Monday, August 30, 2010

Muslims Who Don't Want to Live Under Islamist Dictatorships Urge: Help Us By Telling The Truth

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By Barry Rubin

I constantly receive mail and contacts of various kinds from Arabs, Iranians, Pakistanis, and Turks--among others--about how much they like my writing. In fact, many of my ideas and inspiration comes from conversations with these people. You'd be surprised to hear some of the names, countries, and positions of those involved in these dialogues.

It's a complex issue but to put it simply: those in the West may romanticize or refuse to criticize radical Islamists and Middle East dictatorships but that doesn't exactly thrill those who live under these regimes or who fear seeing their countries being taken over by extremists who repress and maybe will kill them.

I wrote an entire book about this situation and these people, The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, John Wiley Publishers (2005). That book, and other things I've written, explains both my tremendous sympathy for these liberals and reformers as well as why I didn't advocate a policy based on the belief that the United States could democratize the region or solve the problems of these societies by overthrowing the ruling regimes.

During my last speaking trip, which usually focused on the battle between Islamists and nationalists, there were Arabs or Iranians present at each event who enthusiastically endorsed what I said. In one case, a Palestinian wearing a very large kafiyah sat in the front row nodding at my main points. Afterward, he explained that he was a Palestinian Authority supporter who hated Hamas and thought that group was ruining his people's chance for ever getting their own independent state.

And don't even get me started on Iran, where a large majority opposes the current regime, and Turkey, where an even larger majority opposes the current regime. These people, almost all of them Muslims, are anti-Islamist and prefer a democratic state. They may not be "moderate Muslims," that is religious reformers, but they are Muslims who are moderates. They don't respect Westerners smug in their "virtues" of being so Islamophilic, tolerant, and "pro-Arab" as to saddle the poor victimized Middle Easterners with horrible, repressive regimes and permanent violence.

Most of the people who hate and oppose revolutionary Islamism can be most accurately called conservative traditionalists. They prefer Islam as it was practiced before the age of Iran's revolution and Usama bin Ladin. They don't like Israel and have plenty of complaints about the West (though there are also things they like about both) but they don't want to go to war or spend the next century seeking revenge either.

A minority of them are real democrats, courageous people who know what their countries need to do in order to get out of their current morass. The majority is just fed up with terrorism, ideology, dictatorship, economic impoverishment, social stagnation, and using Zionism or imperialism as excuses for all of the above. The Western "sympathizers" who endorse every reactionary cultural and political tendency as "authentic" do them no favors.

For example, in response to this article I wrote pointing out that the amount of hatred and incitement coming from the Muslim majority world far exceeds that in the West or Israel, I received two letters from Middle Eastern Muslim readers.

One, from an Iranian, noted: "Best article yet! keep it up!"

And another reader--presumably Iranian--writes to me as follows:

"I read your Rubin Reports with great pleasure and anticipation. I find you are among the very few Westerners who are not giving into political correctness vis-à-vis Islamic terrorism, the new fascism. The dance of appeasing Muslim radicals (or the rest) is most dangerous and will lead to diminished freedom and the end of the rule of rational law.

"I fear so much that my grandchildren will be subject to a totalitarian theocratic rule that I search for a way out of [this situation to live] in the West. There are majorities in some places in the Middle East—Iran, the prime example—who are fed up with the ideology of hate and of death and of darkness, and long for peace and freedom and happiness. We are fed up with antisemitic people and governments and we want to rescue reason from theocratic dogma.

"Thank you for what you do. I hope Westerners read your work and pay heed. The alternative is hatred, violence, and the rule of evil."

Note the implications of those last three points;

Hatred by Islamists and radicals: Not only of the West and Israel, Christians, Jews, or Bahais, but also of Muslims who have a different interpretation of their religion or who are "too" secular, and also at times of various other groups who are Muslims (Berbers, Kurds, Shia, Sudanese Africans).

Violence: Not only against Westerners and Israelis plus local Christians but also against all of the groups mentioned in the previous paragraph plus women who deviate from what the Islamists want, homosexuals, and others.

The Rule of Evil: Not over Westerners but over those Middle Easterners (again, mostly Muslim) who live under such regimes or will be drowned in revolutions in the uture.

So, if one supports Islamists like those who rule Iran and the Gaza Strip, pro-Islamist (abroad) dictatorships like that in Syria, those who are close to ruling Lebanon, and revolutionaries who want to impose Islamist totalitarian regimes, is this "pro-Muslim" or "pro-Arab?" Presumably, it is like saying that backing the Nazis made one a friend of the German people or supporting the Stalinists proved that one loved the Russian people and those in its satellite states.

Or perhaps everyone who doesn't want to be ruled by Iran, the Taliban, Hamas, Hizballah, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other assorted dictatorships are Islamophobic or racist?

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports, at

Note for Israel-PA Talks: It Wasn't The Luck of the Irish But Effective Counter-Terrorism That Brought Peace

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By Barry Rubin

As direct Israeli-Palestinian direct talks restart it is useful to recall the use and misuse of an analogy to the case of Northern Ireland.

In October 2001, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw visited Washington and held a press conference with his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell bubbled over about how the Irish agreement supposedly showed:

"An example of what can be achieved when people of good will come together, recognize they have strong differences, differences that they have fought over for years, but it's time to put those differences aside in order to move forward and to provide a better life for the children of Northern Ireland."

This is the sort of naive optimism (let's all just get along, peace is the natural order of things, everybody is really moderate at heart) that Americans so often evince. As the great French intellectual Raymond Aron once explained, "The Americans always have the tendency to believe that wars result from misunderstanding or accidents and suppose that no one could possibly want a war."

In this case, though, Straw dumped cold water on Powell's world view." What he said is worth quoting fully:

"Could I just add one thing to that, if I may? Of course, negotiation is far, far better--infinitely better -- than military action. As far as Northern Ireland is concerned, we welcome hugely the progress that has been made following the Good Friday Agreement. It also has to be said that before that happened, there had to be a change of approach by those who saw terrorism as the answer. And that approach partly changed because of the firmness of the military and police response to that terrorism. And if there had not been that firm response by successive British governments and others to the terrorist threat that was posed on both sides, we would not have been able to get some of those people into negotiations. We would not be marking what is a satisfactory day in the history of Northern Ireland today."

In other words, the terrorists were defeated by tough action, saw they couldn't win, and thus had to change their approach. Of course, in the Israel-Palestinian case, there has been no such attitude toward terrorism internationally. Hamas has been saved as the Gaza Strip's ruler thanks to Western action; the Palestinian side has not been forced to pay the price for violence and intransigence (rejecting Camp David and the Clinton plan, launching a second intifadah, continuing incitement, etc.) and thus has not had to give up the hope of total victory and belief that violence and intransigence could bring that about.

That's a key reason why the current talks will fail.

PS: Here's another study by one of the leading participants on why the Northern Ireland case is not a good parallel for the Middle East.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports, at

What Threatens Peace: A Mountain of Hate or A Few Nasty Words?

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By Barry Rubin

About twenty-five years ago I had my great success in affecting mass media coverage of the Middle East in one newspaper for one day. I had been complaining to a New York Times correspondent, who was briefly covering the Middle East beat, about the incitement, hatred, and extremism that appeared daily in the Arabic media was never mentioned in its Western counterpart.

