Politics & Policy

Dead Sea Journal, Part III

The previous two parts of these scribbles from the World Economic Forum on the Middle East? Go here and here.

I have been reading from a newspaper called the Star — no, not the supermarket tabloid, a Jordanian rag — and interesting reading it is. First I learn about opposition to the World Economic Forum meeting by a group called Amman Retreat. And here is a portion of its manifesto, as reported in the Star:

“[The WEF meeting] is taking place amidst a suffocating political crisis that engulfs the imperialistic American-Zionist project in the region because of the escalating heroic resistance in Iraq, the defeat of Israel’s army in Lebanon and the tolerance and the resistance of the Palestinian people despite of their hardships under siege.”

Later, the manifesto says that, in “Palestine,” “Zionists conduct a policy of methodical execution against the entire Palestinian population.” So, this group definitely has its marbles.

But is the Star itself any better? In an editorial, the paper speaks of the world’s “guilt feeling of having stood witness to the Holocaust” — and then says, “Nothing should overshadow the Palestinian Holocaust committed daily by Israel.”

So we can say that the Star has no problems with marbles either.

On the op-ed page is a column by Greg Felton, “who has won awards for his investigative journalism and now specializes in Middle-East and Canadian politics, media analysis and language” (as his bio says). The column is called “The dark age of Isramerican tyranny.” Let me repeat that: “The dark age of Isramerican tyranny.” The column praises Jimmy Carter — as tends to happen over here — and also says this:

“Congress is overrun by Christian sociopaths; the Israel Lobby dictates foreign policy and co-opts legislators to serve the interests of a foreign government; and the country itself has become a de facto police state.”

In other words, Mr. Felton is peddling what can be found in many a publication in North America itself, on either left or right. Those extremes come together, in the most malodorous way.

‐Feel like a panel? Me too. This one features Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan, and, as usual, he’s the chicest guy in town. On this occasion, his cape happens to be green. When he begins his remarks, I sense he sort of makes the room gulp. What he says is, “Foreign intervention brought us freedom from an extremist occupation, from terrorism, from brutal, obscurantist rule.”

He continues (and I paraphrase, just slightly), “It brought the return of refugees from abroad, the return of women to visible life, an infinitely improved economy. The infant-mortality rate was once one of the worst in the world. Now it’s way down. And children are back in school.”

These are “positive developments,” says Karzai. And on the negative side: “The Afghan people are still suffering attacks by terrorists.” Freedom from terrorism has not been entirely achieved. And the country will go down the tubes, he says, without “the international community” and “the cooperation of the neighbors.”

Glancing back at history, Karzai says that “the Karmalites” — the Afghan Communists — “and the Soviets imposed an alien thought on a deeply believing Muslim people, and a traditional people.” And “we used the other extreme to fight the Soviets,” thereafter getting stuck with “the regional plague” — namely, Islamism.

That is a striking and memorable phrase: “the regional plague.”

And, as Karzai tells it, Afghanistan was forgotten by the world “until New York was struck.”

The “international community” now has a choice, he says: It can continue to help Afghanistan, or it can turn its back once more. And if the Americans and their partners “leave before their time, Afghanistan will suffer,” and so, reverberatingly, will the region and world.

Asked whether these same ideas apply to Iraq, Karzai is somewhat cagey, even apprehensive, claiming that Iraq is different. He has his own country to think about. But you get the idea that, despite his caginess and apprehensiveness, he believes that Iraq is not so different as that.

‐Later in the conference, another regional leader will say to an American, “If you leave Iraq too soon, you may find that you have to come back.”

‐Sitting on the panel with Karzai is our old friend Shaukat Aziz, prime minister of Pakistan. He is one of the big modernizers, liberalizers, and reformers, an ex-vice president of Citibank. As I have noted before, he looks much like Zubin Mehta, the Parsee conductor.

