Thursday, January 27, 2011

An Oasis of Calm in an Unstable Neighborhood

Who would have thunk that the calmest place to be in the Middle East these days would be, of all places, the Wild West Bank? But that's what's being said from all corners: by the center-left (see the NY Times op-ed by Jeffrey Goldberg and Hussein Ibish, Good News From the Middle East (Really) and Gary Rosenblatt's interview with Naftali Bennett, a leader of the settler movement, Do West Bank Realities Defy Perceptions?

From all sides, we are hearing of the remarkable transformation of the West Bank (a term even Bibi Netanyahu has now begun using) to a place of greater security, freedom of movement and economic prosperity. It is to the credit of both Israelis and Palestinians that this has happened. The Al Jazeera 2008 negotiation documents released this week point to a Palestinian leadership that is ready to make significant concessions for a final agreement, although they have yet to prepare their population for that. We already know of Israel's willingness to do the same, which was reaffirmed with the publication of Ehud Olmert's new book. The Makovsky maps are one think tanker's idea of what could work as a land swap keeping 80% of the settlers in Israel. Good ideas abound. But it seems that on both sides that internal politics combined with old fears and good old fashioned inertia are keeping them from serious negotiations. The US has not been especially helpful in sending such mixed signals and in having what appears to be an incoherent policy.

We all know that the last place this can ever be resolved is the UN, so the current one-sided security council resolution condemning settlements is a dead end.

While the West Bank simmers, the Arab world is at a perilous turning point. Egypt is at the boiling point and Lebanon is officially radicalizing. I've included some background articles on the situation below. Meanwhile, some of the urgent concern over Iran's nuclear abilities has waned - for the moment. While it is tempting to allow the dust to settle before moving ahead in negotiations, I hope that Israel and the West Bank Palestinians would seize the moment to concretize the economic and security gains into political stabilization, before this moment passes, lest both sides be guilty of the of Abba Eban line, of never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Meanwhile, our guest speaker this Friday night, Ronit Heyd of Shatil, will not be talking about the settlements or the security situation at all, but rather about tensions within Israel proper, between religious and secular, men and women, Jew and Israeli Arab, Orthodox and non Orthodox, and how we can all help to build a society there that reflects the best of Jewish values. We are on of select few congregations in the NY area hosting the New Israel Fund's Conversations on Israeli Democracy this weekend, and the only one north of 100th St and Broadway. Join us.

see: Day 3 of Egypt turmoil / Eyes on the streets of Cairo

Upheaval On The Borders

source material from

Al Jazeera's Agenda: An Analysis of the Palestine Papers

U.S. Diplomats Urge Regimes to Embrace Change to Block Islamist Radicals - Jay Solomon and Bill Spindle (Wall Street Journal) The Obama administration intensified diplomatic pressure on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to initiate wide-ranging political overhauls. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior officials have decided not to seek wholesale political change in Cairo and other Arab capitals, but instead to prod their allies into embracing reform movements that, so far, appear to be largely secular and grass-roots in nature. See also A Manifesto for Change in Egypt - Mohamed ElBaradei (Daily Beast)

Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

The Palestine Papers: Al-Jazeera Has an Agenda - Pinhas Inbari
Al-Jazeera, the powerful Qatari satellite television station, has been publishing documents leaked to it from the PLO Negotiations Support Unit. The release of the documents has caused great damage to the reputation of the PA and the PLO negotiating team. The PA's success in gathering support for statehood recognition was turning Hamas rule in Gaza into a liability. Once Ramallah is recognized as representing a state, the international community might turn against the separate entity in Gaza and seek to end the problem. For years al-Jazeera has sought to advance the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood against the Arab regimes. Now, after al-Jazeera has brainwashed Arab minds with charges of PLO treason, no declaration of statehood can be expected. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

