I feel about human-rights violations the way U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart felt about porn. Forget all the moral parsing and conflict resolution jargon -- you just know them when you see them.
That's why it's always puzzled me that the United Nations Human Rights Council has such trouble when it comes to calling a spade a spade. For decades, the old U.N. Human Rights Commission was the laughing stock of the international community for packing its membership with notorious human-rights abusers. When the U.N. reorganized the body as the Human Rights Council in 2006, things were supposed to change. Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared, "The Council's work must mark a clean break from the past."
But that's hardly been the case. First, the Council granted seats to such human-rights abusers as Azerbaijan, China, Cuba, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Then it passed eight resolutions condemning Israel and spoke out against the "defamation of religion" (read: cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed unfavorably), while dropping inquiries into the worsening human-rights conditions in places such as Iran and Uzbekistan.
Now comes news that the Human Rights Council has appointed Princeton University Professor Richard Falk to a six-year term as the special investigator into Israel's actions in the Palestinian Territories. I've got nothing against appointing an investigator to keep tabs on this issue per se. But Falk? This is a guy who defended disgraced University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill as "having made major contributions" to academia after Churchill called the innocent victims of the Twin Towers "little Eichemanns," arguing that they had deserved to die on 9/11. And how, by any reasonable standard, can Falk be considered an impartial observer on Israel-Palestine? This was Falk writing in an article entitled "Slouching Toward a Palestinian Holocaust" last June:
Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not."
Surely there were better candidates out there.
What's one of the latest products to be outsourced to China? The kaffiyeh, the black-and-white checkered scarf popularized as a symbol of Palestinian identity and unity by late leader Yasir Arafat. In the last eight years, two thirds of Hebron's textile factories have shut down, in part due to cheap imports from the Middle Kingdom. Even Arafat's Fatah party now gets some of its kaffiyehs from China.
John McCain earned himself headlines in Israel today when he said, "I support Jerusalem as the capital of Israel."
Professing support for Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, though it is not internationally recognized as such, has become a time-honored political tradition for U.S. presidents and would-be presidents. Since the Jerusalem Embassy Act passed Congress in 1995, moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem has been the official policy of the United States. And yet, every six months, the president signs a waiver that says, "[My] Administration remains committed to beginning the process of moving our embassy to Jerusalem." It never happens, for the obvious reason that the move would cause an uproar in the Arab world. Last year, El Salvador and Costa Rica became the last coutries to move their embassies to Tel Aviv, even though the Knesset and the prime minister's offices are located an hour's drive away in Jerusalem. I doubt a President McCain would upend the status quo, notwithstanding his suggestive comments today.
Last month, pro-Palestinians, who hope Jerusalem will be the capital of a future Palestinian state, were angered when the board game Monopoly listed "Jerusalem, Israel," as a candidate city for its world edition. Recently, though, the controversy went the other way around at Facebook, the social-networking site.
Jewish settlers living in the occupied West Bank, in places such as Maale Adumin and Ariel, were angered when Facebook automatically listed their hometowns as being located in Palestine. Facebook heard their outcry, however, and now residents in Israeli West Bank settlements can choose between with Israel and Palestine.
Of course, opposing Facebook groups are now looking for members. The group "ITS [sic] NOT 'PALESTINE'- IT'S 'ISRAEL'" has nearly 14,000 members, while the group "If Palestine is removed from Facebook... Im [sic] closing my account." has around 4,600 members.
It all goes to show that on the Web, nobody has a monopoly on outrage.
Does Adm. William J. Fallon's resignation mean the United States is closer to a war with Iran? The White House has called that suggestion "just ridiculous." But it's still what everyone seems to be asking today. Over at the Washington Post, Dan Froomkin concludes, "It's still not really beyond Bush and Cheney to order a full-scale preemptive attack on Iran." Meanwhile, Terry Atlas at U.S. News offers up "6 Signs the U.S. May Be Headed for War In Iran." And on Capitol Hill, Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel said he was, "very concerned to see [Fallon] go."
