February 26, 2010

Must We Waste Another Year?

The United States is re-establishing ties with Damascus and hoping to lure Syria away from Iran, but Lebanese scholar Tony Badran warns the Obama administration that Syria’s President Bashar Assad is laying a trap. The U.S., he writes in NOW Lebanon, needs to avoid making concessions until Assad “makes verifiable and substantial concessions on key Washington demands, not least surrendering Syrian support for Hamas and Hezbollah. Otherwise, Assad may dictate the avenues, conditions and aims of the engagement process.”

Syria has been cunningly outwitting Americans and Europeans for decades, and most Western leaders seem entirely incapable of learning from or even noticing the mistakes of their predecessors. Assad is so sure of himself this time around — and, frankly, he’s right to be — that he’s already announced the failure of President Obama’s outreach program. Yesterday he openly ridiculed the administration’s policy in a joint press conference with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Syria will not abandon its alliance with Iran, nor will it cease and desist its support for terrorist groups, until at least one of the two governments in question has been replaced. The alliance works for both parties. While Assad’s secular Arab Socialist Baath Party ideology differs markedly from Ali Khamenei’s Velayat-e Faqih, “resistance” is at the molten core of each one. Syria’s and Iran’s lists of enemies — Sunni Arabs, Israel, and the United States — are identical.

Understand the lay of the land. Syria is no more likely to join the de facto American-French-Egyptian-Saudi-Israeli coalition than the U.S. is likely to defect to the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis. It’s as if the U.S. were trying to pry East Germany out of the Communist bloc during the Cold War before the Berlin Wall was destroyed.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at February 26, 2010 9:44 AM
Comments
The idea that a year is being "wasted" assumes that the goal of the Obama administration's diplomacy is to actually stop the Iranians or Syrians from doing anything, rather than providing protective cover for them while they successfully obtain nuclear weapons. The real enemy for the State Department, under any administration for that matter, not just the Obama, is unilateral American power, especially military power but also political, cultural or economic.

No, I don't believe Obama is a secret Muslim or there is any secret conspiracy. This has always been the view of the internationalist left. They explicitly say so in many forums. While functioning as US diplomats they can't quite do that, as there is a party for American power, today usually described as the "neoconservatives" although that label is pretty inaccurate. They have to pay lip service to preventing the strengthening of our adversaries, although in private with a trusted audience they would come out and say what they really think.
Posted by: Thrasymachus at February 26, 2010 2:36 pm
It surprises me that Mr. Obama and his whole staff would try such foolishness with "engagement" and that type of nonsense.
Posted by: Ali at February 26, 2010 4:15 pm
I like your East Germany analogy, Michael. But such an analogy is for students of history, not the "new."
Posted by: Paul S. at February 26, 2010 5:44 pm
While Assad’s secular Arab Socialist Baath Party ideology differs markedly from Ali Khamenei’s Velayat-e Faqih, “resistance” is at the molten core of each one. Syria’s and Iran’s lists of enemies — Sunni Arabs, Israel, and the United States — are identical.
Syria is a case (along with its hated Ba'athist rival Iraq) of 'secular' in the Middle East meaning 'the ruling group is from a religious minority'. It is perfectly true that Syria is Sunni in population but it is Alawite in ruling elite. So allying with fellow Shi'a Iran and Hezbollash makes perfect sense. They literally speak a common religious language, at least in general.

It also means that foreign crusades and enemies are necessary to maintain power. The worst thing that could happen to the Alawite regime in Syria is genuine peace breaking out, since that would make domestic politics dominant and leave their minority rule naked.
Posted by: Lorenzo at February 26, 2010 8:53 pm
"Syria has been cunningly outwitting Americans and Europeans for decades"

Well, I am not sure if I agree with that. It is more like "Americans and Europeans have been half-witted in their dealing with Syria for decades."

It is my feeling that we have been approaching Syria, as we approach much of the Middle East with a profound naivety. Many seem to have been lulled by the rhetoric that they are mean because they are treated badly and if you are simply nice to them, they will be nice to you. It is sort of like expecting a mugger to leave you alone if you are polite to him and don't attempt to resist or confront him. In the end you simply end up losing your wallet with less fuss on the mugger's part.

I have no doubt that we could outwit Syria six ways to Sunday if we were on our game with them but apparently there is some desire on the part of the career diplomats to treat a regional bully as if they are simply a misguided child.

Syria isn't outwitting us, they are taking advantage of us. I get the feeling that State looks at Syria like some kind of Middle Eastern "Cornpatch County" (to pull in an old Hee Haw reference).

We are probably going to have to suffer this sort of diplomatic incompetence for another 20 years or so, until the "boomers" are finally out of government. It is a cultural flaw with people of that generation. They are still living in the Summer of '69.
Posted by: crosspatch at February 26, 2010 11:33 pm
Everyone is aghast that Israel assassinated a motherfucking bloody Hamas terrorist, meanwhile BO is cozying up to a regime that assassinated the democratically elected leader of a neighboring country.
Posted by: Gary Rosen at February 27, 2010 2:33 am
Double standards are the new normal, Gary. Maybe the old normal too. Pathologically violent and irrational regimes get treated better than democratic governments that behave responsibly. Just as playground bullies get treated better than nerds. The downside is that when somebody does decide to take out a pariah regime, nobody sheds any tears. Only problem is, it doesn't really work that way. There's no downside to being a sadistic asshat, which is probably why that's such a popular choice in the developing world where the prosperity and happiness of citizens is irrelevant.
Posted by: Craig at February 27, 2010 1:01 pm
It surprises me that Mr. Obama and his whole staff would try such foolishness with "engagement" and that type of nonsense.

Ali, I don't think Obama is mentally retarded so I assume Syria made significant concessions in exchange for improved relations with the US. And since such concessions would embarrass Syria, I also assume we'll never know what they were. If Obama did initiate this action merely out of desire for "engagement" then I'm mistaken about Obama not being mentally retarded. However, I'm going with the former because the latter has some serious negative connotations that I'd rather not think about. The whole world paid a heavy price for Jimmy Carter's ineptness, and we are all still paying. We don't need any more of that.
Posted by: Craig at February 27, 2010 1:10 pm
"I assume Syria made significant concessions in exchange for improved relations"

I wouldn't be surprised if there were concessions but I'm doubtful that they were actually "significant". This is a high-stakes poker game with Amarillo Slim (Syria) going against Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (the current administration).
Posted by: Gary Rosen at February 27, 2010 1:19 pm
I assume Syria made significant concessions in exchange for improved relations with the US. And since such concessions would embarrass Syria, I also assume we'll never know what they were.

Ultimately the only 'concessions' are ones that are publicly stated in a way that counts.

When Assad formally kicks Hamas out of Damascus, cuts off Hezbollah, and stops hosting Ahmadinejad who promises genocide while a guest of the Syrian regime, that's when I'll believe there are any concessions. Until then, Obama remains the fool.
Posted by: Li'l Mamzer at February 27, 2010 3:54 pm
Li'l Mamzer,

When Assad formally kicks Hamas out of Damascus, cuts off Hezbollah, and stops hosting Ahmadinejad who promises genocide while a guest of the Syrian regime, that's when I'll believe there are any concessions.

You are assuming that Israel, Lebanon and Palestine are the issues that matter to the Obama Administration when it comes to Syria. I don't think that's the case. They aren't even the issues that matter to me. I'd say Iraq and Iran are what the US Administration wants concessions out of Syria on. Hezbollah is only peripheral, and Palestine/Israel aren't in the mix at all.

