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Category Archives: Featured Analysis
It’s hardly surprising that President Barack Obama chose to schedule a White House visit by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the dead of night on Monday, because right now Obama has little to show for his 10-month effort to revive a Middle East peace process. The Israeli leader’s refusal to abide by Washington’s demand for a complete freeze of settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — and the Palestinians’ refusal to enter talks without one — has left the Obama Administration’s plans in tatters, with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas threatening to resign and pull the plug on the PA and the peace process of which it forms a part.
Netanyahu insists that Israel is ready for unconditional talks; he blames the stalemate on the Palestinians for making the settlement freeze a precondition. But Netanyahu also refuses to accept that such talks be directed toward establishing a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital — and that’s the minimum the Palestinians are prepared to accept. Abbas, meanwhile, feels betrayed that the Obama Administration has backed down from its own insistence that Israel halt construction in occupied territory. That, say the Palestinians, is clear evidence that Washington won’t pressure Israel to do things it’s not willing to do, and that it’s therefore pointless to go through the motions of yet another series of negotiations with an Israeli government more hawkish than its predecessors. (See pictures of Obama’s overseas trips.)
Obama had prioritized resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But his demands — of a complete settlement freeze by Israel and reciprocal gestures toward normalizing ties with Israel by Arab governments — has been rejected on both sides. And while no recent Administration has had much success in this realm, veterans of the peace process concur that the President’s initial approach was flawed. It may have even done more harm than good, they argue, by raising expectations that could not be met, leaving both sides mistrustful of Washington’s intentions and creating a situation where either Netanyahu or Abbas would be painted into a corner. (That turned out to be Abbas, after Netanyahu rejected Obama’s demands.) Continue reading
Having spent decades drumming home the idea that Israel is rooted squarely in the Holocaust experience, and should be viewed by the world as the state of the survivors, Israelis and some of their most fervent backers in the U.S. are suddenly insisting that this is a misleading, even hostile idea.
Without any sense of irony, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told fellow paranoiac Jeffrey Goldberg that Iran is ruled by “an apocalyptic messianic cult.” Yet, as Goldberg makes clear, perhaps inadvertently, Netanyahu himself is guilty of the same: His view of Iran as simply the latest incarnation of a timeless and eternal anti-Semitism, most recently the Hitler regime, makes any engagement or diplomatic solution amount to appeasement; war is the only answer. And the messianic part is that Netanyahu, a la Newt Gingrich and George W. Bush, believes he has been summoned by history to save the world (or in Bibi’s case, the Jews). To the extent that Netanyahu believes this stuff, he is a very dangerous man, and the Obama Administration would do well to keep him on a very tight leash. Continue reading
There was something almost painful about watching President Barack Obama last week reprising a track from his predecessor’s Greatest Hits when he hosted the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Just like Bush, Obama invited us to suspend well-grounded disbelief and imagine that Hamid Karzai and Asif Ali Zardari have the intent, much less the capability, to wage a successful war against the Taliban. Then again, there had been something painful even earlier about watching Obama proclaim Afghanistan as “the right war” and expanding the U.S. footprint there, reprising the Soviet experience of maintaining an islet of modernity in the capital while the countryside burns.
It requires a spectacular leap of faith in a kind of superheroic American exceptionalism to imagine that the invasion of Afghanistan that occurred in November 2001 will end any differently from any previous invasion of that country. And it takes an elaborate exercise in self-delusion to avoid recognizing that the Taliban crisis in Pakistan is an effect of the war in Afghanistan, rather than a cause — and that Pakistan’s turmoil is unlikely to end before the U.S. winds down its campaign next door. Continue reading
Ariel Sharon still sleeps peacefully on life-support three years after suffering a massive stroke, but you could be forgiven for thinking he was still at the helm in Israel — because today, the Israeli government appears to have only tactics to fight the next battle, but no strategy beyond an improvisational combination of expanding the occupation of the West Bank, cynically chanting the benedictions of a two-state divorce that will come, one day (like the moshiach) while getting on with the “iron wall” business of creating expansive “facts on the ground” and trying to crush Palestinian resistance. There’s no “peace process” at work in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor as there been for the past eight years.
