BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

Why has Obama Failed?

Introduction

On August 29, 2009, I posted on this blog a somewhat long piece entitled “The September Deadline.”   The majority of the article elaborated on Israel’s military options, as the impending IEAE report and G20 conference in Pittsburgh had not yet taken place. Since the various Israeli military options have been discussed, there is no point in re-hashing them.  However, it is worthwhile to look at the failed diplomatic efforts and ask the question, “Why has Obama so far failed in the Middle East?”

The Promises of Obama’s Spring

Just five months ago, the Middle East was awash in optimism. President Obama had given his “historic” speech in Cairo.  Lebanon seemed to cast off the shackles of Hezbollah with the electoral victory of the March 14 coalition (backed by the US, Egypt and Saudi Arabia).  A week later, demonstrations and riots engulfed Iran in the wake of its bogus exercise in democracy.

Things looked promising for the so-called “moderate Arab camp.”  Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was compelled to acknowledge that a Palestinian state would be established in the West Bank and Gaza.  This is something that previous Likud leaders, such as Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, never would have stated.  To his credit, Netanyahu’s speech was not a blank check to either Obama or Abu Abbas.

But what happened next?  The promises of spring withered under the relentless Middle East summer.  Obama’s speech received lukewarm acceptance within the moderate Arab camp.  They were not as easily charmed as the doe-eyed sophomores at Al Azhar University.  Hariri’s coalition shattered against the implacable opposition of Hezbollah, and his Druze allies deserted.  Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad answered demonstrators with a bloody crackdown and sweeping arrests.
Obama’s Folly

Why has Obama been unable to deliver significant concessions from the moderate Arab camp – his erstwhile allies – that would move the peace process forward?  Why does Hezbollah continue to exercise power completely out of proportion to the results of the Lebanese elections?  Why, instead of sitting down to negotiate over its nuclear ambitions does Iran instead test missiles?

In a word, this is because President Obama has no clear-cut conception of how to conduct foreign policy.  He wavers back and forth between the “One World” approach and the idealistic naiveté Jimmy Carter.  His folly is thinking that geopolitics is the same as Chicago ward politics.  Obama wants to use multilateral diplomacy, close cooperation with allies and negotiations with adversaries.  He ignores the fact that multilateral diplomacy seldom works until the all the antagonists are sufficiently weakened by a conflict.

China and Russia have made significant economic, military and technological investments in Iran.   They will not abandon their global aspirations; the change they believe in is written in the Pinyin and Cyrillic alphabets, respectively.

Western Europe is in an economic shambles.  It does not have the economic muscle, and hence lacks the diplomatic and military muscle, to do much more than hold Obama’s coat while he fumbles for his watch.

Similarly, direct talks with Iran and Syria have failed to materialize.  Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran have accomplished more in thirty years of opposition to American policy than have any previous coalition of Arab/Muslin leaders.  Why would they cooperate with America, which they believe is corrupt and evil?  Especially now, when there is a president in the White House who they view as weak and overly infatuated with himself?

Conclusion
Damascus is not a Chicago union hall filled with overweight, middle-aged ex-steel workers.  Teheran is not the Harvard Club where fine points of constitutional law are debated.  These are capitals of independent states with their own ambitions, foreign policies and admittedly, a string of successes in opposing America.   They are dictatorships whose strongmen rule via the torture chamber and truncheon, not the ballot box and debate.   Obama has frittered away what little political capital he had in vain a vain attempt to change the reality of weltpolitik.  At best, he has a year to change his policies and tactics accordingly.

September 28, 2009 Posted by | Middle East, Obama | , , | 3 Comments

American Weakness

The number of unemployed Americans has doubled since 2007 to 15 million.  About 9.5 million people are collecting unemployment benefits, up from about 2.5 million two years ago.  Spending on benefits is expected to reach nearly $100 billion this year; about triple what it was two years ago.  Of course, this is all paid for by communist China’s purchase of billions of dollars worth of  Treasury securities each month.  Explaining President Obama’s reluctance to get tough with North Korea over nuclear proliferation and ballistic missiles: China is North Korea’s primary trading partner.

The recovery act passed in February provided states an additional $500 million for administration, a drop in the bucket.  It also suspended interest payments through 2011 for states paying benefits with federal loans.  This is likewise cold comfort; when the recession “ends” and state tax revenues start to increase, states will immediately be called upon to pay the piper.  This will in effect mute any economic recovery by diverting revenues to debt payments, instead of allowing states to re-invest in civic projects or rebuild their Rainy Day funds.

