Much of the present critique of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy focuses on the need to ratchet up U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East. Diplomats, politicians, and commentators have been proposing a new policy of increasing U.S. “engagement” based on the assumption that America’s chief rival in the region — Iran — can act as a force for stability.
At the same time, there is growing pressure on Bush to immediately revive Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, despite the Hamas’ control of the Palestinian Authority, with full Iranian backing. In addition to the Iraq Study Group report, articles and speeches by John Kerry, Brent Scowcroft, and Richard Haas have all argued that a new momentum for the peace process — which could include Israel’s transfer of more lands to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority — would greatly contribute to regional stability. Such a “land-for-peace” swap, including the division of Jerusalem, undoubtedly forms the centerpiece of the final vision for peace that Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice feels compelled at this stage to get the two sides to agree upon.
By offering concessions like these, Western diplomats are making a colossal error that could have devastating consequences. As I explain in my new book, The Fight for Jerusalem, proposals to “engage” radical Islam and appease it with territorial concessions in Jerusalem and elsewhere will not lower the flames of militant Islamic rage, but will much more likely result in an explosion of new violence throughout the entire Middle East.
New apocalyptic trends have captured the imaginations of both Sunni and Shiite Muslims in recent years. For adherents of this worldview, like Iranian President Ahmadinejad, the capture of Jerusalem is a vital stepping stone to a renewed global jihad. The city’s division — envisioned in every current international peace plan — will serve to confirm Islamic prophecy and energize Islamic apocalyptic speculation about the coming “end of days.”
The Iranian President is religiously driven to achieve regional hegemony across the Middle East for Iran — starting with the domination of Iraq, the Arab oil-producing states, and then Israel. By striking Israel and especially by threatening Jerusalem, Ahmadinejad sees himself accelerating the arrival of the Mahdi — the Shiite Messianic figure. Monday’s suicide attack in Eilat, Israel, conducted by Islamic Jihad, which is directly controlled by Iranian intelligence, is just the latest example of Iran’s plans for Israel’s “security.”
What is absolutely clear is that talks at this stage about a final peace settlement will put Jerusalem squarely on the current diplomatic agenda. Rather than feed Iran’s Messianic sense of mission, the U.S. and its Western allies must be careful to avoid proposals that put Jerusalem back on the negotiating agenda, especially if they call for its re-division, as President Clinton suggested back in 2000.
While pressure to resume Israeli-Palestinian negotiations has led some foreign policy experts to whitewash Hamas, The Fight for Jerusalem supplies rare photographic evidence linking Hamas to al Qaeda. This has both security and religious implications. For what is clear from recent events across the Middle East, where churches and mosques are regularly attacked by Sunni radicals identifying with al Qaeda affiliates, is that only a free and democratic Israel will protect the freedom of Jerusalem for all the world’s faiths.