Sunday, March 02, 2008

A tough Mideast mission

March 3, 2008

A tough Mideast mission for Rice

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice faces an almost impossible mission in her visit to the Middle East this week. With Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas having declared a suspension of peace talks with Israel until the Israeli military calls off its brutal assault against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Rice's first task is to find an end to the Israeli operations. Given that an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is one of US President George Bush's declared goals before he bows out of office in 2009, restoration of the so-called Annapolis process — Israeli-Palestinian peace talks — is one of Rice's top priorities. Surely, the US agreement to go along with a UN Security Council statement early on Sunday "condemning the escalation of violence" in Gaza was designed to somewhat placate the Palestinians but without any realistic change on the ground.
The Palestinians have already delcared that peace negotiations "are buried under the houses that were destroyed in Gaza...."
Indeed, as Jordan's King Abdullah II warned last week, "time is running out and we need the United States of America completely involved, to influence the course of discussions, monitor progress, and help bridge the gaps to ensure a final agreement by the end of 2008."
It should not have come as a shock or suprise for Washington to see its hopes of creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel by the end of 2008 going up in the flames of Gaza. All the signs were clear for some time that a major Israeli assault against the Gaza Strip was in the offing, but the US did not even try its hand at defusing the situation. Instead, it went along with Israel's "military option" against the Hamas rulers of Gaza rather than exploring diplomatic possibilities. Obviously, the US-Israeli hope was and still is that piling pressure on the residents of the Gaza Strip would be like digging deep into the Hamas roots. We have yet to see any sign of that happening.
At the same time, there are some who expect Rice to somehow produce a formula to end the ongoing flare-up in the Gaza Strip.
They see the US secretary of state of being capable of achieving the impossible although we fail to see any such track record.
Rice is known for her regular assertions that her predecessors failed in the Middle East and she has her own methods to score success. The question is what is her definition of success in the Arab-Israeli context.
In any event, by now it should be more than clear to Rice that the very essence of the crisis in Palestine is linked to US inaction and the absence of a fair and just approach to the Palestinian problem. Washington left it to Israel to lead the way and offered it an all-protective umbrella. And Rice will find it very difficult to rein in the Israelis.
In the meantime, the carnage continues in Gaza, with fears of a wider conflict growing every day.