To his credit, he came over to my office. I took a big desk and spread over it a couple of dozen issues of the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), a publication with which, in those pre-paperless days, I had filled whole bookcases. If you’ve never heard of FBIS it was a daily publication from the U.S. Department of Commerce that came out in different colored editions for each region of the world. All it did was translate radio and television programs along with some important speeches. Using or not using FBIS, for me, marked the difference between a serious researcher and a dilettante.

One after the other I showed him examples of the lies, the hatred, the calls for Israel’s destruction, the screams for blood and murder, the slanders against America that appeared in the most prestigious and widely circulated and official of Arabic-language publications. Impressed, he actually wrote an article on it that appeared on the front page.

That happened once. And this was in the days when journalistic standards meant something and newspapers actually focused on publishing the news rather than ideological guidance to direct people toward believing the proper things.

Day after day throughout the Arabic-speaking world, Iran, Pakistan, and beyond, in schools and mosques, in the speeches of leaders and oppositionists, in mass media, hatred of Jews and Christians, of the West and America, rises into the air. This structural hatred has consequences. The best single sentence I’ve heard on this comes from a Saudi woman who wrote that what the big Usama bin Ladin did, the little Usama bin Ladin learned in the Saudi schools.

This massive system of hatred and extremism—known to everyone who lives in the Middle East—is largely kept hidden from the West. Why?

One reason is fear of the Islamists. In editing the two-volume Guide to Islamist Movements--a study of Islamist movements, leaders, ideas, and activities in 55 countries—I often met with the refusal of scholars to write chapters due to fear. In one case, I appealed to a professor in a small European country that he was merely being asked to write an objective scholarly overview, not to take any political positions or make any recommendations. He responded: “The local Islamists don’t look at things that way.”

Another reason is fear of their colleagues. To report on the hatred of others leads to accusations of being oneself a hater.

These are, of course, two major reasons why the Western media and politicians so downplay the issue of incitement and extremism among Muslims. But there is one more: the belief that their own people are so stupid and bigoted that they will respond to being told the truth by massive anti-Muslim pogroms. These elites believe that a public that accepts without murmur the construction of thousands of mosques is horribly intolerant because it objects to one being built at the site of the World Trade Center attack by a radical group with shadowy financing.

We don’t have reliable studies of what goes on in North American mosques because academics and journalists won’t do much beyond repeating what Muslim groups say. But we do know from infiltrators (sometimes with video tapes) or moderate Muslims that the incidence of radicalism and antisemitism among imams and activists is high. Recently, an outspoken moderate Muslim told me he was unwelcome to pray there by every mosque in his city. Asked to name mosques dominated by a moderate viewpoint, he could only come up with one, in a city hundreds of miles away from him.

A few years ago, I was at a secret conference on a tiny Mediterranean island. When I brought up the issue of incitement to murder Israelis in a conference, a high-ranking Palestinian (today a member of the Palestinian Authority cabinet) made a speech about how incitement was a terrible problem on both sides (not true, of course) and how he proposed a joint commission to investigate this issue. The audience applauded.

Immediately afterward, without illusions but because it seemed a neat thing to do, I went up to him and proposed that he and I form such a commission. He laughed in my face. Of course, there was not the slightest interest in doing so.

There is remarkably little hatred and bigotry in Israeli society. Of course, one can find it without doubt, but given what this country has been through it is, I repeat, remarkably small. It is not sanctioned in the mass media or the schools or in the overwhelmingly vast majority of religious institutions.

This brings us to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. A few days ago, in a sermon, Yosef reportedly said that Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas, “and all these evil people should perish from this world….God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians."

This statement instantly became a global story. It will no doubt be used to delegitimize Israel. Yosef's statement was also quickly condemned by the U.S. State Department in words that invite derision: "These remarks are not only deeply offensive, but incitement such as this hurts the cause of peace.”

Of course, Yosef’s statement should be condemned and no one in Israel will do anything other than condemn it. Yet as a left-of-center Israeli intellectual once put it, we have our Kahanes--referring to the extremist hater Meir Kahane--but most of the other side’s leaders are Kahanes.
What Yosef uttered, however, is a curse, not a political program. It is a call for the divine being to act, not for humans to commit terrorism. No one will praise what he said; no one will take up this as instructions to carry out violence. Ten years ago, in the midst of a massive wave of terrorism, Yosef made a parallel statement.

It is worth mentioning, which the news reports didn’t, that Yosef is currently 90 years old. The progress of senility has been clear for him during the last decade. His role in Israel has been a fascinating one. He led Sephardic Jewry to demand religious equality. He practically created a whole new Sephardic system of worship and worldview. Sadly and ironically, it imitated the more rigid Ashkenazic Haredim (European-origin Orthodox) rather than the traditionally more flexible Sephardic religious style.

Yosef also created Shas, a party which might be best thought of as a patronage group for the poorest and mainly Moroccan-origin Sephardim. Think of it as being like an old, corrupt Democratic big-city machine that provides goods and services for its constituents in return for their votes and a cut of the money. By putting them into a very bad educational system which downplays worldly skills in favor of religious ones, Shas is not doing its followers a big favor.

But Shas cannot be classified as much of the Western media portrays it, as merely a “right-wing” party. During the 1990s’ peace process, for example, Shas and Yosef advocated trading territory for peace on the religious basis of saving lives. Even now, the Shas position, for example, is that buildings should only be constructed in the limited number of settlements just across the pre-1967 border that Israel wants to claim. The party is thus supporting turning over the vast majority of the West Bank to a Palestinian state, presuming (which is doubtful) that the PA ever make Israel a good and serious offer in exchange.

What makes Crowley’s statement a joke, of course, is that the U.S. government ignores the avalanche, tsunami, tidal wave, or whatever weather-related metaphor you want, of hatred, incitement to murder, delegitimization with an aim toward genocide, and actual terrorist violence that daily spews out against Israel, and also against America itself and the Western world.

During the dozen years since the signing of the Israel-PLO agreement in 1993, it is virtually impossible to find a single--and I do mean, even just one--statement in Arabic by a PA, PLO, or Fatah leader (don't even mention Hamas) calling for peace, recognition, conciliation, or empathy with Israel. In contrast, there are thousands of statements rejecting Israel's existence, calling for armed struggle, urging children to become terrorists, insisting that one day the Palestinians will achieve total victory and eradicate Israel, and demonizing Israelis. Here's just one rather typical example.

Consider the above paragraph. That is not a statement of my politics but of unfortunate facts. And notice I said Arabic directed to their own people, not English directed to the Western suckers.

Will the U.S. State Department condemn this statement made the same day by a PA government minister standing next to Mahmoud Abbas himself? PA Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud al-Habbash in his Friday sermon said that unless Israel “returns” Jerusalem to the Palestinians “its owners” there would be war. While not as categorically vicious as Yosef's remarks that is a far more credible and inciteful threat of violence which, in addition, comes from an official government source.

Or how about these three programs on official PA television teaching children that all of Israel is Palestine and thus Israel should be wiped out? Or Abbas's personal participation in a ceremony honoring one of the terrorists who murdered Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics? Or the PA naming a city square after a suicide bomber who killed Israeli civilians? Or official PA textbooks demonizing Israel and calling for its destruction? One could go on with such examples for many pages as has indeed been done in this report.

These words and the organizing efforts designed to implement them have immense consequences. They explain why millions of Muslims take such extreme stances in supporting revolutionary Islamism. They explain September 11 and the London subway bombing; thousands of acts of terrorism; the PA’s political inability and refusal to make peace; the transformation of the Gaza Strip into a mini-state with a genocidal agenda; the seizure of Lebanon by Islamist forces that will once again carry that country into war; and the horrors in Iraq; and the expansion of Iranian influence; and the driving of Christians out of Iraq and Gaza; and the murder of tens of thousands of Muslims by radical Islamists in Algeria and elsewhere; and the decapitation of Buddhist peasants in southern Thailand, and the murder of Christians in the Philippines, Nigeria, and Indonesia; and far more.

All of these things hurt the cause of peace--Let me put it plainly: They make peace impossible--but are not fully taken into account by Western policy or spoken of in the universities because their power requires real courage to do so. Yet it is precisely because of their power and thus the threat they pose that they must be exposed and fought against.

Abraham talked the divine being into sparing Sodom and Gomorrah if only he could find ten righteous people there. Today, Israel and Western societies are condemned as evil when one finds only a handful of non-righteous there. What of the societies where there are millions of bigots and haters calling for blood and murder? Millions who, by current Western definitions, are racists? That is the difference between individual evil, which will never vanish from this earth, and structurally approved evil maintained by political and ideological systems that must be changed.

What we need to do is to proclaim that all men are created equal but that some societies and world views are proven to be more stable, free, materially successful , and all-around preferable to others. True, one attribute of such societies is that they have a much higher level of tolerance toward others. But if that’s so then it is clear that these societies--even if marching under the banners of preserving multiculturalism and Political Correctness!--must combat the threat from those states, movements, and ideologies that extol the destruction of liberty, preach intolerance, and are full of violently implemented hatred and lies.

PS: In response to readers' requests for the reasons why such "double standards" are so prevalent, here's a brief summary in no particular order:

a. Fear of Islamist violence;
b. Fear of colleagues' or the elite's ridicule as being racist, Islamophobic, etc, with a negative effect on their career and reputation. They can thus shiver with fright (this also applies to point a) but portray themselves as courageous simultaneously;
c. Hope for profit (financial, electoral);
d. Belief that national interests are best met by flattering those who might otherwise (that's the theory any way) enemies who will then become friends or at least not attack them;
e. Fear of their own people who they think are bigoted yahoos who if not held back would massacre all the Muslims around. Thus, the crazed racists must be lied to in order to soothe them into unconsciousness.
f. Dislike of their own societies and systems which they view them as inferior to those of others. this includes an element of romanticism and masochism. A belief that attacking your own people, nation, religion, system is noble but to do so to any other is an unforgiveable sin.
g. Hope (wrong) that if they feed the Islamists other victims (Israel, Lebanon) that will satisfy the appetite for conquest.
h. The following definition of racism: If you criticize anyone of any other nationality for any reason whatsoever, that makes you a racist.
i. The following definition of Islamophobia: If you criticize anyone who is a Muslim or any Muslim belief or action this makes you a dreadful bigot.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports, at

Sunday, August 29, 2010

An Amazing Look Into the Past

By Barry Rubin

Although this is a bit outside what I usually discuss (but I have an excuse coming up in a moment), I recommend to you some truly remarkable pictures of the Russian empire, taken a century ago.

Here’s my excuse: A number of them are in the Caucasus and Central Asia which can be regarded as part of the Greater Middle East.

I hate it when people recommend photos or You-Tube items or jokes to me that turn out to be a waste of time, or that take my time from something else I'd rather do. This, however, is different.

For what makes these photos—excellent in their own right—totally amazing and unique is that they are in color. Not colorized but real color. The photographer, operating before the Russian Revolution, used a clever way to create color photographs a half-century before these became common. A reader tells me this method was invented in the United States and developed in Germany.

Given their clarity, they show how closely people and places of a century ago resemble those of today or, to put it another way, it brings out the distinctions in dress, customs, and technology between a century ago and today. A friend who is an expert on Russia and has spent many years there says that the countryside has changed surprisingly little since these photos were taken.

It also makes me wonder about an alternative history: Suppose the Russian Revolution, or at least the Communist part of it, had never happened? Would the world, and certainly those places that became part of the Soviet empire, be better off?

To begin with, there would never have been any Nazi imitators of Bolshevism—I’m not saying they were the same but the fascists did see Communism as both inspiration and an enemy that required extreme measures to combat—World War Two, Holocaust, or Cold War, among other things.

And this made me wonder about today’s “wonderful” schemes for fundamentally transforming Western democracies or imposing revolutionary Islamist regimes in the Middle East that are bringing so much waste, suffering, and roadblocks to true progress.

It is not enough to talk about helping the poor and downtrodden or saving the earth or fostering diversity or all those other slogans. The policies, ideas, and programs proposed must actually work in making the world a better place. All too often they don't do so, but rather make things worse and leave large blood stains behind.

The problem with using historical analogies is that not everyone understands them. Let me give you an example, here's a passage from the incomparable Shai Agnon about pre-World War One Austria-Hungary. That country was the very model of a diverse, multicultural country, with extensive autonomy for Hungary and a lot of freedom for all the different peoples therein:

"And so, Isaac sits [in a train] and rides through the realm of Austria, that same Austria that rules over eighteen states, and twelve nations are subject to it. One and the same law for the Jews and for the people of the land, their well-being is our well-being, for the Emperor is a Gracious King, he protects all who take shelter with him....Her earth is lush and fertile and the produce of her land is greater than the need of her inhabitants...."

But Agnon, writing thirty years later, during World War Two no less, knows what happened: quarrels among these diverse peoples plus the defeat in World War One, tore the country apart in strife. The same happened with another multicultural empire called Russia, albeit that was far less tolerant, dubbed the prison house of nations. On its ruin rose the Soviet Union, which claimed to be a paradise of plurality but was actually a Russian-dominated empire of persecution and oppression under the most enchanting slogans and carefully cultivated lies.

The post-1918 conclusion was that multiculturalism didn't work but actually provoked conflict. The countries that flourished were those who promoted a democratic sense of national identity along with freedom, like the United States, Britain, and France. Teaching people that they are separate groups who are victims of the majority plants mutual hatred, consolidates separate identities, and ensures that many will seek revenge.

But enough about that. Meditate on these marvelous photographs and look deeply into the faces of these long-gone individuals and their societies. Here and here.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Palestinian Authority Incitement to Kill Israelis and Destroy Israel: A Powerful Subverter of Chances for Peace

Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority (PA) through its schools, media, mosques, and officials' statements daily incites Palestinians to attack and kill Israelis. It also continues to claim Israel is illegitimate and should be wiped out, along with the belief that this will happen in the future. Naturally, this undermines any possibility that peace talks will succeed.

Not only is the PA failing to build a mass base for a compromise two-state solution, it is stoking the fires of intransigence, of mass opposition to any such outcome. Most of the Western media, determined only to present the PA as moderate, never reports on these statements and activities. Fortunately, on the eve of direct talks, Palestinian Media Watch provides a systematic and comprehensive report on this issue which can be read HERE.

Pointing out these realities doesn't undermine peace. Quite the opposite. Only if these problems are confronted will peace be possible.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Which Side Are You On?: The "Moderate Muslim" Litmus Tests

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By Barry Rubin

In the controversy over the "Ground Zero" mosque in New York and other issues, Muslims are often asked if they condemn terrorism, Iran, or Hamas and other revolutionary Islamist groups, along with other questions. The idea is to determine whether they are moderates or radicals. Each of these questions also has an unnoticed "internal Muslim" aspect as well that makes them all the more important.

Yet this question is often placed in the context of whether or not they support murderous attacks on non-Muslims or calls to wipe out Israel. This is a valid consideration, but it misses a key point about why Islamic activists should be asked and how they should answer such questions.

After all, those whom the moderates are being asked to condemn are revolutionary Islamist groups or countries. If you don't condemn them you are in effect accepting their program for a radical transformation of Muslim-majority (and even other) countries, the imposition of a radical interpretation of Sharia law on every aspect of society.  If you are a nationalist, or a liberal, or a moderate Islamist the prospect of your enemies seizing state power and perhaps repressing you would be a most upsetting prospect.

In other words, a moderate would condemn these groups and Iran not for the sake of Israel or the West, but for the sake of his own people and anti-Islamist cause. It is impossible to be neutral on this point: Do you want to live (or see most other Muslims live) under a caliphate, a theocratic dictatorship, a repressive regime as exists in Iran or the Taliban's Afghanistan or not?

The request to show yourself to be moderate is not a demand for some concession but to declare that you don't want to see Muslims as well as others subjected to an authoritarian, would-be totalitarian regime that crushes all dissent, murders critics, persecutes Christians and Jews, and outlaws alternative interpretations of Islam, among other things.

Would a moderate like to see what should be his worst nightmare triumph, interpreting Islam in its own extremist way, and destroying any chance that he might realize his vision? Well, he could if his vision is roughly the same as theirs.

Another question asked--Do you condemn terrorism not only against "innocent Muslims" but also non-Muslims?--has a similar twist. Again, by refusing to reject terrorism against Jews, Christians, and (in Thailand, at least) Buddhists, the political activist is accepting some types of deliberate murder of civilians.

Yet this is not the only issue going on here. An "innocent Muslim" is a regular person, a bystander. But that would not include government officials or employees or those deemed too secular or liberal, people revolutionary Islamists want to kill.  Perhaps this category of the non-innocent might include whole Muslim communities (Shias in Iraq, for example; African groups in Sudan). Moreover, failing to condemn all terrorism shows either a misunderstanding (or support) for the anarchy and destruction that this tactic imposes on Muslim-majority societies. In other words, it shows both ruthlessness toward one's own people and indicates that one is on the side of the radical Islamists.

Still another indicator is adherence to the Muslim Brotherhood or its front groups. It is somewhat understandable but ultimately quite foolish to focus only on the threat of currently violent terrorist Islamist groups, notably al-Qaida, to the exclusion of everyone else (even Hizballah or elements of the Taliban, according to some Obama Administration officials.)

The Brotherhood is more dangerous precisely because it takes a long-term, tactically flexible view that is more likely to be effective in both Muslim-majority and Western states. Moreover, for the Brotherhood, violence is merely a matter of timing, wrong to engage in only because the mass base has not yet been prepared and success not assured.

One of the Brotherhood's tactics is dissimulation or to use the plainer word: lying. Its agents speak of dialogue, moderation, and bridge-building to the suckers (I mean interlocutors) while indoctrinating their Muslim audience with anti-Americanism, anti-Westernism, anti-Christianism, and antisemitism. Many of them have mastered the rhetoric of human rights and victimhood.

And they have become used to the fact that few in the West will look deeply into their doctrine, what is said in Arabic or other non-Western languages, or political positions. Thus, in most of the Muslim-majority world it is between incredibly difficult and impossible to build or repair any church or synagogue (according to Islamic doctrine which sought to ensure that non-Muslim institutions literally collapsed).

Does this mean that Western societies should do the same to Muslims? No, but it means that these societies should inquire into their "moderate" friends views on the issue, pressing for them to protest and demand change in the countries their religion controls (they won't) and to cover such matters in schools and media.

A final point of great importance. There are relatively few “moderate Muslims” but there are millions of Muslims who are relatively moderate. The former term refers to people whose main identity is as a Muslim and who explicitly want to reform normative Islam. In contrast, the latter are those who are equally Muslim in faith but  whose primary identity formed by some ethnic (Turkish, Arab, Persian, Kurd, Berber, etc.) or national (Egyptian, Indonesian, Indian, Moroccan) loyalty and who practice Islam in traditional, non-Islamist ways.

Almost a decade after the September 11 attacks, it is remarkable to see how primitive, censored, and misinformed is the Western debate over Islam and Islamism. Yet this is an issue of the greatest importance in the world today. The fate of the Middle East and the future of the West hangs in the balance.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports, at

My articles in Spanish and Polish

A number of my articles have been translated into Spanish by a kind person here  I cannot remark on the accuracy of the translation and am not responsible for it. If you think it is good, not good, or have a specific correction please do let me know. I welcome translation into other languages and do let me know about it.

And here in Polish is "The only permissible hatred?"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Czech List: Sometimes Even A Conference Can Teach Vivid Political Realities

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By Barry Rubin

I’m not a big fan of conferences. There’s nothing more tedious than sitting in a panel where the presentations have interesting titles but are otherwise disappointing. Or listening to a speaker who may be very good but says absolutely nothing you don’t know already.

But sometimes you have fascinating experiences which are not exactly on the agenda. Here are three from a conference I attended in Prague a few years ago, each of which contains its own lessons. Incidentally, the events below weren't of the record, but names and some details have been omitted since this is about points, not personalities.

1. The German parliamentarian was well-dressed, angry, and red in the face. He raised his voice in righteous indignation. Why, he complained, were there a number of Israelis at the meeting but no Palestinians. Obviously he thought that he had caught the Czech hosts in some politically incorrect indiscretion.

After he finished his somewhat insulting remarks and sat down, one of the Czechs stood up and explained very politely that plenty of Palestinians had been invited; all expenses paid, and had accepted but had simply not shown up. That’s something I’ve seen plenty of times.

A Lesson: Why get rewarded for deciding not to succeed? Hamas refuses to act peacefully, and then is rewarded for having committed aggression and been soundly defeated as a result (2008-2009). Same applies for Hizballah (2006). The Palestinian Authority refuses to make peace and then is rewarded for alleged suffering under an occupation it has the power to end when it so wishes.

Recently, a reader made a startling suggestion to me that I think is a brilliant insight. In this day when not only equal opportunity but equal results is supposedly supposed (yes, that double use is deliberate) guaranteed, Israel is being “unfair” at doing so well socially and economically.

In past decades, the failure of a nation to achieve democracy or prosperity would have been attributed to its own choices. That’s a good thing because its people can then realize their mistakes, correct them, and succeed. Today, however, failure is often attributed to being a victim of racism, imperialism, and pure meanness.

Woody Allen allegedly said (it isn’t clear that he did) that 99 percent of life is showing up. Yes, indeed. Showing up and performing well. But in the counter-Calvinism of our time, material achievement is a proof of damnation.

The development theory of the 1950s and 1960s focused on how a country could achieve take-off to progress and prosperity. It is a model followed nowadays by China, South Korea, and some others.

The currently dominant view, at least in intellectual circles and among fashionable dictators and terrorists is the idea that underdevelopment is not a result of history, culture, society, and bad choices but of imperialist exploitation.  Instead of reforming yourself, the object is to wage war and other struggle to get the West to hand over the loot. This leads to violence, social intransigence, political stagnation, and failure. But at least it is a popular, rationalized failure.

2. The pompous American intellectual made a stirring speech about how great things were going in Afghanistan, a country he obviously knew nothing about. He was playing those Washington and academic games in which the lives of distant people are toyed with on the basis of book learning and theories. The fact that this particular fool happened to be conservative didn’t change anything in the usual pattern.

