A paper peace, or a real and lasting peace?

April 01, 2010

* “Those who say, as George Mitchell and the Quartet have, that there can be a peace deal in 24 months are saying that fundamental security issues can be finessed or forgotten. Of course they can if your goal is a piece of paper – or, perhaps better put, a paper peace. If you want a real and lasting peace, you must have the answer to the question: What will fill the vacuum when Israeli forces leave?”

* “This infantilization of Palestinian society [by Obama and Hillary Clinton] moves it further from the responsibilities of statehood, for it holds harmless the most destructive elements of West Bank life and suggests that standards of decency are not necessarily part of progress toward ‘peace’.”

* “What makes this even more absurd is that at the very moment when it is coddling Syria and losing the battle for anything but the most minimal sanctions on Iran, the Obama administration has chosen to bash Israel.”

* Does anyone think al Qaeda or the Taliban would be mollified by a settlement freeze?

 

CONTENTS

1. A piece of paper will not bring peace to the Middle East
2. “Obama seems to have little comprehension of the region on which he seeks to impose peace”
3. Is the Obama White House running amok?
4. “The Future of an Illusion” (by Elliott Abrams, Weekly Standard, April 5, 2010)
5. “Will Obama ignite 3rd intifada?” (by Daniel Gordis, Jerusalem Post, March 26, 2010)
6. “The single-payer option” (by Barry Rubin, Jerusalem Post, March 28, 2010)


[Note by Tom Gross]

This is the second part of a three-part dispatch. The other parts can be read here:
The fall-out between America and Israel is a serious threat to world peace
Obama: I have seen the enemy and it is Jewish housing

There are three articles below. I have prepared extracts first for those who don’t have time to read them in full. If you want to understand the Middle East and the failures (and dangers) of the Obama administration’s reckless approach, I suggest you read at least the extracts to all three of these. All three writers are subscribers to this email list.

 

EXTRACTS

A PIECE OF PAPER WILL NOT BRING PEACE TO THE MIDDLE EAST

Elliott Abrams, the former deputy national security advisor of the United States under George W. Bush, writes:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned, it seems, to direct the Middle East policy of the Obama administration.

Since the Oslo Accords of 1993, 17 years of efforts under three American presidents and six Israeli prime ministers have taught five clear lessons. Each of them is being ignored by President Obama, which is why his own particular “peace process” has so greatly harmed real efforts at peace. Today the only factor uniting Palestinian, Israeli, and Arab leaders is distrust of the quality, sagacity, and reliability of American leadership in the region...

What are the lessons the Obama team is ignoring?

1. Israel’s flexibility is dependent on its sense of security.

Martin Indyk, Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Israel, put it this way in his memoirs: “The record… suggests that American presidents can be more successful when they put their arms around Israeli prime ministers and encourage them to move forward, rather than attempt to browbeat them into submission.” During the George W. Bush years, the leader of the Israeli right, Ariel Sharon, decided to abandon the idea of a “Greater Israel,” impose constraints on settlement construction in the West Bank (no new settlements, no outward expansion of settlement territory), and remove every settlement in Gaza and four small ones in the West Bank. His closest advisers say all of this was possible for him only in the context of unwavering American support for Israel’s security steps – including the targeting and killing of Hamas terrorists and the refusal to deal with a terrorist leader like Arafat. What was the turning point for Sharon? Bush’s June 24, 2002, speech, where he abandoned Arafat, denounced Palestinian terrorism, and said thorough reforms were the only possible basis for Palestinian statehood. Reassured, Sharon began to act.

Contrast this with the Obama administration…

2. The failure to set standards for Palestinian conduct hurts the cause of peace.

In the Bill Clinton years, the foreign leader who visited the White House most often was Yasser Arafat – 13 times. Who can blame Arafat for failing to take seriously criticism of his “alleged links” to terrorism when the invitations kept on coming? For years, American officials of both parties have said the “incitement must end,” but they have imposed no penalty for its failure to end. When in March the Palestinian Authority (PA) named a square for a terrorist involved in an attack in 1978 that killed 38 Israelis, including 13 children, Obama, Biden, and Clinton were silent...

A tough demand that all the incitement end now – no more terrorist squares, a clean-up of Palestinian broadcasting, the replacement of offending school textbooks – would both help Palestinian moderates undertake these actions and reassure Israelis that President Obama shares at least some of their concerns about the ability of Palestinians to negotiate and sustain a peace deal. The silence thus far, the unconvincing and rote handling of this issue, leaves the impression that Obama simply wants a deal signed and doesn’t much care about what happens after that…

3. Israeli withdrawals do not lead to peace unless law and order can be maintained by responsible security forces.

Israelis learned this the hard way in South Lebanon and Gaza, and it is unquestionably the greatest factor leading them to oppose a similar withdrawal from the West Bank. The Labor party leader Ehud Barak is not viewed in Israel as a hardliner; when he was prime minister he offered Arafat a dramatic peace proposal in 2000. But when, as defense minister, he met with President Bush in 2008 he handed over, and raised repeatedly in later meetings with Secretary Rice, a list of Israel’s security needs in the West Bank…

