Monday, March 28, 2011


Gaza Endgame

The weekend meeting in Ramallah between Palestinian Authority chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas and an unofficial delegation of West Bank Hamas "parliamentarians" was not just about reconciling the two factions.

Abbas told his visitors that long months of Palestinian diplomacy were being jeopardized by Hamas's bellicosity.

Fatah is on the cusp of gaining United Nations backing for a Palestinian state along the 1949 Armistice Lines, without having conceded the "right of return," or recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, or addressing a single of Israel's security needs.

If the Palestinians played their cards right they could bring Yassir Arafat's June 1974 plan for the destruction of Israel in phases massively closer to realization. But another Gaza war now, Abbas warned, would only highlight Palestinian disunity and prove Israel's claim that an imposed international solution would leave Jews and Arabs still killing each other.

Abbas might have told his visitors that in the West Bank and east Jerusalem Palestinians can hurl rocks at Israeli motorists or ambulances, attack soldiers without provocation, or riot against the security barrier without negative consequences to Palestinian interests simply by invoking the "occupation."

Some in the media had even downplayed the slaughter of a Jewish family at Itamar as having been provoked by "settlements." He might have agreed that Palestinian diplomacy was not adversely affected by Israel having interdicted a ship laden with weapons bound for Gaza "militants," and that no one seems perturbed over foiled Hamas terror efforts to tunnel into Israel from Gaza.

Still, some recent "resistance" activities had risked Fatah's strides at the UN. What was the point of pummeling Israel from Gaza with 50 mortars in 15 minutes back on March 19th? Or take the recent bus-stop bombing in "west" Jerusalem which almost claimed a British television reporter and killed a visiting Christian bible scholar? How are Fatah's diplomats to explain the bombardment of Beersheba and Ashdod by Grad missiles?

A direct hit on some Jewish kindergarten could setback painstaking PLO diplomacy.

Had they been in a position to speak frankly the Hamas men would have acknowledged that they, too, have an interest in seeing Abbas succeed at the U.N. After all, a diplomatic victory for Fatah today will accrue to Hamas tomorrow – as the Islamists fully expect to one day assume control over a reunited Palestinian polity.

For now, however, Hamas's calculations are anything but straightforward. The popular uprisings now sweeping the Arab world have shaken Hamas's confidence as demonstrated by the brutally with which its thugs have crushed Gazans' protests. What better way to redirect criticism of the regime than by instigating a conflict with Israel?

Moreover, Hamas is not monolithic. There are divisions between the hard-line armed faction led Ahmed Ja'abari and the purportedly more moderate "government" led by Ismail Haniyeh. He wants to be seen as open to reconciliation with Abbas; Ja'abari makes no such pretense. There are also tensions between the Damascus-based leadership, buffeted by the upheavals in Syria, and Hamas chiefs in Gaza.

In this environment, it may be that Hamas is having trouble imposing its will on other extremist factions in the Strip. For only hours after Hamas announced that Gaza terror groups were ready to return to a de facto ceasefire with Israel, two Islamic Jihad gunmen were liquidated by the Israeli air force on their way to launch rockets against Israel. (Curiously, for its own Machiavellian reasons, Islamic Jihad has been advocating Fatah-Hamas reconciliation.)

Add to this mix uncertainty over the future of Syria and by implication, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan and it's no wonder that Hamas would rather Palestinians vent their spleen against Israel.

That is precisely why Israel has no interest in shifting the attention of the Arab street onto itself. By demolishing the headquarters of the Hamas government in Gaza, continuing pinpoint targeting of terrorists engaged in attacks, deploying the imperfect Iron Dome anti-rocket defensive shield, and signaling that targeted killings of Hamas leaders was on the agenda, Jerusalem is endeavoring to deter Gaza violence in a prudent and calibrated manner.

What if, nevertheless, a terror attack resulting in mega casualties leaves Israel with no choice but to go to war? If an Operation Cast Lead II becomes obligatory, Israel will obviously strive to avoid the mistakes of the first Gaza war. But it must do more.

This time Israel needs a coherent mission: ending Hamas rule. That would require a strategy of unremitting attack against the movement's leaders, structures and symbols regardless of whether they are political or military so that Hamas loses the ability to command and control events in the Strip.

With its back to the wall Hamas can be expected to unleash its entire arsenal. To win, the IDF will need to be led with élan. A broad based national unity cabinet would need to inspire heretofore elusive solidarity on a besieged home-front. The country's diplomats would have to argue convincingly that with Hamas looking over his shoulder, Abbas has been petrified to make necessary compromises for peace and has turned, instead, to a morally obtuse international community to deliver Israel prostrate.

