Archive for April, 2009

First, recognize the Jewish state

Sunday, April 19th, 2009


I am prepared to negotiate with any side that desires to advance peace between Israel and the Palestinians…Contrary to reports, I don’t condition dialogue with the Palestinians on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Nevertheless, progress in the peace process does depend on the willingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. — Jerusalem Post

It is hard to understand what ‘dialogue’ there could be without such recognition.

When the Arabs refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, they are simply saying “you do not have a right of self-determination here”. They are reaffirming their opinion that Israel does not belong to the Jewish people, it belongs to them. Indeed, they do not think there is a Jewish people, only Jews living in Western Palestine.

This goes far beyond saying that although they rejected the UN partition in 1947 they now agree that the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan should be partitioned between Jewish and Arab states. It says that there should not be any Jewish state.

One often hears that a Palestinian state is a necessary condition for peace. In any event, as the establishment of Palestinian sovereignty in Gaza has shown, it is certainly not a sufficient condition.

A Palestinian state which does not recognize Israel as a Jewish state will be a state at war with Israel. So doesn’t it make sense to deal with recognition first, before creating the state?

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Even ‘moderate’ Palestinians don’t accept Israel

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

Yesterday I mentioned the fact that no Palestinian leadership — not Hamas, not Fatah — was prepared to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. I must have been prescient. Today, the following news item appeared:

The Palestinian Authority [PA] and Hamas rejected over the weekend Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people as a precondition for resuming the stalled peace talks between the two sides…

Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state was “an admission by the Israeli prime minister that he cannot deliver on peace.” Erekat pointed out that the PLO had already recognized Israel’s right to exist when it signed the Oslo Accords, while Netanyahu was refusing to mention a Palestinian state.

Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior Fatah official closely associated with Abbas, said on Saturday that the Palestinians would not return to the negotiating table until Netanyahu publicly accepted the two-state solution.

“We reject Netanyahu’s demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state,” he said. “This demand illustrates the racist nature of Israel and the extremist policies of its government. It also shows that Israel is not serious about making peace with its neighbors…”

Omar al-Ghul, an adviser to PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, said that Netanyahu’s demand was aimed at transferring the Palestinians to another country.

“No Palestinian leader can ever accept this demand even if the whole world recognizes Israel as a Jewish state,” he stressed. “The state of Israel belongs to all its citizens, the Palestinians owners of the land and the Jews living there.”Jerusalem Post [my emphasis]

There you have it, in words that even an idiot can understand. What Salaam Fayad, the moderate of moderates, beloved by the West for his pragmatism and University of Texas Ph.D,  believes is that ‘two-state solution’ means ‘two Palestinian states’. One of them, Palestine, will  be entirely unpolluted by Jews, while the other — temporarily called ‘Israel’ — will be a ‘democratic state of its citizens’, including of course the almost five million hostile Arab claimants of refugee status.

The Palestinians are quite clear that there is something called a ‘Palestinian people’, although they didn’t talk much about it before 1967,  and they believe that there is an inalienable right of self-determination that entitles them to a state. But for some reason, they are unable to accept that there is a Jewish people with a similar right. We can see this by their insistence that a Jewish state is ‘based on religion’, although more than half of Israel’s Jews are secular.

The Palestinians insist that the idea of a Jewish state is a racist concept, although Arabs can live in today’s Jewish state while Jews will be expelled from ‘Palestine’.

Since the Oslo accords, the PA has equivocated and temporized about recognition of Israel. Netanyahu’s demand is, finally, a sign from an Israeli government that it will no longer be possible for the Palestinians to profit from the Arafatian strategy of talking out of both sides of their mouths.

If even ‘moderate’ Palestinians like Salaam Fayad can’t understand this, then a Palestinian state is not in the cards just yet.

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Big obstacles to Palestinian state

Friday, April 17th, 2009

The Obama Administration is pushing hard for a Palestinian state. But as Khaled Abu Toameh explains so well,

If the Obama administration is serious about promoting the two-state solution, it must focus its efforts first and foremost on helping the Palestinians solve the dispute between the Fatah-run state in the West Bank and the Hamas-controlled entity in the Gaza Strip.

The divisions among the Palestinians, as well as failure to establish proper and credible institutions, are the main obstacle to the realization of the two-state solution.

Less than half of the West Bank is controlled by the corruption-riddled Fatah faction, which seems to have lost much of its credibility among the Palestinians, largely because of its failure to reform itself in the aftermath of its defeat to Hamas in the January 2006 parliamentary election.

