Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mahmoud al-Zahar

RE: Smearing 68% of America

Alongside Douthat’s “first America” — that is, J Street, CAIR, the ACLU, and the Friday and Sunday but not the Saturday Obama, all of whom support the Ground Zero mosque — is that bastion of religious toleration and goodwill toward men, Hamas. The New York Post reports:

A leader of the Hamas terror group yesterday jumped into the emotional debate on the plan to construct a mosque near Ground Zero — insisting Muslims “have to build” it there.

“We have to build everywhere,” said Mahmoud al-Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas and the organization’s chief on the Gaza Strip.

“In every area we have, [as] Muslim[s], we have to pray, and this mosque is the only site of prayer,” he said on “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio” on WABC.

“We have to build the mosque, as you are allowed to build the church and Israelis are building their holy places.”

Now wait. The mosque, the left punditocracy keeps telling us, is a warm and fuzzy statement about tolerance and reconciliation. But Hamas didn’t get that memo. In fact, Cordoba House has a rather different meaning for the terrorists:

Zahar said Muslims around the world, including those who live in this country, are united in a common cause. “First of all, we have to address that we are different as people, as a nation, totally different,” he said. “We already are living under the tradition of Islam. “Islam is controlling every source of our life as regard to marriage, divorce, our commercial relationships,” Zahar said. “Even the Islamic people or the Muslims in your country, they are living now in the tradition of Islam. They are fasting; they are praying.”

Sounds like a message about Islamic triumphalism and separatism. Pity the poor slobs in second America, who think we shouldn’t be cheering that sort of thing.

Alongside Douthat’s “first America” — that is, J Street, CAIR, the ACLU, and the Friday and Sunday but not the Saturday Obama, all of whom support the Ground Zero mosque — is that bastion of religious toleration and goodwill toward men, Hamas. The New York Post reports:

A leader of the Hamas terror group yesterday jumped into the emotional debate on the plan to construct a mosque near Ground Zero — insisting Muslims “have to build” it there.

“We have to build everywhere,” said Mahmoud al-Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas and the organization’s chief on the Gaza Strip.

“In every area we have, [as] Muslim[s], we have to pray, and this mosque is the only site of prayer,” he said on “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio” on WABC.

“We have to build the mosque, as you are allowed to build the church and Israelis are building their holy places.”

Now wait. The mosque, the left punditocracy keeps telling us, is a warm and fuzzy statement about tolerance and reconciliation. But Hamas didn’t get that memo. In fact, Cordoba House has a rather different meaning for the terrorists:

Zahar said Muslims around the world, including those who live in this country, are united in a common cause. “First of all, we have to address that we are different as people, as a nation, totally different,” he said. “We already are living under the tradition of Islam. “Islam is controlling every source of our life as regard to marriage, divorce, our commercial relationships,” Zahar said. “Even the Islamic people or the Muslims in your country, they are living now in the tradition of Islam. They are fasting; they are praying.”

Sounds like a message about Islamic triumphalism and separatism. Pity the poor slobs in second America, who think we shouldn’t be cheering that sort of thing.

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Is Israel’s Safety No Longer a Western Interest?

A senior Hamas leader reportedly told a British emissary yesterday that Hamas is ready to amend its charter calling for Israel’s destruction and recognize Israel’s right to exist. A breakthrough? Unfortunately, no. But the real bad news is the emissary’s response.

What Palestinian parliament speaker Aziz Dwaik told major Labour Party donor David Martin Abrahams is clearly eyebrow-raising. Just last month, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told a rally in Gaza that “our goal is Palestine, all of Palestine” — which, in Palestinian parlance, includes all of Israel. So was Dwaik speaking without authorization, or has Hamas’s stance really shifted radically since December?

Actually, neither, as the Jerusalem Post’s report makes clear: Dwaik said he was merely reiterating Hamas’s well-known support for a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 lines. What he neglected to mention is that this support has always come with two caveats: first, Israel must agree to absorb millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees, thereby eradicating the Jewish state demographically; and second, in exchange, Israel would get not a peace agreement, but a long-term truce — meaning that if death by demography failed to materialize, Hamas reserved the right to resume trying to finish Israel off militarily.

Needless to say, none of this bothered Abrahams, who is scheduled to brief British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on his meeting this weekend. He said he would urge Miliband to “consider the implications of Hamas’s positive overtures” and was “very excited” about facilitating dialogue between Hamas and the international community. “I’m prepared to give them [Hamas] a chance because I’ve got faith and confidence in Dwaik and Haniyeh,” he gushed. “We can’t allow 1.5 million to be festering in the Gaza Strip while the majority of them are good and well-educated.”

