Wednesday, March 20, 2013
By Barry RubinHere’s what Slate has to say about me:“The anti-Obama peace-process skeptics can’t help but gloat. As Barry Rubin, a conservative, pro-Israel American pundit put it on his Facebook page: “I think we have just won a huge victory … Obama has admitted defeat on trying to bully, manipulate, or pressure Israel.'”This is a very revealing sentence in several respects:–First of all, the article was not on my Facebook page. On my Facebook page was a link to my article in PJMedia. Zacharia is not a friend on my Facebook page so she could not have seen the material quoted there. Consequently, she wrote it that way to avoid having to admit the existence of PJ Media and linking to that publication. By saying something was on my Facebook page–rather than on one of the biggest news/analysis sites on the Internet–I am to be made to sound like a basement-dwelling blogger.–As I have said repeatedly and everyone knows me knows, I am not a “conservative.” I have repeatedly said that I am a traditional liberal and explain this in detail in many articles. The point here is to deny that anyone except conservatives can criticize Obama. This is to signal Slate readers that they should ignore what I say. It is ironic since one of my main points is the hijacking of liberalism by the left which then redefines liberalism in its own image. By the way, one reason it is necessary to appear in conservative publications is because the mass media has closed out–except in very limited ways–dissenting opinions about the Middle East.–The word “gloat” is intended to make the “liberal” readers of Slate angry and ignore what I said. Gloating is a nasty behavior, bragging, taking pleasure in others failures, etc. Change the words to read: gloating about the poor state of the U.S. economy, gloating about the mess in Egypt. The use of the word gloating cancels out the fact that someone was correct and that the writer was wrong. An attempt to understand an important issue has been turned into a ping-pong game.–The word “American.” Yes, I’m proud to be an America and to think the United States is a great and wonderful country, unlike many (most?) of those on the left. But I write largely from an Israeli perspective. By leaving that out the author then is saying: Not a perspective from Israel but just another domestic opponent of the president. Maybe she’s a bit sensitive because she’s in California, thousands of miles away from the scene and I am actually here. From what she writes I might as well be in California, too, getting my information from the New York Times or Los Angeles Times and not an hour away by car from the Gaza Strip (five minutes away by rocket, see below).–By not mentioning my being Israeli, who is the “we” who has won a vicrtory. I meant the “we” as Israeli interests. But by the way she wrote it (Zacharia teaches communications, remember) it would appear that the “we” are American conservative opponents of Obama! So suppose you like Israel but also like Obama. That turns this from something you would regard as a good thing–good for Israel–into a bad thing–some nasty, smirking person attacking your political leader.
–By not mentioning my being Israeli, who is the “we” who has won a victory. I meant the “we” as Israeli interests. But by the way she wrote it (Zacharia teaches communications, remember) it would appear that the “we” are American conservative opponents of Obama! So suppose you like Israel but also like Obama. That turns this from something you would regard as a good thing–good for Israel–into a bad thing–some nasty, smirking person attacking your political leader.–And, of course, all the reasons I give for my analysis are left out. The statement must be made to seem like an argument of a bitter critic, not an analysis based on facts and long study.–As for Zacharia, here’s what I wrote about her here six months ago:“The elite currently in power in the Western mass media will never comprehend the Middle East. There is a problem with bias, for sure, but the big issue is the impenetrable ignorance of the very people entrusted with explaining the region to others. They insist on imposing their own misconceptions on the situation while ignoring the evidence.”Yep, same thing as now.“Consider Janine Zacharia. What a distinguished resume: Jerusalem bureau chief and Middle East correspondent for the Washington Post (2009-2011), chief diplomatic correspondent for Bloomberg News (2005-2009), and before that five years working for the Jerusalem Post in Washington, D.C., and another five years working for Reuters and other publications from Jerusalem. Right now she’s a visiting lecturer at Stanford University in communications.