Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category

Lee Smith challenges the theory of “linkage,” which states that the key to resolving conflict in the Middle East is resolving the Palestinian-Israeli peace process (I’ve posted on this issue once before).  I’ve noted Smith’s ideas about the Middle East a couple other times on this blog.  He usually tries to challenge the dominant paradigm by which we look at the Middle East.  He believes that the biggest factor in the conflicts is not the Arab-Israeli issue but rather competition between different tribes and countries in the Arab world, what he calls an “Arab civil war.”  In addition, he believes that Middle Eastern states are generally weak and fight each other through terrorist groups rather than conventional war.

Smith believes that linkage theory has taken on a life of its own:

As the origins of any myth fade into the past, the myth, paradoxically, becomes more and more powerful, sometimes even taking on the appearance of truth. Two generations removed from the American policymakers who turned linkage to the advantage of U.S. regional interests, a dangerous stage begins in the history of a myth invented by one Arab tribe to gain the support of the British in their battle with another Arab tribe and that Washington turned around to make itself the power center of the Middle East….

Indeed, the American position in the Middle East is founded on the idea that Arab regimes are incapable of defending themselves against anyone. Washington made sure these regimes can’t defeat Israel; the United States protected the Saudis from the Soviets and then from Saddam, when the American presence in the desert made the Saudis vulnerable to their own domestic opposition in the form of Osama Bin Laden. What the Saudis want now is to be protected against the Islamic Republic of Iran, but they can’t say that publicly any more than they can explain that the myth of linkage was always more about intra-Arab politics than it was about the fate of the Palestinians.Nor apparently can the Americans admit that linkage was just a strategic instrument that leveraged the Arab narrative to the advantage of the United States. The further U.S. policymaking gets from the origins of the myth, the more magical and enticing it has become. The myth of linkage has grown to such legendary proportions at this point that it is the extent of the current White House’s Middle East policy. We have no other strategy to stop the Iranian nuclear program but linkage. Movement on the peace process, the Obama Administration believes, will get the Arab regimes to help us with Iran. The problem is that the Arabs will not help us with Iran. They want us to deal with Iran ourselves, but if we keep forcing the issue of linkage they have no choice but to go along with the ruse that everything is linked to the Arab-Israeli crisis. After all, it’s their narrative, and they can’t disown it now. (more…)

Lee Smith writes about his conversation with Israeli Nobel laureate Robert Aumann.  Aumann believes that game theory applies to international relations:

In Aumann’s view, the post-Oslo period shows that Israel’s behavior leaves it at a serious disadvantage in a repeated game. “In games that repeat over time,” Aumann wrote in an article called “The Blackmailers’ Paradox,” “a strategic balance that is neutral paradoxically causes a cooperation between the opposing sides.” Aumann offered the example of two men forced to split $100,000. Person A assumes that they will split it evenly and is astonished when Person B explains that he will not accept anything less than $90,000. Afraid that he will leave empty-handed, A relents and takes one-tenth of the money. In this situation, A acted as if this were a one-time game, but had he understood it as a repeated game and refused the split so that both he and B walked away empty-handed, he would have shown for future reference that he was every bit as determined as B. This in turn would make B more willing to compromise. “Likewise,” Aumann wrote, “Israel must act with patience and with long-term vision, even at the cost of not coming to any present agreement and continuing the state of belligerence, in order to improve its position in future negotiations.”…

“The way to make peace is to make your intentions clear,” Aumann told me. But Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza brought not only the second Lebanon war but also the bombardment of southern Israel and most recently the Mavi Marmara incident. To explain what was wrong with the Gaza withdrawal, Aumann drew on an unusual source for a scientist, the Bible, quoting Jeremiah 2:13: “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”

God’s people, according to Aumann’s interpretation of the passage, have done two stupid things—not only did they abandon God but they also worshipped broken idols. “It’s one thing to do something unconscionably bad,” Aumann said. For him, an expulsion that uprooted thousands of people who have yet to get their lives back in order was “unquestionably immoral.” “If it brings the peace,” Aumann said, “if the ends justify the means, that’s one thing, but this doesn’t even achieve the means. It was morally wrong and strategically stupid. The expulsion from Gaza is unprecedented. Jews have been expelled throughout history, but we own the dubious distinction of being the first people to have expelled ourselves. Never before had this happened, and it led to disaster. Our standing in the world was not improved. We didn’t get sympathy. We get sympathy when we act decisively—after Entebbe, Osirak, a lot of sympathy came after the Six Day war.”

