion; raids against the civilians in their homes, streets, and cars; and casualties of men and children. All this without the US visitors uttering a word or shedding a tear, like the ones we see whenever there is talk about the holocaust, which happened more than 60 years ago, while these massacres constitute the music track of a tour that we have been told aims at laying down a new beginning for a peace process. Many people have inferred from this that the real aim is not to search for peace, but to cover up other targets that are not difficult to guess. There is no doubt that one of these targets is Iran.

However, I will postpone the talk about this for a while during which I will focus on two issues. The first issue is the US President’s complaint against the rise in oil prices, and its impact – as he said – on the suffering of the US citizen. Perhaps it is easy to describe one’s feelings when faced with weeping over the suffering of the US citizen caused by the rise of oil prices, for which Washington is at least partly responsible, and one does not see any real sympathy for those who fall every day under the pouring shells, tank chains, and Israeli aircraft bombs among the Palestinian citizens who demand their rights in a way for which Israel and its allies have not left any alternative. The second issue is the US President’s interest in contracting arms deals. Add to this the incitement for a Palestinian civil war as a price for improving the situation of the Palestinians, and also waving in front of them the possibility of reaching a settlement. I think that those who wave this possibility do not intend it to be in response to the requirements of truth, justice, and international law.

We have heard the US President – whose country goes to the UN Security Council demanding the punishment of those whose deeds or the charges against them do not compare to what Israel does every day with the public blessing of both the US Government and Congress – say the equivalent of: Forget the past and do not think of relying upon it, because it will not lead to any conclusion. Naturally, he means the UN resolutions. The US President says that the only thing that is available now is negotiations. Then he does not lay down any basis for these negotiations other than the Road Map, which has been proved to lead nowhere, and the only roads indicated on this map are either those with dead ends, or those that lead to slippery slopes that have nothing to do with peace.

Now, if we have reached the stage of talking about Iran, I do not want to stop at the fact that whatever the opinion might be of some of Iran’s behavior, it does not compare to what Israel does. Nevertheless, the double standard as usual is what governs the US stances. At the forefront of the aims of the US President’s visit – which the United States tried to hide without making too much of an effort – is to urge the Arab countries to proceed with or be behind it in what it might be arranging to deal with Iran. The reply has been clear in the Arab statements – including the ones by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al- Faisal – that Iran is not an enemy.

The fact is that if there are disputes between the Arabs and Iran, the way to resolve them is through a dialogue. Perhaps some of these Iranian deeds, which arouse complaints, are partly due to the exploitation of situations that stemmed from not recognizing the Arab rights. Even if these deeds partly stemmed from remnants of Iranian ambitions, this could be dealt with by drawing up a new map for the Arab-Iranian relations that would show redlines that should not be crossed. This will lead to the establishment of healthy relations between the two sides for their mutual benefit. This also will block the way of those who try to fish in troubled waters, those who try to muddy the waters in order to be able to fish for their interests later, or even those who try to poison the wells.

In conclusion, I do not see that President Bush’s tour has achieved either its real or its presumed aims, whether announced or hidden. It is clear that there was not much welcome of the tour, despite some appearances. The tour was accompanied by popular anger that was manifested in many capitals, and was given free rein to express itself. It was also accompanied by media suspicions that were nearly comprehensive, and by official coolness.

I have no doubt that the US President heard in the closed rooms tunes different from the US National anthem and the national anthems of the host countries played by the bands.

Faced with all this, I am surprised by the few comments that have gone back to a tune similar to the one saying that all the cards, or 99percent of them, are in the hands of the United States. I know that this was said by President Al-Sadat under different circumstances, and that his aim was to motivate Washington to intervene in a positive way. Al-Sadat knew that that was not an expression of a true fact; the proof is that he resorted to war in1973. That war was what opened the road to the possibilities of a real settlement that led in its first stage to the restoration of Sinai to Egypt, and it was supposed to lead – if its consequences were utilized well – to the liberation of the rest of the land and the establishment of the independent Palestinian state, which I heard President Al-Sadat stressing that it was his aim. Thus, these were different circumstances. Now for some people to repeat the pronouncement of the 99 percent, or even to think of it without saying it aloud, this would reflect an unjustified wish to take the easy way out.

We have many other cards, perhaps the first of which is that we have a fair and comprehensive peace plan, namely the Arab initiative, which we need to promote strongly and in detail after some people tried to obliterate it and to push it into oblivion. In order to do this, we have to support the efforts to settle the Arab-Arab problems, which is not an impossible task despite the petty whims, illusions and ambitions that ought to be set aside because of the dangers that threaten us all. Perhaps the Palestinians understand that the continuation of their current domestic situation is an insult to their history of struggle, a burial of their future hopes, and a victory for their enemies who do not distinguish in reality between Fatah and Hamas, as the Israeli stances in the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority prove. The Lebanese, the Iraqis, and all the Arabs also ought to know that unity is their way to salvation.

Despite the bleakness of the picture, I believe that there still is hope provided that we pursue it seriously, and that all the loyal sons of this nation work relentlessly to achieve it. These loyal sons ought to understand that there is no contradiction between national and pan-Arab aims; on the contrary, these aims complement each other in a system through which we will emerge victorious over all evil tendencies, be they domestic or foreign.

Ahmed Maher

Ahmed Maher is a former foreign minister of Egypt.

More Posts