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Requiem for the Peace Process

With the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Middle East diplomacy has entered its mannerist phase.

3:10 PM, Jul 31, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
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No doubt Gen. Mattis really did hear from his Arab interlocutors about the importance of the Palestinian issue. Perhaps he even heard it from Jordan’s King Abdullah II who has warned repeatedly over the years, like his father Hussein before him, that the window for peace is closing and we’d better get a deal done now before the Middle East goes up in flames. Astonishingly, in spite of the many decades worth of warnings from the Hashemite monarchs, the Middle East is still here.

As it turns out, what’s usually most important is what Arab moderates don’t typically tell American officials and journalists about the Palestinian issue. For instance, were Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, Hamas would rout the PA in a matter of months and leave King Abdullah with an Islamist group on his Western border in the middle of a three-year-long upheaval in the region that has left a trail of Arab rulers—moderate Arab rulers—in its wake. What keeps Abdullah up at night right now is the recurring nightmare of Kerry sinking his million-to-one shot and getting a deal for a failed Palestinian state.

Of course the Arab moderates marching through Mattis’s office berated the United States over the Palestinians, but what about the information that truly affects U.S. security? Here’s an admonition that might have been useful: “Sure, General, the conflict with Israel is a problem, but what’s really going to bring the house down on everyone’s head, including America’s, is if this 1,400-year-old Sunni-Shiite war goes hot again, especially if it hits the geographical center of the region, say, in Syria.” With Obama having turned his back on the Middle East, it would be salutary if, in lieu of a peace process, American officials used the time-out to re-evaluate what they have been told about the region and in turn relay to American audiences who, since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, have the common good sense to recognize the key issue is not that Americans won’t force Israelis to make peace with Arabs, but that the Arabs can’t make peace with themselves.

The peace process has entered its mannerist phase—it is nothing but a series of empty elegant formalisms. Does Martin Indyk, Kerry’s newly named Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, really need to add a sequel to his memoirs of the peace process, Innocent Abroad—Again? This is among the most cynical initiatives in the annals of American diplomacy, for Kerry sought a peace process against the wishes of the White House he serves. As the AP reported last month, “Some U.S. officials have scoffed at the notion that Kerry is getting anywhere [on Mideast peace], though they allow that the White House has given him until roughly September to produce a resumption of negotiations.” In other words, the administration gave Kerry a deadline, and if he couldn’t get it done by then he would have to drop his peace process and move on to something else.

Under normal circumstances, if the president of the United States says you have a few months to solve the region’s most famously thorny issue, you’d walk away from the meeting understanding that the president wants you to drop it. The last thing Obama wants is a reprise of the peace process to remind the world that this was one of his first-term failures, and that by repeatedly beating up on Israel he alienated many supporters. Under normal circumstances, the secretary of state would find another venue in which to exercise his diplomatic energies, but not if it’s John Kerry, for the peace process is his destiny.

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