“Surely, such a person must understand the region’s issues, and if anyone isn’t going to have an anti-Israel bias in the mass media it would be her. And she isn’t anti-Israel in a conscious, political sense. Indeed, she obviously views herself as sympathetic. Rather, her assumptions make her type of views inevitably anti-Israel and, more broadly, inevitably destructive of U.S. interests on other issues.”I think I tried to characterize her fairly rather than using a stereotype. But here’s the best part:”Here’s her article in Slate. The title is “Why Israel’s Gaza Campaign is Doomed.” Not why this response is the best of a set of difficult options; not why the world should support Israel; not why Hamas should be removed from power with international support but why Israel is wrong and stupid to fight. “Doomed” is a strong word.”You see! Again, no sense of context or what’s really going on, just two teams playing a game and she knows which team she is on.“The subhead — adapted from Zacharia’s text — is “Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to bomb Hamas militants will leave Israel more isolated, insecure, and alone.” Not the decision of Israel’s unanimous leadership including first and foremost its military and defense experts but that of a prime minister who now plays a role for the American media most closely approximated to that held by former President George W. Bush.”Now think about it. Six months ago she wrote an article saying that Israel was being defeated and was badly isolated. I wrote the opposite. I was right. Obama is in Israel saying nice things and not pressuring Israel. Nobody is pressuring Israel. And Israel isn’t insecure, or at least to the extent that is true it is largely due to White House policies.
Oh, and this is rich. She concludes that the American media hate Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as much as Bush. True, but that’s through the work of people like her.So I was right; Zacharia and Obama were wrong (you can see all the quotes about how he was going to solve the conflict) but this point must either be concealed from the American readers or explained away so as to make them more firmly believe all the wrong ideas they have believed up to now.
It’s a great teachable moment but another example about how the left-wing media refuses to teach.
Posted: 19 Mar 2013 02:12 AM PDT
By Barry Rubin
President Obama: I’m sure that in the next few hours, as you visit Israel, you will say many nice things, that you will receive a warm welcome, and that everyone you meet will speak of you as a wonderful president and a great friend. That’s fine.
But here’s what you need to know, what’s of the greatest importance that nobody is going to say to your face….
One Middle Eastern saying that has become widely known in the West is that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. In the Obama era, this has been transmuted into: The enemy of my friend is my friend. No, wait! U.S. policy has gone even further than that to: The enemy of myself is my friend!
Here’s a perfect example for understanding that point.
“An Egyptian woman, her name’s Samira Ibrahim and she’s done a lot of courageous things. She’s also been criticized for sending tweets that are antisemitic, anti-American. Does the U.S. need to accept that when we want to make change you have to support people who do those things, financially and in terms of awards…because it pays off in the end, because it’s a trade-off we have to make?”
This is what Erin Burnett of CNN asked former First Lady Barbara Bush in a recent interview.
This Samira Ibrahim case became controversial after it was discovered that she had tweeted joy about successful terrorist killings of Americans and Israelis plus even quoting Adolf Hitler on evil Jewish conspiracies. So should she get an award from the U.S. State Department? Should the U.S. government give money and First Lady Michelle Obama personally honor someone who quotes Hitler on the Jews, supports terrorist attacks on civilians, and endorses the September 11 attack? Wow.
And yet in her question, Burnett was perfectly summarizing Obama Administration Middle East policy.
Current U.S. strategy is to support anti-American, antisemitic radicals, even with arms and money, believing that “it pays off in the end.”
The nonsense here should be obvious: Why help put into power and then favor people who hate you, lie about you, and want to destroy you? What is the pay-off? That if you help your ideologically motivated enemies become the rulers they will then like you? That being in power will make them moderates, an idea that notably failed in the Israel-Palestinian “peace process” and on many other occasions?
More accurately the equation can be expressed in this manner:
Today you give them guns; tomorrow they use those weapons to murder the U.S. ambassador when he tries to get them back.
But Burnett accurately reflects U.S. policy: you must put people who hate you into power and even flatter them and give them money. Burnett’s phrasing even implies that the United States is the one doing the overthrowing, “When we want to make a change….”