When policymakers and analysts use the same sort of examples to draw the same historical conclusions, they’re dismissed as right-wing ideologues, and Aumann has endured the same treatment. The Nobel committee nonetheless realized he’d hit on a truth that explains a fundamental aspect of who we are as political beings—or who we are when we are most human, sitting across the table from our neighbors trying to figure out how to live together. The paradox is that there can be no co-existence if one person isn’t willing to negotiate as hard as the other. The appeaser will always be swallowed up and simply cease to exist. It is stubbornness rather than the willingness to make immediate concessions that brings about successful negotiations. In other words, if you want peace, prepare for war.

Hat tip: Michael Totten

Bradley Burston, a blogger with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz (in my understanding, a paper on the center-left of the Israeli political spectrum), writes:

Every revolution tends to believe that it is forever. Nowhere is this more evident than in Israel, for six decades cradle and crucible to concurrent revolutions.

But the fate of every revolutionary movement is to age, to fall prey to fissures and compound fractures, and to be astounded to find that one day, it has become history.

Now it is the turn of the settlers. Though the trappings of their past success remain, their revolution is broken. The settlement movement – along with the dovish revolution whose banner was land for peace – was shattered in the chaos of the Al-Aqsa Intifada.

In just six days in 2005, the single most indispensible figure in rooting settlements into the territories, Ariel Sharon, quashed a quarter century of Israeli settlement in the Gaza Strip – at the approval of two-thirds of the Israeli electorate.

The settlement revolution has never truly recovered. Even as it insists that West Bank settlements can never be undone, the movement is both haunted and crippled by its own private Naqba, the loss of the dream of a Greater Israel in the Likud government’s disengagement.

Of late, figures of significance on the right of both the Israeli and American Jewish communities have begun to rethink the future of the settlers’ core redoubt: the West Bank.

As Israeli-Palestinian negotiations resumed this month, influential Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer astounded many colleagues on the right by observing that “No serious player believes it can hang on forever to the West Bank.

“This has created a unique phenomenon in Israel – a broad-based national consensus for giving nearly all the West Bank in return for peace,” Krauthammer continued. “The moment is doubly unique because the only man who can deliver such a deal is Likud Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – and he is prepared to do it.”

The comments coincided with a number of indications of a beginning of change on the right and within the settlement movement itself.

Among the more intriguing is a group of young Israelis – some of whom grew up in West Bank settlements – who have moved back into Israel to resettle the abandoned kibbutz of Retamim in the central Negev.

The group includes the son of Pinchas Wallerstein, a former longtime leader of the Yesha Council, the effective government of the settlement movement.

The whole article is pretty interesting.  It seems that some believe that Netanyahu’s former support for maintaining the West Bank settlements will be replaced with a unilateral Israeli withdrawal.

Hat tip: Jeff Goldberg

Israel Under a Microscope II

Posted: September 27, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Israel, Palestinians, Politics, The World-Wide World

An essay by Yoram Hazony asks why Israel is consistently vilified in ways that other nations are not.  I think that his answer considers something that I did not when I discussed why Israel finds itself under the microscope.  I said that the rise of human rights and anti-colonialism as ideas of global importance were critical.

Hazony adds a different dimension which is at least as important as these two, at least in Europe: Israel is a nation-state in an age where the original nation-states (in the modern sense of the word) are disappearing into the European Union.  Here is the crux of Hazony’s reasoning:

The defeat of the universalist ideal in the Thirty Years’ War in 1648 led to the establishment of a new paradigm for European politics—one in which a revitalized concept of the national state held the key to the freedom of peoples throughout Europe. By the late-1800s, this idea of national liberty had been extended to the point that it was conceived not only as a governing principle for Europe, but for the entire world. Progressives such as John Stuart Mill and Woodrow Wilson championed the sovereign nation-state, which would have the right to defend its form of government, laws, religion and language against the tyranny of imperial actors, as the cornerstone of what was ultimately to be a new political order for humanity. Herzl’s Zionist Organization, which proposed a sovereign state for the Jewish people, fit right into this political understanding—and indeed, it was under British sponsorship that the idea of the Jewish state grew to fruition. In 1947, the United Nations voted by a 2/3 majority for the establishment of a “Jewish State” in Palestine. And the birth of Israel was followed by the establishment of dozens of additional independent states throughout the Third World. (more…)

