It is a fact of life that in an American national elections, held once in four years, foreign policy is not a contentious issue. But this time around the policies of Israel, a revered ally of various US administrations, has time and again hit the front pages and, occasionally, the opinion pages of leading US newspapers but with hardly any serious criticism.
Coincidentally, several former senior government officials who played major roles in US Mideast policies, have voiced their opinions in lengthy articles in leading newspapers and magazines. But hardly any of them had exhorted US leaders for failing to compel Israel to reach, for a start, an honourable settlement with the Palestinians, for example, offering to end their 45-year-old occupation of about one-fifth of the original state.
Among the writers were Henry A. Kissinger, the former secretary of state; Dennis Ross, a special assistant to President Barack Obama on the Middle East until his resignation last December when he joined the pro-Israel think-tank, Washington Institute on Near East Policy (WINEP;) and Aaron D. Miller, an adviser to six secretaries of state and now a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Centre.
Kissinger wrote in The Washington Post on August 5 that US efforts in this respect “must be placed within a framework of USstrategic interests” and “requires that the various aspirants to a new order in the Middle East recognise that our contribution to their efforts will be measured by their compatibility with our interests and values.” He seemed concerned about the direction of the recent uprisings in the Middle East, wondering whether they serve “our and global interests or the means to achieve them”. Furthermore, he continued, “how do we handle the economic assistance, which may be the best, if not the only, means to influence the evolution?”
Two weeks later, the punch line of Ross stressed in the same newspaper that the new Egyptian government “must respect their international obligations, including the terms of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel”. He maintained that the Egyptian record so far “is not good”, citing for example, that the Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi, had recently “moved armed forces into the Sinai without first notifying the Israelis — a requirement of the peace treaty”.
“If this behaviour continues,” he underlined, “ US support, which will be essential for gaining international economic aid and fostering investment, will not be forthcoming”. His point: “Softening or fuzing our response at this point might be good for the Muslim Brotherhood, but it won’t be good for Egypt.”
Miller, in turn, recognises the burdens of the “special relationship” the US has with Israel but he maintains that “support for the security and well-being of Israel, with all its imperfections, is in accord with the broadest conception of the American national interest — supporting like-minded societies.”
Unabashedly, he continued in Foreign Policy magazine (August 15), “Israel also resonates powerfully at home in political terms, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of or defensive about”.
Aware of the American failure to end the conflict that has rocked the Middle East for decades and still does, he had this non-commital conclusion, refusing to blame any side — the US, Israel or the Palestinians: “Wake me up when the current Israeli government and the Palestinian [National] Authority get serious about doing something real.”
But Edward P. Djerejian, a former American ambassador to Syria and who had previously served in Beirut, did not mince any words in an interview with the Council on Foreign Affairs. “We have to understand,” he told Bernard Gwertzmann, consulting editor at the Council, “we have to understand that the United States cannot direct the course of political events in the Arab world, especially in the light of the Arab Awakening and the Arab Spring.” But the former ambassador, who is at present the founding director of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, suggested that “whatever we can do to influence the evolution of these societies under more stable, democratic and free economic paths is where the United States should be crafting its policies”.
Although the Arab view is hardly heard in the American media, The Palestine Centre in Washington, D.C. will be hosting on September 13 a panel discussion that will argue that “time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonisation of Palestinian land”, and thanks to the work of “growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future”.
George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at email@example.com.