January 27, 2009

The Mother of All Quagmires

I've just returned from a week-long trip through Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Israel's border with Gaza, and I'm reminded all over again of what has been beaten into me during my many visits to the Middle East: there is no solution to the problems that vex that region right now. Most Americans are inherently optimistic and think just about any problem in the world can be solved. We put a man on the moon before I was born, but that was easy compared with securing peace between Israelis and Arabs.

The American Jewish Committee brought me and seven of my colleagues to Israel and set up interviews with Israeli military officers, politicians, academics, and journalists on the far-left, the far-right and at every point in between. One of my colleagues asked the eternal question during one of our meetings.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at January 27, 2009 7:43 AM
Comments
Oh man, Michael! worth every penny. Sadly this fits my experience and study of the situation closely.
Thanks
Posted by: AZZenny at January 27, 2009 8:23 am
Two great posts -- more please!
annand: The way I see it, the only justification for Israel risking the lives of so many civilian Gazans was if the war caused massive damage to Hamas, and thereby facilitated a better outcome for the Gazan people.
This prior thread comment fits on the Quagmire theme -- the key from the Israeli side is Stopping the Rockets.
Those who object to Israeli's actions should have some responsibility to come up with some alternative action, which also works towards the short term goal of Stopping Rockets. (Sort of like Obama will now need some non-Guantanomo place to hold probable terrorists.)
Michael added: Nation-building by Israelis in Gaza is impossible. The Palestinians will not let them. The hatred is just too high. It isn't like the US in Iraq where anti-Americanism is weaker and more flexible.
I flatly do NOT believe Israel has ever been serious about building Palestinian nation-hood. Certainly they didn't really try in their many years of Lebanon occupation. Nor do I believe that it is hopeless were they to try, tho admittedly tough.
I believe the only way out, without a nuked Tel Aviv or one evacuated, is for Israel to learn how to help / push / force Palestinians to do democracy better.
Re-occupy gaza or evacuate
Maybe in 2011 (?) the surviving Jews will, as victims of a terrorist nuke/WMD, be allowed by international opinion to be very agressive.
Evacuation would be better.
Time is not on Israel's side.
Susser says: but the 1948 file relates to our very being. It is nearly impossible to resolve because we cannot compromise on our being.
Yes -- so take MORE land now (100 000 Palestinians worth), heavy occupation with cement traffic separators, and teach those Palestinians democracy, human rights, and how to form production companies that produce goods for sale. Plan on giving THAT land back, in the Peace agreement.
Before Iran gets nukes.
Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at January 27, 2009 9:14 am
Forthright, commonsensical and undeluded. Worth some emphasis for that reason alone.
Here's the solution: settle in for the long haul, it's not going to go away, though perhaps within some number of decades the larger number of Sunni and Shi'a Muslims in the region will accept the idea and the reality that is the nation/state of Israel.
"Little" things such as the enculturation of hatred from pre-school ages and forward would first need to be confronted in the same forthright, undeluded and uncompromising manner - and that would represent a beginning only. Even that seems unlikely at this point.
In the interim, there are items such as Iran ... and Obama, imo, has not begun to send the right signals on that front, given his recent interview with al-Arabiya.
Posted by: Michael_B at January 27, 2009 12:40 pm
What is implied but remains unspoken are the two obvious solutions:
1. Elimination of Israel.
Or
2. Elimination of the Palestinians as a separate group.
You will note that I did not say exterminate.
President Ahmadinejad of Iran has suggested item 1 above as a solution: i.e. the removal of the Israelis. A latter day Exodus to Europe or the US.
On the other item, I have read the suggestion that the Palestinians be divided up and assimilated in the other Arab countries of the region. Unfortunately, nobody wants them.
One fundamental principal that everyone must grasp: Of all the players in the area, Israel wants peace the most and the Palestinians want peace the least.
Posted by: Steamboat Jack at January 27, 2009 12:55 pm
I say a pox on both their houses! On the Palestinians for refusing to recognize reality - the existence of Israel, now and forevermore, and insisting, stupidly, naively, on the "right of return". On the Israelis for strangling the Palestinians at every turn, for refusing to make Jeruselum (at least) an open city, and for a stupid, vapid, in-your-face-Palestinians settlement "policy".
Posted by: Kummin at January 27, 2009 2:16 pm
Michael, you've written above;
"A clear majority of Israelis would instantly hand over the West Bank and its settlements along with Gaza for a real shot at peace with the Arabs, but that
Posted by: Robert at January 27, 2009 3:28 pm
Good title, Michael.
Temporary containment, ad infinitum.
Maybe some future generation will tire of trying to kill jews.
Posted by: Paul S. at January 27, 2009 7:20 pm
A great article, with some really good points and quotes. Very nice job!
