Opinion

The Great Debate

from Bernd Debusmann:

Who is the superpower, America or Israel?

On February 18, the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories. The vote raises a question: Who dominates in the alliance between America and Israel?

Judging from the extent to which one partner defies the will of the other, decade after decade, the world's only superpower is the weaker partner. When push comes to shove, American presidents tend to bow to Israeli wishes. Barack Obama is no exception, or he would not have instructed his ambassador at the United Nations to vote against a policy he himself stated clearly in the summer of 2009.

"The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop," he said in a much-lauded speech in Cairo.

Compare this with the text of the resolution that drew 14 votes in favor and died with the U.S. veto: "Israeli settlements established in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace."

Linguists may quibble over the difference between "illegal" and "illegitimate" but the substance of the two statements is pretty much the same. So why the veto? It followed an energetic campaign by the Israeli government and its allies in the United States to keep the issue out of the United Nations, seen by Israel as a reflexively anti-Israeli body.

Nuclear bombs and the Israeli elephant

-The views expressed are the author’s own-

For the past four decades, there has been an elephant in the room whenever experts and government officials met to discuss nuclear weapons. The elephant is Israel’s sizeable nuclear arsenal, undeclared under a U.S.-blessed policy of “nuclear opacity.”

It means neither confirming nor denying the existence of nuclear weapons. “Deterrence by uncertainty,” as Israeli President Shimon Peres has called it. The United States became a silent partner in Israeli opacity with a one-on-one meeting between President Richard Nixon and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir on Sept. 26, 1969.

That policy made strategic and political sense 40 years ago but it has outlived its usefulness, conflicts with Israel’s democratic values, is counter-productive and should be abandoned. So argues Avner Cohen, one of the world’s leading experts on Israel’s bomb, in a new book “The Worst-Kept Secret”, which delves deeply into the history and strategic and political implications of the policy.

The U.S. war in Iraq is over. Who won?

The end of America’s combat mission, after seven and a half costly years, has raised questions that will provide fodder for argument for a long time to come: Was it worth it? And who, if anyone, won?

It’s too early to answer the first question, according to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a man of sober judgment. “It really requires a historian’s perspective in terms of what happens here in the long run … How it all weighs in the balance over time remains to be seen.”

For a sizeable group of Middle East experts, the second question is easier to answer than the first. “So, who won the war in Iraq? Iran,” says the headline over an analysis by scholar Mohammed Bazzi for the Council on Foreign relations, a New York-based think-tank. His argument: “The U.S. ousted Tehran’s sworn enemy, Saddam Hussein, from power. Then Washington helped install a Shi’ite government for the first time in Iraq’s modern history.

Why the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will go nowhere

PALESTINIANS-ISRAEL/

The following are excerpts from STRATFOR’s geopolitical weekly column by George Friedman, chief executive officer of STRATFOR, a global intelligence company. He is the author of numerous books and articles on international affairs, warfare and intelligence. His most recent book is “The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century.” The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

The Israeli government and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) have agreed to engage in direct peace talks September 2 in Washington. Neither side has expressed any enthusiasm about the talks. In part, this comes from the fact that entering any negotiations with enthusiasm weakens your bargaining position. But the deeper reason is simply that there have been so many peace talks between the two sides and so many failures that it is difficult for a rational person to see much hope in them. Moreover, the failures have not occurred for trivial reasons. They have occurred because of profound divergences in the interests and outlooks of each side.

These particular talks are further flawed because of their origin. Neither side was eager for the talks. They are taking place because the United States wanted them. Indeed, in a certain sense, both sides are talking because they do not want to alienate the United States and because it is easier to talk and fail than it is to refuse to talk.

U.S. aid, Israel and wishful thinking

In June 1980, when an American president, Jimmy Carter, objected to Jewish settlements in Israeli-occupied territories, the Israeli government responded by announcing plans for new settlements. At the time, settlers numbered fewer than 50,000.

In 2010, another American president, Barack Obama, is calling for an end to settlements he considers obstacles to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Israeli authorities responded by announcing new ones, illegal under international law. Settlers now number close to half a million.

In the three decades between 1980 and 2010, there have been multiple U.S.-Israeli spats over the issue and they often fell into something of a pattern, spelt out in 1991 by James Baker, President George H W Bush’s secretary of state: “Every time I have gone to Israel in connection with the peace process … I have been met with an announcement of new settlement activities. It substantially weakens our hand in trying to bring about a peace process.” That is as true now as it was then.

from The Great Debate UK:

Shlomo Sand on “The Invention of the Jewish People”

Professor Shlomo Sand, approved portrait 3 (c) Olivia Grabowski-West, (low res)

Picture taken by Olivia Grabowski-West.

In his controversial book, "The Invention of the Jewish People," author Shlomo Sand challenges historical notions of the link between Judaism and Israel, and argues that there is no record of exile of the Jewish people.

Israel has deliberately forgotten its history and replaced it with a myth, writes Sand, a Jewish scholar and historian based at the University of Tel Aviv. Without exile, there is no right to return, he says.

“The disparity between what my research suggested about the history of the Jewish people and the way that history is commonly understood – not only within Israel but in the larger world - shocked me as much as it shocked my readers.”

from The Great Debate UK:

A Visit to Hebron

robin-yassin-kassab-Robin Yassin-Kassab is the author of The Road from Damascus, a novel published by Penguin, and co-editor of PULSE, one of Le Monde Diplomatique's five favourite websites. The opinions expressed are his own.-

There’s no pretty way to describe what I saw in Hebron, no tidy conceit to wrap it in.

I visited as a participant in the Palestine Festival of Literature, the brain child of the great British-Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif. I was in the company of many wonderful writers and publishers, among them Python and traveller Michael Palin, best-selling crime novelist Henning Mankel, Pride and Prejudice screenplay writer Deborah Moggach, and prize-winning novelists Claire Messud and MG Vassanji.

Iran sanctions and wishful thinking

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate
– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

So what’s so difficult in getting Iran to drop its nuclear program? All it needs is a great American leader who uses sanctions to break the Iranian economy so badly that popular discontent sweeps away the leadership. It is replaced without a shot being fired.

That simplistic solution to one of the most complex problems of the Middle East was part of a keynote speech greeted with thunderous applause by 6,000 delegates to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The speaker: Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and a likely Republican presidential candidate in 2012.

Setback for America’s pro-Israel hawks

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

“The brutal oppression of the Palestinians by the Israeli occupation shows no sign of ending … Israel no longer even pretends to seek peace with the Palestinians, it strives to pacify them … American identification with Israel has become total.”

These are excerpts from a 2007 speech by Charles (Chas) Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, whose appointment as chairman of the National Intelligence Council was announced on February 26 and is turning into a test case for the strength of Washington’s right-wing pro-Israel lobby.

First 100 Days: The next steps in the Middle East

President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell in the Oval Office of the White House.

President Barack Obama inherits a distinctly gloomy outlook for progress in settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Is change really possible?

Reuters asked Oliver McTernan, the director a UK charity called Forward Thinking and two experts from the Brookings Institution in Washington — former Ambassador to Israel Martin S. Indyk and Kenneth Pollack — what steps the Obama administration should take next in the Middle East.

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