Archive for April, 2009

April 27, 2009

Palestinians Closer to Implementing a Confederation System

by Gedalyah Reback


Negotiations Likely to Fail

“With hopes of a unity government fading, Egypt has proposed that the two sides instead coordinate their rival administrations in Gaza and the West Bank through a joint committee.”

It has been reported by the Jordan Times that Egyptian intelligence head, Omar Suleiman, might force the two factions to create a joint steering committee for mutual issues if they fail to create a unity government. This might be the basis of a confederate system, much like the Egyptians and Syrians agreed on in the late 1960s when they tried to unify their two countries.

Diplomats from Egypt, the United States and both Palestinian factions are alluding to an inevitable failure in unity talks, mostly because Hamas refuses to recognize the legitimate existence of the State of Israel. Hamas representatives have accused Fatah of pushing a “pro-Israeli American agenda,” at previous negotiations, alluding to recognition of Israel in any fashion as too liberal.

Fatah Would Benefit Politically

Fatah would likely be the most to benefit from a unity government right now, because the failure to create one in the current political climate might tilt more Palestinians into the right-wing camp. But the options the two parties leave their constituents are few and far between. A unity government would probably be ineffective, much like the last one created in March 2007 that disintegrated in the Gazan mini-civil war that June.

But a steering committee might give Fatah even more clout politically than a coalition government. Hamas recognizes Fatah’s de facto control over the West Bank, allowing it to maintain funding, have more influence in the Gaza Strip (and thus control either aid disbursement or border crossings there), and stymie the growing popular support for Hamas. Elections would also probably be held off longer since the two parties would be too insecure on the sharing of power.

Obama Administration Continuing Open Door Policy

Even if the Obama Administration pushes through amendments to standing laws that regulate funding organizations associated with terrorism, it would fail to create an environment conducive for negotiations, since any new government would not recognize the legitimate existence of the State of Israel. At best, there would be detente between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Even more optimistically, maybe political moderates and liberals would take over Hamas. But this would still be years away. Any deal would be years away under such an optimistic scenario.

A steering committee would create a permanent forum for the PA and Hamas to negotiate on divisive issues. It would be a semi-permanent negotiating table for them under the ideal scheme that sees the committee working.

Congressional Opposition to Obama Plan

The administration’s proposal is akin to agreeing to support a government that “only has a few Nazis in it,” Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.) told Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a House hearing last week.

This is not simply a stubborn refusal to be more moderate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas has not met any conditions set as a benchmark by the world for recognition – recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and agreeing to follow past Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Hamas’ charter still is replete with anti-Semitic and genocidal references to Israelis. As its defining characteristic, it might be impossible for the organization to ever meet the three conditions without practically disbanding the organization and creating a new one.

But in a related issue, the Obama Administration is already solidifying ties with Lebanon. The Lebanese government includes Hizbullah, which likens that situation to the potential situation in the Palestinian Authority. But arguing to apply such a young model for diplomatic support without seeing the results of the policy is incredibly dangerous. The administration is already playing with fire, considering they will have to completely reconsider support for the Lebanese government is Hizbullah makes any gains in the upcoming elections.

Hillary Clinton’s visit was meant to show American support for the current Lebanese government. But if that government falls in the upcoming elections, the Obama Administration will likely have to mirror the Bush policy on the Palestinian Authority post-election in 2006 – a Hamas victory meant an American boycott.

April 22, 2009

Israel & NATO

by Gedalyah Reback

Support Growing for Idea

According to a poll conducted by Jerusalem-based KEEVOON Research, Israelis would generally support joining NATO (54%), and by a wider margin support joining the European Union (69%). There are major differences between the two and particular reasons why there is such a wide differential in support.

Advocates from the right wing, like Daniel Pipes, have generally smiled on the idea. But the gesture has much, MUCH, wider support than people may realize. Diplomats in Europe have been vocal the last several years, plus European governments. These are just a few of the deeply reasoned articles that have pushed Israel’s joining the military alliance.

In fact, the support for the move jumped suddenly after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election as Iranian president. Simply, a threatened NATO member would be backed by the might of a 28-member military alliance that included the United States, Turkey and all the major Western European countries. Considering NATO’s declaration in 2001 that the September 11th attacks constituted an attack on the entire alliance, precedent is already in place to consider terrorist attacks as military aggression. Hezbollah and Hamas would be frozen strategically.

