The Gaza conflict raises a number of troubling questions for President Obama and his (past and current) secretary of state and their obsession with the “peace process.”
Before the unity government, how was Israel to make a deal with Mahmoud Abbas, who leads Fatah but not Hamas? And now that there is a unity government in which half of the coalition is Hamas, which commits many horrendous human rights violations, how is a deal possible? Which way is the path to peace? The answer, painful as it is for Americans who believe there is a prompt solution to everything and the diplomats who have made the “peace process” over 40 years into a cult, there is no path right now.
Truth be told, there hasn’t been one for decades. Israel has offered virtually all of the West Bank and statehood multiple times. No deal. The Palestinian Authority — let alone Hamas — is not giving up the right of return. And Hamas’s murderous mind-set, tolerated if not quietly cheered by Abbas, makes it nearly inconceivable that there could be a peaceful and democratic Palestinian state living next to Israel. In giving up Gaza, Israel got no peace and no security.
Privately, Sunni monarchs will agree. They are quietly content to let Israel eradicate the Iranian-backed Hamas, which in its other forms (e.g. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood) threatens them as well. A Palestinian state on Israel’s border would also be on Jordan’s border, posing an ongoing security threat.
This leads to a much bigger issue for the region, which is really at the bottom of the Palestinian terror problem. A reality-based U.S. president would say something along these lines:
The central threat to Middle East stability and peace is Iran. It threatens legitimate governments and sponsors terror while abusing its own people. It is unthinkable that it could retain any enrichment capability. The focus of American policy for the foreseeable future should be to disarm and isolate Iran and, if need be, achieve regime change in Tehran. We cannot lift sanctions on a regime that continues not only to defy United Nations resolutions but also engages in terrorism. It is in the interests of the United States, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to diminish and, if possible, remove the Iranian threat. Through intelligence sharing, economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation and, when needed, military action, a coalition of the willing should be able to diminish and eventually remove the Iranian threat.
The other problems of the Middle East — the Palestinian crisis, al-Qaeda, social and economic development — will be improved if the Iran-Syria axis can be stymied. Hamas would no longer have a patron, making a Palestinian solution if not immediately possible at least attainable in the future. The Saudis and Gulf states would have no need to back Sunni extremists to hold back the Iranian tide. Relations among the Sunni states and Israel would be improved. In Iraq, without the menace of Iran, the Shiite prime minister could be pushed in the direction of reconciliation and away from a sectarian thugocracy. Once the threat of Iran and its surrogates is removed, Sunni monarchs may be more amenable (and the United States could make better uses of carrots and sticks) to enlarge civil liberties. Excuses for delaying modernization and reform will diminish once the Iranian-backed terror threat is diminished.
In the meantime, the United States can work on improving Palestinian governance in the West Bank, limiting corruption and working on improving civil society and economic development. Non-jihadist rebels in Syria should be given support and assistance. We can aid governments trying to liberalize (e.g. Morocco, Jordan) while cajoling others privately.
In short, it’s time to rearrange priorities, work on the most pressing issue and look for commonality. Doing otherwise only divides us from our allies in the region, encourages Iran to be more aggressive and spurs violence throughout the region. But first one has to recognize that the failure of the peace process is not attributable to Israeli housing or even to “both parties.” It is the byproduct of Iranian mischief and continued support for terrorism. In the words of the Saudi king, as quoted in the Wikileaks cables, the approach should be to “cut off the head of the snake.” By that he meant Tehran. When a U.S. president realizes this and is committed to seeing this through the course of many years, we might actually get some peace and stability in the Middle East.