A funny thing happened to Israeli figurehead president Shimon Peres on his way to the World Economic Forum. Scheduled to address a gathering of Middle Eastern political and business leaders at a Jordanian Dead Sea conference center on Sunday evening, the 89-year-old elder statesman came under furious attack from Likud cabinet ministers Sunday afternoon for reportedly intending to endorse Israeli withdrawal to its pre-1967 borders.
The funny thing is, he didn’t say it. What he did say was that the Palestinians should return to the negotiating table to settle their disputes with Israel. Even funnier, the attacks kept coming afterwards, undeterred.
Peres was the closing speaker at the three-day conference, preceded by Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Before his departure for Jordan, Maariv reported that Peres would declare (I’m translating from the Hebrew, as no English version has been published): “Israel wants peace. There is a clear majority among us that favors a diplomatic solution under the framework of two states for two peoples, along the 1967 lines, with agreed and equal border adjustments. Israel longs for peace.”
The Maariv report, by the respected, conservative-leaning journalist Shalom Yerushalmi, also said that Peres had discussed his speech earlier with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in accord with his plans. Yerushalmi noted that Peres’s audience at the King Hussein Convention Center would include the president of Libya, the prime minister of Iraq and senior ministers from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey, the Gulf states and others. The report said Peres would endorse the Arab Peace Initiative and say to Abbas, “I am your partner and you are my partner. Let’s bring peace.”
Responding to the Maariv account, international relations minister Yuval Steinitz told reporters on his way into a Sunday afternoon cabinet meeting: “I didn’t know that Peres wants to be the government spokesman. Government decisions are decided by the cabinet.”
Recently published analyses teach the following lessons:
Lesson 1. The Arab uprisings are not necessarily democratic in nature, and liberal readiness to back them — morally or with arms and material aid — is at best foolhardy romanticism. We should stand back and avoid getting involved. Why undermine existing regimes when the replacement might be no better and possibly much worse?
Lesson 2. The Arab uprisings show that ruthless dictators are finished, and proves the wrongheadedness of previous administrations’ willingness to work with them rather than seek their removal. The failure of the Obama administration and the rest of the liberal West to back the brave Syrian rebels shows the liberals’ hypocrisy and unwillingness to stand up to tyranny.
Lesson 3. The uprisings show that the Arab street never cared about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What Arab citizens care about are their own lives and welfare, not the Palestinians. It is misguided and reckless to assume that granting concessions to the Palestinians will improve Arab attitudes toward America or the West. Palestinian rights are just not on the minds of ordinary Arabs.
Lesson 4. The uprisings show that peace agreements are foolish because any regime that signs an agreement with Israel could be gone tomorrow and you can’t expect the replacements to honor the agreements. Successor regimes will be under more pressure from the Arab street to turn against Israel, if only to gain popularity with the public. Not that the Arab public cares about Israel (see 3 above). Agreements with Arab governments are unreliable because Arab governments are unstable. Successor governments will be more vulnerable to popular moods and less able to defy public hostility toward Israel.
Sub-Lesson 4(a). The Palestinian Authority’s refusal to commence negotiations with no preconditions is unreasonable. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is naturally unwilling to resume talks where they broke off during the former government of Ehud Olmert and rejects the terms that Olmert had already put on the table — including a future border based on the 1967 Green Line, the Jordan Valley under Palestinian control and a divided Jerusalem. Netanyahu has a different assessment of Israeli security needs and is not bound by his predecessor’s assessments. The Israeli electorate repudiated the Olmert concessions when it chose Netanyahu as its prime minister in 2009. Elections have consequences (except U.S. elections, which should not affect undertakings by previous presidents — they’re supposed to be sacred).
Note: All of the linked articles making the above arguments are taken directly from the Daily Alert, a comprehensive digest of news and commentary chosen to discredit Palestinian moderation and maximize fears of Israeli vulnerability, prepared daily for the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Your charity dollars at work.
I’m getting a headache trying to figure out whether or not to be mad at President Obama for his position on Libya and the Middle East’s big democratic moment. The biggest problem is that I can’t figure out what his position is. The second problem is that every time I think I’ve figured out where he’s headed, I can’t figure out whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.
In a report in the Saturday Wall Street Journal, Adam Entous and Julian Barnes flatly state that the administration has decided to support the existing regimes.
After weeks of internal debate on how to respond to uprisings in the Arab world, the Obama administration is settling on a Middle East strategy: help keep longtime allies who are willing to reform in power, even if that means the full democratic demands of their newly emboldened citizens might have to wait.
Instead of pushing for immediate regime change — as it did to varying degrees in Egypt and now Libya — the U.S. is urging protesters from Bahrain to Morocco to work with existing rulers toward what some officials and diplomats are now calling “regime alteration.”
