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Arab Distrust of America Clouds Prospect for a Stable Middle East
Shibley Telhami

Arab Distrust of America Clouds Prospect for a Stable Middle East

Shibley Telhami, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, reports that only 3% of Saudis are even "somewhat favorable" to the U.S. The Bush administration's prioritizing security over democracy in the region deepens rifts between people and governments.

By Leslie Evans

[Following is a slightly abridged text of a presentation by Professor Shibley Telhami to a May 15 symposium on "Iraq Portends" on the UCLA campus. Professor Telhami is the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. The symposium, which included several speakers and discussants, was sponsored by the Center for Near Eastern Studies. This presentation is part of the International Institute's commitment to providing a campus forum for the wide range of views about key international issues. We have added the subheadings.]

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What I'd like to do is to put the consequences of the Iraq war in context, to look at how the region looked at the war before it took place and at how the region is looking at the war after. To do that I will report to you the results of a public opinion survey that I have done on the eve of the war. I did a survey in six countries, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco and Lebanon. The survey was not wholly aimed at looking at regional attitudes toward the U.S. and the Iraq war. It was intended to look at changes in political identity over time and particularly the impact of the new media -- what people watch and what their opinions are -- and also some social issues such as the role of the clergy in politics, the role of women in society. There was a subset of the survey focused on U.S. policy toward Iraq and attitudes toward the U.S. Let me tell you what the findings were and why the vast majority in the region opposed the Iraq war.

Opposition to Any War against Iraq

It is clear that over 90% in the region opposed the war on the eve of the Iraq war. That is hardly surprising, because it is not just in the region that we have known that people were opposed to the war. When you took public opinion in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, and Latin America most people opposed the war across the globe. So it is hardly surprising, although the intensity of opposition within the Arab world was much higher than elsewhere.

In particular, when you asked people, if Iraq was found to be hiding weapons of mass destruction, would you support a UN-led war against Iraq? the vast majority in every single country said no. Not even in the case where Iraq was found to be violating UN resolutions, hiding weapons of mass destruction, and the UN authorized war on Iraq would the public support it. And certainly if you asked them about a U.S.-led war, a unilateral American war, then it was off the charts. There were very few people, a handful, who supported the war. So opposition was very pervasive.

By the way, before I get into the attitudes toward the U.S. it is not a surprise to me that there would be opposition even if Iraq were found to be hiding weapons of mass destruction. Because one of the key arguments in the regional discourse has been the issue of double standards. So what if Iraq were hiding weapons of mass destruction, they would say. What about North Korea, which is flaunting them? What about Israel? So the double standard argument was always one of the reasons why people opposed a war. Why are you always focused on Iraq?

You had a pervasive sense in Arab and Muslim countries that the U.S. was out to target specifically Arab and Muslim countries. You found it even in Turkey. When you look at the survey in Turkey, where 90% of the people opposed the war, the number one reason given was not the Kurdish issue, which obviously is troubling to the Turks, but the perception of the U.S. as targeting Islam.

America's Standing Extremely Low in the Region

When you look at the opposition to the U.S.-led war, essentially there were two sets of reasons. One is suspicion of American intentions; the other, pessimism about the consequences of the war. Let me give you an example of the first, how the public viewed the U.S. When I asked them if they had a very favorable view of the U.S., somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or very unfavorable view, in Saudi Arabia we found that only 3% of the people had a somewhat favorable view of the United States.

In Jordan and Morocco only 6% had a somewhat favorable view of the U.S. In Egypt, 13%. Lebanon had the largest number, which was only about 30% or so of the public, who had a somewhat favorable view of the U.S. Clearly this is the lowest that we have seen since we have been taking surveys, which hasn't been that long, frankly. We haven't had surveys of this sort about attitudes toward the U.S. in many of these countries. I think the earliest they did on this one was about three years ago. I did another one about two years ago. So we don't have a very long track record, but it is clearly the lowest we have seen since these public opinion surveys were done.

What Arabs Think Were America's Motives for War

When you ask them, what do you think motivates the U.S. in going to war with Iraq, the number one answer was oil. In every single country, oil was by far the number one answer. In Saudi Arabia, it was 90% or so of the public who believed it was for oil.

