Commentary Magazine


Topic: Cyprus

Is Now the Time for a Cyprus Deal?

I and others here at COMMENTARY have written many times about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s efforts to transform Turkey from a secular state to an overtly religious one. As Erdoğan has consolidated power and dismantled checks and balances within Turkish society, he has increasingly made good on his promise to eschew secularism and instead “raise a religious generation.” He has done this not only by encouraging greater religiosity among his own constituents, but also by seeking to impose his conservative interpretation of Islamic values upon those for whom they are not part of daily culture.

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I and others here at COMMENTARY have written many times about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s efforts to transform Turkey from a secular state to an overtly religious one. As Erdoğan has consolidated power and dismantled checks and balances within Turkish society, he has increasingly made good on his promise to eschew secularism and instead “raise a religious generation.” He has done this not only by encouraging greater religiosity among his own constituents, but also by seeking to impose his conservative interpretation of Islamic values upon those for whom they are not part of daily culture.

Enter Cyrpus: It is a problem that has confounded Turkey, Greece, and Europe more broadly for more than four decades. In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus to protect the Turkish minority against a hardcore, Greek nationalist group seeking to incorporate the island into Greece. Internal and forced displacement segregated the island. In 1983, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) declared its independence. While Pakistan and Bangladesh briefly recognized the new state, once the United Nations declared it illegal, they withdrew their recognition.

Nevertheless, the TNRC has maintained theoretical independence from Turkey, even as it has depended on Turkish subsidies for decades and relies on the Turkish military for security. In reality, it remains Europe’s longest occupation—and makes Turkish complaints about Israel’s presence in the West Bank completely hypocritical, all the more so because the status of the West Bank has always been a subject of dispute, while Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus was an invasion of an internationally-recognized, existing sovereign state.

The past has seen repeated international mediation efforts come to naught. The closest the two sides came to resolution was a decade ago, when they negotiated the “Annan Plan,” which would have recognized a united Cypriot republic characterized by loose federalism. While Turkish Cypriots recognized the plan, Greeks rejected it in a referendum.

Ironically, Erdoğan may now accomplish what statesmen for years have failed to: uniting the island, albeit against him. Turkish Cypriots are increasingly unhappy at efforts by Turkey’s ruling party to impose their conservative Islamic values on the island, where the ethnic Turkish community has always been a bit more laid back. And while Turkish Cyprus remains poor, Cyprus proper has moved to exploit, in partnership with Israel, its significant offshore gas reserves. According to conversations I had in Turkey with Turkish Cypriots last month, this has encouraged Turkish Cypriots to seek a settlement more on Greek Cypriot terms, albeit one that would recognize the rights and freedom of ethnic Turkish Cypriots. Turkish troops would have to go but, then again, with the ethnic Turkish minority no longer under threat, there is no reason why Turkey should continue its decades-long occupation.

Across the Middle East, oil often fuels divisiveness. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran, for example, uses its interests in Iran’s oil infrastructure to fund terrorism around the globe. Oil was at the heart of the dispute (although, of course, not the only factor) between the Iraqi central government and Iraqi Kurdistan. It remains a major source of conflict in Libya. How refreshing it would be if new gas discoveries combined with a rejection of the Turkish government’s radicalism actually contributed to peace in the long-divided nation of Cyprus.

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Turkey on Flag Burning: Do As We Say, Not As We Do

In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus and to this day occupies one-third of the island nation. Northern Cyprus remains the only occupied territory in Europe. Nor is Northern Cyprus simply disputed. Unlike the West Bank and Gaza—which were not a recognized part of an independent country when controlled by Egypt, Jordan, or Israel—northern Cyprus was and remains as much occupied by Turkey as Kuwait was by Iraq.  

It is not surprising, therefore, that passions remain high in Cyprus, especially as the 40thanniversary of the Turkish invasion and occupation approaches. After reports surfaced that Cypriots snatched a Turkish flag waved at a rally and burned it, Turkey’s European Union minister Egemen Bağış demanded an explanation and investigation. “Of course, burning the flag is not their place. We expect the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus to give a very clear reaction to those who burned the flag,” Bağış reportedly said. Hürriyet Daily News continued, “Bağış indicated that protection of the Turkish flag’s honor must be an issue also for Greek Cypriots….”

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In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus and to this day occupies one-third of the island nation. Northern Cyprus remains the only occupied territory in Europe. Nor is Northern Cyprus simply disputed. Unlike the West Bank and Gaza—which were not a recognized part of an independent country when controlled by Egypt, Jordan, or Israel—northern Cyprus was and remains as much occupied by Turkey as Kuwait was by Iraq.  

It is not surprising, therefore, that passions remain high in Cyprus, especially as the 40thanniversary of the Turkish invasion and occupation approaches. After reports surfaced that Cypriots snatched a Turkish flag waved at a rally and burned it, Turkey’s European Union minister Egemen Bağış demanded an explanation and investigation. “Of course, burning the flag is not their place. We expect the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus to give a very clear reaction to those who burned the flag,” Bağış reportedly said. Hürriyet Daily News continued, “Bağış indicated that protection of the Turkish flag’s honor must be an issue also for Greek Cypriots….”

What nonsense. Against the backdrop of the incitement in which Bağış’s partisans frequently engage, Turkish protestors regularly burn American flags. See, for example, new stories here, here, and here. While the flag burning is of course offensive—as is the fact that some of the Turkish protestors were doing so in outrage over Osama bin Laden’s death—no American official would dream of demanding investigations or seeking to punish the perpetrators. Bağış is known throughout both Turkey and Europe as a bit of a blowhard, but his comments should remind Europeans just how unready Turkey is for the European Union. When it comes to respect of free speech, even Russia has a better claim to meeting European criteria.

As for Cyprus, even Bağış should recognize that it has far bigger concerns right now than genuflecting to an occupying army.

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Erdogan Holds Not Only Israel, But Also Syria and Cyprus Hostage

Omri Ceren beat me to the punch by pointing out how the Turkish government has undercut NATO’s larger mission by holding the organization hostage to its own diplomatic squabbles. Omri is absolutely correct in his analysis: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a man with a pronounced hatred for Israel and it seems for Jews as well, seeks to involve NATO in his vendetta against the Jewish state. Regional officials understand Erdoğan instigated and manufactured the crisis with Israel. When the Bulgarian foreign minister had the temerity to point this out to Egemen Bağış, a close Erdoğan confidante, Bağış’s delegation dismissed his remark by suggesting that perhaps the Bulgarian minister was polluted with Jewish blood.

Turkey, however, is seeking not only to cheapen NATO, but is also holding Syrian hostage. During the last few months, Erdoğan threw a temper tantrum aboutthe French senate’s decision to criminalize denial of the Armenian genocide, although the law was eventually struck down by the constitutional court. Frankly, I would also criticize the French action on nothing other than free speech grounds. (For the record, I also oppose criminalization of Holocaust denial on free speech grounds, though I do not believe that respect for free speech mandates acceptance of poor scholarship or inane journalism). So now, because France contradicted Erdoğan’s sense of history, Turkey may exclude France from meetings relating to the situation in Syria.

Meanwhile, a new diplomatic brouhaha is brewing over threats made by Egemen “I smell Jewish blood” Bağış, ironically Turkey’s European Union minister, who has threatened that Turkey may unilaterally annex a third of Cyprus in which it has set up a puppet state, and whose oil resources it covets.

Perhaps for Erdoğan, not only the Jews are expendable, but the Syrians and Cypriots as well. Such is the price when one does not give sufficient honor to the Imam of Istanbul, as Erdoğan once described himself, or the Putin of Anatolia, as he’s increasingly known.

Omri Ceren beat me to the punch by pointing out how the Turkish government has undercut NATO’s larger mission by holding the organization hostage to its own diplomatic squabbles. Omri is absolutely correct in his analysis: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a man with a pronounced hatred for Israel and it seems for Jews as well, seeks to involve NATO in his vendetta against the Jewish state. Regional officials understand Erdoğan instigated and manufactured the crisis with Israel. When the Bulgarian foreign minister had the temerity to point this out to Egemen Bağış, a close Erdoğan confidante, Bağış’s delegation dismissed his remark by suggesting that perhaps the Bulgarian minister was polluted with Jewish blood.

Turkey, however, is seeking not only to cheapen NATO, but is also holding Syrian hostage. During the last few months, Erdoğan threw a temper tantrum aboutthe French senate’s decision to criminalize denial of the Armenian genocide, although the law was eventually struck down by the constitutional court. Frankly, I would also criticize the French action on nothing other than free speech grounds. (For the record, I also oppose criminalization of Holocaust denial on free speech grounds, though I do not believe that respect for free speech mandates acceptance of poor scholarship or inane journalism). So now, because France contradicted Erdoğan’s sense of history, Turkey may exclude France from meetings relating to the situation in Syria.

Meanwhile, a new diplomatic brouhaha is brewing over threats made by Egemen “I smell Jewish blood” Bağış, ironically Turkey’s European Union minister, who has threatened that Turkey may unilaterally annex a third of Cyprus in which it has set up a puppet state, and whose oil resources it covets.

Perhaps for Erdoğan, not only the Jews are expendable, but the Syrians and Cypriots as well. Such is the price when one does not give sufficient honor to the Imam of Istanbul, as Erdoğan once described himself, or the Putin of Anatolia, as he’s increasingly known.

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Turkey Paying a Price for Betrayal of Israel

I wrote earlier today about the human rights violations that have become routine under the regime of President Obama’s buddy Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In addition to making hypocrites out of his friends in Washington, this also raises important questions about Turkey’s standing to criticize Israel for measures intended to defend their citizens against terrorist attack. Under Erdoğan, Turkey hasn’t merely abandoned its longstanding strategic alliance with Israel; it has also become Hamas’s new chief sponsor.

The president may consider his friend’s embrace of an Islamist terror group to be of no importance, but Turkey’s rogue diplomacy is having a ripple effect on stability in the eastern Mediterranean. As historian Benny Morris points out in an article in The National Interest published last week, Israel isn’t taking Turkey’s betrayal sitting down.

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I wrote earlier today about the human rights violations that have become routine under the regime of President Obama’s buddy Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In addition to making hypocrites out of his friends in Washington, this also raises important questions about Turkey’s standing to criticize Israel for measures intended to defend their citizens against terrorist attack. Under Erdoğan, Turkey hasn’t merely abandoned its longstanding strategic alliance with Israel; it has also become Hamas’s new chief sponsor.

The president may consider his friend’s embrace of an Islamist terror group to be of no importance, but Turkey’s rogue diplomacy is having a ripple effect on stability in the eastern Mediterranean. As historian Benny Morris points out in an article in The National Interest published last week, Israel isn’t taking Turkey’s betrayal sitting down.

In response to the Turkish embrace of Hamas, Israel has reached out to both Greece and Cyprus. Greece was among the most hostile countries in Europe to Israel but has now achieved a better understanding of the Jewish state since the Turks have become its foe. To seal this new understanding, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning a visit to Cyprus next month.

Israel has long tried to establish alliances with states on the periphery of the region to balance the solid wall of hate from Arab and Muslim states. As Morris notes, that has led to good relations with newly independent Southern Sudan, a mostly Christian country.

Turkey is locked in a decades-long standoff with the Greeks in Cyprus. But now the Greek Cypriots in Nicosia are seriously considering an Israeli request to station military aircraft on their territory. As Morris writes, the Cypriots, who have faced intimidation from a superior Turkish military, are looking to Israel for help:

The Cypriots are apparently interested in Israeli assistance in monitoring the air space above the gas fields and drilling equipment and in augmenting their (small) navy’s patrols in their economic waters. [Israeli Defense Minister Ehud] Barak has asked the Cypriots to allow Israel to station aircraft in the Papandreu Air Base outside the town of Paphos in western Cyprus. And two months ago, the Israeli and Cypriot air forces held a joint exercise.

Turkey, which once prided itself on trying to be part of Europe, now aspires to a new caliphate. They may have thought its erstwhile ally had nowhere to turn once they were dumped. But by pushing Israel into the arms of Turkey’s Cypriot antagonists, they may have considerably worsened their own strategic situation.

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The EU’s Black-and-White World

In Wednesday’s post, I wrote that the European Union seems set to repeat its Cyprus error with the Palestinians. But perhaps that’s unsurprising. For in both cases, willful disregard of the evidence has subverted its policies.

In Cyprus, the EU effectively killed a peace plan by promising accession to Greek Cyprus regardless of the outcome of an April 2004 referendum, but to Turkish Cyprus only if both sides voted yes. Unsurprisingly, since Greeks had nothing to lose by holding out for more, 75 percent voted no, while Turks, having something to lose, voted yes. Indeed, Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos openly opposed the plan, telling his countrymen they could get a better deal; so did the largest Greek Cypriot political party.

