Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ariel Sharon

Does the Arab League Matter?

The Sunnis, we have been told time and time again, are in the midst of a huge freak-out when it comes to Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah — the three horsemen of the Middle Eastern apocalypse, as it were, or the three states (can we call Hezbollah a state yet?) whose alliance and ambition have put the Sunni regimes on the defensive and inspired the Arab street.

So the Arab League gathered in Cairo to show these uppity Shiites and their perfidious Alawite lackey just who is in charge in the Middle East. The Saudi foreign minister compared Hezbollah to Ariel Sharon, which is a pretty rude thing to say when you’re talking about your brother Arabs. “The legitimate government in Lebanon is being subjected to an all-out war,” he thundered. “We, the Arab world cannot stand idly by as this happens. We must do whatever it takes in order to stop this war and save Lebanon, even if this requires the establishment of an Arab force that will quickly be deployed there, thus protecting the existing legitimate government.”

An Arab force to battle Hezbollah — that would be something, wouldn’t it? So what did the Arab League decide to do? In its final statement, it couldn’t muster the unity or fortitude to even condemn Hezbollah.

The Sunnis, we have been told time and time again, are in the midst of a huge freak-out when it comes to Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah — the three horsemen of the Middle Eastern apocalypse, as it were, or the three states (can we call Hezbollah a state yet?) whose alliance and ambition have put the Sunni regimes on the defensive and inspired the Arab street.

So the Arab League gathered in Cairo to show these uppity Shiites and their perfidious Alawite lackey just who is in charge in the Middle East. The Saudi foreign minister compared Hezbollah to Ariel Sharon, which is a pretty rude thing to say when you’re talking about your brother Arabs. “The legitimate government in Lebanon is being subjected to an all-out war,” he thundered. “We, the Arab world cannot stand idly by as this happens. We must do whatever it takes in order to stop this war and save Lebanon, even if this requires the establishment of an Arab force that will quickly be deployed there, thus protecting the existing legitimate government.”

An Arab force to battle Hezbollah — that would be something, wouldn’t it? So what did the Arab League decide to do? In its final statement, it couldn’t muster the unity or fortitude to even condemn Hezbollah.

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Time (Rhymes with Crime)

In 1977, Time Magazine welcomed the election of Menahem Begin in Israel by offering a helpful guide to pronouncing the new leader’s name with a reference to one of the most hostile literary depictions of Jews: “Begin (rhymes with Fagin)”. Five years later, Time Magazine claimed falsely (according to a New York jury) that Ariel Sharon had effectively encouraged the massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. Time Magazine has a history, is what I’m saying. And the latest example of Time’s repugnant and ridiculous coverage of Middle Eastern matters comes in a gobsmacking note on the car-bombing death of Imad Mughniyah. After detailing Mughniyah’s 25-year career of slaughter and destruction, and noting that his death was devoutly desired from Israel to Saudi Arabia, Time suggests that perhaps Iran and Syria killed the man who was, without question, their greatest external asset:

In the John Le Carre world of Middle East terrorism and politics, however, it’s impossible to rule out the wildest of conspiracy theories, including that Mughniyah’s friends in Syria or Iran may have found his continued existence to be an inconvenience. Or, they may have believed it was politically useful to demonstrate that they can be relied on to control terrorism in the Middle East — as long as the U.S. doesn’t try to go after the regimes in Damascus or Tehran.

Get it? Iran and Syria might have killed the terror master they created and ran in order to prove they will take care of bad terrorists — but you know, they won’t be willing to be so noble and charitable should the United States do something against them. This is one of the most embarrassing pieces of geopolitical analysis ever published. And in Time’s glorious tradition of doing everything it can to think the best of tyrannical Arab states. Well done, Time (rhymes with crime).

 

In 1977, Time Magazine welcomed the election of Menahem Begin in Israel by offering a helpful guide to pronouncing the new leader’s name with a reference to one of the most hostile literary depictions of Jews: “Begin (rhymes with Fagin)”. Five years later, Time Magazine claimed falsely (according to a New York jury) that Ariel Sharon had effectively encouraged the massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. Time Magazine has a history, is what I’m saying. And the latest example of Time’s repugnant and ridiculous coverage of Middle Eastern matters comes in a gobsmacking note on the car-bombing death of Imad Mughniyah. After detailing Mughniyah’s 25-year career of slaughter and destruction, and noting that his death was devoutly desired from Israel to Saudi Arabia, Time suggests that perhaps Iran and Syria killed the man who was, without question, their greatest external asset:

In the John Le Carre world of Middle East terrorism and politics, however, it’s impossible to rule out the wildest of conspiracy theories, including that Mughniyah’s friends in Syria or Iran may have found his continued existence to be an inconvenience. Or, they may have believed it was politically useful to demonstrate that they can be relied on to control terrorism in the Middle East — as long as the U.S. doesn’t try to go after the regimes in Damascus or Tehran.

Get it? Iran and Syria might have killed the terror master they created and ran in order to prove they will take care of bad terrorists — but you know, they won’t be willing to be so noble and charitable should the United States do something against them. This is one of the most embarrassing pieces of geopolitical analysis ever published. And in Time’s glorious tradition of doing everything it can to think the best of tyrannical Arab states. Well done, Time (rhymes with crime).

 

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Olmert’s Misguided Optimism

Credit Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with one thing: he’s probably the only world leader more publicly optimistic about Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects than George W. Bush. Yesterday, Olmert announced that Israel would begin negotiating final borders with the Palestinians, the ongoing crisis in Gaza notwithstanding. “On this issue there is a set of previous understandings and international backing,” Olmert said, raising expectations in the Israeli press for an “easy” solution.

