August 16, 2005

The Gaza Withdrawal

I'd be remiss if I didn't blog the historic events underway in the Gaza Strip at this hour. After almost forty years of occupation, Israel is withdrawing from Gaza. This is an act of not inconsiderable political courage by Arik Sharon, particularly given the opportunistic shenanigans of Bibi Netanyahu taking place at a time that instead begs for national unity. Indeed, I can't say it better than Arik himself (if a touch hyperbolically): "I don't know why he quit. He backed the disengagement plan once or twice...One thing I can say: Quitting a week before the most complex, most difficult move in the State of Israel's history--the disengagement plan--I would not say this evasion warrants a medal of honor." That said, political opportunism has its benefits and occurs for a reason, of course. The latest polling data shows that in a Likud leadership primary run-off, Netanyahu would poll well ahead of Sharon in a three-way race (with ultra-rightist Uzi Landau in the mix too). Yet these polls are being taken in the midst of the hugely emotional and difficult scenes currently underway in Gaza with the settler evacuations. No one can take away from these settlers their evident passion and deep love of the land. But to cede the ground to such religious maximalists is to all but beg eternal conflict in the Holy Land. Painful compromises must be pursued in the interests of potential peace. There is no other viable way.

With this major Israeli concession now comes the need for real Palestinian leadership and seriousness of purpose. Mahmoud Abbas cannot allow a vacuum to result post IDF withdrawal in Gaza that facilitates in any way the military wings of Hamas and Jihad Islami mounting attacks against Israel. In this, the Americans and Egyptians will be playing key roles in assisting the Palestinian Authority (both out front and behind the scenes) in cracking down on unauthorized terrorist activity. This is critical because a relatively peaceful transition (though 100% success is likely impossible) will bolster Sharon's argument that Israel withdrew from a position of strength rather than one of weakness. The compelling need for Abbas' important security crack-downs aside, however, Sharon's position was the only rationalist one that could seriously be contemplated. It was always the height of folly, after all, to expend IDF resources to protect a relative handful of a few thousand settlers in a veritable sea of a million plus Palestinians. It was also morally not a viable position in the long run. This said, however, the Palestinians must now be told in no uncertain terms that something akin to a Hezbollah/Shaba Farms rationale for continued attacks into Israel from Gaza will not be tolerated in any respect. Recall that despite Israel's withdrawal from most of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah argues that it remains entitled to attack targets in northern Israel because Israel continues to occupy the Shaba Farms. There will be many in Hamas that see the situations as roughly analagous, as of course Israel still controls the West Bank. This argument is disingenuous and unacceptable, and cannot be countenanced in the least. Negotiations on the West Bank are the way forward, not violent attacks out of a new Gaza beach-head. As for Jihad Islami and irredentist swaths of Hamas, they will see attacks on Israel as warranted until all the Jews (including those dwelling in '48 Israel) are pushed into the proverbial sea. Those actors must be steadily marginalized and, to the extent they are carrying on terrorist attacks, captured or killed before they can do their evil deeds.

To repeat, Sharon has made a very painful compromise this week. He now deserves real help from the other side. It perhaps bears noting, too, that B.D. is not one of those terribly concerned that the Gaza withdrawal was but a Sharon 'Gaza First, Gaza Last' gambit. In this, the roughly contemporaneous withdrawal from four West Bank settlements transcends mere symbolism. If (and this a big if) the Palestinian Authority can exert sufficient control over Gaza so that it is not used as a base for attacks against Israel, it is not hugely implausible to see the Gaza withdrawal as helping resucitate the moribund road map a few months hence. This, of course, would involve further Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank and, ultimately it is hoped, mutually acceptable resolution of the so-called 'final status' issues. This is but a hope, for now, but one that becomes a more serious prospect if the Gaza pull-out goes relatively well in the main. Another reason Abbas must step up to the plate, with critical assistance from Cairo and Washington, and ensure that Hamas and Jihad Islami are not militarily active. In this, I suspect, economic aid will be critical. When unemployment is near 50%, after all, people will do horrific, odious things. Gaza's economy is a horrific shambles, and the international community must help in making it better. Quickly.