Perhaps Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in next weekend’s Israeli election will provide what George W. Bush liked to call a “moment of clarity”, by making it unmistakably clear that Israel’s leaders are not, in any meaningful sense, a “partner” for a credible two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Then again, you’re more likely to hear more wishful spin about how Bibi, precisely because he’s so hawkish, is a better bet for making peace — which sort of dodges the inconvenient truth that Bibi has no intention of doing so.)
So, what’s Obama to do?
Obama’s Administration could argue that the U.S. may have its preferences, but it can’t choose Israel’s leaders; it has to work with whomever Israel elects. Indeed. But the same is true for the Palestinians. And a major reason for the steady deterioration of the Israeli-Palestinian situation over the past eight years has been Washington’s efforts to choose the Palestinians’ leaders for them, with increasingly disastrous effects.
Haven’t we been here before?
I. The Last Waltz?
Repeating behaviors that have produced catastrophic failures and expecting a different result is insane; and when a person’s psychotic behavior puts himself those around him in immediate physical danger, the responsibility of those who claim to be his friends is to restrain him. But even as Waltz With Bashir shows in multiplexes across the world as a grim reminder of the precedent for Israel’s brutal march of folly in Gaza, the U.S. (and the editors of the New York Times and Washington Post) insist that there is a sanity and rationality to sending one of the world’s most powerful armies into a giant refugee camp to rend the flesh and crush the bones of those who stand in its way — whether in defiance or by being unlucky enough to have been born of the wrong tribe and be huddling in the wrong place. By fighting its way to their citadel, they would have us believe, Israel can destroy Hamas and usher in a golden age of peace. Or, to borrow from the casual callousness of Condi Rice during the last such display of futile brutality, we are witnessing, again, the “birth pangs of a new Middle East.” Israel failed in 2006, just as in 2002 and 1982. This time, they tell us, will be different.
And then the horror unfolds, as it always does — the hundreds of civilians accidentally massacred as they cowered in what they were told were places of safety, mocking the Israel’s torrent of self congratulation over its restraint and its brilliant intelligence — and the hopelessly out-gunned enemy manages to survive, as he does every time. And by surviving, grows stronger politically. No matter how many are killed, the leaders targeted by Israel’s military are endlessly regenerated in the fertile soil of grievance and resentment born of the circumstances Israel has created. Circumstances it has created, but which it, and its most fervent backers refuse to acknowledge, much less redress.
The war in Iraq is drawing to a close — and hardly on the terms of those who initiated it. It’s end is being hastened by Iraqi democracy, and by the retrenchment of U.S. power globally, accelerated by the sharp economic downturn Continue reading
By seeking a permanent security deal with Iraq, Bush has forced Iraqi politicians to show their hands. And none wants a long-term U.S. presence
Could there be a more perfect image of the catastrophic self-inflicted rout suffered by U.S. Middle East policy under President George W. Bush? This week, the President will party with Israel’s leaders celebrating their country’s 60th anniversary — and champion a phony peace process whose explicit aim is to produce an agreement to go on the shelf — with Bush curiously choosing the moment to honor the legend of the mass infanticide and suicide of the Jewish Jihadists at Masada. Meanwhile, across the border in Lebanon, Hizballah are riding high on the tectonic shifts in the Middle East’s political substructure, making clear that the “new Middle East” memorably (if grotesquely) inaugurated by Condi Rice in Beirut in 2006 is nothing like that imagined or pursued by the Bush Administration. On the contrary, the Bush Administration has managed to weaken its friends and allies and empower its enemies to an almost unprecedented degree. Having failed on every front, the question is, will the Bush Administration resort to war to try and roll back the gains of its enemies over the past five years? Continue reading