On the supposed primacy of direct talks, upon which the Obama administration has puzzlingly placed so much emphasis, Miller notes that, “With the exception of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty of October 1994, every negotiation that has resulted in an enduring Mideast agreement was brokered by the United States”:
In the current phase of the peace process, direct talks that build trust between Israelis and Palestinians are vital, of course, but they are not sufficient to reach an agreement. Sooner rather than later, the United States will need to invest itself more heavily in the negotiations in order to bridge gaps on core issues such as borders and the status of Jerusalem; will need to marshal the billions of dollars required to support an agreement; and probably will need to deploy U.S. forces to the Jordan Valley to monitor security arrangements.Miller stresses that, “Without active U.S. involvement, it is unlikely that an agreement can be reached and implemented,” which was also a key point of David Halperin’s and my recent report.
Miller also rightly points out that, while Israeli settlements are not the main obstacle to peacemaking, “On the Israeli side, there is indeed no greater obstacle”:
For more than four decades, the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank has reshaped Israeli politics for the worse, humiliated Palestinians and made an already complex process even more complicated. And Israel’s recent refusal to extend a moratorium on settlement construction has threatened to undermine the negotiations before they have a chance to get serious.Which brings Miller to the radically obvious, “Successive American administrations have not taken the settlement issue as seriously as needed.”
This point is enormously important, as it brings some clarity to the Obama administration’s decision to place greater stress on the settlement issue, which was entirely correct, if poorly handled. Past administrations have repeatedly bowed to domestic political pressure and gone easy on the settlement issue, disregarding their provocative nature, the way in which their relentless growth has steadily chipped away at the credibility of Palestinian moderates who favor negotiations rather than violence, and how they’ve managed to so deeply embed the Israelis in Palestinian territory that any withdrawal will be hugely politically costly. The Obama administration’s focus on the settlements represents a long overdue recognition of those facts.
Miller steps wrong, however, when he attempts to brush back the idea that “Arab-Israeli peace is critical to securing U.S. interests in the Middle East”:
It would help, but it wouldn’t come close to overcoming our challenges in a region so troubled and turbulent. National security adviser James Jones got caught up in this belief, asserting in 2009 that “if there was one problem that I would recommend to the president [to solve], this would be it.”Interestingly, no one has ever claimed that Arab-Israeli peace would do any of these things. It’s quite true that hostility toward Israel in the Middle East will not simply dissipate upon the end of Israel’s occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state. Nor will anti-Americanism disappear even if the U.S. is seen as having played a major role in producing such an outcome. There are problems in the Middle East that have nothing to do with Israelis or Palestinians.
Arab-Israeli peace will not stabilize Afghanistan or facilitate an extrication of U.S. forces from there. It will not create a viable political contract among Iraq’s Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. It will not stop Iran from acquiring enough fissile material to make a nuclear weapon. It will not force Arab states to respect human rights. Nor will it end anti-American sentiment fueled by our support for authoritarian Arab regimes, our deployment of forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, our war against terror and our close relationship with Israel.
What Jones was getting at was that securing a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would make addressing those problems easier, by sealing up a well of resentment from which demagogues and violent extremists have for decades drawn freely and profitably.
This view was strongly affirmed by Gen. David Petraeus, who in March stated to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the lack of progress toward a resolution “does make situations more challenging” in the Middle East:
If you go to moderate leaders in the Arab world, they will tell you that the lack of progress in the Middle East peace process causes them problems, because their concern is that those who promote violence in Gaza and the West Bank will claim that because there’s no progress diplomatically that the only way to get progress is through violence… And we keep an eye on it, because we need to know the atmospherics there because they do — there is a certain spillover effect.Or, in the words of Miller’s old boss, Dennis Ross, who was formerly one of the most prominent critics of the “linkage” argument, “Pursuing peace is not a substitute for dealing with the other challenges… It is also not a panacea. But especially as it relates to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, if one could do that, it would deny state and non-state actors a tool they use to exploit anger and grievances.”
Having served as military commanders in the Middle East, Jones and Petraeus both have first-hand experience with the way that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict functions as a radicalizing force, which has led them to the view that Arab-Israeli peace is critical to securing U.S. interests in the Middle East. It’s unfortunate to see a smart guy like Miller simply try and dismiss that. Perhaps he was just short a myth, which would be odd, as there’s no shortage of those in this conflict.