BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

The Palestinian Price Tag

For several years now, since the first sanctions were imposed on Iran for defying the International Atomic Energy Association’s rules, there has been an on-going discussion of military action. A variety of scenarios have been circulated regarding American and/or Israeli air strikes. Some analysts contend that Iran’s nuclear program is too advanced and too far-flung to destroy. Others contend that it hinges on just a few critical sites. Regardless of the level of success, pundits agree that if Israel attacks Iran, Iran will strike at Israel in response.

If the US is seen as involved, the Iranian response will include the various Gulf kingdoms aligned with the US using missiles, possibly armed with chemical or biological weapons. Others predict that Iran will unleash its puppets, Hamas and Hizbullah, and their arsenals of short-range missile. A regional war involving several countries has been forecast, as well as a global wave of terror. Any combination of these is also possible. The Iranian response will undoubtedly be violent, but it will be brief as it is ineffective.

Any solid military analysis of the situation leads to the conclusion that Israel, acting alone, is capable of inflicting enormous damage on Iran. Using just conventionally armed aircraft and missiles, Israel would be able to destroy at least six critical Iranian nuclear facilities in one blow. It could also inflict heavy damage of Iranian petroleum facilities, further delaying an Iranian rebuilding effort.

Having clearly demonstrated that it is militarily superior to every country in the region, and having destroyed the single existential threat that (currently) exists, Israeli leaders would be hard-pressed to claim any additional security concerns. The price tag of success will be a Palestinian state. And there will be intense international pressure for this to occur immediately.

Without American support, Israel would be diplomatically isolated. Traditionally anti-Israel bodies, such as the UNHRC, would be mobilized to condemn Israel. Claims would be brought to the International Court of Justice. UN Security Council resolution would pile up fast. Various treaties and pacts currently under discussion between Isreal and a host of nations would be shelved, if not scrapped outright. If Israel acts alone, it will need to have the diplomatic muscle of the United States behind it in order to deal with the aftermath.

The US and EU would not be overly concerned with the long-term consequences of either a Palestinian state or how such diplomatic pressure might effect Israel’s geo-strategic psychology. The conflict will have sent oil prices to the $150/barrel range – or higher. Energy shortages will cripple the already sluggish global economy. World financial markets will be in turmoil. The US and EU will act hastily to prevent further economic damage. It will not be a time to worry about demographics, Riparian water rights or political stability (Palestinian).

NATO, perhaps with a token Russian presence, would deploy troops over most of the West Bank as an interim measure, probably within a month of the UNSC imposing a ceasefire on all the belligerents. Israel would withdraw the bulk of its forces, probably over a period of 3 – 6 months. The smaller settlements would be dismantled and their occupants transferred to Israel proper or the so-called large settlement blocs. There may be a token exchange of territories and populations between Israel and the nascent Palestinian state.

What would happen to Jerusalem? That depends on how quickly and quietly Israeli leaders agree to the deployment of NATO troops, removal of settlements and the re-drawing of boundaries. Quick accession to these demands might assure continued Israeli sovereignty over most of Jerusalem, with a minimal international presence with very limited authority. Israeli delay could result in Jerusalem being partitioned.

Israeli leaders face an excruciating dilemma. It is universally agreed that sanctions will not dissuade the Iranians from developing a nuclear capability. Unless publicly forced to face the clearest evidence of Iranian intentions, the Obama administration will not act militarily. Thus, Israel must act on her own.
However, military success will also result in the creation of a Palestinian state that is economically and politically unstable, as well as violent. This is likely to remain the situation for at least a decade, meaning that there will be no “peace dividend” for Israel. The question now becomes, not will Israel act, but when? And have Israeli leaders considered how they – and the citizens of Israel – will contend with the aftermath?

October 1, 2010 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , | Leave a comment

No MidEast Accomplishments? No surpise!