Given the military realities at the moment, Froomkin's suggestion that "full-scale" war against Iran is possible seems a little off to me. When Foreign Policy recently surveyed more than 3,400 retired and active duty officers at the highest levels of command, 80 percent told us that it was "unreasonable" to believe that, given current deployments, the U.S. could engage in another major combat operation at this time. And the officers put America's preparedness for war against Iran at just 4.5 on a 10-point scale, where 10 meant the U.S. was fully prepared for such a mission.
Atlas's "6 Signs" taken as a whole and in the context of regional events don't worry me too much. Still, Fallon's departure may point to trouble, particularly in light a just-released assessment by the Israeli intelligence community, summarized today in a piece by TNR's Yossi Klein Halevi:
According to a just-released strategic assessment by the Israeli intelligence community, 2008 will be the 'Year of Iran.' The Lebanese government, warns the assessment, could collapse in the coming months, allowing Hezbollah to take power. Meanwhile, Hezbollah and Hamas are considering a coordinated rocket assault on Israeli population centers, almost all of which are within rocket range of either group. And, according to the strategic assessment, sometime within the coming year, or by early 2009 at the latest,
With Dick Cheney departing for the Middle East next week, this assessment is worrisome. Israeli President Shimon Peres recently said that the Israelis would not consider unilateral action against Iran. But they would likely leap at the chance to conduct coordinated strikes with the U.S. And Cheney's ear is reportedly sympathetic to the argument that diplomacy with Iran is futile. "Full-scale" war with Iran is probably militarily out at this stage, but strikes conducted by air and sea -- with the Navy taking the lead -- are still a very real possibility before the Bush administration is through. And that does make Admiral Fallon's departure worthy of concern.
It looks like Egypt's backroom efforts to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas are breaking down. Today, Hamas publicly laid out its terms for a deal, which Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak appeared to swiftly reject, warning, "Continued combat in Gaza will bring an escalation beyond what we have seen so far, before we reach a period of calm." The rocket fire has been quiet the past few days as negotiations proceeded, but it looks like they are set to resume in earnest again. "We are not in a state of calm with Hamas, we are in ongoing activity meant to stop Kassam fire," Barak said. No wonder former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is supposed to be helping solve this mess, is fleeing to Yale instead.
In a new Web exclusive for FP, former Israeli deputy national security advisor Chuck Freilich looks at Israel's options for stopping the rockets, and find that they range from bad to worse. Check out Freilich's article, "Six Ways Not to Deal with Hamas," and post your thoughts in the comments section below.
A few commenters asked why, in yesterday's post about Mahmoud Abbas, I didn't note that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may have his own political reasons (i.e., the rockets) for not wanting to negotiate with the Palestinians right now. My answer: It's different, since Abbas is clearly not responsible for Hamas's rocket fire, yet Olmert is responsible for the decision to send the IDF into Gaza. In any case, it may be a moot point now. The gloves are about to come off:
Several people were killed Thursday evening when terrorists infiltrated the Merkaz Harav yeshiva Jerusalem and opened fire, a senior police official said.
It was unclear exactly many assailants were involved, but according to various reports, one or two terrorists infiltrated the yeshiva, and may be armed with explosive belts.
Some reports suggested the terrorists were shot and killed, while other reports from the scene said the incident was ongoing and shots were still being fired.
A large number of police and emergency medical personnel had either arrived or were en route to the scene, with some 20-30 ambulances involved.
Time's Tim McGirk has a scoop from Israel, where U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been desperately trying to salvage the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Today, Rice announced that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would resume peace negotiations with Israel, despite Abbas's earlier position that he would only do so after a ceasefire in Gaza was in place. The backstory here is revealing:
Insiders say Rice, in heated talks yesterday with Abbas, threatened to cut off all international aid and support to the Palestinian Authority. Privately, Palestinian advisers say that Abbas was aghast at how Rice had failed to understand the level of outrage in the Arab world, and particularly among Palestinians, over the heavy civilian casualties that resulted in Israel's fierce air and ground assault last week in Gaza.
