Sunday, May 31, 2009

Stopping Settlement Construction Won’t Help Construct a Diplomatic Settlement

By Barry Rubin

Although somewhat quieted by the successful Netanyahu-Obama meeting, a predominant theme in current talk about U.S. Middle East policy is that there will soon be a U.S.-Israel confrontation. This is so expected that there are daily misinterpretations or fabrications of events implying some anti-Israel step by the Obama administration.

Such things might well—almost inevitably will—happen at some point. But by the end of May 2009, there had still been no material action hostile to Israel undertaken by the administration.

What is curious, and counterproductive for the administration, is the one area which might be the scene of direct confrontation: the settlement issue.

Israel does not start new settlements. The issue is a narrower one: adding a building or even rooms or floors onto buildings in existing settlements. A second potential issue is over construction in the east Jerusalem area.

So far, there is a consensus in Israel that the same policy as has been held since 1993 should continue: no new settlements but construction on existing settlements.

From the administration’s standpoint, making this the big push doesn’t make sense and is likely to lead to looking foolish in the future no matter how it comes out.

First, if Israel refuses, is the United States going to apply disproportionate diplomatic force on the issue? Will huge threats or actions be deployed to make a small change?

Second, there is no implication of an enforced reciprocity. That is, Israel is not being offered anything for making such a concession on a policy held by the last six prime ministers. The United States, for example, urged the Palestinian Authority (PA) to stop incitement for murdering Israelis in its media and other institutions but there was no statement that this was a high priority or that the United States would punish the PA for not doing so.

How, then, will the United States get Israel to take steps of much greater importance it will want in future if a lot of political capital is used up on this one?

If the United States fails to force a change in Israeli policy it will look foolish. But what if it succeeds? The PA will just move to the next item on its list: refusing to negotiate with Israel unless Netanyahu explicitly endorses a “two-state” solution.

And the PA will do or give nothing in exchange for a cessation of Israeli settlement construction. Neither will the Arab states. They will not help it more on the Iran issue or meet any other U.S. request.

On the contrary, they will say that now the United States has demonstrated it can get Israel to do what it wants. Thus, Washington has no excuse for not ordering Israel to withdraw from all the West Bank, agree to an independent Palestinian state without preconditions, and do whatever else the Arab regimes want. Indeed PA leader Mahmoud Abbas said that in his interviews while in Washington.

In short, the United States will have reaped zero advantage from achieving its current number-one priority on the peace process.

And what will it do if the PA refuses to cooperate even after a settlement freeze, threaten to cut off aid or withdraw the military training mission?

The administration has already signalled the PA that the Palestinians are doing America a favor by taking the dollars. After all, doesn't Obama say that the peace process and good relations with the Palestinians are the keystone of U.S. Middle East policy? Hasn't Washington accepted the notion that keeping the PA happy is the way to get Arabs and Muslims to love America? So it has already given away the leverage needed to get anything done.

As usually happens nowadays, I’m unaware of any government, media or analytical response to the points made here. Something like “stop settlement activity” becomes a mantra which involves no serious thought, longer-term strategy, or response to criticisms like the ones I’m making here.

Stopping settlement activity will not advance a diplomatic solution. That’s a fact.

PS: No sooner did I write the note above than I saw this. It is an article by Rami Khouri who cheers Obama's focusing on settlements and then says: Great. Once we stop all the settlements the next step is to demand the "Right of Return." I think that's a fair reading of his article. It just shows how pushing on the settlements will not "moderate" the Palestinians. As I wrote in the article, they just go on to their next demand.

In Abbas's Washington Post interview, he made it clear that once the settlements were stopped the next step was for the United States to demand a timetable for a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Without, of course, the PA giving anything in return. Then when Israel has given up everything, the Arab side will discuss what it will do in order to make peace.

Peace on the Borderline

By Barry Rubin
Bustan-Ha-Golan, Golan Heights

President Barack Obama has said that if Israel examines its long-term interests, it will realize that a two-state solution is in the interests of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

What he doesn’t understand is: that depends on what kind of two-state solution we are talking about.

Speaking more broadly about peace and negotiations, there’s nothing like standing next to the Israel-Syria ceasefire line for contemplating the meaning of peace, both real and fabled.

Before 1967, the Syrians sat atop the Golan Heights, like a balcony overlooking flat Israel below stretching straight to the Mediterranean coast. The Syrians periodically shelled the area and in the event of full-scale war initiated by a surprise attack could well have swept down like the wolf on the fold, as one of their predecessor states did in Biblical times.

Today, while the Israeli-ruled Golan Heights has army bases aplenty, it’s been transformed into tremendously productive use as wineries, orchards, artist colonies, and tourist destinations.

What would happen if there was “peace” with Syria as that country is at present? The Syrian army would return, declare the territory a closed military area, and again point weapons down at Israel. Would there be conciliation, cultural exchanges, any end to Syrian backing for Hamas and Hizballah, or a termination of attacks from Lebanon? Forget it.

But even this is won’t happen. As long as the current radical regime is in power in Damascus, there won’t be any negotiated peace even of the most superficial variety because the conflict is indispensible to the Syrian dictatorship. And the most probably type of change in Syria—though its likelihood is still low—to a radical Islamist regime would make any such peace even less likely.

Since Syria would give nothing in return for the return of the Golan Heights, what advantage would it give Israel for all intents and purposes to return to the pre-1967 situation with Syria?

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas met the potentially most pro-Palestinian president in U.S. history and threw away a great opportunity to win favor.

There’s no question that if any real solution might end the conflict, that would be a two-state solution. But that’s certainly not the same as saying that any two-state solution would meet that need.

That’s because despite ip-service toward Israel security needs, when a Western leader says “two-state solution” he’s not thinking very hard about what this would mean.

Partly, this is due to the Western conception of a successful end to the peace process. It goes, without much exaggeration, like this: the two sides sign an agreement, the conflict ends, and everybody lives pretty happily thereafter. Palestine exists in peace alongside Israel. The lion lies down with the lamb, except only the lion ever gets up again.

It is really pretty much a variation of a song called “Last Night I had the Strangest Dream,” in which papers are signed saying “They’d never fight again,” everyone dances, while swords, guns and uniforms are thrown away.

Now back to the real world. Here, Israel has to worry about:

--A radical Palestinian state ruled by Fatah, a Fatah-Hamas coalition, or taken over by Hamas which is tied to Iran and Syria.

--Creating a Palestine in which all schools, mosques, and media teach Palestinians that all Israel is theirs and they must conquer it, a Palestine full of incitement to violence inspiring hundreds to become terrorists, thousands to help them, and hundreds of thousands to support them. In some respects, this describes the Palestinian Authority (PA) today, despite its real efforts to limit cross-border attacks.

--In any of the above circumstances, extending the conflict another generation by using the state as base for a “second stage” to finish off Israel. While they would almost certainly fail, such an outcome would reduce the benefits of such a”peace” agreement for Israel to close to zero.
--Leaving the Gaza Strip in Hamas’s hands which means, in effect, a three-state solution. Short of a U.S.-led multinational invasion force—rather unlikely—there’s no way Gaza can be included in a peace agreement with Israel. Talking about a two-state solution while the PA doesn’t even control Gaza is unconnected to reality.

--Setting off a new cross-border war, with Palestine’s government and security forces either looking the other way or actively assisting terrorists.

--Creating a Palestine that invites in Iranian, Syrian, or other armies, or obtains missiles from them targeted at Israeli cities.

All of the above are very realistic assessments. The best-case outcome would be a Palestine in which a shaky regime held on, kept “moderate” by Israeli pressure and covert operations, Western management of aid funds, and some assistance by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan to avoid new crises. Yet this is not a solution but a new day-to-day series of crises and sporadic bloodshed.

Even this is unlikely given the PA’s refusal to make the most minimal concessions, including agreeing to resettle Palestinian refugees in their “national homeland” of Palestine.

And we’re supposed to believe that what’s holding up the new golden age is that some settlers might decide to build another room onto their apartments or even a new building inside the perimeter fence of an existing settlement?

Get real.

A two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace? I’m for it. But mindlessly repeating that slogan solves nothing. Answer these questions or don’t expect any progress:

--What incentives you’re offering Israel in exchange for more concessions and risks when all your past promises and claims have proven wrong.

--How you’re going to deal with the Hamas in Gaza problem.

--When will the PA agree that a two-state solution would permanently end the conflict and insist all refugees be resettled in Palestine?

--When will the PA agree in a diplomatic solution to recognize Israel as a Jewish state since the Palestine Israel’s being told to recognize is defined in its constitution as an Arab and Muslim state.

--Prove why anyone should possibly believe a stable solution would emerge from your plan.

Why Isn't the Palestinian Authority Moderate? Why don't Arab Leaders Obey the New York Times?

So dreadful was the performance of Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas during his meeting with President Barack Obama that even the New York Times took notice. Usually, the Palestinians are exempt from any hint of the real world criteria applied to others.

But according to the May 30, Times editorial, the meeting was “a reminder of how much the Palestinians and leading Arab states, starting with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, must do to help revive foundering peace negotiations.”

The peace negotiations, of course, foundered almost a decade ago when then PA leader Yasir Arafat rejected a two-state solution, an historical fact that the Times and much of the Western political elite seems not yet to have absorbed. Indeed, it was that very fact that has led to the failure of any peace process and all the bloodshed since.

