Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

USA: Lay off the president, man!

September 28, 2010

Coming from me, a defense of Barack Obama may surprise my readers.  That’s because they may not have read the fine print!  Some of his policies I haven’t exactly agreed with (principally, the expensive health care reform, which at a time of rapidly rising sovereign debt, was imprudent).  I reluctantly supported Obama for president in 2008 because he was the better of the two candidates.  Reluctant because we could have chosen a more experienced hand (read here), especially on economic policy. 

Nevertheless, the president has done an exceptional job in tough times.  He has been lucky both before and after the election, but, judging by the recent grilling from his erstwhile supporters, his luck may be running out. They even talk about Obama losing his mojo.  You can criticize Obama and the Democrats, for sure, but what is the alternative?  The only thing innovative in the Republican Party these days is the Tea Party, and I for one don’t want to be dumbed down by the likes of Sarah Palin and the former witch from Delaware (Christine O’Donnell). As for the more “mainstream” Republicans such as future Speaker Boehner, is the answer really more tax cuts at a time of skyrocketing government debt?

What really gets me about this country is the electorate’s emotional bipolarity.  First Obama is viewed as nearly Jesus Christ, now he’s a bum.  C’mon people!  C’mon Velma Hart!

I cringe at charisma.  The Obama-euphoria of the campaign trail scared me, as many of his supporters failed to think critically about the choice.  Instead they anointed a messianic figure and expected him to deliver paradise.  Obama fanned the flames of euphoria then and is now getting burned.  Today, even though the administration managed to sidestep a 1930s-style economic meltdown by rescuing the banks and providing a huge Keynesian stimulus, we hear from Velma and Company that they’re upset they don’t “feel it yet.”  Jon Stewart is “saddened.”  As I have said before, Americans are spoiled. Unlike citizens in emerging markets, accustomed to crisis, accustomed to lines outside of banks, Americans want it all.  Now they are mad at Obama for only achieving what is humanly possible. He has delivered far more than Bill Clinton did by this time in his administration, and is even delivering on the liberal agenda – for example, by appointing two very young, very liberal female lawyers to the Supreme Court.

Now he is branded as anti-business.  There were a pair of articles in The Economist on this (see below).  I noted in my blog during the 2008 election that it did not make sense to elect a man with no economic policy experience to pilot us through the economic storm, who, as a young man, quit a job as an economic analyst because he didn’t want to become a tool of corporate exploitation.  Two years later, people have noticed that his passion is not for business.  Well, lay off him now.  His policies are not particularly anti-business – this government has spent more bailing out corporations than any previous one.  Furthermore, he is in good company taking on corporate abuse.  Anyone remember Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting?  Finally, if we continue to harp on this anti-business thing, it will become self-fulfilling.  The Obama administration’s credibility growing the economy could be irreparably damaged, which will hurt us all.

It is human to fight the last war.  So, to avert a depression, the Obama administration took actions that were not taken in the thirties.  Yet our undoing will be something unforeseen, and in my view, this is likely to come on the fiscal side.  Government debt is around 90% of GDP and deficits are in the double digits.  With economic growth likely to remain sluggish (economists have declared a “new normal”), it is not far-fetched for the United States to be in a Greek-style sovereign default over the medium term if a road map to solvency is not charted soon.  There are as yet few signs of determination in this administration to deal with this problem (they appointed a panel), not least because of the recent turnover in the economic team.

What I don’t like about Obama is the spin.  Spin is less than truthful.  I know all politicians do it, especially the successful ones. But, Barack Obama ran as a change agent, a post-partisan, and he has been, is, and will probably always be an aggressive left-of-center partisan.  Centrists, such as Evan Bayh, Joe Lieberman, Norm Coleman, Ben Nelson, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, need not apply.  He admires Ronald Reagan and is his heir in terms of image-making.  Now he is going around the country discussing his Christian faith.  Good timing.  The other side does it too.  It is demoralizing for a centrist like me to hear John Boehner savage Obama’s economic policy record and Obama call Boehner’s Pledge to America irresponsible.  Where lies the truth?  Same thing happened on health care.  The problem is, partisanship wins elections. 

On foreign policy, Obama savaged Bush for adventurism and questionable methods in war.  Yet in office, he has ramped up the use of targeted assassinations, sometimes resulting in the deaths of innocents.  The end justifies the means, the saying goes.  As a candidate, he lashed out at David Petraeus for the “surge” in Iraq; now he has hired him to salvage his Afghan policy.  Yet Obama supporters don’t bat an eye, as they swing from indicting Bush for torture to arguing for the necessity of targeted assassinations.

I would like to see a stronger Republican Party.  The country would benefit from an energetic opposition.  Yet, by shifting toward the loony right, Republicans are squandering the opportunity to harness the country’s frustration.  This could work out in the end for Barack Obama.  Taking a page from the Big Dog’s script in 1994-96 — after the Democrats in Congress suffer a beating this year, Obama finds a “Dick Morris” to guide his policy rightward over the next two years.  The Party of No (GOP) nominates someone or other like Sarah Palin in 2012, and No Drama wangles himself another term.  The country could do worse.

From The Economist, September 23, 2010:

