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“Addressing the Arab-Israeli Conflict”

In contrast to the disappointing essay referenced below, the new Brookings-CFR bundle ‘o reports on US policy toward the Middle East contains a pretty great chapter by Steven Cook and Shibley Telhami. It’s what a think tank policy report should be — bold, independent, and unconstrained by political fashion. Some excerpts below the fold:

source of influence for Iran in the Arab world. Pro-American governments in the region face internal public pressures whenever the conflict escalates. While Arab authoritarians have withstood this pressure through repression and co-optation, the gap between publics and governments in the region is wide. This has been a constant source of empowerment for militant groups posing threats to the regional order and to American interests. The American commitment to Israel and American interests in the Arab world ensure that when conflict escalates, the United States is affected or drawn into the conflict. As the United States seeks to end the Iraq war while minimizing its detrimental consequences, regional cooperation in that effort becomes more likely when the Arab-Israeli conflict is reduced. Arab-Israeli peace could change the regional environment for American foreign policy, open new alliance options, and turn public opinion against al Qaeda, much of whose support appears to be based on the logic of the “enemy of my enemy” rather than on an embrace of its agenda.

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Encourage Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab actors to pressure Hamas to police the cease-fire agreement with Israel and to convince the Hamas leadership to accept the April 2002 Arab League Peace Initiative, especially as Israeli leaders are voicing renewed interest in that plan. In this context, the United States should be willing to drop its insistence that Hamas accept the Quartet’s criteria — recognition of Israel, renunciation of armed struggle, and adherence to previous Israel-Palestinian Authority agreements.

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Hold Israel to its commitment to freeze new construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and in the Jerusalem area. Critically, this freeze should halt the construction of new communities, outposts, and “thickening” of existing settlements, which often entails expropriation of additional Palestinian land.

Beyond that, a later package breaks the taboo on raising the obvious point that US aid to Israel can and should be used as leverage on Israel and also that Palestinians turn to violence for reasons other than innate Arab bloodlust (emphasis added):

The next administration should hold Israel accountable to its commitment to freeze new construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including in the Jerusalem area. There should be no exceptions to this halt in construction, covering the establishment of new communities, outposts, and importantly, thickening of existing settlements, which often entails expropriation of additional Palestinian territory. Both public criticism of Israeli settlement policy as well as conditioning portions of aid to a settlement freeze can be effective in eliciting Israeli compliance. Along with continued Palestinian violence, this is the single most important issue undermining confidence in the negotiations. Halting construction in the West Bank will provide an opportunity to prove Hamas wrong by clearly demonstrating that negotiation, not militancy, is the best path to realizing Palestinian goals. Hamas’s popularity is derived, in part, from a persuasive narrative that Israel has no intention of ceding land to the Palestinians and that negotiations only provide more opportunity for the Israelis to expropriate Palestinian land. Conversely they point to Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon and Gaza as proof that violence is the only effective way to liberate Arab land. As settlement construction continues and the stalemate between the sides drags on, the Palestinian population can only conclude that the logic of Hamas’s claims is accurate.

One can only hope that this sort of thinking will have some purchase in the new administration.