Posted by: Joe at January 27, 2009 7:51 pm
It would appear [to Robert] that a fairly large percentage of Israelis have no intention of withdrawing back to the borders established in 1976. All the news reports of settlers being removed by the Israeli government forces stress how unpopular these actions are with Israelis, and how few examples there are of such removals.
1. The settlers are not a large percentage of Israelis, although they are reproducing more rapidly than the average.
2. Many us moderate Israelis have come to regard removing settlers as futile because there is no guarantee that peace will follow, given the Palestinian, other Arab, not to mention Iranian, rhetoric that denounces Israel's right to exist.
Aligning the conflicting narratives of Israelis and Palestinians seems like trying square the circle. Discouraging.
Posted by: Savtadotty at January 27, 2009 10:45 pm
Good article and I was just thinking about this. Maybe some day there will come a time when Israelis and Arabs will realize that they are not so different and all the death is not worth it. Until then we can pray.
Posted by: beeaar at January 27, 2009 11:23 pm
beeaar:
Maybe some day there will come a time when Israelis and Arabs will realize that they are not so different and all the death is not worth it. Until then we can pray.

Actually, that day formally came for the Jews when they accepted the UN partition plan more than 60 years ago. And you do know that the Arabs (all of the Arab states plus the Arabs of Palestine) rejected it. You can say that Egypt and Jordan accept Israel, formally, but go into Abbas's office and you will see a map of "Palestine" on the wall completely obliterating Israel.
I would suggest you augment your prayers with a better-equipped toolkit of basic and pertinent facts regarding the persistent Arab rejection of Jewish sovereignty.
Posted by: Li'l Mamzer at January 28, 2009 3:49 am
I have been told that Israeli Arabs are already in the military service in Israel.
Michael, I hope you have some interviews with them.
I think the pre-1967 borders are the Saudi and most talked about borders. The Conv. Wisdom I've read indicates that diplomats expect the final agreement to involve giving back some equal amount of land, but not necessarily the exact '67 borders.
My own guess is that they're wrong. The only way Israel can achieve Peace is ... to lose. Something.
Important enough to feel the loss, so that the Palestinians who accept Israel feel they've "won".
Which leads to my earlier idea. Take more land now, heavy & controlled occupation & human rights development, with the plan to lose it back later. Later is when the Palestinians accept a Peace Agreement with Israel. And in the meantime, years not months nor weeks, the Israelis need to practice forcibly pushing Human Rights in their 'fully occupied' territories.
Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at January 28, 2009 3:50 am
Robert, you asked:
Where is the basis for this conclusion? ["A clear majority of Israelis would instantly hand over the West Bank and its settlements along with Gaza for a real shot at peace with the Arabs, but that
Posted by: maryatexitzero at January 28, 2009 9:42 am
"Providing an alternative to the oil economy should be their first priority."
My sentiment exactly.
I would've taken care of Iran, Russia, Saudis, and would've gotten EU off energy hook.
PS. I think Israelis are doing something with algae. Granted, not much but they are trying.
Posted by: leo at January 28, 2009 10:17 am
Thanks for the response, maryatexitzero. I did read the entire article on the Commentary Magazine site, and I don't think that addressed my question. I was asking Michael where he got the idea that a "clear majority of Israelis" would hand over the West Bank, when that conclusion is not supported in any of the quoted interviews or comments. Noting that Palestinians and Arab states insist on the right of return as non-negotiable is not an answer to my question.
According to the Associated Press, in an article published today on the Huffington Post web site;
"The Israeli pro-peace group Peace Now released a report Wednesday saying West Bank settlements expanded more in 2008 than they had the previous year. The report said 1,257 new structures were built in settlements during 2008, compared to 800 in 2007, an increase of 57 percent."
If, as Savtadotty posts above, the settlers are a minority within Israel, yet they have the support of moderate Israelis as well, it appears that Mr. Totten was not entirely accurate in characterizing the majority Israeli opinion about returning the West Bank territory to Palestinians as part of a peaceful solution to the conflict.
I'm sure that the irony is not lost on observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that Israel has turned Gaza into a modern-day ghetto.
Posted by: Robert at January 28, 2009 10:42 am
The EGYPTIANS occupied Gaza from 1948 to 1967, and THEY turned it into a modern day Ghetto. THEY set up the refugee camps, not Israel. Israel offered Gaza back to Egypt with the Sinai and were told no thanks. Did Israel mismanage the territories? Sure. But no worse than Egypt, Jordan, the PA, or Hamas.
Posted by: AZZenny at January 28, 2009 10:55 am
I was asking Michael where he got the idea that a "clear majority of Israelis" would hand over the West Bank, when that conclusion is not supported in any of the quoted interviews or comments. Noting that Palestinians and Arab states insist on the right of return as non-negotiable is not an answer to my question.
