Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Powering the Future

Take everything you've learned over the past few years about Peak Oil, our world's dwindling supplies of fossil fuels, the vital necessity of transitioning to renewable energy sources to avoid the end of the world as we know it, and flush it down the drain. Michael Lind argues that far from nearing the end of our addiction to fossil fuels, we're just getting warmed up.
As everyone who follows news about energy knows by now, in the last decade the technique of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," long used in the oil industry, has evolved to permit energy companies to access reserves of previously-unrecoverable “shale gas” or unconventional natural gas. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, these advances mean there is at least six times as much recoverable natural gas today as there was a decade ago. [...]

The implications for energy security are startling. Natural gas may be only the beginning. Fracking also permits the extraction of previously-unrecoverable “tight oil,” thereby postponing the day when the world runs out of petroleum. There is enough coal to produce energy for centuries. And governments, universities and corporations in the U.S., Canada, Japan and other countries are studying ways to obtain energy from gas hydrates, which mix methane with ice in high-density formations under the seafloor. The potential energy in gas hydrates may equal that of all other fossils, including other forms of natural gas, combined.

If gas hydrates as well as shale gas, tight oil, oil sands and other unconventional sources can be tapped at reasonable cost, then the global energy picture looks radically different than it did only a few years ago. Suddenly it appears that there may be enough accessible hydrocarbons to power industrial civilization for centuries, if not millennia, to come.
Not to mention the reality of nuclear fission, and the promise of nuclear fusion. Which isn't to say that solar, wind, biofuels and geothermal don't have a place in the energy mix, or can't offer competitive solutions in localized markets. Rather, a rational government energy policy free of apocalyptic hysterics and an obsession with trendy solutions wouldn't incentivize and then subsidize renewable energy generation to the tune of tens of billions, on the taxpayer's dime, in the midst of an economic downturn, or ever.

In case you're wondering how Israel will fare in this brave new "fracking" world of plentiful energy, the answer appears to be, quite well. Tiny Israel seems to be sitting on top of massive natural gas deposits and the world's third largest oil shale reserves, with some 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and as much as 250 billion barrels of recoverable oil - enough to rival Saudi Arabia, and within stone's throw of Europe's energy markets. Boycott that, bitch.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Pressing the Palestinians on Recognizing a Jewish State of Israel

Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) has written an article for Foreign Policy about Prime Minister Netanyahu's insistence that Palestinian Authority President Mahmous Abbas recognize the State of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. Here is precisely what Netanyahu said during his speech in Congress last week:
President Abbas must do what I have done. I stood before my people -- and I told you it wasn’t easy for me. I stood before my people, and I said, “I will accept a Palestinian state.” It’s time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say, “I will accept a Jewish state.” Those six words will change history. They’ll make it clear to the Palestinians that this conflict must come to an end, that they’re not building a Palestinian state to continue the conflict with Israel, but to end it. And those six words will convince the people of Israel that they have a true partner for peace.
The venerable Ibish has written on this point before, in October 2010, when Netanyahu offered to extend the settlement freeze in exchange for the Palestinians accepting Israel as a Jewish state. Here's what he said then:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's proposal earlier today that Israel might agree to a two-month extension of the partial, temporary settlement moratorium expired in late September on condition that Palestinians recognize Israel as a "Jewish state" is insulting and frivolous.
There is a reason Ibish, a pro-Palestinian centrist and pragmatist, is so prolific and quite visibly vociferous on this subject - it is a point of potentially very deep Palestinian weakness. He repeatedly delves into the legal, political, diplomatic and cultural ramifications of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, but he's evading the one point that counts most, from a Jewish/Israeli perspective, and the reason this issue is being brought to the table - the psychological dimension.

Whether this "demand" is new or not is irrelevant. An argument could be made that the legitimacy of a Jewish homeland in the Arab world has always been the root of the conflict. On the other hand, Israel's longtime Foreign Minister Abba Eban rejected making this a point of negotiations with the Arabs, as he felt the state's character should not be subjected to an Arab veto. However, it's fairly obvious that, since Oslo, all Israeli governments considered the end goals of negotiations to be a Jewish State and a Palestinian State, and moreover a Palestinian recognition and acceptance that this outcome was the final goal. It was only after the launch of the Second Intifada that Israel's pro-peace center and left were shocked that the Palestinians they had been working with for years never intended to recognize a Jewish state, but an ambiguous state, which might one day become Palestinian also.

Whatever the arguments, those Palestinians (and Americans and Europeans and Arabs) who desire a two state solution should readily meet Netanyahu's challenge. Instead of accusing him of throwing up obstacles to peace, they should immediately nullify those obstacles at their source. If tomorrow the Palestinian Authority, Arab governments and Europe were to erupt in proclamations by leaders recognizing the Jewish character of the State of Israel, and the legitimate and historic right of Jews to reside in it, whatever opposition Netanyahu has mustered to a two state solution will crumble instantly. The psychological impact of such an event, were it to be conducted credibly, would force an immediate return to negotiations and result in surefire Palestinian statehood within months.

The inability of the Palestinian leadership to recognize this point - or perhaps they recognize it just fine - leads to the very troubling conclusion that this conflict really isn't about land or Palestinian self-determination. Perhaps the obstacle is not one which Netanyahu has created, but one which he has identified. Israel's center-left opposition leader Tzippi Livni said it best, sometime during her deliberations with senior Palestinian negotiators in the last government; to paraphrase: If we're talking about two states for two people, then who are those two people? For most every government in the world the answer is clear - the Jewish people and the Palestinian people. It's high time the Palestinians (and the Arabs) ended their indefensible rejection of this very basic international consensus.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Jordan Isn't Palestine, But It Could Be

In recent months, popular Arab revolts have removed from power the long-ruling monarchs of Egypt and Tunisia, and are presently attempting to dethrone those of Yemen, Syria and Bahrain. The phenomenon has been commonly referred to as the Arab Spring, and while complex in nature - driven in various countries by ethnic, religious, sectarian and something reminiscent of class conflicts - it is, at least to Western ears, primarily about enfranchisement, if not exactly democracy as we in the West know it. The Arab peoples, in the plural, wish to have a greater say in how their countries are being managed. Presumably, in every country under discussion the people are many, the government forces are few, and so "the people", barring violent, bloody and prolonged crackdowns, and maybe despite such crackdowns, will emerge victorious, eventually if not immediately.

The inevitability of it all - that the people will win, and the tyrants will lose - is a powerful driver of events and opinion. This is particularly so in Western capitals, focused heavily, as American and European leaders currently are, on coming out of the present disturbances on the side of the Arab people, and not of the dethroned despots - i.e. with their regional interests intact. It is fair to say that the chattering classes of Washington punditry are entirely consumed, at the present moment, with the thrill and inevitability of Arab self-determination, suffrage, democratic institution building; and more than all the rest, on being seen as having always predicted and supported this drive to freedom. Yet, there is one country which the Facebook and Twitter revolution appears to have passed over, and which has escaped the attention of our favorite, ever-indignant, newly freedom loving newspaper columnists - Jordan.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is, well, a kingdom. As is generally known, the Hashemites were once the leading tribal clan in what is today Saudi Arabia. The First World War found them rulers of the region of Hejaz, a part of the Ottoman Empire on the Western edge of the Arabian peninsula bordering the Red Sea. As you can see from the (Spanish language) map, the Hejaz region contains the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, making the Hashemites who once ruled it quite prominent and powerful, but under Ottoman control.

The Ottoman Turks, of course, were at the time joined with Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria in an alliance called the Central Powers. Facing them in the First World War were Russia, France, Britain, Italy, other small European states and, eventually, the United States - the Allied Powers. By 1916, the war for the Central Powers was beginning to go badly. The Hashemites, ruling a corner of an Ottoman Empire weakened by war in Europe, and encouraged by the British, declared independence from the Turks.

From 1916 to 1924, the Hashemites ruled an independent Kingdom of Hejaz, with British support. They were driven from the area by a competing Arab tribe - that of Ibn Saud, the kind of Najd - which was eventually to conquer most of the Arabian peninsula and form the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The British, meanwhile, had busily carved up the remains of the Ottoman Empire with the French, and were in a position to resettle their loyal Hashemite subjects as rulers of a mass of largely unpopulated desert to the east of the Jordan river, across from what is today the State of Israel, and what was then referred to as the region of Palestine.

