“Middle East Peace and the U.S.-Saudi Relationship:,” by Lippmann

[Landis Comment] Clinton’s deliberate handshake with Syria’s Foreign Minister at the Gaza donor Conference promises a thaw in Syria-US relations. The U.S. will also send two officials to Syria for talks, Clinton said in a press conference in Jerusalem today with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. “We have no way to predict what the future of our relations might be, but we want to engage in a discussion” she said in relation to the talks with Syria. She said that one of the officials was from the State Department and the other from the White House.

All the same, some things seem not to be changing. The US is still seeking to “flip” Syria away from Iran, which HIllary doubts can be pursuaded to fall in with America’s regional security designs. (More promising would be an effort to engage both, rather than trying to split them). Hillary has set out strict preconditions for US support for Israeli-Syrian dialogue. Syria must cut relations with its allies, Hizbullah and Hamas. The demand that Syria abandon its supporters and friends before entering into full dialogue with the US is no more likely to work under Obama than it did under Bush. Why? Because Syria fears that the US will again fail to deliver Israel, as it did under Bill Clinton in 2000. Netanyahu will decline to return the Golan, as he promised during his campaign, and Syria will be left without a deal and with with no friends or regional leverage. Syria suspects this is, in fact,  Washington’s desired outcome – to weaken Syria.

Clinton Shakes Syria’s Hand: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shook hands with her Syrian counterpart Monday as the two attended a conference in Egypt on rebuilding the Gaza Strip. The simple handshake before lunch was the highest-level contact between the two countries in years.

Clinton stopped in front of Muallem, shook his hand and exchanged a few words with him, the reporters said. “With respect to talking with the Syrian foreign minister, again I will reiterate that in consultation with our friends and allies, our partners, we are reaching out to determine what, if any, areas of cooperation and engagement are possible,” Clinton later told a news conference of the brief meeting.

In the Guardian: Clinton began her first round of Middle East diplomacy yesterday by promising to pursue peace between Israel and the Arabs on “many fronts” … Her mention of peace on other fronts suggested the Obama administration may also push for a deal between Israel and Syria. …

The international conference raised pledges of more than $4bn in aid to the Palestinians. However, it is still unclear how much reconstruction can take place in Gaza while Israel continues its blockade, which prevents the import of materials such as concrete, glass and metal.

Clinton promised to “vigorously” pursue a two-state peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians… Clinton made no reference to the closure of the Gaza crossings, or to Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are a prime concern for the Palestinians.

Clinton expressed doubt Monday that Iran would respond to the Obama administration’s diplomatic initiatives toward Tehran on nuclear and other issues, a senior State Department official said.

Syrian P.M. Ottri begins an official visit to Tehran heading the Syrian delegation to the Iranian-Syrian Higher Committee

Moscow raises the ante against Washington, saying the time has come for the White House to begin negotiations with Iran in earnest.

Middle East Peace and the U.S.-Saudi Relationship:

A Conversation with Tom Lippman
Saudi-US Relations Information Servic

SUSRIS: Thank you for taking time today to share your perspective on US-Saudi relations and current developments in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Let me start by asking you about recent public pronouncements, rebukes of Washington over the Gaza conflict, from prominent Saudi Arabians including Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Ambassador to the U.S. and Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Saeed, an advisor to the Royal Court [links below]. The criticisms were accompanied by warnings the current developments are of a different nature than any before, and portend a diminished relationship, not just the Saudi-US relationship, but the east-west dialogue. There was also King Abdullah’s statement that the Arab Peace Plan wasn’t going to be on the table indefinitely. What do you think about these criticisms being aired in public?

THOMAS LIPPMAN: Let me put it this way. I certainly understand why the frustration among prominent people would come to the surface now and even boil a little bit. I don’t necessarily agree that the current state of play is more dire than it has been in the past, say as it was after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. To me, what these statements represent is kind of an outpouring of sentiment from well-intentioned people, who don’t know what to do. What are their choices here? What are their options?

If you were in this situation, you would know a certain number of things. You know that there is a deep split among the Palestinians, which Riyadh has made vigorous efforts to at least paper over if not rectify; and you have not succeeded. You know the Palestinians, as before, are their own worst enemies. You know that in Israel, whoever becomes Prime Minister just gave a substantial vote to the forces of power that have no intention of giving up territory. They are not committed to the Arab League Peace Plan or, at this point, any other.

You should not have been disappointed by the position taken by the United States because “what’s new?” Why would you expect something different this time? It’s been a long time since 1956.

In my assessment I would say it is unlikely — but not impossible — that these statements portend any serious policy changes. I don’t see what the choices are. I don’t see the Saudis or any of the other people in their camp suddenly going back to the boycott of Israel, an oil embargo, or any kind of confrontational policy. They’re not in a position to make a military challenge. They’re unable to move public opinion in the United States in any clear way. So where are they going with this?

SUSRIS: What do you think? Are these signals to shape the behavior of the Obama Administration?

LIPPMAN: When you combine these statements with a very, very elaborate and well-publicized show that was given to Chinese President Hu Jintao [Feb 10], clearly the Saudis are expressing their disappointment at the state of play, but they’ve been disappointed at the state of play since 1948. I don’t see what any new policy options are.

SUSRIS: Specific policy courses of action are indeed open questions but the public rebukes of the U.S. Government and the level of the rhetoric suggests that the Gaza strikes are being viewed in a new framework and the comments don’t seem to be getting any public response from Washington officials or thought leaders.

LIPPMAN: I agree that there’s a higher level of outrage. And it’s probable that in this time of instant communication everybody was watching what happened on satellite TV. So the Saudi leadership is feeling, I wouldn’t say public pressure — they run the country — but sentiment, a very strong sentiment to do something. But they’re hemmed in.