The Gaza Strip, on the other hand, is entirely controlled by the radical Islamic movement that has, through its extremist ideology, wreaked havoc on the majority of the Palestinians living there.

The Obama administration is mistaken if it thinks the power struggle between these two groups is a fight between good guys and bad guys. This is a confrontation between bad guys and bad guys, since they are not fighting over promoting democracy or boosting the economy, but over money and power.

There is also another problem — which Obama’s envoy George Mitchell seems to be putting aside to solve later, after the establishment of the Palestinian state — that even if a Palestinian government could be put together out of the aforementioned bad guys, it would be unstable and shortly thereafter controlled by Hamas. Such an entity would be born at war with Israel.

Mitchell and others seem to think that US pressure can keep the ‘good guys’ in power — the moderates who are more interested in creating a prosperous Palestinian state than in destroying Israel.

But as Abu Toameh implies, the ‘moderates’ are only moderate in that they put their personal enrichment ahead of killing Jews. So even if they can be kept in power — and the evidence of Gaza shows that they cannot — a functioning state based on primarily on larceny is highly unlikely.

But there’s more: the ‘moderates’ of Fatah — that is, the ones who do not officially call for armed jihad against Israel — even now permit antisemitic incitement in the Palestinian media, and refuse to accept Israel as a Jewish state. And of course Fatah has its own terrorist wing, the al-Aksa Brigades.

I think this is really the most telling point: after all, Mitchell is talking about setting up a Palestinian state which will satisfy the nationalistic aspirations of the Palestinians. As such, why should it care about the self-definition of its neighbor, Israel?

The simple answer is that they think ‘Palestine’ should include all of Israel, “from the river to the sea” as they are fond of saying. But there’s more to it than this.

If this were all, why would they not also claim Jordan? Jordan has a Palestinian majority and was part of historic ‘Palestine’. In 1922, imperialist Britain, the colonial power in control of the area sliced off more than half of ‘Palestine’ and gave it to the Hashemite Abdullah, who became the first king of what was then called Transjordan. No Palestinians were consulted! And in 1948, Jordanian troops marched into the West Bank, into the area set aside by the UN for a Palestinian state, which they then illegally occupied for 19 years. But neither of these injustices generated one-tenth of the outrage reserved for the Jews who bought land or obtained it as the result of a war started and lost by Palestinians and their allies.

Occupation, therefore, is not a problem unless it is Jewish occupation. Indeed, even Jewish presence is a problem, as illustrated by the insistence of ‘moderates’ like Mahmoud Abbas, that all Jewish residents must be removed from the territories that will become the Palestinian state (although he demands that the descendants of Arab refugees who fled the 1948 war be allowed to ‘return’ to Israel).

So even for the moderates the real issue is not that there isn’t a Palestinian state, but that there is a Jewish one.

Nevertheless, most of the world seems to think that the solution is to pressure Israel!

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Radical Islamists unite against conservative regimes

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Most of us have assumed that the most significant split in the Arab-Iranian world was Sunni vs. Shia. But new developments suggest that possibly it also divides along the lines of radical Islamists vs. conservative regimes.

Islamists of the World Unite; You Have Nothing to Lose Except Any Pretext of Being Moderate

By Barry Rubin (GLORIA Center)

It’s a development of tremendous importance and you probably won’t be hearing about it from anywhere but here.

Mahdi Akef, supreme guide of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, has defied his own country’s government to ally himself with Hizballah. What makes this such a remarkable and high-risk step?

  • The Muslim Brotherhood is Sunni Muslim; the Lebanese Hizballah group is Shia. Brotherhood leaders do not view Shia Islamists as brothers and in the past have been alarmed at the rising power of Shia forces in Lebanon and Iraq.
  • Hizballah is a client of Iran’s regime. As a Shia and non-Arab power, Iran is not on the Brotherhood’s Ramadan greeting card list.
  • Egypt’s government has just announced a major Hizballah effort to destabilize the country by staging terrorist attacks there. Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah has openly called for the overthrow of Egypt’s regime. He has now acknowledged connections with the arrested terrorists, though he claims their mission was to help Hamas and attack Israel. The Egyptian government has rejected this justification. As a result, siding with Hizballah risks a government-sponsored wave of suppression against the Brotherhood.
  • This step also makes the Brotherhood look unpatriotic in Arab and Sunni terms to millions of Egyptians by siding with Persian Iranians and Shia Muslims.
  • Akef’s statement tears the chador off the pretension that the Brotherhood has become moderate. Of course, while not engaging in political violence within Egypt, it has long supported terrorism against Israel and the United States (in Iraq). Now, to this is added backing an Iran-Syria takeover of Lebanon and at least the image of accepting armed struggle against the Egyptian government by others.
  • And most importantly of all, Akef has endorsed the strategic line of the Iran-Syria-Hizballah-Hamas axis in open defiance of not only Egypt’s government but of the country’s national interests as well.

