Makovsky and Ross vs Mearsheimer and Walt

Dennis Ross and David Makovsky set out a path that could help Obama's foreign policy team.

palestinian gunmen 88 248 (photo credit: )
palestinian gunmen 88 248
(photo credit: )
Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East By Dennis Ross and David Makovsky Viking 368 pp., $27.95 Former editor of The Jerusalem Post David Makovsky, now director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy project on the Middle East peace process, has joined forces with former ambassador Dennis Ross to tackle American foreign policy in the Middle East and address the myths and challenges the Obama administration will need to overcome to create peace between Israelis and Palestinians. One of the more significant aspects of the book is that it debunks in a thoughtful and methodical fashion the Israel lobby theory put forth by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Their book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, was endorsed by David Duke as "a modern declaration of American independence." Mearsheimer and Walt contend that that there are no genuine or compelling motives for America's support for Israel, which they refer to as a "strategic burden." US support for Israel in their view has led to such debacles as America becoming the No. 1 target for Islamist terrorism. Such an otherwise inexplicable departure from good sense can be accounted for only by the power of "the lobby" - Jewish power aided by Christian evangelicals and the neocons in the Beltway who have hijacked American foreign policy and controlled it for decades. They even went as far as claiming that one of the results of AIPAC's work was to start the war in Iraq. Walt and Mearsheimer recount every colorful report of Israeli "cruelty" toward Palestinians as an indisputable fact. Conveniently, they leave out the rise of Palestinian terrorism before 1967, as well as the 1972 Munich Olympics, Black September and countless cases of suicide bombings against Jews and Israelis. The real basis for Israeli actions, and for American support, is never addressed. In contrast, Makovsky and Ross bring real facts and real credibility to the debate on how Washington and Jerusalem work together. Unlike Abraham Foxman's overexcited The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control, the authors have actually worked in the public sector in the US and Israel, which enables them to comment authoritatively on what can and cannot work as it relates to the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic. The work of Mearsheimer and Walt challenges supporters of Israel to differentiate between legitimate criticism of the Jewish state and the growing form of anti-Semitism that uses criticism of Israel instead of Jews to provide a fig leaf of deniability. To most Americans it is clear that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is constant because the Palestinians without fail reject peace. They continue to favor terrorism over compromise, which is abundantly visible in their media, teachings, mosque sermons and unremitting acts of violence, ranging from suicide bombings to rockets. In this light Makovsky and Ross provide a useful guide to the lessons learned in the Middle East and American involvement in past peace negotiations as well as a grounded perspective and context to the Middle East of 2009. Their experience suggests caution. As Makovsky and Ross put it: "We should be careful about launching transformational and strong declaratory objectives if we will be unable to enact them. We must prepare the ground before we decide what to do." The authors' ability to tackle the realities behind the ins and outs of the Israel-Palestinian dialogue through an American prism is key. Poorly thought-out axioms such as making peace with your enemies not your friends, for example, are inferred by many to mean that Hamas and Hizbullah are potential constructive partners once they are brought under a political tent. This is based in part on the IRA example, which many Hamas leaders like to use when they talk about their cause and methodology to Westerners. But as Makovsky and Ross correctly highlight, the Middle East reality is very different. When the IRA bade farewell to its arms, it was welcomed with open arms into the EU, which translated into economic incentives. Palestinians, however, value their ideology of hate much more than they do such incentives, and they will not give it up no matter what the cost. Finally, as the Obama administration prepares to deal with the new Netanyahu government and the nuclear threat of Iran, Makovsky and Ross are laying out a path that could help Obama's foreign policy team comprehend the Middle East of 2009. The writer is an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum and manager of Israel and Middle East affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.