Since independence from colonial British control, Jordan has been ruled by Hussein bin Talal from 1953 until 1999, and since then by his son, Abdullah II. Reforms since the late 1980s and '90s have made this constitutional monarchy less dictatorial, with several competing, if largely impotent political parties. While doing research for this article, I was frustrated by a lack of all but cursory information on Jordan's political system. The country's close alliance with the United States perhaps mutes closer inspection of Hashemite rule by Western analysts. The most cogent explanation I found about the country's political institutions and state of affairs, surprisingly, was from the Daily Kos:
Jordan is nominally a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral parliament, only the lower house of which is elected. In addition, there is a cabinet of ministers headed by a prime minister, which is nominally responsible to the lower house. In practice, none of this matters because the king holds all political power. He is able to dissolve the parliament, appoint and fire prime ministers and cabinets, and call for elections at will.

The lower house is elected under a rather undemocratic voting system called Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV), in which each voting district has more than one seat, but the voter is allowed to vote only once. So in other words, something like 3 to 5 MPs represent any given citizen, but that same citizen had a say in the election of only one of them.

In Jordan, family and tribal ties play an important societal role, so there is a duty to support those candidates with family ties. So instead of voting for someone who will best represent her interests, the voter will instead be more inclined to look for her family's name and cast her only vote for that candidate. The Jordanian elite know of this dynamic and exploited it when they set up the current electoral system. On top of that, they also gerrymander the districts so that the rural areas which are dominated by East Bankers receive more representation than the more Palestinian cities.
The article is worth reading in full, as it progresses to discuss current tensions between Palestinian Jordanians and "East Bankers", meaning non-Palestinian Jordanians, mostly of Hashemite extraction. This, then, in the contradiction of demographics and politics of Jordan, is where our own focus lies.

Estimates of Palestinians among Jordan's 6.5 million people vary widely, from just under half of the Kingdom's citizens, to nearly three quarters of its (legal and illegal) residents. Thousands of Palestinians, including from the West Bank and Gaza, gain Jordanian citizenship (legally and illegally) every year, while several thousand Palestinians are quietly stripped of their citizenship by Jordanian authorities fighting the creeping encroachment of Palestinians on national life. Yet, without wholesale action by the government to disenfranchise 3-4 million Palestinians, the demographics are inescapable. From the perspective of demography alone, and in light of the popular protests sweeping the Arab world, which seek to translate popular will into political reality, Jordan isn't Palestine, but it very well could be.

The opposition to Palestinians within Jordan's ruling elite and Hashemite masses is often quite vocal. Everyone from army officers and civil servants to Hashemite tribal leaders decries the country's slide into "Palestinization". The King's wife, Queen Rania, is Palestinian. Their son, and the heir to the Kingdom's throne, could in a different cultural setting be the solution to easing ethnic tensions and enabling coexistence with the "other" in Jordanian society. Instead, the Hashemite elite may well regard him as illegitimate, a further "Palestinization" of their country at it's highest levels.

Hashemite unity - control over the levers of political and economic power, and the security forces - along with gradual political reforms and considerable American financial aid have so far prevented the country from sliding into the revolutionary fervor of their Arab contemporaries throughout the region. Protests in Amman have been small, peaceful, and seem to be readily pacified by the King's cabinet shuffling and economic subsidies. The country's long term stability may not be assured, but with some creative management it appears unlikely to undergo Egyptian or Syrian style upheavals.

However, if we are interested less in stability and more in in the principles of self-determination, democracy, suffrage, and all the other fine ideas coursing through the blood of the Arab Spring, at least according to Western pundits, the picture becomes more complex. A benevolent dictator rules Jordan - an ally of America, yes, but a monarch with absolute powers. The Hashemites aren't threatened with becoming a minority in a country their tribe rules by diktat and force of arms - they already are a minority, and a really small minority at that, numbering as few as 25% of the country's total population.

