The deadlock in the Middle East peace process is undermining U.S. influence and may pose an existential threat to America’s key ally Israel, former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski said.
“If this issue continues to fester, the Middle East will become more anti-American,” Brzezinski said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. “We are in the process of being pushed out” of the role as power broker in the region, he said, and “eventually Israel is going to be fatally threatened” if peace isn’t achieved.
“There is a way out” of the impasse, said Brzezinski, 83, who helped broker the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt under President Jimmy Carter. The Obama administration, he said, should craft a United Nations resolution that satisfies both Israel and the Palestinians, and saves the administration from vetoing the Palestinians’ bid for statehood recognition at the UN.
An alternative U.S. resolution should welcome “the existence of a democratic Jewish state in Israel, explicitly, at the same time saying the Palestinians are entitled to something similar,” he said.
Negotiations should be resumed on the basis of 1967 borders, Brzezinski proposed. Such a statement, he said, is something the Israelis “could even vote for.”
Brzezinski, who was an early supporter of Obama in the 2008 Democratic primaries, said the president has failed to play an active, direct role in the peace process, without which the two sides are incapable of coming to an agreement.
Brzezinski suggested the so-called Arab Spring uprisings, which have so far ousted authoritarian leaders in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, have altered the ability of the U.S. to exert influence in the strategically critical region.
The Middle East is the world’s largest oil-producing region and holds about two-thirds of proven global oil reserves, according to the U.S. Energy Department.
Polls show that the Israeli-Palestinian issue looms high in the minds of the Arab public, Brzezinski said, and U.S. credibility and authority will continue to wane until that issue is resolved.
“Until recently, we could ignore that because we dealt with the governments and not with the publics,” he said. “But now the publics are becoming more important.”
Brzezinski also criticized the Obama administration’s policy on Pakistan, saying that comments by the top U.S. military officer in congressional testimony last week linking Pakistan’s spy service to an extremist militant group is a dangerous diplomatic strategy.
Admiral Mike Mullen, who retired yesterday as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee Sept. 22 that the violent Haqqani network is a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence. Mullen blamed the Haqqani group, based in a tribal area of northern Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan, for the Sept. 13 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and other high- profile attacks in Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sept. 28 said the U.S. government is in the “final, formal” stage of reviewing whether to designate the Haqqani network as a terrorist organization, making it subject to sanctions.
Brzezinski warned that the administration’s public slap- down of Pakistan has “consequences.”
“If we are going to go down the path of publicly condemning them, we’d better think through how we’re going to play that game” to U.S. advantage, he said. “I’m not sure I see much evidence of that.”
Brzezinski said the U.S. doesn’t “have much leverage” on the Pakistani government to rein in militant groups. “I’m not sure we have much strategy right now” for Pakistan and Afghanistan, he said.
Brzezinski, a native of Poland and a veteran Cold War-era policymaker, said he wasn’t surprised by the announcement that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will likely return to the presidency next year.
“Everybody knew that Putin was the real power” and current President Dmitry Medvedev is “just a front,” he said, adding that Putin’s prospective return eliminates hope for democratic reforms.
The killing yesterday of Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni-American radical cleric who was a charismatic leader in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was a “significant tactical breakthrough” in the administration’s campaign against the terrorist group, Brzezinski said. The U.S. says al-Awlaki was an inspiration for several attempted terror attacks on the U.S., including the Christmas 2009 attempted underwear bombing and the 2009 shootings at Fort Hood.
Progress on Al-Qaeda
Brzezinski said the U.S. appears to have little influence to compel Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to halt his violent crackdown on protests that begin in January.
“Our position in the Middle East is just declining so rapidly that it’s really appalling,” he said. Fifty years ago, “we had good relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey,” he said, while “we barely have a decent relationship with some of them now.”
“I deplore the fact that we don’t have a policy” toward the Middle East, he said. “As a consequence, we are in the process of being pushed out.”
The most urgent concern, he said, is Israeli-Palestinian peace. Given the history and geography of the dispute, “the two sides on their own will never reach agreement,” Brzezinski said. “Each side, of course, will always say the other side is guilty, doesn’t want really to negotiate” when “in fact, they can’t do it” given the complexity of the situation.
Peace talks broke down a year ago when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to renew a partial, 10-month moratorium on new construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says settlement expansion must be halted before talks resume.
Abbas filed a resolution for UN recognition of a Palestinian state on Sept. 23. Israel and the U.S. vehemently opposed the move, and the U.S. vowed to veto the measure, to the consternation of Arab allies who are supporting the Palestinians.
The U.S., the UN, the European Union and Russia -- the so- called Quartet for Middle East Peace -- responded to Abbas’s bid with a statement calling on both sides to return to direct talks within 30 days and come up with a peace deal within a year.
Obama has “not been willing to move up to the plate” and lead the two sides to a brokered agreement, Brzezinski said. Obama’s speech at the UN on Sept. 21 was “extremely limited” and appeared to validate only the Israeli side, he said.
“As a result, I think the issue is going to get worse rather than better,” Brzezinski said.