In his Wednesday column “Lessons of the 9/11 decade,” Senator Joseph Lieberman confidently ends his article with the belief that the United States will defeat Islamist extremism — no matter how long it takes or what further turns lie ahead. But such an outcome is far from certain. Despite all the lessons that the United States has learned since 9/11, there is one that has been missed: Islamist extremism will never be defeated unless the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved.
While the United States has sought to defeat Islamist extremism in the rest of the world, there has been no progress concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 9/11. The conflict continues to be a source of anger in the Middle East and the stalemate has driven many to violence. This deadlock has once again come to the political fore with the sudden arrival of the Arab Spring, but it is unclear whether these revolutions will help bring peace or further bloodshed. Although Senator Lieberman claims that the Arab Spring represents the “ultimate repudiation of everything violent Islamist extremism stands for,” the truth is that the Arab Spring is still in its infancy, and it remains to be seen whether these countries adopt a Western-style democracy or something very different. We only need to look back at Hamas’ election victory in Gaza in 2006 to see the potential for Islamist extremism to take hold even in potentially democratic countries in the Middle East.
And even if Islamist extremism fails to become a significant political force in the wake of the Arab Spring, the attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo earlier this week shows that strong anti-Israeli feelings remain. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has strengthened these sentiments throughout the Middle East and Islamic extremists will continue to exploit these feelings to attract new members to their cause and replenish their ranks in preparation for further acts of violence. Some of this violence will be directed towards the United States, since its relationship with Israel and its broader involvement in the Middle East continues to make our country a target. Islamic extremists have used the anger towards Israel to convince others that weakening or defeating the United States will help to bring about victory in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Next week, Palestine will make a bid to seek recognition of its statehood at the United Nations General Assembly. It will certainly be rejected, as the United States has made it clear it will use its veto power if necessary. But regardless, it is difficult to imagine any outcome that will not embarrass the United States or hurt its standing in the Middle East. The United States has had over a decade since the last serious talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders to try to solve this problem, but its failure to do so has finally driven Palestine to act unilaterally. Although Senator Lieberman is right to say that the United States has learnt a great deal since 9/11, the country has ignored the importance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the War on Terror. Islamic extremists will continue to use this ignorance to prolong a conflict which has raged for over 60 years, and will not likely end any time soon.
Jonathan Martin is a senior in Pierson College.