By Harry C. Blaney III
This month will bring together a number of critical events and actions which could determine whether we can see a clear path towards a measure of progress that can start the process of healing and mitigating the hate and carnage that we see today and lessen the chance of a total cataclysm. What is required is a high level of creativity, resources, and focus by all sides looking at their long-term interests. But frankly, recent events, not least the Israeli elections, do not bode well for lasting peace and building the mutual confidence and sense of common interest that must be the foundation of long-term security for all in the region and beyond.
The first critical event is the elections in Israel. Clearly, given the outcome Israeli society remains divided between a constant “war” strategy and a long-term peace strategy. This time the “war hawks” won out but not by that much. This contradictory bitter split should be recognizable to Americans in our current corrosive political environment. The question is whether there can be, in this divisive environment, any growing consensus that develops into some kind of momentum towards returning to honest negotiations with the Palestinians to build a stable two state outcome that provides security for all sides. What then is the alternative?
Incredibly, there was even post-election speculation that Bibi might go back to the two state solution, but after his victory based on anti-Palestinian policies and even promising thousands of more settlements, it is hard to envision at this moment. The question is when will the realities of the increasingly precarious situation of Israel set in and be the lever for a move towards a peace deal.
The history of the reign of Netanyahu has been a series of acts, that in its totality, were against any reasonable settlement with the Palestinians. After mouthing from time to time the idea of a “two state” solution, he revealed just a day before the elections his true motivation all along, in trying to grab the West Bank and possibly displace people from their land or perhaps even confine them to unlivable, frankly, semi-concentration camps, looked over by their Israeli guards.
The sad result of Bibi in his firm opposition to a two state solution, and saying there will be no Palestinian state under his rule, plus his attack after his election victory on the Arab citizens of Israel because, according to the NY Times, they had voted! His statement was even characterized by the New York Times editorial as a “racist rant.” Increasingly, there is a new authoritarian bent by Netanyahu and his Likud party; and a rigidity and myopic militancy that bodes badly for peace in the region and Israel’s own long-term security. There is a real danger that he will lead a democratic Israel down a path to self-destruction both externally and internally. What other option now can be possible other than a deliberate policy of impoverishment and degradation of the Islamic and Christian Arab West Bank population, and its own Arab citizens?
He has already poisoned the key US-Israeli bi-partisan relationship as we have noted previously. The question that must be asked: what policy and direction should America and Europe take now that the very basis of any lasting peace agreement has been destroyed by Bibi’s actions? Having served in the White House I have no doubt that the lights there will be burning late to provide an answer.
One key question is what should the U.S. do with its allies and other actors in the region to put back the building blocks of a lasting agreement that provide peace, security, and even a measure of prosperity for the people in the region. For the Israelis who are experiencing serious economic hardships including inflation that is robbing ordinary people of their livelihood and sense of self-worth; and who also desire a future free from conflict, they now face a very uncertain future, increased insecurity and new added risks.
While coalition building still must take place and is currently unknown, a reassessment of American policy towards the Middle East and Israel is required. Already, there is a movement in Europe to recognize a Palestinian state. Bibi unfortunately leaves little scope for a constructive American role in seeking a settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority especially given the desire by Bibi to get America to preemptively attack Iran or contribute to new illegal settlements and to act as a supporter of dangerous actions that will only exacerbate the existing unrest and conflict in the region. Further, Bibi by playing a partisan and self-interested divisive role in American politics may have defeated any hope for the kind of constructive cooperative efforts by the U.S. to bring true peace to his people. Evolving events in the region may play the decisive role that may call for a basic reassessment of Israel’s security as noted by the statements of a group of senior security leaders who pointed to dangerous trends and poor policies by Bibi.
The second event shaping the region is the beginning of serious “end state” negotiations on the Iran nuclear long-term “deal” that could put a stop on Iran getting a nuclear weapon at least for the next decade. If in the end a “good” deal is agreed with the proper verification elements, one of the truly disruptive (in the real meaning of this word, not the Silicon Valley robber baron meaning) elements fundamentally creating widespread conflict and insecurity might change the landscape of new nuclear danger to the region. It could also create an opening to larger political and military problem solving and deal with the upward trajectory of Shia-Sunni conflict.
Already, Secretary John Kerry has been working to find a consensus among the Middle East states, both largely Shia and Sunni to form some common ground especially in light of the common threat of ISIS. This is frankly an effort against the odds. But there is a small opening now for a rethinking of old hatreds and a new assessment of existential risks of the ISIS ascendancy and the spread of terrorist extremism aimed at both traditional Sunni and Shia governments and people. In the end, this opening will have to be recognized by governments that too often have been dominated by prejudice and narrow interests.
What might be needed is perhaps a new regional compact that creates a wider Middle East security structure that encompasses both Sunni and Shia nations and might include support and reinforcement by America and our European and Asian allies that have a large stake in stability and peace in the region. While Arab nations would naturally be a part of this, also non-Arab nations like Iran and Turkey should be part of such a regional compact of mutual security.
It is clear that without some major political, economic, and military changes both in Israel and in the wider Middle East the trajectory towards chaos and destruction will overwhelm the fabric of cooperation and modest restraint and upheavals and civil strife will destroy the lives of all citizens and bring only perpetual war and killing as the norm.
Our problem is that the acts by Bibi, the shortsighted viewpoints by some Middle East leaders, and our partisans in our Congress has undermined America’s role as the “indispensable nation.” They have deliberately sabotaged every key tool and effort to bring a measure of peace to our globe by President Obama and Secretary Kerry. There is a strong Republican desire to see Obama fail no matter what the cost in lives and security including that of Israel. More war and putting American troops at risk is their only option. Their new crazy right-wing budget and proposed heedless sanction and laws on Iran undermines the authority and the needed resources for a strong American capability to create a more stable, peaceful, secure and prosperous world. Without support at home by all of our parties, the chances of creating a more secure Middle East and beyond would be hindered. Disorder, humanitarian needs, and added wars will be the order of the day.
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