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The False Religion of Mideast Peace: And Why I’m No Longer a Believer

11 Aug 2010

The False Religion of Mideast Peace: And Why I’m No Longer a Believer – By Aaron David Miller | Foreign PolicyAnnotated – See excerpts (bulleted) after my comments in the Read more.

Miller has a catchy way of presenting some very good points about Mideast peace. However, at first glance, he comes off as more negative than he really is (once you read the entire article).

I would agree with many of his points, but would want to highlight a couple. First, there are significant players on both sides that clearly do NOT want peace – they want unchallenged power over or destruction of their enemy. Some express it quite directly and are called terrorists and extremists. In others it takes a bit of analysis of their words and actions – working through the contradictions, logical implications, etc.

Second, as Miller put a bit crudely, “Right now, America has neither the opportunity nor frankly the balls to do truly big things on Arab-Israeli peacemaking.” Until the US government is willing to threaten to withhold some or all of the $3 billion it gives Israel every year, its voice will be nicely replied to, but ignored – by both sides – by Israel because that is a lot of money for a very small country, and by the Palestinians because it is the prime evidence that the US government is not a fair, neutral peace broker.

Also, it is interesting to review the numerous comments after the piece. These show another aspect of the religiosity of the conflict. Some people religiously defend one side or the other and refuse to admit any evil on their side or any good on the other side. Many of these people interpret their scriptures in ways that put God on one side or the other – and their support for that side becomes categorical and uncritical.  This is unfortunate. Even if God was on one side or the other, God, in the various faiths’ scriptures often chastises his own people.

tags: Israel Palestine peace peace process Middle East

  • On October 18, 1991, against long odds and in front of an
    incredulous press corps, U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Soviet
    Foreign Minister Boris Pankin announced that Arabs and Israelis were being
    invited to attend a peace conference in Madrid.
  • Baker, who lowballed everything, was characteristically
    cautious. “Boys,” he told a few of us aides in his suite after the news
    conference, “if you want to get off the train, now might be a good time because
    it could all be downhill from here.” But I wasn’t listening. America had used
    its power to make war, and now, perhaps, it could use that power to make peace.
    I’d become a believer.

    I’m not anymore.

  • Since then, the U.S. approach has come to
    rest on an almost unbreakable triangle of assumptions — articles of faith, really.
    By the 1990s, these tenets made up a sort of peace-process religion, a
    reverential logic chain that compelled most U.S. presidents to involve
    themselves seriously in the Arab-Israeli issue.
  • Like all religions, the peace process has developed a
    dogmatic creed, with immutable first principles. Over the last two decades, I
    wrote them hundreds of times to my bosses in the upper echelons of the State
    Department and the White House; they were a catechism we all could recite by
    heart. First, pursuit of a comprehensive peace was a core, if not the core,
    U.S. interest in the region, and achieving it offered the only sure way to
    protect U.S. interests; second, peace could be achieved, but only through a
    serious negotiating process based on trading land for peace; and third, only
    America could help the Arabs and Israelis bring that peace to fruition.
  • The unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict is still a big problem
    for America and its friends: It stokes a white-hot anger toward the United
    States, has already demonstrated the danger of confrontation and war (see
    Lebanon, 2006; Gaza, 2008), and confronts Israel with a demographic nightmare.
    But three other issues, at least, have emerged to compete for center stage, and
    they might prove far more telling about the fate of U.S. influence, power, and
    security than the ongoing story of what I’ve come to call the
    much-too-promised land

    First, there are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,

  • Second,
    though U.S. foreign policy can’t be held hostage to the war on terror (or
    whatever it’s now called), the 9/11 attacks were a fundamental turning point
    for an America that had always felt secure within its borders
  • finally
    there’s Iran, whose nuclear aspirations are clearly a more urgent U.S. priority
    than Palestine. Should sanctions and/or diplomacy fail, the default position —
    military action by Israel or even the United States — can’t be ruled out, with
    galactic consequences for the region and the world.
  • Even if you could make the case for the centrality of the
    Arab-Israeli conflict, could you make peace?
  • And that has been the story line ever since: more process
    than peace.

    Looking ahead, that process looks much, much tougher — and
    peace more and more elusive — for three reasons.

    First, Arab-Israeli peacemaking is politically risky and
    life-threatening. Consider the murders of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and
    Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. At Camp David, I heard Palestinian leader
    Yasir Arafat say at least three times, “You Americans will not walk behind my

  • Second, big decisions require strong leaders — think
    Jordan’s King Hussein or Israel’s Menachem Begin — because the issues on the
    table cut to the core of their political and religious identity and physical
    survival. This requires 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
  • Third, even with strong leaders, you still need a project
    that doesn’t exceed the carrying capacity of either side.
  • Ownership
  • 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. The broader Middle East is littered with the
    remains of great powers that wrongly believed they could impose their will on
    small tribes. Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran … need I continue? Small tribes will
    always be meaner, tougher, and longer-winded than U.S. diplomats because it’s
    their neighborhood and their survival;
  • The negotiator’s mystique: It’s gone, at least for now. 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: We are overextended, diminished, bogged down.
  • Domestic politics: The pro-Israel community in the United
    States has a powerful voice, primarily in influencing congressional sentiment
    and initiatives (assistance to Israel in particular), but it does not have a
    veto over U.S. foreign policy. Lobbies lobby; that’s the American way, for
    better or worse. Presidents are supposed to lead. And when they do, with a real
    strategy that’s in America’s national interests, they trump domestic politics.
    Still, domestic politics constrain, particularly when a president is perceived
    to be weak or otherwise occupied.
  • U.S.-Israeli relations: America is Israel’s best friend and
    must continue to be. Shared values are at the core of the relationship, and our
    intimacy with Israel gives us leverage and credibility in peacemaking when we
    use it correctly. But this special relationship with the Israelis, which can
    serve U.S. interests, has become an exclusive one that does not. We’ve lost the
    capacity to be independent of Israel, to be honest with it when it does things
    we don’t like, to impose accountability, and to adopt positions in a
    negotiation that might depart from Israel’s. It’s tough to be a credible
    mediator with such handicaps.
  • Right now, America has neither the opportunity nor frankly
    the balls to do truly big things on Arab-Israeli peacemaking.
  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who probably didn’t know much about
    the Middle East, said it best: “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe
    me, then in half the creeds.” And maybe, if that leads to more realistic
    thinking when it comes to America’s view of Arab-Israeli peacemaking, that’s
    not such a bad thing.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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