The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict holds dramatic implications for the U.S. and its image among Arab countries. A 6-nation study conducted by Shibley Telhami, nonresident senior fellow of the Brookings Institute’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, polled public attitude on controversial issues specific to the Middle East in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.
One of the questions asked: “What TWO steps by the U.S. would improve your views of the U.S. most?” The respondents were given choices among the following:
Stopping economic and military aid to Israel
Brokering a Comprehensive Middle East Peace with Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 border and establishing a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capitol
Pushing even more to spread democracy in the Middle East
Withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq
Providing more economic assistance to the region
Withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Arabian Peninsula
The overwhelming top choice of the Arabs on how the U.S. could best improve its image in the Middle East was by negotiating Israeli-Palestinian peace
and implementing a viable two-state solution between the warring peoples. Yet how realistic is an expectation of implementing a viable two-state solution with the seemingly deadlocked peoples?
G.W. Bush made Israeli-Palestinian peace and the two-state solution one of his top priorities in his first term, stating the following in a speech in 2002:
“As new Palestinian institutions and new leaders emerge, demonstrating real performance on security and reform, I expect Israel to respond and work toward a final status agreement. With intensive effort by all, this agreement could be reached within three years from now. And I and my country will actively lead toward that goal.”
Now 6 years later, following the Annapolis Convention in November 2007 and his visit to Israel in May 2008, Bush has again expressed confidence in brokering a two-state solution and subsequent peace between the peoples before he leaves office. His sanguine faith in the negotiations between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is rare. The negotiations between the two leaders have yet to cover the deeply contentious issues perpetuating the problem: settlements, refugees, and border lines. As the Israelis push for an authoritative Palestinian government built on peace and capable of repressing terrorist attacks on their land, the Palestinians demand for Israel to stop building and developing settlements in land outside of the pre-1967 border. With the violence between the peoples showing no signs of slowing, the hostility thwarts the effectiveness of the negotiations, as the discussions become a sign of progress instead of the results of the talks. Not to mention Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have failed before, due to the justifiable mistrust between the two groups.
Arab aspirations of the U.S. mediating Israeli-Palestinian peace stem more from a disinclination to be involved in the messy issue than an expectation of an American display of diplomatic leadership. Bush’s aspirations for the U.S. mediating Israeli-Palestinian peace stem more from a desire to create a legacy of peace- rather than the war in Iraq- in the
last lap of his presidency. Considering the bloody history containing gross acts of violence from both the Israelis and the Palestinians, expecting the two peoples to arrange an agreement conflicting with their individual self-interest for mutual benefit is unfounded.