Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Is an Israeli Jewish sense of victimization perpetuating the conflict with Palestinians?

January article in Haaretz

Among the same Jewish public, 40 percent are unaware that at the end of the 19th century, the Arabs were an absolute majority among the inhabitants of the Land of Israel. Over half of respondents replied that in the United Nations partition plan, which was rejected by the Arabs, the Arabs received an equal or larger part of the territory of the Land of Israel, relative to their numbers; 26.6 percent did not know that the plan offered the 1.3 million Arabs a smaller part of the territory (44 percent) than was offered to 600,000 Jews (55 percent).

Bar-Tal claims that this distortion of memory is no coincidence. He says that the details of the plan do not appear in any textbook, and this is a deliberate omission. "Knowledge of how the land was divided could arouse questions regarding the reason why the Arabs rejected the plan and make it possible to question the simplistic version: We accepted the partition plan, they didn't."

However, his study shows that a larger percentage of the Jewish population in Israel believes that in 1948, the refugees were expelled (47.2 percent of respondents), than those who still retain the old Zionist version (40.8 percent), according to which the refugees left on their own initiative. On this point, not only do almost all the history books provide up-to-date information, but some local school textbooks do as well. Even on the television program "Tekuma" ("Rebirth," a 1998 documentary series about Israel's first 50 years), the expulsion of the Arabs was mentioned.

I had meant to write something about this earlier, but there's not much to say. I'll just keep a link and maybe come back to it later.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Peres: We can't attack Iran without the US

Bush denied Israel authorization to strike Iran, as is now publicly known. Bush had good reasons to deny this authorization. Israel refused to attack without that authorization. Israel had good reasons not to try to attack Iran without US permission.

Barack Obama in office is clearly less likely to give such permission than Bush. So when Israel admits that it will not attack Iran without US support, Israel is essentially admitting there will not be an attack on Iran.

And now, here is Shimon Peres:

"We certainly cannot go it alone, without the US, and we definitely can't go against the US. This would be unnecessary," stressed the president.

This has been common sense for years now. I'm glad to see the beginnings of an acknowledgment of reality.

For all of the dishonest claims that the US and Israel have been motivated by a desire to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon, the nuclear issue until this point has really just been an exercise in attempting to broaden and internationalize, as much as possible, sanctions the US has been applying on Iran, on behalf of Israel, nearly since the Iranian revolution.

Iran does intend to retain its right to the nuclear fuel cycle the way Brazil and Japan do. But at least in the near term, having enrichment does not, in a practical way, give Iran the ability to build a weapon.

“In the race between an Iranian bomb and bombing Iran, we would win,” said Jeffrey G. Lewis, a nuclear specialist at the New America Foundation, a research group in Washington. “We would cave in the roof before they got a bomb’s worth of material.”

An Iranian enrichment capacity, while it does not give Iran a short term ability to build a weapon does shatter any Israeli expectation of a long term monopoly over nuclear power in the region. It also pressures Egypt and Saudi Arabia, not to build weapons, but to match Iran's capability to create a weapon in theory.

The main problem with an accepted Iranian enrichment capacity, from Israel's point of view, is that it removes a pretext for sanctions, which weakens Israel's most important lever for maintaining economic and technological dominance over its region.

Developments on Iran's nuclear issue have been major setbacks for Israel's strategic position. But not for the reasons Israel and its friends have been saying.

US drops preconditions for Iran talks

I guess and especially hope we're seeing the wind-down of the Iranian nuclear issue.

The US and Europe are preparing to make a major concession to Iran to end the deadlock over its nuclear programme, according to American and European sources.

In what amounts to a major policy shift, the Obama administration is set to drop a precondition for the start of negotiations on the nuclear issue - that Iran first suspends its uranium enrichment process.

The precondition has been the biggest stumbling block in efforts over the past few years to open talks. The Bush administration insisted upon it but Tehran adamantly refused.

How I've read the process described is that talks will commence without any suspension, but the goal will still be suspension. I find it unlikely that Iran will suspend after talks begin, but if the US ultimately plans on accepting Iran having the same status as Brazil, Japan or Romania - having enough of a fuel cycle to make weapons in theory but under IAEA inspections, this is a good first step towards that goal.

If the US is adamant that it will not allow enrichment at the end of negotiations, there is no reason to even begin negotiations unless Iran indicates it is willing to stop enrichment. Bush's position that negotiations should not begin without suspension as a precondition was reasonable given the US position that Iran must ultimately give up enrichment until it gets permission from the US or the security council. That position that Iran must ultimately give up enrichment was what was unreasonable.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

New York Time's Iran normalization scenario

Roger Cohen doesn't claim this scenario comes from Mohamed El Baradei, but there is that implication since the context is a description of a long interview.

Here's the scenario he or they come up with:

Iran ceases military support for Hamas and Hezbollah; adopts a “Malaysian” approach to Israel (non-recognition and non-interference); agrees to work for stability in Iraq and Afghanistan; accepts intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency verification of a limited nuclear program for peaceful ends only; promises to fight Al Qaeda terrorism; and commits to improving its human rights record.

