PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL: Thomas Friedman is emphatic that America should withdraw from the Mideast peace process until Arab and Israeli attitudes soften.
I disagree. America should deepen its involvement in peace-making and assume more responsibility than before.
In the Middle East, America is not just a broker; Washington is a part of the solution and part of the problem. Israel did not become a regional superpower on its own.
As a result, the United States has become joined at the hip to Israel. In a difficult regional environment, Washington is a guarantor of Israel’s security; reciprocally, Israel serves US strategic interests.
Thomas Friedman oversimplifies. In a Nov. 7, New York Times op-ed, Friedman attributes the stalemate to a deficit in seriousness of the protagonists:
“If the status quo is this tolerable for the parties, then I say, let them enjoy it. I just don’t want to subsidize it or anesthetize it anymore. We need to fix America. If and when they get serious, they’ll find us. And when they do, we should put a detailed US plan for a two-state solution, with borders, on the table .
The popular columnist is right to look for a paradigm shift for the peace process. However, the solution is not, as he suggests, in abandoning the mediation at a moment of despair. The Middle East conflict might explode if the United States suddenly abandons the scene of conflict resolution. Things are indeed worsening, even before the United States considers disengagement.
Regional headlines are telling: President Abbas is threatening to resign. Netanyahu prevails on the settlements issue as Washington yields to the “Israel-first lobby. Hilary Clinton regrets her praise of Netanyahu for his “unprecedented gesture on limiting illegal construction on Palestinian land. The region’s public erupts with anger. Israel is mobilized to respond to a defiant and risk-averse Iranian regime, a provoked Hamas in Gaza and a re-mobilized Hezbollah in Lebanon.
As the peace process stalls hope starts to fade. The voice of moderation in Palestine is discouraged and the voice of anger is rewarded. Abbas feels he has no peace partners in Israel and no support in the West.
Since 1967, the Arab-Israeli conflict has gradually evolved into a complex Arab-Israeli- American problem. The United States has been involved in the Israeli occupation, its maintenance, its expansion and its rationalization. The United States supplies Israel with phenomenal aid and military assistance. Washington protects Israel from criticism at the United Nations. Most Americans may not wish to be deeply involved in the region. But their government, business and religious leaders over the last four decades have been active in every aspect of life in Israel and in the wider Middle East. America is now also militarily involved in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is not to say that the United States is to blame for all that has gone wrong in Israel and Palestine.
Over the last few decades, Israel has shifted from seeking national security to establishing regional dominance. Fear fuels Israeli short-sighted politics and self-fulfilling prophecies.
For their part, the Palestinians have diluted their secular approach to statehood by mixing their political struggle with religious symbols. Hamas, an “Islamic resistance remains popular and powerful. The fundamentalist dimension in the Palestinian struggle has a growing impact on Jewish fear.
The two sides of the conflict are divided, and their differences are deepening.
Israel is split deeply on the rights of settlers. It is not clear how they can work out a Jewish state within a democratic framework. There is no plan on co-existence with Palestinians and on the viability of a Palestinian state. For Israelis, the future is not a pleasant subject.
Divisions among Palestinians are pathetic. The Palestinians have two leadership systems, two governments and two geographical administrations. They are deeply divided on the role of religion in politics and on the nature of resistance. On the future of refugees there is no consensus or a realistic vision.
It might be politically too risky for the president now to try harder than before to confront the Israel lobby. Understandably, President Obama would rather risk his re-election prospects on ambitious health reform and fixing the US economy than on twisting arms to recast the US role in the peace process.
To enhance the Mideast peace prospects, America must engage as an equal partner in the search for a solution to the conflict, with full rights and responsibilities. Israel should acknowledge that its occupation of Palestinian territories negatively impacts both its own future security and the strategic interests of the United States.
The three sides, America, Israel and the Arabs, must work out a win-win peace plan. When the United States participates in the peace process as a stake-holder, not simply as a convener, there will no more be a need to beg and cajole Israel or the Palestinians to be – as Friedman anticipates – more “serious .
Dr. Ghassan Rubeiz ([email protected]) is an Arab-American commentator on issues of development, peace and justice. He is the former secretary for the Middle East of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).