In a recent Financial Times op-ed, Brent Scowcroft writes, “The nature of the new Middle East cannot be known until the festering sore of the occupied territories is removed.”
This is an absurd claim. Whatever one thinks of the settlements, the Arab Spring has shown that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not—as people like Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, have been arguing for years now—at the core of the troubles plaguing the Arab Middle East. The so-called “occupation” is not the obstacle to free and flourishing Arab societies. It is not the irritant that is causing unrest within Arab societies. In fact, what is striking about the revolution sweeping the Arab world is how totally beside the point Israel is. The uprisings in Iran, Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and elsewhere are driven not by animus toward Israeli or solidarity for the Palestinian cause; they are a reaction against Arab despotism. What is happening in the Middle East, in fact, utterly undermines Scowcroft’s thesis. But Scowcroft is wed to a theory he embraced long ago and has hermetically sealed off from evidence. Bad theories, like bad habits, die hard. Maybe harder.
I’m reminded of the joke about the police officer who finds a drunk man late at night crawling on his hands and knees on a sidewalk under a streetlight. When confronted by the police officer, the drunk tells him he’s looking for his wallet. When the police officer asks if he’s sure that he dropped the wallet under the streetlight, the man replies that he thinks he more likely dropped it across the street. The puzzled officer asks why the man is looking for the wallet under the streetlight. “Because the light’s better here,” the drunk man replies.
For Brent Scowcroft and those who think like him, the light is always better around the Israeli-Palestinian settlements streetlight, even if the truth lies elsewhere.