Aug 22nd 2009

Winning back Israel

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

During his recent meeting with Egypt's President Mubarak, President Obama expressed cautious optimism about the progress being made in the Arab-Israeli peace process. While both presidents noted that there was "movement in the right direction," eight months of American direct engagement in the Arab-Israeli conflict has produced few tangible results. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who has been shuttling back and forth to the region to negotiate between parties, has yet to persuade the Israelis, Palestinians, and the surrounding Arab states to undertake the necessary parallel confidence measures needed to breathe life back into the process. The Netanyahu government's ongoing refusal to declare a moratorium on settlements expansion has been met with Arab leaders' obdurate resistance to offer Israel concessions of their own, raising questions about Mitchell's strategy and the viability of the process. For this reason, the Obama administration can no longer afford to wait for the Israelis and Palestinians to see eye to eye and instead it must interject itself more forcefully by establishing the general parameters for a peace agreement.


Before the Obama administration launches this new initiative it must first take a number of corrective measures to create a more positive atmosphere in the region, especially among the Israelis. As a proponent of the two state solution based on 1967 borders, President Obama's envisioned peace agreement between the Arabs and Israelis does not differ much from his predecessors', including the efforts at Camp David and Annapolis. Yet President Obama's strategy and advocacy have been much more pronounced since his first days in office, where he has championed the role of a committed and evenhanded interlocutor. In his efforts to repair the relationship between the US and Arab world that was left in tatters after the Bush administration, President Obama has along the way created an atmosphere of doubt among many in the Israeli camp.

A growing number of Israelis are concerned that in his efforts to win the hearts and minds of the Arab world, President Obama has not been as sensitive as his predecessors to Israel's specific plights on national security issues. Moreover, many Israelis have become less trusting of President Obama and feel that his speech from Cairo to the Arab and Muslim world sought improved relations with Arab states at Israel's expense. As a result, an increased number of Israelis are showing greater forbearance to Netanyahu's rejection of Obama's demand to
freeze the settlements-even at the expense of creating tension with Washington.

It is critical at this juncture that President Obama now personally appeal directly to the Israeli public. This must include a massive public relations
campaign, where the US President can reach out to Israelis through op-eds in Israeli papers, interviews on Army Radio, and appearances on Israeli television channels. The purpose would be not only to restate America's unshakable commitment to Israel's national security, but also to show that Israel's ultimate security and prosperity lies in peace with the Arab states. The President ought to explain that he seeks to realize what President Clinton attempted to achieve at Camp David in 2000 and what President Bush continued with his efforts to strike an Israeli-Palestinian peace through the Road Map. He must make it abundantly clear that his focus on the settlements is not arbitrary, but represents a critical point of departure if Israel is to ever to seek peace with the Palestinians. Indeed, the settlements not only reinforce the occupation practically and psychologically, but they also diminish the Palestinians' hope for establishing a state of their own. President Obama in his own words must make it clear to Israelis that as much as the Palestinian extremists will never be able to build a Palestinian state on Israel's ruins, Israel will not see peace unless an independent Palestinian state is established in the West Bank and Gaza.

The requisites for a peace agreement have been discussed and negotiated at length by countless administrations; what the President ought to project now to the Israelis is a vision of an overall solution consistent with previous discussions between the parties. While parallel confidence building measures are still vital to the process, they must be seen as building blocks that clearly point to an endgame visible by all sides. The President must also explain that in order to keep his commitment to seeing out a final agreement, the parameters must covers all conflicting issues, especially the final border, settlements, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the future status of East Jerusalem. By providing a vision of the big picture' President Obama would be able to foster the confidence that incremental building measures will indeed lead to the desired structure of peace. For Israel to make progress on halting settlement growth, Netanyahu must be able to trust that Obama applying equal pressure on the Arab states to deliver concessions with the goal of normalizing relations with Israel.

Finally, the President must invoke the historic dimension of the Arab Peace Initiative which offers Israel peace with all 22 Arab states in exchange for the occupied territories and a just resolution to the Palestinian refugees. The President must be vehement about this timely opportunity for the Israelis, while the conditions on the ground are ripe and they have moderate partners in the process. The choice for the Israelis, he must emphasize, will be to end more than sixty years of bloodshed and destruction and live in peace. Should they choose not acknowledge the collective will of the moderate Arab community, they risk dealing with a much more extreme Arab world as a result.

Moreover, for the President to regain the trust of the Israeli public that has substantially diminished in the past few months, he must be more fervent in his resolve to counter Iran's nuclear agenda, which Israelis dread the most. While there is an ongoing dialogue between US and Israeli intelligence and security communities concerning Iran's nuclear ambitions, President Obama must assure the Israeli public as well that it is in their best interest that all diplomatic options are first exhausted with Iran. He must intimate that all other options, should diplomacy fail, will be thoroughly discussed with the Israeli government. To be sure, the Israelis must feel confident that the Obama administration will resort to any means necessary to eliminate what they consider the Iranian existential threat.

Whereas it was critically important for the Obama administration to improve its relations with the Arab states to regain its moral footing and influence, it absolutely cannot undermine the nature of US-Israeli special relations. This unique bond has offered successive American administrations a strong leverage with Israel, allowing it to exact important concessions in negotiations, as Clinton was able to do with Netanyahu in the Hebron agreement in 1997. Although Arab states have in the past complained about American lack of evenhandedness,
they understand that the US-Israeli relationship gives the American President a leverage to deliver for them. Any erosion of that relationship will create serious difficulties in future negotiations, as President Obama is currently finding out for himself. President Obama must now correct that impression before he can move the peace process forward, restoring the trust and confidence of the Israeli people.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Dec 14th 2019
EXTRACT: "Conspiracy theories about sinister Jewish power have a long history. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery published in 1903, popularized the notion that Jewish bankers and financiers were secretly pulling the strings to dominate the world. Henry Ford was one of the more prominent people who believed this nonsense."
Dec 13th 2019
EXTRACT: "In previous British elections, to say that trust was the main issue would have meant simply that trust is the trump card – whichever leader or party could secure most trust would win. Now, the emerging question about trust is whether it even matters anymore."
Dec 5th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe must fend for itself for the first time since the end of World War II. Yet after so many years of strategic dependence the US, Europe is unprepared – not just materially but psychologically – for today’s harsh geopolitical realities. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany."
Nov 23rd 2019
Extdact: "The kind of gratitude expressed by Vindman and my grandfather is not something that would naturally occur to a person who can take his or her nationality for granted, or whose nationality is beyond questioning by others. Some who have never felt the sharp end of discrimination might even find it mildly offensive. Why should anyone be grateful for belonging to a particular nation? Pride, perhaps, but gratitude? In fact, patriotism based on gratitude might be the strongest form there is."
Nov 20th 2019
Extract: "Moody’s, one of the big three credit rating agencies, is not upbeat about the prospects for the world’s debt in 2020 – to put it mildly. If we were to try to capture the agency’s view of where we are heading on a palette of colours, we would be pointing at black – pitch black."
Nov 17th 2019
Extract: "Digital money is already a key battleground in finance, with technology firms, payment processing companies, and banks all vying to become the gateway into the burgeoning platform-based economy. The prizes that await the winners could be huge. In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay already control more than 90% of all mobile payments. And in the last three years, the four largest listed payment firms – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and PayPal – have increased in value by more than the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google)."
Nov 14th 2019
Extract: "Trump, who understands almost nothing about governing, made a major mistake in attacking career public officials from the outset of his presidency. He underestimated – or just couldn’t fathom – the honor of people who could earn more in the private sector but believe in public service. And he made matters worse for himself as well as for the government by creating a shadow group – headed by the strangely out-of-control Rudy Giuliani, once a much-admired mayor of New York City, and now a freelance troublemaker serving as Trump’s personal attorney – to impose the president’s Ukraine policy over that of “the bureaucrats.” "
Nov 4th 2019
Extract: "Trump displays repeated and persistent behaviours consistent with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These behaviours include craving for adulation, lack of empathy, aggression and vindictiveness towards opponents, addiction to lying, and blatant disregard for rules and conventions, among others." The concern is that leaders with these two disorders may be incapable of putting the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. Their compulsive lying may make rational action impossible and their impulsiveness may make them incapable of the forethought and planning necessary to lead the country. They lack empathy and are often motivated by rage and revenge, and could make quick decisions that could have profoundly dangerous consequences for democracy.
Oct 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "......let’s see what happens when we have less money for all the things we want to do as a country and as individuals. Promises and predictions regarding Brexit will soon be tested against reality. When they are, I wouldn’t want to be one of Johnson’s Brexiteers."
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Were Israel to be attacked with the same precision and sophistication as the strike on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East would be plunged into war on a scale beyond anything it has experienced so far. Sadly (but happily for Russian President Vladimir Putin), that is the reality of a world in which the US has abandoned any pretense of global leadership."
Oct 20th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe also stands to lose from Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds. If, in the ongoing chaos, the thousands of ISIS prisoners held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces escape – as some already have – America’s estranged European allies will suffer. Yet Trump is unconcerned. “Well, they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go,” he remarked casually at a press conference. “They want to go back to their homes." "