Subsequently, then-enlargement commissioner Gunter Verheugen accused Greek Cypriot leaders of “cheating” their way into the EU: they vowed support for reunification until accession was assured, then reversed course. But why did Europe deem their promises credible enough to justify sacrificing the accession card?

After all, evidence to the contrary wasn’t lacking. For instance, the Greeks refused to sign an earlier draft of the plan in December 2002 but were nevertheless offered membership later that month. They rejected another version in February 2003, yet the EU made no effort to postpone that April’s signing of the accession treaty, which made accession unstoppable. Indeed, Greek leaders repeatedly demanded more than the plan offered, while polls showed most Greeks opposing the requisite concessions.

The answer is that Europe viewed Cyprus in black and white: since Turkish Cyprus was created by Turkey’s 1974 invasion, it deemed Turkish Cypriots the villainous “occupiers” and Greek Cypriots the victims. Never mind that Turkey invaded in response to a war Greek Cypriots started by staging a coup, with backing from Athens, to create an all-Greek government and merge the island with Greece. Or that Greek Cypriots’ history of oppressing Turkish Cypriots gave the latter good reason to fear the coup and beg Ankara’s assistance, and Ankara good reason to intervene to protect them. Or that the war made thousands on both sides refugees.

Then, having assigned its roles, the EU simply assumed that the victims would “support peace” while the villains would oppose it, regardless of actual behavior. Thus in March 2004, while Papadopoulos and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart were both denouncing the plan’s latest draft, Verheugen still blamed Turkish Cyprus alone for the failed talks.

The Israeli-Palestinian parallels are obvious. Here, too, Europe ignores the fact that Israel conquered the territories in a defensive war, or that every previous Israeli withdrawal has exacerbated anti-Israel terror. It ignores repeated polls (see here and here) showing that Palestinians oppose two states if one of them remains Jewish. It ignores “moderate” Palestinian leaders’ unrelenting insistence on relocating all Palestinian “refugees” to Israel (here and here for instance), their claims that the Western Wall isn’t Jewish, their demand for judenrein territory. It even ignores their rejection of Israeli statehood offers in 2000, 2001, and 2008. Hence its growing support for recognizing “Palestine” without an agreement, thus killing any chance for negotiations.

The EU has decided that Israelis are villainous, peace-hating “occupiers” and Palestinians are peace-loving victims. And never mind the facts.

In Wednesday’s post, I wrote that the European Union seems set to repeat its Cyprus error with the Palestinians. But perhaps that’s unsurprising. For in both cases, willful disregard of the evidence has subverted its policies.

In Cyprus, the EU effectively killed a peace plan by promising accession to Greek Cyprus regardless of the outcome of an April 2004 referendum, but to Turkish Cyprus only if both sides voted yes. Unsurprisingly, since Greeks had nothing to lose by holding out for more, 75 percent voted no, while Turks, having something to lose, voted yes. Indeed, Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos openly opposed the plan, telling his countrymen they could get a better deal; so did the largest Greek Cypriot political party.

Subsequently, then-enlargement commissioner Gunter Verheugen accused Greek Cypriot leaders of “cheating” their way into the EU: they vowed support for reunification until accession was assured, then reversed course. But why did Europe deem their promises credible enough to justify sacrificing the accession card?

After all, evidence to the contrary wasn’t lacking. For instance, the Greeks refused to sign an earlier draft of the plan in December 2002 but were nevertheless offered membership later that month. They rejected another version in February 2003, yet the EU made no effort to postpone that April’s signing of the accession treaty, which made accession unstoppable. Indeed, Greek leaders repeatedly demanded more than the plan offered, while polls showed most Greeks opposing the requisite concessions.

The answer is that Europe viewed Cyprus in black and white: since Turkish Cyprus was created by Turkey’s 1974 invasion, it deemed Turkish Cypriots the villainous “occupiers” and Greek Cypriots the victims. Never mind that Turkey invaded in response to a war Greek Cypriots started by staging a coup, with backing from Athens, to create an all-Greek government and merge the island with Greece. Or that Greek Cypriots’ history of oppressing Turkish Cypriots gave the latter good reason to fear the coup and beg Ankara’s assistance, and Ankara good reason to intervene to protect them. Or that the war made thousands on both sides refugees.

Then, having assigned its roles, the EU simply assumed that the victims would “support peace” while the villains would oppose it, regardless of actual behavior. Thus in March 2004, while Papadopoulos and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart were both denouncing the plan’s latest draft, Verheugen still blamed Turkish Cyprus alone for the failed talks.

The Israeli-Palestinian parallels are obvious. Here, too, Europe ignores the fact that Israel conquered the territories in a defensive war, or that every previous Israeli withdrawal has exacerbated anti-Israel terror. It ignores repeated polls (see here and here) showing that Palestinians oppose two states if one of them remains Jewish. It ignores “moderate” Palestinian leaders’ unrelenting insistence on relocating all Palestinian “refugees” to Israel (here and here for instance), their claims that the Western Wall isn’t Jewish, their demand for judenrein territory. It even ignores their rejection of Israeli statehood offers in 2000, 2001, and 2008. Hence its growing support for recognizing “Palestine” without an agreement, thus killing any chance for negotiations.

The EU has decided that Israelis are villainous, peace-hating “occupiers” and Palestinians are peace-loving victims. And never mind the facts.

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EU Prepares to Repeat Its Cyprus Mistake in the Middle East

If insanity means doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, then many leading European officials are certifiably insane.

A new WikiLeaks cable reveals that in January 2010, then-French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner proposed that the West promise “to recognize a Palestinian state within a defined timeline, regardless of the outcome of negotiations.” Nor is he alone. This month, 26 former senior European officials, including several former presidents and prime ministers, advocated recognizing a Palestinian state as an alternative to negotiations. And in July 2009, then-EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana proposed that the UN Security Council set a deadline for negotiations, and then, if no agreement were reached, dictate its own final-status arrangement and recognize a Palestinian state in those parameters.

But the EU has tried unilateral recognition before, in Cyprus. And it proved disastrous.

In April 2004, Cyprus voted on a UN-brokered deal to reunite its Greek and Turkish halves. The deal overwhelmingly favored the Greeks: it required Turks to cede 22 percent of their territory after evicting all Turkish residents; let half the 200,000 Greek refugees return to their former homes in Turkish Cyprus; and gave Greeks a two-thirds majority on the united island’s presidential council. Yet 75 percent of Greeks rejected the deal, while 65 percent of Turks approved it.

Why? Because Greek Cyprus was promised immediate EU membership regardless of how it voted, while Turkish Cyprus was offered admission only if both Turks and Greeks approved the deal. Since the Greeks would pay no penalty for voting no, they had every incentive to hold out for an even better deal. Specifically, they wanted all their refugees returned to Turkish Cyprus, so they could outnumber and outvote Turks even in the federation’s Turkish half.

But the decision to admit Greek Cyprus regardless didn’t just scuttle the peace deal. Next, it destroyed the credibility of EU promises because Greek Cyprus, now a member, vetoed promised moves to ease the Turkish half’s economic isolation in reward for its vote. Then it scuttled accession negotiations with Turkey because Nicosia quickly vetoed further progress due to its ongoing dispute with Ankara over Turkish Cyprus — a rejection some have blamed for Turkey’s subsequent turn eastward. Finally, it effectively killed EU-NATO cooperation because NATO member Turkey won’t recognize EU member Cyprus until the Cyprus dispute is resolved, and therefore vetoes cooperative initiatives.

The EU’s Palestine plan would clearly have the same result. By promising recognition without negotiations, it would certainly scuttle any chance of peace: if Palestinians can get most of what they want without an agreement and still keep agitating for the rest, they would have no incentive to make any concessions, even on such deal breakers as the “right of return.”

But since Israelis and Palestinians, unlike Greek and Turkish Cypriots, aren’t already separated into two de facto states, it might also spark a war — thereby fomenting precisely the kind of bloodshed that Europeans claim to want to prevent. In short, the consequences could be even worse than they were in Cyprus.

Unfortunately, the EU seems incapable of learning from past mistakes. And Israelis and Palestinians will pay the price.

If insanity means doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, then many leading European officials are certifiably insane.

A new WikiLeaks cable reveals that in January 2010, then-French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner proposed that the West promise “to recognize a Palestinian state within a defined timeline, regardless of the outcome of negotiations.” Nor is he alone. This month, 26 former senior European officials, including several former presidents and prime ministers, advocated recognizing a Palestinian state as an alternative to negotiations. And in July 2009, then-EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana proposed that the UN Security Council set a deadline for negotiations, and then, if no agreement were reached, dictate its own final-status arrangement and recognize a Palestinian state in those parameters.

But the EU has tried unilateral recognition before, in Cyprus. And it proved disastrous.

In April 2004, Cyprus voted on a UN-brokered deal to reunite its Greek and Turkish halves. The deal overwhelmingly favored the Greeks: it required Turks to cede 22 percent of their territory after evicting all Turkish residents; let half the 200,000 Greek refugees return to their former homes in Turkish Cyprus; and gave Greeks a two-thirds majority on the united island’s presidential council. Yet 75 percent of Greeks rejected the deal, while 65 percent of Turks approved it.

Why? Because Greek Cyprus was promised immediate EU membership regardless of how it voted, while Turkish Cyprus was offered admission only if both Turks and Greeks approved the deal. Since the Greeks would pay no penalty for voting no, they had every incentive to hold out for an even better deal. Specifically, they wanted all their refugees returned to Turkish Cyprus, so they could outnumber and outvote Turks even in the federation’s Turkish half.

But the decision to admit Greek Cyprus regardless didn’t just scuttle the peace deal. Next, it destroyed the credibility of EU promises because Greek Cyprus, now a member, vetoed promised moves to ease the Turkish half’s economic isolation in reward for its vote. Then it scuttled accession negotiations with Turkey because Nicosia quickly vetoed further progress due to its ongoing dispute with Ankara over Turkish Cyprus — a rejection some have blamed for Turkey’s subsequent turn eastward. Finally, it effectively killed EU-NATO cooperation because NATO member Turkey won’t recognize EU member Cyprus until the Cyprus dispute is resolved, and therefore vetoes cooperative initiatives.

The EU’s Palestine plan would clearly have the same result. By promising recognition without negotiations, it would certainly scuttle any chance of peace: if Palestinians can get most of what they want without an agreement and still keep agitating for the rest, they would have no incentive to make any concessions, even on such deal breakers as the “right of return.”

But since Israelis and Palestinians, unlike Greek and Turkish Cypriots, aren’t already separated into two de facto states, it might also spark a war — thereby fomenting precisely the kind of bloodshed that Europeans claim to want to prevent. In short, the consequences could be even worse than they were in Cyprus.

Unfortunately, the EU seems incapable of learning from past mistakes. And Israelis and Palestinians will pay the price.

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The Israel Obsession Claims Another Victim: Europe’s Global Status

In his usual undiplomatic fashion, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told his French and Spanish counterparts yesterday that they should solve Europe’s own problems — like Kosovo and Cyprus — before trying to tell Israel how to solve its problems. That predictably infuriated his guests. Yet in this instance, Lieberman was largely echoing the advice of one of the European Union’s own members — and not one known for pro-Israel sentiment.

Last month, Finnish Foreign Minister Alex Stubb presented the results of research he conducted into what EU foreign ministers do and don’t discuss during their monthly meetings. The results were astounding.

For instance, he found that over the past four years, the ministers had held exactly one discussion on the role of China as a foreign policy power. Yet given China’s growing assertiveness on the world stage, that would surely rank at the top of just about anyone’s list of major foreign policy issues.

So what were EU foreign ministers devoting their time to instead? To quote the New York Times’ summary,

Mr. Stubb’s research shows how foreign ministers tend to devote their discussions to crises, and to issues where Europe has limited influence.

For example, in 2009 and 2010, European foreign ministers discussed the Middle East peace process 12 times.

In other words, the ministers devoted more than half of their monthly meetings during this period (since 2010 isn’t a full year) to the Middle East peace process — an issue on which, by their own admission, they have little influence. Indeed, the main purpose of this week’s Israel visit was “to raise European involvement in the current diplomatic process, at a time when the EU’s role has proven very minimal.”

As a result, they have been neglecting issues of far more importance, like how to deal with a rising China. And the result is that Europe is rapidly losing its global power and influence. As Stubb said earlier last month, “Arguably, today Turkey is more influential in the world than any of our member states together or separately” — an embarrassing admission from a bloc that has repeatedly spurned this unwanted applicant for membership from Europe’s eastern flank.

Stubb’s conclusion from his research was that “for too long we have been preaching, paternalizing the rest of the world,” and now “we need to pick our fights better.”

