Monthly Archives: March 2014

‘Tough love’ can help keep Israel and the Palestinians honest

Israel is used to indulgence from the West, but it’s beginning to experience unexpected and uncomfortable forms of pressure. The Palestinians are used to being pressured by the West regarding Israel, but not on internal governance. It’s high time for a period of “tough love” for both, and this seems to have begun. It’s in everyone’s interests.

Israel has been trying to get into the US visa waiver programme, meaning that citizens of Israel wouldn’t need a visa to enter the United States. But US law requires that American citizens must receive the same treatment. And it’s been clear for decades that Israel discriminates against Palestinian and other Arab Americans.

This was acknowledged by the state department last week when spokeswoman Jen Psaki noted: “The department of homeland security and state remain concerned with the unequal treatment that Palestinian Americans and other Americans of Middle Eastern origin experience at Israel’s border and checkpoints, and reciprocity is the most basic condition of the visa waiver programme.”

In other words, the Obama administration is not going to make Israel an exception in allowing it to discriminate against American citizens on the basis of their ethnicity, religion or national origin.

There has been a recent spike in the number of rejections of Israeli visa applications. In the House of Representatives, a bill that effectively exempted Israel from the reciprocity clause languished. Instead, in January, the committee on foreign affairs adopted the “US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013”, which requires Israel to “satisfy” and “continue to satisfy” section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act for inclusion in the visa waiver programme. This requires “reciprocal privileges” for Americans.

The position of the state department and department of homeland security on Israel’s well-documented discrimination against Palestinians and other Arab Americans means it clearly wouldn’t qualify under the House bill.

Legislation pending in the Senate incoherently contains language that would both require Israel to comply with Section 217 and simultaneously be allotted a special dispensation to discriminate against Americans. Given the position of the House and the administration, it now seems almost certain that Israel’s efforts to get the United States to wink at its undeniable record and practice of discriminating against Palestinian and Arab Americans just isn’t going to happen.

The apparent collapse of efforts to include Israel in the US visa waiver programme is only the latest instance of what might be termed “tough love” coming from its western allies. This particular instance is pursuant to American anti-discrimination legislation and the rights of all Americans.

But many recent comments from both Barack Obama and John Kerry, the US secretary of state, have been much more blunt about the dangers facing Israel in the event of a collapse of peace talks with the Palestinians, and the limitations of what the US might be able, or implicitly interested, in doing to prevent the “international fallout.”

Among the key examples of this is an even “tougher” form of “love” coming from the European Union and individual European states, who are beginning to put substance into their long-standing policies objecting to Israel’s illegal settlement project.

They have already insisted that multilateral and public sector projects don’t include funding or support for any settlements. And Germany, Israel’s closest friend in Europe, is pushing to extend those restrictions to bilateral and private sector projects in any territories “not under Israel’s jurisdiction before June 1967”. If that happens, most other European countries will quickly follow suit.

For their own purposes, both the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) that seeks to target Israel as a whole rather than the occupation and settlements, and the Israeli government are trying to conflate the emerging European policy with BDS.

Benjamin Netanyahu spent a good deal of his recent speech at the American pro-Israel organisation AIPAC doing just that, with the overt purpose of making Europe’s actions seem anti-Israel, if not anti-Semitic. But in truth, the two are totally unconnected and pursuant to different goals.

Whatever BDS activists may imagine, European statesmen don’t read their blogs or Twitter feeds, and are not inspired by their rhetoric. The Europeans are pursuing the logic of their own policies and – since the United States does not appear to object to any of this – also potentially giving the Americans at least additional rhetorical leverage with Israel.

Europe’s policies aren’t anti- Israel. They are pro-peace and pursuant to international law. This is friends doing what friends should do: helping each other see what’s in their best interests and refusing to cooperate with self-destructive behaviour.

The Palestinians, too, require some “tough love.” The “love” they need is much greater aid and technical support from the West and the Arab world.

The “tough” part would be for the donor community to demand, as they can and should, that Palestinian advancements in recent years in good governance, transparency and security professionalism – many of which have frayed over the past 12 months – be at least restored to their former standards. The Palestinian people clearly want effective and accountable governance, and the donor community has unique leverage to help them ensure they get it.

The Palestinians and Israelis need their friends to help them achieve peace. But, like everyone, they also need their friends to help keep them honest. That’s what real friends do.

Dramatizing the negotiations

The new play Camp David illustrates the necessity and difficulty of peace, and how little has changed in 35 years

Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat (L), Israeli Premier Menachem Begin (R) and US President Jimmy Carter (C) shake hands after a press conference in the East Room of the White House, on September 18, 1978


Fictionalizing or dramatizing history is a dangerous business. It usually comes off badly. Indeed, the pitfalls of historical drama and fiction are the primary subject of one of the most underrated plays of all time, John Ford’s 1634 masterpiece Perkin Warbeck (appropriately subtitled, A Strange Truth). There are obvious exceptions, beginning with Shakespeare and Marlowe, and leading all the way up to the series of 20th century novels by Gore Vidal that constructed a brilliantly contrarian revision of received American history. So, sometimes, it can be done right.

On Sunday night, I had the pleasure of seeing a preview performance of an important new play from one of the best living American journalists and writers, Camp David by Lawrence Wright. The ingeniously-staged production tells the story of the 13-day-long negotiations between Jimmy Carter, Anwar Sadat, and Menachem Begin that resulted in the basis for the enduring Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Rosalynn Carter is added as a fourth, crucially leavening character who intervenes with gentleness and encouragement at key moments.

But within minutes it’s clear that Wright isn’t merely harkening back to those historic days 35 years ago: he’s unmistakably talking about present concerns, and anyone in the audience who reads the newspaper will see echoes of the disputes between President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

These issues are front-loaded for two reasons. First, the Egyptians really did arrive at Camp David with a proposal that focused heavily on the Palestinian issue, particularly the question of settlements and Jerusalem. The Israelis wouldn’t hear of it, and bridging this divide and getting Sadat to sign what amounted to a “separate peace” was Carter’s essential challenge. So dramatizing the negotiations – with a good deal of artistic license but also a laudable fidelity to the historical record within the context of a 90-minute play – puts these still-burning issues front and center.

Wright plainly has his eye on today’s headlines as much as the historical events depicted. Sadat’s protestations that Middle East peace is meaningless without Israel conforming to UN Security Council Resolution 242 and withdrawing from territories occupied in the 1967 war, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem, remains not only a relevant but the relevant question mark over whether there is to be an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Early on the Sadat character, in many ways echoing Abbas, insists he is “flexible on everything… except land and sovereignty.” Big exceptions, and naturally the line draws an appropriate laugh from the audience. In the end, of course, the Egyptians put their own interests first, and, since they had no other Arab support, they weren’t actually beholden to represent other parties that strenuously objected to their negotiations in the first place. But they tried and got nowhere, except in vague annexes that are not actually part of the Egyptian-Israeli treaty itself.

Those annexes, while of historical significance, proved irrelevant, and the only thing that mattered was that Egypt and Israel did go on to sign a full-fledged treaty which survived despite the tumultuous changes of the past several years. It’s a testament to the lasting power of Arab-Israeli agreements – especially when compared to the disastrous consequences of unilateral Israeli actions such as those in Gaza and Lebanon, which left no one on the other side with any incentive to make the agreements work.

Netanyahu is the ideological heir to Begin much more than Abbas is to Sadat. And in Wright’s play, Begin’s profound skepticism about Arab intentions and indeed the very possibility of a peace agreement – even with Egypt alone – conjure unmistakable echoes of Netanyahu and other leading Israelis’ circumspection about an agreement with the Palestinians.

In Wright’s play as in life, Begin was categorically opposed to the concept of a Palestinian state or the idea of a compromise on Jerusalem. Netanyahu, at least rhetorically, ultimately came to endorse the notion of a two-state agreement, but he continues to rule out compromise on Jerusalem. And in Camp David, Carter and Begin have numerous arguments about the need for a settlement freeze during negotiations – dismissed by Begin – that strongly recall at least the thrust of the confrontation between Obama and Netanyahu over the same issue. “That man’s a psycho,” Wright’s Carter says of the intransigent Begin. One can easily imagine Obama having said the same thing about Netanyahu during his first term.

Begin is also single-mindedly obsessed with Israeli security and the Jewish people’s experiences with the threat of extermination, most notably the Holocaust. Like Begin, Netanyahu’s father, Benzion, was a follower of the extremist “revisionist” Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and the present Israeli Prime Minister follows in that tradition. In the play, Begin cites security for virtually every objection he makes to compromise. No one can miss the allusion.