Finally, I'd like to say a brief word about those lap-top nay-sayers who poo-poo Abbas and Israeli appeasers (Sharon!) for, alternately, hiding the ugly true face of the Palestinians through faked moderation (Abbas, the story-line goes) or weak-kneed, terror-friendly policies (quite incredibly, such charges are now being lobbed at Sharon from his Right). What I've found in life is that those who actually dwell in the conflict zones, rather than sunny California say, better realize that painful compromises must be made in the interests of a frustratingly elusive peace. After all, those living in the Holy Land are the ones who must deal directly with the ramifications of maximalist policies that lead to abject hatred and seemingly endless cycles of violence. So it is often wise old warriors (men like Yitzhak Rabin or Moshe Dayan) who best understand this. In this vein, this Haaretz analysis of Sharon's speech to the Israeli nation is of interest:

Sharon displayed understanding for the suffering of the Palestinians crowded in the refugee camps in Gaza "in greenhouses of growing hatred." His statements were reminiscent of Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan's eulogy to Ro'i Rotberg, the security officer of Kibbutz Nahal Oz who was murdered in 1956 in a field bordering the Gaza Strip.

"How can we complain of their intense hatred of us?" Dayan said. "For eight years now, they have been sitting in the refugee camps of Gaza, while before their very eyes we are expropriating their lands and villages, where they and their forefathers previously dwelled... Let us not flinch from seeing the animosity inflaming and filling the lives of hundreds of thousands Arabs living around us... That is the bane of our generation." [emphasis added]

This is a painful appraisal, but it has the benefit of being unflichingly accurate. Despite the de-humanization of the Palestinian 'other', their aspirations and hopes are not that different than those of their Israeli neighbors--namely, to raise families and lead productive lives in conditions of dignity and peace. This is why solid majorities of both Palestinians and Israelis supported the Madrid and Oslo processes at various junctures--read: a two-state solution with an independent Palestine living side by side an independent Israel.

Don't miss this moving part from Sharon's speech either:

Residents of Gaza, today we end a glorious chapter in Israel's history, a central episode in your lives as pioneers, as realisers of the dream of those who bore the security and settlement burden for all of us.

Your pain and your tears are an inextricable part of the history of our country.

Whatever differences we have, we shall not abandon you and after the evacuation we will do everything to rebuild your lives and communities anew.

I want to tell the soldiers and police, you face a difficult mission. You do not face an enemy, but brothers and sisters. Sensitivity and patience are the order of the hour. I am sure that is how you will act. I want you to know the people stand behind you and are proud of you.

Citizens of Israel, the responsibility for Israel's future is mine. I initiated the plan because I reached the conclusion that this action is essential for Israel. Believe me, the pain I feel with this act is the same as the full realisation that we must do it.

We are taking a new path that also has no small number of risks, but which also contains a ray of hope for us all. With God's help this path shall be one of unity and not division, and not animosity between brothers, of unconditional love and not hatred. I will do my utmost to ensure that it will be so.

These are strong and good and wise words. Make no mistake, Sharon's move was the right one. The calculated risks were and are worth taking. And holding on to Gaza forever was simply not tenable. Let us now hope the handover is handled by all parties, especially the Palestinian side, with utmost professionalism and seriousness of purpose. The entire world is watching, and success now can lead to more progress in reaching a viable two state solution later. There is really no other way forward that would avoid condemning the region to permanent war.

Posted by Gregory at 03:30 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 25, 2005

A Nightclub Bombing

A suicide bombing has taken place in a Tel Aviv night club. The New York Times is reporting three fatalities. Debka, not always necessarily the most reliable source on other matters but quite good at the morbid job of getting casualty counts right and up in the public space first, is reporting 3-4 fatalities and 15 seriously injured (as of this writing). In the gruesome business of suicide bombings, a grim logic seems to have taken form over the years. Around 20 or more dead, a tangible sense of national tragedy envelops Israel and very significant military action and even strategic policy adjustments can ensue. In double digits but south of 20, say 10-15 or so, strategic readjustments are not typically in the offing but very significant and robust IDF action results. In single digits, the IDF rolls into action, but the targets tend to be more limited in scope.