WINSTON CHURCHILL once moaned about the long, dishonourable tradition in politics that sees commerce as a cow to be milked or a dangerous tiger to be shot. Businesses are the generators of the wealth on which incomes, taxation and all else depends; “the strong horse that pulls the whole cart”, as Churchill put it. No sane leader of a country would want businesspeople to think that he was against them, especially at a time when confidence is essential for the recovery. From this perspective, Barack Obama already has a lot to answer for. A president who does so little to counter the idea that he dislikes business is, self-evidently, a worryingly negligent chief executive. No matter that other Western politicians have publicly played with populism more dangerously, from France’s “laissez-faire is dead” president, Nicolas Sarkozy, to Britain’s “capitalism kills competition” business secretary, Vince Cable (see article); no matter that talk on the American right about Mr Obama being a socialist is rot; no matter that Wall Street’s woes are largely of its own making. The evidence that American business thinks the president does not understand Main Street is mounting (see article). A Bloomberg survey this week found that three-quarters of American investors believe he is against business. The bedrock of the tea-party movement is angry small-business owners. The Economist has lost count of the number of prominent chief executives, many of them Democrats, who complain privately that the president does not understand their trade—that he treats them merely as adornments at photocalls and uses teleprompters to talk to them; that he shows scant interest in their views on which tax cuts would persuade them to hire people; that his team is woefully short of anyone who has had to meet a payroll (there are fewer businesspeople in this White House than in any recent administration); and that regulatory uncertainty is hampering their willingness to invest.
Ignorant but not antagonistic That Mr Obama has let it reach this stage is a worry. But negligence is not the same as opposition. True, he has some rhetorical form as an anti-business figure—unlike the previous Democrat in the White House, Bill Clinton, who could comfortably talk the talk of business. Mr Obama’s life story, as depicted in his autobiography and on the campaign, was one of a man once mired in the sinful private sector (at a company subsequently bought by The Economist), who redeemed himself only by becoming a community organiser; his wife had a similar trajectory. There are the endless digs at Wall Street and Big Pharma, not to mention the beating up of BP. He remains a supporter of “card check”, which would dispense with the need for secret ballots in establishing a trade union. His legislative agenda has centred on helping poorer individuals (the health-care bill, part of the stimulus bill) or reining in banks (the financial-reform bill). The only businesses he has rescued are the huge union-dominated General Motors and Chrysler. Against this, it could have been much worse, especially given the opprobrium that now dogs Wall Street. A president who truly wanted to wage war on business would have hung onto GM, not rushed to return it to the private sector. Card check has not been pushed. The finance bill, though bureaucratic, is not a Wall Street killer. With the exception of a China-bashing tyre tariff and a retreat on Mexican trucks, Mr Obama has eschewed protectionism. A lot of government cash has flowed to businesses, not least through the stimulus package. And above all his policies have helped pull the economy out of recession. So what should he do? The same leftist advisers who have led Mr Obama into his “anti-business” hole are doubtless telling him that it is just a matter of public relations: have a few tycoons to stay in the Lincoln bedroom; celebrate Main Street’s successes, rather than just whining about bonuses; perhaps invite a chief executive to replace Larry Summers, the academic who announced this week that he was standing down as the president’s main economic adviser. Well, maybe. But once again this is advice from people who have never run a business. The main thing that is hurting business is uncertainty. Mr Obama was right to tackle big subjects like health care and Wall Street, but too often the details were left to others. Why, for instance, should a small American firm hire more people when it still does not know the regulations on health care, especially when going above 50 workers will make it liable to insurance premiums or fines? Fiscal policy is even more uncertain, thanks to Mr Obama’s refusal to produce a credible plan to rein in the deficit. Why should any entrepreneur plough money into a new factory when he has no idea what taxes he will eventually be asked to pay? These are questions that business needs answering in a businesslike way—and so does America. Otherwise the horse will not pull the cart.

McChrystal Affair: When Campaign Rhetoric Drives Foreign Policy

September 3, 2010
Obama and his general -- he doesn't look "uncomfortable and intimidated."  Source: www.media.syracuse.com
Obama and his general — he doesn’t look “uncomfortable and intimidated.” Source: http://www.media.syracuse.com

Insubordination by top military officers to civilian authority is unacceptable in America.  As presidential biographer Robert Dallek argued in today’s NYTimes, McChrystal’s defiance of his civilian masters may warrant dismissal.  However, there is another important issue here: how hubris on the campaign trail can lead to sub-par policy choices.

President Obama’s decision early in his administration to withdraw US forces from Iraq and build them up in Afghanistan came right out of the commitments he made on the campaign trail.  Obama’s meteoric rise owed a lot to his charisma and natural talents, but also to his successful argument  before the American people, embraced by almost all Democrats, that Bush was a buffoon and his policies failed ones.  Obama savaged W on the campaign trail like no other candidate.  On foreign policy, he argued that Bush had taken his eye off Al Qaeda and the Taliban when he irresponsibly invaded Iraq.  As a result, as president, Obama had little choice but to wade into a war in a country that bled the British and Russians into second-rate powers and is now going badly wrong and causing dissension within NATO. 

This is what happens when foreign policy is written by political hacks.  Orchestrated by bare-knuckles political operative David Axelrod, Obama’s take-no-prisoners 2008 presidential campaign was much like the Rovian strategy criticized by Democrats.  Whatever Bush did was bad; the opposite was thoughtful and insightful.  Notwithstanding his Kennedyesque image, Obama has not been a practitioner of bipartisanship, of new politics, of change we can believe in.  He, like the Kennedys, is an aggressive partisan out to demolish opponents. 

I am not going to re-open the debate about whether or not Iraq should have been invaded.  I believe there are reasonable arguments for and against.  But, the left in this country tends to characterize anyone that supported the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003 — on legal, moral and strategic grounds — as virtually a war criminal.  W is unfairly pilloried as such. There is even a play out now putting W up against a war crimes tribunal. 

In November 2008, I supported Barack Obama for president, somewhat belatedly and reluctantly, because I felt he was the better of two sub-par choices (see my blog on the matter). But I have always seen his hubris as his Achilles’ heel.  Here was this guy with virtually no foreign policy experience (not even serious academic study of American Foreign Policy) claiming he was the best choice to run the single superpower’s foreign affairs.  More recently, I wrote, “Barack Obama made the point last year on the campaign trail that, unlike Hillary Clinton, he has good judgment, never supporting an invasion of Iraq, even making a speech to that effect in the Illinois state legislature, where grandstanding on the issue had no policy effect at all.  Putting aside whether we should have invaded Iraq to rid the world of this dictator with bad intentions if not bad weapons, it is a legitimate debate whether we should wind down Iraq, a country central to stability in the Middle East — given its location, ethnicity, and oil wealth, and wind up Afghanistan, arguably a mountainous backwater that has bled imperialists from Russia to Britain to the United States for centuries.  True, instability in Afghanistan triggers instability in nuclear-armed Pakistan.  I said there were good points on both sides of the issue.  I merely wish to get under the teflon a little and question the wisdom of President Obama’s foreign policy choices.”

Now that policy shift is going badly wrong — with the mission failing in Afghanistan and the inconclusive Iraqi elections leaving partisans poised to take up arms, just as US troops are boarding transports out. 

Hubris prevailed when Obama, driven to surpass his predecessors by passing health care reform, left foreign policy priorities floundering for months.  This was reportedly one of McChrystal’s frustrations.  The McChrystal Affair underscores the disarray not only in the president’s “Af-Pak” group, but also in the broader foreign policy team.  Some of the personalities on the president’s team leave something to be desired — notably, Holbrooke and Biden, the former with more conceit than the Commander-in-Chief, the latter a shallow extrovert.  I have long argued that Obama should bring in some experienced hands like Nick Burns, the boyish career foreign service officer who served both Democratic and Republican presidents and was recently Sec. of State Rice’s number three.  

The warning I and others gave about Obama, that rhetoric and inspiring speeches alone cannot govern,  is relevant to the McChrystal Affair.  At issue is the age-old dichotomy between good government and good politics.  President Obama has proven himself  a masterful politician – recasting his failures as Republican ones, snatching political victories from the jaws of defeat, as he did with health care reform.  Obama could even turn the McChrystal Affair into good politics.  He and his Reaganesque image-makers can make the Afghanistan policy look like his Bay of Pigs.  That is, a young president with good intentions is misled by his generals to undertake a failed foreign adventure.  Then, this rightly angry president fires the general in charge, apologizes to the American public on television, becoming the latter’s darling again, and alters the policy course.  Good politics, but good government is trickier. 

Ironically, the man most responsible for Obama’s rise, that is, W, was also a success at politics (i.e. two terms), but fell short at government.  Good government requires experience and advisers other than David Axelrod and Karl Rove.  My optimistic belief is that ultimately good government wins elections.  Bring Nick Burns, and others like him, back…

(From a 6/23/10 blog post.)

Iraq: Learning the art of democracy?

July 19, 2010

IRAQ POST-ELECTION VIOLENCE

 

  • 18 Jul: Suicide bomber kills 43 in attack on government-backed Sunni militia in Radwaniya near Baghdad
  • 7 Jul: Series of bombings targeting Shia pilgrims attending festival in Baghdad leave more than 40 people dead
  • 20 Jun: 26 killed in twin suicide car bombings close to bank in Baghdad
  • 21 May: Car bombing kills 30 at market in Khalis, Diyala province
  • 10 May: 100 killed in a series of shootings and suicide bombings, including 45 in Hilla, Babil province
  • 23 Apr: 58 killed in wave of bombings in Baghdad
  • 4 Apr: Triple suicide car bombings near embassies in Baghdad kill 41
  • 26 Mar: 40 killed by two bombs in Khalis, Diyala province
  • 7 Mar: 35 killed in attacks across the country on election day

Source:  BBC

The idea of building democracy in the heart of the Middle East, a pillar of neo-con foreign policy, which rode the roller coaster ride of George W. Bush’s unpopularity down, down, down, is perhaps not dead yet in Iraq, even though the Obama administration will be pulling American troops out this year and next.  At what cost democracy is a fair question, but the NYTimes reported today that one Moktada al-Sadr, the fiery anti-American Shia militia leader, may be learning the art of negotiation and compromise so central to a working democracy.  Those who rise to the top of authoritarian systems often have authoritarian personalities, whereas those who rise to the top of democracies are consummate deal-makers, such as Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and even Mitch McConnell and John McCain.

Iraq’s 325-seat parliament is divided, making it difficult for the political parties there to form a government.  The BBC reports that today 43 Sunnis were killed by a suicide bomber, as part of the increased post-election violence threatening to spiral back into the civil war that dissipated in recent years, thanks to the American surge, General Petraeus’s anti-insurgency program, and brave decisions by Sunni insurgents to boot out al-Qaeda.  The BBC chart above catalogues the suicide bombings since the March election that have affected both Sunnis and Shia.

A government requires 163 seats.  Ayad Allawi’s largely Sunni coalition (though Allawi is a secular Shia) won 91 seats, as against Prime Minister Maliki’s 89 seats for his Shia bloc.  The Shia Sadrists hold 39 seats, making the at-times radical cleric a potential kingmaker, and he knows it.  Secular, but not-so-nice Syrian President Assad brokered a meeting between Allawi and Sadr in Damascus, with Sadr traveling from exile in Iran for the meeting (there is an arrest warrant in Iraq from 2004 outstanding against Sadr).  Not only do the parties have to negotiate and compromise with one another, but they also must acquiese to at least some of the desires of regional powers, especially Iran.  America has a say as well, albeit declining.

Have these fellas, fighting a bloody ethnic war for control of this strategic and oil-rich country not long ago, really learned the art of democracy?  Time will tell, but Sadr’s trip to Damascus is a good sign.

Choose: MoveOn.org or Patraeus

June 24, 2010
President Obama and General Petraeus.  Source: www.tolerance.ca/image/photo 
President Obama and General Petraeus. Source: http://www.tolerance.ca/image/photo

Mr. President, you can’t have it both ways.  You can’t have General Petraeus come in and save your Afghan policy at the same time as you have been associated with MoveOn.org, which called him “General Betray Us” on the pages of the New York Times in 2007.

I don’t want to be the guy always criticizing President Obama – I think in many ways he is doing a good job.  But I cannot help but shine light on hypocrisy in politics, on whichever side of the aisle it occurs.  With Obama, who cultivates an image of new politics and bipartisanship, I feel compelled to draw readers’ attention to misperceptions of the man.

The facts:

– In 2003 MoveOn.org, funded in part by anti-Bush billionaire George Soros, allowed an ad on its website that compared Bush to Hitler, later claiming they had nothing to do with it.

– In 2007, MoveOn.org posted an ad in the New York Times, calling General Petraeus “General Betray Us,” and accusing him of cooking the numbers in order to make President Bush’s surge in Iraq look effective.  Senator (and Candidate) Obama relentlessly criticized the surge in Iraq and its architect, General Petraeus, only later admitting it might have worked and employing a similar strategy as president in Afghanistan.  Candidate Obama in 2007 failed to heed calls to criticize the “General Betray Us” ad.

– On February 1, 2008, MoveOn.org endorses Barack Obama for President of the United States, and Obama accepts.

– On June 23, 2010, President Obama calls in General Petraeus to head up the NATO mission in Afghanistan, which involves a surge of troops and counterinsurgency operations, much like what successfully ended the Iraq civil war under Obama’s predecessor.

Can Obama supporters at least admit the hypocrisy please, even if it is true that most politicians do the same?  I know many say, the election is over, forget about what happened in the heat of the campaign.  I say, let’s be fair and hold all politicians accountable for what they do and say on the campaign trail, especially when it affects policy.

Will General Petraeus run for high office one day?  Interesting question…

If the Turks want to hang out with this guy…

June 8, 2010
What would Ataturk say?    Source: Google Images What would Ataturk say? Source: Google Images

Turkish President Gul pictured with the world’s most notorious extremist, who is quoted in the article below as saying that the Zionists are  “holding up the flag of the devil itself…” and are “the backbone of the dictatorial world order,” taking a page again from Julius Streicher’s Der Stuermer.  In its drive to be a regional power, Turkey is starting to make strange bedfellows.  What would Ataturk say?

Maybe Ahmadinejad is pre-empting the Security Council’s likely announcement of tougher sanctions with more hateful attacks against Israel.  But as we know from the Hamas Covenant, the Zionists control the UN Security Council, like almost everything else in the world and throughout history (tongue in cheek, however painfully)…

From Today’s CNN wire service:

Istanbul, Turkey (CNN) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hit a strident tone on a variety of topics during a press conference on the sidelines of an Asian security summit in Istanbul on Tuesday.

A key item on the agenda at the summit is last week’s Israeli raid on an aid flotilla in the Mediterranean. Ahmadinejad said the confrontation revealed Israel’s “devilish” nature.

“It showed violence and hatred and war-mongering attitudes,” he said at a news conference. “The devilish sound of the uncultured Zionists was coming out from their deceit. … They were holding up the flag of the devil itself.”

