Thursday, June 04, 2009

Obama and Netanyahu: the 'drama' unfolding

If Bibi thought his eloquent english could some how "persuade" Obama and the US administration as to the rightness of this right wing agenda, he now clearly knows that he is mistaken.

Obama has today given a fair and optimistic speech in Cairo as to future prospects in the Middle East. He has referred to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and has reaffirmed his strong support for a two state solution and the opposition to further settlement construction. Indeed he stated that such settlement construction was not legitimate.

Netanyahu, must now be sweating. He of course still can't utter the words 'two state solution' and can never agree to a settlement freeze. Regardless of what his right wing coalition partners think, there is no evidence that he wants to change. If he genuinely did, he would kick out the the right wing crazies from his coalition and bring in Livni and Kadima.

So could we be looking at a coalition crisis after a couple of months of Israel being in office. Could Netanyahu be an ever greater disaster then his previous term. The evidence is suggesting so.

But are Israelis now waking up from their coma over the last nine years that something actually has to be done in the Palestinian area beyond talk. Could the right wing discourse that now seems to dominate Israeli society change. Who knows?

Netanyahu is in trouble and he knows it. Bereft of any serious foreign policy making vis a vis the Palestinians at all, the sensing rift between the Israeli administration and the Obama administration is imminent.

Let's only hope that this is the beginning of the collapse of the right wing coalition and their foolish and childish world view.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Obama and Netanyahu: where is this heading?

The grace period is over. Israel has formed its largely right wing government and the US is starting to communicate its message to Israel vis a vis any 'peace process' between Israelis and Palestinians.

The US position under Obama is well known: a two state solution, based on previous agreements, including no doubt the secret negotiations between Olmert and Abbas that were occurring prior to his departure. The end result is more or less the Clinton parameters of December 2000 with give or take on territory and other issues.

The Netanyahu govt it appears will have none of that. They can't conceive of a two state solution, let alone a viable Palestinian state.

The recipe for a souring in the relationship between Israel and the US is well on the way. Obama is no Bush - he will not be intimidated or postpone talks on the basis of requests from the Israeli govt or its lobby. Nor are there any neoconservatives in the US administration to prevent the US from taking a more engaged approach in the region (in particular I think of Scooter Libby, Elliot Abrams (have you read his stupid op-ed in the Washington Post?) and David Wursmer). The US has a far more focused and coordinated foreign policy team.

The question of course is what action is the US going to go - that is to what extent is the US going to show its disapproval of Israeli behaviour. Stephen Walt on his blog has suggested a number of policy options that the US may consider.

Will these measures effect the Israeli government's attitude? Who knows. What it may do is finally awaken Israelis out of their slumber that they can simply live within their fence/wall, forget about the Palestinians and do nothing - that the US will no longer tolerate such an approach. Perhaps when Israelis see that the US is 'pissed off' due to its government's behaviour, the public discourse may shift in a more left wing direction (nine years too late!).

Of course the opposite may occur. The Israeli public may become convinced that Obama was and has always been 'anti-Israel' whatever that stupid term means and its fate is simply to be a 'nation that dwells alone' with the 'world against it'. Somehow, I don't think that will happen - despite the paranoia that exists within Israeli society, they are not that stupid.

In any event, its likely to be an interesting few months ahead in Israeli/US relations.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Israel and Obama: one month after the election

It is now been over one month since Obama won the US election.

At the time, there was much relief throughout the world that the US, the largest and most powerful country in the world, had elected a progressive, rational leader as the head of state.

In Israel, however, there were deep concerns. Who was Obama? Would he alter US policy towards Israel and instead take a more even-handed approach? Would he alter the "special relationship" between Israel and the US.

In my last blog, I suggested that Obama could go along the old Clinton line - which I think would be god damn silly and put old players like Ross and Indyk in top positons in State or he could take a more daring and sensible approach - what I called the 'Judt option' and take a more aggresive and activist approach towards the conflict and appoint someone like Dan Kurtzer as an envoy.

At present, I understand from Magnes Zionist's blog, it looks like Dan K looks like being a special envoy to the M/E reporting to Obama, which is good news. The reappointment of Robert Gates as Sec. of Defence is also good news for the M/E. It has been largely the Pentagon's strong stance against military action against Iran, that have inhibited Israel from going alone.

The appointment of Hillary Clinton is a difficult choice. On the one hand, she is an extremely smart woman and would be intimately familiar with the details re: Israel/Palestine, with her husband Bill, having provided the best parameters of a final status deal ever put together by a US Administration - in the Clinton Parameters of December 2000. On the otherhand, as a senator from NY, she has had to become buddies and suck up to a lot of very right wing Jews - whether this has influenced her, I do not know.

