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Palestinian problem is central to region but Israelis control U.S. policy — Brahimi

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In The Nation, Barbara Crossette interviews Lakhdar Brahimi, 80, the Algerian who served as a leading diplomat for the United Nations over a couple of decades, including as the lead Syrian negotiator. Brahimi makes it clear that the U.S. Palestinian policy is at the heart of our problems in the Middle East. He refers to the Israel lobby as a “formidable machine” that will overcome U.S. efforts to be fair; he watched it foil Obama and Kerry’s efforts. Obama was supposed to be the world’s president, but Israel controls U.S. policy re Palestinians.

To add to the skepticism, despair and alienation across the region, Brahimi says, is the corrosive, unconditional American support of Israel despite its unending land grabs and military assaults on Palestinians, most recently in the attacks on Gaza this summer. It was outrageous that the reaction in Congress and from President Obama to the most recent carnage and death was prefaced with the time-worn expression “Israel has the right to defend itself,” Brahimi said, adding that the lack of sensitivity to the hugely imbalanced casualty figures—more than 2,000 Palestinians killed in Gaza compared with sixty-eight Israelis, almost all of them soldiers, according to United Nations figures—seemed to imply that “Gazans are not human.”

“I generally don’t like to speak about countries,” said Brahimi, usually a consummate diplomat who was Algeria’s foreign minister from 1991–93, “but [Obama] is not the president of the United States only. He’s a kind of president of the world. I still remember his Cairo speech in 2009. That was an inspired and inspiring speech. So looking back at that speech, definitely we are disappointed.”

Brahimi, now 80, speaking in an interview from his home in Paris, said that, like it or not, “the Palestinian issue is still important for all of us in this region. This is a very, very big part of the story. Anything on the Palestinian issue is decided by the Israelis. It is a mistake to go to the Americans: Please come and help us with this problem. They cannot. They are not allowed to. We need Americans. They have a huge role to play. But they cannot be an honest broker.” Not that there have never been laudable American efforts to find solutions, he said.

“I had an opportunity to hear [Secretary of State] John Kerry speak of what he was trying to do to help solve that [Palestinian] problem,” Brahimi said. “That was just over one year ago. I was profoundly impressed at how much work he had put into the exercise, how he was genuinely trying to be fair and impartial. But I had no illusions: the present Israeli Government and the formidable machine supporting them in the US. shall not allow him to succeed. That is why I say the US cannot be an honest broker.” He recalls the day when Condoleezza Rice, as secretary of state, was forced to veto a resolution on the Middle East that she had personally negotiated in the Security Council after Washington got a call from Israel opposing the measure.

Condoleezza Rice told the story about that come-down in her memoir, No Higher Honor. It was an abstention, not a veto, of  a resolution she had written. Elliott Abrams writes in his memoir that he found Rice’s resolution “shameful,” and Abrams carried the day at the White House even as Rice railed. “What’s wrong with this language, she asked; she did not see what [Ehud] Olmert was screaming about.” So an Israeli P.M. had more power than our secretary of state.

This piece is a challenge to David Remnick, who joked years ago that if only the I/P situation were fixed, Osama bin Laden would go back into the family construction business. Why not try and fix it and see what good would flow?

Thanks to James North, who writes about petroleum dictatorships for The Nation this week.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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21 Responses

  1. just on September 27, 2014, 12:55 pm

    Brahimi is correct. So is Rouhani. So are other folks in the ME.

    We are complicit in Israel’s crimes and hypocrites of the highest order in the region and beyond.

    Our ‘foreign policy’ is a nightmare.

  2. Boomer on September 27, 2014, 1:16 pm

    This is true, it is well-said, and from a reliable source. It also has been obvious for many years to any who had eyes to see, alas. We are complicit, we are hypocrites, or rather, our leaders are.

