Avoiding Another Mistake In Lebanon

No one has ever complained that the United States doesn’t pay enough attention to the Middle East. In recent years, however, one country that hasn’t gotten much attention in Washington is Lebanon. But on Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee’s Sub Committee On Near East, South, and Central Asian Affairs and Counterterrorism held a hearing on Lebanon. The hearing focused on US aid to Lebanon, and whether the outsized presence of Hezbollah in the Lebanese government meant that aid should be cut.

Elliott Abrams, a leading neoconservative ideologue and senior fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations, spoke in favor of reducing aid to Lebanon. Rob Malley, president of the International Crisis Group and former lead diplomat in the Clinton and Obama administrations, spoke against such measures. Read more at LobeLog

Neocon Tribalism vs. Jewish Universalism

Over the past few years, there has been a good deal of consternation in Israel and in the American Jewish community about the relationship between the two. That concern has grown as Israeli Abrams-Elliott-620x350Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu consistently works to please his right flank with ever more controversial statements and actions amid a petrified peace process.

Neoconservative pundit Elliott Abrams reviewed two new books that document this phenomenon and try to explain it. Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict over Israel by Dov Waxman of Northeastern University and The Star and the Stripes: A History of the Foreign Policies of American Jews by Michael Barnett of George Washington University both look at shifts in Israeli policy over the years and examine the effects of those policy shifts on Jews in the United States. Abrams sees both books as blaming Israel for the growing divide with the US Jewish community, and he feels compelled to respond by laying the blame instead on Jews in the United States. Read more at LobeLog

Elliott Abrams’ Shell Game on Settlements

The shell game is a tried-and-true method of persuading people to give their money to the person running the game. Abrams-Elliott-620x350In political terms, it’s also a reliable method of persuading people to buy into the political stance of the man running the game.

Elliott Abrams is a master of the shell game. He provides what seems like a serious and sober analysis, with just enough cherry-picking of facts and omission of detail to convince you of his point of view. That is a big reason why this man, who is responsible for some of the greatest foreign policy fiascos in American history, continues to be considered a legitimate source for foreign policy analysis.

Perhaps it’s not surprising. Despite the enormous catastrophes brought on by the neoconservative school of thought of which Abrams is a part, the philosophy, such as it is, continues to be an influential voice in the foreign policy debate in the United States. This is, however, even more reason to look at an apparent change of course from Abrams with a skeptical eye.

The Reversal that Isn’t

That so-called change of course came in an article last week in Foreign Affairs where Abrams seemed to admit that settlements were indeed an obstacle to reaching a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

For Abrams, the growth of major settlement blocs where the vast majority of Israeli building in the West Bank has occurred under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s watch is not an impediment to a negotiated solution between Israel and the Palestinians. However, he argues, growth outside those major blocs is. To some, this is a major reversal of Abrams’ long-held position on settlements.

That’s what we’re meant to think. It certainly took in Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the former head of the Union for Reform Judaism. In an op-ed in the Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, Yoffie opines that

After admitting that it is ‘remarkably difficult to discern what is going on outside the blocs,’ Abrams states that according to his most recent calculations, there were 73,000 settlers living outside the security fence in 2009 and 93,000 in 2015. If the new Netanyahu government continues to settle at this rate, there will be 115,000 settlers outside the blocs by the end of the government’s term. The implications of this growth, Abrams writes, is (sic) that it will be exceedingly difficult and costly to make a two-state solution happen under these circumstances.

Actually, this is nothing new from Abrams. Over a decade ago, he was a driving force behind the letter George W. Bush sent to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which spoke of the need to adjust the 1967 borders to accommodate “demographic realities” since that fateful year. The result was that Israel felt free to build in the so-called “major settlement blocs.”

That has become an accepted reality in Jerusalem and Washington. In Ramallah, though, not so much.

Lara Friedman, director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now, and one of the leading experts on settlements, clarified the evolving debate:

The greatest threat on the ground to the two-state solution is construction in the so-called blocs. ’So-called’ because they have never been formally delineated. This has allowed them to be defined according to the ever-evolving whims of settler apologists and advocates (including Abrams), to become ever-expanding to the point where they encompass so much of the West Bank—and in key areas, especially around Jerusalem—that if we go with the “everybody knows” argument (i.e. that there is a basic understanding that Israel will keep these blocs in an eventual peace agreement) that Abrams favors, the two-state solution is already effectively dead.

