Myths, Illu­sions, and Peace: Find­ing a New Direc­tion for Amer­i­ca in the Mid­dle East

  • Review
By – October 31, 2011

Solve the Israeli-Pales­tin­ian con­flict and peace in the Mid­dle East will fol­low. This has been the cor­ner­stone of Amer­i­can pol­i­cy in the region. The con­cept can be traced back to the Eisen­how­er admin­is­tra­tion in the 1950’s. The prob­lem is, it’s a myth. Den­nis Ross and David Makovsky, schol­ars of both the his­to­ry and the cul­tur­al diver­si­ty of the region, detail the mis­steps, the polit­i­cal moti­va­tions, and the sub­terfuge that have coa­lesced to cre­ate the illu­sion” that the two-state solu­tion, once imple­ment­ed, would restore sta­bil­i­ty to the area.

Most would doubt that this top­ic makes for a great read. Mid­dle East pol­i­cy has been the sub­ject of count­less arti­cles penned by a myr­i­ad of intel­lec­tu­als and politi­cians; so many, most glaze over or throw up their hands in frus­tra­tion upon the mere men­tion. In the hands of Ross and Makovsky, how­ev­er, the top­ic is grip­ping and reads like a polit­i­cal thriller. The authors put you inside the Nixon White House while war rages in 1973, and the casu­al­ty count ris­es while Kissinger and his boss try to arrange for a par­tial vic­to­ry — not by the Israelis — by the Egyp­tians! They pro­vide detailed his­tor­i­cal evi­dence indi­cat­ing that every coun­try in the Arab block will act in their own self inter­est regard­less of the fate of the Pales­tini­ans. Nego­ti­ate a peace tak­ing this real­i­ty into account, the authors argue con­vinc­ing­ly, and there just might be a chance for that peace to last.


How have you seen the polit­i­cal move­ments grow and change over the years? Are there spe­cif­ic events that you can point to that have had a dra­mat­ic effect on pub­lic sentiment?

The good news is that mod­er­aters on both sides are more real­is­tic about what is need­ed to attain peace. The bad news is that extrem­ist par­ties have grown and are deter­mined to tor­pe­do peace. As such, it is the best of times and the worst of times.

Do you think that the right of return, set­tle­ment growth and East Jerusalem as the cap­i­tal of the future Pales­tin­ian State can be treat­ed indi­vid­u­al­ly or do they come as a pack­age? If they can be divid­ed, deal­ing with one issue at a time, which one do you feel is the big­ger imped­i­ment to a peace agreement?

While many believe the heart of this con­flict is land, iron­i­cal­ly, this is the area where the two sides are clos­est and should def­i­nite­ly be the focus of nego­ti­a­tions. Issues like Jerusalem and refugees are relat­ed to the self-def­i­n­i­tion of the par­ties, and they will be hard­er to resolve. Yes, we need bot­tom-up focus on insti­tu­tions to engage in nation-build­ing, but it could not sub­sti­tute for top-down focus on the polit­i­cal issues.

The Israeli gov­ern­ment just expe­ri­enced an elec­tion that brought the right side of the polit­i­cal spec­trum to pow­er. Why do you feel this hap­pened and how do you see the future of Israeli and Pales­tin­ian pol­i­tics in the face of this outcome?

There is a lack of con­sen­sus with­in both Israeli and Pales­tin­ian soci­eties. The key is to find areas of con­ver­gence and demonstrate
that it is nego­ti­a­tion and not vio­lence that achieves results.

What would be more ben­e­fi­cial to Israeli-Pales­tin­ian rela­tions: a unit­ed, pow­er-shar­ing gov­ern­ment between Fatah and Hamas or a divid­ed Pales­tin­ian enti­ty with Fatah at the bar­gain­ing table?

As one lead­ing Pales­tin­ian said to me, peo­ple say talk to Hamas, but what will you talk to them about? There is no com­mon agen­da at all.” The implic­it premise of those who believe that you can bring Hamas to the table is that they are ani­mat­ed by pow­er so they can be co-opt­ed if they get a piece of pie. I actu­al­ly believe they have a very coher­ent, if abhor­rent, world­view. We do not do our­selves or them any favors if we short-change that world­view. More­over, we under­mine the mod­er­ates whom we want to help as they will appear as quis­lings in such a scenario. 

Glenn Frank has prac­ticed law in Boston for over 20 years. He is the author Abe Gilman’s End­ing, a nov­el pub­lished in 2007. Mr. Frank was also the win­ner of the Bruce P. Ross­ley Lit­er­ary Award for Best New Voice in 1999. He is mar­ried, and has two chil­dren, and lives in Ply­mouth, MA.

Discussion Questions