That’s good general advice, but his own findings indicate that the problem is a good deal more specific: it’s the EU’s obsession with Israel in particular that has served as the main distraction. This obsession has prevented it from devoting time and attention to more important issues, like China, and to issues on which the EU could have a greater impact. And consequently, it has contributed significantly to the EU’s waning global status.

I’ve written repeatedly about the price the global obsession with Israel exacts worldwide, from victims of human rights abuses whose plights are ignored owing to this obsession, to Western democracy itself. But it seems that the Israel obsession can now chalk up one more victim: European power.

In his usual undiplomatic fashion, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told his French and Spanish counterparts yesterday that they should solve Europe’s own problems — like Kosovo and Cyprus — before trying to tell Israel how to solve its problems. That predictably infuriated his guests. Yet in this instance, Lieberman was largely echoing the advice of one of the European Union’s own members — and not one known for pro-Israel sentiment.

Last month, Finnish Foreign Minister Alex Stubb presented the results of research he conducted into what EU foreign ministers do and don’t discuss during their monthly meetings. The results were astounding.

For instance, he found that over the past four years, the ministers had held exactly one discussion on the role of China as a foreign policy power. Yet given China’s growing assertiveness on the world stage, that would surely rank at the top of just about anyone’s list of major foreign policy issues.

So what were EU foreign ministers devoting their time to instead? To quote the New York Times’ summary,

Mr. Stubb’s research shows how foreign ministers tend to devote their discussions to crises, and to issues where Europe has limited influence.

For example, in 2009 and 2010, European foreign ministers discussed the Middle East peace process 12 times.

In other words, the ministers devoted more than half of their monthly meetings during this period (since 2010 isn’t a full year) to the Middle East peace process — an issue on which, by their own admission, they have little influence. Indeed, the main purpose of this week’s Israel visit was “to raise European involvement in the current diplomatic process, at a time when the EU’s role has proven very minimal.”

As a result, they have been neglecting issues of far more importance, like how to deal with a rising China. And the result is that Europe is rapidly losing its global power and influence. As Stubb said earlier last month, “Arguably, today Turkey is more influential in the world than any of our member states together or separately” — an embarrassing admission from a bloc that has repeatedly spurned this unwanted applicant for membership from Europe’s eastern flank.

Stubb’s conclusion from his research was that “for too long we have been preaching, paternalizing the rest of the world,” and now “we need to pick our fights better.”

That’s good general advice, but his own findings indicate that the problem is a good deal more specific: it’s the EU’s obsession with Israel in particular that has served as the main distraction. This obsession has prevented it from devoting time and attention to more important issues, like China, and to issues on which the EU could have a greater impact. And consequently, it has contributed significantly to the EU’s waning global status.

I’ve written repeatedly about the price the global obsession with Israel exacts worldwide, from victims of human rights abuses whose plights are ignored owing to this obsession, to Western democracy itself. But it seems that the Israel obsession can now chalk up one more victim: European power.

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Northern Cyprus vs. Israel

A boat full of Jews for Justice for Palestinians and other such organizations is setting sail today for Gaza from Northern Cyprus, as reported here. The pious group, no doubt, thinks they are fighting occupation through acts of kindness.

There is, nevertheless, a certain irony in the fact that they use Northern Cyprus as a staging ground for their activities — like the Mavi Marmara-led Flotilla did last May. Here’s the irony — Northern Cyprus is an illegally occupied territory that belongs to the EU as part of its member state, Cyprus; it was seized by force in 1974 by the Turkish army; its legal status as a fictionally independent state is only recognized by Turkey (the occupying power); Turkey forcibly removed hundreds of thousands of ethnic Greeks from that territory and settled its own population to permanently alter the ethnic balance of the area – and, in the process, encouraged the building of what one could characterize as settlements.

Now doesn’t this sound awfully familiar — the kind of accusations that organizations such as the JFJFP would routinely level at Israel’s presence in the West Bank and, until 2005, in Gaza? These are the kind of things that get such enlightened Jews agitated enough that they need to spring into action — if the alleged perpetrator is Israel. If it is a country that bombs neighbors with impunity, uses heavy-handed tactics to fight what it brands as terrorists, while denying basic cultural rights to the ethnic minority that constitutes 20 percent of its population while it practices state-sanctioned genocide denial, well then, its government is Islamist and its actively helps Hamas, so there’s no problem relying on their services and glossing on their blatant and continuing violations of international law to bash Israel.

How do you say coherence in Turkish?

A boat full of Jews for Justice for Palestinians and other such organizations is setting sail today for Gaza from Northern Cyprus, as reported here. The pious group, no doubt, thinks they are fighting occupation through acts of kindness.

There is, nevertheless, a certain irony in the fact that they use Northern Cyprus as a staging ground for their activities — like the Mavi Marmara-led Flotilla did last May. Here’s the irony — Northern Cyprus is an illegally occupied territory that belongs to the EU as part of its member state, Cyprus; it was seized by force in 1974 by the Turkish army; its legal status as a fictionally independent state is only recognized by Turkey (the occupying power); Turkey forcibly removed hundreds of thousands of ethnic Greeks from that territory and settled its own population to permanently alter the ethnic balance of the area – and, in the process, encouraged the building of what one could characterize as settlements.

Now doesn’t this sound awfully familiar — the kind of accusations that organizations such as the JFJFP would routinely level at Israel’s presence in the West Bank and, until 2005, in Gaza? These are the kind of things that get such enlightened Jews agitated enough that they need to spring into action — if the alleged perpetrator is Israel. If it is a country that bombs neighbors with impunity, uses heavy-handed tactics to fight what it brands as terrorists, while denying basic cultural rights to the ethnic minority that constitutes 20 percent of its population while it practices state-sanctioned genocide denial, well then, its government is Islamist and its actively helps Hamas, so there’s no problem relying on their services and glossing on their blatant and continuing violations of international law to bash Israel.

How do you say coherence in Turkish?

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Smackdown: Convoy vs. Flotilla

Perhaps the biggest recent news in Gaza-blockade busting is the lack of enthusiasm for it shown by some regional governments. Beirut delayed the departure of the Lebanese “women’s flotilla” flagship, M/V Maryam, for much of July. After Maryam was finally allowed to leave Lebanon, the authorities in Greek Cyprus, the staging point for Maryam to pick up additional passengers, denied the ship permission to depart for Gaza. The flotilla organizers have so far been unable to mount the effort by any other means. A separate aid ship departing from Syria this past weekend simply headed for the Egyptian port of El-Arish, near the Rafah border crossing from Egypt into Gaza, rather than attempting to break the naval blockade.

Three vehicle convoys are now preparing to converge on Gaza, but they, like the Syrian ship, will assemble near Rafah in Egypt. One convoy, arranged by the Hamas-linked Viva Palestina activist group, left from London this weekend. Departures are planned from Morocco and Qatar as well. Reporting suggests that the convoys from Europe and Africa will be composed largely of passenger vehicles, reinforcing their character as publicity stunts rather than humanitarian aid missions.

The convoy from Casablanca has already hit a snag, however, and some elements of it are currently delayed in Morocco. Algeria has granted permission to cross its territory only provisionally and unofficially, a posture that Moroccan factions consider unsatisfactory. The Egyptians, meanwhile, refused to allow a Viva Palestina convoy to use the Rafah border crossing in January 2010, deporting British activist George Galloway and banning him from further activities in Egypt. Cairo’s foreign ministry has reiterated the ban this week, emphasizing that aid-convoy vehicles will not be allowed to use the border crossing. Any cargo they bring will have to be reloaded on an Egyptian-managed official convoy.

The refusal of Greece and Egypt to collude in blockade-running attempts is encouraging. By making order a priority, they eliminate the convenience third-party territory represents for activists originating from Turkey, Syria, or Lebanon. Other European authorities could take a lesson from them.

An interesting development thousands of miles away merits a mention as well. The New Zealand-based organization Kia Ora Gaza, while fundraising at a university in Hamilton last week, was startled to encounter push-back against its vituperative anti-Israel appeal (“one non-Jewish student … described [it] as ‘hate-preaching’”). Kia Ora Gaza activists were reportedly “told by Iraqi and Iranian students that they ‘were playing straight into Hamas’s hands.’” After an hour of being challenged by attendees, the Kia Ora Gaza group cut its event short and left, having taken in very few donations (one attendee counted a total of three).

No single event should be regarded as definitive, of course, but the trend here is positive — and very different from the narrative adhered to by the mainstream media. At times it seems as though the only ones who don’t “get it,” when it comes to Hamas, Islamism, and the cause-célèbre of Gaza, are the Western leftist elites.

Perhaps the biggest recent news in Gaza-blockade busting is the lack of enthusiasm for it shown by some regional governments. Beirut delayed the departure of the Lebanese “women’s flotilla” flagship, M/V Maryam, for much of July. After Maryam was finally allowed to leave Lebanon, the authorities in Greek Cyprus, the staging point for Maryam to pick up additional passengers, denied the ship permission to depart for Gaza. The flotilla organizers have so far been unable to mount the effort by any other means. A separate aid ship departing from Syria this past weekend simply headed for the Egyptian port of El-Arish, near the Rafah border crossing from Egypt into Gaza, rather than attempting to break the naval blockade.

Three vehicle convoys are now preparing to converge on Gaza, but they, like the Syrian ship, will assemble near Rafah in Egypt. One convoy, arranged by the Hamas-linked Viva Palestina activist group, left from London this weekend. Departures are planned from Morocco and Qatar as well. Reporting suggests that the convoys from Europe and Africa will be composed largely of passenger vehicles, reinforcing their character as publicity stunts rather than humanitarian aid missions.

The convoy from Casablanca has already hit a snag, however, and some elements of it are currently delayed in Morocco. Algeria has granted permission to cross its territory only provisionally and unofficially, a posture that Moroccan factions consider unsatisfactory. The Egyptians, meanwhile, refused to allow a Viva Palestina convoy to use the Rafah border crossing in January 2010, deporting British activist George Galloway and banning him from further activities in Egypt. Cairo’s foreign ministry has reiterated the ban this week, emphasizing that aid-convoy vehicles will not be allowed to use the border crossing. Any cargo they bring will have to be reloaded on an Egyptian-managed official convoy.

The refusal of Greece and Egypt to collude in blockade-running attempts is encouraging. By making order a priority, they eliminate the convenience third-party territory represents for activists originating from Turkey, Syria, or Lebanon. Other European authorities could take a lesson from them.

An interesting development thousands of miles away merits a mention as well. The New Zealand-based organization Kia Ora Gaza, while fundraising at a university in Hamilton last week, was startled to encounter push-back against its vituperative anti-Israel appeal (“one non-Jewish student … described [it] as ‘hate-preaching’”). Kia Ora Gaza activists were reportedly “told by Iraqi and Iranian students that they ‘were playing straight into Hamas’s hands.’” After an hour of being challenged by attendees, the Kia Ora Gaza group cut its event short and left, having taken in very few donations (one attendee counted a total of three).

No single event should be regarded as definitive, of course, but the trend here is positive — and very different from the narrative adhered to by the mainstream media. At times it seems as though the only ones who don’t “get it,” when it comes to Hamas, Islamism, and the cause-célèbre of Gaza, are the Western leftist elites.

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Israel Needs to Face Facts About Turkey

Israel’s effort to adjust to the new reality of a hostile Islamist Turkey often seems like “one step forward, two steps back.” This week was a giant step back. Yet even so, progress has been made.

This week’s setback was Israel’s decision to participate in a UN probe of May’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza. Several leading Israeli ministers said the decision was made partly “to restore ties with Turkey.” As one senior official put it, “Hopefully the combination of lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip and establishing an international investigation will meet the Turkish demands and lead to a restoration of ties.”

This is appeasement of the worst kind. In order to “restore ties” with a government that has made its hostility crystal-clear, Israel for the first time gave its imprimatur to an investigation by one of the world’s most anti-Israel bodies, which has never sought to probe similar incidents in other countries. That sets a dangerous precedent.

Even worse, this decision comes just days after Defense Minister Ehud Barak voiced concern over the new Turkish intelligence chief’s close ties with Iran. Noting that years of military cooperation had left many Israeli secrets in Turkish hands, he worried that Hakan Fidan might pass them to Tehran. What normal country seeks a closer relationship with a government it suspects of sharing its secrets with its worst enemy?

Yet in its soberer moments, the government has, with considerable success, begun reaching out to some of Turkey’s traditional opponents. Last month, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou paid an official visit to Israel, becoming the first Greek leader to do so in over 30 years. And in May, the Greek and Israeli air forces conducted joint exercises over the Aegean Sea. Turkey used to be a major venue for such exercises, but lately, it has canceled them repeatedly. And these exercises are vital because they enable pilots to train over longer distances and different terrain than Israel offers.

