November 27, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Is the realisation finally dawning in Ramallah, Tel Aviv and Washington that the peace process is dead? [GALLO/GETTY

Future historians will argue over the precise moment when the Arab-Israeli peace process died.

By: Robert Grenier

Future historians will no doubt argue over the precise moment when the Arab-Israeli peace process died, when the last glimmer of hope for a two-state solution was irrevocably extinguished. When all is said and done, and the forensics have been completed, I am sure they will conclude that the last realistic prospect for an agreement expired quite some time before now, even if all the players do not quite realise it yet: anger and denial are always the first stages in the grieving process; acceptance of reality only comes later.

There are growing signs, however, that the realisation is beginning to dawn in Ramallah, Tel Aviv and, most strikingly, Washington, that the peace process, as currently conceived, may finally be dead.

Washington: hoping for a miracle?

We should begin in Washington, in the aftermath of the seven-hour marathon meeting between Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, in New York last week.

To view the apparent results of that meeting in context, one would have to recount the gargantuan structure of US military, intelligence, economic and diplomatic support to Israel, painstakingly constructed over many decades, for which there would not be space to describe it all here – if indeed one had the knowledge to do so.

The edifice is so extensive, including direct military aid, weapons transfers, access to US emergency weapons stocks, pre-positioning of US military materiel in Israel, US investments in Israeli technology development, US support for Israel’s foreign weapons sales, weapons co-production agreements, all sorts of loan guarantees, assistance for settlement of immigrants in Israel – the list goes on – that literally no single entity in Washington is aware of it all.

In September, the US Congressional Research Service made a noteworthy attempt to capture it, but was probably only partly successful, having no access, for example, to classified US assistance. The annual value of all this is literally incalculable, and well in excess of the $ 3bn per year usually cited, to say nothing of critical US diplomatic support in the UN and elsewhere.

Given all this, confronted with Israel’s refusal to extend its partial moratorium on new settlement construction in the Occupied Territories, and with anything more than verbal pressure on Israel literally unthinkable, the US was hard-pressed to come up with additional inducements which might extend the peace process even a little further.

Into the breach, as he has done so many times before, stepped the redoubtable Dennis Ross. Ross, in discussions with an Israeli counterpart, compiled an extensive list of motivators whose length we do not yet know, but which was verbally agreed between Clinton and Netanyahu in New York, and which will be presented in writing for possible approval by the Israeli cabinet.

We are told it includes a US commitment to block any Palestinian-led effort to win unilateral UN recognition of a Palestinian state; US obstruction of efforts either to revive the Goldstone Report at the UN, or to seek formal UN condemnation of Israel for the deadly Mavi Marmara incident; an ongoing US commitment to defeat any UN resolutions aimed at raising Israel’s unacknowledged nuclear weapons programme before the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); vigorous US diplomatic efforts to counter all attempts to “delegitimise” Israel in various world fora; and, most importantly, increasing efforts to further ratchet international sanctions on both Iran and Syria concerning their respective nuclear and proliferation efforts.

To this the US is adding a commitment to supply Israel with some 20 ultra-modern F-35 aircraft worth $ 3bn – so new they have not yet entered the US inventory – as well as a mysterious “comprehensive security agreement,” whose details have not been revealed, but which may include unilateral US endorsement of Israeli troop deployments in the Jordan Valley, in the event of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

And what is Israel being asked in return? Consider this carefully: in return for the above written guarantees, Israel will consider agreement to a brief, one-time-only 90-day extension of the partial settlement moratorium, which excludes not only East Jerusalem, but also the cordon sanitaire of settlements which Israel has carefully constructed to ring the city and deny Palestinian access to it, after which the US agrees, in writing, never again to request an Israeli settlement moratorium.

