29 March 2010

Greg Sheridan’s jihad

Obama’s Anti-Israel Hysteria Dangerous and Destructive screamed the headline of Greg Sheridan’s major piece in The Weekend Australian, 27-28 March 2010.

His article begins:

Barack Obama’s anti-Israel jihad is one of the most irresponsible policy lurches by any modern American President.

And just in case you missed that phrase “anti-Israel jihad”, he uses it again towards the end of the article, when we are told that the hearts of the radical political theorists favoured by Obama are made to sing by “this anti-Israel jihad”, and elsewhere he poses the question why Obama has “gone into full jihad mode against Israel”. To Sheridan this “dangerous new lurch into anti-Israeli populism” is all because Obama’s personal popularity is more important to him than America’s standing in the world.

Popularity with whom, we wonder. Certainly not the voting public of the United States, where unshakeable support for Israel is a sine qua non of obtaining the highest office in the land – a criterion on which Obama was closely scrutinised during the election campaign. No, it is personal popularity in the Muslim world that Obama courts, which seems a trifle odd in a first-term President who shows every sign of wanting to be re-elected.

That word hysteria gets a bit of a workout as well.  An addition to the headline, we are told that

The anti-Israel hysteria is totally disproportionate and wildly over the top. The British decision to expel an Israeli diplomat because Israel is alleged to have used forged British passports in Mossad operation is a case in point.

... Israel’s friends now should rally around it, or the spectre of wild and hysterical anti-Israeli sentiment will be unleashed with all sorts of destructive consequences.

One begins to form the impression that the only possible reason for disapproving of the actions of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu (the proximate cause of Obama’s irritation with Israel) is the onset of an hysterical condition.  This impression is reinforced by the fact that Sheridan cannot find a single Israeli contribution to the difficulties of finding a Middle East peace settlement.  In his view, “all of the things that make peace impossible” are down to the Arabs:

-  Arab and Palestinian refusal to accept the legitimacy of any Jewish state

-  Palestinian insistence on certain deal breakers such as the right of return of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants to Israel proper

- the insistent and violent anti-Semitism of Palestinian and Arab propaganda, and

- the regional ambitions of players such as Iran and Syria.

All of these, he avers, will be completely unaffected by any decision to build apartments in a Jewish neighbourhood in East Jerusalem in three years time.

So the Palestinians are “refusing to participate in peace talks, which Netanyahu would be happy to participate in”. There is an important distinction to be made here between peace talks and any kind of peace settlement. To the extent that Mr Netanyahu would be “happy” to participate in anything with the Palestinians, it would be perpetual talks with the Palestinians of his choice (certainly not with Hamas, without whom no settlement is possible), leading nowhere except perhaps eventually to the stunted Palestinian Bantustans that he has in mind if in extremis Israel is forced one day to accept some kind of two state solution.

Towards the end of his article Sheridan fulminates:

Accompanying Obama’s own actions has been some of the most dangerous rhetoric ever to come out of a US administration, to the effect that Israeli intransigence endangers US troops by inflaming extremists in the Islamic world.

What Sheridan neglects to tell us is that this is actually a reference to Senate testimony given earlier this month by General David Petraeus, the Commanding Officer of Central Command, who has overall command responsibility for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  In that testimony, General Petraeus presented a 56 page document in which he listed five major challenges faced by Central Commmand, and a list of a dozen second-tier challenges, one of which was insufficient progress towards a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East, in relation to which the document said:

The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas.

That all seems perfectly reasonable to me, but the significance of this element of the testimony should not be overstated; General Petraeus has been at pains to hose down the controversy which has resulted, pointing out that this is just one paragraph in a 56-page document, and that it is simply an account of part of the context in which US troops are fighting.

Sheridan goes on to make the remarkable claim that

No serious analyst anywhere believes that Israel is an important source of the conflicts in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Source is the key word here. I don’t think anyone seeks to argue that Israel is the source of the conflicts, but I think that no serious analyst would seek to argue that the Israeli-Arab dispute is irrelevant to either conflict, and that Israeli behaviour does not matter in the wider context of the Middle East.

So Greg Sheridan has managed to convince himself that the responses of the Americans and the British to the passport forgeries and the announcement of the extra settler housing in East Jerusalem are hysterical and wildly over the top.  After all, what is a bit of passport forgery between friends?  And the Israelis apologised to Vice President Biden for the unfortunate timing of the housing announcement, so why all the drama?

Interestingly, commentators in Israel are capable of taking a stance that is much more critical of Mr Netanyahu.  Writing in the mainstream Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz on 28 March (see here) columnist Zvi Bar’el writes about “how Israel’s security situation has deteriorated during Netanyahu’s short term in office”:

We're not talking about yet another clumsy Israeli foreign minister whom no one wants to meet, or irksome building permits. Netanyahu poses a threat to Israeli security because he tips the balance of U.S.-Israeli relations, which are essential for our survival.

Of Netanyahu’s performance in Washington, and more generally, Bar’el concludes:

In a properly-run country, concerned about its own survival, thousands would have met the prime minister on his return, calling for his resignation. In such a country, gangs of squatters who steal land and buildings in Jerusalem would be considered organizations opposed to the nation's security interests. They would be taken to court, at least. In Israel, they are a symbol of national pride.

This arrogant government is sure that ever since it annexed the occupied territory in Jerusalem, it granted Israel control for all eternity. Jordan's King Abdullah can tell the lovers of eternity what happened to the so-called legal annexation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem to Jordan. This is the same Jordanian East Jerusalem that Washington will recognize as the capital of Palestine.

For generations the settlers have been blamed for posing an obstacle to peace, for acting against the policy of the government, which, poor soul, can't stand up to these bullies. And so, while Washington believed that the Israeli government wanted to take action against such subversive organizations but had problems, it showed restraint, gave in a little about the construction freeze, patted Netanyahu on the shoulder and granted extensions to the government so it could manage its own affairs.

There is no longer any basis for this approach. The Israeli government, and the seven wonders in charge of it, are inseparable from the bullies. And so Washington had to conclude that the government and prime minister were simply lying.

Washington's main interest is no longer whether the peace process will advance, because there are no guarantees that even direct talks with the Palestinians will end in an agreement. Washington's interest is to preserve its standing in the world against a small state and its crafty government, which made it a laughing stock. This will be a true test of the United States' ability to apply foreign policy. What is good for Iraq and Afghanistan, Washington figures, will also suit Israel now, because if Israel rebuffs Washington, Iraq and Afghanistan will, too.

And so the American formula is the same for all three. The United States will take care of the security of Israel/Iraq/Afghanistan, but security will not be measured only in the number of weapons sold to them, but also in the creation of conditions that will avoid the need to use them. To a certain extent, it will also be measured by these countries' willingness to agree to U.S. policy. In this way, a new condition has been created that should have been applied a long time ago. According to it, any country that is willing to harm the international standing of the United States is gambling on its own security. This is not a threat, but a clarification.

Strong stuff. I leave it to you, gentle reader, to decide whether Greg Sheridan or Zvi Bar’el is closer to the mark, closer to the temper of the times.

1 comment:

MERC said...

FYI - Our Most Serious Foreign Affairs Analyst at http://middleeastrealitycheck.blogspot.com

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