This week’s flare-up between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has rekindled the discussion about Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. But amid all the debate over the wisdom of that withdrawal, one point seems to have been lost. The administration of George W. Bush put in writing its full support of Israel’s right to security and defensible borders as the disengagement approached.
Though the Obama administration pointedly rejected the notion that it was bound by that agreement, the Gaza withdrawal was yet another item of proof that Israeli leaders are willing to make sacrifices for peace when there is no “daylight” between the Israeli and American leaders. Yet in July 2009, President Obama held a meeting with American Jewish leaders to explain to them that daylight was needed after all. Here is how the Washington Post reported on that meeting:
Despite having opposed Israel’s pullout from Gaza from the very beginning, I cheered when I read Jonathan’s post on why he supported it. I, too, think Israel’s overseas supporters–on both sides of the political spectrum–ought to accord more respect to Israelis’ democratic decisions than they sometimes do. But this isn’t only because, as he rightly said, Israelis are the ones who ultimately bear the consequences of those decisions. It’s because in making those decisions, Israelis often have knowledge that even the most supportive and best-informed non-Israelis lack.
By this, I don’t just mean knowledge of the facts, though that’s also an issue. During the “quiet” years following Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas in Gaza, for instance, people overseas were often shocked when I mentioned that rockets still fell regularly on southern Israel; that’s information even regular visitors to Israeli news sites could easily have missed. Yet it obviously affected Israelis’ views on territorial withdrawals.
How far our once secular, Western-oriented NATO ally Turkey has fallen in the past decade. Whereas once Turkey could be counted on as a democratic bulwark against terrorism, now the country’s leaders orient themselves not only in the Islamist camp, but increasingly in the extremist one as well. It’s hard to understand why congressmen remain in the Congressional Turkey Caucus when they are, in effect, lending their moral support to Turkey’s gradually more erratic and extremist prime minister.
Perhaps these congressmen would like to get a hold of a copy of Islam Dünyası, a Turkish jihadi magazine. Here’s their website. The current issue features Defne Bayrak, wife of the suicide bomber who killed seven CIA officers in Afghanistan, in which she calls for more attacks on America. Certainly, not all Turks are this extreme. Indeed, only a small minority are. The problem, however, is that the current government encourages such extremism. Perhaps it is time for the Obama administration and State Department to stop ignoring the changes underway in Turkey.
Hillary Clinton announced the deal at a Cairo press conference this afternoon. Reports haven’t included all the details of the agreement just yet, but it’s supposed to take effect shortly:
Nov 21 (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday the ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza had come at a crucial time for countries of the Middle East.
“This is a critical moment for the region. Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone for regional stability and peace,” she said at a joint news conference with her Egyptian counterpart, Mohamed Kamel Amr.
Azerbaijan is an important American ally for a number of reasons. Unlike Turkey, it remains true to its secular principles. Unlike neighboring Armenia—a country which continues to occupy one-third of Azerbaijan—it remains firmly oriented to the West and does not readily do Russia’s and Iran’s bidding. And unlike Iran to its south, its majority Shi’ite Muslim population realizes that empty religious rhetoric is no panacea.
Azerbaijan does have its flaws, however. Chief among them is its leadership’s reticence to reform and failure to make much if any progress in the Azeri peoples’ demands to move toward democracy. Freedom House ranks Azerbaijan firmly in the “Not Free” camp. Reporters Without Frontiers ranks Azerbaijani press freedom even below that of Turkey and Russia, a depth which censors and security forces must go out of their way to achieve.
Though most of the news out of Turkey in recent years has been dispiriting, the once-secular nation finally seems to be paying a price for its Islamist turn. As the New York Times reports today, Turkey is learning an age-old lesson about power politics in the Middle East: in alienating Israel in a bid to win the trust of the region’s Arab population, it has marginalized itself:
After prayers last Friday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stepped outside a mosque on the banks of the Bosphorous here and dismissed a suggestion that Turkey should talk directly with its onetime ally, Israel, to attempt to resolve the crisis unfolding in Gaza.
“We do not have any connections in terms of dialogue with Israel,” he said.
