The following is an excerpt from Ambassador Chas W. Freeman’s new book America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East. You can listen to his recent podcast on the book with Helena Cobban here.
To be disillusioned, one must first have illusions. Few things have been as disillusioning to partisans of the consolidation of a secure homeland for Jews in the Middle East (the most important objective of U.S. diplomacy in the region for decades) as the evolution of Israeli policies and practices over the past quarter-century. This period began with an internationally sponsored conference in Madrid from October 30 to November 1, 1991. The Madrid Conference brought Israel, its Arab neighbors, and the Palestine Liberation Organization together for the first time in an effort to achieve regional acceptance for the Jewish state. This led by circuitous means to the signing in Washington (on September 13, 1993) of the Oslo accords, which envisaged Palestinian elections to establish self-government, Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian lands, and a process of self-determination that would culminate within five years in the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
This era may be said to have definitively ended on October 26, 2015, when Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the Knesset that, while he rejected the idea of a binational state, Israeli Jews “need to control all of the territory [of historic Palestine] for the foreseeable future.” Mr. Netanyahu showed that he understood that this would preclude a secure peace for Israel with Palestinians, other Arabs, and the world’s Muslims when he added, “I’m asked if we will forever live by the sword—yes.”
The essays in America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East reveal my own gradual and grudging realization that I had been wrong in my presumption that Israel desired peace and reconciliation with those its Western-backed establishment and military consolidation in the Middle East had injured or offended. As events unfolded, it became increasingly hard to deny that the absence of peace was explained not by the unwillingness of the victims of Israeli colonialism to compromise, but by Israel’s own view that it had no need to make concessions as long as it had the backing of the United States.
With great reluctance, I came to see that, given U.S. enablement, Israel has never been prepared to risk peace with those it displaced from their homes in Palestine. When faced with a choice between territorial expansion and advances toward reconciliation with Arabs, Israel always chooses land over peace. The now-defunct American-sponsored “peace process”— on which the United States staked its reputation in the Middle East and elsewhere, and which I labored to support—has been revealed to all as part of an elaborate diplomatic deception, intended to provide political cover for Israel’s continued territorial expansion at Palestinian expense.
To be clear, this hypocrisy matters to me as a patriotic American less because of its injustice to the Palestinians than because of its political and military consequences for Israel and the United States. Israel can enjoy neither domestic tranquility nor security from non-hostile neighbors and the world’s Muslims if it continues to deal with its captive Arab population through the culling of their leaders by targeted assassination, the tyranny of occupation, and the persecution of checkpoints and separation walls, punctuated by sniper attacks and occasional bombing campaigns against defenseless Palestinian civilians. Such an approach guarantees violent resistance by Palestinians and hostility by those who identify with them.
Equally, or perhaps more importantly, it represents a secession by Israel from both Western civilization and the humane values of the Judeo- Christian moral tradition. As such, it delegitimizes Israel internationally and alienates it from Jews in other countries. This is a prescription for escalating regional enmity and declining support for Israel in Europe and America. It is a suicidal strategy for Zionism. Given American solidarity with Israel, it foretells rising politico-military costs for the United States from anti-American terrorism by estranged Muslims, accompanied by division between the United States and major European allies. It is in the interest of the United States that citizens raise their voices to head off this scenario. That is what I have tried to do.