The Times' Middle East "Experts" All Lean Against Israel

Mark Landler's front-page story, "From U.S. Experts on Mideast, There's No Shortage of Advice," solely quoted experts who would push President-elect Obama to take a tougher approach toward an American ally, Israel, in its struggle with the Palestinians and Palestinian terror groups.

As Hillary Rodham Clinton prepares to take over as secretary of state, a coterie of emissaries who have made the Arab-Israeli conflict their specialty for decades is pushing for a more assertive and balanced American approach to a region once again torn by war.

When Landler says "more assertive and balanced," that's code for tilting toward the Palestinian side. Landler employed emotional rhetoric while painting the U.S. as a knee-jerk proponent of whatever Israel does.

All are members of a close-knit but fractious fraternity that has dominated the American debate over the Arab-Israeli problem. Each has written a book assessing the failures of the past and offering prescriptions for the next president. All agree that with Gaza in flames, the United States needs to make a renewed push for peace.

But they differ sharply on how best to do that. At the heart of the debate is whether Washington should continue to embrace Israel as uncritically as it has during the Bush administration, and should it become as deeply engaged in the minutiae of peace talks as it did under Bill Clinton.

With Israel intensifying its assault against Hamas militants in Gaza, the experts argue, the next administration should act as a broker between Israel and the Palestinians, but it should avoid squandering American influence by becoming too heavily vested in a single solution.

"We've allowed our special relationship with Israel to become exclusive," said Aaron David Miller, who advised several administrations on the Middle East. "We acquiesced in too many bad Israeli ideas; we road-tested every idea with Israel first."


Mr. Miller's heroes are Henry A. Kissinger and James A. Baker III, secretaries of state who he says dealt with Israel in a tough but fair manner. He argues that Mr. Clinton's embrace of Israeli leaders, while well intentioned, undermined the ability of the United States to seal a deal with the Palestinians. Nonsense, says Mr. Indyk, who argues that Washington's close relationship with Israel is crucial because it assures the Palestinians and other Arabs that the United States has leverage with Israel.

Fortified by his pro-Palestinian "experts," Landler voiced no doubt that Bush's support for Israel had failed.

For all their differences, the advisers agree on one thing: the disengagement from Israeli-Palestinian issues that President Bush practiced in his first term was a failure. The Obama administration, they said, will have little choice but to dive into the issue. But Mrs. Clinton faces a rough ride, Mr. Indyk said, because "the Gaza crisis has so weakened the hands of those who would make peace."