Helene Cooper and Graham Bowley of the New York Times add this nugget:
[Abbas's] position frustrated Bush administration officials who contended that he was giving Hamas a tactical victory by allowing it to hijack the Arab-Israeli peace negotiations.... Despite his position, many Palestinian, American and Israeli officials say that, for political reasons, Mr. Abbas needs the peace process more than his Israeli and American counterparts.
Simply put, these officials are wrong. Yes, Abbas needs the peace process in general. But politically, he can't very well sit down with Ehud Olmert while Israeli bombs are killing Palestinian civilians. He needs to wait a decent interval until the fury dies down. By agreeing to pretend to negotiate instead of pretending not to negotiate, all he did was reinforce his image as an American-Israeli puppet -- and he will get no closer to a peace treaty by being dragged to the table against his will. And having Rice announce the reversal? That was the icing on the cake.
There is no shortage of Israelis who are fed up with daily rocket attacks from Gaza. One such Israeli has decided to go vigilante. A man in Ashkelon reportedly fashioned his own homemade missile to launch into Gaza. The "200-millimeter ballistic missile" also came with some fightin' words:
From this day onwards, we will push back to the stone age every place which dares shoot missiles into Israel's sovereign territory... It is time the world understood Israelis' lives are not expendable... I'm afraid this is the only language the Palestinians understand, and this is the language in which we'll speak to them."
The missile, painted with the words "to Hamas, from the residents of Ashkelon," was never fired as police stepped in to stop the man and disperse the crowd that was cheering him on and protesting the government's handling of their security. This ought to be a teachable moment: A government can prevent acts of terrorism if it has the capacity and the will to do so.
The Hamas rocket apparatus seems to be gaining ground, as the Israeli city of Ashkelon was hit regularly over the weekend by longer-range weapons for the first time ever. Previously, a few rockets reached the city's outskirts, but now residents find themselves living within a newly defined battle zone. Sderot, a common target of rockets, has a population of roughly 20,000. Ashkelon is a larger city with roughly 120,000 people and has infrastructure of strategic value. The city's mayor, Roni Mahatzri, had this to say about the attack:
This is a state of war, I know no other definition for it... If it lasts a week or two, we can handle that, but we have no intention of allowing this to become part of our daily routine."
Israel struck back hard at Gaza beginning Wednesday of last week. Then on Saturday, airstrikes and ground operations aimed at stopping the rockets led to the worst single-day violence in years.
It looks like Hamas is achieving its aim of derailing the Middle East peace process. The peace talks have been suspended until a ceasefire can be negotiated, which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has volunteered to broker. With Hamas hailing Israel's troop withdrawal from Gaza as a victory, rockets and retribution may finally be taking over from negotiations and diplomatic niceties. Two sides can sit at a table, but when one of them has a murderously out-of-control brother, there's not much hope for a productive conversation any time soon.
He was pro-Palestinian when he was in Illinois before he ran for the state Senate, during he ran--during the state Senate. Now he's, he's supporting the Israeli destruction of the tiny section called Gaza with a million and a half people. He doesn't have any sympathy for a civilian death ratio of about 300-to-1; 300 Palestinians to one Israeli. He's not taking a leadership position in supporting the Israeli peace movement...
In a speech not likely to assuage Citizen Ralph, Obama put forth his own views Sunday in a talk to Jewish voters in Cleveland, Ohio. His campaign sent the remarks to the New York Sun, which published them in full here. They're too long to adequately summarize, but here's New Republic Editor Marty Peretz, a staunch pro-Israel voice, with a qualified endorsement:
... Barack Obama's views on Israel and the possibilties of peace between it and the Palestinians are both tough-minded and deeply comprehending. I don't at all think that I'd be disappointed with an Obama presidency, and certainly not with his attitude towards the Jewish State. He is also not massaging Jewish audiences when he observes -- correctly -- that Israelis are, in general, far more various in their views on the security situation than American Jews or American Jewish organizations... [Obama's views on Israel] are not mine exactly. But they are enough like mine to let me sleep calmly.
