To be outrageously iconoclastic among the Washington foreign-policy crowd is easy: Just suggest that the Israeli-Arab peace process is not merely pointless but actually damaging to America’s position in the Middle East and bad for both Israelis and Palestinians. Such a view is anathema not only to the liberal foreign-policy establishment, which instinctively does the peace process because Americans have been doing it for five decades (it’s what problem-solving, well-intentioned Americans do), but also to the establishment’s “realist” set, who usually view Israel as a strategic liability: Israel vs. 22 Arab countries; 6 million Jews vs. 425 million Arabs, with another billion Muslims howling from the bleachers.
Liberals and realists mix, of course, which is what we’ve got in Barack Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry. The president also gives off a whiff of a sentiment common on the left, especially in Europe and increasingly in Israel itself: The creation of Israel denationalized the Palestinians. America supported Israel’s birth, but failed, so the argument goes, to give equal justice to the Palestinians. And without justice for the Palestinians, the Middle East will not be stable. It’s a stunning tribute to the perdurability of this belief that even after the Great Arab Revolt—which has roiled the entire region, unleashing in Egypt the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood and a new wave of fascism; in Syria, regime savagery and virulent Islamic militancy; and in the Gulf, Mesopotamia, and the Levant, a Sunni-Shiite rivalry that could well provoke the spread of nuclear weapons—serious people in Washington want to spend America’s capital on talks between West Bank Palestinians and the Israelis, neither of whom appear to care as much about these discussions as American officials.
Some do want to move beyond the peace process. In Europe, and in many academic quarters in the United States, Israel’s birth is akin to original sin, a naqba or calamity as the Arabs put it, which now can be relieved only by a “one-state solution”—the Jewish homeland ceases to exist—since the Israelis simply will not make the concessions necessary for a “two-state solution” to work. The one-state solution, like the two-state approach advanced by Westerners feeling guilty about the Palestinians’ plight, has a strong moral pull for its advocates since they see Palestinian claims as at least equal to Jewish ones. Israel’s founding generation mostly fled lethal anti-Semitism in Europe and the Middle East. But anti-Semitism wouldn’t have become so acute among Muslims, many suggest, if modern Israel had never been born. Therefore Jewishness ought to be the minority identity in the Holy Land. By their years in residence and their numbers, Arabs have the more compelling case.
It’s astonishing that thoughtful people can actually advocate this scenario. (See the former Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent Hugh Pope’s memoir, Dining with Al-Qaeda, for a straightforward expression of a sophisticated Brit’s exasperation with Israeli “intransigence.”) Even the briefest trip to Israel, where rampant individualism and muscular capitalism have transformed a rather primitive socialist state into an economic, military, and cultural powerhouse, should suggest that the Jewish state isn’t going to self-immolate because of European distaste and Israeli angst. But bad ideas are sticky when fueled by Western guilt.
Although many anti-Zionists in America and especially abroad back the “peace process” as a way of righting a perceived wrong and, sometimes, camouflaging old-fashioned anti-Semitism, it is actually well-wishers of Israel who regard peace-processing as the eleventh commandment. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy both view the Middle East through an Israeli security lens, and both adamantly hope for a happy outcome through multilateral, American-guided diplomacy. Among members of the influential American Jewish Committee, which works hard to protect Jews worldwide, the peace process is almost as sacred as the determination to be politically bipartisan. American Jewry may not be overwhelmed by arguments about Palestinian rights, but it wants Israel to be secure, and the peace process is seen as the only path, however tortuous, to the permanent normalization of Israel’s existence.