MideastWeb Middle East Web Log
There are a number of more or less mythical narratives floating around about the Middle East today, and these have become rallying points for various groups who advocate this or that position. They generate a great deal of noise, but they are mostly about a virtual reality, not about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, US-Israel relations or the problem or Iranian nuclear development.
US-Israel Split - Media are full of the so called US-Israel split. Thus far, all that the US has done is to demand removal of illegal outposts and an end to construction of new housing in settlements. It has also pressured PM Benjamin Netanyahu to reiterate Israel's support for a two state solution. Media talk about "settlement construction" is a bit misleading. The Israeli government has not approved or constructed new settlements since the Oslo Declaration of Principles was signed in 1993, with the exception of the Har Choma neighborhood which it considers to be part of Jerusalem and not part of the West Bank. Every previous US administration has condemned settlement construction including the Bush administration. Condoleeza Rice's pointed and outspoken warnings were the subject of much discussion in Israel. There has been no announcement of "reevaluation" (a la Gerald Ford) from Washington, as there is when there is about to be a real split, and there have been no public announcements of threatened economic or military sanctions or UN action (a la Dwight Eisenhower or the first George Bush). On the contrary, US has now promised to fund the Arrow III missile defense program. Haggling over the supply of F-35s and F-15 Silent Eagles may have more to do with technology transfer issues than settlements.
None of these are issues really matters of principle. One gets the feeling that after putting up enough token resistance, if American pressure is sufficient, and perhaps with proper carrots dangled, Netanyahu will do the necessary, even if the settlement freeze is temporary (or fictitious), the illegal outposts are rebuilt after destruction (as they always are) and the agreement to a two state solution is as worthless as the Hamas "acceptance" of a Palestinian state in 1967 borders. Palestinians were offered a state in 2000 and rejected it. If Benjamin Netanyahu is afraid of a peace agreement, he can offer the same thing with little fear that it would be accepted. Warmongers needn't worry, there won't be peace so fast. It is unlikely that any US administration will pressure Israel to accept any agreement that goes much beyond the Clinton Bridging Proposals of 2000, and those were unacceptable to the Palestinians and remain so.
Barack Obama had friendly meetings with both Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinians' Mahmoud Abbas. He asked Abbas to stem incitement. He pointedly brought up the two states and settlement issues with Netanyahu, but these were not meetings that signaled breaks with anyone. Nor should anyone expect any dramatics on Obama's upcoming speech in Cairo, which will be more about style than substance. That too, should not be underrated.
Iran linkage and action on Iran - The story goes that the US is preparing a mighty coalition of states to do battle with Iran over its nuclear development program, and that Israel's acquiescence is required in order to make this possible. However, Arab states do not see any such linkage. They are anxious about Iran in its own right. In any case, it is unlikely that the United States can do much about Iran. The explosion of a nuclear device by North Korea shows that the method of diplomacy and sanctions is bankrupt and worthless. Nothing the United States has done since then can give anyone a reason to expect that the U.S. or the world will be able to stop North Korea from making dozens of nuclear weapons, including suitcase models, and selling them to paying customers like Al Qaeda (rumored to be a possible client) or Syria (supposedly Iran paid North Korea to build the reactor that Israel bombed in Syria in 2007).
The prospect of North Korean nukes is no doubt unappetizing for Japanese and South Koreans, but it also has additional secondary implications for the Middle East. There is no way the world can demand of Iran that it stop manufacture of nuclear weapons or refinement of uranium, if North Korea is allowed to have the bomb. It makes no sense. The United States is not going to invade Iran. There cannot be really effective sanctions without the cooperation of Russia and China, and that will not be forthcoming. Election of a different Iranian president will not be likely to have an effect. The clandestine Arak reactor and the manufacture of centrifuges were all begun during the rule of the "moderate" reformist Khatami. In any case, the reformist voe has been cleverly split so that hard liner Ahmadinejad is likely to be re-elected.
At most, Obama can offer Israel a green light to attack Iran on its own, provided Israel meets US demands for the peace process. This is not a great bargain, since as many US officials pointed out, such an attack is extremely risky, and it will not be much less risky with Arab backing, even if we could imagine that scenario. No matter what Israel does, it is not likely Arabs will back an attack by a Jewish state against an Islamic state. They can't.
Those of us who are avid followers of Middle East news should note that the Abbas visit, the Nethanyahu visit and even the issue of North Korean nukes, while all noted in the US media, seem to be be getting second or third rank billing after the vicissitudes of appointing a new supreme court justice, the death agonies of General Motors and other economic news.
Waiting game - According to commentary in the Washington Post, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas thinks he can simply wait until American pressure forces Benjamin Netanyahu from office, within two years. This is a rather dangerous delusion. Any elections in Israel are likely to produce an even more right-wing coalition, probably including the extremist National Union party, some of whom are followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahanah and make Avigdor Lieberman look like a wishy washy liberal. An obvious threat to the settlements will bring the settler lobby out in force, especially as many are already beginning to castigate Netanyahu as a traitor for agreeing to remove outposts. The Yisrael Beitenu party may gain votes too. Their turn in the government serves to legitimize their ideas and ideology. It is difficult to see that the Kadima party would get many votes. Israel Labor party might be able to support economic issues a bit, but it has a weak case, since it is in the government, and its organization is in shambles. Even if a dovish government were elected, it would not offer terms that are any better than those offered by the Olmert government, terms that the Palestinians rejected. In a fundamental sense, Benny Morris (see Benny Morris: One State, Two States) is right about essentials: No Israeli government will give up the Jewish right to self determination in a Jewish state of Israel. No Palestinian leadership seems to be able to accept it. For Israel, peace is the fulfillment of Zionism. For Palestinians and their supporters, peace is the "end of Zionism.." There is no compromise position between them. Until that changes, diplomatic dances are going to be nothing but futile shows to entertain foreigners.