A number of Jewish and pro-Israel voters have raised questions about Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign. In case you haven't followed this ongoing issue, here's a brief summary of the complaints:
It's not clear how widespread these sentiments are. Obama does have other advisors, such as Daniel Shapiro, that are quelling voters' angst. And Howard Friedman, the president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said the leading presidential candidates are all interested in continuing close ties with
In an odd parallel, rumors are circulating in Russia that Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Putin's designated successor, may be Jewish -- a damaging charge in a country with a long history of anti-Semitism. Nikolai Bondarik, head of the nationalist Russian Party, is happy to take advantage:
It's common knowledge. Medvedev never hid his sympathy towards Judaism… A president ought to be related by blood with his people. Imagine if
A Palestinian man hurls stones at Israeli troops (unseen) during a violent protest against Israel's security fence, Feb. 22, 2008, where it cuts off Palestinian farmers from their land at the West Bank village of Bil'in. Hundreds of villagers backed up by foreign and left-wing Israeli supporters marked three years of demonstrations against Israel's controversial barrier.
The world's best-selling board game is finally going global. Hasbro, the makers of Monopoly, are creating a version wherein instead of snatching up the deeds to Atlantic Avenue or Park Place, players can build up property in global cities such as Moscow or Tokyo.
The company is letting people vote online through Feb. 28 on what cities to include. Originally, the cities listed on the game's Web site included the countries where they are located -- "Dublin, Ireland," for example.
An early version of the site listed "Jerusalem, Israel" as a potential place on the board. But then pro-Palestinians wrote in to complain, because Jerusalem, they hope, will be the capital of a future Palestinian state. So, a mid-level employee dropped the word "Israel" from Jerusalem's place name. Then pro-Israelis complained because of the inconsistency, since other country names were still there.
In a truly Solomonic feat, Hasbro decided to drop all country names (though the company claims they were only there in the first place "as a geographic reference to help with city selection"). And now capitalism is free to run amok without any borders. At least in Monopoly.
But I, Assud [pink bunny], will get rid of the Jews, Allah willing, and I will eat them up."
The last 30 seconds of the video really say it all, though earlier the little girl has a nice little statement to make in her interview with the bunny:
Of course, Assud. We will liberate al-Aqsa from the filth of those Zionists."
I guess nobody's ever heard of the Waqf -- the Muslim religious council that administers the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif site that includes al-Aqsa.
Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci (shown at right) gave an interview for Friday's Haaretz in which he professes admiration for Israel and stresses that his majority-Muslim proto-country (which is expected to declare independence any minute now) will not be an Islamic state:
At a time when in Turkey, which also wants to join Europe, the battle over the religious character of the state is heating up, Thaci promises: "Kosovo is going to be a democratic and secular state of all its citizens, and the freedom to exercise religion without any hindrance is granted by the Kosovo Constitution."
This assertion is significant since many Israelis fear that an independent Kosovo, or a potentially unified "Greater Albania" could serve as an Islamist beachhead in southern Europe that relies on Iranian and Saudi support, an argument that Thaci said "does not even deserve comment." It was this concern that lead then Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon to break with most of the international community in 1999 and support Slobodan Milosevic during the NATO bombing of Serbia. Nevertheless, Thaci describes Sharon as a "great leader."
Many also see parallels between Kosovo's struggle for independence and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and worry that a precedent may be set. This is but one of the many domino-effect scenarios that have emerged in recent weeks. Thaci argues in response that Kosovo is "a unique case" and "should not represent any precedent." The rebel leader-turned-politician clearly hopes Israelis will think of Kosovars as kindred spirits. Haaretz, at least, is already calling him "the Ben Gurion of Kosovo."