Drawbacks

But the obvious drawbacks would be the need to limit Israel’s offensive liberties at war. As regularly as Israel has had to go to war (three times in less than three years), Israel would have to exert an effort beyond any other country in the world to minimize collateral damage and civilian casualties, otherwise risk weakening the alliance.

It might be used as an incentive to make a peace deal. But again this brings on the classic issues of hastey, unsubstantial accords that would break down like the Oslo agreements did in 2000. But joining a military alliance would partially necessitate Israel maintains its military strength, not reduces it.

Benefits

On the flip side, recent agreements between Israel and NATO might mean Israel would not have to make its joining depedendent on a quick peace deal. Entrance into NATO would allow the Israeli military more freedom of movement in the Mediterranean Sea and, for that matter, the Indian Ocean. It would be a strong deterrent if they were to join the alliance prior to a peace deal.

Israel and NATO have formally signed and implemented agreements to share intelligence and conduct joint exercises since this past December. Lobbying by the Israelis and an innumerable amount of Jewish and non-Jewish advocates abroad, in the US and Europe, has been strong since the aforementioned Iranian president’s election.

The major opposition to joining would probably come from Turkey, but the country already has a working military relationship with Israel. That relationship has even survived the second Gaza War. Israel and Turkey are holding more joint exercises soon.

Domestic Affairs

Joining the alliance would silence many isolationists and mutually empower those in favor of expanding Israel’s international relationships, plus activists for stronger social integration. Improving Israeli Arabs’ place in society with renewed socioeconomic and political attention would be a start, and would lead to a strong social core if Arabs can find themselves a place in a culturally Jewish country. So regardless of what deals the Israeli government does or does not make with the Palestinian Authority, there should be some benefit to domestic Jewish-Arab communal affairs.

Of course, opposition from the Israeli left might be stronger if it seems a NATO shield is being enveloped around Israeli military maneuvers in the West Bank and Gaza – not a major sticking point for Israeli Jews but certainly for Israeli Arabs. This again points to balancing military activity, which might be an impossibly vague requirement by some members of NATO in order to get full membership.

Like I said, there is a definite difference to the European Union idea, and I’ll give some attention to that in the next few days.

April 8, 2009

Upgrade the Relationship with Egypt

by Gedalyah Reback

Put It on an Incline

Despite whatever we are reading in relation to Avigdor Lieberman, Israel and Egypt have been working together like they never have before. Egypt has essentially sided with the Israelis in both of the country’s previous two wars, and has been indispensable in its anti-smuggling policies into Gaza. Considering the pressure Egypt is under, and its willingness to work with Israel in combating Hamas, the Israeli government needs to start implementing long-term policies that envision strong Israeli ties with the major countries in the Middle East.

Egypt is a priority. Israel should be laying out brought goals regarding trade, increased security, and massive economic development in the Sinai Peninsula that would benefit both countries’ rapidly increasing populations demand for space. That will become an increasing priority over the next 100 years, with sea levels rising due to global warming and the predicted flooding of the Nile Delta region.


Short Term: Diplomacy and Gaza

In the meantime, Egypt is under intense pressure, evident in its confrontation with Avigdor Lieberman, to downgrade relations with Israel. No matter if Israeli firepower was too much in Gaza, it is perceived that way by Egyptians and other Arabs. The Israeli government needs to give the Egyptians immediate breathing room.

Whether he likes it or not, Foreign Minister Lieberman should give into the demand he apologize to Hosni Mubarak for his comments last year. The Egyptians demand it, otherwise they’ll ignore him when dealing with Israeli diplomats. There is a cycle of stubbornness in Middle Eastern policy right now whose pressure ought to be alleviated – this would be a first step (and it doesn’t cost anything other than pride). I personally don’t like want Lieberman in the position he is in, but I’ll be practical and stick to recommending what to do with him rather than getting rid of him.

Mubarak calling Netanyahu proves Egypt has no interest in being cold to the Israeli government. Mubarak wants to solve these problems, and he’d prefer to do it with the Israelis.

Prime Minister Netanyahu will need to get the crossings into Gaza open at some point, and it should be done before a prisoner exchange. The public support for policy of arms in Gaza will dwindle after the crossings are opened, though that would probably take months. This will prevent any released Palestinian prisoners from being immediately sent back into battle.