Ties with Cyprus have also warmed. In May, for instance, Cyprus said it would stop letting Gaza-bound flotillas use its ports, and in June, the Free Gaza movement, which has organized several such flotillas, said this decision had forced it to relocate its headquarters from the island.

But Israel’s schizophrenic behavior is damaging — something even Foreign Ministry professionals, trained to favor diplomacy above all, have recognized. When Industry Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer met Turkey’s foreign minister in June in a bid to mend ties, one senior Foreign Ministry professional told Haaretz (Hebrew only):

The American government is giving Turkey the cold shoulder, Jewish organizations are boycotting it and the whole world is uncomfortable with Turkey’s behavior. Amid all this, we’re the ones who want to embrace them. So how will we be able to object to the world [doing the same] afterward?

This week’s decision shows the damage is only getting worse. It’s time for Jerusalem to face facts: as long as Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in power, Turkey will never again be an ally. Better to cut its losses and focus on building other more fruitful relationships.

Israel’s effort to adjust to the new reality of a hostile Islamist Turkey often seems like “one step forward, two steps back.” This week was a giant step back. Yet even so, progress has been made.

This week’s setback was Israel’s decision to participate in a UN probe of May’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza. Several leading Israeli ministers said the decision was made partly “to restore ties with Turkey.” As one senior official put it, “Hopefully the combination of lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip and establishing an international investigation will meet the Turkish demands and lead to a restoration of ties.”

This is appeasement of the worst kind. In order to “restore ties” with a government that has made its hostility crystal-clear, Israel for the first time gave its imprimatur to an investigation by one of the world’s most anti-Israel bodies, which has never sought to probe similar incidents in other countries. That sets a dangerous precedent.

Even worse, this decision comes just days after Defense Minister Ehud Barak voiced concern over the new Turkish intelligence chief’s close ties with Iran. Noting that years of military cooperation had left many Israeli secrets in Turkish hands, he worried that Hakan Fidan might pass them to Tehran. What normal country seeks a closer relationship with a government it suspects of sharing its secrets with its worst enemy?

Yet in its soberer moments, the government has, with considerable success, begun reaching out to some of Turkey’s traditional opponents. Last month, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou paid an official visit to Israel, becoming the first Greek leader to do so in over 30 years. And in May, the Greek and Israeli air forces conducted joint exercises over the Aegean Sea. Turkey used to be a major venue for such exercises, but lately, it has canceled them repeatedly. And these exercises are vital because they enable pilots to train over longer distances and different terrain than Israel offers.

Ties with Cyprus have also warmed. In May, for instance, Cyprus said it would stop letting Gaza-bound flotillas use its ports, and in June, the Free Gaza movement, which has organized several such flotillas, said this decision had forced it to relocate its headquarters from the island.

But Israel’s schizophrenic behavior is damaging — something even Foreign Ministry professionals, trained to favor diplomacy above all, have recognized. When Industry Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer met Turkey’s foreign minister in June in a bid to mend ties, one senior Foreign Ministry professional told Haaretz (Hebrew only):

The American government is giving Turkey the cold shoulder, Jewish organizations are boycotting it and the whole world is uncomfortable with Turkey’s behavior. Amid all this, we’re the ones who want to embrace them. So how will we be able to object to the world [doing the same] afterward?

This week’s decision shows the damage is only getting worse. It’s time for Jerusalem to face facts: as long as Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in power, Turkey will never again be an ally. Better to cut its losses and focus on building other more fruitful relationships.

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RE: Here’s That Bipartisan Alliance

A complete video of the press conference yesterday on the flotilla can be viewed here. Especially noteworthy are the two Democrats who forcefully rebut the Obama approach to both that incident and the Middle East more generally. Rep. Eliot Engels (D-N.Y.) demanded that we block any UN investigation into the flotilla and reaffirmed that Israel is fully competent to conduct its own investigation. He also revealed that some of the flotilla activists have applied to enter the U.S. to spew their venom, and that he will be presenting a petition signed by thousands of New Yorkers calling for the State Department to block these individuals’ entry. And he implores the administration to keep its eye on the ball — the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

The remarks of Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) included these observations:

The UN is once again seeking to condemn Israel for defending its citizens against Hamas terrorists. This is the same UN that gives the green light for Israel’s enemies to attack the Jewish state, and then condemns Israel for any retaliation against its terrorist attackers or acts of self-defense to protect its families. It happened last year with the deeply-flawed and disturbingly-biased Goldstone Report, and we are here to say it must not happen again. … Turkey is a perfect example of the blatant hypocrisy on display. While they criticize Israel in the UN, Turkey continues to occupy Cyprus, denies the Armenian Genocide and warmly welcomes Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the genocidal Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. …

All of this is taking place while North Korea goes unpunished in the UN for a flagrant act of war against South Korea. And the Iranian regime stands on the precipice of developing a nuclear weapon. Either of these despotic regimes could kill millions with access to nuclear weapons and murderous ambitions.

Nicely said, Congresswoman! You can’t miss the vast gulf between the language and position of Berkley and Engel, on one hand, and the White House, on the other. It seems there are at least some Democrats who should be signing on to the King resolution, then, right? Or is there something wrong with insisting that the U.S. get out of the Human Rights Council and start reciting a bill of particulars against Iran, Hamas, and Turkey?

Engel and Berkley are among the strongest Democratic supporters of Israel in Congress. They don’t much care about ruffling the White House’s feathers and they don’t put partisan loyalty above principle. It is a standard that Jewish groups should expect of those who fancy themselves as friends of Israel. Instead of making it easier for lawmakers to capitulate to and enable the Obama assault on Israel, Jewish leaders should be making it harder. You don’t do that by dancing on egg shells or praising Obama’s straddling. You do it by being candid and forceful, both in private and in public — and by reminding lawmakers that these days there’s no benefit (either to their own political fortunes or to the U.S.-Israel relationship) to be gained by running interference for this administration.

A complete video of the press conference yesterday on the flotilla can be viewed here. Especially noteworthy are the two Democrats who forcefully rebut the Obama approach to both that incident and the Middle East more generally. Rep. Eliot Engels (D-N.Y.) demanded that we block any UN investigation into the flotilla and reaffirmed that Israel is fully competent to conduct its own investigation. He also revealed that some of the flotilla activists have applied to enter the U.S. to spew their venom, and that he will be presenting a petition signed by thousands of New Yorkers calling for the State Department to block these individuals’ entry. And he implores the administration to keep its eye on the ball — the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

The remarks of Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) included these observations:

The UN is once again seeking to condemn Israel for defending its citizens against Hamas terrorists. This is the same UN that gives the green light for Israel’s enemies to attack the Jewish state, and then condemns Israel for any retaliation against its terrorist attackers or acts of self-defense to protect its families. It happened last year with the deeply-flawed and disturbingly-biased Goldstone Report, and we are here to say it must not happen again. … Turkey is a perfect example of the blatant hypocrisy on display. While they criticize Israel in the UN, Turkey continues to occupy Cyprus, denies the Armenian Genocide and warmly welcomes Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the genocidal Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. …

All of this is taking place while North Korea goes unpunished in the UN for a flagrant act of war against South Korea. And the Iranian regime stands on the precipice of developing a nuclear weapon. Either of these despotic regimes could kill millions with access to nuclear weapons and murderous ambitions.

Nicely said, Congresswoman! You can’t miss the vast gulf between the language and position of Berkley and Engel, on one hand, and the White House, on the other. It seems there are at least some Democrats who should be signing on to the King resolution, then, right? Or is there something wrong with insisting that the U.S. get out of the Human Rights Council and start reciting a bill of particulars against Iran, Hamas, and Turkey?

Engel and Berkley are among the strongest Democratic supporters of Israel in Congress. They don’t much care about ruffling the White House’s feathers and they don’t put partisan loyalty above principle. It is a standard that Jewish groups should expect of those who fancy themselves as friends of Israel. Instead of making it easier for lawmakers to capitulate to and enable the Obama assault on Israel, Jewish leaders should be making it harder. You don’t do that by dancing on egg shells or praising Obama’s straddling. You do it by being candid and forceful, both in private and in public — and by reminding lawmakers that these days there’s no benefit (either to their own political fortunes or to the U.S.-Israel relationship) to be gained by running interference for this administration.

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Flotilla Thriller

This summer promises events that will thoroughly eclipse the diplomatic flurry over the recent Gaza flotilla. What few would have expected is the maritime character of the drama to which we have to look forward. And in a manner reminiscent of some seemingly minor operational decisions during the Cold War, Obama’s response to the challenge will be the most important security signal sent by his administration to date.

The distant drumbeat of the impending climax has been sounding for some time; Iran and Hezbollah have repeatedly threatened shipping in, respectively, the Strait of Hormuz and the waters off Lebanon and Israel, near the northern approach to the Suez Canal. Hezbollah’s most recent threat was issued in May, shortly before the deadly flotilla incident. Both Iran and Hezbollah are actively preparing to make good on their threats. This is not a theoretical menace. A complacent dismissal of their activities would be very dangerous.

Moreover, they are about to get help from — and take direct advantage of — the chaotic maritime situation brewing with the follow-on flotillas now in planning. Avram Rimon at Examiner.com had a good summary of them this weekend: they include a Gaza flotilla sponsored by German Jews; a counter-flotilla of Israelis hoping to bring aid to Cyprus, the Turkish Kurds, and Armenia (the latter under a Turkish blockade for more than 16 years); the Turkish flotilla for which Tayyip Erdogan has promised his own presence and a naval escort; and the flotilla being mounted by Iran, which is scheduled to leave Iran for Gaza on June 18.

The U.S. can do one of two things about these proliferating flotillas. We can organize NATO overtly to monitor and control eruptions in the Eastern Mediterranean, or we can simply leave it all for Israel to handle. Doing the latter will guarantee the early involvement of Hezbollah and Hamas in enlarging the scope of this maritime challenge. A hands-off approach by the Western nations makes it more likely that the terrorists, along with Iran and Turkey, will seek to precipitate crises — which may involve innocent commercial shipping — and press situational advantages. On the other hand, a declaration that the U.S. and NATO will prevent destabilizing eruptions, accompanied by obvious readiness to impose order if necessary, would be a salutary and effective signal. None of this need be done in a bellicose manner: quiet but unyielding is the appropriate demeanor.

Turkey’s involvement in the recent flotilla should already have resulted in a moment of reckoning with its NATO allies, if only behind closed doors. The West’s lackadaisical approach to its core alliance is on borrowed time. If the impending parade of flotillas produces only disorganized posturing from NATO, while allowing Israel’s enemies to create havoc at sea and score propaganda points against Israel, the next challenge is likely to emerge almost automatically in the Persian Gulf. Iran has threatened to begin stopping ships in the Strait of Hormuz if the inspection clause of the June 9 UN sanctions is actually applied against Iran-bound cargo. Tehran’s willingness to carry through on this will depend on the U.S. posture, which governs what the Iranians think they can get away with.

A strong stance in the Eastern Mediterranean is the lowest-cost, highest-payoff method of deterring Iran from the outset. Maintaining stability at sea and control of the world’s key chokepoints is an American naval task so basic we rarely think about it, but the impact from breaches of that order is immediate and far-reaching. Doing nothing is courting crisis; we should be working to head this one off at the pass. That approach would be far less costly than reacting to a series of crises.

This summer promises events that will thoroughly eclipse the diplomatic flurry over the recent Gaza flotilla. What few would have expected is the maritime character of the drama to which we have to look forward. And in a manner reminiscent of some seemingly minor operational decisions during the Cold War, Obama’s response to the challenge will be the most important security signal sent by his administration to date.

The distant drumbeat of the impending climax has been sounding for some time; Iran and Hezbollah have repeatedly threatened shipping in, respectively, the Strait of Hormuz and the waters off Lebanon and Israel, near the northern approach to the Suez Canal. Hezbollah’s most recent threat was issued in May, shortly before the deadly flotilla incident. Both Iran and Hezbollah are actively preparing to make good on their threats. This is not a theoretical menace. A complacent dismissal of their activities would be very dangerous.

Moreover, they are about to get help from — and take direct advantage of — the chaotic maritime situation brewing with the follow-on flotillas now in planning. Avram Rimon at Examiner.com had a good summary of them this weekend: they include a Gaza flotilla sponsored by German Jews; a counter-flotilla of Israelis hoping to bring aid to Cyprus, the Turkish Kurds, and Armenia (the latter under a Turkish blockade for more than 16 years); the Turkish flotilla for which Tayyip Erdogan has promised his own presence and a naval escort; and the flotilla being mounted by Iran, which is scheduled to leave Iran for Gaza on June 18.