One, they’re severely hemmed in by the desire not to be in the same camp as the Iranians. That’s a big issue, that’s a big problem here. They’re hemmed in by their desire not to be seen as making common cause with Syria.

So I certainly sympathize with the dilemma that the Saudis find themselves in. After all, a month before Gaza, the Saudis were among the fifty or so Muslim and Arab countries that put those full-page ads in the New York Times and the Washington Post, restating their commitment to the Arab League Peace Plan. It couldn’t have been a more public affirmation. The timing clearly suggested they were talking to the incoming administration; and then this happened.

I also understand why they’re not in a position to stand up and make, at this point, the case that they really did make at one point, which was that Hamas asked for it. Hamas very cynically provoked this, knowing it could not lose. If it inflicted suffering on the Palestinian people, well, that’s not their problem. That’s useful to Hamas. The Saudis know that. They’re just not in a position to say that right now.

So I certainly understand their rhetorical position. I understand their frustration. What I don’t see is actual policy consequences, game changing policy consequences. I just don’t see them.

SUSRIS: The criticisms in some of these messages were ameliorated somewhat by the positive comments about the Obama Administration naming George Mitchell as the U.S. envoy. Do you see a possibility of Mitchell making a difference?

LIPPMAN: Absolutely not. I’m not optimistic, especially if Netanyahu becomes Prime Minister. [Mr. Lippman was interviewed before the Israeli election.]

SUSRIS: What will these developments do for the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia as we have a new administration and Saudi requests for American action, in your estimation, will go unfulfilled?

LIPPMAN: It’s a serious question that deserves a serious answer, and I’m kind of at a loss to figure it out, because I don’t see who’s going where with this. We don’t know what’s going to happen, we don’t know the outcome in Israel, except that if even if Livni becomes Prime Minister, she’s going to have to form a coalition with pro-settler right-wingers in some way or another. So the Israelis are not going to dismantle the settlements.

I’m just in the middle of reading Martin Indyk’s book [“Innocent Abroad”] about Middle East diplomacy in the Clinton Administration. There was a point where the Americans believed that they were on the verge of a Syrian deal, independent of the Palestinians. Now if Netanyahu becomes Prime Minister, you won’t even get that.

By all accounts, even if you were to get a legal separation of Israel and Palestine and the formation of a Palestinian state, the prospect of contiguity and economic viability in that Palestinian state diminishes with every passing day. So it’s one of those things where everybody who looks at this is horrified but nobody knows what to do about it. What’s not going to happen is that the President of the United States will stand up and publicly issue an ultimatum for the Israelis and enforce it. That is not going to happen. Absent that the Israelis are not going to make substantive changes or take the gamble of the Arab League Peace Plan. That being the case, I understand why Secretary Clinton is going to the Far East on her first trip instead of to the Middle East. What would she bring? They already appointed George Mitchell. So what else does she have to offer? There’d be nothing on the table.

So, if I sound very negative about this, it’s not because I don’t respect the Saudis’ views. I understand their views. I just don’t see a game-changing event here. In the history of the Middle East in my lifetime there’s always been some unpredictable, game-changing event that made things happen. Whether it was the 1967 war, or Sadat suddenly getting rid of the Russians and going to Israel, or whatever it was. In this case, I don’t believe that the Israeli campaign in Gaza was a game-changing event.

SUSRIS: What do you think about what Mr. Riad Kahwaji, CEO of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Affairs, writing in the online forum Bitterlemons, said, “The moderate Arab camp finds itself in a paradoxical situation. It cannot afford to see the Iranian axis grow stronger, and at the same time cannot but oppose Israel when the latter resorts to indecisive and bloody military campaigns. By failing to get Israel to accept the Arab Peace Initiative, or to generate progress in the peace process, the moderate camp is weakened every time Israel unsuccessfully engages any of Iran’s allies.”

LIPPMAN: He agrees with me, and I agree with him. My view is that in Gaza, Hamas set a trap for Israel and Israel walked into it. Israel may not have had any choice in terms of its own domestic politics. They couldn’t just sit around on their hands and let those rockets continue to fall. But the consequences of this were fairly predictable. Yes, there was terrible damage. Yes, Hamas’ military infrastructure may have been weakened. But look at the outcome if you were Hamas. You drove another wedge between the moderates and Saudi Arabia, and the United States. You put an end to the indirect Turkish-mediated Syrian/Israeli talks. And you emerged still in power in Gaza with the relief money that’s going into Gaza being distributed through you, which enhances your political position. You embarrassed King Abdullah of Jordan, raising the possibility that Jordan might have to back away from it’s own peace treaty. You made life miserable for the Egyptians. I think Hamas knew exactly what it was doing and it was, in that sense, successful. I just don’t see what the so-called moderate camp is going to do about it.

SUSRIS: Let’s return to our fundamental question. What are the effects on the U.S.-Saudi relationship and what are the next steps for Washington and Riyadh? Are the open reactions among Saudis a blow to American credibility as a new administration tries to get its arms around difficult issues in the region?

LIPPMAN: I agree with your sense that the relationship has been damaged, not in any specific policy way. Let’s keep it in perspective. The business relationship is not going to change. Just this week the Saudis announced they gave a huge turbine contract to General Electric, for example.

But I think that to the extent the King of Saudi Arabia, the Foreign Minister, Prince Turki, and other leaders of the Saudi political, economic, and intellectual establishment become more, what would you say, despairing, realistic about what any United States government is going to do in this situation, I think the relationship will continue to thin out. Maybe it will accelerate. I don’t believe Abdullah is going to back away from the interfaith dialogue, because that’s not really just about the United States. He’s personally committed to the dialogue.

