Ending the War Requires Clarity not Diplomacy

A steady chorus is calling for President Bush to mount a diplomatic offensive to stop the violence in the Middle East and partisans are blaming the President for the war because he has not been “engaged.” History, however, is on the side of the President’s decision to place the burden on the parties to resolve their differences.

Whatever one may think of the president’s policies, it is clear they have nothing to do with Hizballah’s determination to destroy Israel. Moreover, the previous administration’s extensive engagement did nothing to prevent Palestinian terrorism from undermining the Oslo agreements and Clinton’s summitry failed to prevent the Palestinians from starting a war in 2000.

In fact, history shows that American peace initiatives have never succeeded.

President Johnson outlined five principles for peace. “The first and greatest principle,” Johnson said, “is that every nation in the area has a fundamental right to live and to have this right respected by its neighbors.” The Arab response came a few weeks later: “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it....”

President Nixon’s Secretary of State, William Rogers, sought to “balance” U.S. policy, but leaned on the Israelis to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders, to accept many Palestinian refugees, and to allow Jordan a role in Jerusalem. The plan was totally unacceptable to Israel and, even though it tilted toward the Arab position, was rejected by the Arabs as well.

President Ford’s Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, had a little more success in his shuttle diplomacy, arranging the disengagement of forces after the 1973 war, but he never put forward a peace plan, and failed to move the parties beyond the cessation of hostilities to the formalization of peace.

Jimmy Carter is the model for presidential engagement in the conflict. He wanted an international conference at Geneva to produce a comprehensive peace. While Carter spun his wheels trying to organize a conference, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat decided to bypass the Americans and go directly to the Israeli people and address the Knesset.

Despite revisionist history by Carter’s former advisers, the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement was negotiated largely despite Carter. Menachem Begin and Sadat had carried on secret contacts long before Camp David and had reached the basis for an agreement before Carter’s intervention. Carter’s mediation helped seal the treaty, but Sadat’s decision to go to Jerusalem was stimulated by his conviction that Carter’s policies were misguided.

In 1982, President Reagan called for Palestinian self-rule in the territories in association with Jordan. The plan rejected both Israeli annexation and the creation of a Palestinian state. Israel denounced the plan as endangering Israeli security. The plan had been formulated largely to pacify the Arab states, which had been angered by the expulsion of the PLO from Lebanon, but they also rejected the plan.

The Bush Administration succeeded in convening a historic regional conference in Madrid in 1991, but it ended without any agreements and the multilateral tracks that were supposed to resolve some of the more contentious issues rarely met and failed to resolve anything.

President Clinton barely had time to get his vision of peace together when he discovered the Israelis had secretly negotiated an agreement with the Palestinians in Oslo. The United States had nothing to do with the breakthrough at Oslo and very little influence on the immediate aftermath. In fact, the peace process became increasingly muddled as the United States got more involved.

Peace with Jordan also required no real American involvement. The Israelis and Jordanians already were agreed on the main terms of peace, and the main obstacle had been King Hussein’s unwillingness to sign a treaty before Israel had reached an agreement with the Palestinians. After Oslo, he felt safe to move forward and no American plan was needed.

In a last ditch effort to save his presidential legacy, Clinton put forward a peace plan to establish a Palestinian state. Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered dramatic concessions that raised the prospects for an agreement, but the Palestinians rejected a deal that would have created a Palestinian state in virtually all the West Bank and Gaza and made east Jerusalem its capital.

President Bush has his own experience with failure after being lured into the engagement trap. State Department Arabists pushed Bush to put forward a plan that offered a provisional state to the Palestinians after they met a number of strict conditions. Israel accepted the plan and the Arabs rejected it. This was followed by Bush’s equally unsuccessful support for the Road Map.

History has shown that Middle East peace is not made in America. Only the parties can decide to end the conflict, and the terms that will be acceptable. No American plan has ever succeeded, and it is unlikely any will ever bring peace. The end to the Arab-Israeli conflict will not be achieved through American initiatives or intense involvement, it will be possible only when Arab leaders have the courage to follow the examples of Anwar Sadat and King Hussein and resolve to live in peace with Israel.

The current violence can only be stopped if there is a clear, unified message from the world’s leaders that terrorism and unprovoked acts of war on sovereign nations will not be tolerated. Israel must be permitted to eliminate the rocket threat posed by Hizballah. Then Hizballah must release the Israeli soldiers unharmed and the Lebanese government must deploy its army along the border with Israel. If the Lebanese government wants permanent peace with Israel, this can be negotiated without U.S. engagement. It was done before, in 1983, before Syria sabotaged the agreement. It is possible again if Lebanon wishes to live in peace without a terrorist group in its midst.