Of course, Olmert is delusional—Israeli-Palestinian consensus on border issues is light years away. Just ask the Arabic press, which completely ignored Olmert’s negotiations announcement. Instead, the Palestine News Agency, al-Jazeera, and al-Quds placed Israel’s decision to construct new housing units in East Jerusalem among its top headlines, while al-Hayat al-Jadida bemoaned “the Judaization of Jerusalem.” Meanwhile, al-Ayyam’s coverage of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s visit to Washington emphasized his call for an end to Israeli settlement activity—an appropriate focus, given Fayyad’s newly avowed pessimism towards the peace process.

The source of this widening gap between Israeli and Palestinian leaders’ outlooks appears to be Olmert’s fixation on Bush’s April 2004 letter to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which Olmert cited in his call for border negotiations. In this letter, Bush acknowledged that, “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” At the time, Israelis interpreted this as recognizing settlement blocs along the Green Line as a diplomatic reward for the forthcoming Gaza disengagement, thus removing the mutual exclusivity of land-for-peace with settlement expansion.

In fact, the letter recognized no such thing. Rather, it simply allowed for the possibility that future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations would opt for “mutually agreed changes” to the Green Line in establishing final borders, and promised to endorse these changes if they were formulated by the two sides. Moreover, the letter made repeated reference to the Road Map, the first phase of which explicitly calls on Israel to freeze settlement activity.

Of course, settlement activity is not the primary reason for the absence of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Indeed, considering the full-scale guerilla war that will likely hit Gaza in the near future, the settlements are small beans. Still, the Prime Minister’s inability to recognize the distance that exists between him and his Palestinian counterparts on borders—which is roughly the distance between the Green Line and the eastern edge of Har Homa—is confounding. If Olmert hopes to bridge that distance, he would be well advised to match his stated goals with policy, finally acknowledging the extent to which continued settlement building is inconsistent with peace efforts.

Credit Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with one thing: he’s probably the only world leader more publicly optimistic about Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects than George W. Bush. Yesterday, Olmert announced that Israel would begin negotiating final borders with the Palestinians, the ongoing crisis in Gaza notwithstanding. “On this issue there is a set of previous understandings and international backing,” Olmert said, raising expectations in the Israeli press for an “easy” solution.

Of course, Olmert is delusional—Israeli-Palestinian consensus on border issues is light years away. Just ask the Arabic press, which completely ignored Olmert’s negotiations announcement. Instead, the Palestine News Agency, al-Jazeera, and al-Quds placed Israel’s decision to construct new housing units in East Jerusalem among its top headlines, while al-Hayat al-Jadida bemoaned “the Judaization of Jerusalem.” Meanwhile, al-Ayyam’s coverage of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s visit to Washington emphasized his call for an end to Israeli settlement activity—an appropriate focus, given Fayyad’s newly avowed pessimism towards the peace process.

The source of this widening gap between Israeli and Palestinian leaders’ outlooks appears to be Olmert’s fixation on Bush’s April 2004 letter to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which Olmert cited in his call for border negotiations. In this letter, Bush acknowledged that, “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” At the time, Israelis interpreted this as recognizing settlement blocs along the Green Line as a diplomatic reward for the forthcoming Gaza disengagement, thus removing the mutual exclusivity of land-for-peace with settlement expansion.

In fact, the letter recognized no such thing. Rather, it simply allowed for the possibility that future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations would opt for “mutually agreed changes” to the Green Line in establishing final borders, and promised to endorse these changes if they were formulated by the two sides. Moreover, the letter made repeated reference to the Road Map, the first phase of which explicitly calls on Israel to freeze settlement activity.

Of course, settlement activity is not the primary reason for the absence of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Indeed, considering the full-scale guerilla war that will likely hit Gaza in the near future, the settlements are small beans. Still, the Prime Minister’s inability to recognize the distance that exists between him and his Palestinian counterparts on borders—which is roughly the distance between the Green Line and the eastern edge of Har Homa—is confounding. If Olmert hopes to bridge that distance, he would be well advised to match his stated goals with policy, finally acknowledging the extent to which continued settlement building is inconsistent with peace efforts.

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Where’s the Middle East?

Few magazine covers are more iconic than Time’s annual “Person of the Year” issue, which commemorates the individual who has had the greatest impact on world events, for better or worse. This year’s choice, Russian President Vladimir Putin, is a decent one. Putin has reasserted Russia’s role in international affairs—Russia has played a frustrating role vis-à-vis Iran, and is vying for an increased role in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking—while his domestic maneuvering has all but insured that he will be named prime minister upon leaving the presidency next year. For better or worse, Putin has been critically influential in world affairs, and will likely remain so for years to come.

But beyond selecting a “Person of the Year,” Time usually names a few runners-up, as well as roughly 15-30 “people who mattered.” In years past, Middle Eastern leaders have almost always fallen into these subsidiary categories. Last year—following Iran’s stubborn pursuit of nuclear weapons and critical support for terrorism in Iraq, Lebanon, and Gaza—Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a runner-up. Ahmadinejad was also named a “person who mattered” in 2005, shortly after being elected. Meanwhile, Ariel Sharon shared the distinction of “person who mattered” with Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in 2004, and with Hamas in 2002; Ehud Barak and Yasir Arafat “mattered” in 2000; and Jordan’s Queen Noor “mattered” in 1999. If we factor in Time’s reported decision to forgo Osama Bin Laden as “Person of the Year” in 2001 in favor of Rudy Giuliani, and accept that 2003’s selection of the American soldier as “Person of the Year” was an explicitly Middle East-relevant story, 2007 is the first year in nearly a decade in which the Middle East has been entirely shutout.

While we should avoid placing too much weight on these distinctions, the absence of Middle Eastern leaders from the list of “people who mattered” suggests that the Middle East is sorely lacking in compelling figures. Consider this remarkably uninspiring roster: Ehud Olmert (severely unpopular in Israel); Mahmoud Abbas (weak and unpopular); Fouad Siniora (fears assassination and lives in his parliamentary office); King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (biggest accomplishment: brokering the failed—and costly—Hamas-Fatah truce); Hosni Mubarak (renewed crackdowns against liberal dissidents); King Abdullah II of Jordan (M.I.A.); and Bashar al-Assad (passively sticking with Iran). Indeed, none of these leaders inspires much excitement, for better or worse.