I think you could make a case that for the Saudis, there’s nothing to do for the next year or so but wait and watch. What happens in the Iranian elections? What happens as the power in Gaza sorts itself out? What happens to the succession in Egypt? What Bashar in Syria decides to do? Whether Iraq holds together. There are so many imponderables right now. Who becomes Prime Minister of Israel? What is his or her policy? What is Mitchell going to offer? There’s not much that you can do in this moment to ameliorate the effects. What you have to do is try to manage public opinion. So you don’t do anything irreversible while you wait to find out what happens.

SUSRIS: What can Washington do?

LIPPMAN: Well, I think there’s a difference between what the U.S. could do and what the U.S. is likely to do. That’s been true as long as I’ve been at this game. The United States could issue an unequivocal statement of support for the Arab League peace initiative. And you could present this as being in Israel’s best interests – a tough love policy. I don’t think that’s going to happen, because the American position is that we can’t make decisions for the Israelis. They’re a sovereign country with their own interests to preserve and protect, and they feel seriously threatened by the Iranian nuclear program. They’re not inclined to do anything to make them more vulnerable right now, and the United States is not going force them to do that.

SUSRIS: Thank you, Mr. Lippman, for your perspective on these critical questions.

Thomas W. Lippman is an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington. In four years as the Washington Post’s Middle East bureau chief, three years as the Post’s oil and energy reporter and a decade as the newspaper’s national security and diplomatic correspondent, he traveled extensively to Saudi Arabia. He is the author of “Arabian Knight: Colonel Bill Eddy USMC and the Rise of American Power in the Middle East,” “Inside the Mirage: America’s Fragile Partnership with Saudi Arabia,”

Comments (28)

norman said:

Clinton says US to dispatch envoys to Syria
March 3, 2009 – 7:35am

JERUSALEM (AP) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the U.S. will dispatch two envoys to Syria for “preliminary conversations.”

The statement is the most significant sign yet that the Obama administration is considering restoring ties with Damascus.

Clinton says there is “no way to predict” the direction U.S.-Syria relations will take, but believes “it is a worthwhile effort to go and begin these preliminary conversations.”

Clinton spoke Tuesday at a Jerusalem press conference alongside Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the U.S. will “vigorously” pursue the creation of a Palestinian state.

Clinton is making her first visit to the Mideast as the top U.S. diplomat. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, she said pursuit of a peace agreement that includes a Palestinian state “seems inescapable.”

Clinton says the U.S. “will be vigorously engaged in the pursuit of a two-state solution every step of the way.”

She spoke alongside Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni ahead of a meeting later in the day with Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s criticism in the past of peace talks with the Palestinians and the possibility of Palestinian independence has raised concerns that his new government could clash with the U.S.

(Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
JERUSALEM (AP) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the U.S. will dispatch two envoys to Syria for “preliminary conversations.”

The statement is the most significant sign yet that the Obama administration is considering restoring ties with Damascus.

Clinton says there is “no way to predict” the direction U.S.-Syria relations will take, but believes “it is a worthwhile effort to go and begin these preliminary conversations.”

Clinton spoke Tuesday at a Jerusalem press conference alongside Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the U.S. will “vigorously” pursue the creation of a Palestinian state.

Clinton is making her first visit to the Mideast as the top U.S. diplomat. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, she said pursuit of a peace agreement that includes a Palestinian state “seems inescapable.”

Clinton says the U.S. “will be vigorously engaged in the pursuit of a two-state solution every step of the way.”

She spoke alongside Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni ahead of a meeting later in the day with Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s criticism in the past of peace talks with the Palestinians and the possibility of Palestinian independence has raised concerns that his new government could clash with the U.S.

(Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Buzz up!vote

March 3rd, 2009, 1:05 pm


why-discuss said:

Another trap Hamas succeeded is putting Saudi Arabia in open competition with Iran and Qatar to win the heart and minds of Arabs.

Saudi Arabia quickly pulled out their Peace Plan that everyone forgot and pushed the Egyptians to take more initiatives in Soudan (to counteract Qatar) and with the palestinians. They also claimed that Gaza and the Palestinian cause are arab causes( no need for Iran and turkey), even though for 60 years they have not succeeded much.
If nothing happens in solving these issues and Iran continue its seduction strategy on Hamas and the Palestinians, Saudi Arabia may have to get out of its apathy and do something. What? On the negative side, they could undermine Iran by supporting the nuclear weapons accusations and trying to bully Iran by triggering the Emirates to protest about occupied islands, or get Bahrain to express fears about Iran’s hegemonic intentions but overall they really have very little leverage to bother Iran. On the positive side they could vigorously push their peace plan ahead. But would they do that?

March 3rd, 2009, 2:08 pm


jad said:

The board of Syrian Canadian society Jaber Campaign

“Jaber has been diagnosed with blood cancer in 2005. He has been in remission, but recently this disease flares up which needed multiple private hospital admission in and out of Syria.”

SCS-BC Newsletter, March 2009

March 3rd, 2009, 11:26 pm


why-discuss said:

Why the Saudis or the Arab League did not move on that? Palestinians are Arabs or not?… Then they claim that palestinian cause is only for Arabs to deal with?

Iran asks Interpol to arrest Israeli war criminals
Mon, 02 Mar 2009 22:02:21 GMT
Tehran’s Public Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi
Interpol begins studying Iran’s request for the arrest of 15 senior Israeli officials over war crimes committed during the Gaza offensive.

At a news briefing on Sunday, Tehran’s Public Prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, said that Iran had referred the case to the International Criminal Police Organization (ICPO or Interpol), drawing on the organization’s charter and Israel’s violation of the Geneva Conventions.

