Jan 21st 2018

When Geopolitical Conditions And Moral Values Converge

by Alon Ben-Meir

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is an expert on Middle East politics and affairs, specializing in peace negotiations between Israel and the Arab states. For the past twenty five years, Dr. Ben-Meir has been directly involved in various negotiations and has operated as a liaison between top Arab and Israeli officials. Dr. Ben-Meir serves as senior fellow at New York University's School of Global Affairs where he has been teaching courses on the Middle East and negotiations for 18 years. He is also a Senior Fellow and the Middle Eastern Studies Project Director at the World Policy Institute. Dr. Ben-Meir hosts "Global Leaders: Conversations with Alon Ben-Meir," a series of debates and conversations with top policy-makers around the world. He also regularly holds briefings at the US State Department for international visitors. Dr. Ben-Meir writes frequently and has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines and websites including the Middle East Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Le Monde, American Chronicle, the Week, the Political Quarterly, Israel Policy Forum, Gulf Times, the Peninsula, The Jerusalem Post, and the Huffington Post. He also makes regular television and radio appearances, and has been featured on networks such as CNN, FOX, PBS, ABC, al Jazeera (English and Arabic), and NPR. He has authored six books related to Middle East policy and is currently working on a book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Dr. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. He is fluent in English, Arabic, and Hebrew.

The geopolitical developments in the Middle East over the past fifteen years have created new political and security dynamics engendered by the violent turmoil and profound concerns over the Iranian threat, shared by Israel and the Arab states. Israel is now facing a new critical juncture: continue with its oppressive occupation and creeping annexation of Palestinian land, which stands in total contrast to its moral responsibility and Jewish values; or seek a peace agreement with the Palestinians in the context of an Arab-Israeli comprehensive peace, which the Arab states seek now more than any time before because of their domestic and foreign security concerns.

The current government, led by Netanyahu with the support of three radical ministers, Lieberman, Bennett, and Shaked—who hold the key ministries of Defense, Education, and Justice respectively—relishes the new geopolitical environment. They complement each other by developing a defense posture, biased educational curriculum, and skewed public narrative while weakening the judiciary, with Netanyahu orchestrating the long-term strategy that denies the Palestinians a state of their own.

Blinded by the euphoria created by Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and the near-unimpeded expansion of settlements and annexation of Palestinian land, the ministers feel confident that the occupation is no longer a major concern to the Arab states. And with the unwavering backing of Trump, they are assuming a free hand to do what they choose with impunity. They are tragically wrong.

Israel must now seize the momentous, time-sensitive opportunity provided by the changing geopolitical regional dynamic precipitated by the common Iranian threat against Israel and the Arab states. The leading Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf states, view Israel today as a strategic ally rather than an enemy, which presents Israel with two options:

The first is to make further territorial gains by building new, expanding existing, and legalizing illegal settlements, which will basically foreclose any prospect of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement based on two states. This will not stop the Arab states from cooperating with Israel because of their preoccupation with domestic and foreign threats, which assumes priority over the Palestinians’ aspiration for statehood.

The relatively mute reaction to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital only reinforces the view that the Arab states’ anxieties about the Iranian threat takes precedence, even over such a sensitive issue as the future status of Jerusalem.

That said, although the Arab states want to normalize relations with Israel, they will not do so because that would be seen as a blatant betrayal of the Palestinian cause which they have championed for decades. Instead, they would (continue to) maintain tacit strategic cooperation with Israel against Iran, which they need, but deprive Israel of a comprehensive peace which the Israelis greatly seek.

The second option for Israel is to capitalize on its current state of relations with the Arab countries by reaching out to the Palestinians to resume serious peace talks. This may well be a historic opportunity because the Arab states, who want to maintain their strategic cooperation with Israel, are now predisposed to pressure the Palestinians to make important concessions to Israel, especially on national security, refugees, and land swaps.

The current conditions provide a rare opportunity to reach a peace agreement that can be implemented over a long period of time (ten years or more), during which both sides can develop trust (which is sorely lacking) through joint socio-economic projects while cementing security arrangements and cooperation.

By establishing a Palestinian state, Israel will end its human rights violations and stop the continuing moral erosion precipitated by the occupation, which has infected the country for five decades and severely undermined Jewish values and humanitarianism. These values were the very secret behind Jewish survival throughout the millennia, even though they were subjected to discrimination, persecution, expulsion, and death.