It is an answer if you also assume that most Israelis are both capable of reasoning and the possessors of functioning, undamaged brain systems.
As Savtadotty said:
Many us moderate Israelis have come to regard removing settlers as futile because there is no guarantee that peace will follow
Since we all know that the return of West Bank territory to Palestinians will be followed by a demand of the 'right of return', and since we know that the intent of the 'right of return' is to destroy Israel's democracy, we know there really is no genuine 'peace' deal on the table.
It's an obvious scam, the political equivalent of 3 card monte. You're asking why the Israelis don't trust the dealer. The answer should be obvious.
Posted by: maryatexitzero at January 28, 2009 11:20 am
Most Arab governments at least implicitly say they will recognize Israel's right to exist inside its pre-1967 borders . . . .
I am not aware of any Arab government that recognizes Israel's right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state within any borders.
The Arab position, reflected in their expressly non-negotiable "peace plan," is that Israel, and not the Arab countries who waged war against Israel in 1948, is solely responsible for the plight of the Arab refugees and their descendents. No Arab state has ever disavowed the UN's "Zionism is Racism" resolution, and I see no sign that any are prepared to do so.
When G.W. Bush toured the Mideast to drum up support for the Quartet's "road map" he asked the Arab heads of state to sign on to the goal of peaceful relations with the Jewish state of Israel; none would do so.
Posted by: Ben F at January 28, 2009 11:43 am
The notion of a Palestinian 'Right of Return' is a misnomer. What the Palestinians really desire is a 'Right to Return to Exterminate The Jews.' It really is that simple.
Day in and day out for decades, there has been one consistent Palestinian and Arab world message. Media, school curricula and pulpit preachers have all embraced the notion that Jews are subject to slaughter. Does anyone in their right mind believe that a Palestinian 'Right of Return' means that decades of hate, racism, bigotry and calls to genocide will simply melt away?
When nations that are that are led by or are under the influence of tyrants or dictators, attempt to justify their actions, we can rightly assume that justification is false. Tyrants and dictators do not make moral choices, because moral choices can only lead to the demise of the tyranny.
Anyone that comes to the defense of tyrannical regimes and their leaders, have themselves made a conscious choice to defend and stand by what is immoral. They themselves consciously adopt an immoral posture- and that includes anyone who supports a Palestinian Right of Return.
Posted by: sigmund, carl and alfred at January 28, 2009 11:53 am
This whole thing is screwed up. I don't want to get into the politics of it, but cmon, this whole fight is just crazy.
Posted by: science of identity foundation at January 29, 2009 5:15 am
The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 01/29/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.
Posted by: David M at January 29, 2009 8:09 am
Posted by: GT at January 29, 2009 2:23 pm
The best friends the settlers have is hamas and the palestinian rejectionists. Shortly before Hamas rocket attacks forced Israel to invade Gaza, the army forcibly removed a group of settlers that had illegally occupied a house in Hebron. This was followed by settler rioting and violent attacks against innocent Palestinians, all of which was heavily covered by the media. Israelis and the rest of the world were shocked and revolted by the site of Jews with yarmulkes acting like cossacks a hundred years ago. Suddenly, the settlers were on the defensive, and momentum was created that could have been used against them.
Then, the war started and everyone's attention was focused elsewhere. Israel once again found itself in the defendant's box of world opinion, right wing candidates began to rise in the polls, and the settlers were forgotten and free to carry on their mischief beneath the view of the Israeli public.
Posted by: MarkC at January 29, 2009 11:28 pm
One more point. The fact that settlement activity has increased is not because a majority of Israelis approve it. Like any intensely motivated, single-issue interest group, they have power far beyond their actual numbers. The central government in Israel is generally weak, and the settlers and their supporters have succeeded in building a shadow administration within the relevant departments which has allowed illegal settlement activities to fluorish under the nose of the government. This was the subject of a report by the Sharon government a few years back. In general, the army and the government wants quiet in the west bank, which means more often than not appeasing the settlers at the expense of the Palestinians.
This is not an excuse, but simply an explanation that what happens in the territories is not always with the knowledge or approval of citizens in Israel proper.
It also must be said that most Israelis, like Americans, Europeans, and other citizens of free countries, are concerned primarily with succeeding in their own lives. They have limited interest in the fate of the Palestinians, except when it is forced upon them in the evening news, and why should they? It is for the Palestinians to organize themselves into a credible partner for peace, rather than launching rockets and then screaming to the world community when their punishment comes. If the Palestinians could ever get it together in this regard, the majority of Israelis would be them. This is the settlers' worst nightmare, but it looks like they don't have much to worry about.
Posted by: MarkC at January 29, 2009 11:57 pm
Last point. The bypass roads were only built during the second intifada, when hamas terrorists were massacring settlers on the shared roads. This was a stated tactic of hamas, which they called "the war of the roads". Another example of terrorism paying negative dividends.
