Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process Grows Worse

By John J. Duncan Jr.

On September 13, 1993, I had the privilege to attend the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords at the White House. It was a peace agreement between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel and Chairman Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

The month before, I had made my first visit to Israel with three other members of the U.S. House, a Republican from Wisconsin, and two Democrats – one from Georgia and one from California.

We met with all the top leaders including Rabin and Shimon Peres and even the top Palestinian negotiator. I also saw one of my Tennessee constituents at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and visited in the home of Joe Goodstein’s daughter from Knoxville.

When I was invited to the signing ceremony, I jokingly told someone that I had gone to Israel “and peace had broken out,” but I knew it was not a joking matter then and especially not now.

Showing how difficult the peace process is between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Washington Post reported the next day that fights had broken out on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House and in front of the Israeli Embassy while the signing ceremony was going on.

In 2014, I returned to Israel with another congressional delegation, and we met with Benjamin Netanyahu (the prime minister then and now), Naftali Bennett (later a prime minister), and others.

I had the impression from those meeting that the situation had grown worse since I was there in 1993. Now, of course, with the war going on, things are much worse than either 1993 or 2014.

Words are not adequate to express the horror most people in the U.S. felt when seeing the terrible things that happened on October 7th. Of course, when Israel started bombing, terrible things were happening in Gaza, too.

The saddest thing to me is what has happened to little children on both sides in this conflict.

One major irony in this situation is that Hamas was being funded by Israel. The Times of Israel newspaper had a story on Oct. 8 headlined “For years, Netanyahu propped up Hamas. Now it’s blown up in our faces.”

Netanyahu urged funding for Hamas in a Likud Party meeting in early 2019 as a way to keep the PLO, which controlled the West Bank, from also controlling Gaza, too.

Possibly the leading expert on the Middle East for many years has been Thomas Friedman, the Jewish columnist for the New York Times. He has been urging Israel not to try to occupy Gaza because “there is a real potential for a much wider conflict.”

He said if Israel gets into house-to-house fighting, this is what Hamas wants and that it would “radicalize” the entire Middle East.

The overwhelming majority of the people in Gaza, while they had no love for Israel, were not supporters of Hamas and did not know about or want them to do the Oct. 7 attacks. They were just ordinary people wanting to lead their ordinary lives.

Probably the two most respected experts on U.S. foreign policy are Stephen Walt of Harvard and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago. They wrote in a 2008 book about the Israel lobby, certainly the most powerful lobby in the world.

They wrote: “In addition to encouraging the U.S. to back Israel more or less unconditionally” the lobby shaped “American policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the ill-fated invasion of Iraq, and the ongoing confrontations with Syria and Iran,” – and they “suggested that these policies were not in the U.S. national interest.”

Every member of Congress and every major media figure who has a national TV or radio audience knows that they can criticize any other nation, but that it is political and/or career suicide to criticize Israel.

Walt and Mearsheimer wrote that candidates that even suggest a “more even-handed approach” toward the Middle East “will probably fall by the wayside.”

They quoted a report by Joshua Mitnick in the Jewish Week which said presidential candidates in 2008 were “seemingly competing to see who can be the most strident in defense of the Jewish State.” The exact same competition is going on among the candidates running now.

It is really sad that so many leaders around the world seemingly feel more powerful when they start wars in which the so-called “little people” have to fight and die. Sen. Lindsey Graham seems to want the U.S. to go to war with Iran. We do not need another no-win war in the Middle East.