Those who say, as George Mitchell – Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East – and the Quartet have, that there can be a peace deal in 24 months are saying that fundamental security issues can be finessed or forgotten. Of course they can if your goal is a piece of paper – or, perhaps better put, a paper peace. If you want a real and lasting peace, you must have the answer to the question: What will fill the vacuum when Israeli forces leave? Today the answer is chaos or Hamas, and any prediction that in 24 months these matters will be resolved shows a lack of seriousness. Palestinians who value law and order and seek to build a decent society, as well as Jordanians who worry what forces will be across the river from them, cannot be so cavalier…

4. The Israeli-Palestinian dispute is not the center of world, Arab, or Muslim politics.

George Mitchell once acknowledged that when he talks to Arab leaders they raise Iran first, but no one in the administration wants to allow mere facts to interfere with their ideology. George W. Bush was as close as any American president ever has been to Israel, but had excellent relations with the Moroccan, Algerian, Emirati, Omani, Bahraini, Kuwaiti, Saudi, and Jordanian rulers – all except the Egyptians, who were annoyed that he thought they should have free elections…

Osama bin Laden became a terrorist to overthrow the government in Riyadh, not the one in Jerusalem…

The struggles between modernizers and traditionalists, Sunni and Shia, secularists and Islamists are tearing the Islamic and the Arab world apart. They would continue to do so if Israel no longer existed…

5. The ‘peace process’ retards peace.

A single-minded concentration on “the peace process” hurts the cause of peace and moderation throughout the region and does little to build the necessary institutions of Palestinian society. It’s obvious that nearly two decades of negotiations have not produced peace. Instead this focus has had two deleterious effects.

First, it means we care more about getting Syria, Egypt, or others to endorse some negotiating plan than we do about their own internal situations. The people, the politics, the alliances of such countries become unimportant, as we focus on whether their rulers will deign to sit at some table we’ve laid. Human rights and democracy issues evaporate.

Second, we use all our chips for the negotiating sessions, instead of applying them to the hard work of nation building…

 

“OBAMA SEEMS TO HAVE LITTLE COMPREHENSION OF THE REGION ON WHICH HE SEEKS TO IMPOSE PEACE”

Daniel Gordis writes in The Jerusalem Post:

… Barack Obama seems to have little comprehension of the region on which he seeks to impose peace. The president’s ignorance of the world in which he is operating is apparent on at least three levels. He seems unaware of how profoundly troubled Israelis are by his indiscriminate use of the word “settlement,” he appears to have little comprehension of the history of Palestinian recalcitrance, and he has apparently learned little from decades of American involvement in the Middle East peace process.

… To the Israeli ear, anyone who would use the same noun [“settlements”] for both a city and for a tiny hilltop outpost simply does not understand the terrain. Gilo, to Israelis, is not a settlement. It is a huge neighborhood of Jerusalem, a part of the capital city. When Obama called Gilo a settlement after Israel announced new housing units there in November, Israelis drew the conclusion that the president of the United States is wholly out of his element.

… Israelis believe the world has forgotten, Netanyahu acceded to Obama’s demands for a freeze, at no small political cost.

Thus, when the Americans decided to make the undeniably ill-timed announcement of the Ramat Shlomo housing plans into a cause célèbre, Israelis were hard-pressed to feel contrite about anything beyond the personal hurt caused to Biden. Ramat Shlomo is an enormous neighborhood that is already home to some 20,000 people, and which is situated between the even larger neighborhoods of Ramot and Sanhedria. Ramat Shlomo is Jerusalem, period. Building there may be wise or unwise for a whole array of reasons, but for the Americans to seize on this as a “settlement construction” issue only further confirmed Israeli suspicions that Obama couldn’t locate the neighborhood on a map.

The second major element that Obama appears not to understand is that the Palestinians’ current refusal to conduct face-to-face negotiations has a long history; their recalcitrance has nothing at all to do with the settlements.

… There remains virtually no Israeli political Left, not because of the Israeli Right, but because Yasser Arafat unleashed the Second Intifada when Ehud Barak called his bluff and offered him just about everything he could have expected, proving beyond any doubt that the Palestinian leadership had no interest in “land for peace.”

For the Obama administration to suggest that the Palestinians cannot negotiate now because of settlement construction strikes Israelis as either hopelessly naïve, or worse, fundamentally hostile to the Jewish state.

… Does Obama really not understand that this conflict has a long and consistent history? The Arabs rejected the UN Partition Plan in 1947, and refused a treaty at the end of Israel’s War of Independence in 1949. After their defeat in June 1967, they gathered in Khartoum and declared “no peace, no recognition and no negotiations.” Arafat said “no” at Camp David in 2000, and Abbas continues in that tradition. Why the American administration cannot or will not acknowledge that is one of the great wonders of this most recent train wreck.

