Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Hagel Falls Into the Israel-Palestinian Trap. By Jeffrey Goldberg.

Hagel Falls Into the Israel-Palestinian Trap. By Jeffrey Goldberg. Bloomberg, November 6, 2013.


The second observation is larger: Hagel, like much of Washington’s foreign policy elite, still seems enamored of the idea that reaching a final agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians would help solve many of the Middle East’s other problems. I wasn’t that surprised, in fact, that he listed this item first in his description of America’s strategic challenges. Hagel is partial to a theory, known in shorthand as “linkage,” that is no longer operative in reality. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is irrelevant to the great earthquakes of recent Middle East history: the revolutions of the Arab Spring, and the nascent civil war between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. But it is still an article of faith among very smart people that a peace treaty would lead to broad tranquility.
Hagel is more nuanced when making the linkage argument than, say, General Jim Jones, the former national security adviser, who once said that if God had “appeared in front of President Obama in 2009 and said if he could do one thing on the face of the planet . . . to make the world a better place and give people more hope and opportunity for the future, I would venture that it would have something to do with finding the two-state solution.”
It is not just that Obama, if ever given the chance, should probably ask God to eradicate infectious disease or end poverty (if I had to bet, I would guess Obama would ask him to stop the rise of the oceans). Even if Obama’s choices were limited to a basket of Middle East issues, he would be smarter to ask God to end the division between Sunni and Shiite, or to establish democratic governments in Arab states that would be responsive to the needs of their people, or – and we’re just blue-skying here obviously – he would ask God to liberate women from the yoke of fundamentalist Islam. An Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty would not address the main root causes of Middle Eastern dysfunction.
As Dennis Ross, the former Middle East peace negotiator, argues, the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is an important issue to solve, but it’s important to solve for its own sake. I spoke to Ross after my talk with Hagel, and he said: “I do accept that some of our friends would be less on the defensive” if there were peace between Israelis and Palestinians. “And I would say that it could take away one of the recruit tools for terrorists. But just one, and there are many.”
An Israeli-Palestinian peace accord will not fix problems of illiteracy, water shortage, misogyny, ethnic violence. It won’t make Egypt governable or stop Iraq from dissolving. And it certainly won’t stop the Syrian civil war. The U.S. should, of course, try to bring about peace between the two sides (not that this is a great time to do so), but it shouldn’t be diverted from more important tasks, and it shouldn’t believe that a peace treaty is a panacea.