The number two answer was Israel, that the U.S. is doing this for Israel. When you asked them, what about democracy? Do you think the U.S. is doing this for democracy? Very few people believed it was for democracy -- in the teens. When you asked them, do you think the U.S. is doing this in Iraq to bring peace to the region, very few people said it is for peace. There was profound suspicion of U.S. intentions. No question about it. Essentially the view is that the U.S. is motivated broadly in terms, (a) of trying to weaken Arabs and Muslims; (b) by dominating the oil in the region; and (c), helping Israel.

Nationalist Leaders, Not Religious Figures, Are Most Admired

I had two questions about whom among world leaders they admired most. One question was open, whom among world leaders outside of your own country -- I didn't want them to have to answer that -- do you admire most? In a second question I gave them a list of about 15 names, both historical and current world leaders, to get a sense of where they are, and I said, who among the following leaders do you admire most?

In answering the first question, in Egypt, Morocco, and Lebanon the number one most admired leader was Jacques Chirac. It's in your face. Here they are accusing the U.S. of imperialism and admiring the president of France. But it is clear what the message is. And in Jordan, by the way, the number-one most admired leader was Saddam Hussein. This gives you a picture of the in-your-face feelings there. And often in all these countries Yasser Arafat was very close to the top, being third or fourth, and Mandela scored very well also.

Among the leaders whose names I gave them, specific historical and current leaders that ranged from Mandela to Gandhi to Stalin to Eisenhower to Churchill to Islamist leaders -- I gave them three names of Islamist leaders -- to Nasser, the number one in every single country was Nasser. And the second most frequent name was Mandela.

What's interesting, by the way, about the names that they have selected is that by and large they were nationalist, anti-imperialist names. Not religious authorities. In fact names of religious leaders that I submitted to them, including the leader of Hamas, did reasonably well in some places, where they would get maybe fourth place or third place, but no one got anywhere near the top. The names that received the largest number of votes were mostly nationalist anti-imperialist. That tells you the mood of the region.

An oddity of this is that it contrasts with something else that I had asked them: if they looked at the Arab world today, did they think the clergy are playing too much of a role or too small a role in politics in the region? In every single place people said the clergy is playing too little of a role in regional politics. So you have that attitude on one hand and the other attitude that when asked to name people they admire they name only nationalist and usually nonreligious people. When I look at this I am interpreting it as an anti-status quo mood rather than as a religious fundamentalist mood.

Large Majorities Expect More Terrorism, Less Democracy in War's Aftermath

In terms of their specific expectations about the outcome of the war, on the issue of terrorism, the vast majority in every single country, in fact 96% of Saudis, said there would be more terrorism, not less terrorism, after the war. Number two, on the issue of democracy, do you expect more democracy or less democracy after the war? The vast majority in every single country expected less democracy after the war. And the third question was, do you expect that the prospects of Arab-Israeli peace will improve or diminish after the war? The vast majority in every single country said they would diminish after the war. So there was tremendous pessimism about the outcome of the war.

Arab Opinion after the Iraq War

Now how have these expectations held in the weeks since the major fighting ended in Iraq? We don't yet have a new survey. But we do know a lot based on what we see in the discourse on television, in the newspapers. We have some impressions of how the region is interpreting what has transpired. It is clear that when people in the United States look at the war and say that this has proven to the Arabs that they were misled to think that Iraq had a chance and now there is a reaction of disillusionment, that is not exactly right. When you look at the regional expectations going into the war, most people in the region believed that Iraq had no chance of winning. The U.S. succeeded in spreading the belief that it was going to be a walk-over. Obviously the American intention was to get a bandwagon effect. If you know that the war is going to come, and that once it starts it is going to be over quickly, people would support you before you go in. Regional leaders do not want to be on the wrong side of a winning America.

In fact that strategy roughly worked. Most Arab governments jumped on the American bandwagon first. Bush was having trouble getting Europeans on board, Asians on board, Mexicans on board. Everybody else but the Arab authoritarian leaders, who jumped on the American bandwagon first. The Jordanians said, we will work with you. The Saudis gave their private assurance that they would cooperate. The small Gulf states all were fully cooperating. Egypt was cooperating. The only surprise was just the quick collapse of Baghdad after a little stiff resistance.

