Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Now We Know The Truth: What's Behind U.S. "Peace Process" Policy

By Barry Rubin

At last we have an explanation for what has been going on with Israel-Palestinian talks. It is credible yet ridiculous. And it is very important.

Here is today’s New York Times.

“In recent weeks, Mr. Kerry and his aides have outlined several basic arguments for why his efforts might bear fruit. Perhaps the most important one, which Mr. Kerry advanced almost the moment he was picked for the State Department post, is that the United States does not have the luxury of staying on the sidelines."

“With the Palestinians poised to take their claim for statehood to the International Criminal Court and United Nations bodies, American officials say the two sides were facing a downward spiral in which the Israelis would respond by cutting off financing to the Palestinian territories and European nations might curtail their investment in Israel, further isolating the Israelis.”

Now, what is this saying?

--The Palestinian Authority (PA) intends to violate all the pledges used over the last 20 years of negotiations and in obtaining the West Bank and, previously, Gaza Strip. (Not a good precedent for the likelihood of their keeping future commitments.)

--For doing so it is not being punished but rewarded.

--The PA will seek statehood not through negotiations with Israel but unilaterally. No Israel agreement will be necessary.

--Note a key assumption here: The United States either will not oppose, or effectively oppose, this effort. Let’s pause here.  You mean the United States cannot lead or pressure such countries as Britain, France, Germany, or Italy in saying “”no.” The New York Times doesn’t point out what a failure of Obama Administration influence that would be. Let’s also note the incompetence and failure of that government to stop leading allies at the UN General Assembly to vote for non-member statehood (a non-binding vote) last year despite a one-year warning the PA would try this.

--To summarize, the United States proposes surrender to a development breaking its more than 20-year-long policy that no comprehensive solution would be achieved without real mutual agreement.
--After the “”success” of the unilateral independence for Palestine--remember, with no control of the PA over Gaza--Israel will take action, understandably since it has been sold out by its allies.

--European states, again with no effective action by America, will punish Israel and Israel will be worse off.
Where to begin in analyzing this remarkable foundation for policy?

First, as I pointed out, it presumes incompetence and betrayal by the Obama Administration. It presumes that any battle to block either unilateral independence or punishment of Israel for opposing it would be doomed. This includes a refusal for the United State or European states to punish the PA even while they are believed they will eagerly punish Israel.

Incidentally, this explains Kerry’s seeming slip about Palestine already being an independent country! Will the Obama Administration recognize a state of Palestine not achieved through negotiation with Israel?
Second, it presumes that after everything it has done for 20-40 years has proven to be based on false promises, Israel should base itself on more of such promises.

Third, it presupposes that the punishment would be worse than the risk taken by Israel, and ignores any possible costs faced by the Palestinians. Just because the EU has put sanctions--far looser and less significant than they seem--against special economic privileges for Israeli settlements in Europe does that mean the EU will do major sanctions against Israel in its recognized territory? (If Israel has such indications we don't know about it and, again, it shows how the United States has not fought against this.

Fourth, it assumes that having been given every reason to believe that they hold all the cards, the PA will make any compromises. This is not likely to result in a deal since Kerry has already told them that in a year or two more they can have anything. Here is Mahmoud Abbas radiating confidence that he is about to get a state.  Remember that Kerry's last Middle East negotiations was when he thought he would easily wean away Syria's dictatorship from Iran.

And fifth, why would the PA keep any post-treaty commitments? We know that Hamas will not, and that Iran would not accept them. How long before new cross-border attacks and new demands would be made.

I presume that talks would fail and after this explanation of what Kerry is doing I feel even more strongly that this will happen.  That's why the Israeli government has accepted this bad deal, believing--I think accurately--that the PA will make the talks fail. I understand why this option was taken--also because there might be American or European additional threats and promises; nobody can be as bad as Obama in future--but really this tactic is getting tired.    


This article is published on PJMedia.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Why are 104 Palestinian Terrorists Being Released? No Good Reason

By Barry Rubin

What is truly puzzling about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposing to release more than 100 of the worst Palestinian terrorists to have ever murdered Israelis is that it is so impossible to figure out any reason to do so.  It is not just that one might oppose this plan, it is that I cannot think of a single reason for supporting it.

Let’s go very carefully through the arguments and try to find one.

It is true, of course, that Israel has released prisoners before. Yet this was under different circumstances.
In one case,  prisoners, sometimes in very large  numbers, were released in exchange for Israeli soldiers. This could be controversial but also one could make a case for it. The prisoners might have been convicted on less serious charges or they might have been near the end of their imprisonment. There was a nobility in putting the value of Israelis high, keeping the promise of doing everything possible to release them. And while the families of the victims could be considered so were the families of the captives.

A second rationale for such releases is if there is a calculation of diplomatic gain. Perhaps the release of some prisoners will help bring a ceasefire or get serious negotiations going—when we thought that these were possible—or get some valuable gains or material benefits from the West.

 I have supported such past releases, painful and dangerous as they were.But the curiosity here is why Israel is releasing the worst terrorists for no gain, not even good publicity? 

Surely it isn’t to win domestic popularity because Israelis hate this decision.

Nor is it related to the previous Netanyahu strategy which has been to humor Obama, play along, keep him happy, make minimal and low-cost concessions, and let the PA show it doesn’t want to make peace.

Nor will it get Israel any good public image in Europe or America. On the contrary, the mass media will not tell the readers and viewers the extent of the crimes perpetrated by these terrorists or what would generate sympathy for the real victims. No. If anything the coverage will emphasize sympathy for the terrorists’ families and leave the impression that the terrorists were political prisoners arrested for no good reasons by the cruel occupation authorities.

Is the PA offering something? No. Any hint that the PA will suspend the demand that all Palestinians can come live in Israel (and subvert it), or that it will recognize Israel as a Jewish state, or that the pre-1970 lines be altered in Israel’s favor are simply not going to happen.

Any concession will be pocketed and then the PA will demand more. We know that. The strategy of unilateral creation of Palestine, without any deal at all, will continue.

Okay, so perhaps some big prize will be given by the United States? Like what? In Egypt and Syria the United States is supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, against Israel’s interests. In Turkey, Obama loves an anti-Israel Turkish government.

Is there some secret American promise? But what is an Obama promise worth? Two examples. Obama has gone back on a pledge to support a frontier change to allow Israel to include large settlement blocs.

And then there was Turkey where President Obama personally mediated a deal with Turkey in which Israel made concessions, than did nothing when Turkey ignored all the provisions and openly broke the agreement.

In fact, remember how Obama asked Israel for a construction freeze on settlements and then gave it no credit when it did so twice!

Perhaps the secret promise pertains to Iran and its nuclear weapons drive. But what would that be? Is the Obama Administration going to attack Iran or cooperate with Israel in doing so? Of course not. And even if such a promise was made does anyone believe this?

Merely to continue past presidencies’ policies toward Israel would not be sufficient to get such continued concessions in exchange for nothing new.

Or was there a credible threat against Israel, that Obama would do something terrible or apply pressure if he didn’t get his way? Yet as the saying goes in Hebrew, yesh gavul, there’s a limit.

As for the nominal reason for the Netanyahu policy, the prime minister has said that perhaps there is some real chance for peace this time. He just doesn’t believe that.

What is the real effect of this policy?

--To undermine Israel credibility.

--To increase the risk from terrorism to Israeli citizens.

--To build confidence in Palestinian intransigence.

--To encourage Palestinians to commit terrorism believing there will be no or a reduced price.

--To convince the PA’s belief that it can get something for nothing.

--To persuade Europeans and Americans that they can endlessly pressure Israelis into concessions.  (Would America release al-Qaida terrorists from Guantanamo Bay prison in the belief that this would lead them to make pace?)

I just don’t get it and there is simply no proper motive for following—or needing to pursue—such a terrible policy.

This article is published on PJMedia. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sunni Islamists Hate Too Many People for their Own Good

By Barry Rubin

The problem is that the list is getting longer. Back in May, when the Muslim Brotherhood government was expected to be in power forever, for example, an Egyptian imam, Muhammad al-Zughbi, had the following sets of people he wanted to wipe out. He called on Allah to protect Egypt from:

--”Manipulators and the corrupt.’’  In other words from the usual ruling riff-raff who defied social justice.
--”From the criminal traitors,” anyone who is a non-Islamist ruler.

--“The criminal rafidites [Shiites]. In fact for these fellow Muslims we hear intended to:

-- Destroy Bashar [al-Assad, Syria’s ruler] the Shiite Iranians, Hizballah, that infidel, Hassan Nasrallah [leader of Hizballah]. Inflict cancer and pain upon him [I can tell you personally that’s no joke], and the Shiites of Iraq. That’s tens of millions of people.

Oh Allah, their children and infants are slaughtered with knives in front of their fathers and their mothers. Have mercy upon the infants and the children. Girls, women, and mothers were raped by the rafidite Shiites.
Oh Allah, have mercy upon them! The rafidite Shiites slaughtered them in their homes, in front of their families. Have mercy upon the children and upon the girls who were raped. Have mercy upon the Sunnis. Have mercy! We do not plead with presidents, ministers, kings, or princes.”

--Then, of course, “destroy the accursed Jews” and “kill them all,” that’s another dozen million. Note though a conflict: “turn their children into orphans and their wives into widows.” The problem though is that if all are killed our     .;/. children will not remain as orphans but will be dead, too. Also if all adults are dead, their wives won’t be around to be widows.

--“Oh Allah, destroy the Arab rulers. Bring dark hours upon them, and demonstrate the wonders of Your might upon them. Oh Allah, abandon them, just as they abandoned Syria. Oh Allah, destroy them and put them to shame for the whole world to see.”

All of them?  Wasn’t Mursi an “Arab ruler?”  No! He and other Sunni Islamists are Islamic rulers. Everyone else should be overthrown. The Arab rulers as such deserve no loyalty or support.

Now tell me if this is the set-up for a massacre:

”Oh Allah, support the Sunnis in Syria. Everybody ganged up against them, and deceivers deceived them. Oh Allah, the rulers of the Arabs and the Muslims united against them. They are hypocrites, along with the accursed U.S.A., for the benefit of Israel. Oh Allah, the rafidite Shiites from Iran, from Hizballah, and from Iraq came to them, slaughtered their sons, and humiliated their women.”

Note some points. The Sunni Islamists must believe that the United States against them. America can never be helping the Brotherhood because America is evil and satanic. If the United States does help the Brotherhood and Islamists it must only be seeking to help coopt them, to make them traitors. Thus, the United States is thus evil and should be punished.

But notice the same point applies to others. Al-Qaida killed a senior commander of the Free Syrian Army. Why did they do it, so as to “divide” the rebels? Because they do want to divide the rebels. They wish to sabotage any chance that the West will aid the rebels who, despite their common opposition to the Syrian regime, are enemies over future power.

Why then might help from the U.S. government for the Brotherhood to rule Egypt or Tunisia or Syria, be welcomed? The United States must be blamed. Wait until after the Obama Administration helps the Syrian rebels into power and then have them blame the Americans for allegedly helping keep in power the Assad regime.

But as for the Brotherhood it has an enemies list much too long. The West, the Shias, the Jews, the “Arabs,” the Christians, and Egypt’s army, plus more. A clever revolutionary movement builds alliances; a foolish one just makes enemies.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Kerry's Blunder, A Palestinian State? Not Yet

By Barry Rubin

Secretary of State John Kerry doesn’t seem to grasp his job. Now he has referred to Palestine as a country already. He said:

“It’s my hope that…as procedures are put in place both countries in order to empower” progress toward peace

Of course, it was a slip of the tongue. Yet the secretary of state is not supposed to contradict directly policy. The U.S. position is that Palestine is not yet a country and won’t be unless it makes peace with Israel on terms that Israel will accept. This comes in a little document known informally as the 1993 Oslo agreement.

Last year, the United States fought hard in the UN against acceptance of Palestine as a state. What escaped any notice is that the Obama Administration didn’t get to work until almost a year after it was clear that this was the strategy of the Palestinian Authority (PA), not to make peace with Israel but to go around it and try to get a state unilaterally.

If the Obama Administration had done its job and threatened the PA against such an action, it probably would have stopped it.

If the Obama Administration had done its job and pressured allies and clients against voting for such a thing, it probably would have persuaded them.

Now the U.S. government is begging the PA—a body that doesn’t even control the Gaza Strip where another government is in power that opposes a deal and openly advocates committing genocide against its supposed interlocutor!—to do something, anything, to let is support statehood.

But no deal will happen because why should the PA make any concession—including anything that would block the PA or Hamas from continuing their long-term effort to wipe Israel off the map—if it can hope to get everything for nothing.

Mind you, I’m not saying they will ever succeed in doing that but they will keep trying.
Remember that direct negotiations have basically been going on for 22 years and they will probably go on for much longer, especially with these tactics.   

NBC executive: “How is that a show?”

Jerry Seinfeld [pitching a show] : “Well, uh, maybe something happens on the way to work.”

NBC executive: “No, nothing happens...”

Seinfeld: “Well. Something happens.”

NBC executive: Well, why am I watching it?

George Costanza: Because it’s on TV.

NBC executive: “Not yet.”


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Israel-Palestinian Peace Talks To be Renewed in Washington? Maybe

Haaretz has reported an Israeli government announcement that negotiations will resume in Washington on Tuesday. The basis is supposed to be the 1967 lines--presumable with minor border modifications?--and recognition of Israel by the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a '"Jewish state."  The PA has repeatedly said it would never do so.

In fact, there has been no actual agreemet to renew talks, it's an illusion.

It should be remembered that such talks were conducted between 1991 and 2000 without any actual progress toward a final status solution. They were then suspended by the PA for 13 years. In short, this is renewal of a process which, in its comprehensive goal, failed for 23 years. The last renewal achieved under U.S, pressure lasted about a week.

No doubt the renewal of talks will be greeted as a major achievement. It isn't. If two parties are forced to talka they are unlikely to succeed. Other motives are present.

Israel is being pressured by an Obama Administration which it doesn't trust, under highly threatening regional developments including Iran's development of nuclear weapons, a pro-Muslim Brotherhood U.S. policy in Egypt, a revolutionary situation in Syria where the Obama Administration backs hostile forces (though the forces on the other side are equally hostile) , and a hostile Turkey also supported by the United States. The entire Obama Administration foreign policy team is not exactly friendly toward Israel.
This is not a moment for additional antagonism to be generated.

Israel is releasing prisoners whose terrorist crimes the Western mass media don't report and to which the Western political leadership is indifferent. It is not, however, making other material or diplomatic concessions. It is unclear, however, whether in the formulation of the 1967 frontiers whether the U.S. government is proposing to keep its promise to Israel about retention of settlement blocs. That is a diplomatic ambiguity that will haunt the U.S. mediators since it will still be disputed either way.

It is extremely difficult to believe that the PA is giving up its refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish State. If it is, the PA will be renounced as a traitor by Hamas and even other Palestinian groups, including non-Fatah organizations. The demand for any Palestinians who want to live in Israel to "return" has also not been dropped.

Indeed, a few days ago the PA Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud al-Habbash gave a Friday sermon in the presence of ""President" Mahmoud Abbas in which he justified any signed agreement with Israel, on the ultimate result of the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah. signed by Muhammad but only as a  ten year truce with opponents. This was followed by another agreement at Khay bar with the Jews in the seventh century. This treaty made peace for a 10-year truce following which the Muslims attacked the Jews, killed all the men, and sold the women and children into slavery.

In  a more limited objective, the PA will probably continually increase its demands, hoping they will either be granted by the Obama Administration or wreck the talks in a way that will blame Israel, assured that the Obama Administration will never blame the PA.  

That doesn't seem a good atmosphere for talks. Ignoring this, however, the Obama Administration should reap a good domestic political profit and praise.

This article is published on PJMedia.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Foreign Policy Farce: U.S. Conduct of Israel-Palestinian Peace Process

By Barry Rubin

Let's consider what has just happened. A farce.

 What is shocking is the lack of outrage by mainstream journalists and foreign policy opinion-makers. This has required the slanderous consignment of normal and proper and competent foreign policy practices--as would have been demanded and done at any time in U.S. history--to silly partisanship that isn't even worth discussing.

The United States of America officially announced the resumption of negotiations when they are nowhere near arranged. The mass media breathlessly followed each claim and got it WRONG. 

No one seems to have noticed. No one pointed out why there will NOT be serious talks. No one pointed out that the Palestinians have refused to negotiate for 13 years. 

No one pointed out the PA cannot negotiate peace because it cannot commit the Gaza Strip to anything. 

Nobody pointed out in the establishment that the United States is supposed to be on Israel's side or why the settlements are NOT the problem for peace.

Has this happened before? Yes, in late 2010 when President Obama announced at the UN that the talks would soon restart at Camp David. Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed; the Palestinians refused. Is there a pattern here?

Does anyone notice that the Palestinians keep demanding more preconditions, Israeli concessions but never come to the tab;e?

Why, if Palestinians are so eager and desperate to get a state do they not try to get one? Has anyone considered the non-logic of that claim?  

Why should Israel have to again make a concession of freeing Palestinian terrorists who murdered Israeli civilians to get peace talks? Especially when the Palestinian Authority--and even those previously released--have returned to murder!

Why dd the U.S. promise to Israel that it would support the 1949 ceasefire lines PLUS settlement blocks as its new borders, not even get mentioned in the coverage? The U.S. made a conflicting promise of the precise 1949 ceasefire lines to the Palestinians. This was a huge breaking of a promise to Israel--by unilaterally not supporting boundary changes in Israel's favoron settlement blocks (large settlements near the ceasefire lines) on which Israeli concessions that were made at the risk of lives had been based!

Why dd the U.S. promise to Israel that it would support the 1949 ceasefire lines PLUS settlement blocks as its new borders, not even get mentioned in the coverage? The U.S. made a conflicting promise of the precise 1949 ceasefire lines to the Palestinians. This was a huge breaking of a promise--not mentioning settlement blocks--to Israel on which Israeli concessions that were made at the risk of lives had been based!

Why, then, should any future U.S guarantee to Israel be believed? What if the U.S. decides that it doesn't want to respond decisively when the state of Palestine lets cross-border terror raids since, for example, it has not done very much about backing up Israel from attacks by Hamas or assaults from the intifadahs? If America is so neutral between the two sides will that always be true even if Palestine would commit aggression against Israel?  

These are only some of the questions that should be raised. This public debate is being conducted on a false, sloppy, inaccurate basis in which the main news media and the U.S. government can't even get their faces straight and remember what happened a few years ago.