Meanwhile, the Hamas are an immovable object in Gaza and time is not on the side of Abbas or Israel. The Hamas are rebuilding their strength, and leveraging on both the real and the hyped suffering of their people in the "Gaza Siege." It is true that if conditions were half as bad as people claim they are in Gaza, everyone would be dead there by now. But the propaganda creates its own reality. It mobilizes world sympathy for Hamas, and against Israel and Abbas. Even if Hamas does not take over the West Bank, as it is poised to do, as long as it rules in Gaza, neither Obama, nor Abbas, nor the Arab states really have anything to offer Israel, because Hamas will not agree to make peace with "Israel" - even if is not called a Jewish state. Indeed, Hamas have just now underlined and highlighted this point, warning Abbas not to give up Palestinian "rights" in return for U.S. "illusions." Hamas is controlled by Iran. Iran will never agree to any US sponsored peace, and they will not let Hamas agree to it either.
Nobody should have the illusion that there will be peace the moment Benjamin Netanyahu says "Two State Solution. Unless Palestinians and Israelis can agree on terms that both sides can live with, and unless the Hamas can be eliminated as a factor, verbiage will do nothing except improve the atmosphere.
How lovely it would be if Benjamin Netanyahu were to really agree to a settlement freeze, though I am not sure how it could be enforced in practice, and to really eliminate all the illegal outposts, and say the magic words "Two state solution!" The last really costs nothing -- Israel endorsed the two state solution already on several occasions. How lovely it would be if the Palestinian leadership would admit what the whole world knows, that the Jews had a temple and a sovereign presence in Jerusalem in ancient times, as well as a community that lived in East Jerusalem until they were ethnically cleansed in 1948, and that the Israelis have legitimate national rights in what the Palestinians decided to call "Arab East Jerusalem!" How reasonable it would be if the Palestinians were to give up the "right" of return to Israel, just as the Jews may need to give up the "right" of return to Neve Yaakov and settlements in Gaza which they abandoned in 1948!
However, these are not "minor details" that are standing in the way of peace, but are all issues that were created specifically in order to ensure that there cannot be a real peace process, and that is why neither side will be quick to give them up. This is true on both sides. It is certain that the whole refugee issue was perpetuated for over 60 years for that purpose, rather than resettling them in Arab or other lands. Otherwise, there could be no rational explanation why those people, originally about 700,000 in all, could not have been found homes in the vast deserts of Arabia or the empty mountains of Syria. And didn't Daniella Weiss explain on 60 minutes that the purpose of settlements is to ensure that there cannot a compromise with the Palestinians?
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Replies: 2 comments
A couple of comments:
Let's be honest: I'd say there is no way the world can demand of Iran that it stop manufacture of nuclear weapons or refinement of uranium, if Israel is allowed to have the bomb.
Why pretend that Israel needs a "green light"? Israel never got a green light to continue settlement activities in the occupied West Bank. It went right ahead without one.
Irregardless of permission, -with or without a green light-, any such pre-emptive attack by Israel against Iran would likely become the genesis of world war 3. Iranian interests and sympathizers would retaliate against Israel, the USA, and possibly the UK. OPEC would likely implement an immediate oil embargo against Western interests. Subsequent to this, there would be an ever-widening series of attacks as each nation targeted it's list of perceived enemies. Pretty soon the whole world would look like either Gaza or Chernobyl.
My impression is that Israel intends to use the threat of a pre-emptive strike against Iran -and the possible implications of such a strike (listed above) as a bargaining chip to influence the USA on other issues like settlements. In other words, the USA must agree to Israel's position on settlements in the West Bank, or Israel will start world war 3. This strategy seems to fit well with their recent "crazy neighbor" policy which was exemplified in operation Cast Lead.
I agree. Abbas cannot afford to wait. For that matter, neither can Obama. Time has never worked to the advantage of Palestinians. In reality, Israel has always been the party pushing delays in implementation of peace process stipulations. That is why the settlements were never stopped.
That is disingenuous. They were offered land, but they were not offered a viable state. The Israeli offer (if Arafat had signed it) would have given Israel permanent control over ALL water resources of the West Bank. This means Israel could choke off development in the new state by simply denying it water. He who controls the water controls the people. This would therefore give Israel de-facto control over the Palestinian population of the new state.
The settler lobby is a criminal organization, much like the Mafia. They should all be locked in Israeli prisons until a permanent peace deal is completed and a final border is created. After that, they can settle anywhere they want, as long as it's inside Israel.
Posted by Kiev500 @ 05/31/2009 08:07 AM CST
This article is filled with pro-israel fail.
"and selling them to paying customers like Al Qaeda (rumored to be a possible client) or Syria (supposedly Iran paid North Korea to build the reactor that Israel bombed in Syria in 2007)."
Words like 'supposedly' and 'rumoured' don't help your already massively biased article.
Posted by michael @ 06/02/2009 06:15 PM CST
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