“Governments of 180 countries have received the information necessary for identifying the suspects,” he said.

In a Monday statement, Iran’s judiciary said that it has asked Interpol to issue an international Red Notice security alert for the 15 Israeli officials who were involved in the 23-day Israeli offensive on Gaza.

The statement added that the judiciary was also looking into complaints made against 100 other Israelis, with top military and government posts.

In December 2008, Iran’s judicial body announced a decision to set up a court to investigate complaints, made by wounded Gazans against Israel and delivered to Iran by the Palestinian envoy.

The judiciary said that it would be ready to try the implicated Israeli officials in absentia.

“In the current week, we have completed our investigation of about 15 individuals who were among those criminals,” IRIB, Iran’s State Television, quoted Mortazavi as saying.

“Based on our investigation and according to article 2 of the Interpol charter, we asked Interpol to arrest these suspects.”

Mortazavi said the charges included war crimes, invasion, occupation, genocide and crimes against humanity.

The Iranian prosecutor was referring to Israeli strikes that started on December 27 on the densely populated Palestinian coastal territory and did not end until it had claimed the lives of more than 1,330 Gazans, mostly civilians.

Many international NGOs and human rights organizations, Palestinians wounded in the Gaza onslaught, more than 5,700 Iranian lawyers and attorneys in the Iranian Bar Association along with a large number of medics were also among those who filed complaints against Tel Aviv, Mortazavi added.

The list of Israeli war criminals includes:

1 Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
2 Defense Minister Ehud Barak
3 Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni
4 Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi
5 Commander in Chief of the Israeli Air Force Ido Nehoshtan
6 Commander of the Gaza war — Operation Cast Lead — Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant
7 Head of Military Intelligence Directorate Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin
8 Commander of Battalion 13 in the Golani Brigade Lt. Col. Oren Cohen
9 Deputy to the Givati Brigade Col. Ron Ashrov
10 Commander of the Israel Paratroopers’ Brigade in Gaza Col. Hertzi Halevy
11 Commander of 401st Armored Corps Brigade convoy Col. Yigal Slovik
12 Commander of the 101st Battalion in the Paratrooper Brigade Lt. Col. Avi Blot
13 Lt. Col. Yoav Mordechai, who served as a commander of the Golani infantry brigade’s 13th Battalion in Gaza
14 Givati squad commander Col. Tomer Tsiter
15 Brigade commander in Battalion 51 Col. Avi Peled

March 4th, 2009, 12:08 pm


Observer said:

The ground has shifted and new realities are being implemented by several parties.
One Israeli society has moved to the right as expected after the debacle in Lebanon and Gaza. 70 000 new housing units are coming on board in the West Bank. Therefore the talk of a two state solution by Clinton is meaningless. The train has left the station and there is no prospect of any two state solution.

Two Iran has by the action of Israel in both Lebanon and Gaza combined with the stupidity of the three stooges in the Arab world has now established istelf as a solid ally of the axis of resistance. They have trained and advised the various armed groups and forces for a different kind of war and they used the experience with Iraq and with the US forces in the area to produce effective counter measures.

Three Turkey is slowly moving away from the EU track as they see no prospect of entering into the union and is developing regional alliances. After all they need to listen and work with millions in the region and not keep their foreign policy hostage to either NATO considerations or Israeli US ones.

The West is bankrupt and is printing money now. THe only silver lining is the dollar as a reserve currency and the euro as a counter weight to it. When Brown talks about an international monitoring body for the financial instituations, he is trying to say, let the US and Britain run the IMF and WB and you rich Gulf and Chinese and Japanese subhumans give us the money we and only we can handle it. Fat chance after the debacle and disaster that is worthy of the worst most corrupt fourth world country being performed by the so called first world know how and wisdom.

The crisis has clearly shown the limits of the EU in forging a true common political entity and the fragmentation of the societies into elites linked to a globalized economy with their narcissic behavior and disdain for the rest of the population and a new populist angry ever lower middle class. This is fertile ground for a lot of autocratic opportunities.

The US is finished and all this talk of coming back stronger is the talk of the person saying I am going into this operating room to get both a leg and an arm amputated but I will come out more resolute than ever to win the triathlon.

In my opinion those that count on the West and are allied with it and think that any important and long lasting source of stability will come from its current leaders are the biggest fools.

March 4th, 2009, 1:34 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:


I do agree with your analysis, but have totally opposite conclusions.
Hitler and Stalin mocked the western democracies, the same way you now mock the US and the Europeans ( doomed, weak, corrupt, sissys, spineless).
I recommend you do learn from history, and do not prematurely mourn
our (western) values and way of life.

March 4th, 2009, 2:46 pm


Ghat Albird said:


No “Oscar Wilde Picture of Dorian Grey” fantasy commentary.

Realistic analysis and one hard to swallow by those who still wallow in the world of zionist imperialism.

The world is entering the phase of what is commonly reffered to south of the Mason Dixon line (in the UD), “what goes around comes around”

A spot on analysis.

March 4th, 2009, 4:23 pm


jad said:

Dear Observer, An excellent analysis;
(The train has left the station and there is no prospect of any two state solution.) In your opinion, is there an alternative solution or another cycle of violence?
(Three) I think Turkey is playing the card of opening toward the east as a strategy just to get into the EU faster, and the EU as you said is almost “bankrupt” and out of a national interests they are going to pull Turkey back to their camp and accept it as a full EU member who is going to obligate Turkey with all the political resolution the ‘west’ might take in regards of our region, in a small twist to your words (Turkey will keep their foreign policy hostage to NATO considerations and Israeli US) because they don’t have any real partner on the other side since Arabs don’t worth the risk, they are not a trustworthy entity. Does that apply?

