Tantrums and sheeshas, but who will care when Israel self-destructs?
By Yvonne Ridley in Syria
12 October 2010
After the collapse of the faux Middle East peace talks Israel's growing isolation in the world is not entirely unexpected. A side-effect is that America has discovered that it cannot force the rest of the international community to embrace the Frankenstein monster it has nurtured. With the exception of Egypt, and in the absence of financial or military inducements given to Hosni Mubarak, few self-respecting states are willing to embrace the Zionist brat. In any case, no one takes much notice of Egypt these days, where Mubarak is preparing to crown his son as his successor. His slavish support for Israel prompted by copious amounts of US aid has lost him trust, credibility, respect and international standing. Even the Americans are beginning to realise that their Cairo rent boy is of little value these days.
Of course, the concern now is that the more isolated the Zionist State is, the more dangerous, unpredictable and out of control it becomes. Having such an unstable, failed state in the Middle East is bad, but having one with at least 200 nuclear warheads at its disposal should focus the minds of the powers that be; nowhere more so than in Washington where Barack Obama is cruising towards a bruising in the mid-term elections thanks to the collapse of the peace talks. And now his Zionist aides are jumping ship at an alarming rate, a sure sign that he is in trouble.
These are desperate times for America's Democrats as they scramble around looking for some good news in the Middle East to pull out of the hat. It's not that easy, though, since Israel's lawless and unruly behaviour has alienated many of its neighbours; Turkey, for example, is still waiting for an apology after Israel's murderous assault on the Mavi Marmara, on which nine humanitarian peace activists paid the ultimate price for their support for Palestinians.
The one country in the Middle East which could influence friends and enemies alike is Syria. It is being courted by the west, has influence with Hezbollah and Hamas, and counts Iran among its many friends. Of course, this is nothing new. "Syria first" was the clarion call of the Clinton administration in those heady days when peace was almost a tangible entity. Perhaps that is why US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a point of schmoozing with her Syrian counterpart, Walid Mouallem, in New York recently.
At the time of their meeting, I had just arrived in the ancient city of Aleppo in Syria to embark on a magical tour of the old trade route called the Silk Road. From the third century BC, Syria was at the crossroads, the meeting place for people from distant, exotic countries who wanted to ply their wares and trades. From north, south, east and west they gathered along the Silk Road to exchange goods and ideas, trade and learn from each other. Like many other things in this region, sometimes you have to step back in time to get a clearer vision of what the future holds. Perhaps Mrs Clinton would have been better advised to meet the Foreign Minister in his own backyard so that some wisdom and inspiration could rub off on the sinking Obama administration.
This wasn't the first Clinton-Mouallem meeting. By my reckoning they must have had at least one brief encounter around 15 years ago when Mouallem served as Syrian ambassador in Washington at a time when Hillary Clinton was America's First Lady and husband Bill was in the White House.
Mr Mouallem is a consummate professional and will have seen and heard it all before; it will not have been lost on him, if no one else, that in the two decades since he last met Hillary nothing has really changed in the Middle East. Israel is still the cause of extremism and violence across the world and the Road Map to peace is littered with broken treaties, failed accords and the blood of innocents. So he must have had a feeling of déjà vu when the US Secretary of State stressed the need for "constructive dialogue" to "remove hurdles". All the usual, tired old sound bites he'd heard before were rolled out as America tried in vain to persuade another nation to accept and befriend the belligerent state of Israel.
I wonder if Bill Clinton advised his wife that only by charming the Syrians into entering direct peace negotiations with the Israelis could she hope to make progress towards reviving the stalled Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. She was certainly building on a line started in Damascus last month when she dispatched Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, to the Syrian capital. During his visit Mitchell tried to persuade Foreign Minister Mouallem that dialogue with the Zionist State would complement, rather than obstruct, the peace talks.
Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel, was also sent to Syria and to meet Mouallem and try to persuade Syria to get involved in negotiations. Maybe Mouallem had read Indyk's autobiography, "Innocents Abroad", in which he reveals how the 1990s Bill Clinton team opted for a "Syria first" strategy, believing that peace with Damascus was easier and more pressing for the Israelis than peace with the Palestinians. Indyk revealed that after signing the Oslo Accords in 1993, Bill Clinton famously sat down with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the Map Room at the White House and said he had orchestrated Palestinian-Israeli peace in order to concentrate on a peace deal with Syria. Well, 15 years on, and with no progress, it seems few want to even touch, let alone sip, from the same poisoned chalice as Israel.
It was obvious to all that the latest talks would fail as spectacularly as they did. Disenfranchised Palestinian groups like Hamas remained silent as they gave Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas enough rope to hang himself, and he didn't disappoint them. Moreover, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threw his teddy bear in the ring, stamped his feet and refused to stop building illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land. This tantrum did him no favours with his US sponsors, the Quartet or the UN. Someone should have told Netanyahu that you can't roll over and play the victim in an empty room.
Syria was wise not to be sucked in to the charade otherwise Damascus might have become a useful fall guy for the Israelis to blame for the failure of the talks. That's a favourite trick of Israel, but this time there was no one else to blame. What this whole episode has exposed is Israel's
* inability and lack of desire to make peace;
* determination to expand settlements in the West Bank;
* continuing brutal siege of Gaza; and
* desire to bring down the Obama administration.
Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Movement's disregard for other Palestinian factions strips him of any credibility. The good news is that if anyone ever considers sitting down for peace talks with Israel again there will have to be pre-set terms of reference.
As I made my way from Aleppo through to the bustling seaside port of Lattakia (where the latest Viva Palestina Convoy to Gaza has also arrived), it was clear that the failure of the peace talks came as no surprise to anyone in the Arab world. From the ramshackle and remote Baghdad café on the road to Damascus, to the capital itself, the very mention of the failed talks barely raised an eyebrow; the old men pulled on their sheeshas with hardly a break. The only surprise in their eyes was that new boys on the block in the Middle East peace game, such as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, were actually shocked by the breakdown of the negotiations. I almost felt sorry for the poor sap as he reminded Israel, rather feebly, that the construction of new settlements was illegal and that he was "disappointed" by Netanyahu's refusal to extend the building freeze in the West Bank. Like a kid about to be dispossessed of his school dinner money by the playground bully, Mr Ban stood, almost trembling, as he squeaked his disapproval.
Such disappointment was also expressed weakly and meekly by the US, Turkey, France and Britain. Western observers saw, for the first time, something that everyone in the Middle East has been able to see since the creation of the Zionist state; it has no long-term future. They all had a hand in its creation, but plucky little Israel has turned into a monster.
Arguably the most culpable today is (Mr. Looks-like-a-one-term) President Obama. Who remembers his famous Cairo speech in the summer of 2009, where he virtually assured us that there would be "no new settlements"; that rings very hollow now, and haven't the Israelis punished him for saying it? Not only is the Frankenstein monster biting the hand that feeds it, but Israel is also wrecking Obama's chances of a second term of office. The speedy collapse of the talks made him look totally ineffectual on the world stage. Hillary Clinton's charm offensive with the Syrians is the desperate act of a doomed US administration.
There is little chance of Damascus sitting down with Israel while the thieving Zionist State has the Golan Heights in its clutches. The Syrians have also made it clear that they will not entertain a separate peace with the Israelis while illegal settlements exist in the West Bank and Gaza's 1.5 million Palestinians remain under siege.
So Benjamin Netanyahu and his man-made monster of a state can throw ugly tantrums but they will have no effect; sooner or later the ghastly creation will self-destruct. And when it does, the old men and their bubbling sheeshas will hardly pause for breath.
Yvonne Ridley is the European President of the International Muslim Women's Union