After witnessing US policy toward Israel and the Palestinians for over 30 years, I had thought I was beyond shock. This development, however, is breathtaking. In effect, along with a whole string of additional commitments, including some potentially far-reaching security guarantees which it is apparently afraid to reveal publicly, the Obama administration is willing to permanently cast aside a policy of some 40 years’ duration, under which the US has at least nominally labelled Israeli settlements on occupied territory as “obstacles to peace,”. All this in return for a highly conditional settlement pause which will permit Netanyahu to pocket what the US has given him, simply wait three months without making any good-faith effort at compromise, and know in the end that Israel will never again have to suffer the US’ annoying complaints about illegal settlements.

Leave aside the fact that as of this writing, the Israeli cabinet may yet reject this agreement – which seems even more breathtaking, until one stops to consider that virtually everything the Americans have offered the Israelis they could easily obtain in due course without the moratorium. No, what is telling here is that the American attempt to win this agreement, lopsided as it is, is an act of sheer desperation.

What gives rise to the desperation, whether it is fear of political embarrassment at a high-profile diplomatic failure or genuine concern for US security interests in the region, I cannot say. It seems crystal clear, however, that the administration sees the next three months as a last chance. Their stated hope is that if they can get the parties to the table for this brief additional period, during which they focus solely on reaching agreement on borders, success in this endeavour will obviate concerns about settlements and give both sides sufficient stake in an outcome that they will not abandon the effort.

No one familiar with the substance of the process believes agreement on borders can be reached in 90 days on the merits; consider additionally that negotiators will be attempting to reach such a pact without reference to Jerusalem, and seeking compromise on territory without recourse to off-setting concessions on other issues, and success becomes virtually impossible to contemplate.

The Obama administration is coming under heavy criticism for having no plan which extends beyond the 90 days, if they can get them. There is no plan for a 91st day because there is unlikely to be one. The Obama policy, absurd as it seems, is to somehow extend the peace process marginally, and hope for a miracle. The demise of that hope carries with it the clear and present danger that residual aspirations for a two-state solution will shortly be extinguished with it.

Tel Aviv: buyer’s remorse?

Meanwhile, in Israel, we are seeing something akin to buyer’s remorse. On the cusp of finally achieving the goal for which Likud has aimed since its founding in 1973 – that is, an end to the threat of territorial compromise which would truncate the Zionist project in Palestine – the Israeli military and intelligence communities, which will have to deal with the consequences of a permanently failed peace process and the dissolution of responsible Palestinian governance in the West Bank which could well follow, are actively voicing their concerns.

Even as ardent a Likudnik as Dan Meridor has recently said to Haaretz: “I’ve reached the painful conclusion that keeping all the territory means a binational state that will endanger the Zionist enterprise. If we have to give up the Jewish and democratic character (of the state) – I prefer to give up some of the territory.”

The time for such second thoughts has passed, however. Having succeeded in creating irrevocable facts on the ground, settlements which no conceivable Israeli government could remove even if it wanted to, the territory which Meridor and company would conceivably part with now will not be enough to avoid the fate which they fear in future: the progressive delegitimation of the current state, and the eventual rise of a binational state in its place.

Ramallah: terminally gloomy?

The terminal gloom among the tired leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA) is palpable. They will not allow themselves to be openly complicit in a negotiated capitulation to Israel, and yet they cannot bring themselves to irrevocably abandon the process either.

The recent, relative success of Salam Fayyad, the prime minister, in bringing some measure of security and good governance to the West Bank notwithstanding, they know their legitimacy is tied to the hope of their people for a just peace – a peace they also know, in their hearts, they cannot deliver. They look to the Americans in hope of salvation, while the Americans can only hope, impotently, for the same.

Both Israelis and Palestinians know that the relative calm prevailing in the West Bank and Gaza cannot last indefinitely absent some prospect for an end to Israeli occupation of the former. No one can see the way to a near-term solution, and yet neither does anyone yet have the courage to suggest an alternative future.

That will be the task of a new and probably distant generation of Israelis and Palestinians.

Source: Al Jazeera

Robert Grenier was the CIA’s chief of station in Islamabad, Pakistan, from 1999 to 2002. He was also the director of the CIA’s counter-terrorism centre.

