Secretary Kerry’s Initiative and Middle East Reality

Yoram Ettinger — July 5, 2013

The chaotic Arab Street is raging violently, uncontrollably, unpredictably and incessantly, from northwestern Africa through Egypt, Syria and Jordan to Iraq and the Persian Gulf. Arab countries are imploding; Iran is galloping towards nuclear capability that haunts Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States; Islamic terrorism is threatening the US mainland via the proliferation of sleeper cells; Pro-US Arab oil-producing regimesare increasingly vulnerable to subversion; the Arab Middle East is growing Islamist and anti-US, jeopardizing vital US economic and national security interests; Turkey has changed colors from a pro to anti-US pillar; and Russia and China deepen their involvement in the region.
However, John Kerry, the well-intentioned US Secretary of State, just paid his fifth visit – since February – to the Middle East, preoccupying himself with the Palestinian issue, which is a sideshow in the volcanic Middle East. The Secretary has ignored this advice: when smothered by lethal sandstorms, one should not be preoccupied with tumbleweeds.
Kerry assumes that the Palestinian issue is a core cause of Middle East turbulence, a crown jewel of Arab policy-making, a trigger of anti-US terrorism and the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He believes that progress on the Palestinian front would upgrade the US stature among Arabs and would moderate the region. However, the recent developments on the Arab Street are totally independent of the Palestinian issue, which has never been a Middle East pace-setter. Moreover, the Arab states have always regarded Palestinians as a subversive element, and therefore have showered them with rhetoric, but never with resources. Islamic terrorism has plagued the US despite US pressure on Israel to make sweeping concessions to the Palestinians in 1983 (the US Embassy and Marines Headquarters in Beirut) 1993 (the 1st Twin Tower terrorism), 1995/6 (the Riyadh and Khobar Towers), 1998 (US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania) and 2000 (the USS Cole). No Arab-Israel war erupted because – or on behalf – of the Palestinians, as initially evidenced by the conclusion of the 1948 War of Independence, when Judea & Samaria and Gaza were occupied by Jordan and Egypt, which did not transfer these regions to the Palestinians. Furthermore, no Arab country rallied behind the Palestinians when Israel fought Palestinian terrorism in Lebanon (1982), Judea & Samaria (the 1st and 2nd Intifada) and Gaza (2006, 2008 and 2012).
A Palestinian state – proposed by Kerry – would undermine vital US interests and values. A Palestinian state would doom the pro-US Hashemite regime to oblivion. It would enhance Russian, Chinese, North Korean and Iranian access to the eastern flank of the Mediterranean. It would provide a tailwind to Islamic terrorism, as evidenced by the terror-driven hate-education instituted by Mahmoud Abbas and by the PLO, which has been the role model of international terrorism. It would add another anti-US vote at the UN, following in the footsteps of all Palestinian leaders since the Second World War, who sided with the Nazis, the Communist Bloc, Khomeini, Saddam Hussein and Bin-Laden. It would reward the Palestinian Authority which has caused Christian flight from Bethlehem, Beit Jalla, and Ramallah, converting these historic Christian centers to a Christian minority.
A Palestinian state would reduce Israel to a 9-15 mile sliver along the Mediterranean, over-towered by the mountain ridges of Judea & Samaria. It would, thus, transform Israel from a national security asset and most effective beachhead – for the US – to a national security liability, at a time when the US’ global power projection is reduced, while Israel increasingly shines as the only stable, credible, capable, democratic and unconditional ally of the US in the Middle East and beyond. From the largest American aircraft carrier, which does not require a single American on board, Israel would be relegated to a sinking boat, depriving the US unique strategic benefits.
Irrespective of Secretary Kerry’s genuine intentions to advance the cause of peace, his proposals – just like his predecessors’ – have radicalized Palestinian demands, lest they be accused as being less hawkish than the US. The only two existing peace accords between Israel and its Arab neighbors were initiated by Israel directly with Egypt (1977) and Jordan (1994). In 1977, President Carter failed to derail Prime Minister Begin’s initiative in favor of an international conference, and then jumped on the Israel-Egypt bandwagon. In 1994, President Clinton joined Prime Minister Rabin’s initiative. On the other hand, since 1949, all US peace initiatives have failed by unintentionally fueling – rather than extinguishing – Arab expectations and radicalism.
US-Israel relations have not evolved around the Palestinian issue, but around shared values (dating back to the 17th century), mutual threats and joint commercial, defense and homeland security interests. US interests in the Middle East are not centered on the Palestinian issue, as demonstrated by the recently imploding Arab Street.
Vital US interests, US-Israel relations and the pursuit of peace would be best served by the US lowering its profile in the pursuit of Israel-Arab peace, while upgrading its profile in much more critical parts of the Middle East.