A Conference of Cowboys

President Bush is about to perpetuate the division of our region into 'cowboy' and 'Indians,' in accordance with the list of those invited to the party.

In the absence of a nightingale, even a raven is a songbird - or is it? The international conference initiated by U.S. President George W. Bush in the twilight of his term in office is definitely no songbird. It is more of a raven than a nightingale. After seven years of destroying the peace process in the Middle East, the U.S. administration is trying to hold a regional farewell party, the aim of which is to perpetuate the neoconservative order America has created here. All the good "cowboys" have been invited to the meeting: Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Fatah. The Saudis have also hit the trail, even though their seat in the Western saddle is still not sufficiently stable. The "Indians," however, have not been invited. While the big chief, Iran, is beyond discussion, the deputy chiefs - Syria and the heads of Hamas - have not been invited either.

President Bush is about to perpetuate the division of our region into "cowboys" and "Indians," in accordance with the list of those invited to the party. All good things will be bestowed upon the cowboys, while the Indians will be harshly punished.

This all-too-American and superpower view of interrelations in the Middle East is not suited to our region and contradicts the State of Israel's historical foreign policy. Moreover, it will also result in the division between good guys and bad guys within the Palestinian people itself and will thereby destroy its chances of creating a sustainable Palestinian state.

Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, we have perceived all the Arab states surrounding us as enemy states. While the word "Indians" is not common in our region, terms like "fedayeen" and "terrorists" have identified the good and the bad guys to the Israeli public. Since the establishment of the state we have had one major aim in the region - transforming our enemies into peace-seeking neighbors. Israeli policy has not given up on this aim, even though our neighbors often behaved in a violent and incomprehensible way. We have never divided the region up into "cowboys" and "Indians" as part of a long-term strategy and declared that this is our fate. We have spent entire decades trying with all our might to end the hostility toward us.

The United States has been the world's only superpower for nearly two decades now. It is located far from the region in terms of geography (despite its temporary presence in Iraq) and it can allow itself to divide the Middle East into good guys and bad guys who will fight each other until the "cowboys" win. The U.S. is convinced beyond a doubt that the "cowboys" are right and that justice always wins out, like in every good Western. Yet, the U.S. has forgotten that this is the East and not the West. And here the eastern prevails, not the Western. The price of dividing our region into goodies and baddies is always paid by both sides, including America's good friend, the State of Israel. It is the Israel Defense Forces that will have to fight the Indians of Washington's Western, currently being directed by the United States. We must not be dragged into this American Hollywoodian grand plan. There isn't going to be any happy end here.

Dr. Alon Liel was the director general of the Foreign Ministry during the period of Ehud Barak's government and is now chairman of the Israel-Syria Peace Society.