… Obama is ignoring the fact that Abbas wouldn’t negotiate even if not a single settlement existed. In so doing, Obama has not only not moved the process forward, but he has afforded Abbas a refuge from responsibility, and he has given those who would like to ignite a third intifada an empty but symbolically powerful excuse for doing just that.

… Obama would be well-served to recognize that the history of this region is clear. Peace emerges when the two primary sides do the work themselves, with the United States entering late in the process to iron out stubborn details. Sadat went to Jerusalem without American urging, and though Jimmy Carter ultimately brought the two sides together to conclude the deal, the bulk of the work had been done by Sadat and Begin long before Carter entered the picture.

… The same was true with Rabin and Hussein, who worked on the Israeli-Jordanian peace deal. Clinton orchestrated the ceremony; but the principals had done most of the work without him.

And history suggests that only Israeli right-wingers can forge a deal. Israelis do not trust the Left to be security-conscious, and a left-wing government always has a right-wing flank blocking it. Obama may bristle at Netanyahu’s hawkish rhetoric, but the more Obama weakens this prime minister, the less likely a deal will become…

 

IS THE OBAMA WHITE HOUSE RUNNING AMOK?

Barry Rubin writes in The Jerusalem Post:

Has the Obama administration, against U.S. interests, declared diplomatic war on Israel? Up until now my view has been that the U.S. government didn’t want a crisis but merely sought to get indirect negotiations going between Israel and Palestinians in order to look good. Even assuming this limited goal, the technique – to keep getting concessions from Israel without asking the Palestinian Authority to do or give anything – has been foolish, but at least it was a generally rational strategy.

But now it has become reasonable to ask whether the Obama White House is running amok, whether it is pushing friction so far out of proportion that it is starting to look like a vendetta based on hostility and ideology…

What makes this even more absurd is that at the very moment when it is coddling Syria and losing the battle for anything but the most minimal sanctions on Iran, the administration has chosen to bash Israel.

During his visit to Washington last week, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu tried to defuse the tension. His partners in government, we should never forget, are Defense Minister Ehud Barak, leader of the Labor Party, and President Shimon Peres, who has done more to promote Middle East peace than any other living Israeli leader.

But Obama went out of his way to be personally hostile, treating Netanyahu like some colonial minion who could be ordered around.

… Since this administration has already unilaterally abrogated two major U.S. promises – the previous president’s recognition that settlement blocs could be absorbed as part of a peace agreement, and the Obama administration’s own pledge to let Israel build in east Jerusalem if it stopped in the West Bank – why should Israel put its faith in some new set of promises?

The Obama administration will have to decide in the coming days: Does it want to try to get some limited concessions from Israel to use as capital in trying to get talks started, using these to brag – futilely, of course – to Arabs and Muslims how they should be nicer to the administration in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Or does it want to live up to the negative stereotypes held by its worst enemies while simultaneously committing political suicide and destroying U.S. credibility in the Middle East.

[Extracts above prepared by Tom Gross]


FULL ARTICLES

The Future of an Illusion
A piece of paper will not bring peace to the Middle East
By Elliott Abrams
The Weekly Standard
April 5, 2010 edition

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned, it seems, to direct the Middle East policy of the Obama administration.

Since the Oslo Accords of 1993, 17 years of efforts under three American presidents and six Israeli prime ministers have taught five clear lessons. Each of them is being ignored by President Obama, which is why his own particular “peace process” has so greatly harmed real efforts at peace. Today the only factor uniting Palestinian, Israeli, and Arab leaders is distrust of the quality, sagacity, and reliability of American leadership in the region.

The patching-up efforts of the last two weeks were impressive, but perversely: They showed how much damage had been done and how little the administration cares about reversing it. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, against whom Obama was said to be “boiling with rage” after the Jerusalem housing announcement, got the complete slate of Washington meetings: Clinton, Gates, Biden, Obama. But the meetings were virtually secret: The White House did not permit a single photo to be taken of the Oval Office session, an unprecedented snub. Same at State: no ceremony, no press conference.

For her part, Secretary Clinton told the giant AIPAC meeting, “Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don’t agree, to say so, and say so unequivocally.” Several recent Palestinian actions, she said, were “provocations” that are “wrong and must be condemned.” That was nice, but saying it to a Jewish audience in a kiss-and-make-up session in Washington fools no one, not after her famous 43-minute telephone call to Netanyahu. These “provocations.  .  . that must be condemned” (note the passive voice) did not after all elicit a timely call to Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas condemning them, nor did she use the Quartet meeting in Moscow on March 19 for that purpose. And general administration protestations that the United States is committed to Israel’s security and that relations are “rock solid” now carry little persuasive power; they sound like Obama’s (and for that matter Clinton’s) campaign rhetoric, and everyone knows how useful a guide to administration policy all of that proved to be.

What are the lessons the Obama team is ignoring?