Sixteen states, with exhausted funds, are now paying benefits with borrowed cash, and their number could double by the year’s end.  While the strained program still makes more than 80 percent of initial payments within three weeks, cases that require individual review are especially prone to delay.  Thirty-eight states are failing to make those decisions within the federal deadline.  Of the 12.8 million eligibility reviews that have occurred during the recession, 4.6 million took more than three weeks.  That is 2.1 million more than federal rules allow.  Appeals take even longer, with 28 states violating timeliness rules, many of them severely.

For workers who survive a paycheck at a time, even a week’s delay can mean a missed rent or mortgage payment (further imperiling banks) or foregone meals (impacting everyone from farmers to restaurateurs).  Meanwhile, adjectives to describe the increasing US federal debt have all but been exhausted. The phrase “full faith and credit” is stretched to incredulity when program after program costing hundreds of billions of dollars are paid for with promises.

This dire economic situation also explains President Obama’s near-frantic efforts to initiate some sort of peace process in the Middle East, and his fears regarding a confrontation with Iran.  Any large-scale conflict between Israel and its immediate neighbors (none of which actually have any significant oil reserves) will create a temporary spike in oil prices that American consumers will have to pay.

Machiavellian analysts suggest that creating a stable dialogue between Israel on the one hand, and Lebanese, Palestinians and Syrians on the other hand, would allow the US to act more forcefully vis-à-vis Iran.  Thus, any conflict with the radical Islamist regime in Teheran would have minimal impact on oil prices.  However, President Obama’s oratorical brilliance does not translate and his lack of intestinal fortitude –along with American economic weakness – is an evident weak spot.  American economic weakness is exacerbating existing conflicts around the globe and creating new sources of destabilization.  Obama needs to get his own house in order first!

July 24, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lebanon’s Electoral “Shocker”

Much to my surprise
Much to my surprise, the BBC reports that the 14 March coalition of Saad Hariri won 71 seats out of 128 seats in Lebanon’s parliamentary elections on Monday.  Coalition parties – Future (Sunni); Progressive Socialists (Druze); Lebanese Forces (Maronite); Phalange (Maronite) – took one more than they held four years ago.  Hariri’s coalition is opposed by the bloc led by the Islamic Hezbollah movement, which consists of Hezbollah (Shia); Amal (Shia); Free Patriotic Movement (Maronite). Turnout was 54%, the highest since Lebanon’s devastating 1975 – 1990 civil war.

American President Barack Obama congratulated Hariri and the Lebanese people, “Government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion.”  Thus repeating a theme from his recent speech in Cairo.

The US was backing the 14 March coalition, hoping to keep Lebanon in a loose Western-oriented orbit. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the country earlier this year, Vice President Joe Biden arrived for a short visit just a few days before the polls opened.  The US has increased military and other aid recently since the political statement that nearly erupted into civil war in May 2008.

Saudis take this round
Hariri’s coalition also received substantial financial, logistical and political aid from Egypt and Jordan, but mostly from the deep pockets of Saudi Arabia.  It is an irony that cannot be lost on many: the most fervently Sunni Muslim country supporting an alliance led by Maronite Christians. “They were broken… Lebanon wins,” thundered a headline in the Saudi-funded Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.  The Cairo-based Middle East Times remarked, “Indeed, this election seems to be the first time in Lebanon in which a Western media campaign appears to have obtained the desired results: first in getting people out to vote, and second to get the voters to elect the candidates that would best serve the national interest of the Lebanese.”

Hezbollah, meanwhile, received significant aid from Iran and Syria, the latter of which was forced to end it decades-long occupation of eastern Lebanon only in 2005.  To this day, Hezbollah maintains close ties with Syria; supplies for the militant Islamic organization’s militia – estimated at 30,000 or more, flow through Syria into Lebanon’s Hezbollah-controlled Beka’a Valley.
Both blocs hurled accusations at one another the last few weeks, primarily involving claims that thousands of Lebanese expatriates were flown in for the sole purpose of voting.

Where will they go from here?
Still, the 71 seats only gives Hariri a four-seat majority in parliament, and alliances in Lebanese politics are often fickle and short-lived. The country is still bitterly divided among ethnic and religious lines, as can be seen from the confessional basis of the parties participating in this election. Despite the victory, Hariri will most likely attempt to engineer some form of national-unity government. The previous NUG gave Hezbollah’s bloc 11 of 27 cabinet seats and virtual veto over certain areas of foreign and military policy.

