By Robert Fisk, Thursday, 19 May 2011
OK, so here’s what President Barack Obama should say today about the Middle East. We will leave Afghanistan tomorrow. We will leave Iraq tomorrow. We will stop giving unconditional, craven support to Israel. Americans will force the Israelis – and the European Union – to end their siege of Gaza. We will withhold all future funding for Israel unless it ends, totally and unconditionally, its building of colonies on Arab land that does not belong to it. We will cease all co-operation and business deals with the vicious dictators of the Arab world – whether they be Saudi or Syrian or Libyan – and we will support democracy even in those countries where we have massive business interests. Oh yes, and we will talk to Hamas.
Of course, President Barack Obama will not say this. A vain and cowardly man, he will talk about the West’s “friends” in the Middle East, about the security of Israel – security not being a word he has ever devoted to Palestinians – and he will waffle on and on about the Arab Spring as if he ever supported it (until, of course, the dictators were on the run), as if – when they desperately needed his support – he had given his moral authority to the people of Egypt; and, no doubt, we will hear him say what a great religion Islam is (but not too great, or Republicans will start recalling the Barack Hussein Obama birth certificate again) and we will be asked – oh, I fear we will – to turn our backs on the Bin Laden past, to seek “closure” and “move on” (which I’m afraid the Taliban don’t quite agree with).
Mr Obama and his equally gutless Secretary of State have no idea what they are facing in the Middle East. The Arabs are no longer afraid. They are tired of our “friends” and sick of our enemies. Very soon, the Palestinians of Gaza will march to the border of Israel and demand to “go home”.
We got a signal of this on the Syrian and Lebanese borders on Sunday. What will the Israelis do? Kill the Palestinians in their thousands? And what will Mr Obama say then? (He will, of course, “call for restraint on both sides”, a phrase he inherited from his torturing predecessor).
I rather think that the Americans suffer from what the Israelis suffer from: self-delusional arguments. The Americans keep referring to the goodness of Islam, the Israelis to how they understand the “Arab mind”. But they do not. Islam as a religion has nothing to do with it, any more than Christianity (a word I don’t hear much of these days) or Judaism. It’s about dignity, honour, courage, human rights – qualities which, in other circumstances, the United States always praises – which Arabs believe they are owed. And they are right. It is time for Americans to free themselves from their fear of Israel’s lobbyists – in fact the Likud Party’s lobbyists – and their repulsive slurs of anti-Semitism against anyone who dares to criticise Israel. It is time for them to take heart from the immensely brave members of the American-Jewish community who speak out about the injustices that Israel as well as the Arab leaders commit.
But will our favourite President say anything like this today? Forget it. This is a mealy-mouthed President who should – why have we forgotten this? – have turned down his Nobel Peace Prize because he can’t even close Guantanamo, let alone bring us peace. And what did he say in his Nobel speech? That he, Barack Obama, had to live in the real world, that he was not Gandhi, as if – and all praise to The Irish Times for spotting this – Gandhi didn’t have to fight the British empire. So we will be treated to all the usual analysts in the States, saying how fine the President’s words are, praising this wretched man’s speechifying.
And then comes the weekend when Mr Obama has to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the biggest, most powerful lobbyist “friend” of Israel in America. Then it will be all back to the start, security, security, security, little – if any mention – of the Israeli colonies in the West Bank and, I feel sure of this, much mention of terrorism, terrorism, terrorism, terrorism, terrorism, terrorism, terrorism. And no doubt a mention of the killing (let us not use the word execution) of Osama bin Laden.
What Mr Obama doesn’t understand however – and, of course, Mrs Clinton has not the slightest idea – is that, in the new Arab world, there can be no more reliance on dictator-toadies, no more flattery. The CIA may have its cash funds to hand but I suspect few Arabs will want to touch them. The Egyptians will not tolerate the siege of Gaza. Nor, I think, will the Palestinians. Nor the Lebanese, for that matter; and nor the Syrians when they have got rid of the clansmen who rule them. The Europeans will work that out quicker than the Americans – we are, after all, rather closer to the Arab world – and we will not forever let our lives be guided by America’s fawning indifference to Israeli theft of property.
It is, of course, going to be a huge shift of tectonic plates for Israelis – who should be congratulating their Arab neighbours, and the Palestinians for unifying their cause, and who should be showing friendship rather than fear. My own crystal ball long ago broke. But I am reminded of what Winston Churchill said in 1940, that “what General Weygand called the battle for France is over. The battle of Britain… is about to begin.”
Well, the old Middle East is over. The new Middle East is about to begin. And we better wake up.