Just six more months until US President Barack Obama’s misguided peace initiatives stop. Why six months? Mid-term elections in the US, that’s why. Memorial Day weekend at the end of May 2010 will signal the start of the referendum on Obama’s presidency.
The Republican’s will pull out all the stops in order to maintain the balance in the Senate and trim the Democrats’ majority in the House of Representatives. The GOP will certainly beknocking on a lot of Jewish doors in states like California, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Large Jewish populations that have been less than thrilled with his feeble attempts to twist Israel’s arm while sucking up to demagogues, dictators and tyrants in the Arab world.
Democrats will need Obama on the campaign trail with them. They need to “rousing message of hope” to buy them one more precious term grazing at the public trough. So, the Obaminator will have less time to spend bowing and scraping to Saudi Arabia, less time to hold Hosni Mubarak’s shaky hand, less time to play checkers with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The consolation being that he’ll still be in the lime-light that he so dearly loves!
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 . . .
The Minister from Moldova
Who is he? Is he the twenty-year-old immigrant from the former Soviet Republic of Moldova? Is he the student of International Relations and Russian Studies? Perhaps he is the nightclub bouncer and manager. We know that he is no longer Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu’s campaign manager and chief of staff; he promoted himself. Is he savvy politician who has touched on the nerves of practically every segment of Israel’s population?
Avigdor Liberman is Israel’s new Foreign Minister and has already broken the mold in less than two weeks in office. He certainly lacks the craven need for attention that characterized Tzipi Livni’s term in office (and that of Likud party stalwart David Levy). He doesn’t have the patient, Old World smoothness of former Foreign Minister, now President, Shimon Peres. Mr. Liberman has been likened to a “breath of fresh air,” a “purgative,” and the proverbial “bull in the china shop.”
Human beings seem to have a need to label things, other human beings in particular. So, in all likelihood, he will continue to be all of these things until he successfully defines himself – or someone else does so for him.
Mr. Liberman believes, rightfully so, that much of the public discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been conducted in the form of slogans. “Peace for Land” and “Two State Solution” are the two most often heard slogans. We cannot know what diplomats and world leaders say behind closed doors, press leaks not withstanding. However, in their public pronouncements these same diplomats and world leaders speak to the public in slogans. This has several ill effects.
First, it gives credence to these slogans. If everyone is saying them, then they must be true. This is the curse of conventional wisdom. It results in the general public outside of the Middle East remaining ignorant about the complexities of the issues involved.
Second, it reinforces the perception that these slogans actual constitute a well thought out policy. Crafting an approach to any problem, large or small, requires an understanding of the people involved, what has been attempted in the past, the setting in which the problem must be solved and the tools available for addressing it. Slogans do none of these things, and therefore are tantamount to political laziness.
Third, parroting slogans over and over leaves no room for discussing alternatives. While there are not many alternative solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it must be acknowledged that there are some. Many of these have been rejected out-of-hand by one side or the other. And just as often, the alternatives themselves are offered in terms of slogans. Anyone truly interested in seeing the conflict peaceably resolved should reject all slogans. Furthermore, much of the “negotiating” that takes place via television screens and press releases must also be rejected.
So far, there has not been much in the way of new initiatives from the Netanyahu government. Whenever asked for specifics, all that the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister or their advisers will say is that they are conducting a policy review. As Martha Stewart would say, this is a good thing! Hopefully, what is being discussed behind closed doors is the entire panoply of alternative proposals and counter-proposals. The previous Israeli governments of Ehud Olmert, and even Ariel Sharon, were actually weak in terms of developing policy.
Two things have emerged, however. Mr. Liberman has been making a concerted effort of dismantling the expectations built upon previous diplomatic “accomplishments” such as the Wye River Accords and Annapolis (November 2007). His contention is that neither the cabinet nor the Knesset endorsed by vote the contents of these conferences. Hence, they do not have any standing as agreements or treaties. He has also been making a concerted effort at re-establishing the April 2003 “Road Map.”
Unfortunately, some of this has already started to take the form of slogans. We are likely to hear “Security, Development and Stability” or some form there of, being repeated more and more in the lead-up to the Prime Minister’s scheduled May 18th visit to the White House. The linkage between these three concepts is genuine. However, repeating them ad nauseum will only result in their becoming part of the pantheon of slogans that dominates all discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.