It seems like a no-brainer that Israel was behind the killing of Hezbollah leader Imad Mougniyah. Israel's Mossad doesn't blanche at assassinations; it has Jewish agents of Arab descent that can blend into a place like Damascus undetected; and the Israelis certainly have ample motive to take him out. Israeli officials, while denying their country's involvement, haven't been able to hide their glee at Mougniyah's death.
While extremely likely, it's not a slam dunk that the Mossad pulled off this hit. Sunni countries in the region -- such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia -- also have the means and the motive to get rid of him, to say nothing of the United States. Nor is it outside the realm of possibility that the Syrians or even the Iranians dropped a dime on Mougniyah in a quid pro quo arrangement with the Americans. The Syrians, though, say they have "irrefutable" evidence of the killer's identity that they will make known soon. Syria still denies involvement in a string of hits on anti-Syrian lawmakers in Lebanon, so the country doesn't have a lot of credibility these days. The revelations will certainly be interesting nonetheless. Pass the popcorn.
This past weekend, 40 Qassam rockets fell on
Sderot's mayor stepped up the pressure on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to act, saying,
Sderot's mayor stepped up the pressure on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to act, saying,"It's got to be a direct war -- killing Mr. Haniya, killing his deputy, killing all his staff, his house, his government house." (That would be the first time a Seven Questions interview subject was assassinated.) But Olmert, who seems to have become more level-headed since his widely criticized attempt to neutralize Hezbollah in
The shadow of Winograd is apparent, yet it sounds like expanded action is likely against
Egypt is now trying, in fits and starts, to crack down on Gazans who are refusing to go back across the border, and the scene is getting ugly:
The Egyptian government is trying to pretend that what happened in Gaza Wednesday was all part of a clever plan to help the Palestinian people:
We are not opening the Rafah crossing just for everybody to cross - we're opening it because it's a very dire humanitarian situation," said [Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman] Hassam Zaki. [...]
"The current situation is only an exception and for temporary reasons, Zaki said. "The border will go back to normal."
Of course, any propaganda points the Egyptian regime can reap from this situation are likely to evaporate once Al Jazeera starts airing footage of these scenes:
Egyptian riot police gathered at the Gaza-Egypt border on Thursday, directing traffic away from the frontier fence smashed by the Hamas
militants a day earlier.
Dozens of Egyptian police in helmets and with search dogs used batons to beat the hoods of private cars and pickup trucks that massed at the border to carry Palestinians further into Egyptian territory.
Thousands of Palestinians continued to flow through the wrecked border fence into Egypt on foot, however, and Egyptian forces also deployed south of the Sinai town of El-Arish in order to prevent Palestinians from traveling further into the country.
The Times of London has a great story on how Hamas secretly brought down the border wall between Gaza and Egypt:
[A] Hamas border guard interviewed by The Times at the border today admitted that the Islamist group was responsible and had been involved for months in slicing through the heavy metal wall using oxy-acetylene cutting torches.
That meant that when the explosive charges were set off in 17 different locations after midnight last night the 40ft wall came tumbling down, leaving it lying like a broken concertina down the middle of no-man's land as an estimated 350,000 Gazans flooded into Egypt.
I was watching footage on Al Jazeera today, and it was like nothing I've ever seen—thousands of Gazans streaming across the border in search of Egyptian bargains and a little breathing room.
I'm sure Lou Dobbs has already thought of this, but I wonder how this kind of imagery is going to play in the immigration debate in the United States. I'll be on the lookout for statements from the candidates on this, if they haven't made them already.