What would the impact of destroying the Hamas government be on Abbas's diplomatic campaign?

With Hamas vanquished and the Palestinian Authority presumably back in Gaza, Abbas will be faced with a dilemma: make real peace with Israel or continue down Arafat's falsehearted path. The big unknown is whether the Obama administration and those EU countries not pledged to Arab cause robot-like will press Abbas to choose wisely.

Defeating Hamas would be no panacea, but as Max Singer, a Senior Fellow at the BESA Institute of Bar Ilan University has argued, an Israeli willingness to defeat a Palestinian army and destroy a Palestinian government can serve as an important deterrent, signaling that the Jewish state will not tolerate a belligerent regime anywhere between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.


March 28, 2011

Monday, March 21, 2011


One best case scenario to the current upheaval in the Arab world foresees the emergence of Turkish-style political systems in places like Egypt and Tunisia in the event Islamic parties come to power by democratic means. In Egypt, a plebiscite over the weekend approved amending the constitution in a way that strengthens the prospects of the Moslem Brotherhood in forthcoming parliamentary elections. As for the depth of Turkey's own commitment to democratic principles, that may only begin to clarify itself after elections on June 12th.

Polls predict the Islamic AKP (Justice and Development Party) will easily achieve its third consecutive victory. AKP's strongest challenger, the CHP (Republican People's Party) is not expected to garner more than 20 percent of the vote. The CHP and its new leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu carry the mantle of the country's founder and architect of Turkey's secular path Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. AKP's platform pledges to amend Turkey's constitution, but doing so could further entrench Islamist control. Customarily, the Turkish army had served as a (self-interested) guarantor of the country's faithfulness to Ataturk's path.

Paradoxically, as Turkey became more democratic, more committed to joining the EU, as its government became more religiously parochial, the principle that the army had a homeostatic role to play if the nation drifted from Ataturk's ways has become delegitimized.

Meanwhile, the AKP's go slow, Islam-friendly, conservative approach begs the question: What is its ultimate destination? It has deftly reworked the ideas of the late Necmettin Erbakan, who trailblazed non-violent Islamist participation in Turkish politics; breaking with his anti-free-market principles – by, for instance, favoring accession to the EU – while modulating his anti-Western, though less so his anti-Zionist, line.

At a recent conference at Hebrew University's Truman Institute to discuss the Middle East in transition, Prof. Umit Cizre of Istanbul University pooh-poohed concerns that AKP had a hidden Islamist agenda or intended to introduce Sharia law. Instead, she criticized Turkey's secularists for harping on the Islamist threat without presenting a coherent political platform of their own. Yet Cizre described the AKP as having "deliberately" positioned itself "ambiguously" on the political spectrum.

Why, though, is the secular camp so weak? Voters are uncomfortable with hard-line secularism. A new class of Islamic business elites has arisen alongside their secularist counterparts. Also, secularists have also been blamed for mishandling their management of the state when they were in charge. Moreover, while the moderate tone pursued by AKP has made it difficult to mobilize non-Islamists, ideological and personal differences have riven the secularist camp.

It may also be true that nowadays secularists are less committed to pure democracy than the Isalmists. Last but not least, secularists have been undermined by the so-called Ergenekon affair, which the government asserts has exposed a vast plot by the military and their allies in the media to overthrow the regime. A good number of serving generals have been arrested on "flimsy" even "fabricated" evidence, say the generals' defenders.

No one disputes that the AKP has helped make Turkey a success story and engineered the world's 15th largest economy. Unparalleled political stability has contributed to economic boom; GDP is up to $10,000 compared to $3,000 at the start of the decade. Turkey's economy would be still better if it didn't need to import 95% of its energy needs.

As befitting a regional power with grand aspirations, Turkey recently hosted an alternative "political" Davos in Istanbul. Unfortunately for Erdogan and his political rival President Abdullah Gül the gathering was a complete flop as unrest at home kept expected guests – including Syria's leader Bashar Assad and Egypt's Gamal Mubarak (invited before his father was ousted from the presidency) from attending. Even Spain's Socialist Workers' Party Premier Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who is in the forefront of an effort to paper-over differences between Western civilization and the Islamists, was a no-show.

Abroad, Turkey's distancing from Israel exemplified by Erdogan's periodically staged outbursts against the Jewish state and by a sharp deterioration in bilateral relations in all fields -- save trade -- is now a well established feature of Ankara's foreign policy.

