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HomeForeign PolicyDi Leo: The Mideast Peace Process, Forty Years Later 

Di Leo: The Mideast Peace Process, Forty Years Later 

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Abraham Accords Signing Ceremony 091520

By John F. Di Leo - 

In September of 1978, following two weeks of secret negotiations at Camp David, Israel’s Menachem Begin and Egypt’s Anwar Sadat signed a preliminary peace treaty. These Camp David Accords proved to be the high water mark of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, his only foreign policy achievement. 

They couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. This unexpected peace between Israel and Egypt burnished the Democratic Party’s peacenik credentials after Lyndon Johnson’s long mismanagement of the Vietnam conflict.  President Carter wore this as a badge of honor, and made the most of it for the remainder of his presidency. 

The Camp David Accords hit the press just six weeks before the 1978 midterms, and dominated the foreign policy news for much of the remainder of Carter’s term in office. Even as the jihadist revolution in Iran that began in 1978, and then the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan at the end of 1979, together jeopardized the world scene in the latter half of his presidency, Jimmy Carter could continue to campaign as a peacemaker, thanks to the favorable coverage he continued to get for this one piece of deal-making. 

There are things we aren’t supposed to talk about, things we are expected to forget. 

So quick were they to sign the Camp David Accords, some of the major issues of the day were left untouched, while Israel’s greatest potential bargaining chip was given up, arguably making the next forty years much more difficult than they needed to be. 

A History in Brief 

How to discuss the history of the Mideast peace process in less than a book? One can but try…

The nation of Israel lasted as a Jewish kingdom until the Romans forced the Diaspora two thousand years ago, but the region remained primarily Israeli in population ever since, despite being ruled by outsiders.   

In the late 1800s, the Zionist movement to repopulate the Holy Land succeeded in encouraging Jews from Europe, Russia, and America in particular to return to their homeland, finding it largely empty, other than the many small Jewish communities that had quietly remained in place all those years. 

As Jews moved back, economic growth followed.  With businesses and farms springing up, towns growing into cities, the arabs of the surrounding regions began to flow in as well, enticed by the economic opportunity that this Zionist-nurtured growth might bring.  By World War I, in fact, there was a substantial arab population where there had been little before. 

With the Balfour Declaration at the end of the Great War came real recognition from the global community of nations that Israel should be reestablished as its own nation-state.  Though the boundaries envisioned by Lord Balfour were to shrink considerably over the decades, the recognition was clear: Arabs of all kinds already had plenty of their own countries, Jews had none.  So it made sense – as long as the world powers were re-drawing maps anyway – to establish a Jewish state, with secure enough borders to survive on the world scene. 

Delays and reneging from earlier supporters caused the process to drag out through the 1920s and 1930s; the horrors of Nazi Germany revealed to all the need for this particular ethnic group, at least, to have its own “place among the nations,” so, after World War II, the newly-established United Nations gave its approval to a whittled-down, virtually indefensible map,  finally "allowing" independence and nationhood in 1948. 

With less than 8500 square miles (about the size of New Jersey), surrounded by powerful enemies, Israel immediately found itself at war, and miraculously secured its independence on the battlefield anyway.  A continuous state of war followed, until finally in 1967 Israel won some ground that would give it defensible borders.  The Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula. 

These safer borders came at a cost, however: the many hostile arabs who sided with the enemies in 1948 were abandoned by their wartime allies, left behind in Israel as embittered "men without a country."  The land gained in 1967 had the same problem – residents allied with Israel’s enemies who would never be happy as long as they lived in a Jewish nation. 

The Camp David Accords promised to address some of these challenges, but didn’t.  While there is much more to it than this alone – this is admittedly a necessarily abbreviated history – the fatal flaw of the Camp David Accords is that they resulted in a peace treaty with only one of dozens of foes, and cost Israel its biggest bargaining chip. By the end of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, Israel had agreed to transfer Sinai – about 20,000 square miles – back to Egypt, without getting other Arab countries to absorb the “refugees” who constituted Israel’s greatest problem. 

If Israel had taken the time to offer voluntary movement while it held that land – offering homesteading in Sinai as the United States did in the west during our own 19th century expansion – then it might have largely solved its refugee nightmare.  But no, the Carter administration was in such a hurry to chalk up this win, Israel’s arm was twisted to unload its greatest possession while the burden of hundreds of thousands of hostiles remained on their side of the border. 

It’s that continued presence – both the abandoned arab allies of 1948 and the hostiles living in Gaza, Golan, Judea and Samaria in 1967 (and their descendents) – that has kept Israel in a state of civil war ever since.  However generous Israel has been – building everything from greenhouses to clinics to civic centers for them – Israel has continued to be viewed as an interloper all these years by a population raised purposefully to be pawns of the hostile neighboring countries.  Instead of sensibly recognizing who they really ought to blame for their condition – since these arab neighbors should have welcomed them in, but never have – these so-called “palestinians” have instead lived only to fight, making life a living hell in Israel ever since, with rockets, bombings and other constant sabotage ever since. 