If there was a surprise, one changed opinion, it is that many people in the region who for too long refused to admit the brutality of the Saddam Hussein regime, and because of their suspicions of the United States didn't want to look at it or believe it, have come to see it more. You see much more admission in the discourse of the brutality of the regime today and much more coverage in the media, much more acknowledgement of it. That is clear. Now in Jordan some people are saying, we always didn't think this was the right man but we still backed him. People are trying to distance themselves from the regime.

Arab Press Notes That U.S. Guarded the Oil But Abandoned the Museums and Hospitals

What hasn't happened is a changed opinion of the U.S. It hasn't happened at all. In fact in the conduct of the war since the collapse of the regime their vision has been reinforced, as you can see in the media in terms of what they focus on. On the oil issue, obviously, the fact that oil installations were the first to be defended and safeguarded, the fact the oil ministry was surrounded and not allowed to be looted while museums and hospitals were is the kind of thing that really reinforced in people's minds that oil was what was at stake in this war.

Moreover the early discourse in the U.S. administration immediately after the collapse of the regime that we might go next to Syria and Iran reinforced the regional fears that Iraq was not a case of its own but rather episode one of a series of episodes that are frightening to the region.

The Iraq War Has Deepened the Rift between the Arab Governments and Their Peoples

If you look at the Arab governments one would have to argue that they have learned the lessons a little bit differently. I think almost all of the governments in the region are a bit frightened by the outcome of the war because of the increased American influence. There is no question that they feel on the defensive. That includes the Saudi government, that includes the Egyptian government, that includes the Syrian government. Most of them feel on the defensive.

What the war has done is exacerbate the gap between the public and the governments. If you look at the issues prior to the war, where you had a public very angry with the U.S. and Arab governments cooperating with the U.S., that gap has increased since the war. Because the governments are even more frightened by the U.S. now than they were before the war, and they are also more frightened by an angry public than they were before the war.

Why the U.S. Advocates Democracy But Works against It

Which brings me to the question of democracy. Why did people in the region, most of whom obviously don't live in an environment that is democratic in any shape or form, expect that there would be less democracy after the war? Well, the reality is that they saw what happened in the lead-up to the war, during the war, and what is happening now. In the lead-up to the war the public was passionately opposed to it. The U.S. goes to their governments and says, we would like your support for the war. And these governments say, but we are worried about our public opinion. The U.S. says, well you deal with it. And they deal with it. And how do they deal with it, except by unleashing the security services, preventing demonstrations, preventing free speech, preventing organization that would threaten them?

In fact in the weeks before the war there was more repression in many Arab countries than there was before, as a consequence of the government's fear that the public's anger was going to destabilize them. There was more repression during the war. And I can tell you that there is more repression today. And now after the horrible bombings in Saudi Arabia a couple of days ago you can imagine that there will be more repression in Saudi Arabia. The fear is going to expand, not diminish, in that context.

Autocracy Rewarded, Democracy Penalized

Moreover, they also see the reward system for repression versus democracy. The reality of it for the U.S. is that the first countries to support the war were authoritarian governments. And the countries that opposed it were the democratic governments of Europe, and the only Muslim democracy in the Middle East, Turkey, which opposed the war, and let go $26 billion. Today Turkey is paying the price for that opposition. And many of these government that supported the war are being paid: a lot more economic aid, security aid, much of which they can use to reinforce the system of repression. And I think these things perpetuate themselves over time. Every time that there is a sense of a conflict between democracy and national security priorities, national security priorities have won.

Look at the war on Al Qaeda. Certainly after the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the U.S. campaign to weaken and eradicate Al Qaeda in Pakistan, the U.S. is not at all demanding reform in Pakistan, where the country is fearful of opening up more, given the way public opinion is. And so in essence the outcome of this priority, fighting Al Qaeda, has made the U.S. much more reluctant to push for democracy in Pakistan than it was before. And in some ways you can understand that, particularly in this case where Al Qaeda has become a real threat, a genuine threat to American national security.

But it is also a reality that we have to acknowledge, that even if you have leaders who generally want to advance democracy, the reality of it is that the priorities that they confront every day make them more often choose national security over democracy. This has been the trend in the Middle East, and that is what we have and that is why the people in the region are much more reluctant to believe either that democracy is going to be a true American priority or that the Arab governments are going to respond.

Poor Prospects for Democracy in Iraq

Now what about Iraq per se on the issue of democracy. I think most of us have argued that you can't impose democracy by force on Iraq and that democracy has to be home grown, so to speak. You have to have the social, political, and economic institutions that would sustain it over time. And obviously in the case of Iraq, those have not been there. Maybe they can be built but they have not been there.