Turkey may claim that its warmth toward Hamas and its instigation of the Gaza flotilla crisis is intended to somehow promote peace. But Israelis can't imagine how and wonder if Erdogan is tapping into the kind of anti-Semitic sentiment that has propelled such despicable films as Valley of the Wolves into blockbusters.

Actually, foreign policy signals out of Turkey are jumbled. For instance, Turkey opted not to stop the Victoria from leaving its port bound for Gaza via Egypt with Iranian weapons in its hold. But it grounded two Iranian planes in search for arms. Ankara denounced the Itamar massacre but in the same breath asserted the community's existence was a breach of international law. So far, it has had nothing to say about Hamas's intensified bombardment of Israel.

Other aspects of Turkey's foreign policy are equally troubling. Erdogan's chauvinism and Islamic assertiveness has led him to accuse Germany of pushing its 3.5-million-strong Turkish minority too hard toward acculturating into their adopted country. Teach your children Turkish before German, he told a Dusseldorf rally.

But with countries it borders, including Iran, Syria and Iraq, Ankara professes to pursue a "zero problems" policy. Sure enough there has been a substantial increase in trade and exchange of high-ranking visitors with Iran and mutual cooperation against the Kurds. Nevertheless, the geo-strategic rivalry between Iran and Turkey is undeniable even if camouflaged by talk of pan-Islamic solidarity. Dr. Gallia Lindenstrauss, a Turkish foreign policy specialist at Tel Aviv University told the Truman conference that the Turks see a nuclear-armed Iran as destabilizing. Nor is it a coincidence that an Erdogan visit inevitably follows one by Ahmadinejad around the globe. The two countries are destined to balance each other's power. For instance, while Iran will oppose a Syrian peace with Israel, Turkey favors one (albeit on Syria's terms). Or take Turkey's warning that it would not "remain silent" if the IDF retaliated against Lebanon for Hezbollah attacks on Israel. Some analysts interpret this as a challenge to Teheran's hegemony over Beirut as much as a cheap jab against Jerusalem.

Indeed, Lindenstrauss makes the case that if any country can pull Syria away from Iran it will be Turkey. Sure enough, Ankara, which was once on the brink of war with Damascus, now helps train the Syrian military. As for Iraq, Turkey is now its number one trading partner and recently opened a consulate in the Kurdish city of Erbil. And while Iran wants a Iraq weak, Turkey prefers Iraq to remain unified and stable.

At home, Turkey is still a free country where television can show a series about Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent that jars Islamic sensibilities, but not without a warning from regulators at the Radio and Television Supreme Council.

Freedom of the press is mostly unfettered but secular voices have been increasingly targeted; some have been arrested in connection with the Ergenekon conspiracy and one journalist critical of the regime was murdered in 2007 under suspicious circumstances. The AKP has not even hinted at imposing Sharia law, but the authority that oversees religious affairs is coming under greater government control and there are signs it is moving in a more traditionalist direction.

So is the Turkish model a paradigm for democratic rule in Moslem-majority countries? The jury is still out but the signs are not encouraging. In advance of Turkey's elections, one thing is for sure, in the words of the Turkey-sympathetic Economist: Erdogan "is getting bossier and less tolerant by the day."

-- March 21, 2010

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bar-Ilan 2.0 -- Does Israel Need a Peace Plan?

Earthquakes, tsunamis and a nuclear meltdown in Japan top the news pushing aside mad Muammar Gaddafi, upheaval throughout the Arab world, and the butchery of five members of a Jewish family in their sleep by Palestinian Arabs at Itamar. Rest assured, however, that in short order Israel's wobbly friends in Europe and the U.S. will be back to press Jerusalem to "do something" about what Washington sees as the "unsustainable" stalemate in the "peace process" over which German Chancellor Angela Merkel scolded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “You haven’t made a single step to advance peace.”

Not a single step?

Israel's lifting of 400 security checkpoints up and down the West Bank including near Itamar, its ten-month moratorium on most settlement building, its willingness to extend the freeze another three months, and Netanyahu's 2009 Bar-Ilan University address have, to be sure, not had much of a diplomatic shelf-life. In the Topsy Turvy world of Mideast peacemaking, because none of these moves enticed Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian faction to end their two-year boycott of negotiations, Israel is blamed for the impasse.

