Clinton’s strategy for Middle East peace

CLINTON’S STRATEGY FOR MIDDLE EAST PEACE…. We learned a fair amount today about Hillary Clinton’s thinking on the peace process in the Middle East. As part of her confirmation hearings, the likely next Secretary of State talked about diplomatic contacts with Iran and Syria, bringing Israelis and Palestinians to the table, and the recent history about U.S. policy in the region, most notably during her husband’s presidency.

And speaking of which, Martin Indyk, the Clinton administration’s ambassador to Israel, has a new book out, Innocent Abroad: An Intimate Account of American Peace Diplomacy in the Middle East. Daniel Levy, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and the Century Foundation, a former adviser in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, and the lead Israeli drafter of the Geneva Initiative, takes a closer look at Indyk’s book in the next issue of the Washington Monthly.

To suggest that the United States play the role of honest broker in the Middle East is almost seen as taboo in American political discourse, yet a reasonable reading of this book’s narration of the Clinton years suggests that only by taking a more balanced approach (note: more balanced, not totally balanced) can the U.S. be an effective broker. Part of that will depend on the team assembled to handle these matters under Obama. As Indyk reminds us, Clinton’s peace team was described in the Arab media as “the five rabbis,” and a bit of diversity would certainly not be a bad thing. But that diversity is as much about openness to different approaches as it is about backgrounds. For example, take Robert Malley or Daniel Kurtzer, both “rabbis” according to the above definition, and who both served under Clinton in different capacities and have spent the last eight years challenging parts of the conventional thinking and talking to a more inclusive array of regional actors. While that might make them controversial picks, it also makes such voices indispensable around the U.S. policymaking table. Including Malley and/or Kurtzer in the Obama administration would send a signal that some of the lessons contained in Innocent Abroad have been internalized.

New thinking is also required in Congress. When discussing Iran policy, Indyk describes how “our own zealots on Capitol Hill” managed to split the United States from its European allies by passing the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act in 1996, thereby undermining Clinton administration efforts to maintain a united front in containing Iran. The knee-jerk congressional habit of running to the right of the executive (any executive — Congress even outflanked Bush from the right in opposing Palestinian aid, for instance) needs to be redressed. […]

I would read Indyk as an antidote to the naysayers who insist that “[t]he time for peace isn’t ripe, Israelis and Palestinians are in disarray, little can be done.” It is not enough to say that one needs to effectively address Israel-Palestine; one must also chart a course of how to do it: ripeness can be created, the regional strategic context can be reshaped, and many of the ingredients are contained in Innocent Abroad. I might add some, and blend them slightly differently, but Indyk gives us a good baseline recipe with which to start experimenting.

To get a sense of the kind of peace strategy Clinton might pursue, Indyk’s book, and Levy’s review, offers a helpful starting point. Take a look.