Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Middle East Shuttler Christopher Hangs Up His Track Shoes

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Middle East Shuttler Christopher Hangs Up His Track Shoes

Article excerpt

Middle East Shuttler Christopher Hangs Up His Track Shoes

Asked where the Middle East peace process would be today if George Bush had won the 1992 election and re-appointed James Baker as secretary of state, one Arab-American leader responded: "The process would have been largely completed by now. There would be a Palestinian state and the Israelis would be out of Lebanon and beginning to come down from the Golan to implement a peace treaty with Syria."

When the Washington Report asked Baker on Dec. 5 to comment on that statement, he laughed and initially said that he would not. Immediately afterward, however, before an audience of 500, he criticized the policies of outgoing Secretary of State Warren Christopher and State Department Middle East peace adviser Dennis Ross as not adhering to the principles of Madrid, meaning land for peace, and emphasized that Jewish West Bank settlements are an "obstacle to peace," as described by six successive U.S. administrations, and not just a "complication" as they have been described by the Clinton administration.

These are harsh words for President Bill Clinton and outgoing Secretary of State Warren Christopher. But they are accurate, considering the present reality of a peace process in shambles, American Jewish leaders excusing Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from any responsibility for it and instead harping on every failure of the Palestinian Authority, and a Republican Congress now heavily suspicious of the Palestinians and of Yasser Arafat, the only Palestinian leader who has ever signed an agreement with Israel.

What everyone in Washington knows, but few dare to say, is that the stage was set for the colossal failure of the Clinton-Christopher Middle East policies by the appointment of officials with deep attachments to Israel to the key positions in the State Department and the National Security Council.

We Never Go Public

Explaining U.S. silence on Israeli deviations from U.N. Security Council Resolution 242's land-for-peace formula and the Oslo accords based upon it, one State Department press officer claimed that the U.S. had a policy separate from Israel on settlements, on Jerusalem, and even on the Golan, "but unlike the Europeans, who go public all the time, we have maintained our credibility with both parties by not going public; we are the only one whom both sides trust."

That is a mantra repeatedly cited by the State Department. Unfortunately, it is not true. Under Clinton and Christopher, the U.S. has lost credibility with the Palestinians, the Syrians, and America's two principal Arab allies, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. There has been an almost complete rupture between Assad and Christopher, and Netanyahu has treated Christopher like a hired hand with whom he has little need to deal.

Perhaps from the beginning Christopher was immobilized by a vigorous Israeli lobby and a president totally unwilling to criticize Israel, either publicly or privately. Clinton's refusal to use the bully pulpit the way that Bush did forced his secretary of state to be cautious, even to the point of being servile, toward Netanyahu. There was no bottom line below which the U.S. could not be pushed on the issue of settlements, Jerusalem and the maintenance of timetables solemnly agreed to in the Oslo I and II agreements.

Rudderless, the Middle East peace process grounded on the shoals of U.S. and Israeli domestic politics and remains beached as the New Year and Madeleine Albright, Christopher's successor, approach. True, a diminishing number of the 60-odd working groups established to discuss practical problems on the ground between Israelis and Palestinians continue to meet. But nothing much happens, and each week a new confrontational announcement by the Israeli government further precludes the possibility of salvaging anything of the vessel launched with so much hope at Madrid in 1991 by the Bush administration.

Things Are No Better Elsewhere

Nor are other U. …

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