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…)

Unilateral surprises: Netanyahu’s speech to Congress

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Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is slated to speak in front of a joint session of the US Congress in a few weeks’ time. In an attempt to preempt a planned Palestinian move seeking statehood in the United Nations, Netanyahu is expected to put forth his own peace initiative. The Prime Minister’s Office has been hyping the speech’s impact, saying it will “surprise the international community.”

But there is no real expectation of surprise.

The consensus in the Israeli press in recent months is that the prime minister has yet to offer any original ideas and is too much of a reactionary to conjure any up now. Editorials and columns in nearly every Israeli newspaper have lamented the lack of any forward-looking vision presented by the man expected to lead Israel into the future.

But what if all of the pundits are wrong and Netanyahu does actually understand (more…)

The September Plan: An even bigger ‘nuclear option’

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Diplomats, politicians, pundits and voyeurs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have a new-found obsession, the prospect of Palestine becoming the 193rd member state in the United Nations this September (a move referred to as the Palestinians’ “nuclear option”). While Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has yet to present an Israeli counter-proposal, peace plan or any effective measures to prevent the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state within pre-1967 borders, he might be well served to consider an outcome that fares even worse for Israel.

Late last year, Palestinian Authority negotiator and senior Fatah member Mohammed Shtayyeh told reporters that if the PA’s bid for statehood in the UN fails, that Palestinians have another option up their sleeve – to request UN custodianship of the Palestinian territories.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was completely justified last month when he coined the term, “diplomatic tsunami,” to describe the prospect of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state gaining recognition and membership in the United Nations. Not only would such a move alter (more…)

Gaza: Artificial islands of isolation

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The Israeli government on Tuesday floated an idea to build an artificial Island off the Gaza coast that would serve as an air and sea port for the currently-blockaded coastal strip. Though impressive for its creativity, like most plans hatched by Israeli politicians in recent years, it is depressingly shortsighted and dismissive of reality in the outside world.

The plan sidesteps the current situation, in which nothing short of a full political solution resulting in two states will be accepted by the international community – something Israel can no longer afford to ignore.

Undoubtedly inspired by projects such as Japan’s floating airports and Dubai’s (sinking) island-building adventures, the offshore Gaza island idea addresses two serious issues: accessible international (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…)

Why Israel should support the Egyptian people

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Since the unrest and protests calling for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster began almost a week ago, Israel has been obsessed with the possible revolution in-the-making’s effects on itself. While there are very good reasons to worry about how regime change in Egypt would affect the security of Israel, especially its military deployment structure, the Israeli position seems to be predicated on the assumption that Mubarak is invincible and that its own comfortable security arrangements vis-à-vis Egypt trump the democratic rights of the Egyptian people.

Despite Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wisely ordering his ministers to abstain from publicly commenting on the impossible-to-ignore drama taking place south of the border, it seems that behind the scenes, Israel is actively working to protect the Mubarak regime. A report in Haaretz on Monday alleges that (more…)

Expectations for ‘disaster diplomacy’: Israel and Turkey

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Netanyahu standing with Turkish water-dropping airplane

Netanyahu standing with Turkish water-dropping plane - Moshe Milner, GPO

One always hopes that out of the ashes of tragedy, some good will come. Just hours after Israel’s devastating fire in the Carmel Forest that killed 42 people, destroyed 10,000 acres of forest, and exposed the decrepit state of the country’s firefighting service and bureaucratic mismanagement, at least one opportunity seams to have reared its head. Turkey, on the day the deadly blaze broke out, dispatched two desperately needed water-dropping planes to the Carmel Mountains.

For nearly two years, Israel has watched (and actively participated) as its relations with Turkey deteriorated. The climax of the fallout was this past May’s flotilla incident, in which Israeli naval commandos killed nine Turks aboard the Mavi Marmara as it attempted to break the naval blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip. The distance between the two Mediterranean states, however, began to widen a year-and-a-half before, during Israel’s 2009 offensive in the Strip.

The Islamic-leaning government in Ankara – a new phenomenon in the country (more…)

The chutzpa of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef

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The notion that Jews rule the world has been one of the most detrimental social concoctions the Jewish people have (barely) endured in past millennia. This week, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef seemed determined to prove it correct. Following last week’s marathon talks between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York, Netanyahu returned to Israel in order to present whatever proposal was formulated in the golden apple.

Since Netanyahu’s return, unconfirmed reports of the New York deal’s details have been making their way through the Israeli media. The basic understanding is that in exchange for an additional 90 days of an already-expired and failed settlement freeze, Israel will receive 20 state-of-the-art fighter jets, free of charge; the US will veto any UN resolutions resembling a declaration of Palestinian declaration of statehood; Israel will be permitted to build in East Jerusalem; and the US will not request (more…)

New settlement construction: Who is undermining the peace talks?

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Two large construction plans for over 1,800 housing units east of the Green Line were approved on Monday and Tuesday. The announcements themselves are problematic, but the timing is astonishing considering Netanyahu is currently in the US and scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week for talks to try and save the peace process with the Palestinians. This raises two scenarios: Either the Israeli bureaucracy is deliberately trying to undermine peace efforts or Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu himself is trying to sabotage the process.

The first scenario is that elements in Israel’s bureaucracy are deliberately trying to embarrass Netanyahu and simultaneously undermine efforts to save the perilous peace talks. In March 2010 when US Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel, the Jerusalem planning commission announced the approval of 1,600 housing units east of the Green Line. The Netanyahu government was embarrassed by the timing of the announcement and publicly declared that it would install additional oversight in order to prevent future embarrassingly ill-timed announcements. However, more announcements of building plans were announced on (more…)

A test case in population transfer: Ghajar

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Note:
For the purposes of this article, a “population transfer” is understood to include land swaps of populated land.

A test of ideology awaits the Israeli left next week. Similarly, the constraints on Israeli government power will be tested in what may be a trial-run for future scenarios involving the two-state solution. Government officials on Saturday announced that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will present plans to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Monday in New York for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the northern half of the border-town of Ghajar. The town’s residents say they are Syrian, the UN says that the town is split between Israel and Lebanon, and nearly all of its residents hold Israeli citizenship. So the question becomes, is Israel planning on transferring its own citizens to an enemy state, which the transferees claim they have no connection to?

In the past year, the Israeli left has reacted strongly and loudly to hints by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of plans – or even the floating of ideas – of transfering some Israeli-Arabs to Palestinian control. The thought of a forced population transfer is indeed repulsive. Although any two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians will need to deal with many issues relating to citizenship and (more…)

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