The raid led to the deaths of nine people, all Turkish citizens — including one Turkish-American. Turkey is urging Israel to accept an international probe into the incident.

Ahmadinejad congratulated Turkey, which has been in a war of words with Israel following the raid, for its response.

Iran’s own nuclear program has been another major topic at the summit. The United States expects to bring a new resolution on increased sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program to a vote in the United Nations Security Council this week.

By calling for a resolution instead of sitting down for talks with Iran, the United States is “gravely mistaken,” Ahmadinejad said.

“Within the framework of respect and justice, we’re ready to negotiate with everyone. Anyone who is going to resort to the language of force and aggression, the response is clear,” he said.

Ahmadinejad went on to commend Turkey and Brazil for recently negotiating a deal with Iran on a uranium enrichment swap.

“The initiative marked the beginning of a new path — the beginning of an end to unilateralism in the world,” he said.

The United States, he added, missed an opportunity by not embracing the deal.

Asked whether the raid on the flotilla last week will change the way countries vote in the Security Council, Ahmadinejad said the raid will actually change many things.

For Israel, he said, “it has actually rung the final countdown for its existence. It shows that it has no room in the region and no one is ready to live alongside it. Actually, no country in the world recognizes it, and you know that the Zionist regime is the backbone of the dictatorial world order.”

He added, “Maybe at the Security Council, it will impact temporarily. The Zionist regime, with what it has done, it actually stopped its possibility to exist in the region anymore.”

How do you say W in Hebrew: Bibi

June 7, 2010
When is tough effective?

Benjamin Netanyahu subscribes to the George W. Bush school of anti-diplomacy.  It’s nice to blow off steam, especially when you are in the right.  But does brandishing your sword make an effective foreign policy?  Ask Kaiser Wilhelm II, the arch-villain of World War I, whose bluster and belligerence led to the encirclement of Germany, his gravest fear.  Ask most Americans after W left office — did W’s shooting from the hip help America’s image in the world?  Improve America’s security? 

I had meetings with Netanyahu in my capacity as a sovereign analyst for Israel several years ago.  He was then finance minister and a very effective one.  I always came away with the belief that his Achilles’ heel was his hubris.  His narcissism was always the elephant in the room, and more so than the average politician.  I can’t help but believe that his leadership has had something to do with such recent diplomatic fiascoes as the Biden visit and the Gaza flotilla.

Netanyahu, though ineffective, may be right about Gaza.  If you don’t understand why Israel is touchy about Hamas and Gaza, please read the Hamas Covenant in this link, as translated by the Yale University Avalon project, especially Art. 22.  It reads like Der Stuermer.  Here are a few snippets (out of order):

“Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it…

The Zionist plan is limitless. After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying…

The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said:

“The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews)…”

In their Nazi treatment, the Jews made no exception for women or children… 

With their money, they took control of the world media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations, and others. With their money they stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein. They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about, here and there. With their money they formed secret societies, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests. With their money they were able to control imperialistic countries and instigate them to colonize many countries in order to enable them to exploit their resources and spread corruption there.

They were behind World War I, when they were able to destroy the Islamic Caliphate, making financial gains and controlling resources. They obtained the Balfour Declaration, formed the League of Nations through which they could rule the world. They were behind World War II, through which they made huge financial gains by trading in armaments, and paved the way for the establishment of their state. It was they who instigated the replacement of the League of Nations with the United Nations and the Security Council to enable them to rule the world through them. There is no war going on anywhere, without having their finger in it…

There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad…

Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement…

Israel, Judaism and Jews challenge Islam and the Moslem people…

…the ferocity of the Zionist offensive and the Zionist influence in many countries exercised through financial and media control, as well as the consequences that all this lead to in the greater part of the world…”

There you have it.  That’s who’s in power in Gaza.  Hence, the blockade (to prevent the flow of weapons and to pressure Gazans to kick the genocidal extremists out).  History has shown that civilized people should believe what extremists write in their books and manifestos.

As for Turkey, the AK Party did a nice job cleaning up its image in recent years in order to appear to the world as a sort of Islamic version of a European Christian Democratic party.  This has kept Turkey’s secular generals from kicking them out, as they did to the Islamists not long ago. Now, ensconced in power, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and his cronies are trying to reorient foreign policy in a more “Islamist” direction, putting ideologues in key foreign policy posts, taking on Israel, championing the oppressed Muslims of Gaza.  Yet, he shows he either hasn’t read the Hamas Covenant or doesn’t care, when he says that Hamas is not a terrorist organization, but a resistance movement (see article).  Sir, is the PKK terrorist or a resistance movement (the PKK is the Kurdish “liberation” movement on Turkish soil that the Turks believe is “terrorist”)?  Were the Turks who murdered masses of Armenians in the early 1900s, which Hitler later said was his inspiration for the Final Solution, genocidal killers?  C’mon, it’s not so hard to tell right from wrong in this world!  Turks should have a re-think about how moderate the Islamism of the AK Party really is.

Israel’s blockade of Gaza could be counterproductive.  It certainly has become a diplomatic liability.  If there is a better way to staunch the flow of weapons to Gaza that Iran is ready to send, if there is a better way to empower those that would topple the would-be committers of genocide running Gaza today, then I say scrap the blockade.  Israel certainly needs to scrap its bunker mentality and engage with the rest of the world, before, like Wilhelmine Germany, it becomes encircled.  P.R. should be a top Israeli priority; and, in order to clean up the country’s global image, Israelis should perhaps start by voting Netanyahu out of office at the next opportunity.  Read about his vehement defense of the Gaza flotilla raid. He may be right, but he certainly is not very diplomatic.  

Mideast Update: Watch Clinton’s Aipac speech

March 15, 2010

Bibi was defiant in the Knesset, refusing to halt Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem.  The Obama administration has turned up the heat, higher than at any time since 1991 when H.W. Bush/Baker withheld loan guarantees because of settlements.  This worries Israeli diplomats.  Hillary is set to give a speech at the AIPAC conference beginning in six days.  High diplomatic drama — the Rising Powers blog has been keeping you informed of the current events, the history, and yes, this blogger’s opinions on the stress in the alliance. 

In a past blog, I argued that Netanyahu’s foolishness reaped:

” ..no gain at all for Israel at the cost of modestly damaging US-Israeli relations, which, at least with the Obama administration, could prove hard to repair.  Having met Prime Minister Netanyahu a number of times when I was involved with rating Israel’s bonds, I suspect the buck stops with him. His hubris was behind this, if only in spirit rather than in deed.”

But, I pointed out that on the substance of Jerusalem, one must stop and think:

“…the point that Jerusalem should not be divided, should remain under Israeli sovereignty with strong guarantees for Muslim control over Islamic holy sites should not be dismissed out of hand.”

And…

” A few years ago, the Israeli leftist and peace activist and former Labor minister, Yossi Beilin, said that the deal with the Palestinians should be a swap – a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza (including dismantling most Jewish settlements) in exchange for Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem…  The nature of any deal is — you give something up, I give something up.  Yet the Arab position, notably in the much vaunted 2002 Saudi peace plan, is, Israel gives something up (withdrawing to the 1967 borders) and the Arabs agree not to make war.  I concede and you agree to take the gun away from my head… 

“Jerusalem is the third holiest city of Islam, but is the holiest spot on Earth for Judaism, not to mention the importance it holds for Christians.  During Jordanian rule over East Jerusalem, Jews were not allowed to visit the Cotel, or Western Wall.  Today, under Israeli sovereignty, the Islamic Waqf administers Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem.  In the West Bank, Jewish shrines have been destroyed under Palestinian Authority rule.  Israel protects Islamic sites under its control.

“The swap – Palestinian state and dismantling of most settlements for Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem – is the right thing to do in my view. The Palestinian/Arab side has succeeded in moving the debate.  It is now about splitting Jerusalem. In return, maybe, just maybe, the Palestinian side would give up the so-called right of return of Palestinians to their pre-1947 homes in Tel Aviv, Haifa and elsewhere.  (Should Jews demand a return to Morocco, Iran, Iraq, Tunisia and other states where they lost all they had – or even just financial compensation?) This is called staking out an extremist position as a negotiating tactic.  Your adversary may ultimately concede out of exhaustion. Arafat was a master of this strategy, using terrorism and the intifadah as levers. 

“US policy, which many argue is biased toward Israel, inadvertently backed the Arab view on Jerusalem, thanks in large part to the handiwork of Bill Clinton at Taba (and quite frankly of Ehud Barak).  Bubba was guided only by his desire to be the man who brought peace to the Middle East, a sort of redemption for his impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky scandal.  It has been very good PR on the part of the Arabs to move the debate this way, and woeful PR on Israel’s part.  Israel has been woeful at PR since 1967.  But as they say in Texas, that dog won’t hunt.  The debate has already been moved. In order for Israel to obtain international legitimacy, it must negotiate over Jerusalem.”

Regarding arguments made by Stephen Walt, known for his criticism of Israel and the US-Israel alliance, I noted:

“He pushes heavily the argument of Israel’s invincible military and of the paper tigers that are Israel’s regional threats.  I would argue that history has shown that a mistaken belief in one’s invincibility, driven by perceptions from wars past, often precedes a military defeat.  A foreign policy realist like Walt should understand this.  So, friends of Israel would do well to be cautious about how strong they think little Israel, with its small territory, small population, dysfunctional political system, and few allies, is relative to its enemies.” 

And finally, in a piece I wrote on Hillary’s criticism of Israel’s “insult” of America, I noted that support for Israel in surveys of Americans has historically held pretty high:

“…the Secretary of State and the President are entitled to express their feelings of being insulted by Israel, as they were elected to do just that, communicate America’s position vis-à-vis foreign countries.  And, we as voters are entitled to review the Obama administration’s record on this and other issues in 2 ½ years and either keep them there or throw them out.  Polls of American attitudes toward Israel and the Palestinians consistently show over 50% for Israel, while support for the Palestinians remains stuck at below 20%.  Israel’s support rose to 63% in the most recent Gallup poll a month ago, found hereSupport for the Arab side, on the other hand, has crept up from near 10% to the mid-teens over the last 20-30 years.  In any case, Walt & Mearsheimer, I don’t know if these numbers can be explained simply in terms of the so-called vice grip of Jews over Congress and the media.  But, people who live by the polls, often die by the polls, and such numbers can change abruptly, although they haven’t for decades.  I’ll bet the “support for Israel” numbers will dip a bit as a result of the latest ”insult.”  Thanks, Bibi.”

Well, keep an eye out for Sec. of State Clinton’s speech at the AIPAC conference, and Biden’s meeting with Bibi in Washington, where he is coming to speak at the annual meeting of the nefarious but successful pro-Israel lobby.  She may give a peek at her cards, that is, how far the Obama administration is ready to take this, to exploit this diplomatic gaffe to pressure Israel to make concessions.  Trouble is, Netanyahu loves a good fight.

Middle East Update: Lula trip, Biden flap fallout, etc.

March 14, 2010
"Neutral" Lula and his dour friend.  Source: Google Images
“Neutral” Lula and his dour friend. Source: Google Images

The Rising Powers blog has devoted some time in recent days to the diplomatic flap over Israel’s embarrassment of US Veep Joe Biden with the announcement of East Jerusalem settlements.  See recent posts here and here.  To update you, President Lula of Brazil, the one-time labor union firebrand who has united his country of extreme riches and extreme poverty like no one before, is going to take a crack at bringing people together in the Middle East.  Where President Obama has been unable to bridge the gaps in the region, Lula has called on “someone with neutrality” to take a shot. Eh-hem, is that someone Brazilian?  The two-term President of Latin America’s largest economy and member of the exclusive club called BRIC will journey to Iran in May to offer some Brazilian optimism to Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, aka Dour and Dourer.  I wish Lula well.  As a long-time Brazil analyst, I applaud this man’s every effort.  A supremely positive force for the planet, unless you’re trying to protect the Brazilian rainforest.

In other post Biden news, a Maariv columnist was quoted in the NY Times on the subject, saying that Netanyahu is trying to placate both right-wingers in his coalition and the American ally, and thus finds himself dancing at two weddings; where will he be when the music stops? Nicely put!

And, the Biden flap has not slowed the Netanyahu government’s efforts to kill or capture Hamas military commanders and other killers, with the capture today by Israeli forces operating in Ramallah of Hamas terror mastermind, Maher U’dda. Would that the PA would nab these guys, right?

Finally, Hillary is slated to speak at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference which begins this coming Sunday in Washington.  What will she tell America’s nefarious Israel lobby, so successful yet so vilified by Walt & Mearsheimer and many others?

Hopefully, all the drama will move, however slowly, in the direction of peace…and fairness.

Image:  “Neutral” Lula and his dour friend.  Source:  Google Images.

