Daniel Levy: U.S. remains an indispensable player in Middle East

Daniel Levy recently wrote from Washington (in what is, unsurprisingly yet still dissapointingly, a rather American-based view of the world): “When President Obama turns to the Middle East, he will discover a region in which America’s credibility and standing have been painfully sapped. This is a result of not only war, but also of perceived American indifference to legitimate regional grievances, most notably the Palestinian issue … Into this fray will enter an America that is stretched both economically and militarily. It is also an America that has limited the number of actors, including key actors, with whom it is engaging in the region. The Bush administration frequently indulged in self-marginalization … Yet the US remains an indispensable player. The efforts of others at mediation in the absence of American support or follow-up, more often than not, will fall short. This was the experience in Lebanon 2006, and on the issues of Iran, the Israel–Syria peace talks, Palestinian division and elsewhere, and is playing out in Gaza as these words are written. To restabilize the Middle East, achieve a new equilibrium and advance the peace process, America will very much be needed at the table, and often in a leading role. Against this gloomy backdrop, there are at least two pieces of good news for the incoming US president. Firstly, there is an increasing consensus within the US regarding the failures of Bush Middle East policies and the need to chart a new course. Crucially, this includes an acknowledgement that a restabilized Middle East and an effective peace process are important American national security interests … Secondly, the Middle East is ready to look again at an America led by Barack Hussein Obama, and eager to turn a new page. The hope that is manifest in so much of the world, a world that is not anti-American but has been concerned by American policies, has not passed the Middle East by. President Obama is popular and has a new opportunity. It should not be squandered”…

He then makes some suggestions (that, while they are clearly intended to be balanced, still take too much an Israeli-centered view of the world):
1.) “Take a long, hard look at why Annapolis failed to deliver”. YES. It does require a serious policy re-think (but not one limited only to the questions Daniel asks in his piece)…
2.) Find a new vocabulary, if not an entirely new language — that would articulate “genuine and convincing understanding for the Palestinian predicament”: YES.
3a.) Undertake “a round of frank discussions with its allies in the region and beyond. Friends in the Arab world will need to be told that America is now in the business of calming and resolving, rather than exacerbating, regional tensions”: YES.
3b.) But, Daniel writes: “A similar conversation should take place with Israel, its main predicate being that the US is interested in a peace outcome more than a peace process … while making clear that it wants to get this done, to see de-occupation and Palestinian statehood”. YES, so far so good. However, I disagree with Levy’s subsequent insistence here, which actually runs throughout the piece, that the U.S. must “walk in lockstep with Israel on all of its key legitimate concerns (on security, finality of borders and their recognition/legitimacy): NO. What, on ALL Israel’s key security concerns? NO, this is neither fair, nor is it in America’s interest. The U.S. cannot agree, for example, that Israel can dictate and impose all its concerns — including retention of all the settlements it wants; or that the awful checkpoints are necessary for anybody’s security (or even that they have worked so far); or that the awful Wall can stand. [One Israeli media source recently said that it would only take 30 days to completely tear it down — but this appears to be a fantasy.] The U.S. cannot agree that a future Palestinian state should be delayed any longer, or that it should be totally demilitarized, except for a Palestinian security force that acts only as a sub-contractor for Israeli security concerns. Palestinian security concerns must also be addressed, very concretely. And a future Palestinian democracy must not be smothered in an utterly misguided and terribly heavy-handed attempt to address only Israel’s security concerns as presently formulated, meaning a need to be in total control.

Then, Daniel Levy goes on — or veers off — into areas that are probably closer to what Washington policy-makers are musing on, but that might be less immediately productive, such as urging the U.S. to impose its own solution (based on U.S. interests!), and bringing in probably-unchewable issues of Lebanon, Syria and Iran.

Finally, Daniel writes: “The Bush administration connected the Middle East dots in a way that left a very ugly mess. The Obama administration does not have the luxury of a blank page, a clean slate. But it does have a new opportunity, and that is a rare and precious thing that if thoughtfully nurtured can indeed help create a livable equilibrium in this most troubled of regions”.

This analysis can be read in full here .

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