Abbas – recklessly impelled, initially at least, by President Barack Obama – has adhered to the position that the Palestinians simply can't negotiate so long as any Jewish construction continues anywhere beyond the 1949 Armistice Lines. Of course, the West Bank settlements issue would be resolved were Abbas willing to negotiate permanent boundaries with Israel. But why should he have to compromise in direct negotiations with Netanyahu when his internationally backed intransigence promises to deliver an Israeli withdrawal to the euphemistically called "1967 border."

Netanyahu, under withering pressure to somehow assuage the smoldering irritation of Israel settlement-obsessed Europeans and Americans, has reportedly been planning a major address to expand upon his Bar-Ilan "vision of peace" for "two peoples" speech. Yet it is difficult to see what Netanyahu could say or do – short of capitulating to all of Abbas's demands – to win lasting EU and Obama administration acclaim.

With the Hamas-led Palestinian faction in Gaza explicitly, unalterably, committed to the destruction of the Zionist enterprise; with Abbas refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, compromise on refuges, and resolutely committed to an internationally imposed solution that would completely disregard Israel's legitimate territorial rights and basic security needs, what realistically could Netanyahu offer?

Put another way: Can Israel placate its irritated allies while not committing national suicide?

No sooner had Netanyahu's office leaked the prospect that he would present (either to the Quartet or in a Washington speech) a new plan that would promote an interim arrangement with the Palestinians by recognizing a Palestinian state within temporary borders then Abbas utterly rejected the idea.

To complicate matters, if nascent pressure from young Palestinians for Fatah-Hamas reconciliation were to gain traction the result would undoubtedly be yet a further hardening of the Palestinian position rather than a softening of the Islamist one. No one in Fatah is talking about Hamas recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and adhering to previous diplomatic agreements signed by the PLO, the requisite demands by the Quartet for Hamas to join a Palestinian unity government.

Netanyahu's predicament recalls Ariel Sharon's whose disengagement plan announced in 2003 was partly intended to head-off pressure from President George W. Bush, who during the height of second intifada terror in 2002 "envisioned" a roadmap to a Palestinian state. Sharon was also profoundly worried about growing international support for the EU-backed Geneva Initiative and, notwithstanding Palestinian violations, for the Quartet's Road Map. All these schemes were designed to push Israel back to the old, hard to defend, armistice lines. Essentially, by "doing something" Sharon had sought to buy time, reap diplomatic approval and garner an American commitment for strategic settlement blocs in the West Bank. All these gains proved ephemeral.

Given this experience and the fact that any Netanyahu peace offering would be dead on arrival, is this really the time for him to present a new Israeli peace plan?

Yes and no.

Israel does need to put forth a coherent plan – to its own citizenry. Netanyahu should turn inward to broaden the domestic consensus on what the Jewish state can realistically offer the Palestinians and what it must expect in return. Fortunately, the fundamentals have already been laid out by Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Moshe Ya'alon (now Minister for Strategic Affairs).

Rather than take chances with Israel's security, Netanyahu needs to take personal political risks. He should appoint Ya'alon defense minister and together present a revised, fully detailed version of Ya'alon's blueprint to the electorate. If need be, Netanyahu should call for new elections seeking a clear mandate for the Ya'alon plan.

In coalition negotiations, Israel's mainstream political parties would likely have no trouble embracing Ya'alon's outline, but if they expect to – let them explain why to the electorate.

Instead of allowing Europe and the Obama administration to railroad him into proffering concessions that will not deliver peace and security – or even short-term diplomatic breathing space – Israel's best bet is to have a forthright internal dialogue aimed at building domestic cohesion for Ya'alon's plan that can offer the Palestinian Arabs a state and Israel security.

Areas that Israel needs to retain in any peace accord should not be subject to a any building freeze. Israelis living in Judea and Samaria have a right to know which parts of the Jewish heartland will one day be abandoned in the event an Arab partner for peace emerges.

Were Israeli decision makers -- with a clear electoral mandate -- to speak coherently and consistently, the country could garner support in Washington outside the administration and in fair-minded EU countries.


-- March 14, 2010

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Let the Arab League Enforce the No-Fly Zone

I see that the Arab League called on the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

Once it does, how about if Arab air-forces enforce the no-fly zone?

There are some 21 Arab air-forces represented in the League.

Many have the latest US equipment including F-15s.

Why should NATO have to carry this burden?

Why should all eyes be turning to Washington and Europe?

Monday, March 07, 2011

Juliano Mer, a prominent Israeli actor of mixed Jewish-Christian Arab parentage, was shot dead yesterday afternoon in Jenin...


