How to Understand the US Failure in the Middle East
I’ve written about the malevolent influence of Arabists in the US government. After leaving public service, many seek to influence policy and public opinion. One example is a recent Washington Post article written by former diplomats Aaron David Miller and Daniel Kurtzer, who boast of their 50 combined years of service in public diplomacy, which corresponds with five decades of misguided policies. Repeating a series of fallacies of Arabist thinking, the article castigates the Trump administration’s conclusion that Israeli settlements are not illegal and laments the unwillingness of prior administrations (except for George H.W. Bush) to coerce Israel to stop their expansion.
Their discomfiture is based on the misconception that settlements are the obstacle to peace. “Palestinians cannot trade land for peace,” they write, “if they don’t possess the land.”
The popular notion that settlements are the impediments to peace is easily disproven by history. The Arabs had no interest in peace when no settlements existed prior to 1967, the Palestinians had none in 1979 when there were fewer than 10,000 settlers, none when they were offered a Palestinian state and the dismantling of settlements in 2000, and none when Israel evacuated all the settlements in Gaza in 2005. Oh, and both Jordan and the Palestinians signed peace agreements without requiring that Israel evacuate any settlements.
They also neglect to mention the impact of George H.W. Bush’s decision to link loan guarantees to Israeli settlement construction. First, it did not stop Israel from building settlements. Second, it angered the Israelis, and third, it did not advance the peace process one iota, in part because of its one-sided punishment of Israel.
Other examples they give also leave out critical facts. They mention that Jimmy Carter insisted Israel freeze settlements during the Camp David negotiations, arguing this would encourage other Arab states to join the peace process. But Begin froze settlements for three months and the Arab states ostracized Egypt.
They mention that the Mitchell Report on the second intifada recommended that Israel freeze settlement activity. They ignore the fact the uprising had nothing to do with settlements and went on even after Israel had offered to dismantle most of them and allow the Palestinians to establish a state.
The third example, Obama’s demand for a settlement freeze, further undermines their case. Obama was not evenhanded; he was more sympathetic to the Palestinians, who had never insisted on a freeze. Despite Israel freezing settlements for 10 months, the Palestinians refused to negotiate.
Miller and Kurtzer leave out inconvenient truths because another tenet of Arabist thinking is that Israel must be forced to adopt the policies they believe are in Israel’s best interests. Arabists argue this is necessary because the conflict impedes US-Arab relations. They continue to believe this even as the improvement in US-Arab relations has followed the strengthening of US-Israel ties.
Nowhere in the authors’ article do they suggest any pressure or blame be placed on the Palestinians. They say only that “the onset of Palestinian terrorist campaigns in the mid-90s made toughening up US policies against settlements, let alone sanctioning Israel, unimaginable.” It was apparently imaginable, however, despite unabated terrorism before and after that period. This myopia about the blameless Palestinian victims, which has also taken root among “progressives,” is one reason their prescriptions are farcical.
Miller and Kurtzer revert to the notion that the United States must be “evenhanded” to play a role in the peace process, placing our democratic ally, Israel, on par with the anti-American, corrupt, terror-sponsoring autocrats from the Palestinian Authority. Again, that approach has a nearly eight-decade record of catastrophe.
Their assertion that Trump’s decision flouts international law is also wrong as I documented in my previous column. To briefly recap, one Carter administration official speciously concluded that settlements were illegal. Numerous legal scholars disputed this, as did Israel’s Supreme Court and President Reagan. John Kerry called them “illegitimate” and abstained but did not vote for the UN resolution labeling them illegal (which is irrelevant anyway since the UN gives political opinions not legal ones).
People like Miller and Kurtzer never admit that the policies they advocate, the same ones they pursued at the State Department, were disastrous. It kills them to see Trump finally place the onus for the absence of peace where it belongs — on the Palestinians. Instead of whitewashing Palestinian irredentism and terror, Trump is the first president to punish them for their destructive behavior. By recognizing Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, he has accepted the reality Miller and Kurtzer continue to deny, that Israel will not withdraw from either place. They still cling to the paradigm of two-states with a divided Jerusalem.
One thing Miller and Kurtzer are correct about is that the settlement decision appeals to the president’s base. That, however, does not make it wrong.
The Washington Post does not publish op-eds on how to run a business by people who spent 50 years running companies into the ground — so why does it and other media outlets give a platform to people who essentially did the same thing for our Middle East policy?