Commentary Magazine


Topic: Javier Solana

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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Iran Fails Another Test

IAEA director general Dr. Mohammad ElBaradei, interviewed by Newsweek in October 2007 a few weeks after he negotiated a workplan with Iran on its nuclear program, said that

[i]f Iran were to prove that it was using this period for delaying tactics and it was not really acting in good faith, then, obviously, nobody–nobody–will come to its support when people call for more sanctions or for punitive measures. That is a point that has been made very clear to them by everybody, including myself. If we come [back] with a negative report after three months, I don’t see that anybody will come and say, well, give them another chance.

ElBaradei proposed this as a “litmus test.” This test–as all diplomatic tests should–had a timeline and a deadline: three months. Today, nearly nine months later, a Washington Post editorial notes that Iran has failed.

Will El Baradei hold to the resolution he proposed in 2007? Hard to believe. After all, Iran was given deadlines aplenty by the international community to come clean on its nuclear cover-up. And each time, deadlines came and went, with the international community scrambling for months afterwards to find a new consensus to pressure Iran once again. This was true of the June 6, 2006 incentives that Iran was offered in exchange for suspending enrichment. This was true of the August 31, 2006 deadline set by Security Council Resolution 1696 as well. And it is true today of the workplan that El Baradei negotiated in October 2007. Every time, the IAEA and the Security Council have shown that their deadlines are not serious. Now, unsurprisingly, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is about to embark on a trip to Tehran, where he will offer Iran a more attractive incentive package than the one offered two years ago.

The New York Times hopes that this package will be more enticing than the previous one: “Before Mr. Solana goes, the major powers need to come up with a more compelling list of rewards and punishments.” But it’s the list of punishments that needs the most work from the international community. Otherwise, Tehran will never even begin to take the West seriously.

IAEA director general Dr. Mohammad ElBaradei, interviewed by Newsweek in October 2007 a few weeks after he negotiated a workplan with Iran on its nuclear program, said that

[i]f Iran were to prove that it was using this period for delaying tactics and it was not really acting in good faith, then, obviously, nobody–nobody–will come to its support when people call for more sanctions or for punitive measures. That is a point that has been made very clear to them by everybody, including myself. If we come [back] with a negative report after three months, I don’t see that anybody will come and say, well, give them another chance.

ElBaradei proposed this as a “litmus test.” This test–as all diplomatic tests should–had a timeline and a deadline: three months. Today, nearly nine months later, a Washington Post editorial notes that Iran has failed.

Will El Baradei hold to the resolution he proposed in 2007? Hard to believe. After all, Iran was given deadlines aplenty by the international community to come clean on its nuclear cover-up. And each time, deadlines came and went, with the international community scrambling for months afterwards to find a new consensus to pressure Iran once again. This was true of the June 6, 2006 incentives that Iran was offered in exchange for suspending enrichment. This was true of the August 31, 2006 deadline set by Security Council Resolution 1696 as well. And it is true today of the workplan that El Baradei negotiated in October 2007. Every time, the IAEA and the Security Council have shown that their deadlines are not serious. Now, unsurprisingly, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is about to embark on a trip to Tehran, where he will offer Iran a more attractive incentive package than the one offered two years ago.

The New York Times hopes that this package will be more enticing than the previous one: “Before Mr. Solana goes, the major powers need to come up with a more compelling list of rewards and punishments.” But it’s the list of punishments that needs the most work from the international community. Otherwise, Tehran will never even begin to take the West seriously.

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Tehran’s Big Deal

Swiss energy giant EGL just disclosed what is perhaps the biggest energy contract with Iran in recent history–between 28 and 42 billion dollars, according to its spokesman, who insisted that the exact figure not be revealed. Swiss foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey visited Tehran to crown the deal. Calmy-Rey–photographed wearing a veil alongside her male Iranian counterparts–praised Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA and generally speaking scored a great own goal for the international community’s efforts to push Iran into compliance with UN Security Council resolutions 1696, 1737, 1747 and 1803.

Faced with international criticism, Calmy-Rey was adamant that Switzerland was not violating any law. True–but what kind of signal does a Western foreign minister send by going to Iran to bless a business deal two weeks after the UN adopted a sanctions resolution? Switzerland has slapped the world in the face. Europe, apparently, should not shy away from Iranian markets. Business, after all, is business.