The United States commits itself to the Islamic Republic’s security and endorses its pivotal regional role; accepts Iran’s right to operate a limited enrichment facility with several hundred centrifuges for research purposes; agrees to Iran acquiring a new nuclear power reactor from the French; promises to back the country’s entry into the World Trade Organization; returns seized Iranian assets; lifts all sanctions; and notes past Iranian statements that it will endorse a two-state solution acceptable to the Palestinians.

I don't know if Iran would accept a deal like this if it was offered. The entire issue from both sides hinges on what a "Malaysian" approach to Israel entails in detail. The US plan for Palestine is to starve the Palestinians unless and until they vote in a way that arguably can be interpreted as acceptance of a two state solution, or arguably can be interpreted as acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state.

The Shah would have stood back and watched that process. The Egyptians have accepted a role in advancing this process, contrary to the sensibilities of the Egyptian people - the price of this being US acceptance and support for a permanent family-led dictatorship Mubarak and his progeny. Malaysia is much farther away from Israel than Iran is, but if Malaysia was geographically in Iran's position it would be acting a lot more like Iran does now than like Saudi Arabia.

Standing back and watching the US and Israel further pressure the Palestinians would be a difficult arrangement for Iran to accept exactly because it is contrary to the Iranian idea of justice. Unless the deal includes some provision for changing what seems to be the US plan of having the Palestinians approve a two state solution under duress. The plan would have to include a provision for what happens if the Palestinians do not vote for a two state solution.
In other words, this deal requires an actual agreement between Iran and the US on the ultimate resolution of the Israel dispute.

From the US/Israeli point of view, once sanctions break, they are difficult to reinstate. Once US companies have contracts with Iran, profits are being made and offices opened, the US has few options if covert, then increasingly open, aid begins flowing again from Iran to the Palestinians. The Saudis and Egyptians, if they do not trade on terms better than Iran's with the West, will feel pressure to at least match Iran in supporting the Palestinians.

A deal like this, before an agreement on the outcome of the Israel conflict, would be a huge strategic defeat for Israel and would render Israel's remaining a Jewish state non-viable over the long term.

It is good to see scenarios at least fleshed out specifically. Statements about "grand bargains" without details hide the real difficulties that may actually be impassable. In that sense Cohen has performed a service.

Roger Cohen of the New York Times seems to have taken the lead role in selling a rapprochement between the US and Iran to the US decision-making community. This new role, if memory serves, began after the beginning of the Obama administration. It is possible that this is an indicator that there is a serious intention of recasting the US/Iranian relationship. Friends of Israel are right to feel threatened by such a recasting. Friends of the Palestinians watch this with cautious optimism. We'll see where it goes.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Do Jews control US foreign policy?

Juan Cole on the pro-Israel lobby specifically:

The strength of these lobbies comes from their passionate commitment to their cause, from excellent organizing skills, and from their ability to unify around it across religious and ideological boundaries, and above all from ability to leverage support serially on issues from likely allies. Thus, the leadership can arrange for millions of protest emails to be sent by evangelical Christians as well as by Jewish congregations. The New Republic takes the same side as Commentary. They succeed even though their most passionate projects are not supported, and are even opposed, by probably a majority of the American Jewish community. I doubt much hangs on money per se; real lobbying is often a relatively inexpensive affair. But behind-the-scenes concurrence of big players like the military-industrial complex on the desirability for a war is crucial if you are a lobby trying to get up a war for other reasons. They are very good at getting their way, and can think and plan carefully a good decade out, and have virtually no effective opposition, which is the real secret of their strength. Did Obama get even 5,000 emails complaining that he did not stand by Freeman? And that would be a tiny number compared to what Freeman's opponents can muster.

Matt Yglesias on lobbies in general:

[On the subject of statistics showing broad popular support for farm subsidies, though experts use it as the classic economic case of an intensely interested and dedicated group prevailing to create laws that have greater but more widely dispersed costs on the rest of the population]

Still, it seems to indicate that this is a bit more than a question of a narrow group blocking change. What may be happening is that since farm subsidies have passionate defenders in both parties, a wide swathe of people are accustomed to seeing them endorsed by leaders they trust.

With these illustrations of the lobbying process in mind, I'd like to address the mechanisms by which US policy has become today, I'd say very counter productively for US interests generally, committed to ensuring the viability of Israel as a Jewish state.

There are some mostly Jewish supporters of Israel who reflexively identify very personally with the idea that there is and should be a Jewish state in Palestine. Some of those friends of Israel perceive any expression of doubt in the justice of Israel's creation, existence or maintenance as attacks on them personally and attacks on Judaism in general. This feeling of attack leads to a sincere belief that the person who triggered this feeling hates Jews and is anti-Semitic. To a reader disposed to feel this way, I can only imagine that this essay will be perceived as claiming Jews have perniciously taken advantage of non-Jews. I'll say in advance that that is not my argument and not my belief. While I do not agree that there should be a Jewish state in Palestine, I do not mean that as an attack on the reader, the Jewish religion or the Jewish people of Israel.

