It happens once every few months. Like a periodic visit by an especially annoying relative from overseas, Condoleezza Rice was here again. The same declarations, the same texts devoid of content, the same sycophancy, the same official aircraft heading back to where it came from. The results were also the same: Israel promised in December, after a stormy night of discussions, to open the “safe passage” between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. This time, in what was considered the “achievement” of the current visit, Israel also promised to open the Karni crossing. Karni will be open, one can assume, only slightly more than the “safe passage,” which never opened following the previous futile visit.
Rice has been here six times in the course of a year and a half, and what has come of it? Has anyone asked her about this? Does she ask herself?
It is hard to understand how the secretary of state allows herself to be so humiliated. It is even harder to understand how the superpower she represents allows itself to act in such a hollow and useless way. The mystery of America remains unsolved: How is it that the United States is doing nothing to advance a solution to the most dangerous and lengthiest conflict in our world? How is it that the world’s only superpower, which has the power to quickly facilitate a solution, does not lift a finger to promote it?
What happened since 1956, when the U.S. made Israel withdraw from Sinai overnight with a single telephone call, immediately after the “Third Kingdom of Israel” speech by the strongest Israeli leader of all times, David Ben-Gurion? Now, as the occupation continues for years, with a government no less dependent on the good graces of the U.S. than in the past, why is America a bystander?
Countless trips by presidents and secretaries of state, peace initiatives and peace plans aplenty, from the Roger’s Plan to the Road Map, via “reassessment,” fruitless talks and flowery declarations, pressure and promises, discussions and decisions – and nothing has happened. And in the background, a fundamental question echoes, without a response: Is America at all interested in bringing about a solution in the Middle East? Is it possible that it does not understand how crucial it is to end the conflict?
As things appear, America can and does not want to. No government in Israel, and surely not the most recent ones, which are terrified of the American administration, would stand up to a firm American demand to bring the occupation to an end. But there has never been an American president who wanted to put an end to the occupation. Does America not understand that without ending the occupation there will be no peace? Peace in the region would deliver a greater blow to world terrorism than any war America has pursued, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Does America not understand this? Can all this be attributed to the omnipotent Jewish lobby, which causes Israel more harm than good?
The declared aim of U.S. policy in the Middle East is to bring democracy to the region. For this reason, ostensibly, the U.S. also went to war in Iraq. Even if one ignores the hypocrisy, self-righteousness and double-standard of the Bush administration, which supports quite a few despotic regimes, one should ask the great seeker of democracy: Have your eyes failed to see that the most undemocratic and brutal regime in the region is the Israeli occupation in the territories? And how does the White House reconcile the contradiction between the aspiration to instill democracy in the peoples of the region and the boycott of the Hamas government, which was chosen in democratic elections as America wanted and preached?
The U.S. also speaks loftily about peace. At the same time, its president warns Israel against any attempt to forge peace with Syria. Here America is taking a stance that not only fails to advance an accord but even undermines it. Ever since it began to give Israel a free hand to impose the brutal occupation in the territories, it has become a party that bequeaths undemocratic values to the entire world. Where are the days when there was still concern in Jerusalem about the U.S. reaction before each military operation? Israel then thought twice before every liquidation and each arrest. Every demolition of a Palestinian home and each nocturnal groundbreaking of a settlement raised fears about how Uncle Sam would react. And now – carte blanche. There is a blank check for every belligerent action by Israel. Should this also be called an effort for peace, for democracy?
The recent years have not been good for America. From “the leader of the free world,” it has become detested by the world. Not only do South Africa, Asia and Africa feel strong animosity toward it, most of the public opinion in Europe has also turned away from it. Is anyone in the administration asking why the world loves so much to hate America? And what implications will this growing global feeling have on the strength of the U.S. in the years ahead? Can the dollar, the Tomahawk and the F-16 provide an answer for everything? In the Middle East, the U.S. has an opportunity to fundamentally change its image, from a warmonger to a peacemaker.
And how does the U.S. respond to the challenge? It sends Rice to tell the excited Ehud Olmert how she falls asleep easily on her unnecessary and ridiculous flights to and from the Middle East.
GIDEON LEVY writes for Ha’aretz.