Opinion

The Great Debate

Peace may be the true threat to Hamas, Israel’s leaders

Relatives of a Palestinian woman, who medics said was killed in an Israeli air strike, mourn during her funeral in Khan Younis

It’s time to wonder whether Israel and Palestine will ever be able to move out of the moral abyss into which they’ve plunged themselves, and address the threat of peace.

“Threat” is the right term. Because peace is dangerous for leaders in the Middle East.

It always has been. But back in the early 1990s, Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who hated everything the other stood for, knew that each had his reasons for working for peace. Just possibly, they imagined, peace would be better than war for future generations. Certainly it would not be as wasteful.

A Palestinian woman wearing clothes stained with the blood of other relatives, who medics said were wounded in Israeli shelling, cries at a hospital in Gaza CityNot that those days were bliss — but at least peace was plausible.

The tragic truth is that positions have hardened now. Today’s rulers, singularly unimaginative and reactive, are not vessels aching to be filled with the potion of peace. Both Rabin and Arafat learned in brutal fashion that working toward peace is a perilous, risky business.

After this past decade, can the two sides ever be courageous enough to move beyond their twisted mutual history toward shaky and precarious chairs at the peace table?

In Israel, an unsettled peace process

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is annoyed. Before meeting with visiting German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Monday in Jerusalem, Netanyahu complained about a recent European Union decision to stop EU grants, prizes and loans from going to Israeli entities located in the occupied territories or that conduct activities there. “I have to say,” Netanyahu declared, “on a sad note, that I think Europe, the European guidelines (on the settlements) have actually undermined peace.”

In the topsy-turvy world of Israeli politics, it’s not the existence of the settlements, or their constant expansion, that undermines peace. It’s the attempts to curb their growth. This is like somebody blaming life-saving chemo treatments for making him sick.

Israel began building settlements almost immediately after the 1967 Six Day War when it captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan. By 2012, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, there were some 325,000 Israelis living in West Bank settlements and another 190,000 in neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, which had been ruled by the Jordanians between the wars of 1948 and 1967. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980 — although this has never been recognized by the international community.

Can Obama inspire youth vote in Israel?

President Barack Obama’s message to Israel last week was both powerful and urgent: You can’t go on like this. The status quo is not a viable option.

That is a direct challenge to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who acts like Israel can go on like this for the foreseeable future. Many Israelis are strongly tempted to believe, with Netanyahu, that the threat of terrorism and the occupation of the West Bank are manageable problems.

“It can be tempting,” Obama said when addressing an audience of Israeli students in Jerusalem, “to put aside the frustrations and sacrifices that come with the pursuit of peace, particularly when Iron Dome repels rockets, barriers keep out suicide bombers [and] there are so many other pressing issues that demand your attention.”

A battleground for weapons of the future

More than a week after a U.S.-Egyptian brokered ceasefire brought a fragile peace to Gaza, military analysts are busily assessing the fighting between Israel and Hamas. Their goal: Apply lessons from the eight-day battle to weaponry still in development.

Israel’s frequent conflicts with its Arab neighbors have historically been proving grounds for the latest in battlefield technology. Arab-Israeli wars inspired the first operational aerial drones, radar-evading stealth warplanes and projectile-defeating armor. All are now staples of the world’s leading militaries.

Analysts now say this recent fighting could spur the proliferation of highly accurate, fast-firing defenses against rocket barrages, a threat that has long flummoxed military planners. The solution could be inspired by Israel’s now-famous Iron Dome, a rocket-intercepting missile system that shot down hundreds of Hamas’ rockets before they could strike Israeli settlements.

The UNESCO meltdown

By Alan Elsner
The opinions expressed are his own.

On Monday, unless the Palestinians can be persuaded to back down, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will vote to accept Palestine as a full member state, triggering an automatic cutoff of U.S. funding and wreaking havoc with many of the agency’s programs.

Under legislation adopted by Congress over 15 years ago, the United States is mandated to withdraw from any U.N. agency that accepts Palestine as a full member state in the absence of a peace treaty with Israel.

The U.S.’s withdrawal means that it would no longer fund about 22 percent of the UNESCO budget – around $70 million a year. According to the website of the U.S. mission to UNESCO, some of the programs it funds that presumably will be affected include:

Young Israelis, Palestinians converge on entrepreneurship

By Ted Grossman
The opinions expressed are his own.

Today at the United Nations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas will speak for their peoples on the world stage in front of the General Assembly. Several hundred miles farther south on Capitol Hill, House Republicans have introduced legislation requiring the UN to adopt a voluntary budget model ending funding for Palestinian refugees, allowing Congress to control and allot the distribution of funds to Palestine, and cutting contributions to peacekeeping operations until management changes are made. And six thousand miles – half a world – beyond that, 44 Palestinian and Israeli students are working as business partners in the Middle East to run two entrepreneurial ventures. This summer, I witnessed an example of their cooperative spirit when the group – 20 Palestinians, 17 Israeli Jews, and 7 Israeli Arabs – came together at Babson College in Wellesley, MA for an intensive program in entrepreneurship.

The revolutions sparked during the Arab Spring show that social and political change can take root with just a handful of people.  Here at Babson this summer, I have been overwhelmed by the commitment of both Palestinian and Israeli students to do what previous generations have failed to do: bring about peace in their homelands.

Despite the violence and hateful rhetoric they have endured and the deep political and cultural divides that permeate their daily existence, these 44 undergraduates agreed to participate in a seven-week program focused on developing an entrepreneurial mindset and the business skills necessary to cooperatively launch two new businesses under challenging circumstances. Studying together, learning together and living together, they initially found it challenging to establish trust and overcome apprehensions.  But in a matter of days, these students were so busy with market research, supply chain dilemmas and writing business plans that they had little choice but to move beyond their emotions.

from Ian Bremmer:

Turkey ascendant, Palestine in tow. Whither Israel and the U.S.?

By Ian Bremmer
The opinions expressed are his own.

If President Obama thinks he's having a tough month, he's got nothing on Israel's Bibi Netanyahu. In Tel Aviv, hundreds of thousands of Israelis are protesting the cost of living. In New York, the Palestinians are readying a statehood resolution at the United Nations. In Ankara, the Turkish government has expelled the Israeli ambassador from the country. And in Cairo, an Egyptian crowd is taking the job on themselves, attacking the Israeli embassy.

Of all of these events, though, Turkey is the biggest worry. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has steadily escalated an anti-Israel tack for over a year now, most recently by accusing Israel of behaving like a "spoiled child." More directly, Erdogan has also proclaimed that the Turkish navy will stop the planned start of gas drilling explorations off the Cyprus coast by an Israel-Cypriot consortium. That's tantamount to threatening armed conflict. Why is Turkey so ascendant in Middle East politics, to Israel’s dismay? There are three very good reasons:

1. The U.S. is playing less of a role in the Middle East.

Under President Obama, the U.S. has become a “taker” not a “maker” of foreign policy there. Simply put, this Administration has spent less time on the Middle East peace question than any other since the creation of the Israeli state. With all the issues facing Obama at home -- joblessness, a tanking economy and his own re-election, to name a few -- and all the more pressing international issues, like winding down the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and dealing with the euro zone and China -- Israel has taken a political backseat. As NATO allies like Turkey fill the void and create their own regional strategies, Israel, being in the most unnatural geopolitical position there, has had the hardest time establishing its own power center.

from Ian Bremmer:

The coming Palestinian statehood

By Ian Bremmer
The opinons expressed are his own.

 

As violent protests rock the Arab world, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government has tried to keep a low profile. It has largely succeeded. That’s about to change.

This year’s upheaval in North Africa and the Middle East is not quite finished. As President Saleh recovers from injuries suffered during an attack on Yemen’s presidential palace, the country remains plagued with protests and crackdowns. Libya’s Qaddafi clings to power, Syria’s Assad copes with surges of public anger, and Egypt’s zigzag path toward democracy reminds us how hard it is to fill the hole left behind by a castoff autocrat.

Israelis have watched closely from the sidelines to better understand what all this turmoil means for their future. As the dust begins to settle, it has become clear that they have plenty to worry about. Populism is taking root in the Middle East, a region where ordinary people have been forced for years to scream in unison to make themselves heard. Now they find that they have the power to bring about change. In response, Arab leaders—the newly elevated, those clinging to power, and even those simply facing a more uncertain future—are now listening to public opinion much more closely.

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.

from India Insight:

U.S. on Israel — double standards or a double-edged sword?

December 24 - Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip ratchet up rocket fire towards Israel after Hamas ended a six-month ceasefire.

December 27 - Israel launches air strikes on Gaza in response killing more than 200 people in Gaza, the highest one-day death toll in 60 years of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

December 27 - The United States blames Hamas for breaking the ceasefire and provoking Israeli air strikes.

  •