Naturally, given its peculiar view of the world, the Times cannot quite blame anyone but Israel and George W. Bush for this failure:

“We have sympathy for Mr. Abbas, the moderate-but-weak leader of the Fatah party. Israel, the Bush administration and far too many Arab leaders have failed to give him the support that he needs to make the difficult compromises necessary for any peace deal.”

This is the kind of paragraph by the way that should lead to reflection by anyone who was actually serious and not blinded by the strange brew that passes for the dominant ideology in Western intellectual circles nowadays. It is after all a set of beliefs which insists that Abbas—who wrote a doctoral dissertation denying that the Holocaust happened and prefers demanding all Palestinians can go live in Israel even if this stance prevents them from getting their own independent state—is better than Netanyahu. Abbas is branded “moderate” while Netanyahu is always called hardline.

Exactly what has Abbas done as the PA leader to be considered moderate, or at least moderate except in comparison to Hamas? If he had his way, he would make a deal with Hamas which would make him behave a lot more like Hamas rather than having Hamas become moderate.

At least, the Times added on this occasion: “That’s no excuse, however, for the depressing passivity that Mr. Abbas displayed” in calling for the United States to wait until Hamas joined his government or Netanyahu made concessions for nothing in return.

It is somewhat humorous that while Netanyahu has been unfairly and inaccurately blasted for supposedly refusing to talk with the Palestinians it is the Palestinians who openly refuse to talk to Israel.

At any rate, there's nothing funnier than a newspaper editorial writer telling a dictator that he "must" do something. But why, why is Abbas so passive? Why doesn’t Abbas do what the Times wants:

“He must keep improving those forces. He must redouble efforts to halt the constant spewing of hatred against Israel in schools, mosques and media. He must work harder to weed out corruption. Unless Mr. Abbas’s government does more to improve the lives of Palestinians it will surely lose again to Hamas in elections scheduled for January.”

Those elections won’t be held at all, of course, for precisely that reason. But suppose Israel gives up land and authority to Abbas, he doesn't mend his ways, and then Hamas--as the Times warns could well happen--takes over an independent state so as to wage warfare against Israel all the more effectively and on two fronts?

The Times might spare a moment to consider that possibility. Israeli leaders must do so: U.S. leaders should do so.

But the real reason Abbas doesn't obey the Times is that he likes the spewing of hatred--which conforms in part with his own views--and has nothing personally against corruption. In many future editorials, the Times will no doubt never equate such behavior with Israel's refusal to risk its existence on the good intentions of Mr. Abbas. In fact, if the newspaper were serious it would say: we know that he won't change his behavior and that's why Israel can't bet its survival on his leading a peace-loving Palestinian state at the present time.

It is also interesting that the Times views Abbas’s weakness as largely due to Israel and the previous U.S. president. The real factors include his own character, his lack of political skills, his own hardline views, his failure in making any effort to prepare his people for a compromise peace, and the radicalism of Fatah itself. Indeed, to a large degree Abbas—and his prime minister Salam Fayyad—are merely “moderate” fronts which allows Fatah to seek continued Western support and funding.

The Times analysis cries out for a simple answer to the following question as well: What could or should Israel and Bush have done to strengthen Abbas? After all, a previous view of the Times was the need to help Arafat by rushing ahead with negotiations. Then when Arafat destroyed the Camp David meeting in 2000 it was explained that this was a terrible mistake and that he needed infinite time. Does it bear any responsibility for the thousands of lives lost due to the mistaken pushing and naivete about the process in the 1990s?

The Bush administration did hurt Abbas in one way, which was to encourage relatively fair elections to be held in the Gaza Strip which Hamas won. If this is what bothers the Times, however, it should say so. Or perhaps Israel hurt Abbas by not staying in the Gaza Strip and keeping settlements there since its pullout unintentionally emboldened Hamas. One would like to see the Times explain that it is now advocating Israel should  do the same thing in the West Bank, followed by a roughly similar outcome.

But the Times does hold true to the belief that the Palestinians don’t really exist. They have no ideology or goals or doctrines or views of their own. It is only Netanyahu’s “refusal…to commit to a two-state solution or halt settlement activity [which] is feeding militancy and strengthening Mr. Abbas’s Hamas rivals.”

Again, the slightest reflection on this claim would show that Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Olmert all did endorse a two-state solution with the result that militancy certainly didn’t decrease and Hamas got stronger any way.

Please remember this: since all of Hamas and much of Fatah opposes a permanent two-state solution which accepts Israel's existence, the prospect of this outcome doesn't make them more quiet and moderate but rather more active and extremist in a bid to block such a solution. The same applies to Iran, Syria, Hizballah, the Muslim Brotherhoods, and others, including millions of Arabs and Muslims.

They are not going to say: Obama is wonderful! He's helping us get a Palestinian state.

They are going to say: Obama is evil because he's permanently destroying our chance of conquering all of Israel and those cooperating with him are traitors. They are giving away most of our rightful land and ensuring the survival of Israel. Let's kill those who are selling us out. Failing to understand this reality is a major and dangerous fallacy on the part of Western policymakers today.

The Times’ strategic blindness is especially visible in a passage that doesn’t quite make sense unless one takes that kind of thinking into account:

“When Mr. Obama visits Saudi Arabia and Egypt next week he must urge leaders to do more. They could help ratchet up pressure on Mr. Netanyahu with preliminary — but symbolically important — steps like opening commercial offices in Tel Aviv and holding publicly acknowledged meetings with Israeli officials.”

But how does that rachet up pressure on Netanyahu? It’s the exact opposite, as the Arab leaders understand very well. The truth is the Times refuses to say what is essential here: if Israel is going to be called on to make sacrifices, take risks, and give concessions, the Arabs have to prove their positive intentions. If Netanyahu saw such things happening, he wouldn't feel "pressured," he'd simply respond with compromises of his own.

The newspaper simply cannot admit that Israel has just security concerns and real reasons to doubt the other side's reliability (not to mention the fact that even if one favors a Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem, Israel's capital is West Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv).

The editorial ends by saying:

“For eight years, Arab leaders and the Palestinians complained bitterly because President George W. Bush wasn’t willing to invest in Middle East peace. Now that they have an American president who is willing, they finally have to do their part.”

This is  disingenuous. It is the Times--far more than Arab leaders--which has been complaining. Why didn't it have "sympathy" for Bush's obvious problem: how and why should he put the emphasis on a peace process when the Palestinians and Arab states--who supposedly are the ones desperately demanding it--won't cooperate.

Indeed, why should Obama do so now?

So here is what’s really important:

Suppose the Arab states do little or nothing, suppose the PA doesn’t stifle incitement, remains corrupt, continues to be intransigent. Will there ever come a time when the Times concludes that this isn’t working because the PA, Fatah, and most Arab states don’t want to make peace?

Will they ever write “We have sympathy for Mr. Netanyahu” (or even if there is a prime minister more to their liking by then) because he has to deal with an intransigent PA which doesn’t meet its commitments and spews hatred, Arab regimes which prefer to keep the conflict going, and radical Islamist forces hoping to have the chance to commit genocide?

Will this U.S. government do so?

Let's wait and see.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

If U.S. Government Ignores Palestinian Incitement to Violence There's No Hope for Peace

By Barry Rubin

There is probably no more obnoxious action of the Palestinian Authority (PA) than its continuing glorification of terrorists who have murdered Israelis. Not only does this show a lack of support for any peace process, but doing so for facilities built with U.S. taxpayer money is against U.S. law.

To my knowledge, the U.S. government has never pressed or even mentioned this issue. It is important as a signal of the lack of effort to hold the PA to commitments. If the current administration wants to press for progress, this is the kind of question which must be taken up, especially since PA leader Mahmoud Abbas is about to go to Washington and meet President Barack Obama.

In a May 25 200, Jerusalem Post op-ed, Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook, who deserve credit for monitoring this issue, point out that $900 million in aid to the PA is being offered. Yet the PA’s new computer center is named after “the martyr Dalal Mughrabi””who led a terror attack which murdered photographer Gail Rubin and then hijacked a bus in which 37 civilians, 12 of them children, were gunned down. To honor terrorists is against the U.S. law governing the funding of Palestinian institutions.

Last year, the PA sponsored a football championship for children and a summer camp named for Mughrabi, someone who has know positive achievement. A party was also held under Abbas’s personal auspices for top students named for Mughrabi.

A television program was also produced which called the killing of 38 Israeli civilians “one of the most important and most prominent special operations” and referred to Mughrabi as a “heroic fighter.”

This is by far the only such example of such behavior.

The PA never seriously cooperated, for example, in the investigation into the murder of three U.S. government employees in the Gaza Strip when it was in control. The killings were carried out by an ally of Hamas, which of course shields these people at present.

What were these Americans doing in Gaza? Protecting embassy personnel who were visiting there to arrange scholarships for Palestinian students.

The authors recall that in 2002, after a girls’ school was named for Mughrabi, the U.S. State Department cancelled the funding. The PA then promised to change the name and the money was paid. The school, however, continues to carry Mughrabi’s name.

Reread the previous paragraph. To see the perfect symbol of the problem with U.S. Middle East policy you need look no further. No one in the region takes America too seriously because it does not follow up and enforce its positions. The PA knows that it can do what it wants and pay no price. There is no—repeat no—real pressure on it to stop incitement, educate its people for peace, make any real compromise or concession. Instead, this “moderate” institution is continuing to teach its children that being a terrorist is the highest calling and due the greatest honor.