A New Chance at Peace 

The Trump administration has tried a different approach.  In the forty years since Camp David, Republican and Democrat administrations alike have attempted to repeat Carter’s “success” on other fronts to no avail.   

In August, 2020, following a summer of rumors, the Trump administration announced a coming deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.  A few weeks later, a similar deal was announced between Israel and Bahrain, and all three came together at the White House on September 15 to sign the Abraham Accords: their joint announcement of mutual recognition and peaceful intent. 

In addition, it has been hinted that there are more to come, that as part of the Trump administration’s efforts to isolate Iran, they have successfully convinced many other arab countries to bury the hatchet with israel, and form a united front against the jihadists of the Iranian block. 

We therefore assume that the coming months will be peppered with more such announcements, and that the Middle East will become a safer, calmer place as a result. 

Now, it is too early to be sure how good these deals turn out to be.  Nothing is certain in foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, where there are whole religions that teach hatred as soon as children are old enough to talk. 

But there is reason for hope. Before Donald Trump even took office, Egypt’s General Abdul el-Sisi had begun the first real public effort at shaming the clerics of islam into admitting the evils of jihadist philosophy.  Building on this within his first six months in office, President Trump went to Riyadh in May 2017 to deliver “a speech to the muslim world” – this one aimed not at the unwelcome ears of clerics but at the more practical ears of the region's political leaders.  

President Trump’s Middle East policy has been tied more to common sense than his predecessors: 

Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, so our embassy belongs there.  Iran is the enemy, so let’s say so. If we’re at peace with most of these countries, then they should get along together amongst themselves too.  On point after point, it all just makes sense. 

The Trump administration has pursued this course of argument, not by invading our enemies or threatening to, but rather, by pulling out of the region and almost shaming our friends into taking responsibility for both their own defense and their region’s peace process. 

It’s not really that far removed from the Trump administration’s approach to NATO, come to think of it, is it?  If we continue to do it all for them, they’ll continue to sit back and let us.  If we refuse and force them to take responsibility, they will because they have to.   

There’s something there, isn’t there?  It’s rather reminiscent of the American philosophy itself, the idea of the rugged individual, independent of mind and spirit, encouraged to accomplish things by his own industry. 

Many of us – especially on the right side of the spectrum – tend to give President Trump a bit of a hard time over being less philosophical than conservative thinkers of the past.  He doesn’t quote Washington and Hamilton, Morris and Jay, Marshall and Adams, anywhere near as much as doctrinaire acolytes of the Founding Fathers would like him to. 

But just as his domestic policy has been at least generally in line with the Founders’ approach – slash burdensome regulations, pull the jack boot of government off the neck of American business, let Americans be Americans and you’ll be surprised what they can accomplish! – by the same token, his foreign policy has been on the same path.   

Foreign policy wonks have tended to assume that, without the heavy hand of the United States to push, foreign countries will do the wrong thing.  The Trump doctrine seems to be that, if the United States stops throwing its weight around, remaining engaged but letting our allies take the lead, then perhaps there will finally be action to replace decades of impasse. 

Will The Media Acknowledge The Truth? 

This is the question, mere weeks before a presidential election.  

President Trump has scored a diplomatic victory.  Two Arab countries have made friends with Israel, and more will follow. Judging from the precedent of the Camp David Accords, President Trump should coast for months, buoyed on the front page by kudos for this foreign policy accomplishment.    

But will he?  Of course not. 

The Mainstream Media have already set records for downplaying this news.  Articles showcased these unprecedented photos – the leaders of Israel, Bahrain and the U.A.E. at the White House with President Trump – and instead of trumpeting the good news of a landmark peace announcement, the accompanying headlines slammed the event for lack of social distancing in an age of Covid-19. 

Really??? 

This should be the lead headline on every major paper’s front page for days.  A Democrat president would get months of favorable press from this; President Trump may not even get a day.  Stories about the wildfires on the west coast, BLM terrorist riots in our cities, and the death spiral of professional sports will all continue to dominate the headlines, crowding out the most positive Middle East news in years.  We are accustomed to it; it’s no surprise. 

But one can hope that the American public is watching.  One can hope that the journalistic suppression of this foreign policy success, perhaps even more than most, helps to drive home a fundamental truth to the American electorate: 

That America’s mainstream media have left the path of journalism and become partisan actors, abusing First Amendment protections, just to function as dishonest, political activists instead. 

Compliments to President Trump, and to the courageous leadership of Bahrain, the Emirates, and Israel, three longtime friends of ours who are finally now friends with each other as well. 

A tree has been planted; it’s a good day in the Middle East.   May this tree continue to bear fruit for a long time to come. 

Copyright 2020 John F. Di Leo  

John F Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based Trade Compliance trainer, writer and actor.  His columns are regularly found in Illinois Review. 

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