Mutual Assured Self-Destructive Policies

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

No serious observer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should have any doubt that both the Netanyahu government and the Palestinian Authority have been pursuing self-destructive policies during the past 30 months. President Obama's failure to persuade the Israelis and Palestinians to reengage in serious negotiations has added another significant layer of uncertainty to an already untenable environment. And the decision of the PA to go to the United Nations to seek recognition of a Palestinian state is likely to make matters worse, leading both sides to further entrench themselves into longtime, hardened positions which could potentially lead to a renewed cycle of wide-spread violence.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been working hard to create a posture that suggests he is ready to enter immediately into peace negotiations, if only PA President Mahmoud Abbas would return to the negotiating table unconditionally. But then Netanyahu has set his own conditions, creating new obstacles to negotiations: He demands that Israel be recognized "as a Jewish state" at the outset of negotiations, even though this was never a requirement in previous peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu refuses to accept the 1967 borders as the base line for negotiating a two-state solution with some land swap. He insists that Jerusalem's future status is not negotiable and that Israel must be allowed to maintain residual forces along the Jordan River. Meanwhile, Netanyahu has refused to consider an even nominal renewal of the settlement construction freeze to test Abbas' resolve to enter into serious negotiations.

In reality, Netanyahu has said little and done less to convince the Palestinians that his professed desire for a two-state solution is genuine. He has skillfully led his public into believing that the status quo is sustainable and perhaps even beneficial for the State of Israel. Of course, the heinous and abhorrent terrorist attack in Eilat and the exchange of fire between Israel and Hamas along the Gaza border and the deteriorating relations with Egypt have shown otherwise. To be sure, Netanyahu has given the Palestinians plenty of ammunition to make the argument that there is no genuine Israeli partner. Even though Netanyahu's popularity has somewhat dimmed in the past few weeks over the civil protests, to many Israelis he remains the kind of 'tough' leader that is needed to navigate Israel through its equally 'tough' neighborhood. Yet in reality, he is not delivering to improve the prospects for real peace that most Israelis yearn for. As a result, Israel is becoming more isolated than ever in the international arena. Its relationship with the United States is fractured. And negative public opinion of Israel in Europe has dipped to unprecedented depths.

Tragically the Palestinians have not fared any better. They have continued their campaign to distort the history of the conflict. They have been working day-in and day-out to perpetuate the fantasy of a return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, giving Israel no reason to believe that a two-state solution will indeed be the endgame of the conflict. Furthermore, they have miserably failed to demonstrate a united front truly committed to a lasting peace. Hamas, in spite of the so-called "unity" agreement, which is faltering and has become a major liability for the PA, continues to preach the gospel of Israel's destruction and refuses to renounce violence as a means to achieve their national objective. Moreover, contrary to Abbas' revisionism in his May 16th op-ed in The New York Times, it was the Palestinians who refused to accept the UN partition plan in 1947 and it was the Arab states that declared war on Israel in 1948.

To be sure, neither side has been willing or able to agree to rules of good-faith negotiations to support their professed desire to enter into serious talks to conclude a peace agreement that meet each others' principal requirements of security and political independence.

The phenomenon of the frantic lead up to the UN General Assembly has been striking. The success of the Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad's state-building enterprise has led to rising international support for the Palestinian statehood initiative. And since the Palestinians do not believe that Netanyahu is sincere about a two-state solution, they are equally convinced that Obama's failure to persuade or pressure Netanyahu to change his posture has undercut his ability to effectively mediate the conflict.

Hence the Palestinians were left with "no choice" but to turn to the UN in an effort to achieve statehood. Recognition of statehood by the UN, they insist, will internationalize the Palestinian problem and open the door for other players, such as the EU to play a more active role. The idea, as Mahmoud Abbas has stated, is to level the playing field, and to re-enter negotiations with Israel as equals. In the process, statehood will presumably enable the Palestinians to pressure Israel through the International Criminal Court and other international forums. Abbas has been further emboldened by the fact that of the world's 20 most populated nations, only five, the United States, Japan, Mexico, Germany and Thailand, have yet to recognize Palestine.

However sincere or contrived the UN initiative may be, what will happen the day after the UNGA could be more ominous than the Palestinians have ever contemplated. Israel may annex parts of the West Bank, as was proposed by MK Danny Danon in retaliation to a UN vote, which would likely ignite a violent and defensive reaction from Palestinians. Israel may further respond by withholding tax transfers collected from Palestinian workers to the Palestinian Authority.

The United States Congress will likely be driven to halt aid for the Palestinian Authority and for the security forces, should they not continue cooperation with Israel. This could add fuel to an already major financial crisis facing the Palestinian Authority. Even if the aid from the US and other Western donors is not cut completely, the Palestinians already have been experiencing a financial test-after a UN vote it will likely only get considerably worse.

Furthermore, with expectations elevated that a Palestinian independence day of celebration is on the horizon, the disappointment among Palestinians when the Israeli occupation continues unfettered beyond September's UN General Assembly recognition of a Palestinian state will be palpable.

