Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 15, 2007

The EU and the Palestinians

At the beginning of May, during a visit to Ramallah on the West Bank, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany declared that

Realistically, one must say that there are opportunities now that were not there in the past, but at the same time the risks are just as high. The opportunity lies in the fact that the Arab world is being much more constructive—the Arab League’s decision to renew its peace initiative was more than helpful—and I am pleased that it was also welcomed by the Israeli government.

Steinmeier—who made this statement during a session with President Mahmoud Abbas and Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr—was referring to the Arab peace initiative, whose envoys are soon expected in Israel for talks. Given the circumstances on the ground, this may yet be another signal that the Europeans are warming up to the idea of trying to renew the Arab-Israeli peace process. In theory, the new initiative would make possible an agreement between Israel and the larger Arab world while bypassing and imposing a settlement on the recalcitrant Palestinian factions.

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At the beginning of May, during a visit to Ramallah on the West Bank, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany declared that

Realistically, one must say that there are opportunities now that were not there in the past, but at the same time the risks are just as high. The opportunity lies in the fact that the Arab world is being much more constructive—the Arab League’s decision to renew its peace initiative was more than helpful—and I am pleased that it was also welcomed by the Israeli government.

Steinmeier—who made this statement during a session with President Mahmoud Abbas and Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr—was referring to the Arab peace initiative, whose envoys are soon expected in Israel for talks. Given the circumstances on the ground, this may yet be another signal that the Europeans are warming up to the idea of trying to renew the Arab-Israeli peace process. In theory, the new initiative would make possible an agreement between Israel and the larger Arab world while bypassing and imposing a settlement on the recalcitrant Palestinian factions.

Though under its German presidency—due to end on June 30—the EU made a strong commitment to advance the Middle East peace process, it has been cautious in dealing with the Palestinian Authority, and has so far stuck to its embargo on aid. Even after the establishment of the Hamas-Fatah national unity government, the EU did not budge, limiting itself to contact with non-Hamas ministers, dialogue with Abbas, and a renewed commitment to the temporary aid mechanism instituted by the EU after the elections in January 2006. As recently as late April, EU Commissioner Louis Michel said

There is no change as long as you have in the government a party that refuses to leave its armed wing and armed action. . . . We cannot deal with people who have an armed wing. It would be a very dangerous precedent.

But calls for a change of direction are mounting, with EU parliamentarians taking the lead. A delegation of them recently visited Gaza and met with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, defying the EU ban on direct contact with Hamas ministers. And a new petition, signed by dozens of members of the European Parliament, calls for recognition of the Hamas-Fatah government and for direct EU engagement with it.

Unfortunately for the parliamentarians, Palestinian reality quickly reasserted itself. Less than a week after their visit, two members of Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade were gunned down in a Gaza ambush during which an additional fourteen were wounded. (Revealing, perhaps the true colors of Palestinian “moderation and maturity,” to quote one of the European parliamentarians arguing for direct engagement.)

Factional fighting between Hamas and Fatah has increased; the survival of the unity government hangs in the balance; efforts by both Abbas and Haniyeh to secure the release of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston have failed; and Palestinian society is on the brink of implosion. Given these circumstances, it is no wonder that EU officials—ever a cautious lot—should ignore the wishes of Europe’s parliamentarians and attempt to carve out a diplomatic path that bypasses the Palestinians altogether.

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Who Will Control the GOP?

On the surface, the current brouhaha over Rudy Giuliani’s nuanced stance on abortion makes no sense. Ever since Roe v. Wade, it’s been the courts, not the executive, that shape and drive abortion policy. Guiliani has said that, like Bush, he will appoint strict-constructionist judges. So what’s the fuss about?

Well, the struggle over abortion is an important proxy in the fight for control of the Republican party. In the wake of the shellacking the GOP took in the 2006 mid-term elections, the social conservatives were set back on their heels. Like many liberals, they seem to have foolishly believed all the talk about the genius of Karl Rove in creating an unstoppable Republican electoral machine. Even though the Republicans’ massive defeat had been predicted by the polls, it was an enormous shock, and provided the opening that allowed Giuliani to emerge as the GOP frontrunner.

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On the surface, the current brouhaha over Rudy Giuliani’s nuanced stance on abortion makes no sense. Ever since Roe v. Wade, it’s been the courts, not the executive, that shape and drive abortion policy. Guiliani has said that, like Bush, he will appoint strict-constructionist judges. So what’s the fuss about?

Well, the struggle over abortion is an important proxy in the fight for control of the Republican party. In the wake of the shellacking the GOP took in the 2006 mid-term elections, the social conservatives were set back on their heels. Like many liberals, they seem to have foolishly believed all the talk about the genius of Karl Rove in creating an unstoppable Republican electoral machine. Even though the Republicans’ massive defeat had been predicted by the polls, it was an enormous shock, and provided the opening that allowed Giuliani to emerge as the GOP frontrunner.