What did Akef and his colleagues say that was so significant? The story is told in the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, April 15. Put into a seemingly innocuous framework of supporting the Palestinians, the Brotherhood’s new line ends up in some shocking conclusions.

Akef said that Hamas should be supported, “By any means necessary.” The implication is, since the Brotherhood has always favored abrogation of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty that Egypt should go to war with Israel on behalf of the Palestinians. A Brotherhood government would probably do just that.

Hussein Ibrahim, deputy leader of the Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc, which includes about 20 percent of the legislators, in calling for full Egyptian support of Hamas, stated, “Our enemy and Hizballah’s enemy are the same.” That enemy would seem to be Israel. But is Israel the only such enemy?

Akef took Hizballah’s side against Egypt’s rulers. Since Hizballah leader Nasrallah had denied he was doing anything against Egypt, everyone should take his word for it rather than that of Egyptian President Husni Mubarak.

In a statement to Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Akef said there were two competing camps in the region, respectively waving the banners of “cooperative resistance” and of the “protection of the state’s sovereignty.” Countries like Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are rejecting Iranian influence and Islamist takeovers in the name of their own continued sovereignty.

Yet “resistance” is the basic slogan of the Iranian-led coalition. Akef insisted that he didn’t seek to compromise Egypt’s sovereignty. But asked how he could reconcile these two “axes” and why Egypt should help Hizballah he responded:

“There are two agendas [in the region]…an agenda working to protect and support the resistance against the Zionist enemy, and an agenda that only cares about satisfying the Americans and the Zionists.”

Any Arab listener must take this to mean that there are the properly struggling forces—Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah—and the vile traitors—Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Iraqi government.

Ibrahim made another telling statement in saying that the Muslim Brotherhood “do not see any contradiction in supporting the resistance and protecting the state’s sovereignty. We are in support of the resistance, in Gaza, and Palestine, and Lebanon….”

Why, however, did he include Lebanon? After all, the overwhelming majority of Lebanese Sunnis oppose Hizballah, viewing it as an arm of Syrian-Iranian power. The apparent answer is that Hizballah is fighting Israel and that the Palestinian issue overrides every other consideration.

Yet the Brotherhood is making choices. It certainly doesn’t support the Palestinian Authority, controlled by nationalist forces, but only the Islamist Hamas. And it opposes having an independent Palestinian state created through a peace process with Israel.

Moreover, so what if both Hizballah and the Brotherhood support Hamas? One would expect that the Brotherhood would feel itself engaged in a battle of influence with Hizballah as to who would be Hamas’s patron, and that of a supposed future Islamist Palestine. Could Brotherhood leaders not have noticed that in Lebanon there is no Hamas among Palestinians there because Iran and Hizballah seek to control them directly?

Under cover of supporting “the Palestinians,” then, the Brotherhood’s priority is on backing Islamist revolution in Iraq, Lebanon, among the Palestinians, Egypt, and elsewhere. The Brotherhood doesn’t engage in violence not out of principle but because the Egyptian government is too strong, the Brotherhood is too weak, and it hopes to make gains through elections aided by “useful idiots” in the West.

If it feels the power balance shift in the future, it would have no compunction about launching a revolution. And as it gains in power, the extremism of its program will be more openly exposed.

When Ibrahim says, “Our enemy and Hizballah’s enemy are the same,” it sends two messages to the Egyptian government and those who oppose an Islamist Egypt. First, that enemy includes the Egyptian regime itself. Second, the Brotherhood’s friends and Hizballah’s friends are also the same.

In this analysis, the conclusion is inevitable: who is fighting the hardest and being the most intransigent? The “resistance” led by Iran, which may have nuclear weapons in a year or so.