Absurdist number games? Absolutely, as every suicide bombing is deeply reprehensible for the resulting slaughter of innocents and every single human life lost a tragedy. But I point all this out only to make the point that I don't expect this bombing to have a major impact on the nascent resucitatation of the peace process--unless a Fatah-linked faction (rather than Islamic Jihad or the military wing of Hamas) are responsible. For one, the number of dead is relatively low (though not, of course, for trying). Second, assuming Islamic Jihad is responsible, say, I expect cooler heads to prevail. Why? Because the quest for peace in the Middle East has always been a race between moderates, on the one hand, and extremists, on the other. Whenever prospects for renewed negotiations look ripe, and as has happened so often in the past, a suicide bomber will do his or her noxious business hoping to reap the predictable result--a breakdown in talks, bad blood with emotions boiling over, another setback for pragmatic discourse and peace in the Holy Land. Sharon knows that these groups are hell-bent on scuttling any forward movement in negotiations, so will allow some leeway to Mazen particularly if a non-Fatah affiliated group is guilty of the bombing. If, of course, a Fatah-faction like al-Asqa Martyr's Brigade is responsible, Abu Mazen will have to do his very damnedest to spring into action and rein any members of this militia cheerleading or otherwise supporting terrorist tactics and imprison them immediately. But I would expect that this was a Hamas or Islamic Jihad action (though, obviously, I just don't know). Finally, I believe Sharon truly believes that Abu Mazen is making real strides (unlike Arafat, unable to relinquish the guerrilla pose and too often duplicitous or, at best, too enfeebled and confused to make good on any of his promises) to improve security controls in Gaza and the West Bank. This will likely allow for continued dialogue rather than an immediate rupture in contacts between the PA and Israel.

As this is a critical moment, the U.S. must, assuming Abu Mazen shows he will fully cooperate in tracking down any and all aiders and abetters of today's carnage: 1) facilitate a cooling down of the situation by offering up whatever good offices may be needed at this time, 2) ask Sharon for restraint, and 3) ensure American intelligence sources are coordinating with Mazen, with even more intensity in the next weeks, to help him maximize his chances of mitigating the chances of further bombings like this in coming days. It's impossible to stop every suicide bomber, of course. It shouldn't be about 100% quiet, necessarily, but 100% effort. By that, I mean, we cannot impose an artifical requirement that there be some set period of absolute quiet before resumption of talks (or that talks must break off after every bombing). This is merely an invitation for suicide bombers to scuttle the Middle East peace process. But there must be 100% effort by the PA to prevent any and all such bombings--even when the going gets tough and negotiations aren't going rosily or have even hit temporary snags. This type of event is crunch time for Abu Mazen. He has to persuade, not only the Americans, but also the Israelis, of course, that he isn't just talking the talk but walking the walk. I think Sharon, as I said, thinks he's making a real go of it. Events in the coming days will either bear this out, or prove B.D. wrong. Stay tuned, and in the meantime, let us mourn the victims of this hateful slaughter born of grim circumstance and long bitterness.

P.S. Sharon recently allowed large prisoner releases. If the bomber was one of these, the Israeli government will likely suffer a backlash of sorts for imperiling national security by releasing prisoners still hell bent on killing innocents.

P.P.S. Note this quote from the NYT piece above:

An Israeli government spokesman, Gideon Meir, said the bombing proved the need for the Palestinian Authority to "dismantle terror groups" rather than try to persuade them to accept a formal truce, Reuters reported. Israel's public security minister, Gideon Ezra, said, "We will have to see where we can tighten the screws and the Palestinian Authority has to tighten its screws." [emphasis added]
In other words, the Israelis are holding the door open and acknowledging a role for the Palestinian side in 'tightening its screws.' That bodes well that we aren't about to face a major breakdown in relations between the two sides and that the truce, albeit tragically shattered this evening, remains extant.
Posted by Gregory at 11:15 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 04, 2005

U.S. To Train Palestinian Forces?