  3. HarryLaw on September 27, 2014, 1:41 pm

    Brahimi speaking truth to power, at his age there is nothing they can do to him, I thought he lost credibility when he wanted Assad to step down, virtually supporting the Syrian opposition, still, I fully agree with his assessment of the US/Israel relationship.
    For those who find the latest middle east war confusing here is a summary from a comment in Moon of Alabama..”ARE you confused about what’s going on in the Middle East? Allow me to explain.
    We support the Iraqi government in the fight against the Islamic State. We don’t like IS, but IS is supported by Saudi Arabia, whom we do like.
    We don’t like President Assad in Syria. We support the fight against him, but not IS, which is also fighting against him.
    We don’t like Iran, but Iran supports the Iraqi government against IS. So, some of our friends support our enemies and some of our enemies are our friends, and some of our enemies are fighting against our other enemies, whom we want to lose, but we don’t want our enemies who are fighting our other enemies to win.
    If the people we want to defeat are defeated, they might be replaced by people we like even less. And all this was started by us invading a country to drive out terrorists who surely actually they’re to begin with until we went in to drive them out”. Do you understand now?

  4. michelle on September 27, 2014, 1:52 pm


    i saw some of this on the tv and there’s
    plenty more just like it 24/7….
    enough to know it is part of the problem
    as to why the American people are silent
    the truth the whole truth that’s what people need
    collectivly ‘we’ the 99%ters are more wealthy powerful
    and just than all the 1%ters
    ‘we’ made the 1%ters and we can unmake then too
    G-d Bless

    • Horizontal on September 28, 2014, 2:36 pm

      @ michelle ~

      Clicked on your second link; couldn’t stomach much more than 3 minutes of it.

      Yeah, millions of Americans are spoon-fed this stuff and clamor for more. Probably the same “information” our congress-critters get on their little all-expenses-paid whirlwind tour of the “Holy Land.” They actually come back thinking they know, when they don’t, so you’re not actually starting from zero with them, you have to first have them “unlearn” everything they think they already know.

      It’s like Sisyphus on banana peels.

  5. catporn on September 27, 2014, 2:28 pm

    Its like the whole world is a worse place because of Israels policies, their need for support from the US drives the political caste into a race to the bottom in a bid for AIPAC money and support, the hawks get the seat. Most of Washington pushed to the right means more colonialism, more hegemony, more wars, and of course their European vassals tag along, no way are they gonna miss out on the spoils. Whole regions become endless battlefields, four consecutive US Presidents have bombed Iraq, a country that’s not so much as fired a pea shooter at America. Presidents don’t even go through the pretence of asking Congress any more, its a given.

    In 2007 when Amy Goodman interviewed 4-star General Wesley Clark for Democracy Now! and he said “We’re going to take out seven countries in 5 years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran” it sounded far fetched. Not any more, only optimistic with the time frame.

    • just on September 27, 2014, 2:59 pm

      Really very well said, catporn.

      • catporn on September 27, 2014, 6:07 pm

        Thanks just, I appreciate it.
        Its such a depressing state of affairs, very easy to feel a sense of hopelessness, but I suppose regular people have been fighting against the ‘powers that be’ since forever, and that’s probably the way it’ll always be, c’est la vie.
        btw, earlier today I read the article you recommended by Steven Davidson An American Jew in Palestine. Very moving account, if only more people that have their heads filled with racist crap could get a chance to experience the other side of the story.

      • just on September 27, 2014, 8:42 pm

        I am glad that you are here catporn.

        You’ve added much to the ‘conversation’.

  6. wondering jew on September 27, 2014, 5:41 pm

    Here is the quote from Brahimi: “the Palestinian issue is still important for all of us in this region. This is a very, very big part of the story.”

    I realize that this quote is awkward to put in a headline. The words “central” or “heart” are much more sophisticated English than Brahimi’s quote. But nowhere does Brahimi use those words and I think we can all agree that important is something less than “heart” or “central” and thus the use of these words is not exactly pure reporting.

    • just on September 27, 2014, 5:46 pm

      That’s all you have to say about the post?

      (I sure am glad that you are not the editor at MW)

  7. ckg on September 27, 2014, 6:33 pm

    Phil, I think David Remnick is on the right track. But our president is all too ready to poke him in the eye. Here is Obama on Wednesday at the UN: The situation in Iraq, Syria and Libya should cure anyone of the illusion that [the Israel/Palestine] conflict is the main source of problems in the region; for far too long, it has been used in part as a way to distract people from problems at home.

    So on the one hand, Obama says the status quo is unsustainable, but then he undermines the argument of those who say that a just resolution is urgent. I think he just wants to punt.

