Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Much Too Promised Land: America’s Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace

by Aaron David Miller
Bantam Books
Paperback, $16.00
416 pages
ISBN: 978-0-553-38414-7

Book Review by Kam Williams

“The 9/11 attacks demonstrated with a terrifying clarity that the security of the continental U.S. was now attached to the affairs of the Arab and Muslim East, including the disposition of the much too promised land; and that in that relationship we are more vulnerable to danger than at any other point in our history… We cannot consent to giving Israel a veto over our negotiating positions, when the practical effect is to force us to ignore Arab interests or even our own.
Here is one special, albeit unsolicited, piece of advice to future presidents contemplating getting involved in Arab-Israeli diplomacy… If you can’t take a lot of heat from the Arabs as well as from the Israelis and the organized pro-Israeli community, find another conflict to mediate or broker. And frankly, if you’re not prepared to stand up for your own country’s interests on an issue now more critical to our security than ever before, to lead rather than assuage domestic -- Excerpted from Chapter Ten (pages 365, 376- & 377)

President Obama’s recent face-to-face meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office is a signal that the United States is prepared to mediate the Middle East peace process. But before he commits the country to finding a solution for that millennia-old conflict, he might like to check out this revealing memoir by Aaron David Miller, who served as an advisor to a half dozen secretaries of State during both Bush Administrations as well as under Bill Clinton.
He starts his controversial opus by stating that the Holy Land, Palestine, aka The Much Too Promised Land, was given by God first to the Jews, then to the Christians, and finally to the Muslims. Who said God doesn’t have a sense of humor?
Later, England staked its claim to the same territory in the process of building the British Empire, and for the past 60 years the partitioned parcel has been known as Israel. So, it’s no wonder that the place remains a hotbed of controversy, when you have so many folks feeling entitled to it based on their faith, while others covet it for strategic political reasons.
What makes this book fascinating is that the author recounts the evolution of American diplomatic policy in terms of Israel over the course of his 20-year career at the State Department. And because he was privy to so many confidential conversations, he is able to make the reader feel like a fly on the wall as he recalls critical moments in American history.
For example, he relates how Colin Powell felt he “had no real authority” to broker a settlement when he was sent to the region after tensions between Jews and Muslims had erupted into violence. His contradictory orders were to “go solve it, but don’t do anything.” Is it any wonder then that Powell would say to the author, “Aaron, they got me… They’re [expletive]-ing telling me which way to take a piss and for how long.”
And exactly who were the mysterious “they” he was referring to? You guessed it: Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush junta who had implemented a “hands-off” attitude towards Israel. In fact, Miller says, “Powell was the only advocate in the administration for doing anything on the Arab-Israeli issue.” Apparently, the President simply preferred to defer to Israel, giving it “significant input” in shaping our foreign policy, even allowing it to edit his speeches and to provide specific language.
A sobering tome which serves to highlight why everyone will be watching to see whether Obama opts to continue the U.S.’ long-standing tradition of uncritical allegiance to Israel and to rubber stamp its every political move, regardless of how it might impact America.

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