As all good bloggers are accustomed to doing, I have multiple methods of keeping track of the number of “hits” my postings receive. First, there is the stat-tracking on the blog’s host site. Second, there are the automatic notifications from the discussion boards on which I post links. Third, there is my friend Frank. Frank often tells me how bad (the term he often uses is “POS!”) such a particular piece was.

Recently, it seemed that a lot of older postings were receiving increased hits, and I wondered why. Perhaps the holiday season had caused them to reflect on the state of humanity? Could it be that people had suddenly taken an interest in world affairs? Or was it more likely that a string of terrorist attacks – I refuse to use the Obama administration’s epithet “extremists” – had jarred people of their “historical moment” infatuation with Barack Hussein Obama?

Had they suddenly realized what a terrible mistake they just might have made that fateful first Tuesday in November 2008? Yes, I think they are beginning to realize that.

BHO came to office with no real plan to govern. He had no idea how to fix the economy, no I idea how to fix America’s healthcare crisis, no idea how to stop global warming, and certainly not even a gram’s worth of sense as far as foreign policy is concerned.

Let’s be fair. No one really has an idea how to fix the economy; it has never been broken like this before. America’s healthcare system is a mess, but one that could easily be solved by eating at McDonald’s ten fewer times each week and exercising. The demise of the world’s economies has at least delayed the melting of the polar icecaps. However, the Middle East is more than the Arab-Israeli conflict.

President Obama’s simplistic reduction of the matter to one of Palestinian statehood obscures numerous problems. Oil wealth is not evenly distributed and the have’s are not sharing with the have-not’s. There is a burgeoning demographic crises, with the number of 18-24 year olds increasing. This demographic is the cannon-fodder for extremist movements. There is the conflict between Shi’ite and Sunni Islam, 14 centuries in the making. Arab, Persians and Turks have been fighting for dominance over the region for almost the same period of time.

I have tried numerous times to parse President Obama’s foreign policy vis-à-vis this region. Is he truly simplistic and naïve? Does he hold the view that the US cannot continue to act as the world’s policeman? Is he just trying to keep the lid on the pot? All of these explanations may be true; none of them may be. One certainty is, that after a year in office he has accomplished little, excepting reducing America’s standing with allies and bolstering the prestige of its enemies.

January 2, 2010 Posted by | Middle East, Obama | , , , , | Leave a comment

No to Palestine!

Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat says the Palestinian Authority is making an effort to elicit international support for declaring statehood, Al-Ayyam newspaper reported Saturday, November 14th. According to Erekat, the PA intends to promote this issue in order to bring it for a vote at the UN Security Council. The Palestinians’ frustrations are understandable to a certain extent. The Oslo Peace process, begun in 1993, has not delivered to them the independent state that they want. This brings several questions to mind.

First, the Palestinians’ frustrations are largely of their own making. They have never negotiated in good faith, they have never recognized Israel as the legitimate expression of the Jewish People’s right to their own independent state, they have constantly resorted to violence at every opportunity, and their leadership continues to make statements regarding Palestinian plans to erase Israel from the map completely.

Second, the Oslo peace process specifically forbids the declaration of a Palestinian state without negotiations with Israel and a peace agreement with Israel. This latest ploy is just more evidence of the Palestinian leadership’s inability and unwillingness to abide by signed agreements. If a situation displeases them, they tear up past agreements and resort to terrorism and murder.

Third, Oslo does not guarantee a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. The 1967 borders are actually based on the armistice lines of 1949 between Jordan and Israel. Those lines were internationally recognized as a temporary accommodation based on the military situation on the time. The international community, Israel and Jordan accepted that the “Green Line” would eventually be replaced by a negotiated border acceptable to both sides.

“A Palestinian state cannot be established without a peace agreement,” Israeli President, Shimon Peres,  told reporters. He continued, “It’s impossible and it will not work. It’s unacceptable that they change their minds every day. Bitterness is not a policy.” Peres is right. The international community should take note of this, not just in regard to Palestinian issues, but also toward a host of other issues, such as: Iran’s nuclear proliferation; Saudi Arabia’s treatment of migrant workers and women; Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism against India; Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism in Gaza and Lebanon; and Sudan’s persecution of Christian and Animist tribes in southern Sudan.

