Obama's Mideast Moment of Truth

Article excerpt

Byline: Peter Beinart

America is losing its grip on the region. Thank goodness.

What do the mass protests in Egypt and the leaked documents about the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have in common? They show that the Middle East is spinning out of America's control. For decades, Washington has backstopped Hosni Mubarak's dictatorship and chaperoned the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Today both efforts are on the brink of failure. No wonder that intermingled with the pro-democracy rhetoric coming out of the Obama administration is a truckload of fear.

It's time for Obama to choose. George W. Bush spoke endlessly about Middle Eastern democracy, but at the end of the day, he opted for American control. He never seriously pressured Mubarak or other pro-U.S. autocrats. And when Hamas won the freest election in Palestinian history in 2006, his administration pushed Fatah to overturn the results by force.

For two years Obama has hewed to that same policy, but it is starting to unravel. It's not just that thousands of Egyptians are in the streets demanding Mubarak's resignation. It's that the WikiLeaks-type document dump recently obtained by Al-Jazeera proves what many Palestinians already knew: that Palestinian leaders are cut off from the people. Ever since deciding not to honor the results of the 2006 Palestinian election, the U.S. and Israel have created a mini-Egypt in the West Bank: an autocratic, sometimes brutal, client regime that stays in power more because it is showered with Western largesse than because it inspires popular loyalty. That client regime is now considerably weaker as a result of the Al-Jazeera leaks. It's not just that Palestinian negotiators offered far-reaching concessions to Israel; it's that they did so without input from their people, and still got nowhere. In protest, some Palestinian students last week occupied the PLO's offices in London. If there's another Palestinian uprising in the next few years, don't be surprised if it is directed not merely at Israel, but at the Palestinian Authority as well.

It's time for Obama to stop insulating Mubarak and Mahmoud Abbas from a reckoning with their own people. …