Aaron David Miller was a devout believer in and diplomatic practitioner of the so-called Israel-Palestinian “peace process” promoted by the United States for lo, these many years. In a timely personal essay, Miller now renounces “The false religion of Mideast peace.” Miller gets rolling in these three paragraphs:
Like all religions, the peace process has developed a dogmatic creed, with immutable first principles. Over the last two decades, I wrote them hundreds of times to my bosses in the upper echelons of the State Department and the White House; they were a catechism we all could recite by heart. First, pursuit of a comprehensive peace was a core, if not the core, U.S. interest in the region, and achieving it offered the only sure way to protect U.S. interests; second, peace could be achieved, but only through a serious negotiating process based on trading land for peace; and third, only America could help the Arabs and Israelis bring that peace to fruition.
As befitting a religious doctrine, there was little nuance. And while not everyone became a convert (Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush willfully pursued other Middle East priorities, though each would succumb at one point, if only with initiatives that reflected, to their critics, varying degrees of too little, too late), the exceptions have mostly proved the rule. The iron triangle that drove Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and now Barack Obama to accord the Arab-Israeli issue such high priority has turned out to be both durable and bipartisan. Embraced by the high priests of the national security temple, including State Department veterans like myself, intelligence analysts, and most U.S. foreign-policy mandarins outside government, these tenets endured and prospered even while the realities on which they were based had begun to change. If this wasn’t the definition of real faith, one wonders what was.
That Obama, burdened by two wars elsewhere and the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression, came out louder, harder, and faster on the Arab-Israeli issue than any of his predecessors was a remarkable testament to just how enduring that faith had become — a faith he very publicly proclaimed while personally presiding over the announcement of George Mitchell as his Middle East envoy in an orchestrated ceremony at the State Department two days after his swearing-in.
Miller addresses some of the difficulties of arriving at an agreement under current circumstances, though he omits anything beyond the merest mention of the intransigence of Fatah and Hamas, or the division between them. It is the personal element that pervades Miller’s essay in disillusion makes it mandatory reading.
Youssef Ibrahim provides a good account of Miller’s essay and adds this regarding the purported centrality of a peace agreement between the Israel and its Palestinian enemies:
Mr. Miller’s views echoed those of so many Arab commentators who for well over two years now have been critical of the Palestinian Arabs, hinting that the Arab-Israeli conflict is not their priority either.
Tarek Al Homaid, editor in chief of the Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat, echoed that overwhelming view in an article on Sunday. “We all know that the ‘enemy’ unites people except in the case of those Palestinians. We rarely hear of a people such as the Palestinians who strive to kill one another and accuse each other of treason. What is truly catastrophic is that Palestinians continue to do this, oblivious to the fact that the rest of the Arab world no longer cares for them or about them,” he wrote.
Mr. Al Homaid went further, noting: “Arab countries today are consumed by their internal priorities and problems, and all of them know well there is no gain in the Palestinian issue. It seems the only ones who do not know that are the leaders of Palestinians factions be they Hamas of the PLO or the others too busy shooting at one another.”
Another timely addition to the discussion is David Pryce-Jones’s brief compendium of presidential errors.