Mahmoud Abbas has painted himself into a corner. Reversing the progress made in the West Bank could be a dangerous course of action. Already, protests are being planned similar to those conducted on Nakba Day. What may start as a non-violent movement could lead to a third violent intifada. Meanwhile, the Israeli government has begun training and arming defense teams in the settlements in anticipation of Palestinian violence that may deliberately or accidentally be ignited.

Both Israel and the Palestinians have become victims of their own self-destructive policies undermining the very premise on which a lasting peace could be erected. If Netanyahu and Abbas want to prevent the UN from taking any action that would equally damage their national interests, they must agree to the realistic proposals set forth by President Obama, with the support of the Quartet, to start negotiations with borders and security. Negotiating borders first will resolve the future status of more that 70 percent of the settlements which is critical to the Palestinians. It will also mitigate Israel's security concerns, which is of extreme importance to the Israelis. The Obama administration's last ditch efforts at the present time to prevent both sides from sliding into the abyss could prove to be successful only if both sides recognize the dangerous course they have charted and agree to sit down and face the inevitable.

Both must put their cards on the table and demonstrate that they are ready, willing and able to make the necessary concessions that could lead to a lasting peace agreement however impossible this may seem at the present. Reaching such a compromise before the UNGA acts on the Palestinian request next month, is essential if both Israelis and Palestinians are to be prevented from racing towards a new quagmire with unpredictable consequences.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Added 18.06.2018
Daniel Wagner: "My prediction Korean War will be formally ended, the peninsula will be denuclearised, and a lasting peace will be the result."
Added 14.06.2018
Extract: PiS [ the ruling Law and Justice party] has established the most significant addition to the Polish social safety net since 1989: the Family 500+ program. Launched in 2016, Family 500+ embodies the nationalism, traditional family values, and social consciousness that the PiS seeks to promote. The program pays families 500 złoty ($144) per month to provide care for a second or subsequent child...........The program has been enormously popular. Some 2.4 million families took advantage of it in the first two years. The benefit, equivalent to 40% of the minimum wage, has almost wiped out extreme poverty for children in Poland, reducing it by an estimated 70-80%........... Liberal pro-European politicians and policymakers are not convinced. They complain that such a generous family benefit will weaken work incentives and blow up the government budget. But initial evidence suggests that Family 500+ has actually increased economic activity. It has also reversed the post-communist decline in fertility, increased wages (particularly for women), and enabled families to buy school materials, take vacations, buy more clothes for their kids, and rely less on high-priced credit for basic household needs. And, thanks to rapid economic growth, the government deficit has steadily fallen, not grown.
Added 12.06.2018
The depths of hypocrisy of the Republican Party in supporting Trump’s meeting with the North Korean dictator in Singapore are hard to plumb. This is a party whose leading members adopted the Ostrich Foreign Policy Principle for decades. If you don’t like a country’s government or political and economic system, pretend it does not exist.
Added 12.06.2018
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has spoken out against China’s strategy of “intimidation and coercion” in the South China Sea, including the deployment of anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and electronic jammers, and, more recently, the landing of nuclear-capable bomber aircraft at Woody Island. There are, Mattis warned, “consequences to China ignoring the international community.” But what consequences?
Added 12.06.2018
With a general election approaching in September, Swedish voters are being warned that now it’s their turn to be targeted by Russian interference in the democratic process. According to Sweden’s Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), which is leading the country’s efforts to counter foreign-influence operations, such interference is very likely, and citizens should be on the lookout for disinformation and fake news.
Added 11.06.2018
Extract: "While the presidency has grown stronger over the years, during the Trump administration Congress has been timid and subordinate. That is because the leaders of the Republican Party – which controls both the House of Representatives and the Senate – are frightened of Trump’s base. They cannot afford to alienate the roughly 30-35% of Americans who passionately back him, ignore his personal transgressions, tolerate his degradation of the country’s civil discourse, favor his brutal treatment of immigrant families, and don’t mind that he is leaving the US almost friendless in the world."
Added 08.06.2018
Has North Korea’s ruler, Kim Jong-un, made a strategic decision to trade away his nuclear program, or is he just engaged in another round of deceptive diplomacy, pretending that he will denuclearize in exchange for material benefits for his impoverished country? This is, perhaps, the key question in the run-up to the summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12. Until then, no one will know the answer, perhaps not even Kim himself.
Added 07.06.2018
Some analysts even project that, before long, Facebook will hold more data on its users than any government. Meanwhile, it makes a lot of money from this data. Its advertising revenues came up to around US$40 billion in 2017 (up 50% from 2016). With Google, it holds an 84% market share in online advertising.
Added 05.06.2018
Roseanne Barr is an American comedian whose fictional TV character of the same name is a working-class Trump supporter. For those who remember the show “All in the Family,” she might be usefully compared to Archie Bunker, the crude proletarian patriarch from Queens, New York. Barr’s show was swiftly canceled late last month by the television network ABC, not for anything her “character” said in her show, but for a tweet in which she described Valerie Jarrett, an African-American former adviser to Barack Obama, as the offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood and “Planet of the Apes.”
Added 04.06.2018
 

When Donald Trump was elected, I, like many others feared what his presidency might do to the country. A year and a half into his term in office, our concerns have been justified. 

