Not a year goes by, it seems, without yet another end being announced to the centuries old conflict in the Middle East.
In the late 1970s, two men won the Noble Prize for securing a lasting peace in the region. Of course, the ink was barely dry on the deal before hostilities began anew. How many times since have we seen Muslim and Israeli leaders solemnly shaking hands in front of US president, with all sides proclaiming that a new age has come? Almost too many to count.
But what is the point in counting them? They have all resulted in the same thing: more violence. Often the peace-talks and signing ceremonies last longer than the actual cease-fires.
So these last weeks have been less than riveting as our president (one cynically might insert the phrase "diverting attention from his domestic problems") met in yet another round of tense negotiations with the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian chairman. While all three were "cautiously optimistic" in their comments to the press, the people in the Middle East – on both sides – were disgusted. One Israeli Member of Parliament has drafted a measure for a "no confidence" vote in the Prime Minister, the kiss of political death in their system, while people violently demonstrated in the streets.
The negotiations, and their product, became much more interesting as the details have been released. ‘Interesting’ may not be the right word; perhaps ‘scary’ works better.
Once again the United States is acting out of its league in trying to induce Israel to trade their security for an almost certain temporary peace, while attempting to persuade Palestinians to accept only a fraction of what they want. While past meddling has resulted mostly in US commitments to sending more tax dollars as aid to both sides, this time the costs may be much greater. Costly in lives, costly in national security, and costly in precedence.
One aspect of the recently brokered deal calls for the US Central Intelligence Agency to monitor both sides for compliance with the no-hostilities clauses. This raises numerous concerns, not the least of which is simply the mechanics of our CIA doing such a thing. How are they to make sure no one is harboring ill will in their hearts?
This president acted far outside his bounds in agreeing to such a thing. After all, even if one can make the specious constitutional argument about the appropriateness for a civilian intelligence agency as opposed to a fully military version, it is impossible to justify using such an agency to monitor the good will between two other countries.
Worse, though, is the possibility of the US being blamed for future problems because of our "monitoring." If a terrorist bomb explodes, many will ask, why wasn’t the US doing its job? Worse, if a terrorist bomb planted by one group or the other is stopped by the US, what will keep that side from making their next target US citizens abroad? Or at home?
We are then faced with an ever-increasing national security risk of protecting citizens abroad and at home from terrorists who blame us for interfering in their holy wars and causes.
This latest peace deal is most damaging in the precedence it sets. The top demand of the Israelis was that the US must release convicted American spy Jonathon Pollard to their custody or face the prospect of that country walking out. Pollard was a US Navy intelligence officer who, in the mid-1980s, began selling US secrets to Israel. He was sent to jail for life for his treason, but the Israeli government wants him freed.
During the Cold War the US would release Iron Curtain spies in exchange for Americans or our allies. At least in the Cold War there was a direct US interest at stake. Not now; our nation is being told that if we do not release to his controllers a man who sold-out our country, then Israel would rather stay at war with the Palestinians.
How’s that for international blackmail? If the president does not agree to release this treacherous spy, then we get blamed for the peace process falling apart.
Of course, if history is our guide, blaming the US will be simply an exercise in window dressing. The problems in the Middle East are not political ones, and therefore cannot be solved by American politicians and their soundbite platitudes. To think a deal signed by these three men will have any meaningfully positive effect is naïve.
There are many reasons to believe that peace will never reign in the land of the Jordan River while both sides lay claim to the region. One thing is certain, however, the United States cannot stick its nose into that mess without expecting to get punched from both sides.