When will Obama start talking to Hamas and Hezbollah?
It is often said that in the Middle East, anything is possible; judging by America's behavior toward Egypt, one can say the same thing about U.S. policy.
Under other circumstances, that is, were our prime minister known for his foresight and for his planning and analytical capabilities, one might even suspect him of being behind the "provocation" in Cairo, which, of course, serves the "Zionist interest."
How pleasant to see the United States digging itself a deeper hole every day with its declarations and suggestions to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak: Yes to resigning now; no to resigning now; lift the state of emergency; dissolve parliament, perhaps; talk to the Muslim Brotherhood; don't talk to them. And what about the ping-pong between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama? Is anything more entertaining than watching the U.S. president, who just a few weeks earlier admitted the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, attempting to create another democratic state in the region?
Netanyahu may be permitted to enjoy this spectacle for a moment, but only for a moment, because these are revolutionary times. Times that not only turn aspects of Egypt's system of government on their head but also create a new political vocabulary, one that Israel would do well to study.
For example, how is it that the Muslim Brotherhood - forerunner of Hamas, suspected of encouraging terror and of seeking to establish a sharia state - became a legitimate representative of the Egyptian public, to the extent that Omar Suleiman, who for years led the crackdown against the organization, is now willing to sit down with its representatives and to meet some of their demands.
Has anyone heard a peep out of Washington about it being verboten to sit down with the Muslim Brotherhood? Just the opposite; Clinton took heart from the Brotherhood being part of the dialogue in Egypt, and even took credit for initiating it. That is a significant switch: The Muslim Brotherhood has already been given legitimacy by both Cairo and Washington.
At first glance, the fact that Washington is speaking with fundamentalist groups should not raise too many eyebrows. After all, the Americans talk to the Taliban in Afghanistan, maintain in close contact with Shi'ite fundamentalist organizations in Iraq and in the 1980s collaborated with Bin Laden and his associates against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
The next question is when will Washington open a dialogue with Hamas and perhaps with Hezbollah? Both are defined as terror organizations, but after failing to obtain peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, and between Israel and Syria, will do whatever is necessary to at least take control of managing the conflicts in order to prevent a decline into violent confrontation.
In Palestine and Lebanon, as in Afghanistan, organizations dictate state policy; as in Afghanistan, if the United States wants to maintain a proper relationship with Syria - and it does - it must recognize Lebanon's new government, which is dependent on Hezbollah's partnership. It also will be unable to provide a convincing argument for being willing to accept an Egyptian democracy that includes the Muslim Brotherhood while opposing the participation of the democratically elected Hamas in the Palestinian leadership of a state that has already been recognized by quite a few countries. It is often said that in the Middle East, anything is possible; judging by America's behavior toward Egypt, one can say the same thing about U.S. policy.
Netanyahu can continue to rely on luck and to hope for another revolution in the Middle East to divert attention away from Israel. Indeed, Israel will presumably cease to interest the Obama administration, since new clients are coming forward in the region. In order to reassure them, Washington will have to review its relationship toward them and work to deepen ties, mainly in order to maintain its status in the region. Being too close to Israel, Obama has learned, is no guarantee of this status.
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