Creating a U.S Policy of Constructive Disengagement in the Middle East

December 29, 1989 • Policy Analysis No. 125

For several months an “iron triangle” consisting of prominent American journalists, the “peace process” partisans in the Bush administration, and their allies–including Middle East specialists in various interest groups and think tanks–have been outlining a scenario that most pundits and insiders now accept as a given. According to that scenario, the intifada–the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip–is the first stage of a process that will lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state headed by the “kinder and gentler” Palestine Liberation Organization.

The implicit message is that the administration should elevate the search for a solution to the Israeli‐​Palestinian conflict to the top of its foreign policy agenda. Toward that end, it should press Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza, negotiate with the PLO, and reach an agreement that might provide for the creation of a Palestinian state.[1]

The only members of the U.S. foreign policy establishment who seem to have resisted that argument are the neo‐​conservatives. Some of them regard the advocacy of an independent Palestinian state as part of a liberal conspiracy; others attribute it to naive do‐​goodism or pure anti‐​Semitism. Such a proposal, the neoconservatives claim, would be a Munich‐​like betrayal whose effect would be to weaken and eventually destroy the state of Israel.[2]

The neoconservative prescription is more of the same policy that the United States has pursued since the 1967 Arab‐​Israeli war. Although neoconservatives may seem to advocate a hands‐​off policy toward Arab‐​Israeli issues, they do not contemplate a reduction in U.S. economic and military aid to Israel, which now totals more than $3 billion a year. Indeed, because they consider Jerusalem a strategic asset in Washington’s campaign against Moscow‐​sponsored international terrorism, they would strengthen the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

The United States, argue the neoconservatives, should regard Israel as its only real military and diplomatic ally in the Middle East and should therefore elevate its relationship with that country to the level of its alliances with Western Europe and Japan. Such critics view the intifada as nothing more than a devious attempt by the PLO, supposedly a Soviet surrogate, to manipulate the American media and weaken the public’s support for Israel.

There may appear to be an unbridgeable conflict between the peace process partisans, who insist that the United States should play a diplomatic role in ending the intifada, and their Commentary‐​based adversaries, who advocate U.S. support for an Israeli suppression of the uprising. In reality, however, they are rival intellectual twins whose shared assumptions have influenced U.S. policy toward the Middle East for four decades.[3]

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