The next weeks and months will tell whether European business will follow suit or if this is a lamentable one-off. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana-a nuclear physicist by training and the man officially appointed by the UN Security Council to negotiate with Iran-defined Iran’s nuclear program as a “strategic threat” to Europe on Sunday during a conversation with David Ignatius at the Brussels Forum. Asked by Steve Erlanger of the New York Times whether George W. Bush’s description of a nuclear Iran as “intolerable” was shared in Europe, Solana laconically and bluntly responded “Yes!” Barely a day later, Calmy-Rey was in Tehran, dressed so as not to offend her hosts, to sign a giant deal. Clearly, Switzerland begs to differ. And if the Swiss view were to take hold again in Europe (Europe remains Iran’s biggest trade partner, let’s not forget), it would not be long before that threat either materializes thanks to European technological sales and funds–or before someone acts upon the operational consequences of the world “intolerable.”

Swiss energy giant EGL just disclosed what is perhaps the biggest energy contract with Iran in recent history–between 28 and 42 billion dollars, according to its spokesman, who insisted that the exact figure not be revealed. Swiss foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey visited Tehran to crown the deal. Calmy-Rey–photographed wearing a veil alongside her male Iranian counterparts–praised Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA and generally speaking scored a great own goal for the international community’s efforts to push Iran into compliance with UN Security Council resolutions 1696, 1737, 1747 and 1803.

Faced with international criticism, Calmy-Rey was adamant that Switzerland was not violating any law. True–but what kind of signal does a Western foreign minister send by going to Iran to bless a business deal two weeks after the UN adopted a sanctions resolution? Switzerland has slapped the world in the face. Europe, apparently, should not shy away from Iranian markets. Business, after all, is business.

The next weeks and months will tell whether European business will follow suit or if this is a lamentable one-off. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana-a nuclear physicist by training and the man officially appointed by the UN Security Council to negotiate with Iran-defined Iran’s nuclear program as a “strategic threat” to Europe on Sunday during a conversation with David Ignatius at the Brussels Forum. Asked by Steve Erlanger of the New York Times whether George W. Bush’s description of a nuclear Iran as “intolerable” was shared in Europe, Solana laconically and bluntly responded “Yes!” Barely a day later, Calmy-Rey was in Tehran, dressed so as not to offend her hosts, to sign a giant deal. Clearly, Switzerland begs to differ. And if the Swiss view were to take hold again in Europe (Europe remains Iran’s biggest trade partner, let’s not forget), it would not be long before that threat either materializes thanks to European technological sales and funds–or before someone acts upon the operational consequences of the world “intolerable.”

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No More Carrots for Iran

Less than a week after the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1803, empowering EU foreign policy czar Javier Solana to meet with Iran’s officials for talks on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran has announced that it will only talk to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran’s decision is a slap in the face not only of the Security Council, but of the Europeans, who have long advocated the use of the carrot and stick with Iran–especially the carrot. Rumor had it in Brussels that Europe was preparing a much bigger incentive package for Iran than the one Iran was offered in June 2006–a package which resolution 1803 reiterates. Regardless, for now Iran will only talk to IAEA’s director general, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei.

The word in Brussels is that Iran is not interested in a new European offer because it lacks U.S. backing. The biggest prize for Tehran,  European pundits reason, is an American carrot in the form of explicit security guarantees. This much may be true. But the real reason for Iran to insist on talking with ElBaradei alone, at this point, is that the Director General has shown uncommon kindness to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. His latest report is a near-total whitewash of Iran’s activities. Had it not been for critical evidence supplied to the IAEA by several member states only a few weeks before ElBaradei submitted his report, Iran might have gotten away with its program and would have received a clean bill of health from ElBaradei.

As it happens, ElBaradei–whose track record suggests he is more worried about a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities than Iran getting nuclear weapons–managed to close just about every file of the nuclear dossier, often accepting Iran’s lame explanations at face value.

Will the IAEA’s director general give Iran another free pass in 90 days, when,  as requested by Resolution 1803, he must report again? Given that it took nearly a year for the international community to pass even a largely symbolic resolution, perhaps Iran hopes so. But this would be a mistake on their part–and on ElBaradei’s part as well. Given the evidence submitted to the IAEA and the nature of Iran’s nuclear program, a clean bill of health offered by ElBaradei will only further weaken the international resolve behind non-military pressure on Iran. Which will, of course, help to provide a case for military action to those who cannot afford to live under the shadow of Iran’s nuclear bomb.