The best appointment, however, has been that of General James Jones as a National Security Advisor. Jones has intimate "on the grounds" understanding of the Israel/Pal. conflict having spent a considerable time attempting to rehabilitate the destroyed PA Security Services and being successful to a degree. He is fully aware of the frustrations of Israeli bureaucracy in making the lives of average Palestinians hell and is aware of the narrow minded views of the Generals within the IDF who thought like all the envoys who had preceded him, would fail and leave Israel/Palestine with no achievements. The IDF has certainly has some success in that regard (much helped by Hamas it must be said). Who remembers General Dayton and his miserable reorganisation of PA police in Gaza or former world bank head James Wolfhenson failed attempt to negotiate freedom of movement in Gaza. James, in short, will see through the bullshit that every roadblock, every metre of the security fence is there for security -he will take a harsher line.

The US team is therefore so far impressive - although the details of the lower officials will be important. Remember - in the Bush administration - all Israel needed were the likes of neo-con. Elliot Abrams as the Near East Advisor to the Pres. and David Wurmswer - Cheney's VP M/E Advisor to cause mischief and avoid the US from applying serious pressure on Israel.

Whilst all this is going on at the US end, its not clear what will happen on Israel's end. The Likud now has a list, which is as extreme as ever, much to Netanyahu's dismay. Were Likud to win - Israel would be in a utter deadlock in regard to its relationship with the Palestinians - 'economic peace' - netanyahu's phrase re: the palestinians is a joke and should be seen as such.

It still not over for Livni to win - with around 2 months till the Israeli election - let's hope she can pull it off.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Hoping for an Obama win!

As Tuesday morning starts in the US, people in the US and throughout the world are eager to find out the results of this marathon US election, which we will know shortly. The polls suggest an Obama win, although one can never be too confident of the result. My gut feeling tells me its going to be a landslide to Obama - his run an effective campaign, had lots of cash and has been helped by an external event beyond his control, namely the economic crisis.

Voluminous articles and blogs have been devoted to Obama's views on Israel. The Republicans have repicked up on Obama's association with Rashid Khalidi, as if somehow, being friends with one of the most respected middle east scholars and one of the most genuinely moderate Palestinians is a bad thing.

Obama could go two ways with Israel were he to be president, namely:

1. The safe option - he puts the likes of Dennis Ross in the M/E portfolio in the State Department, and we go back to the Clinton approach to Israel/Palestine - that is active engagement with Israelis and Palestinians, without ever being too critical of Israel or force either Israelis or Palestinians into a corner. This approach has unfortunately failed and were a right wing Israeli government be elected in February, would prove fruitless approach for the US;

2. The riskier option ('the Judt option') - put the like of Dan Kurtzer in the M/E portfolio. Seek advice from past diplomats such as Brezezinski. This approach would see the US being far more confrontational and not afraid to offend Israeli sensibilities if it means progressing Israel/Palestine. It was a view expressed most eloquently by Tony Judt in a debate hosted a couple of years ago by the London Review of Books (hence the 'judt option'). This could be particularly the case, were a right wing Israel government be elected, which refuses to continue the secretive final status talks that have been going on for the past year and instead talk, as Netanyahu as been doing, of "economic peace" - whatever bullshit that means. In short, we would be returning to the days of Bush Senior and Shamir - and the loan guarantee controversy, when the US were not so afraid to confront Israel. In the case of a Livni government, the US could provide the support to push for a final status deal between the parties.

I for one, favour the latter option, and hope that the return of a left-wing government to the US may hope to spur Israelis voters to return Livni as PM - the only sensible choice. It has been shown as with Carter and Bush Snr that only assertive and honest behaviour by the US can be at least somewhat effective in influencing Israeli decision making for the better.

In reality, I expect Obama to take an approach somewhere between these two options.

Whatever the case, things will hopefully look different tonight US time - when the republicans are finally kicked out of the president's office and new blood and hopefully fresh ideas are incorporated into the office.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Obama is good for Israel

Contrary to the views of the various conservative blogs out there on the internet, I am of the strong belief that Obama is by far a better candidate for Israel then McCain.

The basic problem with the conservative critique of Obama's position on Israel and the middle east is that they assume that the lack of involvement of the US in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and a lack of a critical eye towards Israel is a good thing. This is stupid reasoning. The last seven years under the Bush's approach to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has been a disaster. Only a President who is truly engaged and more importantly, is an honest broker, can be effective in assisting to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

I believe an Obama-Democrat administration will be far more engaged in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and more critical of Israel then the current administration. Contrary to Obama's recent performance at the AIPAC conference where he claimed that "Jerusalem should remain undivided", I believe that in reality Obama will be more sensitive to Palestinian interests then the Bush administration has been. His choice of advisors (such as Dan Kurtzer and Rob Malley) and personal friendship with Rashid Khaldi are suggestive of this. As I said, this is a good thing for both Israelis and Palestinians.

So why is it good?

As noted by Aaron Miller in his recent book, the most effective administrations in achieving peace between Israel and its neighbours, have been those that took a more critical line against Israel. In particular, Aaron Miller cites the Carter administration (who achieved a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt) and the first Bush administration (who started the Madrid process). In both cases, the administration was willing to take Israel on and not only was successful, but in the long-term, it was in Israel's best interests that they did. The problem with the Clinton peace team, headed by Dennis Ross, as Aaron Miller has noted, was that they were too often "Israel's lawyers". Dennis Ross, in particular, failed as a negotiator to take an honest and objective view of the conflict and was far more receptive to the sensitivites of Israeli political constraints then Palestinians.

In order to be an effective broker, the US needs to be fair. It further needs to be willing to "flex its muscle" when a party is acting inconsistent with a peaceful resolution of the conflict. On the Palestinian side, this certainly means taking a strong line against terrorism or unprovoked attacks against Israeli civilians. For the Israelis, this also means taking a hard line - for example, taking a genuine strong stance against settlement construction, not some perfunctory condemnation by a state department official. Further, it means pushing Israel to make necessary concessions - whether it means reducing the number of road blocks in the West Bank or pushing Israel to make concessions on final status issues.

Ultimately, being more critical of Israeli action may mean that the US administration comes into conflict with the Israeli government and AIPAC. So be it.

The contours of a final status deal are well known. Ultimately - a solution along the lines proposed in Taba or Geneva or some similar solution will form the basis of a resolution. Governments, both Israeli and Palestinians may try and avoid moving in this direction - both unprepared to make the necessary concessions. The US have an important role in setting out the contours of what a final deal should be - indeed the Clinton Parameters set out in December 2000 are an excellent example of what those contours should be. It is up to the US to play an effective role as mediators in this conflict - which requires being honest and fair - to both Israelis and Palestinians.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Dealing with Hamas

It would appear that the bitter confrontation between Hamas and Fatah is heating up. The attempts to create a national-unity government between Hamas and Fatah has failed. Sporadic violence is starting with a number of assassinations of Hamas and Fatah operatives. Haniyah's visit to Iran to collect 200 or so millions for the PA and his comments that Iran gives the Palestinians "strategic depth" will only deepen the hostility with Fatah.

The issues at its core are ideological. Fatah accepts Israel's existence, they might not be happy about it but they more less accepts Israel's not going to disapper. From this flowed Fatah's decision in 1988 to accept the two state solution (UN Resolution 242) and the commencement of the Oslo agreement. Fatah, which dominated th PLO was always seen up until recently as representatives of Palestinian interests.

Hamas on the otherhand is a religiously ideologically driven movement have not accepted this reality. They are still stuck in their closed minded and anachronistic conception of the conflict. They refuse to recongise Israel and only are willing to reach a long term interim arrangement with Israel. In short, their goal is to transform all of Israel into Palestine. Despite their people needing overseas aid, Hamas refuse to budge. Affixed on ideological purity, Hamas are unable to even to come to terms with the practical reality of their people's own distress.

The moment for confrontation is moving nearer. Fatah with Abu Mazen at its head knows that in the WB they are strong but in Gaza are much weaker. They are looking to build up their strength for the inevitable confrontation. Abu Mazen knows the Hamas approach is a disaster for the Palestinians and will only move them further and further away from achieving a Pal. state.

It needs to be said openly: Hamas is the biggest impediment to the Israeli/Pal. conflict. Not Israel, not the settlers, not Fatah. It is Hamas, which has been the driver of terrorism since 1993, it was Hamas that primarily undermined Israel's faith in Oslo, and it is now Hamas, now being in power who are seeing their people rot in their ideological stubborness.

How this tension will play out, I don't know. For Israel's sake, Hamas has to be neutralised whether in the form of a national unity govt which accepts the quartet's three conditions, new elections or a coup de at. There will be no peace regardless of Israel's own actions, with such a dangerous and pathetic movement as Hamas.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Time for Peretz to go

One of the greatest disappointments of the present Israeli govt. has been Amir Peretz. In my earlier blogs, I anticipated that Peretz as a civilian and claimed peacenik would provide a fresh approach the IDF. He hasn't. He has effectively been sidelined. The IDF, the govt and the public don't take him seriously. The IDF do what they please regardless of what Peretz thinks.

Peretz is a good man but the job is way above him. Unfortunately, in Israel you need someone with real military experience in the role. Someone, who can outsmart the generals.

Judging from the cabinet decision, Israel is heading towards another "operation defensive shield" but this time in Gaza. Whilst the cabinet did not authorise such an operation as yet, they have signalled an intention to escalate Israel's response with the attacking of Hamas institutions, military or not. Inevitably, this will lead to more futile response and counter-responses before a large scale operation is ordered.

Israel like in the early days of the recent Lebanon war is dismissing as per normal any diplomatic route suggested. Ironically, it will only take an invasion of Gaza, resulting in large scale Pal. casualties, where again the problem of Kassams will not be solved, before a diplomatic option will be considered by Israel, exactly like in Lebanon. Unfortunately, this govt. believes in exhausting every military option before considering a diplomatic option rather then the other way around.

Peretz needs to go and go now. My own suggestion is that Ami Ayaalon, the former Shin Bet Head and Labor MK should be defence minister. He is a decent man, has a military background but thinks outside the conventional IDF General Staff way of thinking. His views in short are far more credible then Peretz.