More smarts moves on the Palestinian front. When you take the lead in training an army, well, you get to influence it a whole lot more. We did the same thing with the 'train and equip' effort of Bosnian Federation forces back in the '90s. Recall that Clinton had instructed then Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith to tell Croatian President Franjo Tudjman that he had 'no instructions' with regard to whether Croatia should respect the (amoral) Bosnian arms embargo. Tudjman took this as tacit permission to let arms get into Bosnia. Croatia took her cut and the rest of the arms, many Iranian supplied, got into points Sarajevo. The Iranians, of course, were less interested in the plight of beleaguered Sarajevans than establishing a beach-head to export the Islamic revolution into Europe. Thus, post-Dayton, American moves to take control of the training and equipping effort were particularly apropos in terms of reining in radical tendencies in parts of Sarajevo, Zenica etc that were falling for the Iranians who had ostensibly stood by them during their darkest hours. Well, subsitute Hamas and Jihad Islami for Iran in the present equation and it's pretty much the same thing. If (and it's a big if) Palestinian security forces can come under one umbrella, if as Condeeleza Rice puts it there is "one authority, one gun"--well why not have the U.S. heavily involved in training them? And if such forces fall under the sway of radicals at a later date, well, the U.S. will better know what tricks they might have up their sleeves. That unlikely hypothetical aside, a major U.S. role in this training effort will prove a moderating influence and important component in creating a professional PA military apparatus that can effectively cooperate with their IDF counterparts in disengagement exercises, possible joint patrols, and other military-to-military cooperation. Note the Egyptians are also training PA forces these days.

Posted by Gregory at 11:14 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 28, 2005

More Bad News From the Middle East

...well, not really. Prediction: Condi Rice will announce resumption of bona fide "road map" discussions when she gets to Israel and Palestine in early Feb (assuming no terror attacks occur before her visit).

Posted by Gregory at 06:37 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 15, 2005

Peace Process Watch

I'm not terribly concerned about Arik Sharon's decision to cut off contact with the P.A. just as Abbas assumes its Presidency. This plays well to the broad center-right swaths of post-al Aqsa intifada Israeli politics--signaling that Abbas won't benefit from some artificial honeymoon short of real moves to assert control over the PA's security apparatus. Meantime, truth be told, Abbas could benefit from some time spent consolidating his position post-election (more tenuous than the results show) and ensuring he's got his own backyard in better order. In fact, a Sharon-Abbas summit, right out of the gates, would have accomplished little and proven, mostly, political theater. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if Sharon's move to suspend contacts was communicated to Abbas through back-channels well before the public announcement. Let's see how things stand two to three months out into Abbas' Presidency.

Posted by Gregory at 04:45 PM | Comments (9)

January 13, 2005

A World Without Israel

So, would the world be so different? Well, no. Josef Joffe explains.

Posted by Gregory at 04:20 AM | Comments (6)

December 18, 2004

A Man of Peace?

"As things stand, Sharon is the only one in Israel who can take the courageous step toward peace."

Hosni Mubarak, in a recent interview to Der Spiegel. He sees a Palestinian state by the end of Bush's second term in 2008.

Posted by Gregory at 05:56 PM | Comments (5)

December 13, 2004

Barghouti Out

Good news. A schism within Fatah would not have been helpful at this juncture. This development increases the chances of forward movement on the peace process in the coming months.

Posted by Gregory at 01:15 AM | Comments (3)

December 08, 2004

Egyptian Peace Processing Watch

There is clearly a very significant amount of diplomatic activity currently underway as between and among the Egyptians, Israelis, Syrians, Gulfies (Kuwaits/Saudis etc). Much of it quite positive--what with Israeli-Syrian feelers in the air and talk of establishing diplomatic relations between Kuwait and Israel (perhaps a tad easier with Saddam gone, no?).

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is visiting Kuwait trying to widen the circle of participants in a peace process with Israel, and appears to be coordinating his efforts with the Palestinians. Mubarak is trying to persuade Kuwaiti ruler Prince Jabber Ahmed al Sabah to open negotiations with Israel for diplomatic ties, and to pressure Syria to demonstrate more daring political moves that will persuade Israel of Damascus' seriousness about renewing the political process with Israel.