UN Resolution for Palestinians Is Counterproductive - Bernard Gwertzman interviews Elliott Abrams
Q: Any ideas on what the U.S. should do now in the Middle East?
Abrams: The administration has to figure out a way to get [Palestinian] President Mahmoud Abbas back to the table. It may be that the thing to do is not so much to hammer him as it is to talk to others in the Arab world to see if they would give him the political cover to return to negotiations.
Q: The Palestinians seem eager to bring a resolution to the Security Council on the Palestinian state. That would put the U.S. in a difficult position.
Abrams: Palestinians have two resolutions. One we're looking at now would call for a settlement construction freeze by the Israelis. The second resolution, which would come later, would endorse Palestinian statehood. The administration's trying very hard to persuade the Palestinians not to push that first resolution now, because it hasn't vetoed any resolution in two years, and I think it wanted to try to go through four years without a veto. So there's a lot of pressure on the Palestinians to pull back or rewrite the resolution in a way the administration can escape the veto.
Q: It's ironic, because Obama supports the idea of a freeze.
Abrams: That's exactly the kind of argument the administration is making to the Palestinians: You're going to corner us into a veto that we don't want [and] you don't want, and none of us is going to be helped by this. (Council on Foreign Relations)

What Palestinians Are Saying Online - Jonathan Schanzer
A recent nine-week study by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) of online Palestinian political sentiments found that Palestinian Internet users often derided diplomatic initiatives, and their discussion of the peace process was overwhelmingly negative. The study revealed several troubling trends among Palestinian social media users - notably the prevalence of Islamism, fissures between factions, and the inability of liberal reformers to be heard - that cast doubt on both the prospects for peace and the likelihood that a democratic Palestinian state will emerge. Most Palestinian activists do not reveal their names online. Indeed, few Palestinians maintain personal Facebook or Twitter accounts, presumably to ensure that their posts cannot be attributed to them. Rather, the majority engage in political debate on impersonal discussion boards, writing under pseudonyms. These web forums typically provide space for like-minded people to express their views. For example, some are pro-Hamas, whereas others are pro-Fatah. Most are dominated by sympathizers of the owner faction. In a sense, the tribalism and factionalism that traditionally dominate Palestinian society can be observed in similar groupings online. Groups allow individuals to break with their thinking, but only to a point. (Middle East Quarterly)

Israelis Warily Eyeing Egypt - Isabel Kershner (New York Times)
Israel has a special stake in Egypt's stability. The two countries share a long border and signed a historic peace treaty in 1979, a cornerstone of the regional balance that has endured more than 30 years.
Israeli officials and analysts said they believed that Mubarak's government was strong enough to withstand the protests, at least as long as it had the backing of the Egyptian Army.
But with Mubarak, who came to power in 1981, now an ailing octogenarian, Israelis were in any case looking ahead to a transition of some sort in Egypt.
Oded Eran, director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former Israeli ambassador to Jordan, said that almost any government in Egypt would want to maintain the peace treaty with Israel, even at a low profile, because so much is hinged on it, including Egypt's relations with, and aid from, the U.S.

Arab Unrest Shows Israel-Palestinian Conflict Not the Core of Regional Instability - Joel GreenbergHizbullah's rise to political dominance in Lebanon is not interpreted in Israel as a harbinger of renewed hostilities. "We don't see Hizbullah or other elements creating a provocation along the Israeli-Lebanese border," said Moshe Ya'alon, a vice prime minister and minister of strategic affairs, who spoke to foreign journalists Thursday. Hizbullah, as a military arm of Iran held in reserve for a possible confrontation with the West or Israel, is restrained from squandering its arsenal of missiles in a conflict that would not directly serve Iran's interests, he said. To Israeli officials, the unrest across the region, with Israel on the sidelines, proves an assertion that has been a point of contention with the Obama administration. "For us it is very clear," Ya'alon said, "the core of this instability in the Middle East is not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." (Washington Post)

Egyptian Protesters Feel World Has Passed Them By - Griff Witte
Every one of the tens of thousands of Egyptians who joined the unexpectedly massive demonstrations that have rattled Egyptian authorities and continue to threaten the 30-year rule of the once invincible President Hosni Mubarak had personal reasons for doing so. But for many it came down to a pervasive sense that the world has passed Egypt by, that money and power have become hopelessly entrenched in the hands of the few and that if the country is ever going to change, it has to do it now. "The elections are fraudulent. The people in power monopolize all the resources. There are no jobs. There's no health care. And I can't afford good schools for my children," said protester Abdel Zaher Dandarwi, 53, a lawyer. The protests have no clear leader, but with demonstrators driven by deep resentments and long-suppressed rage, police have been unable to squelch the nascent movement. The protesters in Egypt have been largely middle class - lawyers, doctors, university students and professors. They have something to lose if this nation of 80 million descends into anarchy, but they also say they may not have much left if Egypt does not shift course. (Washington Post) See also Egypt Will Never Be the Same - Kareem Amer (Wall Street Journal)