At its base, the pro-Israel lobby is a regular lobby, not different from the corn products lobby or the lobby of American retired people. Regular lobbies exist because they are effective at steering policy in the fields they care about. To that base of being a generic lobby, there are some other factors that make the pro-Israel lobby especially effective. They are, in order of importance: the fact that US Jews are a particularly wealthy, well educated and influential group generally, defensiveness around charges of anti-Semitism on the part of some US non-Jews, racism on the parts of some US non-Jews, and convergent beliefs on the part of some US Christians.

The textbook explanation of what lobbies represent is that in situations where there are concentrated benefits to a policy and dispersed costs, those who would reap the benefits are more strongly motivated to enact that policy than those who would pay the costs are to prevent the policy. Agricultural subsidies are one widely used example, they slightly increase the level of taxes for the entire economy, but they direct large payments to the farmers. Another common example is steel tariffs. They increase the costs of many goods, impacting nearly every consumer but increase the amount of resources the economy directs at a smaller segment of the economy.

Often it can be shown that the total of the costs, the amount more that the consumers pay for food or appliances using steel, if added up, are greater than the totaled up benefits to the farmers or participants in the steel producing industry. This is not to say that the farmers or steel makers are immoral in any way. To the degree it is a defect, it is a defect inherent in a political system in which the subjects are able to participate freely. Nobody ever says the prescription is to ban lobbies or attack them for being lobbies.

On the other hand, a supporter of steel tariffs could tell a story about people who work in the steel industry who have money to go to Disneyland, and point to others who get haircuts and claim that steel tariffs are broadly beneficial because of the income they ultimately direct towards California amusement parks and barbers. While it is true that even distortions of the economy can be shown to be locally beneficial to other aspects of the economy, that is not an argument that overall the steel tariffs that clearly benefit steel-towns in Pennsylvania are primarily enacted to advance the interests of amusement parks.

We often read that Israel, for example, was able to return the Sinai to Egypt which helped turn Egypt pro-American. Other than Israel, there had never been a reason for Egypt not to be pro-American. Like a farmer helping the economy by getting a haircut partly using government payments, the barber, overall, would have been better off paying less in taxes. Purely from the standpoint of relations with Egypt, the US would have been far, far better off never supporting Israel in the first place.

It is not anti-farmer, just as it is not anti-Semitic to ask the question, if the lobby isn't delivering higher profits to the farms than what would be reflected by market mechanisms, then what is it doing? This is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to be defensive about, nothing to deny. That is what interest groups do in democracies.

In addition to the fact that the pro-Israel lobby is a lobby, and it pressures policy in a consistent direction away from where it would be in the absence of the lobby, the pro-Israel lobby is especially effective for several reasons. One is that many US Jews feel a strong personal attachment to Israel. Jewish Americans are, in total, the United States' most wealthy ethnic group. They are disproportionately represented in US politics and in some cultural spheres of influence.

The disproportionate Jewish representation in politics is multiplied by the fact that Middle East foreign policy feels more important to many US Jews than it does to many US non-Jews and therefore attracts a further disproportionate Jewish representation in especially that aspect of US foreign policy.

The fact that the Jewish community is wealthy somewhat increases the amount of resources available to the pro-Israel lobby. Two factors may be as important or more important in the special effectiveness of the pro-Israel lobby in strengthening the US commitment to the long-term existence of a Jewish state. One is that even non-Jewish members of the US foreign policy community develop their careers working disproportionately with Jewish members of that community.

By engaging daily with people who feel a strong attachment to Israel, non-Jewish Americans who work in Middle East policy often are shaped in the development of their views to be more pro-Israel than Americans who do not work in that field are.

The second factor is that supporters of Israel have played a gate-keeper role in the dissemination of information about the Middle East to Americans. Just as many people get their views on agricultural policy from people they trust but who have been guided by the agriculture lobby, many US citizens get their ideas of the Middle East from sources that have some bias towards the existence of a Jewish state.

This is not pernicious or the result of some conspiracy held in secret lodges somewhere. But if the people who care enough to become experts exhibit a bias, that bias can be extended throughout the population. Parenthetically, one impact of the internet is that there is a larger and more representative group of gatekeepers now. It is now commonly understood that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not threaten Israel with genocide with the "wiped off the map" statement. Ten years earlier it would have been far easier for a story that disparaged one of Israel's rivals to stand undisputed.

So I hope it is not perceived as anti-Semitic that I argue that Jewish Americans are well placed to form the basis of an especially effective lobby. Another factor in making the lobby more effective than it otherwise would be is that many non-Jewish Americans are defensive about charges of anti-Semitism. Jewish people often sincerely perceive attacks on Israel as attacks on themselves, as attacks on Judaism, and therefore anti-Semitism by definition.

Rational or irrational, it is uncomfortable to be sincerely accused of anti-Semitism. To avoid this accusation, non-Jewish Americans often are willing to go further out of their way to defend the existence of a Jewish state than they would in the absence of this potential accusation.

Another factor is that some Americans, not most but an amount that is still significant even if less than when Israel was founded, identify with Israeli Jews more closely than they do with Palestinian Arabs. Possibly Islam is perceived as more "foreign" to Americans than Judaism. Possibly the fact that many of Israel's Jews descend from Europeans while Arabs are "browner" triggers the ability of some US racists to empathize more strongly with Israel's Jews than they do with Arabs.