I think it's unlikely that the US got anything out of Syria in regards to Iran, but it's quite possible something that affects Iraq was negotiated, and that might be enough for the Obama Administration. It depends how serious they are about Iran, I suppose. Even if Obama *is* committed to stopping teh Islamic Republic from obtaining nukes (or to regime change, even) there is very little that Syria can do to influence that. My guess is the Admin was looking for something out of Syria re: Iraq, and possibly trying to diminish Iran's influence in the country a little bit. That wouldn't have been enough for me, but for Obama? Who knows.
Posted by: Craig at February 27, 2010 4:22 pm
Any "concession" they got from the Syrians can be considered as words only without any binding commitment.
Cynic that I am, I think the Obama admin. and especially the State Dept. suffer from an overabundance of wishful thinking. They will believe anything as long as it supports their world view and how they wish things to be; sort of like Chamberlain coming back to England waving a piece of paper, foolishly believing it all, an act supremely detrimental to his country. And now we have the same thing all over again.
We're in big trouble folks!
Posted by: yesjb at February 27, 2010 4:28 pm
You are assuming that Israel, Lebanon and Palestine are the issues that matter to the Obama Administration when it comes to Syria. I don't think that's the case. They aren't even the issues that matter to me.

No, I don't assume that. These issues matter to me at least as much as the others you mention. I do believe the Obama administration would be right to care, though; vital American interests are at stake, there, as well.
Posted by: Li'l Mamzer at February 27, 2010 5:30 pm
Li'l Mamzer,

I do believe the Obama administration would be right to care, though; vital American interests are at stake, there, as well.

I don't think it's a matter of caring or not caring. It's unlikely the US can manage to change things on that front in any meaningful way. That goes for Lebanon as well as Israel and Palestinian territory.
Posted by: Craig at February 27, 2010 6:55 pm
"Ali, I don't think Obama is mentally retarded so I assume Syria made significant concessions in exchange for improved relations with the US. "

I would assume no such thing. Obama is going to want relations with Syria for its own sake, just so he can say he reestablished relations with Syria, as if that in and of itself has any value. He is a political animal and it is all about spin. This is window dressing. I don't think it matters to Obama if anything actually comes of it or not. The fact that we have reestablished relations punches the ticket in the needed spot with him (Obama).

And regarding the state of his mentality, he has so far shown nothing to indicate he is any great mental giant.
Posted by: crosspatch at February 27, 2010 10:40 pm
The entire foreign policy of the current US administration is meant to prove, without a doubt, the following "truths":

1. That the neo-conservative view of the world (which "hijacked", so-believed, US policy during the Bush years) is entirely wrong and inimical to "true" US interests.

2. That the Israel Lobby (so-called) has compromised "true" US interests and its existence is a danger to those interests. Thus, the Israel Lobby must be put in its place, as it were; must be shown that its putting (so-believed) Israel's interests before America's will get no support by this administration, and in fact, will be resisted with all the resolve that this administration can command.

(Numbers 1 and 2 are, of course, related.)

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that this administration, which has bought, lock, stock and barrel, the elaborate fantasy spun by Walt & Mearsheimer and which as a result has decided to jettison its relationship with Israel, has discovered, that the necessary consequence---that is, if it didn't choose to do so intentionally---is the abandonment of other traditional American allies; the abandonment of America's traditional role as a force for good (at the end of the day); the appeasement of totalitarian states under the illusion that such states can be persuaded to act in ways they cannot and would never dream of acting; in short, the abandonment of America as a reliable power.

Has decided, in essence, that weakening America it the core policy that should be pursued (under the guise of: "OK, bud, how do you define "weaker"?)

Nor should it come as a surprise that when the ramifications of this choice become clear, the Israel Lobby (so-called) will also be blamed for it as well.
Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 1, 2010 5:41 am
Syria has outwitted Syria.

Assad tells himself he is a daring and dynamic leader, but meanwhile Syria's infrastructure is 40 years old and crumbling. Syria outnumbers Isreal 3:1 but their economy is half of Isreal's.

