How Much Did U.S. Policymakers Learn about the Middle East in Forty Years? Some Proof

Consider this quotation:

“Israeli pessimism seems largely if not entirely unwarranted. It seems based on an extraordinary lack of understanding of what happened in the Arab world in the last year and a half. Rather than girding their loins for the fifth, sixth, seventh Israeli-Arab wars, tThe Israelis might examine more carefully than they seem to have done so far the alternative of a peaceful accommodation with the Arabs."

This is not a reference to the "Arab Spring." No, it's from a dispatch sent from the U.S. embassy in Saudi Arabia, January 9, 1975. It concluded that the lack of peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict was Israel’s fault. That dispatch could be published -- as we will see in a moment—word for word today, 38 years later, with just as little accuracy. The dispatch reflects the unshakable premise -- well, from time to time it does decline or disappear for a while -- that the Arab side really wants peace, that Israel is not so much threatened but paranoid, that Israel doesn't think enough about making peace, and that conditions in the Arab world demonstrate that peace is possible or even imminent.

What was happening at that point in time? The PLO was energetically pursuing terrorism, including deliberate operations against Israeli civilians, and openly declaring that it would never make peace with Israel and that if it got a West Bank-Gaza Palestinian state it would use that as a springboard for wiping out the remainder of Israel. Lebanon was a country where the PLO could operate with complete freedom of action, controlling the south and launching cross-border attacks whenever it pleased. Syria and Iraq were ruled by radical Ba’thist regimes dedicated to Israel’s destruction and sponsoring terrorism. Egypt was about to be engaged by Israel in secret negotiations while constant behind-the-scenes discussions were being held by Israel with Jordan.

Yes, in Egypt President Anwar al-Sadat was thinking about the usefulness of peace with Israel as a solution to Egypt’s woes. But let’s also remember that after he made peace, Egypt was isolated by every other Arab states and denounced by them (and the PLO). And of course Sadat was assassinated. And of course while the peace treaty survived, much of it wasn’t implemented. Of course, though Israel did seize the opportunity of making peace with Egypt at the price of material concessions.

The PLO only took about two decades more and being on the verge of extinction before it agreed to negotiate. And then it broke its commitments and rejected a two-state solution.

And what was the name of the supposedly hard-line, closed minded prime minister of Israel at that time who just refused to take the obvious steps that would have allegedly brought peace? Answer: Yitzhak Rabin.

A serious paradigm would understand that for deep-seated structural reasons the Middle East was not on the verge of comprehensive peace then and the same applies to today.

Now the Washington Post has published an editorial titled, “John Kerry’s efforts in Middle East could lay groundwork for success.”  Yes, once again we are on the verge of progress! Yet in a real way the editorial is realistic. The success predicted for Kerry merely maintains the status quo of not having peace. Expectations have been considerably lowered yet the fiction must be maintained that peace is almost at hand and thus this issue should be a very high priority for U.S. diplomacy.

The editorial begins by saying that, yes, a U.S. obsession with the Arab-Israel conflict today seems strange with other issues seeming to be more serious:

“Syria’s civil war… gets worse every day. So does Egypt’s domestic political and economic turmoil. The terrorists who assaulted the U.S. Consulate in Libya have yet to be corralled; Iraq is on the verge of splitting into sectarian pieces; negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program are going nowhere.”

You foolish little people who lack the gigantic brains and profound wisdom of such geniuses who live thousands of miles away from the deadly consequences of their political positions. Because despite the fact that the “peace process”:

“Has proved resistant to the diplomacy of President Obama and numberless previous secretaries of state, but also is not, for now, the source of any of the fires raging across the region.”

And both sides, the editorial continues, put forward preconditions -- Abbas “deftly,” since he must be praised even for blocking progress toward peace in a move that he’s been doing for years.

And yet, there’s supposedly something brilliant in what Kerry is doing:

“In pursuing a new peace process in spite of the leaders’ resistance, Mr. Kerry is making an assumption that Mr. Obama has rejected elsewhere in the region: that by leading from the front, the United States can force events and impose solutions. If his goal is a final agreement on Palestinian statehood, he has almost no chance for success.”

Ah, so the goal of peacemaking isn’t to make peace?

“”The initiative could still prove useful, if it is carefully crafted. Encouragingly, Mr. Kerry is beginning with an economic initiative, what he described as `specific steps that we could take to . . . expedite the goal of economic growth in the West Bank.’ He is talking to Mr. Netanyahu about Mr. Abbas’s objective of prisoner releases and to Mr. Abbas about refraining from further action at the United Nations targeting Israel. He appears to have persuaded Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan to postpone a potentially provocative visit to the Gaza Strip.”

This is absurd.

First, Israel has put forward the goal of economic growth in the West Bank for years. It’s nothing new and indeed there has been for several years the appearance of growth which has now once again fallen apart. Economic development always founders because no one in their right mind would invest in an economy ruled by corrupt kleptocrats who keep insisting that they are about to go to war again. In 2009 it was common to claim that economic growth was raising living standards in the West Bank. Now, however, everyone knows that the economy is doing badly. Why? Because the flow of aid has been reduced. In other words, "economic growth" is purely due to sending in money to pay a regime over-heavy with security forces, plus a bit of speculative construction of luxury apartments.

Second, Netanyahu had rejected the prisoner releases already. There have been literally dozens of such releases previously during the last two decades with no lasting effect whatsoever, except that many of the released prisoners return to terrorist activities.