Those who scratched
their heads wondering why the US President George W. Bush woke up one morning
and decided to spend his last year in office working towards a Palestinian
state can now be put out of their misery. Those more charitable among us
burbled about Bush's anxiety over his legacy. The sceptics decided the
Annapolis meeting and the great one's subsequent Middle East visit were nothing
but PR stunts or photo-ops.
Yet others thought US
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been whispering in his ear reminiscing
on how the two-tier situation in Israel reminded her of her youth in the
racially segregated south of America. However, recent days have been revealing.
It's true to say that
most Arab leaders had to be dragged kicking and screaming to Annapolis in the
knowledge that what awaited them was a damp squib, and, indeed, all that
resulted was a vague commitment to bring into being a Palestinian state before
the end of this year. Since, the Israelis have been merrily extending major
colonies around occupied Jerusalem, raiding the West Bank town of Nablus and
Then along comes
Bush, who uncharacteristically ticks off Israel over its failure to dismantle
"outposts" and even mentions the other "O" word.
Admittedly, "occupation" isn't a noun that easily trips off the
tongues of US officials let alone the big boss when related to Israel's
presence on Palestinian land.
Turn of events
Now here's a funny
turn of events. Just as uncharacteristically, the Israelis are not offended by
Bush's new tone, and their prime minister, Ehud Olmert, actually agrees that
the outposts are a "disgrace." Further, the Israeli newspapers are
rather upbeat about the leader of the free world's visit. Why is that?
Could it be they've
looked him in the eye and seen his heart, which briefly popped out onto his
sleeve during the requisite visit to the Holocaust Memorial? In truth, if I
were faced with the horrors depicted at Yad Vashem, my eyes would be damp too,
but Bush's empathy appears to be selective.
There were no tears
for the Palestinians, who were suffering yesterday, are still suffering today
and who will be suffering tomorrow. It's commendable to cry for those who have
passed but even more so to feel the pain of those still living, and especially
if you happen to be someone with the power to make things right.
There is one thing
you can't accuse Israelis of being. And that's stupid. Opinion columnists in Israel
aren't screaming about Bush's apparently tougher line because they know he's
actually on Israel's side, and the strong rhetoric was merely for Arab
The White House has
immense leverage with Israel, which arguably wouldn't exist in its present form
without US financial and military backing, yet apart from a few carefully
chosen words, Bush chose not to use it with the result Mid-East peace is still
Then apparently still
on his quest for white doves and olive branches -- or roughly goes the official
blurb -- the president heads for the Gulf, where, lo and behold,
Israel/Palestine affairs take a back seat. Instead, he fires up his troops to
complete their mission in Iraq by promising them a victorious place in history
books yet to be written.
In the meantime,there
had been an incident in the Straits of Hormuz. The US Navy accused Iranian
patrol boats of coming too close to its warships, dropping white boxes in the
water and to complete the picture it put out a video with a superimposed audio
of a menacing voice threatening to blow them up.
The timing couldn't
have been more perfect. The clash, as reported by the Navy, was a superb
backdrop for the prime motive behind the president's whistle-stop tour:
drumming up opposition to Tehran. Bush worked the incident to its fullest
extent warning Iran that it faced serious consequences, and urging Gulf states
to rally against their neighbour "before it's too late."
The confrontation was
not only a remarkable coincidence, coinciding as it did with the pesident's
visit, but according to Iranian statements, which they reinforced with their
own video, it never happened. Instead, they say, there was a polite exchange
between vessels. More recently, the Pentagon has backed down,suggesting the threatening
voice might not have been Iranian and the white boxes were harmless.
While it's true that
most regional governments are rightly concerned about Iran's possible nuclear
ambitions and extended geopolitical influence, they don't want to see their own
countries turned into a battleground. Indeed, in recent months they have
reached out to Iran with an invitation to attend a GCC summit and a personal
welcome to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his Haj pilgrimage.
For all Bush's
efforts to turn the tide against Iran, I doubt the major players here will
bite. I would also suspect the pesident's belligerent and confrontational
attitude towards their neighbour is viewed as an embarrassment.
are exceptionally dangerous times. The US Navy admits it fired warning shots at
Iranian boats in December. It's a tinder keg open to be ruthlessly exploited by
anyone itching for war.
I'll leave you with
three little words and a date -- Gulf of Tonkin 1964. Never heard of it? Then
Google and weep!
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.