U.S. Again Misreads the Players in Mideast Crisis
Policy + Politics

U.S. Again Misreads the Players in Mideast Crisis

REUTERS/Ammar Awad

The arrest of six Israeli teenagers for the kidnap and murder of 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khieder, who was taken from in front of his home in East Jerusalem, has brought the Israelis and Palestinians to the brink of war, threatening to destabilize yet another area in the Middle East where the United States once yielded heavy influence.

The boys were arrested for what appears to be a revenge killing. Last month, three Israeli teenagers disappeared and were later discovered dead. Israel has accused Hamas of the crime, and launched airstrikes against territory controlled by the group.

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On Monday, sporadic fighting continued, with the Israeli army reporting that rockets were fired into Israel. This followed Israeli strikes on central Gaza early Monday morning, in response to Palestinian attacks the day before.

Now, journalists in the region are warning that the region is on the cusp of full-scale war.

“This is a very dramatic evening. I do not want to over-dramatize, but the last few hours may have been, God forbid, the tipping point,” Ari Shavit, senior correspondent for Ha'aretz, said on CNN Monday.

The spiral toward war is yet another in a series of crises gripping the Middle East. Fault lines that threaten to topple the region are opening everywhere. The Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) is on the verge of splintering Iraq. Civil war rages on in Syria. And now, Israel and Palestine seem on the brink of war.

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However, it’s not just external fault lines that are being exposed in Israel. There is growing anger toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for calling the father of the kidnapped Palestinian boy and offering condolences.

“We denounce all brutal behavior; the murder of your son is abhorrent and cannot be countenanced by any human being,” Netanyahu said. “We will bring them to trial, and they will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law.”

In an interview with The Washington Post, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said that the varied reactions to the call -- some within Israel were surprised and angry Netanyahu would make it -- showed divides “not just between the Israelis and the Palestinians, it is within Israel between different Israeli citizens, and this is what worries me the most.”

America on the Wrong Side, Again
So far, the State Department has been relatively tight-lipped on the crisis, offering empty diplomatic statements.

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“We look to both the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to take all necessary steps to prevent acts of violence, bring perpetrators to justice, and protect the innocent," State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said. "We are concerned about the safety and security of civilians on both sides - in Israel and in Gaza - and urge the protection of civilians."

The crisis in Israel represents yet another instance of the United States misreading the players in the Middle East. Last year, out of nowhere, Secretary of State John Kerry announced a resumption of long-dormant peace talks.

Instead of bringing both sides together, the talks pushed them further apart. It also alienated relations between Washington and Tel Aviv, which openly squabbled over the language used by Kerry to describe the talks.

“The focus on the 30-year-failed policy of a two-state solution has produced a lamentable situation. It was obvious that the factors for a durable agreement didn't exist and Kerry's quest has been a distraction from seeking real security,” Christian Whiton, a former Bush administration State Department senior advisor, told The Fiscal Times.

Now, the United States appears helpless to stop the conflict in Israel from escalating. According to a professor at Baruch College and the New York University Center for Global Affairs, all of the parties involved in the U.S.-backed talks are responsible for the current crisis. He chalked this up to their lack of moxie.

“All the parties are playing small-ball baseball,” he said. “No one is brave enough to swing at a home run ball.” 

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