• Is There a Coherent US Foreign Policy for the Middle East?

    Sunday 16th May 2004 - 10:15am - 11:30am

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  • Is There a Coherent US Foreign Policy for the Middle East?


    World Economic Forum in Jordan 2004

    Despite the controversies surrounding the occupation of Iraq and the lack of progress in the Israeli Palestinian peace process, the United States has a crucial role to play in efforts to bring political and economic reform to the Middle East, participants at this session generally agreed. At the same time, though, reforms that are imposed by American fiat will only heighten popular resentment and damage the political legitimacy of regional leaders. How can this dilemma be resolved?

    Moderator Khaled Al Maeena, Editor in Chief, Arab News, Saudi Arabia, noted that the horns of this dilemma have been sharpened by the revelations of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Comments from US leaders such as Secretary of State Colin Powell s address to participants have had only limited success in repairing the damage. What lessons, if any, have US policy makers learned from the affair?

    William Burns, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, vowed the United States would not only correct past mistakes by thoroughly investigating the Abu Ghraib scandal, for example but would also pursue a positive agenda for resolving the Israeli Palestinian conflict, returning sovereignty to the Iraqi people, combating extremism, and promoting political and economic reform. American leaders, he said, understand that the first priority finding a peaceful solution that leads to the creation of an independent Palestinian state is the key to making progress on the other three. Burns acknowledged serious errors in the Iraq occupation, such as the dissolution of the old Iraqi army, but said the Bush administration is now committed to working with the UN and the international community to transfer real power to an interim Iraqi government. Quoting Winston Churchill, Burns quipped that "America can be counted on to do the right thing, but only after it has exhausted all other possibilities."

    Nabeel Shaath, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Palestinian Authority, offered a much more critical analysis of US policy, saying the failure to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories was at the root of many of the Middle East s woes. Decades of instability, he said, have reduced foreign investment in the region to a trickle. Meanwhile, relatively cheap oil prices sought by the United States have starved regional governments of funds for public infrastructure and social services. To break this vicious circle, Shaath said, the United States needs to recommit to the roadmap process, insist that Israel negotiate directly with the Palestinian Authority, and enforce a complete ceasefire on both sides. "I have not lost my hope for negotiations," Shaath said. "But America has a very important role to play."

    Shaath s remarks prompted a rebuttal from Ehud Olmert, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Industry, Trade, Labour and Communications of Israel. Olmert accused the Palestinian leaders of "a total lack of responsibility" for failing to halt terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon s proposed unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza strip, Olmert added, reflects the lack of a viable Palestinian negotiating partner. "What he [Shaath] doesn t understand is that the American government is not setting its priorities based on the desires of the most extreme elements within the Palestinian Authority."

    Accusing the Palestinians of irresponsibility ignores the essential character of the conflict, responded Aaron D. Miller, President, Seeds of Peace, USA. Israel exercises the power of the strong, sometimes in legitimate self defence, sometimes in illegitimate ways through settlement activity, for example. The Palestinians, on the other hand, rely on the power of the weak, which is based on the belief that the occupation relieves them of responsibility to combat terrorism. This fundamental asymmetry, Miller added, makes it impossible for Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a solution without US aid. "I m well aware of the contradictions and inconsistencies of American foreign policy," Miller said. "But I m still convinced there will be no solution without a 24/7 approach to conflict resolution by the United States."

    Christopher Shays, Congressman from Connecticut (Republican), USA, argued that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein has improved the prospects for Middle East peace, despite the chaos and violence that has accompanied the occupation. Hussein s downfall has made it possible to remove American military forces from Saudi Arabia, eliminating a source of friction exploited by Osama bin Laden. These achievements, he said, shouldn t be ignored. Karim T. Kawar, Ambassador of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the United States of America; Global Leader for Tomorrow 2003, outlined what he called the four keys to successful political reform in the Arab world: ownership, leadership, partnership and entrepreneurship. Ownership, he said, will come from embracing proposals for change generated by Arab experts. Leadership must come from Arab leaders, since "we don t have time to wait for the grassroots." Partnership will come through dialogue with the United States and the other G 8 nations. Entrepreneurship will require Arab leaders and citizens to recognize the future benefits of reform so that they are willing to take the required risks. "As in any organization, change starts from the top," Kawar said. "And we have to get started."

    Related Link

    World Economic Forum in Jordan


  • Karim Kawar Karim Kawar
    President, Kawar Group, Jordan

    1987, BSc in Management, Finance and Computer Science, Boston College. Entrepreneur and angel invest...