Intifada Palestine

The History Channel Rewrites Middle East History

November 26, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Anti-Israel propaganda masquerading as history.
American Thinker Blog

No Middle Ground on Health Care

November 23, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

A new Public Policy Polling survey in Montana finds Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) with an extremely low job approval at 38% with 53% disapproving.

Key finding: Nearly all of his support from Republicans has evaporated with only 13% approving of him as compared to 70% approval among Democrats.

“Baucus’ plight is similar to that of a number of other Senators who tried to have it both ways on health care, watering down the bill but still voting for it in the end. Blanche Lincoln’s stance, among other issue positions, alienated her base so much that she nearly lost her party’s nomination. And it certainly didn’t help her to win Republican votes in the fall, leading to her overwhelming defeat in November. Joe Lieberman’s actions on health care have helped to put him in a most unusual position- his approval rating is under 50% with Democrats, Republicans, and independents, one of very few Senators who’s managed to pull off that trio. And on the other side of the aisle Olympia Snowe’s vote for the health care bill at one point in committee, even though she voted against it in the end, infuriated the Republican base in the state and has many folks hankering for a primary challenge against her.”
Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire

Obama Seen As Biggest Impediment To Middle East Peace

November 22, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

There isn’t much that unites the leadership of Israel and The Palestinian Authority these days, but they do all seem to agree that the President of the United States has been more of a hindrance to peace than a help:

Vowing to change a region that has resisted the best efforts of presidents and prime ministers past, Barack Obama dove head first into the Middle East peace process on his second day in office.

He was supposed to be different. His personal identity, his momentum, his charisma and his promise of a fresh start would fundamentally alter America’s relations with the Muslim world and settle one of its bitterest grievances.

Two years later, he has managed to forge surprising unanimity on at least one topic: Barack Obama. A visit here finds both Israelis and Palestinians blame him for the current stalemate — just as they blame one another.

Instead of becoming a heady triumph of his diplomatic skill and special insight, Obama’s peace process is viewed almost universally in Israel as a mistake-riddled fantasy. And far from becoming the transcendent figure in a centuries-old drama, Obama has become just another frustrated player on a hardened Mideast landscape.

The attitude among Israeli leaders shouldn’t be all that surprising. Ever since the Netenyahu government began his second tour as Prime Minister only a few months after Obama himself too office, there have been reports of tension and of an attitude among Israelis that Obama couldn’t be trusted the way previous American Presidents could.  That situation has, it seems, only gotten worse:

The American president has been diminished, even in an era without active hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians. His demands on the parties appear to shrink each month, with the path to a grand peace settlement narrowing to the vanishing point. The lack of Israeli faith in him and his process has them using the talks to extract more tangible security assurances — the jets. And though America remains beloved, Obama is about as popular here as he is in Oklahoma. A Jerusalem Post poll in May found 9 percent of Israelis consider Obama “pro-Israel,” while 48 percent say he’s “pro-Palestinian.”

Other polling in Israel shows a growing gap between aspirations for peace and the faith that it can happen. One survey last month found that 72 percent of Israelis favor negotiations, while only 33 percent think they can bear fruit. (Palestinians show a smaller gap, primarily because a smaller majority favors negotiations.)

Obama has resisted advisers’ suggestions that he travel to Israel or speak directly to Israelis as he has to Muslims in Egypt, Turkey and Indonesia.

“Israelis really hate Obama’s guts,” said Shmuel Rosner, a columnist for two leading Israeli newspapers. “We used to trust Americans to act like Americans, and this guy is like a European leader.”

Many senior Israeli leaders have concluded that Hillary Clinton and John McCain were right about Obama’s naiveté and inexperience.

“The naive liberals who are at the heart of the administration really believe in all the misconceptions the Palestinians and all their friends all over the world are trying to place,” said Yossi Kuperwasser, a former high-ranking military intelligence officer who is now deputy director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs.

Kuperwasser, like other Israelis, bridled at the suggestion that the country’s dislike of Obama draws from the Muslim influences of his heritage — or even his name.

