U.S. - Israel

WHAT IF AMERICA JUST QUIT THE MIDDLE EAST?

by John V. Whitbeck

Jidda, Saudi Arabia

With the latest American "peace plan" joining its predecessors in history's trash heap, the time may be ripe for a radical re-evaluation of the American role in the search for Middle East peace.

In June, the respected Pew Research Center released the latest of its global opinion surveys, which polled more than 15,000 people in 21 countries in the wake of the invasion and conquest of Iraq. A primary focus of press reports was the surge of anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world. In traditionally pro-American Jordan, 97 percent of those polled opposed America's "war on terror," while in NATO-member Turkey, 83 percent expressed an unfavorable opinion of the United States.

Less noticed, but no less significant, were the responses to another question. Those polled were asked whether the United States is too supportive of Israel. In 20 of the 21 countries surveyed (notably including Israel), most of those polled said "yes." There is no prize for guessing the one country where most said "no."

Israeli support for this proposition should not come as a complete surprise. Israelis have to live in Israel/Palestine. While their lives since Ariel Sharon provoked the current intifada in September 2000 have not been the living hell experienced by Palestinians, they have still become unpleasant, insecure and stressful. Increasingly, the essential realization that occupation and security are mutually exclusive has been sinking in.

No American national interest is served by Israel's continuing occupation of the Arab lands, which it conquered in 1967. American supporters of the occupation tend to be Christian fundamentalists concerned about being personally "raptured" up to heaven after the much-to-be-hoped-for battle of Armageddon, Jews who feel personally guilty for living prosperously and comfortably in America rather than having emigrated to Israel, or politicians interested only in preserving or furthering their personal careers by not offending the other two groups.

Americans in these three groups, which are critical to the formulation of American Middle East policy, do not have to suffer the consequences of the occupation or the resistance to it, and their support for the occupation rarely reflects any genuine concern for the best interests of Israelis (let alone Palestinians). Their militant "pro-Israel" activism is purely self-centered and selfish in its motivation. It is also the primary obstacle to peace.

Those Israelis who feel that America is too supportive of Israel presumably can see that America's involvement since 1967 has not advanced the cause of peace but, rather, has blocked it, with America's periodic pretenses of peacemaking simply providing an "only game in town" cover behind which the occupation could be perpetuated, deepened and made more nearly irreversible. They presumably wish, for their own sakes, that America would "reform."

Now - a heretical thought. Virtually all governments and commentators agree, at least in their public pronouncements, that deeper engagement by the United States is essential if Israeli-Palestinian peace is ever to be achieved. Wrong. The best hope for peace would be total American disengagement - and the sooner the better.

Imagine that the U.S. government were to announce that it was washing its hands of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that it would no longer give any military, economic or diplomatic aid or support to either side and that it would no longer use its veto to block any UN Security Council resolution with respect to Israel, even one imposing sanctions on either or both of the parties to the conflict. Having never been an "honest broker," the United States would at least become an honest bystander.

Israeli politicians and American Christian fundamentalists would be appalled. However, if the Pew poll is to be believed, many Israelis would be relieved - and finally see light at the end of the tunnel. With the United States out of the picture, the occupation would become, and be recognized to be, unsustainable. The great boulder blocking the road to peace would have rolled itself out of the way, and the real road to peace (not to be confused with the "road map") could finally be open for travel.

As a hugely beneficial side-effect, American disengagement would, with immediate effect, diminish anti-American rage throughout the Muslim world. Hundreds of billions of dollars could be redirected in constructive ways that would actually enhance the quality of life of Americans. The Unites States might even become respected abroad out of admiration, as it once was, rather than simply out of fear, as it now is.

A dream? Of course. Just a dream. America will continue to block the road to peace, and America - and the world - will continue to pay a massive price for this.

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