“Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin

God hath numbered thy kingdom, and brought it to an end.
Thou art weighed in the balances, and are found wanting.
thy kingdom is given to the Persians.”

–The Book of Daniel, Chapter Five

By Barry Rubin

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a U.S.-Islamic forum that the U.S. government would soon launch a new initiative to promote Israel-Palestinian peace.

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Oh, goodie.

But what really shocked me is something she said, proving once again that this administration’s leaders have feet that spend more time in their mouths than on the ground:

“The status quo between Palestinians and Israelis is no more sustainable than the political systems that have crumbled in recent months.”

Think about that statement. The Tunisian and Egyptian regimes fell. Was that inevitable? Were they simply unsustainable? What if their armies wanted to keep them into power, or just threw out the dictators and kept the same regime?

But wait! Several political systems did NOT crumble in recent months. At least, not yet. So is Clinton saying that the crumbling of the political systems in Bahrain, Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen is also inevitable? Or is the fact that they have not crumbled in recent months mean they are sustainable?

Also does the fact that the United States supports or opposes a political system have something to do with whether it is sustainable? You know, saying things like: Mubarak must go! Yesterday! Or sending military forces to Libya? Now what if the Saudis send military forces to Bahrain to shore up the regime, does that mean its fall is or is not inevitable?

Might Arab leaders listening to such statements ask themselves if the United States views them as being on their death bed? Do they need to dump the United States before the United States dumps them? Does anyone writing these speeches and reading them publicly have any notion about what this sounds like to foreign allies?

But this is all you need to see to know the quality of leadership we are dealing with. Senator John Kerry at the same conference:

“When I visited with president Assad, what I heard from him was a man who understood the challenge of his country, in terms of those young people. he said to me, I have 500 thousand people turning 18 every year and I don’t have the jobs to give them and I don’t have the way to educate them. He understood where this was going to go months ago. But unless he can create a different bilateral relationship with us and with the West. Unless we move on the peace process with Israel . Unless we get this radicalism off the table for all of us, we make it so much harder to strip away the unholy alliances with Wahhabism, or Muslim Brotherhood, or whatever it is, and really face this challenge of the economy.”

In other words, he starts out by saying that Assad (who has killed more people in the last two months than any dictator not fighting a full-scale civil war, that is Libya) is really a great guy. Then it sort of slides into resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict (which means to these people getting a Palestine state pronto) or the entire Middle East will fall apart. Of course this comes right after a. the Wikileaks showed us that this isn’t the real concern of Arab leaders (it’s Iran and revolutionary Islamism, stupid) and b. upheavals showed that people were more concerned about domestic issues rather than supporting their local dictator to fight Israel.

It’s the Palestinian question, stupid, he seems to be saying, and then the economy.

But wait! We have not yet plumbed the depths of sheer idiocy. Let me repeat the last part of what Kerry said:

“…we make it so much harder to strip away the unholy alliances with Wahhabism, or Muslim Brotherhood, or whatever it is….”

Wahhabism? Isn’t that Saudi Arabia, America’s most important remaining ally in the Arab world, you know that big supplier of the oil that this administration won’t drill on its own territory? Hey, dude, you just dissed the Saudis again!

Sure, Wahhabism has contributed to Islamist radicalism, but not so much in the Arab world itself, more in the West and places like Chechnya. Is he referring to America’s “unholy alliance” with Saudi Arabia?

And is Saudi Arabia aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood? In the past they’ve gotten along but the Saudis seem to want to stop a Brotherhood takeover of Egypt more than the Obama Administration does.

Also, what does that “whatever it is” at the end mean? That Kerry, a leading candidate to be next secretary of state has no idea of what the other side in the region consists of?

Back to Libya for a moment. Is the United States trying to overthrow Muammar Qaddhafi, because his regime will inevitably crumble? Apparently not. So is his regime sustainable but the U.S. and other military presences only want to make it crumble in the eastern part of the country?

Was the fall of the moderate Lebanese government and its replacement by a Hizballah-dominated regime he inevitable? Is the status quo in Iran more sustainable than the Israel-Palestinian situation?

Will Clinton make a speech saying that the uprising in Syria proved that the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship is unsustainable? No. Why? Because they fear it is sustainable and, as Senator John Kerry just reminded us again, he loves Bashar al-Assad and Clinton thinks he’s a reformer.

I don’t trust these people to decide what is and isn’t sustainable.

The Israel-Palestinian situation, for better or worse, is infinitely sustainable. Yes, I said it and I meant it. That’s not a preference or a value judgment but it is true. If the Palestinian Authority is not ready for compromise and real peace, the status quo is preferrable.

What Clinton is doing is a panicky demand for swift action no matter what it is, no matter where it leads. Is the creation of a Palestinian state unilaterally in the next few months without any deal with Israel going to make things better because otherwise the situation will inevitably “crumble?”

Or perhaps it is inevitable that the Palestinian Authority will crumble either before or after it gets a state? Can she prove on the basis of any evidence that the Israel-Palestinian situation is not sustainable? What’s going to happen to change it? The only factor that can do so is external forces like U.S. policy. What Clinton is expressing then is a self-fulfilling prophecy perhaps?

Perhaps most inevitably the U.S. position in the Middle East is unsustainable and will crumble?

That statement by Clinton shows a view of international affairs so passive and so primitive as to be shocking. Passive because she is essentially saying: the fact that these two regimes fell proves that they had to fall.

Even though she goes on to say that the United States must show “leadership” on the peace process, the philosophy displayed by this kind of formulation makes one wonder if this administration is capable of leading anywhere except…off a cliff.

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin? Did some moving finger write that on the Oval Office wall?

Here’s my interpretation:

Your rule has been judged unsustainable. 
Your policy is going to crumble.
Its giving regional primacy to the Persians.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The GLORIA Center’s webside is: http://www.gloria-center.org/. His blog is on PajamasMedia: http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/

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