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Archive for July, 2013

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July 31, 2013

The Five Flaws of John Kerry’s Middle East Peace Process

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1) No Palestinian reciprocity from the outset. Israel agreed to release 104 convicted terrorists just to get the Palestinians to talk peace. Would the U.S. agree to release 104 Guantanamo prisoners for talks with anyone?

Israel will undoubtedly be blamed if negotiations fail, so it’s unlikely that fair judgment by the international community motivated the release. Perhaps it was the price that Israel had to pay for a U.S. promise to prevent Iranian nukes and/or support Israel’s efforts to stop them. If so, one can only hope that the U.S. is good for its word (despite Obama’s repeated demonstrations that his Mideast “red lines” are meaningless).

Whatever the explanation for Israel’s good-faith opening, there were plenty of ways for the Palestinians to reciprocate: removing anti-Israel incitement from their textbooks and/or official media, recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, promising to “freeze” their anti-Israel diplomatic offensives, etc. But Secretary of State John Kerry preferred to establish that Palestinian reciprocity is optional: if Israel isn’t volunteering what the Palestinians demand, they need only threaten to leave the talks and Kerry will compel the Israelis to comply.

2) No Palestinian good faith. The Palestinians will be represented by Saeb Erekat and Mohammad Shtayyeh. Shtayyeh’s Facebook page displays a map of Israel’s internationally recognized borders, plus the West Bank and Gaza – all emblazoned with the Arabic letters for “Palestine.” So the person entrusted with negotiating a “two-state solution” openly admits that his Mideast map has room for only a Palestinian state. Just as alarming, during a recent sermon attended by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and broadcast on Palestinian television, Religious Endowments Minister Mahmoud al-Habbash compared the PA’s decision to negotiate with Israel to the Prophet Muhammad’s Treaty of Hudaibiya (in the year 628 CE): “in less than two years, based on this treaty, the Prophet returned and conquered Mecca. This is the example. It is the model.”

3) No religious freedom in a future Palestinian state. Palestinians insist (ironically) that “peaceful coexistence” means no Jewish settlers in their state. But, on principle, why should Jews be banned from living in a future Palestinian state — particularly when Muslims constitute over 17% of Israel’s population? Will the future Palestinian state be as hostile to religious minorities as other Muslim majority states are? Unfortunately, recent history gives little reason to hope otherwise. Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning, Arab journalist reported the following about a year ago:

According to the Greek Orthodox Church in the Gaza Strip, at least five Christians have been kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam in recent weeks…Church leaders…accused a prominent Hamas man of being behind the kidnapping and forced conversion of a Christian woman, Huda Abu Daoud, and her three daughters. Radical Islam, and not checkpoints or a security fence, remains the main threat to defenseless Christians not only in the Palestinians territories, but in the entire Middle East as well.


While Gaza is ruled by Islamists, the PA has also shown its hostility to Christians. On March 12, 2012, Algemeiner reported that “A week after Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told an [international] audience of Evangelical Protestants…that his government respected the rights of its Christian minorities, [PA] officials…informed Bethlehem pastor Rev. Naim Khoury that his church lacked the authority to function as a religious institution under the PA…[T]here is a sense among Christians in Bethlehem that anti-Christian animus has gotten worse in the city…Khoury said.”

A few weeks ago, Palestinians vandalized the Cave of the Patriarchs, Judaism’s second holiest site. How safe will non-Muslim holy sites be once there is no more Israeli presence in the West Bank? Will a future peace agreement specifically guarantee protection of and Israeli access to Jewish holy sites?

If Israel’s presence in the West Bank has helped to moderate Muslim rule there, will Israel’s complete departure mean that West Bank Christians can expect their persecution to worsen to Gazan levels (with abductions and forced conversions)? Palestinian insistence that their future West Bank state be “Judenrein” doesn’t bode well for the indigenous Christians there (or for religious freedom).