Juliano Mer, a prominent Israeli actor of mixed Jewish-Christian Arab parentage, was shot dead yesterday afternoon in Jenin.
-- News Report, April 5, 2011

What made Shahbaz Bhatti the moderate Pakistani minister assassinated by Islamist "militants" for campaigning against the country's blasphemy law unique was that he was – a Christian. Muslim extremists tend to invest the bulk of their homicidal energies in slaughtering their own coreligionists.

Mass casualty suicide bombings, now obscenely routine and carried out by Muslims against Muslims mostly in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan have engendered pathological responses.

Yet no less devastating in their impact on Muslim civilization have been pinpoint assassinations intended to obliterate individual moderates. In fact, the term assassin dates back to an 11th century Persian Shi'ite sect that first employed the systematic use of murder as a political weapon, according to historian Bernard Lewis.

Bhatti's murder followed on the heels of the assassination in January of Salman Taseer, the cosmopolitan governor of Punjab province. His killing was the most devastating assassination of a moderate politician since the 2007 murder of former premier Benazir Bhutto.

Political assassinations intended to eradicate moderates are no less rampant among Arab Muslims. Take the 1951 killing of Jordan's King Abdullah, suspected of being willing to make peace with Israel; he was shot at the Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem. Or Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, murdered in 1981 for having made peace with the Jewish state.

The litany includes Algerian president Mohamed Boudiaf, shot dead in 1992 by an Islamist bodyguard and Lebanon's Sunni Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, killed in 2005 by the Shi'ite Hezbollah network. Lebanon's Christian president Bashir Gemayel was assassinated in 1982 for meeting with Israel's premier Menachem Begin to discuss a possible peace treaty.

While no one would accuse Hariri of wanting to make peace with Israel, he apparently did not kowtow with sufficient obsequiousness to Hezbollah's masters in Iran's. Teheran also has a bloody history of assassinating its own moderates including former premier Shapour Bakhtiar in 1991.

Even the U.S. has not been immune to the phenomenon of radicals murdering comparative moderates.

This month marks the (February 21, 1965) 46th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, the African American radical who was killed after he broke with Elijah Muhammad's xenophobic Nation of Islam and converted to Sunni Islam.

But it is the Palestinian Arabs who have made a morbid fetish of murdering those of their own suspected of being ready to compromise for peace.

Twenty-five years ago this week, (March 3, 1986) Zafer Al-Masri, the forty-four year-old mayor of Nablus was assassinated on the doorsteps to city hall by Palestinian gunmen. Tarred as "an Israeli collaborator," he was said to have close ties to Jordan which at the time was seeking West Bank Palestinians willing to negotiate with Israel under its auspices.

Palestinian Arab society had historically been divided between fanatics led by Haj Amin al-Husseini, former mufti of Jerusalem, and relative moderates, who included notable families such as the Nashashibis. They moderates had reluctantly concluded that the Zionists could not be defeated and that coexistence was a Palestinian interest.

Already by the time Israel was established in 1948, hundreds upon hundreds of Palestinian moderates had been murdered. Moderation came to be treated as treason and punished by death. That is how the Husseini camp came to dominate Palestinian politics and created an intransigent political culture which would ultimately spawn both Fatah and Hamas.

This brings us to the supposedly moderate Palestinians running the West Bank today. Saeb Erekat – one of the most accommodating figures in the PLO hierarchy – confidentially assured Western diplomats that the Palestinians were prepared to compromise on the issue of refugees.

Publicly, however, he continued to insist on the so-called right of return for "seven million" refugees and their descendents to Israel proper as "absolutely necessary for the stability of peace" – a death knell to resolving the conflict. Whatever the motivation for Erekat's duplicitous statements the net effect has been that the Palestinian masses remain unprepared for requisite compromise.

Lately, the only point of consensus between Hamas and Fatah is that Western-backed "moderate" Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad – widely credited for developing political institutions his people will need for statehood – must go. Despite the fact that he spearheaded a boycott against Jewish products manufactured in the West Bank, Fayyad is suspected of sincerity in professing acceptance of a two-state solution.

The systematic slaughter of genuine moderates has necessitated redefining moderation. Only by the Hobbesian yardstick of Palestinian politics, where the lives of peacemakers have been brutishly cut short, can an obdurate Mahmoud Abbas, now two years into his boycott of negotiations with Israel, be pronounced a "moderate."

-- March 7, 2011

My Archive