Less than a week after the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1803, empowering EU foreign policy czar Javier Solana to meet with Iran’s officials for talks on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran has announced that it will only talk to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran’s decision is a slap in the face not only of the Security Council, but of the Europeans, who have long advocated the use of the carrot and stick with Iran–especially the carrot. Rumor had it in Brussels that Europe was preparing a much bigger incentive package for Iran than the one Iran was offered in June 2006–a package which resolution 1803 reiterates. Regardless, for now Iran will only talk to IAEA’s director general, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei.

The word in Brussels is that Iran is not interested in a new European offer because it lacks U.S. backing. The biggest prize for Tehran,  European pundits reason, is an American carrot in the form of explicit security guarantees. This much may be true. But the real reason for Iran to insist on talking with ElBaradei alone, at this point, is that the Director General has shown uncommon kindness to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. His latest report is a near-total whitewash of Iran’s activities. Had it not been for critical evidence supplied to the IAEA by several member states only a few weeks before ElBaradei submitted his report, Iran might have gotten away with its program and would have received a clean bill of health from ElBaradei.

As it happens, ElBaradei–whose track record suggests he is more worried about a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities than Iran getting nuclear weapons–managed to close just about every file of the nuclear dossier, often accepting Iran’s lame explanations at face value.

Will the IAEA’s director general give Iran another free pass in 90 days, when,  as requested by Resolution 1803, he must report again? Given that it took nearly a year for the international community to pass even a largely symbolic resolution, perhaps Iran hopes so. But this would be a mistake on their part–and on ElBaradei’s part as well. Given the evidence submitted to the IAEA and the nature of Iran’s nuclear program, a clean bill of health offered by ElBaradei will only further weaken the international resolve behind non-military pressure on Iran. Which will, of course, help to provide a case for military action to those who cannot afford to live under the shadow of Iran’s nuclear bomb.

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Squeezing Iran

EU foreign policy czar Javier Solana is in Rome today to meet with Said Jalili, the new Iranian nuclear negotiator, and to bid farewell to Jalili’s predecessor, Ali Larijani. It is doubtful that Solana will enjoy the same quality of conversation with Jalili that he experienced with Larijani, whose profound knowledge of Western philosophy made him a valued companion for Solana, according to Brussels rumors. Jalili is expected to deliver his messages more bluntly than Larijani, and that might be a good thing. Larijani had fooled his European interlocutors into believing he was a moderate, inciting his European counterparts to budge while he held his ground. Jalili might not be as sophisticated.

But it is equally doubtful that Iran’s abrupt change of negotiator will induce Europe to shift its posture on the means to curb Iran’s nuclear program. As Italy’s weekly L’espresso reports in a lengthy and detailed piece on sanctions and their effectiveness, Iran still very much gets what it wants. Europeans are keen to circumvent sanctions and have not adopted the necessary practical measures to ensure that the sanctions regime works.

Last year’s bilateral trade volume for Italy and Iran exceeded five billion euros, making Italy the second biggest European trading partner of Iran, after Germany. L’espresso reveals that the Italian office in charge of trade inspections—a branch of the Ministry for Foreign Trade under Minister Emma Bonino—contains only twelve functionaries and four technicians. By comparison, its German equivalent, in charge of export control, has 200 people on its payroll. In practice, this means thousands of contracts annually and larger financial operations on a huge scale. The paucity of human resources invested in monitoring these activities means that almost no effective regulation of them exists. The scope for violations of all kinds is broad.

Whether Europeans will agree to a broader sanctions’ regime in weeks to come remains to be seen. It is clear, though, that what will matter ultimately is Europe’s willingness to give teeth to these measures. Without coupling UN resolutions with the practical means of putting the squeeze on Iran—like, say closely examining the huge business it does every year with Italy, or cutting off or restricting that business—even the toughest sanctions will fail.

EU foreign policy czar Javier Solana is in Rome today to meet with Said Jalili, the new Iranian nuclear negotiator, and to bid farewell to Jalili’s predecessor, Ali Larijani. It is doubtful that Solana will enjoy the same quality of conversation with Jalili that he experienced with Larijani, whose profound knowledge of Western philosophy made him a valued companion for Solana, according to Brussels rumors. Jalili is expected to deliver his messages more bluntly than Larijani, and that might be a good thing. Larijani had fooled his European interlocutors into believing he was a moderate, inciting his European counterparts to budge while he held his ground. Jalili might not be as sophisticated.

