Kissinger, Arab-Israeli Peace, and US National Interests

I was intrigued by something Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said to King Faisal (Saudi Arabia) just after the 1973 war:

Your Majesty, it doesn’t work that way in the United States. Our best argument is not to say that we’re anti-Israeli or pro-Arab, but that we want peace in the Middle East and that we’re pursuing the interests of the United States. If we try to put it on the basis of the merits of the Arab-Israeli dispute, there will always be more people defending Israel than the Arab side. So we have to put it in terms of American national interests.**

Now whether Kissinger meant this or whether it was just a line he thought the king would like, I don’t know. But in either case, I had not thought of this before, the idea that framing the peace process in terms of US interests might give the United States a way of meeting some/many Arab demands without upsetting the pro-Israel majority in the United States. Thus, US support for  Israeli withdrawal is not pro-Arab; it is framed as in the US own interest.

The question is was that a prudent effort to square competing demands or a fundamental US mistake that prevented the United States from more directly challenging Israeli positions that hurt the drive for peace. I lean toward the former (as I demonstrate with President Carter and Palestine policy in a forthcoming article), but it is a good debate in which to engage.

**  Edward R. F. Sheehan, “How Kissinger Did It: Step by Step in the Middle East,” Foreign Policy, no. 22 (Spring 1976), pp. 3-70 at p. 21.

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