Dialogue with the European Union is, as Dwaik acknowledged, precisely what Hamas wants. As long, of course, as it can be achieved by mouthing slogans that useful idiots like Abrahams willfully misconstrue as moderate, without actually having to stop launching rockets at Israel or otherwise working toward Israel’s destruction. Certainly, it’s hard to find any explanation other than willful idiocy for why, if Abrahams has “confidence” in Haniyeh, he so readily assumes Haniyeh is lying when he publicly proclaims his goal as “all of Palestine.” Or why he views “well-educated” as apparently synonymous with “good,” given that most leaders of terrorist organizations are extremely well-educated: think physicians Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas or Ayman al-Zawahiri of Al-Qaeda.

But the truly chilling part was his conclusion. “Hamas is different from Al-Qaida,” Abrahams asserted. “Hamas is no threat to Western interests.”

Yet even Abrahams would presumably admit that, currently, Hamas is still a threat to Israel. So if Hamas is no threat to Western interests, then Israel’s safety is evidently not a Western interest.

Many Europeans may think this, but public statements to this effect have so far been confined to the fringes. That a mainstream, highly influential (and, of course, Jewish) member of Britain’s ruling party is now willing to say it openly is a development that should keep Israel supporters awake at night.

A senior Hamas leader reportedly told a British emissary yesterday that Hamas is ready to amend its charter calling for Israel’s destruction and recognize Israel’s right to exist. A breakthrough? Unfortunately, no. But the real bad news is the emissary’s response.

What Palestinian parliament speaker Aziz Dwaik told major Labour Party donor David Martin Abrahams is clearly eyebrow-raising. Just last month, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told a rally in Gaza that “our goal is Palestine, all of Palestine” — which, in Palestinian parlance, includes all of Israel. So was Dwaik speaking without authorization, or has Hamas’s stance really shifted radically since December?

Actually, neither, as the Jerusalem Post’s report makes clear: Dwaik said he was merely reiterating Hamas’s well-known support for a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 lines. What he neglected to mention is that this support has always come with two caveats: first, Israel must agree to absorb millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees, thereby eradicating the Jewish state demographically; and second, in exchange, Israel would get not a peace agreement, but a long-term truce — meaning that if death by demography failed to materialize, Hamas reserved the right to resume trying to finish Israel off militarily.

Needless to say, none of this bothered Abrahams, who is scheduled to brief British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on his meeting this weekend. He said he would urge Miliband to “consider the implications of Hamas’s positive overtures” and was “very excited” about facilitating dialogue between Hamas and the international community. “I’m prepared to give them [Hamas] a chance because I’ve got faith and confidence in Dwaik and Haniyeh,” he gushed. “We can’t allow 1.5 million to be festering in the Gaza Strip while the majority of them are good and well-educated.”

Dialogue with the European Union is, as Dwaik acknowledged, precisely what Hamas wants. As long, of course, as it can be achieved by mouthing slogans that useful idiots like Abrahams willfully misconstrue as moderate, without actually having to stop launching rockets at Israel or otherwise working toward Israel’s destruction. Certainly, it’s hard to find any explanation other than willful idiocy for why, if Abrahams has “confidence” in Haniyeh, he so readily assumes Haniyeh is lying when he publicly proclaims his goal as “all of Palestine.” Or why he views “well-educated” as apparently synonymous with “good,” given that most leaders of terrorist organizations are extremely well-educated: think physicians Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas or Ayman al-Zawahiri of Al-Qaeda.

But the truly chilling part was his conclusion. “Hamas is different from Al-Qaida,” Abrahams asserted. “Hamas is no threat to Western interests.”

Yet even Abrahams would presumably admit that, currently, Hamas is still a threat to Israel. So if Hamas is no threat to Western interests, then Israel’s safety is evidently not a Western interest.

Many Europeans may think this, but public statements to this effect have so far been confined to the fringes. That a mainstream, highly influential (and, of course, Jewish) member of Britain’s ruling party is now willing to say it openly is a development that should keep Israel supporters awake at night.

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Carter’s Historic Relationship with Hamas

In defending his meetings with high-ranking members of Hamas, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has argued that Hamas’s participation is essential to any future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

For Carter, this is a useful argument. After all, in the aftermath of Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections and subsequent coup in Gaza last June, many in the policy world have reached the same conclusion. For example, in the run-up to the Annapolis peace conference in November, prominent foreign policy figures from both Republican and Democratic administrations–including Thomas Pickering, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, and Lee Hamilton–similarly wrote that “a comprehensive cease-fire or prisoner exchange is not possible without Hamas’s cooperation.”