Posted by: MarkC at January 30, 2009 12:01 am
I have the impression a commenter or two might have been influenced by Bob Simon's recent reportage cum misanthropy on 60 Minutes. If any readers have been influenced by that report and they wish to be better informed, this piece is recommended.
Posted by: Michael_B at January 30, 2009 10:40 am
"It is for the Palestinians to organize themselves into a credible partner for peace, rather than launching rockets and then screaming to the world community when their punishment comes."
The Palestinian Arabs in Gaza have been recipients of "refugee" aid for over three generations. Their rent-seeking activities have been most successful: they don't see their welfare as being their responsibility. In common with other such welfare cultures from ancient Rome to modern Watts, the birth rate is high, the employment rate low, and the common pastime of young men is to aggressively seek respect from others. What motivation do the Arabs have to change anything?
Posted by: Solomon2 at January 30, 2009 11:56 am
MarkC, many Israelis seem to share your perspective. If only the Palestinians understood that most Israelis do not like settlers.
One of the worst crimes committed against the Palestinians (by the "ARAB BROTHERS," Israel, and their own horrible leaders) is their disastrous private sector. The Palestinian economy is massively dependent on external annual grants, which greatly limits their leverage and influence with respect to Israel.
Facilitating Palestinian private sector growth must be one of Israel's and Palestine's highest priorities. Israel cannot succeed or be safe unless the Palestinians succeed. Israel has as much a stake in Palestinian success as Israelis do.
Posted by: anand at January 30, 2009 12:32 pm
Israel cannot succeed or be safe unless the Palestinians succeed.
So, it is true for Lebanon and for all other Israeli neighbors as well. But will horse drink?
Posted by: leo at January 30, 2009 2:08 pm
anand,
For the Arabs who call themselves "Palestinians" as well as most other Arabs, "success" would be the obliteration of Israel. The idea that "success" for them would be similiar to what "westerners" generally might believe is a form of projection by yourself. Or disingenuity.
Posted by: del at January 31, 2009 8:07 pm
Well, there was a grad rocket launched at Ashkelon yesterday and today four rockets were launched at Sderot. Mercifully, no casualties or damage, although one landed near a kindergarten. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1060562.html
There is no question that this is a direct response from Tehran to Obama's love letter. I hope he gets over himself quickly. At some point, Israel will have to give some pushback, as difficult as it is to oppose the Americans.
If this continues, I will definitely be voting for Netanyahu, in spite of my hatred for the settlement movement. This will be an exact repeat of 2001, when Sharon won a landslide victory against the background of the second intifada and the barbarous suicide bombing campaign. Now as then, the Palestinians will get the Israeli leadership they asked for.
Posted by: MarkC at January 31, 2009 10:56 pm
Until Israel realises that it is just another shitty little tribe in the Levant, it hasn't a chance.
Its major benefactor, the US, is going bust, so it should stop making enemies worldwide and think of making a few new friends,
Posted by: richard01 at February 25, 2009 4:53 am
"The Arab position, reflected in their expressly non-negotiable "peace plan," is that Israel, and not the Arab countries who waged war against Israel in 1948,..: a
This perpetutes the myth.
According to historians and the evidence, this was a hoax perpetrated by Israeli Radio Broadcasts. No threats have been shown to originate from Egypt. These broadcasts preceded genocide, and clearance of the land of of Palestinians. These are facts.
"For the Arabs who call themselves "Palestinians" as well as most other Arab"
Palestinians, strictly speaking aren't Arabs, They are semetic people, yes.
"It also must be said that most Israelis, like Americans, Europeans, and other citizens of free countries, are concerned primarily with succeeding in their own lives. They have limited interest in the fate of the Palestinians, except when it is forced upon them in the evening news"
In Britain it is concerned people who lead in the news reporting. Not papers or journalists. In fact we, are concerned with truth and justice as a basis for peace; The view put forward above is merely to silence the voice of concerned and informed people. It is to suggest that we are powerless, and selfish. IN Britain , the general view is, that Israel is not a legitimate state; legitimacy, based upon a claim upon God's word, is not accepted. Nor is the source for that statement, which appears in Rabbinical writings.
Also, we view the insistence upon a 'Jewish' state of israel to be meaningless if it were to include muslims free to practice and be involved in government. We cannot understand such divisions, when we are the children of the same one god. We are also aware that, Palestine was a peaceful home for Jews prior to the European incursions, and even then, to begin with, they were welcomed and helped. We are also aware that 'Jew' is rather a modern term, and in fact the religion of 'jews' refers to Pharisees.
Of those Pharisees, most were to be found living peacefully inn their own villages in Ottoman lands, including Palestine.
Posted by: jakbop at May 25, 2009 8:48 pm
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