Michael Totten interviewed Jonathan Spyer, a journalist who served in the Israeli army.  Toward the end of the interview, Totten asked what Spyer would tell American policymakers about the Middle East.  I’ll pass it on without necessarily endorsing it, since I’m still searching for the best perspectives on the region.  Here is his response:

I’d tell the current bunch in power that they need to ditch this sophomoric idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the key to the region’s malaise.They need to get that out of their heads. That’s not what I’d want to talk about. That’s not even an adult conversation. Once we can clear that up, we can talk about something serious.

A perfect storm is brewing in the Middle East. We’re experiencing the convergence of two historical phenomena. The first is the rise of Iran, which we’ve already talked about. We have an ambitious ideological elite committed to radical Islam and the expansion of power. Second, in country after country in the Middle East, various forms of radical Islam are becoming the most popular and vivid forms of political expression. We have Hamas among the Palestinians, Hezbollah among the Shia of Lebanon, the Islamic Action Front in Jordan, and the Muslim Brothers in Egypt.

We have an ideological wave from below with a powerful and potentially nuclear-armed sponsor on top. That’s the picture I’d want to place in the minds of the people in Washington. It’s the key regional dynamic through which most smaller processes have to be understood.

So if you like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and want to talk about that, now we can tackle it in a rational grown-up way. The Palestinian national movement has split—most likely permanently—into two camps. And the most powerful of the two is that which results from this convergence of a popular Islamist wave on the one hand and a hegemonic state sponsor on the other. These two phenomena have completely transformed Palestinian politics. They have completely transformed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And they have completely transformed our options.

We could also talk about Lebanon. Or just about anything else. And again, we have to look at it through the prism I just described. That’s what I’d say to them if I had five minutes.

The Changing Nature of Israel’s Wars

Posted: June 15, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Israel, The World-Wide World

Michael Totten argues that Israel needs to go after the hostile states of Iran and Syria when the time comes for self-defense rather than their terrorist proxies:

Prior to getting bogged down in Lebanon in the early 1980s, the Israelis racked up one lightning fast military victory over their enemies after another. That was before hostile Middle Eastern governments learned they stood no chance of prevailing in conventional warfare and before they opted for asymmetric terrorist warfare instead. Hit-and-run guerrilla tactics work for them, sort of, so it’s in the interest of those who haven’t yet made peace with Israel, or at least acceded to some kind of modus vivendi, to keep at it.

It is therefore not in Jerusalem’s interests to let them. Israel has a perfect record against standing state armies in the Middle East foolish enough to pick fights they can’t win. So why agree to fight some of the very same states asymmetrically in wars with ambiguous endings?

The Israelis should consider returning to what they do best, if and when they have to fight again. If they want to beat their enemies rather than fight to bloody and destructive standstills, they’ll wage the kind of war they’re good at and shatter one or both of the governments that field third-party proxies against them.

Totten shares with Lee Smith the conviction that the key to these groups is really in the governments that support them.  In his post, he also explains why he believes that Iraqi surge-style counterinsurgency wouldn’t work for Israel in Lebanon: the protracted time it takes to work, Hezbollah’s avoidance of the fatal error of violence against the people among whom they live, and widespread antipathy towards Israel that translates into a lack of local allies.

If Israel followed Totten’s advice, it would certainly change the equation in the Middle East.  For good or for ill, that’s the question.

Hamas’ Rule in Gaza

Posted: June 15, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Israel, The World-Wide World
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In January, I posted about Fawaz Gerges’ argument that Hamas could be a partner in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  A Jerusalem Post editorial takes a very different point of view, arguing that Hamas has instituted an “official free-for-all declared against anyone even remotely suspected of collaboration with Israel,” allows for summary executions, and is enforcing Islamic law in areas like women’s dress and gender separation.  The Post, frustrated with the lack of international criticism of Hamas, concludes

Both foreign governments and NGOs, in their inaction, are signaling to Hamas that domestic oppression by its tyrannical regime is tolerable so far as the international community is concerned.

The international community cannot seriously expect such a regime to be a reliable interlocutor with which Israel can indeed negotiate coexistence deals in good faith.
Look what it’s doing to its own people.

Hat tip: Michael Totten