Commentary

Washington Bankrupt Middle East Policy

President Clinton boasted in his State of the Union Address that the Middle East peace process was one of his administration’s shining foreign policy achievements. The renewed violence in the West Bank and Gaza, which has claimed dozens of Israeli and Palestinian lives, exposes the hollowness of that boast. If this is a foreign policy success, one shudders to think what a failure would look like.

Holding another conference in Washington to put the beleaguered Middle East peace process back on track is a mistake. Under no circumstances should the United States be drawn in yet again to play the role of mediator. All that will do is enable Israeli and Palestinian leaders to posture for their constituencies and use the U.S. as a scapegoat for any failure in the negotiations.

Even if a new accord is reached, it is likely to prove no more durable or meaningful than the previous agreements that have been shattered by the latest round of violence in the West Bank and Gaza.

There is little the USA can do to end the long-standing Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Peace is not a product that can be exported by Washington. The USA can neither bribe nor cajole unwilling parties to overcome their animosities and adopt a policy of peaceful coexistence.

If a viable settlement to the dispute is ever achieved, it will come about only when overwhelming majorities in both the Israeli and Palestinian communities become so weary of violence and hatred that they are willing to make the necessary mutual concessions. That day appears to be far away. True, there are many in both communities who desire peace, but the hard-liners increasingly have the power to sabotage their initiatives.

Washington should treat the Israeli-Palestinian struggle as merely one of many ugly parochial conflicts now taking place around the world. The end of the Cold War has eliminated whatever larger strategic significance such squabbles might once have had. The issues at stake in the West Bank and Gaza may be extremely important to the Israelis and Palestinians. Those issues, however, do not have substantial relevance to the security and well-being of America.

We should adopt a policy of benign detachment toward the conflict. Under no circumstances should the USA allow itself to be drawn in again to play the role of mediator. All that will do is enable the leaders of both entities to posture for their respective political constituencies and use the United States as a scapegoat for any failure in the negotiations.

It is national arrogance to assume that every problem in the world has a “made in Washington” solution. We should let the Israelis and Palestinians confront the reality that they must work out their own problems or bear the consequences.

Ted Galen Carpenter is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.