Thursday, November 29, 2007

The new faces of influence in the Middle East

By Carol Gee

And some old faces in brand new roles -- George W. Bush and Tony Blair -- The Financial Times headlined: "US takes ownership of peace process". Written by Harvey Morris, November 28, 2007, the story opened with a succinct summary of the current reality:

When George W. Bush this week read out the words of what historians will no doubt come to call the Annapolis Declaration, the Israeli and Palestinian leaders peered over his shoulder as if trying to read for the first time the terms of the contract they had just signed.

Low down in the fine print was a clause that handed the US president ownership of the peace process as monitor and judge of their performance during the remaining year of his term.

The BBC carried a story earlier in the week that discussed the new role of former Prime Minister Tony Blair in the Middle East. To quote:

The envoy of the Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators, Tony Blair, has announced a series of economic projects to help boost the Palestinian economy. . . ."It is a strong beginning for what is a critical part of this process, because without hope of prosperity... then politics will never succeed," said Tony Blair, Middle East envoy.

(Suleiman photo from AFP at Aljazeera)

Lebanon has not been in a strong position for some time. It would be good if both sides could agree on someone to lead them, not into more conflict, but into problem-solving.

According to Aljazeera, the Lebanon presidency deadlock seems to be easing. To quote:

The commander of Lebanon's army has emerged as the candidate most likely to be agreed as the country's new president, officials say.

Parliamentarians from both the ruling majority and the opposition, which is led by the Shia Muslim party Hezbollah, said on Wednesday that General Michel Suleiman was being discussed as a compromise candidate.

Retired Marine General James Jones will soon have a new job, according to Israel's Haaretz. To quote:

Former NATO head expected to join Rice's Mideast team

Former NATO commander, retired General James Jones is expected to accept a role as adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on security issues related to peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, according to official sources.

The retired Marine Corps general will go by the official title of "Special Envoy for Middle East Security."

Jones, 64 next month, ended his 40-year career in the Marines last February, and will remain in his current job as president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Energy. Last summer, he headed a congressionally-chartered panel that studied the readiness of Iraq's army and police.

However, Israeli sources say that Jones is not a favorable choice because of his blatantly cool attitude to Israel.

We will see how it all works out. I am not holding my breath for any effective contribution from our current president (OCP). I am cautiously hopeful for former NATO Commander General Jones and Tony Blair, and particularly for Jones, who is among the most competent and independent people Secretary Rice could have chosen for the job. It should be a very positive signal to the Palestinians that he will not be biased in favor of Israel.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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