“It drives me crazy. Who cares that his middle name is Hussein? It’s the last thing we care about. [To suggest that] is just anti-Semitism,” he said. “There is one reason why we are hesitant about this guy: He doesn’t understand us.”

And the Palestinians don’t have any more faith than the Israelis that the process that Obama has set them down holds any possibility of succeeding:

Palestinian leaders say they, too — for different reasons — are losing faith in the political talks.

“[Netanyahu] has a chance, and he’s wasting it,” said the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat. “Given the chance between settlements and peace, he’s always chosen settlements.”

The advocacy director of the American Task Force on Palestine, Ghaith al-Omari, said the frustration in Ramallah isn’t only with Netanyahu.

Abbas and other Palestinian leaders are “personally fed up with the whole thing,” he said, and “losing faith in the process, both with the Israeli willingness to deliver and the Americans’ ability to deliver the Israelis.”

And, it seems President Obama’s insistence on focusing on the settlement issue is what has virtually guaranteed that his peace process will fail:

“If Obama wanted to be a transformational figure, he would never have led with the settlements,” said Eyal Arad, the architect of Livni’s campaign for prime minister. He argues – like most Israelis – that Obama inadvertently got talks hung up on a matter of irrelevant principle, rather than engaging the reality that some settlements can stay while others must go.

“The settlements were pushed by a bunch of left-wingers who were out of sync with the realities and were out of government too long,” he said. “The irony is that Obama went directly back to the place where George Bush the father left off.”

Jackson Diehl picks up on this point in today’s Washington Post, arguing that Obama is spending far too much time trying to repeat the foreign policy mistakes of the past:

The Obama administration is devoting a big share of its diplomatic time and capital to curbing Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank – most recently, offering Israel’s right-wing government $ 3 billion in warplanes in exchange for a 90-day moratorium. Meanwhile, it has committed much of its dwindling domestic political capital to pushing a new nuclear arms control treaty with Russia through a reluctant Senate.


The same might be said about Obama’s preoccupation with stopping Israel’s settlement expansion in the West Bank and Jerusalem – a campaign that even Palestinian and Arab leaders have watched with bafflement. True, almost everyone outside Israel regards the construction as counterproductive, and only a minority supports it inside Israel.

But that is just the point: The dream of a “greater Israel” died more than 15 years ago. Even the Israeli right now accepts that a Palestinian state will be created in the West Bank. The settlements have become a sideshow; the real issues concern how to create a Palestinian state in a Middle East where the greatest threat is not Israeli but Iranian expansionism. What to do about Hamas and Hezbollah and their Iranian-supplied weapons? How to ensure that the post-occupation West Bank does not become another Iranian base? Those issues did not exist in 1983 – and the Obama administration seems to have no strategy for them.

So instead of dealing with the issues that matter, not to mention the ones on which real progress could be made, the United States is trying to force the Israelis and Palestinians to reach a deal on an issue that has been on the table for twenty-seven years with no real sign that compromise is any closer now than it was when Ronald Reagan was President and Menchahem Begin,  Yitzhak Shamir, and Yassir Arafat were in charge. It’s truly a puzzle as to why Obama would be going down this path when there are better avenues for real progress.

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary posits several explanations for Obama’s current policy bent in the Middle East, all of which she ultimately find unsatisfying:

Obama’s foreign policy is made all the more curious by the fact that sometimes he gets it right. Obama, however reluctantly, has followed the Bush approach in Iraq and attempted to duplicate it in Afghanistan. In these areas he’s departed from the leftist playbook and to a large extent followed the advice of the one truly expert national security guru he has: Gen. David Petraeus. So go figure.

