A war for the peace process?

Posted: Jun 17, 2003 12:00 AM

Fresh from opposing a war against Saddam Hussein as too risky and far removed from the U.S. national interest, dovish, diplomacy-at-all-costs liberals are about to cause a U.S. war against the Palestinian terror group Hamas. They just don't know it yet.

The idea of U.S. action against the suicide-bombing Hamas is as of yet a trial balloon. Indiana Republican Sen. Richard Lugar raised it over the weekend, saying that an international force might be needed to crack down on Palestinian terror, and "it is possible that there will be American participation." Hamas "is right in the gunsights," Lugar said.

At first blush, the notion is so outlandish that a Hamas spokesman's reaction doesn't seem far off the mark: "It seems the senator's tongue functions much more swiftly than his mind does." But Lugar, a sober foreign-policy authority in the Senate, is only reflecting the logic of the events, in particular the logic of the Middle East "peace process," which is the most cherished international project of U.S. doves.

If it is true that it is the responsibility of the United States to make peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, if it is true that achieving an Israeli-Palestinian deal is the most important element to transforming the Middle East, if it is true that the peace process "cannot be allowed to fail," if it is true that Israeli military strikes endanger the peace -- then it makes sense for the United States itself to fight Hamas.

Only none of these things is true, except in the platitudinous imaginations of peace-process obsessives.

Not only is it not the responsibility of the United States to micromanage Israeli-Palestinian relations, it is counterproductive for it to attempt to do so. The important and successful Arab-Israeli agreements were always hammered out quietly between the two parties, from Israel's disengagement agreements with the Egyptians and Syrians in the mid-1970s to the 1978 Camp David Accords.

The Oslo Agreement, the 1993 "breakthrough" that ultimately failed, fit the same pattern. "Arafat went to Oslo precisely because he knew he could not obtain a better deal by relying on Washington to 'deliver' Israel," writes historian David Makovsky. "This puts to rest the notion that there can be no movement toward Middle East peace in the absence of sustained U.S. pressure on Israel."

In any case, why the United States should waste so much of its diplomatic energy on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute -- with the president commenting on almost every Palestinian bombing and act of Israeli retaliation -- is a mystery.

Is it because it's so dangerous? President Bush doesn't spend so much time on the dispute between two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, over Kashmir.

Is it because it's so important to the Middle East? The fact is that Palestinians are a reflection of the wider Arab world, not its leaders. The path to a more peaceful and stable Middle East goes through Iraq, Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia, all of which are a more appropriate subject of the attention of the United States than Gaza.

The line that the peace process "cannot be allowed to fail" is similarly nonsense. If the two parties aren't genuinely interested in peace, it will fail inevitably, no matter how many trips Colin Powell makes to the region. Israeli society has probably made a fundamental choice for peace, but the Palestinians haven't yet.

Peace in the Middle East only comes when the Arab side realizes violence is hopeless. Egypt was beaten in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973, and only then did Egyptian President Anwar Sadat decide to reach for the olive branch. Israeli military strikes against Palestinian terror are, therefore, probably a counterintuitive contribution to peace -- in the long run.

A proper understanding of the peace process -- fundamentally, it's not a responsibility of the United States -- puts the proposal to send American troops chasing Hamas terrorists in perspective: It would be a mistake. And not one borne of excessive hawkishness, but of the foolish logic of the advocates of the peace process.