Very near to Jordan, across the river for which the country was named, the Jews, too, have a country. Israel rules over territories in which - if we exclude Gaza (and we should exclude Gaza), in other words, expressly in the West Bank region - reside some 1.5 million Palestinians. Were Israel to annex the West Bank and enfranchise its Palestinians, the Jewish-Arab demographic balance would fall to about 65%-35%, respectively. Yet this, a situation under which the Jews would remain an overwhelming majority in their national homeland, is considered unpalatable, unjust and morally indefensible. Meanwhile, across that river, a mere 25% of Jordanians rule the other 75%, and no one among Washington's chattering classes bats an eye!

The real question, in light of the Arab Spring, and the mass uprisings which we are told are driven by the universal human urge towards democracy and freedom, isn't whether Jordan is Palestine, or even whether it could be Palestine. The real questions are whether Jordan should be Palestine, and whether Jordan will be Palestine. Is this not the most moral, just and inevitable outcome for an overwhelming majority ruled, against its will, by a minority? We should consider the possibility.

A Struggle of Generations

The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews.

Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem. Russia did it, Poland and Czechoslovakia did it, Turkey threw out a million Greeks, and Algeria a million Frenchman. Indonesia threw out heaven knows how many Chinese-and no one says a word about refugees.

But in the case of Israel the displaced Arabs have become eternal refugees. Everyone insists that Israel must take back every single Arab. Arnold Toynbee calls the displacement of the Arabs an atrocity greater than any committed by the Nazis. Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious it must sue for peace .

Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world. Other nations when they are defeated survive and recover but should Israel be defeated it would be destroyed.
Eric Hoffer, LA Times, May 26... 2011 1968. There's more.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Iranians are Building a Missile Base in Venezuela

I don't know how credible this report is in the German Die Welt (translated version), but if it's true, Iran appears to be building a missile base in Venezuela, with cooperation of Venezuela's anti-American President. Since Iran doesn't have any enemies in South America that it needs to threaten with missiles, we must assume that this is an attempt to deploy a second strike deterrent capacity against any attempts by the US to eliminate Iran's nuclear weapons program by force.

Needless to say, if this information is true, the American people, and certainly American policy makers should be informed that an Islamist regime which spent the better part of the last decade helping to murder American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and which is currently building the nuclear weapons and missiles to threaten what it calls the Little Satan, meaning Israel, now seems intent on deploying these missiles within range of what it calls the Big Satan, meaning the United States.

The obvious parallel is to the Cuban Missile Crisis. A less obvious parallel is that Iran is building up yet another proxy to threaten its enemies on its behalf, like with Hezbollah and Israel. If true, this will be the first time in two decades that a foreign regime, operating in a state of undeclared war with the US, intends to target the American people. Something to keep in mind going forward.

American Pressure, Israeli Resistance and the 1967 Lines

The furor over Obama's mentioning of the 1967 lines (more precisely, the 1949 armistice lines) as a basis for territorial negotiations with the Palestinians is entirely overblown. Actually, there were multiple furors here. First, some pro-Israel advocates and Republican Jewish vote-seekers lambasted the President for "throwing Israel under a bus", and the like. This was followed by a counter-furor by the Jeffrey Goldberg wing of the pro-Israel movement, which trends more sympathetic to the Administration, and a variety of assorted "we wish Israel had never been created, but since it was, and we're scared to be called anti-Semites, we support it, meanwhile condemning it day in and day out" bloviating hobgoblins - Andrew Sullivan comes to mind. This was then followed by a counter-counter-furor by the first group against the second group, calling them anti-Semites, Kapos, JINOs (Jews in Name Only), etc., succeeded by a counter-counter-counter-furor by the second group against the first group for calling them mean names and making them cry, and so on.

