Been There, Done That: Policy in the Middle East

by Victor Davis Hanson

Tribune Media Services

With much fanfare, President Barack Obama announced a new effort to end the endless Israeli-Palestinian struggle — by naming a brand-new Middle East envoy, former Sen. George Mitchell.

The announcement was underwhelming, to say the least. For 40 years, we’ve seen such serial envoys, communiqués and peace conferences — and the little that followed from them.

Can anyone distinguish Annapolis, Beirut, Camp David, Geneva, Madrid, Oslo, Taba or Wye River — and all the other places that hosted much-heralded but failed meetings that we can no longer even recall?

Then there are the billions of dollars (well over $100 billion) and euros for peace given by the United States and Europe to Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians over the last half-century. Not to mention all those ballyhooed United Nations decrees — Resolutions 242, 338, 1397, 1515 and others — likewise lost to our collective memory.

The Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai nearly 30 years ago was supposed to have led to a general peace.

So was the withdrawal from Lebanon. So was the withdrawal from Gaza.

We also used to hear that the Israeli-Palestinian struggle was “really” about Egypt’s ruler Gamal Nasser (1956-1970) and his pan-Arabic movement. Then it was really about the Cold War and the Soviet Union. Then it was really about Saddam Hussein and Iraq. Now it is really about Iran.

Well before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised to destroy Israel, Saddam said the same thing. And well before Saddam, Nasser promised destruction of the “Zionist entity.” And so on with almost every Middle East strongman dating back to Israel’s creation.

The current “benchmarks” and “roadmap” toward peace in the region simply follow earlier failed formulas with similarly catchy names.

Remember all those brilliant American statesmen, like the current George Mitchell, who were sent over to find the “missing peace” but came home empty-handed — James Baker, Philip Habib, Gen. James Jones, Henry Kissinger, Sol Linowitz, Condoleezza Rice, Dennis Ross and Gen. Anthony Zinni?

And then there’s former President Jimmy Carter, who always seems to be loudly advising everyone to read his latest book to learn how they can solve the crisis.

In the early 2000s, we were told that peace would come when the old calcified rivals — Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat — vacated the scene. Their passing would allow a new generation of leaders on both sides to negotiate without the ghosts of the 1967 or 1973 wars. Instead, new leaders gave us new wars in Lebanon and Gaza.

While the names of Palestinian terrorist organizations multiply over the years, the agenda of destroying Israel remains mostly unchanged.

There has been no resolution to the last 40 years of fighting between Israel and the Palestinians, because Israel after 1967 has decided not to return all of its battle-won territories on the West Bank until the Palestinians there accept Israel’s right to exist.

Israel has felt that if it gives all the conquered territory back, too many Palestinians will see that not as magnanimity, but as a sign of weakness, and we would be back to square one before 1967: Israel inside its 1948 borders — with yet another new generation of Palestinians promising to finish the job and push the Jews into the sea.

Most everywhere else in the world, wars lead to defeat for one side and victory for the other. The issue, brutally or not, is resolved on the battlefield. Look at the fate of a Saddam Hussein or a Slobodan Milosevic.

But in the Middle East nearly alone, war breaks out and immediately hysteria follows before one side can win and the other lose. “Peace” is imposed, and then we are back to the same old unresolved hatred, terrorism — and the next war.

In such a bleak landscape, what will Barack Obama do?

Probably what Presidents Carter, Reagan, Clinton and the two Bushes tried to do — the same old so-called “land for peace” deal: Israel is supposed to go back to something approaching the pre-1967 borders, and the Palestinians, with their brand-new state, on the West Bank must promise that this time they will really let Israel be.

Good luck.

So, for now we watch for a new “Mitchell Plan,” another conference somewhere, more billions in aid, new names for old terrorist organizations, and more pious speechmaking at the U.N. Then soon the next administration will come in to power, with the next peace plan, the next new envoy — and the next new war.

©2009 Victor Davis Hanson

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