Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Saturday, January 29, 2011

What are American interests in the Middle East?

In 2005 Palgrave Macmillan published a book by Leon Hadar, who like myself both has a doctorate in international relations and is a graduate of Hebrew University, called Sandstorm. The book appears to be largely a continuation of his earlier book, Quagmire, published in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War a year later. In Sandstorm Hadar argues that most of America's policies and difficulties in the region stem from a failure to reexamine the Cold War era Middle East Paradigm (MEP), which dominated from the time of the Truman Doctrine to the end of the Cold War. The MEP had three overriding American interests in the region: 1) Guaranteeing the supply of oil at a reasonable price; 2) combating Soviet expansion and influence in the region; 3) and ensuring the security of Israel. The only concession to reality since 1990 has been to substitute Al Qaeda and Iran for the Soviet Union.

Hadar reminded me of a fact that I knew but had forgotten: the United States gets ninety percent (90%) of its oil from outside the region. Protecting the oil flow from the region was largely a factor of the United States leading the anti-Soviet alliance during the Cold War. It allowed Europe and Japan to become free riders on the back of the American tax payer during the Cold War and has continued that policy since.

America's support for the peace process stems largely from an attempt to reconcile the incompatibility of the first two goals with the third i.e. American support for Israel hurts America's standing in the Muslim countries of the region. Hadar argues persuasively that it is really Europe and Japan (and South Korea) who have much more at stake in the region than the United States does. America's fixation with the region is really a symptom of Washington's imperial complex--its desire to function as a hegemon on the world stage. Europe is unwilling to back financially Washington's policies in the region without an equal input into determining those same policies. America's propensity to use military force and to back the policies of the Israeli Right in the occupied territories have been gradually causing a rift with Europe. The 2002-03 rift over the war in Iraq between "Old Europe" and America was almost a mirror image of the November 1956 Suez Crisis argument between Washington on one hand and London and Paris on the other.

I agree with Hadar that America can best reconcile its real opposing interests in the region by making a much smaller footprint. This can be accomplished through a gradual military withdrawal from the region. This would force the EU and Japan to play a greater role. It would also mean that Israel would have to make adjustments--funneling money away from settlements and into defense.

Now is a very opportune point to begin this process for two reasons. First, the publication of the Palestine Papers by Al Jazeera demonstrates how incompatible the Israelis and Palestinians still are. A Kadima-Labor coalition government was afraid of making concessions to match major Palestinian concessions out of fear of the Right. A Likud-led government of the Right is unlikely to be even as forthcoming, while the approach of the Palestinian Authority has been to deny that it made any concessions to Israel. Internal politics on both sides combined with the power gap prevent an implementation of the two-state solution at this time and for some years to come.

Second, the Arab world is in upheaval with autocratic Arab rulers from Tunisia to Yemen being challenged. Washington can either opt to sacrifice democracy for stability in the hope of delaying a major upheaval or risk dealing with unknown forces taking over in possibly two or three Arab countries including important American allies like Egypt and Jordan. Either result poses considerable risks for America. Better to lower our identification with the local regimes.

My own research into the peace process in Northern Ireland pointed to imitating the Anglo-Irish dual mediation in the Middle East with a peace process co-sponsored by the European Union and the U.S. Brussels has been trying to get into Mideast diplomacy since 1980 with the Venice Declaration. It played an observer role during the Oslo process. By shifting some of the burden on to Brussels, Washington can hope to accommodate its interests as well as cancel its own pro-Israel bias. Brussels can offer Jerusalem a bribe that Washington cannot match--membership in the EU in exchange for peace. But this is for the future.

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