PAUL DUNN: New Foreign Policy For the Middle East?
A distinguished New York publisher reminded me recently that Israel is the "third rail" of American journalism; writers touching it do so at great peril.
Some automatically label as "anti-Semitic" those who challenge orthodox opinion about the Jewish state. Many thoughtful Americans are re-examining earlier assumptions about the U.S.-Israel relationship, because TV viewers see Israel waging war in Gaza against Hamas militants who've fired more than 10,000 rockets into Israel since 2001.
Ironically, Israel originally supported Hamas as a counterweight to the Palestinian Liberation Organization. It's an uneven fight. For every Israeli civilian killed, more than 100 Palestinians have died.
Incoming President Barack Obama will undoubtedly be tempted to invest precious political capital to resolve the conflict. My prediction: He may be as ineffectual as George W. Bush, who Muslims realized was less than even-handed.
Americans, including this writer who enthusiastically urged recognition of Israel and donated money to its cause, could never have imagined that U.S.-made F-16s would be employed to kill and maim Arab civilians.
This in spite of U.S.-Israel arms agreements that legally preclude such usage. Israel claims it acts legally in "self-defense," but morally the jury is out.
American and foreign leaders foresaw the risks that recognition of Israel portended. When President Roosevelt returned from Yalta, King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud joined him aboard the U.S.S Quincy. FDR wanted a Palestinian "homeland" for displaced Jews, prosperity for Arabs and security for Jews. Saud claimed a Jewish homeland was a German responsibility and it should only be located on German soil. Saud informed Roosevelt that a Jewish homeland in Palestine meant war, since Palestine was considered sacred by observant Muslims.
An Episcopalian, Roosevelt understood his history differently. His King James Bible taught that Jews had been in the Holy Land centuries before there was an Islam.
FDR promised Saud that America would do nothing to assist Jews against Arabs. Within months, Roosevelt was dead. Saud later discovered that Truman did not consider himself bound by FDR's promises. Truman discounted warnings by Secretary of State George C. Marshall that Arabs would never accept a Jewish state. Indeed, Great Britain had aborted its League of Nations Palestine Mandate due to its inability to maintain peace between Arabs and Jews. American recognition gave Israel international legitimacy but not acceptance from the Arab world.
Although America provides massive aid to Israel and Egypt, humanitarian relief to Palestinian refugees, and use of its good offices for peace, it's been largely for naught. Invading Iraq exacerbated anti-Americanism throughout the Muslim world.
Arabs consider their attacks upon Israel justified because of long-standing perceived wrongs to Palestinian brethren, including Israel's defiance of repeated U.N. resolutions, including No. 242. Ongoing construction of Jewish settlements on West Bank Arab land only heightens hatreds.
Since Henry Kissinger's landmark peace negotiations with Anwar Sadat and Golda Meir, only President Carter proved successful in bringing the warring parties together. A scandal-ridden President Clinton failed at Oslo. Condi Rice could never fill Kissinger's shoes.
So if Uncle Sam can't bring peace, who can? The combatants have proven they can't. European and Asian nations have no incentive to step into the quagmire. Special envoy Tony Blair has spent fruitless months there. Vice President-elect Joe Biden's statements that you "don't have to be Jewish to be a Zionist" and "Israel has no greater friend" destroy any pretense of U.S. even-handedness. Obama's campaign promise to AIPAC, the American pro-Israel lobby, to locate the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem cannot help matters.
Because we are so mistrusted by the Arabs, I'd recommend the U.S. absent itself from the inevitable peace conference. Let Camp David no longer automatically serve as the convenient location. Clear-aired Geneva, long respected as neutral soil, is far more appropriate.
What should America do to be helpful? First, extricate itself from Iraq and avoid suggestions to attack Iran. Then formulate an honest
Israeli-Palestinian policy that's fair, unobtrusive and benign. Only when Muslims see us not as a crusading intruder but as a friend will there be a meaningful role for America. A prominent educator e-mails a dire prediction: "there's no hope for anything we'd regard as 'rational' and 'civilized' in that region."
Two thousand years ago in this very spot, an imperial official, Pontius Pilate, took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just person see ye to it." Perhaps it is time for Uncle Sam to wash his hands here too, for in matters of equity the law clearly states, "Do not enter court with dirty hands."
Paul R. Dunn, the author of "Touching Raw Nerves," may be reached at: email@example.com.
More like this story