“We accept these results,” Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address.  However, one Hezbollah member or parliament, Mohamed Raad, told the French news agency AFP insisted that it would keep its weapons. “The majority must commit not to question our role as a resistance party, the legitimacy of our weapons arsenal and the fact that Israel is an enemy state.” The pro-Western 14 March bloc accuses Hezbollah of using this force to disrupt Lebanese stability.  Hezbollah counters this by saying that it alone is capable of defending Lebanon from Israel.

If approached again, Hezbollah will most likely demand that it retain the eleven cabinet seats that it secured in last year’s unity talks.   The May 2008 compromise took place under the shadow of Hezbollah’s gunmen taking over the streets of Beirut, the country’s capital.  Both demands are likely to be met, although perhaps with less window-dressing this time.

June 8, 2009 Posted by | Hizbullah, Middle East | , , | Leave a comment

Between the Lines of Obama’s Pandering

President Obama’s whirl-wind tour of Saudi Arabia and Egypt earned him many kudos for stating things that previously were not said publicly by American or other world leaders. His speech covered many topics, but it left out important details, contained hidden messages and ignored important Middle East realities. And of course, he sugar-coated it with numerous quotes from the Koran, designed to evoke the applause the man needs more than oxygen.

On detainees
“I have unequivocally prohibited the use or torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.” Naturally, his Cairo audience applauded him.  Would they have applauded if he told them that his administration is now planning to use Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan as a replace for the tainted Guantanamo?

As MSNBC – hardly a fountainhead of conservatism – reported on June 3rd, the Obama administration is challenging an April 2 decision by U.S. District Judge John Bates that applied the Boumediene (the ruling that granted prisoners at Guantanamo habeas corpus rights to challenge their detention) ruling to some Bagram prisoners.   Administration mouthpieces are arguing that Bates’ ruling would for the first time in American history extend habeas corpus rights to non-Americans (in fact, Muslims) in a theater of war in a foreign territory.

On the Holocaust

“Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories.” Not surprisingly, there were no applause for the President’s admonishment.   Arab attempts to demonize Israel as a Nazi-like state have been going on for years, and this propaganda weapon has become increasingly potent.  Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah are unlikely to surrender it.

There were two audiences for this statement, actually.  One audience was sitting there is Cairo and other Arab capitals and metropolises.  The second one was in Israel.  Combined with the acknowledgment earlier in his speech that there are now 7 million Muslims in the US, the message was to Israel: you are small and your supporters in the US are now outnumbered. American Jewry was instrumental in Bill Clinton’s two victories; not so in Obama’s.

On Palestinian Responsibilities

For many years, the world has treated Palestinian, indeed, most matters related to Arab countries, with kit gloves. The standards applied to Israel were those that America and Europe applied to themselves (or at least told themselves they were). However, these same standards were not applied to the Arab world. It is why Hamas was able to launch 40,000 rockets and missiles at Israel over a two-year period without so much as a whimper from the Eurostinians, or America bogged down in two wars.

Now, President Obama arrives with the message “It is neither a sign of courage or power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus.” Adding to this, “Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build.  The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people.” Unfortunately, the PA must contend with burgeoning population: they fear the cadres of 18 -24 year-old unemployed young men more than they do the Israelis.

Once the undergrads start parsing these and other statements in Obama’s speech, they will see the numerous quotes from the Koran as the pandering they really were.  And maybe Israelis will start to calm down a bit, despite the harsh spotlight that was shined on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

June 5, 2009 Posted by | Middle East, Obama, Palestine | , , , | Leave a comment

The other shoe dropping

From the ‘I told you so files’

On May 15th I posted a column to this site entitled “When will the other shoe drop?”  It analyzed a little-covered diplomatic scuffle that occurred on May 5th, when the US Assistant Secretary of State of State Rose Gottemoeller urged Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea to sign the non-proliferation treaty.  In his June 4th speech in Cairo, President Obama stated “I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not.  No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons . . . And any nation – including Iran – should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Propaganda Victory? Not likely!

If Israel were to sign the NPT treaty, it would theoretically open the door to IAEA inspections.  This means Dimona, the site of most of Israel’s nuclear research activities.  The reasoning goes like this: if Israel were to sign and admit inspectors, it would put pressure on Iran to give IAEA inspectors access to Iranian facilities, and also put pressure on them to start abiding by previously agreed upon limitations.  However, reason and Iran seldom go together.

Some would contend that signing the treaty Israel would score a major propaganda victory over Iran in the struggle to contain the latter’s nuclear development program.  This is shortsighted.

