Peacemakers rarely call off their missions because it is tantamount to an admission of failure. By that yardstick, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s decision to depart from Europe and the Arab region on November 6, after weeks of intense shuttle diplomacy, represented much more than a failure of his efforts for a ‘humanitarian pause’ in the fighting between Israel and Hamas. It showed how much Washington’s clout, the most powerful diplomatic force in the region for many decades, has declined. Late night on November 9,Israel agreed to four-hour daily pausesfor Gazans to flee, but that was too little, too late.
Peacemakers of global stature rarely call off their peace offensive because they also fantasise about receiving the Nobel Peace Prize at the glittering ceremony, which takes place in Oslo’s City Hall every year on December 10, the death anniversary of Alfred Nobel.
Henry Kissingerof the US and Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho, Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Menachem Begin of Israel, Irish Catholic John Hume, and Irish Protestant David Trimble for ending the long conflict in Ireland, former US President Jimmy Carter for his post-White House efforts for global peace… Blinken did not even nearly make the grade. When Richard Holbrooke was appointed by US President Barack Obama in 2009 as his Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Holbrooke hoped he would stake claim to the Nobel Peace Prize by solving the Kashmir problem. He asked Obama to include India in his mandate. New Delhi would have none of it.
India engaged in shuttle diplomacy of the Blinken kind when Iraq and Iran fought their eight-yearwar from 1980 onwards. Out of office, Rajiv Gandhi undertook a similar peace effort in 1990 to avoid the Gulf War by freeing Kuwait from Iraq’s occupation. Like Blinken now, those peace efforts showed the limits of the influence of successive Indian prime ministers, Indira Gandhi, V P Singh, and Chandrasekhar.
In a last-ditch effort to salvage Washington’s credibility in the Israel-Hamas conflict, US President Joe Biden sent Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns to Israel a day before Blinken left the region. Burns is a far more consummate diplomat than the Secretary of State and not an intelligence officer. But his dash to Israel also did not amount to anything.
Given that foreign policy rarely amounts to much in US presidential elections, it seems bizarre that Biden may lose his re-election bid next year on account of his stand on the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict. Not entirely because of it, but as a significant poll issue. Biden struck the right notes on his Israel policy on the day after the Hamas assault across the Gaza border.
LikePrime Minister Narendra Modi’s initial tweet, Biden’s unequivocal sympathy for those who were killed, injured, and abducted by Hamas, found favour among the American people. But unlike India’s Ministry of External Affairs, the White House did not walk back even when Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s extreme Right-wing government in Jerusalem crossed the line — an Israeli ministerthreatened to drop a nuclear bomb on Gaza. There was not so much as a mealy-mouthed response from the US leadership. The public in the US saw through Biden’s double standards when there were slight, occasional mentions of the nuclear option by the Kremlin in the Ukraine war.
In a University of Maryland ‘Critical Issues Poll’ conducted between November 3 and 5, the number of young Democrats who said they are unlikely to vote for Biden a year from now — because he is ‘too pro-Israeli’ — doubled in almost a month since the October 7 attack. In this writer’s experience, several young Democrats on the East Coast said they would not vote for Donald Trump, but sit out the election by not exercising their franchise.
Every day that passes with Netanyahu in power and Biden being seen as an enabler of Israel’s Right-wing extremism, the US is losing critical support in the Arab world. Unlike in previous West Asian military crises, this time Iran is less strident in its anti-Israel war rhetoric and actions. Similarly, the well-equipped Lebanese militia, Hezbollah, has shown extreme restraint despite Israel’s armed provocations on the ground and from the air.
What has been the Biden administration’s response? It is funding Israel’s war, it is supplying weapons. Still, worst of all, it is repeatedly vetoing resolutions that largely reflect global opinion on this war in the UN Security Council. The US risks a grave backlash in the Arab world because of Biden’s policies.
(KP Nayar has extensively covered West Asia and reported from Washington as a foreign correspondent for 15 years.)
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.
(Published 10 November 2023, 05:18 IST)