Of course, the absence of newsworthy Middle Eastern leaders is not necessarily a bad thing. One can hardly be too nostalgic for Yasir Arafat’s shared “Man of the Year” designation in 1993, or King Faisal’s “Man of the Year” designation in 1974 during the OPEC price hikes. Still, the absence of a single compelling Middle Eastern leader suggests that the region is directionless. In this way, Time’s failure to recognize the Middle East speaks volumes.

Few magazine covers are more iconic than Time’s annual “Person of the Year” issue, which commemorates the individual who has had the greatest impact on world events, for better or worse. This year’s choice, Russian President Vladimir Putin, is a decent one. Putin has reasserted Russia’s role in international affairs—Russia has played a frustrating role vis-à-vis Iran, and is vying for an increased role in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking—while his domestic maneuvering has all but insured that he will be named prime minister upon leaving the presidency next year. For better or worse, Putin has been critically influential in world affairs, and will likely remain so for years to come.

But beyond selecting a “Person of the Year,” Time usually names a few runners-up, as well as roughly 15-30 “people who mattered.” In years past, Middle Eastern leaders have almost always fallen into these subsidiary categories. Last year—following Iran’s stubborn pursuit of nuclear weapons and critical support for terrorism in Iraq, Lebanon, and Gaza—Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a runner-up. Ahmadinejad was also named a “person who mattered” in 2005, shortly after being elected. Meanwhile, Ariel Sharon shared the distinction of “person who mattered” with Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in 2004, and with Hamas in 2002; Ehud Barak and Yasir Arafat “mattered” in 2000; and Jordan’s Queen Noor “mattered” in 1999. If we factor in Time’s reported decision to forgo Osama Bin Laden as “Person of the Year” in 2001 in favor of Rudy Giuliani, and accept that 2003’s selection of the American soldier as “Person of the Year” was an explicitly Middle East-relevant story, 2007 is the first year in nearly a decade in which the Middle East has been entirely shutout.

While we should avoid placing too much weight on these distinctions, the absence of Middle Eastern leaders from the list of “people who mattered” suggests that the Middle East is sorely lacking in compelling figures. Consider this remarkably uninspiring roster: Ehud Olmert (severely unpopular in Israel); Mahmoud Abbas (weak and unpopular); Fouad Siniora (fears assassination and lives in his parliamentary office); King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (biggest accomplishment: brokering the failed—and costly—Hamas-Fatah truce); Hosni Mubarak (renewed crackdowns against liberal dissidents); King Abdullah II of Jordan (M.I.A.); and Bashar al-Assad (passively sticking with Iran). Indeed, none of these leaders inspires much excitement, for better or worse.

Of course, the absence of newsworthy Middle Eastern leaders is not necessarily a bad thing. One can hardly be too nostalgic for Yasir Arafat’s shared “Man of the Year” designation in 1993, or King Faisal’s “Man of the Year” designation in 1974 during the OPEC price hikes. Still, the absence of a single compelling Middle Eastern leader suggests that the region is directionless. In this way, Time’s failure to recognize the Middle East speaks volumes.

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The Middle East Money Shot

Last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that she had “better things to do than invite people to Annapolis for a photo op.” What she meant, of course, was that she had better things to do than invite people to Annapolis exclusively for a photo op. So have no fear, jpeg collectors: from the moment Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas arrived at the White House on Monday, the cameras were rolling.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the photos that each Annapolis participant chooses to publicize are highly significant. Given that it had the most invested in the conference’s success, the White House naturally led the Annapolis photo race, offering a full slideshow of the opening state dinner, and as many photos as possible depicting Bush as the matchmaker behind an Olmert-Abbas courtship. The Israelis were not far behind, with photos suggesting that the courtship had progressed to the point that Abbas and Olmert even sat around a table with each other’s families. The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also made an impressive contribution to the Most Hopeful-Looking Photo Contest, depicting Bush forming the human chain with his counterparts.

Perhaps the real photo story emerging from Annapolis, however, was Bush’s relentless pursuit of the hallowed Middle East Money Shot, which typically features the sitting American president dramatically guiding an Arab-Israeli handshake. Jimmy Carter was the original choreographer of this image, while Bill Clinton was fortunate to enjoy the famous pose twice: at the signing of the Oslo Accords and the forging of Jordanian-Israeli peace. (Clinton narrowly missed out on a third Money Shot at the signing of the Wye River Memorandum, where he was boxed out by an ailing King Hussein.)

Prior to Annapolis, Bush had posed for the Money Shot only once—at the inconclusive 2003 Red Sea Summit on the “Road Map,” where Abbas, then Yasser Arafat’s impotent prime minister, locked hands with Ariel Sharon. But during the one-day Annapolis Conference, Bush went on a tear, managing no less than three different shots of himself standing amidst new best friends Olmert and Abbas.

Of course, the Money Shot is not as meaningful as it once was: it no longer signifies the signing of a treaty and, as Rice demonstrated in February, even a secretary of state can pose for one. But the optimism it symbolizes was apparently too seductive for the American and Israeli presses to pass up: The New York Times, MSNBC, FoxNews, Ma’ariv, and Ha’aretz all featured the Money Shot prominently in their Annapolis coverage.

Yet, in the absence of concrete steps taken to further peace, the pessimism of Arab photojournalism seems more apt. Arab press coverage of Annapolis naturally depicts Bush meeting with Abbas, but domestic Palestinian opposition to peace talks that challenge their viability is also a major theme. Moreover, Olmert is rarely displayed alongside Abbas, and the two are never seen shaking hands—with one key exception: Hezbollah’s al-Manar station, predictably misusing the symbols of Arab-Israeli peace, proudly features the Money Shot.