On the other hand, the Washington Post’s lead foreign policy columnist David Ignatius writes on Friday, with just as much assurance, that Obama is quietly backing the rebels and looking toward dumping the autocracies.
President Obama has been so low-key in his pronouncements about events in Egypt and Libya that it’s easy to miss the extent of the shift in U.S. strategy. In supporting the wave of change sweeping the Arab world, despite the wariness of traditional allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, Obama is placing a big bet that democratic governments will be more stable and secure, and thereby enhance U.S. interests in the region.
What if the new orders that replace the old ones in Egypt and elsewhere turn out to be Islamic republics that take power democratically only to end democracy and spread jihad? Ignatius hears from his intelligence sources that it’s not going to happen.
There are near-term tactical dangers, said one counterterrorism analyst, such as the escape of prisoners in Egypt and the potential weakening of the intelligence service there. But this official says there’s no evidence that al-Qaeda has been able to take advantage of the turmoil. It took a week for Ayman al-Zawahiri, the group’s No. 2 official, to publish his windy and out-of-touch analysis of events in Egypt.
Change will have its downside, but a second U.S. intelligence analyst offers this estimate: “This is a world we can live with. Our relationship with Egypt may be different and rockier, but I don’t think it will be inherently hostile.” As for the much-feared Muslim Brotherhood, it is currently planning to run parliamentary candidates in only 150 of Egypt’s 454 districts, and no candidate for president.
Don’t be so sure, says Michael Scheuer, who headed the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit during the late 1990s. He thinks the winner in these putatively democratized Arab states will turn out to be Al Qaeda and its Islamist ilk:
Folks in the leafy New York suburb of Englewood, N.J., are up in arms, according to news reports, over plans by the Libyan government to pitch a tent on a Libyan-owned property in their town. The pavilion is supposed to house strongman Muammar Gadhafi while he attends the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in September.
Gadhafi traditionally puts up a tent whenever he travels abroad, so he can sleep outdoors under the open sky. Apparently he and his friends like to stay up late in their sleeping bags, tell ghost stories and make shadow animals on the tent flaps with a flashlight. Sometimes they sneak out and throw things at the neighbors’ houses. That’s when they get into trouble.
Englewood residents say they don’t want a dictator who supports terrorists camping out in their midst. Libya’s terror record hits close to home for New Jersey. The 189 Americans killed in the infamous 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, included 32 Jersey residents. Locals say Gadhafi’s presence overnight in the state would be an affront to the victims’ families. The issue is particularly inflamed right now because of the televised hero’s welcome that Gadhafi gave on the evening of August 20 to the convicted Pan Am bomber, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi. The convict was serving a life term in a Scottish prison but won early release that morning on humanitarian grounds because of terminal cancer.
The issue raises numerous sensitive issues for New Jersey. The state doesn’t like to house individuals with a history of homicide, unless they have names like Tony or Uncle Junior. Moreover, the state has had some painful experiences of its own with sleepovers involving Middle Easterners. Just ask former governor Jim McGreevey.
Not everyone opposed the visit. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the author and television host, who lives next door to the Libyan property, was in favor of welcoming Gadhafi, as he wrote in a Jerusalem Post essay published the morning of August 20. Well, he supported it until he was against it, following the al-Megrahi homecoming that evening.
The dispute raises some complicated legal issues. Englewood has clear laws against pitching tents outdoors, but it has granted a continuing exemption to a local synagogue that puts tents in its parking lot for weddings and bar mitzvahs. Denying Gadhafi the same right might bring charges of religious discrimination. We could end up in the International Court, site of so many Jewish nightmares. Imagine a late-August bar mitzvah suit dismissed in a summery judgment from the bencher. The suit: seersucker, no cuffs. (Add your own double-entendres here.)
There may be an elegant solution, however. The legality of putting up poles and anchoring them with long cords was addressed a decade ago in the next town over, Tenafly, which fought a three-year court battle to prevent local Orthodox Jews from erecting an eruv, a symbolic Sabbath barrier strung from telephone poles. The town’s formal complaint was that the eruv defaced public property, but the underlying motive, many believed, was fear that the eruv would bring in an undesirable element. The parallel is inescapable.
Tenafly ultimately lost the fight against the eruv, but it kept the issue tied up for three years, which is more than Englewood needs.
Alternatively, Englewood might simply argue that Gadhafi would be happier staying indoors. Sleeping outdoors in late September, someone might think he’s built himself a sukkah, which could get him in hot water back home. He might be better off getting a room at a charming beduin-breakfast. (Ooooh.) (Sorry.)