4) No Palestinian mandate to negotiate peace. There are about 2.1 million Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and 1.7 million in the Gaza Strip. But Hamas-ruled Gaza vehemently opposes peace negotiations and denies Israel’s right to exist. Islamic Jihad and Hamas recently lambasted PA leaders for meeting with Israelis to talk peace. The last time that the PA announced direct talks with Israel, Hamas announced plans to launch terrorist attacks at Israel, in coordination with 12 other Gaza terrorist organizations.

And it’s not even clear that West Bank Palestinians favor these talks. Last Sunday, they rallied against peace until PA police violently suppressed the protest. Human Rights Watch has urged the Palestinian government to investigate the police beatings.  Moreover, Abbas himself has no legal mandate, as his term of political office expired long ago yet he continues to rule with no elections in sight.

At best, the PA can deliver only half of any peace that it promises, which lets Palestinians have their cake and eat it too: the PA can extract painful territorial concessions from Israel at the negotiating table, while Hamas can continue terrorist attacks to achieve the one-state solution embraced on Facebook by PA “peace negotiator” Mohammad Shtayyeh.

5) Transferring the West Bank could be Israel’s geostrategic undoing. Jordan could collapse from a flood of about 500,000 Syrian refugees (and growing daily); severe poverty; popular discontent over corruption, inequality, and lack of freedom; acute water shortages; and/or Muslim Brotherhood action to overthrow King Abdullah’s monarchy. These factors make the Abdullah regime’s survival increasingly uncertain. After Israel militarily withdraws from the West Bank, will Hamas topple the PA there as it did in Gaza (two years after Israel’s 2005 Gaza withdrawal)? What if the Hamas-allied Muslim Brotherhood then takes over Jordan? If Jordanian-Palestinians — the largest ethnic group in Jordan — create a Palestinian state there (as advocated by this Jordanian-Palestinian writer), would Palestinians effectively have two states? The range and severity of threats to Israel from the combination of a post-Abdullah Jordan and a Palestinian West Bank state are considerable. Is it even possible to address these Israeli security concerns in a way that leaves Palestinian negotiators satisfied enough to sign a peace treaty?

With so many inherent defects in the current peace talks, why would the U.S. push its most reliable Mideast ally (and the only Middle East democracy) into such perilous waters or inevitable blame? One explanation is the increasingly fashionable idea (promoted by Arab governments) that settlements are blocking a peace deal that would produce Mideast stability. But inconvenient facts completely contradict this idea: Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Bahrain, and Yemen (etc.) would be the same conflict-torn mess as they are now after any Israeli-Palestinian peace.

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July 17, 2013

The EU’s Broken Mideast Compass

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The European Union recently sent out a directive barring its 28 members from cooperating with Israeli entities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The boycott includes “all funding, cooperation, and the granting of scholarships, research grants and prizes” to Israeli entities in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

If this is how the EU chooses to spend its limited diplomatic and political resources “to help” the Middle East, then its moral compass is badly broken. The EU still hasn’t even mustered the clarity or courage to join the USA, Canada, and six Gulf states (led by Bahrain) in designating Hezbollah a terrorist organization, even though Hezbollah has committed terrorist acts on EU soil that killed an EU citizen, and has supported Basher Assad’s butchery in Syria. The EU has also failed to take any decisive action to address the urgent crises in Lebanon, Syria, and Iran (which marches ever closer to nukes and imports ore — for armor and missile production — from Germany and France). And where is the EU’s boycott of Mideast governments that persecute women, execute homosexuals, and condone the slaughter of Christians?

If the EU wants to wield its economic clout to impose peace on disputing parties, why not boycott China for its brutal occupation of Tibet? Clearly that occupation doesn’t matter because the EU is China’s largest trading partner. And why isn’t the EU boycotting Northern Cyprus, which is under foreign military occupation by Turkey (against the wishes of the EU)?

The hypocrisy is even more flagrant because some EU states are themselves occupying disputed territories on various continents. One of the most notorious examples is the Falkland Islands. What exactly is the UK’s burning security interest in occupying a Latin American island nearly 8,000 miles away? Maybe the EU should boycott the UK as well.



In the end, an EU boycott of Israel is just a cheap way to score political points with the oil-producing Arab states and the growing Muslim population on European soil. Indeed, the EU’s anti-Israel directive resembles Stephen Hawking’s ill-fated attempt to inject himself into the Israeli-Palestinian controversy. Just as he absurdly chose to boycott the country largely responsible for the technology that enables him to communicate, the EU shamelessly targets the only country in the Middle East that actually shares the EU’s democratic values, respect for human rights, pluralism, and the rule of law (not to mention shared interests like curbing Iranian nukes, developing natural gas resources in the Mediterranean Sea, and seeing moderates prevail in the volatile Middle East).

Putting aside the EU’s abundant hypocrisy, trying to strong-arm Israel into unilateral concessions has already proven to be an abysmal failure when it comes to promoting peace. Just ask President Obama, who in 2009 pressured Israel into a 10-month settlement freeze in the West Bank without requiring any reciprocal gestures from the Palestinians. They quickly realized that they need not negotiate with Israel because Obama was doing that for them. One can hardly blame Palestinians for trying to maximize their negotiating posture, even if it lacks good faith. Thus, peace talks have remain stalled for Obama’s entire presidency, even though Secretary of State John Kerry is now on his sixth peace-pushing trip (in as many months) to the region.

It’s also worth noting that the real obstacle to peace — Palestinian rejectionism and terrorism — existed before any of Israel’s settlement-building. Palestinian terrorism and rejectionism from Gaza also continued despite the removal of Israeli settlements (from Gaza in 2005). So Israeli settlements did not create Palestinian extremism and their removal doesn’t necessarily end it.

History has also demonstrated that Israeli settlement building has not prevented Israel from making painful territorial compromises for peace: Menachem Begin evacuated the Sinai, Ehud Barak ended Israel’s presence in Southern Lebanon, Ariel Sharon left Gaza, and Benjamin Netanyahu handed over West Bank territories under the Wye Accords.

Moreover, the EU seems to have forgotten that Jews have a historical and legal right to be in the West Bank. The “Mandate for Palestine” confirmed by the League of Nations recognized the “historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine” and “the grounds for reconstituting their National Home in that country.” Under Article 6, the Mandate encouraged “close settlement by Jews, on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.” The EU’s boycott falsely implies that Jews have no right to live in the West Bank, and is thus disturbingly reminiscent of the “Judenrein” policies of Nazi Germany, which banned Jews from certain spheres of life only because they were Jews.

Lastly, the EU (and US) position on Israeli West Bank construction lacks balance because Palestinian construction is never limited. As Eli Hertz notes: “The Oslo Accords do not forbid Israeli or Arab settlement activity. Charging that further Jewish settlement activity preempts final negotiations by establishing realities, requires reciprocity. If Jews were forcibly expelled from the West Bank in 1948 during a war of aggression aimed at them [but then recaptured the West Bank in the defensive war of 1967], then these Territories must be considered disputed Territories, at the least…According to David Bar-Ilan, a former policy planning official, the tempo of Arab construction is “more than 10 times the number of buildings under construction [in the Territory] than those approved [by the Israeli government] for the [Jewish] settlers.”

If the EU wants to ignore international law and history, the many more pressing Mideast issues, and its own hypocrisy, all for the sake of promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace, then it should at least recognize that unilateral pressure on Israel has only reinforced Palestinian inflexibility. Indeed, it is only the Palestinians who have refused to negotiate peace without preconditions. The EU has pressured the wrong party because its Mideast compass is badly broken.

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July 15, 2013

Iranian Nukes are an Apocalyptic Threat that must be Stopped

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President Obama’s Middle East policy has been an ever-worsening train wreck because it lacks credibility and strategy, as Egypt, Libya, and particularly Syria, have shown. And the region is about to get much worse, unless Obama exercises resolute leadership on the most important global security issue of this generation: Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

In a commerce-critical region where “might makes right” and only the strong survive, Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons could have catastrophic consequences for the Middle East and beyond. The resulting dangers potentially include: (i) nuclear proliferation, as other Mideast countries feel threatened into pursuing their own nuclear programs; (ii) the transfer of nuclear materials from Iran – the world’s chief sponsor of terrorism – to terrorist organizations and/or rogue states; (iii) bolder attacks by Iranian terror proxies (Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, etc.) protected by Iran’s nuclear umbrella; and (iv) an even more belligerent Iran that flexes its nuclear arsenal to: export its radical Islamic ideology, acquire disputed territories and resources from neighboring countries, and/or undertake actions like blocking the Strait of Hormuz to increase the price of oil.

As Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, yesterday told CBS News’s Face the Nation, the Islamic Republic is now dangerously close to a nuclear capability. Because Iran has stockpiled about 190 pounds of 20% enriched uranium, Iran is just 60 kilograms – potentially just weeks – short of crossing the nuclear “red line” that Netanyahu set in his speech before the UN last September.

Unfortunately, Obama has signaled no urgency over Iranian nukes. Perhaps he hopes for a negotiated settlement to the issue, now that Hassan Rouhani, a so-called “moderate,” was elected to assume Iran’s presidency next month. But hope is not a strategy with the Iranian regime. Rouhani has been linked to the 1994 terrorist bombing of an Argentine Jewish community center that killed 85 people, and has boasted about how he manipulated nuclear talks with the West about a decade ago to expand Iran’s nuclear program. More importantly, Iran’s foreign policy is set by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has banned concessions to the West. Indeed, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, the head of Iran’s atomic energy agency, made it clear last Friday that Rouhani’s election will have no impact on Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities.

Obama must also recognize that the sanctions against Iran have demonstrably failed. The Islamic Republic has skillfully outmaneuvered them, as shown in a leaked U.N. report detailing 11 instances of Iran violating sanctions, including attempts to acquire materials for its atomic program. Reuters published an expose outlining how Iran exploits sanctions loopholes to import ore from Germany and France that could be used for making armor and missiles. More importantly, the Iranian nuclear weapons program has never once stopped because of sanctions. The only time that Iran ever suspended its nuclear program was after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, when Iran briefly feared that a U.S. attack was imminent.

Obama’s Iran policy has thus far failed to produce any credible deterrent. It’s time for Obama to build on the lead of Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, who warned last month that Iran only has only a few months to demonstrate to the West that it is serious about a negotiated solution to the standoff.

Israel doesn’t have the luxury of treating its red lines the way Obama has treated the one he set for Syria’s use of chemical weapons; that means that the volatile Middle East of today could become far more engulfed in war and instability. Netanyahu’s latest message may be the canary in the coalmine giving its final warning, so Obama should provide bold leadership on this critical issue before it’s too late. New Jersey-sized Israel survives only by the strength of the military force that it projects. Critical to that deterrent is making good on its threats, as Israel did with its destruction of the Iraqi and Syrian nuclear programs, in 1981 and 2007, respectively, and its ongoing surgical airstrikes to prevent Syria from transferring game-changing weapons to Hezbollah.

Given such exploits, isolationists might wonder why the U.S. should bother; let Israel bear all of the costs and risks of eliminating the Iranian nuclear threat for us, goes the thinking. But the nuclear program in Iran is far more dispersed, hardened, and distant than what Israel neutralized in Iraq and Syria. Iranian nukes are truly vulnerable only to U.S. military capabilities. Expecting Israel to do the job is like a heavyweight-boxing champion asking his featherweight friend to defend him against the approaching middleweight champion. Such cowardly tactics needlessly endanger the featherweight ally, but – more importantly – there is a good chance that the middleweight won’t be fully neutralized and will feel far more emboldened to attack the heavyweight after he concludes (alongside the rest of the world) that the heavyweight is just a paper tiger.

Iran can already attack U.S. interests across the Middle East and Europe. And as early as 2015, Iran could develop and test ballistic missiles that could strike the continental U.S., according to a Pentagon report released last week (“2013 Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat Assessment”). Obama can wait for the U.S. to be drawn into war with a nuclear-armed Iran, or he can proactively address the threat before Iran acquires nukes. But he cannot hide from the threat or hope it away. Obama must lead – before Iran’s nuclear recalcitrance forces Israel’s hand, with potentially apocalyptic consequences.