Perhaps it comes down to this: only when faced with the prospect of a massive loss of American credibility (e.g., a defeat in Afghanistan), a severe domestic backlash (American Jews’ falling out with him), or resolute opposition (from Israel on Jerusalem) does Obama do what is smart and productive for American interests. In other words, only when exhausting all other opportunities and trying every which way to force his ideologically driven preferences does he stumble upon a reasonable outcome. This, if true, contains a powerful lesson for Israel, for Obama’s domestic critics, and for our other allies: hang tough, be clear about the Obama administration’s errors, and don’t blink. Chances are, he will instead.

Not that Rubin’s theory should be a comfort to anyone, of course. It describes a rudderless foreign policy being led by a man who, deep down, doesn’t really care too much about the issues he’s dealing with, perhaps because he prefers to concentrate on domestic and economic issues. That’s foolish even in the best of times, and dangerous if and when things turn bad.

Outside the Beltway

The conventional wisdom finally turns against Obama on the Middle East

November 22, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 


It’s good to statements like the following from Ben Smith in Politico about President Obama’s Middle East adventures becoming the conventional wisdom:

Instead of becoming a heady triumph of his diplomatic skill and special insight, Obama’s peace process is viewed almost universally in Israel as a mistake-riddled fantasy. And far from becoming the transcendent figure in a centuries-old drama, Obama has become just another frustrated player on a hardened Mideast landscape.

The current state of play sums up the problem. Obama’s demand that the Israelis stop building settlements on the West Bank was met, at long last, by a temporary and partial freeze, but its brief renewal is now the subject of intensive negotiations.

Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders have refused American demands to hold peace talks with the Israelis before the freeze is extended. Talks with Arab states over gestures intended to build Israeli confidence — a key part of Obama’s early plan — have long since been scrapped.

The political peace process to which Obama committed so much energy is considered a failure so far. And in the world’s most pro-American state, the public and its leaders have lost any faith in Obama and — increasingly — even in the notion of a politically negotiated peace.

Even those who still believe in the process that Obama has championed view his conduct as a deeply unfunny comedy of errors.

Smith shows that Obama has managed to lose not just the confidence of the Israeli government but also that of the dovish Kadima opposition party led by Tzipi Livni:

Livni scrupulously avoids criticizing Obama’s conduct of the peace talks, but those around her are blunter. “If Obama wanted to be a transformational figure, he would never have led with the settlements,” said Eyal Arad, the architect of Livni’s campaign for prime minister. He argues — like most Israelis — that Obama inadvertently got talks hung up on a matter of irrelevant principle, rather than engaging the reality that some settlements can stay while others must go.

“The settlements were pushed by a bunch of left-wingers who were out of sync with the realities and were out of government too long,” he said. “The irony is that Obama went directly back to the place where George Bush the father left off.”

Nor, according to Smith, do the Palestinians have much respect for Obama at this point. This isn’t surprising. Obama raised their hopes by taking an aggressive anti-settlement posture. In the process, he lost the trust of the Israelis, which ensures his inability to deliver anything much to the Palestinians.

Obama’s two defining characteristics — inexperience and adherence to leftwing dogma — are a dangerous combination in almost any context. They certainly have no useful place in the Middle East, where they have combined to make Obama an object of ridicule on both sides of the Israeli political divide and among Israel’s adversaries.

Power Line

The Middle East trap?

November 22, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

In POLITICO’s Arena, some discussion of my Middle East story today: Aaron David Miller writes that "Barack Obama was dealt a bad-to-middling hand on Arab-Israeli peace by his predecessor [and] proceeded to make it worse," while Yousef Munayyer writes that my piece was a work of "Israeli propaganda."

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Ben Smith’s Blog

Video: Dennis Prager’s 5 Minute Semester On The Middle East Problem

November 21, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

From the YouTube page:

Why is the Middle East Problem so intractable? Dennis Prager, nationally syndicated talk show host and best-selling author, answers that question in this thought-provoking video course.

Check out other Prager University “courses”

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Daled Amos

Democrats Will Push Tax Cuts for Middle Class

November 21, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

CNN reports that Democrats in the House and Senate “have decided to move ahead with votes after Thanksgiving to extend the Bush tax cuts for those making $ 250,000 or less,” daring Republicans to vote against the measure.