Part of the argument has been about the demographic diversity of Iraq. Not only the Kurds and Shiites and Sunnis, but even divisions within each one of these groups. In addition to this internal diversity there is the fact that every one of Iraq's neighbors -- Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan -- has a vital interest in what happens in Iraq. And they all have significant instruments of influence in Iraq. They are all going to employ them to preempt an outcome that does not suit them.

So you have a lot of barriers. One is the anarchy, which is unfortunate. I think it is really tragic that the U.S. wasn't prepared on that ground. I mean, let's face it, this has been a major failure. You only have one chance at first impressions and that chance is gone. I think it is clear that there were not enough forces on the ground to police the cities. It was clear that the forces were not ready to transit from fighting to peacekeeping. There was not enough preparation to deal with the humanitarian needs, despite the fact that there had been months to plan this. And it was as if there was an expectation that the infrastructure in Iraq was going to remain intact, so that people who were reporting to one master the day before would come and report to the new master the day after. I'm not joking about this. There was that kind of expectation on the part of large numbers of people in Washington about how this was going to happen. You keep the infrastructure intact and then you can use it the next morning, as though the police would just come and report to the American commander the next morning and things would go on as normal. And that alone obviously is a major problem.

The Baath Party Destroyed All the Political Alternatives

But if you look at the structural political problem, the Baath party has destroyed every political alternative, as most of these one-party regimes do. There is no organization that can mobilize public support on a large scale. And politics is about organization, it is not about individual feelings. When you look the only social organizations that are available, most of them are religious. And the mosque today is the only institution that in the short term is capable of mobilizing people on a large scale. I don't know what is in the hearts of Iraqis, whether they want secularism or whether they want religious institutions. It doesn't matter, because politics is about organization. I would dare think many Iraqis want secular society. If there was anything the Baath introduced that was good, it was secularism and less sexism. Those are the two things that were introduced, and the two things that are now threatened in whatever emerges in Iraq.

I would think there are people who bought into these ideas who still want to support them. But I doubt they will have the mechanism in the short term to organize accordingly. I think we also have to come to grips with the fact that the Baath used secularism to legitimize minority rule and to delegitimize religious groups, and therefore the illegitimacy of the Baath has become in part the illegitimacy of secularism.

If there were to be free elections held in the next few months, genuinely free elections on a national scale, I would not at all be surprised if the clergy would win that election, Shiia clergy, in part because they are a majority but in part also because they are better organized than the Sunnis at the level of religious institutions.

Washington Moving away from Elections in Iraq

I think it is clear that in Washington there is tremendous fear of the outcome if you had free elections. People in Washington are now downplaying the idea of free elections: that's not what democracy is really about, we have to find another way. In one of the sessions that I attended recently in Washington someone who is very thoughtful, who before the war had advocated that democracy should be the number one priority for the U.S., period, after the Shiia demonstrations in Baghdad said that now we should wake up and start playing imperial politics of divide and rule. This is actually a sentiment in the Washington now, of people who are saying, it is really about interest, how do we protect our interests? How do we prevent options that we don't want? They now say, the outcome won't be democracy so you would have to explain it a different way.

That is why people are suspicious in the region about the outcome. In any case it is hard even if we succeed, and I hope we do, in helping Iraq develop a reasonably liberal government. I wouldn't say democratic. But frankly you couldn't do much worse than the Saddam Hussein regime, so at least it will be an improvement. But even in that environment it is hard to imagine that people in the region are going to see it as anything but happening under American control and occupation. And therefore not seeing it as an example for them in the same way that people in Washington had hoped before the war.

In fact the American dilemma in the short term in Iraq is the following. It is exactly the same way that I posed it when I testified in the Senate last summer before the war and said, if you go to war, here is the dilemma: on the one hand, if you pull out quickly you are going to leave anarchy and instability that is going to be negatively consequential for the entire region and for the U.S. Obviously there is a vacuum of power and if you pull out now there will be a lot of devastation in the region. If you stay, then people are going to say, this is American imperialism, you will be the target of regional anger. It's no win. And I think that's where it is now, unless it is broadened to bring in international players to fill that vacuum.