10% of the US electorate still believe the false story that Barack Obama is Muslim, this story was only spread as true by people (whether pro-Clinton or pro-McCain) who believed that being Muslim would convince some voters to oppose Obama. Possibly that can serve as an estimate of the pervasiveness of anti-Muslim bigotry in the US. It is not overwhelming and could not explain US support for Israel by itself, but it is a factor to consider.

The last factor that strengthens the effectiveness of the pro-Israel lobby is that support for Israel aligns with the religious beliefs of some Christians. Much is said about the idea that prophecy must be fulfilled according to some beliefs. Beyond that, Christian churches use the Old Testament of the Bible, which relates the story of the Jewish people and forms part of the holy books of today's Jews as a primary text. Christians do not have a similar relationship with any Muslim book. Even beyond prophecy Islam may well be more religiously foreign to US Christians than Judaism.

The United States has the right to dedicate its resources to ensuring that Israel has a permanent Jewish majority if it chooses. This course that the United States is currently taking, to the detriment of its other foreign policy interests, has so far been extraordinarily expensive and has caused a tremendous amount of misery in the region. The misery ranges from the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who went without purified water during Iraq's sanctions, to those Iranians who are unemployed because of US efforts to deny capital to the Iranian economy, to the Egyptians who are not able to participate in their political system, as well as the Saudis and Jordanians - with US support and connivance. US efforts to ensure that none of Israel's neighbors are ever in a position to effectively challenge Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state takes a very large toll on the people of the region.

Tempering down the reaction throughout the region to the US taking the position it takes is hugely expensive, far in excess of the 3 or so billion in direct or nearly direct transfers to Israel every year. 9/11 was in large part a strike from Israel's region in reaction to US policies aimed at ensuring the long-term viability of Israel as a Jewish state. No other region of the world is nearly as hostile towards the US as that region. The US efforts to manage this regional hostility, including the costs of occupying both Iraq and Afghanistan, and also including the pressures the US is putting on Pakistan, are costs the US bears basically because of the effectiveness of the pro-Israel lobby.

A cheaper, and less miserable alternative for everyone in the region would be advocacy of a South Africa-style one-person one-vote non-ethnic settlement of the Israel dispute.

So to answer the question of the title, Jews do not control America in crude caricature way that friends of Israel often dismiss as anti-Semitic. But US foreign policy is consistently guided further in the direction of defending the existence and viability of a Jewish state than it would if there was no lobby. The lobby is very effective at moving the United States away from policies that would better align with US interests and its core values.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Why Israel will not bomb Iran

David Samuels at Slate thinks Israel will bomb Iran.

The short version of his theory is that Israel is willing to trade a Palestinian state for the continuance of its regional nuclear monopoly and that this is a trade the US will be willing to accept. He goes further that most people in the Middle East, meaning most of the Arab states will be happy with such a trade.

The longer version of his theory is that Israel helps the US by trading concessions to Arab states for Arab cooperation with the US. Meaning the Arabs are more cooperative with the US than they would otherwise be because every once in a while the US can pressure Israel into giving them something they want. An attack would continue this relationship.

The short version of the theory is bizarre. Let's start with the idea that the Arabs would support such an action on Israel's part. Every public pronouncement regarding either hostilities or military action by either Israel or the US against Iran from every Arab capital has been negative. Samuels, in a common argument, claims that the Arabs secretly want Iran to be attacked and secretly accept and even support Israel's nuclear monopoly. Who are these dictators supposedly lying to and why? The Saudi king holds the Iranian president's hand. No member of the Saudi delegation would acknowledge the presence of any member of the Israeli delegation at Annapolis.

The Arab states are politically backwards. Their bufoonery has reached such a level that supporters of Zionism feel comfortable speaking for them. But while they are ineffective opponents of Zionism, and they are clowns, they are opponents of Zionism to the best of their abilities.

Anyway, when Arabs officially speak about US hostility against Iran or about the potential of a military strike against Iran, it is unanimously to say hostilities should be toned down, a compromise should be reached in which Iran does not build a nuclear weapon. No Arab has agreed with the Israeli line that Iran must not have enrichment or the capability to make a weapon in theory. They have nobody that they must lie to. When they publicly oppose a strike it is because they really oppose a strike.

Second, let's talk about the idea that Israel could cede enough territory to the Palestinians that they would accept a state on the remainder on terms acceptable to Israel after Israel bombs Iran. Even if Abbas accepts the disjointed cantons Israel is willing to offer the Palestinians, the Palestinians will not endorse that in a referendum. No external borders, no trade independent of Israel or Israeli proxies, no control of water resources or their airspace. This is not a state, and there is no indication that the Palestinians would accept this type of reservation. But each of the terms mentioned is a necessity from Israel's point of view, for the viability of Israel as a Jewish state.

Any state the Palestinians would accept would be in a position to critically threaten Israel's future as a Jewish state. Any state emasculated enough not to be a threat, would not have the sovereignty necessary for Palestinians to endorse it. Bombing Iran does not change this equation. The Saudis would have no problem making sure the Palestinians have plenty of money for weapons once they have a state independent enough to continue the fight to restore Palestine to Muslim rule.

