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Israel. USA and the peace initiative: So dumb it has to be smart?

05/13/2009

Iranians insist that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be Israel's greatest asset, as his antics served to alienate and isolate Iran from the rest of the world. The same, in reverse, may be said for Israel's foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, and the Israeli government he represents. Lieberman and the government have done just about everything possible to isolate Israel and to make it impossible for Israel to make even the most obvious points in favor of the urgency of dealing with the Iranian threat and the problematic nature of peace negotiations. It got so bad that Arab commentators must spell out the problems for US and explain the dangers of the US policy toward Iran.

Lieberman's came in with two strikes against him for his racist election campaign and threats to bomb the Aswan dam. Fortunately, he was preoccupied with visiting Britain during the pope's visit, so he didn't have a chance to say that the pope can go to hell. But he did manage to say that peace conferences are a waste of time, making him into an Israeli version of a Hamas leader, and he gave the Germans the impression that he thinks they are cowards.

The entire world, and especially the United States, expects Benjamin Netanyahu's government to approve of a two state solution that would allow a Palestinian state. Supposedly, that is the only obstacle in the way of the US administration's broad Middle East peace initiative. Support for a two-state solution was Israeli policy in the past, and it is hard to see any other solution in the long run. But Netanyahu, while making pacific noises, has carefully shied away from endorsing a two state solution.

It makes no sense. If the Likud and Netanyahu are right, that there is "no partner for peace," then the best way to show that it is so, is to make every effort to accommodate the Arab side, including a settlement freeze and removal of the illegal outposts. If the gesture is met by a total rebuff, nothing was lost. On the other hand, if the new American administration manages to do what nobody has done in over 60 years, to bring peace to the Middle East, it would be a tremendous gain for Israel, for the Americans, for the region, and not least of all for Netanyahu himself.

Instead, Netanyahu's government has, in the eyes of the world, planted itself firmly in the ground as an obstacle to the onrushing tide of peace activity. Every country in the West and the Middle East is engaged in peace initiatives, except for Israel.

Quite a few Israelis and Israel supporters are oblivious to the sorry state of Israeli diplomacy. An op-ed in the Jerusalem Post commented:

To date, Netanyahu has not put a foot wrong

Considering the unrelenting rain of criticism of Israeli policy from every capital, that is quite a statement. It is probably more correct to say that "So far, the Netanyahu government has not managed to take its collective foot out of its mouth." Lieberman and Netanyahu painted a "kick me" target on Israel's behind and world leaders journalists have been lining up to take aim with facile "me too" "analyses" (eg here).

To ensure Israel's total isolation, Lieberman made certain to declare, with impeccable timing, that Israel will never give up the Golan heights. Such declarations in the long run have annoyance value only. We remember when Israel would never give up Sharm al Shaikh and Israel would never give up the Sinai settlements and we remember when the Gaza settlements were supposed to be like Tel Aviv. The announcement was made seemingly in order to irritate the Americans for no reason.

On the face of it, this policy is suicidal. Israel has pressed the suicide button on its alliance with the United States and on European support. Instead of a state, Bibi may offer to renew food shipments to Gaza and improve the Palestinian economy. He cannot be serious can he? Next week, President Obama will press Israel to allow the Palestinians a state, and instead Bibi will over them half a cheese sandwich each!

How far will Netanyahu carry his resistance, and how far will the United States push for their policy? Is there any coverage behind Israel's defiant attitude? Is the Israeli government willing to endure an end to US military aid, or even hold-ups in military spare parts? UN sanctions directed at Israel rather than Iran? It might well come to that as well.

Dare we hope that Israel's leaders cannot possibly be so stupid, and that behind this unfathomable policy that is losing friends for Israel all over the world, there is a well thought out strategy that will bring peace? For the United States, peace, or at least "movement" regarding the Israeli-Palestinian question is a must, and they have harnessed the entire U.S. apparatus of state to try to get this problem off the table. It is obvious to everyone that the dangerous situation in Gaza cannot continue, and that the Palestinian problem presents a made to order issue for exploitation by extremists.

The U.S. approach leaves many question marks as well. It is hard to see the logic of linking action on Iran to solution of the Israeli-Palestinian problem. The idea seems to be that it will make it easier for "the Arab world" to support US action on Iran. In other words, if Israel doesn't allow the Palestinians to have a state, the United States will help the Arab cause by allowing the Persian Gulf to become a Persian satrapy??!! The Iranians and Al Qaeda are not likely to be impressed by any American sponsored peace and will do their best to sabotage it, so they must be neutralized in any case if peace is to have a hope. The US in fact, doesn't have a solution for Iran, and never did. That was true under the Bush administration and it still seems to be true. The US will not invade Iran to stop it from getting nuclear weapons any more than it would invade North Korea. Stricter sanctions are unlikely to work and could not be enforced anyhow.

The Arab states do not want linkage between Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian issue and have made that clear. Only people like Rahm Emanuel think it is a good idea or feasible. It is doubtful in fact, that Arab states want a Palestinian state, since they have never really wanted one since 1948, but must say that they do. This point is never understood by American diplomacy, though it was always clear to the French and British.

A key part of the American strategy is that the Arabs change the Arab peace initiative to make it palatable to Israel. Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak and others stated in no uncertain terms that this is not going to happen. Likewise, the US must either neutralize Hamas or get it to back a two state solution. Hamas indicated yet again that they do not accept a two state solution.

So the US has nothing to trade for Israeli concessions. Both America and Israel are playing with empty hands and counterfeit money against each other. The United States also has nothing to hold over Iran, and only has things it needs desperately from Iran: cooperation in Lebanon, cooperation in Iraq, cooperation against Al-Qaeda. "Cooperation" means Iran not sending weapons and money to Hezbollah and Iraqi insurgents. In Afghanistan, Iran would probably be prepared to be more helpful, but Afghanistan might be turned into a satellite of Iran.

Again it all seems so stupid that you get the feeling there must be something more here than meets the eye. We can still hope that Mr Obama can really use his incredible prestige and the good will he is building up to work some miracles in the Middle East, but it does not seem realistic, and it is not happening so far.

According to Economist, Israel and the United States are "laying the ground" for the upcoming meeting of Netanyahu and Obama. In fact they are only preparing sparring positions from all appearances. In preliminary skirmishes, they are telling each other in the nicest language, to go to hell. When they meet, there could be a head on collision, spun by some press releases in the best case. It can't be good for the United States to have to strand a major Middle East ally, and it certainly can't be good for Israel. If Americans think that Middle East allies and client states will be overjoyed to see the US abandon an ally that has gotten such steadfast US support, they had better think again. Every such dependent state is always watching for signs of perfidy in its patron, and is always mindful that it could suffer the same fate.

Joe Biden, Rahm Emanuel, Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman should know by now that it never pays to tell the other guy to go to hell, as it just creates bad vibes, and he is not going to do it anyhow.

The entire drama is pointless and harmful to both Israel and the United States. If the Palestinians are really serious about peace and can deliver a government that will keep to agreements, Netanyahu will have no choice other than to allow a Palestinian state. The United States has no choice other than to try to stop Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons, though that seems to be an impossible task. In any case, it is an interest of the United States and the Arabs and it would be so even if Israel did not exist.

We can only hope that the underlying reality is much better than it looks from the outside, and that someone has a realistic and workable plan.

Ami Isseroff


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Replies: 4 comments

Acknowledgement is the key to any resolution, Obama seems to do well in this area. This conflict has four major components; land claims, religious disparity, deep resentment from past battles, and the lack of commerce between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The latter is a key component that is often underestimated. Israel by culture resisted developing a sustainable and fair commerce with the Palestinians. If Obama helps find ways to move forward on this issue and encourage both parties to stick to their word, then there is hope for a resolution. Even profound resentment can be set aside over time if both parties have mutual economic interests. Japan and China have illustrated how time and economics can heal deep wounds.