Assad could learn from Turkey's Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Ataturk was the George Washington of Turkey. Ataturk took the best parts of the constitutions of the western powers. He was larger than life. During the great depression, Turkey was recovering faster than the USA.
Ataturk's magnificence built Turkey to THE power in the region. He knew to seperate Politics and Islam to strengthen both. Syria is 90% Muslim but secular Turkey is 99.8% Muslim. Since Ataturk's death, the Mideast has never seen such a leader again.

"The Western press was dazzled by the splendor of Hitler's and Mussolini's ceremonies, until WWII revealed their true nature. The West was also fooled by the promises of communism until the huge Soviet Union disintegrated from its own inefficiency. Only Atatürk's ideas and his Turkish Republic survived until today. It took the West quite a long time to realize that, but realize it finally did." [Orhan Tarhan]

Ataturk treated all men as sons of the same God. He would never attack Isreal or treat them like rats to be exterminated. After winning a great victory against Australia and New Zeland forces he said of the Anglo soldiers "...After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well". Who was the last Muslim to defeat western forces?

While Syria bends over backwards to trick Americans, the spine of their Socialist Utopia continues to buckle under the weight of their crippling bureaucratic police state.

If anyone outwits America, it is Isreal. Their economy is the strongest in the Mideast, their Military is the strongest, but yet they manage to get more aid from America than all the arab countries combined.

Arab leaders are unimaginative and are content to let their countries stagnate rather than risk losing power. Assad has done well to hold onto power but he has done little to lead his country.

Iraq sits on a lot of oil, is protected by the US military umbrella, receives US aid, has little debt, an educated population, and a mostly secular and free constitution. Iraq is the new up and coming power in the Mideast. But Iraq is fragile and could collapse before democracy takes root. Assad could use Iraq's rise to lift his own people. This should be possible because the peoples of Mesopotamia have a lot of common culture and history.

Assad could guarantee power and glory for Syria by:

1. Making a speech about shared Mesopotamian culture and strength of the birthplace of civilization.

2. Advocating the creation of a "Mesopotamian League" which would include the states of Syria, Iraq, and others who wish to share in the Nationalism of the region. Overtly and Covertly protecting Iraq's fragile democracy so the people vote to join the league.

3. Using Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's playbook to create free markets and economic growth similar to China's. Ataturk leveraged nationalism to make unthinkable changes. All Assad has to do to make any change he wants is get back the Golan Heights. He could do that by using the United States to lean on Isreal.

The "Golan Repatriation" can be achieved using joint US, Iraqi and Syrian administration of Golan for 10 years. Then joint Iraqi and Syrian administration for 10 years, then just Syrian administration. The beauty is by using Iraqis, it draws both countires closer to the Mesopotamian League. It would be better for Iraq, Syria and Isreal if Iraq stays with Syria in Golan forever. It gives Assad future political cover to keep him out of wars.
Posted by: Greg from USA at March 1, 2010 9:55 am
Mike, the title of this article is "Must we waste another year?" so I was wondering what you thought the US ought to be doing this year - or next year - instead of engaging in diplomatic and a political approach to Iran/Syria?

More war-fighting? A third front for the US' overstretched military? Green light another Israel-Lebanese war? Ignite a regional war via an attack on Iran? Collude with an Israeli attack on Iran? Sponsor sub-state groups? Assassinations, super-sanctions? All of the above?!

It's all very well you and the cyber-acolytes chiding this administration on "wasting time" but what would you (all) actually advocate instead?

