Middle East Mediation: Time for a new “honest broker”

Those were the days

I had always believed the United States to be in a unique position vis a vis the Middle East. On the one hand, it is a staunch ally of Israel – always has been and always will be. On the other hand, it does not have the colonial relationship with the Arabs that Great Britain and France did (although the Iraq fiasco might change that). In fact, for many years, the United States had quite a bit of credibility in the eyes of the Arabs, and thus the United States seemed to be the natural choice for an “honest broker” between the Israelis and the Arabs in their seemingly endless conflict.

We saw a semblance of this “honest broker” role with President Clinton, even though he blamed the failure of the Camp David accord on then President Yasser Arafat, who rejected Ehud Barak’s “generous offer.” Ever since then, however, the United States has abandoned all notions of being anything even remotely resembling an “honest broker.” And with the recent violence between Israel and Hezbollah, I think it is time a new “honest broker” be found.

At the risk of sounding naive, the actions of the United States in the current crisis between Israel an Lebanon have been nothing short of shocking. Yes, Hezbollah attacked Israeli soldiers, killing eight and capturing two, which ignited the conflict. Yet, it soon became clear that Israel was not simply fighting to get its two soldiers back. On the contrary, it launched a sustained military campaign to systematically destroy the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon. The war, in fact, had been planned years in advance, and the war plans were shared with American officials behind closed doors more than a year ago.

Perhaps this explains why the Bush Administration appeared to have absolutely no concern for the dozens of civilians that were being killed – on both sides, mind you – every single day in the conflict. In response to calls for an immediate cease-fire, so that the killing of innocent people can stop, US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice ruled it out as a “false promise.” She called the death and destruction “the birth pangs of a new Middle East.” Funny, isn’t it, that she used a metaphor of life and joy to describe nothing less than Hell unleashed in Lebanon and Israel?

It took her over a week just to get on a plane to travel the Middle East, and on the eve of her trip, she said: “There are no answers that are easy, nor are there any quick fixes.” Meanwhile, more bombs and rockets fall, and more innocent people get maimed and killed.

One would think that, after witnessing for herself the terrible devastation wrought in Beirut, she would call for an immediate cease fire. Did not happen. She told the beleaguered Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, “Thank you for your courage and steadfastness.” I do give her credit for saying, “I am deeply concerned about the Lebanese people and what they are enduring. I am obviously concerned about the humanitarian situation.” But did that translate into a cease-fire? Well, for the few hours that she was in Beirut. Almost immediately after she left, the bombs and rockets resumed, and more innocent people got maimed and killed.

Condi then traveled on to Rome after stopping in Ramallah and Jerusalem. Cease fire? Absolutely not. All that came out of the Rome talks was a statement urging peace with the “utmost urgency.” In fact, Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon declared that the Rome talks gave Israel “permission from the world…to continue the operation.”

US State Department spokesman Adam Ereli responded by saying, “Any such statement is outrageous.” Still, no cease-fire. In addition, although countries agreed to the urgent deployment of a robust international force to Southern Lebanon, few countries were willing to supply the force with boots on the ground. Meanwhile, more rockets and bombs fall, and more innocent people get maimed and killed.

After Rome, Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Washington for talks with President Bush. What was the result? More of the same: both stopped short of calling for an immediate cease-fire, saying that stopping the violence needs to be accomplished on an “urgent basis.” Of course, the Right and Honorable Gentleman did say, “We feel deeply for people in Lebanon and people in Israel who are the innocent casualties of this conflict, of course we do. And we want it to stop, and we want it to stop now.” As far as our President goes, it seems he is still waiting for “Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this…” But, cease-fire now? Um, no. That will have to wait for the United Nations. Meanwhile, more bombs and rockets fall, and more innocent people get maimed and killed.

Yet, what will be accomplished in the United Nations? Nothing, I predict. In fact, the United States has always provided Israel with diplomatic cover in the UN, vetoing Security Council resolutions and watering down statements which criticize Israel, such as the one recently issued after four UN observers were killed by an Israeli airstrike. Now, again, this is only natural for America to do, as she is Israel’s staunchest ally.

Nevertheless, when studying the actions of the United States throughout this entire Middle East crisis, can one honestly say that they are those of an “honest broker”? Absolutely not. In fact, I think the United States risks losing even more credibility, if not gain outright ridicule, if it continues to proffer itself as an “honest broker” for Middle East peace. Thus, the world needs to look for a new “honest broker.” But, who could that be? Great Britain? France? The European Union? Russia? Switzerland? Jesus Christ (pbuh)? But, if that were to happen, it would be too late, wouldn’t it?

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is the co-author of “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” published by Doubleday in 2006. His blog is at godfaithpen.com.


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