Speaking this past weekend at the Aspen Security Forum, former CENTCOM chief Gen. James Mattis commended Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and stressed the strategic importance to the United States of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Asked whether the peace process was going anywhere, Mattis replied, “That’ll depend on the protagonists, and do they want it as much as I think our valiant Secretary of State wants it, and is doing everything possible.”
GEN. MATTIS: But I would tell you that the current situation is unsustainable. It’s got to be directly addressed. We don’t want to turn this over to our children, the same thing that you and I have lived with our entire adult lives. We have got to find a way to make the two-state solution that Democrat[ic] and Republican administrations have supported, we’ve got to get there, and the chances for it are starting to ebb because of the settlements, and where they’re at, are going to make it impossible to maintain the two state option.
For example, if I’m in Jerusalem and I put 500 Jewish settlers out here to the east and there’s ten thousand Arab settlers in here, if we draw the border to include them, either it ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote — apartheid. That didn’t work too well the last time I saw that practiced in a country. So we’ve got to work on this with a sense of urgency, and I paid a military security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel, and that moderates all the moderate Arabs who want to be with us because they can’t come out publicly in support of people who don’t show respect for the Arab Palestinians. So [Kerry’s] right on target with what he’s doing. I just hope the protagonists want peace and a two-state solution as much as he does.
Gen. Mattis’ comments echo those made by his predecessor at CENTCOM, Gen. David Petraeus, who, in a statement to Congress in 2010 (pdf), identified the conflict as one of the top challenges to the U.S. military in the Middle East:
The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the AOR (area of responsibility). Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas.
h/t Max Blumenthal.