Biden's visit to Israel shows that peace is as remote as ever
In the Middle East, tension is growing. In Amman, Beirut, Damascus and Jerusalem, anxious voices are prophesying war while the West seems powerless. The US has no clear position. There is a general gabbling burble: "These are dangerous times . . . time for all men of goodwill . . . important that all sides show restraint".
A year ago, there did seem to be grounds for cautious optimism. Barack Obama had been swept to office on a cloud of liberal afflatus. Despite his inexperience, his naivete and his left-wing instincts, there was one reason to welcome the new president. His prestige gave him leverage. It did not seem impossible that he could re-animate the Middle East peace process. Although George Bush had talked about a Palestinian state, there had been no progress. Perhaps that would change.
There has been no change, as the Biden visit demonstrated. Intellectually, Joe Biden is unimpressive, not remotely on a par with Dick Cheney. Biden arrived in Israel to kick-start the peace process. Instead, his hosts kicked him. By announcing the latest batch of settlements, the Israelis were treating the Americans with contempt. The Palestinians responded by withdrawing from the proposed indirect talks. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, had no choice. He has one consolation. The Israelis made a bigger fool of the US vice-president.