Obama Administration Could Still Get It Right on Egypt - Jackson Diehl
The Obama administration's embrace of Mubarak, even as the octogenarian strongman refused to allow the emergence of a moderate, middle-class-based, pro-democracy opposition, has helped bring the U.S.' most important Arab ally to the brink of revolution. The Obama administration assumed that the damage done to relations by George W. Bush's "freedom agenda" was a mistake that needed to be repaired. In fact, Bush's pushing for political liberalization was widely viewed, in Egypt and in the region, as the saving grace of an otherwise bad administration. On Tuesday, when - disastrously - Secretary of State Clinton called Mubarak's government "stable" and claimed it was responding to "the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people," hours later, riot police attacked the thousands of demonstrators who had gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Rightly or wrongly, Egyptian opposition activists now say, Clinton and the U.S. are being blamed in popular opinion for that crackdown. Egyptian opposition leader Saad Eddin Ibrahim told me Thursday that Mubarak should step down and be replaced by a transitional government, headed by opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei and including representatives of all pro-democracy forces. That government could then spend six months to a year rewriting the constitution, allowing political parties to freely organize and preparing for genuinely democratic elections. Given time to establish themselves, secular forces backed by Egypt's growing middle class are likely to rise to the top in those elections - not the Islamists that Mubarak portrays as the only alternative. U.S. support for a peaceful transition from Mubarak's government to a new democracy could be decisive. (Washington Post) See also U.S. Diplomats Opposed Any Alternative to Hosni Mubarak - Editorial (Wall Street Journal) See also Mubarak Is Put on Notice - Editorial (New York Times)

What Are the Protests in Egypt Really About? - Lee Smith
For all the excitement surrounding the demonstrations, it’s worth remembering that the nominally docile Egyptian masses take to the streets with some regularity. More to the point, it is an unfortunate fact of modern Egyptian history that its people are often susceptible to ideological politics. For instance, Nasser led the country to disaster and yet, compared to Sadat the peacemaker or Mubarak the stolid pharaoh who has kept the country stable, if static, it is Nasser who owns the affections of the Egyptian masses. (Weekly Standard)

Arab Paper: Israel Is Now Dependent on Egyptian Protesters - Abd Al-Bari Atwan
The fire of protest has begun to lick at the edges of the moderate Arab regimes, one after the other, in a way that threatens these dictatorships, known for aligning themselves with America's foreign policy. Three countries are facing profound change that could topple their regimes, namely, Egypt, Yemen, and Lebanon. Each meets a strategic need of the U.S.: Egypt provides security for Israel, leads the Arab plans for normalization with Israel, and combats all forms of political and Islamic extremism that oppose its regime. Yemen is considered to be the cornerstone of America's war on al-Qaeda. Lebanon is considered to be the spearhead of the resistance camp and of Iran's geopolitical and military aspirations. The state of stability and well-being that Israel has enjoyed for the past 30 years is now dependent upon the Egyptian protesters. Israel is surrounded: a "democratic" intifada armed with 40,000 missiles and with a martyrdom-seeking leadership [i.e., Hizbullah], a popular revolution with a 7,000-year history [i.e., the protesters in Egypt], a Palestinian Authority that has lost its authority, and a Jordanian government that is on the brink of collapse. (Al-Quds Al-Arabi-UK-MEMRI)

"We're Living on a Volcano," Israeli Security Experts Warn - Yaakov Lappin
Israeli security experts are casting an uneasy eye at the civil unrest spreading through the region as Yemen joined the list of Arab states experiencing unprecedented demonstrations, and Egypt braced for more civil unrest. "We need to understand that we are living on a volcano," said Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ya'acov Amidror, former head of the IDF's Research and Assessment Directorate. "We are on thick ice, but even that melts eventually." Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser, and a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), said, "There's a reasonable chance that if a revolution takes place in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood would rise to power. That would be bad not just for Israel but for all democracies." The true struggle in Egypt was not between "Mubarak and pro-democracy elements, but between Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood," Eiland said. Shlomo Brom, director of the program on Israel-Palestinian relations at the INSS, said, "We can't forget that in Iran, at the end of the 1970s, the uprising against the shah was led by [pro-democracy] youths who took to the streets – but this was taken over by Islamists in the end." (Jerusalem Post)

