by Yoram Ettinger
Bush’s visit was based on the wrong assumptions.
President George Bush visited Jerusalem in order to advance Israeli-Palestinian negotiations while the US economy is shaky, the 2008 election shifts to a higher gear, the GOP is in disarray and the international arena is boiling. President Bush did not focus on US-Israel strategic cooperation in the 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 was 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.
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 1948-49 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 and Samaria during 1949-1967. Therefore, Israel-PLO wars (Lebanon in 1982 and the first Intifada) and the Israel-Palestinian Authority war (since the Oslo Accords in 1993) never transformed into Arab-Israeli wars. Arabs shed much rhetoric, but not their own blood, on behalf of the Palestinian issue.
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 the megalomaniac aspirations of a Saddam Hussein or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to the accelerated non-conventional arms race, nor to the domestic instability of each Arab regime. Millions were slaughtered during the 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 slain during the wars in Yemen, etc. But the Arab-Israeli conflict is defined as “The Middle East Conflict.”
Progress on the Palestinian front would, supposedly, facilitate the coalescence of a pro-US Arab coalition in the 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.
The Palestinian issue fuels, ostensibly, anti-US Islamic terrorism. However, the 1983 bombing of the US embassy and Marines headquarters in Beirut, the 1995-96 terror in Riad and the 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 appeased the Palestinians.
One-thousand-four-hundred-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 the US presence from the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean, Red Sea and from the Middle East at large.
The involvement of a US president is, supposedly, required to advance the peace process. However, Prime Minister Menachem Begin initiated a peace proposal to President Anwar Sadat in defiance of President Jimmy Carter’s opposition to direct talks and Carter’s promotion of an international conference. It was the decision made by Sadat to coexist peacefully with Israel that facilitated the conclusion of a peace treaty, in spite of Carter’s brutal eagerness, which almost doomed peace. Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin and Jordan’s King Hussein initiated a peace accord, while President Bill Clinton’s role was limited.
One may realize the limitations of 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 attitudes 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.
The involvement of a US president in a peace process is supposed to enhance 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-41 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 immigrants, 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 US 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 American and Israeli national security concerns.