The Collapse of U.S. Policy in the Middle East

By Blank, Stephen | The World and I, February 2001 | Go to article overview

The Collapse of U.S. Policy in the Middle East


Blank, Stephen, The World and I


Stephen Blank is a professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.

The latest Palestinian war against Israel and the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen reflect the failure of Israeli and U.S. policy, and must be recognized as such. The Palestinian uprisings that began on September 28--29, 2000, represent the latest manifestation of the Palestinians' habitual recourse to long-term war in the guise of "small-scale" actions and terrorist attacks against Jews. Not only do these uprisings conform to the pattern established in 1936--39, 1987-- 1993, and after the Oslo accord was signed in 1993, but this time Yasser Arafat's visible organization and leadership of this war is incontrovertibly out in the open, despite his denials. Indeed, only on November 18, 2000, did Arafat make a gesture to stop the violence.

However one assesses Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount on September 28, the Palestinian authorities knew of the visit in advance and guaranteed there would be no trouble. Instead, as they now admit, they welcomed it, for it gave Arafat the pretext to launch this war to secure terms that he could not get through negotiation or foreign pressure.

At the earlier Camp David negotiations in the summer of 2000, Arafat received offers and concessions that went far beyond what Israeli politics could seemingly have accepted or what he could have hoped for realistically. Yet Arafat rejected these concessions and agreed to nothing else--neither Jerusalem, nor settlements, nor refugees. Thus it was not just Jerusalem that torpedoed the Camp David negotiations. Instead he demanded an unlimited right of return for Palestinians to Israel, based on the most dubious of historical arguments, that could then be used to unleash a demographic flood of returnees claiming their lands and properties. This flood could then overwhelm and undermine Israel as a state, the true goal of the Palestinian movement. Arafat also demanded sovereignty over (or at least in) Jerusalem, which no Israeli government can or should give up. Once rebuffed on these issues, he proceeded to prepare the ground for this war.

We must recognize the current insurgency as the newest phase of a total war that is being waged to destroy the state of Israel, not a temporary speed bump in the peace process. It is war because Arafat has repeatedly employed this systematic and organized use of violence and all the other instruments of power available to him and his subordinates to achieve the political objective of destroying the state of Israel. After all, he is only repeating his previous modus operandi in Jordan in 1970 and in Lebanon a decade or so later, proving that no matter where the Palestinian Authority (PA) exists, it foments a war against its host.

This kind of war all too recognizably conforms to the paradigm of so- called colonial wars of national liberation against imperial or foreign powers. We saw it in Algeria, Vietnam, Lebanon, and in previous Palestinian uprisings. This paradigm is one of total war, waged on all fronts and intended to wear down the enemy by sapping his resolve and undermining his sense of the legitimacy of his cause, and thus his will to fight. In such wars, negotiations and violence occur simultaneously or concurrently; both are employed as a weapon to force the other side to surrender to a political or military settlement that conforms to the insurgents' objectives. Such wars have proved exceedingly difficult, though not impossible, to win because they are guaranteed to be protracted struggles that strain the very fabric of industrial, democratic societies, whose patience in such wars is limited.

Arafat has repeatedly unleashed such wars throughout his career. He has never kept any peace agreement he has signed in support of his objective of overthrowing the state of Israel. Whether in Jordan, Lebanon, or Israel, the violent presence of the PLO threatened to destroy those states. …

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