Seventy percent of National Journal’s National Security Insiders said a Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations would damage U.S. credibility as a broker for Israeli-Palestinian direct talks. Separately, two-thirds of Insiders said that if the Libyan rebels request international help to ensure a stable transition, they would support either providing U.S. counterterrorism training or deploying civilian specialists for crisis management—but not participation in a military peacekeeping force.
Palestinians plan to seek full membership to the United Nations at the Security Council this week as an independent state, even though the U.S. has already promised to veto the proposal. The majority of the select pool of national-security and foreign-policy experts said the U.S. will take a hard hit to its credibility in the diplomatic showdown as it will, once again, be forced to oppose a vote for an outcome it ultimately supports: the creation of a Palestinian state.
One Insider said that failing to dissuade Palestinians from turning to the international body shows “weakened U.S. influence and hence less incentive for Israel to turn to the U.S. as a broker for peace.”
Even though the U.S. supports the eventual creation of a Palestinian state and membership in the U.N., Washington argues that unilateral recognition by the international body doesn’t bring an agreement with the Israelis over determining the borders of a future Palestinian state, security arrangements, control of Jerusalem, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
But with direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians stalled for months, one Insider criticized the long-standing U.S. policy of vetoing such unilateral resolutions on the basis that the U.N. is not the forum for such discussions. “Palestinians expect statehood. [The] U.S./Israel have failed to deliver, so Palestinians feel there is no other recourse than to pursue at the U.N.,” said the Insider. “U.S. status-quo mentality is not suited for today's rapidly changing Mideast.”
The U.S. cannot veto a possible second resolution in the 193-member U.N. General Assembly, where a Palestinian bid to become a nonvoting observer state is virtually sure to pass.
One Insider, among the 30 percent who said Palestinians’ U.N. action would not hurt U.S. credibility, said a likely successful bid there will cause “Israelis to think harder about how to make a two-state solution workable, and Palestinians to realize that alienating America was a high price to pay.” Some Republican lawmakers are threatening to cut off the $500 million in aid it gives the Palestinians each year.
“These factors will increase the value to both parties of U.S. and European participation in negotiations to reach a settlement and of their economic, political, and security support for implementing it,” the Insider continued.
Perhaps the Palestinian bid won’t be a major blow to U.S. credibility in mediating negotiations, simply because, as one Insider said: “We haven’t much credibility left.”
When asked about Libya, where the rebels' interim government is busily planning for a post-Muammar el-Qaddafi era, Insiders were split into equal 33 percent factions over what assistance the U.S. should provide if they request it. One group said counterterrorism training was the most important priority for the U.S. to provide to Libya in a post-Qaddafi era; the other said the U.S. should deploy civilian specialists for crisis management.
“Europeans are competent to provide peacekeeping and crisis-management support, but the U.S. has special counterterrorism skills honed in Afghanistan and several Arab countries,” said one Insider who supported providing counterterrorism training. Another said the training would be useful “to keep intelligence channels alive”—but warned against becoming too “entangled with this new regime.”
Several Insiders said they would support sending in civilian specialists because it was the option option with the least risk to the U.S. “Deploying troops would be a prescription for getting enmeshed in yet another civil war, and counterterrorism training would require first knowing who are the good guys and who are the bad guys,” said one Insider who supported sending in civilian specialists.
Some Insiders—18 percent—said the U.S. should provide whatever assistance the rebels ask for—even if it means sending in military peacekeeping forces. “Libya could become the next safe haven for al-Qaida affiliates,” one Insider said.
Others were more cautious, with 16 percent saying they would not support these kinds of U.S. assistance in Libya after the NATO military mission to protect civilians is completed. “Best to keep our footprint small in Libya, keep the focus on the rebels and their efforts to rebuild,” one Insider said.
1.Would a Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations damage U.S. credibility as a broker for Israeli-Palestinian direct talks?
- Yes 70%
- No 30%
"Palestinians expect statehood. [The] U.S./Israel have failed to deliver, so Palestinians feel there is no other recourse than to pursue at the U.N. U.S. status-quo mentality is not suited for today's rapidly changing Mideast."
"This would show weakened U.S. influence and hence less incentive for Israel to turn to the U.S. as a broker for peace."
"The special potency of this event is that it will damage almost everyone's credibility."
"We haven't much credibility left."
"It might actually enhance it with the rest of the world."
"The Palestinians expect a veto at the [Security Council]. If we don't do so, we lose credibility with everybody. But we need to engage at a senior and strategic level. [The secretary of State] must [make] reaching an agreement her highest priority for as long as it takes to move matters forward, and she must do so before the U.N. takes any action and regardless of its outcome."
"The U.S. has limited credibility already so long as it is willing to tolerate expanded Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory."
2. If the Libyan rebels request international help in a post-Muammar el-Qaddafi era, what assistance should the U.S. provide? Choose one.
- Military peacekeeping force 0%
- Civilian specialists for crisis management 33%
- Counterterrorism training 33%
- All of the above 18%
- None of the above 16%
Civilian specialists for crisis management
“International assistance should be limited to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. USAID and State should be in the lead, not [the Defense Department]."
"We should provide as much support as possible, short of a peacekeeping presence."
"Deploying troops would be a prescription for getting enmeshed in yet another civil war, and counterterrorism training would require first knowing who are the good guys and who are the bad guys."
"Has to be done in a manner that also promotes a healthy civil society and economic growth.... Let's not prop up another police state."
"We do [counterterrorism] training in many places, so why not Libya? We are overstretched with respect to state-building and peacekeeping and are not very good at it anyway. Let others bear the burden."
"Although our European allies might have other priorities, the most important issue in terms of U.S. security interests is counterterrorism.”
All of the above
"Libya could become the next safe haven for al-Qaida affiliates."
"We have a huge vested interest in seeing Libya make a successful transition."
"Our policy should reflect the stakes that got us interested in this fight in the first place. We don't have to charge to the front—'leading from behind' can continue to work out OK, as long as we remember that always meant a pretty substantial U.S. role."
None of the above
"Best to keep our footprint small in Libya, keep the focus on the rebels and their efforts to rebuild."
"We still don't know who the rebels are."
National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign-policy experts. They include:
Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Kit Bond, Paula Broadwell, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Richard Danzig, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Jacques Gansler, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Donald Kerrick, Lawrence Korb, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, James Lindsay, Trent Lott, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Kevin Nealer, Paul Pillar, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Dov Zakheim.
This article appears in the September 22, 2011, edition of NJ Daily.