Meanwhile, the Egyptians (and, of course, Americans) appear very busy on the Israeli-Palestinian front itself (a somewhat more measured take here):

Palestinians and Israelis have agreed in principle to proposals which could serve as the basis of a comprehensive settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Egypt's official news agency MENA said on Tuesday. Egypt's official news agency said that significant progress had been made in international efforts to end Israeli-Palestinian violence. But both sides to the conflict termed talk of a deal premature.

Quoting unidentified high-level sources, MENA said the steps, including an Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire, had the support of both the United States and the European Union.

"High-level sources confirmed an important understanding -- reaching the point of an agreement in principle -- has been completed between Egypt, Israel, the Palestinians and several active international parties, America and Europe, regarding a comprehensive settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian struggle," MENA said.

We're not there yet (not by a long shot). Even just for a so-called "agreement in principle." But, and keeping in mind that major caveat, material progress certainly seems to be underway nonetheless. Just don't look for too much in depth coverage about it in the predictable quarters. Such good news, after all, doesn't fit the oft-ordained narrative that Iraq has plunged the Middle East into utter chaos and that Bush is simply getting ready for Iran (variant: wants to go in, but can't, b/c Iraq is a quagmire) so as to keep on keeping on performing Arik's bidding. The reality, of course, is quite a bit more, er, nuanced. For one, Arafat's death has opened up many new avenues for resucitating the peace process and Bush, it appears, is asking Mubarak to take an early lead (importantly, on an ambitious region-wide basis) to generate some positive momentum for the peace process. Higher level American involvement, doubtless, will ramp up as real, tangible progress looks achievable on varied fronts.

Smart. One of Clinton's errors was not to get enough backstopping from Fahd and Mubarak on how far Arafat could go on Jerusalem concessions--helping ensure that the Palestinians (who, in any case, "never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity" per Abba Eban's quip) would be too fearful to make decisions impacting the entire Arab world and, indeed, 1 billion Muslims. We aren't talking Jerusalem and other such final status issues right now, of course. But it's still good to see Mubarak hitting the hustings (doubtless King Abdullah too) taking the post-Arafat pulse of the region. Also smart? A regional approach aimed at a general Arab-Israeli peace settlement. Thus the Israeli-Syrian track (and so the Lebanese track too) don't get lost in micro-managing and obsessing solely about the latest roadmap intrigues on the Israeli-Palestinian front. And also good to see a move to have some of the Gulf States like Kuwait at least think seriously about establishing diplomatic relations with Israel. After all, much of this is quite inter-connected--so best to undertake such peace processing initiatives in concerted, 'macro' fashion. As I said; lots going on. I predict good tidings in '05 from the Holy Land (fingers crossed!)

P.S. The day job is pretty much going around the clock this week. I'm sorry I haven't gotten to the Middle East democratization and Roger Cohen pieces like I said I would a couple nights back. There is simply no time given marathon work days/nights. I'll do my best to get some more material up later this week, however. Oh, B.D. is truly neck in neck with an excellent, widely read blog in the 2004 Weblog Awards for "Best UK Blog." Go give me a boost in the polls if you like what I try to churn out here, usually at least five days a week, on matters foreign policy and such. Yeah, the whole thing is a bit silly, as Sully has said. But, what the hell. A little cyber-trophy wouldn't hurt. Back soon. In the meantime, go vote. Who knows? Maybe a win would make me feel better about why I take the time to eke out post-work posts when I'm already help a guy rationalize the too bleary eyes!

P.P.S. If I haven't responded to E-mail, please accept my apologies. I'm a couple weeks behind on most of it...but will (at least) read each note. Thanks.

Posted by Gregory at 04:07 AM | Comments (17)

November 30, 2004

The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process: What Next?

What seems like many moons ago, I had written up a rather long post on the state of the oft-maligned peace process--around the time Bush and Sharon had held a summit circa. April 2004.

In a nutshell, I had written that, despite all the vitriole spewed in the Euro press about Sharon and Bush reaching a "separate peace"--what Bush had really done was spoken publicly about what everyone knew before but didn't say out loud, namely that: a) any final deal would necessarily involve Israel keeping hold of at least some of the settlements in the West Bank and b) there would be no unvarnished right of return (which would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state).