But Carter’s current round of meetings with Hamas officials is not the result of pragmatism. Rather, it represents the most recent–and most public–chapter in Carter’s longtime relationship with the organization. According to the Jerusalem Post‘s archives, Carter has advocated for Hamas’ legitimization since at least 1990, when he called on Yasser Arafat to include Hamas in the PLO. And according to a Voice of Palestine transcript retrieved on Lexis-Nexis, Carter met with top-ranking Hamas officials–including the organization’s co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar–six years later, exacting a promise that the group wouldn’t disrupt the first-ever Palestinian Authority elections.

Interestingly, these early interactions with Hamas left a bad taste in Carter’s mouth. As Carter wrote in a 2004 New York Times op-ed, Hamas ultimately rejected his efforts to have them accept Arafat’s leadership, instead undertaking a campaign of suicide bombings that derailed the Oslo peace process. As a consequence, Carter declined to meet with Hamas officials for nearly a decade, lifting his boycott in the weeks prior to the 2006 elections.

Yet, by this time, Carter was ripe for Hamas’s courtship. In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Carter gives a typically uncritical account of his meeting with Hamas official Mahmoud Ramahi:

When I questioned him about the necessity for Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel, he responded that they had not committed an act of violence since a ceasefire was declared in August 2004 and were willing and able to extend and enforce their cease-fire (hudna) for “two, ten, or fifty years” if Israel would reciprocate by refraining from attacks on the Palestinians. He added that there had been no allegations of terrorism or corruption among their serving local leaders, and that Israel had so far refused to recognize the Palestinian National Authority (only the PLO) and had rejected the key provisions of the Oslo Agreement. Hamas’s first priorities would be to form a government, to maintain order, and to deal with the financial crisis.

Of course, contrary to Ramahi’s promises to Carter, Hamas’s priorities hardly changed following the elections. Indeed, Hamas has strengthened its relationship with Iran, dedicated substantial resources to building its arsenal and smuggling weapons, and intensified its rocket attacks against Israel.

In short, Carter’s own dealings with Hamas have twice proven that engaging terrorists is detrimental to peace prospects. This should silence the growing chorus that views dialogue with Hamas as a pragmatic necessity. After all, aside from winning elections, how has Hamas–or its openness to peaceful compromise–changed?

In defending his meetings with high-ranking members of Hamas, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has argued that Hamas’s participation is essential to any future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

For Carter, this is a useful argument. After all, in the aftermath of Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections and subsequent coup in Gaza last June, many in the policy world have reached the same conclusion. For example, in the run-up to the Annapolis peace conference in November, prominent foreign policy figures from both Republican and Democratic administrations–including Thomas Pickering, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, and Lee Hamilton–similarly wrote that “a comprehensive cease-fire or prisoner exchange is not possible without Hamas’s cooperation.”

But Carter’s current round of meetings with Hamas officials is not the result of pragmatism. Rather, it represents the most recent–and most public–chapter in Carter’s longtime relationship with the organization. According to the Jerusalem Post‘s archives, Carter has advocated for Hamas’ legitimization since at least 1990, when he called on Yasser Arafat to include Hamas in the PLO. And according to a Voice of Palestine transcript retrieved on Lexis-Nexis, Carter met with top-ranking Hamas officials–including the organization’s co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar–six years later, exacting a promise that the group wouldn’t disrupt the first-ever Palestinian Authority elections.

Interestingly, these early interactions with Hamas left a bad taste in Carter’s mouth. As Carter wrote in a 2004 New York Times op-ed, Hamas ultimately rejected his efforts to have them accept Arafat’s leadership, instead undertaking a campaign of suicide bombings that derailed the Oslo peace process. As a consequence, Carter declined to meet with Hamas officials for nearly a decade, lifting his boycott in the weeks prior to the 2006 elections.

Yet, by this time, Carter was ripe for Hamas’s courtship. In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Carter gives a typically uncritical account of his meeting with Hamas official Mahmoud Ramahi:

When I questioned him about the necessity for Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel, he responded that they had not committed an act of violence since a ceasefire was declared in August 2004 and were willing and able to extend and enforce their cease-fire (hudna) for “two, ten, or fifty years” if Israel would reciprocate by refraining from attacks on the Palestinians. He added that there had been no allegations of terrorism or corruption among their serving local leaders, and that Israel had so far refused to recognize the Palestinian National Authority (only the PLO) and had rejected the key provisions of the Oslo Agreement. Hamas’s first priorities would be to form a government, to maintain order, and to deal with the financial crisis.

Of course, contrary to Ramahi’s promises to Carter, Hamas’s priorities hardly changed following the elections. Indeed, Hamas has strengthened its relationship with Iran, dedicated substantial resources to building its arsenal and smuggling weapons, and intensified its rocket attacks against Israel.