What the Palestine Papers Reveal about the Peace Process - Frida Ghitis
Al Jazeera has portrayed the leaked Palestine Papers as evidence that Palestinian leaders betrayed their people by making huge concessions to Israel. But what the documents and the reaction to them really show is something quite different. As anyone who has followed the peace process closely knows, there is little that is really new in the files. Practically every detail painted as a shocking concession has been part of the agreed baseline of a peace deal. In fact, most of the "shocking" concessions had already been signed on to by Palestinian negotiators as far back as 2000. Israelis have been vigorously discussing the details of exactly what compromises they should make for peace, while Palestinian leaders have publicly trumpeted maximalist positions to their own people, making it taboo to accept compromise. In the long run, the Palestine Papers controversy will serve the useful purpose of letting Palestinians know about the compromises required for peace. (World Politics Review)

One Doesn't Boycott the Only Free Society in the Mideast - Bernard-Henri Levy
In the matter of the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) campaign, we are faced here with a skillfully orchestrated but calumnious, bellicose, anti-democratic and, in a word, despicable campaign. One boycotts totalitarian regimes, not democracies. One can boycott Sudan, guilty of the extermination of part of the population of Darfur. One can boycott China, guilty of massive violations of human rights in Tibet and elsewhere. One can and should boycott Iran, a country whose leaders have become deaf to the language of common sense and compromise. One can even imagine, as we once did with regard to the fascist generals' Argentina or Brezhnev's USSR, boycotting those Arab regimes whose citizens' freedom of expression is forbidden, and punished, if necessary, with blood. One does not boycott the only society in the Middle East where Arabs read a free press, demonstrate when they wish to do so, send representatives to parliament, and enjoy their rights as citizens. I submit the declarations of Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the Palestinian BDS campaign, affirming that his goal is not two states but two Palestines. And those of Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada and also opposed to the two-state solution, who does not hesitate to compare Israel to Nazi Germany. And the declarations of the leaders of Sabeel, that group of Palestinian Christians firmly implanted in North America, who, anxious to lend the idea of "responsible investment" a "theological" basis, do not hesitate to subtly but surely reactivate the stereotype of the Christ-killing Jew. Presenting the promoters of this discourse of hatred as victims speaks volumes of the current state of confusion - intellectual and moral - of a Western world one would have hoped had been cured of its worst criminal past. (Ha'aretz)

The West Bank's Airspace - The Forgotten Factor of Israeli Security - Dore Gold
In the WikiLeaks documents, Maj.-Gen. Ido Nechushtan, as head of the IDF Planning Branch, explained in 2007 to U.S. Gen. Jim Jones that Israel's security requirements in the event a Palestinian state comes into existence would include "control" of the West Bank's airspace. Indeed, Israeli security experts insist that no matter where borders are ultimately drawn, Israel must control the airspace over the entire West Bank in any future peace arrangement. The reasons are simple. Israel, together with the West Bank, is only 70 km. wide. Modern combat aircraft, like the Russian MiG-29 or the Su-24, can cross that distance from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean in less than 4 minutes. The minimal time Israel needs to scramble Israeli fighters in order to intercept incoming enemy aircraft is about 3 minutes. But if Israel no longer controlled the West Bank's airspace and it had to defend Israel from the air along the Green Line, it would only have 2 minutes or less to respond to an air threat. In short, in that narrow space, Israel could not be defended from an air attack. Would Jordan allow hostile aircraft into its airspace that could pose a threat to Israel? In 1989, pro-Western King Hussein allowed Saddam Hussein's aircraft to enter Jordanian airspace so that they could fly right up to the Jordan River and photograph potential targets inside of Israel. Today there are many regional air forces in the Middle East who would seek to do the same. (Yisrael Hayom-Hebrew, 28Jan11)

