Philip Zelikow: US needs to take active role in settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Roundup: Historians' Take

... The significance of the Arab-Israeli dispute across these problems is, I think, obvious to all of you. What I would want to emphasize is if you see the threats in a way something like the way I’ve just described them, think then about what is the coalition you need to amass in order to combat those threats. Who are the key members of that coalition? You can imagine the United States, key European allies, the state of Israel and the Arab moderates—Arabs who seek a peaceful future. You could call it the coalition of the builders, not just a coalition of the willing. The coalition of the builders as opposed to the coalition of the destroyers.

What would bind that coalition and help keep them together is a sense that the Arab-Israeli issues are being addressed, that they see a common determination to sustain an active policy that tries to deal with the problems of Israel and the Palestinians. We don’t want this issue doesn’t have the real corrosive effects that it has, or the symbolic corrosive effects that it causes in undermining some of the friends we need friends to confront some of the serious dangers we must face together.

That’s kind of a broad overview of the points I wanted to make to help understand the administration’s approach to building security in the broader Middle East. It’s an extraordinary challenge. It’s the kind of challenge that America and its friends have lived through before in times that sometimes seem very dark. But it’s important to understand the breadth of the challenge we face and to try to work together sometimes across party lines, across some of our pettier divisions in dealing with them and forging a brighter future. ...

For various reasons, I believe the Europeans and the Arab moderates are central allies in the coalition we need to forge against our most dangerous enemies. Now, if you start with that as a premise then what you always need to do when you share power is you share a common mission with friends. You have to think about what they want and what they need too.

For the Arab moderates and for the Europeans, some sense of progress and momentum on the Arab-Israeli dispute is just a sine qua non for their ability to cooperate actively with the United States on a lot of other things that we care about. We can rail against that belief; we can find it completely justifiable, but it’s fact. That means an active policy on the Arab-Israeli dispute is an essential ingredient to forging a coalition that deals with the most dangerous problems.

I would take that even further. I would say that it is essential for the state of Israel because, in some ways, I do not believe that the Palestinian threat, per se, is the most dangerous threat to the future of the state of Israel. If Israel, for example, is especially worried about Iran and sees it as an existential threat, then it’s strongly in the interest of Israel to want the American-led coalition to work on an active policy that begins to normalize that situation. It’s an essential glue that binds a lot of these problems together. And so ironically, even if your primary concern is not the Palestinian danger, you have to give it primary attention while you’re looking at other problems as well.

In Lebanon, what we’ve seen is an important illustration that’s still underway. It is a test of whether of the viability of different kinds of solutions to a security problem, and clearly some mix of unilateral military action and military deterrence combined with agile diplomacy is going to be part of that, which is one reason why I think it’s so important that our efforts in Lebanon succeed and one reason why it would be a challenge for Iran and Hizballah and Syria to decide whether they want they want to be spoilers and, if so, be prepared to pay the cost they will be associated with being spoilers and make sure those costs are high. So then you see that if you want to—(audio break)—Israeli issues become very important. One other brief point, since you alluded to the possible formation of a National Unity government. I want to reiterate that, from the United States point of view, a National Unity government cannot succeed if it doesn’t meet the Quartet conditions. From the view of our policy, the quartet conditions are an essential prerequisite not only to obtaining the international assistance that the government will be seeking, but in fact, to obtain the kind of assistance from the state of Israel that will be indispensable for the viability of any Palestinian budget or economy.

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daniel e teodoru - 9/30/2006

When the Cold War ended I thought Stalinism would
become a bad memory for me to study as a pathology of
history. But the perennial Middle East Crisis in its
current form has proceeded with both sides exercising
their Stalinist prerogatives.

The Arabs-- whom I personally saw trained in East
Europe in the 1980s to become adept at Stalnist terror
tactics of resistance developed during the Nazi
occupation of Russia-- are resisting Israel, finally
most effectively, using these techniques constantly
into yet another generation of struggle.

The Israelis, on the other hand, who had inherited as
immigrants many Stalinist occupation secret
police, is applying those same ocuppation terror
methods used in East Europe to attain "a
secure environment," in the words of Stalin.

But History teaches us that though both techniques
deny the other victory, neither permits any societal
evolution. As a result, Israel and her Arab neighbors
are frozen in a Stalinist point in time that the rest
of the world has long abandoned in a global search for
peaceful economic development through the application
of technology.

Perhaps, our war on terror is also as pointless, given
that we give our children to support Bush's war on
terror while fully supporting terrorism with our gas
guzzling SUVs. This triangle of bloodshed and
stagnation can only be stopped by a consolidated
scientific effort to end our dependence on fossil
fuel. Then, the Israelis can become the "light onto
the [Arab] nations" that leads them out of the
darkness of one-resource economies and into high-tech
diversity. One can only hope that America as the
"unipolar leader" will lead in the effort to break the
bloody triangle.

Daniel E. Teodoru