Why?  Because no Palestinian leader ever will sign (or should be expected to sign) an agreement that leaves Israel in control of “blocs” of the West Bank that leave behind an only nominally contiguous state. The reality on the ground is that the Maale Adumim bloc reaches to the edge of the Jordan Valley; the Etzion bloc south nearly to Hebron and East to the Jordan Valley ridge; Givat Zeev reaches the outskirts of Ramallah; the Ariel and Kedumim blocs reach more than halfway to the Jordan border; and the new “Beit El” blocs is east of Ramallah.

Friedman is quite correct. The idea that these settlements would remain in Israel’s hands was always problematic. But when Ehud Barak first broached this idea, during the Camp David II talks in 2000, those settlements were also much smaller than they are today. Every settlement or bloc also has an area around it that is much larger than the built-up settlement itself and considered that settlement’s land. That area expands outward as the settlement does.

As B’Tselem, the leading Israeli human rights group, puts it:

The radical changes Israel has made to the map of the West Bank preclude any real possibility of establishing an independent, viable Palestinian state as part of the fulfillment of the right to self-determination. The settlements have been allocated vast areas, far exceeding their built-up sections. These areas have been declared closed military zones by military orders and are off limits to Palestinians, except by special permit. In contrast, Israeli citizens, Jews from anywhere in the world and tourists may all freely enter these areas.

Two States Versus One

The situation Friedman describes is hardly unknown to Abrams. It was his idea, after all, for the United States to send Israel a message that it could build all it wants to in the major settlement blocs. His so-called “concern” over the settlements outside the major blocs is a red herring. The real problem, as Abrams well knows, is the fact that, over 15 years after the idea of two states where the bulk of the settlements would remain in Israeli hands, expansion of those blocs has made this incompatible with a Palestinian state.

That doesn’t mean that something can’t be worked out. There are many other options for a two-state solution than the stale ideas of decades ago that no longer match the realities on the ground. But let’s not kid ourselves about what we’re up against if we want to make that idea a reality. The right, and especially the neoconservative right, is not waking up to the error of its ways. On the contrary, what Abrams’ article demonstrates, if one looks beneath the sheep’s clothing he draped over it, is that those same wolves that have thwarted peace efforts until now are today mapping out the one-state future they have been driving at for decades.

Yoffie expressed the hope that if someone like Abrams could change his position, it might influence Benjamin Netanyahu. But Abrams has not changed, and there remains no reason for Netanyahu to do so either. Bibi may not be the most popular guy in foreign capitals, or even in Israel. But he just won his fourth election to be prime minister of Israel. He knows what got him there, and it wasn’t making concessions or giving a damn about the rights of Palestinians or the security that peace could bring to Israel. And Elliott Abrams will still be in his corner.

Limited US Influence in Egypt Can Still Do Some Good

This article originally appeared at LobeLog.

When is a coup not a coup? When calling it that carries repercussions that make a bad situation worse.

US President Barack Obama is struggling with recent events in Egypt. Once again he’s presented with a situation in the Middle East where he has few good options but is still facing expectations based on a long history of US influence over events — an influence that is no longer situated in reality.

In contrast to the revolution that deposed Hosni Mubarak two years ago, the ouster of Mohammed Morsi raises some profound questions, not only for foreign powers, but for Egyptians themselves. There is no doubt that Morsi brought a lot of this on himself. He neglected the major issue for almost all Egyptians, the economy; he shamelessly tried to grab dictatorial powers; he did not follow through on his campaign promises to include the widest spectrum of Egyptians in his government; and, when confronted with all of this, he remained obstinate. Continue reading

Europe Urged to Step into Breach of Failed Mideast Peace

via IPS News

The Oslo peace process has failed and Europe must take stronger leadership in the Middle East, according to a distinguished group of former European leaders that is pushing for a stronger and more independent European stance on the Israeli occupation.

And some United States analysts believe the European Union’s current leadership may heed the call.

A recent letter from the European Eminent Persons Group (EEPG) to the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, is deeply critical of both the EU’s and the United States’ approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict and calls for specific steps to try to save the two-state solution.

The letter was signed by 19 prominent Europeans – amongst them seven former foreign ministers, four former prime ministers and one former president – from 11 European countries, including the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Latvia.

“We have watched with increasing disappointment over the past five years the failure of the parties to start any kind of productive discussion, and of the international community under American and/or European leadership to promote such discussion,” the letter said.

