Eye on the Middle East Jan/Feb 2009

We often hear the famous words of the late U.S. President Ronald Reagan, trust and verify. They are repeated often in the heat of negotiations with world leaders who are less than scrupulous in their commitment to keep agreements. However, in the current climate, one may question the sequence of the statement. Perhaps “verify and trust” might be more appropriate.

Let’s look at a case in point. There was a significant amount of talk during last year’s run for the White House in America as to the appropriateness of sitting down with our enemies, without preconditions, to talk things over. That notion came from our side of the table. However, when the Iranians—the primary recipients of these felicitous solicitations—responded, they had a different idea.

According to the Farsi News Association (FNA), a top advisor to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said there will indeed be preconditions—set by the Iranians—before talks will be held. Iran, he said, will only consider negotiating with the United States if U.S. forces leave the Middle East and Washington ends its support for Israel. As long as American forces remain in the region and America continues to back Israel, no talks will take place, he said.

What he proposed is the equivalent of the terms the Allies insisted on from Axis leaders near the end of World War II: unconditional surrender, the operative word being surrender.

And no matter how the statement of Ahmadinejad’s underling might be spun when objections are raised, the meaning is clear: Israel must surrender, the United States and its allies must capitulate and relinquish all plans to encourage freedom and democracy in the region, and we all must then beat a hasty retreat from the entire Middle East.

Truth be told, the current position of radical Islamo-facists is a reassertion of the Arab response to the 1947 UN Partition Plan. That plan would have established two viable states on the land the British vacated when they left the Middle East: an Arab one and a Jewish one. Jewish people, fresh from the shadows of the Holocaust, accepted. Arab leaders, however, responded with the now familiar “all or nothing” attitude that began the long war of annihilation against Israel that continues to this day.

The irrepressible quest for success in the search for peace was most rationally addressed in a formula offered by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: the Doctrine of Reciprocity. When carefully considered, it contains the essential kernel of Reagan’s trust-and-verify prescription. That is, one side’s concession must be met by the other side’s verifiable grant in kind. It is a simple principle that will work—that is, if both participants are truly looking for a solution, rather than an advantage.

Increasingly, Israelis are being asked to make painful concessions for peace. Inexplicably, some of the nation’s own leaders have joined overeager proponents in the West clamoring for what amounts to a peace-at-any-price give-away, as opposed to a two-way negotiation that might bring some semblance of enduring stability to Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Under the current terms of engagement, however, such an outcome is predictably impossible. A one-way approach to a settlement can only be termed surrender, which is what Islamic radicals continue to insist on. Reciprocity with verification will work. It alone embodies the absolute essential of sincerity of intent. And that is, after all, the acid test.

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