1. Israel’s flexibility is dependent on its sense of security.

Martin Indyk, Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Israel, put it this way in his memoirs: “The record.  .  . suggests that American presidents can be more successful when they put their arms around Israeli prime ministers and encourage them to move forward, rather than attempt to browbeat them into submission.” During the George W. Bush years, the leader of the Israeli right, Ariel Sharon, decided to abandon the idea of a “Greater Israel,” impose constraints on settlement construction in the West Bank (no new settlements, no outward expansion of settlement territory), and remove every settlement in Gaza and four small ones in the West Bank. His closest advisers say all of this was possible for him only in the context of unwavering American support for Israel’s security steps – including the targeting and killing of Hamas terrorists and the refusal to deal with a terrorist leader like Arafat. What was the turning point for Sharon? Bush’s June 24, 2002, speech, where he abandoned Arafat, denounced Palestinian terrorism, and said thorough reforms were the only possible basis for Palestinian statehood. Reassured, Sharon began to act.

Contrast this with the Obama administration, where Israel has been “condemned” – the toughest word in the diplomatic dictionary – for a housing project. Instead of seeking practical and politically feasible limits to settlement activity, the Obama approach has been to say every brick cemented to another was “illegitimate.”

Israelis know that these American denunciations of Israel liberate Europeans and others to crank up their own, and so it has been this past year: Israel has been increasingly isolated and criticized internationally. Once we used “condemn,” it was impossible (even if we were trying, which we were not) to keep it out of Quartet and EU statements. Add a few other international assaults (the Goldstone Report on the Gaza war, for instance) and American acts of distancing (the president visits Cairo and Riyadh but skips Israel, for example), and Israelis are in no mood for additional risktaking. Who, after all, will have their back if things get rough? Hillary Clinton told AIPAC that “the status quo is unsustainable,” as if just about anything we can get on paper would be better. Such phrases do not inspire Israeli confidence that their country’s security is anywhere near the top of the administration’s list. All this should be elementary, but it seems to have escaped the Obama White House.

2. The failure to set standards for Palestinian conduct hurts the cause of peace.

In the Bill Clinton years, the foreign leader who visited the White House most often was Yasser Arafat – 13 times. Who can blame Arafat for failing to take seriously criticism of his “alleged links” to terrorism when the invitations kept on coming? For years, American officials of both parties have said the “incitement must end,” but they have imposed no penalty for its failure to end. When in March the Palestinian Authority (PA) named a square for a terrorist involved in an attack in 1978 that killed 38 Israelis, including 13 children, Obama, Biden, and Clinton were silent. Lower-ranking officials tut-tutted. In Palestinian society, the veneration of this terrorist, Dalal Mughrabi, is widespread; Fatah, not Hamas, is the one celebrating Mughrabi. PA radio and television incite hatred of Israel and Jews with regularity, as Palestinian Media Watch and MEMRI document every month.

In recent weeks the Obama administration has stated that both sides have responsibilities to meet, but it made no serious demands of the PA. Had there been early and regular insistence that incitement end, the Mughrabi incident would never have taken place. The price for such negligence is being paid in both Israeli and Palestinian society: Every such action and every vicious broadcast helps persuade Israelis that Palestinians do not truly seek peace and helps raise a new generation of Palestinians who see Jews as enemies to hate, not neighbors with whom to reach an accommodation. This infantilization of Palestinian society, moreover, moves it further from the responsibilities of statehood, for it holds harmless the most destructive elements of West Bank life and suggests that standards of decency are not necessarily part of progress toward “peace.”

A tough demand that all the incitement end now – no more terrorist squares, a clean-up of Palestinian broadcasting, the replacement of offending school textbooks – would both help Palestinian moderates undertake these actions and reassure Israelis that President Obama shares at least some of their concerns about the ability of Palestinians to negotiate and sustain a peace deal. The silence thus far, the unconvincing and rote handling of this issue, leaves the impression that Obama simply wants a deal signed and doesn’t much care about what happens after that. Like his distancing himself from Israel and his apparent lack of concern for Israeli security, this undermines any chance of successful peace talks.

3. Israeli withdrawals do not lead to peace unless law and order can be maintained by responsible security forces.

Israelis learned this the hard way in South Lebanon and Gaza, and it is unquestionably the greatest factor leading them to oppose a similar withdrawal from the West Bank. The Labor party leader Ehud Barak is not viewed in Israel as a hardliner; when he was prime minister he offered Arafat a dramatic peace proposal in 2000. But when, as defense minister, he met with President Bush in 2008 he handed over, and raised repeatedly in later meetings with Secretary Rice, a list of Israel’s security needs in the West Bank. He and Netanyahu (and the vast majority of Israelis) are of one mind on this: Terrorism from Gaza is a security challenge for Israel, but terrorism from the West Bank threatens Israel’s survival. There has been considerable progress in training Palestinian security forces, but no one believes they can yet maintain order without the presence of the IDF and Shin Bet. Those who say, as George Mitchell – Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East – and the Quartet have, that there can be a peace deal in 24 months are saying that fundamental security issues can be finessed or forgotten. Of course they can if your goal is a piece of paper – or, perhaps better put, a paper peace. If you want a real and lasting peace, you must have the answer to the question: What will fill the vacuum when Israeli forces leave? Today the answer is chaos or Hamas, and any prediction that in 24 months these matters will be resolved shows a lack of seriousness. Palestinians who value law and order and seek to build a decent society, as well as Jordanians who worry what forces will be across the river from them, cannot be so cavalier. This brings us back to lesson one: If the United States is intent on a deal in 24 months no matter what, Israelis will understand that we are not going to protect their security and that we’ll complain when they assert the need to do it themselves.