Israel has a well-documented public relations problem.  Even when it takes actions that are totally justified, it takes a beating in the court of world public opinion.  Signing the NPT would focus the non-proliferation spotlight on Israel.  Secondly, signing the NPT would cause Israel to incur many, many obligations vis-à-vis the treaty’s mandatory clauses.  Every time Israel hesitated to fully disclose its nuclear capabilities, failed to give IAEA inspectors full access or provide complete documentation, it would make front-page headlines.

Giving Away Bargaining Chips

Secondly, signing the NPT and fully living up to its commitments would be an intelligence bonanza for the Arab and Iranian governments.  They would know the exact extent of all of Israel’s nuclear development programs.  They would know what technologies were being used and how they are being used.  Israel’s nuclear program would then be a yardstick by which they could measure the need to accelerate their own domestic programs.
Israel has a range of options on this matter, but is going to find itself increasing constrained over the next several years.  The options are:
•  Not to sign NPT and continue the policy of deliberate ambiguity as far as its nuclear weapons program is concerned.  This policy probably has a shelf-life of two years, three years top.
•  Sign the NPT without any pre-conditions and regardless of the fact that Iran has dropped out of it.  This option is flawed for the reasons I stated above.
•  Attempt to cut a deal similar to the one India made with the Bush Administration.  President Obama is unlikely to be so generous, however, what if Israel were to sign a similar treaty with China, India or Russia?  Both China and Russia would benefit immensely in terms of their presence on the world stage, and both countries are quite resilient to international criticism. Israel already has deep military ties with India.
•  Make a bold diplomatic move by announcing its intent to sign the treaty, if India, Iran, Pakistan and North Korea do so.  Since Iran and North Korea are almost certainly going to be unwilling to sign the NPT, it would be any empty gesture.  However, it would put the proliferation question, at least in part, back into its global perspective.

There are probably several more options that are available – like conducting a nuclear test – which I haven’t discussed.  The fall out from that option – excuse the pun – would be too negative to imagine.  Regardless of which option it chooses, either Binyamin Netanyahu or his successor will have to deal with it. The other shoe has dropped, it just hasn’t hit the ground yet.

June 5, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Press Conference – Translated

Press conferences are highly choreographed maneuvers, even when the participants are sitting. Here are some of the excerpts from the PC President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu had on Monday.  In parentheses, are what they were really saying . . .

OBAMA: Well, listen, I first of all want to thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for making this visit (DC’s a lot better than one of those settlements, huh?).  I think we had an extraordinarily productive series of conversations, not only between the two of us but also at the staff and agency levels (sorry Rahm Emanual called your chief of staff a “motherf*cker.”)

Obviously, this reflects the extraordinary relationship (you don’t call just anybody a “motherf*cker), the special relationship between the United States and Israel (It’s amazing what $4 billion a year will buy!)  We have historical ties, emotional ties (I’ll trade you Rahm Emanual for two generals who know how to win a war)

One of the areas that we discussed is the deepening concern around the potential pursuit of a nuclear weapon by Iran (yeah, I’m still playing the diplomatic card).  I indicated to him the view of our administration, that Iran is a country of extraordinary history and extraordinary potential (they have enough money to buy me and whatever America still actually makes).

We also had an extensive discussion about the possibilities of restarting serious negotiations on the issue of Israel and the Palestinians (they’re not very likely).  I have said before and I will repeat again (because it’s easier to repeat a lie than to explain the truth) that it is I believe in the interest not only of the Palestinians, but also the Israelis and the United States and the international community to achieve a two-state solution (let’s just flip a coin: loser gets Arizona, you won’t even notice the difference).

NETANYAHU: President Obama, thank you. Thank you for your friendship to Israel and your friendship to me.  (Wow, you’re right! $4 billion a year does buy a lot).  You’re a great leader — a great leader of the United States, a great leader of the world, a great friend of Israel (you better up it to $5 billion), and someone who is acutely cognizant of our security concerns (and the 250 nuclear warheads we have).  And the entire people of Israel appreciate it, and I speak on their behalf (or at least on behalf of the 25% who voted for me).

Iran openly calls for our destruction, which is unacceptable by any standard (we kicked Nasser’s ass for that).  It threatens the moderate Arab regimes in the Middle East (moderate by Arab standards, anyway).  It threatens U.S. interests worldwide (which might cut into our $4 billion).

I want to make it clear that we don’t want to govern the Palestinians.  We want to live in peace with them (a piece of Nablus, a piece of Jericho, a piece of Hebron).  We want them to govern themselves (it should be entertaining), absent a handful of powers (an army, a police force, an economy) that could endanger the state of Israel.

OBAMA:  Thank you. We’re going to take a couple of questions. We’re going to start with Steve (the short white guy in the front row).

