Just about everybody who follows Israeli affairs with any seriousness these days agrees that the peace process is dead, that the two sides are too far apart for any deal and besides there’s nobody to talk to. The one big exception is the Israeli intelligence and defense establishment, which remains a stronghold of optimism that a deal can be reached in the near term. Which is weird, because they’re the ones who presumably know the inner workings and thinking of the two sides better than anyone.
When you bring this up to people who care about Israel, the usual response begins something like, “But don’t they realize that Israel’s minimum security needs require…” or “… that the Palestinians are dedicated to…” And you’re left wondering: What does this person know that Israeli intelligence doesn’t? And: Can’t you hear what you sound like?
Still, it’s understandable that the concerned observer would wonder how a peace process is supposed to square with Hamas’s refusal to accept Israel and the growing turmoil in the broader Arab world. Conveniently enough, former Mossad director Efraim Halevy (appointed by Bibi Netanyahu, 1998; succeeded by Meir Dagan, 2002) answers those questions and sketches the broad contours of a possible peace process in an important piece posted today at The New Republic, “The (Very) Quiet Peace Talks Between Israel and Hamas: The Middle East’s storm clouds have a silver lining.” His bottom line: Given enough pragmatism on both sides, the confluence of Hamas’s interest in stability, Egypt’s quiet mediation and the still-alive Saudi/Arab Peace Initiative make for “a very promising moment to forge durable agreements between Israel and Palestine.” Not a permanent end of conflict, but a viable modus vivendi.
“As Obama prepares to travel to the region,” Halevy writes, “one can fairly hope that he recognizes the value of the cards in his possession. He may not have any aces up his sleeve, but kings and queens should suffice for the moment.”
Leslie Stahl’s “60 Minutes” interview Sunday night with former Mossad chief Meir Dagan (transcript) gave important exposure to his views on the folly of attacking Iran. However, she got two things very wrong, both of which weakened the strength of his case against a military strike. The bottom line is, she let you think Dagan is a lone voice. In fact, it’s Bibi Netanyahu who’s nearly alone on this. The trouble is, Bibi’s the one who gets to make the decision. That’s why Dagan and nearly every other military or intelligence chief is speaking out against him: They’re scared of him.
Stahl suggested as though it were credible that Dagan was pushed out of the Mossad, supposedly because of the messy assassination of Hamas arms procurer Mahmoud Mabhouh in Dubai in January 2010 — and hence that his campaign against the Netanyahu-Barak war talk is a petty act of revenge. In fact, Dagan was supposed to retire in late 2009 at the mandatory age of 65, but Netanyahu asked him to stay on for another year and he ended up retiring on schedule in January 2011.
More seriously misleading is her assertion early on that it’s “unheard of for someone who held such a high-classified position to speak out publicly.” That makes it sound like he’s a lone voice in the wilderness. In fact, as I’ve written before, Dagan’s views have been publicly echoed by every single ex-Mossad or Israel Defense Forces chief going back to 1996, with the single exception of super-hawk (and Netanyahu ally) Moshe Yaalon. Now, that is unheard of.
Even more astonishing, the current heads of the IDF and Mossad, Benny Gantz and Tamir Pardo, have now gone public resisting Netanyahu’s war push. Even Dagan didn’t dare to do that. That’s beyond unheard-of.
Here’s the roll-call:
One day after a New York Jewish fundraising event bought in $500,000 towards President Obama’s reelection effort, the Obama campaign has released a new video touting the president’s support for Israel, and citing praise for the president from Israeli leaders.
Titled “America and Israel: An Unbreakable Bond,” the seven-minute web video intersperses Obama’s December 2011 speech to the Union of Reform Judaism’s biennial convention with clips of Israeli leaders praising the president.
Republican presidential have painted the president’ as insufficiently supportive of Israel in recent debates. The president’s campaign has struck back in recent days, both in public remarks made at the January 19 Jewish fundraiser and in the newly released video.
Both the president’s earlier remarks and the web video emphasize American military cooperation with Israel, and to America’s commitment to sanction’s against Iran. Both also point to public praise the president has received from the Israeli political and military leadership.
Click through to see a clip of the video
I just returned from a few weeks in Israel, and was there during the dramatic denouement of the Gilad Shalit story. The trip reminded me why it’s important for those of us who observe and comment and tear our hair out over Israel to actually experience the country as a place — as opposed to an abstract concept — every once in a while.
The reality is always so much more nuanced and challenging than the neat categories we project onto Israel from over here. The Shalit swap was a perfect example. From what I could tell, nearly the entire country was opposed and supportive of the deal at the same time. You could call this schizophrenia, but the extreme mixed feelings were just a function of Israeli reality. There is the emotional reaction — Gilad is everyone’s son — and the strategic one — releasing so many sworn killers is pure folly. And no one seemed to be bothered that these two reactions jostled together in their heads. They just did. And it made a joke of our attempts here to come to one conclusion about what Israelis actually think.
The other news that shocked me in the wake of the Shalit deal was a poll I saw cited on Israeli television that put 65 percent of Israelis in favor of continuing to negotiate with Hamas over a cease-fire. This number is consistent with a Haaretz poll from three years ago. I imagined going back to the States and explaining this to American Jews on the extreme right, like Rachel Abrams, wife of the neoconservative Elliot Abrams, who recently described Palestinians in a blog post as subhuman, “devils’ spawn” and “unmanned animals” who should be thrown to the sharks. How to break it to her that most Israelis see the logic of negotiating with these enemies?