In the wake of U.S. President George W. Bush's visit, it appears that more violence, rather than the hoped-for peace, is breaking out in the Palestinian territories. Israeli Defense Minister and Labor Party leader Ehud Barak has promised to step up the assault on Gaza militants who have been attacking southern Israel with Qassam rockets:
Even as we stand here, Qassam fire continues. The [Israel Defense Force (IDF)] will continue in its ongoing operation and deepen it in order to strike at the perpetrators, until the firing stops… It won't be easy, it won't happen this weekend, but we will bring an end to Qassam attacks on Sderot."
To add to the chorus, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had this to say:
The answer to the Qassam rocket attacks is an uncompromising war on terror which originates from Gaza, and not only through dialogue and negotiations. [Israel] must be clear: when speaking of a Palestinian state, we are talking about two parts—Gaza and the West Bank."
The Hamas government in Gaza has reportedly agreed to try and stop the rocket fire, but tellingly warned that it would be difficult to do so if Israeli military assaults continue.
Honestly though, how can anyone ask people on either side to negotiate for peace while bombs are falling on their civilians? It sounds like the roadmap needs a detour: Get Gaza under control, then talk about what comes next.
Commenting on U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to the Persian Gulf, Shibley Telhami argues that the Arab governments are essentially using the Iran issue to pressure the United States to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front:
Israel and the Bush administration place great emphasis on confronting Iran's nuclear potential and are prepared to engage in a peace process partly to build an anti-Iran coalition. Arabs see it differently. They use the Iran issue to lure Israel and the United States into serious Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking, having concluded that the perceived Iranian threats sell better in Washington and Tel Aviv than the pursuit of peace itself. [...]
Arab governments are less worried about the military power of Hamas and Hezbollah than they are about support for them among their publics. They are less worried about a military confrontation with Iran than about Iran's growing influence in the Arab world. In other words, what Arab governments truly fear is militancy and the public support for it that undermines their own popularity and stability.
I think that's right, but it raises the question: Who's fooling whom? Very few analysts expect much forward progress on Middle East peace during the last year of Bush's presidency. Why shouldn't both the Israelis and Palestinians wait him out to see if they can get a better deal from the next U.S. leader? That also goes for Gulf states' relations with the Iranians. The next American president might well be less confrontational toward Tehran. Why risk Iranian retaliation now by going along with the U.S. containment approach, only to have to reverse course in 2009?
What's more, the strategy of punishing Iran works against the pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. An isolated Iran has a major incentive to lash out and disrupt the peace process via its local allies, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad. Olmert's governing coalition is shaky, and a few well-timed terrorist attacks within Israel could throw even the most promising negotiations off course. And with Olmert now saying that there will be no peace unless Hamas-ruled Gaza ceases to be a threat, you have a recipe for paralysis.
Haaretz reports on U.S. President George W. Bush's trip to the West Bank:
The president said Israel and the Palestinians must both live up to their commitments under the long-dormant road map for peace.
"On the Israeli side that includes ending settlement expansion and removing unauthorized outposts," Bush said. On the Palestinian side that includes confronting terrorists and dismantling terrorist infrastructure ... no agreement and no Palestinian state will be born of terror."
Bush added that a future Palestinian state can't look like "Swiss cheese"—rather, it has to be "viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent." He also used the word "occupation" to describe the Israeli presence in the West Bank, a loaded term in Israeli politics that was unexpectedly deployed by former PM Ariel Sharon in 2003 (and has since become less loaded). In other words, Bush went farther than he has in the past to express his sympathy for the Palestinian side of the argument.
But the Israeli government isn't convinced that "ending settlement expansion" is in Israel's interests. The Jerusalem Post has the latest:
Israel will continue building in Jerusalem as well as in major settlement blocs in the West Bank, even as a construction freeze continues elsewhere in the territories, a senior Israeli official said Thursday.
The remarks come just two days after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told The Jerusalem Post that the US opposes any new construction in the southeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, and does not distinguish between Israeli building in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
It's not clear whether Bush meant "ending settlement expansion" to include the deeply controversial Har Homa, but Rice, at least, seemed unusually unequivocal and explicit about it. We'll have to see what happens next.
