Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Identifying the Islamist Wedge

George Friedman of Stratfor published a free article today, entitled, The Arab Risings, Israel and Hamas. The analysis examines why Israel has not been a featured grievance of the many popular Arab protests over the past few months, and how Hamas is attempting to exploit the window of opportunity provided by regional instability to shake off its international (and regional) isolation. The article is well worth reading in full, however, only the last paragraph is of particular interest to me.
For the United States and Europe, the merger of Islamists and democrats is an explosive combination. Apart, they do little. Together, they could genuinely destabilize the region and even further undermine the U.S. effort against jihadists. The United States and Europe want Israel to restrain itself but cannot restrain Hamas. Another war, therefore, is not out of the question — and in the end, the decision to launch one rests with Hamas.
This is a very curious conclusion to the piece, which is only tenuously supported by the preceding paragraphs, and leaves much unsaid. What, specifically, about the union of these two groups is seen by the US and Europe to be so dangerous? Is it that the democrats can offer the Islamists popular legitimacy and insulate them from Western intervention? Is it that the democrats are able to neutralize autocratic leaders - who would normally crack down on Islamists, but can't do so against democrats for fear of drawing the ire of democracy-sympathizing Western powers - leading to an Islamist ascendancy? Is it because the West has no leverage over the interests of either group and that, once the goals of democrats and Islamists are aligned, the two constituencies can dominate Arab politics without internal or external constraints? As a concept, the notion that a merger of Islamists and democrats has the potential to damage Western interests seems to make sense, but looking at specifics to identify the reasons why this is so gets to be very muddy. I've emailed Dr. Friedman and will post his response, should he choose to write me back.

The Islamist wedge - by which I'm referring to Western efforts to isolate Islamists from other Arabs - for reasons that remain to me unclear, is a potent motivator in American and (especially) European strategic thinking. Most every policy decision taken by the Europeans with regards to the Palestinians, particularly in their increasingly strident support for the creation of a secular Palestinian state, is drawn from a determination to draw and deepen that wedge - to nurture a secular Arab buffer against the Islamists. (Note that, as with Syria - whose dictator Western governments have insulated from human rights critique for a decade - Europe is exerting no pressure in ensuring that the secular Palestinian buffer be a shining beacon of democracy and human freedom.)

We'll discuss European interests with regards to the settlements and Palestinian statehood more fully in future installments of the Settlement Strategy series. Identifying the root of this motivation to drive the Islamist wedge, not superficially and crudely - as in, Europeans might fear Muslims, so we should pander to their Islamophobia - but intimately, and leveraging that understanding, holds the key to generating diplomatic support for the preservation of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, and potentially more.

There is one other point to be made, related to European and American efforts to restrain Israel from striking back at Hamas in an effort to preserve their own vital interests. Why should Israeli restraint under enemy attack come without cost for those who so desire it? The Americans, at least, are waist deep in financially subsidizing and politically defending Jewish security and sovereignty, respectively. However, I'm straining to see what the Europeans are bringing to the table, in exchange for which Israel should risk the lives of its citizens. What diplomatic support, perhaps with regard to that pesky Palestinian statehood resolution coming up at the UN General Assembly in September, are the Europeans willing to offer Jerusalem in exchange for holding back the dogs of war? I would hope that Israeli diplomats can see negotiating leverage when it smacks them in the face.

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