It might be that in the current multi-polar global environment - as Craig suggests - neither the US nor Israel is any longer in the position to dominate, or influence outcomes, in the way that once they were -- and perhaps this is something that both states will just have to learn to live with. Like everyone else.
Posted by: Microraptor at March 1, 2010 10:30 am
Syria plays an important role in the region and no US administration can circumvent the syrians, and that is why the Assad clan is very good at playing this game with the western world. What is obvious though, is when the US flexed its muscles towards Syria back in 2005, it forced their army to leave Lebanon in a hurry, when it warned damascus of grave repercussions for its provocations in Iraq, the syrians backed down. When Israel bombed a suspected facility in Syria, they buried the rubble and its evidence in record time and tried to hush the matter up. The only way to deal with the syrians is from a position of authority backed up by the threat of military action. The Assad regime's only pre-occupation is maintaining itself in power and self preservation. Only when their regime is perceived to be in danger will they agree to listen and fall in line with US policy albeit grudgingly.
Posted by: Mason at March 1, 2010 1:21 pm
Any negotiations with Syria are a sham. With the Alawites removed from power, the local version of Ikhwan rises to prominence. There is simply no alternative that is less horrible than the Assad clan & co. The Chinless Giraffe knows this full well and milking it for all it's worth.

I presume that the sham is for the benefit of some domestic American power group.
Posted by: Abu Sa'ar at March 1, 2010 1:33 pm
Mason posted above that "Syria plays an important role in the region and no US administration can circumvent the syrians . . ." Syria's importance in the region is something I have heard about many times and it must be true, but I am wondering why they are so important.

I know they border Lebanon and have the military means, to pressure Lebanon as long as Hezbollah is neutral or on Syria's side, but could Syria dominate Lebanon if Hezbollah said "no"? Does Syria have a sufficient economy to have influence in Lebanon without support from Iran? Same question re Syria's military? If Hezbollah and Iran forge a direct link even stronger than the current one, does that lessen Syria's relevance?

It always struck me that Syria's chief strength is its position vis-a-vis influence with and on other players, but it does not, on its own, have much intrinsic strength or power.

Is this right? I really don't know. All I know is that Syria's importance always seemed like the proverbial boxer punching above his weight.
Posted by: dontgetit at March 1, 2010 1:44 pm
Syria is no more likely to join the de facto American-French-Egyptian-Saudi-Israeli coalition than the U.S. is likely to defect to the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis.

But the U.S. doesn't have to defect to the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis.

All the U.S. has to do is signal that it won't lift a finger---or that it can't lift a finger---to help its purported ally in the region and, given that axis's aim and preparations to achieve those aims, you have created the conditions for a serious war.

(But who really cares, right?)
Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 1, 2010 1:54 pm
All the U.S. has to do is signal that it won't lift a finger---or that it can't lift a finger---to help its purported ally in the region and, given that axis's aim and preparations to achieve those aims, you have created the conditions for a serious war.

Barry, I somewhat agree with you there. I think at best Obama's attempts at engaging the bad actors in the ME will merely preserve the status quo for x more years. At worst, there's going to be hell to pay. And which of those two scenarios plays out is not even something the US has any control over, since Obama is going out of his way to cede the initiative.

But since when did Israel care about a serious war? If Israel wants the support of the US, then Israel should stop building settlements. At the least. That's a US demand that Israel has not met. Americans don't support the building of settlements, Barry. I personally don't support the building of settlements. Amongst other things, it's illegal. It's a hard sell to try to claim Obama is tuning Israel out, when every suggestion Obama has had has been rejected by Israel. What's he supposed to do? Get Arabs to make concessions, when Israel will not? Fat chance. He probably couldn't get any meaningful concessions out of Arabs even if Israel did play along, but under the current circumstances I don't blame him a bit for focusing his attention elsewhere, on matters where he might actually be able to make some progress.
Posted by: Craig at March 1, 2010 3:06 pm
test
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 1, 2010 6:57 pm
I'm not interested in war, Microraptor. But like I said, there is a huge range of options between sucking up to tyrants and invading their countries. Just about anything--name it--between those extremes is preferable to me right now.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 1, 2010 6:57 pm
He probably couldn't get any meaningful concessions out of Arabs even if Israel did play along, but under the current circumstances I don't blame him a bit for focusing his attention elsewhere, on matters where he might actually be able to make some progress.

