A writer can’t tackle a subject as immense as the United States and the Middle East without a kind of working conundrum. Patrick Tyler, a former New York Times and Washington Post correspondent, does not tell us what prompted him to write A World of Trouble, other than the declassification of some documents; but his conundrum is fairly easy to infer from the book’s first chapter, which chronicles President Eisenhower’s strong response to Israel during the aftermath of the 1956 Sinai War. Roughly, it is this:
The United States had reasons for becoming Israel’s patron after the Six-Day War in 1967, but the continuing conflict has seriously damaged America’s relations in the Middle East and across the Muslim world. And there is plenty of evidence–ever since Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser accepted UN Resolution 242 in July 1970–that at least Egypt and Jordan were prepared for a peace deal if the United States could have forced Israel back into its pre-1967 boundaries (allaying Israeli security fears with, say, a defense pact). During all this time, Israel has been almost entirely dependent on the United States for diplomatic cover, guns and money. During most of this time, US policy has been that Israel’s colonization of the West Bank is “an obstacle to peace.” Yet successive presidents allowed Israel a free hand while successive prime ministers expanded settlements to more than half a million people, a great many of them neo-Zionist fanatics–people who are inarguably an (arguably the) obstacle to peace. Why did these American presidents not dictate peace terms to Israel–by 1974 a client state–the way Eisenhower did in 1957? Was this incapacity or reluctance really, as some have famously charged, the work of the Israel lobby?
The good news you derive from Tyler’s book–if good is the word for it–is that you cannot explain US foreign policy as the product of any permanent force, or quirk, of domestic politics. There are complex stories behind presidential responses. Yes, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has been influential; but you also need to consider factors like presidential ideology, real international rivals, varying levels of political vulnerability, narcissism and sheer stupidity. Tyler’s book exposes so many presidents, in so many diplomatic fixes, that we derive something like a comparative taxonomy just from reading through it. And when you project Barack Obama into the obvious categories–worldly versus naive, vulnerable versus popular, and so forth–it seems clear that no president since Eisenhower is better positioned to bring Israel into line with an American version of, and interest in, regional peace. Obama has now delivered his Cairo speech. Will he–can he–follow through?
By the end of 1956, Tyler reminds us, Israel occupied most of the Sinai Peninsula, after attacking Nasser’s forces in late October. The Israeli government was made up of virtually the same people who would be in power during the Six-Day War; their justifications for making the occupation of the Sinai permanent were ones that would become familiar after 1967: control of Palestinian terrorism, strategic depth through territorial expansion, “deterrence.” The black joke at the time was that Hitler had swum to Egypt and become nasser (“wet” in Yiddish). Actually, though the Egyptian president spoke of rallying the “Arab nation” against colonialism, he shifted away from American patronage only after Eisenhower’s powerful secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, failed to deliver on a promise to build a high dam at Aswan. Nasser then acquired an enormous quantity of tanks and MIGs from the Soviets. He also nationalized the Suez Canal.
Israeli Prime Minster David Ben-Gurion, British Prime Minister Anthony Eden and France’s Guy Mollet had plotted the whole “crisis” in advance. Israel would say that its invasion was to pre-empt insurgents operating from the Egyptian-controlled Gaza Strip, where about 1 million Palestinian refugees languished in camps. But this would serve as a pretext for England and France to intervene and reoccupy the canal zone. Ben-Gurion had brushed aside his foreign minister Moshe Sharett’s secret contacts with Nasser and wanted urgently to pre-empt Egypt’s assimilation of Soviet arms. He also wanted to open the port of Eilat, blockaded by Egypt at Sharm el-Sheikh since the 1949 cease-fire, and turn his newly minted Israel Defense Forces into a shaper of both diplomatic facts and the immigrant Hebrew nation. He was already developing a nuclear bomb.
And Ben-Gurion was not without a grand design that might well have appealed to cold warriors like Dulles. He had presented to his co-conspirators a plan that entailed Israel’s annexing not only a large swath of the Sinai but also the West Bank of the young King Hussein’s Kingdom of Jordan and southern Lebanon up to the Litani–while France installed a sympathetic regime in Damascus. Meanwhile, Britain’s client, the Hashemite regime in Baghdad, would annex what was left of cousin Hussein’s East Bank. Eden and Mollet, to their credit, refused to play Sykes and Picot to Ben-Gurion’s Jabotinsky. But British and American intelligence agents (the head of the CIA was Dulles’s brother Allen) were indeed plotting a coup in Syria. The Dulles brothers had, after all, already engineered the toppling of Mohammed Mosaddeq in Iran in 1953, reinstalling the shah.
Nevertheless, Eisenhower and his secretary of state were furious–and not only because the plot was hatched without telling them. For America had other interests, too–most obviously, in Persian Gulf oil fields and desert kingdoms. Eisenhower and Dulles were founders of the United Nations and wished to establish a stable order in the Middle East where international corporations could operate and that was not a necessary theater of cold war confrontation, as Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia had become. Besides, how could Dulles discredit the Soviet Union for its suppression of the Hungarian revolution while two of NATO’s leading members crushed Nasser and re-entered the Canal Zone? How could America sponsor the Saudi regime when the region, inflamed by Israel’s triumphs and imperial associations, was turned toward Nasserism and against the West?
Stymied in the UN Security Council, where England and France had a veto, Dulles pressed the General Assembly to call on them to withdraw their forces. A resolution was approved, and they were out within a week. What was left to contend with was Israel’s occupation of the Sinai. Ben-Gurion talked tough. Dulles and Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson answered with the creation of a UN international peacekeeping force, and Pearson warned, “You run the risk of losing all your friends.” Tiny Israel was almost entirely reliant on the good graces of Western powers that were, in turn, beholden to the United States. Israel, it is true, enjoyed Congressional support, especially from the Senate majority leader, Lyndon Johnson, who was surrounded, like most Democratic leaders, by party bosses and influential Jewish friends–Abe Fortas, Arthur Krim–whose liberalism seemed of a piece with the saga of Zionism. Yet Dulles would not be moved. Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai was an American interest.
In what Tyler calls the administration’s “finest hour,” Eisenhower went on television in February 1957 and acknowledged that Israel should have free shipping to Eilat. He spoke of the UN charter and of UN forces ensuring free navigation. But of Israel seeking “something more,” Eisenhower added: “Should a nation which attacks and occupies foreign territory in the face of United Nations disapproval be allowed to impose conditions on its own withdrawal?” Dulles told Israelis that they “were on the verge of a catastrophe.” (Tyler’s narration, here and in the rest of the book, is convincing if slightly overdramatized: “Dulles could see that he was up against a lioness…. [As he] walked [Foreign Minister Golda] Meir to the door, he could not let her have the last word.”)
That was that, and Ben-Gurion knew it. By the end of March 1957, Ben-Gurion had withdrawn Israeli forces from the Sinai, though with gains Israelis did not think trivial at the time. The port of Eilat was opened to Israeli shipping, which meant oil from the shah’s Iran. It also meant flourishing relations between decolonized sub-Saharan African countries like Nkrumah’s Ghana and “socialist” Israel, which dispatched military and agricultural advisers (often the former in the guise of the latter).
On the whole, this turned out to be Israel’s golden age of state building, Hebrew cultural innovation and immigrant absorption. In a bittersweet twist of fate, a good many of the immigrants from North Africa were stampeded to Israel by the reaction of Arab governments to the 1956 invasion. The UN placed buffering troops in the Sinai, “the umbrella,” as Abba Eban complained to UN Secretary General U Thant in the aftermath of the 1967 war, that would be taken away “as soon as it begins to rain”; it would indeed take another war for Israel to prove it could not be destroyed. Still, occupation of the Sinai would hardly have made new wars less likely. As Israelis learned bitterly in 1973, occupation made war inevitable.
Tyler’s account of Eisenhower and Ben-Gurion is clearly meant to trigger a thought: why has no subsequent president approached matters quite this way? Should we assume that Israel will always be a third rail–that the Israel lobby has made American pressure incredible? Tyler takes for granted that such questions fuel growing skepticism, in and out of Israel and the Palestinian territories, about the prospects for any new peace negotiations. (Disclosure: Tyler interviewed me in 2005 when he was getting started on his book.) Whether or not the Palestinian Authority creates a unity government–or Israel reaches a deal with Syria over the Golan–skeptics assume that Israel’s government will continue to come up shy of an acceptable offer to the Palestinians, especially regarding the settlements and Jerusalem. The only hope, though Tyler is tactful about spelling it out, is for a US president willing to make Israeli elites fear diplomatic isolation more than they fear the collapse of national solidarity. Diplomacy, to use the phrase of CBS’s veteran correspondent Bob Simon, means putting Israelis “into a panic.”
Tyler does not get into this, but we must be clear about the dynamic here, since new generations of correspondents have a way of writing about Israeli politics without his, or Simon’s, sense of history. The problem is not some spontaneous drift “to the right” in Israel owing to, say, Hamas’s missiles or Ahmadinejad’s threats. Israel, after all, has been integrating these territories for forty years; Hamas did not even exist during the first twenty. Of course Israelis distrust Arab intentions, and vice versa. But although Tyler doesn’t get into this, polls have shown for many years that a slight majority of Israelis would want to do a deal anyway–actually, a large majority of globalist professional and entrepreneurial elites in greater Tel-Aviv. Assume peace with Palestine, and the lives of Israelis on the coastal plain will change, if at all, for the better. The problem is that the Israeli population of greater Tel-Aviv is a decreasing majority relative to Jewish settlers and Orthodox residents of Jerusalem–call them “Judeans”–and the less well-educated Mizrahi and ultranationalist Russian immigrants who tend to support them. The Israeli right does not oppose a deal the way residents of New Hampshire oppose an income tax. For them, Greater Israel and a policy of deterrence is a way of life, inextricably bound up with sustaining a “Jewish” state–not only against Palestine but in spite of Israel’s Arab minority, a fifth of its citizens.
“Judeans,” in other words, have developed a world apart–theocratic, militant, tribalist–though many of them, in fact, are wards of the state, supported by state-supplied settlement infrastructure, family allowances and religious schools. (Just after Obama’s speech, I watched one strapping settler tell Israeli television that the American president had been very professional and good on human rights but that he’d quoted the Talmud, and if he’d really read it he’d know that the land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel.) Judeans may half believe that one fine morning Iran’s mullahs will accept the incineration of Tehran and Qom for the pleasure of incinerating Tel-Aviv. Yet when they speak of existential threats, what they actually fear is the return of a couple of million Palestinian refugees to East Jerusalem and West Bank towns, transforming the city into an Arabic-speaking megalopolis, much as Tel-Aviv is a Hebrew-speaking one. They fear Arab rights in the state of Israel–and the very concept of an inclusive Israeliness. They regard Palestinian nationalism, in fact, much the way Arabs on the coastal plain in 1948 regarded Zionism, as bound to bring a flood of immigrants that will overwhelm their way of life.
So no Israeli leader, Tyler knows, will confront Judeans, many of them armed with automatic weapons, for the sake of Palestinians–who, Benjamin Netanyahu warns, just might fire missiles at Ben-Gurion Airport. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Fatah’s Mahmud Abbas reportedly got stuck in talks over such matters as the town of Ariel, smack-dab between Ramallah and Jenin; the status of Jerusalem; and Palestinian refugees–always the five-foot leap over a seven-foot pit. Why should Olmert have conceded things that would tear Israel apart?
On the other hand–so Tyler’s story of Dulles instructs–how long can any Israeli leader dare to defy an America administration that would lead the Western powers with a plan of its own, rooted in what Obama called “interests” of its own? Tyler might have added that Israeli moderates need the specter of American abandonment–of diplomatic isolation leading to economic isolation, a grave threat to Israel’s high-tech economy–to confront Judeans and win back at least the Russian Israelis, who did not leave the Soviet Union to live in a little Jewish Pakistan.
But what, then, of the Israel lobby? Dulles, shmulles? Actually, the idea that presidents have been trapped by American Jewish pressure–and that Obama is bound to be–does not stand up to Tyler’s history. It is better to rely on the taxonomy he implies, even if the intersecting categories are not airtight and every administration is not just one thing or another.
First, we might categorize presidents according to their knowledge of the region–if not their subtlety about the Arab world, their sophistication about the developing world more generally–as compared with, say, a Manichaean ideology in which preemption of dark forces takes precedence over any peace, which could anyway never be trusted. The latter view was hammered into a platform by neoconservatives during the late 1970s–one that cast America in a perpetual fight against evil (serially, “evil empire,” “radical evil,” “axis of evil”) and cast Israel as America’s biggest aircraft carrier. Second, we might categorize presidents as relatively strong or weak. Do they have broad popularity and reliable Congressional support for their agenda, however modest, or does presidential popularity fluctuate with media-hyped judgments of their efficacy or ineffectuality, or their virtues or peccadilloes, while each Congressional action hinges on tough votes? Finally, do presidents have a peculiarly soft spot for Israel, a penchant for seeing the Jewish state as a tribute to freedom or the answer to an ingenuous religious impulse–as natural to the Middle East as the Holocaust museum is to the Mall or “Jerusalem” is to Baptist hymns? Or do presidents see Zionism admiringly enough but mainly through the prism of the practical security problems Israeli leaders say they have?
Eisenhower–Tyler’s hero, in a way–might be classified as sophisticated, popular and focused sincerely on Israel’s security. (Eisenhower’s army liberated the death camps, after all.) Kennedy can be classified pretty much the same way. Both administrations wanted to keep the region calm and were mainly set against Israel’s acquiring nuclear weapons. They were certainly unwilling to indulge Zionism’s irredentist claims.
The first shift came with President Johnson, especially after the Six-Day War, when his power was still great. But Johnson’s ignorance of the Middle East, made worse by Vietnam-induced paranoia, was twinned with peculiar affections for liberal and Jewish allies–not just Fortas and Krim but Arthur Goldberg and the New York bankers Abe Feinberg and David Ginsburg–who prompted him to throw his considerable political strength directly behind Israel’s cause. At first, as reciprocal escalations in May 1967 seduced Nasser into reimposing a blockade on the Strait of Tiran, Johnson tried to restrain Israeli forces and deal with the matter by international action. Then, after Israel’s mobilization was followed by a shocking victory, Johnson tried to bask in its reflected glory. He delivered Israel its first Phantom jets, opening decades of codependent relations between the IDF and the Pentagon. He backed Israel’s interpretation of UN Resolution 242, which nurtured its hope of keeping much of the conquered land and all of Jerusalem. “Johnson and Rusk,” Tyler writes, “faced a choice: support Israel’s occupation strategy or demand a full withdrawal. There was very little debate, at least in the White House. Johnson believed that Nasser had provoked the war, and though Israel had ignored his pleas to avoid a rush to combat, Johnson acceded to Israel’s desire on how to play the postwar diplomacy.”
The second shift came with President Nixon and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger, who leveraged Johnson’s position to the hilt. Tyler quotes Kissinger, the closest thing his story has to a villain: “Our objective is always, when the Soviet Union appears, to demonstrate that whoever gets help from the Soviet Union cannot achieve its objective, whatever it is.” Earlier Tyler writes:
Was there a distinction between defending Israel and defending her 1967 conquests? It was a question that Nixon, too, regarded as important. But Kissinger, the diplomatic practitioner who admired subtlety in foreign policy, dismissed this as irrelevant “fine-tuning.”
It was Kissinger, Tyler argues, who initiated a pattern of standing up to the Soviets, ignoring the Arab states, neutralizing State and Pentagon skeptics and (by contrast) befriending Israel’s diplomats and appeasing Israel’s Congressional advocates–people like, most notably, Henry “Scoop” Jackson, the Democratic senator from Washington. Kissinger provided the open door for the lobby to push on.
The turning point, Tyler stesses, was not the 1973 war but a meeting that might well have prevented it. The summer before, Brezhnev was visiting San Clemente on a kind of detente victory tour. Sleepless, he called Nixon and Kissinger to a late-night meeting and pleaded for a US-Soviet approach to resolving the Israeli-Arab conflict, arguing that another regional war would throw the superpowers into a potentially nuclear confrontation. He suggested broad principles: guarantees for Israeli security and an end to attacks on Israel from Arab territories, safeguards for Israeli shipping and Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders. “If we can get agreement on these principles, we can then discuss how to use any influence on the contending parties,” Brezhnev said.
But by then the United States was Israel’s major arms supplier. Nixon, who fancied himself Eisenhower’s protege, allowed that the United States did not “owe anything to the Israelis.” Yet Kissinger prodded Nixon to reject the overture. Both were convinced that Israel had an overwhelming military advantage to preserve the status quo; Nixon was embattled in Watergate, and Kissinger argued that the last thing the administration needed was a fight with Senate Democrats over Israeli security. His enthusiasm for Israeli power was natural for a Jewish refugee who had been part of the US Army’s occupation of Germany. (He was a German interpreter in the counterintelligence corps.) What Kissinger did not know was that Brezhnev had intimate knowledge of Anwar Sadat’s preparations for retaking the Suez Canal by force of arms.
Kissinger had been so certain of Israel’s superiority that when an Arab attack was imminent, he warned Prime Minister Golda Meir not to take pre-emptive action. But after a week of horribly bloody battles, it became clear that the IDF would only slowly gain the upper hand. The IDF had lost fifty planes, 500 tanks and 3,000 soldiers, and Meir felt the need to put Israel’s nuclear forces on alert. At that moment, the United States faced the choice of working with the Soviets to impose a cease-fire and lay down the “principles” of a regional settlement, or of resupplying the IDF in a massive airlift and putting off a cease-fire until Israel could fight its way back to a military advantage. Kissinger chose the latter course, even daring to put US nuclear forces on alert when Brezhnev threatened to intervene in defense of Egypt’s entrapped Third Army. After this, Tyler implies, the US-Israeli alliance was forged in blood.
Tyler’s Kissinger seems true, on the whole. Kissinger did strike the Manichaean template that spread among politicians and reporters in the 1970s, representing Israel as the US ally and “strategic asset” in the region. (The State Department’s traditional client Saudi Arabia made things easy by unleashing an oil embargo against the West.) After Kissinger, pressuring Israel seemed something like a basketball coach foolishly demoralizing his slightly brazen power forward. Still, there are some episodes left out of Tyler’s narrative that would mitigate any one-sided portrait. Israeli air power, responding to Kissinger’s request, actually did help save King Hussein’s neck in 1970, when Jordan was invaded by Syria during Black September. Jimmy Carter’s eventual Camp David initiative would have been unimaginable without Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy, which produced disengagement agreements with Egypt and Syria.
Indeed, the second interim agreement with Egypt, which saw Israeli cargoes pass through the Suez Canal for the first time, never would have been consummated had Kissinger not gotten tough with Israel. (I covered this period, contributing reports from Jerusalem to The New York Review of Books.) Yitzhak Rabin’s government had refused to withdraw the IDF behind the Sinai’s Mitla Pass. Kissinger, now running foreign policy for Gerald Ford, announced a “reassessment,” during which time new arms agreements with Israel were suspended. Thousands of Israeli rightists, led by the settlers’ group Gush Emunim, took to the streets, shouting “Jew boy! Jew boy!” at Kissinger: the organizer of the airlift was now a traitor to their dream of Greater Israel. (All of this is missing from Tyler’s account.)
It was precisely during the period of the reassessment that seventy-six senators, led by Scoop Jackson (and his protege Richard Perle), delivered a letter to the White House supporting Israeli claims. AIPAC had been formed in 1953, but it came into its own with this letter, which, hoisting Kissinger with his own anti-Soviet petard, made detente its foil. (Perle had been the moving force behind the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which, in effect, made detente hinge on Soviet Jewish emigration–a kind of dry run for hounding Kissinger on Israel, too.) It all seems so quaint now, Kissinger’s fight with the neocons over who was overreacting enough to Soviet power.
Under the radar of the American media, however, Israeli political parties were having a fight of their own over who would overreach more in supporting West Bank settlement activities. From 1972 to 1983, mostly under Labor governments, the number of Jewish settlers in Jerusalem climbed from about 8,500 to more than 75,000. In 1977 Begin’s Likud won power, and Gush Emunim went to work for real: 2,000 West Bank settlers became 6,000 by the time the Camp David accords were signed. President Carter–relatively sophisticated, with no particular softness for Israelis but politically weak and desperate for Jewish support in his primary campaign against Ted Kennedy–insisted that he had secured a freeze on settlements from Begin for as long as Camp David negotiations continued. He won an Israeli concession that Palestinian autonomy would lead to their acquiring “legitimate rights.” But Begin double-crossed Carter and virtually dared him to fight with Israel’s Congressional supporters as the 1979 Democratic primaries approached. By the time Ronald Reagan took office, there were something like 10,000 settlers.
President Reagan, for his part, called the settlements an obstacle to peace, urged on, by turns, by Alexander Haig and George Schultz. But nobody believed they meant it. Reagan left Sadat out on a limb, which may well have guaranteed Sadat’s assassination. Reagan’s team, meanwhile, was prepared to unleash Saddam’s Iraq against Iran. There was talk of reviving a Jordan option, with King Hussein managing a federation with Palestine; but there was no heart to oppose Israeli retaliations against PLO guerrillas in southern Lebanon or, ultimately, Israel’s catastrophic invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Reagan was a dream come true for the settlers: wildly popular, simple-minded, vaguely messianic and surrounded by Jewish neocons and Hollywood friends. By the time he left office, there were around 100,000 settlers outside Jerusalem and about 200,000 inside.
Curiously, Tyler gives rather short shrift to perhaps the biggest fight over settlements. After the Gulf War in 1991, Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, and his secretary of state, James Baker (“Fuck the Jews; they don’t vote for us anyway”), threatened to withhold loan guarantees if Israel did not promise not to use the funds to settle Russian Jews in the West Bank. This occasioned AIPAC’s most chilling show of force: a thousand volunteers stormed the Capitol in advance of the 1992 election. As it happens, the town of Ariel, which would become one of the biggest bones of contention between Olmert and Abbas, was largely populated by immigrant Russian Jews during this time. Ariel Sharon, then housing minister, picked up about 4,000 from the airport and plunked them down in the Samarian hills.
Clearly, I cannot do justice here to all the sordid details Tyler patiently recounts–much less to the ones he glosses over. I will say that the closer we get to the present, his book reads less like history and more like old news. Bill Clinton advanced the Oslo agreements, even cajoling Netanyahu into an interim deal on Hebron. His “bridging parameters” from December 2000 still form the spine of any American plan. But Clinton lacked “discipline” and needed Congress too much during the Lewinsky scandal. George W. Bush was, in our matrix, a replay of Reagan. You won’t learn more about Clinton’s fumbles than you learned from Robert Malley and Hussein Agha’s essays in The New York Review of Books, or more on Bush than from, say, the pages of this magazine.
Where does A World of Trouble leave us? Tyler could not have anticipated Obama when he started writing, but something about his review of Middle East “trouble” seems vaguely “back to the future.” Not since Eisenhower has there been a president with the necessary combination of attributes to reintroduce the idea of a regional settlement along lines determined by the great powers. America may be diminished in its own eyes, given the Iraq disaster, the financial crisis and the spreading insurgency in Afghanistan. But to Israelis–whose city-state earns less, and is somewhat smaller in habitable area and population, than greater Los Angeles–America and Europe are the world: markets, universities, culture, friendship, arms. Israel is a local military power, well entrenched in what Eisenhower called America’s military-industrial complex. But Israel’s actions in the territories have never been popular at the Pentagon, and the recent Gaza operation might be said to have violated every principle in Gen. David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency handbook. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.
Obama has worldly sophistication and a supportive European Union, an unprecedented mandate and even something Ike did not have, the affections of a majority of American Jews. Indeed, a recent J Street poll reveals that more than 70 percent of American Jews support Obama and a two-state deal pretty much like the one negotiated at Taba eight years ago. (J Street, a peace lobby backed largely by the progressive American Jews AIPAC has alienated, grew in parallel with the Obama campaign.) Against this trifecta, it will be hard to flog Israel’s role in a clash of civilizations–a view of the world Obama all but denounced in Cairo.
None of this guarantees Obama will make the most of his opportunity. He is doing his best, clearly, to honor and attract the Islamic world. He has solidly endorsed a Palestinian state and an end to settlements. But if he’s digested Tyler’s implicit instruction, he’ll quickly get beyond framing the peace process as a facilitated negotiation between Israel and Palestine, much as he got beyond the appeal for “bipartisanship” with Congressional Republicans. America in the Middle East is not some Dr. Phil, lively, well intentioned and–how did former Secretary Powell foolishly put it?–not wanting peace “more than the parties themselves.” America has skin in the game. So do Europe and the neighboring Arab states. They must all want peace more than the Israelis and Palestinians, who are chronically distrustful of each other, trapped by their fanatics, and whose leaders cannot resist the demagogy of the vendetta.
The time has come, in other words, for Obama to stipulate and conduct a public worldwide campaign for an American plan, not just an American vision. The broad terms of the plan will surprise nobody: we are not talking about the price of a rug in the bazaar; Israel is not just Palestine’s cross, and Palestine is not Israel’s internal affair. And there can be no peace without outside commitments: NATO committing to include Israel; Egypt and Jordan committing Palestine peacekeepers, investment capital and a sympathetic press. The United States can have no leverage with Iran, therefore no orderly exit from Iraq, without a working partnership with the Arab League.
“America will not turn our backs,” Obama said in Cairo, “on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own.” The whole Middle East, with the span of a continent, is roiled by this conflict. In the background of Tyler’s foreground, Obama knows, are the world’s largest proven reserves of oil and dollars, teens and violence. There is a burgeoning Arab middle class opening to the West, in Fez, Tripoli and Amman. But they are surrounded by restless undereducated people governed only by mosques and fathers where state security services leave off. Obama’s is the face of a more progressive globalization, but world economic stresses could make the mosques, the fathers and their acolytes only more volatile. The status quo, in any case, means the triumph of the settlers and Hamas. And it is all too easy to imagine the sad follow-on chapters to Tyler’s sad chronicle.