Just like Hamas does.

The Western media also has no interest in this issue either despite energetically seeking out any issue on which Israel can be criticized, even often when such things are made up and prove to have no basis in reality.

We have seen, and will see, the administration devote huge efforts to stopping settlers from adding a room onto an existing apartment. Will it devote any effort at all to turning the PA in the direction of peace or even enforcing U.S. law?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

June is the Cruelest Month

By Barry Rubin

April, wrote T.S. Eliott, is the cruelest month. But for hopes of peace, freedom, and moderation in the Middle East, June will play that role this year.

In Iran, Ahmadinejad backed by the ruling establishment is about to be reelected. In Lebanon, a regime backed by Iran and Syria may be installed.

It shouldn’t be that way. Remember the famous sign in the Clinton for President Headquarters back in 1992, which said, “It’s the economy, stupid,” as the main issue? Well, in the Middle East the equivalent sign would say, “It’s the Islamist revolutions, stupid.”

And yet instead we see strategies based on a desire to believe or do anything to avoid confronting this great challenge, this uninvited battle that is sure to take up the rest of our lifetimes and very possibly much of this century’s first half.
The head are very deep in the sand. For to fit into the mainstream of Western analysis and strategy about the Middle East, you must:

Pretend that a two-state solution is possible with a mostly radical Palestinian Authority and a far more extreme Hamas running Gaza, neither having done any preparation for real compromise and a lasting peace.

Pretend that this solution—which isn’t going to happen--will solve all other problems, as if personal and state ambition, ethnic conflict, ideological battles, and all sorts of disputes didn’t exist in the region which have nothing to do with this. Not to mention that fact that any compromise peace would actually enrage large elements of opinion and galvanize the Islamists into even more violence.

Pretend that Iran’s regime will be talked out of having nuclear weapons by either the charm of Western leaders or relatively limited sanctions when Tehran already knows everything is a big bluff.

Pretend that Islamists can be moderated when they think they’re winning, believe themselves to be following the will of the deity, and see daily proof that their rivals are eager to make concessions.

Pretend that Syria can be wooed into changing course when it is so dependent on its alliance with the Iranian regime, thinks that it’s on the winning side, and tightening its control over Lebanon.

Pretend that Hizballah and Hamas will settle down into moderation disciplined by the task of governing, the same theory discredited by the behavior of the PLO, Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority over the last 16 years.

Ironically, much of the Western left seems to think that empowering the most reactionary forces in the world will somehow contribute to its vision of a better world. Much of the right appears to believe that this strategy will be pushed far enough to lead to a grand sell-out of Israel.

But the West isn’t so craven while its enemies aren’t so strategically flexible or tactically clever. After all, both theories expect that the radicals will meet the West part-way. It’s reminiscent of the expectations for Yasir Arafat and the PLO. One side thinks they’ll make a deal and keep it; the other that they’ll make a deal and break it. In fact, they see no need to make a deal at all. They’ll do what they want and give not an inch.

It would be a mistake to overestimate the naiveté of Western governments but it might be an equal mistake to overestimate their resolve. Consider the words of the two Obama administration appointees to the highest State Department posts focusing completely on Middle East policy in their confirmation hearings.

Jeffrey Feltman, to be assistant secretary of Near East affairs explained:

"When you traveled around the [Middle East] five, six, seven years ago, almost everywhere you went, the first thing that came up was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When you travel around today, what you are going to hear about is Iran."

But then he added: "We want to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to remove one of the tools that Iran uses to distract the region from what Iran is doing,"

From this, it sounds like, by his own testimony, his policy is seven years out of date. Even he acknowledged the paradox that Iran is a “spoiler” on making progress. So if Iran, along with Syria, the Gaza Strip regime (Hamas), the soon-to-be Lebanon regime (Hizballah), and the main opposition groups seeking power in every Arab country (Islamists) are all spoilers, how are you going to “address” this issue effectively? Especially if your friends—especially the Saudis, Egyptians, and others—won’t do much to help?

Meanwhile, the nominee for assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, Robert O. Blake, congratulated the Pakistani government for fighting the Taliban, even while that regime is quite happy to live with them and al-Qaida as long as they stick to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area. “We do think that important progress is being made."

Yes, it is: by the enemies of freedom, democracy, and Western interests. Incidentally, Elliot’s poem was called which opens with the line about April is entitled, “The Wasteland,” which is what the Middle East is going to become unless Western policies really wake up and smell the coffins.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How Can Israel depend on those who have Proven Undependable?

By Barry Rubin

Back in 1993, when the “peace process” began, President Bill Clinton told a press conference that Israel was ready to take risks for peace and he told Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, "If you do that, my role is to minimize those risks."

One of the most important elements in contemporary Israeli thinking is the irony of those words. Clinton, of course, meant them and his intentions were good. But looking back from 2009, the risks taken by Israel and the concessions it has made have repeatedly plagued the country and cost the lives of thousands of its citizens.

Not only has the United States—and the Europeans who made similar pledges—failed to minimize the costs of this process but in most cases they have not even acknowledged it. Israeli concessions have not, as was expected, led to increasing support and public respect, quite the opposite.

Anyone who wants to deal with the conflict today must acknowledge and deal with this experience but we find that it is not happening. In the statements of Western leaders and in the media, what we usually discover is that such matters are either not mentioned at all or only passed over in ritualistic fashion. There is much talk about Israeli concessions and responsibilities, virtually none about Palestinian ones.

Thus, the two-state solution (TSS) or stopping settlement construction or removing roadblocks are spoken about as if these things alone will bring peace. There is little about a Palestinian Authority (PA) end to incitement to murder Israelis and denial of Israel’s right to exist (which goes on daily) or better security efforts, or agreement to end the conflict or to resettle refugees within a Palestinian state. There is little acknowledgement that Hamas’s control of the Gaza Strip is not just an inconvenience but an almost total roadblock for any hope of peace.

Note well, these are not “hawkish” or “anti-peace” arguments. Anyone who wants to make progress must deal with them very seriously. If these issues are ignored, failure is inevitable.

Israelis remember, though others may not, that the country withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula in 1957 in exchange for U.S. promises that the Straits of Tiran, the entrance to the Red Sea, would always be open to Israel’s port of Eilat. When Egypt blockaded them in 1967, however, the State Department couldn’t seem to find the necessary documentation. There are many later examples.

When Yasir Arafat destroyed the peace process in 2000, the conclusion as to his behavior was only briefly drawn until amnesia set in. As evidence mounted for the Palestinian leader’s continuing support for terrorism, this, too, was not factored into a conclusion about the positions of Fatah and the PA. Years of attacks on Israelis with official PA sanction; thousands of inciting speeches, articles, and sermons matched with a failure to make changes toward accepting a compromise; the continuing PA demand that all Palestinians who wish can go to live in Israel, none of these foul fruits of risk brought any revision in Western thinking or—in most cases—behavior.

Israel took the risk of withdrawing from southern Lebanon and the result was Hizballah. During the 2006 war the great sign of U.S. support was merely in letting the fighting continue a little longer when Hizballah was losing. The UN resolution and arrangements ending that war have not been enforced. These are all actions which failed to minimize Israeli risks after a concession.

Similar points can be made about the Gaza Strip. True, as in the southern Lebanon case, the decision to withdraw was an Israeli one. Yet such withdrawals were in line with the policies urged by the United States and Europe. It was the United States that pushed for the elections won by Hamas, and which then did nothing when Hamas violated that process and seized control of the Gaza Strip by violence.

When Israel was struck repeatedly by rockets, mortars, and attempted cross-border terrorist attacks for years, the United States took no strong action. And when finally Hamas publicly and unilaterally ended the “ceasefire” and Israel launched a defensive military operation, support and understanding were there but only barely.

Given all this history, Israel is now asked to trust Western and American promises once again and plunge forward to a state controlled by those who have fulfilled hardly any of their commitments. It is pressed, albeit lightly so far, to do this or do that as if not allowing a settler to build on property which is already part of an existing settlement is the main threat to the success of peace hopes.

Such promises, in light of past performance and present one-sidedness about who must make concessions and fulfill commitments, are simply not credible.

Pay attention please: the problem is not a "hard-line" or "hawkish" Netanyahu but a naive (or cynical), one-sided, and unreliable Western policy.

Israelis are not frightened or angry about President Barack Obama because the great majority are confident that he will at least basically learn these lessons over time. The Iranian and Syrian regimes, Hamas and Hizballah, and the PA itself will be his teachers. They also believe that much of the emphasis on solving the conflict as the key to all regional issues is purely for show as has been so often true before.

This is what the overwhelming majority of Israelis think about when they hear the words of Obama and Western media coverage on such matters.

But anyone who claims to be serious about advancing any peace process better consider these factors also and prove their seriousness on giving Israel strong support, pushing the PA into fulfilling commitments, and helping bring down Hamas’s rule in the Gaza Strip.

Otherwise they are only fooling themselves and will surely fail.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Despite Manufactured Expectations Israeli and U.S. Governments Still Getting Along Well

By Barry Rubin
The reporter asked if I could talk or was in the middle of something. Trying to sound like a wise Oriental philosopher I said, “One is always in the middle of something but can easily make a beginning or an end.”

Unfortunately, this story—like many about this part of the world—never ends even when there’s no evidence. The article is to be on how Israelis fear Obama. This is the current narrative much of the media promotes. You know, Obama hates Israel; Israel fears Obama; a collision is inevitable, etc.