After Obama decided to change the rules of the game (Oslo, Quartet, face-to-face negotiations, what have you---which weren't getting anywhere anyway because there is nothing that Israel can offer the Palestinians except committing suicide) and focus exclusively on settlements, he gave the Palestinian "negotiators" something they hadn't had until then: official American approval for continuing to stall negotiations.

Not they really need any reasons to stall negotiations. They have enough as it is---with their demands that Israel return to the May 1967 armistice lines and repatriation of Palestinian refugees to within Israel.

The settlement issue was part of the negotiating package to be resolved through give and take (otherwise known as negotiating). It was never the crux of the matter. But Obama, in his ineptness, made it so, and provided the Palestinians with another card they didn't have previously.

So much for the progress that Obama was/is supposedly attempting to make.

So much for those who really believe he will be able to make any.

The only progress that his policies and positions might make is creating the conditions for encouraging a war that will break the logjam. Not that he'll be entirely to blame. Iran, Syria, Hezbullah and Hamas have been ramping up now for years.

If Israel loses this next round (keeping in mind that Israel can only lose once), most everyone's happy and the Arabs and their friends can get back to the business of killing each other. On the other hand, if Israel wins, it merely earns more vilification, and the Arabs can get back to the business they know (and do) so well: playing the victim and dumping on Israel.

And we're back to the logjam.
Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 1, 2010 9:55 pm
Craig, your posts are usually very insightful but I believe you are making way too much of Israeli settlements. As is so often the case in the Middle East, they are not a reason but an excuse for the Arabs. You, and microraptor, might be surprised to know that I have no fervent desire to maintain the settlements deep in the West Bank (to be distinguished from "settlements" that are suburbs of Jerusalem). But the idea that the settlements are the big obstacle to peace is laughable.

Arabs were threatening to "drive Israel into the sea" and "finish what Hitler started" when *they* held the West Bank, and were doing even less than Israel to foster a Palestinian state. We've been through this movie before - for nearly two decades we heard about the horrible "occupation" of southern Lebanon and how Israel needed to evacuate for there to be any progress toward peace in the region. So Israel unilaterally withdrew in 2000 and the result was nada (or worse, see 2006) - now they're screaming about the Shebaa farms which is the biggest fraud ever. And Israel *did* evacuate its settlements in Gaza - we all know how much good that did.

As for Americans not supporting the settlements, most of them don't give a rat's ass. Support for Israel is as strong as ever, and if Israel did evacuate my guess it wouldn't move the anti-Israel crowd any more than the evacuation of Lebanaon. Or the Gaza settlements. Or [insert latest anti-Israel talking point here]...
Posted by: Gary Rosen at March 1, 2010 11:31 pm
"Must We Waste Another Year?"


I don't know how you can call this wasted when there was almost nothing gained from the Bush approach. In fact the Bush approach of supporting anti-syria groups in Lebanon almost instigated a civil war.
Posted by: tg at March 2, 2010 12:20 am
Barry,

...he gave the Palestinian "negotiators" something they hadn't had until then: official American approval for continuing to stall negotiations.

The Palestinians aren't the only ones stalling negotiations, nor have they ever been in my opinion. It seems to me whenever the topic comes up in a formal setting, the Gov't of Israel either engages in some provocative act or announces a hard-line set of demands that it must be obvious the Palestinians are not going to comply with. That's called "talking out of both sides of your mouth" where I come from. If Israelis really believe that Palestinians don't want peace (and I'm inclined to believe that too) then why not make it obvious that the Palestinians and their backers are the &real* obstacle to peace, by offering a fair deal?

The settlement issue was part of the negotiating package to be resolved through give and take (otherwise known as negotiating). It was never the crux of the matter.

I agree with you on that. The settlements can be resolved during negotiations over the final status of borders. However, the US and every other member of the UN (as far as I know) except Israel believe the settlements to be in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Why continue building and expanding them? As far as I know the Obama administration wants to be on your side, but they don't want to be seen as supporting Israel in ongoing violations of the Geneva Conventions.