Washington's Misreading of the Source of Terrorism

When you look at why people in the Middle East were saying they expect more terrorism after the war than before it is because they have a different idea of the root of terrorism than Washington does. The notion that we have in Washington and that many Americans had going into the war was that victory in Iraq was going to reduce terrorism in the Middle East. The idea here being that terrorism is a function largely of state support. That's the notion that drives the Washington idea that you reduce terrorism by confronting states that seem to be helpful to terrorists, rather than seeing terrorism as a nonstate phenomenon, which is what it is.

I think most people in the region understand terrorism to be a nonstate phenomenon. They understand it to be a phenomenon that is not driven by state support but rather is a phenomenon of nonstate actors. If you look at this issue through the lens of the 9/11 tragedy, the reason why it was so frightening, apart from the pain and horror that everybody watched, was that you had fewer than two dozen men with nothing but box cutters and using technologies available to all. They inflicted more pain on America on its home ground than any state has ever been able to do. And for that they don't need state support.

We have seen what happened with Al Qaeda. The Taliban regime fell and Al Qaeda is obviously not defeated. And when you look at Al Qaeda fighters today, they are not hiding in governments that we have labeled the axis of evil. Most of the fighters of Al Qaeda are probably hiding in friendly states. Probably in Pakistan, Afghanistan, in areas of instability. Where there is instability there is a more fertile environment for nonstate militant groups to thrive. Where there is motivation there are more recruits.

And the deep anger that people feel, they understand that on the margins of that anger there are people who are willing to do a lot more. Look at the Iraq war and how many people become willing recruits to fight for Saddam Hussein. They even went to Iraq: thousands rallied to go to fight for a government they didn't support. People came from Jordan who had left Iraq because they didn't like the Saddam Hussein regime; they went back.

Reports today say the militant organizations are having an easier time mobilizing recruits across Arab and Muslim countries since the war. It's not a surprise that this would be the case. Because there is that anger and there is that environment. If you look now at the Arab world there is one obvious characteristic of the psychology, a psychology of humiliation and weakness, a very pervasive sense of humiliation. But if you put that aside for the moment, there is also a sense of disgust with states, with their own governments, with the international system, with international organizations, with the United States. So in that sense there is even more vacuum for nonstate players to fill. And I think that in that sense the regional expectation that terrorism will grow is justified in the foreseeable future.

Prospects for an Arab-Israeli Peace

What about the Arab-Israeli peace process? Most people in the Arab countries expect that the prospects for Arab-Israeli peace will diminish. In large part people expected that because they thought the U.S. was going to war to fulfill, essentially, Sharon's vision for the Middle East, and therefore Sharon would have less incentive to compromise and therefore you wouldn't have a settlement.

When you look at what has transpired since the end of the war, the administration has, at least rhetorically and in terms of its diplomacy, been trying to do what it said it was going to do, which is, number one, that it would be committed to a Palestinian state within three years. And committed to the so-called road map to get us to this state within three years. The President has reiterated his position again that people should see him as fully committed to reviving an Arab-Israeli peace process that is credible.

How close is this to reality? Well, first on the ground, the Israeli-Palestinian situation. I don't think there is a major relationship between the Iraq war and what Israeli and Palestinian calculations are going to be in a significant way. Initially the Israelis feel a little more strengthened; the Palestinians feel a little more vulnerable. But I don't think the reality has changed on the ground. Ultimately the Israelis were responding to the Palestinians not because they feared Iraq, but because they didn't have a unilateral solution with the Palestinians. And the Palestinians, if they had any power at all, it certainly didn't come from Iraq. And the fact that is not there now certainly doesn't weaken them any more than they were weak before.

So the reality at the strategic level is not fundamentally changed on the ground. The same impetus that would be there before the war to drive a settlement is still the same one that would have to drive it now. And I don't see the possibility of that in the foreseeable future from within, from within the Palestinian areas, from within Israel. Now if people thought that the end of the war with Iraq is going to give the U.S. a sense of opportunity and energize the American role toward the Arab-Israeli conflict, I would have to say that I am not an optimist. Let me tell you why.

How Much Can or Will the Bush Administration Do in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?

