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A Controversial Peace: Forcing Countries to Behave

In a previous article, I tried to reestablish the importance of foreign policy priorities in terms of pragmatic security and economic policy during a time of systemic transition. I argue that it was timely for the United States to “…consolidate its power in realms of interest and recalibrate its foreign policy goals and processes in terms of two important needs: state security and economic prosperity.”

During the Cold War, the United States was busy balancing against the Soviets in every region in the world. After the Cold War, the United States took the lead in creating a new world in their own image; a great temptation given a lack of competitors. This is increasingly difficult today within a context of emerging powers of Russia and China. Hence my call for a policy overhaul.

In the article, I make an appeal for a major reformulation that takes into consideration the US’ core interests: security and economic prosperity. Instead of creating and defending an international system, it is now time for the United States to do more with less. I call for several evenhanded and pragmatic policies: The recognition of a Russian sphere of influence and a policy of containing its aggressive expansion. The paying down of foreign debt especially to China. Respecting Chinese expansion in a diplomatic fashion while strengthening ties and capabilities of regional allies. Finally, deeper economic ties to Latin America and Africa.

The most significant yet controversial policy recommendation was directed toward the Middle East, especially with regards to the Islamic State: “It is becoming apparent that the Islamic State is growing out of control…the cancer will only grow back if a certain issue remains unsolved: the now 66+ year old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

While this in itself is not controversial to many, it was the following statement that brought criticism: “Israel must be encouraged (and when I mean encouraged, I mean forced) to make peace with the Palestinians…The Palestinians must also be encouraged (and I mean forced) to accept this peace.” I also say “Israel is the weaker ally and must follow the United States.”

Many comments reacted to this recommendation. Some were shocked at the suggestion of peace in the Middle East while others were appalled by the use of the word ‘forced.’ It is certainly not the American way to force folks to do what they do not want to do. This is of course obvious within the domestic realm and the political culture of the United States. However, we are not dealing with the American constitution and domestic policies. We are talking about the rough and tumble of international politics, where force and power is the ultimate arbiter of conflict and disagreement. International law and democratic norms are certainly difficult to enforce and cannot be relied upon.

Here’s the problem: in many respects, the United States has been breaking the rules of diplomacy set by scholars, mostly realists, and this has led to the exacerbation of the issue.

The first rule of diplomacy (a la Hans Morgenthau) is as follows: never let your weaker ally formulate foreign policy. The bigger, stronger power is the one who dictates alliance action. It is therefore in the realm of possibility for the United States, using its tools of foreign policy, to make a weaker nation do what it normally would not for the sake of accomplishing security and safety; a core interest of the United States.

Many argue that it is not a core US interest. This is absolutely wrong. Al Qaeda and the Islamic State becomes a selling point to impoverished and marginalized youths seeking for something more. Osama bin Laden and likeminded people use the conflict and the fact that the United States supports Israel as propaganda to gain legitimacy among the people. The ideology for many of these groups, Islamic State included, is to create for themselves a caliphate with which to rule. Attacking the United States, therefore, hopes to weaken Middle Eastern allies like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and even Israel, to expedite the ultimate goal of the caliphate. This explains why terrorist networks target the United States and its allies, including Canada. This is what Fawaz Gerges terms the “near/far enemy dynamic.” It becomes obvious, therefore, that something must be done in the region.

Furthermore, it is quite wrong-headed to believe that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is a separate issue regarding the United States. In today’s globalized world, individuals are more connected than ever. This means conflicts can spread quickly and can affect the stability of the world. Canada was mentioned previously because of an attack on Ottawa recently. Lone-wolf attacks will only increase and allies will be targeted, as the attack on the Jewish museum in Brussels clearly demonstrates. There will be more.

Globally, it is quite clear that the Israel-Palestinian conflict helped create the monster that is the Islamic State, a state that cannot simply be considered a geographic entity. Social networks seek to expand the conflict by bringing in fighters and women. People, for whatever reason, are seduced, not only to join the Islamic State, but to carry out lone wolf attacks. Bombing the Islamic State is simply not enough: you have to get to the core of the issue. The West must delegitimize terrorist actors by removing an issue that actually attracts people: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Creating a stable region by enforcing peace, opens a new front in the fight against the Islamic State. Peace therefore is not only common sense and logical; it is essential. We no longer have the convenience of time, to wait until both sides get their act together. It’s time for a new strategy, one that appreciates the historical context of both groups with their respective traumas. It is time for the moderates to find one another and build a new destiny for their children.

Israel cannot be relied upon to make peace with the Palestinians responsibly. If they had any foresight, they would have made peace already. Let me explain: any good diplomat knows you always negotiate when you are in a stronger position relative to your enemy. You will get a better deal. It would make sense, therefore, if the Israelis made peace with the Fatah leadership unilaterally. Hamas can be left to disintegrate in the Gaza Strip and many Palestinians would see the logic of peace in the West Bank. Many will be seduced away from terrorism once the Israelis make such a peace. It will delegitimize Hamas and the illogical act of terrorism.

Currently, Israeli policy is short-sighted and negative. Acts of terrorism bring an overwhelming response by the Israelis which only kills more and more Palestinian civilians. This does not add to the reputation of Israel but takes away from it; it makes the situation worse and it strengthens the cause of terrorism in the minds of those most affected by the conflict. With the exception of Hamas, no one actually wins from these battles which seem to take place every few years. While they lose hundreds of their own soldiers and people, they win simply because they survive.

Surviving is victory even in the face of an overwhelming Israeli response. This is something that the Israeli leadership has failed to see and understand for decades.

In the comments, there seemed to be some curiosity as to my background and my ‘bias.’ While it is certainly no one’s business, and I should be judged based on merit not by my background, I am not ashamed of my Lebanese Maronite background. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has done nothing but ruin a beautiful and dynamic region of the world. The second Lebanese Civil War, a conflict over the legitimacy of the state itself and its identity (more in my dissertation if anyone is interested), was worsened by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I therefore declare my ‘bias’ as another commenter put it, as one who hopes for peace in an unstable part of the world. This is in everyone’s interest, except for those hijacking an entire religion: the Islamic State and Hamas.

To make an omelet you have to break a few eggs. This time, the egg just happens to be ending a very old conflict. It is in the interests of the United States to solve this conflict once and for all, curbing the influence of the Islamic State and helping create a stable world in times of global systemic transition.