Could Brazil be a player in the Middle East process?

It seems that the country and its president have embarked on an active diplomatic offensive in the ME, centered around Iran's int'l position.

bibi lula bear hug 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
bibi lula bear hug 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is the first Brazilian head ofstate to visit the Holy Land since Emperor Dom Pedro II in 1876, agreat event indeed for both Israel and Brazil. He is also visiting thePalestinian Authority and Jordan.
Since early 2009, it seems that Brazil, and President da Silvapersonally, have taken on an active diplomatic offensive in the MiddleEast, centered around Iran’s international position.
After a failed attempt at a visit in May, due to elections constraints,Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became the first Iranian president to visit Brazilin November 2009.
Despite American, and even internal, criticism concerning Brazil’slenient view on Iran’s nuclear program as well as the disputedpresidential elections, da Silva has warmly welcomed Ahmadinejad,
claiming that the two countries can cooperate to enhance a new economic order.
In the face of Iran’s successful push in Latin America, the Israelidiplomatic corps has finally rediscovered the continent. ForeignMinister Avigdor Lieberman visited Brazil in July 2009, followed byPresident Shimon Peres in November, the first visit of an IsraeliPresident in 40 years. Coincidence or not, Palestinian AuthorityPresident Mahmoud Abbas was also invited in November.
It seems therefore that da Silva has taken these opportunities toinvolve Brazil in the Middle East process and to perhaps act as amediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as US-Iranian
THIS DIPLOMATIC push fits Brazil’s enhanced regional and globalstanding, its membership in the BRIC Club (Brazil, Russia, India andChina), its desire for a permanent seat on the Security Council and daSilva’s personal ambition to play a more international role.
This move was facilitated by US President Barack Obama’s new strategyof openness toward Iran and the Muslim world. Da Silva was the firstLatin American leader hosted by Obama, who hailed him as “the mostpopular politician on earth.”
On the other hand, da Silva’s relationship with Iran has been describedas conflicting with Western policies aimed at isolating and sanctioningIran for its controversial nuclear project. Brazil has, by and large,supported the Iranian nuclear program, and the president considers Iranto have the right to develop peaceful nuclear technology, provided thatit does not violate international regulations.
During the visits of Middle Eastern politicians in Brazil, da Silva hasstressed the importance of searching for peace in the region by meansof dialogue rather than isolation, and showed his determination toengage in Middle East affairs.
“The time has come to bring into the arena players who will be able toput forward new ideas. Those players must have access to all levels ofthe conflict: in Israel, in Palestine, in Iran, in Syria, in Jordan andin many other countries that are associated with this conflict” daSilva told Haaretz just before his arrival.
WHAT THEN are the issues at stake and what are the chances Brazil canplay a major role in the negotiating process in the region?
Concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mahmoud Abbas declaredduring his visit: “With respect to you, President Lula, we would likeyou to have a role [in the Middle East], and you’re ready for it.Brazil, as an important country, and President Lula, as a respectedleader, can play an important role. There are many ways of takingaction for peace.”
Interestingly, Abbas’s main request to da Silva was to convince Iran toput an end to its support for the radical Palestinian movement Hamas.
“Iran supports Hamas with money and Hamas’ decisions are in the hands of Teheran,” he said in an interview before his arrival.
Days ago, Mahmoud Abbas blamed Iran for thwarting reconciliationbetween his Fatah faction and Hamas. Iran doesn’t want Hamas to signthe Egyptian-brokered reconciliation document, Abbas said, and arguedthat the Palestinians should be “free from Iranian tutelage.”
It could inferred from this that Abbas will once again ask PresidentLula to intervene with the Iranians during his May visit to Teheran.
Abbas will also probably prepare the ground for future support fromBrazil should negotiations with Israel fail and the PalestinianAuthority decide to make a unilateral declaration of Palestinian sovereignty.
As for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Abbas, the Israeli leadersas well as some skeptic observers, believe that Brazil has a rather“modest diplomatic realm in the region.”
They are betting mainly on US mediation and are already overwhelmed bythe meddling of some already major players, like Egypt, Europeans andother well-wishers worldwide.
THE ISRAELI government would have most probably insisted in itsdialogue with the Brazilian president on a more assertive stance on theIranian nuclear issue, seen as an existential threat to the Jewishstate, especially against the backdrop of Brazil’s decision not tosupport the proposed sanctions against Iran at the Security Council andda Silva’s recent declaration that “there are other interests in theMiddle East which must be represented ... Iran is part of all this, andtherefore someone must talk to them.”
At least on the issue of Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial and threats todestroy Israel, da Silva has presented a clear stance: “It’s impossibleto imagine someone saying there wasn’t a Holocaust or to
accept someone saying they’re going to do away with another country,” da Silva said before his departure to the region.
It seems Ahmadinejad hadn’t heard Lula; he declared two days later thatIsrael “had reached the end of its road” and was no longer “useful forits masters [the West]” who had “gathered the most criminal people in the world and stationed them in our region with lies and fabricated scenarios.”
Thus, ironically, on the political and diplomatic side, da Silva’svisit to Israel, the PA and Jordan will be focused mostly on theIranian issue.
Hopefully, the Brazilian president will understand that his country’sstance is extremely important in the global arena, and that he shouldstrive to help stop the nuclearization of the radical Iranian regime:for the sake of the stability of our beleaguered region, the advance ofthe peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, the internalreconciliation between Palestinian themselves and for the well-being ofthe oppressed Iranian people.
The writer is Senior Research Scholarat the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) and TheInstitute for Policy and Strategy (IPS) at The Interdisciplinary Center(IDC), Herzliya, Israel. This article first appeared in the Braziliandaily O Estado do Sao Paolo on Wednesday.