Peace, a dirty word (or: where Obama got it wrong, and what’s the better way to go)

Posted: October 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, Polls, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The common belief, often quoted by well-wishing visitors to Israel and the Palestinian territories, is that “both people, Israelis and Palestinians, want peace. It’s the politicians who bring war.” The reality is almost the opposite: even when leaders consider some sort of agreement, the public makes it clear that such move won’t be in their best interest. Consequently, the naive belief that “basically, everyone wants peace” is a source of endless political mistakes, the latest of them done by the new American administration. I would like to explain here why, and to suggest a different way to conceptualize the political and diplomatic situation.

There are consistent polls showing a certain majority in both societies for the two-states solution, but this is all on a very abstract level. When you break it down to questions about the price each side would pay for this peace, the numbers drop, sometimes rapidly. Yes, most Israelis say they will agree to a Palestinian state, but without sharing Jerusalem, or evacuating the big settlement blocks; and yes, Palestinians will support an agreement, but without giving up the right of return to all original villages and towns within the Green Line. Obviously, this won’t work. Read the rest of this entry »

Four more Years: Ahmadinejad Wins

Posted: June 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

cross-posted with FPW.

Events are still rolling in Iran, but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared winner in the presidential elections, and there are no indications that the demonstrations of Mir Hossein Mousavi’s supporters can change that. Not with the supreme leader Ali Khemenei and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps on the president’s side.

Here are some of my initial thoughts on the matter.

● Some people might see the election’s outcome as a blow for president Obama. This is true only to a certain extent. I don’t believe the American president was thinking that his speech in Cairo – inspiring as it was – will result in immediate political changes in the region. Things just don’t work this way, so we shouldn’t credit Obama for the success of the pro-western coalition in Lebanon, nor for the reformists’ failure in Iran.

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Everything is Personal: How Jerusalem Lost Contact with Washington

Posted: June 7th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

cross-posted with FPW.

Is the Israeli government ready to come out of its shell and respond to President Obama’s Middle East plan?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced today at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting that he will present his answer to Obama’s speech in Cairo next week. The PM intends to hold his own “major diplomatic speech,” in which he will discuss “our principles for achieving peace and security.” According to Haaretz, the speech will probably be given in the Bar Ilan university near Tel Aviv, where Netanyahu will receive an honorary doctorate on June 16th.

In the past few weeks, Netanyahu has faced growing criticism– even from his supporters – for not preparing himself for the shift in the American administration’s policy. When Washington started sending signals – and later on, explicit demands – with regards to the settlements issue and the two-state solution, the Israeli government responded with panic. Instead of presenting his own vision of the future of the Middle East – even as some sort of lip service, just to get the Americans off his back – the PM made it seem like there is no partner in Jerusalem.

It is clear today that the new Israeli government has failed to appreciate the magnitude of the changes happening in Washington. Part of the reason is poor timing: the Obama team has been preparing a new policy since November. Netanyahu had just a month in office before he met the new president. One could guess that the fact that the first person to leave office after the Israeli elections was the Israeli ambassador in Washington didn’t do much good either.

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Sorry, our deputy FM is a fool as well

Posted: May 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off

If you thought foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman was doing Israel some damage, listen to his deputy, former ambassador in Washington, Danny Ayalon:

In response to Bashar Assad’s statement according to which Syria was keen to resume Middle East peace talks just as soon as it had someone it could deal with on the Israeli side, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon (Yisrael Beiteinu) said the Syrian president was “lying”.

“He does not want peace. For peace he would have to offer normalization and openness, and this may result in the collapse of his regime [...] Assad does not want to open Syria to the rest of the world because he is a tyrant.”

As I wrote before, even if you agree with Mr. Ayalon’s view of the Syrian leadership, these kind of statements are not very smart, as they portray Israel as the arrogant side who refuses compromise. And since we rule out the Syrian channel, the pressure to present some sort of progress on the Palestinian front will only intensify (which is not such a bad thing).

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Obama’s Middle East Plan

Posted: May 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The weekend papers dealt mainly with the new policy for the Middle East that US president Barak Obama is supposed to present in the following weeks, maybe even before his meeting with PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

Most pundits and reporters agree on this: the administration is determined to prevent Israel from attacking Iran (it is unclear whether Israel can actually do that on its own, and without flying over American occupied Iraq. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine the US shooting down Israeli jets). Obama will offer the Iranians some kind of deal – maybe one which will include financial benefits, in exchange for freezing its nuclear program and giving the UN inspectors unlimited access to all facilities.

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The Right Offers No Solutions

Posted: February 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

There has been some talk recently about a “three states solution” to the Palestinian problem. John Bolton, George Bush’s ambassador to the UN, promoted this idea in an op-ed in the Washington Post and Daniel Pipes, president of The Middle East Forum, wrote similar things in the Jerusalem post.

The idea is simple: instead of a forming a Palestinian state, Jordan and Egypt will regain control over the West Bank and Gaza for a generation or two, or even permanently, thus enabling Israel to evacuate these areas without putting its security at risk. The blogger Mary Madigan called it “the no-state solution”.

I won’t go to length in explaining why this idea is a waste of time. It would be enough to say that both Jordan and Egypt won’t have it, mainly for the internal problems it might cause them; the radical Islam is the main threat to the presidency of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, which is why he won’t want to add Gaza’s Hamas to his list of enemies from home; and in Jordan, the Palestinians were close to bringing down the regime in the early 70′s. And as for the issue of Israel’s security, there is no reason to believe that Arab soldiers will do a better job chasing rocket launchers and suicide bombers than we do now.

But my real problem with this line of thought– and this goes for Thomas Friedman’s “5-State Solution” in the NYT as well – is that we don’t lack solutions for the Middle East, but rather the political power and will to carry them out.

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The Bush Doctrine

Posted: December 1st, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us | Tags: , , , | Comments Off

Last week, Ehud Olmert paid his last visit to Washington as Prime Minister. There he met another unpopular politician on his last days in office – President George W. Bush.

The meeting itself was unimportant – unless both leaders discussed a surprise attack on Iran, which seems very unlikely – but it did reveal something about the president’s views, and the damage he is leaving behind him.

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An Obama Effect?

Posted: November 5th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Most Israelis were just waking up when John McCain conceded and Barack Obama was officially declared the next president of the United States. On Monday you could still find articles predicting [in Hebrew] that in the end “The Real America” will have the last word and McCain will win. On election day there was an ugly article on Ynet by Naomi Ragan, the right-wing religious novelist, who quoted most of the rumors about Obama as if they were facts (for example: Obama’s campaign was funded mostly by rich Arabs, some of them from Gaza). Reading this article again this morning was particularly fun.

As for myself, I guessed a 318-220 victory for Obama and 52-48 on popular vote, which was not that far-off.

We will have to wait for tomorrow’s papers to see what the pundits have to say about the outcomes effect on Israel and the middle east. Meanwhile, here are some of my thoughts.

The US support of Israel– both diplomatically and financially –will remain the same. Assuming Israel will continue asking the US for permission to use military force (like it probably did before the attack on the nuclear facility in Syria) we will not see major change in security issues. The million dollar question is what will happen if Israel wishes to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities. My guess is that for as long as the US is in Iraq, nobody in Washington will care to open a third front (this goes for W as well on his two remaining months in the White House).

So what difference does the presidential election make? Well, the US has direct influence on two key issues here: the peace negotiations and the settlements, especially those around Jerusalem.

In his eight years in office, George W. Bush didn’t do much to reignite the peace process. Instead, he supported unilateral steps taken by Israel, such as reoccupying the West Bank cities and the withdrawal from Gaza. The result was an increase in the power of all extremist groups in the region, most of all the Hamas. Lately, there have been signs of a change in policy, the result of Condoleezza Rice’s efforts. As I wrote before, there is a learning period for any new administration, so it will take some time before we can evaluate if there is a real change in policy.

During this time, Israel will build settlements. We have been doing it for more then 40 years, regardless of the identity of the guy in the oval office – or in the PM office in Jerusalem for that matter.

All settlements are harmful, but some are worst than others. Even the neo-cons and neo-Zionists around Bush didn’t allow Israel to build in the area called E1, east of Jerusalem. The Israeli plan is to build there a Jewish neighborhood, an industrail park and even a few hotels, that will eventually be part of Jerusalem, thus diminishing the last option to divide the city into Israeli and Palestinian capitals. And if Bush didn’t allow it, nobody else will. Hopefully, Obama’s people will also keep a closer eye on other construction project in the West Bank, which only serve to to prevent the two states solution.

Finally, there has been some talk on the influence of an Obama victory on Israeli politics, and especially on the results of the general election in February. Some people, both here [Hebrew] and in the US, think that the “Change” massage coming from America will help those candidates who are perceived as “fresh” (aka Tzipi Livni). It has also been speculated that Netanyahu will be considered as someone who will find it harder to deal with the new president, given his hawkish stands. However, one might also claim that some voters will move to the right, in hope of a government that will stand up to American and international pressure towards concessions. But most importantly – in order to have an Obama-like spirit of change, you must have an Obama-like candidate. We don’t.