Begin, as Camp David reflects, was among the most prominent early champions of the idea that history, religion, and other grounds justify Israeli irredentism in the occupied Palestinian territories. In the play, he repeatedly denies that there is any occupation and finds the idea of territorial compromise in “Judea and Samaria” unthinkable. Israeli thinking, at least among political elites, appears to have come full circle on this issue. Having become amenable to the idea, to some extent, there is presently a great retrenchment, and the emergence of a strong annexationist trend in Israeli politics reflects Begin’s attitudes if not his actual policies. “We speak in terms of autonomy, but not statehood,” the Begin character says in Camp David. Indeed, that is how many right-wing Israelis are once again starting to think about the Palestinian future. Moreover, and more to the point, the distinction between autonomy and independence precisely defines the Palestinian reality that has been operational since the 1993 Oslo Accords, with no end in sight.

Camp David is a significant dramatic achievement, and unlike several other recent failed productions about contemporary politics (Frost/Nixon being among the more notable a rare exceptions), this engaging and adroitly revealing play is likely to prove theatrically successful. This is only the first production of it, and there are bound to be more. The performances of all four major actors, including Egyptian film star Khaled Nabawy as Sadat, were, even in this preview, almost flawless. And while the play is still being revised and enriched before it officially opens on April 2, what has already been accomplished should be sufficient to achieve a lasting impact, at least on the stage.

One of the more subtle, but unmistakable, subtexts in Camp David is not simply that Sadat knows that he is gambling with his life. Of course he knew. What is more intriguing is the small passage in which he explains to Rosalynn Carter the meaning, and perhaps purpose, of the 1973 war. Sadat speaks in terms of a recuperation in 1973 of Arab “dignity” following the debacle of 1967 that made peace possible for Egyptians. But there is a clear insinuation that Sadat went into the war knowing he could make a point but could not win, because, as the character explains in the play, “I cannot fight the United States.” Many of us suspect that he entered that war hoping for victory, but strongly anticipating that a clear Arab victory would ultimately prove unattainable, and that he was already looking beyond the conflict toward negotiation.

The Sadat character explains the relatively strong performance by the Egyptian military as essential to the negotiations because it helped the nation recover emotionally from the humiliation and shock of 1967. But it also crucially sent a clear warning to the Israelis, while, even more importantly perhaps, proved to the Arabs that a military reversal of 1967 was not possible. It would either stand or have to be negotiated.

Camp David is very frank that the negotiations almost fell apart and were largely saved by Carter’s emotional last-minute appeal to Begin regarding the future of his grandchildren. Knowing that the agreement cost Sadat his life, and that all the issues regarding the central question of Palestine remain unresolved, the play’s “happy ending” is, like the reality of the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement at best bittersweet. They are only pleasing in stark contrast to the only real alternative.

In Wright’s words, “The message of Camp David – both the play and the real event – is that peace is possible. It’s just very hard, and it requires making bitter compromises and acknowledging the justice of your enemy’s narrative.” Wisdom, good theater, and the benefit of hindsight aren’t going to move any of the principals in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. But anyone who attends Camp David will leave with a much stronger sense of what is at stake, how long these arguments have been going on more or less unchanged, and how difficult it really will be to resolve them. And yet, that is not just possible: it is necessary.

GCC impasse is about the role Egypt plays in region

The unprecedented withdrawal of their ambassadors to Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – as well as Egypt – probably constitutes the most serious rift in the Gulf Cooperation Council since its foundation. But its deepest causes and implications reach far beyond the immediate Gulf region.

There is a complex regional and international context at work, and a wide range of grievances, mainly about Doha’s regional sponsorship of Muslim Brotherhood parties. But if there is a paramount cause for both the timing and scale of this rebuke, its epicentre almost certainly lies in Cairo.

Ever since the downfall of former president Hosni Mubarak, Riyadh and Doha have been at odds over Egypt’s political future. But the stakes are now much higher, particularly given the thaw between Washington and Tehran, and the concomitant anxieties about Gulf security this has provoked.

Much of the Arab world welcomed the military intervention in Egypt last year in response to overwhelming popular pressure to remove the out-of-control Muslim Brotherhood Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi.

Few were more enthusiastic than Saudi Arabia and its allies.

But this dispute is no longer just a matter of competing ideologies or rivalries between monarchies – let alone the foolish narratives about “counter-revolution” that have tended to dominate the conversation in Washington among credulous academics. Instead, it is about Egypt’s role in the unfolding new Middle Eastern strategic landscape.

With US president Barack Obama making suggestive comments about Iran being “strategic”, “not impulsive” and responsive to “incentives” – and continued American talk about a “pivot to Asia” and, implicitly, away from the Middle East – alarm about where US policy may be headed and what to do about it has been growing. Riyadh has not been shy about both bluntly expressing its concerns in public and, at the same time, making calculated overtures aimed at communicating to the United States that it remains an indispensable partner.

As the Gulf states look across the waters at a looming, powerful and would-be hegemonic Iran – and the prospect, whether remote or imminent, of a fundamentally different American approach – this has prompted an urgent drive to shore up their strategic position. It’s not just the possibility of a new, or simply reduced, American role in the region. Both Iraq and Syria are in chaos, and their central governments are aligned with Tehran. Added up, all this explains the almost unprecedented feeling of vulnerability in some key Gulf states.

This is precisely where the new Egypt becomes a crucial player in the Arab world, and even for Gulf security. Egypt is by far the largest Arab state, with a probable population of more than 90 million people. It has considerable military resources, although its present ability to project armed force may be limited. But its potential hard-power might – and its existing cultural and political influence in much of the Arab world – cannot be underestimated.

Simply put, the GCC states that withdrew their ambassadors from Doha have every reason to believe they need a strong, stable and committed Egypt in order to acquire new strategic depth that is otherwise unavailable.

This probably best explains the timing and seriousness of the message of unmistakable anger over Qatar’s ongoing support for what is perceived by those GCC states, and Cairo, as support for subversion in Egypt and beyond. Such subversion threatens to sabotage the creation of a Gulf-Egypt axis that could provide the Arab world with the beginnings of a substantial new strategic posture vis-à-vis Iran and, potentially, a changed American role in the region.

Yet all these sources of anxiety should be tempered with some sobering perspective.

First, the GCC states will probably again patch up their differences, as they always have in the past. Qatar will, over time, undoubtedly have to significantly amend its policies. But that’s probably a matter for the future, the point having now been unmistakably made. In all likelihood, they will eventually do so voluntarily.

Second, the Gulf-Egypt axis is likely to develop apace and, unless circumstances change fairly radically, it will provide the fundamental basis for a regional Arab coalition that possesses much greater strategic heft and depth.

Third, hand-wringing over any radically altered American role is premature. The “pivot to Asia” remains theoretical. In reality, the US strategic presence in the Gulf region is not drawing down. If anything, it is building up, including $72 billion (Dh265bn) in arms sales to, and the maintenance of major military bases in, Arab Gulf states. Fiscal-year plans for 2015 and the latest US quarterly defence reviews do not downgrade the American presence in the Gulf region at all, making it at least as significant a priority as Asia.

None of that guarantees there won’t be some version of a feared historic change in American calculations. But Iran is still treated in every US strategic guidance document and review as the primary threat to American interests in the area, and changing that will require a dramatic reconceptualisation at every level.

Nonetheless, it’s understandable that, under present circumstances, Gulf states would look for greater strategic depth. Egypt may be their only real option, and Cairo seems equally enthusiastic about the partnership. Therefore, Doha has been duly put on notice that it’s not going to be allowed to get in the way of achieving such a new Arab axis.

كم مرة على الفلسطينيين أن يعترفوا بإسرائيل؟

  هناك إشكالات عديدة تتعلق بطلب إسرائيل الجديد الذي يلح على الفلسطينيين أن يعترفوا بها رسميا ك”دولة يهودية”، ومع أن جل الكتاب و المحللين السياسيين _ بما فيهم كاتب هذه السطور_ قد تمكنوا من دراسة هذه المشاكل بدقة ودحضها، إلا أن أهم هذه الإشكالات لم ينل حتى الآن ما يكفي من البحث والاهتمام؛ نعني بذلك أن الهدف من هذا المطلب الجديد والتأثير المرجو من ورائه هو إلغاء وتجاهل أكبر تنازل قدمه الفلسطينيون؛ ألا وهو اعترافهم بدولة إسرائيل عام 1993.

