Almost everyone in a dispute hopes to find an honest broker to mediate their differences. The controversy over the Goldstone Report on Gaza and the active role of Turkey's prime minister therein has raised a collateral issue, which is the US role as a go-between or broker in the Middle East.
So let's look at the prospect that the US can be such a broker, either alone or in tandem with Turkey, which has been actively involved in the area.
Obama as Broker in the Middle East
No one can be a broker when beholden utterly to one side, and while Obama sounds much better than Bush (he could scarcely sound worse), and is better in some areas, where Israel is concerned he is all talk and no action — except where supporting Israel is concerned, where his words and deeds go hand in hand.
Israeli leaders have spit in his face diplomatically, and it has cost them nothing — not a penny in aid, not a bullet, not a plane, and especially not a veto in the UN. Obama takes the insulting rebuffs in public silence, reaffirms his support of Israel, fends off its critics, and continues to send it aid, just as if nothing had happened.
The rest of world generally crosses its metaphorical fingers, re-reads increasingly tattered and bloodstained copies of Obama's Cairo speech, and hopes that his promise is not for nothing. And hopes. And hopes….
Now, no reasonable person expected Obama to change America's Middle East policies immediately. But few expected him to do nothing but talk, words without supporting actions being exceedingly cheap. The contrast between his forcefulness on the placement of a US missile shield in Eastern Europe and his dithering on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is striking.
Why the Disparity
There are three reasons for the inconsistency between Obama's verbal hopefulness and his actual hopelessness where bringing Israel to heel is concerned. First, money talks, and campaign contributions from AIPAC and brigades of Jewish contributors shaped his election and have bought large majorities of both parties in both houses of the US Congress. Alienating them is the end of his program, the ruin of his administration, and probably the end of his re-election prospects.
Second, information is power, and the Jewish dominance of the US mainstream media noted elsewhere in 2002 is even greater today. This affects not only how the American public views the Middle East, but also how Obama's program generally is presented. Negative views of Israel are a rarity. Anything showing Israel in a negative light is suppressed or marginalized. Anything even slightly to Israel's credit becomes front-page and prime-time TV news for days.
So the Israeli assault against Gaza was presented to the American public as a justifiable and restrained act of self-defense. Criticism of Israel from abroad simply didn't appear, even when made by eminent authorities like South Africa's first black president, Nelson Mandela. The Israeli hijacking of the Spirit of Humanity trying to bring humanitarian supplies to Gaza in June was almost totally ignored, except for some attacks on former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, an AIPAC electoral victim who was on the boat (attacks that backfired, given the comments from readers, and likely won't be repeated). And the Goldstone Report criticizing Israel as well as Hamas has been given the most casual treatment and largely dismissed.
Third, policy is people, and the people Obama has appointed to key foreign policy and Middle East positions would look equally at home in Bush's or even Netanyahu's administrations — indeed, some such as AIPAC "poster child" Dennis Ross have become virtual fixtures, and many Bush carryovers simply changed positions under Obama. People who are not Israeli partisans are rarer than honest trial lawyers.
No one should expect Obama's actions in this area to be significantly different than Bush's, when most of his foreign policy and Middle East advisers are Jewish with close ties to Israel; his chief of staff served (briefly and very safely, let it be noted) in the Israeli military but not in US uniform; and his Secretary of State could be replaced by former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni without any policy change on Israel being noticed — although I concede Livni is smarter, tougher and better looking than Clinton, so perhaps the swap would be worthwhile.
What's to Broker?
Besides, for anyone to broker anything, there has to be something — well, several "somethings" — on the table from all parties to a dispute. With the Netanyahu government in Israel, as well as any alternative on the horizon from either Kadima or Labor, the philosophy is simply "What's mine is mine, and what's yours will be, so let's negotiate."
Israel alone has no intention of returning the Golan to Syria under any circumstances. It has absolutely no intention of ending its illegal siege of Gaza and the brutalization and impoverishment of the people entrapped there. Everything in the dispossession of Palestinians from East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and the corresponding spread of Jewish settlements throughout both areas, not only reaffirms this attitude. It also makes a mockery of the semi-legendary "Two-State Solution" — just look at any map of the West Bank now, consider the scattered remnants of what Israel has not yet absorbed, and understand that no "second state" could possibly be cobbled together from such scraggly remnants.
Make no mistake about it. The only way to bring Israel around on these issues is to hurt it, and hurt it badly. Diplomacy without muscle behind it is meaningless. This requires at least an initial decision by the international community to formally impose sanctions and embargoes against Israel, and if necessary, against any other country that disregards those measures, including the US itself. Moving the Goldstone Report debate through the UN Security Council, after the inevitable US veto, to the UN General Assembly under the "Uniting for Peace Resolution" (UNGA 377A) would be an excellent beginning of this effort.
Alan Sabrosky (Ph.D., University of Michigan) is a writer and consultant specializing in national and international security affairs. In December 1988, he received the Superior Civilian Service Award after more than five years of service at the U.S. Army War College as Director of Studies, Strategic Studies Institute, and holder of the General of the Army Douglas MacArthur Chair of Research. He is listed in WHO’S WHO IN THE EAST (23rd ed.). A Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and a 1986 graduate of the U.S. Army War College, Dr. Sabrosky’s teaching and research appointments have included the United States Military Academy, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Middlebury College and Catholic University; while in government service, he held concurrent adjunct professorships at Georgetown University and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Dr. Sabrosky has lectured widely on defense and foreign affairs in the United States and abroad.