March 4th, 2009, 4:59 pm


Ghat Albird said:


Referencing your comments about Clinton’s two state solution being meaningless.

!. Is a ONE state solution feasable?
2. If feasable what would be its physical and social characteristics?

3. Will Israel be able to sucker Egypt [with US dineros] into taking control of Gaza and Jordan taking over whatever is left of the West Bank thereby preserving an Israel that is acceptable to its US admirers and supporters as well as its own radical politicians?

4. On a scale of 1 to 10 what are the prospects of more armed conflict between the US/Israel duo and the black hats?

March 4th, 2009, 5:54 pm


Observer said:

History does sometimes repeat itself, but one has to look at it not from a short term perspective but from a longer term one.

During the first half of the twentieth century, there were several factors that made it possible for both democratic values to evolve and for dictatorship to flourish.

One the one hand, democracies came into being in England and France in conjonction with increased basic education. This was tied closely with a strong nation state ideal. In Germany and Russia the excesses of the imperial ruling classes and the defeat in WWI led to a period of turmoil that resulted in autocratic rule: communist in Russia that is compatible with the family structure of an authoritarian but egalitarian father figure and National Socialist in Germany where the family structure is one of an authoritarian father figure but with non egalitarian structure ( primogeniture ).

Now, we see in Europe exemplified best by France, the disappearence of truly ideological driven parties. The Gaullist tradition is finished, replaced by a mish mash of right wing market lessez faire and extrem right xenophobic attitude that prevades the social classes with some workers voting for the Front National and the Communist party essentially non existent.

This state of affairs has led to the development of an oligarchical tendency exemplified best by Nicolas Sarkozy: banal, aggressive, contemptuous, intellectually vacuous, allied with NATO and big business, exhibitionist in his marital affairs. This reflects a society that is no longer based on an ideological frame of mind that set the vision and the goals of the future. This is a society that has replaced the idea of the nation state with obsessions: sex, violence, and money.

This is the main reason that I find that the West has become weak. It is the abandonment of the ideals and ideas that make for a civilizational framework of reference that permits a nation or a group of nations to move forward using the full participation of the entire population. The elites in Europe look at the working class as another commodity that could be exchanged with Vietnamese or Congolese workers any day. The phenomenon of gated communities of the rich living outside of the society is glaring in Europe. The latest refusal to help Eastern Europe is another manifestation of that.

As for Turkey, its entry to the EU is impossible simply because if it were to happen Morocco is in line to ask the same. This is a red line for the Europeans at this time.

As for the note that the Arabs are not worthy partners, I believe that the Turkish leadership just as the Iranian one is filling the void created by the political desert that is the ME right now.

I will quote on description of Lebanon that fits perfectly into all of the current arab regimes below

“Lebanon, sad to say, remains an oligarchy more than a democracy, much of it locked in a choke hold by tribal chiefs, mafia like leaders, and a primogeniture system wherein defective sons are often handed the reins of power by flawed fathers or grieving widows. Not much of a place to raise your children as more and more realize, and many who can, leave for opportunities elsewhere. Absent a political tsunami to churn up new matrix political strata, whence healthy growth could spring, Lebanon’s immediate political future looks bleak with formation of the next parliament perhaps eerily similar to the current one under the existing electoral framework. ”

The Israelis have been poisoned forever by the Holocaust and cannot even imagine or concieve of a unified secular state. For them it is worse than suicide.

The only possibility is a binational state where each community has its religious laws and the federal entity is governed by secular principles. I have noted that even in the most open secular society that is the US those that have a schizophrenic allegiance continue to suffer and never feel fully at ease: the Jews and the Muslims. Both have a first committment to surrender to God, the first through the covenant and the later through the declaration of faith. Both have elements of modernity built within that allowed them to evolve with the times and both are never fully accepting of allegiance to a state that replaces the allegiance to God. Telling an Israeli that he will not be able to live forever in a “Biblical” society be it virtual or in the Holy Land is like telling him or her that you very soul and identity have been extracted from you. The whole zionist project and the ethnic cleansing that followed is nothing else than the fulfillement of the covenant principles. It is not only land dspute but almost the purity of the race. That is why if one looks over time the majority of Israelis voted for one single poltical theme: purity of the race and of the land for the Jews be it through Labor, Likud, Shas, or any other party.

Now for those that quote history, let me remind people that leaders and countries do commit follies: the selling of indulgences by the pope that broke the church, the invasion of Iraq, the war in Vietnam, Hitler’s declaration of war against the US after Pearl Harbor, and added to this the insistence of Israeli leaders to essentially annex the West Bank and the Golan after the 67 war. In this case, they would have been better off offering full withdrawal for peace.

Again the train has left the station.

March 4th, 2009, 6:07 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:


Regarding what you wrote about Israel. Israel is not a religious state.
Things you see from “there” is different here. There was never a
religious PM here; all systems are secular; the majority of Israelis
( around 75% ) define themselves as secular.
So your idea about a secular ( Muslim/Arab – Jewish ) political
is much more likely to be accepted by Jewish Israelis than by our

March 4th, 2009, 9:01 pm


EHSANI2 said:

Funny how a country created based on the very religion of its citizens is somehow not a “religious state”.

March 4th, 2009, 9:26 pm


A mother said:

I have seen a significant change of attitude among young American-Jews in the past 4 years. They are rejecting Israel committing crimes, destroying lives and killing babies in their names. It is a clash of generations. The future belongs to the youth. I hope the older generations realize that if they do not change fast, they will not have anyone around to care for them. Most involved in crimes against humanity, poor and helpless will be brought to justice and be judged by our kids anywhere on this planet. Every human has the right to live with dignity, that is the moto of the new generation around the world. Either you can join them or step to the side.

