by Jeff Jacoby
The Boston Globe
October 14, 2009
“Wars end not through goodwill but through victory,” Pipes writes, defining victory as one side compelling the other to give up its war goals. Since 1948, the Arabs’ goal has been the elimination of Israel; the Israelis’, to win their neighbors’ acceptance of a Jewish state in the Middle East. “If the conflict is to end, one side must lose and one side win,” argues Pipes. “Either there will be no more Zionist state or it will be accepted by its neighbors.”
“WHOM THE GODS WOULD DESTROY,” the late Irving Kristol once observed, “they first tempt to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.” Maybe “destroy” was putting it a bit strongly, but there is no denying that American presidents seem irresistibly drawn to the belief that they can succeed where others have failed and conjure a lasting peace between Israel and its Arab enemies. This diplomacy has gone by various names — Oslo, the Roadmap, Camp David, and so on — but time and again it has led not to the end of the conflict but to its intensification.
In his memoirs, former President Bill Clinton describes Yasser Arafat’s refusal to accept the extraordinarily generous terms for a permanent settlement offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000. That refusal led to a Palestinian terror war, the bloody Second Intifada, and when Arafat called Clinton in January 2001 to tell him what a great man he was, Clinton was bitter. “I am not a great man,” he told Arafat. “I am a failure, and you have made me one.”
Of course, if Clinton was a failure so were the two George Bushes. Each made it his goal to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, each convened a grand international conference for that purpose (Bush 41 in Madrid, Bush 43 in Annapolis), and each left the situation worse than he had found it.
In his first nine months as president, Barack Obama has shown every sign of succumbing to the same temptation. Two days after moving in to the White House, he named George Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader, his special envoy to the region. He pressured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into endorsing a “two-state solution.” He declared that “the moment is now for us to act” to achieve peace in the Middle East.