Lost Its Way?

August 7, 2013
BY Dr. Robert O. Freedman

One can only applaud the restarting of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank. Yet, given the other problems the U.S. currently faces in the Middle East, it is an open question as to whether Secretary of State John Kerry should have spent so much time on Israel-Palestinian peace talks in the last six months. The U.S. has let every other problem in the region worsen.

If the current peace talks bear fruit in the form of an agreement, and if Hamas signs on to it, then both U.S. and Israeli positions in the Middle East will be strengthened.

From the U.S. perspective, an
Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement will weaken the position of Islamists, who constantly attack the U.S.
because of its support of Israel. It will also strengthen the position of its Arab allies, who are vulnerable to the criticism of their domestic opponents over their government’s alignment with the U.S.

So long as proper security safeguards are enacted in the peace treaty, Israel will no longer have to choose
between being a Jewish state and a democratic state. It will avoid the danger of becoming an apartheid state should there one day be more Arabs than Jews under Israel’s control.

Nonetheless, the prospects for more than another Israeli-Palestinian interim agreement are limited. Why didn’t Kerry spend more time on Egypt, Syria and Iraq?

When the U.S. announced a multimillion-dollar grant to Egypt during Kerry’s visit there several months ago, the Egyptian opposition, most of whom refused to meet with him, complained that just as the U.S. had backed the dictator Hosni Mubarak, it was now backing the dictator Mohammed Morsi. Then, when Morsi was overthrown, the U.S. failed to call the
military’s action a coup d’état and failed to cut off military aid, further damaging relations with Egypt’s new military leaders. The U.S. has been publically castigated by both pro- and anti-Morsi forces. It remains to be seen if the U.S. has any influence left in Egypt.

In Syria, it’s worse. The U.S. del-ayed intervention into that country’s civil war, which has cost an estimated 100,000 lives. Recently, it agreed
to give aid to the opposition — too little, too late. By now, the Assad regime is on the offensive, with assistance from Hezbollah and Iran.
Syrian opposition is badly divided, and Islamists have come to the fore as a major force within the opposition. By delaying military force, the U.S. has lost all influence.

Finally, Iraq: With the U.S. having pulled its forces out of that country several years ago, it has lost all influence, just at a time when Iraq is facing two civil wars. The first, already under way, is between the 20 percent Sunni minority and the Shia majority of Nouri al-Maliki, who has all
but excluded Sunnis from positions of power within his government,
despite promises to the contrary. The other civil war is between Iraq’s Kurds and the rest of the country, as the Kurds wish to maximize their
autonomy. Had the U.S. paid more attention to this issue, it might not have deteriorated so badly.

The Obama administration’s neglect of critical Middle Eastern issues may cost the U.S. far more than what an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will achieve.

Neil Rubin is the former senior editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times. He is teaching a course on the history of Zionism from Biblical times until 1948 at Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University.

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