With no success in Iraq in sight, Republicans are in a very weak position for the 2008 presidential campaign. Many see Giuliani as the only way to stave off a Democratic landslide. But in the months since the midterm elections, the party’s conservative activists have regrouped. Despite the public’s growing moderation on the abortion issue, activists like David O’Steen of the National Right to Life Committee suggest that Giuliani’s nuanced position on abortion disqualifies him from receiving the nomination. They argue, in effect, that Roe v. Wade trumps 9/11. What’s more, they have been given ammunition by the seeming inconsistencies of Giuliani’s response to the question about abortion at the first GOP debate.

Giuliani clarified his stand, and threw down a gauntlet, with the speech he gave last Friday at Houston Baptist College. He both affirmed his pro-choice position and defended his role in the Republican party, arguing, essentially, that the GOP must be a big tent or else face defeat in 2008. The speech was received with predictable hostility by some conservative leaders, but the crowd in Houston gave it a standing ovation. Which suggests that Giuliani’s viability does not depend on his stance on abortion, and that the future leadership of the GOP remains an open question.

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Hillary’s Time Tunnel, Episode 3

Can one go back into the past and alter the course of history? The Hillary Clinton for President Exploratory Committee has released its own remake of Hillary’s favorite show, The Time Tunnel. Starring Bill Clinton, it is now available here on YouTube.

In this latest episode—click here for episode one, and here for episode two—Bill Clinton enters the Time Tunnel and alters key happenings in Hillary’s life and career, long before she became a United States Senator and long before he became President.

The drama opens with Bill journeying across his own memories to the moment he met Hillary thirty-five years ago. We see her progress from law school to a career in public service—working for the Children’s Defense Fund and then the House Judiciary Committee. Foreshadowing events that would occur decades later, we then see Hillary following Bill to Arkansas as he became a devoted “public servant” while she taught in the local law school and set up a legal-aid clinic for poor people.

Suspense builds as history takes an astonishing turn in a direction starkly different from the way things happened the first time around. Thanks to the Time Tunnel, Hillary’s years working within the Rose law firm in Little Rock are erased. In an unexpected turn of events, her close friend and law partner Vincent Foster will never come to take his own life; her other close friend and law partner Webster Hubbell will never become a ranking official in the Justice Department and then a convicted felon. Hillary does not join them both in litigating against low-income consumers in a utility-rate case. Hubbell does not later recall, as he would in his memoirs, that “instead of defending poor people and righting wrongs, we found ourselves squarely on the side of corporate greed against the little people.” Read More

Can one go back into the past and alter the course of history? The Hillary Clinton for President Exploratory Committee has released its own remake of Hillary’s favorite show, The Time Tunnel. Starring Bill Clinton, it is now available here on YouTube.

In this latest episode—click here for episode one, and here for episode two—Bill Clinton enters the Time Tunnel and alters key happenings in Hillary’s life and career, long before she became a United States Senator and long before he became President.

The drama opens with Bill journeying across his own memories to the moment he met Hillary thirty-five years ago. We see her progress from law school to a career in public service—working for the Children’s Defense Fund and then the House Judiciary Committee. Foreshadowing events that would occur decades later, we then see Hillary following Bill to Arkansas as he became a devoted “public servant” while she taught in the local law school and set up a legal-aid clinic for poor people.

Suspense builds as history takes an astonishing turn in a direction starkly different from the way things happened the first time around. Thanks to the Time Tunnel, Hillary’s years working within the Rose law firm in Little Rock are erased. In an unexpected turn of events, her close friend and law partner Vincent Foster will never come to take his own life; her other close friend and law partner Webster Hubbell will never become a ranking official in the Justice Department and then a convicted felon. Hillary does not join them both in litigating against low-income consumers in a utility-rate case. Hubbell does not later recall, as he would in his memoirs, that “instead of defending poor people and righting wrongs, we found ourselves squarely on the side of corporate greed against the little people.”

The action then shifts to the climactic years at the White House. “Everyone knows,” says Bill, “that when I was in the White House and Hillary was the First Lady, she led our efforts to try to get health care for all Americans. And everyone knows we didn’t succeed.” As for what he himself was up to, we are given to understand that he was a faithful husband to his beloved First Lady. We are not shown the fateful moment in the White House alcove where Monica reveals her thong. In this version of the past, it would seem that Bill immediately said to the chubby intern, “thanks but no thanks”—and strutted off to the Oval Office to plot attacks on al Qaeda.

Alas, those who enter the Time Tunnel never ever succeed in altering the course of history; only some insignificant details can be changed. On September 11, 2001, 9/11 happened exactly on schedule. At 8:46 AM, a Boeing 767 aircraft crashed into the northern side of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Hillary ran for a second term in the Senate and won. Now she is running for President. Will the Time Tunnel give her a chance? Or will Whitewater and/or the vast right-wing conspiracy reemerge? Despite the best efforts of her Exploratory Committee, the Time Tunnel can neither help nor halt her. To find out what will happen next in this thrilling show, be sure to stay tuned.

