Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Tour in the Middle East.

' A cheerleading trip without substance'


London- 12 October 2006:

America's Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice toured five nations in the Middle East last month meeting the leaders and foreign ministers of 10 countries. A senior western diplomat in Cairo summarised her labour as ''a cheerleading trip without substance.''

By Adel Darwish.


America's Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice toured five nations in the Middle East last month meeting the leaders and foreign ministers of 10 countries. A senior western diplomat in Cairo summarised her labour as ''a cheerleading trip without substance.''

Dr Rice's efforts were to secure four pivotal objectives of American foreign policy in the region: Iraq, Palestinian-Israeli peace, democracy promotion and fostering a so-called moderate bloc of Middle Eastern nations to stand together against militancy. Not surprisingly, in every stop the chief of US diplomacy was either met with tough resistance, or achieved, at best, a good photo opportunity.

Whether Middle Eastern, European, or American, most commentators saw no fresh ideas in her trip ' to rekindle the now frozen road map for peace between Israel and Palestine.'
She was accused by rightwing Israeli commentators of ' focusing too much on reducing the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza instead of working to get Hamas government to honour Oslo and other agreements signed by its predecessors, renouncing violence and recognising the Jewish state. The lefties, meanwhile, accused her of not addressing the Israeli policies which ushered the Palestinians to vote for Hamas in the first place.

Traditionally visits like Rice's often allow American officials to extract a positive statement from Israel on settlements, said Ori Nir, analyst at the pro-peace think-tank Americans for Peace Now, at least a commitment to dismantling West Bank outposts considered illegal even by the Israeli government.
"The most obvious Israeli gesture would have been to do something about settlements, removing outposts, something Israel has already committed to do," Nir told Los Angeles Times. Israeli officials said they'll deal with the outposts "after the Jewish holidays," which ended in mid-October, -often an Israeli equivalent of an Arab halfhearted Inshaallah.
After failing to secure a Palestinian announcement of reaching a national unity government during her visit to Palestinian land, Dr Rice set her sights lower. At a joint press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on October. 4, she said the emphasis should be on opening crossing points from Gaza while ensuring security for Israel, which has suffered a barrage of rockets from the Gaza Strip.
"Security, the movement and access, economic development, well-being are all interlinked," she said.
If those steps can help salvage the battered Palestinian economy, said David Makovsky, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and if that bolsters Abbas in his outreach to Israel, then it could be considered a success for Dr Rice. A month later, still no sign of improving crossing points as the Israelis still claim it would compromise Israeli security, while rockets still fired from Gaza on Israel, with Hamas showing no interest in stopping them.
Dr Rice found herself negotiating some of the same issues she was engaged in last November. And withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, which had been promised by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is even further away after the Lebanon war.
Preoccupied with shoring up his government, which, at the time of Rice's visit, was still struggling to survive its failure to crush Hezbollah in the 33 days war, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had little political gifts to offer the visitor.
The war in Lebanon divided Middle Eastern nations into a pragmatists' peace camp and radicals. Major players, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia openly blamed Hezbollah for starting the war.
Hezbollah and its backers Syria and Iran joined by Hamas and other radical Islamists as well as outdated Arab nationalists and Marxist organisations, condemned the Egyptian lead bloc, which included Jordan and the Gulf nations as "pro-America, pro Zionists axis against Iran." As expected, the Neo-rejectionists axis, saw Dr Rice's trip as backing the pro-America anti-Iran axis. The accusation was, surprise surprise, supported by European left and the usual anti-American suspects in Fleet Street.
Commentators or media outlets projecting this analysis failed to mention that the Neo-rejectionists axis lead by Syrian and Iran – who provided Hezbollah with limitless supply of missiles and finance- gave nothing to the Lebanese people who had their homes destroyed and their lives shattered by Israel's disproportionate response. Equally they made no mention of practical help given to the Lebanese people; like endless supplies of medical and humanitarian aid form Egypt and European countries while the Saudis deposited one billion dollar in Lebanon's central bank to shore up the Lebanese currency, in addition to $500 million to reconstruct Lebanon; the Kuwaitis and other Gulf nations matched the donation.

This polarisation, with Cairo-Riyadh-Amman standing firmly against the neo-rejectionists predated Dr Rice's tour by months. Containing Iran nuclear ambitions and the spread of her influence deeper into Sunni land was very much part of the Gulf Arabs strategy. For the Egyptians' who historically know nothing of Shia-Sunni rivalry, had other reasons to align themselves with, if not to lead, the anti-Hezbollah anti Iranian emerging bloc made of the Saudi lead Gulf, Jordan, President Abbas lead secular majority Palestinians and the Americans.
" It is the alignment of stable powers who support the legitimacy of the nation state to stop it being undermined by the anarchic concept of revolutionary radical parties like Hezbollah or Hamas,'' said Dr Mamoun Fandy, of the International Institute for Strategic Study.
Egyptian intelligence report in the summer named Hamas controlled Gaza as a place where terrorists responsible for terrible atrocities in Sinai holiday resorts got there weapons and assistance.

