Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 5, 2011

Time to Call the Palestinians’ UN Bluff

For the last two months, much of the international community as well as friends of Israel have been in an uproar over the prospect the United Nations would be asked to endorse a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 lines. A vote in the UN General Assembly on this proposition is considered to be such a calamity for Israel that the Obama administration has used this possibility as leverage in order to secure a new batch of concessions from the Jewish state to appease the Palestinians. The fact that a certain U.S. veto makes the entire business an exercise in futility has not altered the general opinion Israel must do something, anything really, in order to prevent a vote on the matter.

Yet despite this, the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas said the PA would abandon its UN initiative if the diplomatic quartet (the U.S., the UN, the European Union and Russia) endorsed a two-state solution in which Israel would be called upon to unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank and Jerusalem and agree to a settlement freeze. In the PA’s plan, after the international community forced Israel to give up its only cards (territory) in advance of talks, then the Palestinians would consent to negotiate about Israel’s legitimacy and its threat to swamp the Jewish state with refugees.

Why is the PA being so generous as to give up on its UN ploy?

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For the last two months, much of the international community as well as friends of Israel have been in an uproar over the prospect the United Nations would be asked to endorse a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 lines. A vote in the UN General Assembly on this proposition is considered to be such a calamity for Israel that the Obama administration has used this possibility as leverage in order to secure a new batch of concessions from the Jewish state to appease the Palestinians. The fact that a certain U.S. veto makes the entire business an exercise in futility has not altered the general opinion Israel must do something, anything really, in order to prevent a vote on the matter.

Yet despite this, the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas said the PA would abandon its UN initiative if the diplomatic quartet (the U.S., the UN, the European Union and Russia) endorsed a two-state solution in which Israel would be called upon to unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank and Jerusalem and agree to a settlement freeze. In the PA’s plan, after the international community forced Israel to give up its only cards (territory) in advance of talks, then the Palestinians would consent to negotiate about Israel’s legitimacy and its threat to swamp the Jewish state with refugees.

Why is the PA being so generous as to give up on its UN ploy?

Faced with the certainty of defeat in the UN and the problem of how to handle its own restive population once these events are set in motion, the Palestinian Authority has become more than a bit queasy about its bright idea. They understand if they go through with this threat they will have escalated the conflict without doing anything to help their own people or to strengthen their increasingly loose grip on power in the West Bank. The only real winner of a UN debate on Palestinian statehood without peace with Israel is Hamas. The inevitable defeat of the resolution will weaken Fatah and strengthen the position of its Islamist rival.

Thus, the PA’s “offer” to withdraw its proposal from the UN is a gigantic bluff. Abbas knows he must find a pretext to call off his much ballyhooed date with destiny in September and is desperate for the international community or Israel to provide one for him. There are some in Washington as well as in Europe who would be happy to pay for Abbas’ withdrawal from the UN in this manner. But for Israel to acquiesce in this farce to the point of making any concessions that would harm its negotiating position in the future is absurd.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to know this and appears to be refusing to give Abbas a reward for not going to the UN. President Obama has had his own reasons for going along with Abbas’ masquerade–it added pressure on Israel. But with Abbas now publicly backing away, it is time for Obama to do the same. If the Palestinians wish to return to peace talks with Israel, they can do so at any time. In the meantime, the rest of the world needs to call their bluff on a UN vote.

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Scowcroft on the Arab Spring: It’s Israel’s Fault

The problem with so many realists is they allow ideological blinders to get in the way of both evidence and dispassionate analysis. Gen. Brent Scowcroft has long championed engagement with the worst dictatorships in the name of realism and a skewed perception of American national security interests.

This year’s Arab Spring should have been a wake-up call. Perhaps the tête-à-têtes with regional leaders, embassy cocktail parties, and interactions in five-star hotels did not provide a realistic notion of the issues which mattered most on the proverbial Arab street. Perhaps events should force introspection about personal biases. Alas, in the case of Scowcroft, they appeared instead to have reinforced personal biases and discredited analysis.

A columnist for Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News recently interviewed Scowcroft in Washington. A key portion of the resulting column:

Gen. Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, in an interview in his office a block from the White House, told me that the “dissent or the growing hostility [against U.S.] in the region really comes from what they [Arabs] see as U.S. support for Israel as much as anything else. We are identified with our support to Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians…” According to Scowcroft, as he reflected the thoughts of an important part of foreign policy elite in Washington, “because of injustice that the Arabs and Palestinians perceive, while they try to get rid of oppressive regimes through protests in various states, they also appear to want to get rid of this injustice… I think that sense of injustice is a deeper sentiment of the Arab Spring than the demands for democracy.”

It’s time for the realists to wake up and smell reality: While the lack of peace in the Middle East is problematic, it is but one of many problems which afflict the region. Of far more concern to ordinary Arabs across the Middle East are: corruption, authoritarianism, torture, lack of opportunity, and economic stagnation. None of these are Israel’s fault, and they are only America’s responsibility in that old guard officials like Scowcroft refuse to remove their ideological blinders to understand that Arabs from Syria to Saudi Arabia to the Western Sahara don’t like the White House supporting dictatorships. Scowcroft shouldn’t talk down to Arabs. When they protest for democracy, they are not simply channeling outrage at Israel. They are seeking democracy, and it should be a U.S. interest to ensure they get it rather than have their efforts channeled into another dictatorship, Islamist or otherwise.

The problem with so many realists is they allow ideological blinders to get in the way of both evidence and dispassionate analysis. Gen. Brent Scowcroft has long championed engagement with the worst dictatorships in the name of realism and a skewed perception of American national security interests.

This year’s Arab Spring should have been a wake-up call. Perhaps the tête-à-têtes with regional leaders, embassy cocktail parties, and interactions in five-star hotels did not provide a realistic notion of the issues which mattered most on the proverbial Arab street. Perhaps events should force introspection about personal biases. Alas, in the case of Scowcroft, they appeared instead to have reinforced personal biases and discredited analysis.

A columnist for Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News recently interviewed Scowcroft in Washington. A key portion of the resulting column:

Gen. Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, in an interview in his office a block from the White House, told me that the “dissent or the growing hostility [against U.S.] in the region really comes from what they [Arabs] see as U.S. support for Israel as much as anything else. We are identified with our support to Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians…” According to Scowcroft, as he reflected the thoughts of an important part of foreign policy elite in Washington, “because of injustice that the Arabs and Palestinians perceive, while they try to get rid of oppressive regimes through protests in various states, they also appear to want to get rid of this injustice… I think that sense of injustice is a deeper sentiment of the Arab Spring than the demands for democracy.”

It’s time for the realists to wake up and smell reality: While the lack of peace in the Middle East is problematic, it is but one of many problems which afflict the region. Of far more concern to ordinary Arabs across the Middle East are: corruption, authoritarianism, torture, lack of opportunity, and economic stagnation. None of these are Israel’s fault, and they are only America’s responsibility in that old guard officials like Scowcroft refuse to remove their ideological blinders to understand that Arabs from Syria to Saudi Arabia to the Western Sahara don’t like the White House supporting dictatorships. Scowcroft shouldn’t talk down to Arabs. When they protest for democracy, they are not simply channeling outrage at Israel. They are seeking democracy, and it should be a U.S. interest to ensure they get it rather than have their efforts channeled into another dictatorship, Islamist or otherwise.

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