THE MIDEAST TAKES CENTER STAGE IN WASHINGTON
FrontPage Blog, May 17, 2011
Despite what promises to be a big week for Middle East diplomacy at the White House, President Obama appears nearly oblivious to the mortal threats facing Israel and the U.S., which have only increased in the wake of the “Arab Spring,” and the Hamas-Fatah unity agreement signed in Cairo last week.
Three major events will occur this week in Washington that will impact US relations with the Arab world and the state of Israel: a visit by King Abdullah of Jordan on Monday and Tuesday, another “outreach” speech by President Obama glorifying the Arab Spring on Thursday, and the arrival of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a White House visit on Friday. Netanyahu will address the AIPAC conference on Monday night and follow that up with an address to a Joint Session of Congress next Tuesday.
Overshadowing all of these events is the uncertainty brought about by the marriage of Hamas and Fatah, the continuing rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the surprise announcement that the president’s Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, has resigned.
But what seems like an opportunity to begin repairing relations with Israel, denouncing the alliance between Hamas and Fatah, warning the Arab world about the influence of Islamists in their nascent democracy movements, and speaking some hard truths about despotic regimes like Syria and Yemen, will not be seized upon by the Obama administration. Instead, we are likely to hear some blindly optimistic twaddle that acknowledges nothing and proves that the president and his advisors are foolishly placing their hopes on a series of foreign mirages that bear little resemblance to what is really occurring in the Middle East.
One need look no further than the Palestinian unity agreement that has ended years of conflict between Hamas and Fatah to see the myopic outlook of this administration. Incredibly…the administration actually believes that the agreement will “moderate” Hamas, forcing them to agree to the three principles of legitimacy set by the Quartet (US, Russia, EU, and the UN) in 2007. Those principles are extremely mild, and require Hamas to recognize Israel’s right to exist, agree to respect existing agreements with Israel, and renounce terrorism.
But Hamas has flatly refused to abide by those requirements. So what did the Obama administration do about that? They lowered the bar by pointing out that Hamas, by signing the unity agreement, had made “major concessions” in agreeing to form a government of “technocrats” instead of terrorists.…
There is no doubt that the unity agreement has killed off any possibility of direct talks with the Palestinians. Recognizing this, and treating it as the last straw, George Mitchell shocked the White House by handing in his resignation as Middle East envoy. In fact, some observers believe that Mitchell’s tenure ended months ago, as he became frustrated with…shifting policy at the White House. The Obama administration’s incoherence in its Israeli policy was being driven as much by the political necessity of having to support the Jewish State as it was by their desire to bring about an historic peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians by forcing radical concessions on land and settlements.… Mitchell was caught in the middle and resigned in disgust.
While Mitchell’s departure is something of an embarrassment for the administration and their Middle East policy, the talks held with Jordan’s King Abdullah previews some of the themes the president’s Arab outreach address will highlight on Thursday. Abdullah’s brush with his own Arab Spring demonstrations was handled deftly with serious dialogue between the government and the protesters, and some minor concessions on political liberty were granted by the government.
The president will no doubt hold Jordan up as a model of how governments in the Middle East should address the call for democracy in the streets. What he won’t do is talk about the danger of Islamic extremists like the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) hijacking the revolutions and installing terrorist governments. The progress of the Brotherhood in Egypt toward gaining control of both the parliament and the presidency in the upcoming elections should be setting off alarm bells throughout the Western world, especially Washington. The fact that it is not speaks volumes about the curious detachment of the Obama administration from the reality of what the Brotherhood is and what it represents.…
No doubt, the president’s speech will be full of uplifting sentiments about democracy and peace.… [As reported by the Wall Street Journal], the president will use the death of Osama bin Laden as evidence that his brand of Islamism is not the road to follow to achieve what the protestors are seeking.… The president will say that the Arab world is at a “crossroads” and that “bin Laden represented a failed approach of the past while populist movements brewing in the Middle East and North Africa represent the future.”
The latter remains to be seen, although the prospect is not very optimistic. But the attraction of young Muslim men to extremism does not appear to be abating, raising the question as to why the president doesn’t address the need for reform within Islam. Or the danger that extremists might co-opt the Arab protest movement. What good is outreach if only half truths are presented, while the hard facts of the Islamic world are ignored?
By contrast, Prime Minister Netanyahu, in his speech before a Joint Session of Congress next Tuesday, will almost certainly offer a more realistic assessment of the state of affairs in the Middle East. The PM gave a preview of his remarks at the opening of the summer session of the Knesset on Monday. There, he outlined several well known conditions for peace with the Palestinians, including defensible borders, no right of return, and Jerusalem as the undivided capitol of the Jewish state.
