The National (Editorial)
November 13, 2009 - 1:00am

There’s an increasing sentiment in the US, particularly among the liberal Left, that America has done all it can in the Middle East. If the Israelis and Palestinians don’t want peace, then why should America make them? Even more pernicious is the notion that withdrawing from the debate will allow the two sides to grow up and solve problems like adults. This is false. If the US had entered the process by choice, then it had no business being involved in the first place; but that is not the case. America, the region, and indeed the world, has a vested interest in Middle East peace and a Palestinian state.

We need no greater reminder than the events on September 11, 2001. Al Qa’eda and its global terrorist agenda did not appear out of thin air, nor does it operate in a vacuum. It is the by-product of several decades of regional underdevelopment, poor foreign policy initiatives from the West and others and instability as well as Cold War and post-Cold war power struggles. In short, it exists because the people who support and comprise its membership have several axes to grind. The greatest of these is the Israel-Palestine conflict: 60 years of injustice do more to swell their ranks than any warped interpretation of Islam.

With economic, strategic and security efforts intimately bound up with regional players, the US now has a very real stake in seeing a measure of peace emerge from the turbulence of its past excesses. Conflicts such as the one between Israel and Palestine have confounded even the savviest of politicians at the most opportune of moments (one recalls to mind the image of Bill Clinton, Yassir Arafat and Yatzhik Rabin on the White House lawn before Rabin was assassinated). But pursuing the end to such conflicts are in America’s – and the region’s – best interest.

The politics of previous eras may have allowed frustrated officials to throw their hands up and backpedal, but international pressure on the Obama administration to make good on building bridges in the Muslim world, as well growing worry over Iran’s influence, won’t allow for a new permutation of ambiguity. The US also knows that in encouraging a peace deal, it boosts its security efforts by removing one of the fundamental principles of al Qaeda’s raison d’être: taking up arms against the plight of the long-suffering Palestinians.

Last week’s private meeting between President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu proves that the US has not outlived its influential regional role. Mr Netanyahu’s willingness to meet Mahmoud Abbas despite his waning clout took no little political manoeuvring. And politics aside, all three administrations seem at least to agree in theory that institution-building and economic development are essential to the Palestinian notion of statehood.

Palestine and Israel are one piece – albeit a large one – of regional stability. The US knows that it has an enduring stake in seeing it through, despite the remonstrations from a frustrated public and grumbling countries who resent its intervention. Always toeing the line between rhetoric and reality, the US must pursue its own interests while deferring to the policy it has undertaken to encourage better ties with the region. That, perhaps, is the most complex reconciliation dance of all.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017