Why Is It Always about Israel?

Have you seen the sly "demotivational" posters produced by Despair.com?

Resident Fellow David Frum
Resident Fellow David Frum
They look exactly like traditional motivational posters--pictures of lofty mountains, soaring eagles, etc.--but with subversively unexpected messages. My favourite: a poster that shows a half-dozen hands--male and female, black, white and brown--clasped together in solidarity, over the words: "None of us is as dumb as all of us."

I could not think of a more apt description of the just released report of the Iraq Study Group, also known as the Baker-Hamilton commission. The group included genuine Washington eminences like former secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger and shrewd players like Vernon Jordan. I doubt that any one of them on his or her own could have produced anything quite so feeble and unconvincing as they have all produced together.

Among the report's big ideas: a major new American diplomatic push to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

The report asserts:

"The United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict."

That's a familiar enough thought. British Prime Minister Tony Blair made exactly the same point in his address last month to London's annual Lord Mayor's banquet. "[A] major part of the answer to Iraq lies not in Iraq itself but outside it. . . . [W]e should start with Israel/Palestine. That is the core."

Nor is Blair alone. You can hear versions of this same idea from almost every foreign ministry, think-tank and newspaper editorial board in the developed world.

If pure force of repetition could make a statement true, then the "centrality" of the Palestinian issue to the Iraq conflict would rank up there with Newton's laws.

But before our brains are battered into acquiescence, can we request an explanation of how this relationship between the Palestinians and Iraq is supposed to work?

An al-Qaeda terrorist detonates a car bomb in a crowd of schoolchildren--and in revenge, a Shiite militiaman kidnaps and murders his Sunni neighbours. How exactly are they motivated by the Arab-Israeli dispute 600 miles away? How would an end to that dispute persuade them to live in peace with their neighbours?

The government of Iran is supplying weapons and training to anti-American militias, in the hope of driving the U.S. out of Iraq and establishing itself as the paramount power in the oil-rich Persian Gulf. Would the Iranian mullahs feel any less eagerness to rule the Gulf if the Palestinians had a seat in the UN General Assembly?

Tony Blair suggests that the failure to solve the Palestinian problem enflames and radicalizes the Middle East. This suggestion is not totally false. But it raises this question: Of all the dozens and hundreds of ethnic and territorial disputes to roil our planet since 1945, why is this one so uniquely unsolvable? Germans do not blow themselves up in the streets of Gdansk to protest Polish rule over Danzig. Greeks do not hijack schoolbuses full of Turkish schoolchildren to demand the return of Smyrna. Bolivia does not wage endless war against Chile to revise the outcome of the War of the Pacific.

The Arabs could have had peace with Israel on easy terms at any time since 1949. They have persistently refused it. The Palestinians could have had a state in the West Bank and Gaza at any time since 1967.

They have disdained that offer too.

Might it not be closer to the truth to say that Arab radicalism is the cause of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute--not the result of it? There is no peace because Israel's neighbours--and too many of the world's Muslims--cannot accept the right of a non-Arab, non-Muslim minority to live unsubjugated in the Middle East. That is the true "core" of the dispute, and it cannot be fixed by negotiation.

Indeed, it could well be argued that these endless attempts by Western powers to negotiate Israeli-Palestinian peace make the problem worse, not better. At Camp David in 2000, for example, Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat the most favourable deal ever offered to the Palestinians. Arafat rejected the offer, and started a war to get better terms. He lost. Did that kill the deal?

Not for long. If Blair and Baker have their way, the U.S. will soon press Israel to revive and improve it.

From the point of view of the Arabs and Palestinians, Western peace efforts create what a stockbroker would recognize as a unique one-way option. If they win, they win everything. If they lose, they lose nothing. There is no reason for them not to continue rolling the dice forever. But why would a savvy deal-maker like James Baker propose to sign up the United States for yet another doomed, futile round of this crooked game?

David Frum is a resident fellow at AEI.

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About the Author


  • David Frum is the author of six books, most recently, Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again (Doubleday, 2007). While at AEI, he studied recent political, generational, and demographic trends. In 2007, the British newspaper Daily Telegraph named him one of America's fifty most influential conservatives. Mr. Frum is a regular commentator on public radio's Marketplace and a columnist for The Week and Canada's National Post.

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