The U.S. can do one of two things about these proliferating flotillas. We can organize NATO overtly to monitor and control eruptions in the Eastern Mediterranean, or we can simply leave it all for Israel to handle. Doing the latter will guarantee the early involvement of Hezbollah and Hamas in enlarging the scope of this maritime challenge. A hands-off approach by the Western nations makes it more likely that the terrorists, along with Iran and Turkey, will seek to precipitate crises — which may involve innocent commercial shipping — and press situational advantages. On the other hand, a declaration that the U.S. and NATO will prevent destabilizing eruptions, accompanied by obvious readiness to impose order if necessary, would be a salutary and effective signal. None of this need be done in a bellicose manner: quiet but unyielding is the appropriate demeanor.

Turkey’s involvement in the recent flotilla should already have resulted in a moment of reckoning with its NATO allies, if only behind closed doors. The West’s lackadaisical approach to its core alliance is on borrowed time. If the impending parade of flotillas produces only disorganized posturing from NATO, while allowing Israel’s enemies to create havoc at sea and score propaganda points against Israel, the next challenge is likely to emerge almost automatically in the Persian Gulf. Iran has threatened to begin stopping ships in the Strait of Hormuz if the inspection clause of the June 9 UN sanctions is actually applied against Iran-bound cargo. Tehran’s willingness to carry through on this will depend on the U.S. posture, which governs what the Iranians think they can get away with.

A strong stance in the Eastern Mediterranean is the lowest-cost, highest-payoff method of deterring Iran from the outset. Maintaining stability at sea and control of the world’s key chokepoints is an American naval task so basic we rarely think about it, but the impact from breaches of that order is immediate and far-reaching. Doing nothing is courting crisis; we should be working to head this one off at the pass. That approach would be far less costly than reacting to a series of crises.

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Turning the Tables on the Turks

As Jennifer noted, some Israelis are thinking of getting even with Turkey this week with a “flotilla” that would bring some symbolic aid to the embattled Kurdish minority in that country. Though most of the media coverage of the Gaza flotilla controversy has wrongly blamed Israel for messing up the relationship with Turkey, most Israelis view Turkey’s decision to back the Islamist terrorists of Hamas against the Jewish state as a terrible betrayal.

While Israel has certainly benefited from the alliance with Turkey in the past, this was not a one-sided friendship. The Turks were happy to use the specter of a friendly Israel to help maintain a favorable balance of power in the region at the expense of hostile states such as Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

The Turks also benefited greatly from having Israel’s supporters in the United States largely at their disposal, even on issues where Jews felt they were being asked to balance Israel’s strategic interests against questions of human rights and genocide. Thus, American Jewish groups repeatedly have weighed in, often to the dismay of their rank-and-file members, against resolutions recognizing the historical truth of the Turkish genocide against Armenians during World War One. As Anti-Defamation League head Abe Foxman learned to his sorrow, trying to keep American Jews out of that fight — when their own historical experience of genocide impelled them to side with the Armenians — for the sake of maintaining good relations with a country that was supposedly friendly to Israel was a thankless task.

But with the actions of Turkey’s Islamic government undermining any hopes for meaningful sanctions on Iran and choosing to side with Tehran’s terrorists allies in Gaza, perhaps it is high time for American Jews to show the Turks that it is not just Israel that will pay a price for the flotilla controversy. The idea of treating a country that oppresses its Kurdish minority and that has illegally occupied a portion of Cyprus since 1974 — a violation of international law that ought to silence any Turkish criticism of the presence of Jews in Jerusalem or the West Bank — and that continues to pretend that the mass murder of Armenians is a myth as a valued friend and ally is much harder sell for Americans than it was a couple of weeks ago. Even more to the point, recent events should effectively end the debatable practice of American Jewish organizations carrying water on Capitol Hill for Turkish interests.

As Jennifer noted, some Israelis are thinking of getting even with Turkey this week with a “flotilla” that would bring some symbolic aid to the embattled Kurdish minority in that country. Though most of the media coverage of the Gaza flotilla controversy has wrongly blamed Israel for messing up the relationship with Turkey, most Israelis view Turkey’s decision to back the Islamist terrorists of Hamas against the Jewish state as a terrible betrayal.

While Israel has certainly benefited from the alliance with Turkey in the past, this was not a one-sided friendship. The Turks were happy to use the specter of a friendly Israel to help maintain a favorable balance of power in the region at the expense of hostile states such as Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

The Turks also benefited greatly from having Israel’s supporters in the United States largely at their disposal, even on issues where Jews felt they were being asked to balance Israel’s strategic interests against questions of human rights and genocide. Thus, American Jewish groups repeatedly have weighed in, often to the dismay of their rank-and-file members, against resolutions recognizing the historical truth of the Turkish genocide against Armenians during World War One. As Anti-Defamation League head Abe Foxman learned to his sorrow, trying to keep American Jews out of that fight — when their own historical experience of genocide impelled them to side with the Armenians — for the sake of maintaining good relations with a country that was supposedly friendly to Israel was a thankless task.

But with the actions of Turkey’s Islamic government undermining any hopes for meaningful sanctions on Iran and choosing to side with Tehran’s terrorists allies in Gaza, perhaps it is high time for American Jews to show the Turks that it is not just Israel that will pay a price for the flotilla controversy. The idea of treating a country that oppresses its Kurdish minority and that has illegally occupied a portion of Cyprus since 1974 — a violation of international law that ought to silence any Turkish criticism of the presence of Jews in Jerusalem or the West Bank — and that continues to pretend that the mass murder of Armenians is a myth as a valued friend and ally is much harder sell for Americans than it was a couple of weeks ago. Even more to the point, recent events should effectively end the debatable practice of American Jewish organizations carrying water on Capitol Hill for Turkish interests.

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Turkey Needs More Democracy

There have been a number of articles, such as this one in the Wall Street Journal by Rob Pollock, trenchantly dissecting the decline of Turkey. This once stalwart ally of America and Israel now supports the sort of rabid anti-Israel, pro-Hamas sentiment displayed by the Gaza flotilla. This is indeed an alarming trend, not only for what it says about the future of Israeli-Turkish relations (which, sadly, seem to be beyond salvation at the moment), but also for what it says about the prospects for democracy in the Middle East.

Israel aside, Turkey has been the most durable democracy in the region, although its freedom has always been tempered by occasional military interventions (sometimes called “soft coups”) to safeguard the secularist legacy of Ataturk. In recent years, the military has pulled back from politics and allowed the ascension of the Islamist AK Party led by Prime Minister Erdogan. There were mutterings about military intervention in 2007, when Erdogan chose a fellow AK party member, Abdullah Gul, to fill the largely ceremonial post of president, but nothing happened. Turkey is today arguably the freest it has been with a popular prime minister ruling based on a solid majority. Freedom House notes: “The July 2007 elections were widely judged to have been free and fair, with reports of more open debate on traditionally sensitive issues.”

And yet those free and fair elections have produced a government that is increasingly anti-Israel and anti-American — a government that often sounds indistinguishable from dictatorships such as Iran and Syria. This would seem to offer one more piece of evidence to those — ranging from many Israelis to American Realpolitikers and Middle East despots — who believe that the Middle East is simply not ready for democracy and that if you allow elections, the result will be to entrench Hamas, Hezbollah, and their fellow travelers.

For my part, I am not ready to give up on promoting democracy, especially in countries such as Iran and Syria, where it is hard to imagine that any alternative government could possibly be worse than the status quo. In the case of Iran, there is actually a good deal of reason to believe that a democratically elected government would be considerably more moderate and liberal than the incumbent regime, although it may decide to keep Iran’s nuclear weapons program going.

What about countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which are reasonably friendly toward the U.S. under their current rulers — and in the case of Egypt and Jordan, have even made peace with Israel? Does the Turkish precedent (and the troubled results of elections in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories) suggest a go-slow attitude toward electoral reform? It certainly suggests that elections are by no means a panacea and that unelected rulers may in fact be more friendly to the West than those who could win a popular mandate. But that doesn’t mean that an unpopular status quo can be sustained forever. Sooner or later, for example, an ailing and elderly Hosni Mubarak will pass from the scene, and it is by no means clear that his son will be able to follow him.

The trick from the American standpoint is to promote gradual liberalization without risking a takeover by extremist groups such as Hamas, which would be interested in “one vote, one man, one time.” Democracy, as we know, involves more than voting; it must have checks and balances provided by an independent press corps, judiciary, and political opposition. Turkey has been deficient in all these regards, which helps to explain why, despite its regular elections, it is rated as only “partly free” by Freedom House.

Many of the limitations on popular democracy were imposed by the secularist military, but the AK Party has made use of state power to its own benefit. For instance, it has pursued massive legal cases based on dubious evidence against dozens of secularists who are accused of plotting to undermine the government. Then there are continuing restrictions on press freedom. Freedom House notes:

A 2006 antiterrorism law reintroduced jail sentences for journalists, and Article 301 of the 2004 revised penal code allows journalists and others to be prosecuted for discussing subjects such as the division of Cyprus and the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Turks, which many consider to have been genocide. People have been charged under the same article for crimes such as insulting the armed services and denigrating “Turkishness”; very few have been convicted, but the trials are time-consuming and expensive. An April 2008 amendment changed Article 301’s language to prohibit insulting “the Turkish nation,” with a maximum sentence of two instead of three years, but cases continue to be brought under that and other clauses. For example, in 2009 a journalist who wrote an article denouncing what he said was the unlawful imprisonment of his father, also a journalist, was himself sentenced to 14 months in prison….

Nearly all media organizations are owned by giant holding companies with interests in other sectors, contributing to self-censorship. In 2009, the Dogan holding company, which owns many media outlets, was ordered to pay crippling fines for tax evasion in what was widely described as a politicized case stemming from Dogan’s criticism of AK and its members. The internet is subject to the same censorship policies that apply to other media, and a 2007 law allows the state to block access to websites deemed to insult Ataturk or whose content includes criminal activities. This law has been used to block access to the video-sharing website YouTube since 2008, as well as several other websites in 2009.

Turkey has suffered not only from such restrictions but also from the fact that the secularist opposition has been in disarray. The Republican People’s Party, founded by Ataturk, has just chosen a new leader to replace its longtime head, who had to step down after the appearance of an Internet sex video in which he apparently played a starring role.

The opposition has its work cut out for it. As one prominent Turkish columnist has noted, while AK did well initially, “since 2007 its reign has been tainted by repressive tactics against the secular media, an effort to control the judiciary, excessive use of wiretapping by law enforcement, and a legal jihad against members of the armed forces in ‘coup’ investigations where the lines between fact and fiction often seem blurry.” And now tainted as well by anti-Israeli and anti-American animus.

While Turkey’s experience should not lead to a dismissal of democratization in the Middle East, it should remind us that democracy, especially when partial and limited, is no cure-all for a country’s ills. We should also keep in mind, however, in the case of Turkey as well as other countries, that the best cure for democracy’s ills may well be more democracy.

There have been a number of articles, such as this one in the Wall Street Journal by Rob Pollock, trenchantly dissecting the decline of Turkey. This once stalwart ally of America and Israel now supports the sort of rabid anti-Israel, pro-Hamas sentiment displayed by the Gaza flotilla. This is indeed an alarming trend, not only for what it says about the future of Israeli-Turkish relations (which, sadly, seem to be beyond salvation at the moment), but also for what it says about the prospects for democracy in the Middle East.

Israel aside, Turkey has been the most durable democracy in the region, although its freedom has always been tempered by occasional military interventions (sometimes called “soft coups”) to safeguard the secularist legacy of Ataturk. In recent years, the military has pulled back from politics and allowed the ascension of the Islamist AK Party led by Prime Minister Erdogan. There were mutterings about military intervention in 2007, when Erdogan chose a fellow AK party member, Abdullah Gul, to fill the largely ceremonial post of president, but nothing happened. Turkey is today arguably the freest it has been with a popular prime minister ruling based on a solid majority. Freedom House notes: “The July 2007 elections were widely judged to have been free and fair, with reports of more open debate on traditionally sensitive issues.”

And yet those free and fair elections have produced a government that is increasingly anti-Israel and anti-American — a government that often sounds indistinguishable from dictatorships such as Iran and Syria. This would seem to offer one more piece of evidence to those — ranging from many Israelis to American Realpolitikers and Middle East despots — who believe that the Middle East is simply not ready for democracy and that if you allow elections, the result will be to entrench Hamas, Hezbollah, and their fellow travelers.

For my part, I am not ready to give up on promoting democracy, especially in countries such as Iran and Syria, where it is hard to imagine that any alternative government could possibly be worse than the status quo. In the case of Iran, there is actually a good deal of reason to believe that a democratically elected government would be considerably more moderate and liberal than the incumbent regime, although it may decide to keep Iran’s nuclear weapons program going.