In short, Carter’s own dealings with Hamas have twice proven that engaging terrorists is detrimental to peace prospects. This should silence the growing chorus that views dialogue with Hamas as a pragmatic necessity. After all, aside from winning elections, how has Hamas–or its openness to peaceful compromise–changed?

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Islamic Jihad: We Refused Carter’s Request for a Meeting

Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) has announced that its leadership has refused former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s request for a meeting. According to PIJ’s QudsNews website, Egyptian authorities contacted PIJ Secretary-General Dr. Ramadan Shallah on Carter’s behalf earlier this week, inviting Shallah to meet with Carter in Cairo. Shallah is listed on the FBI’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists, and the reward for information leading to his apprehension is $5 million. In turning down the request, Shallah declared that Carter is “carrying an American-Israeli agenda,” while PIJ spokesman Daoud Shahab blasted Carter’s criticism of Palestinian rocket attacks during the former president’s visit to Sderot. E-mails and phone calls to the Carter Center press office seeking confirmation of Carter’s outreach to PIJ have not been returned.

This news should finally shatter Carter’s credibility as a peacemaker. Of course, Carter’s decision to meet Hamas leader Khalid Meshal had already sullied his Nobel reputation, with his posse of former laureates canceling their plans to visit the Middle East with him in response. Earlier today, Carter’s credibility sank even further, when CNN reported that Mahmoud al-Zahar and Said Seyam-two of Hamas’ most radical leaders-would convene with Carter in Cairo.

Yet Carter’s attempt to meet with PIJ is his most disturbing gambit to date. After all, PIJ is generally considered even more extreme than Hamas. While PIJ shares many of Hamas’ militant features–including its coordination of terrorist activities, calls for Israel’s destruction, and theocratic aims–PIJ lacks Hamas’ social and political significance. It does not have the social welfare network on which Hamas has built its popularity, while PIJ’s refusal to participate in the 2006 parliamentary elections points to its minimal public authority among Palestinians. Carter is therefore unable to argue that PIJ is somehow central to any Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which is the very argument he has used to defend his meetings with Hamas officials.

Ultimately, one is left to wonder when Carter’s constant efforts to outdo his own moral stupidity will end.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) has announced that its leadership has refused former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s request for a meeting. According to PIJ’s QudsNews website, Egyptian authorities contacted PIJ Secretary-General Dr. Ramadan Shallah on Carter’s behalf earlier this week, inviting Shallah to meet with Carter in Cairo. Shallah is listed on the FBI’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists, and the reward for information leading to his apprehension is $5 million. In turning down the request, Shallah declared that Carter is “carrying an American-Israeli agenda,” while PIJ spokesman Daoud Shahab blasted Carter’s criticism of Palestinian rocket attacks during the former president’s visit to Sderot. E-mails and phone calls to the Carter Center press office seeking confirmation of Carter’s outreach to PIJ have not been returned.

This news should finally shatter Carter’s credibility as a peacemaker. Of course, Carter’s decision to meet Hamas leader Khalid Meshal had already sullied his Nobel reputation, with his posse of former laureates canceling their plans to visit the Middle East with him in response. Earlier today, Carter’s credibility sank even further, when CNN reported that Mahmoud al-Zahar and Said Seyam-two of Hamas’ most radical leaders-would convene with Carter in Cairo.

Yet Carter’s attempt to meet with PIJ is his most disturbing gambit to date. After all, PIJ is generally considered even more extreme than Hamas. While PIJ shares many of Hamas’ militant features–including its coordination of terrorist activities, calls for Israel’s destruction, and theocratic aims–PIJ lacks Hamas’ social and political significance. It does not have the social welfare network on which Hamas has built its popularity, while PIJ’s refusal to participate in the 2006 parliamentary elections points to its minimal public authority among Palestinians. Carter is therefore unable to argue that PIJ is somehow central to any Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which is the very argument he has used to defend his meetings with Hamas officials.

Ultimately, one is left to wonder when Carter’s constant efforts to outdo his own moral stupidity will end.

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Israel Gets It Right

When Israel sealed Gaza in response to continued Qassam rocket assaults last month, I argued that Ehud Olmert’s government had run out of ideas. After all, the move represented a sharp break from Israel’s historic policy of narrowly focusing its counterterrorism operations on the terrorists, subjecting Gaza’s entire population to shortages while raising international ire. Indeed, it was hardly surprising when Israel reversed its policy within twenty-four hours, with supplies-filled trucks entering Gaza as international pressure mounted.

