Archive for September, 2008

Is time running out?

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Time is running out on a peace deal, says Olmert:

Israel will have to give up virtually all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem if it wants peace with the Palestinians, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a farewell interview published Monday, saying Israel faced a stark choice and needed to make a decision soon…

Olmert said time was “so short that it is terribly distressing.” In its attempts to make peace with the Palestinians and Syria, he said the decision Israelis now had to make “was a decision that we have been refusing to look at open-eyed for 40 years.” — Jerusalem Post

Unless it’s not.

“Time is on my side, Yes it is!”
By Barry Rubin

September 28, 2008

So sang the Rolling Stones. But which side has time working in its favor? That’s one of the Middle East’s most intriguing and controversial questions.

Recently, Israeli leaders and well-wishers — sincere and hypocritical alike — have spoken in panicky terms that time isn’t on Israel side and it’s either peace in a few months or the Biblical flood.

Even U.S. government policy claims that agreement can and must be reached right away or else. Presidential candidate Barrack Obama has stated that Israel desperately needs peace and must make lots of concessions to get it real fast.

Well, it’s nonsense. But first let’s ask why has this idea become so big?

First, peace is good. Second, on the left, peace is considered both good and reachable if Israel gives up enough.

Somehow, no serious analysis is ever made on what the other side, the Palestinians and Syria, are, want, think, or do.

Given these beliefs, they sincerely believe that Israel should be scared, pushed, and subverted — for “its own good” — to give. In this context, no serious reevaluation is made of the well-intended but arguably disastrous peace process of the 1990s. Many of those on the moderate left and center have drawn proper conclusions from this experience.

Others in the center or even moderate right, however, who don’t accept the further left’s arguments, have come up with one of their own. They already accept, of course, that peace is good but how does one justify a high level of concessions? The answer is that those thinking this way must conclude that peace is both possible and urgently necessary.

And this brings us to former (oh, it feels so good to use that word) Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and apparently, though possibly not, for acting Prime Minister Tzipi Livni.

For them, the argument that time is against Israel is the critical argument.

The response should be: on what is this claim based? After all, not only is it not true but progress toward peace — as welcome as that would be — can worsen many of the factors they consider. Moreover, if too many concessions are made or a bad agreement is concluded than time really would be against Israel.

Perhaps the only specific point raised to show time is running out is the demographic one. Yet this is absurd. Egypt’s birthrate, following a common pattern seen throughout the world, has fallen. The outflow of Palestinians to Jordan and other places is obvious. Palestinian population has been overestimated.

Beyond this, however, it makes no difference how many Palestinians there are in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Israel is not going to annex the land and make the Palestinians there voters. Numbers alone — as the conflict’s history shows — don’t count that much.

Whatever supposed factor pitting time against Israel — Europe’s Islamicization, declining Western support, radical Islamist takeovers of Arab states or the Palestinian movement — will not be neutralized by Israeli concessions or a Palestinian state’s creation. After all, once the situation changed against Israel, the issue would merely be reopened no matter what diplomatic agreement might have been reached earlier. The concept that immediate giveaways buy long-term immunity is absurd on its face.

Equally, underlying all this irrational analysis is a dogma beloved by foreign observers and journalists that quickly collapses on examination: Israel cannot continue with the status quo.

Why not? Israel faces far less pressure than in prior years. Security is far better than in the 1948-1990 period when Israel potentially faced full-scale war with the armies of surrounding Arab states every day. In the 1990s’ peace process period, when at times terrorism reached far higher levels than today.

As for rocket attacks time is on Israel’s side since it will have a defensive system within a few years. Completing the security fence will also enhance protection. Regarding Iranian nuclear weapons, an agreement with Fatah won’t deter Tehran’s — or Hizballah’s and Hamas’s — determination to sabotage it and passion for destroying Israel.

These radical forces would try to take over a Palestinian state and attack Israel from Gaza, Lebanon, and (West Bank) Palestine. Would the Palestinian government be able or even try to stop them? Might this bring Israeli military action and a new war? Once a Palestinian state was created would Israel’s Arab minority be happy or inspired to escalate demands?

What about the cost to Israel of occupation? Well, before 1994 Israel paid the entire budget for the territories and was 100 percent responsible for security control. Today, its involvement in the Gaza Strip is zero and in the West Bank perhaps one-fifth what is was. Olmert’s personal sleaziness takes a higher toll on Israeli morale than the remnants of occupation. Most Israelis don’t want more than a tiny portion of the West Bank and know any presence there is due to security needs, not Greater Israel ambitions.

Meanwhile, Israel prospers and progresses. This year saw record tourism, near record-low unemployment, and fast economic growth. Israel’s real problems are internal — improving education and social welfare — having nothing to do with the Palestinians.

Equally, Israel is doing well internationally. While a leftist and academic fringe has become completely hostile and popularity in public opinion polls has fallen in Europe (often not far below levels of anti-Americanism), the diplomatic picture is good. With friendly British, French, German, and Italian governments, the most hostile states in Europe are probably Belgium, Spain, and Sweden. Aside from the United States, Australia and Canada are extremely friendly; Israel has good relations with India and China, and okay relations with Russia.

Sadly, too, while it’s always been argued that pushing for peace, withdrawing troops, and making big concessions promotes the love of Israel, unquestionably the opposite happens.

While Israel progresses on hi-tech, medicine, and science, the Arab world lags behind. Palestinians pay a high price for stagnation but choose intransigence any way. In fact, time is on Israel’s side; it grows in strength while the other side has become more divided and, in most cases, increasingly unwilling to wage the conflict.

Some of the attitude of time-as-enemy arises from a general Western malaise of self-hatred and defeatism. In addition, Israel kept winning wars without gaining strategic serenity, neither total victory nor total peace. Yet a combination of military triumphs, diplomatic efforts, and redeployment from the territories has brought Israel’s security to what is, in relative terms, a near all-time high. It may be far below what other nations are used to having, yet it is Israeli standards that count here.

The reality is that the Palestinians — albeit living off large-scale, though poorly spent, global subsidies — for whom time is an enemy. They face bad conditions; Fatah’s decline continues; the chance to have their own state slips away because their leadership pushes it away. Arab regimes face Islamist challenges that may be defeated but waste resources and stunt their progress. The chance for democracy, moderation, and stability has been lost for another generation.

Peace is preferable but much of what makes it so is that it must be a good peace, one that makes things better and is sustainable. Peace is possible only when the other side wants it. Today’s peace process mania is like a cartoon character whose legs windmill in a blur but which never advances.

But Israel is in the stronger position and can, like the Rolling Stones, say to Palestinians and others that if they want to make things better for themselves:

“You’re searching for good times, wait and see,
“You’ll come running back to me.”

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA Center publications or to order books, visit http://www.gloriacenter.org.

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Frustration and rage

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Prof. Ze'ev SternhellRecently someone placed a small pipe bomb outside the home of Ze’ev Sternhell, a professor of Political Science at the Hebrew University. He was slightly injured when it exploded. The police think that the perpetrators were right-wing extremists, angry at Sternhell for his widely-quoted remarks, as follows:

In the end we will have to use force against the settlers in Ofra or Elon Moreh. Only he who is willing to storm Ofra with tanks will be able to block the fascist danger threatening to drown Israeli democracy. — 1998

There is no doubt about the legitimacy of [Palestinian] armed resistance in the territories themselves. If the Palestinians had a little sense, they would concentrate their struggle against the settlements… and refrain from planting bombs west of the Green Line. — 2001

This small bomb’s echo was heard across the country, Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now said:

On Thursday night, my feelings of personal safety — as well as those of my friends — were shattered the moment we received news that an explosive device had detonated outside Prof. Ze’ev Sternhell’s home.

One would expect that his ‘feelings of personal safety” would have been far more affected by Hezbollah’s and Syria’s thousands of missiles aimed at Israel or by Iranian threats, but never mind.

It is wrong to blow up left-wing Jews who say stupid things. Do I need to repeat that? It is no better than the actions of Hamas (who blow up both left and right-wing Jews).

Having said that, let’s follow the lead of those who try to understand the forces that have produced Arab and Muslim terrorism. Not approve of, just understand, mind you. Let’s try to understand the frustration that gives rise to right-wing rage.

Here’s a quick summary of some of the political causes for frustration, from an article by Evelyn Gordon:

In 1993, the Knesset approved the Oslo Accords, even though Yitzhak Rabin won election promising no negotiations with the PLO. But the ensuing surge in terror disillusioned many Oslo supporters, thus rightists saw a real chance of defeating Oslo 2 in 1995. So they did exactly what good democrats are supposed to do: They lobbied Shas and Labor MKs, and succeeded in garnering enough votes for victory – until Rabin, thumbing his nose at the rules, openly bought two MKs elected on a far-right slate, thereby securing a 61-59 majority…

Fast forward to the 2003 election, when Labor championed a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the Likud’s Ariel Sharon campaigned against this idea. Again, rightists did what good democrats are supposed to do: They threw themselves into electing Sharon. And they succeeded: The Likud won by a landslide. Yet 11 months later, Sharon U-turned and adopted Labor’s platform.

Nevertheless, he offered a democratic escape route: an internal party referendum. So rightists again did what good democrats are supposed to do: They canvassed door-to-door among Likud members. And they won again: Though polls predicted an easy victory for Sharon, his plan lost by a 60-40 margin.

But Sharon ignored his party’s verdict, despite having pledged to honor it. He also refused to submit his plan to any broader democratic test — new elections or a national referendum…

And then Sharon had his stroke, and Olmert continued his program with disastrous results. Now the desire of the present coalition partners to retain their comfortable chairs in the Knesset has almost guaranteed that the present policy of withdrawal and concessions will continue at least until 2010, when general elections are scheduled.

But if the extreme Right is a minority in Israel, so is the extreme Left of the Sternhells and Oppenheimers. So why is Israel following this policy, so thoroughly discredited by the failure of Oslo, the second intifada, and the establishment of Hamastan in Gaza?

The reason is that the policy is not made in Israel, but rather in Washington and Brussels. It is a policy based on the demonstrably false view that Arabs and Muslims will be nicer to the US and Europe — perhaps they will pump more and drive the price of oil down (or they will not pump less and drive it up) — if the West will weaken and shrink Israel.

Some of the promoters of this policy think that Israel has a right to exist, that a peace-loving Palestinian state is a possibility, and that forcing Israel to pre-1967 borders would end Arab demands. Others realize that this is too much to hope for, but believe that a shrunken Israel could still maintain military superiority over the terrorist proxies surrounding it. Finally, some understand that the demands will never stop until Israel is no longer viable, but either don’t care or will be pleased to see the end of the “shitty little country“.

Now nothing frustrates and enrages someone as much as the feeling that he is powerless and not in control.  In particular, many feel that their democratic government is a sham, and someone else is calling the shots, forcing their country to follow a policy that will end in destruction. And there’s nothing they can do about it.

But apparently it feels good to scare fools like Sternhell and Oppenheimer.

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Peace is better than war, and brains are better than mush

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Rabbi Lynn GottleibRecently I wrote about the contradiction between the peaceful ideals of Mennonite (and some other) Christians, and their hosting a dinner for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he visited the UN this week.

Apparently I missed one of the other guests at the dinner. Also breaking bread with the man who has called Israel a”stinking, rotten corpse” and predicted that it would be “wiped off the face of the earth” — and who is well on the way, with the acquiesence of the West, to obtaining nuclear bombs — was Rabbi Lynn Gottleib, who also spoke at the dinner.

Rabbi Gottleib was in the news this May when — shocked by Sen. Hillary Clinton’s remark that if Iran were to attack Israel, the US would retaliate against Iran and could “totally obliterate them” — decided to travel to Iran as co-leader of an ‘interfaith peace delegation’, where she wrote a poem, ending thus:

O Iran
Revelation bursts forth from your soil
draped in ten thousand shades
of  illumination.
You returned my people to Jerusalem
restored the Temple
provided my relatives with a Persian home for thirty centuries
and I did not know.
Now I jump over fires on Norouz
go to the garden of roses
the first Sabbath after Passover
recite poetry
at Hafez’s tomb
touch my forehead to the clay earth of Jamkaran
where the Mahdi is hidden
but everywhere present.

Lovely, isn’t it?  I thought it would be instructive to contrast it with some prose by the honored guest at the dinner, spoken earlier that day at the UN General Assembly:

The dignity, integrity and rights of the American and European people are being played with by a small but deceitful number of people called Zionists. Although they are a miniscule [sic] minority, they have been dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centers as well as the political decision-making centers of some European countries and the US in a deceitful, complex and furtive manner. It is deeply disastrous to witness that some presidential or premiere [sic] nominees in some big countries have to visit these people, take part in their gatherings, swear their allegiance and commitment to their interests in order to attain financial or media support.

Gottleib’s explanation, when asked why she attended a dinner honoring such a man, said “peace is better than war”.

Um, OK.

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AP presents distorted view of ‘peace process’

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Last week, we found the AP doing a relatively decent job of reporting Israel’s internal politics. But every time they write about relations between Israel and the Palestinians, the same old bias appears.

AP Blames Israel For Making Palestinians Want to Destroy It
By Barry Rubin

In an article of September 20, Ali Daraghmeh, “Army says troops kill Palestinian with firebomb,” there is a long discussion of the current state of the peace process.

Let’s be clear: virtually nobody in Israel who is not speaking as an official government spokesman believes that there is any chance that there will be a peace soon with the Palestinians. The great majority of them place most or all the blame on the Palestinians. In addition, most people in political life who would say publicly that there is a chance for peace have the opposite view in private conversations.

These two points, which hold true across the political spectrum except for the far left — doubts about the process and blame on the Palestinians — never appear in coverage. Never, ever. Yet these are the two most important facts about the most over-covered issue in the world. Articles lately will say that the deadline will probably not be met, but present that as sort of an accident or due to Israel’s fault — the fall of the government.

This article, like so many others, gives a lot of space to Palestinian viewpoints and none to Israeli viewpoints. In this case:

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, warned that time for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is quickly running out.” It then quotes a Mahmoud Abbas op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal blaming, “Israel’s continued settlement expansion and land confiscation in the West Bank makes physical separation of our two peoples increasingly impossible.” Actually both settlement growth and land confiscation (pretty much exclusively for the separation fence and often reversed by Israeli courts) is pretty limited.

Another really long article is dedicated to proving that Israel is destroying any chance for peace, basically serving as a Palestinian propaganda statement. This article, Steven Gutkin, “Palestinians despairing of independence effort“, September 20, 2008, basically says that the nice Palestinians really want peace but Israel won’t give it to them. As a result, the frustrated Palestinians may have to resort to violence. Well who could blame them under these conditions, right?

Here’s the lead:

Prominent Palestinians are lighting a fire under Israel’s feet by proposing a peace in which there would be no separate Palestine and Israel, but a single state with equal rights for all.

So let’s ask some questions. The Palestinians use the phrase about lighting fires as a code word for terrorist violence, though the American reader will understand it here as sort of, urging Israel to move forward. Is a Palestinian demand for Israel to disappear and millions of Palestinians to be allowed to live there a peace proposal? And does anyone take seriously the idea of equal rights for all, a phrase taken from the U.S. Supreme Court building?

In the next paragraph though we are told that it is not just a single state with equal rights for all but a “binational” state, which is sort of like creating the perfect conditions for daily violence and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Maybe, the article continues, this is “little more than a Palestinian pressure tactic fed by frustration over the failure of talks on a two-state solution, but it has set Israeli leaders on edge.”

My, my. Now why would it set them on edge, it seems so harmless, sort of like how things work in America? Oh, right, it is a binational state that would include radical Islamists and radical nationalists who have been murdering Israelis for decades.

Such a merger of Israel with the West Bank and Gaza Strip would quickly result in the Jews being outnumbered by the faster-growing Arab population. For most Israelis it would result in a nightmare choice: Give the Arabs full voting rights and lose Israel’s Jewish character, or deny them equality and be branded an apartheid state.

You think?

But even in the above paragraph which pretends to explain Israel’s point of view a key point is left out: Palestinians have never abandoned their goal of replacing Israel with a Palestinian Arab Muslim state. It isn’t something new. And the idea of using a “binational” state as an interim step in that direction has been around for 35 years.

Instead, we are told that this “idea is gathering important Palestinian adherents,” as if up until now they have been in favor of an end to the conflict, permanent peaceful coexistence, and the resettlement of Palestinians in a Palestinian state. Note that their refusal to accept such things was critical in the collapse of the “peace process” in 2000 at and after Camp David and has been the continued cause of inability to achieve a diplomatic solution since.

The rest of this extremely long article repeats the false themes of Palestinians just yearning for peace but being forced, unwillingly, to demand Israel cease to exist.

On another front, the AP finds room for a very long article by George Jahn, “Diplomats: Syria passes 1st test of nuclear probe,” September 20. The article uses a dozen paragraphs to clear Syria of any guilt for having been engaged in an effort to build a nuclear facility to produce materials for gaining atomic weapons. Note that this is a leak, not an official report, and even then proves nothing. It was immediately pointed out, for example, that the Syrians had been working on the site and might well have removed or buried the evidence.

Now, however, hundreds of thousands of readers will say: Ah, so that attack on Syria was about nothing, then, and the Syrians were victims.

Just like the Palestinians.

And, it would be far more true to say, just like the people who read these stories.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA Center publications or to order books, visit http://www.gloriacenter.org.

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Jews against the Jewish people

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

On dark days I ask myself whether the Jewish people and its state — which sustains and protects it — will survive.

On really dark days I ask whether we are the primary agents of our own destruction. Here are just a few random examples that I’ve  come across recently.

Example no. 1: From the Website of J Street, an organization that wishes to replace AIPAC as the political voice of American Jewry:

We Won! Palin Not Speaking at Iran Rally

We collected over 20,000 signatures in 24 hours asking Iran Unity rally organizer Malcolm Hoenlein to take Sarah Palin off the schedule for Monday’s rally, and he caved to our pressure on Thursday afternoon citing the fact that the rally had become too partisan.

I am not a Sarah Palin fan, but she is the biggest show on the current political scene. And she wanted to make a speech (you can read it here) in which she said in part,

This is an issue that should unite all Americans. Iran should not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. Period. And in a single voice, we must be loud enough for the whole world to hear: Stop Iran!

Why did some American Jews prefer that this message not be heard?

Example no. 2: Some Orthodox Jews believe that only God may create a Jewish State. Most of them, however, do not embrace Israel’s enemies. But Neturei Karta does.

Neturei Karta member in friendly discussion with Hitler successor

Neturei Karta member in friendly discussion with Hitler successor in New York

Neturei Karta is a highly visible presence at anti-Israel demonstrations, and even sent a delegation to Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial conference.  They have received funding from Iran and, in 2002, from Yasser Arafat.

Example no. 3: From Ha’aretz:

It appears that the Jewish left is bolstering its position in the U.S. – after the introduction of the new J Street lobby, aimed at countering the powerful Jewish lobby AIPAC, B’Tselem, a left-wing human rights organization based in Israel, has sent two official staffers to Washington and New York for the first time…

The B’Tselem staffers intend to inform the policy makers, American public and the American Jewish community about human rights conditions in the Palestinian territories.

B’Tselem is a ‘human rights’ organization that is interested only in the human rights of Palestinians, not Israelis. Even given this, its reports are highly distorted and biased against Israel (read CAMERA’s report on B’Tselem here). B’Tselem’s funding comes from various sources — mostly European, but including the New Israel Fund, which I have previously discussed (see: A Jewish Charity that Helps Delegitimize Israel).

What makes these groups particularly effective of course is that they are comprised of Jews. Neturei Karta’s condemnations of Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism appear alongside quotations from Hitler on neo-Nazi websites, while Palestinians point to B’Tselem — after all, an Israeli organization — as proof of their brutal treatment at the hands of the Zionists.

These Jewish groups — and all the others, like Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, Jewish Voice for Peace, etc. — have different points of view. But although they will talk for as long as you will listen about their ideologies, and although we can speculate forever about their psychological motivations, the fact is that their actions abet those, like Ahmadinejad and Hamas, who simply want to murder Jews.

They are Jews against the Jewish people.

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Don’t fight ‘em, join ‘em!

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

You may be wondering, as I am, how are we to meet the challenge of expansionist radical Islam, particularly in the form of soon-to-be-nuclear Iran?

You may feel uneasy that Iran has extended its influence all the way to Lebanon and will almost certainly  absorb Iraq into its sphere of influence as we withdraw — which we are certainly going to do.

It may bother you to think that Iran, where political rallies invariably include shouts of “death to America” and “death to Israel”, will shortly control — either directly or by nuclear blackmail — approximately 56% of world oil reserves.

If you care about Israel, you are probably very worried about Ahmadinejad’s threats to ‘wipe Israel off the face of the earth’, threats that he is in the early stages of carrying out by means of his proxies Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah — even without using the nukes he is building.

Well, you can stop worrying.

34 former US officials and ‘civic leaders’ have the solutionDon’t fight ‘em, join ‘em!

WASHINGTON – The next U.S. president should speak out for better relations with the Muslim world in his inaugural address and pursue an accord between Israel and the Palestinians within three months of taking office, a diverse coalition of 34 former U.S. officials and civic leaders said in a report being issued Wednesday.

Step 1 is giving the Arabs and Iranians what they want more than anything else: Israel. You can bet that the ‘accord’ that they envision includes getting the IDF out of the West Bank and turning it over to the forces of Mahmoud Abbas, who will ‘fight terrorism’ for about 10 minutes before rolling over for Hamas. Then Israel will be almost entirely surrounded by Iran’s proxy armies, with missiles falling on Tel Aviv daily. I don’t even want to think about the rest of the deal, which will involve giving up parts of Jerusalem and even the admission of some number of ‘refugees’ (read: guerrillas) into Israel.

The proposals, which include diplomatic engagement with Iran, are designed to reverse Muslim extremism and enhance U.S. international security. They are based on the conclusion that improving U.S. relations with Muslim countries and communities is critical, the report said…

Do the dignitaries and civic leaders explain precisely how giving in to the demands of Muslim extremism will tend to reverse it? I would expect just the opposite, given the results of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza — and from simply paying attention to what the extremists say.

On promoting democracy among the Arabs, a hallmark of President George W. Bush’s foreign policy, the report envisioned a cautious role for the United States: improving governance and civic participation without imposing a particular set of institutions, parties or leaders.

Bush’s war on terror, the report said, has been inadequate and sometimes counterproductive. It recommends “partnership” with Muslims committed to nonviolent political and economic development to reverse extremism and promote reform within authoritarian governments.

The jails in Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are full of reform-minded Muslims (in the Palestinian Authority they don’t live long enough to be jailed). Bashar Assad, for example, does not want ‘economic development’ and certainly not any kind of ‘reform’. He is quite happy with funneling the fruits of the Syrian economy into the pockets of his friends and relatives, and his relationship with Iran — which provides an unlimited supply of weapons — is far more important to him than anything we can provide. With whom should we ‘partner’ in Syria?

Palestinian political culture is such that respect and support goes to the faction that has the most credibility in armed struggle with the Zionists. With whom are we to ‘partner’ among the Palestinians?

“Bush’s war on terror” as I recall, began with the overthrow of the Taliban who sheltered and supported Osama Bin Laden. Should we not have tried to impose a non-Taliban government? With whom should we have ‘partnered’ in Afghanistan?

Among the recommendations were expanding people-to-people exchanges and staging a business-government conference on economic reform, growth and job creation in the Middle East within the first six months of the new administration.

This is so wrong-headed that it’s breathtaking.

First, it ignores ideology as a motivator. Do you think that the average Hamas or Hezbollah fanatic will stop wanting to rip the throats out of Jews if he’s offered a better job? Was Osama bin Laden motivated by a desire for economic reform?

Second, it ignores that fact that the export of violent extremism is the deliberate policy of some Muslim nations (e.g., Iran and Syria). Iran’s support for Hezbollah — which has been called the “foreign legion of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard” — as well as Hamas, has institutionalized extremism and terrorism.

And third, it ignores reality. Will Ahmadinejad agree to stop building the weapons with which he plans to become a regional superpower as a result of promises to build maquiladoras in his country? Can we afford to bribe Bashar al-Assad better than Ahmadinejad can?

The full report can be found here; it is being released today before the foreign policy debate between John McCain and Barack Obama to beheld Friday and includes a “Call to Action” for the next President.

The 34 signatories include 11 Muslim-Americans including Ingrid Mattson, President of the Islamic Society of North America [ISNA], as well as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, President/CEO of the American Petroleum Institute Red Caveney, and Stephen Heintz, President of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, one of the major funders of the project.

This document is 170 pages of nonsense masquerading as serious policy analysis, whose goal is to replace opposition to Iranian and Palestinian goals with appeasement and bribes (which will be accepted and ineffectual, as always).

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Peace-loving Mennonites buy dinner for the new Haman

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

News item:

The president of the United Nations General Assembly is expected to attend a dinner in New York organized by five American Christian organizations at which Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will be a featured guest…

The private dinner is being billed as “an international dialogue between religious leaders and political figures” in a conversation “about the role of religions in tackling global challenges and building peaceful societies.” It is being sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee [MCC], the Quaker United Nations Office, the World Council of Churches, Religions for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee. — Jewish Daily Forward

This is not the first time that the Mennonite Central Committee — a relief and social action organization representing the Mennonites and several other denominations — has sponsored a meeting with Ahmadinejad.

Keep in mind that Ahmadinejad has

  • Called for the state of Israel to be ‘wiped off the map’
  • Said (several times) that the ‘Zionist regime’ is on the verge of destruction
  • Hosted a holocaust denial conference; he himself has called the Holocaust a “fairy tale”
  • Financed and armed the terrorists of Hezbollah and Hamas who have killed hundreds of Jews and Israelis
  • Financed and supplied a huge military buildup in Syria, including chemical and biological weapons — all aimed at Israel

The fact that he does this while aggressively developing nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them makes him more than a garden-variety bigot. A principled reaction — especially for a group ostensibly dedicated to non-violence and peace like the MCC — to a head of state like Ahmadinejad would be to denounce him, to urge his quarantine from the society of peace-loving nations, and to call for real sanctions against Iran, strong enough to topple Ahmadinejad’s regime.

Instead, they are buying him dinner.

Unfortunately, the MCC has a long history of one-sided anti-Israel expression, uncritical adoption of the most virulent slanders against the state, and even explicit denial of Israel’s right to exist. It ‘partners’ with groups such as the Sabeel ‘Ecumenical Liberation Theology’ Center and the BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, and other extreme anti-Zionist organizations. Legitimizing the anti-Semitic Ahmadinejad is only a continuation of a policy that does not believe that there should be a Jewish state of Israel.

Here in our valley we have many Mennonite Christians, who have a reputation as honest, kind and hardworking people. I have two questions for them:

  • How can you support (if indeed you do support) the MCC’s action which legitimizes an anti-Semitic fanatic who threatens a second Holocaust while denying the first one?
  • How can you countenance the participation of the MCC and its ‘partners’ in the promulgation of vicious lies and distortions against the state of Israel, a propaganda campaign designed to lay the groundwork for its physical destruction?

The original Haman gets his just desserts

The original Haman gets his just desserts

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East of Suez

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

The Wilsons and Nixons at the White House, 1970In 1967, PM Harold Wilson announced that Britain would withdraw forces from major bases “East of Suez”, and the process of ending the British Empire that began around the end of the war was more or less complete. It was brought down by a combination of forces political and economic; among the latter was the enormous cost of the war which left Britain an economic basket case with huge trade deficits that caused several currency devaluations. Even if it had had the will to counter the explosion of nationalism in places like India (and Palestine), it could not afford to do so.

Today, Britain’s successor empire, the United States, finds itself in a similar predicament. The present financial crisis was triggered by a particular problem in one segment of the economy, but its continued progress is a kind of domino effect facilitated by the huge amounts of leverage — inadequately secured debt — in the system. The government is attempting to prop up strategic dominoes, but it can only do so by increasing its own massive indebtedness (only in part created by the enormous cost of the war in Iraq). If it is successful, then there will not be a sudden cataclysm (I don’t even want to think about what that would look like), but there is no question that even if the maneuver succeeds the standard of living of all but the upper classes will be significantly reduced as the need to pay for the bailout will result in either heavy inflation, higher taxation, reduced services and entitlements (Social Security, veterans’ benefits, etc.)  — or probably all of the above.

It’s important to understand that although the present debacle may seem to be a one-time occurrence caused by ‘mistakes’, greed, or even criminal behavior in the financial establishment, this event was only the push needed to send a house of cards flying. The economy’s weakness is structural, caused by every sector — government, business and consumers — financing a level of consumption far above what it can afford by borrowing. In each cases the holders of the debt — trade partners, banks, etc. were always ready (until recently) to refinance and extend more and more credit.

The US, having replaced its manufacturing economy with one primarily made up of services, is no longer adding sufficient value to its products to maintain its lifestyle, especially since so much of it depends on one commodity — oil — whose price is rising dramatically. This price rise is also structural, a result of increased worldwide consumption meeting up with finite supply.

It’s worth pointing out that the  ‘solution’ to high oil prices in the US that is being pushed by some politicians — that the US should drill more — would have almost zero effect. The price of oil is set on the world market by multinational corporations.  Any increase in supply that could be expected from domestic drilling would be the proverbial drop in the bucket, too small to affect the price. Unless we are prepared to nationalize our oil supplies and infrastructure, we are stuck with the world price.

There is also a geopolitical crisis to go along with the fiscal one. The rise of radical Islamism — fueled, ironically by the huge amount of cash transferred to the oil-producing countries of the Middle East — represents a direct challenge to Western influence in the region. The US is finding — the war in Iraq is a case in point — that its own economic weakness, combined with the ability of formerly weak states like Iran to buy sophisticated weapons, exacerbated by the psychological power of the Islamist ideology, and aided by mischief done by its traditional opponent, Russia, is making it  harder to exert effective control over events in the Middle East.

The expansion of Iran’s influence in recent years has been striking. Syria’s foreign policy is entirely subject to Iranian wishes, and Iran’s agent, Hezbollah, now is the single most powerful element in the Lebanese government and can be said to rule the country in all but name. Iran has also made an alliance of convenience with Hamas, which is contending for control of the Palestinian movement (only military action by Israel can stop it).

As a result, there are suggestions that the US, like Britain in 1945-1967, is overextended. That the days of being “the world’s only superpower” are over. That we no longer have the ability — militarily, economically and psychologically — to maintain our influence in the Mideast, and that we should — also like the British, stand down “East of Suez”. This point of view holds that rather than confronting Iran, we should make accommodation with it.

Unfortunately, the parallel with Britain breaks down at this point. Britain was not endangered by an independent India the way we are endangered by a nuclear Iran. Britain was able to hand off control of critical areas to the US, which shared its worldview to a great extent. Britain was able to take advantage of assistance from the US to dig itself out of the economic pit into which it had fallen by the end of the war.

The US, on the other hand, needs to face its crises alone. And the growing power of radical Islamism in the Middle East does represent a threat to the US. The Iranian regime certainly does view itself as our bitter enemy, and it will soon be armed with nuclear weapons. Although Islamism is also a threat to Russia, there is no reason that Iran and the Russians can’t work together to our detriment. Ideology cannot be such a barrier to an Iran which can fund both Sunni Hamas and Shiite Hezbollah (and don’t forget the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939)!

America is on the verge of a protracted struggle, which may be fought as much with economics as with missiles. Our new President will need an understanding of the proper use of both.

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AP does better job on Israeli politics than the conflict

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

Here is this week’s commentary on the print media from Barry Rubin. 

How Does AP Cover Israeli Politics?
By Barry Rubin

How does AP cover Israeli politics?  Generally speaking, much better than it covers issues relating to the Arab-Israeli or Israeli-Palestinian politics. One reason for this is that the reporters tend to be people living in Israel who have more knowledge and fewer political preconceptions, at least when covering these stories. Perhaps, too, there is less pressure from editors to push the approved line on the conflict.

On September 17, AP issues, “Next steps after Kadima primary election,” a factual summary of the situation (AP “factual summaries” on conflict issues are often remarkably biased). This one is reasonable:

Israel’s ruling Kadima Party held a primary election Wednesday to pick a successor to the party leader, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. But the winner will not automatically succeed Olmert. A look at the process:

The winner of the primary election must get 40 percent or more of the vote to become party leader. If not, the party holds runoff between two top vote-getters the following week.

Once the party has a leader, Olmert formally submits his resignation to ceremonial President Shimon Peres. The Cabinet resigns with him.

After consulting with party leaders, Peres picks a member of parliament, likely the Kadima leader, to form new coalition government.

The prime minister-designate has 42 days to form a new coalition and bring it to parliament for approval. If no new government is formed, a general election is held within 90 days. The process of forming a government begins all over again. Olmert remains in office as caretaker prime minister until the new government is approved by parliament.”

Fair enough, no gratuitous swipes.

The more substantive article is from September 17, 2008 by Steve Weizman, “Israeli party rivals face off in power bid.”

Israel’s popular foreign minister faced off against a grizzled former military chief on Wednesday in the leadership race for the ruling Kadima party , an election that could determine the country’s next prime minister.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who hopes to become Israel’s first female prime minister in more than three decades, held a strong lead over Shaul Mofaz, a former chief of staff and defense minister, in opinion polls ahead of the vote….

Kadima convened the primary to choose a successor to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is being forced from office by a corruption scandal. Whoever wins has a good chance of becoming the next prime minister, overseeing peace talks with the Palestinians and dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Livni, a former lawyer and one-time agent in the Mossad spy agency, is a soft-spoken diplomat who has played a central role in peace talks with the Palestinians and prefers negotiation to confrontation.

Mofaz takes a tougher line, demanding the Palestinians fulfill a series of conditions before a final deal can be hammered out. He also is more willing to order military action in times of crisis.”

It is a bit funny that it is worth noting when one of a country’s leaders actually asks that the other side in a negotiation fulfill its commitments!” But it is rare enough that this idea is heard in an AP dispatch.

Male rivals have called Livni “weak” and “that woman.” And there is talk about ultra-Orthodox Jewish lawmakers being uncomfortable with the idea of a female leader….Mofaz, meanwhile, hopes to become the first Israeli of Sephardic, or Middle Eastern, descent to lead the country. Sephardic Jews have long complained of discrimination at the hands of Ashkenazi, or European Jews.

OK, fair enough remarks on Israeli society though I would bet that Israel’s two “firsts” don’t stir many voters to oppose them solely on that basis.

It is refreshing to see a paragraph stating:

The country’s next leader will inherit a peace process begun by Olmert last year aimed at reaching a final agreement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by January 2009. Despite months of talks, both sides have acknowledged they are unlikely to reach that target.

That’s two good points: Israel pressed for the peace process and it isn’t going to work.

Immediately after came Dion Nissenbaum, September 18, “Livni is apparent winner in tight Israeli race,” for the McClatchy newspaper chain which includes the Philadelphia Inquirer. It calls Livni “a popular, diplomacy-first advocate” and Mofaz, “a more uncompromising former defense minister.” Actually, the funny thing is that it is precisely Mofaz who wants to compromise–that is, both sides to make concessions, another insight into how the media views Israel.

The article continues, “By choosing Livni over Mofaz, Kadima voters implicitly endorsed the foreign minister’s diplomacy-before-warfare approach to tackling Israel’s biggest concerns: making peace with the Palestinians and neutering Iran’s nuclear program.”

This reminds me of the Atlantic magazine article whose cover headline tells voters–hint, hint, nudge, nudge–that Republican nominee Senator John McCain wants war. Livni won mainly because she is seen as an honest new face while Mofaz is amazingly uncharismatic and has committed huge political mistakes in the past, notably his indecisiveness about joining Kadima in the first place, his silly blustering about how his victory was inevitable. (That, too, is a sign about media coverage: Israeli politics can only be considered to deal with “peace process” and international issues, domestic considerations apparently don’t exist.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA Center publications or to order books, visit http://www.gloriacenter.org.

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We will all be Iranian hostages

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

Iran launches Shihab3 missileNews Item:

Moscow — Russia made clear Saturday that it opposes a Western push for new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

Russia spoke out against a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Tehran at a meeting of the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany in Washington on Friday, the Foreign Ministry said.

Russia stressed the need to draw Tehran into “constructive dialogue,” the ministry statement said. “In this context we spoke out against the development at this time of new measures along U.N. Security Council lines.” — IHT (AP)

The ‘sanctions option’ is apparently not an option. Only military action can stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. It seems to me that the opinion of the world’s leaders — except in Israel, for obvious reasons — is that a way will have to be found to get used to a nuclear Iran.

There are rumors that the US will step in at some point. Although it is not impossible, I doubt it. It is certainly in our national interest to not have a nuclear Iran, but the political and economic consequences of an attack now would be great, and the forces in Washington which seem to have the upper hand in our foreign policy today lean in the direction of making accommodations rather than confrontation. This was the message of the National Intelligence Estimate (see: “The significance of the NIE“) released last December.

Caroline Glick thinks that, from an Israeli point of view, time is short.

Iran is just a heartbeat away from the A-bomb. Last Friday the Daily Telegraph reported Teheran has surreptitiously removed a sufficient amount of uranium from its nuclear production facility in Isfahan to produce six nuclear bombs. Given Iran’s already acknowledged uranium enrichment capabilities, the Telegraph’s report indicates that the Islamic Republic is now in the late stages of assembling nuclear bombs.

It would be a simple matter for Iran to assemble those bombs without anyone noticing. US spy satellites recently discovered what the US believes are covert nuclear facilities in Iran. The mullocracy has not disclosed these sites to the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, which is charged with inspecting Iran’s nuclear sites.

As to the IAEA, this week it presented its latest report on Teheran’s nuclear program to its board members in Vienna. The IAEA’s report claimed that Iran has taken steps to enable its Shihab-3 ballistic missiles to carry nuclear warheads. With their range of 1,300 kilometers, Shihab-3 missiles are capable of reaching Israel and other countries throughout the region.

It’s unfortunate that the world has chosen to believe that these developments can be lived with.  Today a large part of the world’s oil supplies is in the hands of the reactionary Arab leaders of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. This is bad enough, but these leaders are not trying to export a radical Islamic fundamentalist revolution which directly confronts the West, as Iran is.

Iran has already made Syria into a satellite and is fast gaining control of Lebanon by means of Hezbollah. Iran has even gone so far as to make an alliance of convenience with the Sunni Hamas organization, which will soon dominate the Palestinian movement.

A nuclear Iran will control the region, from the gulf states through Iraq, even as far as Egypt. Iranian influence will determine policy even in those states which do not become satellites. The US will no longer be a player in the Middle East. It may be that some in the State Department are already beginning to plan for this state of affairs,  planning to contract US influence around the world the way Britain did in the years following WWII.

If they think this adjustment can be made comfortably for Americans, they are wrong. Iran will have the ability to deliver huge shocks to the already tottering economies of the US and Western Europe at will. We will all be, in effect, Iranian hostages.

Of  course, Israel will be long gone in this scenario, unable to survive in an environment even more toxic than that of today, with help from the US even less likely.

It may be that the only way to prevent this will  be for Israel, out of existential necessity, to take the action required to at least delay the Iranian nuclear capability long enough for the US to regain its footing. Then, in the best case, our leaders will understand what is at stake and do whatever is necessary on a long term basis to keep the bomb out of the hands of the Islamic revolutionaries of Iran.

It’s ironic to think that Israel might be instrumental in saving the US, rather than the other way around.

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Democracy in action

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Tzipi Livni votes in Kadima primaryFor those who are confused, here is a simplified summary of how Israel’s Prime Minister is chosen:

Israelis vote for a party, not for a person. The parties — through internal mechanisms such as primary elections — choose a list of candidates, starting with the party leader and working down. After a  general election, the Knesset is formed by giving each party a number of seats (there are 120 in total) in proportion to the votes they receive. So if a party gets, say, 10 seats, the first 10 candidates on their list get to be members of the Knesset.

Then the fun begins. If a party were to get a majority, its leader would become PM. But of course this never happens, so it’s necessary to form a coalition. The President first asks the leader of the party with the most seats to try to form a coalition, and she has 28 days to do this; if she fails, then the President asks someone else.

Coalition-making is the quintessential smoke-filled room process, involving every kind of horse-trading. Once a coalition is in place, the PM forms a cabinet (also called a ‘government’) which includes members of the coalition parties chosen in the smoke-filled room.

Ehud Olmert succeeded Ariel Sharon as PM when Sharon had his stroke, and then his Kadima party won the election in 2006. The present coalition includes Kadima, Labor, Shas — a party representing ultra-orthodox Sephardi voters — and the tiny “pensioners” party (don’t ask). The ideology of Shas is complicated, but many Israelis feel that it is primarily oriented toward government benefits for its constituency.

Tzipi Livni has apparently won the Kadima primary — I say ‘apparently’ because her margin was so narrow (431 votes) that her major opponent, Shaul Mofaz, made noises about asking for a recount — and if Olmert goes through with his promise to quit (or is indicted), and if she can find coalition partners — probably she will reach a modus vivendi with the extortionists of Shas and with Labor — she will be the next Prime Minister of Israel, at least until the scheduled elections of 2010.

Actually, given the threats facing Israel today from Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran and Syria, I would prefer to see a kind of unity government that would include the Likud instead of Shas. But at least so far there seems to be no chance that the Likud will join a coalition with Kadima.

There are reports that Likud’s Binyamin Netanyahu is negotiating with Labor’s Ehud Barak to bypass Livni. This would be interesting, since Labor is theoretically further left than Kadima. Both Barak and Netanyahu are former Prime Ministers who did very poor jobs and who are ethically challenged. Personally, I would prefer to see Livni get the chance. Either Barak or Netanyahu could probably be competent defense ministers, if held on a tight leash by a tough PM (and we don’t know if Livni could be such a PM).

Do you see a lot of democracy in action here? I don’t.

Meanwhile, here in the US, news reports of her primary victory invariably included “…and she is expected to continue negotiations with the Palestinians”. If only she would surprise us!

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Assad’s contempt is showing

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Recently, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert said that

This is the time to push for peace with both the Palestinians and the Syrians. If we know how to do that, other Arab countries, which are yet to acknowledge us in public, will soon follow. — YNet

Here is his answer, at least from Syria. Here is what Israel can expect to get from negotiating with Bashar Assad:

Amid speculation over the status of indirect negotiations between Damascus and Jerusalem, Syrian President Bashar Assad said on Tuesday that he does not intend to cut his country’s ties to Iran, Channel 10 reported.

“Syria will stand with Iran on all the major strategic issues,” Assad said during an interview with a local television station which was aired on Channel 10.

“Only one situation would distance Syria from Iran, and that is if Teheran sided with Israel, and if America sided with the Arabs,” he said, laughing…

Commenting on negotiations with Israel, the Syrian president said that classifying the talks as “negotiations” was too strong a term.

“What’s happening today is not negotiation, but they are called ‘negotiations’ in the media,” Assad told the interviewer. — Jerusalem Post

As Barry Rubin has pointed out (see, for example, “Self-evident — and wrong!“), while Assad would certainly take the Golan if he had to give nothing in return, a real peace agreement is not in his interest. And his relationship with Iran is much more valuable than what Israel or the US could give him for abandoning it.

Meanwhile, Assad has made use of the negotiations that are not negotiations to reestablish his legitimacy with the West. As Caroline Glick wrote,

Since the early 1990s, Syria has recognized that intermittent, fruitless discussions with Israel about the Golan Heights are the best means of maintaining or reestablishing its acceptability in the West. After Assad ordered the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, he immediately turned to Israel to pull his fat from the fire by offering to renew negotiations regarding a surrender of the Golan Heights. Israel held out for two and a half years and during those years, Assad wasted away in international isolation. With even the UN breathing down his neck, Assad and his regime were hanging on for dear life.

But then suddenly, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came to the rescue.

As a result, says Glick, the murder of Hariri and Syria’s attempt to build a clandestine nuclear reactor with the help of North Korea seem to have been forgotten, as Syria signs a billion-dollar contract with the French oil company Total. And now Assad is telling Israel to go to hell.

It’s unclear what Olmert thought would be gained from talking to Syria, but it illustrates a point to which US politicians as well should  pay attention:

Sometimes not talking is a much better strategy than talking.

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