As tempted as I am to take sides, or maybe carve out my own personal furor, I'll simply restate that the entire issue of the '67 lines constituting a basis for negotiations is essentially irrelevant, and needs to be seen in its historical context. The US has always preferred that Israel make territorial withdrawals from lands claimed by the Arabs, and not only from the West Bank, Gaza, Golan, Sinai, and Lebanon, but from anywhere and everywhere it could be coerced to do so. For instance, take Operation Alpha, a joint attempt in 1955 by the British and Americans to pressure Israel into accepting a land link between Egypt and Jordan that would run through the Negev.
In contacts that the US and British embassies made in Cairo with Nasser and his Foreign Minister, Mahmud Fawzi, primarily in the first half of 1955, it was clarified to them that the Egyptians had a “desperate” need for a land connection with Jordan. Thus, when Egyptian Foreign Minister Fawzi paid a visit to Washington on June 24 to talk with Dulles and George Allen, he reduced the question of whether the agreement would stand or fall to the territorial continuity question, and to a demand that Israel relinquish the Negev. The establishment of Israel, according to him, divided the Arab world, by creating a physical separation. For example, he said, if he wanted to travel by car from Cairo to Damascus, he would have to receive permission from Mr. Sharett (then the Israeli Prime Minister), and this situation was unacceptable to the Arabs.

The Anglo-American pressure on Israel to concede on the subject of the Negev increased after September 27, 1955, when Nasser published the details of the arms transaction he had signed with the USSR. Part of the American and British moves were public knowledge. Israel was principally shocked by the speech that Anthony Eden gave in Guildhall, London, on November 9, 1955. Eden called for a territorial solution to the conflict based on a compromise be made between the partition borders and the armistice lines, clearly suggesting an Israeli concession in the Negev.
Israel's situation in 1955 was precarious, to say the least. By this time, the Soviets Union had fully recovered from WWII and began actively subverting British and American influence in the Middle East, primarily through massive shipments of advanced weapons to Arab states, which directly threatened Israel's survival. Meanwhile, the only other global powers capable of countering Soviet armaments - the British, at the close of their empire, handing off the torch of hegemony to the Americans - were actively plotting to dismember a tiny, poor country of scraggly Holocaust survivors and refugees from Arab lands.

Then, as now, Israel's leadership responded how it always has and always will - it resisted. Ben Gurion didn't rush out with a plan of his own, in order to "take the initiative", reduce international pressure and give the Arabs slightly less than Washington wanted. Instead, the "Old Man" stood firm in the face of an unprecedented challenge, with one superpower arming Israel's enemies to the teeth, and the other actually plotting, in secret, to undermine Israel's internationally sanctioned territorial integrity against her will. Operation Alpha is notable for the sheer contempt shown by Washington towards Israeli rights and territorial interests, which, as for any other nation state, are intrinsically tied to security, economics and national identity. It was not, however, the last instance of American pressure being brought to bear against Israel to concede territory to the Arabs.

Just as today, in response to American pressure, Israel's center-right Prime Minister speaks of the '67 borders as "indefensible", more than forty years ago, in 1969, Israel's center-left Foreign Minister Abba Eban, the consummate diplomat par excellence, said the following to Germany's Der Spiegel (translated):
"We have openly said that the map will never again be the same as on June 4, 1967. For us, this is a matter of security and of principles. The June map is for us equivalent to insecurity and danger. I do not exaggerate when I say that it has for us something of a memory of Auschwitz."
Remember, this was in 1969, years before any Israeli settlement of the West Bank took place. Israel's refusal to return to the '67 lines is not about protecting its settlements, though of course, this issue adds certain layers of practical, emotional and political complexity. Rather, Israel's narrow coastal plain, whether populated heavily or sparsely, in 1969 or in 2011, is fundamentally, chronically insecure without some minimum control over the mountainous ridges which overlook it. The insecurity of Israel's coastal plain is an immovable feature of geography which no peace agreement can ever mollify, but which can be durably addressed only by controlling the West Bank's hilly spine.

In the many decades since Israel's founding, and certainly after the Jewish State's victory over the Arabs in 1967, there has not been a single American President who has not pressured Israel to relinquish territory claimed by the Arabs. In this sense, Obama and his supporters are right to point out that American policy has long considered the 1949 armistice lines a basis for territorial negotiations between Israel and the Arabs.

Likewise, however, in the many decades since Israel's founding, and certainly after the Jewish State's victory over the Arabs in 1967, every single Israeli government has resisted American pressure to relinquish territory to the Arabs, without exception. It should, therefore, only stun the stupid, or the historically uninformed, were this Israeli government, or the ones that follow it, to continue the long Israeli tradition of resisting American pressure on territorial concessions to the Arabs.