Q:  Mr. President, you spoke at length, as did the Prime Minister, about Iran’s nuclear program. Your program of engagement, policy of engagement, how long is that going to last? Is there a deadline?

OBAMA:  You know, I don’t want to set an artificial deadline (like I did with Hillary conceding the primaries or withdrawing US troops from Iraq).  Their elections will be completed in June (ballots were counted last week, and the candidates will be selected next week), and we are hopeful that, at that point, there is going to be a serious process of engagement, first through the P5-plus-one process (what the f*ck? Is this trigonometry?).

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Aren’t you concerned that your outstretched hand has been interpreted by extremists, especially Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, Meshal, as weakness? And since my colleague (Steve, the short white guy in the front row) already asked about the deadline, if engagement fails, what then, Mr. President?

OBAMA: Well, it’s not clear to me why my outstretched hand would be interpreted as weakness (my handshake does that for me).

Q: Qatar, an example.

OBAMA: I’m sorry (did you just call me queer)?

Q: The example of Qatar. They would have preferred to be on your side and then moved to the extremists, to Iran.

OBAMA: Oh, I think — yes, I’m not sure about that interpretation (we can have 120,000 heavily armed troops there by morning).

Q:  Mr. President, the Israeli Prime Minister and the Israeli administration have said on many occasions that only if the Iranian threat will be solved, they can achieve real progress on the Palestinian threat. Do you agree with that kind of linkage? And to the Israeli Prime Minister, you were speaking about the political track. Are you willing to get into final status issues?

OBAMA: Well, let me say this (first of all, you asked two questions, that’s breaking the rules). There’s no doubt that it is difficult for any Israeli government to negotiate in a situation in which they feel under immediate threat (it didn’t stop Olmert, though). And as I’ve said before, I recognize Israel’s legitimate concerns about the possibility of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon when they have a president who has in the past said that Israel should not exist. That would give any leader of any country pause (I’m amazed they have already nuked the sonofabitch).

NETANYAHU: There isn’t a policy linkage, and that’s what I hear the President saying (at least, that’s what I’d like to think I heard him say), and that’s what I’m saying too (or at least, it’s what I’d like him to hear me saying). So I think the terminology will take care of itself if we have the substantive understanding (settlements are henceforth to be called “residential developments”). I have great confidence in your leadership, Mr. President (mental note: build deeper bomb shelters), and in your friendship to my country (we’ve just renamed Rosh HaShana – it’s now Shana HaObama) and in your championing of peace and security (as unlikely as your policies are to achieve these).

OBAMA: Thank you, everybody (do you think they bought any of that bullsh*t?)

May 19, 2009 Posted by | Israel, Middle East, Obama | , , , | Leave a comment

Nuclear Tap Dance

When will the other shoe drop?

A piece of Barack Obama’s comprehensive peace plan emerged in the last few days, but was given very little coverage outside of the Middle East. Israeli papers, and their English-language web sites covered it, there were quite a few op-ed pieces, as well as the usual blog traffic. It involved Israel’s well-known, but opaque nuclear capabilities.

On Tuesday, May 5th, the US Assistant Secretary of State Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller urged Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea to sign the non-proliferation treaty. One hundred eighty-nine nations have. This includes Iran, which is flagrant violation; and Libya, which was “scared straight” by former President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. Speaking of which, Iraq was also a member of that elite club, but simply chose to ignore the rules. So, what value would a signature have?

Bargaining Chips

If Israel were to sign the NPT treaty, it would open the door to IAEA inspections. This means Dimona, the site of most of Israel’s nuclear research activities. The reasoning goes like this: if Israel were to sign and admit inspectors, it would put pressure on Iran to give IAEA inspectors access to Iranian facilities, and also put pressure on them to start abiding by previously agreed upon limitations. However, reason and Iran seldom go together.

If it were reasonable, wouldn’t it have responded to the first round of sanctions? What about the second round of sanctions, which it ignored? Reason would also dictate that with 120,000+ US troops based in countries on its eastern and western borders, Iran would act cautiously. That hasn’t fazed the Iranians, either. America, weary of both wars, their costs and their casualties, would like nothing better than to leave both Iraq and Afghanistan. It knows it cannot do either, as Iran is poised to fill the vacuum should America leave precipitously.

It’s going to drop soon

Uzi Even, a former Knesset member and scientist at the nuclear reactor in Dimona, said the statement by the assistant secretary of state is indicative of a change in the US’ policy towards Israel regarding its nuclear capabilities. “In the past there was an informal agreement between the US and Israel; the Americans knew Israel possessed nuclear arms but looked the other way,” he said, “now the US breaching this agreement.”