“We must stop blaming ourselves,” Netanyahu stated, referring to the refusal of the Palestinians to recognize Israel’s right to exist and how some left-wing Israelis see this as their own fault. But Netanyahu will likely not offer any bold new peace initiatives—especially now that Hamas has joined with Fatah.…
Several golden opportunities [may] be missed by the administration this week. [Obama could tell] the Arab world what [it] needs to hear and not what [it] wants to hear. He [could] throw his support one hundred percent behind the Israelis as they deal with the new reality of a united terrorist entity on their borders. Instead, there [will likely be] no vision, no acknowledgment of the peril inherent in extremists gaining influence because of the “Arab spring,” and a failure to stand by our ally Israel as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the terrorist regime in Iran threaten war to achieve their goal of wiping the Jewish state off the face of the earth.
PACT OR FICTION
Tablet, May 11, 2011
With Osama Bin Laden now in the bag, a triumphant President Barack Obama will be searching for new promises to keep—like clinching the comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace treaty that he promised the world during his first two years in office. And since any lasting peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians must include Hamas, it is no wonder that the White House seemed untroubled by the recent announcement of a pact between Fatah and Hamas, whose leadership greeted Bin Laden’s death with proclamations that the al-Qaida boss was a “martyr” and a “holy warrior.” Some in the White House are letting it be known that the administration believes the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation may be even a good thing for U.S. strategic interests.
Presumably, when Benjamin Netanyahu gets to Washington next week, the Hamas-Fatah deal is going to be at the top of his talking points. Even those in the pro-Israel camp who were pushing the prime minister to make concessions to the Palestinians recognize that this new partnership jeopardizes the entire peace process. All the money and prestige the United States and European Union have poured into the Palestinian issue has come to this: The carefully tended moderate camp has merged with the extremists.…
I [believe there is another crucial element] the deal reveals, which is why I am a big fan of Hamas-Fatah reconciliation—not because I think it will make peace likely, but because I think it is the only way to expose the hypocrisy and moral rot that has been at the core of Western thinking about the Arab-Israeli conflict for more than 30 years.
Osama Bin Laden’s death offers a good opportunity to take stock of the larger incoherence of American Middle East policy, whose most outstanding feature seems to be an inability to tell our friends from our foes. One easy yardstick to use might be this: If you enthusiastically support a man whose grand strategy consisted of killing as many Americans as possible then you are our enemy. So, why are we seemingly insensible to the fact that Hamas mourned Osama’s passing and its leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, the elected prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, said that his killing was a “continuation of the United States’ policy of destruction”?
I’m actually more comfortable with Haniya’s public devotion to Bin Laden’s memory than with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s conviction that the al-Qaida chief’s death will “mark the beginning of the end of a violent era.” To be fair, though, I suspect Fayyad really means his encouraging words, but in terms of American strategy his statements are useful only as fodder for Western publications that have an interest in furthering the fantastical narrative of Palestinian moderates waiting patiently in Ramallah to make peace while enduring the daily humiliations of a pointless Israeli occupation.… In short, Fayyad is an American invention, the latest in a long series of moderate phantoms that we summon forth to hide the gap between the way we want the world to be and a reality that is often cruel but not often difficult to fathom.
The original model of the imaginary Palestinian moderate was none other than Yasser Arafat, a lifelong believer in one Palestine, who never peddled any illusions about his ultimate aims or the violent methods he was willing to employ in order to achieve them. The myth of the moderate Arafat, the Nobel peace prize winner, the Palestinian Mandela, was a Western invention. His 1974 U.N. speech promising either an olive branch or a freedom fighter’s gun was clear: If I don’t have peace on my terms, there will be death. This was two years after the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics and only months after he’d personally ordered the assassination of American diplomats in Sudan. What was Arafat’s peace? He was always clear about this—it meant Israel’s destruction.
To fulfill those ends, Arafat tried to topple the king of Jordan and then drove Lebanon to civil war in the 1970s and ‘80s. When the Israelis and Syrians finally drove him out of Beirut, Western policymakers rescued Arafat from watching Tom and Jerry cartoons in Tunis. A Palestinian-Israeli agreement was to be part of Bill Clinton’s peace dividend, and the Americans gave Arafat a makeover. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, he was reconstituted as a man of peace. Arafat never asked for the Nobel Peace Prize…in 1994. It was given to him as part of a Western pantomime.…
But why blame Arafat, or any of the Palestinian leadership, including Hamas, for taking American and European money, not giving anything in return, and saying they want more? They believe they’re in the right and that the land they get from Israel is theirs by right. The Palestinians, after all, do not see themselves as the beneficiaries of an international goodwill society, to whom they should be grateful. They are a real people who fight, kill, and die for what they believe in.