It's not clear whether Bush meant "ending settlement expansion" to include the deeply controversial Har Homa, but Rice, at least, seemed unusually unequivocal and explicit about it. We'll have to see what happens next.
Saeb Erekat, the veteran and colorful Palestinian negotiator, told a good joke at today's Brookings event on Annapolis. It was his way of explaining why we need new negotiations after nearly two decades of failed diplomacy. I'm going to paraphrase it here:
An Israeli and a Palestinian are watching a Western. In the movie, a cowboy is riding bareback on a particularly wild horse. The Israeli, being aggressive, says to the Palestinian, "I'll bet you 10 shekels he falls." The Palestinian, being impulsive, replies immediately, "I'll bet you he doesn't."
The cowboy falls, and the Palestinian forks over 10 shekels. The Israeli, feeling that famous Israeli guilt, refuses them. Then he admits, "I've seen this movie before."
The Palestinian replies, "So have I. But I thought he would learn from his mistake."
Erekat stressed that it's up to Israelis and Palestinians themselves to make a deal work, and he believes it can happen in as little as three months if both parties are willing to make the big decisions. But, as former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger told FP, it's probably going to take a heck of a lot of involvement from U.S. President George W. Bush as well. Find out why in this week's Seven Questions.
While it's somewhat helpful to at least appear to be keeping a process going, very few Middle East analysts are hopeful that Annapolis will bring peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.
The main reason? Both Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are too weak to make a deal stick, even if the basic parameters of a peace settlement are widely known at this point.
Far more encouraging is Syria's willingness to send its deputy foreign minister to Annapolis, despite the fact that Israel bombed a suspected nuclear facility back in September. Damascus even spurned a request from the Iranians, who wanted the Syrians to stay home with them and pout, and ignored the views of their client, Hamas. The Syrians are desperate for a deal, but they don't want it to look like they're surrendering—and they don't want to burn their bridges with Tehran until they have faith that entering the Western and Arab fold will be worthwhile. Many questions remain, among them:
Still, it's an encouraging sign that U.S. officials seem more open to the idea, which has been kicked around in policy circles for years, of peeling the Syrians away from their Iranian friends. And the Israelis are certainly enthusiastic about the concept, which helps:
Maybe it's time to employ the carrot to remove [Syria] from the axis of evil," the deputy chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, said in Washington last month. This will "prevent the Iranian influence," he said.
So, while most of the media attention is going to focus on Olmert and Abbas, I'm going to be watching closely to see what how Syria handles this summit.
Anne Applebaum airs the familiar complaint that the Iraq mess has made real sanctions on Iran less likely. She then goes on to say:
What, then, are we left with? Fingers crossed, that those who say Iran's nuclear bomb is years away are right. Fingers crossed, that maybe Iran really does just want a civilian nuclear program. Fingers crossed, that if Iran gets nukes, its government will behave responsibly.
Fingers crossed? Anne, like many other pundits, seems to have forgotten about a well-developed doctrine called "deterrence." During the Cold War, math whizzes at places like the Rand Corporation churned out reports and game-theory matrices on the subject; in other words, we know a lot about it, and it's a lot more sophisticated than a pundit's "fingers crossed."
But you don't have to have a black belt in deterrence theory to understand the issues when it comes to Iran's would-be nukes. Let's take the case of Israel, which would theoretically be the country most threatened by an Iran with nuclear weapons. Israel reportedly has upwards of 200 nuclear bombs and/or warheads and second-strike capability. Notably, Israel has three nuclear-armed submarines; Iran has no technology that can detect them.
In the extremely unlikely event that the mullahs are foolish enough to launch their unreliable missiles on Tel Aviv and/or Jerusalem (most likely killing tens of thousands of Muslims and destroying several major Islamic holy sites in the process), Israel will annihilate Iran. With their submarines, the Israelis can do so even if their entire country is destroyed first. Boom. That's deterrence.