4. The Israeli-Palestinian dispute is not the center of world, Arab, or Muslim politics.

George Mitchell once acknowledged that when he talks to Arab leaders they raise Iran first, but no one in the administration wants to allow mere facts to interfere with their ideology. George W. Bush was as close as any American president ever has been to Israel, but had excellent relations with the Moroccan, Algerian, Emirati, Omani, Bahraini, Kuwaiti, Saudi, and Jordanian rulers – all except the Egyptians, who were annoyed that he thought they should have free elections. Paying attention to what Arab political leaders say publicly about Israel is foolish, for their real views consist of tough-minded assessments of the balance of power in the region. What they want most of all is calm; they do not want their streets riled up by Israeli-Palestinian violence. Palestinians are not at the center of their hearts or they would visit the West Bank and bring plenty of cash with them. What preoccupies them is survival and Iran. If they take any lesson from the current coldness between the United States and Israel, it is that the United States is not a reliable ally. If we can ditch Israel, they know we can far more easily ditch them.

The most perverse misunderstanding along these lines is the thought that supporting Israel is risking American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the war on terror. Vice President Biden is reported to have told Netanyahu that “this is starting to get dangerous for us. What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.” White House denials suggest that the quotation is not exact, but there has also been no flat-out denial of the sentiment. David Axelrod, the political hack who appears to be a key foreign policy strategist and spokesman for the president, was asked on one of the Sunday shows if he agreed that settlement construction puts U.S. troops’ lives at risk. He replied, “It is important for our own security that we move forward and resolve this very difficult issue.” Not exactly a resounding “no.” General David Petraeus, the CENTCOM commander, told the Senate that “clearly the tensions in these issues have an enormous effect on the strategic context in which we operate in the Central Command area of responsibility.” Once again, not a “No way” or a “Get real.” Petraeus had a chance to say the Pakistanis are not thinking hard about West Bank settlement construction when they watch the Taliban and developments in Waziristan, and he failed to do so then or in later explanations. How hard would it have been for him or some other official to remind everyone that Osama bin Laden became a terrorist to overthrow the government in Riyadh, not the one in Jerusalem? The struggles between modernizers and traditionalists, Sunni and Shia, secularists and Islamists are tearing the Islamic and the Arab world apart. They would continue to do so if Israel no longer existed.

Israelis listening to official American remarks hear an amateurish interpretation of Arab politics, which as Lee Smith reminded us in his recent book (quoting bin Laden himself) is basically about backing the strong horse. Arab leaders want to know what we will do to stop Iran; they want to know if their ally in Washington is going to be the top power in the region. Israelis wonder where the “uh oh, this will make Islamic extremists angry” argument stops. Does anyone think al Qaeda or the Taliban would be mollified by a settlement freeze? The Islamists are not interested in “1967 issues” related to Israel’s size, but in “1948 issues” related to Israel’s existence. If henceforth we mean to engage such people rather than to defeat them, Israel’s existence – not its settlement policy – comes into play.

If this is not the Obama view of the world, the administration should say so quickly and very clearly. Otherwise his administration can fairly be said to be revisiting our own “1948 issues.” The argument that Israel would be a great burden and ruin our place in the Arab world was proffered then by George Marshall – and rejected by Harry Truman. In his memoirs, Clark Clifford wrote at length about the State Department’s efforts to stop Truman from recognizing the new State of Israel. Clifford quoted Marshall’s deputy Robert Lovett as saying on May 14, 1948 – the day Israel declared its independence and Truman offered recognition – “There will be a tremendous reaction in the Arab world. We might lose the effects of many years of hard work with the Arabs. We will lose our position with Arab leaders. It will put our diplomatic missions and consular representatives in personal jeopardy.” After 60 years of American leadership and military dominance in the Middle East, it should be as disturbing to Americans – not least to Democrats who venerate Truman – as it is to Israelis that traces of this approach are emerging again in Washington.

Netanyahu answered these poor arguments in his address to AIPAC:

“Our soldiers and your soldiers fight against fanatic enemies that loathe our common values. In the eyes of these fanatics, we are you and you are us. To them, the only difference is that you are big and we are small, you are the Great Satan and we are the Little Satan.”

5. The ‘peace process’ retards peace.

A single-minded concentration on “the peace process” hurts the cause of peace and moderation throughout the region and does little to build the necessary institutions of Palestinian society. It’s obvious that nearly two decades of negotiations have not produced peace. Instead this focus has had two deleterious effects.

First, it means we care more about getting Syria, Egypt, or others to endorse some negotiating plan than we do about their own internal situations. The people, the politics, the alliances of such countries become unimportant, as we focus on whether their rulers will deign to sit at some table we’ve laid. Human rights and democracy issues evaporate.

