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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




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.


Monday, December 21, 2009

How the Auschwitz Sign "Work Makes Free" Embodies Current Western Thinking and Policy

By Barry Rubin*



The theft and then recovery of the famous sign at the entrance of Auschwitz-Arbeit macht frei, work will make you free-has brought that artifact of the Holocaust to international attention once again. Merely dismissing the sign as "cynical," few understand the meaning of the sign in context and its underlying implications for Jewish thought and Israel today.
At the time--and this was very clear in Eastern European towns like that of my grandparents in Poland-- Jews were used by the Germans for forced labor. While many were involved in road repair (an extremely important task during the war when highways were heavily used by the Nazis for military purposes), tree cutting, or other manual labor, others labored in their usual professions.
The Germans, of course, wanted to win the war, which they were waging, despite their victories, against difficult odds. Even after the French were defeated and the British retreated across the Channel, the combat was ferocious against the Soviets and the United Kingdom fought on. In pragmatic terms, the Germans needed Jewish labor. After all, too, they could hardly be receiving it under better circumstances. The Jews were not paid for the work, they were denied consumer goods, and their food rations were minimal.
In short, the German strategy toward the Jews-focusing on forced labor-made sense in pragmatic terms. And Western civilization is governed by pragmatism. One does what is beneficial to one's material self-interests. The German behavior made sense.
It was not hard to explain, for the overwhelming majority of the Jews under German occupation as well, the killings of Jews that they knew about. Here, it was a reprisal for Germans killed by partisans; there, it was a pure act of cruelty or the deeds of a sadistic officer. Or it could be perceived by the pragmatic German goal of keeping the Jews intimidated or to appeal to local anti-Semitic Christians themselves under occupation or actions against Jews who were known for anti-Nazi views.
Whatever it seems to those looking back from a time of much greater knowledge, this pragmatic understanding did make sense in terms of all past history (including Jewish history) and the events people knew about. True, Hitler had written about the extermination of the Jews but this was considered to be just ideology. In Western society, people had become cynical about ideology or at least of ideas that went against immediate self-interest. This was just rabble-rousing.
Thus, it could be expected that if Jews really did work hard and did not cause too much trouble, they would survive, at least the great majority, as had happened during so many previous persecutions. That was their life experience and their historical experience. Of course, it was richly supplemented by wishful thinking, sometimes a wishful thinking that promoted blindness to events that were clearly visible, but this line of reasoning gave an ample logical basis to that wishful thinking.
And so, work makes free. It was not just a sarcastic act of derision but an actual control measure. If the Jews believed they were in Auschwitz to work hard in exchange for their lives, they would be more docile and far easier to manage. The sentiment was meant to be taken seriously, and almost always, at least until late in the war, it was.
To understand all of this is of vital importance for historical reasons. The Jews who became victims were not just cowards or fools or sheep but people who often believed they were using their wits to survive once again a terrible but ultimately passing pogrom. No matter how much they were starved or mistreated, they could take the hunger and put up with the beatings with the confidence that one day this, too, would end. Of course, they often had no choice and they wanted to believe this, yet it was quite rational for them to do so, certainly before the middle of 1942.
At this point, I hesitate to continue. The analogy of the Holocaust has been too often used, and misused. Moreover, many will think that I gratuitously or lightly exaggerate what I'm about to say. But consider this explanation seriously and you will better understand our own era.
The key here is the Western obsession with pragmatism, the dismissal of ideology, and the wishful thinking that believes conflict can be negotiated away or at least whittled down to the tolerable level by patience and concession. These were also the fundamental ideas that motivated both most European Jews and the expectations of most Western leaders and observers regarding the treatment of the Jews during the war (and in many cases, German intentions before the war as well). This mode of thinking is still very much with us.
Thus, it is disbelieved that radical Islamists, and in many cases militant Arab nationalists or various others, really mean what they say. Instead, it is expected that they will act according to narrow and individual personal interests. They would rather be rich than right, or revolutionary. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, architect of Iran's Islamist revolution, derided this concept as thinking the revolution was made for the sake of lowering the price of watermelons.
Western deception and self-deception is also reinforced by the fact that the main contemporary experience in this regard has been with a tired and cynical Communism, long bereft of its revolutionary fire. It was well symbolized by a Soviet regime that was mainly interested in self-aggrandizement and staying in power. This was followed by the dealings with a Chinese Communist regime which seemed to be fanatically revolutionary but later settled down to making money and avoiding trouble abroad. The answer to Khomeini was the statement of Deng Xiaoping, the architect of that turn, who expressed the following view of ideology: "It doesn't matter if a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice." One can argue, with some justification, that after fifty years this has happened to Arab nationalism.
So, yes, revolutions do moderate, get tired, and settle down to redecorating with expensive furnishings. This is precisely the fate that the current Iranian regime is struggling to prevent for itself. Then there is the belief that the Supreme Being is guiding their steps. Then there is the belief of the Islamists-both pro- and anti-Iran ones--that they haven't been trying that long and will win eventually. And the belief that their enemies are weak and close to surrender while they have such secret weapons as suicide bombing and soon nuclear weapons.
While, then, it is easy to believe that they don't really mean what they say, that they would never do anything "anti-pragmatic" this is not likely to be true, at least not unless they are contained for many decades first. Or if they perceive they have failed or been defeated, which generally is nowhere near happening. Does Syria's regime prefer Western aid to an alliance with Iran? Will Iran be responsible in its use of nuclear weapons? Is Hamas or Hizballah eager to be moderate? Are the Palestinians on the verge of making peace with Israel? Can American dollars buy off the Taliban in Afghanistan?
The answer that appeals to most Western leaders and intellectuals to all these questions is "yes." After all, "they" must be just like "us" and it is allegedly arrogant or even racist to think otherwise. Needless to say, the Germans were much more like the Americans or British yet what happened did indeed happen. To put it bluntly, ideology and demagogic leadership turned the lovers of Mozart into the builders of Auschwitz.
It is easier, less painful, a much quicker solution that makes the problem go away. Underlying those thoughts, however, is the idea that they must not believe their own ideology and that they wouldn't do anything that went against their interests or material well-being.
Let me underline the point here. I am not saying that radical Islamists or Arab nationalists or those holding various other extreme ideologies today are "fascist" or "Nazi." That is simplistic, not credible, and misleading in its own way. They have their own history, world view, ideology, and goals. But they also have certain specific things in common: an ideology they really believe; profound genocidal hatred of others; readiness to sacrifice on behalf of these principles; and a profound belief they will win even though their enemies think this is ridiculous.
Of course, the Germans lost World War Two and their anti-pragmatism hastened that defeat. This, too, is worth keeping in mind. That is a factor to be used in the setting of strategy by democratic states and in the thinking of their people. Assuming they will act in the opposite way will not, however, strengthen that resistance.
Yet the greatest threat to the West of all is the mistaken belief that if we are really polite and avoid giving offense, that if we make concessions or work really hard we will be free of their threat.  We have set up our own signs at the entrances to our universities and foreign ministries that are the precise equivalent of Arbeit macht frei.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

EU calls For Division of Jerusalem


More antisemitism springs from the EU as we illustrate here:

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.

Mary Kate and Michele


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