Gary,

As for Americans not supporting the settlements, most of them don't give a rat's ass.

You might be surprised.

Support for Israel is as strong as ever...

I agree with you there. But what we were discussing was how much effort the Obama Administration was willing to put into resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. My estimate is "not much" and I listed my reasons why. I don't think there's much point to criticizing the man for NOT investing heavily in trying to produce an outcome that is almost certainly impossible. He's got plenty of other stuff on his plate to deal with.
Posted by: Craig at March 2, 2010 12:34 am
You express the narrative beautifully: Both parties are to blame. A pox on both their houses.

But let's review some of the things that you and many others would prefer to ignore, forget or disparage.
1. Barak's offer of a Palestinian state and the Palestinian response (years of suicide bombing and bloodshed).
2. Barak's decision to withdraw from South Lebanon leading to a massive military buildup on the part of Hezbullah together with continued threats of annihilating Israel, leading to war in 2006.
3. Sharon's decision to withdraw from Gaza, leading to the takeover of Gaza by Hamas, continued rocket attacks on Israeli population centers, continued threats of annihilating Israel, leading to war in 2008.
4. Olmert's offer to Abbas for a Palestinian State in 2008, rejected by Abbas.
5. Palestinian demands of complete Israel withdrawal to the May 1967 armistice lines, including Jerusalem.
6. Palestinian continual demands that Israel allow Palestinian refugees to resettle in their former homes in pre-May 1967 Israel.
7. Palestinian rejection of recognizing Israel as a Jewish State (because 1, they will never recognize the rights of Jews to have a state in the region; and 2, if they do recognize Israel as a Jewish state, it will weaken their demands of Palestinian refugee repatriation (see number 6)).

The fact is that Israel's existence is the provocation here, whatever it is that Israel does or does not do.

The fact is that it is Israel that the Palestinians would like to erase, whereas Israel would like the Palestinians to have a country called Palestine that does not threaten Israel's existence.

However, after leaving S. Lebanon and leaving Gaza and seeing the results, the Israelis (most of them, at least) have no illusions that giving up control of the West Bank will result in exactly the same tightening of the noose around Israel's neck, will invite exactly the same aggression against her (which is of course, not "aggression" since her very existence is the "aggression" here and the Arabs only attempt to destroy her in self-defense...., etc.)

The fact is that the areas under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction are relatively flourishing, as part of a US/Israel strategy of trying to give the Palestinians encouragement at maintaining some kind of detente with Israel. (This is an illusion in my opinion, because the same thing was tried during the 1990s and blew up in Israel's face when Arafat decided it was time to start another intifada---and the Palestinians are chafing at the idea that they can be "bought" by the US and Israel to prevent them from achieving their overall goal).

The fact is that the Palestinians have no intention of declaring a state as long as that state will have to exist side by side with Israel. Nor will they come to any decision that might lighten Israel's dilemma. The Palestinians have no intention of helping out Israel on this score, of showing that Israel has in fact been helping Palestinians, medically, economically, financially, and yes, militarily.

But no, none of this counts.

Aside from the successful deligitimization of the Jewish State globally, the Palestinians' most important achievement is to have persuaded essentially good, fair-minded people to conclude that Israel is just as responsible as the Palestinians for the fact that peace has not yet been achieved between the two peoples.

That the two are equally guilty.

This in a context where one party (Israel) has agreed to share the land---1938-39 (pre-Israel), 1948, 1967, 1999-2000, etc.---but the Palestinians continually deny the Jewish right to statehood.

It is an absurd perversion, but it is a prevalent one.

To say that Israel has not made mistakes would be wrong, as well. Israel has made its share of mistakes, of bad decisions, of fruitless choices.

But given the larger picture, there is no comparison.

