Hillary Clinton's last tour of the Middle East

By Anshel Pfeffer, July 19, 2012
The last laugh: Hillary Clinton and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman

The last laugh: Hillary Clinton and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman

American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s farewell visit to the Middle East this week highlighted the reduced influence the super-power now holds over the region, as well as the concerns of Israel and Egypt.

Despite her efforts, Mrs Clinton failed to set up any form of direct contact between the Israeli government and Egypt’s new Muslim Brotherhood-dominated regime.

While Barack Obama is still leading the polls for November’s presidential elections, Mrs Clinton has already made it clear that she does not intend to remain Secretary of State for a second term.

Many diplomats give her points for being highly effective across the globe. Last month, she broke the record for the most countries visited by a US Secretary of State — 102 at the last count.

But her visits to Cairo and Jerusalem this week, capitals where the Obama administration had expended so much effort for so little result, could hardly have been more dismal.

In Cairo, she met both newly elected President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the head of the armed forces and defence minister, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. Both were promised continued economic aid from the US and were urged to work together ensuring democracy and stability within Egypt. With the delicate balance of power still being played out in Cairo, Mrs Clinton could hardly hope for more than that.

Demonstrations against her on the streets, by both pro-democracy activists and Islamists, underlined how long the road Egypt still has to travel before achieving a semblance of normalcy.

In Jerusalem, Israel’s leaders were hoping for some indication of Egypt’s intentions, particularly if it plans to start securing the Sinai peninsula and its joint border with Israel, and to rein in an increasingly belligerent Hamas.

Mrs Clinton had little to offer aside from the public assurances by Mr Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders that Egypt under their rule would continue to respect its international treaties. While that is taken to include the Camp David peace accords, it is still unclear what exactly it entails.

Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres sent Mr Morsi congratulations on his election but no message has so far been received in return. A senior Israeli representative has been in talks in Cairo, mainly with security officials, but a phone call between Mr Morsi and Mr Netanyahu is still not forthcoming. Hopes in Jerusalem that Mrs Clinton would broker such a call have not yet materialised.

Last Saturday in Cairo, Mrs Clinton appeared to have conceded, saying that “it is up to the two nations and the president and the prime minister to make their own scheduling plans. We have done nothing. That’s not our role; that would not be appropriate.”

Mrs Clinton counselled her Israeli counterparts to be patient and understand internal and economic challenges facing the new Egyptian government.

She enquired gently after the dormant Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process. She met the Palestinians sympathetically, hearing their frustrations, but, with a chaotic Egypt, Syria in the midst of civil war and America itself on the brink of war with Iran, her country has more pressing issues to deal with.

Last updated: 3:02pm, October 16 2012