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Mideast Skeptic

Policy analyst sees fundamental problem with new peace talks.

Alan Hitsky
SOURCEDetroit Jewish News

Last year, Jonathan Schanzer came to Detroit to get married. Last week, he came to discuss a dangerous Middle East.

Schanzer is director of policy for the Jewish Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and a former U.S. Treasury Department counter-terrorism analyst. In the Detroit area Nov. 28-29, he spoke to high school students at Yeshivat Akiva in Southfield, Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield and Berkley High. He also spoke to the news media and at a public forum hosted at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield.

His main theme: Renewed Middle East peace talks are a good thing, but they can be dangerous.

Schanzer said peace talks in the area “do not have a terrific track record … but I can’t fault the Bush administration for trying.” The major stumbling block against peace, he said, is that the Arab world still refuses to recognize Israel. “Many don’t even recognize the name [Israel]. They call it ‘the Zionist entity.'”

He recently published an article highly criticized in the foreign policy community that pointed out what happens to every Israeli prime minister who starts negotiating about Jerusalem. “It inevitably leads to his [political] demise,” Schanzer said, in a veiled warning to Israel’s Ehud Olmert.

Historically, he said, Middle East peace efforts are a vicious circle: Talks lead to heightened expectations, which lead to disappointing results and then to violence.

The effort in 2000 by President Bill Clinton followed that sequence. The Intifada (Palestinian uprising) began, according to Schanzer, because the Palestinians did not get all the Jerusalem neighborhoods they were seeking in the Camp David talks, nor was there an agreement on the return of Arab refugees.

The day after last week’s Annapolis summit concluded, he pointed out, a Vatican official spoke of the Arabs’ right of return. Statements like this continue the cycle, Schanzer said.

Schanzer believes the Bush administration can break the cycle or at least manage it. He credits President Bush for realizing he had leverage with both sides and taking the opportunity.

“Bush has been an incredible friend to Israel for seven years,” Schanzer said. “And Bush saved [Mahmoud] Abbas’ life and political career. Abbas needs weapons, materiel and money and he gets it all from the United States.”

But Schanzer is skeptical that anything will change in the Middle East until there is a “lasting vistory and a lasting defeat.” Israel, he believes, must have a crushing victory “so that the will of the Palestinians is broken and they give up the notion that they can defeat Israel.”

Israel, he said, needs another 1948 or 1967 victory – “something like that, but even on a grander scale” in order to achieve a lasting peace.

The role of Iran is of utmost concern, he said. Iran is fighting the U.S. in Iraq by training and supplying the insurgents. It is the patron of Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah, he said, has more rockets now than it had at the start of the war with Israel in 2006 and it receives $100 million per year from Iran.

Hamas in the Gaza Strip is no longer a rag-tag force, thanks to Iran, which, he said, has provided Hamas with night-vision goggles, bullet-proof vests and high-caliber weaponry.

Schanzer discounts gossip in Washington that the Bush administration would attack Iran after the 2008 elections, during George W. Bush’s last two months as president. Despite major concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, he said the U.S. is spread too thin in Iraq and Afghanistan to take on Iran. “The U.S. is not in a position to do much,” he said.

Economic sanctions work, he said, but too many countries – like Russia and China – are unconcerned by Iran’s rants against the West and won’t back sanctions.

This might mean that Israel will be forced into another preemptive air strike against the Iranian nuclear program, like at Osirak in 1981.

“There might be more support for this in the Arab world than you think,” Schanzer said. “The Sunni world is very nervous about Iran. The Saudis and Qatar are longtime enemies” of Iran and the Israeli jets that destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor reportedly flew over Saudi territory. Or Israel could fly over Turkey and Iraq to reach Iran.

But Schanzer fears Iran’s response: “You can’t hit everything,” he said, “and you have to hope [the response] won’t be the worst [nuclear] kind.

“The hope is that we won’t get to that. The hope is that Iran will change its stripes. But the Iranian leadership is very dangerous. How do you deter someone who thinks they will bring paradise to Earth?”