The threat of the Clinton administration to "re-examine" its approach to the peace process, should the Netanyahu government refuse to acquiesce to the US proposal that Israel withdraw from thirteen percent of the remaining West Bank as a precursor to reinvigorating the comatose peace process, underscores the hitherto undeclared fact that the United States and Israel are pursuing antithetical objectives in the Israeli - Palestinian peace process.
Success of the Israeli - Palestinian peace process is deemed important by US regional policy planners, for geo-strategic interests in the region, and for President Bill Clinton in particular, who sees the Israeli - Palestinian peace process as a venue for leaving a greater presidential legacy than one of sex, lies, and videotapes. From a geo-strategic position, the United States believes that resolution of the Israeli - Palestinian conflict will enhance Arab regional acceptance of the West in the region. This acceptance would allow the United States to take a more overt and active role in confronting what it perceives to be the main threat to Western interests in the region - the proliferation of Islamic Fundamentalism. Compounding the difficulty in the administrations ability to take seriously Israeli security concerns is the fact that they are viewing the negotiations through the jaundiced prism of American liberal, left-wing thought. Through this prism, the fundamental image of the conflict is one of brutal Israeli soldiers chasing Palestinian rock-throwing children through the streets of Gaza. Consequently, the role of the United States as being a "honest broker" is severely diluted. This was clearly demonstrated by the May 7 remarks of First Lady Hillary Clinton when she declared her support for a "state in Palestine."
Consequently, for the United States, it is continuation of the process that is the critical element in the negotiations. Ensuring that any final agreement will enhance Israel's security or prove enduring is of peripheral importance. For these reasons, as far as the Americans are concerned, the failure of Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat to fulfill his commitments under the Oslo, Cairo, and Hebron accords is subordinate to the continuation of the peace process.
Through a combination of wishful thinking and rose colored glasses the United States expects, as did former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, that the mere continuation of the peace process creates a dynamic that will build in momentum and reach a stage in which the Israelis and Palestinians will be able to overcome their deep religious, historical, ethnic animosities. To this end, it is critical for the United States that the peace process continue.
For the Netanyahu government, the US proposal is untenable for both security and political reasons. The Netanyahu government realizes that it is at a severe disadvantage in that it is trading a tangible commodity (land) for intangible commitments by the Palestinians to achieve a "peaceful" resolution to the Israeli - Palestinian conflict.
Even those components that can be empirically verified, such as the number of Palestinian forces, are deemed irrelevant by the United States and European community, to the broader issues of the continuance of the peace process. No single infraction by Arafat, be it his calls for Jihad, refusal to amend the Palestinian covenant, control terrorism, or extradite terrorists, are reason enough to suspend the process. Unfortunately, while each individual infraction by the Palestinian Authority may not, in and of itself, be significant, taken together they represent a clear and unequivocal declaration of intentions that the Palestinian Authority has no intention of fulfilling its obligations or peacefully resolving the Israeli - Palestinian conflict. Consequently, the US administrations decoupling of these infractions has created the appearance that it is the Israelis that are being intransigent and unreasonable.
Given this environment, the most prudent step that Netanyahu can take is to challenge the administration and refuse to accede to the administrations demand that the Israelis capitulate or be branded as the obstacle to peace. The forthcoming Congressional elections have already sparked a backlash against the administration and will ensure that any administration attempts to extract Israeli concessions through threats will be muted. Moreover, should the Netanyahu government agree to the administrations demands it will only leave itself open to further demands as the Palestinian Authority will once again threaten violence in order to gain additional concessions. The clearest message that Netanyahu can send the Clinton administration is to suspend further negotiations until such time as the Palestinian Authority reduces it police forces to those authorized under Oslo, and extradites all Palestinian terrorist suspects that have been requested by Israel. Also it must cease the incitement to violence of its population against Jews and Israelis, including in its school system; and it must cease condoning terrorism, praising terrorists, and allowing the continuation of terrorism on its territory. These empirical actions would signal that Arafat has accepted Oslo and that is willing to resolve its conflict with Israel.
Major Shawn M. Pine is a military/strategic analyst who served in the Israel Defense Forces and for 9 years on active duty in the U.S. Army. He recently returned from Israel where he was a Ph.D. candidate in international relations at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has published a number of articles concerning the prevailing political, military, and strategic environment in the Middle East. Pine recently became a research associate for the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies.