Donald Trump as a Philo-Semite – Part I: Trump and Antisemitism

Donald Trump as a Philo-Semite – Part I: Trump and Antisemitism

by

Howard Adelman

Last evening, Donald Trump may have been the one to have secretly released the first two pages of his 2005 tax returns to Rachel Maddow, host of a liberal political U.S. TV show, by mailing Trump chronicler and investigative journalist David Cay Johnston in the proverbial brown envelope with no return address his simplified Alternative Minimum Tax form. Why? Because it shows The Donald in a relatively favourable light – he evidently earned $150 million that year and paid 25% in taxes – $38 million. He had done nothing either illegal or improper. No wonder the White House quickly confirmed the accuracy of the figures while insisting that the “illegal” disclosure be investigated. “You know you are desperate for ratings when are you are willing to violate the law to push a story about two pages of tax returns from over a decade ago.”

What a way for the master deflector and magician of all time to take the public’s eye off the scandal swirling around his head about his tweets accusing Barack Obama of taping him in the Trump Tower. “How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic1] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” All efforts to deflect from that insane accusation by his surrogates – he did not mean his personal phone but the campaign phones; he did not literally even mean wiretapping; he did not literally mean Barack Obama – have been laughed out of the ball park.

The release of the 2005 tax returns may be a substitute for his failed early Saturday morning tweets to distract from the investigations launched from a myriad of directions into the possibility of Trump campaigners’ collusion with Putin’s KGB government. What a chance to steer the inquiries away from the possibility that Trump is in the process of setting up the first Western kleptocracy to compete with Putin’s. What a way for the scandal of firing all the Democratic Party-appointed prosecuting attorneys in one fell swoop – that was what was unprecedented – this past Friday, including one, Preet Bharara, whom he promised could stay on in the Southern District of New York, but who turned out to be the prime investigator into white-collar criminality, including dirty money laundering, swirling around Wall Street. Of the 46 prosecuting attorneys asked to resign immediately and without notice, Bharara was the only one who refused and was fired Saturday, but that gave him an extra day. To do what? – is the question.

The two cover pages of Donald Trump’s tax returns show him earning a very large annual income, reminding Americans of what an astute businessman he is and that he may be as rich as he claims to be. He is seen to be paying a considerable tax bill, but without disclosing his charitable contributions and, more importantly, without disclosing his possible indebtedness to the Deutsche Bank which became a clearing house for laundering billions in Russian money. Unlike the mid-nineties tax return that was leaked during the campaign that showed him not only paying no taxes, but declaring a write off that could have him paying no taxes for 18 years, this so-called explosive revelation displayed Trump as having paid taxes after only ten years, not 18. But why not all the tax returns before 2008 that had already been audited? Why not the full return?

Such speculations may only be the efforts of a liberal observer trying disrespectfully to throw more mud at a president attempting to model himself on President Andrew Jackson, an authentic rather than penthouse populist as the analysis by the Republican-led Congressional Budget Office of the new Ryan health bill reveals – cover far fewer people and allegedly save the government billions. On the other hand, Jackson was the master media manipulator of his time. Jackson, like Trump, did clear the swamp, but only to replace the occupants with his own much more mendacious crew of loyalists. Jackson also was the supreme ethnic cleanser, removing millions of aboriginal people from east of the Mississippi just as Trump now aims to remove those “bad hombres” back to Mexico and to prevent the “lawless savages” who believe in Islam from entering the U.S.

So why discuss Donald Trump’s connection with antisemitism now? The issue seems so tangential. If, in fact, there has been an upsurge in antisemitic incidents since Donald Trump took the reins of power in America. All one hundred U.S. senators signed an open letter addressed to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James B. Comey demanding swift action against the upsurge in antisemitic activity. “We are concerned that the number of incidents is accelerating and failure to address and deter these threats will place innocent people at risk and threaten the financial viability of JCCs, many of which are institutions in their communities.”

Is Donald Trump in any way responsible for the upsurge or for the allegedly inadequate response? Any accusation that Donald Trump himself is antisemitic appears far-fetched. However, in the current maelstrom swirling around Trump from so many directions, a step back into what appears to be a peripheral issue re Donald Trump, though not for Jews, may be instructive.

The question of whether Donald Trump is antisemitic is easier to answer than the question of whether he bears any responsibility for the upsurge in antisemitism. First, he is clearly not guilty of antisemitism Type C, that is anti-Zionist antisemitism. He has a history of close connections with the Jewish people and Israel. In 1983, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) awarded Donald Trump the Tree of Life Award, a “humanitarian award presented to individuals for their outstanding community involvement [and] their dedication to the cause of American-Israeli friendship.” He was honoured in 2004 by serving as the Grand Marshall in the 2004 Israel Day Parade. He has received many other awards and acknowledgements from the Jewish community, such as the Liberty Award in 2015 from the publication, Algemeiner.

Though in the campaign for the nomination just over a year ago in Charleston, South Carolina, he insisted that he would be “a sort of neutral guy” vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he has been anything but. He is unequivocally pro-Israel. Donald Trump does not know what it means to be impartial. In fact, he is the most pro-Israel president America has ever had, if pro-Israel is equated with support for the policies of the current coalition that John Kerry dubbed “the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme element.”

Trump supports a united Jerusalem. He promised to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in his presentation to the AIPAC conference when he was a candidate for the leadership of the Republican Party. “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.” He has not rejected the building of settlements across the Green Line. He was critical of Barack Obama for not using the veto to kill the UNSC Resolution this past 28 December 2016 condemning Israeli settlement activity, including the suburbs throughout Jerusalem, as illegal, the first successful UNSC resolution critical of settlements in forty years and one which declares the settlements not simply an obstacle to peace. The resolution even implied support for BDS. Donald Trump had intervened to try to sideline the vote by getting the mover of the resolution, Egypt, to withdraw as its mover one day earlier after Trump phoned Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, only to see the resolution reintroduced the next day by the other four non-permanent members of the Security Council.

Trump and Israel are linked in other ways. Instead of being critical of the “separation” wall dividing parts of the West Bank from Israel, Trump has lauded it and cited the “separation barrier” as an example of his planned wall along the border with Mexico. It would secure America against both drug smugglers and terrorists just as the separation barrier in Israel has been an effective tool for reducing terrorist attacks. He has favoured “defensible borders” rather than the green line as a reference point in peace negotiations. And he has insisted that the U.S. would support any deal arrived at between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, but “advised” the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He is an old and chummy friend of Bibi’s and once said in a video made for the 2013 Israeli elections, “You truly have a great prime minister in Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s a winner, he’s highly respected, he’s highly thought of by all. Vote for Benjamin – terrific guy, terrific leader, great for Israel.” In fact, he has said that he would go further than Bibi and not just demolish the homes of the families of terrorists, but “take out the families.”

He joined Bibi in denouncing the deal with Iran as the “worst deal ever.” Since achieving office, Trump has appointed two of his lawyers, one his bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman and a financial supporter of West Bank settlement activity, as ambassador to Israel, and another real estate lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, as his special envoy to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump appointed Nikki Haley (née Randhawa), in spite of her call for him to release his tax returns, as the American ambassador to the UN. Haley, when she was Governor of South Carolina for six years, initiated legislation in 2016 to prevent boycott, divest and sanctions (BDS) efforts in South Carolina, the first state-wide effort to do so.

No sooner was Nikki Haley appointed UN Ambassador than she excoriated the UN, justly, for its bias “in favour of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of Israel.” She moved to block the appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, who had an excellent reputation as an honest technocrat, from serving to lead the UN mission to Libya to stop the use of Libya as a launching pad for refugee claimants to reach Europe. Haley did not want the appointment of Fayyad to signal a willingness to recognize Palestine as a state.

Nor does Trump seem guilty of racist antisemitism Type B, since he has an observant Orthodox Jewish daughter and two gorgeous Jewish grandchildren and his son-in-law, David Kushner, is a chief political adviser. Tomorrow, I will inquire into the question of Trump‘s possible anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican and anti-Black American racism and its connection with antisemitism, but it seems absolutely clear that Trump is not a racist antisemite even though he occasionally engages in antisemitic Jewish stereotyping. The latter seems to be a problem that results from his sloppy thinking processes and terrible articulation rather than from any antisemitism.

Trump is also very clearly not an anti-Jewish antisemite, first because he does not seem to be imbued with any Christian values, including its negative history of Christian persecution of Jews. Nor is he an Enlightenment antisemite like Voltaire since he possesses even fewer traces of Enlightenment values, especially of tolerance, than of Christian values. Besides he is reason-challenged. Is he an antisemite in the original Type A along the lines depicted in the Book of Esther charging Jews with  suffering from dual loyalty and adhering to a set of rules at odds with the American government? Since no one in my memory or studies has been more at odds with the rules of political discourse in the U.S., that would certainly be like the pot calling the kettle black. Further, there seems virtually nothing in common between him and Haman. Donald Trump would never play second fiddle to King Ahasuerus.

But perhaps there are some similarities between himself and King Ahasuerus. For the latter allowed antisemitism to flourish under his watch and seemed oblivious. I will wait until tomorrow’s blog to explore this question when I try to discern the connection between Donald Trump and the upsurge of antisemitic incidents.

Israeli and Palestinian Role and Response: UNSC Resolution 2334

Israeli and Palestinian Role in and Response to UNSC Resolution 2334

by

Howard Adelman

The Palestinian reaction to Resolution 2334 seems obvious. Ever since the Fatah faction of the PLO decided that they could not win militarily on the ground, in contrast to Hamas, even as the battle shifted from direct warfare to guerilla warfare or terrorism, Fatah resorted to trying to win in international diplomatic and legal fora. On 4 August of 2009, at the sixth general conference of Fatah held after a hiatus of six years, and specifically convened symbolically in Bethlehem next to the Church of the Nativity within Occupied Palestine and not in a foreign Arab capital, with over 2,000 in attendance, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sold his movement on the proposition that Palestinians had to adopt a different form of opposition to Israeli power and focus on increasing international support.

“We should introduce new forms of resistance to attract universal public opinion” to reinforce Palestinian rights within the context of international law. Peaceful methods, though not exactly Gandhi’s form of non-violent resistance, recommended earlier by Faisal Husseini before the first intifada, would supersede, but not exclude, military armed struggle to become the foundation stone for building a Palestinian state. It was an explicit rejection of the proposal of President Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to achieve peace through economic cooperation and integration, a proposal Bibi put forth just after he assumed office in April of 2009.

There is, of course, a huge irony in all this. While Fatah pursued the backing of international law, Abbas consolidated his monopolization on domestic power at the expense of the rule of law. “He is the president of the Palestinian Authority, head of the Fatah movement, head of the PLO’s Executive Committee and the commander in chief of the Palestinian security forces. He neglects the law (my italics) and the movement’s statutes that govern its institutions. He monopolizes power and is abusive toward those who disagree with him.” These are not my words but those of Abdel-Hakim Awad, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council who nominated Abbas to his position, but recently was excluded from the movement’s seventh congress in Ramallah held in December because of his criticisms. This step, along with the monopoly of the control of media and lifting the parliamentary immunity of opponents, are sure signs that a leader had turned towards adopting totalitarian methods.

In that Fatah quest for the imprimatur of international law, Jerusalem was front and centre. Not East Jerusalem, but Jerusalem. Jerusalem was to be the capital of the new Palestinian state. The target became freezing settlement activities in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. No freeze then no peace negotiations. The cessation of settlement activities became the sine qua non for resuming peace negotiations. Settlement activity anywhere in the West Bank and East Jerusalem had to be branded as illegal.

Resolution 2334 was a peak victory in that effort. The upcoming French Peace Summit on 15 January, just next week, may be another, especially if the representatives to that summit endorse a pace plan along most of the lines proposed by John Kerry. I would not expect them to agree to sharing Jerusalem as a joint capital, but if they also get that summit to declare all settlements across the old Green Line as not just an impediment to peace, not just as illegitimate, but as illegal, it would mean defining the Jewish Quarter in the Old City and twelve very large neighbourhoods in Jerusalem as illegal as well as the settlements in Area C and beyond the Separation Barrier, not to speak even of the outposts illegal even under Israeli law. The effort to relocate the Amona settlers to land owned by ‘absentee landlords’ to legalize the settlement in accordance with Israeli law and in contravention of past practice of not putting settlements on Palestinian privately owned property, will become irrelevant.

Further, from now on, as Italian journalist Giulio Meotti wrote, “any Israeli, civilian or military, involved in the ‘settlements,’ will be liable to judgment for violating the Geneva Convention. The Israeli army, which administers areas B and C, may be indicted if it demolishes the homes of terrorists, if it expropriates the land for reasons of ‘security’, if it plans new Israeli homes. The decision is now in the hands of the Hague prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, who has already opened an investigation about the ‘Israeli settlements,’ believing they constitute a ‘war crime.’ Israeli military personnel and politicians could be subject to warrants if they land in London, as occurred with Tzipi Livni.” Further, Israeli banks operating even in the “illegal” Jerusalem neighbourhoods could be charged under international law. The European Council on Foreign Relations has already proposed sanction against some Israeli banks – Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi and the Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank.

Another nail will have been driven into the coffin of Resolution 242 which indirectly gave Israel permission to trade peace for territorial acquisitions. The old armistice lines would become once more a reference point for negotiations. Further, if the Summit follows the lead of Resolution 2334 and, on the issue of violence, ignores John Kerry’s speech, Palestinian incitement and celebration of terrorism could continue as a supplementary rather than prime form of resistance. Ostensibly committed to a non-violent path to peace, documents and proposals that emerge from the Summit will only be generalized condemnation of violence with no effort to pinpoint centres of responsibility.

Further, the PA can be expected to use the International Criminal Court to pursue Israeli individuals and charge Israel with more specific legal actions. In addition, the resources of the UN, now being used to prepare the organizational ground for a more comprehensive targeted boycott of Israeli goods, will get a further impetus. Finally, the U.S., Israel’s strongest defender, will be further sidelined and the Trump administration castrated in the world of international diplomacy and international law as much as Trump might shift American policy to a much stronger pro-settler position. The U.S. has been pushed from the centre to the margins in Israel-Palestinian negotiations, a position very unlikely to dent but possibly increasingly cement the close ties on military defence and intelligence issues as well as the huge economic exchange between the two countries.

At the same time, the Trump administration with Democratic Party support will likely fight back on behalf of Israel, threatening legal action against European banks if they begin to boycott Israeli banks, bar European institutions and pension funds from American-controlled systems of economic exchange if they proscribe Israel from investments and if Israeli companies are blacklisted. Instead of the regional economic cooperation that Bibi had proposed in 2009 as a pathway to peace, we will have international economic, legal and diplomatic warfare. How can one argue that Resolution 2334 enhances the prospect of peace?

There is one illusion that has accompanied Resolution 2334. Since it was passed under Article VI of the UN Convention instead of Article VII, many interpret the Resolution as non-binding. General Assembly resolutions are clearly only recommendations, but they also influence practices and budgets of the UN administration. Recommendations of the UN Security Council under Chapter VI have no enforcement mechanisms. However, though disputed by many international legal experts, the ruling of a majority of the International Court in The Hague in 1971 declared that all UN Security Council decisions are binding. There may be no coercive power attached to them, but they have a tremendous influence politically and diplomatically and help build a widespread world consensus on certain matters. In this sense, a resolution can be morally binding even if compliance is only voluntary. One should never underestimate the power of morality even in a dog-eat-dog world.

Of course, Israel’s challenge to Obama on his home turf over the Iran nuclear deal did not help Israel win friends among many Democrats. As Martin Sherman, Executive Director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Affairs put it in a relatively understated matter, the “appalling and infuriating outbursts of vindictive pique” of Israeli politicians led by Bibi Netanyahu probably damaged the Israeli position more than anything and, as Sherman predicted, prepared the ground for the UN Resolution. Then there was a total absence of preparation for the impending storm, either through diplomatic initiatives to propose putting the two-State solution and peace negotiations back on track or, on the other hand, using the stick to get the Palestinians to back off by tightening the economic screws through which Israel primarily controls Abbas. None of these entailed freezing settlement activities.

Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon also criticized Bibi for not working to prevent the passage of Resolution 2334 much more assiduously. There is not a single bit of evidence that Israel intends to accept Resolution 2334 as a basis for negotiation, notwithstanding Bibi’s endorsement of a two-State solution in his famous 2009 Bar-Ilan speech. For Israel, while ostensibly holding up that goal, did virtually everything in its power to undermine it, often through means that appeared to any reasonable observer to be disingenuous and insincere, deceptive and deceitful. This became abundantly clear when Bibi vowed that there would never be a Palestinian state on his watch. It is the height of folly to endorse a two-State solution on the one hand and then promise it will never come into being while you are in office on the other hand. Will Israel seek to engage its old European democratic partners once again in dialogue, as extensive as the disagreements are, or will Bibi go on an all-out warpath against them? Merely to ask the question reveals the answer.

The debate in Israel will shift to whether the objective should be strengthening the control and demography of Area C, while also thickening the settlements on the other side of the Separation Barrier, versus those who want to go after all of the West Bank, perhaps sharing part in a condominium arrangement with Jordan, but, in that alternative, denying the possibility of a Palestinian state coming into existence side-by-side Israel. In the wider field, Israel will increasingly become an opponent of the expansion of international law and legal norms and will have surrendered the turf of international diplomacy and law to Palestinian machinations. As Palestine becomes more authoritarian and totalitarian, ironically it increases the number of democracies at the front line of its defence.

Thus, there are divisions within Israel, the majority favouring one or other form of two-State solution and a minority aiming for territorial maximalism. Whatever the divisions, most Jewish Israelis find themselves united in opposition to the premises of Resolution 2334. Given the right-wing character of the Israeli government, the Israeli polity will ensure that not only no transportation link between Gaza and the West Bank will be established, but that Gazan students pursuing higher education degrees will not be allowed direct access to the West Bank. If a man and woman from the West Bank and Gaza fall in love, they will only be permitted to live together in Gaza. Other mechanisms of depopulating Area C of Palestinians will continue.

While Palestinians are increasingly united on the diplomatic and legal strategy but divided on their military and security strategy, on the ground barriers, between Palestinian communities grow. Abdel-Hakim Awad, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council and the Palestinian National Council, has attacked Abbas even though he originally made the motion to make Abbas head of the PA. He accused Abbas of excessively cooperating with Israel to maintain security in Area B. The irony is that, while legally and politically, the international community has moved to legitimize Palestinian control over all territories outside the Green Line, on the ground, that line is increasingly totally irrelevant. If a peace agreement is by some far out chance agreed to, Palestinian communities will have to be linked together by a series of sunken and exclusive roads, provided they are part of the agreement and Israel implements those clauses.

What has also evaporated, Kerry’s rhetoric to the contrary, is the vision of two alternatives – an Israel that is Jewish but non-democratic or an Israel that is both Jewish and democratic because it lives within much more restrictive borders. Israel can leave out the major population of Palestinians, use various devices to ensure that Palestine does not become a full self-governing state, and remain both Jewish and democratic. The real choice is between different variations of a Jewish and democratic state.

In a very expansionist scenario, outposts will be “regularized.” In a middle range objective, only Area C will be viewed for incorporation into Israel. In a very modest and dovish proposal, but one which only a small minority of Jewish Israelis share, Israel will just keep the new neighbourhoods of Jerusalem across the Green Line and the Old City. The latter two alternatives allow for a Palestinian state alongside Israel occupying 22% of the territory of the original Mandate. The first does not. But none of these include the most extreme and aggressive Zionist option of a one state solution where there is no Palestinian state at all but where Jordan is expected to play a specific role, one to which it is very unlikely to agree.

In light of the passage of UNSC Res. 2334, what might the effect be of moving the American embassy to Jerusalem? For one, it would send a clear and unequivocal message that America is no longer bound by international law. Many others would be further alienated from both the U.S. and Israel. As Martin Indyk (no admirer of Trump) pointed out, Trump might so shake things up that the peace process could possibly be reconstituted. According to Indyk, it would start by resolving the thorniest issue of all first in contrast to my preference for bracketing Jerusalem as unresolvable. It depends on buying into Kerry’s vision of Jerusalem as a joint capital, which neither the Israelis, Trump and his supporters or even the Palestinians endorse. While Israel would run into this proposal like a bull, the Palestinians would try to bite their tongues and stay out of the fray to gain more diplomatic and legal points. The move of the American embassy will be a demonstration of even more impotence on the part of the international community and a reaction by both Netanyahu (or his successor) to install more footprints in the sand.

Indyk himself admits his proposal is far-fetched, but he felt he had to grasp for straws. I prefer to breathe the political air that is actually out there.

One of the great benefits of Kerry’s speech is that it agreed with and backed the Israeli position that no solution can be imposed from outside, but that the parties themselves would have to come to some compromise. There were other gains. Kerry specifically mentioned the need to endorse Israel as a Jewish state. He also explicitly said that the refugee issue would be resolved through compensation and not through return. However, as important as these gains are, they pale in significance compared to the diplomatic and legal costs of Resolution 2334.

