Commentary

U.S. Can’t Do the Impossible

Pressure is growing both at home and abroad for the Bush administration to take a more active role in trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s just-concluded trip to the Middle East was the first manifestation of that activist strategy. Predictably, the results were meager and disappointing. Those people who insist that the United States must “do something” to end the bloodletting are ignoring reality and demanding the impossible.

The horrific violence will end when, and only when, the two parties become tired of the bloodshed and decide that they can gain more from negotiations than from force. Otherwise, a hyperactive role by Washington merely gives each side an incentive to manipulate the U.S. into putting pressure on the opposing side to make concessions.

Neither the Israeli government nor the Palestinian Authority is even remotely close to the point of seriously desiring peace. Indeed, conditions are the least conducive for a meaningful peace process that they have been since the Six Day War in 1967. Under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Israel has the most hard-line government in its history. And the wave of suicide bombings is ample testimony to the radicalization of the Palestinian community.

Holding an international peace conference under such conditions would be an exercise in futility. Equally futile would be an effort to make the recent Saudi proposal the basis for a new round of negotiations.

Those ideas are relatively innocuous, however, compared with some dreadful trial balloons that pundits and policy experts have sent aloft in recent weeks. The worst idea is to put an international peacekeeping force, including U.S. troops, into the West Bank and Gaza.

Indeed, it is a misnomer to refer to such a mission as “peacekeeping.” There is no peace to keep at the moment, nor is there likely to be in the foreseeable future.

Deploying troops in the West Bank and Gaza under the current conditions would be similar to the disastrous United Nations “peacemaking” ventures in Somalia and Bosnia. It would be especially dangerous to have U.S. forces take part. They would become prime targets for Palestinian extremists eager to strike at Israel’s chief patron.

The Bush administration’s initial instinct to adopt a low-profile role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was correct. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice had it right several months ago when she observed that the U.S. could not make bread out of a stone.

All Americans want to see the bloodshed in the Middle East come to an end. But that is a task the belligerents must do for themselves. Although the United States may be a superpower, it cannot perform miracles.

Ted Galen Carpenter is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute and author or editor of 13 books on international affairs.