Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Arlene Kushner on Moshe Ya'alon's Surprising Comments About Democracy in the Middle East and a Palestinian State

From Arlene Kushner:
September 9, 2013


You don't often find a person in a high government position -- who has aspirations to be even higher, and is serving at the pleasure of a prime minister who has publicly embraced a decidedly different position from the one he thinks proper -- who speaks truth to power.  And so, that is what is amazing.

That government official is Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon (Likud).  I have long known that Ya'alon is one of the good guys, but I watched as he pulled back once he became Defense Minister, careful not to take positions that blatantly transcended what Netanyahu was saying.  Until now...


Minister Ya'alon spoke yesterday at the World Summit on Counter-Terrorism of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, taking place at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center (IDC).  His lecture focused on Western misconceptions about the Middle East and touched many significant bases.  The Middle East is changing rapidly, he explained, and yet many are caught in prior conceptions that are no longer valid.  (All emphasis added.)

Democracy, he said, is wrong for this region (with the singular exception of Israel, of course).  To attempt to promote democracy in this region -- where death is often valued over life -- reeks of "ignorance, naiveté, wishful thinking and, no less important, patronization."

Ya'alon provided background on the Sykes-Picot Treaty of 1916, which carved out the states to be established in the Middle East.  (This is something I have written about -- the manner in which the states were established is the source of many of the hostilities we are seeing now, because the lines were drawn for Western political purposes and not according to ethnic or religious considerations.)

While the concept of the nation-state was right for Europe at that time, it was wrong for the Middle East.  Similarly, he said, now there are attempts to impose democracy in an area where it won't work.

He expressed astonishment that during this time of upheaval in the Arab world, there was an effort to establish a Palestinian state:
One of the most incredible things in a period when the notion of the nation state is collapsing before our eyes is that there are those who are trying to advance, in one way or another, the founding of yet another nation-state — even as it remains unclear how the people of Jenin are connected to the people of Hebron, and uncertain that there is a common denominator between those in Judea and Samaria and those in Gaza."
Moshe Ya'alon
Credit: theguardian

As to what is happening in Syria, Ya'alon said Israel would stay out of it unless our red lines are crossed.  Israel's position is that the transfer of nonconventional or other "game-changing" weapons from Syria or Iran to Hezbollah would be seen as an act of war and would elicit a response.
"Our neighbors in Syria understand that if they challenge us, they will meet the strength and power of the IDF."
He said it was clear that Syria had used chemical weapons against its citizens, and that there will be an impact on Israel if Obama acts, and if he doesn't act:
"We are preparing for the consequences of action and the consequences of inaction, Every such decision has consequences for us."

"Reality is changing at a very fast pace, in a way that is difficult for us to digest. The forces of terror are taking advantage of this situation, and we must learn from this in order not to commit mistakes out of ignorance. We cannot be naïve and we cannot be enslaved to outmoded conceptions. We must also learn to recognize not only the shades of the current situation's threats and challenges, but also the opportunities and possibilities for new and surprising alliances in the region. We must always ask ourselves what has changed, and be able to deal with the current and future challenges."
Much of what Ya'alon says about Syria would be expected.  Although I think it's worth noting his reference to "new and surprising alliances" -- which refers, undoubtedly, to certain Sunni Gulf states.  Our situation truly is changing.
What is startling is what he says about the push for a Palestinian state, and his observation that there is not even really one Palestinian Arab people.  Absolutely true (and something I hope I will return to), but not something we would have expected to hear from him right now.
I began by implying that it is amazing, because ultimately he answers to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is on the record as supporting a two-state solution, with establishment of a "Palestinian state."
But, as Ya'alon has pulled back on several occasions so as to be in line with the government he now serves, we must ask what is going on.  Has he suddenly decided to step forward and tell the unvarnished truth, no matter the personal consequences?  This is possible.
But it may be something else: I would suggest the possibility that Netanyahu knew what Ya'alon was going to say and signed off on it because he wants this position voiced.  Because he is getting very weary of the game called "negotiations" and is willing to tolerate an advance that provides another position.  A possibility only, but very plausible.
Right now, Obama is pulling out all of the stops, with regard to lobbying Congress to approve his action in Syria.  There is primarily one aspect of this that I want to look at here.
It has surfaced that AIPAC -- the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an American organization located in Washington DC that has strong Congressional connections -- is lobbying members of Congress to support Obama's action in Syria.  What is disturbing is that it has become clear that AIPAC is doing so at the behest, or better, the insistence of President Obama.
Today's JPost editorial refers to the fact that (emphasis added):
"Only over Rosh Hashana was it disclosed that Obama had recruited AIPAC to send more than 250 activists to Congress on Monday to 'flood the zone' with support for intervention."
Read: AIPAC and Syria


This is not only an ironic state of affairs, but simply wrong.  Yet, it gets worse.  Prime Minister Netanyahu, whatever his private opinions about the appropriateness of a US attack on Syria, had stayed mum and instructed members of the government to not talk. But what has become clear is that Obama also called our prime minister.

In one version of the story, he pushed Netanyahu to come forward publicly ("come out of the closet") in support of the US action.  Something the president has no right to demand of the head of a foreign state -- especially as it was not a courteous request, so much as fairly crude insistence, as I heard of it.

In another version of the story, Obama insisted that Netanyahu "get" AIPAC on board to do the lobbying.

This is infuriating.  And I can tell you what will happen, what is already happening: The anti-Semites come out of the woodwork and begin to charge that Israel wanted this military action by the US for her own security, and thus pushed the Americans into something that is not an American interest.  Israel should not be mentioned in any regard here.

It goes without saying that Obama is entirely unconcerned about the repercussions for Israel.


Now, I am an advocate of use of the word "no," when it comes to Obama's demands of Netanyahu.  I think Netanyahu should have said "no" to release of Palestinian Arab terrorists from our prisons, for example.  But something in my gut tells me that this was a far more difficult situation for Netanyahu to contend with.

When it comes to something such as prisoner release or freezing building, Netanyahu knows that Obama is asking something that works against Israel's best interests.  But with the Syrian action, Netanyahu truly is for it and believes it serves Israel well. What is more -- no matter the understanding our prime minister has about Obama's ultimate unreliability -- it would likely be unwise to buck him on an issue of military action by the US, when we are still facing Iran.

See Steven Rosen's article, "Pushed on the Bandwagon," about this situation.


Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the GLORIA Center and a sharp guy.  Here he explains who the "moderate" rebels Obama would like to support really are:
"But as the U.S. grapples with the issue of what, if anything, is to be done, it is clear that a rival campaign of deception is underway: an attempt to present the Syrian armed rebels as consisting in the main of 'moderate' and pro-democratic forces. If only that were so: in reality, the spectrum of orientation among the observable Syrian rebel units spans from a Muslim Brotherhood-type outlook to open identification with al-Qaeda.

"This means the most 'moderate' rebel units share the ideas of former President Mohammed Morsi in Egypt. And Hamas."
Valuable information for anyone struggling to understand an incredibly complex situation.
Syria -- which has been developing chemical weapons for 30 years (Bashar Assad having continued the "tradition" from his father) -- has 1,000 tons of such weapons, stored in a large number of locations, according to a report released today at the Counter-Terrorism conference.  The report further indicates that Assad would use them if attacked.  Makes the blood run cold. Very cold.
Now an interesting situation has evolved. Secretary of State Kerry, when asked in London about how Assad might forestall a US attack, answered:
"Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week - turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting (of it), but he isn't about to do it and it can't be done."
Later, the State Department clarified that Kerry was simply making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility of Assad's turning over all those weapons.
The Russians, however, are not taking this rhetorically.  Allies of Assad, eager to prevent damage to his regime, they have now indicated that they are interested in pursuing this avenue.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would push Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control and have them destroyed.  Lavrov put this proposal to his Syrian counterpart, Wallid al-Moalem, when he was in Moscow.  Al-Moalem said he welcomed it, but didn't actually say he accepted it.
Is such a thing possible?  Not in the week rhetorically suggested by Kerry, certainly.  A sustained and very serious involvement by international community would be necessary.  UN Secretary-General Ban has spoken already about bringing this to the Security Council and having the UN involved, for whatever that is worth.
While Assad certainly could not be counted upon to surrender all his weapons voluntarily, I do understand that the locations and scope of the weapons caches is known by intelligence sources. Were that not the case, the report alluded to above would not have been possible.
The advantages of this hypothetical solution are obvious: Assad, even if chastened by Obama, might still opt to use his weapons in the future, or turn some over to Hezbollah.  Or he might fall and the weapons might come into the hands of jihadists -- one more terrifying thought.  To have the weapons destroyed would be a superior way of handling the matter.
The White House has put out a statement saying there would now be high level discussions with the Russians regarding this proposal, and that it would be welcomed if it could be put into action credibly -- but that there remains a good deal of scepticism. Part of what is being watched is the seriousness with which a very devious Assad responds.
How seriously Assad does take this proposal depends in some good part, certainly, on how seriously he takes Obama's threat and what he envisions the damage to his regime might be.  And that point has being made by the White House spokesman: there will be no letting up of plans to attack simply because this proposal has now come on the scene.  Assad has be pressured to the maximum.
In point of fact, just today I read that Obama is seeking to enlarge his list of targets because of the actions that Assad has already taken -- moving weapons, bringing in human shields. At the time I thought, once again, how exceedingly foolish to allow this to be made public knowledge. But now, if the intent is to pressure Assad with a demonstration of Obama's seriousness then perhaps this works.
One danger is that the proposal might be accepted by Syria as a stalling action...
Israel would be well satisfied with such a resolution of the issue, if achieved successfully. And the Obama administration would surely be delighted.  They would be spared the risk of a botched action that rebounded on the president badly, or an action from which they could not extricate themselves.  And they would come out looking very good because -- and this is true enough -- it would have been the readiness to attack that would have motivated this alternative avenue of action.
A very long shot. But tomorrow is another day. Congress is debating and the president will speak.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution. 

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