It's that simple. And the United States offers another order of magnitude of deterrent power. Sanctions and negotiations may yet prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons; there is plenty of time, and there is no hard evidence that Iran has even made the political decision to weaponize. But even if diplomacy fails, as no less a personage than former CENTCOM commander John Abizaid said recently, "Nuclear deterrence would work with Iran." Just like it worked with the Soviets, who were vastly more powerful and much more aggressive. This is not to say that there wouldn't be problems, but they would be manageable.
Haaretz reports on the Israeli military intelligence view of the upcoming Middle East peace talks in Annapolis, which are slated for November 26:
Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence believes that the U.S-sponsored summit is likely to fail, and that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas might step down as a result. [...]
As Haaretz reported a few weeks ago, MI believes the chances for success at Annapolis are "close to nil."
These MI guys are the ultimate, hardboiled realists. If they see the odds of success as "close to nil," they're probably on the money. Gideon Lichfield, Jerusalem correspondent for The Economist, comments on his personal blog:
Moshe Milner/GPO via Getty Images
[T]he only one really interested in this [summit] any more is Condi Rice.
One source tells me they will hold the summit without any joint declaration on the substantive issues, merely an agreement on the negotiating process to follow it. That might be so — this source has been right before — but it might just be too embarrassing for everyone concerned. It would especially embarrass Abbas, who has been pretty categorical about how he won't turn up unless Israel makes concrete promises.
And the most foolish-looking would be Rice herself. She has been pushing Annapolis as the answer to America's problem of how to increase Abbas’s legitimacy, which is America's strategy for its broader problem of how to weaken Islamist movements like Hamas. If Abbas caves in and comes to a meaningless summit it will do nothing for his legitimacy or America's policy goals (which I think are quite warped, but that’s another matter).
So I still wouldn't rule out some kind of breakthrough as the date gets closer. But given the limited pressure that Rice is willing or able to apply to either [Israeli PM Ehud] Olmert or Abbas, it will be a minimal breakthrough designed not to bring peace but to save face: Rice's face, first and foremost.
Ouch. And it's not just Abbas whose neck could be on the line. Olmert is struggling to beat back a reputation for corruption. He also faces a serious challenge from Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is carving out political space to Olmert's right and seems eager to torpedo Rice's summit. Olmert has admittedly lasted a lot longer than I thought he would and the Israeli economy is humming, but it's hard to imagine him fending off his rivals for too much longer. If the summit does fail and fighting breaks out again, his party might well decide to finally get rid of him. And the increasingly hawkish Barak is in a great position to take maximum advantage.
If there's one consensus ahead of the U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace talks in Annapolis, Maryland, it's that their chances of failure are rapidly increasing. A number of reports this week have cited the repeated failures of Israel and Palestine to make any inroads, including the inability of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come together on a joint statement on principles to guide the talks.
And it's unlikely that any progress will be made before the talks, scheduled for late next month. Or is it early December? As of now, the two sides can't agree on anything. For instance, Abbas said earlier this week he wants Lebanon and Syria to participate in the talks, although Olmert has ruled this out in an attempt to focus the talks on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
Internal divisions also hinder prospects for progress. Olmert lacks credibility among Israelis and therefore has scant support to make any real concessions. Abbas faces opposition from Hamas, who took the Gaza Strip earlier this year in what Abbas called an "illegitimate coup." So even if Israeli and Palestinian negotiators can come to a consensus, it's not likely they'll be able to sell it to their respective streets.
This all raises the question: Is it time to call off the talks? Is no progress better than failed progress? This is a sentiment that is becoming increasingly popular in Palestine, as many believe failure would invite new violence. According to one Palestinian official:
We can live without a conference but we can't live with a conference that fails. It will be good not just for Hamas, but for al-Qaeda too.
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.