Jul 2nd 2013

Israel’s Neglected Peace Dividend

by Shlomo Ben Ami

Shlomo Ben Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, is Vice President of the Toledo International Centre for Peace. He is the author of Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy.
TEL AVIV – Twenty years after the Oslo Accords, the prospects for a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace deal are dimmer than ever. Indeed, roughly a half-million Israeli settlers in the occupied territories (including East Jerusalem) make the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state an almost impossible mission. So, is the renewed vigor of US President Barack Obama’s administration in the quest for peace too little, too late?

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu claims that his government has no preconditions for resuming negotiations with the Palestinians. Meanwhile, his housing minister, Uri Ariel (himself a settler and a member of the annexationist Jewish Home party), unleashes a new wave of settlement expansion that threatens to link the 1967 border with the Jordan Valley, thus bisecting Palestinian territory. Netanyahu’s own insistence on “ironclad” security arrangements is a euphemism for an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley – and no return to the “Auschwitz borders” of 1967.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is too weak and too burdened by his rivalry with the hard-line Islamist Hamas – which rules in Gaza – to allow himself the political luxury of departing from the core demands of Palestinian nationalism. Nor does Netanyahu, an ideologue who is visibly uncomfortable with his forced support of the two-state idea, truly have a governing coalition for peace. 

Thus, US Secretary of State John Kerry will require great deal of creativity to reconcile Netanyahu’s position and the Palestinian precondition, recently reiterated by Abbas’s close associate Nabil Shaath, that Israel must agree to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 borders. Mahmoud Al-Habbash, the Palestinian minister of religious affairs, even went so far as to demand “assurances that the talks won’t fail,” because if they do, a new intifada would surely erupt.

Moreover, Kerry’s peace drive is taking place in a regional environment that is not amenable to a negotiated resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Arab Spring has turned bloody and unpredictably turbulent, further diminishing the odds for peace in Palestine.

Nor does the election of Hassan Rowhani, a relative moderate, to Iran’s presidency improve Kerry’s chances. Rowhani’s victory is certainly good news for Iranians, and it may lead to a more civilized dialogue between the Islamic Republic and the international community. But Rowhani’s presidency can hardly be expected to change Iran’s strategic objectives. Iran will continue its nuclear program, fight for the survival of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, seek to maintain its vital alliance with key regional proxies such as Hezbollah, and defend Palestine and al-Quds (Jerusalem). 

If Assad defeats his opponents with the help of Hezbollah and Iran, his survival is bound to be perceived as a victory for the regional “axis of resistance” to Israel. And a permanent Iranian presence in Syria would make a war between Israel and Iran practically unavoidable. Palestine would then be relegated to an obscure corner of the international agenda.

Complicating matters further, America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have limited its regional clout. The US now faces an unpredictable Middle East that is writing its own history as well – or as badly – as it can. 

Syria’s internal conflict has now become a Sunni-Shia sectarian war that is spreading across the region. The Sunni clerics who have just declared a jihad against “the Iranian regime, Hezbollah, and its sectarian allies” are the voice of millions across the Muslim world.

Furthermore, waves of Syrian refugees are threatening the sustainability of the Jordanian monarchy, already roiled by profound internal cleavages. Hezbollah has drawn Lebanon into the Syrian conflict, setting up a showdown between Shia and Sunni at home. 

A similar scenario is already unfolding in Iraq. Turkey, a responsible regional power, has so far resisted being drawn into the Syrian quagmire, but its effects can be seen in the rising tensions between the country’s Sunni majority and the Shia Alevi sect.

Inertia is not an adequate response in an era of revolutionary change. Unfortunately, Israel is missing a coherent regional strategy. Netanyahu, always on the defensive, does not view Middle East turmoil as a trigger for a proactive strategy that would use a solution to the Palestinian problem as leverage for broader positive change in the region. 

America, burdened by the cost of its Middle East troubles, eager to refocus on Asia, and no longer in need of Arab oil, can allow itself to leave the region to its destiny. Israel is part of the region and has a strong interest in helping to shape its future.

Israel has traditionally strived to forge alliances with the region’s minorities – Kurds, Persians, Maronites, and others. Now is the time for a major shift to an alliance with the region’s overwhelming Sunni majority. 

Israel should follow Obama, whose recent decision to arm the Syrian rebels, though belated and still ill-defined, is a choice for the Sunni alliance. Israel should play an active role in the fall of Assad as a way to undermine the region’s “Shia crescent” and isolate its leader, Iran. Assad’s defeat would break the “axis of resistance,” choke off Hezbollah’s arms supplies, and drive a permanent wedge between Turkey and Iran.

A solution to the Palestinian problem would serve such a strategy. It would strengthen Israel’s relations with Egypt, help to stabilize Jordan (a vital and friendly buffer state), and remove a major source of tension with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist government. Most important, it would undermine Iran’s efforts to make inroads into the Arab world under the pretext of defending Palestine and Holy Jerusalem.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jul 9th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... ruminants belch and fart methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. As a result, rearing beef cattle brings about, on average, six times the contribution to global warming as non-ruminant animals (for example, pigs) producing the same quantity of protein. ..... if projected to 2050 [beef production], would use 87% of the total quantity of emissions that is compatible with the Paris climate agreement’s objective of staying below a 2° Celsius increase in temperature."
Jul 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " .... while China’s leaders never mention it, they are just as embittered over Russia’s theft of Chinese territory in the nineteenth century as they are over the West’s imperial predations. With Western imperialism having been largely rolled back, it is Russia’s continued occupation of historic Chinese territory that stands out the most to ordinary Chinese observers. For example, the city of Vladivostok, with its vast naval base, has been a part of Russia only since 1860, when the tsars built a military harbor there. Before that, the city was known by the Manchu name of Haishenwai." ---- "There is also a demographic argument for Putin to consider: the six million Russians spread along the Siberian border face 90 million Chinese on the other side. And many of these Chinese regularly cross the border into Russia to trade (and a good number to stay)."
Jul 7th 2021
EXTRACTS: "According to a new analysis by researchers at Brown University, America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan cost it nearly $2.3 trillion. Now, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and the Central Asian countries – are wondering just how much it will cost them to maintain security after the United States is gone." ----- "After clandestinely supporting the Taliban as a means to undermine the US war effort, Russia now fears broader destabilization in Central Asia and beyond." ---- "Similarly, after having made nice with the Taliban, China also now fears the greater regional instability that the US withdrawal may incite. In addition to disrupting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Eurasia-spanning Belt and Road Initiative, a revitalized Taliban could re-energize the Islamist extremist threat in China’s western Xinjiang province."
Jul 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "When former Fed Chair Paul Volcker hiked rates to tackle inflation in 1980-82, the result was a severe double-dip recession in the United States and a debt crisis and lost decade for Latin America. But now that global debt ratios are almost three times higher than in the early 1970s, any anti-inflationary policy would lead to a depression, rather than a severe recession. ---- Under these conditions, central banks will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and many governments will be semi-insolvent and thus unable to bail out banks, corporations, and households. The doom loop of sovereigns and banks in the eurozone after the global financial crisis will be repeated worldwide, sucking in households, corporations, and shadow banks as well. ---- As matters stand, this slow-motion train wreck looks unavoidable."
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,..... "