Even suggests that Israel must change its deliberately vague nuclear policy and sign the NPT, which would place Dimona under international supervision. This would also allow Israel to develop nuclear weapons, at least theoretically. Even’s thinking is short-sighted.  Because the other shoe that is likely to drop as part of President Obama’s comprehensive plan is likely to be some sort of “strategic arms limitation treaty” for the Middle East. Everybody gets nukes and missiles, just not a lot of them.

Prime Minister Netanyahu better start polishing his own tap shoes before he goes to Washington: he just might need them.

May 15, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Rude Awakening, part deux

What does Israel need to say?

First, if you are reading this and didn’t read the first posting it is not going to make a lot of sense. So go back and read the first part.

Israel needs to acknowledge, to a certain extent, the slogans of the past inasmuch as these still have a tremendous grip on public opinion. Thus, a statement from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recognizing that eventually there will be a Palestinian state alongside Israel is necessary. Although talk is cheap, these few words would likely buy a lot of good will in Washington and European capitals. At least some Arab capitals would receive such a pronouncement favorably too.

It would give President Obama firmer ground to stand on vis-à-vis negotiations with Iran. It would give the Europeans enough reason to go move Israel one-step closer to membership in the EU. It would give Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia political cover to join Washington in confronting Iran, while cracking down on Islamic radical at home. Perhaps just as important, if Mr. Netanyahu made such a statement it would confound his critics on the Israeli Left and perhaps start driving a wedge between the two wings of the opposition Kadima party.

“Israel is in favor of a two-state solution” does not have to be the opening line or the closing line of the speech. However, it needs to be said. It is also an opportunity to set the parameters of a future Palestinian state.

How does Israel say it?

How would I say it if I were in the Prime Minister’s shoes? I think it would go something along these lines.

“Since its establishment in 1948, the State of Israel has sought peace with its neighbors through direct negotiations. However, despite our sincerest efforts, many of our attempts were met with outright rejection. Our major wars have cost the region – not just Israel, but all the countries involved, over a trillion dollars in lost development. Schools were not built and children were not educated. Hospitals were not built and the sick were not healed. Yet, we still yearn for peace and believe it is within our reach if we act responsibly.”

“The first breakthrough came in 1978 with Anwar Sadat’s courageous and groundbreaking visit to Israel. Egypt and Israel were rewarded by President Sadat’s vision, and in 1979 Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty that endures to this day. In 1994 Jordan under King Hussein signed a peace treaty with Israel, and that peace endures to this day. Both of the courageous leaders bravely made difficult choices, shouldered the responsibility for their actions, and will always be remembered in history as men of valor.”

“Unfortunately, their equals have not yet been found among the other states of our shared region. Some are held hostage by extreme political philosophies. Some are held hostage by anarchy and disarray. Yet others bind themselves to outmoded concepts and untenable ideas. History will also judge these men harshly for all the wasted time, all the blood they have spilt.”

“This I believe: ultimately, there will be peace. There will be a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state of Israel. We hope it is something that we will see in our lifetimes, something that we will have a part in helping build. If men of bravery, courage and vision can be found on the other side of the bargaining table, it is something that we will have.”

“Judea and Samaria are dear to Israel and the Jewish people. They are part of our historic homeland. They are where are our forefathers are buried. They are where are culture was born and flourished. They contain sites that have been holy to us for five thousand years, before there ever was a single Palestinian. Yet for the sake of peace we have ceded parts of Judea and Samaria, and are prepared to ceded more. However, this will only happen if the Palestinian leadership truly seeks peace. Judea and Samaria are not a stepping stone to Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.”

“Accountability, compromise and reconciliation must replace threats, violence and war. The Palestinian Authority must live up to its past commitments. It must contain and eliminate terrorism. It must reform itself so that it has credibility in the eyes of its own people. And it must take on the arduous task of building a state, much as the Jewish people have: one farm at a time, one factory at a time, one school at a time. If it is capable of living up to its past commitments, providing security, stability and growth, the vision of peace will be shared by all.”

What does the PM say to the President

Before he gives such a speech, Mr. Netanyahu would need to have a heart-to-heart with Mr. Obama. He should start off by clearly stating that an Iran with a complete nuclear fuel cycle is completely unacceptable. The Obama administration has already been floating the idea – more by omission from its statements – that Iran might be able to keep what it already has, as long as it doesn’t develop a nuclear bomb. Both of these, a complete nuclear fuel cycle and a nuclear weapon, will happen in the next 12 – 18 months. This changes all the rules.