As Rabbi Daniel Polish eloquently stated in his writing “Judaism and Human Rights”, “The system of values and ideas [on which human rights are based] are among the beliefs which constitute the very core of Jewish sacred scripture and the tradition of ideas and practices which flows from it…”

At their core, Netanyahu and his company are dedicated to the idea that God bequeathed the “Land of Israel” exclusively to the Jews, which justifies taking any measure, however wrong and humanly abusive, to secure the land in perpetuity in the name of God. They have become oblivious to the fact that “Human rights are an integral part of the faith and tradition of Judaism.”

The right-wing segment of the Israeli population views the development of events between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and the US’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as proof of the unassailability of the Netanyahu government’s judgment and policies. But there is nothing further from the truth.

If these policies could, in fact, lead to a comprehensive peace, I’d say, stay the course. But given the volatility of the Middle East, today’s friends may well become the foes of tomorrow. This is a prospect that the Netanyahu government cannot ignore.

At the present, the Saudis and other Gulf states need strategic cooperation with Israel, as it serves their interests as long as Iran is seen as a threat to their national security. This could change in many ways, including the mitigation of the Saudi-Iranian conflict, once Syria and Iraq stabilize, in which case strategic cooperation with Israel becomes irrelevant.

Without striking a peace agreement with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab states, Israel will leave itself vulnerable to the changing geopolitical environment. Can Netanyahu, Lieberman, Bennett, and Shaked guarantee they can indefinitely frame the development of events in the region to Israel’s advantage?

There is no real adversary today that can potentially destroy Israel. Israel’s greatest enemy comes from within—its misguided leaders, whose blind messianic mission will be behind the destruction of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "
Jun 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " While many conservative Republicans opposed Trump and saw that he posed a danger to their party and democracy itself, they were hesitant to buck the mass movement they had created, fearing that it would turn against them. Some of these same conservatives assumed that with Trump's defeat, the horror of January 6th, and the former president's banishment from social media, the time had come to restore sanity to their party. But the GOP leadership’s continued cowering in the face of what they now call "Trump's base" has caused them to circle the wagons and purge their ranks of those who call for sanity. "
May 26th 2021
Editor's Note: This article is about the Federal Reserve, inflation in the 1970's, and possible similarities to today.
May 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Netanyahu claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people. He certainly is not. Many Jews around the world, including me, despise Netanyahu’s racist politics. As an American, I am also deeply troubled by the US government’s knee-jerk support of Israel. Fortunately, I am not alone in this view. A growing number of Democratic Congressmen, Jews and non-Jews alike, have called on the United States to stop supporting Israel’s lawlessness. The truth is that the US government’s uncritical support for Israel has come to depend more on evangelical Christians, such as former US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, than on American Jews, who are deeply divided by Netanyahu’s actions. And the evangelicals’ real interest in Zionism is not Jews’ security, but Armageddon, the end of the world, which they believe will come only when all Jews are in Israel."
May 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "This period in US history could go down as the moment when America’s democratic system for electing a president – the most consequential duty of US citizens – was broken, perhaps for good."
May 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "While reading Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) monumental report “A Threshold Crossed,” I felt a range of emotions. It also left me with one big question. I was deeply impressed by the report’s rigorous scholarship. At the same time, it brought to the surface feelings of anger and profound sadness. It’s an extraordinarily complete study detailing not only the many ways Israel has violated a broad range of Palestinian human rights, but the ideology of racial superiority and entitlement that Israel has used to justify its repression." ..... "My advice to both Israel’s defenders and weak-kneed liberals is​, “Read the damn report.” "
May 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: .... "He transformed a transitioning market economy into a stable statist project that rests on an alliance of his inner circle," ..... "He transformed Russia from a respected member of the international community into a rogue state" .... ". He energized NATO by providing it with the adversary it lacked after the end of the cold war," ..... "He befriended hopelessly corrupt, dysfunctional, and unstable dictatorships..." ..... "He forged a quasi-alliance with China, thereby enhancing Russia’s dependence on the one country that might have reason to appropriate those Russian territories inhabited by Chinese."
May 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "On the face of it, the latest escalation of violence is following the template of all inter-ethnic wars. Muslims observing Ramadan shouted nationalist slogans and clashed with Israeli right-wing groups chanting “Death to the Arabs.” The Israelis haughtily marched with their national flag on Jerusalem Day, marking Israel’s capture in 1967 of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the site of the biblical Second Temple, and of Al-Aqsa, completed in the year 705. Battles in and around the Al-Aqsa compound erupted, with worshipers inside throwing stones at the Israeli police, who responded by firing rubber-tipped bullets and other projectiles, wounding hundreds."
May 13th 2021
"Regardless of how the current and future violent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem will end, there will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace unless East Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state while the city remains united."
May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."