Posted by Rob MacRiner, Toronto @ 05/13/2009 08:03 PM CST

Some comments on the above text.
"The Iranians and Al Qaeda are not likely to be impressed by any American sponsored peace and will do their best to sabotage it, so they must be neutralized in any case if peace is to have a hope."

The government of Israel has also demonstrated a vested interest in preventing any solution that would produce a Palestinian state. Actions that effectively sabotage the peace process have been done by the GOI, and may occur again in the future. This may also be said of many Palestinian militant groups. The ability to sabotage will always exist; only the intent -the will- to sabotage must be eliminated. We must change hearts rather than "neutralize" potential threats with bombs and guns.

"It is doubtful in fact, that Arab states want a Palestinian state, since they have never really wanted one since 1948, but must say that they do."

Arab states do not wish to see the establishment of a Palestinian state that is dominated or constrained by covenants and conditions imposed by Israel. Such a development would be a source of embarrassment and shame, when it should be strategically designed at the outset to become a source of pride. One example of how this could be done with just words is to establish the new Palestinian state as an "Arab state by definition". This would be parallel to recognition of Israel as a "Jewish state by definition".

Some issues related to this problem are unavoidable. For instance, Palestinian sovereignty over air space is unlikely to be realized. However, sovereignty over water rights inside the new state should be attainable, and sovereignty over border security should be realized with some allowances for small Israeli / UN observation outposts placed in strategically appropriate locations. Israel's insistance that it should be legally allowed to emplace it's military forces into the Jordan valley to respond to threats is a canard, since it will always have the effective power to do so in a real emergency.

"The United States has no choice other than to try to stop Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons... though that seems to be an impossible task."

Ummm... I'm not particularly concerned over aquisition of this technology by Iran. I think it's primary purpose would be the same as the general effect that such posession has had in other countries like North Korea and Pakistan. The potential to use nuclear power as a weapon has been an effective deterrent to invasion by other military powers (like for instance, the USA). This would ensure that Iran could protect itself from a potential invasion -if another country tried to conquer it's lands to secure Iranian oil and energy resources.

Further, I do not think militant organizations (if they had access to such a weapon) would consider using atomic or nuclear weapons to attack Israel because such an attack would destroy the land that both sides consider to be holy ground. Mutually assured destruction has long been an effective limiting force between the USA and the USSR. There is good reason to believe it also applies to every country or authority that might someday develop the capacity to hold this knowledge.

There is another aspect of this to consider. The relative power of a country seems to be a factor in the liklihood of other countries to enter into pacts or affiliations with it. This could increase the liklihood of an Iranian-headed coalition of Arab countries similar to the European Union. Some might argue that such a development would be contrary to US and western interests. This might be so, but I think there is no clear moral justification for prevention of any such development. I would add there is a possibility that the US invasion of Iraq was intended to produce an alternate power-broker in the region to head such a coalition. In the end, I think it matters less who would lead such a coalition, because the member states would eventually govern through common interests rather than hegemony of the powerful. At the most basic level, the influence of fundamentalist religious authorities becomes the most influential factor. Therefore this is where interested parties should focus efforts to moderate and modernize attitudes and push for recognition of basic human rights.

Posted by Kiev500 @ 05/14/2009 01:06 AM CST

"...The lack of commerce between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The latter is a key component that is often underestimated."

Yes, this is absolutely true. In my opinion, it is critical that both these states become economically co-dependent on each other. In the future, money and funding from the USA and other interested charitable organizations may dry up. This would make the economic co-dependence of Israel and Palestine the primary engine of sustainence for the region. Such a relationship could produce goods and products for international consumption that could be certified by UN or Road Map authorities as "Mideast Peace certified". This would allow consumers to use the power of their purse to support both states and on-going pro-active peace efforts in the region in much the same way as "dolphin-safe" certified tuna was used to change and improve the commercial fishing industry.

Cheers.

Posted by Kiev500 @ 05/14/2009 01:36 AM CST

Well said, your in-depth analysis of this issue is excellent. If logic was the only qualification in achieving a peaceful solution than the task would be a lot easier.

Posted by Rob MacRiner, Toronto @ 05/17/2009 06:22 AM CST


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