Second, Israel needs the Obama administration to follow-up on the commitments made by the Bush administration. This means allowing Israel to purchase the military technology in the amounts it needs to maintain its technical superiority. The post-communist kleptocracy that reigns in Moscow is willing to sell just about any piece of military hardware it can to Iran and Syria. The US must make it clear that it will not allow its closest ally in the region to be put at a military disadvantage.

Third, Israel needs the Obama administration to put a little pressure on the Europeans to play ball. Upgrading Israel’s status vis-à-vis the EU would be a start. Dropping there flirtations with Hamas would strengthen the PA and the peace process. Taking all of these actions, Mr. Netanyahu should tell Mr. Obama, will make Israel strong enough to match the steps that the Palestinians make. If indeed the Palestinians are capable of making them.

May 5, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Rude Awakening

Good Morning Israel-nam!
Israel is slowly awakening to a new reality in Washington. Since 1967, when Israel defeated five Arab armies in the short span of six days, the country has enjoyed a special relationship with America. For forty years, that relationship has grown deeper and stronger. Israel has been the beneficiary of diplomatic support, economic assistance, trade treaties and the ability to purchase major weapons systems that have made it the preeminent power in the Middle East.

It also means that for over forty years Israeli leaders have enjoyed relative freedom in their foreign policy decision-making. The election of Barack Obama as president may have ended this situation.

Now, to the dismay of many, the United States is staking out a foreign policy position that for the first time is in apparent opposition to Israeli interests. In the waning months of the Bush administration, the US rebuffed Israeli requests for modern re-fueling tankers and the installation of Israeli technology in the F35 Joint Strike Fighter.

President Obama has ignored the feelers that various European governments have put out towards Hamas. It has also been silent on European linking of enhanced Israeli participation in the EU and implementation of a two-state solution to the Palestinian issue. In fact, President Obama has linked the resumption of dialogue on a two-state solution to American support vis-à-vis the growing Iranian nuclear threat. Israelis are, for the first time, experiencing the “stick” of the “carrot and stick” approach of diplomacy.

A New Reality?

Is this a new reality? Tremendous pressure is being exerted on Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to utter the words “two-state solution.” To his credit, he has said little, eschewing press conferences on the subject in order to spend time constructing a new policy. Regardless of the level of support that it ultimately receives, the effort might be stillborn.

There is no negotiating partner on the other side of the table. Despite several months of Egyptian-sponsored “unity” talks, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are just as far apart as they were in July 2006 when Hamas fighters seized control of the Gaza Strip in a violent coup d’etat.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman has already given several speeches in which he has stated that past negotiations with the Palestinians have not yielded the promised peace. Instead, they have resulted in Israel ceding territory to Palestinian control and getting more terrorism in return. Israel is now faced with a Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and a West Bank under partial PA control. Hamas will not recognize Israel in any form at all. The PA will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Mr. Liberman is taking every opportunity to give his counterparts in Europe, Russia and China an earful on this situation.

Indeed there is a new reality in the Middle East. There is an Israeli government that is not afraid to admit that past concessions have only been rewarded with more terrorism and increased anti-Semitism from the Arab and Muslim world. It is also an Israeli government that is might not be afraid to test the resolve of the new American president. While President Obama peddles “soft power,” there’s very little sign that anyone in the region is buying.

Perceiving the Other’s Reality

As Mr. Liberman has been arguing, too many diplomats and leaders speak in slogans that no longer have any basis in reality, if they ever did at all. Slogans like “two-state solution,” “settlements,” “occupation” and “right of return” have peppered the speeches of Arab, European and other world leaders for far too long. These phrases have created a reality all their own, regardless of the often pitiless truth of the situation. This creates a unique opportunity for Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu. However, each has to be able and willing to appreciate the other’s perception of reality.

US troops will be ending their combat role in Iraq on June 30. No one is so foolish as to believe that Iraq will magically become a secular democracy on July 1. There are too many interested parties (Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey) to allow that to happen. The best that Mr. Obama can hope for is that bloodshed that results does not rise to a level that requires US troops to re-enter Iraqi cities. If Iraq were to descend into a full-fledged civil war or the regime were toppled, American policy and power would be severely damaged.

Likewise, an armed confrontation – either American/Iranian or Israeli/Iranian – would result in a temporary spike in world oil prices. Despite the barrels of ink spilled during the 2008 American election campaign, America still has a petroleum-based economy. Or rather, what is left of the economy is petroleum based. A spike in oil prices, even a temporary increase of two or three months, would result in more damage to the American (and world) economy.

