Master of Delusion

With President Obama making Middle East peace a welcome top priority early in his presidency (and dispatching the highly respected George Mitchell to the region this week), analysts, "experts," and opinion-makers are falling over themselves to offer their two cents on what will work, and what won't. Tom Friedman, ever anxious to give advice, writes in the New York Times that a "five state solution" is the answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His imaginary letter from King Abdullah to President Obama is nice enough, but even Abdullah, mindful that Arab populations are furious with their leaders for having either enabled the Israeli war against Gaza or for showing virtually no support for impoverished Gazans under siege, would recognize that Friedman's solution is no solution at all.

The reality is that without Iran and Syria, no real peace will be possible in the Middle East. Abdullah's supposed proposal (penned by Friedman) includes Jordan and Egypt in the "five-state" mix, both authoritarian countries that have close relations with the U.S. (and Israel) and whose governments are hardly popular with their people, unpopular with Iranians and Syrians, and collaborators as far as some Palestinians are concerned. Hezbollah and Hamas, both of which are supported by Iran and Syria, are perhaps the most important parties to a comprehensive Middle East peace (that includes Lebanon and the Shebaa Farms question), so ignoring those two countries in any negotiations for a settlement between Israel and Palestine (and Lebanon) is rather pointless. (One would hardly expect Mitchell to make his first stop in Tehran, but the exclusion of Damascus from his itinerary, where we actually have an embassy, seems rather short sighted too, given that Hamas' political leadership is based there.) Keen as Abdullah might be, as is Friedman, to neutralize Iranian and Syrian influence in the region and on the peace effort, he knows that ignoring them is delusional at best.

Hezbollah, now a legitimate party in Lebanese politics, is a creation of Iran, and one need only pay attention to one of Sheikh Nasrallah's titles (the leader of Hezbollah) to understand why Iran is crucial to any settlement that involves that group: "Representative of the Supreme Leader of The Islamic Revolution in Lebanon." That Supreme Leader was Ayatollah Khomeini when Hezbollah was created, and today it is Ayatollah Khamenei, which is one reason that wherever one goes in Hezbollah territory in the Levant, one sees posters of both men alongside Nasrallah's. (The Supreme Leader of Iran's title is not, as one might imagine, The Supreme Leader of Iran but The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution.)

Hamas, which is impossible to defeat militarily (it is not an army; it is a political philosophy as much as a party, and that philosophy can only be defeated if it is shown to be illegitimate or a failure, which so far it hasn't, thanks to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank), and enjoys great support throughout the Muslim world, has Syria and Iran as almost its sole benefactors. Although Hamas the political party will make peace if it is in its interests, and will not always necessarily do Iran's or Syria's bidding, it will be exceedingly difficult to convince its leadership that it must agree to a two-state solution for Palestine and Israel as long as it continues to receive the kind of unfettered support it does from Iran and Syria.

It may be distasteful to Abdullah (and of course his friend Friedman) to invite the Iranians and Syrians to the negotiating table, for it would legitimize their involvement in the peace process which the U.S.-allied Arab states, Israel and the U.S. are loath to do, and it may the last thing in the world that will be considered. But sometimes the last thing in the world to consider is the only thing that can actually solve a problem.