False Moral Equivalence and Its Defenders

Jackson Diehl, in a recent posting, wrote about the fact that in his State of the Union address, President Obama failed to mention Israel, the Palestinians, or the Middle East peace process, which was one of his most high-profile diplomatic initiatives during his first year. “For those reading tea leaves,” Diehl wrote, “and there are many in the Middle East — the president has offered a few signs recently that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have moved down his list of priorities.” Diehl thinks that’s a wise idea.

As I argued in a column earlier this month, the history of Israeli-Arab diplomacy clearly shows that only peace efforts that originate with the parties themselves have succeeded. Or, as former secretary of state James A. Baker III once put it, we “can’t want peace more than the parties” themselves. Baker, a master of Middle East diplomacy, once publicly gave Israelis and Palestinians the White House phone number and invited them to call when they were serious about pursuing negotiations. In a more subtle way, Obama may be doing the same thing.

I agree that having the U.S. try to impose a solution is the wrong way to proceed. But where I disagree with Diehl is in his “pox on both your houses” approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. This is an almost reflexive habit among many people in the foreign-policy establishment and the political class. The Israelis and Palestinians are equally to blame for the tension and lack of progress. Both sides have made mistakes. Neither has done all it should. Both are equally culpable. Call us when you’re serious.

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False Moral Equivalence and Its Defenders

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