Both Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas have recently endorsed President Bushs roadmap for peace in the region and have made statements helpful to the presidents cause. If the president is not careful, such statements could be a Sirens song luring the U.S. governments renewed Middle East effort to crash on the rockswhere the efforts of many other U.S. administrations still lie.
In fact, Bush is actually providing the Sirens with the sheet music to sing the songs. The intense pressure on both sides by a triumphal superpower to make "progress" is eliciting positive rhetoric on the surface from both leaders, but it will not solve the underlying demands from both societies to control the same land. The violence over Palestine has been raging since the 1920s, and there are plenty of hardliners on both sides who are willing and able to prevent the implementation of any agreement by such tactics.
At best, the presidents likely unsuccessful effort in the Middle East will probably win him some votes in the next U.S. election, providing there is no perception at home that he excessively strong-armed Israel into making concessions. The worst possible outcome might be "success": if Bush follows the Clinton model of the Dayton accords that ended the Bosnian civil warcoercing reluctant parties into an artificial settlement of the disputeBush will sign up to a long-term U.S. military presence to dampen the violence on both sides by using an involuntary settlement without achieving a sustainable peace. This quagmire will make the U.S. occupations of Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan look like a picnicand might eventually resemble the British imperial retreat from Palestine in 1948.
Regrettably, the only way the parties in the dispute may achieve a true, lasting and voluntary peace is through exhaustion by war. The two sides are not yet there, and no amount of U.S. arm-twisting will ultimately work. The United States should disengage from the process and urge its fellow partners in the effortRussia, the European Union and the United Nationsto do the same until the two parties each propose enough concessions to show that they are truly fed up with war and genuinely want peace. Only then should the United States, or any of those other parties, step inand then only as a truly neutral and relatively passive mediator of the dispute.
The U.S. governments active, coercive, pro-Israeli mediating role is not only counterproductive for the parties involved and the United States, but it is unnecessary. If Israel was ever strategic to the United States, it was as an ally in a pre-1972 largely pro-Soviet Arab Middle East. Both the Soviet archrival and the Cold War are long gone, and with it, the rationale for the U.S. intransigence on the Palestinian question. Furthermore, if ensuring supplies of cheap oil from the Persian Gulf is a major pillar of American policy in the Middle East, U.S. support for Israel is actually counterproductive toward that end.
U.S. support for Israel does act as a lightning rod for anti-American terrorism. But although Osama bin Laden has mentioned U.S. support for Israel as a reason to attack U.S. targets, it is an afterthought to his list of top grievancesthe U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia and U.S. support for the corrupt Saudi governmentused merely as a tactic to gain wider support in the Islamic world. So, solving the dispute over Palestine alone will not remove the threat from al Qaeda because that problem is mainly attributable to general U.S. interventionism in the Middle East.
The answer to the Middle East problem is to reduce U.S. support for Israel and other states in the region, not to become further enmeshed in a coercive intervention to negotiate and guarantee "peace" in Palestine. Such an intervention would increase anti-American terrorism, not reduce it. President Bush should close his ears to the Sirens Song and revert to his initial instincts when first taking office by adopting a lower profile on the question of Palestine.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.
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