In US President Barack Obama’s interview with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman he laid out his approach to foreign policy: we are not the proxy army of any other nation unless there is wall-to-wall international consensus or a situation where the US can have a long-term positive strategic impact. As Obama sees it, if the US cannot identify a local partner that will help ease the country into a positive – and inclusive – process, US intervention will be futile. Events over the past month in Iraq alone have taught us that US involvement can be a bottomless pit and – what’s worse – its dubious gains obliterated in a heartbeat. With regard to acts of terror, Obama’s approach seeks to analyze its indications regarding the society at large, how they can be best contained and how the underlying needs that created such forces can be best addressed.
Some voices in Israel have expressed confusion or even distrust of this new style of governance and believe that America is shirking its responsibilities as protector of democracy and destabilizing its long-term allegiances.
They are wrong. Nothing fundamental has changed – except style. Rather than rush in with guns blazing, today’s administration will not reinforce one local faction against another unless it can play a long game. It will not rescue the damsel in distress only to leave her stranded on a land mine. This administration is every bit as much a moral champion as any of its predecessors.
It is well aware of the evil specter of radical Islam in its most gruesome form spreading throughout the region. However, it will address the issue by analyzing the underlying forces at play and trying to affect change only if it can identify a rational, co-operative local partner and “provide an answer for the day after.”
While the US and Europe are worried by the threat of radical Islam and may lose a night’s sleep over it – moderate Arab states can already hear it pounding at their door. This immediate and horrifying possibility is realigning the regional players in the Middle East and opening up new historical opportunities.
The alarming threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other radical forces have led many Arab states to a point where they seek a tactical – and possibly even strategic – alliance with Israel to combat this anarchic threat.
Very much in the spirit of a “day after” approach, we in Yesh Atid have suggested an international- regional conference that will simultaneously create an alliance of moderate voices while seizing the historical political opportunity that has presented itself. The agenda of the conference, which will involve donor states (US, Europe, Gulf states) and regional partners (Egypt Jordan, Saudi Arabia) will be threefold: to re-establish the PLO as the local administrative force in Gaza, to forge a path to the future demilitarization of Hamas, and to condition the rehabilitation of Gaza on the restoration of peace and quiet to the citizens of Israel.
History has presented the region with a unique opportunity – a convergence of factors are leading us to a point where we can reshape the historical trajectory of the region. Which is why, above and beyond its practical agenda, the aim of an international- regional conference for the rehabilitation and demilitarization of Gaza will help crystallize the voices of moderation – the only answer for the day after.
The author is a Knesset member, chairman of the Knesset sub-committee on foreign policy and public diplomacy and a member of the Knesset foreign affairs and security committee. He was the Israeli-Syrian peace talks Secretary in 1995 and in 2000, and is an expert in crisis management, conflict resolution and anti-terrorism policy. He founded the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.