Peace – true peace – is more than the absence of war, more than a temporary respite from continual conflict. True peace rests on trust between parties, and it’s rooted in on-the-ground conditions that ensure its viability.
That’s true whether one side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in this case Israel, has deep-seated ties to the United States or not. And it’s true whether Washington actively seeks to advance peace or leaves it solely to the parties themselves.
As the world’s greatest power, the United States can play an important role when it comes to bringing warring sides together, such as by arbitrating between them, offering guidance and counsel, pushing and prodding, hosting negotiations, and promising financial and other support if peace ensues.
America played an important role, for instance, when Israel and Egypt made peace in early 1979. That came after President Carter hosted Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat for two weeks of tough talks at Camp David in late 1978.
It did so as well when Israel and Jordan made peace in 1994. In that case, President Clinton encouraged Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Jordan’s King Hussein to seal a deal and promised debt relief for Jordan.
During these landmark negotiations, Israel was what it remains today – America’s closest ally in the region, the one with which the United States has an unshakeable bond, the one whose defense Washington ensured with its timely shipments of arms to Jerusalem at the early stages of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
During each of those negotiations, the United States offered the guiding hand that brought the parties together, that empowered and incentivized them to do what they were obviously prepared to do in the first place. The rock-solid U.S.-Israeli relationship did nothing to impede those successful talks.
By contrast, Israeli-Palestinian peace is elusive today because the parties are not prepared to make peace. The U.S.-Israeli relationship isn’t impeding progress, and an U.S.-Israeli split won’t make progress any likelier.
Neither side, of course, is blameless for the stand-off. In the Jewish state, the country’s leadership and its people are skeptical that Palestinians want a peace that Israelis can trust, and Israel’s aggressive settlement expansion admittedly isn’t making peace any easier to attain.
Nevertheless, the main impediments to Israeli-Palestinian peace reside on the Palestinian side. They include, first and foremost, the split between the supposedly “moderate” Palestinian Authority, which runs the West Bank, and the terrorist group, Hamas, which runs Gaza, remains committed to Israel’s destruction, and allows frequent rock-fire from Gaza to southern Israel that targets innocent Israeli life.
How Israel can make peace with a divided Palestinian leadership that governs separate Palestinian land or with a united one that includes a group dedicated to Israel’s destruction is a question that’s never been resolved to anyone’s satisfaction.
Nor have the Palestinian leadership and its people accepted the reality of Israel – that is, a Jewish state whose ties to the land date back thousands of years. Broad-scale Palestinian “rejectionism” of that basic fact, combined with continuing Palestinian dreams of capturing all land between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea, remains a huge stumbling block for nourishing true lasting peace.
Nor, in addition, have Palestinians abandoned their wholly unrealistic hopes of a “full right of return” of all Palestinian refugees, stretching the definition of refugees in ways that defy logic and would overwhelm Israel.
Put simply, Israeli-Palestinian peace remains elusive because one side doesn’t seem to want it and the other doesn’t trust that it can come about.
By loosening its ties to Israel, the United States would do nothing to improve prospects for peace. It would just raise questions about its reliability as an ally to all of its other allies around the world.
Lawrence J. Haas is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.