This editorial by Prof. Bowen was published in the News Leader (Staunton VA: October 26, 2007): A11.
by Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
(Professor, Dept. of Political Science, Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401)
Since it sometimes is difficult to read every word of a scanned article (as above), here is a clear copy of the original version of this editorial for readers' reference:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently has been touring Middle Eastern capitals to line up participants for a Middle East Peace Conference, now planned for November. Annapolis, Maryland has been chosen as the site of this meeting, which is an ironic choice. The home of the U.S. Naval Academy is, after all, one key place where the hopeful optimism of our youth is forged into new generations of military leaders. Few places in America better remind us of an important and enduring reality: any peace agreement is fragile, for peace ultimately relies not on promises but on sufficient military strength to deter enemies. When deterrence fails, from Annapolis have come many of those who have led our responses.
As we now well know, deterring America’s militant Islamist enemies failed in 2001. Our enemies took no guidance about our good intentions from Pres. Clinton’s defense of aggrieved Muslims in Bosnia (1995) and Kosovo (1999). Nor were Muslim extremists much impressed by his generous patience in guiding Israel and the Palestinians to their Declaration of Principles for peace, The Olso Accords of 1993. Enemies of peace also were little influenced when Palestinian leader, the late Yasser Arafat, claimed to foreswear future violence against the Jewish state; or from the 1995 Interim Agreement Clinton mid-wifed, which set up Arafat’s Palestinian Authority (P.A.) as a proto-state. Subsequent U.S. efforts to prod matters further toward real peace at Wye River (1998) and Camp David (2000) also failed to win friends for America among militant Islamists; nor did all this talk produce much true peace.
Idealists may still hope that yet another Maryland venue in 2007 can be the place swords will melt into plowshares. But the safe bet is that no harvest of peace, for Israel or for the U.S., would follow even if such an unlikely miracle were to occur. I base my skepticism on having read what the militant Islamists actually say, and by talking to them face-to-face in the Middle East. Whatever merits there may be to endlessly promoting yet another round of a “Middle East peace process,” we must not let the cycles of this ritual hypnotize us into believing in illusions.
Peace is not always impossible, but in the absence of a genuine community of shared interests and values (such as exists between the U.S. and Canada), steps toward peace must be careful ones. Peace first can start to emerge when belligerent sides, having grown weary of conflict, elect to pledge to forsake violence. Israel did this in signing the Oslo Accords (1993), and by undertaking to prepare its schoolchildren and society for peace. Contrarily, shortly after Oslo, a rising Palestinian Islamist group, HAMAS, began teaching hate to children, and started a suicide bombing campaign against Israeli civilians, undermining the authority of Mr. Arafat’s pledge to give up on terrorism. Fourteen years on, the will to bomb defiantly continues to define HAMAS, and for this attitude in January 2006, they were rewarded by election to govern by Palestinian voters. Unable to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority that once had signed peace promises, HAMAS simply seized power from the P.A. in Gaza earlier this year. Thus, any Palestinian delegation to the Annapolis talks clearly is unable to make assurances on behalf of HAMAS. More importantly, rockets from Gaza that land almost daily in southern Israel mock the meaning of any “peace” assurances that might be given. Pertinently, HAMAS has given no expressions of peace in any event: it continues to reject the Oslo Agreements and continues to deny Israel’s right to exist.
But peace pledges now could only be a small step. Given the antagonism and mistrust built through 60 years of fighting –the last 14 under a “peace” agreement –, any agreed end to fighting must rely on there being created defensible borders in which both Israel and a future Palestinian state can live in security. Even the Palestinian moderates associated with P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas fail to recognize this essence. Continued Palestinian insistence on 100 percent return to the indefensible 1949 frontiers presents Israel no possible way to align its minimal national security needs with Palestinian aspirations. Imagine, if you will, a hostile power controlling the entire ridgeline of the Blue Ridge mountains, and Staunton as the U.S. capital. Would it seem reasonable to pull back to such a border even as hostile forces continued to lob missiles into our most important cities? Tel Aviv lies even closer than this: eleven miles from the closest point on the 1949 frontiers.
Americans must be realistic about what reasonably can be expected to result at Annapolis. Agreement to continue to talk about their different perspectives may be what has to pass as success among Israelis and Palestinians in 2007. Premature pressure to achieve “final” borders, including in the area of the city of Jerusalem, is sure to fail to achieve progress toward peace. To Israelis, talk of “final” solutions to problems forever will be mingled with the necessity to retain power sufficient to attain it. Any abstract plan insensitive to these realities is bound to fail.
Gordon L. Bowen, Oct. 17, 2007
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