Peace Negotiations Must Shape the Middle East: It’s Up to the U.S.

September 2006 Newsletter
By CALME Luminary Corinne Whitlatch, Executive Director, Churches for Middle East Peace

The responsibility to mobilize Israel, the Palestinians, the Arab states and the international community falls upon the United States. No other country or group has the capacity to do this. But a collaborative approach is essential, and the Quartet (US, UN, EU and Russia) is the ready-made vehicle to initiate a comprehensive peace process.  

The Hezbollah-Israel war confirmed the shortcomings of the Bush Administration’s heavy reliance on military force and its lack of confidence in diplomacy for resolving conflicts and dealing with adversaries. As bombs and rockets continued to kill Lebanese and Israelis, the President’s refusal to immediately seek a cease fire and engage diplomatically left the United States with reduced options and diminished influence in the region. Similarly, the Bush Administration’s decision to defer to Israel’s unilateral policies and undermine the newly elected Hamas government increased the influence of the more radical Damascus branch of Hamas.  

Flynt Leverett was the senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council and on the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff during President Bush’s first term before he left because of policy disagreements. Leverett, writing in The American Prospect, promotes a “realist” strategy in which the U.S. would: 1.) widen its approach to defusing the crisis to include direct engagement with both Syria and Iran, 2.) would re-establish US-Syrian cooperation on important regional issues, and 3.) indicate its willingness to pursue a “grand bargain” with Iran that would restrain its nuclear activities and normalize bilateral relations.

Furthermore, Leverett calls upon the Administration to articulate a more substantive vision for a two- state solution that incorporates the Arab League peace plan. To make such major policy changes, the White House will need to know that American citizens support strong Presidential leadership in pursuit of a comprehensive Middle East peace and that constituents will encourage their members of Congress to support peacemaking. Meanwhile, new proposals and surprising initiatives are happening on the international scene. 

Changes in the Making 

  • The Arab League foreign ministers have asked for a ministerial meeting of the U.N. Security Council in September to discuss a new peace plan based on the Saudi proposal that was adopted by the Arab League. As Senator Hagel has said, “the concept and intent of the 2002 Beirut Declaration is as relevant today as it was in 2002. An Arab-initiated, Beirut-type declaration would reinvest regional Arab States with a stake in achieving progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace. This type of initiative would offer a positive alternative – a positive alternative – vision for Arab populations to the ideology and goals of Islamic extremists.”
  • Renewing diplomatic dialogue with Syria is the most likely breakthrough in the short term. Several Israeli Cabinet ministers, although not Prime Minister Olmert, have endorsed the idea. Many US foreign policy luminaries and commentators have also endorsed engaging Syria because of its influence over Hezbollah and the potential for pragmatic cooperation, as opposed to confrontation. While the Bush Administration opposes this on the grounds that Syria’s regime is hostile to American interests and supports terrorism, the President has been criticized for rejecting talks with Damascus, as proposed by Sec. Rice, during the fighting.
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Explore posts in the same categories: CALME Luminaries, Middle East Peace, U.S. Role

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