America’s Ambassador to Jordan - Robert Beecroft - lost no time in maintaining the illusion of momentum created by America’s Special Envoy to the Middle East - George Mitchell - following Mitchell’s departure from the region last week after first visit there as President Obama’s nominee.
Ambassador Beecroft gave a revealing interview to the Jordan Times on 5 February - coinciding with a report by Sandy Tolan in The Christian Science Monitor on 4 February - that the Roadmap negotiations to create a new Arab State between Israel and Jordan - the so called “two state solution” - were on “their death bed “.
This grim news had come in the wake of articles written by
(i) John Bolton - former US ambassador to the United Nations - in the Washington Post on 5 January,
(ii) Daniel Pipes - American International Analyst - in the Jerusalem Post on 6 January and
(iii) Professor Efraim Inbar - Director of the Begin-Sadat Center For Strategic Studies in Israel - in Ha’aretz on 26 January
proposing that Jordan and Egypt resume their 1948-1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza respectively to fill the void created by the failure of the Roadmap negotiations to bring about the two state solution by its highly publicized 31 December 2008 birth date.
Ambassador Beecroft’s response to such a proposal was short and sweet:
“Bolton is not part of the Government. He does not speak for the Government. The position of the US is very clear … the policy of the US is a two state solution - Israeli and Palestinian states [that live] side by side.
That is the end of the isssue …it has appeared in the press … but there is no official support for anything other than the two-state solution”
One would imagine that these were not “off the cuff” remarks made by a diplomat without the approval of President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Ambassador Beecroft is not your ordinary run of the mill diplomat. Prior to taking up his position in Jordan on July 17, 2008 he had served as Executive Assistant to Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell and as Special Assistant to Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. He had previously been stationed at the U.S. embassies in Riyadh and Damascus.
Clearly his views echoed those of President Obama just one week earlier on Al Arabiya television::
QUESTION: Will it still be possible to see a Palestinian state—and you know the contours of it—within the first Obama administration?
THE PRESIDENT: I think it is possible for us to see a Palestinian state—I’m not going to put a time frame on it—that is contiguous, that allows freedom of movement for its people, that allows for trade with other countries, that allows the creation of businesses and commerce so that people have a better life…
Amazingly not one mention of the Roadmap or the intention to press on with the two state solution had been specifically made by Ms Clinton in the 63 pages of the transcript of the proceedings to confirm Ms Clinton’s appointment as Secretary of State on 13 January 2009.
In his own confirmation hearings before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 1 May 2008 Mr Beecroft had been most effusive in his praise of Jordan stating:
“We [America] have no closer friend or ally in the Arab world than Jordan….Jordan is committed to the Roadmap and is tangibly supporting the process..”
Jordan is clearly uncomfortable at such reports suggesting that it return to the West Bank.
Xinhua News Agency on 1 February reported Jordan’s King Abdullah telling George Mitchell :
“We need to act quickly - without wasting time - on negotiations based on two states and not be diverted by new proposals”
Whilst President Obama and Ambassador Beecroft have obliged Abdullah by endorsing America’s commitment to the two state solution, it is significant that neither mentioned the Roadmap as the route to follow to achieve that end result.
Only one other plan on the table seeks to attain that goal - the 2002 Arab League Peace Initiative. This just happens to be King Abdullah’s preferred option.
However this Initiative has been rejected by Israel for the same reasons that have seen the downfall of the Roadmap negotiations - the Arab demands that Israel return to the 1967 armistice lines and that millions of Arabs (and their descendants) who fled to escape the 1948 War between Israel and six invading Arab armies be allowed to return and live in Israel.
Whilst current Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert has expressed an interest in negotiating with the Arab League on its proposal, the Arab League has indicated that it is not interested in any discussions and the proposal is offered on a “take it or leave it” basis.
Mr. Olmert bows out of politics next week and predictions appear to favour the election of a new right wing Government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu that would - like the current Government - not be prepared to agree to either of these Arab demands.
President Obama will quickly find himself sinking in the quicksand that claimed former American Presidents - Carter, Clinton and Bush - if he embarks on trying to achieve any two state solution in the current political climate prevailing in the West Bank and Gaza.
Before he takes the plunge President Obama would do well to contemplate the following advice of respected author and journalist Tom Segev who has accurately summed up the current situation in an article written by him in this month’s Le Monde Diplomatique:
“All possible solutions for ultimate peace are already on the table - and none can be realised. Even Obama himself can do nothing to create final peace. Making life more liveable for this and the next generation seems the improvement that is most possible and the most urgent.”
Ambassador Beecroft’s peremptory rejection of Jordan returning to the West Bank to make life easier for the Arab residents living there - and thereby freeing them from Israeli occupation by restoring the status quo existing between 1948-1967 - may well turn out to have been too hasty and ill advised.
America may have to pressure its closest ally in the Arab world to do just that.
In the Middle East it is always preferable to dance to the slow waltz than the quickstep.