March 4th, 2009, 10:14 pm


Nur al-Cubicle said:

Our recent presidential election was actually a Senate revolt and the Senate is definitely NOT full of ideas.

March 4th, 2009, 11:01 pm


jad said:

a video showing your point of how ‘viable’ two state solution is right now

Articles on this site are great source of the ‘secular’ occupation:

March 4th, 2009, 11:48 pm


Alex said:

Mona Eltahawy …. starting about 5 min talking about Syria, then Egypt, Saudi, Qatar, then Syria again

March 5th, 2009, 12:11 am


norman said:

March 5, 2009

It’s wise to engage Syria in Mideast peace process

The Register’s editorial

Shortly before the presidential election, the United States carried out what’s believed to be the first attack by American troops in Syrian territory.

The next president was expected to pay a heavy diplomatic price for the helicopter raid, reportedly launched to deter foreign fighters from slipping into Iraq. Eight Syrians died, including four children.

Yet this week, Hillary Clinton, during her first visit as secretary of state to the Middle East, said the Obama administration would send two senior officials to Syria this weekend to start discussions with its leaders.

No one can expect too much given the history of the region, yet this demonstrates a welcome pragmatism by the White House.

Syria is influential among its neighbors, and any chances of an eventual resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be helped enormously by its cooperation.

The Syrian government is a sponsor of Hezbollah, the radical group based in Lebanon that triggered the 2006 Lebanon War. It harbors militants from Hamas – the Palestinian movement that runs Gaza – in its capital, Damascus. Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad could play a crucial role in moderating both anti-Israel forces if he sees more advantage in doing that than being branded in the West largely as an ally of terrorists.

Expectations must be low, yet, at the same time, it makes far more sense to try to engage Syria than to leave it on the fringe of talks.

After all, in May, Israel and Syria announced they were in negotiations for a peace treaty with the help of Turkish mediators. Though peace between the Palestinians and Israelis seems very far away now, if Israel and Syria can strike a deal, it becomes more likely.

Clinton has sent many of the right signals during this trip, but one statement fell short.

“We happen to believe that moving toward the two-state solution, step by step, is in Israel’s best interests,” she said, according to the New York Times. “But obviously, it is up to the people and the government of Israel to decide.”

It’s also up to the Obama administration to pressure Israeli and Palestinian leaders to continue to work toward that goal, despite the many obstacles in the way.

None of those obstacles will be more defeating than the creeping acceptance that such a goal is, really, impossible to achieve.


March 5th, 2009, 1:53 pm


Sami D said:

Amir in Tel Aviv wrote: Israel is not a religious state. .. There was never a religious PM here; all systems are secular; the majority of Israelis ( around 75% ) define themselves as secular. So your idea about a secular ( Muslim/Arab – Jewish ) political arrangement is much more likely to be accepted by Jewish Israelis than by our neighbors.

Ehsani2 wrote: Funny how a country created based on the very religion of its citizens is somehow not a “religious state”.

You are correct Ehsani in noting that the non-religiousness of a state based on the very religion of its citizens is an unusual concept. But as Amir noted, most Israelis are indeed secular — more so than their Arab neighbors. So, yes Amir, secularization might be more welcome by Israel than by its neighbors.

But on the other hand, Israel is extremely religious – when its religion is Zionism, which is an ethno-based exclusive form of nationalism. While Israel might welcome secularization more than Arabs, Arabs would more readily welcome Jews (taking out the factor of Zionism) than Zionism would Arabs! THIS is why Zionism is the problem for Palestinian-Israeli peace, and a main reason why the one (secular) state solution is rejected by the secular Israelis!

Zionism is a form of highly exclusive nationalism based on ethnicity –”Jewishness”– and somewhat on genealogy (one’s mother has to be Jewish, whose mother, in turn, has to be Jewish, ..), an incendiary and highly backward conception of nationalism, reminiscent of past racist regimes that would be frowned upon in civilized circles today. Arabhood, on the other hand, is more inclusive and is not limited to certain religion.

According to Zionism, a Jew is allowed to become an Israeli citizen with full rights. Which means that the rabbi, who the most qualified person to tell us “who is a Jew”, gets to decide –-in this secular state— who gets to immigrate to Israel and be treated like a full human being! (Let alone decisions regarding marriage, burials and observing the Sabbath — not everything is secular in Israel, Amir!)

Moreover, Zionism’s exclusivity seems at times to be directed specifically against Palestinians or Arabs, (except as a subdued and subordinate 3rd-class “citizen”). Israel, for example, allowed a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union to come to Israel throughout the 1990s when as much as a third or a half were turning out not to be Jews. It seems that “anyone-but-Palestinian” would be allowed to “return” and live on stolen Palestinian land, according to Zionism. Some unwholesome journey for Zionism: from wading into the swamps of trying to define “who is a Jew”, to the immorality of “who is not a Palestinian”.

But that’s what one would expect when a backward form of ethno-nationalism is built on top of another society of a different ethnicity, which is why ethnic-cleansing and Zionism are inseparable. And that is why real peace is urgently needed in Palestine-Israel, which will come about only under a one, secular state — the main culprit religion being Zionism.

March 5th, 2009, 2:18 pm


Shai said:

Sami D,

“Arabs would more readily welcome Jews (taking out the factor of Zionism) than Zionism would Arabs! “

Yes, and indeed that is the key to one day explain to Israelis why theirs is a racist state. But, now’s not the time. No Israeli is ready to renounce Zionism, even this facet of it. Arab-Israeli parties are considered “anti-Zionist”, which to Israeli sounds as bad as “anti-Semitic”, if not worse.