But it is equally doubtful that Iran’s abrupt change of negotiator will induce Europe to shift its posture on the means to curb Iran’s nuclear program. As Italy’s weekly L’espresso reports in a lengthy and detailed piece on sanctions and their effectiveness, Iran still very much gets what it wants. Europeans are keen to circumvent sanctions and have not adopted the necessary practical measures to ensure that the sanctions regime works.

Last year’s bilateral trade volume for Italy and Iran exceeded five billion euros, making Italy the second biggest European trading partner of Iran, after Germany. L’espresso reveals that the Italian office in charge of trade inspections—a branch of the Ministry for Foreign Trade under Minister Emma Bonino—contains only twelve functionaries and four technicians. By comparison, its German equivalent, in charge of export control, has 200 people on its payroll. In practice, this means thousands of contracts annually and larger financial operations on a huge scale. The paucity of human resources invested in monitoring these activities means that almost no effective regulation of them exists. The scope for violations of all kinds is broad.

Whether Europeans will agree to a broader sanctions’ regime in weeks to come remains to be seen. It is clear, though, that what will matter ultimately is Europe’s willingness to give teeth to these measures. Without coupling UN resolutions with the practical means of putting the squeeze on Iran—like, say closely examining the huge business it does every year with Italy, or cutting off or restricting that business—even the toughest sanctions will fail.

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By Hook or by Crooke

The release of Alan Johnston, the BBC Gaza correspondent held hostage for four months, is the biggest propaganda coup that Hamas has achieved so far. Predictable demands for “engagement with” (i.e., recognition of) Hamas as a reward for obtaining Johnston’s freedom from his kidnappers, the Army of Islam, were made on the BBC by Alastair Crooke.

Who is he? He seems to surface every time Islamist organizations need a Western spokesman to lend respectability to their cause. Crooke was an MI6 intelligence officer for some 30 years, specializing in the Middle East. After leaving the security service, he landed a series of international jobs: as a staff member of the Mitchell committee on the intifada convened after the Israeli-Palestinian summit at Sharm al Sheikh in 2000; then as “security adviser” to Javier Solana, the European Union’s High Representative and de-facto foreign minister. Crooke was assigned to the EU’s Middle East envoy Miguel Moratinos in 2002, but was recalled by the British Foreign Office in 2003 after he held a series of secret meetings with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorists. At one of these, Crooke told the then-leader of Hamas, Sheikh Yassin: “The main problem is the Israeli occupation.” Crooke went on to say that “I hate that word [terrorism]” when applied to Hamas, whose suicide bombers were then slaughtering Israeli civilians. Crooke was already working hard to legitimize Hamas as “freedom fighters” while speaking on behalf of the EU.

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The release of Alan Johnston, the BBC Gaza correspondent held hostage for four months, is the biggest propaganda coup that Hamas has achieved so far. Predictable demands for “engagement with” (i.e., recognition of) Hamas as a reward for obtaining Johnston’s freedom from his kidnappers, the Army of Islam, were made on the BBC by Alastair Crooke.

Who is he? He seems to surface every time Islamist organizations need a Western spokesman to lend respectability to their cause. Crooke was an MI6 intelligence officer for some 30 years, specializing in the Middle East. After leaving the security service, he landed a series of international jobs: as a staff member of the Mitchell committee on the intifada convened after the Israeli-Palestinian summit at Sharm al Sheikh in 2000; then as “security adviser” to Javier Solana, the European Union’s High Representative and de-facto foreign minister. Crooke was assigned to the EU’s Middle East envoy Miguel Moratinos in 2002, but was recalled by the British Foreign Office in 2003 after he held a series of secret meetings with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorists. At one of these, Crooke told the then-leader of Hamas, Sheikh Yassin: “The main problem is the Israeli occupation.” Crooke went on to say that “I hate that word [terrorism]” when applied to Hamas, whose suicide bombers were then slaughtering Israeli civilians. Crooke was already working hard to legitimize Hamas as “freedom fighters” while speaking on behalf of the EU.

In 2004, together with Mark Perry, Crooke set up Conflicts Forum, a lobbying group with branches in London, Beirut, and Washington. Though it claims to “connect the West and the Muslim world,” by the latter it means radical Islamists. Conflicts Forum’s stated aim is “to engage and listen to Islamists, while challenging Western misconceptions and misrepresentations of the region’s leading agents of change.” It brings together the Arabists who have always dominated the Foreign Office and security services, and serves as a vehicle to put pressure on Western governments to appease Islamists, from the Muslim Brotherhood to Hizballah. The Conflicts Forum website boasts of a recent 500,000 euro grant from the E.U. under its Partnership for Peace program “for a project to help develop more inclusive and legitimate approaches to transforming the Middle East conflict.” (This sounds like a euphemism for pressure to legalize Hamas.)

