The False Religion of Mideast Peace

By Aaron David Miller
Foreign Policy, May/June 2010


Edited by Andy Ross

America's commitment to Arab-Israeli peacemaking over the past 40 years rests on three assumptions:

1. Pursuit of a comprehensive peace was a core U.S. interest in the region, and achieving it offered the only sure way to protect U.S. interests.

2. Peace could be achieved, but only through a serious negotiating process based on trading land for peace.

3. Only America could help the Arabs and Israelis bring that peace to fruition.

President Obama came out louder, harder, and faster on the Arab-Israeli issue than any of his predecessors.

The Arab-Israeli issue seemed perfectly suited to Obama's transformational objectives and his transactional style. If Obama wanted to begin "remaking America," why not try to remake the troubled politics of peace, too?

In 2009, the president pushed the Israelis, the Arabs, and the Palestinians to get negotiations going and was rebuffed by all three. He later told Time magazine ruefully that "we overestimated our ability to persuade."

The unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict is still a big problem for America and its friends:

1. It stokes a white-hot anger toward the United States.

2. It has already demonstrated the danger of confrontation and war.

3. It confronts Israel with a demographic nightmare.

But three other issues have emerged to compete for center stage:

1. There are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the dangerous situation in Pakistan.

2. The 9/11 attacks were a fundamental turning point for an America.

3. Iran's nuclear aspirations are clearly a more urgent U.S. priority than Palestine.

Governing is about setting priorities, managing your politics, thinking strategically, not tilting at windmills. Arab-Israeli peacemaking is a pretty big windmill.

Obama's Mideast envoy George Mitchell ended his first foray into Arab-Israeli diplomacy with three emphatic no's:

1. From Israel on a comprehensive settlement freeze

2. From Saudi Arabia on partial normalization

3. From the Palestinians on returning to negotiations

Looking ahead, that process looks much, much tougher for three reasons:

1. Arab-Israeli peacemaking is politically risky and life-threatening. Today's Middle East leaders aren't suicidal.

2. Big decisions require strong leaders with the legitimacy, authority, and command of their politics to make a deal stick. But the current crop are more prisoners of their constituencies than masters of them.

3. Even with strong leaders, you still need a project that doesn't exceed the carrying capacity of either side. Issues such as Jerusalem, borders, and refugees present gigantic political and security challenges for Arabs and Israelis.

Bottom line: Negotiations can work, but both Arabs and Israelis need to be willing and able to pay the price. And they are not.

The refrain from many quarters is that America must save the day.

America cannot impose and deliver a solution through tough forceful diplomacy for three reasons:

1. Unless the Arabs and Israelis want political agreements and peace and can invest enough in them to give them a chance to succeed, we certainly can't.

2. When Americans succeeded in Arab-Israeli diplomacy, it was because they were respected, admired, even feared. U.S. power and influence were taken seriously. Today, much of the magic is gone.

3. The pro-Israel community in the United States does not have a veto over U.S. foreign policy. The last thing Obama needs now is an ongoing fight with the Israelis or a major foreign-policy failure.

Obama has made America the focal point of action and responsibility for the Arab-Israeli issue at a time when the country may be least able to do much about it.

AR  I found this article boiled down to bullet points. Must have been a PowerPoint once.