“These decisions come hours after Democratic leaders met at the White House with President Obama, where several sources say they talked extensively about the tax cuts… It is unclear if Democrats in either chamber have enough votes to pass only the middle class tax cuts. Democratic leaders are leaving open the possibility of compromise with Republicans if their measures do not pass. In fact, Democratic sources say Obama made clear in Thursday’s meeting they may ultimately need to find a middle ground.”
Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire

Robert Bernstein on “Human Rights in the Middle East”

November 20, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Robert L. Bernstein, founder of Human Rights Watch, made news in October of last year when Bernstein’s op-ed, criticizing Human Rights Watch, appeared in the New York Times.

He has continued to speak out since then.

Bernstein responded to HRW’s response to his op-ed.
Bernstein also gave an interview to Maariv.

And last week, Robert Bernstein gave The Shirley and Leonard Goldstein Lecture on Human Rights
University of Nebraska

It is a long speech. Here is the beginning, as it appears on the UN Watch site:

Human Rights in the Middle East
Robert L. Bernstein
The Shirley and Leonard Goldstein Lecture on Human Rights
University of Nebraska at Omaha
November 10, 2010

You may wonder why a man just shy of his 88th birthday would get up at 5 in the morning to fly to Omaha to give a speech. Frankly, since accepting this kind offer, I’ve wondered myself. Here’s why. Having devoted much of my life to trying to make the Universal Declaration of Human Rights come alive in many places in the world, I have become alarmed at how some human rights organizations, including the one I founded, are reporting on human rights in the Middle East.

In reading about the discussions and actions of students on American campuses, I learned, of course, that the Israel-Palestine issues were very polarized, sometimes hostile, and that a lot of the hostility was by students angered over Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and the endless process of trying to establish a second state.

I know we all believe in free speech. We believe in equality for women. We believe in tolerance of each other’s religious beliefs and in an open campus. When I go back to New York, tomorrow night, I will be attending the 150th anniversary of Bard College, a college very involved in the Middle East, as it has a combined degree program with Al-Quds, the Palestinian university in Ramallah. Here is what Leon Botstein, Bard’s President, says about education: “Education is a safeguard against the disappearance of liberty, but only if it invites rigorous inquiry, scrutiny, and the open discussion of issues.”

Believing in all these values and the others of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, what is taking place on American campuses puzzles me. It seems to me that the State of Israel has all the values we just outlined. It is surrounded by 22 Arab states occupying 99-1/2% of the land in the Middle East and these states do not share these values. Israel, which occupies less than ½ of 1%, does share these values. There is a battle about two things: First, the size of the 23rd state, the new Palestinian state, which at present has many of the same values as the other 22 states. Secondly, the claims of many Arab states, Iran and its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas, about the very legitimacy of the State of Israel. I don’t think human rights organizations alone can solve this mess but I do wonder about the discussions on many campuses, particularly about Israeli abuses, regardless of what you believe about them, and whether they are constructive. I don’t see how discussions of Israeli abuses can take such precedence over the kind of state that will be next to Israel. That is, not only internally, although human rights advocates should care about that more than they do, but in its foreign policy toward its neighbor Israel.

With this and similar thoughts on my mind, I decided that accepting the honor of speaking here tonight would make me sort things out about the difficult situation that exists and then take this one opportunity to try and articulate my thoughts. So, here I am to do that.

Read the whole thing.

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Daled Amos

House to Vote on Extending Cuts for Middle Class Only

November 18, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Greg Sargent reports that the House will definitely have an up-or-down vote on extending the Bush tax cuts for middle-class voters only.

“The move indicates that House Dems are growing more resolved to draw a
hard line on the Bush tax cuts, forcing Republicans to choose between
supporting Obama’s tax plan and opposing a tax cut for the middle class.
However, the way forward still remains murky. Even if such a measure
were to pass in the House, it’s unclear whether the Senate will agree to
such a vote, and the White House has not endorsed the approach.”
Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire

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