Foreign Policy

Obama creates linkage between Israel and the Arab world

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There is much to be examined in US President Barack Obama’s speech on the Middle East. As usual, the president’s words failed to thrill any side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For leftists, Obama did not go far enough in pressuring Israel to make concessions necessary for peace, and for the “Land of Israel” right-wingers, his explicit mention of 1967 borders as a basis for future borders represented a betrayal of Israeli interests. Both sides, of course, are over-reacting. The president did not introduce much new to the conflict save for one issue: linkage between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the problems of the wider Middle East and American interests in the region.

For decades, Israeli politicians have been fighting what they call “linkage,” the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be linked to the violent strife and domestic problems in the Arab world (explained passionately here by the ADL’s Abraham Foxman). It is true that Israel is not the cause of conflict in the Middle East. The region has been plagued with armed conflict since Babylonian times and through to Israel’s establishment in 1948. If anything, Israel’s entrance into the Middle Eastern neighborhood has allowed Arabs to refocus their conflict on what is viewed as an external enemy, although a fair number of intra-Arab and intra-Muslim conflicts have threatened the region since (Iran-Iraq, Iraq-Kuwait, Syria-Jordan, Lebanon-Syria, Lebanon-Lebanon, Saudi Arabia-Yemen, etc.).

The conclusion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been widely linked to the relatively dormant Arab-Israeli conflict. With two notable exceptions, Egypt and Jordan, Arab states condition peace with Israel upon (more…)

The fragility of ‘unbreakable bonds’

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The United States’ veto on Friday of a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning settlements in the West Bank presented a difficult moment for Washington. The resolution, written to mirror much of the language used by the United States over the years, left the White House with a dilemma of whether it should blindly stand by its friends in Israel or stand behind its long-stated position that settlements are illegal and a serious obstacle to a two-state solution. Additionally, by vetoing the resolution, the Obama administration defied nearly every country represented in the UN and took a risk of isolating itself alongside Israel. While the US continues to provide unwavering support for Israel, it is a mistaken assumption that there is an “unbreakable bond” between the two states. If Washington becomes increasingly isolated (economically or politically) as a result of its support and defense of Israel, the relationship may be in trouble.

Since the late 1960s, the “unbreakable bond” between the United States and Israel has been based on four main points. Firstly, Israel was one of the only Middle Eastern states (more…)

Barak departs from Labor, leaves the peace process behind

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Ehud Barak’s move this week to break away from the Labor party represents a second death of the American-sponsored peace process. Already, in the days since Barak and four Labor MKs left to create the “Independence” party, several notable changes relating to Israeli-Palestinian peace have taken place and more should be expected.

On a political level, the Knesset shakeup removes all left-wing representation from the government. Faced with an imminent internal Labor party decision to leave the coalition because it wasn’t engaged in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, Ehud Barak decided to leave the party and keep his prestigious ministry. Barak had justified Labor’s participation in the government by claiming it was a force pushing the right-wing coalition into renewed negotiations; by breaking away from Labor to stay in the government, he has endorsed the Netanyahu government’s lackadaisical attitude towards peace. (more…)

A new US building freeze bid, and a retrospect of American settlement policy

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Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s full cabinet will meet today later today to discuss the most recent American incentives package, which in a quid pro quo, Israel is asked to freeze construction of settlements in the West Bank for an additional three months. Although it has not been in the news for the past few weeks, the stated goal of the Americans in obtaining another building freeze is to hammer out borders between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. If such an agreement on borders is reached, as the American logic goes, there will no longer be any ambiguity as to where it is permissible for Israel to build – only on the western side of the border. However, the arrangement becomes problematic if the two sides are unable to delineate borders by the end of the building freeze.

Construction in Gush Etzion, West Bank

Settlement construction in Gush Etzion, West Bank - CC license - by afps14

I found an article by former US ambassador to Israel and Egypt, Daniel Kurtzer, (written last year) about the history and context of American policy towards Israeli settlements this morning.  In addition to providing a very thorough and well-written explanation of why the settlements are such a big deal, Kurtzer outlines the history of (more…)

A unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood

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The Palestinian Authority and the Arab world have recently been floating the idea of unilaterally declaring Palestinian statehood in the case that peace talks fail. Seeing as how the talks are looking ever more perilous, an analysis of this scenario – or the likelihood of the PA following through on their threat – seems warranted.

Over one year ago, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad presented a two-year plan to build up the essential infrastructure needed for the establishment of a de facto Palestinian state, and once that is in place, to declare statehood in 2011. Fayyad’s plan received a lot of attention from those observing the conflict (NGOs, journalists, think tanks and analysts), but up until now the plan was dismissed in nearly all official channels. In fact, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas outright rejected the plan in April of this year. However, in this month’s emergency meeting of Arab League ministers on the stalled peace process, Abbas said that if the talks fail, he might ask the UN Security Council, the US or the EU to recognize Palestinian statehood. With Fayyad’s 2011 goal for statehood rapidly approaching, one must ask whether the PA has rethought the (more…)

Obama’s Mess

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President Barack Obama deserves acknowledgement for his efforts to realize a two-state solution, but applause is un-called for. One must begin to question the depth of Obama’s strategy, as his moves in the process seem more and more reactionary. Pressuring Israel to implement a 10-month West Bank settlement freeze was the right move, but waiting until it was nearly expired to make any further moves effectively eliminated any significance it had. Furthermore, the scheduling of peace talks at the same time as mid-term elections may have been inevitable considering the non-stop American political cycle, but it has severely limited his political capital to exert further pressure on the Israelis. As the peace talks he fought so hard to start teeter on the brink of collapse, what does the American president have up his sleeve?

Pressuring Israel to enact a 10-month settlement freeze was perhaps a necessary precursor to renewing the long-stalled peace talks. However, waiting so long to make his next move essentially wasted the momentum created by the freeze and the ensuing public chilling of relations between the US and Israel. By the time the American-sponsored peace summit materialized (and with it, the most optimism the region has seen (more…)

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