Once again, there is no hope of convincing you or the likes of you. It is de rigeur to mock or deny all these attempts, just as it is de rigeur to disparage all of Israel's justifications and fears of destruction.

At the very least, Israel will worry about herself, take the measures she feels, rightly or wrongly, that will protect her.

And should these not prove in the end effective, "if I perish, I perish".

But she will not go meekly.
Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 2, 2010 1:33 am
You express the narrative beautifully: Both parties are to blame. A pox on both their houses.

Is that directed to me? lol

1. Barak's offer of a Palestinian state and the Palestinian response (years of suicide bombing and bloodshed).

That's one version of the story.

2. Barak's decision to withdraw from South Lebanon leading to a massive military buildup on the part of Hezbullah together with continued threats of annihilating Israel, leading to war in 2006.

I'm pretty sure Israel was supposed to withdraw from Lebanon in 1982 when Yassir Arafat and his PLO fighters were evacuated to Tunisia. Isn't that the deal that Menachem Begin had with Ronald Reagan? It's been a long time but as I recall THAT narrative, Begin was dragging his heals so that he could install Christians that he trusted to protect Israel's northern border.

3. Sharon's decision to withdraw from Gaza, leading to the takeover of Gaza by Hamas, continued rocket attacks on Israeli population centers, continued threats of annihilating Israel, leading to war in 2008.

The other version of that narrative is that Israel didn't want to be burdened with Gaza.

4. Olmert's offer to Abbas for a Palestinian State in 2008, rejected by Abbas.

Never even heard of that. Was anyone even paying attention to either Olmert or Abbas in 2008?

5. Palestinian demands of complete Israel withdrawal to the May 1967 armistice lines, including Jerusalem.

You act like that's an insult. Why?

6. Palestinian continual demands that Israel allow Palestinian refugees to resettle in their former homes in pre-May 1967 Israel.

Yes, you have a point there. The "right of return" is a non-starter.

7. Palestinian rejection of recognizing Israel as a Jewish State...

It doesn't matter if they recognize Israel as a Jewish state or not, Barry. Facts can't be changed with rhetoric. It may hurt some feelings, but it is ultimately pointless.

The fact is that Israel's existence is the provocation here, whatever it is that Israel does or does not do.

I don't disagree. So, what's your plan? Do you have one?


...That the two are equally guilty.

Once again, there is no hope of convincing you or the likes of you.

Again, I lol

Do Israelis TRY to turn friends into enemies? Or is it just you?
Posted by: Craig at March 2, 2010 3:18 am
Do Israelis TRY to turn friends into enemies? Or is it just you?

I'm a supporter of Israel and I'd have to say that yes, Israelis do tend to turn friends into enemies while making a futile attempt to turn enemies into friends.

But, then again, so do we. Most Republicans will work overtime to alienate their fellow Americans (and they'll call those Americans 'enemies' if they're Democrats) even though most American share the same basic goals.

Democrats do the same thing to Republicans. Both sides do this while making a futile attempt to win the friendship of terror-supporting foreign enemies (if those foreigners happen to temporarily be the enemies of our enemies).

Americans and Israelis share similar goals and the similar faults. We understand military strength but we're incompetent when it comes to politics and propaganda.
Posted by: Mary Madigan at March 2, 2010 8:51 am
"The other version of that narrative is that Israel didn't want to be burdened with Gaza."

So what? It doesn't count unless Israel does something that is diametrically opposed to its national interest? In the real world, actions like Israel's withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza could have led to a lessening of tensions and enhanced the prospects for peace regardless of the initial motive. But this isn't the real world, it's the Middle East.
Posted by: Gary Rosen at March 2, 2010 11:44 pm
Syria is to Iran what North Carolina is to the US. North Carolina does not have an independent foreign policy and neither does Syria. To peel Syria from Iran would require Iranian permission, and to say the least, this is unlikely.
Posted by: Clement Fong at March 3, 2010 8:42 am
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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