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, or write to Barry Rubin at

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Roger Cohen gets it backwards again

Monday, April 13th, 2009

The inimitable Roger Cohen is back yet again. This time it’s a plan for “normalizing” relations with Iran:

Iran ceases military support for Hamas and Hezbollah; adopts a “Malaysian” approach to Israel (nonrecognition and noninterference); agrees to work for stability in Iraq and Afghanistan; accepts intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency verification of a limited nuclear program for peaceful ends only; promises to fight Qaeda terrorism; commits to improving its human rights record.

The United States commits itself to the Islamic Republic’s security and endorses its pivotal regional role; accepts Iran’s right to operate a limited enrichment facility with several hundred centrifuges for research purposes; agrees to Iran’s acquiring a new nuclear power reactor from the French; promises to back Iran’s entry into the World Trade Organization; returns seized Iranian assets; lifts all sanctions; and notes past Iranian statements that it will endorse a two-state solution acceptable to the Palestinians.

But the Iranian leadership sees nuclear weapons as a high priority. Resources that could have been used to improve the struggling Iranian economy have been diverted to the nuclear project. Iran continues development in the face of at least somewhat damaging sanctions. And it does so in pursuit of major geopolitical goals — becoming the regional superpower, controlling the Mideast’s oil resources, and exporting its revolutionary brand of Shiite Islamism. So why would it suddenly agree to give all this up in return for a lifting of those same sanctions and some minor economic carrots?

Keep in mind that Iran has been offered Western help in building power-generating reactors that would not be capable of creating weapons-grade uranium or plutonium. Iranian leaders have not been interested.

“Work for stability in Iraq?” Iran wants to leverage Iraq’s Shiite majority to gain influence — more correctly, control — over Iraq when the US leaves, thus converting a traditional enemy into an ally or a satellite. What else would — or could — it do?

But notice the centrality of Israel, a tiny country separated from Iran by several countries and more than 500 miles. Why would a deal between the US and Iran have so much to do with Israel and the Palestinians? Only Cohen knows.

Cohen is afraid that his peaceful scenario will be interrupted by an Israeli attack:

Any such deal is a game changer, transformative as Nixon to China (another repressive state with a poor human rights record). It can be derailed any time by an attack from Israel, which has made clear it won’t accept virtual nuclear power status for Iran, despite its own nonvirtual nuclear warheads.

“Israel would be utterly crazy to attack Iran,” [International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed] ElBaradei said. “I worry about it. If you bomb, you will turn the region into a ball of fire and put Iran on a crash course for nuclear weapons with the support of the whole Muslim world.”

Cohen obviously thinks that Israel is utterly crazy. And it would be crazy to attack Iran and face the certain retaliation via Syria and Hezbollah, the attacks on Jewish targets all over the world, the possible repercussions of Iranian actions to cut the West’s oil supply — unless there were absolutely no alternative. Unless the choices were simply ‘strike first or be destroyed’.

One of the considerations most important to Israeli military planners is the price Israel would pay for bombing Iran, a price possibly measured in thousands of civilian deaths. The only way that this would make horrible sense would be if it avoided the hundreds of thousands of deaths that might result from an Iranian nuclear attack.

But Cohen apparently doesn’t understand this; he thinks that Israel is chomping at the bit to attack Iran because it “won’t accept virtual nuclear power status” for it.

And this is unsurprising, because Cohen’s ideas of Israeli motivations are obscene. Here’s an example from an op-ed published a month ago (and ignore the transparent device of ‘one view’; it’s the only view he presents, in an article which calls for diplomatic contact between the US and Hezbollah and the integration of Hamas into the Palestinian Authority):

One view of Israel’s continued expansion of settlements, Gaza blockade, West Bank walling-in and wanton recourse to high-tech force would be that it’s designed precisely to bludgeon, undermine and humiliate the Palestinian people until their dreams of statehood and dignity evaporate.

Cohen, an advocate of the “everything is Israel’s fault” school, presumes that the main obstacle to good relations between Iran and the US — never mind the issue of who will be the predominant power in the Mideast — is crazy, evil Israel. He writes,

To avoid that nightmare [of an Israeli attack and Iranian reaction] Obama will have to get tougher with Israel than any U.S. president in recent years. It’s time.

Of course, this is backwards. The danger comes from the aggression and threats of Iran to destroy Israel, the effort to force her further and further into a corner from which she will have no recourse but to defend herself. The way to defuse the crisis is not to try to prevent Israel from mounting a last-ditch effort of self-defense — something which is impossible anyway — and to get tough, rather, with Iran.

Update [1931 PDT]: Here’s Elder of Ziyon’s take on Roger Cohen’s foolishness.

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