The Arab world listened intently to Barack Obama six months after he was sworn in as US president, when he outlined his “new beginning” in relations with the “Muslim world” in his famous Cairo speech.
Obama did not address the “Arab world,” he addressed the “Muslim World” for a reason that many Arabs would not fully understand until years later. He was not trying to lift the Arab world up and bring peace to the Middle East — he was instead seeking to elevate Iran’s influence in the region.
By the time Arabs realized what was happening, it was too late. Obama had abandoned them by turning his back on promises of freedom for Palestinians, and he backed an unprecedented policy to bolster Iran by allowing it to pursue nuclear technology.
The fact is more Palestinians were killed during one conflict with Israel in 2014 under Obama’s watch than under any previous American president. Worse still was that more Palestinians were injured during Obama’s eight years in office than under Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. Clearly, Obama’s perceived compassion for Palestinian rights was undermined by the reality. And that was because Obama was more concerned about the interests of Iran. Instead of curtailing Iran’s regional hegemony, Obama was fueling it at the expense of the Arab world.
One of the president’s most influential advisers was Valerie Jarrett, his longest-serving aide. Jarrett was born and raised in Shiraz, Iran, and enjoyed a particular love of the Iranian culture that had vanished under the oppressive rule of the ayatollahs and the conflict with the West.
When Trump was elected, he slammed the door on Iran and encouraged moderate Arab leaders who faced two major but distinct challenges. The first was the drive to stop Iran’s meddling in Arab affairs; the second the endless Palestine conflict with Israel.
There is an achievable though elusive goal in seeking compromise with Israel, but the fanaticism of Iran presents the Arab world only with destruction. That is what has defined Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy as crafted by its new voice, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and it has put extremists on notice.
Someone with Palestinians’ best interests in mind must shake them out of their suicidal nosedive and force them to see reason. Palestinians can’t keep “rejecting” the inevitable. It is one thing to dream of the past, but it’s another to live in the present. You can’t take 70 years of injustice and oppression and expect it to miraculously blossom into paradise.
On his recent visit to the US, the crown prince was straightforward in speaking about Palestine. Rather than sit down for a sugar-coated interview with pro-Palestinian media, he walked into the lion’s den of pro-Israel bias, giving an interview to The Atlantic magazine’s Jeffrey Goldberg, who has a history of anti-Palestinian writing. Despite Goldberg’s prodding, MBS stood his ground on Palestine and on Israel. He spoke about a reality many Palestinian activists don’t want to hear, but his words appeal to Palestinians who aspire to a freedom from Israeli oppression.
MBS clearly defined a path to Palestinian statehood in his reasoned responses to Goldberg’s queries, which were given before the recent violence on the Gaza-Israel border. Asked about the right of Jews to have their own “nation-state,” he said all people have “a right to live in their peaceful nation. I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land. But we have to have a peace agreement to assure the stability for everyone and to have normal relations.”
Goldberg pressed MBS if he had a religious-based objection to Israel. He responded: “We have religious concerns about the fate of the holy mosque in Jerusalem and about the rights of the Palestinian people… We don’t have any objection against any other people.”
MBS said Arabs do not have “a problem with Jews.” He said Christians, Muslims and Jews face the same problems all over the world.
The question that made headlines
, though, came in the context of who is worse, Israel or Iran. “Israel is a big economy compared to their size and it’s a growing economy, and of course there are a lot of interests we share with Israel and, if there is peace, there would be a lot of interest between Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and countries like Egypt and Jordan,” MBS responded.
Goldberg is not popularly read in the Arab world and the exaggerated criticism received much mileage. However, few of the crown prince’s critics will acknowledge that Gaza is under the heel of Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood extremists, who reject peace with Israel while believing that continued conflict, despite the ever-rising death toll, is a better option that might one day result in Israel’s destruction.
But Israel’s destruction won’t happen. While many Palestinians can’t see the reality of today through the violent vision of their extremist activists, MBS sees the future clearly.
Peace is possible if we recognize that Israelis and Palestinians are diverse peoples. You can see a future both for Israel and Palestine, and an end to the suffering — but only through pragmatic reasoning and confidence that moderation and dialogue achieve far more than hate-driven anger and extremist rhetoric.
- Ray Hanania is a Palestinian American columnist and author of several books. Twitter: @rayhanania