On July 29, 2013, Democratic Perspective hosted Stephen M. Walt, professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Professor Walt is an author, a widely respected expert on foreign policy and a leading proponent of the realist approach to international affairs. He is co-author of the controversial book, The Israeli Lobby and US Foreign Policy, a review of the influence of Israel and its US lobbyists on US Middle Eastern policy.
We began the interview by asking how we can move peace forward in the Middle East.
He replied, “As valuable as it would be to have peace arrangements between the Israelis and the Palestinians after many decades and suffering on both sides, it’s a mistake to think that it is a master key that unlocks everything else.”
“If we magically got a peace deal tomorrow…that satisfied both sides reasonably well,” Walt continued, “It would have virtually no impact on what is going on in Syria. It would have relatively little impact on the struggle for power occurring in Egypt. It would not in the short term affect the conflicts between Sunni and Shia in Iraq or between Arabs in the Gulf and their concerns about Iran. It would some very positive effects for Israel and positive effects for the Palestinians. It would certainly go a long way in removing one of the sources of anti-Americanism in that region. But there are lots of other problems in that part of the world that would not be directly affected by even something as wonderful as an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.”
We then asked what Secretary of State John Kerry should be doing as far as the peace process is concerned.
Walt responded, “The most important thing that Kerry has said, and he’s said this a number of times now, is that the window for some kind of two-state solution is closing, and some people believe that it’s already closed. He’s basically saying we have a year or two that we might be able to do something. For many years that’s been seen as the least bad alternative to finally resolve this lengthy conflict…the creation of a Palestinian state on virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza, and the establishment of secure borders for these two countries. He’s saying that, given all of the trends, if this doesn’t happen soon, it’s not going to happen ever. We’ll have to start thinking of alternatives and most of those alternatives look much worse. What’s missing, as near as we can tell from the outside, is anything that looks like a significantly different American approach to the problem.”
“There’s no sign that the United States is either going to propose a plan of its own or use its leverage with both sides, not just one, to try and force a deal,” said Walt.
When asked how US support is bad for Israel, Walt said, “I think the most obvious example of this is that the US has turned a blind eye to the Israeli settlements since 1967.”
“It has been the official policy of the US government, going all the way back to Lyndon Johnson, to oppose the construction of Israeli settlements on the West Bank territories that were conquered during the Six-Day War…we have said repeatedly these settlements are an obstacle to peace. Some American presidents have said it’s illegal. But the United States has never done anything concrete to actually stop them,” he added.
“In fact, given that we give Israel between $3 and $4 billion a year, we are, in effect, directly subsidizing them. And we’re also providing some diplomatic protection by vetoing UN Security Council resolutions that are critical of this policy. The danger here is that it has allowed Israel to continue to establish the settlements. There are now over a half million people living outside the original 1967 border. And this has created a situation where a two-state solution may now be impossible. And it’s also made it impossible to be simultaneously democratic and a Zionist state because, if you look down the road, eventually there may be more Arabs than Jews living there. This may be the single most serious threat to Israel’s future. And the United States has essentially been the enabler of this policy even though we opposed it,” Walt stated.
You can hear more of Walt’s observations about US foreign policy and the Middle East by listening to the entire interview on the podcast below.