The Egyptians are alarmed by Iran creeping into their historic sphere of influence by arming, financing and supporting Hezbollah, intervening in the Israeli Palestinian dispute, and in Iraq, and regard Iranian strategy as undermining Egypt's traditional role and threatening her legitimate interests, according to Dr Fandy.
neo-rejectionists funded media outlets and their supporters, painting the 33 day war in Lebanon as "victory for Islamic resistance" against the Jewish state which defeated regular armies, have become more than an irritation in Egypt and Jordan as anti-Israel anti America's demonstrations were hijacked by calls to end peace moves and abrogate the peace treaties with Israel.
A combination of all factors above, analysts agree, have forced the Egyptians to lead the bloc lined up against Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, regardless of where Washington stood. Regional alliances reflecting both regional and international dynamics has always been a feature of Middle Eastern politics. The phenomenon aided America's Cold War quest to contain the Soviet Union, blocking its way to the warm waters of the Gulf with its oil resources.
Washington and London - after patching up differences over the Suez Fiasco – engaged in a robust diplomacy to establish pro-western regional security systems like 'northern tier' alliance to isolate the Soviet Union, and 'Middle East Command' which was soon replaced by the Middle East Defence Organisation, later Baghdad Pact. The pact ended with a blood bath in the Iraqi capital triggered by the communist backed General Abdel-Karim Qasim's 1958 bloody military coup, triggering a chain of countless military coups leading to the mess in Iraq today (enhanced by lack of American coherent strategy in post Saddam Iraq).
There is a temptation, especially among Anti-American analysts, to compare the current Egyptian lead Axis to Baghdad pact, since political events and the war on terror have some cold war elements with radical Islam replacing Soviet threat.
Washington dual containment' strategy had succeeded for a decade in isolating the two bullies of the neighbourhood, Iran and Iraq, through economic boycott by US in the case of the earlier and UN sanctions in the case of the latter, both were pariahs in the eyes of the international community. The post 9/11 war on terror, was approved by the Middle Eastern allies – the current moderate axis- and even provided help, though more tacitly than openly to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan and to topple Saddam's Baathist regime in Iraq.
The pro-western feature of the current pragmatists Axis (Egypt, Jordan Saudi Arabia, the smaller Gulf nations) is more of co-incidence than a design by Washington since those nations found themselves fighting the same enemy or facing similar threats, from quarters opposing American policy. Hence it is Washington that finds itself in alliance with the already formed axis depriving Dr Rice from claming credit for this agreeable configuration.
Dr Rice and foreign ministers of Egypt and Gulf Arab nations were engaged in a chicken-and-egg argument over the next step, according to officials close to the meeting held in Cairo. The Egyptians joined the Jordanians and Gulf officials in urging Dr Rice to revive U.S. leadership to break deadlocks on several fronts, because they have so far been unable to do it alone.
But US officials leaked a different version saying Dr Rice told them separately they must first take difficult steps to create conditions more conducive to greater American involvement.
Dr Rice acknowledged that the Arabs and Israel appealed for new momentum to break the accelerating cycle of violence and political division in several strategic countries.

"This is an absolutely crucial time in the Middle East, and I heard in every single place that this isn't a time to stand still," Dr Rice said. "Everyone understands that a lot is changing in the Middle East and that we need to have a positive agenda."

American officials confirmed that their pressing goal is to devise a strategy to quickly fill the political vacuum in the region, fearing that militant Islamists fill even more of it, as the populist propaganda tools in the region painted the outcome of the Lebanon war in the summer as " victory for radical Islam ", placing Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah at the helm of mass popularity in the region. This, coupled with media accusation of the west of double standard by isolating Hamas after its electoral victory, has emboldened the Muslim Brotherhood, now the largest opposition bloc in Egyptian parliament.
The urgent need to block the advance of radical Islam, persuaded President George Bush to quietly drop his earlier Wilsonian agenda of universal democratisation and liberalisation of the region.
Dr Rice's trip, U.S. officials said, was also intended to signal that the Bush administration was still fully engaged and interested, despite the growing unpopularity of the Iraq war at home and election campaign questions about its broader Middle East policy.
In every meeting Dr Rice was reminded that jump-starting the moribund Palestinian Israeli peace process, was the key to addressing other flashpoints.
Arab leaders themselves don't seem to take practical steps to break the deadlock. The so called collective Arab peace plan reached in Beirut Arab summit Three years ago, was '' never officially presented to Israel'', according to Shimon Perez Israel's eldest statesman and its deputy prime minister who was in London as Dr Rice visited the region. " If they [ Arabs] were serious about peace with Israel, they should be less shy about talking to Israel, or even sending the peace proposals to Israel directly ,'' he told the Middle East. His plan to rebuild the frozen peace process with the Palestinians is through economy and prosperity. He hopes that businesses, lead by international personalities like former US president Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair, would lead efforts to raise over $10 billion to establish a free-trade zone in Gaza, West bank and Israel, hoping that improving economic conditions for the Palestinian would be the shortest cut to peace. He was opt
imistic that Prime Minister Blair will call an international conference in London before the end of the year for donors to start the project, to which Mr. Blair would be one of its key leaders after leaving office next year


Adel Darwish 2006


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