The longer version of his theory is more bizarre. If there was no Israel the US wouldn't be able to buy limited cooperation from Egypt in exchange for Gaza. But if there was no Israel, the US would have open and willing cooperation from Egypt, even an Egyptian democracy for free. Trade with the US has just as much potential to improve the quality of life of Egyptians as it does of Singaporeans. The USSR was a communist, militantly atheist power. The most religious region in the world during the cold war could only have entertained the idea of aligning with militant atheists against a country that is majority "people of the book" because that country supported Israel and Israel's dispossession of the Palestinians.

I'm not sure what Samuels thinks Israel allows the US to give Saudi Arabia, but the Saudi alliance with the US is a source of shame in that country and the motivating factor behind the threat militant Islamists pose against the country that, other than its relationship with the US and relatively friendly relations with Israel, has spent most of its history, including today, as the most fundamentalist Islamic country in the world.

If the US was to turn its back on the idea that Israel should have a Jewish majority, the Saudis could promote their relationship with the US with pride, even stupidly attempting to take credit for any US turnaround. It would end the Saudi dispute with militant Islam in a stroke, and there would no longer be any reason for the Saudis to hide their relationship with the US. The Saudis cuold even reopen US bases on their territory.

Israel, today as always, is a strategic liability for the US, not an asset. It is a burden that is undertaken for emotional but not logical reasons. Not only the emotional attachment US Jews feel towards Israel - but that is a very important part of the story, including the fact that most US non-Jews are apathetic towards the region which vastly increases the influence of Israel's enthusiastic supporters. There is also an emotional connection US non-Jews, especially non-Jews of European descent, feel towards the Israeli state whose leadership is also mostly of European descent.

These emotional reasons for US support for Israel greatly outweigh the narrative Samuels attempts to draw of Israel somehow helping the US accomplish policy goals in the region. The Saudis would gladly be open, enthusiastic US clients if not for Israel, and they would actually be a strategic asset in many, many ways.

Samuel's theories are weird, but the most important reason Israel will not bomb Iran have nothing to do with the bizarreness and falseness of Samuel's theories. The most important reason Israel willl not bomb Iran is because bombing Iran would hurt the US and Israel far more than they would help. This is also the reason Arab states officially, and sincerely, are trying to dissuade any US attacks or escalations of hostility.

I've seen it argued that bombing Iran may actually accelerate Iran's nuclear program. It is not true that Iran would be able to immediately rebuild its nuclear stocks if attacked. On the other hand, Iran is not planning on having weapons in the short or medium term any way. But it is true that an attack on Iran would give Iran a moral basis for an all-out war against the US and US interests in various parts of the region. Iran expects to damage the US severely in this war.

First Iran will attack the US presence in the gulf. The advanced missiles China and Russia have sold Iran may not succeed in sinking a US warship causing a mass-casualty event, but they might. If it's done in the immediate aftermath of an Israeli bombing of Iran part of the blame for these casualties will be correctly laid at the foot of Israel by the American public. Israel's main advantage in the US arena of popular opinion is that its supporters are enthusiastic while most Americans do not care enough to find neutral viewpoints.

Second, Iran will attack the US position in Iraq. Iran certainly has the ability to return us to the days when 100 US soldiers died a month in Iraq. The kill rate went beneath a dozen or two per month for the entire campaign season, but Americans still want to get out of Iraq. When it goes back up, and there is no maybe this time, Americans will not only want to leave Iraq more urgently, but they rightly will blame Israel for the fact that the exit will now be under fire with heavier than necessary US losses.

Third, Iran will attack the US position in Afghanistan. An Iranian-Pakistani alliance, while under the table, will make the US position in that country unsustainable and may well bring death rates up to those in Iraq. The US is more willing to remain in Afghanistan than in Iraq, but the US will be expending a lot more resources there and losing a lot more lives than it was before Israel's attack. And Israel will no longer have the luxury of being low on the list of priorities for Americans who do not have an inherent empathy with that nation.

Fourth, Iran will attack shipping and oil installations. Iran cannot close the flow of oil, but it can certainly raise the price of oil as it transits. It may be able to reduce Saudi production with missile strikes. The increase in oil price during an already severe recession in the West will have a large impact on economies, not only in the US but even more in Asia and Europe. That this price increase will follow immediately Israel's strike against Iran will decrease Israel's support around the world more than the attack on Gaza did.

Lastly, Iran will attack Israel. Will an Iranian missile hit Dimona? Maybe. Surely it will not render it destroyed beyond repair. It will be a symbolic strike. The real strike against Israel will be the price it imposes on the US for being Israel's enabler.

Hopefully Israel will not be drawn into attacking Syria, Hezbollah or Hamas after any bombing. Israel's sense of legitimacy will already be tested by the punishment the rest of the world feels from Israel's action. Attacking anyone directly only will produce massacres against civilians which are bad enough during normal times, but if this happens at the same time a world recession is worsened because of Israel, there is a real chance it could rapidly push opposition to Israel over the edge.