But today, Israel announced a new and improved strategy for countering the rockets—one that will directly pressure Hamas in two key ways. First, by declaring a campaign of targeted assassinations against Hamas leaders, Israel demonstrated its willingness to take politically severe—yet militarily surgical—measures to stop the attacks. Second, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak announcing preparations for a major ground offensive in Gaza if the rockets continue, Israel threatened a devastating escalation should Hamas fail to act. The ball is now in Hamas’ court: it can draw back its rocket launchers to end the standoff, or continue its aggression and suffer the mounting consequences.

There are a number of reasons to be optimistic regarding this approach. For starters, Hamas’ leadership appears to be taking the threat of assassination quite seriously, with Ismail Haniyeh, Mahmoud al-Zahar, and Said Siam going into hiding. This significantly hampers Hamas’ decision-making, forcing its leaders to focus on personal safety rather than building a response strategy. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s skittishness regarding a ground offensive in Gaza might give Hamas realistic hope that it can avoid an escalation by scaling back its rocket attacks.

Still, for this strategy to hold, Hamas’ Gaza leadership must see itself with few strategic alternatives to ending its attacks. Egypt will be essential to creating this environment, and Israel should accept the U.S. proposal for Egypt to add an additional 750 soldiers to its border force. Since the border was first breached two weeks ago, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit has threatened to “break the legs” of future infiltrators. Israel could benefit by testing Egyptian sincerity, agreeing to the force escalation while holding Egypt accountable for future failures.

Moreover, for this strategy to succeed, Israel must remain focused on its short-term goal: ending the rocket attacks, which claimed the leg of an 8-year-old boy yesterday. In this vein, Tzachi Hanegbi’s call to topple Hamas sets the bar for success impossibly high, and threatens to undermine any strategic objectives that Israel may achieve through this new course. As Israel should have learned in Lebanon, matching strategy to reasonable expectations is critical to asserting a political victory in the aftermath of military operations. Indeed, if Israel hopes to rally Palestinians against Hamas, a political victory presents greater long-term implications than any realistic military achievement.

When Israel sealed Gaza in response to continued Qassam rocket assaults last month, I argued that Ehud Olmert’s government had run out of ideas. After all, the move represented a sharp break from Israel’s historic policy of narrowly focusing its counterterrorism operations on the terrorists, subjecting Gaza’s entire population to shortages while raising international ire. Indeed, it was hardly surprising when Israel reversed its policy within twenty-four hours, with supplies-filled trucks entering Gaza as international pressure mounted.

But today, Israel announced a new and improved strategy for countering the rockets—one that will directly pressure Hamas in two key ways. First, by declaring a campaign of targeted assassinations against Hamas leaders, Israel demonstrated its willingness to take politically severe—yet militarily surgical—measures to stop the attacks. Second, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak announcing preparations for a major ground offensive in Gaza if the rockets continue, Israel threatened a devastating escalation should Hamas fail to act. The ball is now in Hamas’ court: it can draw back its rocket launchers to end the standoff, or continue its aggression and suffer the mounting consequences.

There are a number of reasons to be optimistic regarding this approach. For starters, Hamas’ leadership appears to be taking the threat of assassination quite seriously, with Ismail Haniyeh, Mahmoud al-Zahar, and Said Siam going into hiding. This significantly hampers Hamas’ decision-making, forcing its leaders to focus on personal safety rather than building a response strategy. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s skittishness regarding a ground offensive in Gaza might give Hamas realistic hope that it can avoid an escalation by scaling back its rocket attacks.

Still, for this strategy to hold, Hamas’ Gaza leadership must see itself with few strategic alternatives to ending its attacks. Egypt will be essential to creating this environment, and Israel should accept the U.S. proposal for Egypt to add an additional 750 soldiers to its border force. Since the border was first breached two weeks ago, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit has threatened to “break the legs” of future infiltrators. Israel could benefit by testing Egyptian sincerity, agreeing to the force escalation while holding Egypt accountable for future failures.

Moreover, for this strategy to succeed, Israel must remain focused on its short-term goal: ending the rocket attacks, which claimed the leg of an 8-year-old boy yesterday. In this vein, Tzachi Hanegbi’s call to topple Hamas sets the bar for success impossibly high, and threatens to undermine any strategic objectives that Israel may achieve through this new course. As Israel should have learned in Lebanon, matching strategy to reasonable expectations is critical to asserting a political victory in the aftermath of military operations. Indeed, if Israel hopes to rally Palestinians against Hamas, a political victory presents greater long-term implications than any realistic military achievement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insufficient because psychoanalysis is no substitute for policy analysis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insufficient because psychoanalysis is no substitute for policy analysis.

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