The fact of the matter is that Islam as a whole is an aggressive, militaristic, racist religion incapable of interacting honestly or peacefully with other faiths. To give Islam one more platform (a Palestinian state) to wage global jihad is not just a mistake, it is a criminal act against western Judeo-Christian culture and society.

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

The Settlement Issue

It didn’t have to come to this, did it?
Nahum Barnea, a columnist for the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot published a piece today on the newspaper’s web site entitled, “It’s not the settlements, stupid.”  The article was subtitled, “Obama wanted Netanyahu’s help with Arab world, but Bibi didn’t deliver.”  Of course, now it is about the settlements.
Prime Minister Netanyahu had the opportunity to set the tone and direction of diplomatic initiatives when he visited Washington in late-May.  A clear statement, like the one posted in this blog on April 11th, and again in more detail on May 5th, might have taken Israel off the settlement hot seat.  In fact, settlements might have been put into their proper perspective against a divided Palestinian Authority and the impending Iranian nuclear threat.
There were just two problems. The first comes from Israel’s traditional foreign policy, which has two themes: look what they did to us, and look what they want to do to us!  As has also been pointed out in past blogs, most of the world does not care what happened to the Jewish People sixty years ago; and most of the world is contending with what is happening to them.  Israel needs a little more nuance.
The second problem is that Mr. Netanyahu believes his coalition to be extremely fragile.  So much so, in fact, that it could not possibly contend with the “Third Rail” of Israeli politics: settlements.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of “Third Rails” in Israeli politics.  However, the Prime Minister knew this long before he took the oath of office for the second time.

Changing of the Guard
As Barnea pointed out, “President Obama made it clear from his first week in office that he is determined to turn a new leaf vis-à-vis the Muslim and Arab world.”  He needs breathing room to re-deploy American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He needs to start paying greater attention to Pakistan. Although the Pakistani army is in the process of re-taking the Swat Valley from Taliban forces, President Obama needs to start thinking about the next time the Taliban advances on the Pakistani capital, and the next time.  The Taliban isn’t easily uprooted.
Barnea again, “Obama is not adopting this initiative in order to serve an Israeli interest, yet it can have significant benefits for Israel too, particularly on the Iranian question.”  As close as American-Israeli relations have been, relationships change.  President Obama understands that the current status quo is untenable in the long-run.  What he does not seem to understand, or is unwilling to admit publicly, is that in the long-run a Palestinian state will not usher in an era of peace in the Middle East.
In its current forms, there are two Palestinian states.  There is the Islamic theocracy that has established itself in the Gaza Strip.  There is the pseudo-authoritarian kleptocracy that has a crumbling grip on power in the West Bank.  Neither of the two is democratic – although each is more than happy to use a fig leaf of democracy to hide its real intentions.  Neither is willing to take a secular approach to politics and Render unto Ceaser those things that are Ceasar’s.  As such, the pluralism that is a hallmark of Western Civilization is absent.  Neither the Gaza Strip nor the West Bank, separately or combined, are capable of establishing a modern economy.  If the Palestinians do establish a state, it will be a permanent ward of various UN agencies.

Now it is the settlements
Barnea points out, that President Obama expected, “to get something from Netanyahu on the Palestinian front that it can hold on to.  Not a withdrawal or renunciation of rights, but rather, a diplomatic model or a vision.  Yet Netanyahu arrived empty-handed and created a vacuum, into which the settlement issue slid in full force.”  Pundits attribute this to the fact that Netanyahu’s coalition is hopelessly complicated and bound to fall within a year.  Not necessarily so.
Labor, with 13 seats, was willing to consider a two-state solution when it was part of the previous government.  Agudat Israel (or whatever they’re calling themselves this week), with 6 seats, is more than happy to give way on settlements in return for continued exemptions from military service and higher government subsidies.  Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu, with 16 seats, is willing to bargain on settlements; throw in a ham sandwich and a blanket pardon and they’ll say “What settlements?”  That’s 35 seats to add to Likud’s 26. that equals 61, a majority.
Unfortunately, Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to have swallowed hook, line and sinker the propaganda campaign that was unleashed against him during the election campaign.  A strong statement in favor of a two-state solution, followed by a concerted effort to re-establish the Road Map would have derailed press, the Left, the Palestinians and given President Obama the maneuvering room he wants and needs.  When he speaks in Cairo on June 4th, Mr. Netanyahu will have another chance.