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Polling the Muslim World, Part II

In my last post, I described the distressing amount of support for al Qaeda revealed by a recent poll of public opinion in four U.S.-allied Muslim-majority countries: Egypt, Morocco, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

This was not the only disconcerting finding of the survey. Asked whether one of the goals of U.S. global policy is “to weaken and divide Islam,” 79 percent answered in the affirmative, including 92 percent of Egyptian respondents. Asked whether the U.S. aimed “to spread Christianity in the Middle East,” 64 percent said yes. The poll then asked for the “primary goal” of the U.S. war on terror. Offered three choices, 36 percent said it was “to achieve political and military domination to control Middle East resources.” Thirty-four percent thought it was “to weaken and divide the Islamic religion and its people.” Only 19 percent thought the reason was “to protect itself from terrorist attacks.” (Please note, all numbers above and below have been rounded.)

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In my last post, I described the distressing amount of support for al Qaeda revealed by a recent poll of public opinion in four U.S.-allied Muslim-majority countries: Egypt, Morocco, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

This was not the only disconcerting finding of the survey. Asked whether one of the goals of U.S. global policy is “to weaken and divide Islam,” 79 percent answered in the affirmative, including 92 percent of Egyptian respondents. Asked whether the U.S. aimed “to spread Christianity in the Middle East,” 64 percent said yes. The poll then asked for the “primary goal” of the U.S. war on terror. Offered three choices, 36 percent said it was “to achieve political and military domination to control Middle East resources.” Thirty-four percent thought it was “to weaken and divide the Islamic religion and its people.” Only 19 percent thought the reason was “to protect itself from terrorist attacks.” (Please note, all numbers above and below have been rounded.)

In addition to such paranoia, the poll pointed to other delusions. Asked to identify the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, for every three respondents who pointed to al Qaeda, four pointed the finger at the U.S. or Israel.

As for the roots of this hostility to the U.S., the poll cast doubt on some common assumptions. It is often said that the publics in Muslim countries are angry at U.S. support for the regimes that oppress them. But asked if they favored pushing the U.S. “to stop providing support to such governments as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan,” only a modest plurality agreed. The one country that registered strong agreement with this proposition was the one democracy, Indonesia. By contrast, in Egypt—the only country surveyed that was also mentioned in the question—a narrow plurality opposed pushing the U.S. to cut aid. So much for the idea that Egyptians are hostile to us because we support their government.

A second explanation of anti-Americanism that the survey cast into doubt is the war in Iraq. There is no question that the war has fueled rage at the U.S.: when respondents were asked whether they approved of attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, slightly more than half said yes, slightly more than one-quarter said no, and the rest were undecided.

But then came the interesting part. When the same question was asked about attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the proportions were scarcely different. Then, when asked about attacks on U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf, support dropped, but only by a few percentage points. This suggests a hostility to the U.S. that goes well beyond our actions in Iraq.

Finally, there is hostility to U.S. support for Israel. When asked to identify al Qaeda’s goals and their own attitude toward these goals, 76 percent said they agree with al Qaeda’s goal of making the U.S. “stop favoring Israel.” But virtually identical numbers said they agreed with other goals, namely “keep[ing] Western values out of Islamic countries” (75 percent); “stand[ing] up to America and affirm[ing] the dignity of the Islamic people” (75 percent); and forcing a removal of U.S. bases “from all Islamic” countries (74 percent). Nearly as large a share (71 percent) said they agreed with the goal of “strict application of shari’a law in every Islamic country”; and a somewhat smaller but still substantial majority (65 percent) agreed with al Qaeda’s goal of “unify[ing] all Islamic countries into a single Islamic state or Caliphate.”

In sum, Muslim publics are undeniably angry at the U.S. because of our actions in Iraq and our support for Israel. But they are angry at us for many other reasons, too, some of them having far less to do with our actions than with their own self-definition.

Given this much agreement with al Qaeda’s goals, it is little wonder that Osama bin Laden was relatively popular with these respondents. Thirty percent said they had positive feelings about him; 29 percent said their feelings were mixed; only 19 percent reported having negative feelings.

I don’t know what all these data mean, but they certainly dispel the bromide that the terrorists are little more than a renegade band out to hijack Islam. They may indeed be attempting to hijack it, but, if this survey is accurate, a disturbing number of their co-religionists are ready to go along for the ride.

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Norman Podhoretz’s “The Case for Bombing Iran”

Norman Podhoretz’s “The Case for Bombing Iran,” an examination of the growing threat posed by continued inaction in response to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, will appear in our June print issue. But it’s now available free at COMMENTARY’s website.

Norman Podhoretz’s “The Case for Bombing Iran,” an examination of the growing threat posed by continued inaction in response to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, will appear in our June print issue. But it’s now available free at COMMENTARY’s website.

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