  8. Horizontal on September 27, 2014, 7:24 pm

    Obama punt? Wouldn’t be the first time. He did give us healthcare reform without the reform, didn’t he?

    Nevertheless, the idea that Israel controls the message in the US is gaining steam and for the first time is getting to the point where we can at least start talking about it. This, I think, is progress, and the first step on a very long road.

    I also think thatThe People are way out in front of the political class on this issue, much like Vietnam was around 1966 or so. The hypocrisy of the American position here is just getting harder and hard to maintain. Again, when folks follow the Watergate-era advice to “follow the money,” it will make it all the clearer whose influence is being bought and at what price.

    Personally, I’m sick of my $3 billion in tax money wasted on this rotten enterprise.

    • Citizen on October 14, 2016, 2:43 pm

      More like $4billion now. After a month, did my comment go through?

  9. Keith on September 27, 2014, 8:20 pm

    “We need Americans. They have a huge role to play. But they cannot be an honest broker.”

    The notion of empire as an honest broker is ludicrous, with or without the Lobby.

    From the Nation interview: “More than two decades of American naïveté or misunderstanding of Arab and other regional societies, astonishingly poor planning and post-conflict miscalculations that undercut claims of success, have left a deep mistrust and lack of confidence in the United States, in the view of the United Nations’ most experienced and savvy international envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, who worked closely with Americans in Iraq in 2004 and Afghanistan in 2001–04.”

    The notion that US policy is the result of good intentions gone wrong is one of the most enduring liberal myths. So, he worked with Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan? He now lives in Paris? Say no more. What a crock.

  10. Lorensacho on September 30, 2014, 4:36 pm

    Brahimi is typical of people in the Muslim world who cannot take any responsibility for their own actions and need to blame Jews and Israel for all that befalls them. As for Israel controlling U.S. foreign policy, this is total idiocy. Maybe the U.S. supports Israel because it is the right thing to do.

  11. Linda J on September 30, 2014, 10:35 pm

    “Maybe the U.S. supports Israel because it is the right thing to do.”

    “Right thing” as in it’s right that white colonialists should take over resource-rich areas and “help” the natives run them. If the natives object, plow them right out of the way.

    U.S. & Israel: genocidaires mutual admiration society.

  12. ivri on October 2, 2014, 5:17 pm

    Can anybody sensible say that Israel is at this time a core regional issue given what goes on in the Arab world? That simply does not make sense – perhaps at age 80 you just can`t let go what was a central topic in the times when you were active. Just scan the headlines now and you will have a hard time finding Israel mentioned at all by key politicians, Arabs or others, let alone addressing it as a top-important agenda. That is manifestly different from only few decades ago when the prevalent mantra was that Israel is “the single most important” source of instability in the region. No effort can resuscitate the past centrality of the Palestinian issue – it had its “glory times” and like numerous other “grand” historical sagas when it`s over it`s over. Some people just can`t accept that.

    • Zaghlul on October 15, 2015, 7:21 pm

      Really? Not a core issue?

      So Israel had nothing to do with the Iraq war…which led to the rise of Al Qaida in Iraq –>the rise of ISIS –> the destruction of Syria; that’s two ruined Arab nations for the price of one. But it’s all just coincidence, all those neo-cons had no attachment to Zionism and Israeli hegemony in the region. The Project for a New American Century was just a myth, Satanyahu and his ideological cohorts in W’s administration had no role in the mess that is Iraq…right?

      Israel has nothing to do with the push for war in Iran…It’s really in American interests to start another war in the ME, right? Because Iran is really a threat to America.

      Israel doesn’t care what happens in Egypt or any ME nation that might aspire to democracy, it would never encourage our government to arm and support yet another brutal dictatorship against the interests of its impoverished people…right?

      What a bunch of Hasbara nonsense.

  13. Pixel on October 4, 2014, 4:23 pm


    Speak, Brother!

  14. Citizen on October 14, 2016, 2:54 pm

    Not even Trump dares to confront the Israel Lobby, let alone the likes of Sheldon Adelson and Netanyahu, both of whom, he courts. Even Ivanka and her Jewish-raised children are not USA First, as Trump claims to be.

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