The Hamas-Fatah unity government does not lay bare the Palestinians’ hatred of Israel, which has been obvious for decades to anyone who reads the statements of Palestinian leaders or the textbooks they distribute to their children. It says nothing about the Palestinians themselves, for the Palestinians—moderates and radicals alike—have never been opaque about their goals. The debate between Palestinian moderates and radicals is a debate over the means, and the timetable, for reaching a common goal. They’ve been encouraged by Western mendacity for decades, and they’ve played a weak hand well.
Rather, Palestinian unification reveals the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the American and other Western policymakers who have been peddling a fantasy of Palestinian moderation and peaceful coexistence for more than 30 years. It is time for us to realize that the suggestion that fine words about peace will discourage people from shooting at each other is not clever or hopeful or even naïve: It is actively immoral.…
ISRAEL WILL NEVER HAVE PEACE
Wall Street Journal, May 17, 2011
No doubt it is true, as the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Sunday, that among the Palestinian protesters seeking to force their way into Israel there were some with humbler aims than reclaiming “historic Palestine.”
“We’ve crossed the border in order to stay with our families, away from all the killing in Syria,” the paper reported one of the infiltrators as saying. “We ask the powers that be in Israel to help us stay and not send us back.”
No doubt it is also true, as White House spokesman Jay Carney noted yesterday, that the attempted breach was an effort by Damascus “to distract attention from the legitimate expression of protest by the Syrian people.” The border between Israel and Syria has been quiet for 37 years; it’s no accident, comrades, that the embattled regime of Bashar Assad, perhaps advised by Iran, would choose this particular moment to shift violent energies toward a more opportune target.
But here’s something about which there should also be no doubt: People don’t scamper over barbed wire, walk through mine fields and march toward the barrels of enemy soldiers if they aren’t fearless. And if they aren’t profoundly convinced of the rightness of what they are doing.
For many years it has been the conventional wisdom of Arab-Israeli peace processors that the conflict was, at heart, territorial, and that it could be resolved if only Israel and its neighbors could agree on a proper border. For many years, too, it has been conventional wisdom that if only the conflict could be resolved, other distempers of the Muslim world—from dictatorship to terrorism—would find their own resolution.
If the Arab Spring has done nothing else, it has at least disposed of the latter proposition. From Tehran to Tunis to Tahrir Square, Muslims are rising against their rulers for reasons quite apart from anything happening in Gaza, the West Bank or the Golan Heights. This isn’t to say they’ve abandoned their emotional commitments to Palestinians, or their ideological ones against Israel. It’s simply to say that they have their own problems.
But just as the West has consistently misunderstood the Muslim problem, so too has it failed to grasp the Palestinian one. And what it has failed to grasp above all is the centrality of Palestinian refugees to the conflict.
The fiction that is typically offered about the refugees by devotees of the peace process is that Palestinian leaders see them as a bargaining chip in their negotiations with Israel, perhaps in exchange for the re-division of Jerusalem. But listen in on the internal dialogue of Palestinians and you will hear that the “right of return” is an inviolable, inalienable and individual right of every refugee. In other words, a right that can never (and never safely) be bargained away by Palestinian leaders for the sake of a settlement with Israel.
In this belief the Palestinians are sustained by many things.
One is the mythology of 1948, which is long on tales of what Jews did to Arabs but short on what Arabs did to Jews—or to themselves. Another…is UNRWA, the U.N. agency that has perpetuated the Palestinian refugee problem for generations when most other refugees have been successfully repatriated. A [third] is their ill treatment at the hands of their Arab hosts, which has caused them to yearn for the fantasy of a homeland—orchards and all—that modern-day Israel succeeds in looking very much like. A [fourth] is the incessant drone of Palestinian propaganda whose idea of Palestinian statehood traces the map of Israel itself.
Other things could be mentioned. But the roots of the problem are beside the point. The real point is that a grievance that has been nursed for 63 years and that can move people to acts like those witnessed on Sunday is never going to allow a political accommodation with Israel and would never be satisfied by one anyway.
No wonder Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s prime minister, can say he would be prepared to accept the 1967 borders—but that establishing those borders will never mean an end to the conflict. The same goes for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who praised Sunday’s slain protesters as martyrs who “died for the Palestinian people’s rights and freedom.” This from the “moderate” who is supposed to acquaint his people with the reality and purpose of a two-state solution.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due in the U.S. soon to deliver what is being billed as a major policy address. What should he say? I would counsel the same wisdom that sailors of yore used to tattoo to their knuckles as a reminder of what not to forget on the yardarms of tall ships in stormy seas. Eight easy letters:
TIME FOR NEW DIPLOMACY
Ynet News, May 12, 2011
Secretaries of State Schultz and Baker did not agree with Prime Minister Shamir’s worldview, but they respected his principle-driven tenacity. Upon concluding a meeting with then Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, George Mitchell and Bob Dole, the latter told Shamir: “Irrespective of our disagreement with your policy, we respect you, because you’re tough.”