Specifically critical of the U.S.’s role, the letter also stated that President Barack Obama “…gave no indication [in his recent speech in Jerusalem] of action to break the deep stagnation, nor any sign that he sought something other than the re-start of talks between West Bank and Israeli leaders under the Oslo Process, which lost its momentum long ago.”

The EEPG criticised what they referred to as “the erasing of the 1967 lines as the basis for a two-state (solution).” They called for changes in EU policy and some specific steps to promote peace.

They called, among other points, for an explicit recognition that the Palestinian Territories are under occupation, imposing on Israel the legal obligations of that status; a clear statement that all Israeli settlements beyond the 1967 border be recognised as illegal and only that border can be a starting point for negotiations; and that the EU should actively support Palestinian reunification.

The notable leaders also called for “a reconsideration of the funding arrangements for Palestine, in order to avoid the Palestinian Authority’s present dependence on sources of funding which serve to freeze rather than promote the peace process,” an acknowledgment that the often praised “economic improvement” in the West Bank has been built on international donations and is not sustainable.

The timing of the letter, sent just after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s most recent trip to the Middle East, was a clear statement that the EEPG does not believe the current round of U.S. diplomacy is likely to achieve significant progress. The letter has received only moderate publicity, yet EEPG’s co-chair, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, believes that the recommendations of the Group can get the long-dormant peace process back on track.

“We have had an acknowledgement from Ashton’s office to say that a response is being prepared,” Greenstock told IPS. “The letter recommends a strategic change, which is a big ask. The first step must be to start a more realistic debate about the poor results from recent policy.  We then hope that our recommendations will get a good hearing.”

Greenstock also expressed confidence that EU leadership can not only contribute to reviving diplomacy but can also help the United States realign its policies toward a more productive track.

“The EEPG recognises that a U.S. role is indispensable,” he said. “But the current American stance is unproductive.  We believe the Europeans can at least lead on exploring some alternatives, which could in the end be helpful to Washington.”

Hard-line pro-Israel voices have long insisted that only the United States should be mediating between Israel and the Palestinians. Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and leading neo-conservative pundit, sharply criticised the letter in his blog.

“This letter is a useful reminder of European attitudes, at least at the level of the Eminent: Blame Israel, treat the Palestinians as children, wring your hands over the terrible way the Americans conduct diplomacy,” Abrams wrote.

“The Israelis will treat this letter with the derision it deserves, and the Palestinians will understand that because this kind of thing reduces European influence with Israel, the EU just can’t deliver much. Indeed it cannot, and the bias, poor reasoning, and refusal to face facts in this letter all suggest that that won’t be changing any time soon.”

But Paul Pillar, a professor in Georgetown University’s Security Studies Programme who spent 28 years as a CIA analyst, thinks Washington might welcome a European initiative along the lines suggested by the EEPG.

“I don’t think that European activism along this line would cause a great deal of heartburn, political or otherwise, in the White House,” Pillar told IPS. “Of course for the United States to take the sorts of positions mentioned in the letter would be anathema to the Israel lobby, and thus the United States will not take them.

“But it would be hard for the Israeli government or anyone else to argue that merely acquiescing in European initiatives is equivalent to the United States taking the same initiatives itself. If the EU were to get out in front in the way recommended by the EEPG, President Obama would say to Netanyahu and others – consistent with what he has said in the past, ‘I have Israel’s back and always will.

“But as I have warned, without peace we are likely to see other countries doing more and more things that challenge the Israeli position.’”

Chas Freeman, former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and former president of the Middle East Policy Council, believes the EU has lost patience with U.S. policy in the Middle East and that Israel will soon need to contend with an EU that is more demanding than it has been in the recent past.

“The international community has long since lost confidence in American diplomacy in the Middle East,” Freeman told IPS. “Europe is not an exception, as shown in trends in voting at the United Nations.  The ‘peace process’ was once the emblem of U.S. sincerity and devotion to the rule of law; it is now seen as the evidence of American diplomatic ineptitude, subservience to domestic special interests, and political hypocrisy. Europe no longer follows American dictates.

“The EU has its own divided mind. Israel must make its own case to Europeans now.  That will not be easy.”

Greenstock believes the urgency of the moment can lead to firm European action. Asked why the EEPG members are taking bolder stances now than when they were in office, he said: “When most of the signatories were in office, there was still some hope that Oslo-Madrid could produce a result. Time and a lack of recent effective action has changed that.  Almost every observer now thinks that the prospects for a two-state solution are fading.  Hence the urgency.”