Back then, however, I had nevertheless expressed some displeasure because of the way by which Bush and Sharon had contravened one of the most basic precepts undergirding the roadmap (namely a sequenced process by which confidence building measures would lead to security talks which, in turn, would lead to interim understandings leading to, if all went well, a resolution of the so-called "final status" issues--ie, the toughest nuts to crack like right of return, settlements, Jerusalem etc.).

I was somewhat peeved because Bush had jumped the gun and broached certain final status issues--contra the sequential manner by which the roadmap was meant to proceed. This M.O. also bothered me because, as I wrote back then, it put into doubt America's role as the "honest broker" in the dispute since the Palestinians didn't even take part in the negotiations:

What do Madrid, Oslo, the '94 Agreement on Gaza and Jericho, Oslo II, the Hebron Agreement, the Wye River Memorandum, the Sharm-el-Sheikh Memorandum, Camp David II and Taba all have in common?

They were all multiparty talks with the U.S. (or other third parties) shuttling between the Palestinians and Israelis as something of an honest broker.

Now, flash back to the Bush-Sharon meetings of last week.

Forgive me if I've got this wrong--but I'm under the impression that the Palestinians were not even consulted about the outcome of the Bush-Sharon meetings.

Now one of the reasons that there was no Palestinian participation, of course, was that Yassir Arafat was persona non grata around the White House. He is now, of course, dead. Abu Mazen, among others (keep your eye on Dahlan and, yes, even Barghouti going forward) are more favorably viewed by the White House as compared to Arafat (to say the least).

What does this all mean? Well, very obviously, there is the fact that Arafat's departure from the scene allows for better conditions by which to kick-start the peace process. But what I'd really like to touch on here today is to toss out my two cents on how Condeleeza Rice might intelligently pursue a resucitation of the peace process with some legs. Not surprisingly, perhaps, I think (much like Arik Sharon desires) that we should stick to the roadmap--in the main. But, and likely unlike Sharon, I believe that just like Israel got to 'jump ahead' and reach informal understandings (ones, it should be noted, with the force of a Presidential declaration) back in April of 2004--Palestinians too (providing elections go off well and moderates are empowered) should get to fast-track forward on some final status issues too (more on this below) at critical junctures (ie, when Abu Mazen is losing street cred with nothing to show for his cooperation with the Israelis and Americans).

Keep in mind, in all of this discussion, the basic phases of the Road Map:

1) Phase I: Ending Terror And Violence, Normalizing Palestinian Life, and Building Palestinian Institutions; 2) Phase II: Transition (creation of an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders) and 3) Phase III: Permanent Status Agreement and End of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (resolution of the so-called "final status" issues to include borders, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements; and, to support progress toward a comprehensive Middle East settlement between Israel and Lebanon and Israel and Syria).

The problem with Sharon's approach to the roadmap was that the Israelis would insist on a 'quiet period' in which no terror attacks had occured before moving along further into the roadmap. But, of course, every single extremist in Palestine wanted nothing more than to blow up innocent Israelis whenever a window of opportunity existed to move the roadmap forward. The quest for Middle East peace has always been a race between moderates (Abu Mazen, Rabin), on the one hand, and extremists (Yigal Amir, Jihad Islami, Hamas) on the other. So while I can fully appreciate Sharon's desire for a 'quiet period'--it too often led to a complete stalemate in any forward movement--so as to play into the hands of the extremists. Today, the situation is different in that (contrary to my earlier belief) the "security barrier" has proven quite effective in repelling attacks so that the prospects of a "quiet period" are quite a bit higher. And, of course, Arafat's departure from the scene is, at least where we sit today, a net positive in terms of the security situation too (though this is debatable).