Samuels thinks Israel could trade the destruction of Iran's nuclear program for a Palestinian state. Iran thinks Israel could force Iran to trade its nuclear program for the expulsion of the US from Iraq and an open Iranian client there, an alliance with Pakistan for an Afghan client and a severe blow to the legitimacy of the Zionist project, in other words substantial progress from Iran's point of view towards a one-state solution which, even if Jews remain on the territory as a political minority with full rights, would represent Iran's greatest foreign policy victory since its revolution.

It would also clear the way for Iran to move forward without any sanctions and rebuild its nuclear program into one like Brazil's or Japan's, which would be fine because with a Muslim-majority Israel, Iran would have perfectly fine relations with its neighbors and no need for a nuclear weapon.

Samuels thinks this would be a bad trade for Iran and a good trade for Israel, as a Jewish state. I disagree completely. I think Iranians also disagree and I think US decisionmakers disagree. I actually think Israeli decisionmakers disagree.

But it probably wouldn't even get there. Israel would ask for permission to attack and be denied that permission. If Israel tries to attack anyway, the US would smartly prevent Israeli jets from crossing US airspace. Likely it would not have to shoot any Israeli jets down, but before watching the entire US position in the region dissolve, the US would probably shoot every participating Israeli jet out of the sky.

Why the incessant focus on Israel?

I have nothing to add. I came across this link at and thought there should be some reference to it here.

Why the incessant focus on Israel? The question is usually rhetorical and designed to elicit defensiveness rather than, say, an answer. With so many worse conflicts raging around the world, the idea goes, a fixation on the Israeli treatment of Palestinians is suspicious.

The charge is not that anti-Semites obsess about Israel -- of course, they do: it's that a critical focus is symptomatic of that ancient brand of hatred. The Harvard legal scholar, Alan Dershowitz, won't hesitate to bring up David Duke's endorsement of the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis as proof. The logic is somewhat novel, since I don't recall anti-Apartheid activists having to justify Idi Amin Dada’s alignment on the matter. There are two distinct questions to answer: one is why Westerners fixate on the I/P conflict; the other is why they should.

Read the whole thing.

One quibble, which is probably smaller than it looks.

Since World War II, the US has supported nearly every non-Communist tyranny against the aspirations of the people. Are the Palestinians so different from the Chileans, the Nicaraguans, the Guatemalans, the Salvadorans, the Greeks, the Timorese, and the Vietnamese that the US should make an exception for them?

This rule has numerous exceptions - Nasser, Hussein, Assad (to hear the US tell it, Khomeini and Ahmadinejad should also be on the list of exceptions) - related to the US' support for the Zionist project.

This is a point that is not made often enough. Nigeria, Venezuela, Colombia, Cambodia are US imperialism as usual. US intervention in the Middle East attempting to ensure the viability of Jewish domination of at least part of Palestine is drastically more extensive and resource draining than its interventions anywhere else. Post Communism, US intervention has been trivial everywhere else compared to against potential strategic threats to Israel.

I'll close with a reminder that US advocacy of a one state solution is not only more in line with American values, but would be less expensive, not a little less expensive but orders of magnitude less expensive, than trying to ensure that the Muslim world which rejects the legitimacy of a Jewish state is never in a position to threaten Israel's viability.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Obama on al Qaeda and Palestine

A question and answer session with European students. Obama was asked what the US expects from European countries with respect to the war on terror. In short, his answer is that Europe should support US actions against organizations like al Qaeda, specifically its military and political actions in Afganistan.
This part has gotten some attention:
It is going to be a very difficult challenge. Al Qaeda is still bent on carrying out terrorist activity. It is-- al Qaeda is still bent on carrying out terrorist activity. It is, you know, don't fool yourselves because some people say, well, you know, if we changed our policies with respect to Israeli/Palestinian conflict or if we were more respectful towards the Muslim world, suddenly, these organizations would stop threatening us.

That's just not the case. It is true that we have to change our behavior in showing the Muslim world greater respect and changing our language and changing our tone. It is true that we have to work very hard for Israeli/Palestinian peace.

But what is also true is that these organizations are willing to kill innocent people because of a twisted distorted ideology and we, as democracies and as people who value human life, can't allow those organizations to operate.

To the degree these assertions have any meaning at all, they are false. Bin Laden said that the al Qaeda targeted the US instead of Sweden because the US pursues negative policies in the region, that Sweden does not. These policies - the US intervention in Lebanon; US support and military presense in Saudi Arabia; US support for brutal dictatorships in Egypt and Jordan; the US sanctions, invasion and later occupation of Iraq and US direct support in all its forms for Israel are all reasonably tied to the US' goal of ensuring Israel's viability in the face of widely held regional opposition.

A public US commitment to a one state solution would turn the Middle East to a different, vastly less difficult, and better place by the standards of US interests and values tomorrow.

The same could be said for the US adopting Sweden's policy of relativly inactivity and/or neutrality, but that would not be necessary as the US could instead use far fewer resources than it is expending now to ensure and guarantee protection of individual Jewish rights and property in Israel while still ending its state of conflict with the region.

