"Politics is the art of the possible" is a famous quotation attributed to the Prussian Otto Von Bismarck. Instead of standing steadfast on one's position, politicians are supposed to make deals which include compromises; they are supposed to be experts at getting things done instead of just arguing or shouting at those who hold different positions.
The other evening at the University of Geneva a large audience was privileged to listen to several speakers who demonstrated what politics should be. Yossi Belin from Israel and Yasser Abed Rabbo from Palestine, the driving forces behind the Geneva Initiative, spoke as one voice of what a future peace might look like in the Middle East.
Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia is one of the most respected individuals involved with the Middle East. He is a member of the Royal Family, educated at Georgetown University alongside Bill Clinton with graduate work at Princeton and Cambridge, former Ambassador in Washington and London, Director of the Saudi intelligence service for 25 years, nephew of King Abdullah and a leading candidate to be the next Foreign Minister; when Prince Turki speaks, people listen.
In a recent op-ed piece in the Washington Post, he gave a dire warning to the United States and Israel concerning the future of the Palestinian-Israeli situation. He wrote, “…the time has come for Palestinians to bypass the United States and Israel and to seek direct international endorsement of statehood at the United Nations”. His message was full of criticism for the failure of President Obama to change the United States’ favoritism toward Israel as well as Israel’s intransigence toward a Palestinian state.
Amid the euphoria of the Arab spring, Prince Turki concluded his article with the following warning: “Now, it is the Israelis who are saying no. I’d hate to be around when they face their comeuppance”. The Israel-Palestine stalemate is the hub of most Middle East tensions and one of if not the central thorn in the relations between the West and the Muslim world. Despite several efforts, the Obama administration has made no headway on the issue. Palestinians are threatening to put this issue in the forefront at the United Nations in September which would put the United States in the awkward position of either vetoing a resolution or going against Israel.
At an international conference on Thursday, Prince Turki called for an end to violence in the Middle East, saying that “much too much blood has been shed”. He did not automatically support dictators in the region, saying in an unofficial capacity that once the people had spoken, the Royal Kingdom would respect their wishes.
Prince Turki has been known as a wise and thoughtful leader. He has never been one to advocate violence. When Prince Turki speaks, people listen. That is why the last sentence of his article in the Post is so startling. Are the right people listening?
June 23, 2011