Most readers will not want to support the case made in this lucidly written and well-researched book: that the chances for a real peace in the Middle East have actually declined in recent years. Yet, by the concluding chapter of Naseer Aruri's The Obstruction of Peace, it is hard not to be convinced.
Aruri is one of a growing number of moderate, secular Palestinian intellectuals critical of the ongoing peace process between Israel and Palestine Liberation Organization. In this volume, this Arab American political-science professor argues convincingly that the Oslo accords and their aftermath have not been a great breakthrough for the cause of peace, but simply a reformulation of old plans that circumvent and defer Palestinian self-determination and independence.
One of the book's great strengths is that it places the peace process within the context of recent U.S. foreign policy towards Israel/Palestine and the region as a whole. Indeed, this study represents perhaps the best radical critique of U.S. Middle East policy since Noam Chomsky's Fateful Triangle in 1983.
By placing recent developments in the peace process within the context of the changed power relationships in the Arab world since the Gulf War and the related rise in the hegemonic role of the United States, Aruri makes a convincing case that what is taking place is not a real peace, but a Pax Americana. Indeed, what makes this book must reading for anyone concerned with U.S. policy towards the Middle East is his devastating critique of how the United States is sabotaging any real hope for peace by its policy of throwing its enormous weight behind the narrowest Israeli interpretations of the Oslo accords, sabotaging the enforcement of U.N. Security Council resolutions and effectively giving Israel a blank check for its ongoing violations of international law.
Aruri accurately notes that since the 1967 War, the United States has insisted upon "playing the role of chief arbiter, if not sole peacemaker, when in fact it has been co-belligerent" by opposing the international consensus for ending Israel's occupation of its Arab neighbors and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Aruri reviews the Arab Middle East in the context of U.S. Cold War doctrine, yet argues that the underlying goals of American policy in the region are essentially unchanged with the fall of the Soviet Union: preventing the rise of any regional forces that would challenge the perceived political and economic interests of the United States. An integral part of this process has been the U.S. insistence on marginalizing the Palestinians from the political equation and blocking the establishment of any Palestinian political force that could not be controlled by a U.S. ally such as Israel or Jordan.
While quite cognizant of the strong influence of pro-Israeli pressure groups, particularly in Congress (indeed, he devotes a whole chapter to this topic), Aruri recognizes a more salient explanation for U.S. policy in the region: the strategic imperative of a heavily militarized Israel and corporate support for the arms trade and a favorable business climate.
Of special note is Aruri's persuasive challenge to the myth that the Bush administration, or any other administration, has ever actually put pressure on the Israeli government for serious compromise. Similarly, he does a convincing job of downplaying the differences between the Bush and Clinton administrations towards Israel.
This book, however, is not without problems. Aruri is at times a bit strident in his tone. He cuts a few corners and makes some rather sweeping generalizations which would likely put off those who do not already subscribe to his leftist critique of U.S. foreign policy. At the same time, he avoids the pitfalls of many Arab writers by refusing to vilify Israel outside of its context as an American ally. In addition, instead of bashing Zionism wholesale, he asks what kind of Zionism will prevail: one which is pluralistic and inclusive, or chauvinistic and expansionist? His hoped-for vision is one of enduring coexistence between Arab and Jew, a scenario he believes is increasingly unlikely in light of recent events.
Writing in the spring of 1995, Aruri expresses skepticism that the process towards greater Palestinian autonomy would even proceed as far as it now has, with the Taba Agreement of this past fall. Yet his critique is still essentially valid: Israel is simply reorganizing its occupation, not ending it. With Israel redeploying its troops away from Palestinian population centers while still controlling most of the land and resources, expanding Jewish settlements and the infrastructure supporting them, and solidifying its hold over greater Jerusalem, there is little hope for authentic self-determination for the Palestinian people beyond control over local administrative affairs. Aruri predicts that the end result will be greater violence and repression, in which all sides will ultimately lose. While his worst-case scenario may be overly pessimistic, it is looking increasingly more realistic than the best-case scenarios espoused by most pundits in the American media.