In February 2011, the New York Times described a secret White House study of the previous year planning for how “the administration could push for political change in countries with autocratic rulers who are also valuable allies of the United States….”
The goal, as the Washington Post described it about the same time, was to create “an alternative to `the Al- Qaeda narrative’ of Western interference.” And how would that be done? By helping Islamists into power, thus showing the United States was not anti-Islamist or, by questionable extension of that concept, not anti-Muslim!
No, you don’t have to do that. Change at any cost is not a necessity and what needs to be done is to help your friends, not your enemies. Is that clear?
Here is Israel’s true problem with the Obama Administration and the president personally. It is not so much about the long-dead “peace process” which the White House won’t acknowledge—even to itself—was killed by Palestinian intransigence or about bilateral U.S.-Israel relations. No, it is mainly about a U.S. policy of helping radical Islamists who are antisemites and openly call for wiping Israel off the map to get into power.
Consider how bizarre this is. The U.S. government help install—or at least not try to stop—the takeover of key strategic countries by its own enemies and those eager to attack its ally, Israel. The likely outcome is to condemn the region to far more terrorism, oppression, ethnic massacres, war, and dictatorship. It is like backing “moderate” Communists during the Cold War.
Having Islamists ruling Egypt, soon Syria, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, and (Obama’s role model) Turkey is a major threat to Israeli security. Aside from what such governments do directly, they either help—or turn a blind eye—to even more violent Salafist groups. For example, this has brought cross-border attacks from Egyptian territory, rocket firings from Gaza, and the violent aspects of the Gaza flotilla engineered by Turkey’s government through the IHH group.
Is empowering those who want to commit genocide on the Jews and destroy Israel, in Burnett’s words, “a trade-off we have to make” because “”it pays off in the end”? There’s a precedent. In 1939, British Colonial Department secretary Malcolm MacDonald explained appeasement in these words: “There are times when the most ethical consideration must give way to…necessity.”
Yet for the Obama Administration this is a policy of choice, not necessity, and it does not benefit U.S. interests.
As for claims that “moderate Islamists”—like Hamas and the Brotherhood–restrain extremists, this is an old disastrous idea. Consider, for example, the August 8, 1932, Glasgow Herald:
“Murder, arson, and outrage continue to shatter the internal peace of Germany….Herr Hitler and his more moderate colleagues…are said to deplore the terrorist tactics of some sections of their followers.”
The September 17, 1935, New York Times, while acknowledging that hatred of Jews was central to Hitler’s ideology, suggested antisemitic laws in Nazi Germany were a sop thrown to “the Radical wing of the [Nazi] party.”
That’s how the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists work together playing radical and moderate Islamists or–with Hamas and Hizballah–“political wing” and “military wing.” True, the latter are more eager to use violence and have less patience with political process, putting ideological mouthing-off over clever maneuvering. But both groups have the same goals and often cooperate in achieving them. In Egypt, they came together to attack the U.S. embassy, to strike against Christian churches, and to install a militant version of Sharia law.
Certainly, the United States does not control everything that happens in these countries. Yet inasmuch as it does have money and influence, that power has been used to help the Islamists and not the moderates. For example, the Obama Administration has backed Brotherhood leadership of the Syrian opposition and supports giving weapons to both the Brotherhood and Salafists, with no preference given to non-Islamists at all.
Real moderates in Iran, Turkey, and the Arabic-speaking world firmly believe U.S. policy is backing their enemies. Indeed, it was real moderates in Egypt who exposed the fact that Samira Ibrahim is an extremist!
Empowering anti-American and antisemitic Islamism in the guise of “moderate Islamism” is the most dangerous thing U.S. policy could do in the Middle East or in the world generally. The price in blood will be paid for decades to come. I’d end this article by asking Obama to stop doing this but why bother because we all know that he won’t do so.
Posted: 18 Mar 2013 02:27 AM PDT
By Barry Rubin
On the issues about which the world is obsessed, Israel’s new government is basically a continuation of the old one. That is the key point to keep in mind regarding the new coalition which has a comfortable 68-seat majority, well over the 61 minimum parliamentarians required.
Basically, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in a strong position as these things go. It is notable that there is not a single other person seriously considered to be a serious candidate for prime minister. Of course, he will have the usual headaches of managing a disparate coalition in which parties will quarrel, threaten to walk out, and make special demands.
The coalition consists of Netanyahu’s Likud; Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, which might be called traditionally liberal in American terms; Naftali Bennett’s right-wing and dati religious (Modern Orthodox, in American terms, Habayit Hayahudi; Tsipi Livni’s rather shapeless Hatnuah party; and Shaul Mufaz’s tiny Kadima party. A key element of this coalition is the alliance of Bennett and Lapid in opposition to the Haredi (mistakenly called “ultra-Orthodox” in the West) religious parties.
Of the three key ministries, Netanyahu will be foreign minister, holding that post “in trust” for indicted former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose old party ran on a joint list with the Likud. In practice, this means Netanyahu will have close control over implementing his policies internationally. The defense minister is the very able Moshe Yaalon, a Likud member and former head of military intelligence.
Lapid will run the Finance Ministry, dealing with issues on which he has no experience at all. This is not so unusual in parliamentary systems, where senior civil servants actually run the ministries. But Lapid holds this post because his signature issues are to urge reforms in the economy. His party will also get education, social services, health, and science and technology.
Here is something of a paradox. Israel has been one of the most successful countries in the developed world because it has refused to join the high-spending, high-debt, subsidy-oriented policies of Europe and now the United States. Unemployment and inflation has been low; growth has been relatively high. The problem, though, is that prices are also relatively high compared to incomes, causing problems especially for young people and consumers generally.
Lapid is expected to revise the management of the golden eggs without doing harm to the goose that laid them. Arguably, the number-one issue for this government is whether Lapid can perform well. His father, a popular journalist, followed the precise same course as the son a few years ago and failed completely. The junior Lapid has no actual political experience and does have characteristics of Tel Aviv beautiful people society. If he falters, his party will disintegrate in the next election.
As for Bennett, the amusing spin on much coverage is that his party has succeeded, that settlers even dominate the government, because he will have a couple of minor ministries which don’t have much power. Actually, he got less than I would have expected. While the settlements might benefit a little economically from these positions–and from the party’s holding the chairmanship over the Knesset finance committee–they will not have much authority and control little money directly.
If there is a big winner in the new government it is Lapid’s reformist liberals (in the old American sense, not the redefinition imposed on that word by the American far left). They are going to have a chance to show if they can improve social services, a fairer distribution of resources (the issue isn’t so much between rich and poor but across different sectors), and an economy that retains its growth while managing the problem of high prices, among other things.
Meanwhile, although the world is obsessed with non-existent issues regarding the long-dead “peace process” or fantasy options for Israel to make friends with neighboring Islamist regimes by giving even more concessions, Israel strategically is focused on defense.
Four of the six bordering entities—Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, and soon Syria—are ruled by radical Islamist groups that openly declare their goal of wiping Israel off the map. And that list doesn’t even include extremely hostile Iran (whose drive toward nuclear weapons cannot be forgotten for a moment) and the virulently anti-Israel regime in Turkey.
The fifth neighbor, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is totally uninterested in negotiating toward peace. Its strategy revolves around trying to establish unilateral independence based on the UN General Assembly, which lightly bestowed on it the status of non-member state. Only Jordan, among the neighbors, can be deemed to be friendly when it counts, given the monarchy’s own interests.
This looks like a rather grim strategic situation and it is one generally disregarded by the West. Yet Israel has maneuvering room:
–Prospects for a third intifada (guerrilla-terrorist war) in the PA has dissipated for the moment.
–A quarrel between Hamas and the Cairo regime, which rules the Gaza Strip and has played too many games allowing revolutionary Islamists to attack Egypt in the Sinai, has cut off arms and reduced political support for Hamas.
–In Lebanon, Hizballah has to cope with the loss of its patron, Syria.
–And the PA’s diplomatic strategy is fruitless, incapable of bringing about change.
–Finally, the Sunni-Shia clash among contending Islamists and the consolidation of power by Islamist regimes at home are also factors making Israel’s situation easier.
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The glib idea that the situation is “unsustainable” is no truer than it has been for most of the past 65 years. Aside from the momentous decision on whether to attack Iranian nuclear facilities—something that won’t be a serious prospect in the next year—the Netanyahu government doesn’t have many big decisions on foreign policy.
And if Bennett’s presence protects the Israel settlements on the West Bank, the absence of any serious “peace process” means that this will be an easy task, except for some potentially nasty skirmishes over funding. So desperate is the effort to portray Bennett as the winner that even the coalition agreement’s not talking about the peace process is claimed as evidence. Obviously, if anything had actually been written to limit Netanyahu’s autonomy on the issue, one could make the case far better. Bennett’s failure to get assurances on that point is hardly a sign of victory for him. Quite the opposite.
As this analysis indicates, the main battles will be over budget, economic, and social issues. In particular, Bennett and Lapid are committed to reduce Haredi benefits. Note that this isn’t an “anti-religious” issue because Bennett’s party is largely religious. While the most visible issue is army service, Haredi housing and child benefits might be more likely areas for change.
Indeed, perhaps the most interesting cabinet appointment is that of Rabbi Shay Piron, from Lapid’s party, as education minister. In the past, such a selection would have caused a firestorm of protest among secular Israelis. But Piron is a liberal rabbi and will likely spend more time trying to modernize religious education than to affect the secular aspects of teaching.
The problem of this government is more likely to be one of personalities, marginal issues that get blown up in importance, and jockeying for financial benefits for different constituencies. There will be a lot of fireworks but far fewer explosions. And if any coalition party wants to test Netanyahu’s power at the polls before the government’s four-year-long term ends, they know that he will win the prime ministership again.
Posted: 17 Mar 2013 10:21 AM PDT
By Barry Rubin
To put it plainly, the press briefing supposed to indicate how President Barack Obama’s thinks about Israel on the eve of his trip here, is a combination of fantasy and insult. It is likely that the Obama Administration made such statements for show, to persuade the Arabic-speaking world on the even of Obama’s trip that the United States is striving for peace, is not acting like a puppet (or should one say, ally? of Israel) and using its influence to change Israeli policy even as it does nothing of the sort.
As proof that Obama isn’t going to do anything, he reportedly told Arab-American leaders before his trip that he wouldn’t make some peace initiative because the government in Israel is not ready to make concessions and so there is no point in bringing pressure to bear at this time. I see that as a mixed statement. On one hand, he isn’t going to pressure Israel because he knows that to be a waste of time. That’s good.
Yet the premises on which this argument–as repeated in the public briefing of the media–is based can also be described as believing that what the Arab public really wants is progress toward peace with Israel and that the United States sees the ball as being in Israel’s–not the Arabs–court.
The other premise is a strange hint that Washington has suddenly realized what Israel has understood since the beginning–that the “Arab Spring” isn’t going well. Now it feels the need to explain to Israeli leaders what they have long known, and give bad advice on what to do about it.
To show how mainstream Israelis who follow these issues closely see these themes, let’s quote how the Ynet reporter who covered the briefing–the respected and nonpartisan Yitzhak Benhorin–summarized what Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said. Here’s his lead:
“U.S. President Barack Obama will not be bringing a peace plan to Israel, but he will try to convince Prime Minister Benjamin and the Israeli public that after the Arab Spring, Israel cannot depend on autocrats holding everything together in the region..”
