Despite the recent Annapolis peace conference, Israeli-Palestinian violence is escalating. Last week, Palestinian rockets fell on Israeli cities, and Israel launched retaliatory airstrikes; in one day, nine Palestinians died, including a 3-year-old girl. Even as President Bush visits the region this week for the first time since taking office, Americans might be forgiven for not placing much faith in their government's attempts to broker peace.
But there's a very practical reason they should be cheering the administration on: the $100 barrel of oil. Believe it or not, Israeli-Palestinian enmity plays a significant role in how much we're shelling out.
Dan Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, recently told National Public Radio that tension in the Mideast adds a $10 to $15 "security premium" to every barrel of oil: "What [this] reflects is a sense of uncertainty whether geopolitical events will lead to some kind of disruption that shuts off supply."
Neither Israel nor the Palestinians have oil, but Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia do. And belligerent people in each country say they're fighting the West in part because of our failure to redress wrongs visited on the Palestinians.
Of course, in the Middle East, the word "Palestine" plays a role like "flag-burning" in the U.S.: It stirs emotions and serves as a kind of shorthand for a variety of issues. But the Bush administration shouldn't discount the impact an independent Palestine would have on rising anti-American sentiment.
If the Annapolis process bears fruit, the outcome could prove a powerful tool in settling regional upheaval. At the very least, if Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace, fewer 3-year-olds will die. If the region becomes less volatile and oil prices come down as a result, that would be an undeniable bonus.
Painful concessions would have to be made on both sides, and for any uptick in security to register on oil markets, success would have to be lasting.
But if we encourage this administration, and the next, to engage in finding a durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we may find ourselves with more money in the bank. Peace in the Middle East is surely in the best interests of the people who live there - but the American public could use it, too.
Emily L. Hauser is an American-Israeli freelance writer living near Chicago who has covered the contemporary Middle East since the early 1990s. Her e-mail is email@example.com.