World View: Be realistic about Obama’s trip to Israel – he’s going because he has to

Plus: With billions wasted through corruption, lack of security and poor contracts, the true cost of our failure in Iraq is beyond count

Share

Will President Obama go ahead with his visit to Israel on 21 March as planned or will he have to postpone for lack of a government there? And does it really matter whether he goes or not?

Symbolically, at least, it would be an important moment. This would be the first trip to Israel by Obama since he took office in January 2009. The decision has aroused a flurry of analysis and advice arguing that this could be the moment that the US President, secure in his second term, could finally make a new initiative to bring peace to the Middle East.

If only. Pessimism in the Middle East has never proved misplaced. But there is always a first time and there are some reasons for hoping that this occasion might at least provide an opportunity for change.

One is the appointment of John Kerry as the new Secretary of State, a man well versed in the problems of the region from his Senate days, and who appears to be determined to get talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians restarted as an urgent objective of policy.

The other cause for hope is Israeli politics. Benjamin Netanyahu’s incomplete victory in last month’s elections has left him desperately scrabbling for enough partners to form a coalition. While that may well include some extreme pro-settler figures, his main target seems to be a centre-left coalition that could encourage talks with the Palestinians. Certainly his rhetoric on the question seems to have softened of late.

The difficulty is that nothing that has happened in the past few months has changed the fundamentals. On the one side, Israel’s settlement activity has progressed to a point where (quite deliberately) it is now almost impossible to conceive of any government in Israel forcing the settlers to leave.

On the other side, the Palestinians remain as divided as ever, even more so after the Israeli bombing of Gaza reinforced the position of Hamas there and made (not to Israel’s displeasure) the Palestinian Authority look all the more feeble.

Washington had hoped that the election of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, and the role he played in brokering a ceasefire in Gaza, might help along peace talks with the Palestinians. But, as Kerry found on his recent visit there, Morsi has quite enough problems at home without taking on responsibilities for Palestinian negotiations.

And so the hope, as ever, is on Washington somehow forcing the participants to come to the table. But then that, too, is to expect a degree of change for which there is no evidence.

The reason that Obama didn’t visit Israel in his first term, despite all the political advice to do so, was that early on he saw no advantage in it. That still remains the case. For all the developments in the Middle East, Washington’s policy remains firmly stuck in confrontation with Iran, an excessively close alliance with Saudi Arabia and relative powerlessness over Israel.

If Obama needed reminding  why the Middle East is just too difficult for an American president, he need only look at the travails that Netanyahu has had in forming a new government.

The one breakthrough will not be on peace talks. Obama is going because he promised for domestic reasons to do so during his re-election campaign. The White House says he has no new plan to offer but wants to discuss Iran and Syria as well as Palestine. If talks with the Palestinians do take place, they will be largely cosmetic.

The real contribution of the visit, if it takes place, will be to show that it is no good for the Europeans or the Arabs to look to Washington as a deus ex machina in the Middle East. It is not a role it seeks nor has any longer the power to perform.

The true cost of our failure in Iraq

Over the week Patrick Cockburn has been detailing in these pages just how little has improved in Iraq since we decided to invade it. Over in Washington the Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, has been putting the facts and figures on the failure.

In his final report published Wednesday, Bowen said that of the $60bn spent by the US on rebuilding Iraq, some $8-10bn was wasted through corruption, lack of security and poor contracts, millions were stolen and, as far as the Iraqis themselves were concerned, it was far from clear the effort was worth the cost.

The same could be said for our own efforts around Basra, except that we don’t have the monitoring system that the Americans have, and there has been no public accounting for the failures there or even a proper assessment of what went wrong.

We all know the reasons. It would be politically embarrassing for both the Government and the armed services. But it says little for parliament that, while it obsesses over the reasons for going to war, it takes so little interest in what happened after. It needs to. We’re now making exactly the same mistakes in Afghanistan.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee