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The Arab-Israeli Peace Process Is Over. Enter the Era of Chaos.

The theater of the peace process was key to U.S. hegemony in the Middle East—and without the process, there will be no peace

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A Palestinian man inspects an olive tree after an Israeli air strike on Oct. 28, 2013, in the northern Gaza Strip. (Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)
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Why do Arab governments—and the U.S.—insist the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the heart of all the Mideast’s problems?

For anyone who doubted that the Israeli-Palestinian crisis was simply a local problem that made for useful political theater and not an active threat to the peace and stability of the entire planet, the Arab Spring provided a helpful reminder of the region’s true underlying fault lines. Obama was in office for barely two years when the Tunisian revolution erupted in December 2010, and soon the established order was in jeopardy throughout the region. Obama stopped pushing Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas into negotiations because he eventually came to see that by forcing the issue he was getting nowhere and losing prestige in the process.

In retrospect, the Arab Spring was the first real assault on the peace process because it undermined the regional status quo that the United States had underwritten for four decades and kept in stasis with the peace process. Egypt and Jordan had treaties with Israel, and Syria was stalemated. The peace process was capable of checking states and their regional ambitions, but it had no power over the internal dynamics of Arab societies.

While the White House saw the upheavals in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, and Syria as popular revolutions against a repressive order, they were actually, in each case, civil wars within Arab societies— pitting tribes, sects, Islamists, armies, and security services against each other. By avoiding all entreaties to support the Syrian rebels and topple Bashar al-Assad, Obama signaled that the United States had no dog in the fight, and no desire to work with key regional partners—especially Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Turkey—to solve a problem that affected them directly. Riyadh’s former ambassador to Washington and currently head of Saudi’s National Security Council, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, has gone on a very public media campaign against the White House to express Saudi Arabia’s displeasure over the Obama Administration’s policies regarding—in ascending order of importance—Egypt, Syria, and Iran.

It is possible that, in time, Obama will be seen to be a visionary who understood that American interests would be best served by putting as much distance as possible between us and a messy, violent part of the world. Few people think that now. According to administration officials, Obama seemed to them “impatient or disengaged” during meetings on Syria policy. And maybe he has a point. Why commit American prestige—and money, and troops—to help one side or another in Syria’s civil war? Similarly, if Arabs and Israelis really want peace, let them figure it out. And if the Israelis and the Arabs have a problem with Iran, let them work out it out themselves, while the United States moves on to more important issues, like health care, or China policy.

But the reason the American withdrawal from the Middle East is a problem is that we already know what the region looks like without the United States—it looks like Syria, with every regional actor, from Saudi Arabia and Iran, al-Qaida and Hezbollah, at war with each other. The upside of not having an Arab-Israeli peace process—with round after round of worthless negotiations that go nowhere—is no upside at all, since the process was never really meant to bring peace to the Israelis and Palestinians in the first place. Rather, it was a token of the Pax Americana, Washington’s assurance of stability in a strategically vital region. With the United States absent from the Middle East, there’s no peace process, and as a result there will likely be no peace for anyone in the region.

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The Arab-Israeli Peace Process Is Over. Enter the Era of Chaos.

The theater of the peace process was key to U.S. hegemony in the Middle East—and without the process, there will be no peace

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