June 2, 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

The Lost Palestinian State

From 1948 to 1967, Egypt and Jordan controlled the Gaza Strip and West Bank, respectively. During that period, either of them could have fostered an independent Palestinian state. Interestingly enough, neither of them thought to do so. I’m sure that locked away in the state vaults (probably underneath a pyramid in Egypt’s case) is a memo that explains why. Here’s what I think it says.

April 24, 1949
From: [Redacted]
To: King Abdullah ibn Hussein Al Hashimi
Re: Palestinian State

As your esteemed Majesty is undoubtedly aware, after many months of fighting our glorious armed forces, commanded by the Pasha Glubb, were able to seize most the territory designated by the UN for a Palestinian state. Our attempts to take all of the territory and expand your magnificent kingdom were cruelly defeated by Israel. We humbly suggest that our policy going forward be that we blame EVERYTHING on the Jews.

It has been suggested that although the native peoples in that territory speak Arabic (like us), are predominantly Sunni Muslims (like us), and were until just 27 years ago part of the same British colony as us, they nevertheless deserve a separate state. Several departments in your Majesty’s administration have recently undertaken an analysis of this concept and have come to the following conclusions.

1. The territory in question is extremely small (smaller than the American state of Delaware) and has practically no natural resources worth exploiting.
2. There is very little (17% of the total) arable land suitable for agriculture.
3. The territory in question is completely landlocked, and would be completely dependent on us for trade – assuming that they wouldn’t want to trade with the Zionist enemy. We suppose this also assumes that they have anything worth trading for in the first place (we already have olives).
4. The territory in question has completely inadequate transportation and communication systems.
5. There are no institutions of higher learning.*
6. The territory in question would require a sustained and consistent effort for at least twenty years (and let’s face it, what government can sustain a consistent policy for more that long?), costing tens of billions of dollars (who’s going to give them that kind of dough?).

In conclusion, your Majesty, the place is a dump. Yet, it is now OUR dump!  We would be doing the indigenous peoples (most of whom we are related to) a favor if we were to annex the territory to your Majesty’s kingdom.  Since the people look like us, sound like us, pray like us and act like us – in fact they use to be part of us – your advisors fervently believe that they’ll get over it.**

Humbly and Forever Your Majesty’s Dedicated Servant,

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  –

In April 24, 1950, Jordan annexed that part of “Palestine” it occupied in the wake of the 1948 war with Israel. Only Britain and Pakistan recognized this.

*Bethlehem University (1975), Bir Zeit University (1975), An Najah National University (1977), Hebron University (1980) were established after Israel’s occupation. Only one university, Al Quds (1995) has been established since the Oslo Accord was signed in 1993.

**They did. The Palestine Liberation Organization wasn’t founded until 1964. From 1964 until, well, today, it has directed the bulk of its activities at Israel.

April 22, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , | Leave a comment

Magic Words

Politeness counts!
Remember when you were a child and wanted something? Inevitably, you pointed and yelled out your demand. If your demand was somewhat reasonable, for instance a small toy or a candy bar, you got it.

Your parents did a quick mental calculation regarding the cost to their wallet and their peace of mind. The fact that the toy would be forgotten in a week’s time or that you would not eat your vegetables that night at dinner were sacrificed in order to get you to shut-up.

However, the demand was always met with the gentle admonishment of, “What’s the magic word?”