Now is the time to search for the least common denominator between our peoples, one over which language and interpretation do not serve as barriers. Perhaps that common factor is God, I don’t know. But I can’t see logic or reason working now, when both sides are speaking the opposite languages.

March 5th, 2009, 2:46 pm


Alia said:

Sami D.

YOu are correct with some reservations:

1. In today’s world, the Salafi ahistorical discourse is not inclusive of all religions. Contrary to explicit message of the Qur’an, the Salafis, The Wahhabis and all manners of Takfiris do not propose inclusiveness and do not extend a peaceful message of inclusion to the People of the BOOK esp. not to the adherents to Judaism.

2. The idealization of Arabism has frequently placed people of other nationalities at a disadvantage within the Arabic community. It is true that “we have sheletered the Armenians who escaped slaughter”…but a Berber and a Kurd are not Arabs unless they give up their claims to their original identity.

We also have our very clear hierarchies, the right religion, the right sect, the right national background etc…

So if we are aiming, hoping and praying for a one middle-eastern federation, it behooves us to look within us also at what could be an obstacle to such a development and attempt to address it, if we can.

March 5th, 2009, 2:57 pm


Shai said:

Dear Alia,

How do you see a realistic way out of this? If Zionism is intolerant of Arabs, and if certain parts of Islam are intolerant of Judaism, what’s the solution? Can’t religion still form a stronger common denominator? Is it perhaps wise to begin with the leaders of the three religions in all the states in the Middle East? If a Madrid-style conference took place, but this time with Israeli Rabbis and Syrian Muftis, could we expect a different outcome? I know that even Hafez Assad understood the importance of addressing the religious parties in Israel. It is well-known (in Israel) that he sent messages to Shas’s spiritual leader in the 1990’s. And, as you know, that’s a very powerful religious party, without which few governments in Israel can stand.

What are your thoughts on this?

March 5th, 2009, 4:58 pm


Sami D said:

Hello Alia (comment #20): Nationalisms are inherently exclusive, and must be done away with — the sooner the better. I lost my Arab (or any) nationalist attachment in favor of some form of universal humanism many years ago. My point was that ethno-nationalism is even worse than mere nationalism, especially when built on top of another society and ethnicity — ie, Zionism.

Hello Shai (comment #19): It is nice to bring people together by not addressing their differences. The problem, as I see it at least, is that the “differences” in question are the root to the oppression and dispossession by one people over the other, hence fundamental. If we don’t address those differences then we are submitting to a superficial peace, which offer a prettier cover to subjugation and dispossession. If I read you correctly, your suggestion might be a tactic to lure Israelis to real peace eventually. If that’s the case then we are fundamentally in agreement.

March 5th, 2009, 5:23 pm


Shai said:

Dear Sami,

Yes, precisely. It is this “luring” or forcing (as I see it) that will cause all sides to listen to one another like they haven’t and aren’t right now. I am still wondering what is the best way to “lure” the sides, in such way that they will want to be there, and hence to listen.

To give you an example, it has been much easier for me (though at times very painful) to look myself in the mirror, while having this ongoing interaction with people on SC. Few in Israel have ever come close to this kind of interaction. But if it can’t take place because some basic common denominators do not exist, as do between us, then let it be other things, perhaps religion. I’m open to anything.

March 5th, 2009, 5:30 pm


Observer said:

I agree with Sami D.
The phenomenon of nationalism as defined by Ernest Renan is “glorified vue of one’s mystical past combined with absolute hatred and contempt for the other”.
One example of this phenomenon is the current strong Kurdish nationalism that grew from their modern experience. The Kurds until Islam did not have a written language per se. It was only an oral tradition and their most glorious time was when it came to the fore during the Ayoubi times. Now, the ultra nationalists among the Kurds are reverting to the worship of the sun and claim that Islam is a perverse Arab invention meant to keep them sunjugated to arab rule.
The same thing applies when I see bumper stickers saying God Bless America, well to my view God if he exists would not be a God if he were to favor a people over another. This gives him a human and not a divine trait.
Another example of such stupid nationalism is the motto on the belt of every German soldier from WWI to WWII Got Mitt Uns God is with us. Hogwash and more hogwaah.

Now this article by James Abourizk is good analysis of Clinton’s visit to the region and the never ending double standards of the so called civilized West

March 5th, 2009, 7:14 pm


Alia said:

Dear Shai,

Ideally it would be up to each religious community and to its scholars, who are considered in Islam to be ” heirs to the Prophets”, to purify themselves from what is unsuitable for the religious community while the top scholars of the different religions are trying to build an understanding.
I would love to see that happening between the Sunnis and the Shias, let alone between the Muslims, the Christians and the Jews.
But I also know that we have people who are capable to do this type of work and some who are doing it on a small scale. But we cannot have Gaza massacres and expect this process to proceed forward, it is a simple reality. So it is in a way a vicious circle.


Just to play the devil’s advocate, the earliest dating of a primitive Arabic script is to about 100 years before the descent of the Qur’an and it is only after the Qur’an descended that the script evolved significantly. Most likely under the Caliphate of Imam Ali ( Kaw).
In truth, who are the 90% Arabs in Syria? They are those who are not Armenian, Kurd or Assyrians. We Syrians are Arabs by default, by choice..our nationalism does not even have the excuse of ethnicity.