But by Tuesday, Turkey seemed to indicate that while its strident anti-Israel posture has been popular among Arabs, it has been at its own expense, undermining its ability to play the role of regional power broker by leaving it with little leverage to intercede in the Gaza conflict. As he headed to Gaza with an Arab League delegation on Tuesday, Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, suggested to reporters that back-channel discussions had been opened with Israeli authorities.
The article contrasts Turkey’s standing in the current conflict with that of Egypt. Since both Egypt’s government and the Hamas rulers of Gaza spring from the Muslim Brotherhood, and since Egypt and Gaza share a border (though not in the ignorant minds of the “flotilla” activists), Egypt has a natural advantage over Turkey as a power broker in this case. Egypt also has history on its side, and in the Middle East, history counts for a lot. So this puts Turkey at a disadvantage to begin with, which it only compounded by making a series of unforced errors.
The terrorist bombing of a Tel Aviv bus wounded 23 this morning. The last time there was an attack like this in Tel Aviv was 2006, and it raises the obvious questions about the danger of this conflict taking repeated aim at the bustling population center. This wasn’t a suicide bombing, and the two suspects are reportedly on the run.
Also, in case there was any doubt this would hinder a potential cease-fire deal, the Jerusalem Post reports that Hamas has already started celebrating in Gaza:
Standing beside the UN secretary general yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted again that every rocket from Gaza is a double war crime, since each reflects: (1) an intentional indiscriminate attack on civilians, while (2) hiding behind a civilian population for protection.
It is actually a triple war crime, because the use of civilians as shields is intended not simply for protection of the terrorists, but to ensure that Palestinian civilians are killed — to produce the response from the UN, the New York Times, and others in the “international community” necessary to win the media war that is conducted alongside the military one. In a phone call late last night in Israel, a noted Israeli commentator described the situation that Israel faces as Kafkaesque:
“The most bizarre part is that Israel is in the position of protecting the Gaza public from its own leadership that is trying to get them killed in order to win points with the New York Times.”
Like the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens and our own Max Boot, I, too, have been thinking a lot lately about the seven-year-old debate about whether Israel was wise to withdraw from Gaza. Both Bret and Max are of course right when they say that, looking back on it now, it is clear that the decision was a colossal blunder. Despite the assurances of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and many of the country’s military leaders, Israel’s security was compromised by the decision. It led directly to the creation of a Hamas terror state whose existence may not ever be undone. Just as troubling, Israel did not receive one bit of credit from the international community, let alone its foes, for removing every soldier and settler from the area. Bret summed it up nicely when he wrote:
Put simply, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza yielded less security, greater diplomatic isolation, and a Palestinian regime even more radical and emboldened than it had been before. As strategic failures go, it was nearly perfect.
But unlike Bret and Max, I don’t feel obligated to offer any mea culpas about my position on the withdrawal. While I supported the move, it was not because I didn’t have doubts about whether the army was right about it being easier to fight Hamas outside Gaza rather than inside it. Nor was I under any illusions about Israel reaping any public relations benefits from the scheme. To the contrary, I was quite sure that, as was the case with previous territorial surrenders, it would merely increase the appetite of Israel’s enemies for more. So why didn’t those reservations compel me to take a stand against Sharon? It was because the decision to withdraw was the decision of the democratically elected government of the state of Israel. Indeed, I believe the defense of that principle — that Israel’s people must be accorded the right to make their own decisions about their fate — is a far more important duty for us today than the need to second-guess the decision of a leader and a government that has long since faded from the country’s political scene.
Bret Stephens had a thought-provoking column Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal in which he recanted his previous support for the Gaza pullout. It made me wonder whether I too was wrong to support Sharon’s disengagement in 2005.
Like Bret, I went back to look at what I wrote at the time. In August 2005 I published an article in the Los Angeles Times entitled, “Hamastan? Gaza Pullout Worth the Risk.” As the title implies, I freely acknowledged that Gaza would likely become a breeding ground of terrorism, possibly even of international terrorism. But I nevertheless argued that “on balance” the pullout was worth the risk because it would allow Israel “to regain the initiative — moral and political,” and that “if the Palestinians fire rockets from Gaza, Israel will be free to mount a military response — more free, in fact, when the threat comes from a sovereign Palestinian state than when it emanates from Israeli-occupied territory.”