Much of the story is based on the wishful thinking of those who dislike Israel combined with the dislike for Obama of many people…who usually happen to be Americans not Israelis.

I also suspect that since Obama is widely popular and can do no wrong for much of the media/opinionmaking/intellectual elite (sic) set they assume that he, like them, wants to bash Israel.

And I see lots of criticisms of Obama on the Internet by people who are pro-Israel. But these almost always turn out to be Americans, not Israelis.

Of course, whether Obama does or doesn’t like Israel (Richard Nixon sure didn’t) and what he did before being president doesn’t necessarily determine policy.

At any rate, my response was this: Show me articles in the Israeli media or statements made by leaders showing they fear or dislike Obama.

On the contrary, people in Israel are calm about Obama for several reasons. For example:

--He, and his administration, really hasn’t done anything much against Israel directly or made anti-Israeli statements. One can come up with some off-record alleged remarks but nothing concrete.

--Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit went quite well and Obama said some things quite favorable to Israel's positions.

--Israelis have long experience with the learning pattern of new American presidents. They come into office eager to change everything and then within a year learn the facts of life about: hostile radicals in the region who want to destroy U.S. interests, supposed friends among Arab regimes who don’t do much to help, and alleged moderates in the Palestinian leadership who keep making demands without giving anything back.

--Equally, Israelis recall that there have been ups and downs with every administration. The last two years of George W. Bush’s presidency were no picnic, for example, and there was tremendous friction with President Ronald Reagan in 1982-1983.

But, the interview continued, how about Obama’s opposition to settlements and support for a two-state solution (now referred to on this blog as the TSS).

So what? I respond. The last half-dozen presidents said the former and the last three said the latter.
Won’t this lead to friction?

Well, not exactly. Netanyahu and his cabinet say—as did their last six (count ‘em, six!) predecessors that they won’t establish new settlements. It also repeats—as did its last six predecessors—that putting up a new building or a new story in existing settlement land are not included in this deal.

Moreover, in my opinion, the Netanyahu government does accept TSS in principle. But TSS will only come at the end of real negotiations in which the Palestinian Authority meets Israel’s own needs. A state is not a free gift for showing up but something that must be earned by accepting a compromise peace agreement.

Of course, at times in the next four or eight years there will doubtlessly betimes of friction and mini-crises. Why should Obama be different from other presidents in this regard. And there are real problems with the administration’s policy toward Iran, though that could change in a few months. Already, any disagreements about strategy toward Syria seem to be melting.

Attempts to manufacture a U.S.-Israel crisis should be rejected. If one does come along, we’ll know it when we see it.

From Lebanon with Laughs: "You Are in Beirut, Lebanon"

This satire is making the rounds in Lebanon as elections approach. The main character, Michel Aoun is a Christian politician allied with Hizballah. He would sell his mother--or, more immediately, Lebanon--in order to be president some day. He may well give an Iran-Syria backed government the seats it needs to take over the country.

"You are in Beirut, Lebanon"

This test only has one question, but it's a very important one. By giving an honest answer, you will discover where you stand morally.

The test features an unlikely, fictional situation in which you will have to make a decision. Remember that your answer needs to be honest, and spontaneous.

Please scroll down slowly and give due consideration to each line.

You are in Beirut, Lebanon. There is chaos all around you caused by an explosion followed by a severe blaze. You are a photo journalist working for a major newspaper and you're caught in the middle of this epic disaster. You're trying to shoot career-making photos. There are cars and people swirling around you, and disappearing under the flames.
Suddenly you see a man in a burning car. He is fighting for his life, trying not to be burnt alive. You move closer. Somehow the man looks familiar. You suddenly realize who it is. It's General Michel Aoun. At the same time you notice that the raging flames are about to take him under forever. You have two options - you can save the life of General Aoun, or you can shoot a dramatic Pulitzer Prize winning photo, documenting the death of one of the country's famous men.

Scroll Down

Here's the question, and please give an honest answer.......

Would you select high-contrast color film, or would you go with the classic simplicity of black and white?

Russia Makes a Mess

By Barry Rubin

Nowadays, lots of world leaders act almost as if they’re trying to sabotage any serious effort to make the Middle East a better place that isn’t controlled by homicidal ideological maniacs, wracked by violence, and sunk in stagnation.

In some cases, though, this may not be due exclusively to their lack of understanding the region, absence of judgment, or egomaniac grandstanding.

Regarding Russia’s case, it is possible that the sabotage is due to intelligent design rather than the unnatural selection of bumblers.

Perhaps it isn’t that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who like all other Russian officials is to Vladimir Putin as Pinocchio to the puppeteer, doesn’t know what he’s doing. The problem is that he does. Even so, their policy does have an element of self-smiting buffoonery.

Russia wants to play a big role in the Middle East, including the peace process, which is the diplomatic equivalent of a gold rush. In order to do so, Russia has two beachheads. First, it is a member of the International Quartet (also including that keenly competent United Nations as well as the United States and the European Union), the supposed focal point of efforts to salve—or rather, solve—the problem.

Unfortunately, this quartet always managed to sing off-key.

Second, Russia is promoting a big international conference in Moscow on the conflict for later this year. (Right, that’s going to be real productive.) And the Obama administration has already signed on.

The Quartet has agreed—and even put it in writing—that none of its members will engage with Hamas until it recognizes Israel, rejects terror, and accepts existing Israel-Palestinian Authority (PA) agreements. Of course, Hamas says every day it has no intention of doing any of these things.

Which, of course, didn’t prevent Lavrov from meeting Hamas leader (and a hardliner even in that group’s context) Khalid Mashal in Damascus, where he hangs out under Syrian regime protection and Iranian regime financing.

Memo to Quartet: Perhaps you should refuse to engage with Russia until it accepts previous Quartet agreements.

Not only did Lavrov meet Mashal but he, in effect, handed to the terrorist chieftain the keys to the dacha. Lavrov said: "It was the first very important step on the way to overcoming the present stagnation in the negotiations process."

In other words, according to Lavrov, it is Hamas—not Israel or the PA or the great powers—that’s in the driver’s seat. They have power of life or death (the latter being something they are particularly good at) over whether progress can be made.

Isn’t there some course you have to attend to become a foreign minister? Is no certificate required as a qualification for the job?

Showing a fine sense of evenhandedness, Lavrov said after the meeting:

“The two main aims are to stop Israel's current policy on the settlements and from the Palestinian side to rebuild and reunite the people."

In other words, the way you make peace is to smite Israel and help the Palestinians. And they wonder why Israel won’t accept them as mediator!

But it gets worse. When Lavrov says “reunite the people” he means that Fatah, the leading party of the PA, and Hamas should unite. This is probably the worst idea since the leaders of the early Soviet Union were having a party and after a few rounds of vodka someone said, “That Stalin guy seems very nice and considerate. Why don’t we make him our leader?”

Let me put it simply: to bring Hamas into the PA will not make Hamas more moderate, it would make the PA more extreme. You can wave goodbye to any hope of peace in our lifetimes—and I intend to be around for a while.

So is Lavrov and Russian policy really stupid? That’s the more comforting alternative. The more likely one is that Russia is increasingly aligned with Iran and Syria, viewing radical Islamist forces in the region as allies.
Moscow is already one of the main barriers to raising sanctions higher against Iran on the nuclear weapons’ program.

I wouldn't say that Russia wants Iran to have nuclear weapons but it certainly doesn't seem very bothered by that outcome. And it certainly appears that Russia wants Hizballah to become the key governmental force in Lebanon. It wants Hamas to take over leadership of the Palestinians. The idea is to sabotage U.S. policy and elevate Russian influence.

One would expect that the Russians, of all people, have a certain experience with groups following a rigid ideology which use it to justify mass murder. Hopefully, something has been learned from that little detour into Communism, there’s some relief that it’s over, and some revulsion toward organizations which think their total monopoly on truth gives them license to do horrible things.

Of course, Russia is also a country which has already made a pact with the real Great Satan once before and found out where such things led.

On September 28, 1939, when signing the agreement to divide up Eastern Europe, Stalin told the German foreign minister:

“I know how much the German nation loves its Fuhrer; I should therefore like to drink to his health. The Soviet government takes the new pact very seriously. I guarantee on my word of honor that the Soviet Union would not betray its partner.”

Nineteen months later, however, the Germans betrayed their partner. On June 21, 1941, on receiving their declaration of war, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov replied, “Surely we have not deserved this.”

One day, after Iran has nuclear weapons, the Islamists rule a much bigger chunk of the region, and both the revolutionaries own successes and their direct subversion inspire Russian counterparts into bloody rebellions against Moscow, Lavrov or his successor may get the chance to utter similar words.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Here Comes Joe, There Goes Lebanon

By Barry Rubin
It's really nice that Vice-President Joe Biden went to Lebanon in order to, in the words of the White House statement, "reinforce the United States's support for an independent and sovereign Lebanon" prior to the June 7 elections there.

That and whatever is the current prevailing price will get you a cup of coffee.

Of course, Hizballah said that the visits by Biden following that of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was a terrible "interference in Lebanon's affairs."

Strangely enough, I'm not aware of any U.S. statement complaining about Iranian and Syrian interference in Lebanon's affairs. This is connected to the current policy that basically amounts to, if you can't say something nice don't say anything at all. Since the current administration won't admit to being in conflict with anyone, except perhaps al-Qaida, it cannot fight back effectively.

Moreover, while the State Department's own report on terrorism was devastating when it came to Hizballah's activities--including direct involvement in the killing of Americans in Iraq--no high-level official has been going out of the way to condemn the group.

As for the media, the New York Times investigated the elections and did find a country whose interference in Lebanon should be criticized...Saudi Arabia. 

One tough message was sent, though. The United States will review its foreign aid program to Lebanon after the election. Since most of the money goes to the Lebanese military, I'll predict that even if a government takes power that's a Syrian-Iranian client continued aid will be justified on the increasingly shake (though not completely false) pretext that the army remains independent of such control.

Here's the problem: if your adversaries wage a struggle using all their assets plus a great deal of dissimulation and trickery and you don't, well, guess who's going to win?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Netanyahu's Peace Plan

By Barry Rubin

In his successful meeting with President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented a superb, workable peace plan backed by a wide Israeli consensus.

Those obsessed with whether Netanyahu would say the “two-state solution” mantra missed it.

In fact, though Netanyahu didn’t accept that framework precisely because he and his Labor party coalition partner are for peace.

If Netanyahu said “two-state solution” it would buy him moments of cheap praise. But then, experience shows, their attention would turn to just one theme only: getting Israel to make unilateral concessions and take dangerous risks.

In the conception of Netanyahu and Barak, the right kind of two-state solution is the only solution to the conflict. But how to ensure it does end the conflict rather than just make it bloodier and on worse terms for Israel?

Netanyahu made this clear in his joint press conference with Obama:

“Everybody in Israel, as in the United States, wants peace. The common threat we face are terrorist regimes and organizations that seek to undermine the peace and endanger both our peoples.”

The real question is how to get peace without strengthening radical forces; how to get a solution that doesn’t make things worse for Israelis and Palestinians? Netanyahu continued:

“We want to live in peace with them. We want them to govern themselves, absent a handful of powers that could endanger the state of Israel.”

Israel wants peace—it has more incentive for that than anyone. When Netanyahu says Israel wants the Palestinians to govern themselves, he isn’t talking about limited autonomy but in the context of a functioning peace agreement, which means a state. What are the “handful of powers?” Obviously, Hamas but it’s also a clear reference to influence and interference by Iran and Syria.

Why should Israel agree to any Palestinian state functioning as a base for destroying it?

He continues: “For this there has to be a clear goal…an end to conflict.” A definitive end of conflict agreement that the new framework ensures is key to any solution: two states not Round Two of the conflict. The Palestinian Authority has rejected such a commitment for very obvious reasons: it hasn’t been ready to accept permanent peace even if it gets a state.

Both sides, Netanyahu continued, must make compromises: “We’re ready to do our share. We hope the Palestinians will do their share, as well.” To reach peace requires the Palestinian side to meet its commitments—which it has done far more rarely than Israel—and make concessions. This may seem obvious but is usually forgotten in Western policy and media coverage. President Obama did make this point about Palestinian obligations as well, more specifically than many observers seem to realize.

Read this carefully. To reach a peace agreement::

"The Palestinians will have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state; will have to also enable Israel to have the means to defend itself. And if...Israel’s security conditions are met, and there’s recognition of Israel’s...permanent legitimacy, then I think we can envision an arrangement where Palestinians and Israelis live side by side in dignity, in security, and in peace.”

Here is Netanyahu’s view of the two-state solution. If the Palestinians meet Israeli conditions—including the reasonable demand that Palestinian refugees be resettled in Palestine, not Israel--there can be a two-state outcome. Here, Netanyahu deliberately used Obama’s phrase in the end to make clear how he is defining his goal.

This is critical: a two-state solution is not a gift given at the start of negotiations but a reward for the proper compromises ensuring peace succeeds.

Netanyahu points out another deep-seated Israeli concern: A bad “solution” can make things far worse. Israel doesn’t want to end up with a Palestine that functions merely as “another Gaza.”

Why should anyone be confident this won’t happen? Wishful thinking or faith that being in power makes people moderate—an argument proven incorrect about Yasir Arafat and his colleagues almost twenty years ago?

“If, however,” says Netanyahu, “the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, if they…fight terror, if they educate their children for peace and to a better future, then I think we can come at a substantive solution that allows the two people to live side by side in security and peace and I add prosperity, because I’m a great believer in this.”

He’s right. What’s the point of a two-state solution which could easily:

--Make Palestine a radical state tied to Iran and Syria.

--Leave the Gaza Strip in Hamas’s hands which means, in effect, a three-state solution. Short of a U.S.-led multinational invasion force—rather unlikely—there’s no way Gaza can be included in a peace agreement with Israel. Talking about a two-state solution while the Palestinian Authority doesn’t even control Gaza is unconnected to reality.

--Creates a Palestine in which all schools, mosques, and media teach Palestinians that all Israel is theirs and they must conquer it, a Palestine full of incitement to violence inspiring hundreds to become terrorists, thousands to help them, and hundreds of thousands to support them. In some respects, this describes the Palestinian Authority today, despite its real efforts to limit cross-border attacks.

--Sets off a new cross-border war, with Palestine’s government and security forces either looking the other way or actively assisting terrorists.

--Creates a Palestine that invites in Iranian, Syrian, or other armies, or obtains missiles from them targeted at Israeli cities.

--Extends the conflict another generation by using the state as base for a “second stage” to finish off Israel.

Israel has good reason, based on the 1990s’ peace process experience, to believe its own risks and concessions won’t be reciprocated and that U.S. and European promises of support in that event won’t be kept.

And so Netanyahu and his country says: Peace? Certainly! But only if it’s real, lasting, and stable, making things better rather than worse: a real two-state, not big-mistake, solution

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Conflict Continues Not Due to Victimized Outrage but to Its Usefulness as Weapon

By Barry Rubin

Lebanon has filed a complaint with the UN saying that an Israeli spy ring in the country has been gathering information on Hizballah. The office of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Israel violated Lebanese sovereignty by “setting up on its territory spy rings that were uncovered by the Lebanese army and security services.”

Whether or not such a ring existed or whether those arrested did anything I have no idea. But this story brings out some fascinating and little noted broader aspects of Middle East politics.

First, of course, is the fact that Lebanon regards itself at war with Israel. This fulfills the Arab proverb which goes: You hit me and then run crying to complain. Lebanese politicians brag about their country’s involvement in resistance and struggle against Israel. The more radical—that is the supporters of Iran and Syria—call for wiping Israel off the map and brag about their direct role in attacking it.

Why, then, act offended and victimized if Israel strikes back?

There is nothing particularly Lebanese about this, of course, quite the opposite. More moderate Lebanese politicians try to avoid putting a priority on bashing Israel. If they could, they’d get out of the conflict altogether because they know it is used by their enemies—and the enemies of Lebanese sovereignty—against them.

Why does Hizballah smuggle in arms, maintain a huge militia, bring in Iranian and Syrian influence, control large portions of the country, and basically do whatever it wants? Why to fight Israel, of course!

And so Rule Number One of Arab politics is: Fighting, or saying you are fighting, Israel justifies anything, including taking over whole countries, repressing your own people, suppressing criticism and anything else.
No wonder the Arab regimes and revolutionary movements stick with such determination to keeping the conflict going. It is so incredibly useful to them as a tool in domestic and regional politics.

And that’s why you cannot talk, bargain, apologize, or concede them into changing.

There are exceptions to this rule, though only since the late 1970s.

Most important were the Egyptian and Jordanian treaties ending the conflict, which cost the Egyptian regime many years of Arab boycotts and which cost the architect of the treaty, President Anwar Sadat, his life.
Of course, the opposition Islamist groups oppose these treaties and if they ever came to power—through elections or any other means—their first act would be to revoke them and restart the direct conflict. That’s something to keep in mind for those who think that the Muslim Brotherhoods are now moderate, democratic groups who pose no risk if they get into government.

Returning to the Lebanon case, what could be more absurd than the government which daily lives with the violation of its sovereignty by Syria and Iran while never protesting at all, going to the UN to complain about an alleged Israeli spy ring? But its hands are tied. It’s helpless to protect itself from assaults by fellow Arab or by Muslim-majority regimes.

There's also an anti-Western variant of this rule: Thou shalt not seek non-Arab, non-Muslim aid even against a fellow Arab or Muslim trying to murder you. It turned out, though, that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein went too far when he thought this rule would protect him when he seized Kuwait in 1991. The danger was so clear that the Saudis and Kuwaitis did turn to America to save them.

The same thing happened in the late 1980s when the Gulf Arab states turned to the West to protect their tankers under Iranian attack. Indeed, the energetic U.S. response helped end the Iran-Iraq war when Tehran became fearful—albeit wrongly so--in 1988 that the United States might attack them directly.

Yet we should remember that some were so shocked that Saudi Arabia would ask for U.S. forces, even when the knife was at its throat, that they took up arms against both victim and protector. The best known of these people is Usama bin Ladin. The September 11 attack took place not for reasons having to do with U.S. support for Israel but because of the U.S. defense of Saudi Arabia.

At any rate, the conflicts with Israel and the West provide the rope which dictators and radical movements use to bind up their domestic victims and their would-be foreign victims.

If you think this conflict is about the future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, that's very secondary indeed in the calculations of rulers, intellectual dreamers of ideological nightmares, and the men with guns.

Why would they give up their mightiest weapon?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

When Dictators Strut and Roar, Democratic Leaders Better Not Cringe

It's not so much that Iran launched a missile with a 1200-mile range but how that country's president characterized the event:

"We send them a message: Today the Islamic Republic of Iran is running the show. We say to the superpowers, 'Who of you dare to threaten the Iranian nation? Raise your hand!' But they all stand there with their hands behind their backs."

But at the same time, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

"Our goal is to persuade the Iranian regime that they will actually be less secure if they proceed with their nuclear weapons program."

So let me ask you a question: Does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sound like a man who is going to feel less secure once he has nuclear weapons?

Let's roll the tape again:

"We send them a message: Today the Islamic Republic of Iran is running the show. We say to the superpowers, 'Who of you dare to threaten the Iranian nation? Raise your hand!' But they all stand there with their hands behind their backs."

This just cries out for certain historic analogies with overconfident aggressive dictators. There are two in particular whose last names start with the letter "H." But let's focus on Saddam Hussein, the former president of Iraq. Miscalculating his power, he started two wars by invading Iran and then Kuwait. He thought his enemies were weak and knew that demagoguery was a potent weapon both at home and also to make him the region's leader.

There are certainly differences between Iraq and Iran, between Hussein and Ahmadinejad. The latter does not have anywhere near the power Saddam did. Still, one should remember that while the ruling establishment as a whole is more cautious we aren't exactly dealing with the ruling councils of Switzerland here.

[For an appropriate musical accompaniment to this article, play this song and video while you are reading it.]

Of course, there are elements of election rhetoric in all this by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But do we think he's saying this just to shore up the bazaar merchant vote in the Third District of Isfahan on the advice of his Focus Group coordinator?  Someone who knows nothing about Iran's recent history might think so but this is vintage Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini stuff, the revolution's basic ideology:  The West is finished, the Arab nationalists are finished, Zionism is finished. We're taking over.

While he is running for president of Iran, Ahmadinejad is also engaged in a longer-run effort to make himself Iran's dictator. More immediately, Iran--and the ruling establishment as a whole--is running for the post of leader of the Muslim world and of the Middle East.

As with Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s, as with the bid for regional hegemony made by Saddam in the 1980s and in 1990, such leaders who believe they are on top of the world tend to get a little frisky.

What should be the response of the West? Once upon a time people thought that the experience of the Munich agreement selling out Czechoslovakia was a model of how appeasement brought disaster. They would say that a certain leader could have been stopped on many occasions--before he occupied the Rhineland for example.

It is not generally known that at one time early in his reign, the Polish government approached Britain and France with a proposal to overthrow him through direct military action on the part of Warsaw. It was turned down. At the time this plan was proposed, in the early 1930s, Poland had a much stronger army than Germany. By the late 1930s, the courageous Poles didn't hold out for more than two weeks.

I am not suggesting that the Obama administration is going to sell out anyone. But that's not the real danger. The United States, Britain, and France today are simply not providing a credible deterrent. And that means not just a growing arrogance, ambition, and aggressiveness from Iran, but also a hysteria in large parts of the Arabic-speaking world and Muslim-majority states that Ahmadinejad (and others like Hizballah leader Nasrallah) is the man who will lead them to victory with swords flashing.

At the very least, at the very minimum, we should be hearing some persuasive toughness from Western leaders. In a sense, what's happening amounts to this: Please don't hate us or kill us! After all, we're bringing you an Arab-Israeli peace process and the TSS! (two-state solution).

This thinking is badly out of date. Western leaders are acting like this is the 1980s and they are trying to woo Egypt and other Arab states out of the Soviet camp. This is not about creating a Palestinian state, it is about creating an Iran-dominated region and a lot of radical Islamist states.

Something is seriously wrong here. We are living in a world where Western leaders whine and apologize while crackpot dictators who lead states whose militaries are paper tigers strut and roar. That's not a proposal for military attack but for some very serious roaring back.

Let me put it plainly and simply: Not to have a tough, credible response is inviting two things: aggression and the recruitment of hundreds of thousands people for the camp of what might be best called the Jihad Revolution--Jihad against non-Muslims; Revolution against Muslim rulers. It is the 21st century equivalent of Bolshevik class warfare.

Rather than trying to figure out ways to incorporate Iran, Syria, Hamas, and HIzballah, the Muslim Brotherhood, and others, Western leaders should be working to defeat them.

Hillary's "Reasonable Request": Abandon Islamism, Be Moderate, Make Peace

By Barry Rubin

Really, it’s baffling. The Obama administration sounds like King Canute, the legendary British king who ordered the sea to stop making waves.

Here’s the United States promising everyone a “two-state” solution, by now the words have become so pseudo-magical I’m going to call it the TSS—with no serious consideration of the impediments.

At the same time, it’s so American. They simply believe that all difficulties must fall before their application of willpower, creativity, and resources. It’s the same spirit that led George W. Bush to invade Iraq and inspired the Vietnam War. They're also going to throw money into Afghanistan and Pakistan supposedly to make them modern, moderate, and stable, precisely the kind of "nation-building" exercise for which they ridiculed Bush. Nothing can stop them because they’re ready for a solution even if the problem isn’t.

Yet, excepting the large-scale consumption of manic-inducing drugs, there is no sensible motive for the administration’s over-bidding on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Why make huge claims today when in a few months you are going to look like a complete fool as a result.

Do they think the Arabs are going to be dazzled by some words and trinkets? They’ve been dealing with these issues for decades, seen presidents come and go. American claims of instant solutions makes them more bemused than impressed.

There is, too, a basic principle of diplomacy that you don’t make yourself look ridiculous.

This administration is heading toward a big zero, a non-payoff, zero-yield policy. Ask yourself: Do you think the conflict is going to be resolved one year from today? Or, how about this one, do you think the conflict is going to be considerably more resolved one year from today than now?

And if not, then why should the administration pour so much prestige and promise that it will be?

President Bill Clinton, to his credit, worked very hard on the issue for eight years and yet never behaved like this. When, however, one listens to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—note the similarity of last names here--giving an interview to al-Jazira television it inspires derisive laughter.

Asked about how she’s going to have a TSS with Hamas running the Gaza Strip, she sounds like King Canute:

“I believe that Hamas has to comply with not only the Quartet principles but the underlying principles of the Arab Peace Initiative.”

No, not at all. It never accepted those principles or made any such commitment and has no interest in doing so. This kind of commandism by those who supposedly have abandoned arrogance and are ready to “listen” to everyone is laughable.

These people are serious, get it? They really believe that they are guided by Allah to destroy Israel and transform the Middle East. They aren’t joking or using tough rhetoric just to negotiate a better deal. Like al-Qaida, the Taliban, Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Fatah or if you wish like Lenin, Stalin or Hitler, Idi Amin or Pol Pot or Fidel Castro they mean it.

Is this really so hard to understand? Or to paraphrase a famous slogan from her husband’s campaign, well I can’t decide. Either: It’s the ideology, stupid, or, It’s the world view, stupid.

“You cannot expect either Fatah or the Israelis or Arabs who wish to see this matter resolved, with a two-state solution,” she says, “to work with a group that does not believe in the outcome of these efforts.”

Actually, Fatah is quite willing to work with them. It’s not concerned about the TSS. The Fatah people just want to make sure that they’re the ones in command.

Yet, ok, if these parties don’t work with Hamas how are they going to reach a comprehensive solution without Gaza? I know! They have to overthrow Hamas’s rule and destroy the group, along with its Iranian and Syrian sponsors. I don’t think that is on the Obama administration agenda.

But this statement—coming from Bill Clinton’s wife of all people—is equivalent to believing the world is flat:

“And in any peace negotiation that I’m aware of anywhere in the world, groups that are resistance groups, insurgent groups, guerrilla groups, when they come to the peace table have to commit to peace. And we would expect Hamas to recognize Israel’s right to exist, to renounce violence as the way to the achievement of a homeland for the Palestinian people, and to recognize the prior agreements that have been entered into by the Palestinians either through the PLO or the PA.”

But who says Hamas wants to engage in peace negotiations? Remember Yasir Arafat and how he was going to inevitably incline toward peace? He renounced violence yet just kept doing it any way. Bill spent eight years on that one. As for expectations, plenty of people expect to live forever, become incredibly wealthy, and win American Idol.

(By the way, notice how she gropes for a word that won’t offend her audience, trying out three different definitions for Hamas. Presumably, genocidal terrorist and radical Islamist didn't come to mind.)

At any rate, diplomacy isn’t built on expectations that an opponent who views you as satanic and wants to wipe you out is going to meet your expectations.

It really comes down to saying: They just have to! Or else?

Or else, what? Since you have no credible threat why should they do anything you want? What are you going to do, apologize them to death?

But it’s this last line of Hillary Clinton that really gets to me:

“I think that’s an incredibly reasonable request.”

Who says Hamas is reasonable? Is it an incredibly reasonable request for people who think suicide bombing is a great strategy and that Jews are a cancerous growth which must be eradicated? Is it incredibly reasonable for people who think the caliphate should be restored and all non-Muslims accept subordinate status and pay a special tax. Is it reasonable for people who think all women should be heavily veiled and shouldn’t do things like be secretary of state.

In short, they don’t share your vision. They think doing what you want would destroy their whole reason for existence, betray their supreme being, and dishonor their people. Besides, they think they’re winning.

What makes all this really bizarre is that it isn’t necessary. The Obama administration could take precisely the same line by saying that it wants to work with all the “good guys”—most Arab states and the Palestinian Authority—to get TSS by defeating the “bad guy” extremists who are blocking it. Yet they are so afraid of leaving anyone out that they leave out any chance for progress, slim as it may be.

By this point al-Jazira’s listeners can only reach only two conclusions: Either America’s leaders are the dumbest they’ve ever encountered on these issues or they’re extremely devious people engaged in a complex conspiracy to seize control of the whole region.

Because how could anyone possibly believe this stuff?

My Discontented Pro-Terrorist Palestinian Intellectual Friend

Today in pondering the mess that is the Middle East, and epecially Arab politics within it, and especially Palestinian politics within that, I was startled to realize that today is roughly the anniversary of a conversation.

Almost precisely 35 years ago I was standing on a balcony in Beirut, Lebanon, with Hisham Sharabi, one of my professors in college, a Palestinian and a strong supporter of Naif Hawatmeh's Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). It was a small  terrorist group that was part of the PLO and which prided itself on being really Marxist as compared to the nationalist Fatah and radical Arab nationalist Popular Front.

We were out of earshot of anyone else and I asked Sharabi about the possibility of peace in the future and whether Palestinians would ever search their consciences about the deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians. Sharabi sighed and said, as closely as I can reproduce his words:

"Many things that have done have been disgraceful. And one day I believe that Palestinian intellectuals will publicly denounce these actions and the movement will become moderate and democratic."

He never made such a speech or wrote such an article.

After all, here was a great man, a student of French philosophy and advocate of major social reform who wrote a monograph arguing that Israel was lying by underestimating its real casualties at the hands of the PLO. The methodology was to go through Israeli newspapers and count up all the obituaries of men between the ages of around 18 to 40. The assumption was that Israel was merely pretending that they had died in traffic accidents or disease when actually they had been shot down by heroic Palestinian warriors.

On this issue, rationality was--and is--suspended. Insanity reigns. And even the best are both participants and victims.

Sharabi did have a brief romance with the peace process in the early 1990s--he always had a strong distaste for Yasir Arafat--and even visited Israel to see his pre-1948 neighborhood here. But this mood didn't outlast a few months. Soon he was back making propaganda for the movement. In our last talk before his death, he was still trying to convince me that Israel would be better off negotiating with small Marxist and radical groups than with Arafat.

He was right about Arafat but wrong about the groups.

Here we are a third of a century after that conversation predicting--and wishing?--that the movement would take a sharp turn and truly break with its past. It still hasn't happened. I can pick up a Palestinian Authority newspaper, listen to a radio broadcast, or hear a mosque sermon and though there has been some change, it falls far short of a decisive break.

Over the years I have sometimes written and frequently contemplated writing my own versions of speeches for Palestinian leaders to make. "My fellow Palestinians, the time has come to lay down our old grievances--however just--and end the conflict in exchange for a state. Of course, all refugees should be settled in the new state of Palestine, using the compensation money that has been offered us. Instead of the dream of total victory we should have the reality of a country developing its culture and economy, working for the security and happiness of its people...."

But I can't write those speeches and neither can Barack Obama or anyone else.

The problem is not just that such a day of real transformation hasn't come yet but that it isn't in sight at all. This is the real tragedy of the Palestinians. This is the real reason why there is no--and is not about to be a--Palestinian state.

And until that transformation comes from within, all the world's statesmen and all the world's diplomats and all the world's foundations and conflict management phonies and experts cannot put it together.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Palestinian Authority's new government: Anyone Ever Ask Them if They're Ready to Negotate Peace?

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has announced its thirteenth government in fourteen years.

Its prime minister is Salam Fayad, a Westernized professional economist who has no political base whatsoever. Why is he prime minister? The only reason is because otherwise Western donors wouldn’t give the money to the PA to function.

After the ceremony, Fayyad rejected talks with Israel at present:

"I do not think this is the appropriate time to talk about negotiations when Israel is not honoring prior agreements and understandings."

If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said anything like that—in Washington he said he was eager to renew talks—the headline on every newspaper in the world would be: Netanyahu Refuses to Negotiate Peace with Palestinians.

But since it is the Palestinian leader refusing to negotiate peace with Israel, nobody pays attention.

And who's the foreign minister? Again, it's my old friend, Riyad al-Malki, once a top leader of the terrorist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine on the West Bank. He's the one charged with making peace with Israel and proving to the West that the PA is moderate, flexible, and would love to get along with its neighbor in harmony and mutual respect.

It is useful to recall what I have previously written about him.

At the Durban-2 meeting, Malki said:  "For over 60 years the Palestinian people has been suffering under…the ugliest face of racism and racial discrimination…." and that Israel's position is characterized by "racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance."

It should be noted that for many years, before joining the PA, he was the West Bank leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a terrorist group more radical than Fatah. The PFLP murdered many Israeli civilians--including an Israeli cabinet minister--but its leadership always had safe haven in Arab states. As for "xenophobia" and "intolerance," Israel made agreements with the PLO which gave Malki immunity for the crimes in which he was involved.

Does anyone notice something peculiar about a veteran leader of a terrorist group whose goal was genocide calling others xenophobic and intolerant?

Despite being disgusting, this also has an element of amusement for me. The last time I saw him, we were having dinner in Greece and he told me--he never said it was confidential--that the PLO's policy was a disaster, that Yasir Arafat was a terrible leader, that most of the members in his office were thinking of emigrating to Canada (including his brother who had already gone there), and his sister's children were discriminated against in Jordan because they were Palestinians. He added that the demand that all Palestinians be allowed to live in Israel (the so-called "Right of Return") was a mistake because Israel would never accept it. At the end, he concluded--to my astonishment but these are his exact words, "Maybe we are better off staying under Israeli rule."

Naturally, the next day at the conference he gave a speech saying that all the Palestinians' problems were due to Israel. In response to my complaints about PA incitement to anti-Israel violence, he publicly called for a joint committee to monitor incitement on both sides.

When I approached him after the session and said it was a good idea so we should do it, he practically laughed in my face. We both knew that everything he said was for propaganda purposes and he didn't mean any of it.

This is not a man who one can envision making a compromise peace with Israel or doing anything except trying to make propaganda points by public relations' maneuvers.

Here, too, are broader problems that apply to many in the Arabic-speaking world--horrifying the liberals and dashing their hopes repeatedly--when they deal with Israel or America or the West or even their own societies. Reservations about behavior or knowledge of shortcomings is held privately and can never be made public. A sense of absolute outrage displaces empathy, matched with total contempt for an enemy who can only be destroyed. The idea that the best soluiton is a win-win compromise is not something likely to emerge. Self-criticism cannot become the power fueling reform.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Detailed Analysis of Obama-Netanyahu Meeting/Part 2 What Netanyahu Said

By Barry Rubin

Obviously, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s job was to make a good impression including the flattery of President Barack Obama. He thus thanked him:

“For your friendship to Israel and your friendship to me. You’re a great leader--a great leader of the United States, a great leader of the world, a great friend of Israel, and someone who is acutely cognizant of our security concerns. And the entire people of Israel appreciate it, and I speak on their behalf.”

But this is more than flattery. Netanyahu is defining him as a great leader in part because he is a great friend of Israel. In other words, he is locking him in on his commitments to what Obama called an “extraordinary relationship.” This is the standard which the American president has set for the relationship and Netanyahu will hold him to it.

He also wants to define common interests: “We share the same goals and we face the same threats.” This happens to be true though it may take some time for Obama to recognize it.

Netanyahu also wants to stake out his own identity as a peacemaker:

“The common goal is peace. Everybody in Israel, as in the United States, wants peace. The common threat we face are terrorist regimes and organizations that seek to undermine the peace and endanger both our peoples.”

But how is peace to be obtained? Who is the common enemy?

A. The Iran issue

“In this context, the worst danger we face is that Iran would develop nuclear military capabilities. Iran openly calls for our destruction, which is unacceptable by any standard. It threatens the moderate Arab regimes in the Middle East. It threatens U.S. interests worldwide. But if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, it could give a nuclear umbrella to terrorists, or worse, it could actually give terrorists nuclear weapons. And that would put us all in great peril.”

This is broadening out the threat beyond Israel to encompass U.S. interests and those of moderate Arab regimes, as I have long argued.

So Netanyahu reinforced what he wanted to, without mentioning the engagement part:

“So in that context, I very much appreciate, Mr. President, your firm commitment to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear military capability, and also your statement that you’re leaving all options on the table.”

B. Israel-Palestinian Negotiations

On this issue, Netanyahu stressed his eagerness to cooperate, his “desire to move the peace process forward.” Indeed, he was ready to move very fast: “And I want to start peace negotiations with the Palestinians immediately. I would like to broaden the circle of peace to include others in the Arab world, if we could….”

Here came Netanyahu’s most quoted lines, which should be quoted fully:

“I want to make it clear that we don’t want to govern the Palestinians. We want to live in peace with them. We want them to govern themselves, absent a handful of powers that could endanger the state of Israel. And for this there has to be a clear goal. The goal has to be an end to conflict. There will have to be compromises by Israelis and Palestinians alike. We’re ready to do our share. We hope the Palestinians will do their share, as well. If we resume negotiations, as we plan to do, then I think that the Palestinians will have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state; will have to also enable Israel to have the means to defend itself. And if those conditions are met, Israel’s security conditions are met, and there’s recognition of Israel’s legitimacy, its permanent legitimacy, then I think we can envision an arrangement where Palestinians and Israelis live side by side in dignity, in security, and in peace.”

Here is Netanyahu’s view of the two-state solution. If the Palestinians meet Israeli conditions, then there will be the “side by side” arrangement Obama has raised.

This is critical: a two-state solution is not something given as a present at the beginning of negotiations, it is a reward for the proper compromises that enable such a peace to succeed.

That is the key point of the Israeli position, regarding not just Netanyahu but in practice across much of the political spectrum.

Netanyahu fully recognizes the interrelationship of issues and says both are important:

“It would help, obviously, unite a broad front against Iran if we had peace between Israel and the Palestinians. And conversely, if Iran went nuclear, it would threaten the progress towards peace and destabilize the entire area, and threaten existing peace agreement.”

And so he concludes, “We see exactly eye to eye on this—that we want to move simultaneously and then parallel on two fronts: the front of peace, and the front of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear capability.”

Many might view this as papering over differences but it really isn’t. The point Netanyahu makes is that the two countries agree in principle whatever differences there are on details. And after all, this is the same basic position Obama has stated, though there is a bit of reversal on apparent priorities.

And then Netanyahu raises another key Israeli point: It is quite possible to make things far worse:

“If we end up with another Gaza -- the President has described to you there’s rockets falling out of Gaza -- that is something we don’t want to happen, because a terror base next to our cities that doesn’t call -- recognize Israel’s existence and calls for our destruction and asks for our destruction is not arguing peace.

“If, however, the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, if they -- if they fight terror, if they educate their children for peace and to a better future, then I think we can come at a substantive solution that allows the two people to live side by side in security and peace and I add prosperity, because I’m a great believer in this.”

What is the point, after all, of pushing through a two-state solution which:

--Makes Palestine a radical Islamist state tied to Iran and Syria.

--Creates a Palestine in which every school, mosque, and media institution teaches Palestinians that all of Israel is theirs and they must strive to conquer it. This would be a Palestine full of incitement to violence against Israelis which will inspire scores of people to become terrorists and thousands of others to support them.

--Sets off a new Israel-Palestine cross-border war, with the Palestine government either looking the other way or actively assisting terrorists.

--Creates a Palestine that invites in Iranian, Syrian, or other armies, or gets missiles from them targeted at Israeli cities.

--Extends the conflict another generation by using the state as a base for a “second stage” to finish off Israel.
And if Israel were to take risks and make concessions will they be reciprocated? And if the United States and Europe makes promises to Israel will they be kept?

After all, the 1990s’ peace process taught Israelis the answer was “no” on both counts.

This is Israel’s central point: peace, yes, but only a real, lasting, and stable situation which makes things better rather than worse.

A two-state solution only if it isn’t a two-mistake anti-solution.

Detailed Analysis of the Obama-Netanyahu Meeting/Part 1: Obama’s Statement

By Barry Rubin

So what did President Barack Obama say after the meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and what does it mean?

First, Obama went to great lengths to stress his belief in the special relationship between the two countries, knowing his fealty to it has been (understandably and rightfully) challenged. He consciously escalated it by calling it an “extraordinary relationship” adding “historical ties, emotional ties,” “only true democracy of the Middle East,” “a source of admiration and inspiration for the American people.” He then went on to say Israel’s security “is paramount” in his policy.

No signal to Arab regimes or Iran here of eroding support. This is the part they will look at and he knew it. This is not mere boiler plate. By setting the bar so high he is saying that the relationship is central and important, one not to be lightly undermined. That doesn’t mean he won’t do anything in that direction but it is publicly limiting himself from making any fundamental shift.

Of course, he and his administration can, and will, justify things they do as being for Israel’s own good. But again, opening with this statement is important and very purposeful.

A. The Iran Issue

He then focused on “the deepening concern around the potential pursuit of a nuclear weapon by Iran.” Some have focused on his following remark that Netanyahu “has been very vocal in his concerns about” this as if Obama was being sarcastic, but he added this “is a concern that is shared by his countrymen and women across the political spectrum.” In other words, he is associating America’s stance with this view.

A key word, of course, is “potential.” Does this mean he doesn’t believe Tehran is trying to get nuclear weapons? No, but he is arguing that the outcome is still open, that is his belief he can talk them out of it.
That, of course, is a mistake.

But Obama added:

“Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon would not only be a threat to Israel and a threat to the United States, but would be profoundly destabilizing in the international community as a whole and could set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that would be extraordinarily dangerous for all concerned, including for Iran.”
That’s a pretty strong statement. He then spoke of how the United States will try to talk Iran out of doing this without foreclosing tougher actions in future.

Whatever concerns one has about this—and I have them—this is the best possible statement one could have expected out of this American president. Remember he is not just talking to Netanyahu but to the Iranian regime and the whole region in so defining the U.S. stance.

Obama even added:

“The one thing we’re also aware of is the fact that the history, of least, of negotiation with Iran is that there is a lot of talk but not always action and follow-through. And that’s why it is important for us, I think, without having set an artificial deadline, to be mindful of the fact that we’re not going to have talks forever. We’re not going to create a situation in which talks become an excuse for inaction while Iran proceeds with developing a nuclear -- and deploying a nuclear weapon. That’s something, obviously, Israel is concerned about, but it’s also an issue of concern for the United States and for the international community as a whole.”

Here, he is saying he isn’t naïve and won’t let Iran fool him. Whether that’s true in practice remains to be seen but at least he is aware of this issue.

On another issue, however, he still doesn’t get it, asked whether his efforts at talking and compromising might be perceived by America’s enemies as weakness he responded:

“Well, it’s not clear to me why my outstretched hand would be interpreted as weakness.”

Unfortunately, this shows he doesn’t understand the Middle East. His basic mantra is: toughness has been tried and hasn’t worked so let’s try being nice. If Obama is ever going to avoid disaster in the region, much less accomplish anything, he’s going to have to get beyond this simple-minded concept.

B. Israel-Palestinian

On Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Obama said it was in everyone’s interest “to achieve a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians are living side by side in peace and security.”

I think the way this was phrased is very important. The great majority of Israelis can agree—even Netanyahu, in my opinion, would do so—that a two-state solution that really worked would be a good outcome.

The problem is that most Israelis don’t believe at this point that a two-state solution would work because the Palestinian Authority, Fatah, Hamas, Iran, Syria, Hizballah and other forces either would ensure it never came about in the first place or would be quickly destabilized.

So the way Obama put it—and it was deliberate—is not in contradiction to Israeli views and interests.
Note also how he phrased his discussion of something else:

“Those obligations [of both sides] were outlined in the road map; they were discussed extensively in Annapolis.”

Remember that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was criticized for saying that Israel adhered to the road map but not to Annapolis. This position accepts that view. The road map presents the obligations; Annapolis is non-binding, a mere discussion. That phrasing was very deliberate.

And then of course Obama added that everyone should seize this opportunity for progress and mentioned five specific points, a list weighted in Israel’s favor: assures Israel’s security, stops terrorism and rocket attacks, and economic development for the Palestinians (which is Netanyahu’s emphasis) along with having an independent Palestinian state.

Indeed, Obama went even further in accommodating Netanyahu’s standpoint. He did not only—despite what I have read in some analyses—talk about Israeli concessions or obligations but also very much about Palestinian ones, his:

“Recognition that the Palestinians are going to have to do a better job providing the kinds of security assurances that Israelis would need to achieve a two-state solution; that the leadership of the Palestinians will have to gain additional legitimacy and credibility with their own people, and delivering services. And that’s something that the United States and Israel can be helpful in seeing them accomplish.”

This is something extremely important and he even said that he would convey this point to Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the PA, when he visited Washington.

On Israel’s side he said settlements have to be stopped—though there are no new settlements or expanding of settlements in territorial terms, a point that often is forgotten. There has to be reconstruction of Gaza along with an end to rocket attacks, which means a loosening of border controls.

This is not so difficult for Israel to accomplish: close down some outposts, remove new settlement efforts, and revise the border controls on Gaza. These are all things Netanyahu is quite prepared to do to maintain good relations with the United States.

Another important point on which Obama just doesn’t get it because of lack of knowledge about the Middle East regards linkage:

“To the extent that we can make peace with the Palestinians -- between the Palestinians and the Israelis, then I actually think it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with a potential Iranian threat….Imagine how much less mischief a Hezbollah or a Hamas could do if in fact we had moved a Palestinian-Israeli track in a direction that gave the Palestinian people hope. And if Hezbollah and Hamas is weakened, imagine how that impacts Iran’s ability to make mischief, and vice versa.”

As I have explained elsewhere, such efforts would actually strengthen Iran, Hizballah and Hamas because any compromise agreement—even assuming such a thing were to be possible—would inflame radicalism. Again, failing to understand that, Obama doesn’t get the Middle East….Yet, at least.
Overall, though, the meeting was a success. It is important to emphasize that this was not just true on the atmospherics or the surface. Obama’s original ideology and the original intentions of his administration have been modified by taking into account Israel’s views and interests as well as some touch of reality about the region.
In other respects, it has not been so modified. The needle has moved from “catastrophic” to “very bad” on the region in general, and from “confrontational” to “pretty good” on the bilateral U.S.-Israel front. The rest depends on whether the administration insists on putting the priority on its ideas or on its experiences in future.