What about countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which are reasonably friendly toward the U.S. under their current rulers — and in the case of Egypt and Jordan, have even made peace with Israel? Does the Turkish precedent (and the troubled results of elections in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories) suggest a go-slow attitude toward electoral reform? It certainly suggests that elections are by no means a panacea and that unelected rulers may in fact be more friendly to the West than those who could win a popular mandate. But that doesn’t mean that an unpopular status quo can be sustained forever. Sooner or later, for example, an ailing and elderly Hosni Mubarak will pass from the scene, and it is by no means clear that his son will be able to follow him.

The trick from the American standpoint is to promote gradual liberalization without risking a takeover by extremist groups such as Hamas, which would be interested in “one vote, one man, one time.” Democracy, as we know, involves more than voting; it must have checks and balances provided by an independent press corps, judiciary, and political opposition. Turkey has been deficient in all these regards, which helps to explain why, despite its regular elections, it is rated as only “partly free” by Freedom House.

Many of the limitations on popular democracy were imposed by the secularist military, but the AK Party has made use of state power to its own benefit. For instance, it has pursued massive legal cases based on dubious evidence against dozens of secularists who are accused of plotting to undermine the government. Then there are continuing restrictions on press freedom. Freedom House notes:

A 2006 antiterrorism law reintroduced jail sentences for journalists, and Article 301 of the 2004 revised penal code allows journalists and others to be prosecuted for discussing subjects such as the division of Cyprus and the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Turks, which many consider to have been genocide. People have been charged under the same article for crimes such as insulting the armed services and denigrating “Turkishness”; very few have been convicted, but the trials are time-consuming and expensive. An April 2008 amendment changed Article 301’s language to prohibit insulting “the Turkish nation,” with a maximum sentence of two instead of three years, but cases continue to be brought under that and other clauses. For example, in 2009 a journalist who wrote an article denouncing what he said was the unlawful imprisonment of his father, also a journalist, was himself sentenced to 14 months in prison….

Nearly all media organizations are owned by giant holding companies with interests in other sectors, contributing to self-censorship. In 2009, the Dogan holding company, which owns many media outlets, was ordered to pay crippling fines for tax evasion in what was widely described as a politicized case stemming from Dogan’s criticism of AK and its members. The internet is subject to the same censorship policies that apply to other media, and a 2007 law allows the state to block access to websites deemed to insult Ataturk or whose content includes criminal activities. This law has been used to block access to the video-sharing website YouTube since 2008, as well as several other websites in 2009.

Turkey has suffered not only from such restrictions but also from the fact that the secularist opposition has been in disarray. The Republican People’s Party, founded by Ataturk, has just chosen a new leader to replace its longtime head, who had to step down after the appearance of an Internet sex video in which he apparently played a starring role.

The opposition has its work cut out for it. As one prominent Turkish columnist has noted, while AK did well initially, “since 2007 its reign has been tainted by repressive tactics against the secular media, an effort to control the judiciary, excessive use of wiretapping by law enforcement, and a legal jihad against members of the armed forces in ‘coup’ investigations where the lines between fact and fiction often seem blurry.” And now tainted as well by anti-Israeli and anti-American animus.

While Turkey’s experience should not lead to a dismissal of democratization in the Middle East, it should remind us that democracy, especially when partial and limited, is no cure-all for a country’s ills. We should also keep in mind, however, in the case of Turkey as well as other countries, that the best cure for democracy’s ills may well be more democracy.

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Flotilla Incident — Constructive Criticism

When Israel is attacked — physically or rhetorically — the impulse of all friends of Israel (myself included) is to jump immediately and totally to its defense. That is a commendable impulse; certainly far preferable to the knee-jerk anti-Israel animus displayed by much of the world. But unflinching support for Israel’s right to defend itself should not preclude occasional criticism of the manner in which it exercises that right — just as being a supporter of the United States and its armed forces in general should not preclude one from criticizing specific operations, for instance the way in which the Iraq war was conducted from 2003 to 2007. Indeed, one can argue that those of us who were critical of the Bush administration’s conduct of the war ultimately helped to make possible the turnaround that occurred when President Bush jettisoned his senior war managers (Rumsfeld, Abizaid, Casey) and implemented the surge — a policy they had stubbornly and foolishly opposed.

So Israel is now going through a period of reflection and self-criticism similar to that which occurred after the troubled 2006 campaign against Hezbollah. That resulted in a more successful operation against Hamas (Operation Cast Lead in December 2008-January 2009). I hope that the constructive criticisms that I — and other pro-Israel commentators — have lodged of the manner in which the Gaza flotilla was handled will lead Israeli policymakers to be more adept in dealing with similar challenges in the future. My critique (I wrote that the operation was morally and legally justified but handed a public-relations victory to Israel’s enemies) was actually mild compared with many of those heard in Israel itself. For instance, Ari Shavit — a respected Haaretz columnist who is a hawkish liberal – wrote:

During the 2006 war in Lebanon I concluded that my 15-year-old daughter could have conducted it more wisely than the Olmert-Peretz government. We’ve progressed. Today it’s clear to me that my 6-year-old son could do much better than our current government.

As another example, there is this comment made to Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg, who is in Israel right now:

I happen to be around a lot of Israeli generals lately, and one I bumped into today said something very smart and self-aware: “Does everybody in the world think we’re bananas?” He did not let me respond before he said, “Wait, I know the answer: The whole world thinks we’re bananas.” I asked this general if this was a good thing or a bad thing. After all, Nixon seemed bananas and he achieved great things internationally. So did Menachem Begin. This is what the general said, however: “It’s one thing for people to think that you’re crazy, but it’s bad when they think you’re incompetent and crazy, and that’s the way we look.”

Unfortunately — and it pains me to say so because I want only the best for Israel — I think that unnamed general is right.

Those who continue to defend the handling of the Gaza flotilla make essentially three points: (a) there was no credible alternative; (b) Israel would get criticized no matter what it did; and (c) Israel cannot give the “international community” a veto over its right of self-defense.

Start with the first point. Knowledgeable Israeli commentators agree with me that there likely were alternative courses of action to stop the flotilla without sending a small group of naval commandos into the middle of a melee — a situation for which they were unprepared. The Jerusalem Post writes:

One question that needs to be asked is why the government approved the IDF’s plan to put troops on the ship via helicopter instead of perhaps sabotaging or diverting them. Flotilla 13, the naval commando unit that raided the ships, is expert in sabotage.

According to one former top navy officer, one option was to use tugboats to push the ships off course. Another option was to damage the ships’ propellers, prevent them from sailing into Gaza and forcing them to be towed to Ashdod.

A third option was to board the ships quietly and not by helicopter.

“There were several options that the IDF had before sending troops onto the ship,” the former senior officer explained, “It is not clear that those options were completely exhausted.”

In the Wall Street Journal today, Israeli security analyst Ronen Bergman (who, like I do, describes the operation as a “fiasco”) reminds us that such alternatives have been employed before:

In 1988, 131 members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) who had been deported from the Palestinian Territories following the outbreak of the first intifada intended to set sail to Gaza from Limassol, Cyprus. Their boat, called Al Awda or the Ship of the Return, was accompanied by 200 journalists. ….

On Feb. 15, hours before it was due to set sail, the empty ship was blown up in Limassol harbor by a team of Mossad agents and frogmen from Flotilla 13 (the Israeli equivalent of Navy Seals). The team was led by Yoav Galant, then a young officer and today a major general in the IDF. The operation was a success. There were no casualties on either side and the PLO gave up on the idea of sailing to Gaza.

What about the argument that Israel would get criticized no matter what it did? That even if its agents sabotaged or disabled the pro-Hamas vessels without risking an open confrontation, it would still be pilloried? There is some truth to this, but there is criticism and then there is criticism. It would get a lot less blowback for such a low-profile operation than for a shoot-out on the high seas that left nine “peace activists” (actually pro-Hamas activists) dead.

Israel should be willing to risk international opprobrium when it faces a true existential threat. It needs, for example, to retaliate for Hamas rocket strikes, as it did with Operation Cast Lead. No state can allow its territory to be attacked with impunity. Israel also needs to seriously consider the possibility of bombing Iranian nuclear facilities no matter the denunciations that such an operation would inevitably bring; the potential payoff is worth the public-relations cost. But the Mavi Marmara was not an existential threat; it was not loaded with missiles or other weapons. It was a provocation, an act of political theater — and Israel should have been smart enough to avoid playing the part scripted by its enemies. Even letting the ship dock in Gaza would have done less damage to Israel than the manner in which it was stopped.

The justification for the boarding was that Israel couldn’t allow the Gaza blockade to be broken. I’m sympathetic to the need to maintain the blockade (which Israel has every right to do), but as Ronen Bergman points out, Israel has let other ships breach the blockade before without catastrophic consequences:

In August 2006 two ships carrying peace activists and food aid set out to Gaza, again from Cyprus. Under instructions from then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the vessels were boarded at sea without resistance. After a search uncovered no weapons, the ships were permitted to continue on toward the Strip. The Israeli naval forces went home, Hamas declared victory, and that was that.

The ultimate irony here is that the Israeli boarding was meant to prevent a recurrence of such Hamas aid convoys. Yet the shooting aboard the Mavi Marama has had the opposite effect — by handing an unearned propaganda victory to Israel’s enemies, it is encouraging them to repeat the same tactics. Three more ships are being readied for another Gaza flotilla. If and when they do sail, I trust that the Israeli government will learn from experience and not walk into another trap set by its enemies.

When Israel is attacked — physically or rhetorically — the impulse of all friends of Israel (myself included) is to jump immediately and totally to its defense. That is a commendable impulse; certainly far preferable to the knee-jerk anti-Israel animus displayed by much of the world. But unflinching support for Israel’s right to defend itself should not preclude occasional criticism of the manner in which it exercises that right — just as being a supporter of the United States and its armed forces in general should not preclude one from criticizing specific operations, for instance the way in which the Iraq war was conducted from 2003 to 2007. Indeed, one can argue that those of us who were critical of the Bush administration’s conduct of the war ultimately helped to make possible the turnaround that occurred when President Bush jettisoned his senior war managers (Rumsfeld, Abizaid, Casey) and implemented the surge — a policy they had stubbornly and foolishly opposed.

So Israel is now going through a period of reflection and self-criticism similar to that which occurred after the troubled 2006 campaign against Hezbollah. That resulted in a more successful operation against Hamas (Operation Cast Lead in December 2008-January 2009). I hope that the constructive criticisms that I — and other pro-Israel commentators — have lodged of the manner in which the Gaza flotilla was handled will lead Israeli policymakers to be more adept in dealing with similar challenges in the future. My critique (I wrote that the operation was morally and legally justified but handed a public-relations victory to Israel’s enemies) was actually mild compared with many of those heard in Israel itself. For instance, Ari Shavit — a respected Haaretz columnist who is a hawkish liberal – wrote:

During the 2006 war in Lebanon I concluded that my 15-year-old daughter could have conducted it more wisely than the Olmert-Peretz government. We’ve progressed. Today it’s clear to me that my 6-year-old son could do much better than our current government.

As another example, there is this comment made to Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg, who is in Israel right now:

I happen to be around a lot of Israeli generals lately, and one I bumped into today said something very smart and self-aware: “Does everybody in the world think we’re bananas?” He did not let me respond before he said, “Wait, I know the answer: The whole world thinks we’re bananas.” I asked this general if this was a good thing or a bad thing. After all, Nixon seemed bananas and he achieved great things internationally. So did Menachem Begin. This is what the general said, however: “It’s one thing for people to think that you’re crazy, but it’s bad when they think you’re incompetent and crazy, and that’s the way we look.”

Unfortunately — and it pains me to say so because I want only the best for Israel — I think that unnamed general is right.

Those who continue to defend the handling of the Gaza flotilla make essentially three points: (a) there was no credible alternative; (b) Israel would get criticized no matter what it did; and (c) Israel cannot give the “international community” a veto over its right of self-defense.

Start with the first point. Knowledgeable Israeli commentators agree with me that there likely were alternative courses of action to stop the flotilla without sending a small group of naval commandos into the middle of a melee — a situation for which they were unprepared. The Jerusalem Post writes:

One question that needs to be asked is why the government approved the IDF’s plan to put troops on the ship via helicopter instead of perhaps sabotaging or diverting them. Flotilla 13, the naval commando unit that raided the ships, is expert in sabotage.

According to one former top navy officer, one option was to use tugboats to push the ships off course. Another option was to damage the ships’ propellers, prevent them from sailing into Gaza and forcing them to be towed to Ashdod.

A third option was to board the ships quietly and not by helicopter.

“There were several options that the IDF had before sending troops onto the ship,” the former senior officer explained, “It is not clear that those options were completely exhausted.”

In the Wall Street Journal today, Israeli security analyst Ronen Bergman (who, like I do, describes the operation as a “fiasco”) reminds us that such alternatives have been employed before:

In 1988, 131 members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) who had been deported from the Palestinian Territories following the outbreak of the first intifada intended to set sail to Gaza from Limassol, Cyprus. Their boat, called Al Awda or the Ship of the Return, was accompanied by 200 journalists. ….

