- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2001

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy issued a comprehensive report, "Navigating through Turbulence," on American Middle East Policy in the new century. This report was written before the election, but its recommendations should be consulted seriously by the new administration.
In 1992 President Clinton was the beneficiary of the Bush-Baker Madrid Conference, which was a prelude to the 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles. Unfortunately, eight years later, after valiant efforts by the Clinton administration to micromanage the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the new administration is confronted with a dramatically different Middle East in the Israel-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts and the growing threats, especially from an emboldened Saddam Hussein in Iraq. This time the threat is not so much against the Gulf states that are in the process of rapprochement with Iraq, but rather a direct threat of Saddam Hussein to participate in the regional war against Israel.
The Institute's report identifies three areas that can cause regional war. First is Lebanon. Unfortunately, the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon did not bring about stability at the Israeli-Lebanese border. The United Nations established and stabilized recognized borders between the two countries, but has been unsuccessful in protecting Israel from the renewed violence and violation of the borders by the Hezbollah. The Hezbollah is protected and supported by the new Syrian regime of Basharal Assad. The IDF will not repeat protracted and unsuccessful guerilla warfare with Hezbollah. The target will be Syria. Among the first proclamations of the new Bush administration should be one to warn the Syrians that the administration will not tolerate their support of Hezbollah. If the Syrians are searching for advantages in future negotiations with Israel, they should cease supporting terrorist organizations. The onus for a regional war should be put on Syria.
The second area is the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Bush administration should call for a re-examination of Oslo, as the Institute report recommends, and also …pursue future diplomacy or whether alternative approaches might usefully be explored. I do not believe that the Clinton peace plan, now agreed by the parties to be considered in marathon negotiations in Egypt, could any longer serve as a basis for continuation of the moribund Oslo process. To be successful, the Bush administration must accept the fact that Oslo is dead. That does not mean that one cannot build upon what has been achieved before the unfortunate Clinton-Barak rush to bring a successful end to the negotiations at Camp David in August. The two fundamentally ideological divides are the issues of right of return and the future of Jerusalem, for which the parties will accept no compromise. Palestinian rejectionism effectively forecloses the Oslo modality as a basis for negotiations. The Bush administration must make it clear to both sides that until they resolve their deep ideological differences, there is no place for an American president or secretary of state to micromanage an exercise in futility. As in the case of Assad, the administration should warn Arafat and the PA, who are totally dependent on American goodwill, money, and support, that if he continues the policy of low intensity war and terrorism, the United States will turn its back to him.
Therefore, the Institute's most significant recommendation is to "Deter regional war by affirming the unwritten alliance with Israel, engaging with moderate Arab states, and warning regional adversaries." As historical experience tells us, when the United States speaks of equal treatment of the parties or turns its support away from Israel in one form or another, it is a prescription for war. Any American effort that, in the eyes of Israel's adversaries, is perceived as a move away from affinity with Israel will embolden its adversaries. The role of Arab moderates is extremely important. Arab allies of the United States Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco should lend a shoulder to play a key role in supporting an American search for stability.
The other area of regional conflict for the United States to deal with in the short and long run is Iraq. Saddam Hussein is out of the box, contrary to the false assumptions of former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. The Clinton administration failed to either successfully end the regime of Saddam Hussein or to prevail on allies France and Russia to end their accommodation of the tyrant. Disregarding U.S., U.N. and other restrictions, and selling oil on the free market sufficient to re-establish an awesome arsenal, Saddam Hussein's target is now Israel. He has offered the Arab rivals of Israel the help of the Iraqi army, or the supply of modern weapons. I take Saddam's threats seriously. So should the Bush administration, and Secretary of State Colin Powell concurs. An Iraqi war with Israel would mean the bloodiest Middle East war in the last fifty years of Arab-Israeli wars. It could involve nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction. The long-term goal would be deterrence of proliferation of nuclear and WMD by both Iraq and Iran.
An American affinity to Israel must not distinguish between one Israeli regime and another. Isolating and estranging an Ariel Sharon regime, if he wins the upcoming election, would be no wiser than former President Bush toppling the Shamir government. American isolation of Sharon would act as a lightning rod for Arafat's maximalist aspirations.


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