‘False Religion’ Is How Long-Time U.S. Aide Now Describes Middle East Peace Process

By YOUSSEF IBRAHIM, Special to the Sun | April 21, 2010

An architect of the America’s Middle East peace process, who over the past 30 years served both Republican and Democratic administrations, is describing the continued pursuit of mediation among Palestinians and Israelis as “a false religion,” a pointless effort that will only meet with failure.

“I am no longer a believer,’’ Aaron Miller asserted in an article published in Foreign Policy and in an interview aired last night on CNN prime time news program with John King.

Mr. Miller, who since 1978 has played a key role in several administrations and became a senior advisor to several secretaries of state, said the United States has far too many other priorities in the Middle East including two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a serious preoccupation with Iran’s impending status as a nuclear power to expend more energy on the Mideast peace process. He also argued that in terms of strategic priorities, peace between Israelis and Palestinians ranks far below the America’s policies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Mr. Miller described the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians as moribund and predicted that it would be a losing proposition for President Obama. He noted that the logic behind the exercise now is an unthinking and automated process, which he described as “a sort of catechism we all could recite by heart among State Department officials” instead of as a strategic necessity. He said he has concluded that the Arab-Israeli conflict is ‘’intractable’’.

“Like all religions, the peace process has developed a dogmatic creed, with immutable first principles,” Mr. Miller wrote.

He said that despite the many phases through which the Middle East has gone, including the emergence of a hegemonic Iran, substantive changes and conflicts within and among Arab and Muslim countries, and the emergence of radical Islam, strategic thinking on the Mideast remained frozen around one unchallenged myth: namely that once Israel returned to its 1967 borders all other issues in the region will be easier to resolve.

Arguing that Mr. Obama became “too fast a convert” to this religion, Mr. Miller said the “new president soon hit the Arab media running as a kind of empathizer-in-chief, ratcheting up expectations even as Israelis increasingly found him tone-deaf to their needs.”

He said the President was faced with rejections of his approach by Palestinians, Israelis, and virtually all Arab countries in his first year in office. He did not reject forever the idea of negotiations. “Bottom line: Negotiations can work, but both Arabs and Israelis (and American leaders) need to be willing and able to pay the price. And they are not,” is the way he characterized his conclusion.

Mr. Miller’s views echoed those of so many Arab commentators who for well over two years now have been critical of the Palestinian Arabs, hinting that the Arab-Israeli conflict is not their priority either.

Tarek Al Homaid, editor in chief of the Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat, echoed that overwhelming view in an article on Sunday. “We all know that the ‘enemy’ unites people except in the case of those Palestinians. We rarely hear of a people such as the Palestinians who strive to kill one another and accuse each other of treason. What is truly catastrophic is that Palestinians continue to do this, oblivious to the fact that the rest of the Arab world no longer cares for them or about them,” he wrote.

Mr. Al Homaid went further, noting: “Arab countries today are consumed by their internal priorities and problems, and all of them know well there is no gain in the Palestinian issue. It seems the only ones who do not know that are the leaders of Palestinians factions be they Hamas of the PLO or the others too busy shooting at one another.”

Mr. Miller did not address the Arab world policies in his article but argued that Mr. Obama surrounded himself with key figures, such as chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and Secretary of State Clinton, who despite all the realities of a changing greater Middle East and Islamic world, continue to pursue what he called “the peace religion” and a tougher line toward Israel. He argued that it is a loosing proposition because the Arabs have to face a new set of realities, Iran first among them.

“Does the old thinking about peacemaking apply to new realities? Is the Arab-Israeli conflict still the core issue? And after two decades of inflated hopes followed by violence and terror, and now by directionless stagnation, can we still believe that negotiations will deliver,” asked Mr. Miller.

He answers his own question in the negative, declaring Mr. Obama’s first 15 months a failure when it comes to the Middle East. “In 2009, the president pushed the Israelis, the Arabs, and the Palestinians to get negotiations going and was rebuffed by all three,’’ Mr. Miller says.

Things are not likely to change, Mr. Miller argued because Mr. Obama’s actions are devoid of a broader strategy on one hand and are without partners willing to embrace his efforts.

Part of America’s problem is that it faces not countries but Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. In explaining this new complicated situation Mr. Miller said that “big decisions require strong leaders,” such as the late Jordanian king, Hussein, or the late premier of Israel, Menachem Begin, who had “command of their politics to make a deal stick.” There are no such leaders today, Mr. Miller suggested.


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