Not much peace is likely to come out of President Bush's upcoming visit to the Middle East
. As Hillel Halkin notes
, nobody in the Middle East probably wants peace anyhow.
Unlike Hillel Halkin, I do not think this is a Good Thing
. But it certainly seems to be a fact. As I note elsewhere, if US diplomats ever grasp this truth, it may set US policy in the Middle East on a much firmer footing.
Since sometime after the Six Day War,
the U.S. has held to the same policy in the Middle East. It is based on these principles:
Arab-Israeli peace will stabilize the region and open the way to further progress.
The various actors in the Middle East really want peace, though they each want it on their terms.
Peace can be obtained by using US leverage on Israel to extract territorial concessions from Israel. LI>
By achieving peace and return of territories, the US can leverage Israeli return of territories into US influence with Arab states.
The US can maintain its leverage over Israel by making Israel dependent on US aid and weapons, and likewise, it can use the same mechanism to maintain leverage over other states in the region.
The model that is supposed to have validated the thesis is Egypt. Egypt made peace with Israel and got its territories back, and Egypt and Israel remain firm allies of the US, in part because of hefty foreign aid subsidies. But what if all the above assumptions are false? What if peace between the Arabs and Israelis would violate cultural taboos that have been in place in the Arab world for the last 100 years? What if it would destabilize all the regimes that signed peace treaties with Israel, by labeling them as "Jew lovers" and an easy target for extremists? What if the Israelis, once anxious for peace even in 1967 borders have in the interim gotten used to the "new" situation that has prevailed for 40 years, and are not anxious to trade real estate for flimsy peace agreements like the one with Egypt? What if instability in the Middle East, backward conditions and volatility are the cause of the Israel-Arab conflict rather than the effect?
The Egyptian peace may be that stale oxymoron, the exception that proves the rule. Israel had Egyptian territory that Egypt wanted. Egypt is a secular state that doesn't have to put "return of Al Quds" at the top of its agenda. Egypt had also suffered severe punishment in three disastrous wars. And having achieved its goal -- getting the Sinai back, Egypt went its own way. If you read the Egyptian press, you could easily be fooled into thinking there is no peace with Israel, and that the US is the biggest enemy of Egypt, rather than being its greatest friend and benefactor. And when push comes to shove, Egypt is quite willing to sabotage US and Israeli interests. Arms pour into Gaza under the not-so-watchful (deliberately averted) eyes of the Egyptian army and the Egyptian secret police. When it was convenient for Egypt, for its own purposes, to do so, it allowed Hajj pilgrims, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists, to return to Gaza unmolested, despite an explicit promise to Israel. Moreover, the "peace," such as it is, is fragile. A good many Egyptians are talking about abrogating the peace treaty, which may not survive the reign of Mubarak the First.
The other Arab countries are not like Egypt. Israel retains territory of only one Arab country: Syria. Syria has made it plain that it doesn't want the Golan back, it wants to use the peace negotiations as a way to force the US to deal with it and to give it what it really wants: Lebanon. Bashar Assad needs peace with Israel like he needs a hole in the head, since peace would remove the excuses for his dictatorial regime.
Saudi Arabia never fought really a war with Israel and its "sacrifices" in the conflict have been more than paid for by the high price of oil, kept high by Middle East instability. Saudi Arabia needs a Palestinian state like it needs cancer. A Palestinian state will be a source of radical and dangerous ideas like allowing women to have driving licenses. It needs a PalestinianstatewithitscapitalinJerusalem even less. That would detract from the prestige of Mecca and Medina. Even less appetizing than that, as proven at the Annapolis meeting, is the prospect of having to shake hands with 'Zionists' or even enter a room with them through the same door.
