- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 24, 2009

MYTHS, ILLUSIONS, & PEACE: FINDING A NEW DIRECTION FOR AMERICA IN THE MIDDLE EAST
By Dennis Ross and David Makovsky
Viking Press, $27.95, 361 pages
REVIEWED BY SOL SCHINDLER

Dennis Ross is unique in that he is esteemed, and even liked, by both Israelis and Palestinians, a status he earned while serving under both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton as a facilitator for peace in the Middle East. He now has a supervisory position in our State Department concerning Iran and the Middle East, but prior to that appointment joined David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in writing “Myths, Illusions & Peace, Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East.” The book is a primer on what we should do, and not do, to further our country’s policy.

In what not to do, they point to the illusions that have sometimes influenced our action. The first is linkage, an early example of which was President Eisenhower’s pressure on Great Britain, France and Israel to vacate the Sinai and return the Suez Canal to Egyptian control. He did this primarily because he thought Western democracies should not act in this fashion, but naturally expected an Egyptian response acknowledging our intervention. What happened is they drew even closer to the Soviet Union that had just squashed Hungarian attempts at self-rule. Moral: Nations will always do what they perceive is in their own self-interest, ignoring efforts to link their actions to other events.

A second illusion they wish to disprove, and that they ascribe to their favorite whipping boys, the neoconservatives, is that there is no pressing need for American involvement in the Palestinian-Israeli peace effort. They go on at length to say such an effort is imperative, and most Israelis and Palestinians probably agree with them. Yet they ignore the fact that the concluding weeks of the Clinton administration were filled with frantic activity by staffers like Mr. Ross and the president himself to achieve some kind of agreement that never came, and that Bill Clinton warned Colin Powell that Yasser Arafat was completely untrustworthy, punctuated by some unpublishable expletives.

The Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty could not have been achieved without the statesmanship of Anwar Sadat nor the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty without King Hussein’s lead. When the Bush administration assumed power, they could find no comparable Palestinian leader and it was only natural for them to want the dust to settle before beginning over again. The authors say they waited far too long to resume, and when they finally did so expended insufficient effort.

The third illusion the authors ascribe to the self-styled realists who state that while it made sense for us to aid the Israelis when their Arab opponents were allied with the Soviets, now that the Soviets are gone we should distance ourselves from Israel. The authors feel this a wrong-headed approach. To desert an ally after 40 years of close interaction would reinforce the image of an unreliable and wavering United States. Arab opponents would consider it more of an American than an Israeli defeat. Having a strong and faithful ally in the area, particularly with the growing Shia-Sunni divide, has to be considered a plus factor.

The way to achieve peace the authors contend is not by favoring one side or the other, but incrementally. A growing economy in the West Bank is the best antidote to Hamas violence. The United States can help achieve this by reminding the Gulf States of their unfulfilled financial pledges. With their money and the pool of Palestinian skilled labor that already exists, the construction of new housing would give hope to both the newly housed and newly employed.

We can recognize Israel’s security needs and the necessity of checkpoints, but we and the Israelis can work to make the checkpoints less clogged and time consuming, and therefore less of an economic and psychological drain. Negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians must continue, with every agreement, no matter how small, fully publicized, thus providing some hope. With hope and economic betterment, comes the possibility of peace.

The authors contend that our policy in Iran should also follow a centrist pattern, but must forestall an Iranian atomic bomb that would destabilize even further a highly fractured region. They feel that some kind of arrangement is possible because of Iran’s vulnerable economy: High inflation, steadily declining oil production and soaring unemployment. Iran badly needs technical help to restructure its oil fields and its re-entrance into agreements concerning nuclear energy could ameliorate its oil problems and in other ways calm events. They feel negotiations are very much in order.

The authors also feel we should stick to American values at all times. We may not be able to bring democracy to a country through military action, and democracy means more than just an election, but we can work consistently for democratic ideals. In this way, we can regain the respect we once held and help bring peace to a much troubled area.

Since one of the authors is now involved in our policy toward Iran, we shall soon see how theory meshes with reality.

Sol Schindler is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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