Portraying longstanding and quite public Israeli resistance to American pressure on territorial withdrawal as some unprecedented act of contempt against America, a slap in Obama's face, or the act of an ungrateful recipient of American treasure - a point of view peddled by Andrew Sullivan, among others - is nothing less than vapid, emotion-driven demagoguery.

Bloviating hobgoblins, led by their leader and my personal pet project, would like you to believe that this time, it's different. Before, they claim, America had no real interests in Israeli territorial concessions, since no American interests were at stake, except for a general desire to ensure stability and peace in the Middle East. Now, however, an alignment of critical factors have turned America's ability to extract territorial concessions from Israeli into the prism through which the US deals with the Arab world. Israel's intransigence, they assert, is single-handedly murdering American credibility with the Arab world, cutting Obama's great vision for peace off at the knees.

However, this perspective is long on dreamy, emotionalized narrative and short on history. America has been pressuring Israel to make territorial concessions to the Arabs since 1955 precisely because it saw opportunities for itself in doing so. Operation Alpha was planned in support of vital American interests, to ensure that Egypt's Nasser, and the Suez canal would not fall under Soviet influence, which they eventually did. The stakes were no less bigger then than they are now; Nasser was a firebrand, inciting pan-Arab revolution and aggression against Western interests throughout the third world and welcoming Soviet influence. America and Britain saw an opportunity to keep Nasser contained by offering up a chunk of Israel, at the time a small, weak, thinly populated state, surely not a country that could resist American and British demands. Israel did resist, it prevailed, and in doing so it earned respect and confidence. What good is an ally which cannot define and vigorously defend its own vital interests?

History has demonstrated that the US is committed to Israeli territorial integrity only when Israel is prepared to fight to maintain that territorial integrity, including, perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, by resisting US pressure on territorial concessions to the Arabs which run counter to core Israeli interests. This doesn't mean that Israel will never make territorial concessions, for indeed, it has, but never exclusively as a consequence of American pressure, no matter how fierce, and always in exchange for clear, rational benefits towards its own interests, as it and only it defines them.

American policymakers know this. President Obama knows this. Mentioning the 1967 lines wasn't about picking a fight with Israel; it was throwing a rhetorical bone about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the Arab masses which the President was addressing. As for the Palestinians, Obama slapped them across the face with both hands - no to unilateral adventurism at the UN, no to East Jerusalem and yes to an interim territorial deal first proposed by Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and which the Palestinians have already rejected. This interim deal normalizes Palestinian national life but leaves core Palestinian demands unresolved indefinitely, to be resolved only by negotiations with Israel, while solidifying Israeli control and legitimacy over Jerusalem, settlements and the Jordan Valley.  Even a vigorously pro-settlement advocate such as I have problems seeing this as an anti-Israel speech.

American policy in the Middle East will always seem pressing, but with the exception that the oil must flow, its interests are essentially tactical and fleeting - impacting the balance of power, blocking regional or international competitors, and so on. When it fails, America can always remove, regroup and rededicate itself to pursuing the regional interests it views as important in one generation or another. In contrast, Israeli interests are strategic and permanent. Israel cannot escape its geopolitical reality, and it will never subject its security and territorial integrity to the vagaries of American policy fancy when these run counter to core Israeli interests.

The Americans have always asked Israel to relinquish territory to the Arabs, and they always will. The Americans are dealing with the Arabs, and need to take Arab desires into account, or at least appear to be doing so publicly. Where such American pressure runs counter to Israeli interests, the Israelis will resist, as they always have. In the past, when the Israelis resisted, the Americans never pushed the issue so as to cause a rupture in relations. Some are urging the US should do just that, but they are a fringe among policymakers. This dynamic of pressure and resistance to territorial concessions is built into the US-Israeli bilateral relationship, and signifies nothing important in and of itself, no matter how hard Andrew Sullivan beats his slipper against the keyboard.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Elie Wiesel Declared the Winner, Finally

*wiping away a tear. It's funny because it's true.