In the course of his remarks, Aziz says that “the single most important issue” is the Palestinian problem. The unfreedom of the Palestinians is “the core of instability.” Needless to say, this wins great applause. And at least twice, Aziz makes reference to the “umma”: the community of Muslims around the world. The Israeli occupation, he says, vexes and injures the whole “umma.”

Figures: The slickest, most Westernized guy in the hall — the New York banker — has to out-Muslim them all.

‐Later, Aziz will meet with a small group of journalists. He is fairly open and accessible. I ask about Iran: He worked in America, has warm relations with Americans. And he has repeatedly affirmed that Pakistan is a warm ally of Iran. With repulsive regularity, Iran makes fiery declarations against America and Americans. Does this make him feel queasy?

“No,” says Aziz, shaking his head. “Iran is a neighbor.” (Relevant?) And then he goes on to state Pakistan’s policy: They are opposed to nuclear proliferation, and so on.

Well, I myself would feel queasy, and I imagine you would too, dear reader.

‐Another figure on the aforementioned panel is Prince Turki of Saudi Arabia. As you recall, he headed his country’s feared and ferocious intelligence service, the Mukhabarat. Then he served as ambassador to the U.K. and the U.S. And, like Aziz, he wins great applause: by saying that Arabs and Muslims should stop killing one another and start concentrating on their enemies. I want to ask, although I don’t have the chance, “Who are your enemies?”

He also says that Americans must leave Iraq and let Iraqis “solve their own problems” — in other words, let the terrorists, who bomb them when they try to vote and when they try to worship, who bomb them when they try to join the police and when they try to join the army, engulf them.

Thanks, Turki.

He then urges the Palestinians to eschew violence and “follow the Gandhi method.” As a result, “you’ll get everything you want.”

An amazing statement, from that renowned pacifist HRH Prince Turki al-Faisal al-Saud, master of the Mukhabarat.

‐By the way, you might wonder whether there are any Israelis on this panel, so concerned with the Arab-Israeli question. Ha!

‐The Jordanian foreign minister, Abdelelah al-Khatib, recalls an interesting statement by Henry Kissinger: He said that the U.S. has no real Middle East policy; it instead performs crisis management. And the foreign minister says, or implies, that what is really called for is a policy.

He also makes what I regard as a fascinating statement, an unusual one: If I have heard him correctly, he says that Israel, as a state, is not imperiled; rather, the personal security of its citizens is.

‐Drawing much attention — on this panel and elsewhere – is Manouchehr Mottaki. He is foreign minister of the country that is fast becoming the regional hegemon and might soon become a nuclear power. This is the man, you may remember, who earlier this month walked out of a diplomatic dinner in Sharm El Sheikh because he deemed the lady violinist who was performing indecently clad. I see no such violinist here at the Dead Sea to entice or bother him.

Indeed, a good many of the lady conferees are all wrapped up. Although those Royal Jordanian stewardess-usherettes are pretty hot stuff.

Mottaki uses his time to inveigh against Israel, the “illegal, illegitimate regime” that is the source of all the Middle East’s, if not the world’s, woes. He and his government basically reject King Abdullah’s Arab Peace Initiative — come to that, they reject any two-state solution at all. And this earns Mottaki some rebukes from Palestinians, over the three days of the conference: They wonder why they should not be allowed to make their own choice, to determine their own destiny. A refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist has won Palestinians exactly nothing for six decades.

On the panel with Karzai, Aziz, et al., Mottaki praises the American electorate for repudiating George W. Bush’s Iraq policies in 2006. He also praises the Baker-Hamilton report on the war, chiding Bush for not heeding it.

As the conference continues, Mottaki performs with increasing kookiness and hatefulness. On the subject of Jews, nukes — he is a piece of work, in harmony with his government. He talks a lot about “morality” and “immorality.” The Americans and Israelis are “immoral,” humiliating and killing Muslims everywhere. Yeah, right.

It’s kind of hard to take lectures on morality from the representative of a government that stones girls for the crime of having been gang-raped.

That’s enough — more than enough — for today, dear friends, and I’ll see you tomorrow.

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