My Afghan friend, who had been analyzing his own country for years and seen, as he put it, half his family murdered by the Communists and the other half murdered by the Islamists, could take no more. He stood up and countered with facts and details. His talk was a devastating response. The police in Kabul wouldn’t leave their barracks to deal with violence. The war lords were out of control. Despite official optimism, Afghanistan was still Afghanistan and American plans were just illusions.

A lesson: One would have thought that the arrogant fool would have been forever silenced by the graphic demonstration that he knew nothing and was speaking nonsense. Of course, such people are never influenced by that kind of humiliation. I’ve heard and read him since saying similar things. These “masters of the universe,” to use Tom Wolfe’s phrase—historically on the right but nowadays much more common on the left—think about their egos and careers, not the lives being affected by their prattling.

Nevertheless, the experience provided a stirring example of the difference between the real and fantasy worlds, between those who know and those who blow hot air, between those who merely articulate their ideological desires and those who have the courage to speak the truth.

I’m cynical enough to ask: Guess who gets the bigger honors and rewards? But not so pessimistic or craven to stop trying to do what’s right.

3. Its one thing to be a pacifist but quite another to talk like a pacifist while being a high-ranking official at the French Defense Ministry. The well-dressed, debonair, and relatively young man was explaining how nothing was worth fighting for, how conflict had to be avoided at virtually any cost. Naturally, he would object to my summary but it is nonetheless accurate.

I have a friend, though, who loves being provocative in a funny way. In personal life, he is a sweet and considerate person but he loves to play the role of the nasty, arrogant hardliner. You could see in his glittering eyes and slight smile that he saw a big fat target of opportunity.

And so as the French bureaucrat proclaimed that no one should go to war without prior approval of the UN, my friend stood up and pointed out that France had intervened dozens of times in Africa—overthrown governments, put down revolts, backed up oppressive regimes—without any reference to the UN whatsoever.

Up on stage, the French guy was livid, totally losing his temper, rose menacingly, and as I remember it threatened to punch out my friend. The spiritual man of peace had instantly turned into macho man cruising for a bruising. I think someone physically restrained him.

A lesson: When others advise that you have no right of self-defense, are using excessive force, and similar such stuff, note how ferocious they become and totally indifferent to moral or legal considerations when their interests are at stake.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports, at

The Only Permissible Hatred?

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By Barry Rubin

The chairman of Finland's branch of Amnesty International, Frank Johansson, wrote in his blog at a Finnish newspaper that Israel is a "scum state." It makes me recall a French ambassador who used a nastier word at a dinner party a couple of years back. And I've heard from several diplomats equivalent things over the years.

Isn't it something that in this day of Political Correctness and multiculturalism and humanitarian kindness that there is only one people and one country in the world that supposedly respectable Europeans don't hesitate to insult in the most vicious language? There is still one people to whom the alleged rules of non-stereotyping and anti-racism doesn't apply in many quarters.

Of course they would not dare to speak in this way of Iran or Sudan, Saudi Arabia or Syria, Venezuela or North Korea, Zimbabwe or Cuba, or for that matter Hamas or Hizballah, or other terrorists, torturers, murderers, and thieves in power. Greed? Fear? Support for repressive dictatorships that brandish populist and anti-Western rhetoric? Indeed, if such a person were to so criticize any other country in the world--from Albania through Zanzibar--he would be forced to resign immediately.

Might such people have some sense that this is just some new version of historic antisemitism? Well, one can only quote what Theodor Herzl wrote well over a century ago. As the twentieth century was about to begin,  Herzl noted something amazing. Despite advances in technology, transportation, and communication, one thing remained as it was when the Turks conquered Byzantium, Columbus set sail, and oxcarts were the main means of travel.

That one thing was antisemitism. Indeed, Herzl mournfully pointed out, "After a short breathing space...bad times have come again...not only in the backward countries...but also in those that are called civilized."

Now, here we are at the onset of the twenty-first century, the cycle is being repeated, and groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN's human rights commission are in the vanguard.
Shame on them all.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports, at

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Direct Israel-Palestinian Talks: An Important Detail

By Barry Rubin

There's an important detail worth noting regarding the renewal of direct talks. According to the U.S. State Department, Israel's extension of the freeze on building within West Bank Jewish settlements and across the pre-1967 borders in Jerusalem is an issue to be discussed at the negotiations. In other words, renewing the freeze is not a precondition.

This is an important U.S. step to Israel's advantage and should be noted as such. Of course, Israel will come under intensive pressure to renew the freeze--otherwise, the U.S. side will argue, the talks will collapse--but can bargain to get something in exchange for doing so. From a mediator's standpoint, though, this is one more likely crisis that could wreck the negotiations.

Israel's question will be: What will the Palestinian Authority give in exchange for a renewed freeze? The Palestinian Authority will respond: absolutely nothing. Most likely, the United States would then have to step in and give Israel some concession or guarantee. The Israeli government will say: OK, and one thing we want is that if in a year the talks go nowhere or if they collapse you will not demand we continue the freeze.

By the way, the conventional wisdom is that if the talks collapse there will be a lot more violence. Sooner or later, over the next five years or so, there will perhaps be another intifada. But in the shorter run, Palestinian militants and Hamas will be relieved if the talks break down. Violence would be more likely if--and this isn't going to happen--they appeared to be succeeding and Hamas along with Fatah radicals are eager to stop the process.

Finally, regarding the idea that Arab states are always obsessed with helping the Palestinians, the United Arab Emirates, which gave the PA $174 million last year has offered nothing in 2010 while Saudi aid has allen from $241 million to only $30.6 million. That's a cut of almost $400 million from the PA's main Arab contributors. Others give very little. The PA's economic boom on the West Bank is being funded by Western taxpayers. Here's an interesting take on the Palestinian economy.

Monday, August 23, 2010

So You Want to Hold Direct Talks? First, Study Palestinian Politics

By Barry Rubin

While explaining how the U.S. and European effort to start direct talks was going to fail because it neglected to consider Palestinian politics and ideology, I'm still amazed by how rapidly this point was proven. Briefly, the Palestinian Authority continues to be dominated by the politics of rejectionism and the fact that Hamas rules almost half of the land it purports to speak for must be taken into account.

Sure enough, even before the official PA acceptance of the U.S. invitation to direct talks, we've seen these developments:

--Hamas announces that since it totally rejects direct talks (much less any peace with Israel) as treason, it is stopping its own negotiations with the PA for cooperation or merger. This shows clearly that the PA cannot reach any deal with Israel (even if it wanted to do so) and deliver on its commitments because of the Hamas factor. Do also remember that not only does Hamas run the Gaza Strip but also has a very large base of support in the PA-ruled West Bank.

--Far from welcoming talks and expressing his eagerness to make peace and live alongside Israel, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas explains that he only requested permission from his true masters (the Fatah leadership) to go to talks for one month. It should be clearly understood that the Fatah leaders include three groups: old companions of Yasir Arafat, ideological hardliners, and perhaps about ten percent relative moderates. It doesn't want to make a permanent compromise peace with Israel.

--Some Fatah leaders are claiming that even this one-month permission isn't valid since there wasn't a quorum at the relevant meeting. In some cases, leaders stayed away on purpose so they could block direct negotiations.

--Other PA and Fatah leaders are unhappy that the U.S. officials claimed there were no preconditions for direct talks since the Palestinians wanted to be given everything (especially the 1967 borders and a state whether or not negotiations succeeded) in advance. Basically, they only want to accept a state from Western hands without any real compromises with Israel (recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, permanent end of conflict, settlement of all Palestinian refugees in Palestine, border changes, non-militarization, and security guarantees).

--It is also being pointed out in Palestinian circles that Mahmoud Abbas has been an unelected leader of the PA for two years, since elections were cancelled by him. The current government thus lacks legitimacy and a mandate to make any deal.

This is only the beginning! Ask me some time about how the PLO handled Jordan's King Hussein in the 1980s when he tried to get it to make peace with Israel. Briefly, it kept playing bureaucratic games about preconditions, contradictory statements, and failure to keep commitments until he gave up. The same story has repeatedly foiled peacemaking efforts.

None of this makes sense unless the observer comprehends that Israel wants peace with a two-state solution; the Palestinian leaderships want total victory and Israel's destruction. They will make no agreement and accept no state unless convinced that it won't make it impossible for them to get everything eventually. I'm sad to explain this and wish the facts were otherwise. But they aren't.

A case can be made for current Western policies in terms of government self-interest (to look as if the leaders are making real accomplishments) and national self-interest (keep the issue quiet and be able to claim they are doing something to Arabs and Muslims in order to keep things quiet and get on with other priorities). It is doubtful, though, whether many anti-Western, pro-Islamist Arabs or Muslims are impressed into changing their views. If these governments consciously know they are acting cynically this limits the damage.

But meanwhile, a lot of the study or analysis of the Middle East is like insisting that the moon is made of green cheese, then either ignoring or explaining away every astronomical observation and scientific experiment that showed this idea to be wrong.

For example, here's how The Economist puts it:

"Mr Abbas came close to agreement with Ehud Olmert, a former Israeli leader, at least on borders. He wants to pick up where he left off. But having pinned his political career on these talks, his credibility, and that of the Palestinian Authority he leads, may be weakened further if they seem a farce. Mr Netanyahu’s intentions are still opaque."

Let's analyze this. The pattern in talks is that Israel makes an offer of what it will give in exchange for what it wants. The PA then responds: OK, we'll take your offers as concessions. We haven't made any. And that will be our starting point. So we will now discuss the additional unilateral concessions you will make while we don't offer anything.

The above paragraph may sound like a satire but it is precisely how things have worked repeatedly, without anyone in the Western media catching on.

The second part of The Economist quote is equally ludicrous.

On these issues, see here and here. For a deeper look at Fatah and PA politics, see here and here. And best of all, you can read my books Revolution Until Victory and (with Judy Colp Rubin) Yasir Arafat.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Iraq and The Real Middle East Conflict

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By Barry Rubin

Aymenn Jawad is a talented young Arab writer who shows how to analyze regional politics well. His short article on Iraqi politics and how they fit into the Nationalist-Islamist, Iran-Syria-Turkey bloc versus Arab regimes' conflict really makes the issues clear. Recommended reading.

Basically, he shows how Saudi Arabia and Iran are competing for influence in Iraq just as the Saudis were battling with Iran and Syria in Lebanon but gave it up as a lost cause. Meanwhile, the United States and Europe are acting clueless about this huge struggle in the region that will determine its future. The central issue is not Israeli-Palestinian or even, in a sense, Iranian nuclear. It is the massive conflict between two blocs.

One of them is composed of Iran, Syria, the Turkish regime, Hamas, Hizballah, and the Iraqi insurgents. The other consists of all of the Arab regimes except for Syria and the Lebanese March 14 coalition. There are some forces, like Qatar, that play on both sides at times.

The revolutionaries have Islamist ideology and both financial and terrorist backing from Tehran and Damascus. The relative moderates--whose interests in some ways parallel those of Israel and in most ways the West--are hoping for Western backing. Poor relative moderates to depend on such unreliable patrons.

The West continues to see the region largely in terms of the outmoded Arab-Israeli conflict when there is a battle to the death among Arabs and among Muslims going on in front of its eyes. It is often more concerned with engaging or apologizing for the radicals than it is in helping the relative moderates against them.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports, at

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Competing World Views Tear A "Peace Process" to Pieces

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By Barry Rubin

The U.S. announcement inviting Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) for direct talks shows quite clearly, though unintentionally, why the talks will fail.

Special Envoy George Mitchell explains:

“We are all well aware that there remains mistrust between the parties, a residue of hostility developed over many decades of conflict, many previous efforts that have been made to resolve the conflict that had not succeeded, all of which takes a very heavy toll on both societies and their leaders. In addition, we all know that, as with all societies, there are differences of opinion on both sides on how best to proceed, and as a result, this conflict has remained unresolved over many decades and through many efforts. We don’t expect all of those differences to disappear when talks begin. Indeed, we expect that they will be presented, debated, discussed, and that differences are not going to be resolved immediately.”

This is a good explanation that the administration knows how hard it is to bring peace, though it does not jibe well with his saying a few minutes later: “We believe that if those negotiations are conducted seriously and in good faith, they can produce such an agreement within 12 months. And that is our objective.”

Of course, Mitchell is right that the task's difficulty shouldn't preclude an attempt to negotiate and that understanding the difficulty is essential to doing a decent job. The one-year thing, though, is nonsense. If negotiations would be conducted seriously an agreement could be reached in a month but there are reasons this has never happened and won’t happen for a long time.

As an analyst not a diplomat, I can point out that the problem is not just “mistrust,” “residue of hostility,” and “differences of opinion,” but rather structural impediments to success. Western media and leaders are all too eager to point out alleged problems on the Israeli side—domestic politics—but never really discuss the same thing on the Palestinian side.

I have pointed out HERE that the problems posed by Israeli politics and public opinion for peacemaking are greatly exaggerated, sometimes due to ignorance and sometimes due to a malicious effort to make things seem Israel’s fault.

What is lacking, as I’ve pointed out HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE, is that there is a huge problem on the Palestinian side. This includes:

--Hardline views by the overwhelming majority of Fatah leaders, who do after all control the PA.

--The belief that it is not necessary to negotiate peace because in the shorter-run the PA can get the West to hand them a state on a silver platter and in the longer-run the Palestinians can win the conflict and destroy Israel entirely.

--The almost 100 percent lack of any effort to prepare and moderate Palestinian public opinion by its own leadership, clergy, media, and politicians. There has been an extensive debate in Israel and there is a great willingness to compromise, something simply not there on the Palestinian side. Israelis have empathy and even often sympathy for Palestinians; the reverse is simply not true. It is a cultural and political issue that lies beyond the bounds of any “Politically Correct” “Multicultural” mentality to understand but can be easily demonstrated.

Incidentally, here's one of many such tricks used to avoid understanding these things. Fatah issues a new charter and Western media articles and experts gushed at how moderate it was, including not repeating material from the old charter that called for the use of violence. The only problem is that the new document explicitly stated that all of the old document was still in effect.

--The wooly mammoth, “elephant” is not an adequate description, in the room of a Hamas regime dedicated to warfare, terrorism, and genocide. There is no conceivable mechanism for dealing with this issue.

On that last point here is how Mitchell (didn’t) address it:

QUESTION: So you expect Hamas to accept any decision made by President Abbas at these negotiations?

