Cliff May

Resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict would be a wonderful thing. But the reality is that for more than a half century, every American president has attempted to find a magic formula that would bring peace to the tiny territories between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. And every American president has seen his efforts come a cropper.

No one tried harder than Bill Clinton who, in the end, failed for this simple reason: Then-Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat could not accept the idea of co-existence with Israel. And, to be fair, had Arafat made peace with the Jewish state, he almost certainly would have suffered the same fate as Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president who reconciled with Israel and, soon after, was murdered by Militant Islamists.

Almost five years ago, George Bush announced he would help establish a Palestinian state as quickly as possible. His one demand: It must not be a terrorist state. Subsequently, Palestinians chose Hamas, a terrorist organization, to lead them.

Despite this history, during meetings of the “expert” advisory group of the Baker/Hamilton Commission on Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict was a frequent topic of debate. Many of the retired diplomats, ex-CIA operatives and other assorted members of the Foreign Policy Establishment were adamant: Bush must do whatever it takes to persuade Israelis and Palestinians to settle their differences, once and for all. As a member of that advisory group, I would ask: Even were such efforts to succeed, by what wizardry would that impel Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites to stop killing each other over power and petroleum?

I received no adequate answer and the final Baker/Hamilton Iraq Study Group Report asserts: “The United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict.” Until now has the United States been dealing indirectly with the conflict?

In a recent op-ed, former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft goes further, arguing that “a vigorously renewed effort to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict” could produce “real progress” which would cause Hezbollah and Hamas to “lose their rallying principle.”

How would that work? What could Israel offer Hamas and Hezbollah to induce them to give up “their rallying principle” -- which is, unambiguously, the annihilation of Israel?

Or, if Israel ignored Hamas and Hezbollah, with whom would they make “real progress”?

Scowcroft does not explain. He merely adds that after making such progress, “Iraq would finally be seen by all as a key country that had to be set right in the pursuit of regional security.” It would? By all? By Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda? For heaven’s sake, why?

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.