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Constant War and a Weak Israel Are Bad for Mideast Peace: A Response to Patrick Seale

Posted on February 18 2011 8:00 am
Seth Mandel is the former managing editor of four New Jersey-based newspapers, where he won awards for his coverage of the Middle East and Russia. He has appeared on Shalom TV's current affairs roundtable. He is currently based in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @SethAMandel
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The Web site of Foreign Policy magazine is one of the more outstanding clearinghouses for all things foreign affairs. But their attraction to counterintuitive articles and dedication to offering a fresh perspective on issues occasionally results in the publication of an outlandish piece of journalism.

It’s not subversive to be subversive for the sake of being subversive.

Patrick Seale, the British writer, takes to to offer the loony theory that the Egypt-Israel peace treaty is responsible for the lack of peace, and what’s needed is more Arab war against Israel.

An honest reading of Middle East history shows that peace with Egypt only came when the Egyptian leadership accepted that they could not use force to dislodge the Jews from their midst. When Israel demonstrated that it could not be wiped off the map by Egypt, a peace deal became not only possible, but the logical next step. When war failed, good sense prevailed.

Indeed, the same could be said of Israel’s peace with Jordan—significantly warmer, actually, than its peace with Egypt. And while Syria certainly has allied itself with the advocates of war and destruction in the Middle East, once Israel took away Egypt and Jordan as Syria’s war patrons, and prevented Syria from taking the high ground of the Golan Heights from which to shell Israeli civilians, there has been at the very least a lack of open ground war between the two.

In fact, in 2004, Ariel Sharon opened up trade between the Druze of the Golan and Syria. Israelis there were now not only allowed to export their apples to Damascus, but the Israeli government gave them an export subsidy for each ton sent to Syria. That season is here again, and for the next few weeks, 12,000 tons of apples per day will be trucked into Syria.

And the elements in Lebanon that are hostile to Israel are those controlled by Iran—Hezbollah.

In other words, Israel’s comparative military strength has encouraged peace with its neighbors. It’s been decades since the Arabs and Jews of the Middle East were subjected to the misery of all-out war, thanks to those peace treaties.

Seale takes the opposite approach, arguing that the peace treaty with Egypt has not brought stability:

“Instead, the treaty opened the way for Israeli invasions, occupations and massacres in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, for strikes against Iraqi and Syrian nuclear sites, for brazen threats against Iran, for the 44-year occupation of the West Bank and the cruel blockade of Gaza, and for the pursuit of a ‘Greater Israel’ agenda by fanatical Jewish settlers and religious nationalists.”

Yes, he really wrote that.

So let’s help him, point by point. His claim about the Israeli invasion of Lebanon to root out terrorism emanating from the PLO’s base there in the early 1980s assumes that without the peace treaty, Egypt would have stepped in and started another regional war to defend the PLO in southern Lebanon. This is bunk. As noted by scholars of the PLO and its history, outside of Egypt, such as in the Gaza Strip, “Palestinian organizing efforts had from the outset been closely monitored by Egyptian intelligence and sharply curtailed.” Egypt would never have defended the expansion of the organization’s power and influence. What’s more, Hezbollah’s participation in the anti-Israel war in southern Lebanon at the time would have sealed the deal; Egypt considers the Iranian client a threat, and would never have joined forces with it against Israel.

This also answers his claim that the peace treaty allowed Israel to “make brazen threats against Iran.” As we learned from WikiLeaks (though we knew long before that) the Arab states—including Egypt—have been pleading for American involvement to stop the Iranian nuclear program, and have even agreed to let Israel use their airspace in order to launch an attack on the Iranian sites. Seale’s claim is what—that Egypt would go to war with Israel to defend Iran’s honor? Quite clearly among the more preposterous claims made about the Middle East since the peace treaty.

Has the peace treaty with Egypt, as Seale claims, allowed Israel to “occupy” the West Bank and blockade the Gaza Strip? If the answer is yes, that means he believes Egypt would go to war with Israel over the West Bank. Since Egypt has never done so—despite the several wars it has initiated with Israel over the years before the treaty—we can safely bet Egypt would not start now. And the suggestion that it’s the peace treaty that enables Israel to blockade Gaza is risible, since Egypt also blockades Gaza—and in fact the blockade couldn’t possibly be effective without Egypt. (Seale has access to maps, right?)

Seale then says that the peace treaty with Egypt encourages Israel’s settlement expansion. That’s an interesting theory—but unfortunately for Seale the peace treaty with Egypt actually came after Israel agreed to uproot its Jews from the entire Sinai Peninsula and give the whole thing back to Egypt. That is, I believe, the opposite of settlement expansion. (Speaking of which, if Seale proposes to end the peace treaty, does he support going back to those borders and giving Israel back the Sinai Peninsula? Let’s ask him.)

But the point of the article still eludes us. What is Seale trying to get at? It turns out, Seale’s conclusion is a plot twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan. This is, in all seriousness, Seale’s concluding sentence:

“Only peace, not arms, can guarantee Israel’s long-term security.”

Seale’s thesis is then as follows: peace treaties with Israel are causing instability in the region, and that instability can only be solved by peace treaties with Israel.

I suppose Seale’s strategy is that if he’s on both sides of an issue, he can’t be wrong. And if you’re a writer like Patrick Seale, you need that kind of insurance.

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