The United States Can't Buy Peace in the Middle East
Since the Camp David Accords were signed in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, the United States has been attempting to buy peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors, but the Arab Spring has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that that strategy is fatally flawed. It's time to rethink our approach, and it's time to hold Arab leaders accountable for producing results that will last. Absent significant change, there will be no peace, and U.S. taxpayers will continue footing the bill for Israel's neighbors while they rally their forces to attack her.
In a recent article for INSS Insights, a publication of The Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, Brigadier General (Res) Udi Dekel and Tel Aviv University Vice President Orit Perlov shed revealing light on the mood of the Arab Street. Their findings contradict the story being told to the Western media by Arab leaders:
"The basic worldview prevalent among those who are active on the social networks is that the Israeli government is the primary negative element affecting most of the ills of the Middle East, whether directly or indirectly. At the same time, these days the intense hatred is reserved for President Assad, the Iranian leadership, and Hizbollah. In tandem, the complete and total loss of faith in the reigning Arab leaderships, including that of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, is prominent; they are assigned responsibility for the region's problems, failures, and negative events, sometimes no less so than Israel. As a result, the violent energy and frustration are often directed inwards rather than at Israel. The criticism voiced outwardly, especially against Israel, and the links between internal and external problems are dominated by the Islamic movements; the liberal groups are less active in this respect.
At times the obsessive preoccupation with Israel, stemming from the view that it is involved in every matter, also has some positive aspects, stemming from Israel's image of success combined with its military and economic might. This leads to the demand that Israel be open to what happens in the Arab world, take constructive steps, and contribute towards changing the face of the region. Those who are active on the social networks expect that in Israel too there will soon be a change from within and therefore they prefer to maintain contact via people-to-people channels as a substitute for official Israel, which is deemed untrustworthy. This expectation targets the population of Israel directly. There is a willingness to hold a conversation through the new media and hope that the citizens of Israel will generate a change in this part of the world."
The Arab Spring unleashed forces that have proven to be impossible to contain, and contrary to mainstream media reports, Arabs regard their political and religious leaders as the primary culprits who are responsible for their poor economic condition. That's true for Arabs in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel's neighboring countries.
Ordinary Arab citizens haven't given the Israeli government a free pass, but they tend to see Israel as a force for positive change in the Middle East as much as they see her as the enemy. That seems strange given the fact that Arabs are taught from birth almost as a rite of passage that Jews in general and Israel in particular are responsible for every problem faced by Arab society including shark attacks off the coast of Sharm el-Sheikh, a resort town on the Southern coast of the Sinai Peninsula.
With Israel-Palestinian peace talks in the offing, it's time for a dramatic change in U.S. strategy. Neither Hamas nor Fatah are regarded by Palestinians as being up to the task of governing. In fact, both political parties are seen as corrupt to the core. For example, the Palestinian Authority announced last weekend that it has spent nearly $7 billion in Gaza since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007:
"The billions of dollars that the Palestinian Authority claims it has spent over the past five years - all from Europe and the United States - should have transformed the Gaza Strip into the Middle East's Singapore. These huge funds should have ended the suffering of the 1.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip. But despite all the billions of dollars that have poured into the area, the Gaza Strip remains a base for jihadists and various terror groups. Even worse, the funds have done virtually nothing to solve the severe problem of unemployment and poverty in the Gaza Strip."
The money pouring into Gaza isn't helping to improve the quality of life for ordinary Palestinians. Thus, there is good reason to question the wisdom of trying to buy peace while despotic rulers use our hard-earned tax dollars to line their pockets, live lifestyles that are typically reserved for the rich and famous, and funnel money into terrorist organizations that routinely attack Israel. Logic and common sense suggest that there must be a better approach.
The same is true in Egypt. Islamists have taken control of the Egyptian government and have let it be known that they see Israel as the enemy. They even threatened to abrogate the Camp David Accords if the U.S. reneges on its promise to supply humanitarian and military aid to Egypt without regard for how the Egyptian government uses our support:
"El-Erian [Essam El-Erian, chairman of the Egyptian parliament's foreign affairs committee] told the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat that the US needs to understand that 'what was acceptable before the revolution [the Arab Spring in Egypt] is no longer,' and that should the aid provisions outlined in the treaty be modified, it could open the door to further changes in the agreement."
Interestingly, a recent Gallup poll found that "71 percent of Egyptians are opposed to US economic aid, and that 74 percent oppose direct US aid to Egyptian civil society organizations." This finding, too, calls into question the U.S. strategy of trying to buy peace in the Middle East.
As we approach the 2012 election, we need to insist that President Obama and the contenders for the GOP presidential nomination outline a plan for peace in the Middle East that represents a radical departure from status quo. Pouring money into Gaza and Egypt, for example, in hopes of achieving peace is no more effective than pouring money into welfare in hopes of weaning welfare recipients off of government support. That approach simply doesn't work, and we can't afford it.
Neil Snyder is a chaired professor emeritus at the University of Virginia. His blog, SnyderTalk.com, is posted daily.