Navigating through Turbulence

A think-tank recommendation to Bush

By Amos Perlmutter January, 31 2001

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy issued a comprehensive report, "Navigating through Turbulence," on American Middle East policy in the new century.

This report was written before the US presidential election, but its recommendations should be consulted seriously by the new administration.

In 1992 president Bill Clinton was the beneficiary of the Bush-Baker Madrid Conference, which was a prelude to the 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles. The Clinton administration made valiant efforts to micromanage the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unfortunately, the new administration is now confronted with a dramatically different Middle East in the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts and the growing threats, especially from an emboldened President Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

The institute's report identifies three areas that can cause regional war. First is Lebanon. Unfortunately, the withdrawal of troops did not bring about stability on the Israeli-Lebanese border.

The UN established and stabilized recognized borders between the two countries but has been unsuccessful in protecting Israel from the renewed violence and violation of the borders by Hizbullah.

Hizbullah is protected and supported by the new Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad. The IDF will not repeat protracted and unsuccessful guerrilla warfare with this organization. The target will be Syria.

Among the first proclamations of the new Bush administration should be a warning to the Syrians that the administration will not tolerate their support of Hizbullah. The onus of a regional war should be put on Syria.

The second area is the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Bush administration should call for a reexamination of Oslo, as the institute report recommends, and also "...pursue future diplomacy or whether alternative approaches might usefully be explored."

I do not believe that the Clinton peace plan should any longer serve as a basis for continuation of the moribund Oslo process.

To be successful, the Bush administration must accept the fact that Oslo is dead. That does not mean that one cannot build upon what has been achieved before the unfortunate Clinton-Barak rush to bring a successful end to the negotiations at Camp David in August.

The two fundamentally ideological divides are the issues of right of return and the future of Jerusalem, for which the parties will accept no compromise.

Palestinian rejectionism effectively forecloses the Oslo modality as a basis for negotiations. The Bush administration must make it clear to both sides that until they resolve their deep ideological differences, there is no place for an American president or secretary of state to micromanage an exercise in futility.

As in the case of Assad, the administration should warn Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, who are totally dependent on American goodwill, money, and support, that if he continues the policy of low-intensity war and terrorism, the US will turn its back on him.

Therefore, the institute's most significant recommendation is to "deter regional war by affirming the unwritten alliance with Israel, engaging with moderate Arab states, and warning regional adversaries."

As historical experience tells us, when the US speaks of equal treatment of the parties or turns its support away from Israel in one form or another, it is a prescription for war. Any American effort that, in the eyes of Israel's adversaries, is perceived as a move away from affinity with Israel will embolden its adversaries. The role of Arab moderates is extremely important. Arab allies of the US - Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco - should lend a shoulder to play a key role in supporting an American search for stability.

The other area of regional conflict for the US to deal with - in the short and long run - is Iraq.

Saddam is out of the box, contrary to the false assumptions of former secretary of state Madeleine Albright. The Clinton administration failed to either successfully end Saddam's regime or to prevail upon allies France and Russia to end their accommodation of the tyrant. Disregarding US, UN and other restrictions, and selling sufficient oil on the free market to re-establish an awesome arsenal, Saddam's target is now Israel.

He has offered the Arab rivals of Israel the help of the Iraqi army or a supply of modern weapons. I take Saddam's threats seriously. So should the Bush administration, and Secretary of State Colin Powell concurs.

An Iraqi war with Israel would mean the bloodiest Middle East war in the last 50 years of Arab-Israeli wars. It could involve nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction.

The long-term goal would be deterrence of proliferation of such weapons by both Iraq and Iran.

An American affinity with Israel must not distinguish between one Israeli regime and another. Isolating and estranging an Ariel Sharon regime would be no wiser than former president George Bush toppling the Shamir government. American isolation of Sharon would act as a lightning rod for Arafat's maximalist aspirations.

©2001 Jerusalem Post

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