The magic word was, of course, “please.” As children, we often forgot that basic manners, which include politeness, count a great deal in civil society. As you grew older, you realized that there were many “magic words.” Practically every situation, from the bedroom to the boardroom has its own set that get you want you want.

Presently, in our relation with Europe and the US, there are three magic words that they want to hear: “Two state solution.”

The Pareto Principle
In the late nineteenth century a political scientist by the name of Wilfredo Pareto wondered why power and wealth were distributed the way they were in Italy. He studied the players and came up with a startling conclusion. About 80% of the wealth and power were controlled by about 20% of the populous. Even more startling was the fact that power was rotated among these elites and fortunes handed down, generation to generation.

For 80% of the world, things like the miracle-in-the-desert that Israel has created, the vast achievements of the Jewish people (and their vast sufferings) mean nothing. They are interested in their own problems. They weigh the voices of 21 Arab states and 56 Muslim nations against a solitary Israeli-Jewish voice. Although these states often loathe implementing democracy, they are more than happen to acknowledge it in world affairs. They are only too happy to kow-tow to the mathematics of the situation and throw their vote towards the Arabs/Muslims in whatever forum it happens to be needed, whether it is the UN, UNESCO, WHO or whatever.

About 20% of the world does count, and that 20% is in Europe and the US. It is from that 20% that are support emanates where the bulk of our trade comes from, where the bulk of our cultural inheritance comes from and where we as a people are best understood. It is in America and Europe that our high-tech goods are sold, on whose stock exchanges our high-tech companies are listed and where our government bonds are bought and sold. So, maybe we should think twice and say those “magic words.”

Everything has a price
Barack Obama believes in the healing power of words, obviously inspired by his own experiences and the philosophy of men such as Mahatma Gandhi and Desmond Tutu. Arab and Muslim states have often relied on hyperbole (and the application of force, to be sure) to rule over their populations, when their scant achievements should have sent them packing long ago. Nasser was able to ride-out the defeat of the Six Day War with a single speech!

So talk is not cheap. Prime Minister Netanyahu needs to keep this in mind when he says the magic words “two-state solution.” First, these words need to be uttered either in Europe or the US in a public forum. In all likelihood, they will have to said in both places and multiple times.

After he says them, that’s when the piper needs to be paid. The Europeans need to have their feet put to the fire on granting Israel EU trade status and dropping their flirtations with Hamas. Tony Blair doesn’t get to visit Gaza, let alone Gerry Adams, and the rest of the Eurostinians don’t receive Israeli press credentials or visas until the EU delivers.

The Americans also will have to pay the piper. The highly coveted tanker aircraft that Israel wants would be a nice “thank you” – again, politeness counts Mr. Obama – for starters. I’m sure there are more than a few items on the Kirya’s shopping list that Mr. Netanyahu would love to acquire.

Never missing an opportunity
The Palestinians, it was once said, never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. I wish I knew who said it first because I would really like to give him credit. The Palestinian Authority and Hamas would be caught flat-footed by such an announcement. They have been struggling for weeks now to come up with an agreement that would allow them to form a national unity government, so far with no results. An Israeli pronouncement acknowledging the goal of a two-state solution would obviously put both the PA and Hamas at a disadvantage.

The “thank you” delivered by the Europeans and the US could also hardly be missed in Iran. A trade pact with the EU would bolster the Israeli economy at a time when the regime in Teheran is struggling with the results of two decades of mismanagement and allocation of national assets towards a policy of belligerence. The delivery of tanker aircraft – and who knows what else – would give Israel an enhanced ability to strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities. Perhaps enough of a reason to get them to negotiate seriously on the matter, but probably not.

Finally, stating the obvious, that a two-state solution is Israel’s goal would pull the opposition’s teeth in the Knesset. Israel has already committed itself to several agreements who’s ultimate end would be a Palestinian state. Acknowledging what it has already signed would seem to be a no-brainer. It is an opportunity that Israel should not miss.

April 11, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , | Leave a comment