Come in Spinner: Framing the Middle East

Amidst all the turmoil within the Middle East diplomats, governments, communities and political advisers spend an enormous amount of time trying to frame the turmoil and events in ways which best suit their own aims.

Within the Anglosphere, for instance, the Iraq War frame has changed many times. Initially it was to save the world from a regime able to launch deadly weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes (Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell); to bring democracy to the Middle East (various neo-cons in Washington); to reduce the price of oil (Rupert Murdoch); and, to get ready for the end times (a significant percentage of the US Republican Party). After most of these were proved rather wrong the frames changed again: it was all worth it (John Howard) and the invasion sparked the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings (the neo-cons again even though they had long framed support for Egypt’s Mubarak and the undemocratic Saudis as based on the need for stability).

It is too early to dismiss the end times rhetoric because, even though its religious dimensions won’t come to pass, the physical manifestations might just be brought down upon us by those who wish for it most. Messianic delusions are not, of course, confined to US Christian groups. Islamic and Jewish fundamentalists adopt frames dictated by theological and ideological positions which are underpinned by intolerant, messianic delusions. George W. Bush thought God spoke to him and Tony Blair seemed to think God spoke through him. If anyone doubts, by the way, that Blair could be both “messianic” and “dangerously delusional”, it is worth reading former Labour MP, Bob Marshall-Andrews’ book Off Message (Profile 2011).

After the US invasion of Iraq greatly enhanced the regional power of Iran we are seeing similar framing and narratives used to persuade the world that military action against Iran is now necessary – such as songs from the old playbook about rockets that can reach the US and bombs which are just about to be exploded.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has also been through various frames with the dominant Anglosphere one being the failure of the Palestinians to grasp the many opportunities for peace the Israelis and their allies have generously offered.

Clearly, outside the Anglosphere that frame of reference has never been broadly accepted. But now it is coming under pressure from some unexpected sources in Israel, the UK and Australia.

Ehud Olmert, former Israeli Prime Minister indicted in 2009 and again earlier this year for various alleged offences, said in 2007 that: “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights…then, as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished.” Jimmy Carter expressed similar views in his book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid (Simon & Shuster 2006). Jewish, South African born, Xstrata CEO, Mick Davis, last year criticised Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu warning that unless there was a two-state solution Israel risked becoming an apartheid state.

Now an Australia Jewish leader has voiced similar concerns. Albert Dadon, founder of the Australia-Israel- UK Leadership Forum, hosted a dinner earlier this year, at which Olmert was the keynote speaker, in Jerusalem’s famous King David Hotel.

The Jerusalem Post (1 January 2010) reported that when introducing Olmert Dadon “allowed himself to be critical of Israel”, saying: “Here in this country, you take one of your best sons and bring him down.”

The report also said: “Dadon recalled that in 2009, Olmert had given an interview to Greg Sheridan, the influential columnist and foreign affairs analyst (sic)of the national daily The Australian, in which he had laid out his peace plan ‘which had almost gone through’.

“What Olmert had told Sheridan, Dadon continued, had recently been confirmed by former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in her new memoir, No Higher Honor. Since then, said Dadon, then it had also been confirmed in a newspaper interview given by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in which he stated that had Olmert remained in office, a peace agreement might have been concluded because they were only three months away from it.

“With regard to the dialogue at hand, Olmert said it was his fervent hope that Israel will engage in dialogue not only with Great Britain and Australia but with her Palestinian neighbors, ‘not because I care about the Palestinians, but because I care about Israel. A two-state solution is essential for the future of a Jewish democratic state.’

Edward Said, Tony Judt and others had long argued that a secular multi-cultural, multi-faith Palestinian State was either inevitable or desirable but that, and the apartheid word, have been anathematised in the Anglosphere debate.

Now the threat this represents to Israel as a Jewish state is changing the frame within which the debate is taking place.

Meanwhile Dadon also suggested Israel should change the law so that sitting PMs, as in France, have some immunity while in office. The first allegations against Olmert were not proceeded with for lack of evidence. The January 2012 indictments are still only allegations and he has not been convicted of anything. But, if he ever ran for office again, it is possible to imagine the contest reprising some sort of variation on the 1991 Louisiana gubernatorial election when Edwin Edwards ran against David Duke. Edwards had various legal problems and one of the pro-Edwards bumper stickers read “Vote for the Crook: It’s important”.  Edwards won.

In the meantime Olmert is scheduled to be a keynote speaker at a Jerusalem Post conference in New York in April. It will be interesting to see what impact that speech has on the US Palestinian-Israeli frame of reference.