Weekly Standard on November 1, 2013, published a Tablet article by Lee Smith on the Arab-Israeli peace process being over. Excerpts below:
This past weekend the White House clarified yet again what’s been apparent to everyone in the Middle East for quite a while now: The United States wants out, for real. “There’s a whole world out there,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice told the New York Times, “and we’ve got interests and opportunities in that whole world.”
To judge by the president’s decision making, Egypt and Syria apparently are no longer important parts of that world, nor is the shakeout from the Arab Spring, or preserving Washington’s special relationship with the Saudi oil kingdom, or other familiar features of American Middle East policy, like democracy promotion, which have been taken for granted by locals and the rest of the world alike. What matters seems to be getting out of the region faster…
The problem is that a deal with Iran, when taken together with a U.S. withdrawal from the region, means the end of the peace process. As an Israeli official visiting Washington told me last week, one result of the administration’s minimalist regional profile is that the Arab allies of the United States—from Jordan and Egypt to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council states—will no longer enjoy the luxury of being able to count on the United States to pursue and protect their national interests, which means that they’ll have to do it themselves in a region where, as President Barack Obama said in his speech at the U.N. General Assembly meeting last month, the leaders “avoid addressing difficult problems themselves.”
What that means is that Washington’s Arab partners who are most concerned about Iran, like Saudi Arabia, now have a choice: They can defend themselves with all the weaponry the American defense industry has sold them over the years—or they can get someone else to do it.
There is plenty of evidence that the Gulf Cooperation Council states have already reached the conclusion that using the Israeli air force to fight their wars may be no more inherently loathsome—and a good deal cheaper—than relying on the unreliable Americans.
Coordination between Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council states is reportedly higher than it’s ever been before. And military and security relations between Jerusalem and Egypt’s ruling military junta are excellent, as both countries face mutual foes like Hamas in Gaza and local franchises of al-Qaida in Sinai.
From the point of view of national realpolitik, the only people who should be thinking long and hard about the end of the Arab-Israeli peace process are American policymakers.
Maybe it’s good news then that the lake of crocodile tears shed for 80 years over the Palestinian cause is about to evaporate into the thin desert air because the United States is leaving, and the Arab regimes obviously have more important things to worry about now—like their own security and survival. Yet from an American standpoint the end of the peace process is unfortunate—and not because it was ever likely to bring about peace between Arabs and Israelis, or usher in a reign of good feeling and peaceful relations across the Middle East.
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U.S. policymakers lost the thread of its effective decades-long regional strategy when the Cold War ended. In the absence of the familiar global Soviet threat, Americans were easily overwhelmed by cries for a final peace deal that was arguably never in the American interest—since the perpetuation of the conflict by kicking the can down the road forever was the key to keeping both the Arabs and the Israelis firmly in the American fold.
For anyone who doubted that the Israeli-Palestinian crisis was simply a local problem that made for useful political theater and not an active threat to the peace and stability of the entire planet, the Arab Spring provided a helpful reminder of the region’s true underlying fault lines. Obama was in office for barely two years when the Tunisian revolution erupted in December 2010, and soon the established order was in jeopardy throughout the region. Obama stopped pushing Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas into negotiations because he eventually came to see that by forcing the issue he was getting nowhere and losing prestige in the process.
In retrospect, the Arab Spring was the first real assault on the peace process because it undermined the regional status quo that the United States had underwritten for four decades and kept in stasis with the peace process. Egypt and Jordan had treaties with Israel, and Syria was stalemated. The peace process was capable of checking states and their regional ambitions, but it had no power over the internal dynamics of Arab societies.
It is possible that, in time, Obama will be seen to be a visionary who understood that American interests would be best served by putting as much distance as possible between us and a messy, violent part of the world. Few people think that now.
…if the Israelis and the Arabs have a problem with Iran, let them work out it out themselves, while the United States moves on to more important issues, like health care, or China policy.
But the reason the American withdrawal from the Middle East is a problem is that we already know what the region looks like without the United States—it looks like Syria, with every regional actor, from Saudi Arabia and Iran, al-Qaida and Hezbollah, at war with each other.
Lee Smith is a senior editor at the Weekly Standard and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. He is also the author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations.