Friday, October 3, 2014

Senators lead the way in Middle East security as a bipartisan issue

At this moment media coverage of the Middle East is largely focused on the very real threat posed by ISIS and the massive humanitarian crisis taking place in Syria. With a significant increase in Western involvement in Iraq and Syria, as well as Turkey's decision to play a role in combating the terror group, it’s not surprising that these stories are the focus of attention, but there are other serious issues in the region which also need to be addressed, including the aftermath of this summer’s war between Israel andHamas. 

For this reason I was glad to see that Senator Kelly Ayotte (R) of New Hampshire and Senator Robert P. Casey Jr. (D) of Pennsylvania co-authored a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, highlighting 3 key areas relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which need to be addressed, and demonstrating that the security of the United States and its allies in the Middle East is not a Democratic or Republican issue, but clearly bipartisan.

One of the things I really liked about this letter is that it acknowledges the difficult, yet vital, balance which needs to be struck between providing humanitarian aid to Gaza and maintaining the security of the State of Israel. This is an important idea, and one which is not given voice often enough, in my opinion. I don’t think there is anyone who could look at Gaza today and say that there is not a desperate need for assistance, yet at the same time, it would be utterly foolish to expect that Hamas is the solution to this problem. 

As the Senators adroitly note in their letter, “Ultimately, we must seek Gaza’s demilitarization.”
They go on to write that it is the Palestinian Authority which should lead the way in both the West Bank and Gaza – it’s the right idea, but a difficult one to imagine happening any time soon, given that Hamas ran the PA out of Gaza by employing considerable violence not that long ago. Nonetheless, I agree that ultimately it would be to the benefit of both Israel and the Palestinians if Gaza were not under the control of Hamas.

Finally, the Senators address efforts by the Palestinian Authority to circumvent the established peace process by going directly to several international bodies, such as the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, to seek some form of de facto recognition from the international community.

This is not a new tactic, but it is one that I think has the potential to do great harm to the prospects of peace in at least two ways, first of all it demonstrates a lack of confidence in the peace process itself, which I think sends a terrible signal not only to Israeli negotiators, but to the many nation states which have put considerable time and effort into trying to keep this process alive. Secondly, this kind of activity draws energy, attention and resources away from the actual peace process itself.

History has taught us again and again that there are no simple or easy solutions in the Middle East – centuries worth of competing ideological, religious and political claims all often conspire to thwart even the most clever and altruistic attempts at bringing peace – but a crucial step in working toward this goal lies in clearly identifying the particular challenges we face at this moment. By focusing on the importance of encouraging good governance in Gaza, the need to limit Palestinian Authority efforts to circumnavigate the established peace process, and highlighting the threat a resurgent, rearmed Hamas poses to Israel, I believe that Senators Ayotte and Casey, along with 86 of their Senate colleagues have helped to do just this.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.

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