The result will not only be very much increased diplomatic, legal and economic wrangling on the world stage, but greatly increased tensions within the Fatah movement and within Israeli political institutions, all likely to be at the cost of democratic practices. The tensions over democratic norms within Israel are nowhere comparable to those taking place on the West Bank. However, if the treatment of Deputy Attorney General, Dina Zilber, is any indication, democratic institutions in Israel will be roiled in conflict. Zilber’s report recommended that all settlement activities be made accountable to the government and not relegated to a non-accountable World Zionist Federation. This report was thrown in the trash heap. If this treatment is any indication, then the independent advice of professional mandarins is likely to be set aside and ignored. Highly qualified mandarins will be castrated because their professional activities frustrate the ambitions of the more extreme members of the right-wing Israeli cabinet. The civil service will become far less civil and much more partisan in exclusive service to the party then in power.

Instead of peace, Resolution 2334 has opened the floodgates to a huge expansion in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the world stage. As Miriam Na’or of the Supreme Court of Israel stated, “You cannot ignore international law.” Conflict will not only increase between Palestinians and Israelis, but also within both Palestine and Israeli governmental structures. In Israel, the efforts to bend Israeli law to serve partisan political purposes is bound to increase at the same time as the prospect of a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians becomes more remote each day.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Netanyahu’s Address to Congress

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Address to Congress

by

Howard Adelman

I have now heard Bibi’s 3 March speech once and read it three times. It is a brilliant speech, superbly crafted and delivered with the right balance of concision and pauses, but fundamentally flawed in its logic and selective use of evidence. Since when did logic convince anyone of anything? But perhaps facts will. Besides, convincing is beside the point. The speech was not intended to persuade anyone of anything. This was grandstanding in the grand manner with conviction, passion and organized superbly. And the speech builds to a marvelous crescendo.

The speech is organized in seven parts:

Part I:    A reaffirmation of the firm and eternal ties between the U.S. and Israel

Part II:   A depiction of Iran as run by an unwavering Satan

Part III:  A Prolegomena to Nuclear Negotiations

Part IV:  An Analysis of those Negotiations

Part V:   A Summary of the Bottom Line

Part VI:  A Proposed Alternative

Part VII: An Emotional Postscript.

This blog will analyze the first three parts.

Part I – Israel and the U.S.

Bibi began by insisting his speech was above politics. Though it gave him unprecedented exposure two weeks before Israelis go the polls, I believe him. I do not think he came to Washington to boost his electoral chances at home. First, if that was his motive, the anticipated repercussions of his visible breech with Obama would play negatively back home among middle road voters whom he needed to woo at the same time as his standing up to the White House would swell the chests of his own ardent supporters. The risk was a mug’s game.

At the same time, he did not come to Washington to sew divisions within the Democratic Party and went out of his way, not only to celebrate the links between Israel and U.S., but to laud Obama’s consistent support for Israel, overt support, such as strengthening security cooperation and intelligence sharing and opposing anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N., less widely known support such as Obama’s response to Bibi’s request for urgent aid in the face of the 2010 raging Carmel forest fire, vital assistance in 2011 when Israel’s embassy in Cairo was under siege, and in 2014 when Obama supported more missile interceptors during the Gaza summer operation in the conflict with Hamas. Bibi also alluded to much more covert cooperation which might never be known because those efforts touch on some of the most sensitive and strategic issues that arise between an American president and an Israeli prime minister. Bibi recognized, however, that such praise could never overcome the deep schisms his speech to Congress and open challenge to the White House Iranian policy had brought about.

So why did he come? The content and structure of the speech point to its purpose. The next section on Iran signaled the purpose: it was his obligation to address the issue before the American public, the Israeli public and the world public. There could be no better place than the American Congress.

Part II – Iran

For Bibi, Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, as is well known, poses an existential threat not only to Israel, but to Jews everywhere. This could not be clearer than his link of contemporary Iran with ancient Persia, the link with Purim and the threat of the Jew-hater, Haman. As Bibi said, “Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, spews the oldest hatred, the oldest hatred of anti-Semitism with the newest technology. He tweets that Israel must be annihilated.” I have been unable to determine, as some have contended, that these interpretations are based on a twisted translation of what he really said. However, as Abraham H. Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s National Director noted in June 2013, Khamenei in a Facebook posting on the eve of Iran’s 14 June presidential elections, featured a classic anti-Semitic picture portraying Jews, in particular, AIPAC, as controlling the United States government. A year ago on 14 March Nowruz, the Persian New Year, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei insisted that the historical reality of the Holocaust is “unknown”; he questioned whether it “actually did happen.”

Netanyahu then linked the Iranian leader’s support for anti-Semitism with the views of his terrorist satraps. Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah leader, is quoted as stating, “If all the Jews gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of chasing them down around the world.” Bibi could also have cited other quotes, such as the following two just as often attributed to Nasrallah. “They [Jews] are a cancer which is liable to spread at any moment.” (This was originally on an Israeli government website http://tinyurl.com/99hyz but I have been unable to recover it.) There is another quote from Amal Saad-Ghorayeb’s Hizbu’llah: Politics and Religion, “If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice, we do not say the Israeli.” (fn. 20, ch. 8) Saad-Ghorayeb subsequently admitted the quote was erroneous, though it was also included in her PhD thesis; she admits she should have properly checked it.

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your politics, the other two statements also cannot be authentically attributed to Nasrallah as much as I personally disapprove of his politics. The one Bibi cited was traced back to an article by Badih Chayban in Beirut’s English-language Daily Star on 23 October 2002, but the paper’s editor would not vouch for its accuracy or that of his former reporter. He even insisted that Chayban had never interviewed Nasrallah or anyone else. No other news source cited these quotes in their reports on Nasrallah, but Bibi is correct that Israel is surrounded by Iranian satraps in Gaza, Lebanon and the Golan with Syria in the background slaughtering its own citizens. Further, other Iranian proxies are seizing power in Iraq and Yemen.

I believe his assessment that “Iran’s regime poses a grave threat, not only to Israel, but also to the peace of the entire world,” is also accurate and that Iran is run by “religious zealots” through a “dark and brutal dictatorship” dedicated to exporting “the revolution throughout the world.” Though uttered in part as flattery to his hosts, Netanyahu is also correct in contrasting Iran with America and its promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Further, Iran has certainly targeted Americans in the past. Since U.S. diplomats were held hostage in Tehran. Iranians were behind the killing of American marines in Beirut and the killing of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. In July 2011, The Wall Street Journal reported that Iranians had been arming anti-American militants in both theatres of war, a report confirmed by U.S. State Department officials. Finally, Netanyahu was correct that Iranian officials were behind the plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador, Adel Al-Jubeir, with a bomb in a restaurant in Washington. Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed that the plan was “conceived, sponsored and was directed from Iran” by a faction of the Iranian government.

With a 90% accuracy rate in his examples unusual for Bibi must we “all stand together to stop Iran’s march of conquest?” Sure! That is what the P5+1 are doing. Netanyahu’s Israel is the outlier, not America. The question is how one stands against Iran and with what tools? The key question is what has this all to do with the nuclear negotiations? In the next section, Bibi set the stage for the nuclear negotiations.

Part III:  A Prolegomena to Nuclear Negotiations

Netanyahu first had to demonize Iran further. Did he do so by returning to his more normal pattern of hyperbole and distortion lest he suddenly earn a reputation for veracity and be declared a credible witness as a result of the first one-third of his address to Congress? Netanyahu declared that, “two years ago, we were told to give President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif a chance to bring change and moderation to Iran.” Who claimed that? Rouhani had run on a platform of moderation. He openly campaigned on re-opening a dialogue with the U.S. The nuclear negotiations were not intended to make Iran moderate, but resulted from Iran’s declared commitment to follow a path of moderation. Netanyahu had deliberately reversed the causal order.

Further, the Obama regime had not seen its objective as making Iran a moderate regime. The White House had three goals. First, to be the first American administration since the end of the Cold War to prevent a new nuclear power from emerging; second, to prevent a nuclear conflict in the Middle East; third, to establish a different relationship between America and Iran.

Was Rouhani sincere in his professed outreach? In his speech immediately after his inauguration he promised a government of righteousness, honesty and trustworthiness and a rejection of extremism and declared, “The people voted for moderation…the people want to live better, to have dignity, and enjoy a stable life. They want to recapture their deserving position among nations.” Rouhani called for better relations with the world and the end of international sanctions. “The only path to interact with Iran is through negotiations on equal grounds, reciprocal trust-building, mutual respect and reducing hostilities.”

The central issue was whether to continue coercive diplomacy by upping the ante and increasing the pressure on an Iran already suffering from accelerating inflation and a weakened currency resulting from the sanctions already in place, or whether to use those pressures to initiate a program of constructive engagement based on Rohani’s offer to improve relations by making the nuclear program more transparent and improve relations with Western nations. Ronald Reagan had tried coercive diplomacy with Pakistan and vowed that country would not acquire nuclear weapons; he failed. Bill Clinton did the same with North Korea that now has probably accumulated one hundred nuclear bombs. Most saw such efforts as futile and incapable of preventing a country from acquiring nuclear weapons. Further, experts on Iran decried America’s failure to offer inducements and encouragement to the previous moderate president, Mohammad Khatami, and pointed to America’s failure to take advantage of a historic, but time-sensitive, opportunity.

But that is not how Netanyahu framed the debate. Instead, the regime of the ayatollahs was and remains a monolithic monstrosity. Rouhani’s insistence on emphasizing “economic priorities, detente with the West, enhanced relations with Iran’s neighbors, new nuclear diplomacy, respect for guilds and syndicates in Iran, an inclusive non-factional government of ‘moderation and consensus’, and political tolerance,” was for Netanyahu a sham. Rouhani was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

How do you find out? Bibi argued that you do so by checking whether Rouhani’s regime had become more moderate in treating its own citizens. How did the new government rate? For Netanyahu, terribly. “Rouhani’s government hangs gays, persecutes Christians, jails journalists and executes even more prisoners than before.” It is not clear why Bibi left the persecution of Bahá’is off his list. The conclusion was clearly drawn from Benjamin Weinthal’s report for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Rouhani’s first hundred days. The report did point to the prosecution of Christians for drinking communion wine during a religious service, the arrest of “homosexuals and devil worshippers,” the continued persecution of embattled practitioners of the Bahá’i faith, and the uptick in executions in the Islamic Republic since the presidential elections, The report offered no evidence of any moderation by the Rouhani government.

But that report was for the first hundred days. What about later? In January 2014, a UN report stated that Iran continued to imprison Christians for their faith and designated house churches and evangelical Christians as “threats to national security.” At least 49 Christians were among 307 religious minorities being held in Iranian jails as of January 2014. The UN report berated Iran for its hostility to Jews, Bahá’is, Zoroastrians and Dervish Muslims as well, though, as reported in a recent blog of mine, the Iranian government recently launched a charm and money contribution campaign for the remnant of 4,000 Jews remaining in Iran. What the report also said was that Rouhani had not proven capable yet of controlling the hard-liners.

