Pete Souza/White House
This post is part of an ongoing series preparing for the AEI/CNN/Heritage National Security & Foreign Policy GOP presidential debate on November 22.
Despite coming to office with very different worldviews, recent American presidents eventually fall into surprisingly similar sets of assumptions regarding Middle East peace once the campaign ends and governing begins.
This paradigm rests on several core beliefs:
1) American involvement in Israeli-Palestinian talks is helpful and will bring results.
2) Israeli construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is a significant impediment to the peace process.
3) Moving the American embassy to Jerusalem would harm American interests in the region.
4) Land-for-peace is a realistic formula for creating a lasting agreement.
5) Solving the Israeli-Palestinian question will make it easier for America to achieve other aims in the Middle East.
The dominant American paradigm has not brought actual peace much closer. Instead, successive U.S. administrations have dis-incentivized concessions by the Palestinian Authority (PA) by moving the starting point for negotiations closer to the Palestinian position over time. Without the Palestinians conceding anything on refugees, recognizing Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state, or allowing Israeli control (or even Jewish presence) beyond the 1949 armistice lines, negotiations have moved from a discussion over some form of Palestinian autonomy, to U.S. support of Palestinian statehood, to areas of Jerusalem itself being described as settlements. Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank without a comprehensive peace agreement is the worst possible outcome and recipe for years of bloodshed—but as long as U.S. administrations keep moving the goalposts, why wouldn’t the Palestinians conclude that this scenario becomes more likely the longer they wait?
“President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus”—Okay, we get it. The Republican candidates must move beyond repeating that mantra. If they intend to take American policy in a new direction, what exactly will that look like—will they push for Israel-PA negotiations? Do they consider the construction of new homes within the borders of Israeli communities in the West Bank illegitimate? Is Jerusalem Israel’s capital, and if so, why is America’s embassy on the Tel Aviv shore? If a Palestinian state does come into being, how do they intend to ensure that it is not susceptible to religious extremism, anti-American policies, and Iranian influence?
Lazar Berman is program manager for the foreign and defense policy studies department at AEI