The international arena does not respect Israeli prime ministers who seek popularity rather than respect, transforming Red Lines to Pink Lines, in order to avoid confrontation. The world does not appreciate prime ministers who subordinate long-term vision and conviction to short-term diplomatic and political convenience.
In contrast to the legacy of Prime Ministers Ben Gurion, Eshkol, Golda Meir, Begin and Shamir, Israel’s current public diplomacy reflects frail conviction, while expressing empathy for claims made by Israel’s enemies. It tolerates simplistic Western assumptions about the Arab-Israeli conflict and downplays Israel’s contribution to the national security of the U.S.
Israel has hardly leveraged the current Arab turmoil that underscores the tenuous/violent nature of the Jewish State’s enemies and the inherent obstacles to intra-Arab peace (let alone to Israel-Arab peace.) Israel has failed to emphasize the…special role played by Israel as an outpost of Western democracies and a sole beacon of democracy.
In contrast with the Arabs who highlight their “rights,” Israel highlights security requirements, while minimizing well-documented and unique ancient roots. While Israeli leaders pride themselves on their “pragmatism” and willingness to distance themselves from historical roots, they in fact undermine Israel’s global legitimacy. The Jewish State ignores the lesson of King Solomon’s Trial: He who agrees “to split the difference” forfeits his rights to everything.
Since 1993, the Jewish State has downplayed its moral high ground, embracing moral-equivalence. Therefore, it has legitimized the Palestinian Authority as a supposed partner for peace negotiations, despite Mahmoud Abbas’ track record: Establishing Palestinian hate-education, Holocaust denial, coordinating PLO relations with ruthless Communist regimes, co-planning of the Munich Massacre…and collaborating with Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait.
Moreover, Israel has adopted the “Land-for-Peace” state of mind, in spite of the fact that the conflict has always been over the existence—and not the size—of the Jewish State. Since 1993, land conceded to the Palestinian Authority has been transformed into a platform of hate education and terrorism, fueling the conflict.
The current seismic events in the Arab World beg for an Israeli public diplomacy offensive. Such events should remove the “Middle East Screen Saver,” exposing the region as the role model of instability, ethnic-religious-tribal-geographic fragmentation, terrorism, violence as a norm of settling political disputes, hate culture, one-man one-revolution regimes, tenuous regimes-accords-alliances, treachery, volatility, unpredictability and uncertainty.
The deeper the uncertainty and the violence, the higher the Israeli security requirements, the more critical become the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria, the Golan Heights of Jerusalem and of the 15 miles wide pre-1967 Israel. The Jewish State stands out as the only stable, reliable, capable, democratic and unconditional ally of the U.S.…
But, like a deer caught in a headlights-look, Israel is glued to the “Palestinian Screen Saver.” On the other hand, Arab leaders shower Palestinians with rhetoric but not with resources. They do not shed blood on behalf of the Palestinian issue. Furthermore, they consider the Palestinians a subversive element, based on PLO violence in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Kuwait. What do Arabs know about the PLO that Israel refuses to share with the world?!
Israel has refrained from presenting the threat posed to vital American and Western interests by the proposed Palestinian state: Death sentence to the pro-US Hashemite regime; a tailwind to anti-U.S. terrorism in Iraq and throughout the region; enhanced access by Russia, China, North Korea, and possibly Iran to the eastern flank of the Mediterranean; rewarding a regime that drives Christians out of Bethlehem; an additional anti-U.S. vote at the UN, and an added fuel to the Middle East inferno.
The late General Alexander Haig, who was the Supreme Commander of NATO and U.S. Secretary of State, defined Israel as “the largest American aircraft carrier, which does not require a single U.S. soldier, cannot be sunk, most cost-effective and battle-tested, deployed in a critical area for vital U.S. economic and national security interests, sparing the US $20 billion annually, which would be required to deploy real aircraft carriers.”
Will Israel’s public diplomacy leverage the aforementioned significant data, shifting to a determined, lucid, defiant, politically incorrect but principle-driven tactic, or will it persist in its hesitant, ambiguous, popularity-driven and apologetic tactic, which intensifies pressure and threats, undermines security, distances itself from peace and brings war closer?