The idea that al Qaeda's views and activities have nothing at all to do with US policy is clearly and wildly false though. Al Qaeda would still be terrorist, but it wouldn't be targeting the US, which would make a big difference from a US point of view. The US is not spending hundreds of billions of dollars confronting Tamil terrorists, the PKK/Pejak or the MEK (I'm leaving the IDF aside for now, but it is far from unanimous in the region that the IDF is not a terrorist organization) not because those organizations do not have twisted ideologies, but because those organizations do not have direct disputes with US policies.

If Obama gave it a second's worth of thought, he'd abandon that claim.

Obama's speech in Turkey

I don't know if this counts as the major speech in a Muslim capital or if there will be a new one open to the public. When I heard the idea, I thought of a speech comparable to that given in Germany when Barack was a candidate, with hundreds of thousands in the audience watching from a public square. This speech before Turkey's Parliament does meet the requirements, and was itself a step forward in US communications with the Muslim world.
It was a wide-ranging speech. Delivered more to Turkey than to the Muslim world at large, but there was a message in the speech for the Muslim world as a whole. Juan Cole's thoughts here. My attention was caught by his discussion of the Israel/Palestine dispute.
In the Middle East, we share the goal of a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors. Let me be clear: The United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. That is a goal shared by Palestinians, Israelis, and people of goodwill around the world. That is a goal that the parties agreed to in the road map and at Annapolis. That is a goal that I will actively pursue as President of the United States.
We know the road ahead will be difficult. Both Israelis and Palestinians must take steps that are necessary to build confidence and trust. Both Israelis and Palestinians, both must live up to the commitments they have made. Both must overcome longstanding passions and the politics of the moment to make progress towards a secure and lasting peace.
The United States and Turkey can help the Palestinians and Israelis make this journey. Like the United States, Turkey has been a friend and partner in Israel's quest for security. And like the United States, you seek a future of opportunity and statehood for the Palestinians. So now, working together, we must not give into pessimism and mistrust. We must pursue every opportunity for progress, as you've done by supporting negotiations between Syria and Israel. We must extend a hand to those Palestinians who are in need, while helping them strengthen their own institutions. We must reject the use of terror, and recognize that Israel's security concerns are legitimate.

Noting two things he said:
"The United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security." To say the United States supports there at least being a Jewish state is a severe understatement. The United States is committing a huge amount of resources, an amount difficult to calculate, into its project of ensuring Jewish demographic dominance, as an ethnic group, of Israel. US support for two states is much less intense. The US supports two states, or at least negotiations to that end that can continue indefinitely as a means to the end of making palatable an otherwise acceptable status quo. Meaning, for example, the starvation of Palestinians in Gaza, from Israel's point of view is necessary to protect Israel's long-term Jewish identity. That is not an acceptable reason to starve Palestinians according to US values, so the US accomodates their starvation in support of its goal of two states.
The two-state negotiating process is, as it has always been, a kind of fiction necessary to make otherwise unacceptable pro-Israel policies align with principles or values that are acceptable by US and Western standards. Obama announces here that he is continuing this fiction which is far from surprising given the boundaries within which Obama must work.
"Palestinians, Israelis, and people of goodwill around the world" a curiously meaningless phrase. The Palestinians who go along with the Israeli/US negotiation arrangements have very poor democratic credentials. I guess that should always be said when a statement like this is made, but it is so widely known that the hypocrisy of using Abbas to speak for Palestinians doesn't deserve much more discussion. Recent polls show substantial, probably majority support for a one-state solution among Palestinians. The US policy is effectively to starve the Palestinians until they change their opinion. More interesting to me is "people of goodwill". Obama isn't saying that everyone who supports two states is a person of goodwill. He isn't saying that everyone who opposes two states is not a person of goodwill. He isn't saying anything but he's saying nothing in a way that puts his position in a positive light. Curiously meaningless.


Overall the speech was vague enough that it gives a sense of the US position on the Israel/Palestine conflict without being offensive to a region of people who see the dispute drastically differently from the US. That was the needle Obama had to thread. Obama did all he could possibly do without drastically changing the US approach to the dispute.

If this is true, US/Iran relations are in the process of being restored

This would be a major shift if expressed by the President or the Executive Branch explicitly.
Regarding Iran, the Obama administration is preparing the ground for a policy distinguishing between Iran's right to have nuclear technology, including uranium enrichment done under international supervision, and the actual building of a nuclear weapon.
I've never seen a coherent argument that Iran doesn't have a right to enrich uranium, or even that as a punishment for previously failures to meet safeguard agreement obligations that Iran has a legal responsibility to either limit its access to technology going forward or even take what were originally explicitly described as voluntary and non-legally binding steps to build confidence in its program.
I've seen it argued that once a security council resolution was passed, Iran then had a legal responsibility to follow it. This argument always struck me as problematic. For one thing the Security Council resolution actually requires Iran to ratify the Additional Protocols of the NPT just as clearly as it demands a suspension for the duration of talks. The Additional Protocols impose a separate set of obligations that, by its own terms and by the terms of the original NPT, can only be valid of separately ratified. It is an entire separate and further treaty.
If the Security Council has the authority to demand a member nation ratify a treaty, why not force Israel, India and Pakistan to ratify the NPT?
And further, why not force any non-Security Council nation to ratify any arbitrary treaty. Do non-Security Council nations have any sovereignty that can withstand a Security Council obligation? An answer of no is difficult to accept. If the answer is yes or no it is at least understandable that Iran rejects Security Council resolutions that would substantially compromise Iran's sovereignty in a way that is very discriminatorily applied.
Anyway, Obama is a lawyer and maybe, maybe - this has been leaked but not released officially - his administration has come to the view that while talks are to be encouraged, Iran does have the legal right to enrich uranium.
This would mark a huge break from previous policy and a major step away from Israel-first policy in the region.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

BBC Timeline of Palestinian Conflict

Saved for future reference.
Both Arab and Jewish sides prepared for the coming confrontation by mobilising forces. The first "clearing" operations were conducted against Palestinian villages by Jewish forces in December.

