It's no time for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal
© Getty Images

The shooting of at least nine people in Tel Aviv on Wednesday comes as European leaders are attempting to restart peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. It is a heinous act, but it must not prevent the U.S. from letting the talks fall apart.

ADVERTISEMENT

It is almost inconceivable, in fact, why French and European Union leaders think that now is a good time. "The threats and priorities have changed," said French President Fran├žois Hollande at a special press conference last week, and he is right. They have changed. The Middle East is beset by problems; but for a moment, blessedly, they have literally nothing to do with Israel.

Even Israel's enemies want nothing to do with Israel. Hezbollah wants so little to do with Israel that it ignores strikes on its missile facilities and military leadership to continue its war against the Syrian Arab rebels. Iran wants so little of Israel it does the same thing. Turkey, hostile to Israel only five years ago, has warmed dramatically as its Kurdish and Syrian problems have increased. Even the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), for all of its other heinous policies, seems totally uninterested in its neighbor to the south.

The European Union's foreign policy boss, Federica Mogherini, added her justification for the French initiative. "The policy of settlement expansion and demolitions, violence and incitement tells us very clearly that the perspective that Oslo opened up is seriously at risk of fading away." Yes, I'd say so. I'd say it was at risk of fading away after a five-year intifada, complete with bombings of a teenage disco in Tel Aviv, a Passover Seder in Netanya and multiple buses. I'd say it was at risk of fading away after two major wars between Israel and Hamas, both initiated by Hamas, and a month-long war with Hezbollah initiated by Hezbollah. If that didn't put it to bed, the last 10 months of Palestinians randomly stabbing to death Israelis on the street probably has done it.

This epidemic of stabbings has killed dozens of people. Advocates of the peace process, including some Israeli generals, have identified the cause as Palestinian depravation and a lack of progress in the peace process. To any American who has seen Iraq or Afghanistan, this counterinsurgency explanation rings true. But the problem is that even if the hopes and dreams of the two-state advocates came to pass, and a resurrected Palestinian state was created in the West Bank and Gaza, with some settlement swaps, the resulting creation would still be a symbol that could easily be exploited by extremists.

There's no reason to believe that such a state would somehow be free of the radicalism that is rampant in every single Arab state. Released from Israeli control, an independent Palestine might sink or swim: but it is far, far more likely to swim as Raqqa than swim as Singapore. And then what?

True, the West Bank is not Gaza; it is less desperate and radical. But when the Israelis withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Hamas won the local elections in 2006, and promptly took over the rest of the strip by force in 2007. Now Gaza is a hotbed of terror. It would be a heavy lift to convince Israel that the same would not happen in the West Bank.

For Americans, the basic dilemma in the peace process is that most of our Arab allies, like Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Morocco, do want to see some progress. It gives them cover at home, where their Islamic and secular oppositions alike use the Palestinian issue to attack them.

However, it is deeply harmful to the United States, as the world's only superpower, to keep attempting something that fails. It hurts America's prestige and influence: It makes the U.S. look either incompetent or complicit, or both. The Arabs are left to believe that either the U.S. is incapable of enforcing its will on a tiny ally, or that it is unwilling to apply real leverage to Israel, in which case the current effort is a sham.

This basic problem has been compounded by the current administration's total misreading of how to win concessions from Israel. Oslo succeeded because two years earlier, when its genesis began in Madrid, the Soviet Union collapsed. The Soviet bloc had been a primary sponsor of most Arab and Palestinian militant groups like the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), as well as other leftists like the Basque ETA, the German Red Army Faction and the Colombian FARC.

There was thus a massive collapse in Palestinian power at the outset, which is why then-Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat finally came to the table, as did other Soviet clients like Syria. Israel was starting from a position of strength, and thus felt secure enough to take risks. In contrast, the Obama administration began the process by publicly browbeating Israel over settlement activity. And reasonably enough. But by trying to take a more sympathetic "Palestinian" position at the outset, and raise the public pressure on Israel, the administration achieved precisely the opposite effect of Oslo. Israel felt insecure, and isolated, and promptly buttoned up. Like a hedgehog.

To his credit, Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryOvernight Energy: Farmers say EPA reneged on ethanol deal | EPA scrubs senators' quotes from controversial ethanol announcement | Perry unsure if he'll comply with subpoena | John Kerry criticizes lack of climate talk at debate John Kerry calls out lack of climate questions at debate Democrats' debate divisions open the race to new (or old) faces MORE has been hesitant about this new French initiative. Israel is out of the spotlight. Let's not let this violence in Tel Aviv bring it back.

Peek is a professor at Claremont McKenna College and a former adviser to the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan.