Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jordan

One More Reason Why Peace Won’t Happen

Anyone who regularly follows the translations of the Palestinian media available on Palestinian Media Watch (www.palwatch.org) or www.Memri.org understands that the blithe talk about the possibility of Middle East peace that is heard on the left is utterly unrealistic. But keeping one’s finger on the pulse of a Palestinian culture that continues to foment hatred of Jews and Israel isn’t the only indicator of just how deep this animus runs in Arab culture. Just as informative is a look at the cultures of the two Arab countries that have already made peace with Israel: Egypt and Jordan. The potent anti-Semitism of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the prejudice that runs throughout the culture of the largest Arab nation is well documented. But the situation in Jordan is less well known.

Jordan’s reputation as a moderate Arab nation stems mostly from the attitude of former King Hussein and his successor King Abdullah. Like his father, the Jordanian monarch is well spoken in English, charming and, despite the criticisms he lobs across the border at Israel in order to maintain his standing as an Arab leader, very much uninterested in conflict with the Jewish state. But his people and even those in his government are a very different manner.

As the Jerusalem Post reports, 110 out of 120 members of the Jordanian parliament have endorsed a petition calling for the release of the former soldier who murdered seven Jewish children in 1997. The shocking incident at the Island of Peace along the border between Israel and Jordan prompted King Hussein to personally apologize to the families of the victims for what he considered a blot on the honor of both his country and its armed services. But to the overwhelming majority of Jordanians, he appears to be a hero. If that doesn’t tell you something about how difficult it is to imagine the end of the Middle East conflict, you aren’t paying attention.

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Anyone who regularly follows the translations of the Palestinian media available on Palestinian Media Watch (www.palwatch.org) or www.Memri.org understands that the blithe talk about the possibility of Middle East peace that is heard on the left is utterly unrealistic. But keeping one’s finger on the pulse of a Palestinian culture that continues to foment hatred of Jews and Israel isn’t the only indicator of just how deep this animus runs in Arab culture. Just as informative is a look at the cultures of the two Arab countries that have already made peace with Israel: Egypt and Jordan. The potent anti-Semitism of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the prejudice that runs throughout the culture of the largest Arab nation is well documented. But the situation in Jordan is less well known.

Jordan’s reputation as a moderate Arab nation stems mostly from the attitude of former King Hussein and his successor King Abdullah. Like his father, the Jordanian monarch is well spoken in English, charming and, despite the criticisms he lobs across the border at Israel in order to maintain his standing as an Arab leader, very much uninterested in conflict with the Jewish state. But his people and even those in his government are a very different manner.

As the Jerusalem Post reports, 110 out of 120 members of the Jordanian parliament have endorsed a petition calling for the release of the former soldier who murdered seven Jewish children in 1997. The shocking incident at the Island of Peace along the border between Israel and Jordan prompted King Hussein to personally apologize to the families of the victims for what he considered a blot on the honor of both his country and its armed services. But to the overwhelming majority of Jordanians, he appears to be a hero. If that doesn’t tell you something about how difficult it is to imagine the end of the Middle East conflict, you aren’t paying attention.

The details of the Island of Peace shooting were horrific. Ahmed Daqamseh, one of the Jordanian soldiers on duty at the site that day, turned his gun on a group of visiting Israeli schoolgirls, killing seven and injuring five. The death toll was limited only by the fact that his gun jammed. He was spared a death sentence because a tribunal ruled that he was mentally unstable. But the elevation of his former defense attorney, Hussein Mjali, to the post of minister of justice in 2011 gave new life to the campaign to spring the killer.

Unlike other such causes to free long-imprisoned figures, this effort isn’t based on any ideas about a miscarriage of justice or an overly harsh sentence. It is, instead, based on the abhorrence with which Israel and Jews in general are viewed in Jordanian society. Daqamseh is unrepentant about his crime and that appears to make him popular. Part of this can be traced to the fact that the majority of Jordanians are Palestinians who are generally marginalized in a government run by and for the Hashemite ruling family. But it must also be traced to a general current of Jew-hatred that grips the Arab and Muslim worlds. It is only that feeling that can explain the desire of so many in Jordan to treat a madman who went on a rampage killing little girls as a hero or imprisoned martyr.

The problem between Israel and its neighbors has never really been the location of borders, settlements or the severity of its measures of self-defense. It’s about the unwillingness of a critical mass of Palestinians and Arabs in general to tolerate Jewish sovereignty over any portion, no matter how small, over part of the Middle East. The hate that leads serious people to demand freedom for a mass killer of children is the same factor that makes true peace unlikely in the foreseeable future. This is regrettable, but those who wish to claim any insight into the politics that drive the Middle East conflict cannot ignore it.

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Syria Is a Regional Disaster

Just when you think that the situation in Syria couldn’t get any worse… it does.  The conflict is spilling over Syria’s borders and badly affecting its neighbors.

The United Nations Refugee Agency is reporting that the number of Syrians who have registered as refugees (which allows them access to aid and services) has now passed the 1 million mark. The actual number of refugees, many of them unregistered, is higher and millions more are internally displaced within Syria. The refugee flow is growing all the time with at least 7,000 people leaving the country every day. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees warns that “Syria is spiraling towards full-scale disaster”–and it’s not just Syria that is affected. As the New York Times notes:

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Just when you think that the situation in Syria couldn’t get any worse… it does.  The conflict is spilling over Syria’s borders and badly affecting its neighbors.

The United Nations Refugee Agency is reporting that the number of Syrians who have registered as refugees (which allows them access to aid and services) has now passed the 1 million mark. The actual number of refugees, many of them unregistered, is higher and millions more are internally displaced within Syria. The refugee flow is growing all the time with at least 7,000 people leaving the country every day. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees warns that “Syria is spiraling towards full-scale disaster”–and it’s not just Syria that is affected. As the New York Times notes:

Around 330,000 Syrians have sought shelter in Lebanon and close to 320,000 in Jordan, the refugee agency reported, with more than 185,000 in Turkey, 105,000 in Iraq, 43,500 in Egypt and around 8,000 across North Africa. Others have fled to Europe, it said.

To illustrate the strain this influx has imposed on Syria’s neighbors, the refugee agency said the population of Lebanon has swelled by 10 percent, Jordan’s energy and water capacity as well as its health and education services are stretched to the limit and Turkey had spent $600 million building 17 camps to house arrivals and more are under construction.

Meanwhile, two violent incidents in recent days show further spillover. On Monday, 40 Syrian soldiers who had sought shelter in Iraq and were being returned to Syria via Anbar Province were slain by unknown gunmen. This shows how the Syrian insurgency, led by Sunnis, is melding with the existing Sunni insurgency in Iraq, which is being enflamed by Prime Minister Maliki’s sectarian Shiite tendencies. And as if that weren’t bad enough, now comes news that Syrian rebels have abducted 20 UN peacekeepers from the Golan Heights.

Amid this intensifying horror, what is the Obama administration doing? Well Secretary of State John Kerry has announced that we will send non-lethal aid to the rebels, and he has expressed support for allies—but not, for mysterious reasons, the U.S. itself—sending arms to the rebels as well. The CIA is also reportedly providing some training to some rebels in Jordan.

To say that this is inadequate is merely to state the obvious. The Syrian mess is turning into the biggest foreign policy debacle of the Obama administration. Its hands-off policy is proving just as destructive as the hands-off policy that the George H.W. Bush and the Clinton administrations took in the early years of the bloodletting in the former Yugoslavia. Unfortunately it is unlikely that international peacekeepers will ever be dispatched to restore calm in Syria as eventually happened in Bosnia and Kosovo because Western nations are so wary of intervening in another Muslim country.

But as the Balkans interventions proved, it is still not too late—even after more than two years of war—for Washington to lead a relatively low-risk multilateral intervention that would attempt to bring the fighting to an end. In the case of Syria the only realistic option is to hasten Assad’s downfall through the provision of weapons and training to the rebels and the use of Western airpower to create a no-fly zone and to assist the rebels with close air support in their operations. Those options may not seem very palatable (especially at a time when sequestration is badly hurting military readiness) but unless the administration changes course, the spillover and slaughter will continue to worsen.

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Why a Jordanian-Palestinian Confederation Is Unrealistic

On the list of possible solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, somewhere between “fully independent Palestinian state on PA territory” and “Jordan is Palestine” falls a hybrid of the two: “Jordanian-Palestinian confederation.” Longtime Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab writes in the Atlantic that the idea seems to be experiencing something of a revival. Most notably, Mahmoud Abbas himself has reportedly suggested its consideration.

A Jordanian-Palestinian confederation in some ways is a relic of the past, before a fully independent Palestinian state was regarded as the consensus solution to the conflict. Kuttab notes that since the Palestinians’ unilateral declaration at the United Nations gave them symbolic recognition, Abbas may be open to the idea of a confederation, in which a state of Palestine would be technically independent but Jordan would play a role in maintaining security and probably—though this hasn’t been spelled out—in the Palestinian state’s general foreign affairs portfolio. But the idea is less realistic than it may seem. Kuttab, unfortunately, doesn’t discuss why that is. He writes:

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On the list of possible solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, somewhere between “fully independent Palestinian state on PA territory” and “Jordan is Palestine” falls a hybrid of the two: “Jordanian-Palestinian confederation.” Longtime Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab writes in the Atlantic that the idea seems to be experiencing something of a revival. Most notably, Mahmoud Abbas himself has reportedly suggested its consideration.

A Jordanian-Palestinian confederation in some ways is a relic of the past, before a fully independent Palestinian state was regarded as the consensus solution to the conflict. Kuttab notes that since the Palestinians’ unilateral declaration at the United Nations gave them symbolic recognition, Abbas may be open to the idea of a confederation, in which a state of Palestine would be technically independent but Jordan would play a role in maintaining security and probably—though this hasn’t been spelled out—in the Palestinian state’s general foreign affairs portfolio. But the idea is less realistic than it may seem. Kuttab, unfortunately, doesn’t discuss why that is. He writes:

While it is unclear if Jordan will ever end up having any sovereign role in the West Bank, support for a greater role for Jordan in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will no doubt increase in the coming months and years if the current decline of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority continues. The one determining factor in all of the discussions will have to come from the Israeli side, which has yet to decide whether it will relinquish sovereignty over the areas occupied in 1967 to any Arab party, whether it be Palestinian or Jordanian.

In fact, that is not case. The Israeli government has publicly committed itself to the notion of two states for two peoples, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly he doesn’t want to “rule over” the Palestinians. The popularity of “Jordan is Palestine” among Israeli military personalities and even some on the right shows that many Israelis are certainly willing to “relinquish sovereignty” over much of the West Bank (and Gaza, which they have already done) if they feel secure in doing so. But the Arab world—now that’s a different story.

Arab states in the Middle East, especially those near the Palestinian territories, have never made any secret of their opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Diplomatically, they have torpedoed the process every chance they’ve had. And the closer the two sides get, or the more time they spend in negotiations, the less money Arab states tend to offer the Palestinian Authority to keep it afloat. At times, the West is lucky if the Arab states even let Abbas negotiate.

In the summer of 2008, as the U.S. tried to re-engage in the peace process, the Washington Post reported that Arab states were not delivering the aid they pledged to the Palestinian Authority. More troubling was why: when the terrorist entity Hamas left the PA unity government (I use the term “unity” loosely here), the checks stopped coming. The Arab states were sabotaging the peace process by funding radical terrorist elements that opposed peace and supported continuous terrorism against Israel, while refusing to support the more moderate elements of the Palestinian Authority. That was under the Bush administration, but almost exactly three years later the Obama administration faced the same problem when it noticed that Arab aid to the Palestinians had fallen more than 80 percent in a two-year span.

States like Qatar continue to undermine the PA and Abbas by flooding Hamas-run Gaza with cash while leaving the PA to beg for scraps. (The Saudis aren’t much better in this department.)

The other problem for a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation is that while the Palestinians would have a technically independent state, they would surely have some restrictions that they have always balked at. Israeli negotiators have said repeatedly that the Palestinian state would have to be demilitarized and that the IDF would still play a role in security there, including approving the use of Palestinian airspace. A Jordanian-Palestinian confederation would likely have similar Palestinian restrictions, with Jordan playing a larger role than Israel on some of these issues.

And finally, there is another reason Jordan is unlikely to want to join such a confederation. What if the Palestinians decided they didn’t want Jordanian military personnel on their new state’s territory after a few years? Would the Jordanians fight an armed uprising against their military installations? Would they risk re-occupying and absorbing the Palestinians on the West Bank? Once Abbas is gone, would an agreement he signed on behalf of the Palestinians be worth the paper on which it was written?

The fact remains that Arab states do not want the creation of a Palestinian state, and, unlike with regard to Israel, the international community doesn’t much pressure them to take a more proactive approach, despite both Jordan’s and Egypt’s obvious role bringing about the current situation by repeatedly launching wars of annihilation against the Jewish state. An Arab world that played a constructive role in the conflict would be a first.

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Will Jordan’s Abdullah Be the Next to Fall?

While the international media has been focusing on the latest in the conflict between Iranian-backed groups in the Gaza Strip and Israel, events have started to boil over on the East Bank, in Jordan. Short synopsis: For well over a decade, King Abdullah II of Jordan has been promising reform. The reform has seldom moved beyond the promise, however. Abdullah II and his wife, the beautiful Queen Rania, may be popular in the West, but they are viewed through decidedly cynical eyes at home. Abdullah’s English is better than his Arabic, and Rania’s profligate lifestyle chafes ordinary Jordanians.

Jordanians see both as corrupt. The king has a scheme in which he sells crown land to the government, and pockets the money. No one points out that crown land and government land are pretty much the same thing. Another anecdote: Back in 2006, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was rushed to Jordan for emergency medical care. As he recovered, he handed out wads of cash to the doctors, nurses, and attendants. The hospital administrator ordered the tips collected, and then redistributed the “bonus” equally to those working, including those whom Talabani may not have seen. The comment among the doctors was it was a good thing Abdullah and Rania were nowhere around, because they would have simply taken the money, and not given any back.

At any rate, to the spark: After massive fuel price hikes, protests erupted and Jordanian security forces killed a protestor. After Friday prayers, protestors poured into the street and now openly call for King Abdullah II’s downfall. For a sampling of what some more radical Jordanian clerics were saying, Abu Muhammad al-Tahawi is a good place to start. Here’s how he explained it:

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While the international media has been focusing on the latest in the conflict between Iranian-backed groups in the Gaza Strip and Israel, events have started to boil over on the East Bank, in Jordan. Short synopsis: For well over a decade, King Abdullah II of Jordan has been promising reform. The reform has seldom moved beyond the promise, however. Abdullah II and his wife, the beautiful Queen Rania, may be popular in the West, but they are viewed through decidedly cynical eyes at home. Abdullah’s English is better than his Arabic, and Rania’s profligate lifestyle chafes ordinary Jordanians.

Jordanians see both as corrupt. The king has a scheme in which he sells crown land to the government, and pockets the money. No one points out that crown land and government land are pretty much the same thing. Another anecdote: Back in 2006, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was rushed to Jordan for emergency medical care. As he recovered, he handed out wads of cash to the doctors, nurses, and attendants. The hospital administrator ordered the tips collected, and then redistributed the “bonus” equally to those working, including those whom Talabani may not have seen. The comment among the doctors was it was a good thing Abdullah and Rania were nowhere around, because they would have simply taken the money, and not given any back.

At any rate, to the spark: After massive fuel price hikes, protests erupted and Jordanian security forces killed a protestor. After Friday prayers, protestors poured into the street and now openly call for King Abdullah II’s downfall. For a sampling of what some more radical Jordanian clerics were saying, Abu Muhammad al-Tahawi is a good place to start. Here’s how he explained it:

There are important observations regarding the decision to raise the price of fuel. First: The truth of the decision of the shadow government is a plague that is caused by Abdullah Ensour.

Second: They are implementing the recommendations of the World Bank so they can receive a $2.5
billion loan.

Third: The deficit has been in the budget for thirty years and is not something new.

Fourth: The true reason for the deficit and the high debt is the gang of corruptors who have taken
everything.

The true and legitimate solution is to return to the rightly-guided Islamic Caliphate, to apply the
rulings of Islam completely, and to destroy [the borders setup by] Sykes-Picot.

Jonathan Schanzer, Foundation for Defense of Democracies research director, has been following the story since its very beginning, and his tweets are a good place to follow it.

In October, Elliott Abrams penned an article for COMMENTARY looking at the Arab Spring entitled, “Dictators Go, Monarchs Stay.” It was an excellent piece, even if it focused more on the weakness of the dictators than on the staying power of the kings. Still, Abrams identified an important theme. “The monarchies face enormous challenges as well, or at least those not favored by heaven with the combination of tiny populations and enormous oil and gas wealth…” he wrote, adding, “Still, the surviving monarchs appear to have more tools at their disposal today than the dictators had, to resist reform slyly or to guide it slowly and carefully.”

Let us hope for the sake of U.S. national security that Abdullah has the ability to navigate these waters. The Jordanian king relies on handouts from the Persian Gulf emirates to co-opt his adversaries and has been less than serious about reform. He is a deeply flawed man—with a reputation at home and in the region far worse than in Washington—but the alternative in Jordan will make Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood appear positively moderate.

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Forced Marriages Alleged for Syrian Refugees

This may not be a big story in the West, but it is getting a lot of play on the Arabic satellite channels and here in Iraq:

Akram, a long-time Syrian resident of Jordan, says that in the Zaatari camp, which houses some 30,000 Syrian refugees in the desert near the border town of Mafraq, a new social phenomenon has spread that has come to be termed sutra or “cover” marriage, where refugees marry off their daughters, even at a very young age, to the first person who asks for their hand, under the pretext of “covering” their honor. He says he knows of one case in which a 70-year old Jordanian man wed a Syrian child of 12… “Cover” marriages started becoming more numerous and exploitative as a direct result of the atrocious living conditions in the camp, according to Nidal. Desperate refugees began looking for any way to extricate their children from impoverishment and misery. At the same time, Jordanian men seeking to marry increasingly took advantage of their dire situation.

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This may not be a big story in the West, but it is getting a lot of play on the Arabic satellite channels and here in Iraq:

Akram, a long-time Syrian resident of Jordan, says that in the Zaatari camp, which houses some 30,000 Syrian refugees in the desert near the border town of Mafraq, a new social phenomenon has spread that has come to be termed sutra or “cover” marriage, where refugees marry off their daughters, even at a very young age, to the first person who asks for their hand, under the pretext of “covering” their honor. He says he knows of one case in which a 70-year old Jordanian man wed a Syrian child of 12… “Cover” marriages started becoming more numerous and exploitative as a direct result of the atrocious living conditions in the camp, according to Nidal. Desperate refugees began looking for any way to extricate their children from impoverishment and misery. At the same time, Jordanian men seeking to marry increasingly took advantage of their dire situation.

There has never been any love for Saudis either among Shi’ites or among Sunnis throughout much of the Middle East. Rumors that the Saudi embassy and Saudi bureaus now facilitate the marriages of young Syrian girls to Saudis are spreading outrage. Self-righteous explanations that such marriages save girls and women from prostitution or being forced into other immoral behavior carry little water, as the same Saudis who allegedly are taking such children could just as easily provide charity to assist families who have fled the Syrian crackdown without seeking to exploit the situation.

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When Israel and the Arab States Agree

The New York Times’s regular feature “Room for Debate” often brings together a fairly diverse and interesting group of commenters on the chosen topic, and today’s is no different. The topic this time is about American support for Israel, and whether that hampers American influence in the Middle East. The debate group features Aaron David Miller, Rashid Khalidi, Daniel Gordis, Daoud Kuttab, and others.

But the strangest part of the debate is not what any of the contributors said, but how the topic is introduced. Here’s the Times’s opening explanation for the debate:

The president of Israel is resisting calls for a unilateral strike against Iran, but it’s just the “unilateral” part that he finds troubling: “It is clear to us that we have to proceed together with America.” Even if this is just posturing, the statement shows one reason the U.S. struggles to make allies in the Arab world: Israelis and Arabs alike assume that the U.S. will take a side in Mideast conflicts, and that the U.S. will side with Israel. Are they right?

In light of the long history of lobbying (and junkets for members of Congress), is support for Israel so entrenched in American politics that the U.S. can no longer exert influence and broker peace?

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The New York Times’s regular feature “Room for Debate” often brings together a fairly diverse and interesting group of commenters on the chosen topic, and today’s is no different. The topic this time is about American support for Israel, and whether that hampers American influence in the Middle East. The debate group features Aaron David Miller, Rashid Khalidi, Daniel Gordis, Daoud Kuttab, and others.

But the strangest part of the debate is not what any of the contributors said, but how the topic is introduced. Here’s the Times’s opening explanation for the debate:

The president of Israel is resisting calls for a unilateral strike against Iran, but it’s just the “unilateral” part that he finds troubling: “It is clear to us that we have to proceed together with America.” Even if this is just posturing, the statement shows one reason the U.S. struggles to make allies in the Arab world: Israelis and Arabs alike assume that the U.S. will take a side in Mideast conflicts, and that the U.S. will side with Israel. Are they right?

In light of the long history of lobbying (and junkets for members of Congress), is support for Israel so entrenched in American politics that the U.S. can no longer exert influence and broker peace?

Using the Iran example to touch off this debate is nonsensical. First of all, including Iran in the “Arab world” usually leads to a misunderstanding of the Islamic Republic, since it is not an Arab state (though that doesn’t mean it has nothing in common with its Arab neighbors). But even more bizarre is the fact that the Times thinks Israel and the Arab states are on opposing sides on the issue. They are not. Last year, as Oren Kessler reported, the WikiLeaks cables proved what anyone with any experience with the region’s politics and history already expected: there was “unanimous” support for taking out Iran’s nuclear facilities. Kessler wrote:

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah urged Washington to “cut off the head of the snake,” and both he and then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak described the Islamic Republic as “evil” and untrustworthy.

An Iranian nuclear weapon, Mubarak warned, was liable to set off a region-wide arms race.

“Bomb Iran, or live with an Iranian bomb,” added Zeid Rifai, then president of the Jordanian senate. “Sanctions, carrots, incentives won’t matter.”

In the Persian Gulf, the rulers of Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were all reportedly in favor of a strike.

So too was the king of Bahrain, where a Sunni elite rules over a large Shi’ite majority and which officials in Iran have described as the country’s “fifteenth province.”

Mubarak may be gone, but there seems to be no other outdated exception to the story. This wasn’t the only such report, however. Saudi Arabia appears to be making preparations for any oil disruption caused by an attack on Iran. That is in their interest whether they support an attack or not, since they would still need to get their product to market safely, but it would also keep the price of their oil from skyrocketing, which dramatically reduces the harm to the West in the event of an attack or disruption.

And as Shai Feldman wrote with regard to the region’s Sunni Arab states, “None of these countries uttered a word when in 2007 Israel destroyed the nuclear reactor of Sunni-Arab Syria.”

So contra the New York Times, the Arab states are not only assuming the U.S. would support Israel on the Iran issue, but hoping and lobbying for such support.

As for the Times’s discredited and debunked suggestion that strong support for Israel works against American diplomacy, I suppose it’s worth repeating that Israel has proven time and again to be far more willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the peace process when U.S. support is strong and “daylight” between the two is minimized. But that’s the obvious part of this that everyone knows. The Iran aspect of the debate introduction, however, shows the Times to be strikingly unaware of what the Arab states actually want from the United States.

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Will Saudi Arabia be Next to Fall?

After the Tunisian protesters sent Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, dictator for almost a quarter century, packing, the Central Intelligence Agency famously predicted the Arab revolt would not spread. Almost two years later, dictators have fallen in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and a fifth appears on the ropes in Syria. Despite what regional experts and Arab autocrats hoped, the desire for freedom and liberty is contagious. So when Bashar al-Assad’s tenure ends with a bullet in his head or a broomstick in his bottom, what will be the next domino to fall?

There is no shortage of dissatisfaction across the Arab world. Just ask the Bahrainis. Tension is also high in Kuwait. Most Jordanians are seething at King Abdullah II and especially at the high-spending Queen Rania. But the next dynasty to fall may very well be the Saudi monarchy.

Saudi Arabia is an artificial state, cobbled together in the 1920s and 1930s by military force. Oil wealth has both helped paper over differences and promote a radical and intolerant reinterpretation of Islam. Still, regional identities remain, sectarianism is increasing, and the gap between rich and poor has bred resentment toward the ruling family whose grip on power will slip as octogenarians succeed octogenarians and factional rivalries percolate.

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After the Tunisian protesters sent Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, dictator for almost a quarter century, packing, the Central Intelligence Agency famously predicted the Arab revolt would not spread. Almost two years later, dictators have fallen in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and a fifth appears on the ropes in Syria. Despite what regional experts and Arab autocrats hoped, the desire for freedom and liberty is contagious. So when Bashar al-Assad’s tenure ends with a bullet in his head or a broomstick in his bottom, what will be the next domino to fall?

There is no shortage of dissatisfaction across the Arab world. Just ask the Bahrainis. Tension is also high in Kuwait. Most Jordanians are seething at King Abdullah II and especially at the high-spending Queen Rania. But the next dynasty to fall may very well be the Saudi monarchy.

Saudi Arabia is an artificial state, cobbled together in the 1920s and 1930s by military force. Oil wealth has both helped paper over differences and promote a radical and intolerant reinterpretation of Islam. Still, regional identities remain, sectarianism is increasing, and the gap between rich and poor has bred resentment toward the ruling family whose grip on power will slip as octogenarians succeed octogenarians and factional rivalries percolate.

Human rights groups and journalists tend to focus on Bahrain. There certainly are myriad problems in that Arab island nation, but the focus is disproportionate, determined more by access than by degree of repression. While the Bahraini government uses rubber bullets, the Saudis prefer live ammunition, especially when the protesters are Shi’ites in the oil-rich Eastern Province.

If unrest strikes Saudi Arabia and if the monarchy falls, the results could reverberate further than former Egyptian President Mubarak’s fall:

  • It’s one thing for Libyan oil to temporarily go offline, and quite another for Saudi oil to do so. Then again, if the White House encouraged greater shale exploitation, new pipelines, and new drilling offshore, then it could blunt any future Saudi oil shock. Even at the best of times, that’s a good idea.
  • Saudi Arabia, like it or not, has been a key U.S. ally. Despite the conspiracy-ridden and often anti-Semitic blogosphere, America has never gone to war for Israel. It has, however, gone to war for Saudi Arabia. Kuwait’s 1991 liberation was as much about protecting Saudi Arabia from Iraqi aggression as it was about freeing the tiny emirate. If the Kingdom fell, upon whom in the Arab Middle East could the United States really count?
  • On the other hand, when President Obama leads from behind, the country from behind which he leads is, more often than not, Saudi Arabia. Republicans are in no position to castigate the president for deference to Riyadh, however, because so many Republican presidents and secretaries have also sucked at the Saudi teat. Freed from the Saudi constraint, how might U.S. policy be different?
  • There is a reason why Saudi Arabia has been an ally. Saudi Arabia may have incubated al-Qaeda and extremism, but they have also cooperated greatly on counter-terrorism. If the Saudi regime falls, would a new government be so forthcoming with counter terror aid and assistance?
  • Next to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia is most likely to fracture into its constituent parts if it ever faces state failure. The Hejaz might be more cosmopolitan and moderate, but Iran would make a full-court press to become the predominant influence in the Eastern Province. That could be the death knell for a more moderate regime in Bahrain. The question is what extremists in the Nejd would do, and whether they could be contained. What might happen if more extreme elements consolidate control across the country?
  • Whether or not Saudi Arabia has been an American ally, its influence across the Islamic world has certainly been as malignant as Iran’s. If the Kingdom collapsed, would such subsidies continue? As some of my AEI colleagues have pointed out, for all the billions of dollars they have expended, the Saudis have failed to win hearts and minds across the broader region. Simply put, no one likes the Saudis. If the Western economy was shielded from a Saudi descent into chaos, would anyone really care?
  • The end of the Saudi gravy train would reverberate not only across countries, but also among institutions in the United States. The Saudis have generously funded universities, think tanks, public relations firms, lobbyists, advocacy groups like CAIR, and writers. The Mujahedin al-Khalq in recent years may have exposed how so many American figures follow the dollar sign rather than principle, but that’s nothing compared to what the Saudis have managed. Who would fill that void, if anyone?  Perhaps the world would be a better place if the advice put forward on the back of Saudi petrodollars no longer received such a favorable hearing in Washington, and if students were no longer indoctrinated by the curriculum Saudi oil money bought.

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Who’s Mistreating the Palestinians Again?

The standard cliché of Middle East reporting is the notion of Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians. But as anyone with even a minimal grasp of the history of the region knows, the real victimizers of the Palestinians have always been the Arab nations who refused to absorb or resettle them after 1948 but instead preferred to keep them homeless as props to use in the war to destroy Israel. That this is an ongoing story rather than merely a chapter of history is demonstrated anew on the border between Jordan and Syria where Palestinians fleeing the chaos and violence of the revolt against Bashar al-Assad have been left stranded. But as has been the case with the exploitation of the Palestinians in the past, the world isn’t paying much attention.

As the always insightful Khaled Abu Toameh writes for the Gatestone Institute’s Website, more than 1,000 Palestinians attempted to enter Jordan from Syria, but the government of King Abdullah has kept them in a makeshift tent refugee camp with poor sanitary conditions while refusing them entry. The king’s priority remains repressing any possible signs of unrest among the approximately 80 percent of his subjects who are Palestinian and wants nothing to do with them or their plight. So while international “human rights” activists remained focused on aiding Palestinians seeking to destroy Israel, they ignore the real abuses of refugees going on right next door to the Jewish state.

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The standard cliché of Middle East reporting is the notion of Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians. But as anyone with even a minimal grasp of the history of the region knows, the real victimizers of the Palestinians have always been the Arab nations who refused to absorb or resettle them after 1948 but instead preferred to keep them homeless as props to use in the war to destroy Israel. That this is an ongoing story rather than merely a chapter of history is demonstrated anew on the border between Jordan and Syria where Palestinians fleeing the chaos and violence of the revolt against Bashar al-Assad have been left stranded. But as has been the case with the exploitation of the Palestinians in the past, the world isn’t paying much attention.

As the always insightful Khaled Abu Toameh writes for the Gatestone Institute’s Website, more than 1,000 Palestinians attempted to enter Jordan from Syria, but the government of King Abdullah has kept them in a makeshift tent refugee camp with poor sanitary conditions while refusing them entry. The king’s priority remains repressing any possible signs of unrest among the approximately 80 percent of his subjects who are Palestinian and wants nothing to do with them or their plight. So while international “human rights” activists remained focused on aiding Palestinians seeking to destroy Israel, they ignore the real abuses of refugees going on right next door to the Jewish state.

Abdullah understands all too well that a Fatah-Hamas unity coalition of Palestinian groups that is incapable of signing a peace with Israel that would give them an independent state may eventually decide to try and establish one on the territory of his kingdom. Given the fact that Jordan makes up two-thirds of the original land considered part of Palestine before it was first partitioned in 1922, Abdullah knows, as his father Hussein did, that they constitute a potentially mortal threat to the Bedouin minority that forms the ruling class there. As Abu Toahmeh writes, the king is having his government concoct new legislation that will exclude Palestinians from government institutions.

Abdullah’s concerns are real and shared by both the United States and Israel. But that doesn’t excuse the press and the so-called human rights crowd from ignoring any ill usage of the Palestinians that can’t be blamed on Israel. The suffering of ordinary Palestinians is real, but a solution to their problems requires both a sea change in their own political culture and a willingness on the part of the Arab world to stop abusing them. Unfortunately, neither seems even a remote possibility. In the meantime, don’t expect an army of activists to descend on Jordan to help the Palestinians there or anyplace else in the Arab world where they are being mistreated.

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How Israel’s Gaza Pullout Radicalized Sinai

Anyone who still thinks more Israel territorial withdrawals are a good idea should carefully study Ehud Yaari’s chilling new report for The Washington Institute on “Sinai: A New Front.” To anyone who has been following the situation, Yaari’s bottom line – that Sinai-based terrorism “could break a fragile bilateral peace [with Egypt] that is already challenged by growing post-Mubarak demands to abrogate, review, or amend the treaty” – isn’t new; I’ve been warning of this for months. Where the veteran Israeli journalist and Arabist makes a real contribution is his analysis of how Israel’s 2005 pullout from Gaza contributed to Sinai’s radicalization. And while he doesn’t say so, the implication of his research is obvious: An Israeli pullout from the West Bank could similarly radicalize and destabilize Jordan.

Clearly, radicalization doesn’t happen overnight, and Yaari indeed describes a slow spread of radical Islam among the Sinai Bedouin since the 1980s, along with a consequent rise in arms trafficking and terror. But Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, “and subsequent removal of troops from the Sinai-Gaza border,” catalyzed the process:

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Anyone who still thinks more Israel territorial withdrawals are a good idea should carefully study Ehud Yaari’s chilling new report for The Washington Institute on “Sinai: A New Front.” To anyone who has been following the situation, Yaari’s bottom line – that Sinai-based terrorism “could break a fragile bilateral peace [with Egypt] that is already challenged by growing post-Mubarak demands to abrogate, review, or amend the treaty” – isn’t new; I’ve been warning of this for months. Where the veteran Israeli journalist and Arabist makes a real contribution is his analysis of how Israel’s 2005 pullout from Gaza contributed to Sinai’s radicalization. And while he doesn’t say so, the implication of his research is obvious: An Israeli pullout from the West Bank could similarly radicalize and destabilize Jordan.

Clearly, radicalization doesn’t happen overnight, and Yaari indeed describes a slow spread of radical Islam among the Sinai Bedouin since the 1980s, along with a consequent rise in arms trafficking and terror. But Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, “and subsequent removal of troops from the Sinai-Gaza border,” catalyzed the process:

As Bedouin political activist Ashraf al-Anani put it, “a fireball started rolling into the peninsula.” Illegal trade and arms smuggling volumes rose to new records, and ever-larger sectors of the northern Sinai population became linked to Gaza and fell under the political and ideological influence of Hamas and its ilk. Sympathy and support for the Palestinian battle against Israel grew; according to al-Anani, the closer one got to the Gaza border, “the more people are inclined toward Hamas.” In short, despite then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s quiet hope that Cairo would assume unofficial responsibility for Gaza affairs, the Israeli withdrawal instead allowed Hamas to export its influence into Egyptian territory.

Facilitated by the dramatic increase in the number of tunnels—which numbered no less than 1,200 at their peak—the expansion of Hamas and other Palestinian activities in the Sinai was unprecedented. In fact, the arms flow was often reversed, with weapons going from Gaza to the Sinai. During the revolution, for example, observers noted a huge demand for firearms in the peninsula. And even in late 2010, well before Mubarak’s ouster, Hamas was already in the process of transferring heavy long-range missiles to secret storage places in the Sinai, including Grad rockets and extended-range Qassams…

Today, a significant number of Hamas military operatives are permanently stationed in the Sinai, serving as recruiters, couriers, and propagators of the Hamas platform. A solid network of the group’s contact men, safe houses, and armories covers much of the peninsula … In addition, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other factions have been moving some of their explosives workshops—which produce homemade missiles, rockets, mortars, improvised explosive devices, and so forth—from Gaza to the Sinai in recent months. In many ways, the Sinai has already become a sort of hinterland for Hamas military forces in Gaza. Dual-purpose materials used for the production of explosives are regularly transferred to the peninsula, allowing the group to place a significant part of its military industry beyond Israel’s reach.

As in Gaza, an Israeli pullout from the West Bank could easily end in a Hamas takeover. True, the Palestinian Authority is protected by American-trained troops, but the same U.S. general, Keith Dayton, trained the PA forces in Gaza, and Hamas routed them in a week during its 2007 coup.

Moreover, like Sinai, Jordan already has both a homegrown Islamist movement and some serious stability issues. Additionally, Jordan is roughly two-thirds Palestinian, and its Palestinian citizens have close ties of kinship and friendship with West Bank Palestinians. Thus, radicalization on the West Bank would likely spread to Jordan quickly if Israeli troops were no longer serving as a buffer between the two.

So if Western leaders think a radicalized, destabilized Jordan is a good idea, they should by all means keep pushing an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. But if not, they should be praying that Israel stays put.

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Lebanon: To Encourage the Others

John Bolton has a superb opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times today reminding us that Lebanon is a nearer prospective loss to liberalism than Egypt. Today’s concern for Egypt is about the opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood to gain power. The nature of the potential stakes remains uncertain; Mubarak and Omar Suleiman have made explicit declarations of intent, but there is no clarity or political coherence from the opposition forces.

In Lebanon, by contrast, Hezbollah has already made its move. It has run the course the Muslim Brotherhood could in Egypt, first securing a role in the coalition government — without renouncing terrorism or political thuggery — and then leveraging that role to install the government of its choice. The choices for foreign governments are clear in Lebanon: either reject Hezbollah’s control of the country or accept it.

Ambassador Bolton is categorical: “We must refuse to recognize any Hezbollah-dominated government as legitimate, at least until Hezbollah fully disarms and becomes a real political party.” The timetable for concrete action will be driven in part by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, whose next public event, on February 7, is a hearing related to the confidential indictments issued in January for the 2005 assassinations. That timetable is a good thing; an independent process with scheduled events is guaranteed to present public decision points for foreign leaders. If a new Hezbollah-backed government terminates Lebanese cooperation with the tribunal, the reaction of the U.S. and other nations, one way or another, will be impossible to spin.

There is grave danger, as Bolton suggests, in failing to counter Hezbollah’s effective coup in Lebanon. Conversely, the payoff from countering it would be particularly high. Hezbollah’s method of government infiltration is a model for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements across the Arab world. It can be allowed to stand or it can be opposed and reversed; either response will encourager les autres — encourage the others.

The number of others who need “encouraging,” one way or the other, is growing with the unrest in Egypt. In their different ways, Jordan, Algeria, and Yemen have all, in the past 48 hours, joined Tunisia in opening doors formerly closed to the Muslim Brotherhood. There is a great deal at stake, but the timing could hardly be better for making an example of Hezbollah. Its takeover of Lebanon, opposed by the Arab world, adds urgency to the theme retailed by the Muslim Brotherhood that the old governments are corrupt and ineffective. If we want the Arab nations to have breathing room in which to take genuine steps toward pluralism and democracy, one of the best things we could do is decisively block Hezbollah’s assault on those elements in Lebanon.

John Bolton has a superb opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times today reminding us that Lebanon is a nearer prospective loss to liberalism than Egypt. Today’s concern for Egypt is about the opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood to gain power. The nature of the potential stakes remains uncertain; Mubarak and Omar Suleiman have made explicit declarations of intent, but there is no clarity or political coherence from the opposition forces.

In Lebanon, by contrast, Hezbollah has already made its move. It has run the course the Muslim Brotherhood could in Egypt, first securing a role in the coalition government — without renouncing terrorism or political thuggery — and then leveraging that role to install the government of its choice. The choices for foreign governments are clear in Lebanon: either reject Hezbollah’s control of the country or accept it.

Ambassador Bolton is categorical: “We must refuse to recognize any Hezbollah-dominated government as legitimate, at least until Hezbollah fully disarms and becomes a real political party.” The timetable for concrete action will be driven in part by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, whose next public event, on February 7, is a hearing related to the confidential indictments issued in January for the 2005 assassinations. That timetable is a good thing; an independent process with scheduled events is guaranteed to present public decision points for foreign leaders. If a new Hezbollah-backed government terminates Lebanese cooperation with the tribunal, the reaction of the U.S. and other nations, one way or another, will be impossible to spin.

There is grave danger, as Bolton suggests, in failing to counter Hezbollah’s effective coup in Lebanon. Conversely, the payoff from countering it would be particularly high. Hezbollah’s method of government infiltration is a model for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements across the Arab world. It can be allowed to stand or it can be opposed and reversed; either response will encourager les autres — encourage the others.

The number of others who need “encouraging,” one way or the other, is growing with the unrest in Egypt. In their different ways, Jordan, Algeria, and Yemen have all, in the past 48 hours, joined Tunisia in opening doors formerly closed to the Muslim Brotherhood. There is a great deal at stake, but the timing could hardly be better for making an example of Hezbollah. Its takeover of Lebanon, opposed by the Arab world, adds urgency to the theme retailed by the Muslim Brotherhood that the old governments are corrupt and ineffective. If we want the Arab nations to have breathing room in which to take genuine steps toward pluralism and democracy, one of the best things we could do is decisively block Hezbollah’s assault on those elements in Lebanon.

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Realpolitik vs. the Long-Term Good

One of the ironies of the present crisis in Egypt is that it is exposing once again the ridiculousness of one of the nasty slurs flung against neocons by the likes of John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt who accuse them of being — what else? — agents of Israel, Likud, the International Zionist Conspiracy, or whatever. To hear these realpolitikers tell it, when neocons advocate liberal reform in the Middle East, they are secretly doing the bidding of their Zionist puppet-masters to the detriment of American interests (as understood, of course, by the same folks who thought that Mubarak was a rock of stability — and before him, the Shah of Iran). In reality, most Israelis fall firmly in the realpolitik camp and, were it not for their knee-jerk Israel-bashing, would agree with Mearsheimer/Walt about how to define American interests in the Middle East. (Natan Sharansky, a prominent advocate of Arab democratization, is one of the few exceptions, but he is seen as very much an outlier.)

Consider this Reuters dispatch headlined “Israel Shocked by Obama’s ‘Betrayal’ of Mubarak.” It quotes some truly hysterical comments from Israeli commentators bemoaning the apparent end of the Mubarak regime. A sample:

One comment by Aviad Pohoryles in the daily Maariv was entitled “A Bullet in the Back from Uncle Sam.” It accused Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of pursuing a naive, smug, and insular diplomacy heedless of the risks.

Who is advising them, he asked, “to fuel the mob raging in the streets of Egypt and to demand the head of the person who five minutes ago was the bold ally of the president … an almost lone voice of sanity in a Middle East?”

“The politically correct diplomacy of American presidents throughout the generations … is painfully naive.”

This is the authentic voice of the Israeli public facing the loss of “their” man in Cairo. Like many Western realpolitikers, most Israelis I have spoken with assume that Arabs are incapable of practicing democracy and that any attempt to tinker with the stable if oppressive status quo in surrounding states will lead only to the creation of more anti-Israeli regimes. I have heard Israeli officials defend keeping in power the Assad regime in Syria, which is still technically at war with Israel. Needless to say, Israelis are even more devoted to Mubarak and the Hashemites in Jordan, who have actually made peace with them. Read More

One of the ironies of the present crisis in Egypt is that it is exposing once again the ridiculousness of one of the nasty slurs flung against neocons by the likes of John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt who accuse them of being — what else? — agents of Israel, Likud, the International Zionist Conspiracy, or whatever. To hear these realpolitikers tell it, when neocons advocate liberal reform in the Middle East, they are secretly doing the bidding of their Zionist puppet-masters to the detriment of American interests (as understood, of course, by the same folks who thought that Mubarak was a rock of stability — and before him, the Shah of Iran). In reality, most Israelis fall firmly in the realpolitik camp and, were it not for their knee-jerk Israel-bashing, would agree with Mearsheimer/Walt about how to define American interests in the Middle East. (Natan Sharansky, a prominent advocate of Arab democratization, is one of the few exceptions, but he is seen as very much an outlier.)

Consider this Reuters dispatch headlined “Israel Shocked by Obama’s ‘Betrayal’ of Mubarak.” It quotes some truly hysterical comments from Israeli commentators bemoaning the apparent end of the Mubarak regime. A sample:

One comment by Aviad Pohoryles in the daily Maariv was entitled “A Bullet in the Back from Uncle Sam.” It accused Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of pursuing a naive, smug, and insular diplomacy heedless of the risks.

Who is advising them, he asked, “to fuel the mob raging in the streets of Egypt and to demand the head of the person who five minutes ago was the bold ally of the president … an almost lone voice of sanity in a Middle East?”

“The politically correct diplomacy of American presidents throughout the generations … is painfully naive.”

This is the authentic voice of the Israeli public facing the loss of “their” man in Cairo. Like many Western realpolitikers, most Israelis I have spoken with assume that Arabs are incapable of practicing democracy and that any attempt to tinker with the stable if oppressive status quo in surrounding states will lead only to the creation of more anti-Israeli regimes. I have heard Israeli officials defend keeping in power the Assad regime in Syria, which is still technically at war with Israel. Needless to say, Israelis are even more devoted to Mubarak and the Hashemites in Jordan, who have actually made peace with them.

Their outlook is understandable, but, I believe, short-sighted. As I argue in the Wall Street Journal today, Mubarak may have been friendly with Israeli and American leaders, but he also turned a blind eye to the vile anti-Semitic and anti-Western propaganda spread by his state media, schools, and mosques. This, along with the stagnation of his sclerotic regime, has made Egypt a prime breeding ground for Islamist extremism.

The U.S. and Israel have bought ourselves some help from Mubarak over the past 30 years but at a high price. It was always obvious that the bargain couldn’t last forever, because Mubarak was intensely unpopular and would fall sooner or later. Some of us were arguing for years that the U.S. had to do more to pressure Mubarak to reform, even to hold hostage his American aid package (see, for instance, this 2006 op-ed I wrote). Our concerns were dismissed by the realpolitikers, in both the U.S. and Israel, who said it was no business of ours to meddle in Egyptian politics. Now events are spinning out of control and we can do little to affect the outcome.

If there is one lesson that should be drawn from this crisis it is that we can’t back an unpopular and illegitimate status quo indefinitely. Now is the time to push for real reform in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and other allied states — not to mention in hostile states such as Syria and Iran. But I bet Israel will prefer to cling to its realpolitik policies.

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The Slap Heard Round the World

It is amazing that the political revolution now sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa was started by a 26-year-old unemployed Tunisian man who self-immolated.

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate whose fruits-and-vegetables market stand was confiscated by police because it had no permit, tried to yank back his apples. He was slapped in the face by a female municipal inspector and eventually beaten by her colleagues. His later appeals were ignored. Humiliated, he drenched himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire. He died on January 4.

That incident was the spark that set ablaze the revolution that overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for more than two decades — and that, in turn, spread to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign of power is about to end. Anti-government protests are also happening in Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, and elsewhere. It’s hard to tell where all this will end; but how it began may rank among the more extraordinary hinge moments in history. It may come to be known as the Slap Heard Round the World.

How hopeful or fearful one feels about the unfolding events in Egypt depends in large measure on which revolutionary model one believes applies to this situation. Is it the French, Russian, or Iranian revolution, which ended with the guillotine, gulags, and an Islamic theocracy; or the American Revolution and what happened in the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Chile, and Argentina, authoritarian regimes that made a relatively smooth transition to self-government? Or is it something entirely different? Here it’s worth bearing in mind the counsel of Henry Kissinger, who wrote, “History is not … a cookbook offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims. It can illuminate the consequences of actions in comparable situations, yet each generation must discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable.”

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that the driving force of events in Egypt are tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression. What the 2002 Arab Human Development Report called a “freedom deficit” in the Middle East is at the core of the unrest. Events seem to be vindicating those who said that siding with the forces of “stability” [read: dictatorships] rather than reform was unwise and ultimately unsustainable. At some point the lid would blow. Now it has. Read More

It is amazing that the political revolution now sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa was started by a 26-year-old unemployed Tunisian man who self-immolated.

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate whose fruits-and-vegetables market stand was confiscated by police because it had no permit, tried to yank back his apples. He was slapped in the face by a female municipal inspector and eventually beaten by her colleagues. His later appeals were ignored. Humiliated, he drenched himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire. He died on January 4.

That incident was the spark that set ablaze the revolution that overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for more than two decades — and that, in turn, spread to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign of power is about to end. Anti-government protests are also happening in Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, and elsewhere. It’s hard to tell where all this will end; but how it began may rank among the more extraordinary hinge moments in history. It may come to be known as the Slap Heard Round the World.

How hopeful or fearful one feels about the unfolding events in Egypt depends in large measure on which revolutionary model one believes applies to this situation. Is it the French, Russian, or Iranian revolution, which ended with the guillotine, gulags, and an Islamic theocracy; or the American Revolution and what happened in the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Chile, and Argentina, authoritarian regimes that made a relatively smooth transition to self-government? Or is it something entirely different? Here it’s worth bearing in mind the counsel of Henry Kissinger, who wrote, “History is not … a cookbook offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims. It can illuminate the consequences of actions in comparable situations, yet each generation must discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable.”

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that the driving force of events in Egypt are tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression. What the 2002 Arab Human Development Report called a “freedom deficit” in the Middle East is at the core of the unrest. Events seem to be vindicating those who said that siding with the forces of “stability” [read: dictatorships] rather than reform was unwise and ultimately unsustainable. At some point the lid would blow. Now it has.

The danger is that groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, which is hostile to Israel and close to Hamas, hijacks the revolution. The goal of U.S policy must therefore be to influence this revolution, to the degree we can, in a way that advances U.S. interests and American ideals. This means taking an active role, both publicly and behind the scenes, in support of those who stand for liberal democracy (for more, see here).

The hour has grown quite late. As Max Boot points out, the equivocation of the Obama administration needs to end. Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading Egyptian dissident who appears to be rapidly gaining power, is right when he said the United States is “losing credibility by the day” by its support for the Egyptian dictator. Mr. Mubarak is, politically speaking, a Dead Man Walking. There is still time, but not much time, for the president to get on the right side of this revolution and the right side of history. Secretary of State Clinton’s comments yesterday, in which she called for an “orderly transition” to a representative government, were certainly an improvement from where the administration was last week, when she was assuring the world of the staying power of Mr. Mubarak and Vice President Biden was declaring, against three decades of evidence, that the Egyptian president was not a dictator.

Having worked in three administrations and in the White House during a series of crises, I have some sympathy for how difficult it is to navigate through roiling waters, when one has to act on incomplete information in the midst of chaotic and constantly changing events, the outcome of which is impossible to know. In that respect, the Obama administration deserves some empathy. It’s never as easy to guide events when you’re in government as it is to critique events when you’re outside of government.

Still, as my former colleague William Inboden has written, it seems to me that the Obama administration can be held responsible for two important errors: (a) its failure to anticipate what is happening in Egypt and prepare contingency plans. and (b) its neglect of human rights, democracy, and economic reform in Egypt for the previous two years. “These failures should be front and center in any post-mortem policy review,” Professor Inboden writes. “The Mubarak regime’s brittleness and Egypt’s stagnation have long been apparent to many observers.” But not, apparently, to the Obama administration, which seems to have been caught completely off guard. If the spark that set the region afire was impossible to anticipate, the dry tinder of the region was not.

One Arab nation that so far hasn’t been convulsed by the political revolution now sweeping the Middle East is Iraq — the one Arab nation whose government is legitimate, the produce of free elections and political compromise, and that has the consent of the people. When it came to Iraqi democracy, most of the foreign-policy establishment assured us that self-government there could never take root, that Iraq would simply be a pawn of Iran, that the ethnic divisions in Iraq were too deep to overcome, and that (as Joe Biden argued at the time) the only solution was partition. At this stage, it’s reasonable to conclude that these judgments were quite wrong. And while one can certainly debate whether the Iraq war was worth the blood, treasure, and opportunities it cost, it appears as if the Egyptian people, and not only the Egyptian people, are longing for what the people of Iraq have embraced: self-government. It isn’t perfect by any means — but for the Arab Middle East, it is a model for other nations to aspire.

(h/t: Victor Davis Hanson)

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Clinton, Jordanian FM: No. 1 Priority Is Israeli/Palestinian Peace Process

Tunisia’s transition government is creating black lists of long-serving officials to be expelled from the government, which covers most of the people who have experience governing. Egypt is literally on fire, Yemen is about to follow, and Jordan is on deck. The nightmare land-for-peace scenario — where Israel cedes strategic depth to a stable government only to see it fall to radicals who abandon previous agreements — is roughly at 50/50 right now, with only an unstable Egyptian government standing in the way.

Under normal thinking, the uncertainty over land-for-peace would cause a rethinking of land-for-peace, and violent riots would engender a focus on things that aren’t violent riots. But dogma is dogma:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that peace in the Middle East remained the top US priority, despite unrest in the region and a leak of alleged Palestinian negotiation documents. Clinton confirmed she would head next week to Munich for talks of the “Quartet” of Middle East mediators and said she spoke at length about the conflict with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh of Jordan, a close US partner. “For both our nations, permanent peace in the Middle East remains our number one priority,” Clinton told a joint news conference with Judeh. … “Such an agreement, Jordan and the United States believe, will not only bring peace and prosperity to those who are directly affected, but it will be a major step toward a world free of extremism,” she said. [emphasis added]

Good to see that the Jordanians are keeping their eyes on the ball, too, despite already facing tribal pressure and now being subject to the same economic-Islamist alliance sweeping the rest of the Middle East. Given the Palestinian Authority’s precarious weakness, it’s not unlikely that a West Bank state would quickly become radicalized, with the instability spilling across the Jordan River and all the way into Amman. Though, in fairness, under this scenario, their declared “number one priority” would have been solved, and Israel would be out of the West Bank, such that they’d finally be able to focus on less-critical issues like the Jordanian kingdom not getting overthrown.

Usually the diplomatic obsession with Israel — irrational and incoherent as it is — at least has the quality of being interesting. Foreign-policy experts have to invent elaborate geopolitical and geo-cultural theories like linkage. Then, because those theories are wrong, they have to come up with creative epistemic and rhetorical ways of justifying them — insider access to Muslim diplomats, movement detectable only to experts, critical distinctions between public and private spheres in the Arab world, etc. It’s like reading about all the brilliant people who tried to save the medieval church’s Earth-centered solar system by sticking epicycles everywhere. Sure, it’s a last-ditch effort to save a fundamentally incorrect theory, one being propped up in the interests of ideology — but at least it’s interesting.

This, in sharp contrast, is just silly. And while I hope and think that the secretary of state was just mouthing the usual ritualistic incantations, the fact that she felt the need to do so shows how far removed from reality Middle East diplomacy has gotten.

Tunisia’s transition government is creating black lists of long-serving officials to be expelled from the government, which covers most of the people who have experience governing. Egypt is literally on fire, Yemen is about to follow, and Jordan is on deck. The nightmare land-for-peace scenario — where Israel cedes strategic depth to a stable government only to see it fall to radicals who abandon previous agreements — is roughly at 50/50 right now, with only an unstable Egyptian government standing in the way.

Under normal thinking, the uncertainty over land-for-peace would cause a rethinking of land-for-peace, and violent riots would engender a focus on things that aren’t violent riots. But dogma is dogma:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that peace in the Middle East remained the top US priority, despite unrest in the region and a leak of alleged Palestinian negotiation documents. Clinton confirmed she would head next week to Munich for talks of the “Quartet” of Middle East mediators and said she spoke at length about the conflict with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh of Jordan, a close US partner. “For both our nations, permanent peace in the Middle East remains our number one priority,” Clinton told a joint news conference with Judeh. … “Such an agreement, Jordan and the United States believe, will not only bring peace and prosperity to those who are directly affected, but it will be a major step toward a world free of extremism,” she said. [emphasis added]

Good to see that the Jordanians are keeping their eyes on the ball, too, despite already facing tribal pressure and now being subject to the same economic-Islamist alliance sweeping the rest of the Middle East. Given the Palestinian Authority’s precarious weakness, it’s not unlikely that a West Bank state would quickly become radicalized, with the instability spilling across the Jordan River and all the way into Amman. Though, in fairness, under this scenario, their declared “number one priority” would have been solved, and Israel would be out of the West Bank, such that they’d finally be able to focus on less-critical issues like the Jordanian kingdom not getting overthrown.

Usually the diplomatic obsession with Israel — irrational and incoherent as it is — at least has the quality of being interesting. Foreign-policy experts have to invent elaborate geopolitical and geo-cultural theories like linkage. Then, because those theories are wrong, they have to come up with creative epistemic and rhetorical ways of justifying them — insider access to Muslim diplomats, movement detectable only to experts, critical distinctions between public and private spheres in the Arab world, etc. It’s like reading about all the brilliant people who tried to save the medieval church’s Earth-centered solar system by sticking epicycles everywhere. Sure, it’s a last-ditch effort to save a fundamentally incorrect theory, one being propped up in the interests of ideology — but at least it’s interesting.

This, in sharp contrast, is just silly. And while I hope and think that the secretary of state was just mouthing the usual ritualistic incantations, the fact that she felt the need to do so shows how far removed from reality Middle East diplomacy has gotten.

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Middle East Optimism Requires Blinders

Optimism about peace between Israel and the Palestinians has always been a matter of religious faith rather than rational analysis. Every new proof that the process begun in 1993 with the Oslo Accords was based on false premises must be dismissed or ignored simply because believers in peace insist it is possible and because they wish it be so. While the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has not generally been among the most dogged optimists about peace, he was still willing to co-author a 2,200-word essay with Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine published on today’s New York Times op-ed page that argues that despite the evidence of our lying eyes, there is still plenty of room for belief that the process can be revived.

Their thesis rests on the idea that changes in the political cultures of both Israel and the Palestinians make progress inevitable. It is true that there is an overwhelming consensus within Israel in favor of a two-state solution and that even the supposedly intransigent right-wing government of the country has made it clear it is ready to accept a Palestinian state. It is also true that the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad has made great strides toward making the territories a better place for its inhabitants, though Goldberg and Ibish overestimate the PA’s abandonment of anti-Semitic incitement and the language of delegitimization of Israel. The PA has also created a security apparatus that has been allowed greater scope by the Israelis, and Abbas and Fayyad understand it is in their interest to clamp down on terrorism.

These are factors that theoretically ought to allow the two sides to come to an agreement and finally make peace. But that hasn’t happened. The reason is that the less-hopeful developments of the past few years are still far more important in determining whether the conflict can be brought to an end. Read More

Optimism about peace between Israel and the Palestinians has always been a matter of religious faith rather than rational analysis. Every new proof that the process begun in 1993 with the Oslo Accords was based on false premises must be dismissed or ignored simply because believers in peace insist it is possible and because they wish it be so. While the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has not generally been among the most dogged optimists about peace, he was still willing to co-author a 2,200-word essay with Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine published on today’s New York Times op-ed page that argues that despite the evidence of our lying eyes, there is still plenty of room for belief that the process can be revived.

Their thesis rests on the idea that changes in the political cultures of both Israel and the Palestinians make progress inevitable. It is true that there is an overwhelming consensus within Israel in favor of a two-state solution and that even the supposedly intransigent right-wing government of the country has made it clear it is ready to accept a Palestinian state. It is also true that the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad has made great strides toward making the territories a better place for its inhabitants, though Goldberg and Ibish overestimate the PA’s abandonment of anti-Semitic incitement and the language of delegitimization of Israel. The PA has also created a security apparatus that has been allowed greater scope by the Israelis, and Abbas and Fayyad understand it is in their interest to clamp down on terrorism.

These are factors that theoretically ought to allow the two sides to come to an agreement and finally make peace. But that hasn’t happened. The reason is that the less-hopeful developments of the past few years are still far more important in determining whether the conflict can be brought to an end.

The chief of these is the power of Hamas. Optimists like Goldberg acknowledge the fact that Gaza is a Hamas state and that no peace can be signed without its agreement. Unacknowledged in the Goldberg-Ibish piece is the fact that Abbas’s hold on the West Bank rests not on his legitimacy or the strength of his forces but on Israel’s unwillingness to allow it to fall into the hands of Hamas, as happened in Gaza in 2006. After all, Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert offered Abbas a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2008 and was turned down flat. President Obama’s foolish insistence on an Israeli settlement freeze even in those areas (as the recently released Al Jazeera documents show) the PA had already agreed would stay in Israeli hands has made it impossible for those talks to be renewed. But even if Abbas were to return to the table, he would be faced with the same dilemma he had before. Were he to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders were drawn, he would face the wrath of his own people (as the reaction from the released documents proves), and even Israel’s support might not be enough to keep him in power, or alive.

Goldberg and Ibish conclude their lengthy article by calling for both Netanyahu and Abbas to visit the other side and acknowledge their antagonists’ respective rights and pain much in the way that Anwar Sadat and King Hussein of Jordan once did. But they forget that the original Oslo Accords were just such an acknowledgment, and that while Israelis swooned over such gestures (even though Yasir Arafat’s credibility was very much doubtful), Palestinians merely took Israel’s willingness to make concessions as a sign of weakness and lack of faith in the rightness of their cause. Moreover, Abbas doesn’t dare do more. In a region where both Israel and the PA are faced with the growing influence of Iran and its allies Hezbollah (which is moving toward control of Lebanon) and Hamas, the tide of extremism is more than a match for Fayyad’s pragmatism. Under such circumstances, optimism about peace requires the sort of tunnel vision that comes only with blind faith.

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Palestine Papers Confirm What Israel Has Said All Along

I don’t know whether the “Palestine Papers” published yesterday by Al Jazeera and the Guardian are real or, as Barry Rubin argues, a fake aimed at discrediting the Palestinian Authority’s current leadership. What is certainly false, however, is the claim, as Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland put it, that “Now we know. Israel had a peace partner.”

If the papers are true, then, as Noah pointed out, they show the PA agreeing to let Israel keep most — though not all — of the huge Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, which are home to hundreds of thousands of Israelis. The Guardian deems this concession shameful. Freedland terms it “unthinkable”; the paper’s editorial goes even further, accusing Palestinians of agreeing “to flog the family silver.”

Yet, as Rick noted, every peace plan of the past decade — starting with the Clinton Parameters in 2000, which virtually the entire world claims to view as the basis for any agreement — has proposed assigning the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to Israel. The Guardian is entitled to fantasize about a Palestinian state “created on 1967 borders, not around them,” but no serious mediator or negotiator ever has. Even UN Security Council Resolution 242, which everyone accepts as the basis for talks, was drafted so as to allow changes to the pre-1967 armistice lines.

Indeed, far from constituting an “unthinkable” concession, the PA offer detailed in these documents didn’t even amount to the minimum that every peace plan of the past decade has deemed necessary for an agreement — because every such plan, again starting with the Clinton Parameters, has also proposed giving Israel additional parts of the West Bank (usually in exchange for equivalent territory inside Israel) so as to allow it to retain some of the major settlement blocs. And, according to these documents, the Palestinians wouldn’t agree to that.

This, of course, tallies exactly with what Israel has said for the past decade. Israel never claimed that negotiations broke down over Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, but it repeatedly claimed that talks broke down over other issues, such as borders. In 2008, for instance, Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians 93 percent of the West Bank plus territorial swaps equivalent to the remainder, but the Palestinians refused to sign: they insisted on land swaps of only about 2 percent (see here or here).

The Palestine Papers also claim that the PA agreed to cede exclusive control over the Temple Mount in favor of management by “a body or committee.” But that, too, was in Olmert’s offer: a five-member committee composed of Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the U.S., thereby ensuring an Arab majority. And, again, the Palestinians refused to sign. Indeed, PA President Mahmoud Abbas subsequently told the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl that “the gaps were wide.”

The documents did, however, contain one revealing quote: chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat allegedly told an American official, “Israelis want the two state solution but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians.”

Whether or not Erekat actually said that, it’s unfortunately true. And until it changes, peace will remain a distant dream.

I don’t know whether the “Palestine Papers” published yesterday by Al Jazeera and the Guardian are real or, as Barry Rubin argues, a fake aimed at discrediting the Palestinian Authority’s current leadership. What is certainly false, however, is the claim, as Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland put it, that “Now we know. Israel had a peace partner.”

If the papers are true, then, as Noah pointed out, they show the PA agreeing to let Israel keep most — though not all — of the huge Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, which are home to hundreds of thousands of Israelis. The Guardian deems this concession shameful. Freedland terms it “unthinkable”; the paper’s editorial goes even further, accusing Palestinians of agreeing “to flog the family silver.”

Yet, as Rick noted, every peace plan of the past decade — starting with the Clinton Parameters in 2000, which virtually the entire world claims to view as the basis for any agreement — has proposed assigning the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to Israel. The Guardian is entitled to fantasize about a Palestinian state “created on 1967 borders, not around them,” but no serious mediator or negotiator ever has. Even UN Security Council Resolution 242, which everyone accepts as the basis for talks, was drafted so as to allow changes to the pre-1967 armistice lines.

Indeed, far from constituting an “unthinkable” concession, the PA offer detailed in these documents didn’t even amount to the minimum that every peace plan of the past decade has deemed necessary for an agreement — because every such plan, again starting with the Clinton Parameters, has also proposed giving Israel additional parts of the West Bank (usually in exchange for equivalent territory inside Israel) so as to allow it to retain some of the major settlement blocs. And, according to these documents, the Palestinians wouldn’t agree to that.

This, of course, tallies exactly with what Israel has said for the past decade. Israel never claimed that negotiations broke down over Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, but it repeatedly claimed that talks broke down over other issues, such as borders. In 2008, for instance, Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians 93 percent of the West Bank plus territorial swaps equivalent to the remainder, but the Palestinians refused to sign: they insisted on land swaps of only about 2 percent (see here or here).

The Palestine Papers also claim that the PA agreed to cede exclusive control over the Temple Mount in favor of management by “a body or committee.” But that, too, was in Olmert’s offer: a five-member committee composed of Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the U.S., thereby ensuring an Arab majority. And, again, the Palestinians refused to sign. Indeed, PA President Mahmoud Abbas subsequently told the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl that “the gaps were wide.”

The documents did, however, contain one revealing quote: chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat allegedly told an American official, “Israelis want the two state solution but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians.”

Whether or not Erekat actually said that, it’s unfortunately true. And until it changes, peace will remain a distant dream.

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J Street Backs Effort to Condemn Israel at the UN

Once again, the left-wing lobby J Street is twisting the definition of “pro-Israel” beyond recognition. With the Palestinians and their allies at the United Nations poised to launch another attempt to brand Israel as a pariah, the group that claims that their allegedly “pro-peace” stand is the true path to being “pro-Israel” has now called upon the Obama administration to find a way to vote for the measure rather than vetoing it.

The measure, which will formally brand Israel as a violator of international law because of its settlement policy, has been endorsed by other so-called “pro-Israel” figures such as Peter Beinart who have claimed that it is the duty of “liberal Zionists” to save Israel from itself (which is to say that they disagree with the verdict of Israel’s voters, who sensibly rejected J Street’s preferred candidates at the ballot box and believe that the result of the last election should be overruled by American fiat).

While their assumption that building Jewish communities in the West Bank and in those parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 is utterly false, many Israelis and friends of Israel do not support building throughout the territories. But the point here is not whether it is wise to put down new settlements in areas that would almost certainly be given to the Palestinians in the unlikely event of peace. (And the reason why peace is unlikely has nothing to do with settlements and everything to do with the fact that the Palestinians have refused to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.) The goal of Palestinian diplomacy is to isolate Israel and to brand it and its policies as the sole obstacle to peace.

Though J Street’s statement tries to draw a distinction between the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the settlements that exist close to the untenable 1949 armistice lines and other bad settlements elsewhere, the point of the resolution is to treat the homes of more than half a million Israeli Jews as “stolen” property that must be given up by Israel if it expects to be allowed to survive. Far from advancing the cause of peace, this resolution will serve to make it even more unlikely, since what would follow its passage would be an international campaign for divestment and boycotting of Israel that would be based on the supposed legal imprimatur of the UN.

That is why anyone who claims to be a friend of Israel must call on the Obama administration to fulfill its obligation as an ally and veto this resolution. An American vote in favor of this measure, no matter how it is worded, or even an abstention, would send a loud signal to the world that Obama has abandoned the Jewish state. This would not only damage Israel; it would also embolden Arab and Islamist rejectionists to dig in their heels and make even the theoretical chance of a peace deal even less plausible. It would also heighten the chances of another round of violence from Hamas and Hezbollah.

That J Street would choose to endorse this resolution, however weasel-worded that endorsement might be, is yet another sign that this George Soros–funded entity is hopelessly out of touch with mainstream pro-Israel sentiment and is, in fact, more likely to side with Israel’s foes in a pinch (as it did when it opposed Israel’s counteroffensive against Hamas terrorists in Gaza in December 2008) than with its friends.

Once again, the left-wing lobby J Street is twisting the definition of “pro-Israel” beyond recognition. With the Palestinians and their allies at the United Nations poised to launch another attempt to brand Israel as a pariah, the group that claims that their allegedly “pro-peace” stand is the true path to being “pro-Israel” has now called upon the Obama administration to find a way to vote for the measure rather than vetoing it.

The measure, which will formally brand Israel as a violator of international law because of its settlement policy, has been endorsed by other so-called “pro-Israel” figures such as Peter Beinart who have claimed that it is the duty of “liberal Zionists” to save Israel from itself (which is to say that they disagree with the verdict of Israel’s voters, who sensibly rejected J Street’s preferred candidates at the ballot box and believe that the result of the last election should be overruled by American fiat).

While their assumption that building Jewish communities in the West Bank and in those parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 is utterly false, many Israelis and friends of Israel do not support building throughout the territories. But the point here is not whether it is wise to put down new settlements in areas that would almost certainly be given to the Palestinians in the unlikely event of peace. (And the reason why peace is unlikely has nothing to do with settlements and everything to do with the fact that the Palestinians have refused to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.) The goal of Palestinian diplomacy is to isolate Israel and to brand it and its policies as the sole obstacle to peace.

Though J Street’s statement tries to draw a distinction between the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the settlements that exist close to the untenable 1949 armistice lines and other bad settlements elsewhere, the point of the resolution is to treat the homes of more than half a million Israeli Jews as “stolen” property that must be given up by Israel if it expects to be allowed to survive. Far from advancing the cause of peace, this resolution will serve to make it even more unlikely, since what would follow its passage would be an international campaign for divestment and boycotting of Israel that would be based on the supposed legal imprimatur of the UN.

That is why anyone who claims to be a friend of Israel must call on the Obama administration to fulfill its obligation as an ally and veto this resolution. An American vote in favor of this measure, no matter how it is worded, or even an abstention, would send a loud signal to the world that Obama has abandoned the Jewish state. This would not only damage Israel; it would also embolden Arab and Islamist rejectionists to dig in their heels and make even the theoretical chance of a peace deal even less plausible. It would also heighten the chances of another round of violence from Hamas and Hezbollah.

That J Street would choose to endorse this resolution, however weasel-worded that endorsement might be, is yet another sign that this George Soros–funded entity is hopelessly out of touch with mainstream pro-Israel sentiment and is, in fact, more likely to side with Israel’s foes in a pinch (as it did when it opposed Israel’s counteroffensive against Hamas terrorists in Gaza in December 2008) than with its friends.

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Stay Engaged with Tunisia

As Max Boot implies, riot-torn Tunisia is not predestined for any particular future. The U.S. response will matter to the outcome. The sclerotic Ben Ali regime has been under rhetorical fire from dissidents for years due to its corrupt, repressive character, but there is no evidence of an organized opposition bent on armed revolution. No ideological red flags are waving over Tunisia; there may be groups encouraging the outbreak of unrest, but there has been no accelerating drumbeat from a well-defined radical organization like the plotters of the Iranian revolution in 1979. The riots in Tunisia mirror the fears in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan over a common set of economic woes: rising food and gas prices and high unemployment.

But while Tunisia may not be experiencing a centrally directed ideological revolt, the political conditions are not quiescent there. If pluralism and consensual government are to take hold, the U.S. will have to interest itself in the process. The usual suspects — the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda — have stakes in Tunisia already. The principal opposition group, al-Nadha (“Renaissance”), is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi (not to be confused with the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took power on Friday), is an exile in Britain, a biographical detail that echoes the history of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But Ghannouchi’s profile as a Sunni Islamist leader is more similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi; Ghannouchi endorses terrorist groups like Hamas but spends most of his time writing, lecturing, and attending conferences.

Rachid Ghannouchi has been largely silent during the past week’s unrest, giving no indication that he has specific political intentions. But he would be a natural focus of interest for regional governments — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France — that are on the alert to influence developments in Tunisia. Attempts at influence by Tehran are a given as well: Ghannouchi was an early supporter of the 1979 revolution and has maintained his ties to Iranian clerics. Tunisia severed relations with Iran in the 1980s over the Islamic Republic’s penchant for fomenting unrest, but diplomatic and economic ties have been restored over the past decade. These ties include an Iranian cultural center in Tunis (referenced here and here), an entity that in other regional nations has been a means of introducing paramilitary operatives and Islamist recruiters. Read More

As Max Boot implies, riot-torn Tunisia is not predestined for any particular future. The U.S. response will matter to the outcome. The sclerotic Ben Ali regime has been under rhetorical fire from dissidents for years due to its corrupt, repressive character, but there is no evidence of an organized opposition bent on armed revolution. No ideological red flags are waving over Tunisia; there may be groups encouraging the outbreak of unrest, but there has been no accelerating drumbeat from a well-defined radical organization like the plotters of the Iranian revolution in 1979. The riots in Tunisia mirror the fears in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan over a common set of economic woes: rising food and gas prices and high unemployment.

But while Tunisia may not be experiencing a centrally directed ideological revolt, the political conditions are not quiescent there. If pluralism and consensual government are to take hold, the U.S. will have to interest itself in the process. The usual suspects — the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda — have stakes in Tunisia already. The principal opposition group, al-Nadha (“Renaissance”), is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi (not to be confused with the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took power on Friday), is an exile in Britain, a biographical detail that echoes the history of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But Ghannouchi’s profile as a Sunni Islamist leader is more similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi; Ghannouchi endorses terrorist groups like Hamas but spends most of his time writing, lecturing, and attending conferences.

Rachid Ghannouchi has been largely silent during the past week’s unrest, giving no indication that he has specific political intentions. But he would be a natural focus of interest for regional governments — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France — that are on the alert to influence developments in Tunisia. Attempts at influence by Tehran are a given as well: Ghannouchi was an early supporter of the 1979 revolution and has maintained his ties to Iranian clerics. Tunisia severed relations with Iran in the 1980s over the Islamic Republic’s penchant for fomenting unrest, but diplomatic and economic ties have been restored over the past decade. These ties include an Iranian cultural center in Tunis (referenced here and here), an entity that in other regional nations has been a means of introducing paramilitary operatives and Islamist recruiters.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) has seized on the Tunisian unrest as a pretext for issuing audio appeals and a recruiting video. There is no evidence AQIM is organized for operations on a large scale, nor is the seizure of political power an al-Qaeda method. But any period of internal disorder in Tunisia will be an invitation to AQIM to ramp up its efforts there.

Tunisia sits on a crucial geographic chokepoint — the Strait of Sicily — in the central Mediterranean Sea. The U.S. and Europe can get away with shrinking navies while the Mediterranean coast is held by well-disposed governments. But Tunisia is one of a handful of nations in the world that could single-handedly turn a maritime choke point into an oversize international security problem. A radicalized Tunisia would have even greater security implications than a radicalized Libya or Algeria; the geography of a strait is a stern taskmaster. And Iran’s history of interest in the choke points on which the West relies for commerce and naval power (see here and here) suggests that the leadership in Tehran is fully aware of those implications and will do what it can to exploit them.

The good news is that a newly liberal, consensual government in Tunisia would be the best outcome for U.S. interests as well as for Tunisians. But we will have to actively encourage that outcome if we want to see it. The forces working against it are sure to multiply.

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USAID, Spanish Government Supporting Anti-Israel Tourism Group?

Some Israeli bloggers have discovered that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Spanish government may be involved with a Palestinian tourism website that seems to be disseminating some troubling anti-Israel propaganda. Here’s some of the background on the story from Challah Hu Akbar:

The other day we heard how Spain was sponsoring a PA TV ad that called for the boycott of all Israeli products.

Spain denied the accusations and began an investigation, saying they were the victims.

Now it seems as though Spain is funding the website Travel to Palestine. (h/t ElderofZiyon) This website is known for its ad in the UK which said that Palestine was the area from the Mediterranean to Jordan, thus eliminating Israel. Read this for more on what they view Palestine as. …

A map on the site does not show Israel.

The Travel to Palestine website, which appears to be the official site of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, can be found here. The ministry’s website claims that Palestine “lies between the Mediterranean Coast and the Jordan River, at the crossroads between Africa and the Middle East” (which, while technically true, is still a bit misleading).

Challah Hu Akbar also notes that a map on the site does not show Israel, just a blank space where Israel should be. In addition, the information section says that the capital of Palestine — which is obviously not yet a country — is Jerusalem.

But perhaps more troubling was some of the other tourism information put out by the ministry, which includes references to Israel’s alleged “apartheid” policies and “illegal occupation.” One pamphlet for tourists on the website claims that “Jerusalem — the heart of tourism in the region — has been illegally annexed to Israel, filled with illegal settlements, besieged, surrounded by checkpoints, and encircled by the Apartheid Wall, all of which has resulted in the city’s isolation from its social and geographical surroundings.”

Another part of the pamphlet alleges that Israel “wiped Palestine off the map”:

Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. These events have created catastrophic political, economic and social facts which have deeply affected the life of the Palestinian people, most of whom became refugees. In many ways Palestine itself was simply wiped off the map, historic Palestine coming to be known as Israel. In this context tourism became a political tool in the supremacy and domination of the Israeli establishment over land and people, and an instrument for preventing the Palestinians from enjoying the benefits and the fruits of the cultural and human interaction on which tourism thrives.

A separate pamphlet on the site blames the poor tourism industry on the Israeli “Occupation” and Israel’s alleged refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate key sites:

The Occupation, with all its facets, is the biggest obstacle. The restrictions on movement and access (on both tourists and Palestinian service providers) make managing tourist flow and developing themed routes very difficult. Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate, restore and manage key sites located in Areas C, such as Sebastiya, the Jordan Valley, and the coast of the Dead Sea, hinder our abilities to develop a comprehensive tourism offer, and the overall lack of control over borders and points of entry makes managing and developing a tourism sector extremely challenging.

So obviously, it would be problematic for official Spanish or U.S. agencies to be involved with this group. But it looks like that may, in fact, be happening — the ministry’s homepage says at the bottom that “This project was made possible thanks to the support of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation” and includes a logo of the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem. Read More

Some Israeli bloggers have discovered that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Spanish government may be involved with a Palestinian tourism website that seems to be disseminating some troubling anti-Israel propaganda. Here’s some of the background on the story from Challah Hu Akbar:

The other day we heard how Spain was sponsoring a PA TV ad that called for the boycott of all Israeli products.

Spain denied the accusations and began an investigation, saying they were the victims.

Now it seems as though Spain is funding the website Travel to Palestine. (h/t ElderofZiyon) This website is known for its ad in the UK which said that Palestine was the area from the Mediterranean to Jordan, thus eliminating Israel. Read this for more on what they view Palestine as. …

A map on the site does not show Israel.

The Travel to Palestine website, which appears to be the official site of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, can be found here. The ministry’s website claims that Palestine “lies between the Mediterranean Coast and the Jordan River, at the crossroads between Africa and the Middle East” (which, while technically true, is still a bit misleading).

Challah Hu Akbar also notes that a map on the site does not show Israel, just a blank space where Israel should be. In addition, the information section says that the capital of Palestine — which is obviously not yet a country — is Jerusalem.

But perhaps more troubling was some of the other tourism information put out by the ministry, which includes references to Israel’s alleged “apartheid” policies and “illegal occupation.” One pamphlet for tourists on the website claims that “Jerusalem — the heart of tourism in the region — has been illegally annexed to Israel, filled with illegal settlements, besieged, surrounded by checkpoints, and encircled by the Apartheid Wall, all of which has resulted in the city’s isolation from its social and geographical surroundings.”

Another part of the pamphlet alleges that Israel “wiped Palestine off the map”:

Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. These events have created catastrophic political, economic and social facts which have deeply affected the life of the Palestinian people, most of whom became refugees. In many ways Palestine itself was simply wiped off the map, historic Palestine coming to be known as Israel. In this context tourism became a political tool in the supremacy and domination of the Israeli establishment over land and people, and an instrument for preventing the Palestinians from enjoying the benefits and the fruits of the cultural and human interaction on which tourism thrives.

A separate pamphlet on the site blames the poor tourism industry on the Israeli “Occupation” and Israel’s alleged refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate key sites:

The Occupation, with all its facets, is the biggest obstacle. The restrictions on movement and access (on both tourists and Palestinian service providers) make managing tourist flow and developing themed routes very difficult. Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate, restore and manage key sites located in Areas C, such as Sebastiya, the Jordan Valley, and the coast of the Dead Sea, hinder our abilities to develop a comprehensive tourism offer, and the overall lack of control over borders and points of entry makes managing and developing a tourism sector extremely challenging.

So obviously, it would be problematic for official Spanish or U.S. agencies to be involved with this group. But it looks like that may, in fact, be happening — the ministry’s homepage says at the bottom that “This project was made possible thanks to the support of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation” and includes a logo of the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem.

The involvement of USAID with the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism is more tenuous, though. Another pamphlet on the website includes the USAID logo and the ministry’s logo, implying that the project was a collaboration between the two organizations.

The ministry also claims that USAID facilitated its involvement in an international tourism conference last October. “This activity came as part of the Palestine Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities’ membership at the Adventure Travel Trade Association and part of the support provided by the Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion (EDIP) project funded by the USAID,” says the website.

USAID’s own website says that it “supported Palestinian representation at the World Religious Tourism Expo,” though it doesn’t clarify who the representation was.

I’ve called USAID for comment, but as of now, they have been unable to get in touch with officials at their West Bank office, which is closed until after the holiday weekend. We’ll update this story as soon as more information arises.

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Toppled Palestinian ‘Landmark’ Symbolized Hate

It says something about the way much of the world views the rights of Jews to live in Jerusalem that the erection of new homes in parts of that city is considered such a terrible provocation. Thus, the new housing project in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of the city is generally reported as an outrageous provocation, even though the only reason this area is usually described as “predominantly Arab” or, more outrageously, “traditionally Arab” is because from 1949 to 1967, when this location was illegally occupied by Jordan, Jews were prohibited from living there.

As to whether it is wise for Israel to allow Jews to live in all parts of their capital, that is something that Israelis can debate, though redividing Jerusalem and returning those parts handed over to the Palestinian Arabs to a Jew-free condition seems like a curious way to advance the cause of peace and mutual coexistence. But let’s leave aside the question of Jewish rights or even the strategic wisdom of putting more Jews in these neighborhoods. Let us instead examine the Palestinian claim and what it represents.

When the New York Times reported the fact that ground was being broken for the new housing in Sheikh Jarrah in a story published on Sunday, what it did was to focus on the destruction of what it claimed was a Palestinian “landmark.” What landmark, you ask? Was it a medieval structure that in some way represents the longstanding Arab presence in the city or its culture? No. The building that was toppled to make way for some new apartment houses was just a large home that was built in the 1930s as a villa for one of the most notorious figures in 20th-century history: Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem. Husseini may never have spent much time in what eventually was renamed the Shepherd Hotel, but he did make his mark on the region by inspiring bloody pogroms against the Jews then living in the country. After the outbreak of World War II, he joined forces with the Nazis, meeting with Hitler and then spending the war making Arabic propaganda broadcasts for the Axis and successfully recruiting Muslims (mostly Bosnians) to serve in a special SS brigade. He was promised that, in the event of a German victory, he would be made the puppet ruler of what is now Israel, where he would assist the Nazis in the massacre of the several hundred thousand Jews who lived there.

That a home that was in any way connected to Husseini or any other Nazi would be considered a landmark whose demolition inspired statements of sadness from contemporary Palestinian leaders like Saeb Erekat speaks volumes about the nature of Palestinian politics. That the intended home of the man who dreamed of wiping out every last Jew in Jerusalem is coming down to make room for Jewish homes is certainly ironic. One needn’t necessarily agree with the politics of Daniel Luria, a representative of Ateret Cohanim, the group that promotes Jewish building throughout Jerusalem, to appreciate what he termed the “beautiful poetic justice” of this event.

It says something about the way much of the world views the rights of Jews to live in Jerusalem that the erection of new homes in parts of that city is considered such a terrible provocation. Thus, the new housing project in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of the city is generally reported as an outrageous provocation, even though the only reason this area is usually described as “predominantly Arab” or, more outrageously, “traditionally Arab” is because from 1949 to 1967, when this location was illegally occupied by Jordan, Jews were prohibited from living there.

As to whether it is wise for Israel to allow Jews to live in all parts of their capital, that is something that Israelis can debate, though redividing Jerusalem and returning those parts handed over to the Palestinian Arabs to a Jew-free condition seems like a curious way to advance the cause of peace and mutual coexistence. But let’s leave aside the question of Jewish rights or even the strategic wisdom of putting more Jews in these neighborhoods. Let us instead examine the Palestinian claim and what it represents.

When the New York Times reported the fact that ground was being broken for the new housing in Sheikh Jarrah in a story published on Sunday, what it did was to focus on the destruction of what it claimed was a Palestinian “landmark.” What landmark, you ask? Was it a medieval structure that in some way represents the longstanding Arab presence in the city or its culture? No. The building that was toppled to make way for some new apartment houses was just a large home that was built in the 1930s as a villa for one of the most notorious figures in 20th-century history: Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem. Husseini may never have spent much time in what eventually was renamed the Shepherd Hotel, but he did make his mark on the region by inspiring bloody pogroms against the Jews then living in the country. After the outbreak of World War II, he joined forces with the Nazis, meeting with Hitler and then spending the war making Arabic propaganda broadcasts for the Axis and successfully recruiting Muslims (mostly Bosnians) to serve in a special SS brigade. He was promised that, in the event of a German victory, he would be made the puppet ruler of what is now Israel, where he would assist the Nazis in the massacre of the several hundred thousand Jews who lived there.

That a home that was in any way connected to Husseini or any other Nazi would be considered a landmark whose demolition inspired statements of sadness from contemporary Palestinian leaders like Saeb Erekat speaks volumes about the nature of Palestinian politics. That the intended home of the man who dreamed of wiping out every last Jew in Jerusalem is coming down to make room for Jewish homes is certainly ironic. One needn’t necessarily agree with the politics of Daniel Luria, a representative of Ateret Cohanim, the group that promotes Jewish building throughout Jerusalem, to appreciate what he termed the “beautiful poetic justice” of this event.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Obama’s Moment of Truth at the UN

President Obama has affirmed repeatedly that, under his leadership, America’s bond with Israel is absolute, unshakeable, and rock solid. But the Israeli public is not convinced. A Jerusalem Post poll in March 2010 found that just 9 percent of Jewish Israelis think his administration is pro-Israel, against 48 percent who think it is pro-Palestinian. J Street’s pollster, Jim Gerstein, looked for a different result, but even his survey found that 55 percent of Israelis do not believe that Obama supports Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also is not convinced that Obama is necessarily in Israel’s camp. Abbas sees rich opportunities to drive a wedge between Israel and its “most reliable” partner, particularly on what the Arabs consider settlements in Jerusalem. Abbas witnessed, from Obama’s first day, this administration’s fixation on the most divisive and vexatious issue in the U.S.-Israel relationship. He sees that Obama does not regard the Jewish presence in the parts of Jerusalem that Jordan held before 1967 to be legitimate. (One wonders: Is Obama aware that more than half the Jews in Jerusalem live in this forbidden eastern half of the capital?)

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President Obama has affirmed repeatedly that, under his leadership, America’s bond with Israel is absolute, unshakeable, and rock solid. But the Israeli public is not convinced. A Jerusalem Post poll in March 2010 found that just 9 percent of Jewish Israelis think his administration is pro-Israel, against 48 percent who think it is pro-Palestinian. J Street’s pollster, Jim Gerstein, looked for a different result, but even his survey found that 55 percent of Israelis do not believe that Obama supports Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also is not convinced that Obama is necessarily in Israel’s camp. Abbas sees rich opportunities to drive a wedge between Israel and its “most reliable” partner, particularly on what the Arabs consider settlements in Jerusalem. Abbas witnessed, from Obama’s first day, this administration’s fixation on the most divisive and vexatious issue in the U.S.-Israel relationship. He sees that Obama does not regard the Jewish presence in the parts of Jerusalem that Jordan held before 1967 to be legitimate. (One wonders: Is Obama aware that more than half the Jews in Jerusalem live in this forbidden eastern half of the capital?)

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

To make sure you never miss an issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

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