Crooke makes “the case for Hamas” in the lead article of the current issue of the London Review of Books. Throughout the piece, Crooke speaks of Hamas as “moderate” and praises its “effective and corruption-free” record in government. He warns that Islamists everywhere are becoming impatient with the democratic route to power. He describes a conference in Beirut last April that debated “whether moderate Islamist groups such as Hamas and Hizballah will manage to retain their influence over this process of radicalization.” Meanwhile, Hizballah, Syria, and Iran are “actively preparing for conflict” with Israel and the West. All the blame for this conflict, and the radicalization that feeds it, needless to say, lies with America, Europe, and Israel.

Finally, Crooke has a chilling warning to Israel: unless it gives Hamas-led Palestine what it wants, not only will more Israeli Arabs be drawn into terrorism, but Israel will confront Islamist governments in Egypt and Jordan, too. “Conflict with Iran, were it to occur, might finish up by sweeping away many of the region’s landmarks.” (Is this an implied threat of a second Holocaust?)

However one reads Crooke’s remarks, he and they are deeply sinister. On the BBC, he claimed that Hamas had already met the three “benchmarks” stipulated by the U.S. and EU as necessary for recognition. Unusually, the BBC then gave the right of reply to an Israeli spokesman, Mark Regev. The Australian-born Regev made short work of Crooke’s mendacious claims, pointing out that for Hamas to state that it accepts Israel’s existence “as a fact” means no more than accepting AIDS, say, as a fact. Regev also reminded listeners that while Israelis were pleased by Alan Johnston’s release, their own hostage, Gilad Shalit, has been held in Gaza for much longer.

On the back of the Alan Johnston affair, we should expect a new attempt to persuade the EU to resume financing Hamas, and we should anticipate finding Alastair Crooke, a T.E. Lawrence wannabe, in the forefront of it.

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Dangerous Dialogue

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, spent a couple of hours gabbing with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, on Monday. According to the prevailing political wisdom in Washington—and within large sectors of the newly-chastened Bush administration itself—this kind of “dialogue” will somehow transform the situation in Iraq for the better. It will also, the theory runs, lead gradually to the resolution of our other major differences with Iran, such as its implacable pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The prevailing wisdom in Tehran is rather different. There, it seems, such talks merely provide another opportunity to humiliate the United States and underline our inability to stop the Iranian quest for regional dominance. In case anyone didn’t get the memo, the Iranian government charged three Iranian-Americans with spying the day after this grand dialogue convened in Baghdad. As noted by the Washington Post, “The three individuals charged are prominent Washington scholar Haleh Esfandiari, social scientist Kian Tajbakhsh of the New York-based Open Society Institute, and correspondent Parnaz Azima of U.S.-funded Radio Farda.”

None of them, needless to say, is an actual spy. But grabbing hostages has by now become a well-entrenched tradition in Iran—one proven to work over the years in bringing the West to its knees, whether through the seizure of the U.S. Embassy personnel in 1979, numerous Westerners in Lebanon in the 1980′s, or the more recent detention of British sailors in the Persian Gulf.

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The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, spent a couple of hours gabbing with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, on Monday. According to the prevailing political wisdom in Washington—and within large sectors of the newly-chastened Bush administration itself—this kind of “dialogue” will somehow transform the situation in Iraq for the better. It will also, the theory runs, lead gradually to the resolution of our other major differences with Iran, such as its implacable pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The prevailing wisdom in Tehran is rather different. There, it seems, such talks merely provide another opportunity to humiliate the United States and underline our inability to stop the Iranian quest for regional dominance. In case anyone didn’t get the memo, the Iranian government charged three Iranian-Americans with spying the day after this grand dialogue convened in Baghdad. As noted by the Washington Post, “The three individuals charged are prominent Washington scholar Haleh Esfandiari, social scientist Kian Tajbakhsh of the New York-based Open Society Institute, and correspondent Parnaz Azima of U.S.-funded Radio Farda.”

None of them, needless to say, is an actual spy. But grabbing hostages has by now become a well-entrenched tradition in Iran—one proven to work over the years in bringing the West to its knees, whether through the seizure of the U.S. Embassy personnel in 1979, numerous Westerners in Lebanon in the 1980′s, or the more recent detention of British sailors in the Persian Gulf.

