Oct. 18, 2019
The Dream Palace of the American Peace Processors – Michael S. Doran (Foreign Affairs)
By moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, blessing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, and other gestures, the administration is said to have overturned half a century of settled U.S. policy, abandoned the Palestinians, and killed the two-state solution. But on close inspection, these charges turn out to say more about the hysteria of the critics.
In 1948, the U.S. foreign policy establishment opposed recognizing a soon-to-be independent Israel. Truman was not persuaded by the diplomats and experts, so he went ahead and recognized Israel anyway. The establishment considered it a gross mistake driven by the intrusion of amateur domestic politics into professional foreign policy.
Egypt made a private side deal with Israel in the 1970s, and Jordan did so in the 1990s. Egypt made peace to get back the Sinai and a place within the American system, and Jordan did it to keep its place in that system and insulate itself from the vicissitudes of the peace process. Both sought to extricate themselves from the Palestinian problem, not solve it.
It is difficult to say whether the Palestinians were ever serious about making peace. They certainly convinced their U.S. interlocutors that they were, and they parlayed that success into decades of continued power, status, and international largess. Yet somehow the final settlement was always six months away – and always would be. Thus did the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat start the 1990s exiled in Tunis, yet end them as a king in Ramallah.
For 70 years now, many American (and European) policymakers have seen it as their mission to stabilize the Middle East by constraining Israel’s power and getting the country to give back at the negotiating table what it has taken on the battlefield. Over the decades, however, Israel has grown ever stronger and more able to resist such impositions.
Most Arab states moved on long ago. They now treat Israel as a normal player in the great game of regional power balancing. So now has the U.S. administration.
The president looks at the Middle East like any other region, and respects power. Without the ideological blinders of the professional peace processors, he has recognized that the Palestinian issue is not a major U.S. strategic concern and has essentially delegated its handling to the local parties directly involved. He can see that Israel, having conquered the staging areas its enemies regularly used to attack it, will never give all of them back.
The writer, a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, served as Senior Director for the Near East and North Africa at the National Security Council and as U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense.