The ideas held by Western governments, experts, and pundits are very much out of date. We’re not talking about what borders Israel has. We’re not talking about the future of Jerusalem. We’re talking about strategic issues. We have to deal with 2011; we’re not in the 1990s or 1980s anymore.
But by returning to the 1970s I mean going back to a time when Arab governments were radical or intimidated by the radicals; when Arab governments seriously contemplated and did go to war with Israel. When Arab governments did not respect the United States as the world’s sole superpower and movements genuinely believed they would lead a revolution throughout the region to transform their societies in a radical and undemocratic manner.
And today, Iran and Turkey have joined in that destabilizing set of beliefs and policies.
SM: Is the administration of Barack Obama putting too much pressure on Israel?
BR: There is no real U.S. pressure on Israel. The Israel-Palestinian issue isn’t the core problem in the region. It’s a sideshow. It’s not important.
At any rate people focused on the wrong sentence in Obama’s speech. They focused on the sentence about the pre-1967 borders. The important sentence was the sequential plan, which was that, Israel turns over the entire West Bank to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for some unspecified security guarantees and you have a de facto Palestinian state.
What’s important is NOT this sentence:
“The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”
But these two sentences:
“The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.”
Obama says, again it is important to repeat it: Israel should withdraw to the 1967 border, Palestine should become a non-militarized state. And then the two sides will negotiate about refugees, Jerusalem, and final borders. So Obama was calling for the 1967 borders, with Israel giving up all of its bargaining leverage, and then—in reality we should say maybe—the independent Palestinian state would agree to some border swaps. In effect that means that Israel will return to its 1967 borders without “mutually agreed swaps.”
In effect, what Obama told the PA is: No, don’t go through the UN. We’ll give you what you want in exchange for very small things. Of course, according to Obama’s plan the PA will have to agree to security guarantees and demilitarization, both of which they can disregard as an independent state.
And what’s Israel going to do when it’s back on its 1967 borders and the state of Palestine builds an army and lets cross-border terrorist attacks take place? Launch an invasion of a neighboring country? Oh, the world will love that! Depend on Obama to force the state of Palestine to keep its commitments?
He won’t even force the PA to keep its commitment not to partner with a group that rejects the entire peace process framework (Hamas) or to force Egypt to maintain its commitments under the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, guaranteed by the United States.
Obama has no credibility and no country—not just Israel, but nobody—can rely on him.
At the same time, though, there is no pressure on Israel at all from the U.S. government. Obama is telling the truth when he says that in fact the security relationship is quite good. So his talk about the peace process is just words. But his conduct of U.S. strategy is dangerously real.
SM: What should the administration do with regard to Syria?
BR: The U.S. should call for the downfall of the Syrian and Iranian government. Even a purely verbal policy is superior to what we have now. It would encourage the oppositions in those countries. These people are publicly saying, “Nobody is supporting us. Nobody is helping us.”
And it’s true. The first step is a purely declaratory policy. Whatever possibility there is of an Islamist takeover in Egypt and Libya, there is less such prospect of Syria. For one thing lets remember something here, the Sunni Muslim Arab population of Tunisia is 100 percent. The Sunni Muslim Arab population of Egypt is 90 percent. The Sunni population of Syria is 60 percent. And from all my research I believe there are proportionately more moderate democrats among Sunni Arab Muslims in Syria than in Egypt. Is the Muslim Brotherhood a threat in Syria? Yes, definitely. Is it less of a threat than in virtually every other country except for Lebanon? Also yes.
SM: Does the Syrian opposition have what it takes to overthrow Assad?
BR: Probably not. But maybe. And they should be supported and the people of Iran should be supported (and those in Lebanon and Turkey also should be supported). And at present none of them are being supported by the United States.
Why have a policy of being nice to your enemies and nasty to your friends. But again, when we talk about this, it is not just a matter of Israel. It is a matter of wide variety of political forces.
SM: What is the future of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty?
BR: For Egypt, the end of the peace treaty in practice is a certainty. Here’s the problem: if Egypt no longer adheres to the treaty but do not publicly say that, then it becomes a judgment call for the United States. In other words, the Obama administration will have to decide whether or not it believes that the treaty is being kept.
So we can get a situation where for all practical purposes the treaty has been torn up, and the United States refuses to acknowledge it.
We are facing a situation where on June 6 the PA is going to announce a new cabinet, and they will try to do it in a way that they can say, “Oh, no, Hamas is not part of the government.” The U.S. government then will have to interpret whether or not it deems Hamas to be part of the government. And therefore whether or not that triggers something having to do with U.S. aid to the PA.
The Obama administration can say no, Hamas is not part of the government, we should continue to give aid. Then Congress is going to have to decide whether or not it views the PA to be in violation of the congressional law on aid and relations with the PA. Will there be a massive battle between Congress and the administration? Again, this is something that is terribly predictable, and people are not dealing with it.
The Obama administration can say that, Hamas or no Hamas, supporting the PA is a vital U.S. interest. It can, indeed already is, saying the same thing about Hezbollah’s participation in Lebanon’s government. Soon it will have to decide on the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s government, though Obama has preemptively said that it is OK with him. So the U.S. government will have no problem with the participation in governments of three different groups calling for genocide against the Jews and jihad against America.
What truly amazes me is that all of these things are visible. And yet people in positions of power—political, media, and intellectual—are just pretending it’s not happening.
Seth Mandel is a writer specializing in Middle Eastern politics and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Horowitz Freedom Center.
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