Prince Talal And The Future Of The Middle East

Abraham H. Miller Emeritus Professor, University of Cincinnati
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Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was a military hero whose death is commemorated by Israelis of all political stripes. If Rabin had survived he would have found a way to make peace, observed President Bill Clinton. Even those who disagreed with Rabin’s policies had no doubt that his unswerving goal was to create a peace between the Arabs and Israelis that would end the senseless bloodshed on both sides and forge a new economic alliance providing a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians.

So perhaps what the Middle East and the world need now is an Arab Rabin, an individual who can transcend the shackles of time and culture and the self-defeating policies of needing to dwell on the past at the expense of the future, an individual who possesses the vision and expansiveness of Anwar Sadat.

The tragedy of the Middle East is that the peacemakers are cut down before their transcendent visions can be actualized. It is the tragedy of the Middle East that a policy of hatred in the form of a boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel is promoted by America’s mainstream religious groups who claim to embrace peace. People who rear children in the ideology of American liberalism that punishment is always bad and positive reinforcement is always good regardless of circumstances cannot see that what they avoid practicing at home, they embrace with alacrity when dealing with Israel. The rank hypocrisy of punishing Israel while engaging with Iran and Cuba is proof positive of a broken moral compass.

The Obama administration has set a standard for the tolerance of anti-Semitism. When Palestinian leaders incite their children to commit murder of innocent Jews, the administration talks of the cycle of violence and the need for both sides to show restraint. No one can listen to these vacuous statements of moral equivalence and not find in them a justification for violence, for there must be a reason that the administration willfully blurs the line between victim and murderer.

Obama has squandered America’s moral authority in the Middle East. The chaos in Libya, the purposeful attempt to cede Egypt to the Muslim Brotherhood, the meaningless red lines in Syria, and the abandonment of Israel and the Gulf States to a rising Iranian hegemony are all the direct consequences of the administration’s reckless disregard of America’s traditional alliances and interests in the region.

Whether directly or indirectly, Obama has invited Russia into the region to fill the power vacuum he created. In so doing, he has unwittingly forged a new, if ever so tacit, alliance between Israel and the Sunnis.

Obama has managed to accomplish the unthinkable. For now, the Sunnis and the Israelis realize that America is not just undependable; it has rendered itself irrelevant.

The future of the Middle East will be decided in the Middle East. The Middle East needs a leader, a visionary who has the will, the intelligence, and the consummate self-confidence to mold history in the fashion of a Martin Luther King or a Nelson Mandela.

That person will not be an Israeli because the Arabs will not follow an Israeli, but the Israelis will follow an Arab. Is Saudi Prince Waleed bin Talal that person?

Certainly, the urbane Talal understands the West and its traditions as few Middle Easterners have. His business acumen is legendary, being touted as the Arab Warren Buffett, and his willingness to transcend the political culture of honor and shame is heartening. His bold call for the Arabs to desist from their senseless hatred of the Jewish people shows that like King and Mandela, he understands that peace requires transcending the constraints of hatred, something that the mainstream Protestant churches with their self-anointed status of peace makers indulging blind hatred are incapable of grasping.

The vacuum Obama created in the Middle East is not just a political and military one; it is a vacuum of moral leadership. The one person on the scene who appears capable of stepping into that role is Prince Talal. The question is whether he will rise to the historic occasion of what might be his destiny.

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati, and a senior fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought.