Archive for December, 2008

Obama Mideast policy: an optimistic view

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Yesterday I wrote a very pessimistic piece about the pressure that I expected the Obama administration to put on Israel for an immediate withdrawal from the West Bank. Here’s a much more reassuring view of the same issues.

Let’s hope he’s right and I’m wrong.

Not the Center of the World
by Barry Rubin

Israel isn’t going to be the center of the world for the Obama administration and that’s a good, if ego-disappointing, thing. Both the pro-Israeli right’s paranoia and the wishful thinking of the anti-Israeli left in the United States (and, in the latter category, Europe plus the Middle East as well), are operating out of expectations rather than the actual situation.

What can be safely assumed is something along the following lines:

  • The Obama administration will put the main emphasis on domestic issues rather than foreign policy. It faces humongous problems at home and has gigantic ambitions to change America, for better or worse.

Of course, foreign policy has a way of imposing itself on the White House through crises, though many of these might not come from the Middle East or at least the part where Israel is located. Still, what this means is that presidential prestige won’t be involved at high levels or consistently to wage campaigns unless really deemed unavoidable.

  • The administration’s Middle East priority will be dealing with Iraq. If you want, you can add Afghanistan and possibly Pakistan. The key point, though, is that withdrawing at least American combat troops successfully from Iraq, no matter how many months it takes precisely, must top the list. This will take massive amounts of policymaker time and political capital, both domestic and international.
  • No doubt there will be much apparent activity on peace process stuff including endless delegations, speeches, and other showpieces. Nevertheless, the administration will put little effort behind it. Many academics, journalists, and ideologues haven’t yet gotten the word but the kind of Washington types who will actually make government decisions understand this issue isn’t a panacea for all problems, Middle East or global.
  • They also know there aren’t quick or easy solutions. So while the Obamaists criticized Bush for not doing enough on the issue, deep down they know that not a lot could be done. Policymakers, and especially Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton, aren’t going to waste time on issues that won’t make them look successful.
  • Consequently, there will be no all-out effort to pressure Israel into major concessions because everyone who counts knows these aren’t going to lead anywhere.
  • Rather, the administration will certainly expect Israel to keep things quiet so as not to interfere with its Iraq strategy.
  • Periodically, Hillary will make some demand on Israel regarding minor points in order to make her look good and give the illusion of success and progress. She’ll be angry if she doesn’t get what she wants. But what she will want will be fairly petty stuff.
  • And she isn’t going to make nice with Hamas and Hizballah, whatever the administration does with Iran and Syria.
  • If Bibi Netanyahu is Israel’s next prime minister there’s certainly potential for friction between him and Obama. But if Israel has a national unity government, Bibi continues talks with the PA, seeks to strengthen it against Hamas, and even keeps chatting with Syria–even knowing these negotiations won’t lead anywhere–bilateral relations should be okay.
  • This administration will probably never support an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, but if Israel’s leaders deem such a strike necessary for national survival, they should go ahead anyway and the relationship will weather the crisis.
  • The long-touted idea of creating a U.S. Middle East coordinator has run into trouble because Hillary and others won’t give away turf to someone who reports directly to the president. Such a person wouldn’t influence Afghanistan or Pakistan policy (which might get a separate coordinator) or the withdrawal from Iraq (which will have its own czar as well as being overseen by NSC chief General James Jones), nor in dealing with Iran (which remains with Hillary). It isn’t even clear if that person would get the Syria portfolio. So they’d end up as a sort of equivalent of former British prime minister Tony Blair, running around cajoling people to be friends.
  • The administration will try to engage Syria and Iran but won’t get anything real out of them. Let’s see how long it takes the administration to realize this.
  • Even Arab states have largely stopped their old propaganda line: “Solve the Arab-Israeli conflict and all other problems will disappear. Of course, there’s a wide gap between what’s said in private and in public.

In reality, though, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia are scared of Islamism; Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are afraid of Iran, Shia Muslim power, and Islamism; smaller Gulf states are just interested in making money and living well (not that there’s anything wrong with that); Lebanese are desperately trying to survive an Iran-Syrian onslaught; and Iraqis are trying to end their internal conflict and build a stable government.

That doesn’t mean regional leaders won’t keep using Israel as scapegoat. They’re unable and unwilling to make peace; but they don’t want war either and are more interested in getting U.S. protection from Tehran than a Palestinian state. They’ll simultaneously be pleased if Israel destroyed Iran’s nuclear facilities and denounce Israel for “aggression.” Why not have your baklava and eat it, too?

We’re in a new Middle East, or rather a battle between two new Middle Easts. This isn’t the old Middle East of Arab nationalist regimes striving for regional hegemony and using the Palestinians as a tool in that battle. Nor is it the new Middle East of 1990s’ hopes for peace and democracy.

The choice is between the Iran-Syria model for a region of “resistance” (fighting Israel and America as top priority; installing Islamist regimes) and that of Arab states resisting Islamism and Iranian hegemony.

Anyone unprepared to deal with these realities is incapable of understanding what’s going on now and what will happen in coming years. The Obama administration is wrong in making conciliation with sworn, ideologically sincere enemies its main theme rather than building a united front against radical Islamism and Iranian imperialism. At the same time, though, it doesn’t seem to be intoxicated with the bash-Israel-and-save-the-world fantasy.

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

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Israel’s new reality

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

News item:

The UN Security Council approved a resolution Tuesday stressing that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process initiated by the United States last year is irreversible and urging intensified efforts to achieve peace throughout the Middle East.

The vote was 14-0, with Libya abstaining because the resolution did not condemn Israel’s “siege on the Gaza strip” and intensified settlement activities.

The resolution, co-sponsored by the United States and Russia, backs “the determined efforts” by Israel and the Palestinians to conclude a peace treaty and fulfill the vision that they can live peacefully side by side as independent democratic states.

Translation: the US and the ‘quartet’ will force Israel back to pre-1967 borders, soon.

With the accession of the Obama administration, we can expect that the White House and Defense Department will be on the same page with the State Department about this. Therefore, this will happen. It will happen even if the Likud wins the upcoming elections and forms a right-wing coalition, and even if the handful of American Jews who disagree burn tires in the streets of Brooklyn.

At a minimum it will mean a withdrawal from most of the West Bank, possibly allowing for minor border adjustments to include some major settlements in Israel. It’s not clear when/if the Golan will go back to Syria and it’s not clear what else the ‘peace’ treaty will dictate about refugees, the Temple Mount, etc.

The position of the Right that Israel must retain all of the Land of Israel is moot. It will not happen. The position of the Center (that’s me) that Israel must not withdraw from any territory until there is a Palestinian leadership that actually is prepared to live at peace is moot. There will not be time. The position of the Left that such a withdrawal would be a Good Thing, is … about to be proven wrong.

Tens of thousands of Jewish residents will be relocated, the exact number being dependent on the aforementioned border adjustments, because ‘Palestine’ must be Judenrein (even though Arabs can be full citizens of Israel). If the experience of the 8,000 Jewish residents of Gaza is a guide, this will be at least a disaster  (I don’t know what it will be if there is violent resistance, as did not happen in Gaza).

The puppet Fatah government of the West Bank, even if it is protected by NATO troops will either fall and be replaced by Hamas, or it will be “unable to control” terrorist elements. Israel will therefore be sandwiched between terrorist proxy armies on her northern, southern and eastern borders. The narrow 9-mile wide ‘waist’ of Israel near Kfar Saba, the so-called “Auschwitz borders” will return.

So what must Israel do before this comes to pass? Several things come to mind:

  • The security fence should be completed, and Israel should seek US support for it to mark the eastern border.
  • The IDF should develop strategies for fighting terrorism from the West Bank without the ability to maintain a permanent presence there.
  • The IDF should develop strategies to decisively defeat Hamas and Hezbollah.
  • The state should prepare for an influx of former settlers who must be provided with housing and jobs. Israel should demand sufficient compensation from the Quartet to ensure that what happened to former Gaza residents will not happen again (and their needs must finally be met).
  • The state should expect the demands of the Israeli Arabs for ‘national rights’ to take center stage once the ‘occupation’ can’t be used as the explanation for Arab ‘anger and frustration’.

These are dark times for the Jewish State. In a sense, I agree with the despicable PM Olmert when he says that Israel has to live with a reality that includes giving up the territories.

The difference is that Olmert pretends that Israel has some volition in the matter, and that it is possible to achieve ‘peace’ — whereas I see that Israel has no more choice than Czechoslovakia did in 1938, and must prepare for war.

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No room for Jews

Monday, December 15th, 2008

Ahmed QureiYesterday I wrote that the Palestinians have never negotiated, that they have not reduced their demands since the ‘peace’ process — first Oslo and now Annapolis — began.  Here’s some more evidence:

There will be no room for Jews or settlements in the West Bank because their presence there will always be an obstacle to peace with Israel, Ahmed Qurei, head of the Palestinian Authority negotiating team, said at the weekend…

“Initially, Israel sought to annex 7.3 percent of the West Bank,” he disclosed. “Then it went down to 6.8%. Of course we completely rejected this idea…”

The chief Palestinian negotiator also said Israel agreed to take in 5,000 Palestinian refugees over a five-year period, but this was rejected by the Palestinians…

Qurei said the Palestinians have also rejected the idea of land swap with Israel. How can we give up any part of Jerusalem?” he asked. “For us Jerusalem is not only a spiritual or cultural or historic center, but also the economic center of the future Palestinian state. The settlements surrounding the city will make it hard for millions of Arabs, Muslims and Christians to visit Jerusalem in the future.”

In a few sentences we have the Palestinian position: no compromise on borders, refugees or Jerusalem.

No room for Jews. It has a familiar ring to it.

It’s instructive to ask exactly what justifies Qurei’s stubbornness.

One of the places that the Palestinians do not wish to compromise on is Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, south of Jerusalem. Part of the Palestine Mandate from 1917 to 1948, and the Ottoman empire before that, it was purchased from local Arabs and settled by Yemenite Jews in 1927.  They lived there on and off (they were driven out several times by Arab riots) until 1948 when the invading Jordanian army overran it and executed all but four of its defenders. All of the West Bank and East Jerusalem were made Jew-free by the Jordanians, who illegally occupied the area until 1967, when the kibbutz was reestablished.

So please explain, Mr. Qurei, where the Palestinian claim comes from. And explain why it is that if Kfar Etzion did become part of your state, there would be no room for Jews in it. Will Palestine be a racist apartheid state?

He has an answer for this:

Our experiences have taught us that it’s impossible to coexist with these settlers. We still remember the [Tomb of the Patriarchs] massacre in Hebron in 1994 and the daily attacks carried out by settlers in Hebron, Nablus, Kalkilya and other places.

In other words because a Jew, Baruch Goldstein, acted like an Arab terrorist (after which he and his act were denounced by all but a tiny sliver of Israel’s population), and because some Jewish settlers have become hostile in the face of constant hostility from Arabs — that is, because they have behaved like the imperfect human beings that they are — Jews are not permitted to live in Kfar Etzion?

Does Mr. Qurei have the moral authority to argue that Jews must be expelled (again) from Kfar Etzion because of the settlers’ behavior when his national heroes are murderers like Samir Kuntar and Dalal Mughrabi?

Does he have the moral authority to worry about access to Jerusalem for “Arabs, Muslims and Christians” when Israel has allowed access to the holy places for all faiths, even after Jews were not permitted to set foot in East Jerusalem during the Jordanian occupation?

Does he have any moral authority at all when his PLO has been the world leader in terrorism and murder since the 1960’s?

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Prisoners guilty of attempted murder to be released

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

News item:

( The High Court ruled Sunday that the government is legally allowed to release 230 terrorists on Monday as a “good-will gesture” to the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. The government approved the release last week.

The court rejected an appeal from the Land of Israel Legal Forum, which argued that Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert should not be allowed to release the terrorists as their release is a step with long-term implications. Olmert should not be allowed to make decisions with a long-term impact because he merely a caretaker Prime Minister, Forum attorneys said.

Another group that attempted to prevent the release was the Almagor umbrella group of terror-victim organizations. Almagor Director Meir Indor pointed out that approximately 80 percent of released terrorists have resumed their terror activities…

If Israel is getting anything in return for these ‘gestures’, it isn’t apparent. Almagor (which has the photographs of 179 Israelis murdered since 2000 by released terrorists on its site) says that 143 of the prisoners to be released were arrested for attempted murder and almost all of them were arrested since 2006. This sounds to me like a somewhat high-risk group.

Olmert has released several hundred terrorists and pardoned hundreds more, in an attempt to strengthen PA Chairman Abbas and promote negotiations with the PA….

Abbas says there will be no peace with Israel until all terrorists are released from Israeli prisons, including those guilty of dozens of murders. [my emphasis]

I submit that there have been no negotiations with the Palestinians in a normal sense of  ‘negotiations’ since the ‘process’ began back in the early 1990’s, and so there’s nothing to promote. Real negotiations comprise both sides moving toward each other’s position, step by step. The Hebrew phrase is masa umatan — taking and giving.

The Palestinians have never given anything, ever. Even the promise made in 1993 to change the PLO charter so that it would not call for the violent destruction of Israel was never fulfilled.

Abbas continues to insist on all prisoners being released, on all refugees ‘returning’ to Israel, on every inch of land occupied in 1967 being transferred to the Palestinians. The official Palestinian media continues to incite hatred, despite countless promises to stop. Nothing has changed since the days of Arafat.

Meanwhile, Israel only gives. Land is transferred, prisoners released. Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem is de facto surrendered.

