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Our colleague in Washington, Mina al-Oraibi, conducted an interview with US State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley which was published by Asharq Al-Awsat yesterday and which focused on Washington’s foreign policy throughout 2010. Responding to a question put to him during this interview about the obstacles Washington encountered in fulfilling one of the most important promises made by the US administration with regards to our region – namely moving the peace process forward and resolving the Palestinian – Israeli conflict based upon the two-state solution – he said “Welcome to the Middle East!” This was to indicate that this [the Middle East] is something that is outside of the normal rules and difficult to understand.

The Palestinian – Israeli issue is one that becomes more and more critical, and therefore it does not help to talk about “strategic patience” because if we were more patience than we already have been there would be nothing left on the ground to negotiate over!

This is the impression that people have of the Middle East; that it is outside of the normal rules of international relations and politics adhered to by the rest of the world, or that it is difficult to understand. We must recognize that this impression of the Middle East is one that exists throughout the world, and particularly the West, and this is something that is evident in the manner that neighboring countries deal with Arab states.

To be fair, we must also acknowledge that our region has contributed to this international impression [of it], and it does not help itself in this regard. Indeed, one need only look at the huge number of heated crises, and crises that could potentially be incited [in our region] to be struck with the impression that it is like the sick man of the international world, and that it is something that the mediation and initiatives business thrives upon.

Today, at the end of 2010, preparing for 2011, there are a huge number of crises [in our region]; this can be seen in the critical inactivity on the part of the Palestinians with regards to the peace process, and the Israeli intransigence in not accepting a clear US position [in this regard]. The region itself must accept a share of the responsibility for this crisis due to the divisions, rivalry and absence of a unified vision on how to achieve progress on this issue.

There is also a crisis in the region over the fate of Syria, whilst in Lebanon there is the crisis of the international tribunal that has returned the situation in Lebanon to the state of tension that was present there years ago. This has resulted in the country being held at ransom, trading justice for stability, in other words letting the criminal escape unharmed…otherwise violence will break out!

Whilst in Sudan, a new situation will arise there with the likely establishment of a new state in southern Sudan. There is also talk about a [new] constitution and reality in the south. As for Sudan’s neighboring countries, there is the crisis of the collapsed state in Somalia and intractable problems in the Horn of Africa. There are also problems in the heart of the Gulf, particularly around the inlet of the Red Sea, as well as problems in the region around the two major arteries of global oil production. As for Yemen, it is suffering from problems of terrorism, insurgency, and even secession, in addition to the severe developmental problems that the country was already experiencing. We must also not forget the crisis surrounding the Iranian nuclear file, which is something that intersects with the rest of the regional problems, and nobody knows if this crisis will blow up in our faces, or whether it will be resolved.

This is a long and broad list of crises and problems which are competing with one another in order to be made the priority for ideas and effort [to resolve this]. These crises would require all of the fire-fighters in the world to extinguish the fires that they could potentially cause.

Every region in the world has its problem however these are not in the same number or diversity, or indeed occur at the same time, as is witnessed in the Middle East. What is clear from our experiences over the past years and decades is that crises beget more crises. This means that failure to resolve one crisis results in the creation of a new crisis somewhere else in the region, in the same manner that sickness or disease spreads throughout the human body if the initial illness is not dealt with. Therefore the Arab countries are correct in stating that the origin of the problems and tension in the region is the Arab – Israeli conflict, and that resolving this will alleviate many other crises, or enable them to be resolved, as well as prevent this [Arab – Israeli] conflict being utilized in other agendas. This will also create the right atmosphere to enable us to devote ourselves to resolve the greatest internal crisis, namely the challenge of development.

There are calls for the region to put forward initiatives and ideas to help reach solutions, and this is correct, however the foreign parties such as Washington must also shoulder its responsibility and provide serious assistance [in this regard], as it is a party that is involved with this region.