Shibley Telhami Examines Role of Religion in U.S. Foreign Policy

By Pasquini, Elaine | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2005 | Go to article overview

Shibley Telhami Examines Role of Religion in U.S. Foreign Policy


Pasquini, Elaine, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


In the recently published book, Liberty and Power: A Dialogue on Religion and U.S. Foreign Policy in an Unjust World, six distinguished authors examine the role of religion in Washington's foreign policy decisions. One of those authors, Dr. Shibley Telhami, discussed these issues, and how the world views U.S. foreign policy, at San Francisco's World Affairs Council Nov 15.

Many people around the world, Telhami noted, particularly in Arab and Muslim countries, view President George W. Bush's Middle East policy as a religiously driven "crusade."

In the summer of 2004, in conjunction with Zog by International, the public opinion research organization, Telhami conducted a public opinion survey of 3,600 people in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. When asked "what is driving American foreign policy in the Middle East," most respondents cited "oil and Israel," closely followed by "the U.S. is trying to weaken Muslims."

Straying slightly from his scheduled topic, Telhami, who is professor of peace and development at the University of Maryland and non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institute's Saban Center, also discussed the future of Palestinian-Israeli relations in the wake of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's death on Nov. 11.

Asked to comment on Palestinian presidential elections set for Jan. 9, the Palestinian-born Telhami said elections were necessary to empower a new leader with legitimacy, particularly in negotiating a peace treaty with Israel. Reminding the audience that former President Jimmy Carter certified the 1996 Palestinian presidential elections, he noted the irony of Washington having isolated Arafat, the duly elected leader of the Palestinians.

Telhami predicted as possible presidential candidates former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat's successor as head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Marwan Barghouti, the leader most popular with the younger generation. Presently, the charismatic Barghouti is serving multiple life sentences in an Israeli prison. Hamas remained a "wild card" in the election campaign, Telhami added.

Since Palestinians lost trust in Washington after the breakdown of negotiations in 2000 and the failure of the U.S.-backed peace plan known as the "road map" in 2003, Telhami warned that "it would be the kiss of death for a new president to be seen as being an agent of the U.S. or Israel." In his opinion, relations between the U.S. and a new Palestinian leader will be the Bush administration's "biggest test."

Asked if a new Palestinian president would be able to sign a peace treaty with Israel based on where negotiations ended four years ago, the scholar responded, "I do not believe there is a Palestinian leader today who can accept less than what Arafat rejected."

Telhami emphasized the many problems surrounding a fair election in the occupied territories, including Israel's armed military checkpoints, its apartheid wall, and its frequent closures which prevent Palestinians from traveling. Whether the more than 200,000 Palestinians living in Arab East Jerusalem will be allowed to vote is Israel's decision, he insisted: "Nothing will happen unless the Israelis want it to happen."

Seattle Activists Bring Their Stop the Wall Campaign to San Francisco

John Reese and Erica Kay brought their traveling Stop the Wall Campaign to San Francisco's Washington Square Park Oct. 30, the last stop on their four month journey. Driving a van pulling a trailer bearing a sign reading "Stop Israel's Barrier to Peace" and a small replica of a Palestinian family in front of a bulldozed home, the Seattle-based duo visited Washingto, DC and 38 states, including Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York and Texas. In cities across the country, local peace groups facilitated their appearances, including rallies at 10 universities.

A few Israeli-flag-waving counter demonstrators attempted to distract park visitors from the awesome 30-foot-high replica the activists erected in Washington Square Park of the concrete apartheid wall Israel is building illegally on West Bank Palestinian land. …

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