On Feb. 15, hours before it was due to set sail, the empty ship was blown up in Limassol harbor by a team of Mossad agents and frogmen from Flotilla 13 (the Israeli equivalent of Navy Seals). The team was led by Yoav Galant, then a young officer and today a major general in the IDF. The operation was a success. There were no casualties on either side and the PLO gave up on the idea of sailing to Gaza.

What about the argument that Israel would get criticized no matter what it did? That even if its agents sabotaged or disabled the pro-Hamas vessels without risking an open confrontation, it would still be pilloried? There is some truth to this, but there is criticism and then there is criticism. It would get a lot less blowback for such a low-profile operation than for a shoot-out on the high seas that left nine “peace activists” (actually pro-Hamas activists) dead.

Israel should be willing to risk international opprobrium when it faces a true existential threat. It needs, for example, to retaliate for Hamas rocket strikes, as it did with Operation Cast Lead. No state can allow its territory to be attacked with impunity. Israel also needs to seriously consider the possibility of bombing Iranian nuclear facilities no matter the denunciations that such an operation would inevitably bring; the potential payoff is worth the public-relations cost. But the Mavi Marmara was not an existential threat; it was not loaded with missiles or other weapons. It was a provocation, an act of political theater — and Israel should have been smart enough to avoid playing the part scripted by its enemies. Even letting the ship dock in Gaza would have done less damage to Israel than the manner in which it was stopped.

The justification for the boarding was that Israel couldn’t allow the Gaza blockade to be broken. I’m sympathetic to the need to maintain the blockade (which Israel has every right to do), but as Ronen Bergman points out, Israel has let other ships breach the blockade before without catastrophic consequences:

In August 2006 two ships carrying peace activists and food aid set out to Gaza, again from Cyprus. Under instructions from then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the vessels were boarded at sea without resistance. After a search uncovered no weapons, the ships were permitted to continue on toward the Strip. The Israeli naval forces went home, Hamas declared victory, and that was that.

The ultimate irony here is that the Israeli boarding was meant to prevent a recurrence of such Hamas aid convoys. Yet the shooting aboard the Mavi Marama has had the opposite effect — by handing an unearned propaganda victory to Israel’s enemies, it is encouraging them to repeat the same tactics. Three more ships are being readied for another Gaza flotilla. If and when they do sail, I trust that the Israeli government will learn from experience and not walk into another trap set by its enemies.

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The Flotilla — Why Presume There Was Another Way?

Max Boot and Evelyn Gordon are both hard on the Israeli government and military for the operation against the flotilla. Their harmonizing arguments are that Israel has little or no room for error because the international response is always going to be harsh, Israel can’t strategically or emotionally handle the consequences of international isolation, that what happened is a calamity, something should have been done differently, and heads should roll.

The problem is that this suggests that Israel had a multiplicity of options and chose the wrong one. But what if the option it chose was really the best of a whole bunch of frankly unattractive options? Had it failed to halt the flotilla, the Gaza blockade would have been publicly breached. Hamas would not only have won a propaganda victory against Israel but would have effectively put an end to the “good” Palestinian rule by Fatah on the West Bank — for Hamas would have demonstrated it could best Israel in a way that Fatah has proved singularly unable to. It is theoretically possible, as Evelyn suggests, that had its interdiction been more aggressive, with more heavily armed commandos, Israel could have taken the ship more efficiently with less bloodshed (certainly to Israeli commandos). But there’s no way to know that for sure.

Max suggests, in his Wall Street Journal piece, that maybe Israel should have booby-trapped the Marmara, the ship it boarded, while it was in port. That does sound like a juicy, Guns of Navarone–like option. But it seems to me that the public exposure of a commando raid on a ship in a Turkish Cypriot port would have had consequences vastly more dire for Israel, since it would have involved a profound violation of another nation’s sovereignty. A friend suggests that the Israelis could have worked some kind of bribery trick at the harbor in Turkish Cyprus to get the harbormaster to refuse to allow the flotilla’s exit — but if he thought of it, it stands to reason the Israelis thought of it as well and were unable to pull it off.

There’s no sense in pretending this isn’t a terrible situation. But it’s terrible not because of Israel’s action or failure to run a pristine operation, but rather because of the multi-front war against Israel in which this is but a single incident, a moment in time. Israel can and may chew itself up over it, but in doing so, it will be granting its opponents and enemies a signal victory in their war. Which is why, let’s face it, this wretchedly brilliant propaganda play was undertaken in the first place.

Max Boot and Evelyn Gordon are both hard on the Israeli government and military for the operation against the flotilla. Their harmonizing arguments are that Israel has little or no room for error because the international response is always going to be harsh, Israel can’t strategically or emotionally handle the consequences of international isolation, that what happened is a calamity, something should have been done differently, and heads should roll.

The problem is that this suggests that Israel had a multiplicity of options and chose the wrong one. But what if the option it chose was really the best of a whole bunch of frankly unattractive options? Had it failed to halt the flotilla, the Gaza blockade would have been publicly breached. Hamas would not only have won a propaganda victory against Israel but would have effectively put an end to the “good” Palestinian rule by Fatah on the West Bank — for Hamas would have demonstrated it could best Israel in a way that Fatah has proved singularly unable to. It is theoretically possible, as Evelyn suggests, that had its interdiction been more aggressive, with more heavily armed commandos, Israel could have taken the ship more efficiently with less bloodshed (certainly to Israeli commandos). But there’s no way to know that for sure.

Max suggests, in his Wall Street Journal piece, that maybe Israel should have booby-trapped the Marmara, the ship it boarded, while it was in port. That does sound like a juicy, Guns of Navarone–like option. But it seems to me that the public exposure of a commando raid on a ship in a Turkish Cypriot port would have had consequences vastly more dire for Israel, since it would have involved a profound violation of another nation’s sovereignty. A friend suggests that the Israelis could have worked some kind of bribery trick at the harbor in Turkish Cyprus to get the harbormaster to refuse to allow the flotilla’s exit — but if he thought of it, it stands to reason the Israelis thought of it as well and were unable to pull it off.

There’s no sense in pretending this isn’t a terrible situation. But it’s terrible not because of Israel’s action or failure to run a pristine operation, but rather because of the multi-front war against Israel in which this is but a single incident, a moment in time. Israel can and may chew itself up over it, but in doing so, it will be granting its opponents and enemies a signal victory in their war. Which is why, let’s face it, this wretchedly brilliant propaganda play was undertaken in the first place.

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Useful Idiots at Sea

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air has a very good summary of points about the Hamas-backed attempt to break the maritime blockade of Gaza on May 31. The summary includes links on the Turkish “aid” group, Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), and its associations with the Muslim Brotherhood and all the usual suspects of Islamist terror (including the Millennium bombing plot in 1999). There is convincing video footage of the fight mounted by the peace activists – using knives, metal pipe, handguns, stun grenades, and incendiary devices – against the Israeli commandos boarding M/V Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ferry used as the flotilla’s flagship. Probably the best compliment I can give Ed’s post is that it doesn’t adopt the credulous, pro-activist editorial perspective of virtually all the mainstream media outlets.

There is good reason not to. For one thing, the fingerprints of Hamas are all over this blockade-running attempt. IHH, a key organizer of the flotilla, has longstanding ties to Hamas that include establishing an IHH office in Gaza and setting up celebrated meetings between its leader, Bulent Yildirim, and Hamas leaders Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh. Moreover, British participation in the flotilla was organized by British Hamas leader Mohammed Sawalha, among other Hamas links to the European flotilla participants (laid out here).

Flotilla spokesmen told Islamic media repeatedly in the weeks before the attempt that their purpose was to break the blockade. Israel, of course, regularly allows aid convoys into Gaza; the Israelis offered to accept the humanitarian cargo in Ashdod and have it convoyed into Gaza over land. But IHH leaders stated that they hoped to widen the rift between Israel and Turkey by inciting Israel to take military action against the flotilla.

The Israelis advised Turkish and European envoys beforehand of their intention to use naval forces to prevent the flotilla from reaching Gaza. The outrage now being shown by European politicians certainly isn’t based on surprise at the course of events; the Israelis did exactly what they said they would do. In fact, some reports suggest that European governments joined Israel last week in pressuring Greek Cyprus to prevent the departure of flotilla participants who were using Cyprus as a staging area. In the days since Mavi Marmara’s departure from Istanbul on May 22, Europeans have been watching the flotilla’s dilatory progress much more closely than Americans have. The truth about the dramatic climax off Gaza on Monday is that the whole event has unfolded in slow motion – and with the full cognizance of all the relevant governments.

From a military operational perspective, it seems to have been a tactical error that the Israeli commandos didn’t go in with sufficient force. I doubt they’ll make that mistake again. If they had conducted the boarding on the premise that it would be “non-compliant” (the U.S. military term), they would have been prepared to stabilize the situation at the outset with the threat of deadly force. In conditions like the ones the commandos faced today, that usually means actual force is less likely to be necessary.

But in the end, what matters to Israeli national security is that the flotilla participants were armed and determined to break the blockade. As long as Hamas rules Gaza, the territory’s sea access is a major vulnerability for Israel and has to be controlled. Repeated attempts have been made in the last few years to deliver weapons from Iran to Hamas by sea (see here, here, here, here, and here); Israel can’t permit the coastline of Gaza to become the path of least resistance for weapons deliveries.

It will be up to the U.S. and Europe whether the waters off the Gaza coast, short miles from the Suez Canal, become a source of maritime instability due to incitement by Hamas. The EU leadership, tacitly accepting the Hamas narrative cloaked in Europe’s trademark parlor activism, is behaving with a fecklessness for which it deserves strong rebuke. It is not to the advantage of any respectable nation to carry Hamas’s water. Only Hamas and its fellow jihadists stand to benefit from Israel losing control of its maritime borders. The sooner Europe’s leaders confront that fact and take a responsible view of their own interests, the better.

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air has a very good summary of points about the Hamas-backed attempt to break the maritime blockade of Gaza on May 31. The summary includes links on the Turkish “aid” group, Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), and its associations with the Muslim Brotherhood and all the usual suspects of Islamist terror (including the Millennium bombing plot in 1999). There is convincing video footage of the fight mounted by the peace activists – using knives, metal pipe, handguns, stun grenades, and incendiary devices – against the Israeli commandos boarding M/V Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ferry used as the flotilla’s flagship. Probably the best compliment I can give Ed’s post is that it doesn’t adopt the credulous, pro-activist editorial perspective of virtually all the mainstream media outlets.

There is good reason not to. For one thing, the fingerprints of Hamas are all over this blockade-running attempt. IHH, a key organizer of the flotilla, has longstanding ties to Hamas that include establishing an IHH office in Gaza and setting up celebrated meetings between its leader, Bulent Yildirim, and Hamas leaders Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh. Moreover, British participation in the flotilla was organized by British Hamas leader Mohammed Sawalha, among other Hamas links to the European flotilla participants (laid out here).

Flotilla spokesmen told Islamic media repeatedly in the weeks before the attempt that their purpose was to break the blockade. Israel, of course, regularly allows aid convoys into Gaza; the Israelis offered to accept the humanitarian cargo in Ashdod and have it convoyed into Gaza over land. But IHH leaders stated that they hoped to widen the rift between Israel and Turkey by inciting Israel to take military action against the flotilla.

The Israelis advised Turkish and European envoys beforehand of their intention to use naval forces to prevent the flotilla from reaching Gaza. The outrage now being shown by European politicians certainly isn’t based on surprise at the course of events; the Israelis did exactly what they said they would do. In fact, some reports suggest that European governments joined Israel last week in pressuring Greek Cyprus to prevent the departure of flotilla participants who were using Cyprus as a staging area. In the days since Mavi Marmara’s departure from Istanbul on May 22, Europeans have been watching the flotilla’s dilatory progress much more closely than Americans have. The truth about the dramatic climax off Gaza on Monday is that the whole event has unfolded in slow motion – and with the full cognizance of all the relevant governments.

From a military operational perspective, it seems to have been a tactical error that the Israeli commandos didn’t go in with sufficient force. I doubt they’ll make that mistake again. If they had conducted the boarding on the premise that it would be “non-compliant” (the U.S. military term), they would have been prepared to stabilize the situation at the outset with the threat of deadly force. In conditions like the ones the commandos faced today, that usually means actual force is less likely to be necessary.

But in the end, what matters to Israeli national security is that the flotilla participants were armed and determined to break the blockade. As long as Hamas rules Gaza, the territory’s sea access is a major vulnerability for Israel and has to be controlled. Repeated attempts have been made in the last few years to deliver weapons from Iran to Hamas by sea (see here, here, here, here, and here); Israel can’t permit the coastline of Gaza to become the path of least resistance for weapons deliveries.

