by Eric Margolis © 1998 Eric Margolis
WASHINGTON DC - Watching the Israeli-Palestinian summit in nearby Wye, Maryland last week left me feeling exhausted, depressed, and even more cynical than ever.
For Clinton, the talks were his usual political theater designed to boost Democratic fortunes in next month's elections and convince Americans he is an effective foreign policy president, which he is not. Call this made-for-TV diplomacy, `Wag the Camel.'
Sources say Clinton, desperate for a televised peace ceremony, offered both sides large, secret financial inducements to make an on-camera deal that, no matter how insubstantial, would convince credulous viewers the president had `forged peace in the Mideast.'
How much baksheesh did Clinton have to dish out? President Jimmy Carter's much ballyhooed Camp David agreement was the biggest bribe in history. Israel got US $3 billion and Egypt $800 million - annually. Additional sums were covertly paid to Sadat and his cronies. Israel got lots of secret goodies. .
This latest performance of Arab-Israeli kabuki - every bit as artificial and stylized as the ancient Japanese drama - once again showed how weak the world's only super power has become under Clinton's feeble leadership.
Three weeks ago, Clinton backed down in the face of new North Korean nuclear-armed missiles that can hit US bases in Japan and Okinawa. He actually offered the blackmailing, outlaw regime in Pyongyang hundreds of millions more to be good.
Two weeks ago came the Kosova fiasco. Clinton backed away from his threats to halt Serb barbarism by military force, and ended up making an under-the-table deal with Serb war criminal Milosevic.
Last week, the Mideast. Israel and the Palestinians were bitterly deadlocked over such disputes as extradition of suspects, and some barren land, that are trivial compared to the titanic problems yet to be resolved: Palestinian statehood, borders, scarce water resources, Jerusalem, the right of return of 3 million homeless Palestinians.
American taxpayers provide most of the Palestinian Authority's $200 million budget, and $5 billion or so to Israel annually - $3 billion officially, and $2 billion in . hidden aid, not including the cost to the Treasury of about $2 billion in tax-deductible private contributions to Israel. Now, if Washington can't influence these two clients, who can? Washington pays the piper, but can't call the tune.
Remember, the US is no mere bystander at the talks. The US guaranteed the 1993 Oslo Agreements. But the Clinton Administration proved humiliating impotent when it came to pressing the Netanyahu government into accepting a deal signed by its predecessor. Pressure from the Jewish lobby, and interference by Senate Republicans, aborted White House attempts to press Israel into a more flexible position.
The surprise visit to the summit of Jordan's ailing King Hussein only underlined the fact that America's imperial architecture in the Mideast is built on a house of sand. Hussein suffers from a grave cancer and is on his last legs. The Jordanian monarch has long been a close, though discreet, ally of Israel, as well as beneficiary of covert American funding for 40 years. When Hussein goes, Jordan's Palestinian majority - which is denied any political voice - may try to again oust the unloved Hashemite dynasty.
Yasser Arafat suffers from advancing Parkinson's disease. Like many other Arab leaders, he also has hypertension, digestive problems and nerve disorders. Without Arafat, Palestinians will very probably split into feuding factions.
Saudi King Fahad is gravely ill with chronic heart and circulatory problems. A battle for succession between various rival clans within the Saudi royal family could produce dangerous instability in the oil kingdom.
America's chief North African ally, Morocco's King Hassan, is receiving secret medical treatments. Syria's dour leader, President Hafez Asad, has serious circulatory and, likely, liver problems. Holding office in the Mideast is not good for the health. Most Arab leaders live on a lethal diet of syrup-sweet coffee, cigarettes, fatty food, candy, fear and adrenalin. Egypt's strongman, Gen. Husni Mubarak, is an exception. He looks in good shape, though Nasser did, too, until he suddenly died from heart failure - or, it is whispered, poison.
Ironically, America's two betes noires, Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Libya's Muammar Khadaffi, seem as fit as fiddles, unless, of course, they succumb to CIA-induced lead poisoning. Iran's leaders, who eat a lot of fruit and yogurt, are the picture of health.
Personality-based policies are inherently unstable. It's fine to make deals between Arafat and Netanyahu, but if the majority of Palestinians and Israelis don't go along, the deals may not outlast the men who made them. Given the deep ill will and mistrust shown by both sides in Washington this past week, the future looks bleak.
Half of Israelis think a new interim peace agreement will give them less, not more security, an unease rejectionists from Hamas will try to accentuate with grenade and bomb attacks.
Two thirds of Palestinians believe Israel reneged on the Oslo Agreement and will keep them prisoners in heavily guarded, South African style bantustans, or tribal reserves. Increasing numbers blame Arafat for their plight and are turning to the radicals of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
The Wye summit looked more like two scorpions trapped in a bottle than the dawn of an new era of Mideast peace.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]
Copyright © 1998 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved