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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Palestinian Authority Sets its New Strategy: Tempts Obama Administration with Instant Peace if it Pressures Israel



The Palestinian Authority Sets its New Strategy: Tempts Obama Administration with Instant Peace if it Pressures Israel

December 29, 2009



We now have Mahmoud Abbas's answer regarding short-term Palestinian Authority (PA) strategy. He says that if Israel stops all construction now-in Jerusalem and the 3000 apartments being completed-and accepts in advance the 1967 borders and there will be peace within six months. This is the basic story we've been hearing since around 1988: one or more Israeli concessions and everyone will live happily ever after.

This is clearly bait being dangled for President Barack Obama, offering him an "easy" way out of his dilemma of not having any peace talks after almost a year in office: pressure Israel to give up more and you will look good, with plenty of photo opportunities of you presiding over Israel-PA talks.

Of course, what Abbas wants to do is to remove one of the main points of Israeli leverage, the borders to be agreed upon and the status of east Jerusalem. Moreover, is leaving out both the additional demands he will be demanding (all Palestinians who want to can go live in Israel) and all the Israeli demands he will be ignoring (recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, the end of the conflict and dropping all Palestinian claims, security guarantees, an unmilitarized Palestinian state, settling all refugees in Palestine).

In addition, of course, he can't speak for about half the people and territory he claims to represent, that is, the Gaza Strip. And by not holding elections and unilaterally extending his term, Abbas leaves the door open for some future Palestinian leadership saying he had no legitimate mandate to negotiate and therefore any agreement he made isn't binding.

Finally, he made one very big misstatement of fact, hoping-as usual-that the West pays no attention to what's said in Arabic. He claims that the PA has stopped incitement against Israel, in terms of urging violence and rejecting Israel's existence. While the PA is, of course, far better than Hamas on such matters, a very large dossier can be compiled on how that is a lie.

The question is what will the Obama Administration do? Is it going to press Israel for still more unilateral concessions so that the PA will come to talks and President Obama can claim a success? Will it try to get the PA to do something in terms of confidence-building measures or to talk without preconditions? Israel is certainly not going to accept the 1967 borders with absolutely no change before even talking with the PA (and probably not even as part of a peace agreement).

Indeed, it is now Obama administration policy that there need to be minor border modifications to accommodate the post-1967 changes on the ground. Moreover, Israel can say that if it stops all construction immediately, including in Jerusalem, the PA still won't talk so what's the point?

Incidentally, Abbas admitted that he never asked for an Israeli construction freeze before but is only doing so in the context of the Roadmap Plan. However, even after the Road Map, Abbas never made this a big issue until after Obama demanded the construction freeze. In objective terms, the president has no one to blame but himself for this mess, but of course he isn't going to blame himself. He has to blame either Israel or the PA. Which will it be?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

For Israel, Good Prospects in 2010



By Barry Rubin*
December 27, 2009

In contrast to my rather gloomy assessment of the Obama Administration's prospects in the Middle East, Israel's prospects look rather good. This is granted, of course, that the chances for any formal peace (note the word "formal") with the Arab states or the Palestinians are close to zero. In addition there are two longer-term threats in the form of Iranian nuclear weapons and Islamists one day taking over one or more Arab states.

But let's enjoy ourselves while we can. It's also important to remember in the Middle East, optimism does not mean forecasting blue skies but merely ones only lightly overcast.

It's funny, though, how much better Israel's situation is then it's generally perceived. Consider the pluses:

--The potential of a clash with the United States has been averted, most likely for the remainder of President Barack Obama's term. All the lessons received by the United States in the region-to whatever extent it learned them-are favorable to Israel, showing how ready Israel is to help U.S. efforts at the same time as demonstrating how hard it is to get peace and how limited is the other's side's cooperation or flexibility. The possibility of U.S. rapprochement with Iran or Syria has been destroyed by the latter

--On the surface the situation with Israel looks dreadful but where it counts the support is sufficient. France, Germany, and Italy have friendly governments while in Britain an acceptably positive regime is about to be replaced by a warmer one. (It helps to have low expectations.)

--Despite their rhetoric, Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders are basically satisfied with the status quo. Their strategies for forcing more concessions from Israel without giving anything leave them smug but without prospects for success. The danger of a Hamas takeover has been averted. The economic situation on the West Bank is about as good as it's ever been. And the PA rulers prefer to avoid renewed violence. That's not nirvana but it ain't bad either.

--Hizballah doesn't want renewed war this year, seeking to carry out revenge terrorist attacks away from the Lebanon-Israel border. Hamas is probably cowed enough by the early 2009 fighting (outside observers still don't realize the extent to which its gunmen broke, ran away, and hid behind civilians, but the Hamas leadership knows), though this can't be taken for certain.

--While the international economic slump has hit Israel, the country has been more insulated than one might have dared hope from its negative effects. Its remarkable technical innovation on hi-tech, science, medical, and agricultural technology continues to make rapid progress.

--Israel has a government with a high level of popular support which really seems-after so much ineptness and ingenious plans that didn't do much good-to be on track. There is, by Israeli standards, a high degree of national consensus.

--Iran still doesn't have nuclear weapons.

That's not at all a bad list. There are many who think that Israel cannot flourish, perhaps cannot even survive, without having formal peace with the Palestinians or perhaps also Syria and the Arabic-speaking world in general. This is simply untrue. The lack of a signed peace treaty with everyone (not to mention that such documents exist with Egypt and Jordan) is not the same as war. From the usual standards of no war, no peace this is a pretty good one.

Of course, there are negatives yet they really don't amount to anywhere near as much as it seems on a superficial glance. The virtual defection of Turkey's regime from the Western alliance (yes, it really is that bad) and the end of the special relationship between Jerusalem and Ankara is a bad thing. But the Turkish semi-Islamist rulers are restrained by their desire to play a role in regional peacemaking and not to make the Americans or Europeans too angry.

Most distressing of all is the noise. The virulent hatred of Israel by large sections of the American and especially European intelligentsia goes along with the endless outpouring of academic, media, and EU sniping can be dispiriting. Yet even here there is some silver lining. The more extreme and outright crackpot the attacks, the less credible they are. Public opinion polls, especially in the United States where they are through the roof, are not so bad. In addition, the lies and screaming have little material effect on the region itself. Something to worry about but don't lose sleep.

What's most important of all is this: A willingness to assess your problems accurately, guided by reasonable expectations. Not being crippled with ideology, blinded by misconceptions, swayed by bad international advice and the desire to be popular. And with determination and courage to implement policies that do the best with the hand you've been dealt.

If only others were doing the same thing, the world-and especially the Middle East-would be a better and more peaceful place.


Friday, December 25, 2009

For Obama, 2010 in the Middle East Looks More Like the Precipice of Doom than Achievement

By Barry Rubin*

December 25, 2009

The year 2010 is going to be interesting. Well, all years in the Middle East are interesting; many of them are far too interesting.

For the Obama Administration, I'm going to predict, it will not be a fun year. True, the best face will be put on things. Since it is protected-perhaps next year to a lesser degree--by the media, the administration has a special advantage over its predecessors. Yet there are two huge and two potentially serious problems which it cannot solve.

The first unsolvable problem is the Arab-Israeli conflict. Last January, President Barack Obama promised a quick solution to the issue. Then he promised that an Israeli freeze of construction on settlements would lead to a diplomatic breakthrough. A few months later, he promised he'd get some Arab concessions in response to an Israeli freeze. In September he promised that final status negotiations would begin in two months.

None of these things happened.

In fact, Obama's policy sabotaged progress. After all, if he was bashing Israel to some extent and demanding a freeze, why should the Palestinians give Israel a way out by negotiating and accept anything less than a total freeze? U.S.-Israel relations have now improved considerably and are good, but there's no talks going on because the Palestinian Authority is saying "no."

Remember in his Cairo speech, Obama said the Palestinian situation was "intolerable." The Palestinians disagree with him. They know they are doing pretty well materially, the world is criticizing Israel, and they don't have to make any concessions.

But here's where it gets interesting: there is a very serious prospect of no direct or any serious Israel-Palestinian negotiations during all of 2010. And in late September, Israel's ten-month freeze ends. No progress, no continued freeze.

There is literally no way out for the Obama Administration. The only route to getting talks is either to get more unilateral concessions from Israel (isn't going to happen) or to pressure the Palestinian Authority (also isn't going to happen). Checkmate; deadlock; no way out.

The Obama Administration is not likely to say: We were wrong. This is tougher than we thought. Nor are they probably going to put the issue on the back burner openly. Nor are they going to criticize the Palestinian Authority. So they will pretend to be working hard, sending their envoy zipping around, looking for some opening to leap into action. But isn't this going to be pretty obviously a charade? Well, only if the media wants to say so.

Then there's Iran. Originally, the administration was going to increase sanctions in September. That was moved back to the end of December. Now it is too late to meet that deadline. At best, we are going to see negotiations in January and maybe-maybe-increased sanctions in February. But who knows?

That's not all. The administration keeps pretending that it has China and Russia on board for sanctions. Anyone who actually reads Chinese and Russian statements should know this is untrue. Can this be kept secret for very long in 2010? Either there will be no sanctions, ridiculously weak sanctions or sanctions without these two. Once again, there is no way out for the administration from looking like a failure.

And by the end of the year or earlier it will be clear that any sanctions applied aren't working. The year 2010 is the make or break year for stopping Iran. Not hard to guess which it will be.

I'm not chortling over this as I'd greatly prefer the administration would be brilliantly successful in bringing peace-a good one, of course, not just any deal-and ensuring Tehran didn't get nuclear weapons. But it's not going to happen.

Two other issues may cause problems but are not likely to bring benefits in 2010, though they are designed to bring political dividends for when Obama is up for reelection in 2012. Iraq will be a headache if the Iranians decide, in part due to their more belligerent mood and as a response to sanctions, to escalate the violence. Syria, unhappy that the United States has not caved in to them, may also do so. This could lead to higher casualties making the troop withdrawal look either like running away or at least ineffective.

The same basic point holds for Afghanistan, where Obama's version of the surge will be in full implementation. The Taliban might decide to make America look defeated; Pakistan isn't going to help. Again, there could be high U.S. casualties and the appearance of failure.

Then there's the chance that Obama's vaunted popularity will crack. Palestinians will claim he isn't giving them everything for nothing; Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizballah will try to make short work of making America look bad. What if, for example, Obama has to veto some far-out UN Security Council resolution that, for example, demands that Israel return to the 1967 borders? Maybe he'll be able to get it watered down but that could happen.

There's always the chance of a major terrorist attack against some American target succeeding.

In short, 2010 does not look good at all for Obama. Is there any chance of a big success in the region for him? (Your eyes dart around the room trying to think of something. Finally, you give up and give the inevitable answer.) No.

The most critical question of all is whether the administration will learn from its experience. There are a lot of mistaken conceptions to learn from:

The Palestinians aren't desperate to make peace. Moving away from Israel doesn't bring you any material gains and indeed makes it even harder to get progress toward peace. Arab states won't help you. They aren't going to lift a finger to stop Iran while demanding you do so. Engaging Iran and Syria doesn't work. Being popular among Muslims and Arabs is a fragile thing and doesn't get you much more than a cup of coffee when you visit the Saudi king. Apologizing makes you look weak and everyone will then take advantage of you. Shall I go on?

Usama bin Ladin says that everyone wants to bet on the strong horse. Obama's policy makes America look like a dead horse. And, yes, Middle East dictatorships and revolutionary Islamist groups love flogging a dead horse.

Shall Obama hope that 2011 comes fast? Well, that's the year Iran will probably get nuclear weapons.

*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), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

EU calls for Division of Jerusalem

The EU states, "The Council recalls that it has never recognized the annexation of East Jerusalem. If there is to be a genuine peace, a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states.

The Council calls calls for the reopening of Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem in accordance with the Road Map. It also calls on the Israeli government to cease all discriminatory treatment of Palestinians in East Jerusalem."

In other words, the future of Jerusalem is officially an international football, and at the end of the game, the Palestinians are to get their wish: To call Jerusalem their capital.

This is an unprecedented intrusion into Israeli affairs. It completely ignores the facts on the ground. Before Israel controlled Jerusalem, Christians and Jews were barred from the Old City. The Jewish Quarter was destroyed and Jews were expelled and many killed.

Under Israeli rule, all people are permitted to live in and visit Jerusalem. Forcing an official Palestinian presence on this situation will cause unnecessary tensions and increase the danger level. Imagine the Field Day that terrorists will have launching attacks on visitors -- right from land in the Old City. Remember the carnage that resulted from the pull-out from Gaza? This will be a disaster.

It will also be a victory of another sort for the Palestinian leaders, like Abbas, who believe that Jews never lived in Jerusalem. They deny the existence of the Jewish Temples. Even under Israeli control, the Palestinians have destroyed thousands of years worth of Christian and Jewish antiquities. Imagine the carnage if they are ever put in control.

It is puzzling that Israel's official response to the EU declaration did not defend a united Jerusalem under the State of Israel. We need to defend a united Jerusalem every opportunity we get.

http://www.onejerusalem.org/

Irv Rubin and Earl Krugel

Never Again!


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