Last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that she had “better things to do than invite people to Annapolis for a photo op.” What she meant, of course, was that she had better things to do than invite people to Annapolis exclusively for a photo op. So have no fear, jpeg collectors: from the moment Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas arrived at the White House on Monday, the cameras were rolling.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the photos that each Annapolis participant chooses to publicize are highly significant. Given that it had the most invested in the conference’s success, the White House naturally led the Annapolis photo race, offering a full slideshow of the opening state dinner, and as many photos as possible depicting Bush as the matchmaker behind an Olmert-Abbas courtship. The Israelis were not far behind, with photos suggesting that the courtship had progressed to the point that Abbas and Olmert even sat around a table with each other’s families. The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also made an impressive contribution to the Most Hopeful-Looking Photo Contest, depicting Bush forming the human chain with his counterparts.

Perhaps the real photo story emerging from Annapolis, however, was Bush’s relentless pursuit of the hallowed Middle East Money Shot, which typically features the sitting American president dramatically guiding an Arab-Israeli handshake. Jimmy Carter was the original choreographer of this image, while Bill Clinton was fortunate to enjoy the famous pose twice: at the signing of the Oslo Accords and the forging of Jordanian-Israeli peace. (Clinton narrowly missed out on a third Money Shot at the signing of the Wye River Memorandum, where he was boxed out by an ailing King Hussein.)

Prior to Annapolis, Bush had posed for the Money Shot only once—at the inconclusive 2003 Red Sea Summit on the “Road Map,” where Abbas, then Yasser Arafat’s impotent prime minister, locked hands with Ariel Sharon. But during the one-day Annapolis Conference, Bush went on a tear, managing no less than three different shots of himself standing amidst new best friends Olmert and Abbas.

Of course, the Money Shot is not as meaningful as it once was: it no longer signifies the signing of a treaty and, as Rice demonstrated in February, even a secretary of state can pose for one. But the optimism it symbolizes was apparently too seductive for the American and Israeli presses to pass up: The New York Times, MSNBC, FoxNews, Ma’ariv, and Ha’aretz all featured the Money Shot prominently in their Annapolis coverage.

Yet, in the absence of concrete steps taken to further peace, the pessimism of Arab photojournalism seems more apt. Arab press coverage of Annapolis naturally depicts Bush meeting with Abbas, but domestic Palestinian opposition to peace talks that challenge their viability is also a major theme. Moreover, Olmert is rarely displayed alongside Abbas, and the two are never seen shaking hands—with one key exception: Hezbollah’s al-Manar station, predictably misusing the symbols of Arab-Israeli peace, proudly features the Money Shot.

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ANNAPOLIS: There Has to Be Something to It, Right?

Over the past few weeks, consensus has continually held that little should be expected from the Annapolis conference, which opens tomorrow. Op-ed after op-ed and poll after poll have dictated that Israeli and Palestinian leaders are too weak, if not too far apart in their positions, for any meaningful progress towards peace to take place.

Yet it’s hard to reconcile the notion that Annapolis is little more than an impressive photo op with the serious diplomatic capital that Arab states have invested in it. Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia announced that it would send Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, marking the first time that the Saudis are participating in talks with Israelis present. Representatives of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen will also participate. Indeed, the Annapolis conference has achieved such profound legitimacy that Syria—believing that it risked regional isolation by not attending—announced that it would send its deputy foreign minister.

How can we explain this broad participation in a conference doomed to failure? Below, I weigh the compelling and insufficient aspects of three possibilities that have been tossed around in recent weeks:

1. It’s all about Iran. As David Brooks argued a few weeks ago, the Israeli-Palestinian focus of this conference is a proxy for creating a regional consensus for confronting Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Compelling because of the broad (Sunni) Arab participation in the conference. King Abdullah of Jordan has warned of a “Shiite Crescent” of regional Iranian influence, running through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon (Hizballah), and the Palestinian Authority (Hamas); Sunni unity—sponsored by a U.S.-led peace effort—provides a possible diplomatic antidote. Meanwhile, Israel has embraced strong Arab participation, even though this will increase pressure for concessions. This implies that Israel’s priorities lie with countering Iran, perhaps at the expense of other cards it holds.

Insufficient because a conference that cannot actually deliver Israeli-Palestinian peace cannot create regional consensus around Israeli-Palestinian peace, which is necessary to foster and support any long-term regional strategy against Iran. Moreover, is Syria so desperate for the return of the Golan Heights that it would spurn its historic ties with Iran—particularly at the moment that Iran is most regionally ascendant?

2. It’s aimed at achieving broad consensus on Israeli-Palestinian peace to legitimize final status negotiations. The International Crisis Group, one of the few think tanks to take a mildly optimistic view of Annapolis, has argued that Annapolis should be a platform for deliberation on final status issues, with Arab engagement exchanged for Israeli concessions.

Compelling because the Bush administration emphasized the discussion of final status issues in its successful effort to lure Arab states to Annapolis. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have called for a final settlement before the expiration of Bush’s term. Furthermore, broad Arab consensus for such a settlement might undermine Hamas’s rejection of peace efforts.

Insufficient because Arab political unity has had little bearing on Arab public opinion in recent years: contrast Arab governments’ condemnation of Hizballah during the 2006 Lebanon war with the popularization that followed throughout the region of Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Moreover, public opinion has hardly constrained Hamas, which seized control in Gaza this past June with little Palestinian public support. If Hamas responds to (the highly unlikely) Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank with another takeover, as Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas recently announced, Arab unity will prove impotent once again.

3. The Bush administration is using the Annapolis conference to shore up its legacy. Numerous American dailies attribute the Bush administration’s pursuit of the Annapolis conference to the “legacy” issue, while Dov Weissglas, former senior adviser to Ariel Sharon, believes that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is “led by the desire to get a Nobel Prize.”

Compelling because the Bush administration arguably has dedicated more attention to the Middle East than any previous presidency, with few concrete successes. Democratization efforts have stalled or failed in Egypt, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority; Iraq is improving but remains unstable; Iran is ascendant; and American popularity in the Middle East is at an all time low. Israeli-Palestinian peace might provide one last chance at securing a favorable legacy in foreign affairs.

Insufficient because psychoanalysis is no substitute for policy analysis.

Over the past few weeks, consensus has continually held that little should be expected from the Annapolis conference, which opens tomorrow. Op-ed after op-ed and poll after poll have dictated that Israeli and Palestinian leaders are too weak, if not too far apart in their positions, for any meaningful progress towards peace to take place.

Yet it’s hard to reconcile the notion that Annapolis is little more than an impressive photo op with the serious diplomatic capital that Arab states have invested in it. Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia announced that it would send Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, marking the first time that the Saudis are participating in talks with Israelis present. Representatives of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen will also participate. Indeed, the Annapolis conference has achieved such profound legitimacy that Syria—believing that it risked regional isolation by not attending—announced that it would send its deputy foreign minister.

How can we explain this broad participation in a conference doomed to failure? Below, I weigh the compelling and insufficient aspects of three possibilities that have been tossed around in recent weeks:

1. It’s all about Iran. As David Brooks argued a few weeks ago, the Israeli-Palestinian focus of this conference is a proxy for creating a regional consensus for confronting Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Compelling because of the broad (Sunni) Arab participation in the conference. King Abdullah of Jordan has warned of a “Shiite Crescent” of regional Iranian influence, running through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon (Hizballah), and the Palestinian Authority (Hamas); Sunni unity—sponsored by a U.S.-led peace effort—provides a possible diplomatic antidote. Meanwhile, Israel has embraced strong Arab participation, even though this will increase pressure for concessions. This implies that Israel’s priorities lie with countering Iran, perhaps at the expense of other cards it holds.

Insufficient because a conference that cannot actually deliver Israeli-Palestinian peace cannot create regional consensus around Israeli-Palestinian peace, which is necessary to foster and support any long-term regional strategy against Iran. Moreover, is Syria so desperate for the return of the Golan Heights that it would spurn its historic ties with Iran—particularly at the moment that Iran is most regionally ascendant?

2. It’s aimed at achieving broad consensus on Israeli-Palestinian peace to legitimize final status negotiations. The International Crisis Group, one of the few think tanks to take a mildly optimistic view of Annapolis, has argued that Annapolis should be a platform for deliberation on final status issues, with Arab engagement exchanged for Israeli concessions.

Compelling because the Bush administration emphasized the discussion of final status issues in its successful effort to lure Arab states to Annapolis. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have called for a final settlement before the expiration of Bush’s term. Furthermore, broad Arab consensus for such a settlement might undermine Hamas’s rejection of peace efforts.

Insufficient because Arab political unity has had little bearing on Arab public opinion in recent years: contrast Arab governments’ condemnation of Hizballah during the 2006 Lebanon war with the popularization that followed throughout the region of Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Moreover, public opinion has hardly constrained Hamas, which seized control in Gaza this past June with little Palestinian public support. If Hamas responds to (the highly unlikely) Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank with another takeover, as Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas recently announced, Arab unity will prove impotent once again.

3. The Bush administration is using the Annapolis conference to shore up its legacy. Numerous American dailies attribute the Bush administration’s pursuit of the Annapolis conference to the “legacy” issue, while Dov Weissglas, former senior adviser to Ariel Sharon, believes that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is “led by the desire to get a Nobel Prize.”

Compelling because the Bush administration arguably has dedicated more attention to the Middle East than any previous presidency, with few concrete successes. Democratization efforts have stalled or failed in Egypt, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority; Iraq is improving but remains unstable; Iran is ascendant; and American popularity in the Middle East is at an all time low. Israeli-Palestinian peace might provide one last chance at securing a favorable legacy in foreign affairs.

Insufficient because psychoanalysis is no substitute for policy analysis.

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More on Moran

In yesterday’s The Hill, we read this:

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) went after fellow Democrat Jim Moran of Virginia Tuesday, calling on him to retract his comments about the Israel lobby. “His remarks were factually inaccurate and recall an old canard that is not true, that the Jewish community controls the media and the Congress,” Hoyer said at a news conference in the Capitol. In an interview published in the September-October issue of Tikkun magazine, Moran said the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, “has pushed this war from the beginning. . . . They are so well-organized, and their members are extraordinarily powerful—most of them are quite wealthy—they have been able to exert power.” Asked if he considered Moran’s remarks anti-Semitic and if he should apologize, Hoyer reiterated that he found them “factually inaccurate” and said Moran should “retract” them. In a statement issued by Moran’s office, the congressman admitted that the tone of his remarks was “unnecessarily harsh,” but that he stood by his statements that AIPAC does not represent “mainstream American Jewish opinion.”

In today’s Politico, we learn that

Sixteen of Democratic Rep. Jim Moran’s House colleagues rebuked him in a withering letter Wednesday for saying last week that the pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, “pushed [the Iraq] war from the beginning.” It was the Virginia congressman’s latest dust-up over Israel—and one that brought a demand for a retraction by the House Democratic leader, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland. Moran’s colleagues . . . called the remarks of the Virginia congressman in the progressive Jewish magazine Tikkun inaccurate and “deeply offensive.”

First, all praise to Representative Hoyer and his colleagues for condemning Representative Moran’s comments. As for Moran: this isn’t the first time he’s waded into this cesspool. In 2001, he said then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was coming to Washington “probably seeking a warrant from President Bush to kill at will with weapons we have paid for.” And in 2003, at an antiwar forum in Reston, Virginia, Moran said: “If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this. The leaders of the Jewish community are influential enough that they could change the direction of where this is going, and I think they should.”

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In yesterday’s The Hill, we read this:

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) went after fellow Democrat Jim Moran of Virginia Tuesday, calling on him to retract his comments about the Israel lobby. “His remarks were factually inaccurate and recall an old canard that is not true, that the Jewish community controls the media and the Congress,” Hoyer said at a news conference in the Capitol. In an interview published in the September-October issue of Tikkun magazine, Moran said the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, “has pushed this war from the beginning. . . . They are so well-organized, and their members are extraordinarily powerful—most of them are quite wealthy—they have been able to exert power.” Asked if he considered Moran’s remarks anti-Semitic and if he should apologize, Hoyer reiterated that he found them “factually inaccurate” and said Moran should “retract” them. In a statement issued by Moran’s office, the congressman admitted that the tone of his remarks was “unnecessarily harsh,” but that he stood by his statements that AIPAC does not represent “mainstream American Jewish opinion.”

In today’s Politico, we learn that

Sixteen of Democratic Rep. Jim Moran’s House colleagues rebuked him in a withering letter Wednesday for saying last week that the pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, “pushed [the Iraq] war from the beginning.” It was the Virginia congressman’s latest dust-up over Israel—and one that brought a demand for a retraction by the House Democratic leader, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland. Moran’s colleagues . . . called the remarks of the Virginia congressman in the progressive Jewish magazine Tikkun inaccurate and “deeply offensive.”

First, all praise to Representative Hoyer and his colleagues for condemning Representative Moran’s comments. As for Moran: this isn’t the first time he’s waded into this cesspool. In 2001, he said then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was coming to Washington “probably seeking a warrant from President Bush to kill at will with weapons we have paid for.” And in 2003, at an antiwar forum in Reston, Virginia, Moran said: “If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this. The leaders of the Jewish community are influential enough that they could change the direction of where this is going, and I think they should.”

AIPAC, Moran said in his Tikkun interview, supports “domination, not healing. They feel that you acquire security through military force, through intimidation, even through occupation, when necessary, and that if you have people who are hostile toward you, it’s OK to kill them, rather than talk with them, negotiate with them, try to understand them, and ultimately try to love them.”

Where to begin? Perhaps with this point: the chief architects of the war to liberate Iraq— President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice—are not Jewish. They are not neoconservatives. And they are not and never have been under the power and sway of the “Jewish lobby.”

The reasons to go to war with Iraq were made clear publicly and repeatedly by the President and members of his administration. We believed, as did the rest of the world and every leading member of the Democratic Party, that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of WMD (it turns out he retained the capacity to build them once the sanctions regime fell apart). In addition, Saddam was the most destabilizing figure in the Middle East, having invaded two nations (Iran and Kuwait), incursions that were responsible for the deaths of more than a million people. He was among the most malevolent figures in modern times, having committed genocide against his own people. He defied sixteen U.N. resolutions over a dozen years. He was a supporter of terrorism. And he was a sworn enemy of America. Beyond all that, President Bush wanted to begin the difficult process of turning the Arab Middle East away from tyranny and toward liberty. If AIPAC never existed, the Iraq war would have commenced. Yet Mr. Moran insists that the role of a Jewish lobby played a decisive role in the United States’s going to war.

This assertion is not only risible, as anyone who worked in the Bush administration can tell you; it is also malicious. It perpetrates the anti-Semitic canard that “The Jews” and their lackeys are all-powerful, manipulative, and in the process of hijacking American foreign policy. Think dual loyalties and all that. (This calumny is now at a bookstore near you, in the form of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.)

I don’t know what lurks in the heart of James Moran. What I do know is that he seems quite eager to fan smoldering embers, with the purpose of igniting fires of division and hatred. It’s all very ugly stuff, and it ought to be condemned in the strongest terms.

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Past and Present in Gaza

What happened in June in the Gaza Strip was not only a Hamas “coup” against Fatah. Hamas managed to overrun the coastal area thanks to the backing of a majority of the Gaza Strip’s 1.3 million residents. Otherwise, how can one explain the fact that fewer than 15,000 Hamas militiamen succeeded in defeating the more than 50,000 gunmen and policemen belonging to Fatah?

That Hamas managed this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Fatah has a long history of alienating its natural bases of support through incompetence, greed, and brutality, beginning in Jordan more than 40 years ago. The late King Hussein made the mistake of allowing Fatah chieftain Yasir Arafat to establish what was more or less a Palestinian state inside the Hashemite Kingdom more. Then, Arafat established several armed militias in Jordan and consistently sought to undermine King Hussein’s regime. Fed up with the increasing state of anarchy and lawlessness, the king finally ordered his troops to eliminate Arafat’s multiple militias. The result was a bloodbath that claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinians in what has become known in Palestinian history as Black September. Arafat eventually managed to escape Jordan disguised as a woman.
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What happened in June in the Gaza Strip was not only a Hamas “coup” against Fatah. Hamas managed to overrun the coastal area thanks to the backing of a majority of the Gaza Strip’s 1.3 million residents. Otherwise, how can one explain the fact that fewer than 15,000 Hamas militiamen succeeded in defeating the more than 50,000 gunmen and policemen belonging to Fatah?

That Hamas managed this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Fatah has a long history of alienating its natural bases of support through incompetence, greed, and brutality, beginning in Jordan more than 40 years ago. The late King Hussein made the mistake of allowing Fatah chieftain Yasir Arafat to establish what was more or less a Palestinian state inside the Hashemite Kingdom more. Then, Arafat established several armed militias in Jordan and consistently sought to undermine King Hussein’s regime. Fed up with the increasing state of anarchy and lawlessness, the king finally ordered his troops to eliminate Arafat’s multiple militias. The result was a bloodbath that claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinians in what has become known in Palestinian history as Black September. Arafat eventually managed to escape Jordan disguised as a woman.
Arafat and the remaining PLO forces then moved to Lebanon, a quiet and peaceful country, famous for its beautiful beaches and nightlife. The Lebanese hosts soon discovered that they too had committed a fatal mistake—one that would claim the lives of more than 100,000 people in a civil war that lasted for fiteen years. The PLO, which had established a state-within-a-state in Lebanon, was largely responsible for the outbreak of violence. (Many Lebanese I have met say that if they had the opportunity, they would set up a statue of Ariel Sharon in downtown Beirut to honor the man who expelled the PLO from their country in 1982.)