Can you think of another human being who made an impact on our world in a mere 120 pages?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Obama Revealed as a pro-Settlement, "Greater Israel" Advocate

I think just about everyone commenting on the 1967 borders issue in Obama's "Cairo II" speech today has it wrong. Some pro-Israel advocates are treating Obama mentioning the 1967 boundaries as a fundamental change in American policy, and an abrogation of private American understandings with Israel. Other pro-Israel advocates, and many pro-Palestinian and Obama administration supporters, are claiming that the 1967 boundaries have always constituted the basis for negotiations, and are therefore longstanding US policy. Both groups are wrong.

The 1949 armistice lines, commonly referred to as the "Green Line", constituted Israel's internationally recognized territorial boundaries prior to the second Arab attempt to mass murder the Jews of Israel, known as the Six Day War of 1967. After the war, and Israel's capture of, among other territories, Gaza and the West Bank, Israel's eastern territorial boundary became the Jordan river. By urging that negotiations begin from the baseline of Israel's 1967 boundaries, as opposed to its 1949 armistice lines, Obama has necessarily accepted the West Bank and Gaza as Israeli possessions. In other words, the American President has just thrown his lot in with the pro-settlement, anti-Palestine, "Greater Israel" coalition, making the basis for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians the Jewish State's full and exclusive sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza.

If we are going to bicker over rhetorical semantics, then we should make them semantics that work for us, and not against us. In that spirit, I strongly urge the pro-Israel blogosphere to celebrate this stunning turn of events and quickly accept President Obama's demand that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations begin with a universal acknowledgement of total Israeli sovereignty in all territories desired by the Palestinians for their state.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Tantric Mantra of Middle East Peace

Aluf Benn, writing in Haaretz, thinks that Bin Laden's liquidation blows wind in Obama's sails with respect to pushing forward the cause of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But of course, when a butterfly flaps its wings in the Pacific, Israel must seize the opportunity to make "peace" by surrendering territory to the Arabs. This notion, that any and every regional and international development - from Wikileaks to the Arab revolts, from Palestinian "reconciliation" to Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon - demonstrates the urgent necessity for "progress" in Middle East peace, progress which can only be achieved by Israeli concessions to Arab demands, has long ago passed from cliche into tantric mantra and epic mythology.

It should be remembered that "peace" and "progress", in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, is necessarily characterized by unilateral Israeli strategic retreat, and Arab scribbles on bleached wood pulp vowing to maintain a state of open hostility short of war, until they no longer feel bound to their commitments, to which no one will seriously hold them.

To demonstrate the sheer absurdity of the prevalent narrative, let's rotate this notion on its head. Is there any conceivable scenario under which Israel should not immediately pursue a peace initiative, or be forced to do so? If Palestinians murder Israeli civilians, this demonstrates the absolute necessity for immediate peace negotiations. If Palestinians temporarily do not murder Israeli civilians, it demonstrates that nothing should prevent immediate peace negotiations. If the Palestinians are split into two armed camps, Israel simply must take advantage of the opportunity to make peace. If the Palestinians are united, then Israel has a golden opportunity to make peace. If Arab countries are ruled by pro-Western, secular autocrats, Israel must make peace to bolster the stability of those regimes. If Arab tyrants are overthrown and the reigns of power shift to a messy conglomerate of Islamists, sectarian tribalists and secular fascists, then Israel must make peace to help the West ingratiate itself with the new regimes. If Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, this demonstrates the necessity of Israel making peace in order to strengthen the regional anti-Iranian coalition. If Iran is stopped from pursuing nuclear weapons, then Israel has run out of excuses to make peace.

The Palestinians know well what they must do to make peace and achieve their state, and have been given multiple opportunities to do so. By estimation of all the experts, peace should have been achieved in 2000, or 2008, but it wasn't, on Palestinian insistence. How much longer must we entertain the frantic ravings of those who continue to cling, in good faith, with the best of intentions, to a collapsed analytical framework?