To make this “up yours” a little more explicit, Ali Larijani, the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator, told the world’s press that he “rejected the possibility of Iran suspending its uranium enrichment program.” This, coming on the eve of talks between Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, will hardly improve the atmosphere for negotiations.

The only people who could possibly be surprised by the Iranian attitude are the architects of the Iraq Study Group report and other conveyors of wishful thinking in Washington. Naturally, their response will be that we should make even more concessions to Iran to overcome their “suspicions” about American behavior. What this rather naïve reasoning ignores are the big benefits that many in the Iranian leadership, especially in the Revolutionary Guard Corps, derive from the continuing Iranian policy of isolation and hostility. Not only does enmity with the West help to maintain their justification for a theocratic dictatorship, but, as Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace explains in this interview, it also helps well-connected Iranians to profit by looting the economy.

It takes quite an effort of will to convince oneself that the real issue between the U.S. and Iran is a lack of understanding. The reality is that the U.S. and Iran have radically divergent interests. In the case of Iraq, Iran’s interest is to foment strife that will weaken the U.S. and our democratic allies and expand its sphere of control. It is currently achieving that goal. Why would it, suddenly, want to help the U.S. achieve its objectives in Iraq? Until someone can answer that question convincingly, perhaps we should hold off on any further coffee klatches with the mullahs.

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Hamas and the Europeans

Noting that the EU had been accused of being too pro-Israel by Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, I recently wrote that

it seems more and more possible that the recent period of relative quiet with respect to Israel might in itself suffice for Hamas to win a hearing in Europe. If money were to begin flowing again into government coffers in Gaza, the “moderates” can argue, it would strengthen their hold on the PA and make it possible, at long last, for the government to meet the Quartet’s three demands. Hamas would not even have to say this much, only to make the EU believe that this might happen at some point in the future. The EU’s readiness for a diplomatic fire sale is already evident, with France and the UK leading the push to set aside the Quartet’s three burdensome preconditions.

Despite shows of unity with their U.S. partners, the Europeans are doing just that, now that the Palestinian “national unity” government is in place. The foreign minister of Norway traveled to Gaza to confer with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, after Norway’s government recognized the new executive.
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Noting that the EU had been accused of being too pro-Israel by Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, I recently wrote that

it seems more and more possible that the recent period of relative quiet with respect to Israel might in itself suffice for Hamas to win a hearing in Europe. If money were to begin flowing again into government coffers in Gaza, the “moderates” can argue, it would strengthen their hold on the PA and make it possible, at long last, for the government to meet the Quartet’s three demands. Hamas would not even have to say this much, only to make the EU believe that this might happen at some point in the future. The EU’s readiness for a diplomatic fire sale is already evident, with France and the UK leading the push to set aside the Quartet’s three burdensome preconditions.

Despite shows of unity with their U.S. partners, the Europeans are doing just that, now that the Palestinian “national unity” government is in place. The foreign minister of Norway traveled to Gaza to confer with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, after Norway’s government recognized the new executive.

Rumor has it that the next Norwegian diplomatic move was a phone call to the EU’s foreign policy czar, Javier Solana, asking EU states to emulate Norway (which is not a member). The EU chose caution instead: it would judge the new government by its deeds, a spokesman said, not only by its words. Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht, visiting Ramallah last Friday, reiterated this message. But he did so at a joint press conference with the new Palestinian foreign minister, Ziad Abu Amr. And Italy’s undersecretary for foreign affairs, Vittorio Craxi, called Haniyeh “in his personal capacity,” but did not pay an official visit.

Next, it was the turn of Marc Otte, the EU special envoy to the Middle East, who met the new PA finance minister, Salam Fayyad (as did the U.S. consul in Jerusalem). As the International Herald Tribune reports, the Swedish foreign minister is next; the Swiss and Russian ambassadors will also meet Fayyad. Switzerland and France have invited him to visit; the UK announced that it, too, will speak to non-Hamas ministers.

Unlike Norway, the EU still has a few problems talking to the PA while Hamas is part of the government: Hamas, after all, is on the EU terror list. And the Quartet, at least officially, still stands by the Roadmap and the three preconditions that any PA government must meet for the international embargo on aid and dialogue to be ended.

But even Europe’s modest overtures are quite astonishing when one considers how Hamas itself views the new “unity” government: as the group’s leaders have repeatedly emphasized, “resistance” in all its forms will continue. True to form, Hamas followed words with deeds, and proceeded to claim responsibility for the shooting of an Israeli worker only two days after the government was sworn in.

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