What Role Should the US Play in the Peace Process?
All US Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives — initiated by Democratic and Republican presidents — have failed.
They were doomed to failure by the tendency to downplay the complex intra-Arab/Muslim and Middle East reality, wishful-thinking, and oversimplification.
US peace initiatives were the casualties of the inherent conflict between Western eagerness for quick-fix and short-term convenience on the one hand, and the long-term and complicated nature of the intricate reality and national security on the other.
US peace initiatives were frustrated by the tectonic forces that have shaped the well-documented intra-Arab/Muslim labyrinth since the birth of Islam in the 7th century: explosive unpredictability, violence, intolerance (religiously, ethnically, politically, and socially), absence of peaceful coexistence domestically and regionally, and more.
Moreover, the US peace initiatives were further derailed by the politically-correct assumptions that the Arab-Israeli conflict has been the “Middle East Conflict” and that the Palestinian issue has been the crux of that conflict, a core cause of Middle East turbulence, and a crown jewel of Arab policy-making.
Such assumptions have been dashed against the rocks of Middle East reality, as highlighted by the 2010 eruption of the still-raging Arab Tsunami (erroneously named “the Arab Spring”), which has been totally unrelated to the dramatically less significant Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian issue.
Furthermore, the preoccupation with the Palestinian issue at a time when the Middle East and the US are confronted with significantly more pivotal national and homeland security challenges/threats has damaged the US posture of deterrence, and its regional and global standing.
All US peace initiatives have attempted to force Israel into making major concessions to the Arab/Palestinian side, thus rewarding systematic Arab aggression, which encouraged further aggression. These initiatives exhibited the self-defeating moral equivalence between (Arab) aggressors and the intended (Israeli) victim; between the most effective, unconditional strategic ally of the US (Israel), and a close ally of enemies and rivals of the US; and between the role model of counter-terrorism (Israel) and a role model and major training ground of anti-US terrorists and shrine of hate-education (the Palestinians).
The subversive and terroristic track record of the Palestinians and their closest allies sheds light on the inherent contradiction between the need to minimize Middle East instability and violence on the one hand, and the attempt to establish a Palestinian state on the other hand.
US peace initiatives have forced the Palestinians in particular and the Arabs in general to outflank the (“infidel”) US from the maximalist/radical side, thus further intensifying conflict and disagreements.
Contrary to the well-meaning goal of the US peace initiatives, this added fuel to the fire, exacerbated instability, and undermined the US diplomatic and geo-strategic postures and interests. One may note that in spite of the US presidential recognition of the PLO, its support for the idea of a Palestinian state, and sustained pressure on Israel to freeze Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), America has been systematically terrorized by Shite and Sunni Islamic terrorism.
While all US peace initiatives have failed, Middle East reality has highlighted the indispensable role of the US as a facilitator — not initiator — of peace initiatives, which were launched directly between Israel and Arab entities. Thus, it was the critical US support of the Israel-Egypt and Israel-Jordan initiated peace processes during their intermediary and mature stages that propelled them to fruition.
Furthermore, the cardinal US role in facilitating and coalescing Israel’s enhanced cooperation with pro-US Arab regimes in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula, which has not been preconditioned upon Israeli concessions to the Palestinians, has projected a realistic US policy in the Middle East. This has been a policy that recognizes the order of regional and global priorities, highlighting the intensified lethal threats of Iran’s ayatollahs and Sunni Islamic terrorism; none of which are related, directly or indirectly, to the Palestinian issue.
Will the US benefit from the lessons of its many well-intentioned peace initiatives by avoiding past errors? Will the US leverage its peacemaking experience by focusing on its game-changing, constructive role as a facilitator, rather than an initiator? And will US policymakers adhere to the life-saving advice shared with drivers in West Texas: When smothered by lethal sandstorms, don’t get preoccupied with the tumbleweeds on the road?
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of “Second Thought: a U.S.-Israel initiative.”