Here’s a president arriving at a moment when Israelis think the region is falling apart, with old autocrats being replaced by new ones and a more hostile environment, and the message is: You shouldn’t be complacent that everything is great?
Where does this come from? It is the American conception that the “Arab Spring” is a great thing, that old autocrats are falling and will be replaced by more democratic and moderate regimes. That is American; not Israeli thinking.
If that theme is based on fantasy, the second theme is insulting. Here is the second paragraph of Benhorin’s analysis:
“The U.S. believes that Israel must show it is serious about its peace efforts. It must convince the general Arab public, if nothing more than to maintain Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt.”
These are Benhorin’s words, not Rhodes’ exact formulations. But I think Benhorin reads the message properly.
Let’s begin by discussing the idea that Israel must persuade the Arab public:
–The question should be posed as this: When will the Arab public, or Arab governments, show Israel they are serious about peace? In 2009 when Obama sought such assurances and demonstrations he was turned down flat. We know it and he should know it.
–How long a list do you want of the times Israel has shown the Arab public that it wants peace seriously?
–Do you think the Arab public cares or is going to be persuaded by any such behavior?
–Hundreds of Israelis died in the 1993-2000 period in the effort to show the Arab public Israel was serious about peace.
The idea that Israel needs to persuade its neighbors to accept its existence is a line we have heard almost daily since the 1980s or even 1970s. Yet curiously the Arab street pays no attention to the scores of such Israeli gestures and the West soon forgets each one. And indeed Obama has forgotten those that took place during his first term, for example the nine-month-long settlement construction freeze, just as before that were forgotten the Oslo agreement, Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the 2000 Camp David offer (including the offer to redivide Jerusalem!) and many more. [See Footnote, below]
Guess what? If today Israel were to make a huge new concession, six months from now that would be forgotten in the West, which would also forget that there was no considerable Arab response. Israelis know this and so saying this kind of thing about Israel proving its decent intentions can only fall with a cynical thud. Such statements remind Israelis why they are NOT rushing to make new concessions or take new risks.
Note, too, that Western and European promises to give Israel a big reward if Israel takes a big risk or makes a big concession and the Arab side doesn’t respond have also been repeatedly broken.
What Obama is in effect saying is “Mr. Netanyahu, tear down that [security, counterterrorist] wall.” When he should be saying to the other side: “Mr. Abbas, Mursi, et. al., tear down that wall of hatred against Israel!”
Of course, he won’t do so because that would make the Arab leaders and publics mad, not because they want Israel to move faster on peace or seek a better deal but because they don’t want peace at all. And the Islamists coming into power have no intention of tearing down the wall. In fact, they are building it higher than ever. And there’s nothing–absolutely nothing–Israel can do to change the course of events in that respect.
Moreover, in a context where the same point is not made loudly, clearly, and publicly to the Palestinian Authority, the idea that the burden is on Israel to prove its peace credentials is a veiled way of Obama saying–and signaling to his supporters–that Israel is responsible for the failure to achieve peace.
The very fact that Obama’s visit is not about seeking to impose peace or even to press the issue. But why? The Obama Administration isn’t being honest about this. The reason is that the White House knows that such an effort will go nowhere. And it also not because of Netanyahu. After all, how well did six predecessors do in solving this problem? Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and Tsipi Livni. Even if one can claim they all tried harder than Netanyahu why did they all fail?
While the ideas on the “peace process” show the problem with U.S. thinking on that issue, the idea on the direction being taken by the region shows the wider miasma of fantasy that surrounds U.S. policy.
This idea that Israel cannot depend on autocracies to maintain the status quo parallels Obama’s view for U.S. policy: that to protect the region’s stability, the United States must show its desire for good relations and the fulfillment of Arab and Muslim dreams by helping force out pro-American authoritarian regimes and to substitute for them (anti-American) Islamist authoritarian regimes.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is not 1980. Does Israel not understand that the region is already overwhelmingly ruled by autocracies hostile to itself? Here is the list: Egypt, Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran, in particular. And one can add Tunisia and Turkey were elections do mean something.
