Saturday, January 17, 2009

U.S. Peace-Making in Mideast Has Never Worked

This is a repeat on this blog. It was originally posted about a month earlier, but was finally published by the Hartford Courant on January 17, under a title chosen by the editor, so I thought I'd repost it.

It may be viewed directly on the Courant at,0,1767425.story and comments posted there.


Conventional wisdom is that American mediation is necessary for Arabs and Israelis to make peace.

History demonstrates the opposite. The few important breakthroughs have been made either without or despite our involvement.

In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower's pressure forced Great Britain, France and Israel to end their Suez campaign. That action accelerated the decline of Great Britain, led France to distrust us, sowed the seeds of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, helped make the Soviet Union an important player in the Middle East, and led to Egypt, the beneficiary of our intervention, joining the Soviet orbit.

In his memoir, Eisenhower's own vice president at the time, Richard Nixon, wrote: 'In retrospect I believe that our actions were a serious mistake.' Eisenhower also apparently recognized his intervention was a mistake. In a biography of Max Fischer, the wealthy industrialist and adviser to presidents from the 1950s until his death in 2005, Peter Golden quotes Eisenhower telling Fischer: 'Looking back at Suez, I regret what I did. I never should have pressured Israel to evacuate the Sinai.'
The first real breakthrough in the Arab-Israeli conflict came with Anwar Sadat's historic trip to Jerusalem in 1977. Not only did this seminal event come without American assistance, it reportedly distressed President Jimmy Carter, who saw it as jeopardizing his grandiose dreams of orchestrating a comprehensive settlement.

Although Carter is often given credit for facilitating the resulting peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, his involvement in the negotiations probably delayed that agreement, as his presence generally encouraged Sadat to press for more and more Israeli concessions and resist any Egyptian concessions.

The Oslo breakthrough also came about without U.S. involvement. It resulted from Palestinian Arabs and Israelis meeting secretly.

Our subsequent American involvement was a key factor in the failure of the 'Oslo Process.'
I greeted news of the Oslo Process with cautious optimism. I was never under the misimpression that Yasser Arafat and the rest of the PLO were sincere in any desire for peace, but I hoped the combination of the enormous benefits and the change in behavior mandated by any agreements would lead to real changes in Palestinian attitudes.

Unfortunately, in America's eagerness to accelerate movement, we sidetracked those changes and benefits and helped doom an inherently difficult process.

One of the first actions required of the Palestinian Arabs before the Oslo Process really began was to be the changing of the Palestinian National Charter, deleting the provisions calling for the elimination of Israel.

President Bill Clinton prevailed upon the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, to participate in the famous ceremony on the White House lawn without waiting for that change in the PLO charter. That was a seminal mistake, setting the precedent for Yasser Arafat's weaseling out of almost all of the commitments he made.

To this date, despite a widely publicized charade in 1996, the PLO charter has never been amended. The Palestinian Authority ignored the conditions under which its 'police force' was supposed to operate, continued to facilitate rather than work against terrorism and, most important, incited its people rather than preparing them for peace.

As Dennis Ross, one of America's key mediators, has recognized, underestimating the importance of the Palestinian Authority's continued incitement against Israel was a fundamental error. Under pressure from the U.S., Israel overlooked violations by the Palestinian Authority. This ultimately doomed a process that otherwise might have led to peace.

In the final analysis, only the Arabs and Israelis can end their conflict. Peace will be achieved only when the Arabs, including the Palestinian Arabs, make it a priority. Despite our best intentions, American involvement generally results in Israel unilaterally making concessions that feed Arab intransigence, ultimately intensifying the conflict.

This leads to the best advice anyone can give President-elect Barack Obama on ending the Arab-Israeli conflict: Don't even try.

>> Alan H. Stein, Ph.D. is associate professor of mathematics at the University of Connecticut and president of the Connecticut chapter of Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting, The views expressed are his own. He may be contacted at This was first published at

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