When Israel, with the backing of the U.S. and EU, allowed the PLO into the West Bank and Gaza Strip after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, many Arabs knew that the Israelis would pay a heavy price. But now the Palestinians are also paying a heavy price for pinning their hopes on Arafat and Fatah, something perhaps not foreseen so clearly.

Instead of investing the billions of dollars that the international community poured on him for the welfare of his people, Arafat built a casino, paid for his wife’s shopping sprees in Paris, and bribed his aides with Mercedes cars and villas. Arafat’s corruption drove many Palestinians into the opens arms of Hamas, which finally won a majority in the January 2006 parliamentary election.

Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, hasn’t been any better. He, too, failed to deliver—first to his own people, and second to the Americans and Europeans, who were betting on him to remove Hamas from power. For the past eighteen months Abbas received tens of millions of dollars to “boost” his security forces ahead of a possible confrontation with Hamas. He also received thousands of rifles, large amounts of ammunition, and armored vehicles.

Abbas’s warlords and security commanders were the first to flee the Gaza Strip (with the help of Israel) when Hamas launched its offensive in June. They left behind weapons and thousands of disgruntled soldiers. The Palestinian public did not come out to defend Abbas and his security forces. On the contrary, hundreds of Palestinians joined Hamas in attacking and looting the large villas of Abbas, Arafat, Fatah warlord Muhammad Dahlan, and other top officials.

Now that Abbas’s authority has been restricted to the West Bank (some argue he’s in control of only some parts there), the Americans and Europeans are saying, essentially: “Let’s give Abbas and his PLO even more money and weapons.”

Logic says that when you deal with someone and you discover that he’s not honest and can’t deliver, you either demand that he change or you stop doing business with him. Abbas and the PLO haven’t changed.
It’s enough to take a quick tour of some West Bank cities to see that armed Fatah thugs are continuing to roam the streets, despite Abbas’s announcement that he has banned them from operating in public. Many Palestinians in the West Bank who are now on the payroll of the Americans and Europeans would tell you that they will vote for Hamas in protest against the ongoing corruption in Fatah and the state of anarchy and lawlessness. Unless the international community insists on reforms and good governance (something that is highly unlikely to happen under the current PLO leadership), it’s only a matter of time before the PLO is ousted from the West Bank, as well.

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Olmert’s House of Cards

On Monday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert survived three no-confidence motions in the Knesset: one after the Winograd Report (only the executive summary is available in English) pronounced him a failure, another after his second-in-command, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, called on him to resign, and a third after over 100,000 people filled Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to send him the same message.

Clearly, extreme unpopularity will not in itself induce Olmert to step down. He will only resign when forced to do so by the Knesset or by his own party, Kadima. His Kadima colleagues, at least for the time being, seem content to go down with Olmert’s ship. And Kadima’s coalition partners also would rather risk being tainted by Olmert than facing the voters in new elections.

And so the government continues to stand, like a house of cards waiting to fall. Or more specifically, waiting for the completion of the Winograd Report this summer. The current report covered the period between Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and Hezbollah’s deadly attack on July 12, 2006, as well as the first five days of the war. This was the period during which Olmert still had full public and even international support. But the report was scathing on his government’s complete lack of tactical and strategic planning, a lack that became rapidly evident from day one of the war.

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On Monday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert survived three no-confidence motions in the Knesset: one after the Winograd Report (only the executive summary is available in English) pronounced him a failure, another after his second-in-command, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, called on him to resign, and a third after over 100,000 people filled Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to send him the same message.

Clearly, extreme unpopularity will not in itself induce Olmert to step down. He will only resign when forced to do so by the Knesset or by his own party, Kadima. His Kadima colleagues, at least for the time being, seem content to go down with Olmert’s ship. And Kadima’s coalition partners also would rather risk being tainted by Olmert than facing the voters in new elections.

And so the government continues to stand, like a house of cards waiting to fall. Or more specifically, waiting for the completion of the Winograd Report this summer. The current report covered the period between Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and Hezbollah’s deadly attack on July 12, 2006, as well as the first five days of the war. This was the period during which Olmert still had full public and even international support. But the report was scathing on his government’s complete lack of tactical and strategic planning, a lack that became rapidly evident from day one of the war.

The next part of the report will cover the even more problematic period when Israel’s military and political leadership created expectations it could not fulfill: destroying Hezbollah and ending the daily missile barrages against northern Israel. This second part is likely to be even more painful: it will make clear that a last-ditch ground offensive was ordered with no real military objective, but rather was aimed at restoring Israel’s collapsing position in the UN Security Council.

Worst of all for Olmert, Judge Winograd more than hinted that, unlike the interim report, the final document could well contain “personal recommendations”—a euphemism for a direct call for the prime minister to resign. In Israel’s political tradition, such a “recommendation” is more or less binding. (One forced Ariel Sharon to step down as defense minister after the 1982 war in Lebanon.)

The recent resignation of IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, who bore the brunt of Winograd’s criticisms, has allowed his successor Gaby Ashkenazi to usher in a back-to-basics training regimen, so that the military is not caught flat-footed during the next crisis. And this is good news: when it comes to deterring Israel’s belligerent neighbors, the IDF’s readiness is the key factor. The bad news is that Olmert’s decision to postpone the inevitable and stay in office also delays similar, much-needed renewal and recovery in the political sphere.

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The Arabs’ Turn

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just spent three days visiting Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. She spoke seven times, including interviews, press roundtables, and press conferences with assorted leaders. But reporters did not find much to say about Rice’s tour, beyond noting her announcement that henceforth Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas will hold meetings twice a month. (Perhaps she reasoned that the two leaders would end the conflict just to get out of having such frequent meetings.)

