A veteran ambassador to the Middle East laid bare the complicated politics of the region and explained the importance of reaching peace in Palestine in a lecture Nov. 9.
David Mack, a retired U.S. ambassador, spoke to a crowd of students, faculty, staff and McMinnville residents in Ice Auditorium.
Mack discussed the problems the U.S. faces in the Middle East and how they tie back to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
“What’s new in recent [American] administrations is the frank admission that the breakdown in talks between Israel and Palestine threaten American interests in the region,” he said. “A lot of the political class in Washington has long been in denial about this.”
Mack lectured on the Iranian belief that the nation had a traditional hegemony over the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, where the gulf meets the Arabian Sea.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 40 percent of all the oil shipped by tanker travels through the strait. This amounts to 20 percent of all oil trade worldwide.
Mack spoke mostly on the necessity of ending hostilities in Palestine and the difficulty of doing so.
He praised President Barack Obama’s efforts to make peace a major issue during his first term, something he said no president has done before.
“Obama takes seriously the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Blessed is the peacemaker,’” Mack said. “Most previous presidents have put it in a box labeled ‘too hard.’”
Mack said that former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush understood the importance of Israel but waited until their second terms to make peace in the region important aspects of their administrations.
“Helping to heal the broken children of Abraham is the most important moral goal the United States can have in the Middle East,” Mack said.
He then explained the historical grievances that make peace difficult to achieve between Jews and Palestinians in Palestine.
He discussed the history of Palestine.
Once a province in the Ottoman Empire, an Islamic state that included Egypt, Iraq, the Balkan Peninsula and all territory in between, Palestine came under British rule after World War I, when the Ottoman Empire collapsed.
Mack said the problems began then, when the British decided that certain parts of Palestine were historically Jewish.
The problem worsened when Israel was created in the aftermath of World War II, he said, but the situation deteriorated to its current point after the 1967 Six-Day War, in which Israel won victories over the combined might of Egypt, Jordan and Syria.
After the war, Israel occupied the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the West Bank.
Mack was present for the war and was in Amaan, Jordan, when the city was bombed by the Israeli air force.
“I was young,” he said. “It was exciting. You’re not afraid when you’re young.”
Settlement building began shortly after the occupation of the West Bank began, starting in East Jerusalem.
These settlements, said Mack, pose a major problem for any two-state system because some of them are deep in the West Bank.
He said they are connectedby roads reserved for Jews and guarded by a border fence that pushes deep into the West Bank.
“These settlements [and the barrier wall] take up valuable grazing land and often force Palestinians to take long detours to reach their urban areas,” he said.
Mack said some of the territory controlled by the Jewish settlements is needed by Palestine to create a viable state.
He said the situation is complicated by competing ideas on the future of Israel and Palestine.
One faction, for example, favors ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the West Bank.
This faction is part of Prime Minister of the State of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government.
Other factions include center-right and far-left political groups, all of which have different ideas about the proper resolution for Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
Some factions of the coalition want a two-state agreement or a one-state system where Palestinians remain second-class citizens, Mack said.
The problems must be overcome if the U.S. is to prevent Iran from realizing territorial ambitions in the region, he said.
The U.S., he said, maintains Air Force and naval bases in territory controlled by allied nations adjacent to the Strait of Hormuz, but extreme Arabic states and terrorists will continue to undermine American political and diplomatic efforts in Middle East using the conflict in Palestine as justification.
He said this makes ending the conflict in Palestine critical to the success of U.S. diplomacy in the region.
Mack also spoke of some previous attempts to broker peace sabotaged by right-wing Israelis.
The previous high-water mark to peace was in 1995, he said. The assassination of former Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin by Yigal Amir, an Israeli, spoiled peace talks.
At the time, Israelis and Palestinians were discussing a potential end to hostilities under an agreement called the Oslo Accords.
Mack spoke favorably of the Israeli government’s decision to evacuate the Gaza Strip of Jewish settlements.
He said it was a tough decision to force Jews out of the settlements they built in the area, but it freed up the Israeli garrison.
Mack was insistent that the U.S. push for peace in the region.
He said previous efforts had failed when both sides were willing to talk and the U.S. was disinterested.
Mack has served in various roles for the diplomatic staffs of Middle Eastern countries.
He was the deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs from 1990-93. From 1986-89, he was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.
According to the Foundation for Middle East Peace, his diplomatic assignments included stints in Iraq, Jordan, Jerusalem, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.
Joshua Ensler/News editor
Joshua Ensler can be reached at email@example.com.