WASHINGTON, DC: President George W. Bush once explained his failure to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with the excuse that, “We can’t want peace more than the parties themselves . Dennis Ross, who tried and failed to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace for several decades and under several Presidents, said the same thing.
And now White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel seems to be picking up on the mantra.
In a wide-ranging interview with Charlie Rose last week, Emanuel did not sound particularly upbeat about the possibilities of an Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough although he emphasized that the President intends to keep up the pressure.
But then he echoed Bush and Ross: “They [Israelis and Palestinians] live side by side. You can’t want this more than they want it.
Fortunately, he’s wrong. The United States can indeed want an agreement more than the parties do and can achieve it even if Israelis and Palestinians drag their feet. After all, the US has considerable leverage on both sides.
Remember what Jimmy Carter did at Camp David. He clearly wanted an agreement more than Sadat and Begin, who kept trying to escape the summit. But Carter persisted, achieved a deal and, for 30 years now, not a shot has been fired in anger by either side.
Carter’s achievement has benefited Israelis and Egyptians (how many mothers and wives in both countries still have their sons and husbands thanks to Carter’s achievement?) but, equally important – and more important for the United States – the end of the Israeli-Egyptian conflict enabled the United States to achieve normalization of diplomatic, cultural and trade relations with the most powerful Arab state without, in any way, alienating Israel.
The United States does not traditionally broker peace deals out of love for the disputants but because it is in our own interests to do so.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has harmed US interests in the Middle East for decades. I’m not just talking about the oil and, in fact, I’m not just talking about the Middle East.
The Muslim world – a disparate grouping of nations and peoples – is united on only one issue: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our role in the conflict, viewed as utterly one-sided, has seriously damaged America’s standing in every Muslim country in the world. It also endangers America’s interests – starting with US military personnel but extending to ordinary citizens – both in the Muslim world and, it’s not hard to imagine, here at home.
So, in fact, we can indeed want Israeli-Palestinian peace more than the parties themselves. Achieving it is not so much a favor to them but an act of self-interest. And we have the leverage to achieve it.
All it takes is the will.
M.J. Rosenberg, former director of policy at Israel Policy Forum, is Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at Media Matters Action Network. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the author. It was first published by Media Matters Action Network, mediamattersaction.org.