Originally Published 2004-09-30 09:38:53 Published on Sep 30, 2004
In 1991, President George H.W. Bush proclaimed that the victory in the Gulf war presented an extraordinary opportunity to settle the Middle East conflict. This led to the Madrid conference, secret parleys between Israeli and PLO negotiators in Norway and then to signing of what came to be known as the Oslo accords in a grand ceremony at the White House in 1993.
The Middle East Initiative claptrap
In 1991, President George H.W. Bush proclaimed that the victory in the Gulf war presented an extraordinary opportunity to settle the Middle East conflict. This led to the Madrid conference, secret parleys between Israeli and PLO negotiators in Norway and then to signing of what came to be known as the Oslo accords in a grand ceremony at the White House in 1993. Events came a full circle in 2000 when the second intifada started. More than a decade past Oslo, settlement of the conflict based on the two-state solution remains a virtual impossibility. The separation wall coming up now in the West Bank has driven yet another stake into the heart of the land-for-peace proposition. <br /> <br /> For his son-President, the conquest of Iraq in 2003 presented itself as a great opportunity to rebuild the rarest of the rare species, a Middle Eastern democracy. The sense of deja vu was hardly missing in the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative (BMENAI), drafted in Washington and signed on by the G-8 at its summit recently. The plan grew out of a speech by President George W. Bush last November at the National Endowment for Democracy, saying the US was wrong to support autocratic governments in a search for Middle East "stability". <br /> <br /> The BMENAI envisages, among other things, the establishment of a "historic Partnership for Progress and a Common Future" to take on the challenge of democratic and economic development deficit in countries of the region. It further says "this partnership will be based on genuine cooperation with the region's governments, as well as business and civil society representatives to strengthen freedom, democracy and prosperity for all". Besides the Arab countries, the BMENAI covers Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and Israel, whose only common denominator is that they lie in the zone where hostility to the US is at its greatest, in which Islamic fundamentalism in its anti-Western form is most widespread. <br /> <br /> However, absent from the plan of action was a comprehensive outline on how to go about addressing the two root questions fuelling the Middle East's never-ending problems-the inflammable Israeli-Palestinian issue and terrorism spurred by radical Islam. In countries of the region where the initiative is intended, there is no doubt that the BMENAI will be stonewalled by raising rational or irrational concerns. It might be the threat to free flow of oil, resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, cultural identity or the bogey of Islamists taking over amidst political and economic chaos.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Instead, the plan focused more on reform, a topic that frightens dictators and monarchies populated in the region, a majority of them US-friendly, whose fear that openness and democracy would make them superfluous is real. No sooner the initiative was announced than Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt-whose regimes cannot survive without the US support-shot down it, saying "the imposition of a specific prototype of reform on Arab and Muslim countries from abroad" cannot be accepted.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The main reason for terrorism going off as high-growth industry in the Middle East is the stifling of human rights and lack of democratic self-determination. However, the essence of US policy toward the region over the last three decades has been directly detrimental to these values. Every administration has pursued the same strategy based on three pillars that have contributed to the making of the proverbial "hostile Arab street": the uncritical support to Israel, encouragement of pro-US dictatorships in countries like Egypt and the forging of close partnerships with corrupt ruling dynasties of the oil-producing states in the Persian Gulf, especially the House of Saud. Any good the US may have obtained by bringing "democracy" to Iraq has been lost in the mayhem that accompanied its occupation. Curiously, the Bush administration started playing up the democracy card only after the weapons of mass destruction ploy failed and allegations of Saddam Hussein's links with Al-Qaida came unstuck. The BMENAI, which is an extension to the self-serving democracy argument, will not be free from legitimacy problems. <br /> <br /> The initiative addressed the Israel-Palestine question in this manner: "The resolution of long-lasting, often bitter disputes, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is an important element of progress in the region... Our support for reform in the region will go hand in hand with our support for a just, comprehensive and lasting settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict, based upon UN Resolutions 242 and 338. We fully endorse the Quartet's statement of May 4, 2004 and join the Quartet in its 'common vision of two states, Israel and a viable, democratic, sovereign and contiguous Palestine, living side by side in peace and security'." Of course, as a blueprint for "just, comprehensive and lasting settlement", this is good enough. But what all earlier peace efforts based on these two UN resolutions brought about? Bitter stalemates. How realistic is the vision of the Quartet-comprising the US, the EU, the UN and Russia-given that the US blindly endorses Israel's unilateral plans and actions? Highly improbable. <br /> <br /> The Oslo process failed because the signal inability or even refusal on the part of the US to play as an impartial broker. It is inevitable that the resultant loss of credibility, together with experience of invasion of Iraq based on outright lies and the brutalisation and humiliation the occupation followed, have rubbed it on to the BMENAI. It is, therefore, not an irony that reformist elements in the region are hard pressed to say good things about the initiative because the credentials of the messenger is under a cloud while its opponents describe the message as an attempt to create a moral adjunct to sweeten future Iraq-style regime changes. Whichever way, given the resistance from a growing number of Arab tyrants-all of whom the US goes great lengths to defend-democracy and openness will remain a chimera. <br /> <br /> Writing in the autumn 2002 issue of The National Interest, a leading journal of conservative realists in the US, its editor Adam Garfinkle wrote: "A campaign for democracy in the Arab world does presuppose either a major shift in US attitudes toward the undemocratic ruling classes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and others that we have long called our friends; or a permanent condition of blatant diplomatic hypocrisy." The BMENAI represents yet another attempt to perpetuate the diplomatic fraud, for neither the US can afford to disturb the status quo nor would Arab autocracies let genuine reforms be initiated. While there is no denying the fact that reforms are badly needed in the Middle East, reality intrudes fake visions of democratisation. <br /> <br /> The author works with Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi <br /> <br /> Courtesy: Kashmir Times, Jammu September 30, 2004 <br /> <br /> <em>* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.</em>
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