Time For The US To Consider A Policy Of ‘Benign Neglect’ In Middle E

By Leon Hadar

Gulf Times, Qatar
Aug 16 2007

WASHINGTON: Muslims and non-Muslims have been fighting over this
territory for years, resulting in thousands of casualties and
hundreds of thousands of refugees, as negotiations mediated by foreign
governments have failed to resolve the conflict.

But nobody is calling on Washington to launch a new peace initiative.

Why? Because we’re not talking about the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, we’re talking about the Armenians and Azeris clashing over

Most Americans know what is happening in the West Bank, thanks to the
prominent news coverage the Arab-Israeli conflict receives. For years,
pundits have been warning that unless Washington does something to end
the bloodshed – revive the ‘peace process’, send a new special envoy
to the Middle East, convene a peace conference – the entire region
could unravel, triggering another oil embargo or even World War III.

But Nagorno-Karabakh receives little attention. Yet, this territory
has been the source of a bitter dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan
since the beginning of the 20th century. The two nations fought over
the disputed territory in the final years of the Soviet Union. Since
the war ended in 1994, most of Nagorno-Karabakh has remained under
Armenia’s control, while the parties continue to hold talks.

There is no doubt that the US and the rest of the international
community would welcome a resolution to the conflict. Indeed, many
have been trying to help the Azeris and Armenians overcome their

Washington also has been trying for some 30 years to resolve the
dispute between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus – and to end the Turkish
occupation of the northern part of the island.

In all likelihood, however, we are going to learn to live with such
conflicts, ranging from the dispute between India and Pakistan over
Kashmir and the civil war in Sri Lanka to the bloody disputes that
continue to ravage sub-Saharan Africa.

The fact that Washington focuses so much of its energy and attention
on the Arab-Israeli conflict, while turning a blind eye elsewhere,
indicates that US foreign policy has lost its focus.

In the past the test was simple: Are vital US national security
interests at stake? During the Cold War, any nation that served as
a buffer or counter-weight to the Soviet Union could legitimately be
considered a vital ally. With the Soviet threat long gone, it’s time
to reevaluate.

The US-led ‘peace process’, as even a casual observer realises, has
accomplished little. Yet, like the Energizer Bunny, it keeps going,
and going, and going. Indeed, President Bush recently announced
plans to convene an international conference to help restart
Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Has anybody considered the possibility that America’s preoccupation
with the Arab-Israeli conflict – motivated by the commitment to Israel
and the need to appease the Arab oil-producing states – may be doing
more harm than good? By pursuing the illusion that the US has the power
and moral authority to broker a ‘peace’ in the Middle East, Washington
has created unrealistic expectations that cannot be fulfilled.

Meanwhile, America’s repeated failures as an ‘honest broker’ ends up
producing an anti-American backlash, which creates even more pressure
on Washington to ‘do something’ or else.

It may be time for Washington to consider a new policy of ‘benign
neglect’ toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, not different
from the policy it employs in dealing with Nagorno-Karabakh and
other conflicts.

The US should be more than ready, if necessary, to work with other
international players to facilitate a resolution to the conflict –
but only if and when both sides are ready to make peace, and deal
seriously with core existential issues, such as Israel’s right to exist
securely and in peace, the fate of the remaining Jewish settlements,
and the status of Arab refugees and the city of Jerusalem.

Even in that (unlikely) case, Washington should refrain from making
long-term security and economic commitments. If the two sides want
even a fragile peace to work, they will make it work – with or without
US involvement.

Such ‘constructive disengagement’ from the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict could actually create incentives for the two sides to
achieve real peace. If they fail, they will – not unlike the
Azeris and the Armenians – have no one to blame but themselves. –
The Independent Institute/ MCT (Leon Hadar is a research fellow in
foreign policy studies at the Independent Institute, 100 Swan Way,
Oakland, Calif. 94621; website: )