Those hard-liners explicitly reject a deal, as much to protect their positions and their perks as out of extreme ideological positions. A deal once concluded would enable the moderates to consolidate their power.

Is the execution rate in Iran an appropriate measure of moderation? I believe it is a measure of the strength of the deep state in Iran. China is often cited for its high execution rate, but it is not counted for accurate records are unavailable. China probably executes thousands per year, more than the rest of the world put together. Yet Israel is actively seeking to enhance trade with China. In 2013, based on official records, of 778 executions around the world, Iran and Iraq were jointly responsible for 538 of them, 369 in Iran, 55 more than in 2012. Activists insist that the figure is much higher and that the actual number of executions was more than twice that number. In 2014, using both official and unofficial sources, the Iran Human Rights Centre reported that the numbers executed were slightly up again to a total of 721, the vast majority for drug trafficking, but a significant minority for murder and a smaller number for rape and armed robbery. One person was executed for sodomy and a second for kidnapping. Four – Ghalamreza Khosravi, Omid Pin, Imam Galavi and Hashem Shabaninejad – were executed for Moharebeh, “waging war against God and the state.”

In any case, is Iran’s treatment of religious minorities and gays, is its execution rate, the litmus test of Iran’s greater moderation in the effort to produce nuclear weapons? Bibi, as if anticipating such a question, shifted to four foreign policy issues: Iran’s support for terrorism, Iran’s continued anti-American practices, Iranian ideology and Islamic State. With respect to the first, support for terrorism, Bibi pointed to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif who had laid a wreath at the grave of Imad Mughniyeh (al-Hajj Radwan), head of Hezbollah military intelligence and a possible successor to Nasrallah as head of Hezbollah. Mughniyeh was behind the Beirut barracks bombing and the two 1983 U.S. embassy bombings. He was also indicted in Argentina for his alleged role in the 1992 Israeli embassy attack in Buenos Aires. U.S. officials accused Mughniyeh of killing more United States citizens than any other militant prior to Osama bin Laden.

Yet Zarif was photographed laying a wreath at the grave of Mughniyeh on 14 January 2014 just days after negotiations based on the Joint Plan of Action commenced to move Iran towards a strictly peaceful use of its nuclear facilities. Netanyahu was wise to choose that incident for it was widely viewed as sending a negative signal of Iranian intentions. Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, condemned the action. “The inhumane violence that Moughniyeh perpetrated – and that Lebanese Hezbollah continues to perpetrate in the region with Iran’s financial and material support – has had profoundly destabilizing and deadly effects for Lebanon and the region.”

Clearly, Bibi had chosen a symbolic support for terrorism that touched Americans rather than a concrete incident illustrating continuing Iranian support for terrorism. For example, Netanyahu could have cited an event that took place two months later when the Israeli navy intercepted a freighter loaded with dozens of Syrian-made M-302 rockets evidently bound for Hamas in Gaza, rockets capable of hitting any target in Israel. They were hidden under bags of concrete. But then Zarif in turn could have cited Reagan’s support for Saddam Hussein’s terrorist regime and its war against Iran, for Reagan had provided Iraq with aerial photographs of Iranian troop movements upon which Iraq blasted shells of mustard gas. There were fifty thousand casualties, including thousands of deaths, many more on balance than the Americans had suffered from state-sponsored terrorism.

While portraying Zarif as a supporter of terrorism, Netanyahu deliberately ignored a number of signs and signals communicated by Zarif of a change in Iranian policy. Robin Wright in his portrait of Zarif in the 26 May 2014 issue of The New Yorker called “The Adversary: Is Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Javad Zarif, for real?” opens with a very revealing story. Zarif, after coming into office and opening a new twitter account, sent out his second tweet. It wished Jews all around the world a “Happy Rosh Hashanah.” What a contrast this was with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who had challenged Israel’s right to exist, urged Jews to return to the countries they came from, and questioned the occurrence of the Holocaust. Suspecting something phony, Christine Pelosi, daughter of Democratic Minority House leader, Nancy Pelosi, sent a tweet. “Thanks. The New Year would be even sweeter if you would end Iran’s Holocaust denial, sir.” Christine Pelosi’s husband is Jewish and their daughter attends a Jewish preschool. Zarif responded: “Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year.” Subsequently in the Iranian parliament, Zarif came close to being censured for insisting that the Holocaust was a “horrifying tragedy.”

Thus commenced the new opening and dialogue between Americans and Iranians, easier since Zarif, like Netanyahu, spent years living in the U.S. and his two children are American citizens based on their place of birth. On 26 September, Zarif met John Kerry at the UN to discuss resuming negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. President Rouhani, in New York for the General Assembly, spoke the next day for fifteen minutes on the phone to President Obama, the first conversation between Iranian and American leaders since the Shah’s ouster in 1979.

Netanyahu’s appeal to American sensibilities was his main reason for emphasizing the references to America as “The Great Satan” and calling for “Death to America.” What was left out is that when Zarif took his walk with Kerry for fifteen minutes in Europe in mid-January, Zarif was hauled before Parliament in Iran to explain why he was becoming intimate with America, “The Great Stan,” and then was interrogated to determine whether or not he was giving in to America’s great demands and endless sabotage of the talks. But citing such facts would detract from Netanhayu’s pitch that the leadership of Iran is a monolith. Further, it might bring attention to the fact that Zarif overtly eschews depicting America in that way.