What does Obama intend to convey by this idea? It seems as if he is saying: You better act now while the relatively friendly dictator Bashar al-Assad is running Syria before the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists take power! But that is absurd. How about: You better act now before we pass the window of opportunity of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood regime being eager for comprehensive peace with Israel? You better act fast before Hamas (which rules the Gaza Strip) and Hizballah (which rules Lebanon) change to a more hostile attitude?
What better time to make risky concessions than when the security situation is deteriorating and the new rulers of your neighbors are baying for your blood?
At any rate, the old autocrats are already gone for all practical purposes. The U.S. idea is an outdated one: Don’t depend on being nice to Mubarak because one day he could be overthrown and there will come a pharoah who knows not Joseph. Thanks, but that’s already happened and you helped bring about that problem.
Thus, Israel must prove that it is a nice guy to…the Muslim Brotherhood? The nonsense involved is clear when the concept is stated plainly.
In Jewish history this concept translates, for example, into saying that the Jews shouldn’t put all their eggs in the basket of the Weimar Republic because it had just been overthrown by the Nazis, so the Jews had to prove to them that they wanted good relations. (I apologize for the over-used Nazi reference but it is appropriate to explain the situation.)
The problem is that the United States is under the illusion that even the United States can make friends with Islamist regimes. How all-the-more ridiculous is it to claim that Israel can do so by concessions or gestures? How can anyone with a straight face suggest that if Israel shows progress on negotiations with the Palestinians that regimes which have sworn to wipe it off the map will change their minds?
Rhodes added that in particular progress on the peace process required that Israel show Egypt it should keep the peace treaty by making concessions to the Palestinians. Perhaps Egypt should keep the treaty because it is an international agreement it is required to keep. Or that it is in Egypt’s interests because Israel and the United States would make Cairo sorry if it abandoned the treaty completely. Notice that only concessions–not toughness, deterrence, or credibility–are a tool to keep treaties.
In these circumstances, a phrase often comes to my mind: Just because you are stupid, why should I kill myself?
Yes, it is intemperate of me to call these people stupid but they leave me no choice. Who does the Egyptian government support among the Palestinians? Hamas, despite their recent bickering. So how would progress on negotiations with the Palestinian Authority soften Egypt’s attitude? Is President Mursi going to say: Wow, that treaty with Israel is worthwhile because there is hope of a deal with the Palestinians that will ensure a non-Islamist government in Palestine and help to guarantee the existence of a Zionist state in the region? Yay!
No. He would say that such progress would indicate a betrayal by the PA and make it harder for the Islamist cause to flourish. Hence, any such deal must be stopped. Mr. Rhodes, let me explain. It was Mubarak who perhaps benefited from an advancing peace process; Mursi hates the idea.
“I think there’s an opportunity, frankly, for there to be a deeper source of support for peace broadly across the region if there can be progress.”
I will give Rhodes the benefit of the doubt by suggesting that he does not believe one word of that sentence.
Again, Obama’s trip is not about this issue. Yet by keeping the mythology alive about the state of the conflict the Obama Administration does another disservice to Israeli interests and American understanding of the region.
Oh, and let’s not forget something else.
Rhodes didn’t say that the PA, whose leaders Obama will also meet, must show Israel that it’s serious about peace. Supposedly, making peace is a one-way street in which the burden is always on Israel. Yet Israel’s behavior is not due to stubbornness, paranoia, or ideology.
It is based on experience.
Footnotes: Of course I am aware that there have been circumstances in which specific Arab factors were responsive to Israeli concessions. To act Arab leaders–autocrats or otherwise–must believe they can get away with defying Islamists, who will declare anyone wanting to make peace with Israel as enemies of Allah. That was most obviously true of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Mursi’s ideological compatriots killed Sadat. That graphically sums up who is on which side and why Rhodes’, and hence the Obama Administration’s, formulations are absurd.