MR. MITCHELL: It is not for me to make decisions for others….With respect to Hamas, let’s be clear. Hamas won a legislative election. They acknowledge the continued executive authority of President Abbas and his team, and it is entirely appropriate that we negotiate with the executive head of that government. When Democrats regained control of the Congress in 2006, that didn’t end President Bush’s tenure as president, and others who wanted to negotiate with the United States negotiated with the legally elected and then-chief of our executive branch of government. And that is the situation here.

Again, Mitchell says what he needs to say, but of course he omits the Hamas violent coup against the PA. Indeed, his statement jibes with the false history of Hamas and its supporters and is rather a mess factually. Abbas’s turn came to an end almost two years ago and Hamas could easily argue—and it sure will do so--that he is in office illegally and thus that any agreement he reached with Israel was not valid. By the way, Mitchell states that Hamas does “acknowledge the continued executive authority of President Abbas and his team.” I believe that this is false.

In short, Mitchell lays the basis in theory for an Israel-Palestinian treaty leading to a Palestinian state, then Hamas overthrowing the regime to seize control of that state, tossing out the treaty and calling in Iranian and Syrian troops to “protect” Palestine. True, this is leaping ahead in time but this is the kind of thing negotiators need to take into account.

Instead of Mitchell’s facile Democrats/Bush analogy, here’s a more accurate one: The Democrats regain control of Congress, the two sides reach an agreement, the Democrats than stage an armed coup and murder Republicans by the score then throw the Republicans out of the regions they conquer, and the United States has two governments that are in effect at war with each other. Bush doesn’t hold any elections but just keeps extending his term in office.

Would other countries then be able to rely on agreements made with Bush and consider him “legally elected?” Of course not.

Moreover, Mitchell's comparison of Hamas to the Democratic Party reveals the silly habit of making parallels among widely disparate Western and Middle Eastern ideas, institutions, and groups. Hamas is a genocidal, terrorist, revolutionary Islamist group dedicated to wiping out Israel and the Jews, overthrowing all existing Arabic-speaking governments, and creating a totalitarian state ruled by a caliph.

Is this a group Mitchell wants to compare to the Democrats, who are not known for throwing opponents off tall buildings, machine-gunning the enemy wounded in hospital beds, and teaching children to be suicide bombers.

And consider this, too: By forcing Israel to end the high level of sanctions against the Gaza Strip, the West has in effect recognized the Hamas regime as an independent entity that can stay in office for decades. Certainly, it has ceased any effective attempt to bring down that regime. So what is Hamas’s incentive to accept a PA-Israel negotiation process that it has denounced as treasonous?

I don’t want to spend so much time on this single issue but it is worth reviewing as an example, one of the more obvious cases where the real world and the fantasy world of Washington’s Middle East come into collision.

Mitchell also states:

"But we do believe that peace in the Middle East, comprehensive peace, including, but not limited to, an end to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, is very much in the interests of Israelis and Palestinians, of all people in the region; it’s in the national security interests of the United States, and therefore, we are going to continue to pursue that objective with patience, perseverance, and determination.”

Trying to promote negotiations is certainly in the U.S. national security interest. Yet the strategy and tactics used cannot ignore regional realities.

Here’s one of them: Is “comprehensive peace” in the interest “of all people in the region?” On one level that seems obvious but on the level of actual reality it is completely false. Consider this: having peace in Europe was arguably in the interests of everyone at all times between, say, between 1337 (start of the Hundred Year’s War between England and France) and 1990 (the Cold War's end), yet nonetheless there wasn’t peace much of the time.

Why is that? Because there were ideologies, nations, and leaders who thought there was something more important than peace: gains, victories, land, glory, the will of the Creator of the Universe, and other things. Moreover, they perceived that triumph was easy and that they could have everything they wanted. This worldview does not characterize the position today of, at most, more than 10 percent of Israelis (or Americans and Europeans for that matter) but does characterize the position of more than 95 percent of Arabs, Middle East Muslims, and Palestinians.

An element of this doctrinaire, deterministic "even-handedness" and "mirror-imaging" practices by Western governments today is to misunderstand much about the Middle East (and Israel as well) to the point that they fail in their efforts and stumble into crises. This point also applies to their understandings of Islamism, Iran's ambitions, the internal problems of Iraq and Afghanistan, and much more. These mistakes cost lives and produce strategic disasters.

Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah, and most of the PA’s own Fatah rulers don’t think a “comprehensive peace” is in the interests of Palestinians, much less all the peoples of the region. They believe that anyone who does think so should be murdred. They are certain that the elimination of Israel, which they do not number among the “peoples of the region” is in everyone’s interest.

Certainly, from the standpoint of 2010, the relatively moderate regimes aren’t going to do much to make that happen and there are a number of Arab governments that behind-the-scenes understand the value to Israel for them. But they are generally going to avoid being much help because of their own interests. For them, the conflict with Israel--as long as it is carried out mainly or only on a rhetorical level--is tremendously profitable. The regimes use it to distract from domestic problems and to display their Arab nationalist and Islamic credentials.

These points are just not understood in the West. A typical example: the United States invites the Egyptian and Jordanian governments to observe the new direct talks believing they will pressure the PA and reassure the Israelis into making peace. A far more likely outcome is that they will simply back PA positions, making Israel feel the dice are loaded against it and convincing the PA that it can avoid making peace by using the usual Arab and Muslim levers to guarantee regionwide support for intransigence.

This kind of miscalculation is the problem when people like Mitchell conclude, in his words, that opposition cannot, deter leaders “who…recognize that the interests of their people, the future of their societies rests upon resolving this conflict and achieving the kind of peace and stability and security from which they will all benefit.”

But of course it can! Not understanding why is the mistake that has repeatedly led Western leaders and experts to predict diplomacy will succeed only to find, to their puzzlement, that it fails.

Indeed, this factor has been the centerpiece of Middle East history for the last sixty years. Fear of public opinion, fear of Islamists and hardline clerics, fear of rivals taking advantage of their concessions, fear of assassination, fear of political destruction, and other such things have deterred leaders. And those not deterred—King Abdallah of Jordan, Bashir Gemayel of Lebanon, Anwar al-Sadat of Egypt (and, yes, Yitzhak Rabin of Israel, too)--have been eliminated as a result.

There is a rather sharp gap between the reality of PA “President” Mahmoud Abbas’s political position (hardline) and thinking (scared to an extent which usually brings in a bad word at this point) and what Mitchell portrays it as being.

Again, this does not mean the West should not try to negotiate. It does, however, mean that the West should maintain its own credibility in fighting the radicals (in part, to encourage the relative moderates) and support Israel strongly to show that maximal aims cannot be achieved. The lack of these pillars helps to cripple any peace process.

To summarize, these negotiations are based on a set of false premises:

A. That Abbas is clearly the legitimate leader of the Palestinians who is empowered to make a deal. Mitchell bases this on a false claim that Hamas recognizes the Abbas government as legitimate and by not mentioning Abbas is ruling without elections and beyond the end of his term.

B. The idea that Hamas is not a real problem and will just go away. Wrong again.

C. The belief that Abbas and his colleagues view a formal peace agreement with Israel to be in their interests.  Again wrong. They view such an agreement as dangerous for themselves and involving concessions they don't want to make.

D. The concept that everyone in the region views peace with Israel as in their interests. Again wrong.  The revolutionaries view the active and violent continuation of the conflict to be in their interests while the relative moderates like having the conflict around for their political benefit, especially if they don't have to fight Israel or give money to the Palestinians.

E. The mistaken assumption that a treaty would be the end of the conflict and increase regional stability. In fact, desirable as peace would be, it would provoke a major radical upsurge to stop or destroy the agreement and would mark only the beginning of a struggle over Palestine and policies by the government of Palestine that would probably reignite the conflict.

The text is, “Transcript: Clinton, Special Envoy Mitchell on Push for Middle East Peace, U.S. Department of State, Office of the Spokesman, August 20, 2010.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports, at

Friday, August 20, 2010

Direct Talk About Direct (Israel-Palestinian) Talks

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By Barry Rubin

The big story of the moment is the announcement that there will soon be direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Perhaps, but for the moment Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has merely issued of an invitation to come and talk. Generally, such an invitation would only be issued when both sides have accepted and all the details are nailed down. Nowadays, however, such cannot be assumed.

On the one hand, the U.S. government has not been so competent in recent times. On the other hand, the PA can well find new excuses for not coming or additional demands that would have to be satisfied first. Will the Fatah barons agree to let "President" Mahmoud Abbas talk?

The Quartet statement says, "Direct, bilateral negotiations that resolve all final status issues should lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties, that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors."

We will see if this new round of negotiations actually happens or not.

The other thing we need to see are the terms for the talks. Are they designed as a give away to whatever the PA demands? Are they well-organized in some coherent structure? Is this a set-up to allow the Obama Administration to claim credit for getting direct talks going (after messing up and contributing to their not getting started for about 16 months?

It is amusing to see articles claiming that this is a victory for the Obama Administration. If the U.S. government had been doing such a good job it would have been able to announce the resumption of elections in April 2009, after the visit of Abbas to Washington. The president did indeed announce the resumption of negotiations in September 2009 and nothing has happened in a year.

Moreover, it is amusing to read accounts of the resumption of talks without any mention of the fact that the sole reason it has taken so long has been the PA's resistance to negotiations.

Leaving out those two facts, how can anyone possibly understand the situation or predict what will happen in future?

The same applies to two underplayed facts about the timing. Israel's one-year freeze on building inside settlements is coming to an end. For making this concession, Israel received nothing. Now it will be "rewarded" with the opportunity to renew the freeze. Of course, keeping good relations with the United States makes this worthwhile but the fact that the PA received a gift and still did not fulfill its part is worth comprehending.

The other issue regarding timing is the Obama Administration's desire to claim negotiations as proof of its diplomatic achievements for the November elections. Presumably, this will go along with the completion of combat troop withdrawal from Iraq--also timed to bring electoral benefits--as proof of how well the government is doing.

Inexplicable from the point of view of common sense is the imposition of a one-year deadline for the direct talks. Experience should have taught by now the foolishness of such artificial timetables. After all, the Oslo process failed to meet each deadline and took a total of seven years before failing.

Ironically, those who in 2000 insisted that negotiations had to hurry because PA leader Yasir Arafat had to have "something to show" his people in terms of success now say that it was some terrible mistake to rush Arafat, as if that was the reason he rejected peace at Camp David and in the proposal of President Bill Clinton.

Still one more issue is dealt with in an amazingly naive way. How is there going to be a "democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors" when about half of that supposed state--the Gaza Strip--is based on a radical Islamist regime that seeks genocide against Israel? Is it just going to go away? Are the Palestinian masses there going to rise up in support of the negotiated agreement? More likely they will rise up in the West Bank against it.

Finally, I suggest that someone in the media and politics actually begins to talk about what Israel wants out of a negotiated agreement. We hear constantly about Palestinian demands--a state, 1967 borders, east Jerusalem, return of refugees--as if these were the only things on the table. Yet if Israel's demands--recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, security guarantees, resettlement of refugees in Palestine, non-militarization of a Palestinian state, end of the conflict--are ignored that will sabotage the talks.

Remember, too, that even assuming there was a negotiated settlement, Hamas, Hizballah, Syria, Iran, and the Muslim Brotherhoods, among others, would try harder to wreck it. The level of terrorism and conflict would rise even more. Iran, for example, would not stop developing nuclear weapons. The ideas that everything is linked to the Arab-Israeli conflict or that resolving the conflict would bring stability and moderation to the region are simply not based on a serious consideration of the area and its politics.

It would be a great thing if the two sides achieved a permanent, just, and stable peace agreement. But it is an ordeal to hear the nonsense about to be launched about peace being at hand, the Palestinian urgent desire for a state and "end to occupation," the ignoring of the Gaza/Hamas factor, the black-out on discussing Israel's demands, and much more.

As I finish this article, by coincidence I hear Fox radio news explain that both Israel and the Palestinians are eager for peace. Sigh.

Direct talks aren't going to lead to any major progress. If the United States and Europeans are approaching this cynically--let's do this so we can claim to be great statesmen and keep things quiet while we work on Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan--that isn't so bad. The danger would come if they believe their own propaganda and think that papering over real conflicts and pressing Israel is going to produce meaningful peace, enhance regional security, and serve their strategic interests.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports, at

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Difference Between Politics and Analysis

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By Barry Rubin

One of the points I’m constantly trying to get across is the separation between political view and analysis. Let me use a simple, albeit important, case to try to explain this idea.

Let us assume two basic positions on Israel’s policy toward dealing with negotiations with the Palestinians.

The first position is along these lines: For a variety of reasons, Israel should do everything possible to hang on to all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The second position is along these lines: For a variety of reasons, Israel should be willing, in exchange for things it wants, to trade all or almost all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

These are political positions expressing the political views of the person in question. These can be characterized as hawkish or dovish, left or right wing in the political spectrum.

Now, let us turn to analytical positions.

The first position is an assessment that the Palestinians—for whatever reasons--want to make a deal. Perhaps they would keep the deal, perhaps they would break the deal but let’s leave that open.

The second position is the assessment that the Palestinians either will not or cannot make a deal, again this could be attributed to a variety o reasons.

These latter two positions are analytical positions, not political stances. The view taken does not characterize the personal political views of the person holding them.

From what we’ve said so far we can construct a simple series of four alternative combinations of political stances and analyses:

1. Pessimistic Hawk: Opposes yielding territory and making a deal, thinks that would be disastrous. But believes that a deal will be made.

2. Optimistic Hawk: Opposes yielding territory and making a deal, thinks that would be disastrous. But believes that a deal will not be made.

3. Pessimistic Dove: Favors yielding territory for a deal that he believes will bring peace. But believes a deal will not be made.

4. Optimistic Dove: Favors yielding territory for a deal that he believes will bring peace. But believes a deal will be made.

The political position makes one feel good or bad about the situation. But an analysis is not a preference but an assessment of the facts.

This model can be applied to any issue at all: abortion, health care, elections, policy toward China, anything. Many people, of course, make their assessment on the basis of their preference and perhaps personality. But that is not the right way to do it. It is not acceptable for academics, journalists, intelligence analysts, or people working in research centers—in short, professionals.

The next level is to evaluate the situation in more detail: What factors might or might not change the situation? What concessions or compromises should or should not be traded in exchange for other benefits? How does one define an acceptable deal? This is what politicians and policymakers are supposed to do—and policy analysts are supposed to help them do.

But there is something profoundly wrong, though it is what so often happens, to line up analyses with preferences. To be “left” or “right,” liberal or conservative should have nothing to do with one’s view of a situation. Equally, one should be prepared to change one’s view as circumstances make appropriate.

Obviously, especially on passionate issues, this is not how things work for many people. They want an endorsement of their preferences, to assume that what their political framework tells them corresponds to the situation. But that temptation, like so many in life, should be resisted.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports, at