21 November 2009

US double standards in the Middle East

On the one page (Page 19) of today’s (21 November) edition of The Age, we have two reports of Middle Eastern countries presenting the United States with an outright refusal to comply with its demands.

The first, Israel shrugs off international criticism to expand settlements in East Jerusalem, by The Age’s Jerusalem-based Middle East Correspondent Jason Koutsoukis, reports on the Israeli decision to build another 900 housing units for Jewish settlers in occupied East Jerusalem. On the Obama Administration’s reaction, Koutsoukis says:

US President Barack Obama sharply criticised the new development plans this week, saying that he thought it would make it difficult for Israel to make peace with its neighbours.

In May, Mr Obama issued a strong demand that Israel cease settlement construction both East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has steadfastly rejected that, insisting upon Israel’s right to maintain Jerusalem as an “undivided capital”.

The second story, Obama threatens to punish Iran, by Lorne Cook in Brussels, reports that leading world powers were scheduled to meet in Brussels last night to discuss Iran’s entirely unsurprising rejection of the deal under which it would send most of its stock of low-enriched uranium abroad. On the Obama Administration’s reaction, Cook says:

Mr Obama stepped up pressure on Iran after it dismissed the fuel deal, which emerged from talks in Vienna that Iran held with France, Russia and the US.

He warned that Washington had “begun discussions with its international partners about the importance of having consequences”.

“Our expectations are that over the next several weeks we will be developing a package of potential steps that we could take to indicate our seriousness to Iran.”

So Iranian refusals must have consequences; Israeli refusals draw regretful observations that the behaviour might create difficulties for Israel (as if it had no impact on the rest of us!).

One sad aspect of this is that I do not see any prospect of any of the above issues being resolved without some sort of Grand Bargain that resolves the Palestinian issue, relieves Iran of the threat of Israeli military action, and recognises the inescapable fact that Iran is a major player in the Middle East (thanks in no small measure to the Bush Administration’s wonderful idea of invading Iraq in 2003).

For further background on the Iran nuclear situation see Iran position on nuclear deal no surprise. For background on why sanctions against Iran are a bad idea see Choke point: the Strait of Hormuz, Iran: Sanctions are in the air and Iran: sanctions still on the agenda.

For analysis of the extent to which United States Middle East policy is a mess, see Middle East: US policy all over the place, Game, set and match to Mr Netanyahu and Weekend at Bernie's for Middle East Peace.

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