Busting Arab-Israel peace-making myths

Middle East peace making has become the stuff of legends. Condoleezza Rice's visit is a good opportunity to re-examine those myths.

Rice Abbas 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Rice Abbas 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
As Condoleezza Rice visits the region, she should dispel some of the mythology that exists in the Arab world on Middle East peacemaking. 1. If Israel does not go to final status talks, this shows it does not want peace. This is the reductionist, land-driven narrative that sees gradualism as an Israeli plot. It received a boost in the US last year due to contributions by American academics who are not Middle East experts (Walt/Mearsheimer) and by former president Jimmy Carter. This narrative conveniently ignores the fact that some of the biggest obstacles to resolving this conflict in 2000 were not land, but issues of refugees and security. Through land swaps, land seems the most easily resolved of these issues. The other issues helped doom the talks in 2000 and seem even less resolvable now. Apart from the impasse on refugees, security is a problem as well. From the Israeli side, how could the IDF withdraw from virtually the entire West Bank when 1,000 Kassam rockets have fallen on Israel from Gaza since its 2005 pullout? The distinction that Israel views final status talks as desirable but not feasible is seldom heard in the Arab world, even if the difference is heaven and earth. 2. Everyone knows what the solution is, but the parties just do not know how to get there. This makes it sound as if all that is missing is a book on diplomatic etiquette. In fact, rejectionism and terrorism are not marginal phenomena, as Hamas currently heads the Palestinian Authority government. 3. The Arabs states are for peace. They put forward the Arab Initiative in 2002. It is axiomatic that Arab leaders will urge Rice to press Israel, but it is far from clear that they will do their share. Even though the Arab Initiative is an improvement on the past, there is no doubt that this is a very asymmetrical peace plan. The initiative requires Israel first to do all the front-loaded work by getting out of the West Bank and Golan Heights, with Arab reciprocation delayed, hence less binding. This process would be far more effective if Arab states were to take parallel steps to reinforce progress on all sides. This would bolster the center among Israel and the Palestinians, providing the latter with key political cover. If the Quartet's road map is to be revived, it should be matched by an Arab road map. 4. The whole problem of the Arab-Israel conflict is that Israel enjoys too much support in Washington. The Walt/Mearsheimer/Carter thesis is a familiar echo of what famed American historian Richard Hofstadter described in his essay, "The Paranoid Strain in American Politics," about the American right's scapegoating of liberals as communists during the McCarthy period. Perhaps it is not surprising that scapegoating occurs during periods of turmoil like the Iraq War, but it is also unfair. American Jews did not stop Bill Clinton from proposing the partitioning of Jerusalem in 2000, for example. 5. Everything in the Middle East is linked to the Arab-Israel conflict. Since September 11, 2001, the American public has been treated to an endless seminar on the Arab world. Its conclusion has been that Islamism has very deep cultural and political roots, linked to dysfunctionalism in Arab regimes but not driven by the Arab-Israel conflict. The 2000-2004 intifada did not cause a single Arab regime to fall; al-Qaida prepared its plots at the height of US peacemaking in the Middle East in the 1990s. The Sunni insurgency in Iraq's Anbar province is not driven by the dynamics of Israelis and Palestinians. The US should be involved in the search for a two-state solution not because of Iraq, but because it wants to find problem-solving solutions that give dignity to both Israelis and Palestinians alike. An elevated debate that avoids unchallenged slogans as well as a carefully orchestrated policy that avoids the pitfalls ahead could even prove Santayana's Middle East corollary to be wrong. The writer, a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post, is director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where his latest monograph is "Lessons and Implications of the Lebanon War: A Preliminary Assessment (2006)." The above is excerpted from a piece he wrote for bitterlemons-international.org