Hello Sami D.,

On an individual level, people may be able to shed primitive national affiliations but it is not common to find a group that has shed it completely. We all have origination myths and have group allegiances- this seems more or less to be hard-wired in our constitutions. Once we belong to a group, we figuratively trace a circle around it to delimit its inner from its outer. The circle becomes more hermetic under threat or perceived threat.

March 6th, 2009, 2:25 am


abbas said:

I did not find anything new in the clip that Alex posted, all of it was basic information and I do not believe that Qatar follow the Wahabi branch of Islam
this is more informative

March 6th, 2009, 5:11 am


excusemyenglish said:

“Nationalisms are inherently exclusive, and must be done away with — the sooner the better. I lost my Arab (or any) nationalist attachment in favor of some form of universal humanism many years ago. My point was that ethno-nationalism is even worse than mere nationalism, especially when built on top of another society and ethnicity — ie, Zionism.”
SAMI D, ALL nationalisms are built more or less on some ethnocentrism…or a combinaison of them. As far as my experience tells me, people like you -pretending having lost any nationalist attachment- are very rare, if not non-existant. Personaly I never found such person. Pretending to be “universalists” they tend to work in the direction of some other nationality, usually a larger one, which interests come “naturally”, mixed with other themes as “unity” againts the “black hand of colonial interests” etc…The day arabs start seriously debating the destiny of, for exemple, the kurdish nation, we’ll talk again…

March 6th, 2009, 1:09 pm


norman said:

This should make Syrians happy and proud,

Syria’s journey back from the coldObama’s commitment to improving relations with Syria could change the way US Midde East policy is heading
Comments (…)
Ian Black guardian.co.uk, Friday 6 March 2009 11.30 GMT larger | smaller Article historyBashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, has good reason to be pleased. Barely a day goes by without a western politician or envoy knocking on his palace door. Europeans, led by the hyperactive Nicolas Sarkozy, have been doing it for months. News that two high-level representatives of the Obama administration are heading for Damascus means that Assad’s visitors are getting steadily more important.

Hillary Clinton’s announcement of the impending arrival of officials from the state department and national security council (message: they’re on the same side under this president) was the moment the Syrians have been waiting for – more than the secretary of state’s carefully choreographed public handshake with the influential foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, at the Gaza donors conference in Egypt this week.

The milestones of Syria’s return from the cold are familiar: its troop withdrawal from Lebanon in the wake of the street protests and western-orchestrated pressure that followed the 2005 assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri (for which it has been widely blamed); its help in breaking Beirut’s political deadlock; and then establishing diplomatic relations with its smaller neighbour (though it has so far conspicuously failed to actually despatch an ambassador to Beirut).

On the other side of the (American) balance sheet, Syria still maintains close links with Hizbullah and Hamas and shows no sign of being prepared to drop its 30-year odd-man-out relationship with Iran. It has done more to close its border to fighters crossing into Iraq if only because of the real fear of jihadi “blowback” onto its own territory. Nods and winks suggest Syria’s intelligence services may now be co-operating more closely with the US and Britain against al-Qaida.

The really novel element here is Obama’s clear recognition that talking to an adversary is not a reward for good behaviour but rather a tool for influencing and even changing reality. It is encouraging that there appears to be a proper US plan – a detailed road-map to improved relations with Syria that could in theory change calculations about the way Midde East policy is heading under the new administration.

Obama continues to inspire Arab hopes of change: his announcement of the timetable for the US withdrawal from Iraq underlined the point that the end of the war will “enable a new era of American leadership and engagement” – and was coupled with a specific reminder that that will include Iran and Syria. The return of a US ambassador to Damascus – withdrawn after the Hariri killing – is expected to be the next step, though perhaps not until after the Lebanese elections in June. How much further the thaw will go is hard to predict.

It’s no secret what the Americans want from Syria, but harder to guess what cards Assad might be prepared to put on the table. Hizbullah and Hamas both have legitimacy as resistance movements as well as utility as geostrategic assets. Pictures of Assad and Hizbullah’s Hassan Nasrallah are displayed side by side in the streets of Damascus; solidarity posters with Gaza are plastered on the walls of the magnificent Omayyad Mosque, as potent a symbol of the “beating heart of Arabism” as any in Syria. The cards stayed firmly close to his chest when I interviewed Assad recently. But he did say, intriguingly: “You can’t only deal with good people. If they can spoil things or put obstacles in your way you have to deal with them,” adding helpfully that he wasn’t talking about his own country or Iran! Still, even some gentle Syrian pressure to forge a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation would be useful.

The worry must be though that the expectations in Washington and Damascus do not dovetail: the US hope (shared by Israel) is to weaken Syria’s alliance with Tehran and diminish its support for the Lebanese and Palestinian Islamist groups. Assad gives the impression of caring more about relations with the US than anything else.

But the missing piece of the jigsaw is that Syria can have no sense that its ultimate goal, the return of the Golan Heights, is in reach, especially with the Likud’s Binyamin Netanyahu now certain to lead Israel’s next right-wing government. And even if it was, the idea of a separate Syrian peace with Israel while the Palestinian issue remains unresolved seems to me to be politically inconceivable. “Doing a Sadat” is simply not an option for Assad. Jordan’s King Hussein had the fig leaf of the ongoing Oslo process when he signed his peace treaty with Yitzhak Rabin. Thus Syria’s interest in the 1991 Madrid format for comprehensive peace negotiations, which is coming back into fashion: expect to hear more of it as the Obama/Clinton Middle East strategy take shape.

Henry Kissinger famously called the president’s father, Hafez al-Assad, the most interesting leader in the region. Bashar is certainly getting a lot of attention from Washington and seems likely to get more in the coming months. It’ll be fascinating – and important – to see what comes of it.

March 6th, 2009, 1:53 pm


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