The Palestinians and their friends will tell you that Israel is confiscating land, building ‘new’ settlements, etc. But actually more and more territory is coming under their control; and it’s certain that the Obama administration wants to push this to the limit in 2009.

Caretaker PM Olmert is working harder than he ever did to ‘negotiate’, despite the fact that the majority of Israelis have shown — the Likud is way ahead in pre-election polling — that they do not approve of the direction the government is going. Better he should spend his time planning strategy for the felony trial he will shortly face.

If you were Abbas, would you do anything differently? All he needs to do is wait.

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NATO can’t replace the IDF

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Little by little, it’s becoming clear that the Obama policy toward the territories will be this:

  • Minimize Israel’s footprint in the West Bank, preferably to the pre-1967 border,
  • Establish a Palestinian state, and
  • Police the arrangement — protect Israel from terrorism and the terrorists from Israel — with international troops stationed in the West Bank.

Caroline Glick writes (“Netanyahu’s Grand Coalition“),

People who have been in close contact with Obama’s foreign policy transition team have privately acknowledged that the widespread belief that Obama will move swiftly to put the screws on Israel is fully justified. According to one source who has spent a great deal of time with the transition team since last month’s US elections, Obama’s people are “scope-locked” on Israel.

The source reports that Gen. Jim Jones, Obama’s designated national security adviser, is Israel’s most outspoken critic. The source, who held a two and a half hour meeting with Jones, told his associates that Jones is keen to deploy NATO forces, perhaps including US troops, to Judea and Samaria.

Jones’s plan, which is vociferously opposed by the IDF, would make it impossible for the IDF to carry out counterterror operations in the areas. As a practical matter, the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens who live in the areas would be imperiled. Just as Hizbullah has used UNIFIL forces in south Lebanon as a shield from the IDF behind which it has rearmed and reasserted control over the border zone, so too a NATO force would facilitate an empowerment of Hamas and Fatah, which would unify, arm and organize free from the threat of IDF counterterror operations.

It should be obvious that the plan cannot possibly work. Here are a few of the reasons:

  • The IDF prevents terrorist attacks by intercepting  terrorists before they strike, sometimes as they are on the way to their targets. This is made possible by excellent intelligence gathering by the Shabak (Internal Security Service) in the territories. NATO could not possibly do as well, even if they were as motivated, which they will not be. Will they hire local Palestinians to be interpreters and interrogators?
  • The natural lack of motivation — why should, for example, Polish, Romanian, Lithuanian or Turkish troops (just a few random examples from NATO’s 26 member nations) risk their lives to prevent terrorism against Israel?
  • NATO troops will be at the mercy of suicide terrorists and can be forced to leave at any time. What will happen the first time a truck bomb wipes out a whole platoon of them? What if some of these are Americans?
  • Politically it is impossible to make a Palestinian government out of Fatah, which has no support from Palestinians who are not on its payroll. How long will foreign troops have to stay?

As Glick points out there is real danger that the Fatah and Hamas factions — neither of whom is committed to living at peace alongside Israel, regardless of what Fatah spokesmen say in English — will overcome their differences (at least in a working agreement), which would combine the resources of Fatah (arms and cash provided by the international community) with the fanatical commitment to Israel’s destruction that characterizes Hamas.

All this because the Obama team believes that once the ‘peace’ agreement is made, the Arab and Muslim world will end the conflict with Israel — and will have no further reason to oppose the US, which they supposedly do because we support Israel.

It should be obvious that the opposite will occur. Any border issues will immediately become of greatest importance to the Arabs. Demands for ‘return’ of ‘refugees’ will escalate. We will start hearing even more about the ‘plight’ of the Israeli Arabs, trapped in a Jewish state which  denies their ‘basic political rights’. Israel will be expected to release every last Palestinian prisoner, regardless of his or her crime. Anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement in the Arab and Iranian media will continue, just as it did after the ‘peace’ treaty between Israel and Egypt or the withdrawal from Gaza. Once 1967 has been reversed, the focus will move to 1948.

Israel will make practical sacrifices that will prove deadly for some of her citizens, and peace will be no closer.

And what will the US get from all of this? Iran’s main geopolitical goal — to replace the US as the controlling power in the Mideast — will not go away. Indeed, one of Iran’s stumbling blocks has been US-aligned Israel, and anything that weakens Israel helps Iran.

Terrorists everywhere will be encouraged because it will clear to them that no matter how the US or Israel try to spin the withdrawal from the territories, it was violence and threatened violence that brought it about.

Obama seems to understand the idea that ultimately he is responsible for the outcome of his policies. He is also reportedly a quick study. It is to be hoped that he will come to the understanding that his advisors are leading him down a dangerous path before too much damage is done.

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