Hillary: Israeli action an insult

March 14, 2010

With the voluble Veep safely stateside, Hillary took off the gloves and expressed just how pissed off she and the Commander-in-Chief are with ally Israel, the behavior of which she found an “insult” to the United States.  I wrote a piece on the Veep’s visit, found at this link and below.  President Obama voiced his anger through his favorite adviser, David Axelrod, on two Sunday morning news shows, though Israel managed to avoid a Sunday morning onslaught, thanks to the prominence of health care this week.  Axelrod was likely told to repeat Hillary’s “insult” language, to which he added the word “affront.”  Language like this is unusual in reference to the US-Israel relationship.  Last time, I can remember things this bad between the two Western allies was during Bush I (HW), when loan guarantees for Israel to help with the settlement of Russian immigrants, provided by the US in light of Israel’s restraint in the face of Saddam Hussein’s Scud attacks in the 1991 Gulf War, were to be withheld due to Jewish settlements on the West Bank.  Then Sec. of State Baker used colorful language to dismiss the power of Jews in America, and H.W. himself, in Walt & Mearsheimer fashion, attacked the Jewish lobby, complaining that he, as president of the United States was “one lonely little guy” against “powerful political forces.” By comparison, when Ariel Sharon told the West in 2001 that Israel would not be sacrificed like Czechoslovakia in 1938, W’s reaction was that this statement was “unacceptable,” exceptionally mild language given Sharon’s broadside.  The Sharon speech came after 9/11, as W was assembling an international coalition to invade Afghanistan and had expressed his “vision” of a Palestinian state, the first time a US President had explicitly called for a Palestinian state.    

Hillary is a gloves-off kinda gal and likes this kind of situation better than making nice; that’s what we all love (and sometimes hate) about her.  She was always Bubba’s spine; we believed her when she said she could handle the call at 3 am.  In fact, maybe this spat with Netanyahu goes back all the way to when Bubba intervened in Israeli elections in the 1990s in favor of Netanyahu’s rivals.  Bill and Bibi never got along, and the Clintons hold grudges. 

In any case, the Secretary of State and the President are entitled to express their feelings of being insulted by Israel, as they were elected to do just that, communicate America’s position vis-à-vis foreign countries.  And, we as voters are entitled to review the Obama administration’s record on this and other issues in 2 ½ years and either keep them there or throw them out.  Polls of American attitudes toward Israel and the Palestinians consistently show over 50% for Israel, while support for the Palestinians remains stuck at below 20%.  Israel’s support rose to 63% in the most recent Gallup poll a month ago, found hereSupport for the Arab side, on the other hand, has crept up from near 10% to the mid-teens over the last 20-30 years.  In any case, Walt/Mearsheimer, I don’t know if these numbers can be explained simply in terms of the so-called vice grip of Jews over Congress and the media.  But, people who live by the polls, often die by the polls, and such numbers can change abruptly, although they haven’t for decades.  I’ll bet the “support for Israel” numbers will dip a bit as a result of the latest “insult.”  Thanks, Bibi.

America is a funny place on the Israel/Palestinian issue.  I have noticed a rising distaste for Israel and a growing sympathy with the Palestinian cause, especially on college campuses.  The fact that the young are increasingly disposed to view Israel unfavorably is worrying to any friend of Israel.  On the other hand, America is divided on this.  I remember driving through Missouri and listening to a Christian radio station that ran a story about a popular church in Indiana that had acquired one of the Jerusalem buses bombed by Palestinian terrorists, killing and maiming Israeli civilians including children, and had placed the remains of this bus on the front lawn of their Baptist church in solidarity with the people of Israel.  As I said, America can be a funny place.  I am sure the politicians are aware of these trends and act accordingly.

Middle East: the Biden Visit — another viewBy Roger Scher

With the trip of the Veep to Israel and the Palestinian territories, there has been extensive commentary on the FPA site about the conflict in the region, including a report arguing for a two-state solution, produced by the Boston Study Group.  I agree with the prevailing view that the Israeli government made a huge gaffe by embarrassing the Veep with the announcement of the construction of 1600 homes for Israelis in East Jerusalem.  No gain at all for Israel at the cost of modestly damaging US-Israeli relations, which, at least with the Obama administration, could prove hard to repair.  Having met Prime Minister Netanyahu a number of times when I was involved with rating Israel’s bonds, I suspect the buck stops with him. His hubris was behind this, if only in spirit rather than in deed. On the other hand, the point that Jerusalem should not be divided, should remain under Israeli sovereignty with strong guarantees for Muslim control over Islamic holy sites, should not be dismissed out of hand.

FPA’s Israel blogger points out that the announcement on home construction, while the voluble Veep was in the region, was a snub at Israel’s most important ally.  As I said, I couldn’t agree more.  On the other hand, FPA’s Middle East blogger suggests that what Israel is ultimately up to is “ethnic cleansing,” a controversial term suggesting the forcible removal of ethnic groups, usually during war and often involving genocidal killing. A polemical, perhaps rabid statement, especially given that the blogger should have included, by his/her measure, the dismantling of Jewish settlements by the Israeli government under heavy international pressure.  Actually, ethnic cleansing is what occurred in the Krajina region of Croatia in 1995, when hundreds of thousands of Serbs were driven from their homes and many killed, as the Croatian army overran the region (with a blind eye turned by the West).  There are many similar such instances of ethnic cleansing.  Should the IDF overrun the West Bank and Gaza and drive Palestinians into Jordan or Egypt, then our friend at the ME blog would have a point.  Till then, pipe down.

The paper featured on the FPA site from the Boston Study Group advocating a two-state solution seems reasonable.  A two-state solution is clearly the best solution to the bi-national competition among Jews and Sunni Arabs for the same territory in the region.  The major problem I had with this document was the inclusion among the authors of Stephen Walt, whose bias against Israel and the US-Israel alliance is well-known.  His inclusion undermines the seriousness of the document.  (More on Dr. Walt below.) 

As for Bibi’s gaffe with the voluble Veep, I am not of one mind.  My principal position would be as noted above that the Israeli government achieved little and lost a great deal.  Maybe Bibi was suggesting that holding off on announcing construction in Jerusalem should be reserved only for a presidential visit.  While President Obama cannot visit every country, he has made Middle East peace (and his special pull in the Arab world) a centerpiece of his foreign policy.  Perhaps he should stop off in Israel some time. Nevertheless, it seems to me that this is an unadulterated diplomatic fiasco for Israel. Way to go, Bibi.  You should stick to economics and limit Yishai and other right-wingers to committees in the Knesset .

My secondary position comes more from emotion and a sense of what is right and wrong.  A few years ago, the Israeli leftist and peace activist and former Labor minister, Yossi Beilin, said that the deal with the Palestinians should be a swap – a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza (including dismantling most Jewish settlements, aka “ethnic cleansing”) in exchange for Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.  Believe it or not, that’s what Yossi Beilin said before he participated in the much-more generous Geneva initiative.  The nature of any deal is — you give something up, I give something up.  Yet the Arab position, notably in the much vaunted 2002 Saudi peace plan, is, Israel gives something up (withdrawing to the 1967 borders) and the Arabs agree not to make war.  I concede and you agree to take the gun away from my head. 

History shows that no city should be divided.  Berlin was reunified.  Jerusalem is the third holiest city of Islam, but is the holiest spot on Earth for Judaism, not to mention the importance it holds for Christians.  During Jordanian rule over East Jerusalem, Jews were not allowed to visit the Cotel, or Western Wall.  Today, under Israeli sovereignty, the Islamic Waqf administers Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem.  In the West Bank, Jewish shrines have been destroyed under Palestinian Authority rule.  Israel protects Islamic sites under its control.