There are other problems that are contending for Mr. Obama’s attention, too. Too many to list here.

In 2008 Americans were fed-up with the $4/gallon gas prices at the pump and the 4000 dead that the war in Iraq had cost them. Mid-term elections for Congress are a short sixteen months away. Mr. Obama benefited from the American public’s frustration and won the presidency. He knows very well that if that situation returns, someone else will benefit from it in 2012.

Binyamin Netanyahu needs to understand that Barack Obama is in the first year of his first term. He will have to deal with this new American president and the problems he inherited for at least another three years, or as long as his own coalition lasts.

To be continued . . .

May 5, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , | Leave a comment

SuperBama!

And it tastes like ice cream!

Bill Schneider, CNN’s Senior Political Correspondent, recently reported that American President Barack Obama is a “SuperPresident.” Heads-up to Bill: the election was last November. You can stop kissing the guy’s tuches and start acting like a reporter again, if you and any of your colleagues at CNN remember how to do that!

Mr. Schneider reported that CNN’s poll of polls, taken April 14-21, showed “an average of 64 percent job approval for Obama.” Of course, he goes onto to state that President Obama is only three percentage points ahead of where the last six presidents stood after their first 100 days in office. However, that does not prevent him from concluding “Is Obama the superpresident? So far, so good.”

Outstanding reporting! I have an extra $20, tell me which journalism school you went to, Bill, and maybe they can fax me a diploma, too!

Eine mensch!*

*That’s Yiddish for, “What a guy!”

Mr. Schneider goes on to breakdown the results for us. Accordingly, 71% of Americans believe President Obama will keep the country safe. “Safe” is a relative term. I live about 70 kilometers from the border with Gaza. Yet, I feel “safe.” One gets used to things.

The President received the same high marks on whether Americans believe the President cares about them. Those 200 million puppies he sent out last week certainly did the trick. Unfortunately, President Obama did send a year’s supply of pet food or pooper-scoopers. He should have sent at least two poper-scoopers: one for the puppy and one for cleaning up after CNN.

74% of Americans think the President understands their problems. Really? Does he have to pay the mortgage on the White House? Oh yeah, that’s right, there’s that small issue of $2 trillion in American bonds & treasuries held by the People’s Republic of China. Better deport to China those seven Uighur terror-suspects being released from Guantanamo.

What about leadership and trustworthiness? SuperPresident scored better than former presidents Jimmy “Peanut Farmer” Carter and Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon, respectively on those two categories. It would be kind of impossible not to score better than they did, wouldn’t it?

The Next 1000 Days

For some reason, Americans think that the first 100 days in office is some sort of benchmark for a president. This metric started being used during Dwight Eisenhower’s terms in office. Pity poor Abraham Lincoln. Imagine what the public would have answered if CNN had been around back then!

Of course, the real test of a President isn’t how he fares in public opinion polls after 100 days in office. Success or failure can only be determined in the long run, and only by measurements that are more objective. What will the unemployment rate be in four years? How many homes will be re-possessed? How many businesses will go bankrupt? Are schools preparing young people for the challenges of life (like really understanding what polls mean)? Will America maintain its credibility with allies and opponents?

Mr. Obama inherited two wars, fraying diplomatic relationships and an economy that was in the tank. One hundred days later, much is still the same.

  • Iraq is trending towards civil war with an increase in bombings. This was predicted two years ago when opponents to the war demanded a timetable for US withdrawal. President Obama set a timetable and now Iraq’s various would-be rulers are bloodying the streets.
  • Afghanistan is just as much of a mess as it was 100 days ago, if not more so! Despite SuperPresident’s policy of fighting the war on terror where it began, the Taliban and their allies are making steady advances.
  • Russia has been playing both “good cop” and “bad cop.” Russia – whether ruled by Tsars, Commissars or Putin-o-crats – excels at this. They can do an about-face on policy faster than they down a shot of vodka. The Chinese have been characteristically inscrutable; they are watching the SuperPresident and taking their measure of the man.
  • Europe likes the fact that President Obama talks to them. They didn’t like the compliance memos that Dick Cheney would occasionally send. I understand that the Europeans really liked the puppies, too! They’re also waiting for pooper-scoopers, but need a third one for cleaning up after the EU bureaucrats.
  • And what about the economy? Carl Sagan wouldn’t be able to count the hundreds of billions of dollars that has been thrown in to avert total economic collapse.

The story is still out on that. Sharpen your pencil, Mr. Schneider!

April 25, 2009 Posted by | Obama | , , | Leave a comment