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Jordanian journalist skewers American Middle East policy

By Jeremy Reynalds
web posted December 9, 2002

(Amman, Jordan) A leading Jordanian journalist is blasting what he calls special interest groups for unfairly influencing the Bush administration policy in favor of Israel.

Rami Khouri, a journalist specializing in economic, political and religious issues, as well as being the former editor of the Jordan Times, is a Jordanian/Palestinian (as well as an American national who was born in New York). He has lived in Jordan for 27 years. In a recent interview he told me that while he has great respect for the American political system he is also aware of some of its shortcomings.

Khouri said that one of those "imperfections" allows special interest groups to "skew" the policies of the American government. He claimed that this is clearly evidenced in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

According to Khouri, there are many ways that special interests can "distort" an American foreign policy. By that Khouri said he doesn't mean they distort the entire system, "but they push it away from the center and toward one side." He believes that is clearly occurring in terms of America's positions concerning the Middle East and while it's a situation that started occurring after the 1967 war, the consequences have only just begun to emerge.

Khouri said, "There are all kinds of different groups that are pro-Israeli. For example, You have pro-Israeli Jewish and Zionist groups. Then you have Christian groups and others groups that are neither evangelical nor Jewish. These different groups ... that are pro-Israeli distort the American policy by working on the special interests in Washington."

Khouri said that as a result, "People in this region have reached the point of exasperation and many of them are turning to violence and terror. We have to stop this cycle and turn it around but we have to understand that we didn't get here whimsically or in a vacuum. We got here after decades of certain policy decisions (which) we've got to undo ... and make better ones."

Khouri said more specifically the feeling throughout the Arab world is that the United States is treating the Arab-Israeli situation one way and the rest of the world another. "(It's not) applying in the Arab and Israeli issues the same kinds of values and equality of equal rights that it applies in its own country and throughout the world ."

Khouri said no one is expecting the United States to be pro-Palestinian or pro-Arab; just to treat everyone the same.

Khouri said American favoritism toward Israel is just another example of bad American foreign policy in general.

For example, Khouri said, "One of the things that we should see in the September 11 terror attacks, criminal as they were, is that they did not just whimsically emerge out of nowhere. These and other problems that we see are the consequence of decades and decades of wrong and unfair policies in the Arab world, in Israel and the United States. I think that we must clearly see that everyone has to share responsibility. We're not saying that it's only the fault of the Americans."

According to Khouri, the United States, the Arab world and Israel should all shoulder some of the blame for the events of September 11 and other issues.

"(They) have bought modern history to a point where now you have American military bases all over the region and people killing ... and bombing each other. We really must turn this cycle around and get back to a more rational way to live."

Khouri said it has been his experience at street level that Americans in Jordan or Arabs in the United States are very comfortable with the two different cultures. Khouri said the challenge to both sides is to translate their shared national, cultural and religious values into viable political realities.

Khouri said we need to "implement these values instead of just talking about them and following American policies that we see as being extremely biased against the Palestinians and for Israelis, rather than being equal for Israeli and Palestinian rights of the same quality."

Khouri said that can be done by reviewing our foreign policy for the last 30 to 40 years and seeing if we can do better.

However, Douglas Silliman, head of the Political Section at the United States Embassy, said there's more to it than that.

Silliman said, "A lot of Jordanians blame the United States for the situation. They believe that the U.S. has the power to solve the problem by putting pressure on Israel. But American support for Israel is a domestic issue, not a political issue. Too many Arabs say we should quit supporting Israel but Arabs need to tell us why we should support Arab countries."

Silliman said that Jordan has made a good start toward this end by, for example, King Abdullah's frequent apologies on national media for the tragic events of September 11. "(He) has said many times on national media how sorry he is for September 11. Most other Islamic leaders haven't said this and Jordan is beginning to reap the benefits of (speaking out)."

Silliman added that you don't have to tear down Israel to support Arab countries and the American perspective is that the Jordanian government has "a very forward view" concerning the conflict.

Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the founder and director of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter. He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico and is pursuing his PhD in intercultural education at Biola University in Los Angeles. He is married with five children and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work can be viewed here and weekly at www.americasvoices.org. He may be contacted by e-mail at reynalds@joyjunction.org.

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