My point in all this? Let's move as swiftly as possible through Phase I of the Roadmap (the most critical component thereto, perhaps, the consolidation of Palestinian security services into a unitary force capable and willing to convincingly hunt down extremists and irrendentists). But, at the same time, and at critical moments when an Abu Mazen will need political oxygen (he is roundly opposed by many as too weak and in the pockets of the Americans--and opposition will get more pitched when the necessary crackdowns on Jihad Islami and Hamas are underway)--and much as Bush did with Sharon in April '04--let's publicly hint that the Palestinians will get a favorable dispensation on some of the final status issues as well. In particular, and least controversial now, a massive compensation fund should be created for Palestinian refugees who will be unable to return to '48 (or parts of '67) Israel and/or the Occupied Territories. These funds should allow those Palestinians dwelling in refugee centers in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan etc. (often now, for multiple generations) the prospects of a better life. In addition, America's spearheading of a major compensation fund would also be an opportunity for the Euros and Americans to work in cooperation on a critical issue--whilst also giving Europe an opportunity to put its money where its mouth is. Not to mention very good P.R. for us in the Arab world.

More on all this soon. In my view, after Iraq, resolution of this conflict is second to none (well, along with Iran and NoKo) as among the very most pressing foreign policy challenges we face today. Put differently, we can't win the war against radical Islam without resolving the Israeli-Arab conflict. That's not to say resolution of that conflict is some panacea. It's far from it--as atrophied economic systems, rampant poverty and unemployment, and authoritarian corruption and controls all act to radicalize Arab youth through the region. But, make no mistake, the conflict in the Holy Land is a (very) big part of the puzzle. And if nothing else, Arab leaders would no longer be able to distract their publics with footage of the latest helicopter gunship attacks gone astray in Gaza. Reckonings and accountability would therefore be more easily pressed upon many of the corrupt satrapies in the Broader Middle East.

Posted by Gregory at 01:55 AM | Comments (10)

November 12, 2004

Hyperbole Alert

To hear Laura Rozen say it--one would think that the neo-con ascendancy is running rampant (again!) through Washington. Bush, after all, has his mandate--and so we are marching to Iran soonest. Faster, please--as they say.

But wait. Blackwill's speedy resignation may have been for reasons apart from any overly realist stripes. Doug Feith looks set to leave. It's still even money on whether Powell or Rummy will go first. Bolton is not necessarily a shoe-in for Deputy Secretary of State. Danforth is a grounded, rational player and may be landing a bigger job. And so on.

And this:

President Bush is expected to call on Europe to assume a key role in helping the new Palestinian leadership build and support institutions and prepare for negotiations with Israel, American and European diplomats said Thursday.

Such a call would represent a notable increase in cooperation between Washington and its European allies over the Middle East. An issue of contention until now had been the Europeans' continued communications with Yasir Arafat, who died early Thursday. The United States, along with Israel, believed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be solved only without the involvement of Mr. Arafat.

The new role for Europe is likely to be discussed publicly on Friday after the president's meetings with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, the diplomats said.

Also on the agenda is a possible American endorsement of a conference that Mr. Blair wants to hold on the Middle East early next year in Britain, the diplomats said.

Why, how brutishly unilateral and cowboy-esque!

And, while the NYT downplays it, the WaPo even espies a possible special Middle East envoy! Special envoy aside (where not there yet...); it looks pretty clear that some major new initiatives are in the air on the Israeli-Palestinian front (hopefully with elections in Palestine in the next six odd months too--critical to establishing a legitimate heir to Arafat).

Talk is cheap, of course. Let's see where these initiatives lead--and, be assured, there will be a good amount of trench warfare in DC on the scope of such resucitations of the peace process. But, clearly, with Arafat's death and Blair's entreaties (not to mention Bush's very own representations to the Palestinians about post-Arafat potential statehood--which I trust him to actively pursue)--some significant activity is in the air.

Oh, and worth a mention, perhaps--elections in Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq in the space of a year or two?

Not bad, no?

MORE: Laura Rozen: "Greg is operating using IAEA standards of proof when it comes to interpreting the signs in Washington about where things are headed."