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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just spent three days visiting Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. She spoke seven times, including interviews, press roundtables, and press conferences with assorted leaders. But reporters did not find much to say about Rice’s tour, beyond noting her announcement that henceforth Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas will hold meetings twice a month. (Perhaps she reasoned that the two leaders would end the conflict just to get out of having such frequent meetings.)

What wasn’t given due notice was Rice’s unveiling of a new philosophical component of the peace process, even though it cropped up across her whole trip, from her press roundtable in Washington on Friday to her closing statement in Jerusalem on Tuesday morning. Here it is, from that summary statement:

Just as Israelis and Palestinians must clarify a political horizon together, the Arab states must clarify a political horizon for Israel. These paths do not substitute for one another; they reinforce one another.

The Arab states should begin reaching out to Israel—to reassure Israel that its place in the region will be more, not less secure, by an end to the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state; to show Israel that they accept its place in the Middle East; and to demonstrate that the peace they seek is greater than just the absence of war. Such bold outreach can turn the Arab League’s words into the basis of active diplomacy, and it can hasten the day when a state called Palestine will take its rightful place in the international community.

If pursued seriously, this new approach could be revolutionary. Rice is challenging a premise that has stood since the last Arab peace treaty with Israel over a decade ago: the idea that the Arab states can sit back and complain to the U.S. about Israel while taking no responsibility for moderating the Palestinians through their own example.

After Ehud Barak put a state on the table at Camp David, and Ariel Sharon disengaged from settlements in order to create one in 2005, there was not much more that Israel could do to demonstrate the obvious: it actively wants a Palestinian state. The Palestinians reacted to all this not by meeting Israel halfway, but by running in the other direction—becoming more violent and radicalized. And while all this was going on, the Sunni Arab world has been much more concerned about Iranian power in the region than about the Arab-Israel conflict, which has become a tool in Iran’s hands.

Rice is right: the Arab states need to help the Palestinians out of their radical spiral, and this means thawing Arab relations with Israel. But opening trade offices and holding low-level meetings will not be enough. Ultimately, the boulder that must be rolled aside to unblock the road to a Palestinian state is the Palestinian claim to a right of return, which infringes gravely on Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

The Palestinians are too weak and radicalized to make this move, so the Arab states have to start by saying there will be no “right of return” to Israel, only to Palestine. But why should the Arabs say this when even the U.S. hesitates to talk about it? Now that Israel has taken massive risks for peace and paid dearly, it is time for the U.S. and the Arab states to take much smaller risks with much greater chances of bearing fruit.

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Missing Sharon

I was thinking this morning of Ariel Sharon, who has just finished his first year in a coma at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. It’s a funny thing. One misses him, wishes he still were prime minister, almost physically longs for the broad, unflappable bulk of him to protect Israel from its current political unraveling—and knows he is to blame for a good part of it.

It was Sharon, after all, who threw a bomb, called “the big bang” by political commentators, into Israel’s political scene by bolting the Likud and creating a new centrist party, Kadima, that went on, after his stroke, to win the March 2006 elections under the leadership of Ehud Olmert.

New centrist parties in Israel indeed have a long record of starting with a bang and ending, being ex nihilo creations with no political infrastructure, with a whoosh of escaping air. This is almost certain to happen to Kadima too, especially if Olmert is forced to resign on corruption charges in the coming months—the difference being that this time, precisely because of Kadima’s electoral victory, unprecedented for a first-time-around party, its blow-out will leave a gaping hole in the middle of the Israeli political scene. A veteran politician like Ariel Sharon should have known better.

He also should have known better than to found Kadima as a single-issue party, with unilateral disengagement as the only real plank in its platform. Unilateral disengagement is now dead in the water, killed by last summer’s unsuccessful war against Hizbullah and the specter of a Lebanon-like West Bank, and Kadima has been a rudderless ship ever since. And although the outbreak and conduct of the war in Lebanon can’t be pinned on Sharon, the years of Hizbullah’s build-up in the Lebanese south after Israel’s withdrawal from there in 2000 took place entirely on his watch. So did the lack of coherent military planning for a major confrontation with Hizbullah that was the main reason for last summer’s botched campaign, which has now resulted in chief of staff Dan Halutz’s resignation. An old general like Sharon should have known better, too.

One wishes he were back. There’s no other Israeli politician large enough to make up for his blunders.

I was thinking this morning of Ariel Sharon, who has just finished his first year in a coma at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. It’s a funny thing. One misses him, wishes he still were prime minister, almost physically longs for the broad, unflappable bulk of him to protect Israel from its current political unraveling—and knows he is to blame for a good part of it.

It was Sharon, after all, who threw a bomb, called “the big bang” by political commentators, into Israel’s political scene by bolting the Likud and creating a new centrist party, Kadima, that went on, after his stroke, to win the March 2006 elections under the leadership of Ehud Olmert.

New centrist parties in Israel indeed have a long record of starting with a bang and ending, being ex nihilo creations with no political infrastructure, with a whoosh of escaping air. This is almost certain to happen to Kadima too, especially if Olmert is forced to resign on corruption charges in the coming months—the difference being that this time, precisely because of Kadima’s electoral victory, unprecedented for a first-time-around party, its blow-out will leave a gaping hole in the middle of the Israeli political scene. A veteran politician like Ariel Sharon should have known better.

He also should have known better than to found Kadima as a single-issue party, with unilateral disengagement as the only real plank in its platform. Unilateral disengagement is now dead in the water, killed by last summer’s unsuccessful war against Hizbullah and the specter of a Lebanon-like West Bank, and Kadima has been a rudderless ship ever since. And although the outbreak and conduct of the war in Lebanon can’t be pinned on Sharon, the years of Hizbullah’s build-up in the Lebanese south after Israel’s withdrawal from there in 2000 took place entirely on his watch. So did the lack of coherent military planning for a major confrontation with Hizbullah that was the main reason for last summer’s botched campaign, which has now resulted in chief of staff Dan Halutz’s resignation. An old general like Sharon should have known better, too.

One wishes he were back. There’s no other Israeli politician large enough to make up for his blunders.

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