Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

What's Next for the Middle East? an American Middle East Specialist: End of Peace Process Now May Mean End of Israel Later

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

What's Next for the Middle East? an American Middle East Specialist: End of Peace Process Now May Mean End of Israel Later

Article excerpt

What's Next for the Middle East? An American Middle East Specialist: End of Peace Process Now May Mean End of Israel Later

By Richard H. Curtiss

"The PLO...has no means to pressure the Israeli government. Only the United States could do that and thus advance the hopes of peace, but the Clinton administration sold American foreign policy in the Middle East to the Israeli lobby--lock, stock and barrel. The United States has no Middle East policy. Israel does, and the United States carries it out. This is a disgrace and will prove a tragedy for Palestinians and Israelis alike."

--Syndicated Columnist Charley Reese, Orlando Sentinel, March 20, 1995.

Only President Bill Clinton or Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin can save the current Oslo-agreement-based phase of the peace process. Neither will.

Clinton has based his administration's entire Near East and South Asian policy on the dictates of the Israeli government and its principal U.S. lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. It was the easy way. Leave the driving to them, and accept plaudits for doing so from Israel's amen corner in the American media--a tail that by now wags the "mainstream press" dog.

To signal his capitulation early, Clinton installed former AIPAC officer Martin Indyk, founder of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a "think tank" spun off by AIPAC, as the principal White House adviser for Near East and South Asian Affairs. In the State Department he retained from the George Bush administration Dennis Ross, a former fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Ross's title in the Bush State Department had been "director of policy planning," which meant he carried out the carefully crafted Middle East policies of Secretary of State James Baker. Those led to the direct talks between Israelis and Arabs that began in Madrid in 1991 and gave birth to the current "peace process."

Under the Clinton administration, Ross's title changed and so did his functions. Instead of being the principal Middle East aide to a hands-on secretary of state, he became the "czar" of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Over and over, as the "peace process" died, Ross has sent Secretary of State Warren Christopher on fool's errands to Jerusalem and Damascus, which Christopher visited for the 11th time in two years in March. Whatever the intent, however, Christopher's latest trip could not conceal the fact that Israel's Rabin had changed course, and was using the fear of terrorism as an excuse to stop taking steps to halt the settlements and turn the Israeli-occupied West Bank over to the Palestinians and the Golan Heights back to Syria.

Clinton's Middle East policy is one that will not be undone except on a signal from Rabin. It's a signal that will not come because, whatever his original motive in signing on the White House lawn on Sept. 13, 1993 the Declaration of Principles negotiated in Oslo, Rabin now has no intention of conceding the three minimal demands of the Palestinians: real self-rule either in the form of a sovereign state or in confederation with Jordan, a shared Jerusalem, and Israeli withdrawal from all of the West Bank and Gaza, which together constitute only 22 percent of Palestine.

It may be that Rabin calculated from the beginning that he did not have the political strength to make any of these concessions to the Palestinians or to withdraw Israeli forces from Golan. If so, from the time it took power in June 1992, the Labor government's entire "peace process" performance was a sham designed only to keep American aid flowing. In fact Rabin's goal may have been the same "Greater Israel" embraced by his Likud party rivals, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. In that case Rabin used the "peace process" to buy time to complete the "annexation" of East Jerusalem and Golan and the "creeping annexation" of the West Bank through the building of settlements. Or it may be that Rabin really did, for a time, fall under the spell of his long-time rival within the Labor Party, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who envisioned a real peace with Israel's Arab neighbors and Israeli integration as a major economic player into the booming petroleum-driven economy of the Middle East. …

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