Why does the conclusion of a war that began unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict depend, among other things, on a solution to this conflict? It is hard to find an answer to this question in the Baker-Hamilton Commission's report. The report simply states: "The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional instability." This is a compelling stance for those who view the Middle East as a monolithic Arab-Muslim region, where a conflict in one area has an immediate impact on another.
The weakness of this outlook is that its logic is supposed to work in both directions: If the Iraq problem is resolved, it would automatically contribute to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to the same tenuous logic, resolving the crisis in Lebanon would solve the Iraq or the Palestinian problem; or if Israel were to withdraw from all of the territories, Iran would halt development of its nuclear capability.
It is difficult to find a reasonable person who would agree with this formula. The Iraq War began unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite the fact that one of the arguments justifying it was the promise that it would advance peace in the region. This promise failed because, from the outset, it had no basis.
The authors of the report - two sober politicians who are familiar with the various conflicts in the region - are not unaware of this logic. One can assume that they did not suddenly change their beliefs and start relying on the ability of an Arab or international coalition to resolve the Iraq crisis. Therefore, we must look for their rationale somewhere else. In politics.
The authors are not necessarily in a hurry to rescue Bush, but they are worried about America's standing, and Israel should also share this concern. A resounding defeat in Iraq is out of the question. But someone must take upon himself a considerable share of the responsibility so the U.S. emerges wounded but not devastated. Lacking an "international community," the report proposes a new partner: the Arabs, in particular the Iraqi government.
James Baker, who copyrighted the saying "The U.S. cannot want peace more than Israel and the Palestinians do," is now applying it to Iraq. That is, "The U.S. cannot want quiet in Iraq more than the Iraqis, Arabs and Iran do." For this purpose, it is possible even to issue threats. According to Recommendation 21: "If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward milestones on national reconciliation, security and governance, the United States should reduce its political, military or economic support." It is as if the U.S. were only an impartial mediator in this conflict, and not the direct catalyst.
This recommendation, along with others pertaining to mobilizing Arab states and Iran, seeks to reclassify the war in Iraq as a local Arab conflict, a divided Arab state, a threat primarily against Iraq's neighbors. It is no longer the global threat depicted on the eve of the war, but rather a conflict among Arabs. At most, the U.S. can contribute something by advancing a resolution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Therefore, in order to help Washington advance this aspiration, we will suggest some of the recommendations be implemented for our conflict, too. For example, the Palestinians would be offered assistance equal to the cost of one month of the Iraq war - about $8 billion, according to the report - on condition that they agree to national reconciliation. Or how about implementing Recommendation 31 regarding "far-reaching" amnesty, even for "bitter enemies," or Recommendation 35 regarding the need for dialogue with all of the factions (with the exception of al-Qaida)? Is Muqtada al-Sadr less of a terrorist than Ismail Haniyeh?
It is doubtful these recommendations would be adopted in Washington, because here, of course, it is a different, "private" conflict that Israel and the Palestinians should resolve. So don't pester us about the link between conflicts. Iraq is one thing, an American one. Palestine is a different matter.
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