I think the administration is going to try. It is bound to try. The real issue is not trying, the real issue is implementing and paying the price for implementing. The road map as it was designed is a document. It is not something that can be implemented on its own. It is not self-fulfilling. It is just suggested steps that you have to have both sides fully accept and implement in good faith. We know that Israel has not accepted it at all and the Palestinians have a lot of doubts about it. They have said officially they would support it but frankly they have a lot of doubts about it as well.

Even when you had parties buy into a process of this sort, such as with the Oslo agreement, when you had an Israeli leadership and a Palestinian leadership committed to an agreement and they were collaborating in some ways behind the back of their publics and against their own oppositions to make that agreement work, still they were derailed, because there were so many steps along that way that instead of building confidence it was undermining them at every step. And here you don't have the trust and you don't have the mutual agreement and you have a series of steps that are even more complicated than what was expected to happen in Oslo.

What happens if Sharon says no at one step? What happens if the Palestinians say no is that Israel has the means to punish them by continuing occupation, by roadblocks, it has the power. What happens if Sharon says no? The Palestinians don't have the means to punish the Israelis. You have to have a mechanism at the international level to assure moving forward in that environment. In that regard, America's diplomacy is indispensable.

If this is what is on the table, and that is all that is on the table, if we are hoping for some breakthrough to come from the parties themselves, then there is no way that American diplomacy can work unless the Arab-Israeli mediation is priority number one for the administration, or at least among the top priorities. If it is not, it simply cannot work. That requires the President picking up the phone. It requires using political clout internationally, political leverage at home. And if we don't do that, the process is going to fall apart. It is as simple as that.

Bush's Other Priorities Are Many

Now is this administration willing to make this issue the priority issue for it in the less than two years before the election? I hope it does. But frankly I don't see it. And let me tall you why. First, people say that the President has become fully convinced that this is a central issue for the U.S. in a way that he wasn't convinced when he came to power. It is clear that he has a lot of other priorities in the meanwhile. He has the North Korean issue, which hasn't yet been addressed. The Iraq issue, which clearly is going to flare up at various stages. I think Iraq is more of a priority today than it was before the war. The U.S. has simply inherited a broken country with a lot of problems right now. The fact that you have 150,000 American troops on Iraq's soil tells you that is a priority issue for America today that the American public will be focused on.

The issue of Al Qaeda obviously is not behind us, as we tragically witnessed a couple of days ago, and unfortunately are likely to witness again. And you know that is going to become a political issue; it already is a political issue. In Washington people are saying, you focused on Iraq and you ignored Al Qaeda. That's the kind of Phil Graham talk in the past couple of days. You are likely to see more of that. The economy, which was a major factor in defeating his father for reelection. Elections are coming. Bush has developed a strong relationship with Sharon that he sees as a political asset. Is he likely to jeopardize those relations as we are entering into an election? Frankly I don't see it.

So from where I am sitting today, inside the Beltway as it were, and I was there today, I actually flew in today, it doesn't look good as far as I'm concerned. It is really hard to see where the up side is. But let me, to the extent that there may be an up side, tell you what it might be. I think that if you are going to be optimistic about any negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians in any foreseeable future, that you have to find it in terms of the public sentiment in both sides still in these difficult times still believing that this is the way to go. That neither side has the unilateral solution.

Now the down side is that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians believes that a solution is imminent. In fact, the most recent survey, for those who think that now the Palestinians are so weak they will just give in, shows that they still think that they shouldn't give up the armed struggle and that they shouldn't give up violent attacks, including, unfortunately, against civilians. They believe the Intifada, despite all the pain and the cost that they have paid in the last two and a half years, is working, and that they shouldn't give it up or a solution will be imposed upon them that they cannot accept.

I think that at the strategic level the reality will set in. Israel today is in the most favorable strategic position it has ever found itself in, in that it has the strong, almost unlimited support, of the United States. It has no eastern front anymore. Syria is on the defensive. Egypt and Jordan are at peace with Israel. And the Palestinians are weak. They don't have many assets. Their leadership is somewhat divided as well. And that don't have full control over areas that they are supposed to be controlling.

Nevertheless, this strength that Israel has will soon be shown to be unable by itself to lead to a solution. Because there is no unilateral solution to this problem. The Palestinians can't impose one; the Israelis can't impose one. And I think we are likely to see more pain in the next few months, but I think we are likely to see a changed debate with Israel and the Palestinian areas and that might be the only hopeful note I can end on.

Center for Near Eastern Studies