This article is published on PJMedia 

Victory without Obama

By Barry Rubin

Kerry shuttle diplomacy? Ha. Let's talk about what is really going on in the Middle East:

Chattanooga, Tennessee, November 25, 1863

At the assault on Lookout Mountain, the Union advance faltered against the Confederate lines high atop Missionary Ridge. Suddenly Union soldiers spontaneously advanced without orders led by six flag-bearers, one of them Arthur MacArthur, father of Douglas MacArthur. A Union officer remembered:

“Each battalion assumed a triangular shape, the colors at the apex....[A] color-bearer dashes ahead of the line and falls. A comrade grasps the flag.... He, too, falls. Then another picks it up... waves it defiantly, and as if bearing a charmed life, he advances steadily towards the top.”

And so sometimes when the general is incompetent, incapable of delivering victory, even ready to throw it away, those in the ranks must take up the slack.

“To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” said Obama in his 2009 inaugural address."

Instead it was Obama who, in the Middle East, was on the wrong side of history. “Corruption,” “deceit,” ”clinging to power,” “silencing of dissent?” That’s a description of the regimes in Iran, Turkey, the Palestinian Authority (PA, its refusal to negotiate or make peace), the Gaza Strip (Hamas, which the White House protected from overthrow), Sudan, Tunisia, Syria (where the White House courted the regime for more than two years and then supported  Muslim Brotherhood leadership over the opposition) d until recently Egypt. Perhaps we should say: Mr. Obama, join us, get on the right side, and tear down that wall. Then you will be on the right side of history.

It is the proper duty of the president of the United States to clench his fist and, in some manner, bop these enemies of America and of freedom upside the head.

And since, then, he wouldn’t help them defend themselves and sided so often with their enemies, the people and non-Islamist governments of the Middle East have now turned a corner—not the corner but a corner—toward victory. Out of self-preservation they have acted. If only they had more help!

In Egypt, they rebelled against the Islamist regime that the Obama Administration and the Muslim Brotherhood in partnership with many even more extreme Salafists gave them. True, it is not an ideal situation and the Egyptian army was--as in 2011-- the determining factor. Yet at least the Egyptians—at least about half of them who don’t want a fundamental transformation of their society—will get their way. Obama was on the wrong side.

In Turkey they have rebelled at last they demonstrated peacefully and were attacked by the repressive forces of another elected dictatorship. In Tunisia despite the elected dictatorship’s assassination of their most dynamic leader, they are trying to defend their rights. And they would do so in Lebanon as well if the United States had not spent years appeasing a Hizballah-Syrian puppet regime there.

As for Israel, the real democratic government in the region was treated with disdain for effectively defending itself,  refusing to make risky and unrequited concessions. Sure, the words were still fine but the tone and ideas were that these Israelis were too stupid or too mean they didn't know what was in their own interests.  For the first time ever much of the American Jewish community, hypnotized, didn’t remember who the good guys are any longer.

In Iran people voted for the least of seven evils, the regime-backed hardliner who at least signaled that he was a little less so, unfortunately in a Tehran government-hatched bait-and-switch scheme.
The true tragedy is Syria where, due in large part to foolish U.S. policies that backed the Muslim Brotherhood rather than the real moderates, the progressive forces—how ironic!—in that society were left with a choice between a repressive dictatorship that would massacre some of them and a would-be repressive dictatorship that would massacre others.

The small remnant of Christians have been left on their own in Iraq, must seek protection from an authoritarian regime in Syria, were run out of the Gaza Strip, and face daily attacks in Egypt. No U.S. government voice has  been raised. Is a Christian-free Middle East being on the right side of history?
Even the Saudis and Gulf Arab states at times (except for Qatar) have tried for their own strategic interests, been on the right side of history, in Lebanon and Egypt if not in Iraq and Syria. With U.S. leadership they would have done better.

But as I showed in my previous article, the Obama Administration really does believe that the future belongs to the Islamists, just as others on the wrong side of history once thought that history was on the side of Communists, fascists, Third World radical dictatorships, and Arab nationalists.

Like defeatists and those who would trade away others freedom have always said—and as two National Security staffers recently argued explaining the words out of Obama’s mouth, any effort to defeat the Islamists would fail and turn them toward even more terrorist tactics.

Guess one should help them win peacefully then? The film, ‘’Bridge on the River Kwai” describes how Colonel Nicholson, British commander of World War Two prisoners-of-war, so loses his sense of priorities that he tries to prevent the sabotage of a bridge being his slave laborers had to build to help the Japanese enemies’ war effort. When one of his officers asks,

"The fact is, what we're doing could be construed as - forgive me, sir - collaboration with the enemy. Perhaps even as treasonable activity....Must we build them a better bridge than they could have built for themselves?"

Nicholson responds:

"We can teach these barbarians a lesson in Western methods and efficiency that will put them to shame." To help them construct a better dictatorship, a better enemy.

No. For the last four years the United States should either have been on the side of the freedom-seeking peoples, U.S. strategic interests or, whenever possible, both.  But if U.S. policy and misguided and uninformed elitists who know nothing about the Middle East are on the wrong side of history don’t help, the battle will be carried on without the United States.

On another occasion in the "Bridge on the River Kwai" the officers' have this discussion:

Commander Shears: “You mean, you intend to uphold the letter of the law, no matter what it costs?”

Colonel Nicholson: “Without law, Commander, there is no civilization.”

Commander Shears: ”That's just my point; here, there is no civilization.”

Colonel Nicholson: “Then we have the opportunity to introduce it.”

No, this isn't going to happen.

Many people in the Middle East—most of whom are Muslims who don’t interpret that religion this way--reply, No Axis-style or Islamist authoritarian civilization, thank you very much. We now know the West won's help us. We'll have to fight for our own survival.'Win or lose.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Kerry Runs Around in Rings

By Barry Rubin

Update: Sp in other words, don't believe the Palestinian denials they are  going to talk, believe Kerru's claim to the contrary! How absurd. They just don't get it and won't take 'no' for an answer because Kerry knows better for Israelis and Palestinians than their leaders do. When will his credibility crack: He has nothing. Meanwhile, while these games are going on there is no  U.S. policy on Egypt or Syria!

 Secretary of State John Kerry announced officially the restart of negotiations and--as I predicted--neither the Palestinians nor Israel had actually agreed! What an embarrassment! This is the foreign policy of the United States, people, not tbe yacht races, people. This makes America look ridiculous and not credible, isn't that clear?

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has no intention of making peace. It only wants to get concessions and blame Israel for an absence of peace. It knows that the Obama Administration will never punish it if it balks but probably will only offer it more.

The PA doesn’t want to make peace since any actual concessions will make it appear to be a traitor and will bring a counter-offensive from Hamas. Since it doesn’t even represent the territory it claims—it has no power over the Gaza Strip and has no prospect of getting any—the PA cannot make any binding commitment at all. And it is watching as the battle for Syria is going on next door. That would give it a radical neighbor—the United States is supporting it—which will deem a peace agreement as null and void.

Every PA negotiator knows well that he isn’t supposed to succeed. It is only Kerry who doesn’t know this.

As for Israel, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows that it cannot depend on the United States. For example, the key issue is supposedly the precondition of what the borders will be. Now think this one through:

The PA demands and must demand that the 1967 lines would be the state borders. BUT the United States on two occasions, in the George Bush administration and in later 2010—told Israel that it could keep “settlement blocs,” that is large settlements along the borders. It is thus impossible that Netanyahu would agree to accept the loss of that U.S. commitment.

Why should he not get something for nothing, show that the president’s past commitment was worthless, and simultaneously know that any time the PA wants more that Obama will give it to them?

And of course his coalition—even his own party—won’t agree. Does Israel so desperately need “peace” that it must be purchased at its reduced security?
Meanwhile what is the United States doing for Israel on Egypt (still refusing recognizing the military regime in Egypt), Lebanon (not keeping the 2006 commitment to combat Hizballah); Syria (pushing weapons on Islamists which Israel will have to confront in future); the Gaza Strip (having no policy to bring down Hamas); Iran (no serious plan for denying nuclear weapons), and Turkey (letting Ankara ignore the supposed d├ętente even though it was promised by Obama himself)?
And that’s not even mentioning the demand for millions of Palestinian Arabs to “return” to Israel or Jerusalem?
There is nothing for Israel in this except the promise of peace, which will evaporate as ever single Obama promise has also done.
So the point is this:
The PA will keep doing stalling tactics and come up with new preconditions that it hopes Israel will not meet.
Israel will keep giving minor concessions and engaging in stalling tactics to hope that Kerry finds something useful to do.
Kerry will keep rotating between shuttle diplomacy and his yacht until the media has tired of this game. The Ring of Kerry in Ireland is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Now the Middle East has its own.
All leaks, spins, false claims, and ploys will go nowhere.        

Advice: Don’t read about the latest double-talk and impending supposed breakthroughs in the media. Look at underlying interests; not imaginative headlines.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Prophet Micaiah Teaches Me My Job

By Barry Rubin

During ancient times when monarchies ruled Judea and Israel, prophets very often acted as political analysts. I’m not saying they weren’t divinely inspired—that’s easier than having to do research!—but am looking at the historical framework.  They had to consider the kingdom’s situation, the king’s behavior, and the neighbors’ strength and intentions. Their job was not to engage in wishful thinking or to be most popular or to promote their careers.