Added 01.06.2018
Extract from the article: "While the West’s relative decline is almost inevitable, its economic dysfunction is not. Yet pessimism can be self-fulfilling. Why undertake difficult reforms if a dark future seems preordained? As a result, accepting and anxious pessimists tend to elect governments that duck difficult decisions (witness Germany’s grand coalition), while angry pessimists make matters worse (by voting for Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda or for Brexit, for example). It doesn’t have to be this way. As French President Emmanuel Macron has demonstrated, bold leaders can succeed with a message of hope, openness, and inclusion, and by promoting a vision of progress based on credible reforms."
Added 30.05.2018
It has been nearly two years since the United Kingdom narrowly voted in favor of leaving the European Union. As the march toward Brexit – formally set for the end of next March – proceeds, fundamental questions about the nature of the future UK-EU relationship remain unanswered. Instead, every time a tough decision must be made in the negotiations in Brussels, British ministers kick the can down the road, or even into the long grass. This is somewhat surprising. Apparently, none of the politicians and newspaper editors who plotted for years to get the UK out of the EU thought much about what would happen if their machinations succeeded.
Added 30.05.2018
Discussions are now underway to establish a system of joint deposit insurance for eurozone banks. Proponents of the scheme, with the European Commission and the European Central Bank (ECB) taking the lead, point out that deposit insurance would avert the danger of a run on banks in times of crisis. While this argument is true, critics emphasize the disparity in risks, owing to the high share of bad loans on the balance sheets of banks in some countries. To address this risk disparity and move ahead with the plan, balance sheets will need to be cleaned up before considering the next step. While the share of bad loans for banks in the stable eurozone countries is just 2%, the most recently published International Monetary Fund statistics, from last April, show a share of 11% for Ireland, 16% for Italy, 40% for Cyprus, and 46% for Greece.
Added 29.05.2018
Trump’s decision cannot be justified by any breach of the agreement on Iran’s part. It is, rather, a return to the old, largely unsuccessful US policy of confrontation with Iran. The only difference this time is that the Trump administration seems determined to go to the brink of war – or even beyond – to get its way. If the administration has any plans for keeping Iran’s nuclear program in check in the absence of the nuclear deal, then it is keeping them a secret. Judging by some of the administration’s rhetoric, it would appear that airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities are on the table. But bombing would only delay Iran’s nuclear program, not stop it. Would Trump then consider a massive ground war to occupy the country and topple the regime? We know all too well how that strategy worked the last time it was tried.
Added 28.05.2018
US President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to cancel his planned June 12 summit with Kim Jong-un represents a diplomatic coup for the North Korean leader, and an even bigger victory for China. In the space of just a few months, Kim’s image has gone from that of international pariah to that of thwarted peacemaker.
Added 23.05.2018
The good news is that the United States and China appear to have backed away from the precipice of a trade war. While vague in detail, a May 19 agreement defuses tension and commits to further negotiation. The bad news is that the framework of negotiations is flawed: A deal with any one country will do little to resolve America’s fundamental economic imbalances that have arisen in an interconnected world.
Added 21.05.2018
The cryptocurrency revolution, which started with bitcoin in 2009, claims to be inventing new kinds of money. There are now nearly 2,000 cryptocurrencies, and millions of people worldwide are excited by them. What accounts for this enthusiasm, which so far remains undampened by warnings that the revolution is a sham? One must bear in mind that attempts to reinvent money have a long history. As the sociologist Viviana Zelizer points out in her book The Social Meaning of Money: “Despite the commonsense idea that ‘a dollar is a dollar is a dollar,’ everywhere we look people are constantly creating different kinds of money.” Many of these innovations generate real excitement, at least for a while. As the medium of exchange throughout the world, money, in its various embodiments, is rich in mystique. We tend to measure people’s value by it. It sums things up like nothing else. And yet it may consist of nothing more than pieces of paper that just go round and round in circles of spending. So its value depends on belief and trust in those pieces of paper. One might call it faith.
Added 19.05.2018
The protests that rippled across Russia ahead of Vladimir Putin’s fourth inauguration as president followed a familiar script. Police declared the gatherings illegal, and the media downplayed their size. Alexey Navalny, the main organizer and Russia’s de facto opposition leader, was arrested in dramatic fashion, dragged out of a rally in Moscow by police. On May 15, he was sentenced to 30 days in prison. More than 1,600 protesters across the country were beaten and detained.
Added 16.05.2018
Many knowledgeable people dismiss the prospect of advanced AGI [=Artificial General Intelligence]. Some, ..........,argue that it is impossible for AI to outsmart humanity........Yet other distinguished scholars........do worry that AGI could pose a serious or even existential threat to humanity. With experts lining up on both sides of the debate, the rest of us should keep an open mind.
Added 15.05.2018
The world’s most important bilateral relationship – between the United States and China – is also one of its most inscrutable. Bedeviled by paradoxes, misperceptions, and mistrust, it is a relationship that has become a source of considerable uncertainty and, potentially, severe instability. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the brewing bilateral trade war.