Doomed to Succeed is an important book recently published by Dennis Ross, a seasoned American diplomat, about the U.S.-Israeli relationship from 1948, when President Truman decided to recognize the newborn Jewish state, to President Obama’s complex attitude towards Israel today.
Being heavily involved in the Israeli and Mideast affairs under presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Obama, Ross has three interesting — indeed, surprising — conclusions regarding the U.S.-Israeli relations:
▪ Contrary to assumptions prevailing in most administrations, by distancing itself from Israel, America didn’t gain the good will of the Arabs;
▪ Similarly, the strong cooperation with Israel didn’t produce a negative fallout with America’s Arab friends;
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▪ While Arab leaders kept telling their American counterparts that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict harmed American interests in the region, the truth is that they cared less about that conflict in general, and the Palestinians in particular, and more about their own survival.
Assuming that the next president will either be Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump (unless his party finds a way to stop him), both will probably feel comfortable in embracing Ross’ first two conclusions.
Clinton, during her recent debate in Brooklyn with Bernie Sanders, sounded like a spokesperson of the Israeli government; and Trump, in his AIPAC speech, said that, “When the United States stands with Israel, the chances of peace really rise … That’s what will happen when Donald Trump is president of the United States.”
The same goes for Ross’ third conclusion, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict doesn’t really hamper America’s interests in the Middle East, because the Arab leaders don’t really care about the Palestinians.
Hillary Clinton surely knows that from her many shuttles to the capitals of the region, and Trump, in his foreign policy speech on Wednesday, when he endeavored “to shake the rust off of America’s foreign policy,” seems to have been briefed on that as well.
Once elected president, and subscribing to Ross’ caveats, will either of the two candidates try to jump-start the failed Israeli-Palestinian peace process?
I doubt that Clinton would. Like dozen of secretaries of State before her and the one, John Kerry, who succeeded her, she wore her shoes off trying to do it, and failed.
So deep was the U.S. frustration, that according to one of her released emails as secretary of State, Thomas Pickering, U.S. ambassador to Israel, suggested to Clinton on Dec. 18, 2011 that she should endorse initiating Palestinian demonstrations to force Israel to re-enter peace negotiations.
As president, therefore, Clinton would perhaps appoint a special peace envoy (Ross again?) but I doubt it if she would really put her weight behind him.
As for Trump, if he is elected, he will probably stick to his “art of the deal” rules.
Indeed, in his AIPAC speech he rightly stated that, “It’s really the parties that must negotiate a resolution themselves. They have no choice. They have to do it themselves or it will never hold up anyway.”
Leaving the Israelis and the Palestinians to resolve the conflict themselves, Clinton or Trump should nevertheless heed Ross’ good advice: “If the Israelis can’t go as far as we think necessary, they should know at the outset that we won’t make the effort to mobilize pressure on the Palestinians to accept it.
If, however, the Israelis are prepared to go as far as we consider necessary … and the Palestinians reject their offer, we must assure the Israelis in advance that we will not ask them for more — and then stick to it and publicly hold the Palestinians responsible.”
The problem is that while waiting for either the Israeli government or the Palestinian Authority to move, time is running out, and Israel is drifting toward becoming a bi-national state, where it loses either its Jewish character or its democracy.
Israelis, therefore, have to act unilaterally, withdraw to borders that leave most of the Palestinians outside their rule and wait until the Palestinians are ready to negotiate.
By coercing their government to act, or electing a new government that will do so, they will follow another wise insight of Dennis Ross: “The United States cannot be a substitute for what Israel must do for itself.”