Micaiah [not to be confused with Micah) could be—if this were not so religiously contradictory—the patron saint of political analysts. My other small connection with his story is to have participated a small bit on the archaeological excavation of the town where the story took place.

Ahab was considered the worst Israelite king ever because of his pagan behavior and mistreatment of his subjects. Here’s the story, taken from I Kings 22.

King Ahab decided to recapture the town of Ramoth-Gilead. He called a meeting of 400 prophets--today we’d call them experts--to ask what the Lord wished: “Shall I march upon Ramoth-Gilead for battle, or shall I not?”
They unanimously answered:

“March and the Lord will deliver [it] into Your Majesty’s hands.”

What more could one ask for? It’s like all scientists agreeing about man-made global warming; or all economists agreed that Obama's economic plan was brilliant; or all Middle East experts agreeing that the Muslim Brotherhood won’t take over Egypt or that the Arab side is desperately seeking peace with Israel.

But Ahab’s ally, King Jehoshaphat of Judah asked: Wait a minute? Isn’t there someone missing?

Ahab responded, “There is one more man through whom we can inquire of the Lord; but I hate him, because he never prophesies anything good for me, but only misfortune—Micaiah son of Imlah.”

Jehoshaphat, however, replied, Well why don’t we ask him, too?

The king reluctantly sends a messenger who advises Micaiah:

“Look, the words of the prophets are with one accord favorable to the king. Let your word be like that of the rest of them; speak a favorable word.”

Go along and you will be richly rewarded; disagree and be persecuted at worst and ignored at best. That Amalkite Liberation Front is a secular, moderate group?  And supplying arms to the Ramoth-Gilead rebels is a brilliant idea, right? 

If 400 other highly paid, honored pundits say it how can they be wrong?

Micaiah, however, isn’t intimidated. He replies: I’m not going to lie! I will only say what the Lord tells me to say. When Micaiah comes before the king, at first he speaks so sarcastically in saying, Sure, go ahead and attack the city, that the king knew Micaiah didn’t mean it. So he retorted, Come on! Tell me the truth!

So Micaiah replied, in effect: Okay you asked for it. I foresee a terrible disaster.

And why did the other 400 all agree that the proposed military attack would be a great idea? Micaiah explained it as having had a vision of the Lord who, since He had good reason to detest Ahab,

asked, “Who will entice Ahab so that he will march and fall at Ramoth-Gilead?”

A certain being (perhaps what would be today a high-ranking advisor, CIA chief, secretary of state, secretary of defense, professor, or journalist) came forward and said: I’ll do it!

The Lord asks, How?

“I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.”

And the Lord agreed, “You will prevail.”

Imagine all of those 400 false prophets--or perhaps, to be fair, misinformed ones--bragging afterward how they had spoken truth to power as they ate their dainties, basked in the court’s admiration, and dwelt in their nice abodes. Those were their rewards, in fact, for not speaking the truth.

But, wait! There’s a paradox here:

If Micaiah is just doing the Lord's will and the Lord wants Ahab to be deceived then why is Micaiah telling the truth? Either Micaiah is defying the Lord—unlikely—or the Lord wants Ahab to be told the truth and given one last chance to change his mind if he only listens to reason.

What was Micaiah’s reward for telling Ahab the truth? One of Ahab’s men punched him and the king had him thrown into a dungeon and fed only bread and water. He was to remain in prison until Ahab’s return. Unintimidated, Micaiah replied: You’re not coming back.

And so it came to pass. Ahab lost the battle and was slain. The Bible doesn’t say what happened to Micaiah but I like to think he was immediately released from prison and lived happily ever after being able to say, I told you so!
Whether you are religious, agnostic, or atheist, this story is equally appropriate. Say, for example, that Micaiah evaluated the quality of each side’s troops, the weapons they used, and the terrain they were fighting on. And the others engaged in wishful thinking, told the king what he wanted to hear, or didn’t know what they were talking about.

This story brought home to me that to do one’s task rightly, to bear witness honestly, and to face the consequences without flinching should be the hallmarks of my field. What else should a writer, teacher, or intellectual do?  Unfortunately, at times one seems to be outnumbered by 400 to 1, in both numbers and audience size.

Micaiah had a good answer as to how to know who was right: Watch and see who is right according to the outcome! Or as he put it more elegantly to Ahab:

“If you ever come home safe, the Lord has not spoken through me.”

Not always, of course, is the proof of who is correct so quickly at hand. Yet there are many such indications available on a daily basis.

If the Palestinians make peace with Israel; the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizballah, Iran, and other Islamists turn out to be moderates; Syria is a democratic success story, and many other such things come to pass, I guess I was wrong.
Otherwise, you can't say I didn't warn you!




Monday, July 15, 2013

Egypt: Out of the Frying Pan into the Frying Pan

By Barry Rubin

We don't know what shape Egypt's political direction will take. One bargaining process that's going on is negotiations between the United States and Egypt in which Washington is the patron of the Muslim Brotherhood, Put roughly the U.S. proposal is that American aid and recognition will be given the military takeover in exchange for the release of Muslim Brotherhood and other prisoners of the army, a chance for the  Brotherhood to participate in fair elections and in a coalition government.

Is this good for Egypt? Of course not. Such a government would be inoperable and would daily increase the tensions.  

It prevents the understanding by the Islamists that the are defeated and must be submissive.

It plays in the naivete that showing compromise (weakness) will bring conciliation.
Is this good for U.S. interests?

Of course not. It can only help if one believes that the Brotherhood and Salafists will be moved by American backing and reciprocate by not staging terrorist attacks. 
Any way, the new regime will have twice as much Saudi and other Arab monarchy aid than the West would offer on tougher conditions, though of course that won't be advanced military aid.

One thing is for sure: a year or two from now Egyptians will not be happy with the current regime. Why is that so certain? There are social-historical and objective reasons. Let me focus on the less controversial latter ones. Egypt is a country where too many people live on too little land without many resources. It is also trying to become an industrial society too late in history with too much competition.

Egypt’s social problems are perhaps more the result than the cause of the difficulties. And discussing these would take a lot of words many of which you’ve already heard. The economic problems will not go away no matter what happens. There are no billions of dollars in aid out there; no—if you forgive please this phrase—Allah ex machina.  If massive international support per capita couldn’t get the Palestinian Authority of 2.5 million people going how is it going to happen in a place with 35 times more people?

Then, too, is the political situation. There are now three factions which we can broadly call the military-civilian complex (the ruling class for the last half-century and its supporters); the Islamists; and the “moderates.”

The military-civilian complex are the same people who have always run the country.  They have not done a great job, with marked greed, corruption, and incompetence. If this were a movie the title could be ”Back to the Past.” It will be a more tolerable Mubarak situation, just as it would have been if that president had turned over power five years ago, as the military-civilian elite wanted him to do.

Westerners may have deluded themselves into thinking that Egyptians changed their opinion in two years but most have not. Many of those who voted for the Islamists may have decided they prefer the comforts of a relatively benign dictatorship but lots of Egyptians of Egyptians oppose the counterrevolution.

What is the saving grace? First, as Westerners continually misunderstand what might be called the power of power. People go with the winner. Whoever governs is popular until things just get beyond toleration, as happened in Iran and Syria. That process takes a long time to build up.

Second, the Muslim Brotherhood, it is hard to put this in polite Western terms, is either going to be craven or murderous. It remembers what happened in the 1950s—when the regime crushed it, sent its leaders to concentration camps, and hung some of them.  The Brotherhood may snarl but it is frightened of the army.

Still, no doubt, many of the Salafists and some Brotherhood militants will take up arms, especially in Upper Egypt (the south) and the Sinai. It will not be a civil war but as in the 1990s, it will be an insurgency. [To read about the fighting in the 1990s, see my book Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics online or download it for free.]

In addition, the Islamists, especially the Salafists, are deeply divided and never seem to overcome personal, ideological, and organizational rivalries. The army will simply kill anyone who fights it or imprison them. In the 1990s it sometimes imprisoned the parents of insurgents until the wanted man gave himself up.

Finally, there is the “moderate opposition” which will become restive under the return of the traditional elite. There are a lot of people who are celebrating today and will be protesting tomorrow. I want to be very clear that there are millions of good people who want better lives for their families and one should sympathize with their democratic aspirations.

But the truth is that their leaders are incompetent, the quarrels among the groups will reemerge, and some of these groups are undemocratic or anti-democratic.  An Egypt led by Muhammad al-Baradei, the spokesman of the opposition and a candidate for its leadership, would not be a better place than one led by a technocratic candidate of the military. His mismanagement of the International Atomic Energy Agency and favoring Iran was obvious.

It all reminds me of an article written by a Western newspaper correspondent about the Balkans in August 1940. Nazi Germany had just given its ally, Hungary, the Romanian-ruled territory of Transylvania.  He asked an old Jewish man living there what he thought about it. “The best thing that could happen,” he said, “would be that the Romanians left and the Hungarians never arrived.”

Meanwhile, Obama’s favorite Middle East leader, Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, shows how much he favors the anti-American Muslim Brotherhood. Erdogan’s EU minister said, “One Mursi will go, a thousand Mursi’s will come in Egypt'

It is understandable that the Turkish Islamists are uncomfortable about that kind of coup since it was once done against their predecessors. But the line should be drawn for U.S. policy: those who favor Islamist radicalism whether in Afghanistan, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, or Hamas and Hizballah are enemies of the United States. Those who oppose it are at least potential allies.

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