But any openings would need to be coupled with a massive influx of Israeli intelligence to track down weapons that Hamas has stolen from UNRWA(unexploded ordinance used by the Israelis that’d been gathered by UNRWA and subsequently stolen by Hamas). Israel is still in a state of war with Gaza (this is not speculation, the Kadima-controlled Israeli Cabinet said as much right after Hamas’ coup in Summer 2007)

No matter what order the Israeli government sees as the most beneficial, the priority should be to help out Egypt diplomatically, and give countries (like Jordan) incentive to also warm back up any aspects of foreign relations between Israel that might have cooled over the last few months.


Long Term: Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Religious Israelis

Hosni Mubarak will not be around forever, like mentioned in several recent articles published on the 30th anniversary of the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty. Perhaps his son or a similar politician to him will be his replacement, but inevitably the Islamic Brotherhood or other right-wing Egyptian parties will wiggle some power from the regime. If the layout for a post-Mubarak relationship is not presented, the cold peace with Egypt could deteriorate into something negligible.

Israeli policy needs to accommodate the reality of Islamist regimes in its periphery. Intelligence experts, diplomats and public relations officials must be more familiar with Islamic legal principals in order to undermine so-called religious arguments by Islamist politicians and half-rate Islamic scholars. Given the global crisis facing Islam and its legal system, the Israeli government must be as well-connected with and knowledgeable about Islamic Law as it is about Jewish Law in order to solicit proper contacts in the Muslim World (not just Egypt).

The fatwas issues by Palestinian clerics, declaring it a crime punishable by death to sell land to Jews, are the foundations for undermining Jewish rights to trade throughout the Middle East. This, if allowed to continue, will block any feasible peace from forming between Israelis and Arabs, preventing business contacts and the sale of property to Jews in all contexts – private or corporate. Without economic peace, there will be no peace. This does bring up how well the land laws are being applied in Jerusalem, but another Jewish perspective ought to be thrown into the mix.

The Jewish right to own property, both in Jewish law and as should be recognized in international treaties, cannot be held hostage if Israel’s economy will inevitably expand to benefit both Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. Jewish Israelis who are devoted to the idea of settling Israel and reject the violent ideas of some nationalists, will be totally undermined if their argument for peaceable property acquisition is discredited by those further to the right.

Longer Term: Economic

I mention these things because Israel will have an intense interest in helping Egypt develop the Sinai peninsula. Egypt’s population is nearing 80 million, well-beyond the point of residential comfort for Egyptians in the Nile Delta. Egypt will be looking to spread its population out along its underpopulated Sinai and Red Sea coastlines. It has the potential for major Israeli involvement in development projects, especially since any new development might be in conjunction with Israeli development in the Negev.

But there is an even more urgent need for Egypt, considering global warming projections over the next century predict much of the Nile Delta will be flooded by the Mediterranean. Israel does not have the problems Egypt does, so it can afford to prioritizing helping its neighbor adjust to the rising tides. Israel can take advantage of the opportunity to build long awaited canals that will channel more water into Israel. There is room in the Negev and Sinai deserts to pool water, a potential joint project that would involve the growing Israeli Water Industry.

When Prime Minister Menachem Begin and President Anwar Sadat made their peace agreement in 1979, Begin agreed to give over the entire Sinai Peninsula, and even accepted an $80 Million buy-out from the Egyptian government for the Jewish settlement of Yamit. Something similar happened with the Ofira settlement right outside Sharm el-Sheikh.

At the last minute the day of Yamit’s evacuation in 1982, PM Begin decided to level the settlement instead, thinking former Jewish settlers would travel back to Egypt and attack the new Egyptian residents (much like former Palestinian residents crossed the Jordan River and attacked Jewish refugees who had been settled in their old neighborhoods after the Israeli War of Independence. (The settlement’s ruins are still visible on a full zoom on Google Maps.)

The wake of the evacuation left a scar on Israeli-Egyptian relations at their birth. Egypt envisioned what the Israelis originally set out to do at Yamit: build a bustling port city. Instead, Egypt would have to rebuild the town if it wanted to achieve that, and the investment has apparently not been worth the time of planning and reconstruction.

Conclusion: I’m Casting Broad Strokes
A general and mutual respect for legal systems will inevitably give Islamic governments a reason to accommodate economic ventures with Israel who are willing to spend millions to legitimately buy property from Palestinians (a strategy which would undermine the extreme right-wing in the Jewish camp).

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