It will be up to the U.S. and Europe whether the waters off the Gaza coast, short miles from the Suez Canal, become a source of maritime instability due to incitement by Hamas. The EU leadership, tacitly accepting the Hamas narrative cloaked in Europe’s trademark parlor activism, is behaving with a fecklessness for which it deserves strong rebuke. It is not to the advantage of any respectable nation to carry Hamas’s water. Only Hamas and its fellow jihadists stand to benefit from Israel losing control of its maritime borders. The sooner Europe’s leaders confront that fact and take a responsible view of their own interests, the better.

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First, Do No Harm

After Israeli media reported yesterday that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had threatened to curtail U.S. involvement in Israeli-Palestinian talks, the White House rushed to deny it. That’s a pity — because curtailing U.S. involvement would be far more helpful than what special envoy George Mitchell is actually doing.

Interviewed by PBS yesterday, Mitchell (as Jennifer noted) declared: “We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years … Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

That, frankly, is ridiculous. In 16 years of talks, the parties have yet to resolve a single final-status issue. Just 15 months ago, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected an Israeli offer of 94 percent of the West Bank, territorial exchanges for the remainder, and international Muslim control over the Temple Mount. Current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will certainly offer no more, and probably not as much. So what does Mitchell think will happen in the next two years to suddenly make Abbas abandon positions he has stuck to for the last 16 — or else make Israel agree to suicide by, for instance, accepting Abbas’ demand that it absorb 4.7 million Palestinian “refugees”?

Nor need one be “anti-peace” to recognize this. Here’s the first sentence of a column published in the left-wing Israeli paper Haaretz yesterday by its leftist, pro-peace diplomatic correspondent, Aluf Benn: “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is right: During the next two years Israel will not reach a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians.”

While arguing that Israel must make concessions anyway to placate world opinion, Benn articulates an important truth: “The establishment of new states arouses multigenerational conflicts” that rarely end quickly. The India-Pakistan and Cyprus conflicts, which also date back to the British Empire’s mid-20th century breakup, are still unresolved, he notes, and the Israeli-Arab conflict is no less intractable.

But were Mitchell just spouting nonsense, nobody would care. The problem is that such nonsense does active harm by raising expectations that cannot be met — then provoking a backlash of disappointment.

First, Palestinians and other Arabs routinely interpret such statements by U.S. officials as pledges to make Israel kowtow to Palestinian demands. When that doesn’t happen, it increases anti-American sentiment, entrenches disbelief in the possibility of peace (thus strengthening extremists like Hamas), and can even spark renewed anti-Israel terror, as the Camp David summit in 2000 showed.

Second, it further entrenches Israeli skepticism about peace.

Third, it will almost certainly increase anti-Israel hysteria in Europe. Unlike Israelis and Palestinians, Europeans largely share Mitchell’s conviction that peace is imminently achievable. Hence every time it fails to materialize, they seek a scapegoat. And so far, that scapegoat has always been Israel: while demanding ever more Israeli concessions, the EU has yet to publicly demand any Palestinian concessions.

There are things America could do to further peace — like finally telling the Palestinians that they, too, must compromise. But doing nothing would be better than doing active harm. And that’s what Washington is doing now.

After Israeli media reported yesterday that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had threatened to curtail U.S. involvement in Israeli-Palestinian talks, the White House rushed to deny it. That’s a pity — because curtailing U.S. involvement would be far more helpful than what special envoy George Mitchell is actually doing.

Interviewed by PBS yesterday, Mitchell (as Jennifer noted) declared: “We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years … Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

That, frankly, is ridiculous. In 16 years of talks, the parties have yet to resolve a single final-status issue. Just 15 months ago, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected an Israeli offer of 94 percent of the West Bank, territorial exchanges for the remainder, and international Muslim control over the Temple Mount. Current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will certainly offer no more, and probably not as much. So what does Mitchell think will happen in the next two years to suddenly make Abbas abandon positions he has stuck to for the last 16 — or else make Israel agree to suicide by, for instance, accepting Abbas’ demand that it absorb 4.7 million Palestinian “refugees”?

Nor need one be “anti-peace” to recognize this. Here’s the first sentence of a column published in the left-wing Israeli paper Haaretz yesterday by its leftist, pro-peace diplomatic correspondent, Aluf Benn: “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is right: During the next two years Israel will not reach a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians.”

While arguing that Israel must make concessions anyway to placate world opinion, Benn articulates an important truth: “The establishment of new states arouses multigenerational conflicts” that rarely end quickly. The India-Pakistan and Cyprus conflicts, which also date back to the British Empire’s mid-20th century breakup, are still unresolved, he notes, and the Israeli-Arab conflict is no less intractable.

But were Mitchell just spouting nonsense, nobody would care. The problem is that such nonsense does active harm by raising expectations that cannot be met — then provoking a backlash of disappointment.

First, Palestinians and other Arabs routinely interpret such statements by U.S. officials as pledges to make Israel kowtow to Palestinian demands. When that doesn’t happen, it increases anti-American sentiment, entrenches disbelief in the possibility of peace (thus strengthening extremists like Hamas), and can even spark renewed anti-Israel terror, as the Camp David summit in 2000 showed.

Second, it further entrenches Israeli skepticism about peace.

Third, it will almost certainly increase anti-Israel hysteria in Europe. Unlike Israelis and Palestinians, Europeans largely share Mitchell’s conviction that peace is imminently achievable. Hence every time it fails to materialize, they seek a scapegoat. And so far, that scapegoat has always been Israel: while demanding ever more Israeli concessions, the EU has yet to publicly demand any Palestinian concessions.

There are things America could do to further peace — like finally telling the Palestinians that they, too, must compromise. But doing nothing would be better than doing active harm. And that’s what Washington is doing now.

Read Less

The EU’s New Effort to Thwart Israeli-Palestinian Peace

For a body that prides itself on its “soft power,” the European Union has a remarkable capacity to stymie its own diplomatic goals through inept diplomacy.

A classic example was the UN-brokered agreement to reunify Cyprus in 2004, when the EU promised to admit Greek Cyprus regardless of whether it accepted the agreement, whereas Turkish Cyprus would be admitted only if both sides accepted the plan. The results were predictable: Greek Cypriots, their reward assured regardless of their behavior, had no reason to make even the minimal concessions the plan entailed, so they rejected it. But Turkish Cypriots, who approved it, were penalized: even the minor economic benefits the EU pledged after the vote never materialized, because Greek Cyprus used its shiny new EU veto to block them. Five years later, the negotiations drag on, and the island remains divided.

The EU is now poised to make the same mistake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, via a draft document proposed by its rotating president, Sweden, that Israeli diplomats say EU foreign ministers look certain to adopt on December 7. The document reportedly details every concession the EU expects Israel to make to the Palestinians but specifies no reciprocal Palestinian concessions. And it thereby feeds Palestinian illusions that they need not make any concessions; the international community will simply force Israel to accept all their demands.

Specifically, the document says that East Jerusalem must be the capital of the Palestinian state and that the 1967 lines must be its borders, unless the Palestinians choose otherwise. It also implies that the EU would recognize a unilaterally declared Palestinian state in these borders “at the appropriate time.”

But it doesn’t demand that the Palestinians give up their dream of resettling millions of descendants of refugees in Israel — something everyone recognizes as a sine qua non of any agreement.

It doesn’t demand border adjustments to account for the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live over the Green Line, especially in Jerusalem, though everyone knows this is necessary: no agreement that entailed evicting hundreds of thousands of Israelis from their homes would ever pass the Knesset.

It doesn’t demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state or acknowledge Jewish rights on the Temple Mount. It doesn’t require any security arrangements. It doesn’t even call for recognizing West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Normally, these issues would be resolved during negotiations. But if the EU has already “given” the Palestinians East Jerusalem and the 1967 borders, the Palestinians have no need to make concessions on, say, the “right of return” in exchange. Nor need they make such concessions in exchange for anything else, because once borders and Jerusalem are off the table, Israel has nothing left to give. In short, Israel will have no means of extracting the concessions it needs for a viable deal. Therefore, there will be no deal.

Adopting this document would thus kill any chance of achieving one of the EU’s own stated top priorities: Israeli-Palestinian peace. Evidently, some diplomats never learn.

For a body that prides itself on its “soft power,” the European Union has a remarkable capacity to stymie its own diplomatic goals through inept diplomacy.

A classic example was the UN-brokered agreement to reunify Cyprus in 2004, when the EU promised to admit Greek Cyprus regardless of whether it accepted the agreement, whereas Turkish Cyprus would be admitted only if both sides accepted the plan. The results were predictable: Greek Cypriots, their reward assured regardless of their behavior, had no reason to make even the minimal concessions the plan entailed, so they rejected it. But Turkish Cypriots, who approved it, were penalized: even the minor economic benefits the EU pledged after the vote never materialized, because Greek Cyprus used its shiny new EU veto to block them. Five years later, the negotiations drag on, and the island remains divided.

The EU is now poised to make the same mistake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, via a draft document proposed by its rotating president, Sweden, that Israeli diplomats say EU foreign ministers look certain to adopt on December 7. The document reportedly details every concession the EU expects Israel to make to the Palestinians but specifies no reciprocal Palestinian concessions. And it thereby feeds Palestinian illusions that they need not make any concessions; the international community will simply force Israel to accept all their demands.

Specifically, the document says that East Jerusalem must be the capital of the Palestinian state and that the 1967 lines must be its borders, unless the Palestinians choose otherwise. It also implies that the EU would recognize a unilaterally declared Palestinian state in these borders “at the appropriate time.”

But it doesn’t demand that the Palestinians give up their dream of resettling millions of descendants of refugees in Israel — something everyone recognizes as a sine qua non of any agreement.

It doesn’t demand border adjustments to account for the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live over the Green Line, especially in Jerusalem, though everyone knows this is necessary: no agreement that entailed evicting hundreds of thousands of Israelis from their homes would ever pass the Knesset.

It doesn’t demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state or acknowledge Jewish rights on the Temple Mount. It doesn’t require any security arrangements. It doesn’t even call for recognizing West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Normally, these issues would be resolved during negotiations. But if the EU has already “given” the Palestinians East Jerusalem and the 1967 borders, the Palestinians have no need to make concessions on, say, the “right of return” in exchange. Nor need they make such concessions in exchange for anything else, because once borders and Jerusalem are off the table, Israel has nothing left to give. In short, Israel will have no means of extracting the concessions it needs for a viable deal. Therefore, there will be no deal.

Adopting this document would thus kill any chance of achieving one of the EU’s own stated top priorities: Israeli-Palestinian peace. Evidently, some diplomats never learn.

Read Less

Italy’s Iran Reversal

Italy, reversing its previous policy of putting commercial interests before strategic ones, has decided to endorse a series of additional EU sanctions against Iran–which include embargoing Bank Melli, Iran’s main commercial bank and a conveyor belt for terror financing. The motives for Italy’s government to have reversed its policy are less than noble, though. The outgoing left-of-center government, according to news reports, does not want to give the incoming new right-of-center executive the opportunity to portray Romano Prodi’s outgoing government as one that stood against “the whole European Union.”

Had Prodi’s policies–to say nothing of his foreign minister’s regular outbursts–not been so embarrassing, he would not have to worry about looking bad on his way out. Regardless, the portrayal of Italy’s outgoing government as “standing alone against the whole European Union” gives too much credit to Italy’s now-reversed stance on Iran. After all, the Italians are not alone in giving Iran a free pass–Spain, Greece, Austria, Cyprus, and some Scandinavian countries are likely to regret Italy’s change of heart. And with the EU still deadlocked on further measures to implement UN Security council Resolution 1803, the swing in favor of further sanctions is not as dramatic as it first appears.

Italy, reversing its previous policy of putting commercial interests before strategic ones, has decided to endorse a series of additional EU sanctions against Iran–which include embargoing Bank Melli, Iran’s main commercial bank and a conveyor belt for terror financing. The motives for Italy’s government to have reversed its policy are less than noble, though. The outgoing left-of-center government, according to news reports, does not want to give the incoming new right-of-center executive the opportunity to portray Romano Prodi’s outgoing government as one that stood against “the whole European Union.”

Had Prodi’s policies–to say nothing of his foreign minister’s regular outbursts–not been so embarrassing, he would not have to worry about looking bad on his way out. Regardless, the portrayal of Italy’s outgoing government as “standing alone against the whole European Union” gives too much credit to Italy’s now-reversed stance on Iran. After all, the Italians are not alone in giving Iran a free pass–Spain, Greece, Austria, Cyprus, and some Scandinavian countries are likely to regret Italy’s change of heart. And with the EU still deadlocked on further measures to implement UN Security council Resolution 1803, the swing in favor of further sanctions is not as dramatic as it first appears.

Read Less




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