The Next 18 Months in Pro-Israel Activism

Responding to a friend's request, I believe the American pro-Israel community has three main challenges in the next 18 months prior to the US elections. The first is preventing President Obama from seriously pursuing any well intentioned but atrociously reasoned and even more disastrously executed "grand peace initiatives", which are all premised on forcing unilateral Israeli concessions in order to appease, "moderate" and contain Arab Islamists. It remains to be seen whether Netanyahu will provide leadership in this regards with his anticipated speech before the US Congress later in May.

The second item on the agenda is cutting the Palestinians off at the knees when it comes to their adventurist unilateralism in seeking a statehood recognition at the UN in September. The Palestinians must be disabused of the tempting illusion that diplomatic militarism and cowardice at negotiating peace with the Jews of Israel will earn them anything but another, bitter defeat.

The third and final challenge for pro-Israel advocacy is working to reestablish the Israel-centric, pro-American alliance system in the Eastern Mediterranean. This means reasserting the original conditions for American foreign aid and access to American markets for Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinians, Turks and others, based on the quality of their security relationship and constructive political engagement with Israel.

Confronting the Iranian nuclear program is no longer on the radar, swept to the back burner by two years of American blundering on the peace process, the need to deal with the consequences of Arab upheavals, and utter policy confusion over the proper way to proceed.

It will be a difficult time, requiring strength, resolve, and creative problem solving on the part of Israel's supporters. Which is the way it always has been. Presidential and congressional elections will help us frame the debate, rally support and demonstrate our electoral strength, such as it is. Permeating the internal pro-Israel debate will be an ongoing disagreement over the value, justness and future of Jewish settlements - a discussion that is of particular interest to me.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Obama Has Killed a Partner for Peace

Just kidding. But seriously, what is the difference between Osama Bin Laden and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas? The former leader of al Qaeda never actually murdered Americans with his own hands, though he provided funding, planning and inspiration for those who did. Likewise, Abu Mazen provided funds (source 2) for the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympic games in Munich by Palestinian terror factions.

And yet, were Israeli special forces to reach out and touch the unrepentant Palestinian President with a bullet above his left eye, as retribution for his crimes, we could reasonably expect more than one Obama Administration official, much less a refined European diplomat, to skip "popping a vein" and move straight to an apoplectic seizure. After all, who can forget the international community's condemnation of Israel's killing of the founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

If only "ifs and buts were candy and nuts", but Israel is a small country, and America is a superpower, which is not forced to make peace with those who mass murder its citizens in cold blood. Neither does the US need anyone's permission or legal justification to insert military personnel into a sovereign country, without warning, and liquidate whoever it needs to. US Navy Seals who took part in the operation to kill Bin Laden will not be placed on Interpol's most wanted list, as have members of the Israeli team who assassinated the Hamas terrorist Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai.

So, as we all welcome news of Bin Laden's demise, let's remember, once again, the endless accusations, the double standards, the relentless misapplications of international law to which the Jewish State is exposed on a regular basis, in a manner unlike that of any other nation in the world.

Finally, as condemnation for the killing of Bin Laden has streamed in from the Palestinians - first by the "moderate" Hamas leader (and elected Palestinian Prime Minister) Ismail Haniyeh, and then by an imam at Jerusalem's al Aqsa Mosque - allow me to make a prediction: the Palestinians will name something after Bin Laden - a monument, a square, some public works project. This will happen in spite of $500 million in unconditional American aid lavished on the Palestinians annually. In the entire Arab world no one supported al Qaeda like the Palestinians.

Update: Now the Palestinian terror faction affiliated with the "moderate" Fatah party has joined its Hamas countrymen in denouncing the killing of Bin Laden. Together, the two groups are responsible for the vast majority of Palestinian violence against Israel, meaning that they represent a broad cross-section of Palestinian opinion, or at least the opinions of those that count, with all the guns:
The military wing of Fatah, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, published a long statement in reaction to the killing of Osama bin Laden calling it a "catastrophe." They said that those who killed Bin Laden were "gangs of heretics."
Where else in the entire world, but even within the Middle East, have any leaders or power brokers demonstrated such inane stupidity as to poke the United States (and the most pro-Palestinian President in its history) in this long-sought moment of victory? This, to borrow a sports term, is what we call an "unforced error", like those images of Palestinians dancing in the streets as the Twin Towers fell on 9/11.

On My Bookshelf