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Middle East archeology

By Avi Davis
web posted June 30, 2003

If American Middle East policy could be represented as an archeological dig, it would look something like this: the Zinni Mission would be resting atop the ruins of the Tenet Work Plan, which would be crushing the remains of the Mitchell Commission Report, which would be settled on remnants of the pillaged Sharm al Sheikh agreement, all of which would be weighing down the collapsed foundations of the shattered Oslo Accords. Recent history would seem to indicate that peacemaking produces more embarrassment than it does results, and only fosters the impression that the United States is impotent in having any meaningful impact on the Arab Israeli conflict.

Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi speaks during an interview in his home in Gaza City on June 29 following the ceasefire announcement
Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi speaks during an interview in his home in Gaza City on June 29 following the ceasefire announcement

Only three weeks into the life of the latest initiative, the Bush Administration's Road Map seems poised to join this historical ash heap. Despite declarations to the contrary, including this week's announced hudna, unabated terrorism is leading the region to perhaps an even broader conflict. You don't need to be Nostradamus to predict the likely outcome: The contemptuousness of Hamas, the weakness of Abu Mazen, the brazen interference of Yasser Arafat, the raw hostility of the Palestinian street are all clear indicators of the impetuousness of any initiative that avoids dealing with the central issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict - the pan-Arab disinclination to recognize Israel's right to exist. Unable to grasp this fundamental obstacle to peace, the Bush Administration's Middle East policy has now become hostage to the kind of unrealistic expectations that churned Clinton's Middle East policies into mud and blinkered millions into believing that peace was just around the corner.

What is it then that caused the Bush Administration to trundle down a road so ridden with pitfalls and cursed with the burned out chasses of so many past vehicles of peace? It is of course a noble American tradition to campaign for peace between belligerents - harking back to the bold interventionism of both Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Such idealism has always been based on the notion that the United States, free of Europe's historical baggage could wield significant leverage in a world fraught with violence and conflict. Such slogans as 'making the world safe for democracy' and 'new world order' gained currency and acceptance as distinctly American visions of a world in which violence and conflict would be contained.

But there are some violent conflicts in the world that simply do not lend themselves to resolution by either signatures or handshakes. The Arab-Israeli conflict is one of them. That is because there are no tangible, realistic exchanges that can be made between the two sides that would guarantee lasting peace. No exchange of territory, no compensation to refugees, no guarantee of statehood will quell the insistent Palestinian demand for Israel's extinction. Such a wish is written in their Covenant, broadcast daily in their newspaper editorials and promoted to their children in textbooks. It is contained in the speeches of their leaders and advertised on posters extolling the deeds of their homicide bombers. The voice of reason that George Bush hears in the moderate tone of Abu Mazen and considers representative of Palestinian aspirations is therefore an illusion. The real voice of the Palestinians, the voice that speaks to their deepest sentiments and nationalistic dreams, is the voice of Hamas.

Recognizing that it is Hamas and not the Palestinian Authority who makes the decisions for the Palestinians should change the entire equation for the United States. The futile quest for reconciliation should be replaced with a pragmatic assessment that any significant change in outlook among Palestinians, no matter what the Israelis do, say or agree to, is unlikely. Ultimately, the focus of the Administration's Middle East policy must shift from conflict resolution to conflict management.

What does this mean? Unequivocal support for the Israeli army's campaign to crush the terrorist networks; compliance in the need to eliminate or exile their leaders; cooperation in smothering their sources of funding. But it also means that the United States must face up to the reality that only years of Palestinian re-education and re-orientation towards peaceful coexistence will bring about a lasting change in relations between Arabs and Jews. Such a reality check, given the conviction among most Americans that all problems have their solutions, is a bitter pill to swallow. .

But better to swallow the pill than to spend fruitless years and effort pretending that ruined policies, all piled on top of one another, create anything more than an impression of powerlessness and failure.

Avi Davis is the senior fellow of the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies and the senior editorial columnist for the on-line magazine Jewsweek.com.

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