Heh. And Laura's not? Her blog, of late, has been rife with links to every peep out of an AEI'er or Leeden or Pletka type. Sorry, but that's not the whole story, Laura. She's spinning too heard, imho. Exhibit A: Bush: "I think it is fair to say that I believe we've got a great chance to establish a Palestinian state, and I intend to use the next four years to spend the capital of the United States on such a state. I believe it is in the interests of the world that a truly free state develop." [emphasis added]

Remember, when Bush went before the press the day after his victory--he talked about how he viewed his electoral triumph as constitutive of "political capital", of sorts, to better achieve his goals (he's our first MBA President, after all). So it's very interesting to see him use this formulation with regard to forging an Arab-Israeli peace. Put differently, I think it really means something--and isn't just jaw-jaw for buddy Tony.

I mean, love him or hate him, Bush actually means what he says (as opposed to Clinton and, to a lesser extent, John Kerry). So when he says he sees a "great chance" that a Palestinian state will develop in the next four years--well folks, that means something. It doesn't mean, of course, that it's inexorably going to happen. But I think he's going to give it a very serious try, in his own way (no POTUS poring over maps, no midnight pizza sessions at Sheperdstown, no quasi-rambling bull sessions with Ehud and Yasser)--one that just might prove more effective than Clinton's.

Posted by Gregory at 04:33 AM | Comments (45)

November 11, 2004

Arafat Dies

The symbol and very embodiment of Palestinian national aspirations is dead. The WaPo appears first out of the gates with a Lee Hockstader obit.

By dint of ruthless violence often directed at civilians, artful manipulation and the sheer theatrical force of his personality, he managed almost single-handedly to elevate the grievances of a few million disenfranchised Palestinians to a prominent place on the world's political agenda...

Yet for all Arafat's public exposure, a sense of mystery remained about his essential nature and some of the basic facts of his life, thanks partly to his own efforts at obscuring them.

He could be charming, courtly and good-humored in private, pouring tea for his visitors and regaling them with amusing (if inflated) accounts of his battlefield exploits, narrow escapes and political travails. Yet he was an unimposing character, 5 feet 4, bald, thick-waisted, bug-eyed, temperamental, ineloquent and modestly educated. People delved into his speeches in search of an ideology, only to come up empty-handed. To this day, there is confusion about his place of birth, controversy about his battlefield exploits and debate about any number of episodes in his spectacularly eventful life.

Still, few doubted his knack for survival, the product of astonishing talent, luck or intuition. Many or most of his closest aides and confidants were murdered in the course of their long guerrilla struggle. But Arafat emerged intact from 40 assassination attempts (by his own, probably exaggerated tally), plus wars and rebellions, car accidents, a plane crash that killed both the pilot and co-pilot, and a stroke. And he managed to keep himself and his Palestine Liberation Organization whole and relevant despite devastating political setbacks and military defeats.

And the end:

Even as the negotiations sputtered on after Camp David, in September 2000 a bloody new Palestinian insurrection erupted at the very site that had been central to the talks -- the Temple Mount -- following a visit there by Arafat's longtime nemesis, Sharon, then the Israeli opposition leader. The new intifada spread, with Arafat's blessing or consent, and in the process it destroyed his dreams of self-determination in the near term for his people.

Provoked by Palestinian suicide bombers and other attacks, Israel reoccupied large swaths of the West Bank, inflicted thousands of casualties, destroyed much of the Palestinian economy and started building a security barrier intended to deter the suicide bombers from entering the country -- even as it separated thousands of Palestinians from their own land.

Declared officially "irrelevant" by Sharon, who had by then become prime minister, Arafat was shunned by the Bush administration and confined by Israeli troops to the bomb-blasted rubble of his once-grandiose presidential compound in Ramallah, the West Bank's main city. His globe-trotting days finished, his health in decline, his aspirations shattered, Arafat had become a prisoner in his own land.

Risking an Israeli assassination attempt or forced exile if he left the compound, he passed his days in isolation, receiving foreign diplomats and issuing pronouncements that seemed increasingly divorced from events. His influence waning and his profile at home and abroad in decline, he lived on more as a symbol than an actor in Palestinian affairs. And his lifelong dream -- self-determination for the Palestinian people -- remained elusive.

More on the ramifications of Arafat's death as soon as time allows.

Posted by Gregory at 04:45 AM | Comments (13)