The USA can’t help

We would all like to see peace in the Middle East - but it will not come from Washington.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Politics

President Bush has finally spoken on the Middle East – and the British press seems strangely relieved.

‘Engagement at last’, said a UK Guardian leader, claiming that ‘Bush’s intervention comes not a moment too soon….It would have been inexcusable for the world’s only hyperpower [to] attempt to sit this out’ (1). Earlier this week, the Guardian published an open letter on the Arab-Israeli conflict to UK prime minister Tony Blair, headlined simply ‘Do something’ (2). It says something about our times when a British liberal newspaper calls on a Republican president and his friends to get stuck in to the Middle East.

Most newspapers seem to have read into Bush’s speech the point they want to make themselves. The UK Independent’s frontpage headline says ‘Bush tells Israel: enough is enough’, praising the president for ‘finally…urging Israel to end its violent incursion into Palestinian territories’ (3). Yet the right-wing Daily Telegraph headlines its leader ‘Bush stands by Sharon’, claiming that ‘Israel need not fear that its closest ally is growing cold’ (4).

In fact, Bush’s speech captured how America’s relationship with Israel has changed since the end of the Cold War, and that the USA is no longer the staunch supporter of Israel it once was. America’s current relationship to the Middle East is that of a cross headmaster lecturing schoolchildren – on both sides of the conflict.

‘I expect better leadership, I expect results’, said Bush, as he laid down the law to both Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat. Bush called on Israel to wind down its occupation of Palestinian territories and to be ‘compassionate at checkpoints’ (obviously missing the point of Israeli checkpoints) – yet he accused Arafat of ‘betray[ing] the hopes of the people’, ‘not consistently oppos[ing] terrorists’, and finding himself in a situation ‘largely of his own making’ (5).

More important than whose side Bush appears to be taking in the Middle Eastern conflict is one basic point, which most commentators seem to have missed. Outside interference is likely only to exacerbate tensions in the region and to leave the conflict unresolved. In the past, US backing of Israel was a disaster for Palestinians. And the peace process kickstarted in 1993 showed that negotiations and peace deals agreed thousands of miles away from the people affected by the conflict – whether on the White House’s manicured lawns or in government buildings in Oslo – were never going to bring peace to a war zone like the Middle East (6).

Like all US foreign policy, the USA’s latest intervention into the Middle East is self-serving. It has less to do with what is happening in Israel or the occupied territories than with boosting America’s standing on the world stage. The USA’s role in the Middle East was always instrumental to its broader foreign policy concerns – and that remains the case today.

As the Middle Eastern conflict spirals out of control, we would all like to see a peaceful solution – but that will not come from Washington.

Brendan O’Neill is coordinating the spiked-conference Panic attack: Interrogating our obsession with risk, on Friday 9 May 2003, at the Royal Institution in London.

Read on:

War without ends, by Josie Appleton

Peace process gone wrong?, by Brendan O’Neill

(1) Engagement at last, Guardian, 5 April 2001

(2) Do something, Guardian, 3 April 2002

(3) Bush tells Israel: enough is enough, Independent, 5 April 2002

(4) Bush stands by Sharon, Daily Telegraph, 5 April 2002

(5) See Bush’s statement on the Middle East, New York Times, 4 April 2002

(6) See Peace process gone wrong?, by Brendan O’Neill

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Topics Politics


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