After last week's Obama-Romney love-fest for Israel, the Arabs have been slowly deciding which of the two men would be best for the Middle East. It looks like Barack Obama is their man; but the problem – as always – is the sad, pathetic and outrageously obvious fact that it doesn't make the slightest bit of difference.
George Bush invaded Iraq after giving Ariel Sharon permission to go on colonising the occupied West Bank. Obama got out of Iraq, increased drone strikes on the Pakistan-Afghan border and then behaved like a dog when Benjamin Netanyahu told him there would be no discussion about Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders. Instead of saying, "Oh yes there will", like a strong and independent president, Obama sat cowed in his White House seat as the Israeli prime minister effectively told him that UN Security Council resolution 242 – the very basis of the non-existent "peace process" – was a non-starter.
Since then, of course, Mitt Romney, who seems to have as much understanding of the Middle East as the Texas preacher who burned a Koran, has said the Palestinians "have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace" and has still not satisfactorily explained why, back in 2005 as governor of Massachusetts, he appeared rather keen on wire-tapping mosques. So good luck to the Arabs.
The truth, however, is that the next president is not going to have the freedom to decide his policy on the Middle East. The old love affair with Israel will continue – unless Israel attacks Iran and drags America into another Middle East war – but for the first time in American history, a successful presidential candidate is going to have to deal with a new Arab world; indeed, a new Muslim world.
The critical point is that the Arab Awakening (please let's forget the "Spring" bit) represents a people calling for dignity. It includes non-Arab Muslims as well – what else was the mini-green revolution after the last Iranian elections? – and it means that the millions who live in the part of the world we still like to call the Middle East – it doesn't feel very "middle" when you live there – now intend to make their own decisions, based on their wishes, not on those of their former satrap presidents and – in turn – their masters in Washington. La Clinton still seems not to have grasped this. Maybe Obama does. Romney? I bet he couldn't draw a map of the nations in the area, except for one, of course.
Contrary to the Western belief that the Arabs are all struggling for "democracy", the battle and the tragedy of the Middle East today – whether in the aftermath of the "soft" revolution in Tunisia or the butchery of Syria – is about that word dignity, about the right as a human being to say what you like about whomever you want and not to let a despot take personal ownership of a whole country (as long as he has the permission of the United States) and treat it as his private property.
Yes, revolutions are messy. The Egyptian revolution didn't go quite the way we thought it would. Libya can easily break apart. Syria is a cataclysm. But the Arab people are speaking out at last and they will now ensure that their presidents and prime ministers abide by their wishes, not by the word of Washington or Moscow. Contrary to the Romney-style belief that there is a lack of civilisational values among the Arabs – viz his extraordinary remarks on Israel's civilisation – the people of the Middle East are demonstrating quite the opposite. It is a slow business: every reader of this article will be dead of old age before the Arab "revolution" is complete.
But the days when US presidents instruct the potentates of the Middle East what to say and do are coming to an end. It will be a long time before the Saudi regime crumbles, along with all the other gas stations in the Gulf. And I suppose it must be said that the tragedy of the Palestinians probably lies at the heart of the Arab Awakening.
Alas, the Palestinians are the only ones not to benefit from the Arab revolutions. There is not enough land left for them to have a state. This is a fact beyond peradventure (as Enoch Powell used to say). Anyone doubting these words should book a flight to Israel and take a look at the West Bank. There is no place left for Palestine; this is the real tragedy that US presidents must face in the coming years.
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