Arab Demand for East Jerusalem Is an Obstacle to Peace - Efraim Inbar
The Arab-backed Palestinian demand to partition Jerusalem is a major obstacle to peace. In contrast to Muslims and Christians, Jews have prayed for thousands of years toward Jerusalem. The Temple Mount is the holiest Jewish site. Israelis are bewildered by the campaign of the Palestinian Authority to negate the historic existence of the First and Second Temples. Jerusalem has not been the capital of any Muslim or Arab political entity since the Arab invasion of Palestine in the seventh century. In contrast, it has been the capital of three sovereign Jewish states. Therefore, the demand to make Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian state that never existed before is disconnected from the political history of the city and seems to constitute mainly a denial of Jewish roots in the city and on the Temple Mount. Jerusalem also holds strategic importance in controlling the only highway from the Mediterranean coast to the Jordan Valley along which military forces can move with little interference from Arab population concentrations. Jerusalem is the linchpin for erecting a security zone along the Jordan Rift. If Israel wants to maintain a defensible border in the east, it needs to secure the east-west axis from the coast to the Jordan Valley via an undivided Jerusalem and Maale Adumim. Polls show that over two-thirds of Israelis reject the division of Jerusalem. The writer is professor of political studies and director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. ( Holocaust Remembrance Day

What Have We Learned from the Holocaust? - Yuli Edelstein
Israeli Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein addressed a special event in Brussels on Tuesday marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day: In the spring of 1939 George the VI, King of England, instructed his private secretary to write to British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, having learned that "a number of Jewish refugees from different countries were surreptitiously getting into Palestine." The king was "glad to learn that steps are being taken to prevent these people leaving their country of origin." Halifax's office telegraphed Britain's ambassador in Berlin asking him to encourage the German government "to check the unauthorized emigration" of Jews. Today the apologists for the king explain that he was not an anti-Semite. To prevent Jewish immigration to Palestine was an official government policy, they say, to pacify Arab Muslim resistance to the Zionist movement. Indeed, this policy, as we know now, was a resounding success. Millions of Jews didn't escape their "countries of origin," except with the smoke of the crematorium chimneys. What have we learned? Jews should be united, Jews should be independent, and Jews should be armed and ready to fight. The State of Israel stands today as a guarantee that no kings, no ministers, no policies will doom the Jews again, that there always will be a gate that is open and a beacon that shines friendly. That is what "Never again" means. It means lesson learned. Jews, it is often said, are the canary in the coal mine of civilization. Anytime, anywhere, if you let the poison of anti-Semitism spread, the inevitable explosion will soon come. In its decision to recognize International Holocaust Memorial Day, the community of nations had recognized that the remembrance of the victims of the largest genocide in history is necessary so its lessons will be learned and applied globally. (IMRA) See also International Holocaust Remembrance Day: Universal Lessons - Irwin Cotler (Jerusalem Post) See also A New Holocaust? - Manfred Gerstenfeld (Ynet News)Observations:

Mubarak Will Have to Pay a Significant Price - Zvi Mazel (Jerusalem Post)
The mass demonstrations in Egypt were born in Tunisia. That display of people power unleashed years of pent-up resentment against the Mubarak regime. Even in Syria, the mighty Assad is worried now. His civil servants got an unexpected raise, and Facebook was shut down. In Jordan, protests have been taking place for weeks.
Egypt has not known such violent and determined mass demonstrations since the bread riots of 1977. But the economic situation is far worse today. An estimated 40% of the population earns less than $2 a day. And in today's world of satellite television, Internet and social networks, the people are far more aware of their plight.
Tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of young protesters, with no leaders in sight, demonstrated in 15 cities in the last few days. They stood their ground and even used force against the police and the security forces. They called for the removal of the president and his family. And for the first time in history, portraits of the leader displayed in the streets were torn down. Until now, no one could criticize Mubarak. If this has changed, then everything has changed.
The Mubarak regime is based on a huge ruling party present in every village and every city, and on a disciplined army and security forces whose allegiance is not in doubt. They will do their utmost - which is considerable - to stop the protests.
But Mubarak will have to pay a price: He may need to take economic measures to alleviate some of the poverty, perhaps put an end to the emergency laws and organize credible, free democratic presidential elections. If he manages to weather this crisis, he and his regime will emerge weakened.The writer is a former ambassador to Egypt and a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

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