The same is true for every other Arab state. Far from pacifying radical voices in the Arab world, a peace treaty with Israel, even a postage-stamp sized Israel, would be advertised by Al-Qaeda as "fitna" and would be the occasion and excuse for giant economy-sized terror attacks in the "occupied peninsula" as they call the Arabian peninsula. If radicals are sore at Saudi Arabia now, what will they say when the Saudis sign a peace treaty with Israel? If Al-Qaeda fumes against the United States now, what will they do when the United States is perceived as having forced the Arab countries to acquiesce in giving up a part of the sacred ard al filasteen, the land of Palestine, to the Jewish sons of dogs and apes? Will this peace solution make the students of the Saudi-funded Madrassahs happy? Will then then be glad to welcome their Jewish Semitic brothers into the family of the Middle East, along with their crusader-sons-of-dogs-and-pigs mentors? Not a chance. A peace that is brokered by the United States, any peace, will be considered anathema by the Jihadists, simply because it has been brokered by the United States.
Mahmoud Abbas wants a Palestinian state, but he can only sell his people a peace agreement that would be unacceptable to Israel - one that would effectively destroy Israel. Any Palestinian Arab leader who gives up right of return will be labeled a traitor. Given the continued presence of Hamas in Gaza, there is no chance of implementing any such agreement in any case, so what is the point of making concessions? Abbas cannot arrest the Islamic Jihad and Hamas terrorists that infest the West Bank. He would be labeled a traitor for jailing these "resistors." He needs Israel to go on making arrests and stopping would be suicide bombers as they did today, because those people threaten his regime more than they threaten Israel. In the present situation, he can have it both ways. Israel arrests his enemies, and he can condemn the evil Israeli occupiers for doing his work for him.
That is the general background that works against peace. In that respect, Bush is like a jolly and well meaning Santa Claus who brings the children a gift he is sure every child will want: a lifetime supply of healthful castor oil. He cannot understand why they are not eager to take it. The children are anxious to be nice to Santa and praise his gift politely, pouring it down the drain when he is not looking.
The coup de grace to the current peace effort was delivered by the disaster of the NIE report. The need to confront Iran was supposed to give Arabs and Israelis common cause. In fact, for over 15 years, the Iranian threat has been a major Israeli motivation to conclude peace with the Palestinians and with the Arab states. But the National Intelligence Estimate and the entire way in which the matter of Iranian nuclear development was handed showed both Arab countries and Israel, that the U.S. hasn't got the will or the means or the foreign-policy know how to confront Iran. Instead of a major power making the best use of its might through crafty diplomacy, Middle East countries see a clumsy and divided government that is amateurish, has poor intelligence (in all senses of the word) and is unsure both of its goals and of the means to attain them.
All of this may be very surprising to Mr. Bush, who has American assumptions about the way the world works. Like this year's crop of Presidential candidates, Bush had no idea about foreign policy before entering office. U.S. politicians and voters still behave as if they are living in the era of the sailing ship, when foreing affiars were only the concern of foreigners, and France represented the approximate limits of the known universe. Americans did not understand the message of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor or 9-11. They still haven't gotten used to the idea that foreign policy is actually more crucial to their lives than income tax schemes and abortion.
Every time U.S. politicians travel abroad, they are surrounded by stretch limos and secret service men, and live in air conditioned hotels. They can't figure out why people react in strange ways, because they don't have a clue that they are not in Kansas any more.
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Replies: 4 Comments
The intelligent people in US use their intelligence to advance their careers and their interests and those of the US. Like everyone else, they also can only make judgments based on information they have.
If you say have the views that I have, you cannot have a career in the US State Department, so intelligent people do not have those views.
Ami Isseroff, Sunday, January 13th
This time Ami you have outdone yourself with this excellent analysis and deep insight.
What just doesn't make any sense to me is that there are very bright, if not brilliant people in the American administration who must have seen things and understood them as you.
The question is that if my assumption is right, which I am almost certain that it is, what moves this and the past American administrations to keep barking up the wrong tree?
Bill Narvey, Sunday, January 13th
Yes, it would be most unfortunate if something happened, but I think that US Secret Service is always with Potus and NEVER relinquishes responsibility.
Ami Isserff, Tuesday, January 8th
Absolutely correct, Ami..(CNN has been reporting, btw, that Palestinians will be handling security details, especially during GW Bush's "tour" of the "West Bank"...just trust he doesn't use a Land Cruiser with a sunroof...I have to shake my head -- entrusting Palestinians with "security?" Again, as you note -- Bush needs a reminder -- "he's not in Kansas anymore.")
J.S., Tuesday, January 8th
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