Thus, the deal should be a Palestinian state on most of the West Bank and all of Gaza in exchange for Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, but with mechanisms for Islamic interests to be under the control of Muslim/Palestinian entities.  Much as the Ottoman Turks allowed the French and Russians to oversee the interests of Christians in Jerusalem in the 19th century, some such mechanism involving a new Palestinian state, the Saudis, Jordanians and the Islamic Waqf could be found. That would be fair. 

Under Jordanian and Egyptian rule from 1948-67, the West Bank and Gaza were not permitted to become an independent Palestinian state, nor were refugees there allowed to integrate into Jordanian or Egyptian society, where other Sunni Arabs live.  A separate Palestinian nationality is a recent creation resulting from the war over Mandate Palestine (which at one time included Jordan, which even today is majority Palestinian).  By contrast, under Israeli rule, there have been Palestinian elections in the territories (much to everyone’s chagrin in Gaza) and a devolution of power to the Palestinian authority. The Palestinians can declare the capital of their new state Al-Quds if they want to, locating it on the outskirts of metropolitan Jerusalem, or they could keep it simply where it is today, in Ramallah.  The Germans moved theirs from Bonn to Berlin, so the Palestinians would likely follow their lead. 

The swap – Palestinian state and dismantling of most settlements for Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem – is the right thing to do in my view.  Israel’s ultimate leftist, Yossi Beilin, backed this a while back. But, the Palestinian/Arab side has succeeded in moving the debate.  It is now about splitting Jerusalem. In return, maybe, just maybe, the Palestinian side would give up the so-called right of return of Palestinians to their pre-1947 homes in Tel Aviv, Haifa and elsewhere.  (Should Jews demand a return to Morocco, Iran, Iraq, Tunisia and other states where they lost all they had – or even just financial compensation?) This is called staking out an extremist position as a negotiating tactic.  Your adversary may ultimately concede out of exhaustion. Arafat was a master of this strategy, using terrorism and the intifadah as levers. 

US policy, which many argue is biased toward Israel, inadvertently backed the Arab view on Jerusalem, thanks in large part to the handiwork of Bill Clinton at Taba (and quite frankly of Ehud Barak).  Bubba was guided only by his desire to be the man who brought peace to the Middle East, a sort of redemption for his impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky scandal.  It has been very good PR on the part of the Arabs to move the debate this way, and woeful PR on Israel’s part.  Israel has been woeful at PR since 1967.

But as they say in Texas, that dog won’t hunt.  The debate has already been moved. In order for Israel to obtain international legitimacy, it must negotiate over Jerusalem.  That is why I don’t think it was productive for the Netanyahu government to have approved this housing project while Biden was in town.  And contrary to what Stephen Walt and others would say, time is not on Israel’s side.  Israel’s power will decline relative to its neighbors.  So, I agree with the Boston Study Group – a two-state solution is needed now, however unlikely under Bibi.

As for Stephen Walt’s participation in the Boston Study Group paper, he and offensive Offensive Realist John Mearsheimer have argued that US Middle East policy has been captured by Jewish power.  While discussing the influence of the Israel lobby on US foreign policy is fair and the political climate should be one in which criticism of this lobby should not be reflexively labeled anti-Semitism, the vehemence of the Walt & Mearsheimer claims and their clear distaste for Israel undermined their argument.  What’s more, the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis that the US-Israel alliance runs against US interests flies flagrantly in the face of the theory that Stephen Walt himself created, namely, the realist theory of alliances.  According to Walt, alliances that run counter to a nation’s interests will not endure. Well, the US-Israel alliance has endured, Steve, and many, including the voluble Veep, agree that Israel’s security and interests are often in America’s interests, much to your and your buddy John’s chagrin. 

Further, Walt’s chapter in the Boston Study Group report appears eminently reasonable, but reading carefully, one can discern his tilt against Israel.  He pushes heavily the argument of Israel’s invincible military and of the paper tigers that are Israel’s regional threats.  I would argue that history has shown that a mistaken belief in one’s invincibility, driven by perceptions from wars past, often precedes a military defeat.  A foreign policy realist like Walt should understand this.  So, friends of Israel would do well to be cautious about how strong they think little Israel, with its small territory, small population, dysfunctional political system, and few allies, is relative to its enemies.  Finally, thwarted on the conventional battlefield over the last 60 years, Israel’s enemies are finding effective non-conventional means to seek Israel’s destruction, including guerrilla warfare, WMD, human rights calls for one-person-one-vote, one state, the right of return, and an end to “apartheid” in Israel (yes, that means you, Jimmy Carter), the role of the Israeli Arabs, terrorism, the ballot box, usage of oil wealth, etc.  The myth of Israel’s invincibility could be one way Israel-bashers can weaken the state.

Middle East: the Biden visit – another view

March 12, 2010

With the trip of the Veep to Israel and the Palestinian territories, there has been extensive commentary on the FPA site about the conflict in the region, including a report arguing for a two-state solution, produced by the Boston Study Group.  I agree with the prevailing view that the Israeli government made a huge gaffe by embarrassing the Veep with the announcement of the construction of 1600 homes for Israelis in East Jerusalem.  No gain at all for Israel at the cost of modestly damaging US-Israeli relations, which, at least with the Obama administration, could prove hard to repair.  Having met Prime Minister Netanyahu a number of times when I was involved with rating Israel’s bonds, I suspect the buck stops with him. His hubris was behind this, if only in spirit rather than in deed. On the other hand, the point that Jerusalem should not be divided, should remain under Israeli sovereignty with strong guarantees for Muslim control over Islamic holy sites, should not be dismissed out of hand.

FPA’s Israel blogger points out that the announcement on home construction, while the voluble Veep was in the region, was a snub at Israel’s most important ally.  As I said, I couldn’t agree more.  On the other hand, FPA’s Middle East blogger suggests that what Israel is ultimately up to is “ethnic cleansing,” a controversial term suggesting the forcible removal of ethnic groups, usually during war and often involving genocidal killing. A polemical, perhaps rabid statement, especially given that the blogger should have included, by his/her measure, the dismantling of Jewish settlements by the Israeli government under heavy international pressure.  Actually, ethnic cleansing is what occurred in the Krajina region of Croatia in 1995, when hundreds of thousands of Serbs were driven from their homes and many killed, as the Croatian army overran the region (with a blind eye turned by the West).  There are many similar such instances of ethnic cleansing.  Should the IDF overrun the West Bank and Gaza and drive Palestinians into Jordan or Egypt, then our friend at the ME blog would have a point.  Till then, pipe down.

The paper featured on the FPA site from the Boston Study Group advocating a two-state solution seems reasonable.  A two-state solution is clearly the best solution to the bi-national competition among Jews and Sunni Arabs for the same territory in the region.  The major problem I had with this document was the inclusion among the authors of Stephen Walt, whose bias against Israel and the US-Israel alliance is well-known.  His inclusion undermines the seriousness of the document.  (More on Dr. Walt below.) 

As for Bibi’s gaffe with the voluble Veep, I am not of one mind.  My principal position would be as noted above that the Israeli government achieved little and lost a great deal.  Maybe Bibi was suggesting that holding off on announcing construction in Jerusalem should be reserved only for a presidential visit.  While President Obama cannot visit every country, he has made Middle East peace (and his special pull in the Arab world) a centerpiece of his foreign policy.  Perhaps he should stop off in Israel some time. Nevertheless, it seems to me that this is an unadulterated diplomatic fiasco for Israel. Way to go, Bibi.  You should stick to economics and limit Yishai and other right-wingers to committees in the Knesset .

My secondary position comes more from emotion and a sense of what is right and wrong.  A few years ago, the Israeli leftist and peace activist and former Labor minister, Yossi Beilin, said that the deal with the Palestinians should be a swap – a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza (including dismantling most Jewish settlements, aka “ethnic cleansing”) in exchange for Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.  Believe it or not, that’s what Yossi Beilin said before he participated in the much-more generous Geneva initiative.  The nature of any deal is — you give something up, I give something up.  Yet the Arab position, notably in the much vaunted 2002 Saudi peace plan, is, Israel gives something up (withdrawing to the 1967 borders) and the Arabs agree not to make war.  I concede and you agree to take the gun away from my head. 

History shows that no city should be divided.  Berlin was reunified.  Jerusalem is the third holiest city of Islam, but is the holiest spot on Earth for Judaism, not to mention the importance it holds for Christians.  During Jordanian rule over East Jerusalem, Jews were not allowed to visit the Cotel, or Western Wall.  Today, under Israeli sovereignty, the Islamic Waqf administers Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem.  In the West Bank, Jewish shrines have been destroyed under Palestinian Authority rule.  Israel protects Islamic sites under its control.

Thus, the deal should be a Palestinian state on most of the West Bank and all of Gaza in exchange for Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, but with mechanisms for Islamic interests to be under the control of Muslim/Palestinian entities.  Much as the Ottoman Turks allowed the French and Russians to oversee the interests of Christians in Jerusalem in the 19th century, some such mechanism involving a new Palestinian state, the Saudis, Jordanians and the Islamic Waqf could be found. That would be fair. 

Under Jordanian and Egyptian rule from 1948-67, the West Bank and Gaza were not permitted to become an independent Palestinian state, nor were refugees there allowed to integrate into Jordanian or Egyptian society, where other Sunni Arabs live.  A separate Palestinian nationality is a recent creation resulting from the war over Mandate Palestine (which at one time included Jordan, which even today is majority Palestinian).  By contrast, under Israeli rule, there have been Palestinian elections in the territories (much to everyone’s chagrin in Gaza) and a devolution of power to the Palestinian authority. The Palestinians can declare the capital of their new state Al-Quds if they want to, locating it on the outskirts of metropolitan Jerusalem, or they could keep it simply where it is today, in Ramallah.  The Germans moved theirs from Bonn to Berlin, so the Palestinians would likely follow their lead. 

The swap – Palestinian state and dismantling of most settlements for Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem – is the right thing to do in my view.  Israel’s ultimate leftist, Yossi Beilin, backed this a while back. But, the Palestinian/Arab side has succeeded in moving the debate.  It is now about splitting Jerusalem. In return, maybe, just maybe, the Palestinian side would give up the so-called right of return of Palestinians to their pre-1947 homes in Tel Aviv, Haifa and elsewhere.  (Should Jews demand a return to Morocco, Iran, Iraq, Tunisia and other states where they lost all they had – or even just financial compensation?) This is called staking out an extremist position as a negotiating tactic.  Your adversary may ultimately concede out of exhaustion. Arafat was a master of this strategy, using terrorism and the intifadah as levers. 

US policy, which many argue is biased toward Israel, inadvertently backed the Arab view on Jerusalem, thanks in large part to the handiwork of Bill Clinton at Taba (and quite frankly of Ehud Barak).  Bubba was guided only by his desire to be the man who brought peace to the Middle East, a sort of redemption for his impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky scandal.  It has been very good PR on the part of the Arabs to move the debate this way, and woeful PR on Israel’s part.  Israel has been woeful at PR since 1967.

But as they say in Texas, that dog won’t hunt.  The debate has already been moved. In order for Israel to obtain international legitimacy, it must negotiate over Jerusalem.  That is why I don’t think it was productive for the Netanyahu government to have approved this housing project while Biden was in town.  And contrary to what Stephen Walt and others would say, time is not on Israel’s side.  Israel’s power will decline relative to its neighbors.  So, I agree with the Boston Study Group – a two-state solution is needed now, however unlikely under Bibi.

As for Stephen Walt’s participation in the Boston Study Group paper, he and offensive Offensive Realist John Mearsheimer have argued that US Middle East policy has been captured by Jewish power.  While discussing the influence of the Israel lobby on US foreign policy is fair and the political climate should be one in which criticism of this lobby should not be reflexively labeled anti-Semitism, the vehemence of the Walt & Mearsheimer claims and their clear distaste for Israel undermined their argument.  What’s more, the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis that the US-Israel alliance runs against US interests flies flagrantly in the face of the theory that Stephen Walt himself created, namely, the realist theory of alliances.  According to Walt, alliances that run counter to a nation’s interests will not endure. Well, the US-Israel alliance has endured, Steve, and many, including the voluble Veep, agree that Israel’s security and interests are often in America’s interests, much to your and your buddy John’s chagrin. 

Further, Walt’s chapter in the Boston Study Group report appears eminently reasonable, but reading carefully, one can discern his tilt against Israel.  He pushes heavily the argument of Israel’s invincible military and of the paper tigers that are Israel’s regional threats.  I would argue that history has shown that a mistaken belief in one’s invincibility, driven by perceptions from wars past, often precedes a military defeat.  A foreign policy realist like Walt should understand this.  So, friends of Israel would do well to be cautious about how strong they think little Israel, with its small territory, small population, dysfunctional political system, and few allies, is relative to its enemies.  Finally, thwarted on the conventional battlefield over the last 60 years, Israel’s enemies are finding effective non-conventional means to seek Israel’s destruction, including guerrilla warfare, WMD, human rights calls for one-person-one-vote, one state, the right of return, and an end to “apartheid” in Israel (yes, that means you, Jimmy Carter), the role of the Israeli Arabs, terrorism, the ballot box, usage of oil wealth, etc.  The myth of Israel’s invincibility could be one way Israel-bashers can weaken the state.