Polls of Two State Solution among Palestinians
Do you support or reject the creation of two states on the historic land of Palestine (a Palestinian state and Israel)?

Total West Bank Gaza Strip
I support
42.5 41.7 43.8
I reject
54.3 56.2 51.0
No opinion/I do not know
3.2 2.1 5.2
100.0 100.0 100.0
Q.11 Some believe that a two-state formula is the favored solution for the Israeli –Palestinian conflict, while others believe that historic Palestine cannot be divided and thus the favored solution is a bi-national state on all of Palestine where Palestinians and Israelis enjoy equal representation and rights. Which of these solutions do you prefer?

Total West Bank Gaza
n= 1198 n= 758 n= 440
Two-state solution : an Israeli and a Palestinian
54.8 57.1 50.9
Bi-national state on all of historic Palestine
18.4 19.8 15.9
Palestinian State * 10.7 4.7 20.9
Islamic State * 1.6 1.8 1.1
Others 0.7 1.0 0.5
No solution 10.0 12.1 6.4
I don’t know 2.7 2.5 3.0
No answer 1.1 1.0 1.3

* These answers were not included as part of the options read to the interviewee.
1.23 Hopes for a future political solution of the conflict with Israel

One state with equal rights for all 20
One Islamic state 33
Two states 35
Three states 3
Don't know 9
It certainly overstates the case to say that Palestinians clearly prefer a two state solution to a one state solution. The poll, that I've seen used to advance that argument, strikes me as having a weird description of a binational state, with its explicit statement of equal representation for Palestinians and Israelis. My immediate interpretation of that was that regardless of population, Jews ("Israelis") would be kept at political parity with non-Jews in the scenario contemplated, even if that meant giving them disproportionate political power to their votes. In that poll, interestingly, over 10% of respondents spontaneously offered different one-state solutions.

The FAFO poll comes to me via Debka. I'm not sure to what degree "one state with equal rights for all" necessarily contradicts "one Islamic state". Most supporters of Zionism today describe Israel other than the occupied territories as a Jewish state with equal rights for all. After the return of refugees to the territory if not to their original homes, there would be a stable Muslim majority rendering the state "Islamic" in whatever way Israel is "Jewish" now.

But one state certainly outpolls two states in the abstract. From there it only becomes more pronounced because any two state solution approved by Israel would have severe limitations on the sovereignty of the Palestinian state. To present the types of solutions actually offered would further decrease the popularity of a two-state solution.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Tony Blair: There Will Be A Big Fight

I've come across this idea before:
"The alternative to a two-state solution is a one-state solution. If there is a one-state solution there is going to be a big fight," said Blair, the representative of the Quartet of international mediators in the Middle East.

The idea that "a big fight" necessarily follows from the proposition that there will not be a specifically Jewish state in Palestine.

I think this idea is wrong. I cannot envision how this "big fight" is supposed to happen. I'm also intrigues by the question of why Tony Blair would believe this, or why he would say it if he does not believe it.

I can only imagine that the idea is that there is a threat that Israel is to be forced to incorporate the territory and populations of the occupied territories, that Israel will expel the Palestinians to Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and/or Syria, which would cause a war somewhere.

I can't think of anyone anywhere that I expect to support another Israeli expulsion of Arabs now or in the future. The United States would be the most supportive, but expulsion for ethnic reasons? That violently goes against the US' claimed ideals. It is comparable to US actions with respect to the Native Americans, but those actions are universally in the US looked upon with disdain. It is doubtful that the US would support similar action today, especially overseas.

Of course, Israel's neighbors would oppose such a step. I guess this is where the war supposedly would come from. Israel would not be in a position to "win" the war, by effectively driving the Arabs out without a lot of outside support. Israel's leadership would take the level of outside support into account in the decision to make such an attempt. The question really is would Israel's decision makers believe the necessary Western support would be forthcoming. I'll repeat that I doubt it.

So does Tony Blair believe Israel's leaders would expect Western support in expelling Palestinians?

My best guess is that he hasn't thought it through. I'm sure he would never say in public that he would support an expulsion because that would be in such violent opposition to the ideals of the people he represents.

A more correct statement by Blair may have been: "If two states fails, there may be a big fight if Israel expects that it can expel Arabs with at least tacit Western support."

Could Israel expect at least tacit Western support for an expulsion? I very strongly doubt it. In which case the alternative to two states is actually a relatively peaceful transition to a negotiated one state settlement.