Middle East peace agreement overrated

Richard Haass:

President Obama recently said it was a "vital national security interest of the United States" to resolve the Middle East conflict. Last month, David Petraeus, the general who leads U.S. Central Command, testified before Congress that "enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests." He went on to say that "Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples . . . and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world."

To be sure, peace between Israelis and Palestinians would be of real value. It would constitute a major foreign-policy accomplishment for the United States. It would help ensure Israel's survival as a democratic, secure, prosperous, Jewish state. It would reduce Palestinian and Arab alienation, a source of anti-Americanism and radicalism. And it would dilute the appeal of Iran and its clients.

But it is easy to exaggerate how central the Israel-Palestinian issue is and how much the U.S. pays for the current state of affairs. There are times one could be forgiven for thinking that solving the Palestinian problem would take care of every global challenge from climate change to the flu. But would it? The short answer is no. It matters, but both less and in a different way than people tend to think.

Take Iraq, the biggest American investment in the Greater Middle East over the past decade. That country's Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds are divided over the composition of the new government, how to share oil revenues, and where to draw the border between the Kurdish and Arab areas. The emergence of a Palestinian state would not affect any of these power struggles.

Soon to surpass Iraq as the largest U.S. involvement in the region is Afghanistan. Here the U.S. finds itself working against, as much as with, a weak and corrupt president who frustrates American efforts to build up a government that is both willing and able to take on the Taliban. Again, the emergence of a Palestinian state would have no effect on prospects for U.S. policy in Afghanistan or on Afghanistan itself.

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There is more.

The Arabs who are pushing the US on this are not pushing the Palestinians to make reasonable accommodations. In fact it shows their lack of seriousness in pursuit of peace. It is all about getting the US to force concessions from Israel while getting none from the Palestinians. That is a ridiculous position for someone seriously interested in peace.

One of the reasons there is little pressure on the Palestinians is that they have become a dependent beggar culture, with little incentive to move on and start a new life beyond their animosity toward Israel. The live off of welfare from the UN with money provided chiefly from the US and to some extent from Arab states. They are in desperate need of welfare reform that will give them some incentive to get off the dole.

If a peace agreement were really important to these people, they have had ample opportunity in the last 60 years to have one and turned their nose up to those opportunities regularly. It is time to quit wasting time on them.

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