Oct 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Assuming the House ultimately votes to impeach Trump, the fact remains that there are far fewer votes in the Senate than will be needed to convict him and remove him from office. But the willingness of Congress – including the Senate – to continue tolerating his dangerous conduct in office, including threats to US national security, is now truly in question."
Oct 7th 2019
EXTRACT: "The problem didn't start with the election of Donald Trump. Nor did it begin with the Democrats launching an impeachment inquiry against Trump. This is a developing crisis that has been growing like a cancer within our polity for at least the past 25 years. Its main symptoms are a lack of civility in our political discourse, a "take no prisoners" mindset, and a denial of the very legitimacy of "the other side." Trump didn't create this crisis; he was the result of it.   When Newt Gingrich took the helm of Congress in 1995, unlike previous Republican leaders, he embarked on a campaign not only to obstruct the efforts of then President Clinton, but to destroy him. Congress launched a series of investigations accusing Clinton of everything from corruption to obstruction of justice – with hints of even more nefarious plots to assassinate those who might pose a problem to his presidency.  "
Oct 4th 2019
EXTRACT: "As the story spreads, it grows darker. Meanwhile, Trump is trying to learn the identity of the whistleblower (who is protected by law), which could expose that person to great danger. And he is accusing some people – including Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee – of treason. My sense is that Trump fears the tough, focused Schiff. Trump has ominously noted that traitors used to be shot or hanged. And he hasn’t helped himself with members of either party by declaring, in one of his hundreds of febrile tweets, that forcing him from office could lead to a “civil war.” Trump has taken the United States somewhere it’s never been before. His presidency may not survive it."
Sep 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "But regardless of whether the Ukraine scandal remains front-page news, it will haunt the US intelligence community, which has been Trump’s bête noire since the day he took office. Trump has relentlessly attacked US intelligence agencies, cozied up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and divulged secrets to foreign officials, potentially burning high-value sources. This behavior had already raised serious concerns about whether Trump can be trusted to receive sensitive intelligence at all. Now, intelligence leaders must ask themselves how far they are willing to go in toeing the White House line."
Sep 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "As Lobaczewski pointed out, pathological leaders tend to attract other people with psychological disorders. At the same time, empathetic and fair-minded people gradually fall away. They are either ostracised or step aside voluntarily, appalled by the growing pathology around them.......As a result, over time pathocracies become more entrenched and extreme. You can see this process in the Nazi takeover of the German government in the 1930s, when Germany moved from democracy to pathocracy in less than two years.......In the US, there has clearly been a movement towards pathocracy under Trump. As Lobaczewski’s theory predicts, the old guard of more moderate White House officials – the “adults in the room” – has fallen away. The president is now surrounded by individuals who share his authoritarian tendencies and lack of empathy and morality. Fortunately, to some extent, the democratic institutions of the US have managed to provide some push back."
Sep 16th 2019
EXTRACT: "If the Supreme Court does agree with the Divisional Court that the question is political rather than legal, it will take the UK constitution into quite peculiar territory. Prime ministers will be the new kings and queens. They will be free to suspend parliament at will, and for as long as they wish, without any judicial interference. Parliament will meet not out of constitutional necessity but in the service of the government’s interests – namely, to pass its legislation and to maintain appearances, rather than to hold it to account."
Sep 12th 2019
Extract: "The Republican Party has lashed its fate to an increasingly unhinged leader. Though three other presidential hopefuls for 2020 now stand in Trump’s way, none can defeat him. But they can damage his reelection effort, which is why the Republican Party has been scrapping some primaries and caucuses. How well Trump does in November next year may well depend on how his fragile ego withstands the coming months."
Sep 2nd 2019
EXTRACTS: "Most people think of revolutions as sudden earthquakes or volcanic eruptions that come without warning and sweep away an entire political system. But historians, political scientists, and even the odd politician know that the reality is very different: revolutions happen when systems hollow themselves out, or simply rot from within. Revolutionaries can then brush aside established norms of behavior, or even of truth, as trivialities that should not impede the popular will............ Only time will tell whether we are currently witnessing the hollowing out of British democracy. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson may well have crossed some invisible Rubicon by.......... Whatever happens now, British parliamentary democracy may never be the same again. It will certainly never again be the model that so many people around the world once admired."
Aug 29th 2019
EXTRACT: "Events such as prorogations and dissolutions happen when countries face difficult times. Therefore, because of the disastrous effects of Brexit: sterling in freefall; a recession looming on the horizon and Britain’s international standing at its lowest ebb since Suez, it is no surprise that the country is in this position now. The worrying thing is that using the monarchical power of prorogation does not solve problems – it has a history of turning them into frightening and often violent crises. There is a worrying relationship between the use of such powers and a complete breakdown in government."