Second, we use all our chips for the negotiating sessions, instead of applying them to the hard work of nation building. We ask Arab states to reach out to Israel (which they will not do) when we should be demanding that they reach out to the Palestinians (which they might). We explode, and damage U.S.-Israeli relations, over a tiny construction announcement because it might slow “proximity talks” Mitchell has cooked up. We use American influence with Israel not to promote economic growth in the West Bank, but to try and impede Jewish (never Arab) construction in Israel’s capital city. This set of priorities is perverse and will not lead to peace. Instead, a pragmatic approach that seeks to create in the West Bank a decent society and a state that will maintain law and order should be our goals.

The last week of March brought talk of “reconciliation” between the Obama administration and the government of Israel. Relations are so strained that we, too, appear to need our own set of “proximity talks” now. But reconciliation is not a simple matter, as the Catholic Church knows. In that faith, it is a sacrament consisting of three elements: conversion, confession, and celebration. Conversion is the internal realization of wrongdoing, confession is the external admission of it, and celebration follows when (and only when) the sinner has converted, repented, confessed, and returned. Given the Obama administration’s view of Israel and the Middle East, celebration seems a long way off.

 

WILL OBAMA IGNITE 3RD INTIFADA?

Will Obama ignite 3rd intifada?
U.S. president gives those seeking another round of violence a powerful excuse
By Daniel Gordis
The Jerusalem Post
March 26, 2010

As I was departing the United States following a brief visit last week, the news being broadcast in the airport was preoccupied with Prime Minister Binyamin’s Netanyahu’s recent and apparently inadvertent snub of Vice President Joe Biden. Some 11 hours later, when I’d landed in Tel Aviv and was listening to the radio in the taxi on the way to Jerusalem, the news was of rioting in Jerusalem, the numbers of police officers injured, and the number of protesters detained during Hamas’s “Day of Rage.” On the American news, Hillary Clinton was calling for more than an apology, demanding “concrete steps” towards peace on Israel’s part. And in Israel, the fluent-Hebrew-speaking Arab protester interviewed on the radio was calling for armed resistance to Israel’s “assault on Jerusalem,” insisting that the time for a third intifada had now arrived.

The radical difference between the broadcasts is an apt metaphor for the wholly different ways in which the current crisis in Israeli-American relations is perceived on the two sides of the ocean. The Americans are quite right to be incensed at the way Biden was treated. Whether Netanyahu was sandbagged by Interior Minister Eli Yishai, or whether this was simply another example of Israeli bureaucratic incompetence is not yet entirely clear. But it should never have happened.

Having said that, however, it is also clear that in the context of a generally positive relationship, Israel’s insult to Biden would have been unfortunate, but it would have blown over almost immediately. The snub has had such massive repercussions because the relationship between the American and Israeli administrations is frayed, and wholly devoid of trust. The important question is why that is the case.

WHILE ISRAEL has obviously made some serious gaffes since Obama entered office, the real cause for this nadir in Washington-Jerusalem relations is the fact that Barack Obama seems to have little comprehension of the region on which he seeks to impose peace. The president’s ignorance of the world in which he is operating is apparent on at least three levels. He seems unaware of how profoundly troubled Israelis are by his indiscriminate use of the word “settlement,” he appears to have little comprehension of the history of Palestinian recalcitrance, and he has apparently learned little from decades of American involvement in the Middle East peace process.

First, there is the issue of the word “settlements.” To the Israeli ear, anyone who would use the same noun for both a small city with tens of thousands of inhabitants and for a tiny hilltop outpost consisting of a trailer and a portable generator simply does not understand the terrain. Gilo, to Israelis, is not a settlement. It is a huge neighborhood of Jerusalem, a part of the capital city. When Obama called Gilo a settlement after Israel announced new housing units there in November, Israelis drew the conclusion that the president of the United States is wholly out of his element.

Similarly, Obama’s demands for an absolute freeze on settlement construction strike Israelis as either foolish or unfair. Why, they ask, did all construction have to cease? Israelis who had planned to add a bedroom to their home for recently married children, who had already poured a foundation and ripped out the back wall of their home, were now told that nothing could proceed. When the president, who does not seem to know a city from an outpost, insists that houses remain open to the elements during the cold Israeli winter because of his desire to appease the very Palestinians who have never been serious about peace efforts, he does not win friends.

Nor, Israelis have noted, did Obama demand any similarly concrete concessions from the Palestinians or their puppet-president. That, too, has served Obama poorly in this country. And despite all this, Israelis believe the world has forgotten, Netanyahu acceded to Obama’s demands for a freeze, at no small political cost.

Thus, when the Americans decided to make the undeniably ill-timed announcement of the Ramat Shlomo housing plans into a cause célèbre, Israelis were hard-pressed to feel contrite about anything beyond the personal hurt caused to Biden. Ramat Shlomo is an enormous neighborhood that is already home to some 20,000 people, and which is situated between the even larger neighborhoods of Ramot and Sanhedria. Ramat Shlomo is Jerusalem, period. Building there may be wise or unwise for a whole array of reasons, but for the Americans to seize on this as a “settlement construction” issue only further confirmed Israeli suspicions that Obama couldn’t locate the neighborhood on a map.

THE SECOND major element that Obama appears not to understand is that the Palestinians’ current refusal to conduct face-to-face negotiations has a long history; their recalcitrance has nothing at all to do with the settlements. The settlements, like the refugee problem (on which Israel will never compromise), and the division of Jerusalem (where some accommodation will almost certainly be forced on Israel), will be addressed when the Israelis and Palestinians sit down for face-to-face negotiations.

But Abbas has agreed only to mediated talks because he is unwilling to countenance the concessions that direct talks might ultimately require of him. The Palestinians have balked at every attempt to sign a substantive agreement with Israel. There remains virtually no Israeli political Left, not because of the Israeli Right, but because Yasser Arafat unleashed the Second Intifada when Ehud Barak called his bluff and offered him just about everything he could have expected, proving beyond any doubt that the Palestinian leadership had no interest in “land for peace.”

For the Obama administration to suggest that the Palestinians cannot negotiate now because of settlement construction strikes Israelis as either hopelessly naïve, or worse, fundamentally hostile to the Jewish state.

And finally, despite his appreciable intellectual capacities, Barack Obama seems to have no appreciation of what America can and cannot do in the Middle East. He believes so deeply in the power of his own rhetoric that he imagines that he can evoke the passions of Grant Park on Election Day, or the Washington Mall on Inauguration Day, in a Muslim world that has disdain for the very democratic values that brought him to power. This is hubris at its most dangerous. Obama’s Cairo speech was rhetorically brilliant, but the president has been snubbed. Iran has yet to grasp Obama’s outstretched hand, and instead, proceeds apace in its quest for a nuclear weapon. The Palestinians have not budged. Yet Obama continues to believe that his eloquence will win the day.

Does Obama really not understand that this conflict has a long and consistent history? The Arabs rejected the UN Partition Plan in 1947, and refused a treaty at the end of Israel’s War of Independence in 1949. After their defeat in June 1967, they gathered in Khartoum and declared “no peace, no recognition and no negotiations.” Arafat said “no” at Camp David in 2000, and Abbas continues in that tradition. Why the American administration cannot or will not acknowledge that is one of the great wonders of this most recent train wreck.

WITH HIS laser focus on the settlements, Obama is ignoring the fact that Abbas wouldn’t negotiate even if not a single settlement existed. In so doing, Obama has not only not moved the process forward, but he has afforded Abbas a refuge from responsibility, and he has given those who would like to ignite a third intifada an empty but symbolically powerful excuse for doing just that. A third intifada remains unlikely at present (though, it’s worth noting, the IAF attacked Gaza targets this week and the IDF killed a Palestinian teenager during a scuffle – precisely the sort of innocuous events that could one day be seen as the first events of the third intifada), but should it happen, it will be, first and foremost, the product of Washington’s naïveté.

Obama would be well-served to recognize that the history of this region is clear. Peace emerges when the two primary sides do the work themselves, with the United States entering late in the process to iron out stubborn details. Sadat went to Jerusalem without American urging, and though Jimmy Carter ultimately brought the two sides together to conclude the deal, the bulk of the work had been done by Sadat and Begin long before Carter entered the picture. The Nobel Committee, which once exercised much more subtle judgment, essentially acknowledged that fact by having Sadat and Begin split the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize, without including Carter.

The same was true with Rabin and Hussein, who worked on the Israeli-Jordanian peace deal. Clinton orchestrated the ceremony; but the principals had done most of the work without him.

And history suggests that only Israeli right-wingers can forge a deal. Israelis do not trust the Left to be security-conscious, and a left-wing government always has a right-wing flank blocking it. Obama may bristle at Netanyahu’s hawkish rhetoric, but the more Obama weakens this prime minister, the less likely a deal will become. The U.S. cannot wish democracy on Iraq, or peace on the Middle East. There will be a settlement of this conflict when the Palestinians are ready, not when Barack Obama decides to impose one.

SO, WHERE do we go from here? To begin to pull out of the present nose-dive, each of the parties will need to shift gears.

The Palestinians have to decide if they will take risks for peace, and if they can elect a president who is more than a figurehead. Last week’s “Day of Rage,” it should be noted, was called by Hamas – yet it unfolded not in Hamas’ Gaza, but in Fatah’s Jerusalem. Fatah needs a genuine leader, perhaps someone like Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is now saying that the Palestinians should first build the trappings of statehood, and only then declare independence down the road. It is no surprise that Shimon Peres recently compared Fayyad to David Ben-Gurion, the creator of the modern State of Israel.

The Israelis need to learn to play in the major leagues. When the American vice president visits, you need to have your act together. If Israeli leaders continue to act as if they run a banana republic, they will deservedly be so treated. But much more significantly, Netanyahu needs to apprise Israelis of his vision. Does he favor a two-state solution? What are his plans for Jerusalem? For the settlements? Let him tell us, and then we can decide. If we approve, he’ll stay in office. And if we don’t, he’ll be gone. But we deserve to know what our prime minister has in mind.

In some respects, though, Barack Obama has the hardest job, at least in the short term. When he took office, there was no love lost between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and Gaza was still smoldering from the recently concluded Operation Cast Lead. But there was reasonable quiet on the West Bank and in Jerusalem, and a renewed Intifada was nowhere on our radar screen. Obama’s blunderings have now restored the region’s previous tinderbox qualities.

The president needs to back down from his relentless and fruitless focus on settlements, and concentrate more on what he doesn’t yet know than on the power of his rhetoric. Should another intifada erupt, it will have had its seeds in a Washington more interested in the magic of its words than in the painful lessons of a century of history.

 

“I GUESS WE’LL FIND OUT PRETTY SOON”

The single-payer option
It seems the Obama administration envisions having Israel pay for everything
By Barry Rubin
The Jerusalem Post
March 28, 2010

Has the Obama administration, against U.S. interests, declared diplomatic war on Israel? Up until now my view has been that the U.S. government didn’t want a crisis but merely sought to get indirect negotiations going between Israel and Palestinians in order to look good. Even assuming this limited goal, the technique – to keep getting concessions from Israel without asking the Palestinian Authority to do or give anything – has been foolish, but at least it was a generally rational strategy.

But now it has become reasonable to ask whether the Obama White House is running amok, whether it is pushing friction so far out of proportion that it is starting to look like a vendetta based on hostility and ideology.

Part of the framework for such behavior can be called, to borrow a phrase from the health care debate, a “single-payer option.” That is, the administration seems to envision Israel paying for everything: supposedly getting the PA to negotiate, doing away with any Islamist desire to commit acts of terrorism or revolt, keeping Iraq quiet, making Afghanistan stable and solving just about every other global problem.

What makes this even more absurd is that at the very moment when it is coddling Syria and losing the battle for anything but the most minimal sanctions on Iran, the administration has chosen to bash Israel.

During his visit to Washington last week, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu tried to defuse the tension. His partners in government, we should never forget, are Defense Minister Ehud Barak, leader of the Labor Party, and President Shimon Peres, who has done more to promote Middle East peace than any other living Israeli leader.

But according to reliable sources, Obama went out of his way to be personally hostile, treating Netanyahu like some colonial minion who could be ordered around.

Judging from the evidence, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s AIPAC speech, the administration thinks it knows better what Israelis want than do Netanyahu, Barak and Peres.

Actually, a poll by the highly respected Smith Research company for The Jerusalem Post, found that only 9 percent of Israeli Jews considered the administration more pro-Israel, while 48% said it was more pro-Palestinian. To understand these figures, you have to know that most Israelis are very reluctant to say anything critical of the U.S., out of genuine respect and concern not to damage relations.

So does the administration want to resolve this issue or to pile on demands in hope of giving the PA so much that it will agree to talk about getting even more unilateral Israeli concessions? Is the goal to overthrow Netanyahu – which isn’t going to happen – or break his spirit so he will follow orders in future – which also isn’t going to happen?

Doesn’t this U.S. government understand that if you prove yourself to be anti-Israel, you will destroy any incentive Israel has to enter negotiations with you as the mediator? Can it not comprehend that it is giving the PA every incentive to keep raising the price?

Can it not sense that if it undermines Israel’s trust in Washington, it will push the whole country further to the Right? If the U.S. government politely asks to stop building in east Jerusalem in exchange for some tangible benefit and for a limited time, many Israelis would be willing to agree. But if this happens in a framework of enmity and threat, with the “reward” being no benefit and even more concessions to follow, even doves will grow sharp beaks.

IT SEEMS as if the Obama administration has chosen just one country to try to pressure and intimidate. And it has picked the worst possible target in this respect, both because of how Israelis think and also given very strong domestic U.S. support for Israel (especially in Congress).

It bashes Israel while ignoring the PA’s naming of a major square in honor of a terrorist who murdered a score of Israeli civilians, with Clinton even claiming this was done by Hamas and not the PA. And as the administration betrays Israel’s main priority – failing to put serious pressure on Iran to stop building nuclear weapons – why should Israel want to do big favors and take big risks for this president?

Finally, since this administration has already unilaterally abrogated two major U.S. promises – the previous president’s recognition that settlement blocs could be absorbed as part of a peace agreement, and the Obama administration’s own pledge to let Israel build in east Jerusalem if it stopped in the West Bank – why should Israel put its faith in some new set of promises?

The Obama administration will have to decide in the coming days: Does it want to try to get some limited concessions from Israel to use as capital in trying to get talks started, using these to brag – futilely, of course – to Arabs and Muslims how they should be nicer to the administration in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Or does it want to live up to the negative stereotypes held by its worst enemies while simultaneously committing political suicide and destroying U.S. credibility in the Middle East.

I guess we’ll find out pretty soon.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.