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31 October 2013

More aware about reality

By: George S. Hishmeh
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More tables are nowadays turning around against Israel in the West, and more are expected to replicate this step if the Arab world learns how to tell its side of the story better, not just to official counterparts but to all Westerners.
 
The continued turmoil and spilling of blood in the Arab world has apparently convinced the Obama administration to “step back and reassess, in a very critical and kind of no-holds-barred way” how the US looks at the Middle East.
 
This was spelled out by Susan Rice, President Barack Obama’s new national security adviser, in a front-page interview with The New York Times last Sunday.
 
She met with six top White House aides in July and August “to plot America’s future in the Middle East”, the paper explained. Obama was described as eager to turn his gaze elsewhere, notably towards Asia.
 
The president’s goal, Rice told the paper, was “to avoid having events in the Middle East swallow his foreign policy agenda, as it had those of presidents before him”.
 
The answer, the paper added, “was a more modest approach — one that prizes diplomacy, puts limits on engagement and raises doubts about whether Mr Obama would ever again use military force in a region convulsed by conflict”.
 
In contrast, speaking a couple of days after the interview was published at an annual conference of the National Council on US-Arab Relations, Chas W. Freeman, a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, advised that “if we are not responsive to the interests of our partners (in the Arab world) … they will neither respect our interests nor avoid contradicting them. We need to listen more and prescribe less”. (Saudi Arabia has just turned down a US-sponsored UN invitation to join the UN Security Council in protest over the US stance over Syria and Mideast policy in general).
 
Freeman argued that the US “must acknowledge the reality that we no longer have or can expect to have the clout we once did in the region [since] American primacy has been slain by the new assertiveness of the region’s inhabitants…. We need to listen to our partners in the region and pay due regard to their interests. We cannot, for example, deal with Iran as though Israel is the only regional party at interest and the only one whose opinions we heed”.
 
Hopefully Obama will not renege on his commitment at the recent UN General Assembly session that the US’ focus henceforth will be on finding a settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and limiting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
 
This is a much-needed step that ought to be followed by some American arm twisting to compel Israel to abandon its nuclear and chemical weapons arsenal.
 
The Arab position witnessed a significant success within the US this week, attesting to the perseverance of Arab supporters, with the decision of the Massachusetts Bay Authority to restore dozens of ads critical of Israel within the transit system in the Boston area. The ads were originally placed on October 21, but were removed several days later, following complaints by pro-Israel supporters.
 
The ads comprise four maps that dramatically show the “Palestinian loss of land — 1946-2010”. The message therein reads: “4.7 million Palestinians are classified by the UN as refugees.”
 
Now the Boston transit system plans to post 80 of these ads, which also appeared in Washington and New York without any negative reaction.
 
At the same time, a former British foreign secretary was quoted by a Knesset member as saying that “unlimited” funds available to American Jewish organisations and AIPAC, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, are used to control American policy in the Middle East.
 
He was speaking, according to Knesset member Einat Wilf, during the recent Round Table Global Diplomatic Forum in the British House of Commons. He also maintained that Germany’s continued “obsession” with defending Israel is another problem that hampers Western dealings with the Arab world.
 
Arab-American organisations are not yet a match for the Zionist activists in the US, mainly because they lack the funding available to their counterparts. More bewildering is the absence of Arab governments, all 22 of them, in standing up to the confrontation.
 
Jack Shaheen, media critic and an internationally acclaimed author of “Reel Bad Arabs, How Hollywood Vilifies a People”, says Arab governments “should recognise the importance of American media in influencing opinion and public policies”.
 
He added: “Unless Arab governments take intelligent, rational and systematic steps to counter the vilification of Arabs and Muslims, US policies in the region will continue to be one sided.”
 
His blunt suggestion: “Stop buying arms and begin purchasing ideas that help bring about peace.”
 
Warren David, president of the Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), a popular and influential Arab-American organisation, warns that “unless the Arab governments put their differences aside and work together for a common goal, the hope for significant progress to advance Arab issues in America is virtually impossible”.
 
The ADC was founded by James Abourezk, a former Democratic representative and senator.
 
Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor of peace and development at the University of Maryland and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Centre for Middle East Policy, reports, surprisingly, that “roughly two-thirds of the American people have consistently said over the past decade that they want their government to be even handed, not take sides. The problem for American policy on (the Arab-Israeli conflict) is not public opinion as such, but hard politics”.
 
He adds: “My research into American public opinion towards the Arab World shows that the early Tahrir Square picture in Egypt [during the uprising against the Mubarak regime] actually improved the image of Arabs in the United States.”
 
In other words, he continued, “whatever Arabs do for their image in America, they should not mirror the effort of the Bush administration after the 9/11 tragedy when the administration brought an advertising executive to lead an effort to tell Arabs ‘how good America is’. Most Arabs were bound to evaluate America on what it does not on positive advertisements.”

* An Arab American columnist based in Washington. - Hishmehg@aol.com



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