I’m not focusing on Jackson Diehl’s column yesterday in the Washington Post because he’s such a terribly important foreign policy pundit. He’s not. Instead, I’m picking on him because he’s so utterly typical of chattering class conventional wisdom (which of course includes the academics and the think tanks) on U.S. Middle East policy, and specifically on relations between Israel and the Palestinians. In the face of overwhelming and ongoing floods of evidence, it continues to be not only spectacularly wrong, but almost proudly so.
Israeli-Palestinian relations weren’t Diehl’s only focus today, but they were prominent in his overall theme that President Trump is making dangerous mistakes by tossing out so many foreign policy ultimatums to friend and foe alike lately. Diehl could be right on that larger point (though I’m doubtful) but could not be more off-base when it comes to what is still amazingly called “the peace process.”
Diehl’s evidently worked up this week because Mr. Trump decided to punish the Palestinians for snubbing a White House peace plan in protest of his recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In retaliation, he’s cut half of America’s annual $125 million contribution to the United Nations agency that helps provide economic aid and various types of social services, and has threatened to eliminate the rest “unless they sit down and negotiate peace.”
According to Diehl, such steps will backfire big-time because
“The withdrawal of U.S. aid is the last thing Israel wants — it would cause the collapse of the West Bank Palestinian security forces that in recent years have worked closely with Israel to prevent terrorist attacks. Israeli military forces might have to redeploy in Palestinian areas they now avoid. In short, if Trump follows through, he’ll do less damage to the Palestinians than to Israel, the ally he thinks he’s appeasing.”
As a result, Diehl claims, “To punish Trump for that ultimatum, the Palestinians need only sit tight.”
That last point alone leaves no doubt that Diehl thinks we’re living on a planet where water runs uphill. I mean, are the Palestinian people in any kind of a position where “sitting tight” is remotely appealing? Are they the side in this conflict that’s satisfied with the status quo?
Further, who historically has paid the highest price for a resumption of terror attacks on the West Bank and/or Gaza? Try “the people who live there” – i.e. the Palestinians.
And finally, if the Palestinians, or “outside agitators” (dating myself here!) ignite another round of violence great enough to strain Israeli resources seriously, nothing could be easier for the Trump administration to do than give the funds that were slated to the UN agency to the Israeli government – or more – to use as it pleases.
Diehl’s stated fear about Palestinian violence, however, underscores an even more important point about the standard lens through which the foreign policy establishment views this issue. These supposed experts have been raising this specter for years now, and seem to have forgotten that the last event that could legitimately be called a significant Palestinian uprising took place in 2000. In fact, Diehl seems to have forgotten that he himself semi-predicted new outbreaks because of the Trump Jerusalem decision – and like so many others, blew the call.
But don’t expect this Post pundit or any others to change their tune significantly. For doing so would amount to recognizing the fatal flaws that have marked their entire overarching analysis of Arab-Israeli relations for decades. As early as 2002, when I wrote this short article, it should have been screamingly obvious that the Palestinians had virtually no leverage with Israel, whether from using force themselves or relying on their fellow Arabs to help out.
And it should have been just as obvious that their delusional demands to negotiate with the Israelis as equals, or anything close, were being enabled only by the diplomatic support from outside powers. Whether mindlessly or cynically, the United States and the Europeans have acted as if peace could somehow be created by diplomacy that ignored power realities. That’s simply childish, and the prime victims have been the Palestinians.
That’s in fact why I found the Trump Jerusalem decision so refreshing and potentially productive. It’s why I believe that an aggressive Israeli settlement program (if not every single settlement decision) can be similarly constructive. And it’s why the President’s announcement had made foreign policy sophisticates so livid: For the real message the United States is sending to the Palestinians now is the one that’s been as emphatically rejected in the past as it’s been urgently needed – and completely common-sensical: “Keep up the obstructionism, and you’ll lose even more land.” I only wish that Washington and Jerusalem were spelling this street smart content out more explicitly, or at all, and especially for the sake of the Palestinians themselves. Unless that common expression is true, and there really is no fixing stupid.