يوجد إجماع دولي على مبدأ “حل الدولتين” لا يكاد يشذ عنه أحد؛ بما في ذلك رئيس الوزراء الإسرائيلي بنيامين نتنياهو ووزير خارجيته أفيكدور ليبرمان اللذان يصرحان الآن بتأييد هذا الطرح، بعد ما عارضاه لفترة طويلة.

غير أن هناك خللا خطيرا ما يزال يصاحب جهود السلام التي تم بذلها على مدى ربع قرن من الزمن من أجل إنهاء الصراع والتوصل إلى حل الدولتين. فأحد الأطراف، وهو الجانب الفلسطيني ممثلا في منظمة التحرير الفلسطينية، اعترف بإسرائيل بشكل واضح وصريح؛ وبغض النظر عن باقي التفاصيل فقد ظل الجانب الفلسطيني ملتزما بالشرط الضروري لمبدأ حل الدولتين، أي الاعتراف بإسرائيل.

من جانبه، لم يعترف الطرف الإسرائيلي أبدا بالدولة الفلسطينية، أو حتى _ بشكل رسمي أو مكتوب أو قانوني_ بحق الفلسطينيين في دولة مستقلة.

ينطوي طلب “يهودية الدولة” على عدد كبير من الإشكالات، وخصوصا الصيغة التي قدمها نتنياهو على شكل “الدولة القومية للشعب اليهودي”.

هذه الصيغة بالذات مليئة بالإشكالات وتوحي بأن هناك إثنية دينية غير محددة موجودة في أنحاء العالم، تمتلك بأكملها دعوى عابرة للتاريخ بامتلاك هذه الأرض، وليس فقط الأغلبية اليهودية الموجودة حاليا في إسرائيل.

هذه الصيغة أيضا تستدعي إلى الذهن صهيونية ما قبل الدولة، حيث يتم تعريف إسرائيل وكأن الدولة لم تنشأ بعد، وكأن أجيالا من اليهود و العرب الإسرائيليين لم يولدوا على هذه الأرض.

وتدفع هذه الصياغة كذلك للتساؤل عن وضعية المواطنين الإسرائيليين من أصل فلسطيني الذين يعانون مسبقا من تمييز واضح يطال مختلف القطاعات، لمجرد أنهم ليسوا يهودا، وهذا أحد الأسباب التي جعلت منظمة التحرير الفلسطينية تعتبر هذا المطلب مشْكِلا، ذلك أنهم لا يريدون أن يوافقوا ضمنيا على تأييد القيود التي يعاني منها الفلسطينيون الموجودون في إسرائيل، سواء في الوقت الراهن أو في المستقبل.

من ناحية أخرى، لا يبدو أن إسرائيل نفسها قادرة على تحديد معنى “الدولة اليهودية”، وقد باءت بالفشل كل محاولات الكنيست الأخير لتمرير قانون يزيل الغموض عن هذا المصطلح.

صحيح أنه يوجد إجماع من طرف اليهود الإسرائيليين على أن إسرائيل هي بمعني ما دولة “يهودية”، لكن لا يوجد بينهم أي إجماع مهما كانت درجته حول ما يترتب على ذلك، والواقع أن إسرائيل تطالب الفلسطينيين بالموافقة على شيء لا تستطيع هي نفسها تحديد ماهيته بشكل دقيق.

لقد تم تقديم طلب “يهودية الدولة” أول مرة عام 2007 في مؤتمر أنابوليس، ولم يرد أي ذكر لهذا المصطلح خلال المفاوضات الإسرائيلية السابقة مع الفلسطينيين، ناهيك عن مفاوضاتهم مع المصريين أو الأردنيين. وقوبل هذا الطلب بالرفض من  قبل الوفدين الفلسطيني والأمريكي، باعتباره محاولة للالتفات على الوضع النهائي لقضية اللاجئين الفلسطينيين.

وبالرغم من أن هذا الطلب تم رفضه حينها، إلا أنه سرعان ما برز مجددا مع إعادة انتخاب نتنياهو عام 2009، حيث جعل هذا الأخير عبارة “يهودية الدولة” المحور الأساسي في علاقاته مع الفلسطينيين.

والآن لم تعد هذه القضية بالنسبة لنتنياهو أمرا مهما فحسب، بل إنه أحيانا يعتبرها هي القضية الأساسية الوحيدة (مع أنه يصعب شرح كيف ظلت هذه “القضية الأساسية الوحيدة” غائبة عن الإسرائيليين في علاقاتهم مع الفلسطينيين حتى عام 2007″.)

ويميل عدد كبير من الكتاب والمحللين السياسيين إلى أن هناك سببين رئيسين وراء تركيز نتنياهو على هذه القضية: أولهما، أنه يريد أن يترك بصمته الخاصة على عملية تم تحديدها قبل مجيئه إلى السلطة، وثانيهما هو الاستمرار في محاولة نزع فتيل ملف اللاجئين الفلسطينيين، خصوصا كبديل للتنازلات الإسرائيلية حول القدس.

هناك تفسير ثالث، وهو الأكثر تداولا، فحواه أن الهدف من هذا الإلحاح العنيد على هذا الطلب يعكس محاولة لتقويض محادثات السلام، حيث يسعى الجانب الإسرائيلي إلى إيجاد مطلب لا يمكن للفلسطينيين تلبيته في نفس الوقت الذي يتفق معظم الإسرائيليين على أهميته.

وهنا يبدو مطلب “يهودية الدولة” فرصة لا تقدر بثمن. ومن الوارد جدا أن هذا الأمر جزء _أو كان على الأقل في مرحلة ما جزءا_ من حسابات المفاوضين الإسرائيليين.

لقد انتصر نتنياهو على السواد الأعظم من الإسرائيليين وأصدقائهم حول هذه القضية الجديدة من قضايا الوضع النهائي، من خلال اللعب على مخاوف الإسرائيليين الذين يخشون من أن أي اتفاق قد لا ينهي الصراع بشكل فعلي، على الرغم من أن الجميع متفقون على أن معاهدة السلام سوف تنهي الصراع وتضح حدا لكل المطالبات.

على أن ما لا يدركه الكثيرون هو أن أخطر ما يترتب على مطلب “يهودية الدولة” هو تجاهله  للاعتراف الفلسطيني بإسرائيل عام 1993 وعكسه للقضية؛ فلم يدع ذلك الاتفاق مجالا للحديث عن رفض الفلسطينيين الاعتراف بإسرائيل وكأنه هو أصل المشكلة، بل أصبح كل من يتبنى هذا الرأي محل تندر.

أما اليوم، وبقدرة قادر، تغير الوضع، وأصبح بالإمكان الحديث مرة أخرى عن الاعتراف الفلسطيني بإسرائيل باعتباره هو لب المشكلة، لأن ما حدث عام 1993 لم يكن اعترافا بإسرائيل كـ”دولة يهودية”.

والغريب أن الجانب الإسرائيلي  لم يطلب من الفلسطينيين أن يعترفوا بإسرائيل كدولة يهودية إلا مع حلول العام 2007، لا أحد يهتم بذلك الآن.

كما لا يهتم أحد بعديد العقبات والمشاكل الجمة التي تصاحب هذا المطلب، فضلا عن الغموض الذي يحيط بالمصطلح نفسه.

بل إن هناك لازمة على شكل تعويذة أصبحت تتكرر في خطابات معظم الدوائر المناصرة لإسرائيل حول العالم وهي أن اعتراف منظمة التحرير الفلسطينية بإسرائيل عام 1993 لم يعد مهما في الوقت الراهن، وأن الشكوك ستظل تحيط بنوايا الفلسطينيين تجاه إنهاء الصراع و تحقيق السلام ما لم يعترفوا بإسرائيل كـ”دولة يهودية.”

وبالتالي فإن المطلب الجديد سيحل هذه المعادلة المعقدة: هناك طرف حافظ على تعهداته الجوهرية في إطار حل الدولتين واعترف بدولة مستقلة للطرف الآخر، بينما لم يحافظ هذا الطرف الآخر على تعهداته.

فالزج بهذا المطلب إذن من شأنه أن يعيد عقارب الساعة السياسية والنفسية والدبلوماسية إلى ما قبل 1993، حيث يُطب من الفلسطينيين مجددا أن يثبتوا استعدادهم للعيش بسلام مع إسرائيل، من خلال ترديد هذه التعويذة السحرية (مطلب الدولة اليهودية)

كما أنه يتجاهل أن اعتراف الفلسطينيين بإسرائيل عام 1993 يعتبر، من وجهة نظر فلسطينية وعربية، أعظم تنازل يمكن أن يقدم؛ إذ تخلى الفلسطينيون بموجب ذلك الاتفاق عن مطالبتهم  بما يزيد على ثلثي ما كان  لعهد قريب يعتبر وطنا للفلسطينيين (بمعنى أنهم كانوا يشكلون أغلبية عريضة هناك حتى 1948) وسيتحول مسار المفاوضات بعد اتفاق 1993 إلى التباحث حول الأراضي المحتلة بعد 1967 فقط ويغيب عن طاولة التفاوض أي حديث عن الأراضي التي أصبحت تعرف بإسرائيل بعد 1948.

ومع ضخامة هذا التنازل وخطورته، فإن هذه الاتفاقية شبه المستحيلة لم تعترف بها إسرائيل بشكل كامل، ولا حتى المجتمع الدولي . ثم جاء طلب “يهودية الدولة” ليزيد الطين بلة و يتم تجاهل هذا الاعتراف و اعتباره لم يعد مهما.

وللإنصاف، لو كان عامة الإسرائيليين ومن يناصرونهم أكثر اقتناعا بتصريحات الفلسطينيين وسلوكهم بأن هذا هو الواقع لما تأثروا كثيرا بتركيز نتنياهو بشكل هوسي على هذا الطلب الجديد الذي يخاطب بدهاء حساسيات متجذرة في وجدان الإسرائيليين.

ولكن يبدو أن هذا المطلب يعادل الموازين بشكل سحري، من خلال إنكار _ وإن على المستويين النفسي والثقافي_ الاعتراف الفلسطيني بإسرائيل.

والحق أن أحد الأطراف، فلسطين، قد اعترف بدولة مستقلة للطرف الآخر، إسرائيل، في الوقت الذي لم تعترف فيه إسرائيل بفلسطين ولا حتى بحق الفلسطينيين في دولة مستقلة.

ويبدو أنه ما زال على الفلسطينيين القيام بجملة من الأمور حتى “يكسبوا” هذا الحق، إن كان في نية إسرائيل أصلا الاعتراف بهذا الحق. ومن ضمن هذه الأمور الاعتراف نوعا ما بإسرائيل كـ”دولة يهودية”.

وفي انتظار أن يمتثل الفلسطينيون لذلك ويعترفوا بـ”يهودية الدولة”، ستظل إسرائيل ومؤيدوها المتشددون يتغاضون عن حقيقة أن الفلسطينيين يعترفون بالفعل بإسرائيل _اعترافا غير متبادل_  منذ عام 1993.

وسيظل هؤلاء بتصرفاتهم وتصريحاتهم يتعاملون مع القضية وكأن ذلك الاعتراف لم يعد وثيق الصلة بالوضع الحالي، وأن الفلسطينيين لم يعترفوا بإسرائيل إطلاقا، ما لم ينصاعوا لهذا المطلب الجديد.

هي إذن حيلة، دبلوماسية ونفسية وسياسية، بارعة وفعالة، يتمثل تأثيرها في تعقيد الجهود الدبلوماسية بشأن حل الدولتين، وجعل التوصل إلى اتفاق سلام هدفا صعب المنال، هذا بالإضافة إلى الحجب والتعتيم على حقيقة أن الفلسطينيين قد اعترفوا بإسرائيل في الوقت الذي لم تعترف إسرائيل إطلاقا بدولة فلسطين.

הפלסטינים הכירו בכם. עכשיו תורכם

פרשנים רבים, בהם גם כותב שורות אלה, מתחו ביקורת קשה על הדרישה החדשה של ישראל, שהפלסטינים יכירו בהרשמית כב”מדינה יהודית”. הדרישה הזאת מעוררת שלל בעיות. אחת הקשות שבהן עדיין לא נבחנה כראוי: תביעתה החדשה של ישראל מבטלת – הן מבחינת התוצאה בפועל והן מבחינת הכוונה שמאחוריה – את הוויתור הגדול ביותר שעשו הפלסטינים: הכרתם במדינת ישראל ב–1993.

קיים קונסנזוס בינלאומי כי פתרון שתי המדינות הוא הפתרון הראוי. אפילו ראש ממשלת ישראל, בנימין נתניהו, ושר החוץ אביגדור ליברמן, שבמשך שנים רבות התנגדו לו, אומרים כעת שהם תומכים בו. אבל גם אחרי רבע מאה של משא ומתן בניסיון להגיע להסכם שיביא לקץ הסכסוך באמצעות שיחות ישירות, עדיין נותרה אנומליה מסוכנת. צד אחד, הארגון לשחרור פלסטין (אש”ף), הכיר בישראל בפומבי; ואם נניח לרגע בצד את כל שאר הפרטים, עם הכרתם בישראל הפלסטינים מילאו אחר מה שהוגדר כתנאי בל יעבור למימוש פתרון שתי המדינות. הצד האחר, ישראל, מעולם לא הכיר בשום צורה במדינה פלסטינית, ואפילו לא הכיר רשמית – הכרה בכתב שיש לה משמעות משפטית – בזכותם של הפלסטינים למדינה.

הדרישה להכרה בישראל כ”במדינה יהודית” יוצרת קשיים רבים, ובמיוחד ניסוחו של נתניהו, הדורש מהפלסטינים להכיר בישראל כ”במדינת הלאום של העם היהודי”. השימוש בה”א הידיעה בנוסח זה הוא בעייתי ביותר, משום שמשמעו תביעה על־זמנית על הארץ בשם קבוצה אתנית־דתית בלתי מוגדרת מרחבי העולם – ולא רק בשם הרוב היהודי הנוכחי בישראל. דרישה זו מבטאת חזרה לציונות של טרום הקמת ישראל, ומגדירה את ישראל כאילו המדינה טרם קמה וכאילו לא נולדו בה כבר כמה דורות של ישראלים, יהודים וערבים.

הניסוח הזה של הדרישה מעורר סימני שאלה בדבר מעמדם של האזרחים הפלסטינים בישראל, שכבר עכשיו סובלים מאפליה בתחומים רבים מפני שאינם יהודים. זו אחת הסיבות שבגללן אש”ף סבור שהדרישה בעייתית כל כך: אנשיו לא יסכימו לקבל במשתמע את האפליה וההגבלות שהפלסטינים אזרחי ישראל נתקלים בהן כיום, או עלולים להיתקל בהן בעתיד.

יתרה מכך, ישראל עצמה אינה מסוגלת להגדיר בדיוק מהי משמעות המונח “מדינה יהודית”. בכנסת הקודמת נעשו כמה ניסיונות לקדם חקיקה שתבהיר את המונח, וכולם כשלו כישלון חרוץ, מפני שאף שקיימת הסכמה רחבה בקרב הישראלים היהודים שמדינתם היא במובנים מסוימים “יהודית”, אין ביניהם כל הסכמה בנוגע למשמעות המונח בפועל. אם כן, הפלסטינים נדרשים להסכים למשהו שאפילו הישראלים אינם מסוגלים להגדירו במדויק.

דרישת “המדינה היהודית” הוצגה לראשונה ב–2007 בוועידת אנאפוליס. היא לא הועלתה מעולם קודם לכן בשיחות בין הישראלים לפלסטינים, לא כל שכן בשיחות עם מצרים וירדן. הדרישה נדחתה על הסף הן על ידי המשלחת הפלסטינית והן על ידי המשלחת האמריקאית – שתיהן ראו בה ניסיון לנטרל את סוגיית מעמדם הסופי של הפליטים הפלסטינים. לפיכך ירד הנושא מסדר היום.

ואולם, כאשר נבחר נתניהו מחדש, ב–2009, הוא הפך את סוגיית ההכרה ב”מדינה יהודית” ללבהעניין בכל משא ומתן בעניין הסדר עם הפלסטינים. היום הוא לא רק מתעקש שזוהי סוגיה חשובה – אלא לעתים אף אומר שזו הסוגיה האמיתית היחידה (אם כי לא ברור כיצד זה החמיצו הישראלים את “הסוגיה האמיתית היחידה” בשיחותיהם עם הפלסטינים עד 2007).

פרשנים רבים סבורים זה זמן רב שנתניהו הפך דרישה זו לדרישה כה מרכזית משתי סיבות. הראשונה היא רצונו להטביע את חותמו על תהליך שהוגדר לפני עלייתו לשלטון. השנייה – רצונו להמשיך בניסיון לנטרל את סוגיית הפליטים, בעיקר בתמורה לפשרות ישראליות בירושלים.

יש גם סיבה שלישית אפשרית: ההתעקשות הנחרצת על הדרישה משקפת מאמץ ציני למצוא דבר מה שרוב הישראלים רואים בו דבר חשוב, אך הפלסטינים אינם יכולים להסכים לו. אם המטרה היא לחבל בשיחות השלום, הרי שהעלאת דרישה כזאת היא צעד יעיל ביותר. ייתכן שזה היה ועודנו חלק מהשיקול העומד מאחורי העלאת התביעה הזאת.

נתניהו שיכנע ישראלים רבים, וגם רבים מידידי ישראל, בנחיצות הדרישה החדשה, תוך שהוא מתבסס על פחדם העמוק של הישראלים שמא ההסכם שיושג לא יביא לקץ הסכסוך. כל זאת למרות שמאז ומתמיד היה מקובל על כל הצדדים שהסכם שלום פירושו קץ הסכסוך וקץ כל הדרישות.

חשוב להבין שהתוצאה המשמעותית ביותר של הדרישה להכיר בישראל כמדינה יהודית היא, שהיא מבטלת את ההכרה הפלסטינית בישראל מ–1993. ההכרה הזאת של הפלסטינים הביאה למצב שבו היה זה מגוחך מצד מישהו לטעון כי לב הבעיה הוא סירובם של הפלסטינים להכיר בישראל. אבל הנה עכשיו, פתאום, שוב אפשר להציג את ההכרה הפלסטינית בישראל כסוגיה מרכזית, בנימוק שהפלסטינים לא הכירו בישראל כב”מדינה יהודית”.

אין זה משנה שאיש מעולם לא ביקש מהפלסטינים לעשות זאת עד 2007, ושהכרה כזאת מעוררת בעיות סבוכות וקשיים גדולים. רבים מתומכי ישראל ברחבי העולם חוזרים שוב ושוב על הטענה, שההכרה שהכיר אש”ף בישראל ב–1993 אינה רלוונטית, ועד שהפלסטינים לא יכירו בישראל כבמדינה יהודית יש להטיל ספק בכנות כוונתם לשים קץ לסכסוך ולחיות בשלום.

הדרישה החדשה הזאת פותרת מבחינת נתניהו ותומכיו את הבעייתיות הטמונה במצב, שבו צד אחד מילא בשלמות את התחייבותו לפתרון שתי המדינות – הכרה במדינת הצד האחר – בעוד שהצד האחר לא עשה זאת. היא מחזירה את מחוגי השעון הדיפלומטי־פסיכולוגי־מדיני לאחור, לתקופה שקדמה ל–1993, כאשר הפלסטינים שוב נדרשים להוכיח את רצונם לחיות בשלום עם ישראל באמצעות חזרה על מנטרה קסומה כלשהי.

הדרישה מסתירה את העובדה שמנקודת מבט פלסטינית וערבית, ההכרה בישראל מ–1993 היתה אֵם כל הוויתורים: ויתור של הפלסטינים 78% מן השטח של מה שהיה ארצם זמן לא רב קודם לכן, ויתור על חלק גדול מהשטח שעד 1948 הם היו רוב גדול בו. כעת אנחנו מנהלים משא ומתן על השטחים שכבשה ישראל ב–1967, בלי לדבר כלל על השטחים שנהפכו לישראל ב–1948. הוויתור העצום והמדהים הזה, הכמעט בלתי אפשרי, מצד הפלסטינים, מעולם לא זכה להכרה מלאה מצד ישראל או הקהילה הבינלאומית. וכעת, לנוכח הדרישה להכרה במדינה יהודית, פוטרים אותו בביטול כאילו אין הוא רלוונטי כלל.

יש להודות, שאילו ישראלים ותומכיהם היו משתכנעים יותר מן המעשים והדיבורים של הפלסטינים בכל הנוגע לוויתור הזה, הם היו מתרגשים פחות מההתמקדות האובססיבית של נתניהו בדרישת “המדינה היהודית”, הפונה בעורמה אל החרדות העמוקות ביותר של הישראלים. עם זאת, באמצעות ביטול ההכרה הפלסטינית בישראל מ–1993 – לפחות מהבחינה הפסיכולוגית והתרבותית – דרישת נתניהו כאילו מאתחלת מחדש את המציאות.

כך או כך, האמת נותרת בעינה: צד אחד, הפלסטינים, הכיר במדינה העצמאית, בישראל. ואילו ישראל מעולם לא הכירה בפלסטין העצמאית או בזכותם של הפלסטינים למדינה עצמאית. יש כביכול עוד דברים רבים שעל הפלסטינים לעשות בטרם יהיו “זכאים” לזכות זו, והם כוללים סוג של הכרה בישראל כבמדינה יהודית. כל עוד הם לא יעשו את הדברים האלה, ישראל ותומכיה המסורים יתעלמו מהעובדה שהפלסטינים כבר מכירים בישראל מאז 1993 – בלא שקיבלו כל תמורה על כך – וימשיכו לדבר ולפעול כאילו זה לא רלוונטי וכאילו שהפלסטינים אינם מכירים בישראל כל עוד אינם נענים לדרישה החדשה.

בתור אחיזת עיניים דיפלומטית, פסיכולוגית ומדינית, הדרישה היא מהלך מבריק ויעיל ביותר. אבל היא מסבכת את המאמצים להשגת פתרון שתי המדינות, מקשה על השגת שלום, ובה בעת מערפלת את המציאות: העובדה שהפלסטינים מכירים בישראל ולעומת זאת ישראל מעולם לא הכירה בפלסטין.

הכותב הוא עמית בכיר בכוח המשימה האמריקאי לפלסטין

What’s the story with Morning Glory?

The seizure of a rogue oil tanker by American forces is only the latest indication of Libyan state fragmentation

A Libyan oil tanker was seized in the Mediterranean.


Over the weekend, Libyans awoke to discover that American Navy SEAL special forces had seized control of a ship in the Mediterranean, the Morning Glory, which was laden with contraband Libyan oil and sailing under no flag whatsoever. It had been a North Korean tanker, but was apparently purchased by renegade Libyan factions attempting to begin privately exporting the nation’s oil for their own personal benefit. It was yet another reminder of Libya’s extreme fragility, the impotency of its central government, and, as I have argued recently elsewhere, the fact that almost all of its problems boil down to a quixotic and self-defeating battle over its nascent oil wealth.

The central figure behind the Morning Glory debacle is Ibrahim Jadhran, a militia leader who made his name in the battle to oust former dictator Moammar Qaddafi. In perhaps their single biggest blunder following the overthrow of the dictator, the new Libyan authorities tried to co-opt militias into the new system in various ways. The worst of these was the creation of the so-called “Petroleum Security Guards” (PSG), which aimed to protect the all-important energy sector production facilities in Libya’s oil-rich eastern provinces but only handed these key areas to unreconstructed militias.

After the war, Jadhran graduated from commander of the “Hamza brigade” militia – that had initially been pro-Qaddafi but quickly defected to the rebels – to a key figure in the PSG, which was formed soon after the uprising ended. Operating from this new power base, he moved in the summer of 2013 to unilaterally seize control of the key Es Sider and Ras Lanuf oil ports. He accused the government of being corrupt and neglecting the eastern provinces. Indeed, he set himself up as a key figure in an autonomous, if not secessionist, movement in Cyrenaica, where deep economic and social grievances have persisted into the post-Qaddafi era.

But Jadhran’s demands for a new “federalist” system in Libya in which Cyrenaica would get more of its share of the revenues of its own oil resources proved, of course, to be just a cover for personal and political greed, power, and ambition. By last October, he had already managed to block more than $5 billion in Libyan national oil exports and began threatening to set up his own independent petroleum network.

In November, Jadhran named his close ally, Abd-Rabbo al-Barassi, “Prime Minister” of a new “Cyrenaica Political Bureau,” and announced the formation of an independent oil company and central bank for this de facto authority. But with such high stakes, they quickly found themselves in competition with a rival: the “Cyrenaica Transitional Council.”

However, even this rivalry didn’t stop the two “federalist” groups, along with Jadhran personally, from signing a joint deal in December with the Canadian lobby group Dickens & Madson – which is led by Ari Ben-Menashe, who claims to be an Iranian-born former Israeli intelligence operative, and has also represented such luminaries as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe – to facilitate contraband oil exports and seek recognition from Russia and other potential sources of international diplomatic support.

While there may be genuine sympathy for the vague notion of autonomy, and a greater share of the pie, in much of the east of Libya, these sentiments are clearly being exploited by shady individuals for personal power and enrichment. And in early March, when the Morning Glory turned off its transponders in the Mediterranean so as to disappear from international sight, the full-blown power-play began. The ship re-emerged at Es Sider and began taking on a full load of contraband oil worth over $30 million from the “federalists.” Jadhran personally led the celebrations that accompanied this brazen theft, including slaughtering a camel on the dock side.

What passed for a federal government in Tripoli was meanwhile mired in an endless campaign by Islamists to unseat then-Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. Zeidan ordered the ragtag Libyan Armed Forces to intercept the Morning Glory, but he was totally ignored. He then turned to the “Libya Shield” militia umbrella group, which loosely supports the central government and is led by the Misrata militia. This only underscores the dangerous and lingering power of these armed groups, and the extent of government reliance on these unregulated forces. But while they chased down the ship they were also unable to stop it.

The failure to interdict and stop the Morning Glory and its contraband cargo of stolen oil provided Zeidan’s Islamist enemies with a golden opportunity to oust him, and they ensured that Parliament sacked the prime minister and issued arrest warrants and a travel ban against him. He fled the country, and warned of an Islamist plot to seize power. But Jadhran and the other eastern federalists are also at odds with the Islamist parties.

The central government, again using the Misratan-led Libya Shield militia, attempted to move against the federalist rebels across the coastline, but found itself confronting not only an incongruous set of forces vaguely aligned with Jadhran, but also the constant threat of its long-standing rivals, the Zintan militia. Libya seemed, and may still be, headed for a bruising and nation-wide confrontation between loosely allied forces confronting each other over ideology and money.

It was at that point that American forces, trying to stem the tide of regionally destabilizing civil conflict in Libya, seized the Morning Glory, which was operating without any flag or a national registration.

There may be at least a temporary solution in the offing. The Misratan-led Libya Shield has withdrawn from airbases and oilfields near Sirte as mediation efforts are focused on a deal in which Jadhran would leave the country and the areas under his control would be taken over by the current head of the PSG, Idris Buhamada. Buhamada, though also from the east, is seen as distant from the entire “federalist” movement and much less of a threat to Libyan national unity than Jadhran and the forces he unleashed when he controlled the Guards.

But a similar deal last December fell through. And for now, the standoff on the ground continues, with persistent rumors that more oil tankers may be headed to Libyan ports outside government control. Even if he did end up leaving the country, and further contraband Libyan oil shipments were interdicted by American or other forces, tensions in Libya would undoubtedly persist.

Zeidan’s warnings about the ideological ambitions of the extremely unpopular Islamists are certainly correct, especially given the likely and dire outcome for them in the July parliamentary elections, where they will be lucky to retain any seats whatsoever.

The entire Morning Glory incident only underscores the persistent, if not growing, power of uncontrolled militias which take on ideological affiliations largely to suit their drive for power and money. Libya’s second-largest oilfield has once again been shut down by protesters and sympathetic PSG militia forces. The Sharara facility has been rocked by Tuareg ethnic protests and, now, PSG grievances over unpaid salaries. Its closure costs Libya an estimated $34 million a day.

The tensions that fueled everything that led up to, and is following from, the Morning Glory affair boil down to what is driving almost all of the major fault lines in Libya: everyone wants the largest slice of the petroleum pie they can grab. As militias and politicians scramble for control of it, Libya’s energy sector lies in tatters and is operating at a tiny fraction of its normal, let alone potential, capacity.

So the Morning Glory story is that a country that ought to be booming with oil wealth is ripping itself to pieces – and ripping itself off – in a series of conflicts driven largely by an effort to control that potential wealth. And because of that struggle, presently Libya has no oil wealth at all.

Aesop’s classic fable in which a dog loses the bone it has by chasing after its reflection in the water nearby – wanting  to have both and ending with neither – has rarely been better illustrated in national politics. If they continue like this, Libyans may not only lose their potential oil wealth, they may lose their country.

In the 21st century, force still trumps diplomacy

On March 2, US secretary of state John Kerry admonished Russia’s aggression in Ukraine by saying: “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.” It’s a laudable sentiment, and an absolutely appropriate aspiration. But if by “don’t” he meant “can’t”, rather than “shouldn’t”, then Mr Kerry was obviously wrong. Russia, in fact, has behaved in precisely such a manner, because while it realises it has lost Ukraine, it is not willing to lose the strategically crucial region of Crimea.

All that really remains to be seen is whether Russia ends up annexing Crimea outright, or using its force to demand such a thorough form of autonomy in the area that it becomes a de facto part of Russia. So, if you are Vladimir Putin, you do behave in the 21st century in a very 19th century (or 20th century, for that matter) fashion indeed.

The same applies to Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad, and countless other states and actors. Some, under the black banner of Salafist-Jihadism, would even aspire to behave in what they believe is a 7th century manner. So while Mr Kerry was factually wrong – although morally correct – it’s worth unpacking exactly what he meant, and the long development of a strand of American policy thinking that informed his scolding of Mr Putin with an implied allusion to Russia’s supposedly anachronistic attitudes.

Interestingly, Mr Kerry himself has recognised that in many ways the world remains largely unchanged. When asked about his foreign policy “doctrine” by David Rohde last November, he noted: “We don’t live in an easy-doctrine world right now. We live in a world that is more like the 18th and 19th centuries, not a classic Kissinger-ian balance of power.” That being the case, what’s he talking about now?

Mr Kerry’s admonition of Mr Putin reflects a trend in liberal American foreign policy theory that has been developing since Joseph Nye started writing about “soft power” in his 1990 book Bound to Lead. Nye, who elaborated on the idea at length in later publications, suggested that international actors, including but not limited to states, could exercise power, for good or ill, through making their own goals attractive to others, thereby gaining their willing cooperation rather than coercing them.

This insight into a practice that has, after all, been used throughout human history, was then elaborated into a second, more complex, hybrid notion of “smart power”. Particularly following the hubris of the George W Bush foreign policy and the fiasco in Iraq, many American liberals posited “smart power” as a proper correction to what was almost universally recognised as an excessively aggressive “hard power” Bush approach. “Smart power”, at least in theory, would look for every opportunity to use “soft power” and diplomacy, keeping “hard power” force as a last resort.

Barack Obama essentially campaigned for president on a foreign policy platform of “smart power”. And, as meticulously outlined in Kim Ghattas’ invaluable 2013 book, The Secretary, Hillary Clinton pioneered the effort to turn theory into practice.

Ghattas carefully describes how Ms Clinton used a “smart power” approach to successfully defuse a crisis with China, setting a new model for American diplomacy.

Ms Clinton emphasised gender issues, economic development and, above all, information technology. A fascinating State Department document entitled 21st Century Statecraft not only emphasises interdependence, dialogue and cooperation, but also innovation and especially new information technologies and the internet as tools of American power and the future of all statecraft.

Mr Kerry has continued with much of this approach, becoming, among other things, the first secretary of state to join a Google hangout.

So what Mr Obama, Mr Kerry and Ms Clinton have been driving towards is an American foreign policy that seeks to avoid force whenever possible, emphasises interdependence, economic globalisation, soft power and the internet as at least as important as military might. In the abstract, it is intellectually and morally impeccable.

The problem is that both smart and soft power can rarely do much to answer raw hard power. The United States isn’t going to do anything beyond scolding and sanctions now that Russia has invaded Ukraine, because there’s nothing more it really could reasonably do.

A more disturbing example of how hard power can trump, and even upend, soft or smart power was the outcome of the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons.

The initial threat of a very hard power response, cruise missile strikes, gave way to a “smart power” approach that yielded an agreement for Syria to abandon those weapons. Even American intelligence services have recognised publicly that this was a foreign policy victory for Russia and a considerable restoration of legitimacy for the criminal himself, Mr Assad.

“21st-century statecraft” and “smart power” are certainly preferable as ideals to brute force. But they are very much a work in progress, and many would argue that the Syria chemical weapons agreement shows they can lead to errors of omission that are almost as dangerous as errors of commission. And, let’s face it, there was more truth in Mr Kerry’s recognition that we live in what more often than not resembles an “18th or 19th” century international order than his admonishment of Mr Putin about aspirational 21st century virtues.

The real impact of Israel’s “Jewish state” demand

The main impact of Israel’s new “Jewish state” demand is to effectively negate the Palestinian recognition of Israel in 1993

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks into a room with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during the 2010 negotiations


Many commentators, including this author, have carefully picked apart the myriad problems involved with Israel’s new demand that the Palestinians formally recognize it as a “Jewish state.” But at least one of its most problematic aspects has been significantly under-examined and underappreciated. The new demand negates, both in effect and intention, the greatest of Palestinian concessions, their 1993 recognition of the State of Israel.

There is an international consensus in favor of a two-state solution, and even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman now say they, too, support this goal after long careers opposing it. And in the quarter-century campaign to achieve a conflict-ending two-state agreement through direct talks, there remains a dangerous anomaly. One side, the Palestine Liberation Organization, recognized Israel up front. All other details aside, they have long since performed the sine qua non of a two-state agreement by recognizing Israel. The other side, Israel, has never recognized a Palestinian state or, in any formal, written, or legal sense, even the Palestinian right to a state.

There are a great many difficulties with the “Jewish state” demand, and Netanyahu’s formulation “the nation-state of the Jewish people” in particular. This phrasing is full of highly problematic definite articles, and suggests a trans-historical claim to this land on behalf of an entire but undefined ethno-religious group the world over, not just the present Jewish Israeli majority. It harkens back to pre-state Zionism, defining Israel as if the state had not actually been created and several generations of Jewish and Arab Israelis had not been born there.

This framing also begs the question about the status of Palestinian citizens of Israel, who already face significant discrimination in many sectors because they are not Jewish. This is one of the reasons the PLO finds the demand so problematic: they will not agree to implicitly endorse the restrictions Palestinian citizens of Israel now face, or may face in the future.

Moreover, Israel itself cannot define what a “Jewish state” means, exactly. There were several attempts in the last Knesset to introduce legislation to clarify the term; all of them failed miserably because while there is a consensus among Jewish Israelis that their state is in some sense “Jewish,” there is no consensus whatsoever as to what that entails. So, in effect, Palestinians are being asked to agree to something that even the Israelis cannot define with any degree of specificity.

The “Jewish state” demand was first introduced in 2007 at the Annapolis meeting, never having been mentioned in previous Israeli negotiations with the Palestinians, let alone with Egypt or Jordan. It was dismissed by not just the Palestinian delegation, but also the American one, both recognizing it as an attempted end-run around the final status issue of Palestinian refugees. The matter was accordingly dropped.

However, when Netanyahu was reelected in 2009, he made the “Jewish state” phrase the centerpiece of his relations with the Palestinians. He now not only insists that this is an important issue – sometimes he even says it is the only real issue (although how Israelis missed “the only real issue” with the Palestinians until 2007 is impossible to explain).

Many commentators have long understood that Netanyahu has made this such a focus of his policy for two clear reasons. The first is to put his own stamp on a process that had been defined before he came to power. The second is to continue the attempt to defuse the refugee issue, particularly as a quid pro quo for Israeli compromises on Jerusalem.

A frequently-cited third interpretation is that the single-minded insistence on this demand could reflect a cynical effort to find something most Israelis would find important that Palestinians cannot agree to. If the aim is to sabotage peace talks, such an initiative would be invaluable. It’s possible that this is, or at some stage was, part of the calculation.

Netanyahu has won over many Israelis and their friends to this new de facto final status issue, basically by playing on Israeli anxieties that an agreement might not actually end the conflict. Yet, it has always been agreed that a peace treaty would mean an end of conflict and all claims.

What has yet to be fully recognized is that the single most significant impact of this “Jewish state” demand is that it effectively dismisses and reverses the 1993 Palestinian recognition of Israel. This concession made it ridiculous for anyone to argue that the core of the problem was Palestinians’ refusal to recognize Israel. But now, hey presto, it is once again possible to present Palestinian recognition of Israel as a major issue, because it wasn’t recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state.”

It doesn’t matter that no one ever asked the Palestinians to do so until 2007, or that there are a great many complications, ambiguities, and grave difficulties associated with it. It has become a mantra of much of the pro-Israel constituency the world over that the 1993 recognition of Israel by the PLO is all but irrelevant, and that until Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state,” their intention to end the conflict and live in peace remains very much open to question.

So, this new demand solves the problem that one side is lived up to its core commitment under a two-state solution – recognizing the statehood of the other party – while the other side has not. It pushes the diplomatic, psychological, and political clock back before 1993, to an era where Palestinians are once again being asked to demonstrate their willingness to live in peace with Israel by uttering some magic mantra.

It elides the fact that, from a Palestinian and Arab point of view, the 1993 recognition of Israel was the mother of all concessions: a recognition that Palestinians were surrendering their political claim to around 78% of what had very recently been their country, in the sense that they were a large majority there until 1948. So now we are left negotiating over the territories conquered by Israel in 1967, without even touching the areas that became Israel in 1948. The enormity of this vast concession, this overwhelming – almost impossible – agreement by the Palestinians, was never fully recognized by Israel or the international community. And now, with the Jewish state demand, it’s dismissed altogether as almost totally irrelevant.

In fairness, if ordinary Israelis and their supporters were more convinced by Palestinian words and deeds that this is the case, they would be less moved by Netanyahu’s obsessive focus on the new “Jewish state” demand. It speaks, cleverly, to deep-seated Israeli anxieties. However, by effectively negating, at least at the psychological and cultural registers, the 1993 Palestinian recognition of Israel, it magically appears to even the scales once again.

But the truth remains that one party, the Palestinians, has recognized the independent statehood of the other, Israel. And Israel has never recognized an independent Palestine or the Palestinian right to an independent state. There are, apparently, still many things the Palestinians must do to “earn” such a right, if they are ever to have it at all, and that includes some sort of recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state.”

Until they do that, Israel and its hard-core supporters will bat aside the fact that Palestinians have actually recognized Israel, unrequited, since 1993, and speak and act as if that were irrelevant and the Palestinians haven’t recognized Israel at all until they repeat the novel catechism now being placed before them.

As a diplomatic, psychological, and political sleight-of-hand, it’s extraordinarily brilliant and effective. But its impact is to complicate diplomacy on a two-state solution and make peace more difficult to achieve, while obscuring the reality that Palestinians have recognized Israel but Israel has never recognized Palestine.


Ghannouchi’s warm welcome in Washington misses realities in Tunisia

Last month, Washington rolled out the red carpet for Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party. The “hero of Tunisian compromise and moderation” was ludicrously lionised as the living embodiment of the last real hope of the “Arab Spring”. It was unedifying and misguided, to say the least.

Ten years ago, the United States was so hysterical about Islamists, particularly in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, that it inexplicably denied Tariq Ramadan – a Swiss academic with vague Islamist sympathies – a visa to take a position at Notre Dame University. It was argued that since he was the grandson of the founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan Al Banna, and the son of another, Said Ramadan, he was probably a terrorist.

Most Americans now recognise that labelling anyone with Islamist sympathies as a potentially dangerous persona non grata was a phobic and absurd overreaction. But instead of a reasonable re-evaluation, Washington has done a slapstick 180 degree pirouette.

In the past few years, those paranoid attitudes have been replaced by an equally dangerous overcorrection that is, bizarrely, constantly on the lookout for “the right Islamist” to fall in love with.

Washington seems totally unable to understand the Islamists for what they truly are and are not, lurching from an irrational extreme of unwarranted hostility to another of misplaced affection and awe.

From the beginning of the Arab Spring until now, much of Washington has assumed that Islamists are the real and “authentic” representatives of Muslim Arab political sentiments. This error has led to a fascination as ridiculous as the preceding catchall repulsion, with visiting Islamists gawked at in these public spectacles as if they were fabulous exotica, like some kind of rare Amazonian tree sloth.

Although many have been auditioned and dutifully read from the script, no one has fit the role better than Mr Ghannouchi. In his recent trip to Washington, Mr Ghannouchi got the part. He was, for no justifiable reason whatsoever, given not just the lion’s share of credit for Tunisia’s relative stability, but virtually all credit.

Mr Ghannouchi met senior administration officials William J Burns and Ben Rhodes, and several members of Congress and the Senate. He spoke at no less than 12 major institutions including the US Institute of Peace, the Wilson Center, the Carnegie Endowment, Georgetown University, the Center for the Study of Islam, Democracy and the National Council on US-Arab Relations and on the Charlie Rose television programme.

The whole time Mr Ghannouchi was either completely protected from any of the really difficult questions – such as, does the “freedom of conscience” clause in the new Tunisian constitution allow someone to be an atheist and publicly promote that perspective in his understanding of the new “democratic” Tunisia – or allowed to give impenetrably convoluted answers to simple yes or no questions about basic civil liberties.

Mr Ghannouchi naturally had an entourage of followers in tow, including Amel Azzouz, head of his party’s “Women’s Office”, to whom he typically deferred on gender issues. It’s a barometer of how reactionary he is that he seems to think it’s a non-sexist gesture to “defer” to his women followers to push his line on gender “complementarity” (never “equality”). It was grotesque and extremely crude tokenism, and sexist to the core, but it seemed to impress a lot of credulous Washingtonians that he would let a woman speak at all.

Ennahda did compromise in Tunisia, because it knew it had no choice. It was never the majority. It’s never going to be the majority. It knows this, it saw what happened to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and it was intelligent enough to realise that the better part of valour was living to fight another day. There is nothing heroic or remarkable about this, except that other Islamists tend to be more extreme.

Two years ago Mr Ghannouchi was filmed begging Salafist leaders to stop their campaign of violence because it was undermining Ennahda’s efforts to take over the army and the police, without which “the secularists could come back”. That video tells you everything you need to know about the man and his ambitions.

The Salafists ignored him and intensified their campaign. This, combined with Ennahda’s own mismanagement of the economy and other failures, forced them to resign in favour of a technocratic government.

But before they went, they took care to stack key governorates and crucial administrative positions with their own supporters. While Mr Ghannouchi was being celebrated in Washington, new Tunisian interim prime minister Mehdi Jomaa has been busy cleaning up his mess by sacking his cronies and replacing them with genuinely independent governors and administrators.

Mr Ghannouchi got his unwarranted and ill-informed accolades in Washington for three things, none of which are actually creditable if properly understood.

First is the Tunisian people’s wisdom in not giving him the power he craves, and continues to seek. Second, he was crafty enough to understand that compromise was his only real option for future viability. Third, he is not a terrorist or thug, and prefers to fight it out within the emerging Tunisian system, rather than face his only real alternative: political oblivion.

This is the “hope of the Arab Spring”? The “Muslim Mandela”? Rarely has the bigotry of low expectations been quite so soft.

Stateless and Starving

Yarmouk and the Palestinian-Israeli Peace Negotiations
MARCH 7, 2014

There is little by way of human cruelty that has not been visited on the people of the Levant over the past century. Iraqis, Israelis, Lebanese, Palestinians, and Syrians have all faced massacres, terrorism, bombings, and any number of other atrocities, including what are probably the only two uses of chemical weapons since World War II. But calculated starvation — the deliberate policy of withholding food from suffering, ordinary people on a mass scale — has very little history in the region. And that makes the situation in the Yarmouk camp just outside Damascus, where 18,000 Palestinian refugees are slowly and deliberately being starved by the Syrian dictatorship, all the more horrifying.

The Palestinians trapped there can do little to alleviate their plight. And humanitarian efforts by the United Nations and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) have so far been thwarted by pro-regime forces. But the Palestinian leadership and people should recognize that Yarmouk has urgent, if indirect, implications for the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations.

Every Arab state has tried, at one time or another, to manipulate the Palestinian issue for its own purposes. But the Assad family’s Baathist regime in Syria has been uniquely hostile to the mainstream Palestinian national movement. It has shown time and again that its official commitment to the Palestinian cause is a smokescreen for its own interests. It has never really accepted the idea that Palestine, or Lebanon for that matter, is a separate entity from a greater Syria, which it still aspires to create. And its primary concern has been to ensure as much Palestinian subservience as possible to the Damascus dictatorship’s ideology and interests.

Syria has always been ready to use force to keep Palestinians in check. It made war against the Palestinians in Lebanon during the 1970s and 1980s, most notably in the siege of Tel al-Zaatar refugee camp, which is the closest analogy to today’s crisis in Yarmouk. And although it poses as a bastion of “resistance,” Syria has consistently avoided confronting Israel directly, even when provoked. Syria has repeatedly endured attacks from Israel without direct response and sometimes without complaint. If it stands up to Israel at all, it does so through proxies and almost always at the expense of others. Its support for Hezbollah has come at a great cost to Lebanon; its support for Palestinian proxy splinter groups as well as Hamas has come at a great cost to Palestine. The Palestinian residents of Gaza suffered heavily from the catastrophic Syrian-backed war between Hamas and Israel in 2008 and 2009.

The ongoing atrocities in Yarmouk are only the latest example of the Syrian regime’s manipulations. In the early stages of Syria’s uprising, one of the regime’s opening gambits was to distract the public’s attention by cynically twisting the Palestinian cause. On June 6, 2011 — the anniversary of the 1967 war between Arab states and Israel, referred to by Arabs as Naksa Day — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had hundreds of Palestinians, many of them from Yarmouk, bussed to the demilitarized zone in the Golan Heights region that borders Israel. They were encouraged, unarmed, to confront Israeli occupation forces, which predictably opened fire on protesters, killing 23 of them. It was a cold-blooded instance of political theater and a cynical exercise in human sacrifice.

Palestinians in Yarmouk were outraged — at least as much at Assad as at Israel. When they protested en masse, pro-Assad thugs affiliated with a group called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command shot them, killing 14 and injuring 43. As the Syrian war intensified, so did the plight of Yarmouk. Syrian fighter jets and helicopters have repeatedly attacked Yarmouk, using missiles and notoriously indiscriminate barrel bombs. But in December 2012, when opposition rebels entered the camp, the situation became dramatically worse. Yarmouk became the scene of intense fighting and a prolonged, and ongoing, siege. Efforts to deliver food and other aid have been systematically stymied.

What was once a population of at least 200,000 Palestinian refugees has dwindled to a tenth of its former size. Anyone who could flee has already done so. Those who remain are slowly and cruelly dying. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that at least 100 people in Yarmouk have died from starvation and lack of medical supplies since last October. UN officials have expressed shock at what they have seen in recent visits to the camp. Filippo Grandi, a UN refugee official, said that the people he saw there last week had “the appearance of ghosts.”

The Syrian government is responsible for this situation, and those who try to fudge the issue by blaming rebels are deliberately deceiving the public. The northern entrance to Yarmouk is under the control of pro-Assad forces. But the government has nonetheless insisted that all aid go through the southern entrance, which is very dangerous to access because it is a battle zone between regime and opposition forces. Although senior government figures deny it, military forces on the ground reportedly admit that they are deliberately using starvation as a weapon against their “enemies” in Yarmouk, including both rebels and civilians. This is a man-made disaster, and the responsibility for it lies almost entirely with the leadership in Damascus.

To those familiar with the relationship between Baathist Syria and the Palestinian cause and people, the events at Yarmouk will not come as any surprise. But the Palestinian people as a whole should draw the obvious lesson: As long as they remain stateless, refugees will have no haven and no government to represent them. Atrocities will continue to take place, as they have wherever Palestinians have found themselves in the Middle East since 1948.

Some pro-Palestinian groups object to such a two-state solution, because it will inevitably involve significant compromises on the right of return for refugees to Israel. But Israel is simply not going to agree to accept large numbers of Palestinians returning from across the region, which would compromise the demographic makeup of the Israeli state. A unanimity of the Israeli political spectrum flatly opposes any such notion, and there does not appear to be any form of leverage or quid pro quo that could alter that.

But a Palestinian state has much to offer refugees short of the right of return to Israel. Among other things, an independent Palestine could help protect a long-suffering people against further massacre, siege, or atrocity. Palestinians would finally be citizens in a state of their own and not stranded at the disposal of others who can, and have, turned on them with a vengeance.

This is not to suggest that the Israeli government or the PLO is in any meaningful sense responsible for addressing the tragedy at Yarmouk. Israel is not directly involved, and the PLO lacks the means and leverage to relieve the suffering, as it discovered when pro-Assad forces fired on an unarmed aid convoy it had organized.

But Yarmouk does stand as yet another harsh reminder to the Palestinian people and leadership of the urgent need to achieve independence through peace with Israel, despite the painful compromises that will be required of both sides. Palestinians should see in Syria yet another tragic life and death drama, another sign that they must unite and mobilize to attain an independent state. Until they have it, Palestinians throughout the Middle East will be forever liable to find themselves in the next Yarmouk.