Statecraft Requires a Reality Check

[New Republic] Dennis Ross - Secretary of State Rice says a strategic realignment in the region creates an opportunity for peace-making. She sees the Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians, Palestinians, and other "moderate" Arabs sharing with Israel a common fear of Iran. However, while the Saudis and Israelis may both see Iran as a threat, they have different ideas about how to deal with it. Effective statecraft should have led Rice to explore how far Arab leaders were prepared to go. She would have quickly found that the Saudis (and others) are very hesitant. Good statecraft also would have revealed that any "political horizon" disconnected from the realities on the ground would not have been sustainable. For Israelis, continuing terrorist attacks, rocket salvos, and Hamas build-ups in Gaza (patterned after Hizbullah's in southern Lebanon) must end before they trigger a major Israeli incursion into Gaza, Nablus, or Jenin - any of which would sink whatever diplomacy still exists. Priority number one should be a comprehensive ceasefire between Israelis and Palestinians (as opposed to complete resolution of the conflict). A second priority should be to foster a dialogue between Israelis, Palestinians, and the larger Arab world about the responsibilities of a Palestinian state once it is finally created. How will it interact with Israel and the outside world? The dialogue could hammer out specifics about how normalized Israel-Palestine relations could evolve in stages. A third priority should be to ensure that Fatah gains strength against Hamas. Fatah must clean up its act, and the U.S. should help. Make no mistake about it, if Hamas wins the next elections in two years (for president and legislative council), the conflict will be transformed from a national conflict into a religious conflict. If that happens, we'll be out of the peace-making business for a long time, and Islamists will be able to dominate the most evocative issue in the region. The writer is counselor and Ziegler distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

2007-04-10 01:00:00

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