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.