Tuesday, January 08, 2008

President Bush’s Visit – A Fumbled Opportunity

Yoram Ettinger

President Bush visits Jerusalem, in order to advance Israeli-Palestinian negotiation, while the US economy is shaky, the 2008 election shift to a higher gear, the GOP is in disarray and the international arena is boiling. President Bush will not focus on the US-Israel strategic cooperation in face of mutual, clear and imminent threats such as Iran, Islamic terrorism, rogue regimes, ballistic missiles and the growing destabilizing Russian intervention in the Middle East. President Bush’s visit is based on a series of erroneous assumptions made by the Department of State, the CIA and the National Security Council, which is staffed by Rice’s appointees:

1. The Palestinian issue is, supposedly, the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and therefore one needs to encourage Presidential involvement. However, none of the Arab-Israeli wars were fought – by the Arabs – because of the Palestinians or on their behalf. Even the 1948/9 War was launched by the Arabs, in order to enhance their own interests, at the expense of the Palestinians, dooming them to an oppressive (Egyptian and Jordanian) regime in Gaza and in Judea & Samaria during 1949-1967. Therefore, Israel-PLO wars (Lebanon-1982 and the 1st Intifadah) and Israel-PA war (since Oslo 1993) never transformed into Arab-Israeli wars. Arabs shed much rhetoric – but not their own blood - on behalf of the Palestinian issue.

2. The Arab-Israeli conflict is, ostensibly, The Middle East Conflict, and presidential involvement is required to moderate the region. However, Middle East reality documents that – irrespective of Arab rhetoric - the Palestinian issue and the Arab-Israeli conflict are not relevant to the scores of inter-Arab conflicts – some of which rage since the 7th century – to Saddam’s and Ahmadinijad’s megalomaniac aspirations, to the accelerated non-conventional arms race and to the domestic instability of each Arab regime. Millions were slaughtered during Iraq-Iran war, two million were killed and three million lost their homes during Sudan’s civil wars, 200,000 fatalities were caused by Lebanon’s civil wars, 140,000 were killed as a result of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, over 100,000 were slained during the wars in Yemen, etc. But’ the Arab-Israeli conflict is defined as “The Middle East Conflict.”

3. A progress on the Palestinian front would, supposedly, facilitate the coalescence of a pro-US Arab coalition in face of anti-American Muslim regimes. However, Arab regimes have treated the Palestinian issue as a tactical means to advance their own inter-Arab goals and to bleed Israel, and not as a strategic goal. Hence, they do not fulfill their financial commitments to the Palestinian Authority and restrain Palestinian maneuverability within their respective countries. They speak in favor of a Palestinian State, but they act against Palestinian independence. Washington’s focus on the Palestinian issue – in spite of its low priority among Arabs – has eroded Washington’s strategic posture in the Middle East. It has played into the hands of radical regimes.

4. The Palestinian issue fuels, ostensibly, anti-US Islamic terrorism. However, the 1983 bombing of the US embassy and Marines headquarters in Beirut, the 1995/6 terror in Riad and Khobar Towers, the 1998 blowing up of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, the preparations for 9/11 and additional acts of anti-US Islamic terrorism were carried out while the US pressured Israel and supported/appeased the Palestinians. A 1,400 year old Islamic terrorism is not shaped or triggered by a 100 year old Palestinian issue. It is wrong to assume that a pro-Palestinian US initiative would free the US of the wrath of those who are motivated religiously, ideologically, militarily, economically and politically to uproot US presence from the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean, Red Sea and from the Middle East at-large.

5. The involvement of a US president is, supposedly, required to advance the peace process. However, Prime Minister Begin initiated a peace proposal to President Sadat, in defiance of President Carter opposition to direct talks and Carter’s promotion of an international conference. It was the decision made by Sadat to co-exist peacefully with Israel, which facilitated the conclusion of a peace treaty, in spite of Carter’s brutal eagerness, which almost doomed peace. Prime Minister Rabin and King Hussein initiated a peace accord, while President Clinton’s role was limited. One may realize the limitations to US power, to coerce Arab leaders into peaceful coexistence, from current US efforts to produce peaceful coexistence in Iraq. Thus, a precondition for peace is not the involvement of a US president, but a revolutionary improvement of Arab attitude toward the notion of peace and toward the Jewish State. The focus of US presidential involvement is pressuring Israel, which radicalizes Arab positions, inflaming terrorism, reducing the prospects of peace and undermining US-Israel relations.

6. The involvement of a US president in a peace process enhances his approval rating. However, Carter starred in the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty ceremony, but was defeated in the 1980 election. Clinton shined in the October 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty ceremony, but suffered an unprecedented defeat in the November 1994 congressional and gubernatorial election. Bush 41st catapulted to a 90% approval rating following the 1991 military victory over Iraq, but was soundly defeated in the 1992 election. The US public is not very interested in external issues. Long-term public attitudes toward presidents are impacted by domestic issues, such as employment, taxes, social security, health insurance, illegal migrants, abortion, same-sex-marriage and the war in Iraq, which has become a domestic issue due to the number of US casualties. Presidential involvement in the Palestinian issue has a minimally tenuous effect on US constituents.

Rather than focus on mutual threats to the US and Israel, both administrations have adopted the grossly erroneous assumptions made by the Department of State, which have crashed against the rocks of reality since 1948. Wrong assumptions produce wrong policies, which undermine the prospects for peace, fuel terrorism and potential all out war at the expense of vital US and Israel national security concerns.

No comments: