By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh
With the outbreak of the Arab uprisings, the United States seemed confused and worried over the possible loss of its traditional allies and the change in the regional map, which might threaten its interests. However, it tried to cope with the ongoing change and steer it to serve its interests, or at least mitigate its possible repercussions.
Generally speaking, the American foreign policy has two major characteristics that stand in its favor:
a. The high dynamic in decision making, where the president enjoys wide powers. Decision making depends on high potential in the collection of information by research centers, think tanks, advisors, the State Department and the National Security Council, etc.
b. The enormous potentials on the political, security, media, and military levels which can be employed globally to serve the American interests.
The US Middle East Strategy
The American strategy in the Middle East can be summarized in the following points:
1. Israel is the cornerstone of the US Middle East policy and maintaining the Israeli security and its hegemony as a regional power is the core of this policy.
2. Dominating the oil rich areas in the region to secure the American needs and to be used as leverage in the US international strategy.
3. Supporting the pro-American regimes and trying to contain or re-direct other regimes.
4. Securing the navigation lines and the lines of international trade in the region (the Strait of Hormuz, Suez Canal, Bab el Mandeb…) to guarantee a safe flow of oil and goods to and from the region within “reasonable” prices and in a way that serves the economic needs of the US and its allies.
5. Seeking to monopolize domination over the region, while preventing any other power from sharing such influence.
This attitude has engendered antagonism among the people and created enemies for the US policies, especially because of its biased support for Israel and the tyrannical, corrupt regimes in the region. This situation has prompted many Arabs to believe that the US suffers a moral problem, mainly represented in the double standards, and the contradiction between what it believes and its corresponding conduct.
The American Policy and the Failure to Change
Notwithstanding the massive uprisings which stroke the Arab region in 2011 and their impact on the Palestinian issue and the conflict with Israel (at least in the medium and long runs), the American policy failed to demonstrate any change towards the Palestinian issue. Thus, it continued its biased support of Israel, without exercising any real pressure to activate the course of peaceful settlement and failed to realize the need for a breakthrough in the peace process. This ultimately means one or more of the following:
– the American administration has failed to understand the implications of the change movements or the goals of those who led these movements.
– this administration is still betting on derailing the change movement, which it hoped would be overwhelmed with local and internal concerns besides sectarian and ethnic problems.
– supporting the Israeli issue is still the “taboo” which could not be changed.
– the Zionist influence in the US has prevented the American administration from determining its real interests and priorities in the region.
In fact, the US has continued to support Israel and reiterated its commitment to Israel’s security and military superiority. Further, it has continued to provide Israel with annual military and economic aid estimated at $3 billion although the Israeli per capita GDP is among the best global incomes and amounts to around $29 thousand per year.
The US administration has failed to exercise any pressure on Israel even in relation to what it has previously declared, regarding the halt of settlement building in the West Bank. Besides, it has ceased to make any efforts in this sense despite the partial settlement freeze achieved during the first nine months of 2010 and it only described Israel’s settlement policy as “disappointing.” David Hill, deputy to US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell and who succeeded him after his resignation, defended America’s position on settlement claiming that his country cannot force a sovereign state to do anything but it can resort to negotiations and persuasion (www.aljazeera.net, 29/1/2011). Ironically, the US has occupied Iraq and Afghanistan and openly exercised direct pressure on Libya, Syria and Iran!!
Although President Obama has said that the change movements in the Arab world made it more important than any other time to revive the peaceful settlement efforts (Reuters, 6/4/2011), his administration failed to pursue any genuine efforts to revive the peaceful settlement project and there was frustration over the possibility of achieving any progress. Consequently, George Mitchell resigned on 13/5/2011 and Dennis Ross resigned from his position as Senior Director for the so-called Central Region (the Middle East, East Asia and South Asia).
Moreover, the US position on peaceful settlement did not change. Thus, Obama stressed in his speech on 19/5/2011 the American vision of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He confirmed the American support for the two-state solution, the Jewishness of the Israeli state, the return to the 1967 lines as basis for the Palestinian state, which should be demilitarized. However, Obama delayed all core issues and did not set any time frame for their resolution, including the future of Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees and the Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
The US reaction towards the increased Israeli fears of the changes in the Arab world was limited to the warning by the American Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, on 3/10/2011 against the increased isolation of Israeli which should pursue bold moves in order to break this isolation. Panetta also advised Israel to repair its relation with Turkey and improve its relations with Jordan and Egypt.
Although the US backed all the proposals for the protection of civilians in the areas of uprisings in the Arab world as in Libya, Syria and Yemen, it refused the Palestinian repeated requests to protect civilians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
It also continued to oppose the rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas and the needs of the Palestinian arena. Jeffrey D. Feltman, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, told Abu Mazen that whilst the US understands their aspirations for unity, it would not be possible to establish a state if they seek partnership with a terrorist organization like Hamas (Al-Quds al-Arabi, 8/12/2011).
The US has objected to the Palestinian bid for UN full membership and threatened to use its veto power to foil it in the Security Council. Indeed, the American efforts have succeeded to thwart the Palestinian request which did not get enough majority in the Security Council.
The US has additionally used the veto power on 18/2/2011 against an Arab draft resolution condemning the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and reiterating the right of peoples to self-determination. This was the 43rd veto used by the US concerning the Palestinian issue out of total 58 vetoes used by the US throughout its history in the UN.
On 31/10/2011, the US suspended funding for UNESCO in the wake of the agency’s acceptance of Palestine for full membership. And while the House of Representatives suspended $200 million in aid for the Palestinian Authority on 5/10/2011 because of its quest for UN membership, it decided to grant Israel $200 million to deploy Iron Dome anti-missile defense system. On top of that, 42 Republican deputies presented on 8/9/2011 a draft resolution to the US House of Representatives which supports Israel’s right to annex the West Bank, in case the Palestinians insisted to proceed with their quest for UN membership.
Potential US Policy during 2012
The US administration tried to separate between the changes in the Arab world and their possible positive impact on the Palestinian issue. It is likely for the US to proceed with these efforts seeking to occupy the new ruling regimes with regional and internal concerns and with programs of reform and democracy tailored according to the Western criteria.
The American administration will further try to prevent the new regimes (especially those with Islamic orientations) from taking any steps to escalate the hostility with Israel including the cancellation of Camp David, stopping normalization with Israel or supporting Hamas and other resistance forces and ending the siege on Gaza. The US would consider such actions as hostile steps which require punitive measures on the political and economic levels in particular. However, the US cannot persist with such measures in the face of wide popular support for the ruling regimes and the increased hostility towards the US. The new regimes do not seem willing to pursue decisive steps any time soon that would increase hostility against the US but it is likely for them to take some limited measures pending the consolidation of the political and governmental institutions in their countries.
2012 is the year of American presidential elections and it is not uncommon for corresponding initiatives to reduce their emphasis on the Palestinian issue unless there are real chances for a major breakthrough which would enhance the position of the candidate in his presidential campaign. In addition, the US administration will exercise minimal, if any, pressure on Israel while the Zionist lobby would play an important role in determining the results of the elections. Thus, Obama, who has won 78% of Jewish votes in 2008, will try to secure these votes in the next round.
The US administration will probably refrain from presenting new settlement initiatives or exercising any pressure on the Israeli side while continuing to provide support for the occupation policies. Still, it would not have genuine vision regarding the activation of the course of peaceful settlement.
The original Arabic article appeared on Al Jazeera.net on 7/2/2012