As Ben Rhodes, Obama’s White House spokesman said, “There is a constituency that now has some degree of power in the Iranian system, that really wants to climb out of this isolation, and is willing to do things that they didn’t previously do…We don’t know how far this can go—both on the nuclear issue and on the broader relationship…They’ve got to decide whether we’re the Great Satan or whether we are their ticket into the community of nations.”

Netanyahu had two more cards to play before he got to the heart of the matter, the nuclear negotiations – ideology and the Islamic State card. He claimed that the Iranian regime was deeply rooted in militant Islam and hence inherently anti-American. Though Iranian ideology is indeed rooted deeply in Islamism, it is also blended in with nationalism, nativism and non-membership in any bloc but its own, especially the American-led Western bloc and the Eastern bloc. Moreover, in spite of George W. Bush’s insistence that Iran was part of the axis of evil, in 2002 74% of Iranians favoured resumption of relations with the U.S. However, ideology did dictate that punishment be meted out to the pollsters. Abbas Abdi and Hossein Ali Qazian were sentenced to jail for eight and nine years respectively for “publishing nonscientific research.” As George W. Bush in a rare case of insight and clarity said, “The people of Iran want the same freedoms, human rights, and opportunities as people around the world. Their government should listen to their hopes. In the last two Iranian presidential elections and in nearly a dozen parliamentary and local elections, the vast majority of the Iranian people voted for political and economic reform. Yet their voices are not being listened to by the unelected people who are the real rulers of Iran.”

Ideology does play a harsh repressive role, but there are other competing forces and voices within the Iranian spectrum that percolate to the top. Under President Mohammad Khatemi, errors by both sides sabotaged the efforts for “a dialogue of civilizations” The reality is, in fact, that America has won the battle for the hearts and minds of the Iranian people, not the dictatorial ayatollahs and zealots. The issue is how to take advantage of that fact.

What about Netanyahu’s use of the Islamic State card? “The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America [condescending and insulting]. Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam. One calls itself the Islamic Republic. The other calls itself the Islamic State. Both want to impose a militant Islamic empire first on the region and then on the entire world. They just disagree among themselves who will be the ruler of that empire. In this deadly game of thrones, there’s no place for America or for Israel, no peace for Christians, Jews or Muslims who don’t share the Islamist medieval creed, no rights for women, no freedom for anyone. So when it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.”

Impressive phrasing but false reasoning. If Americans and Iranians can forge an implicit cooperative arrangement to defeat the far more extremist Islamic State, that will have repercussions within Iran. Netanyahu’s reasoning is that, “Iran could soon be armed with intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs.” Intercontinental missiles, possibly. But under a negotiated regime, no nuclear bombs. And even without such a regime, Iran, as Mossad reported to the Israeli government, is a lot further from a nuclear bomb than some politicians would lead us to believe. Bibi may indeed be right that, “the greatest danger facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons.” But the issue is whether coercive diplomacy or constructive engagement is the best route to prevent such an outcome. In the past, coercive diplomacy has had a record of failure. Can constructive engagement succeed?

Thus far I have analyzed the first half of Netanyahu’s address to the U.S. Congress in which Netanyahu set the stage for his critique of the negotiations and the impending agreement. Basically, he insisted that America and Israel were true partners through thick and thin. At the same time he insisted that Iran was an implacable foe of America as well as Israel whether so-called moderates were in power or whether extremists were. In the second half, Netanyahu addressed the negotiations directly.

Part IV The Nuclear Negotiations

Netanyahu began this direct attack on the negotiations with his most general and fundamental criticism. The greatest danger facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons. For Netanyahu, that is exactly what could happen if the deal now being negotiated is accepted by Iran. He did not say “would” or suggest he had even more infallible power than a pope because he had the ability to predict the future. And he is correct. That “could” happen. But what is the likelihood of that result if there is a deal versus if there is no deal (or, as he finally suggested before he ended his speech, if there is a better deal than the one probably on the table). Instead of offering the pros and cons of either scenario or the third one he eventually brought up, Bibi slipped from “could” to “would”.

Netanyahu in his next assertion suggested that an Islamist state possessing nuclear arms would result from the negotiations. As he said, the deal will all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons, lots of them. What is the basis of this prediction? Perhaps that almost certain outcome is built into the deal. Netanyahu argues that the deal contains two basic provisions. Netanyahu calls them “concessions” even though they are not concessions in terms of the 13 November 2013 Joint Plan of Action which envisioned Iran retaining a capacity to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. The question is how many are sufficient for the peaceful use of nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu declared that the major concession would leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure. What is a vast infrastructure? Vast is an equivocal adjective. By vast, does Bibi mean great in size, very large in numbers, covering a great expanse of territory or consisting in a great variety and type of centrifuges with different speeds and intensities. Or perhaps he means a combination of some or all of them. The last seems unlikely since there are only three types, basically two older models and one modern high speed type of gas centrifuge though there are new models under development such as Australia’s laser being put into a commercial test in the U.S. Similarly, since, excluding the Tehran research reactor, nuclear production is located at Fordow, Arak and Natanz so Netanyahu could not be referring to a vast expanse of territory. He must have been referring to the central issue, the number of centrifuges.

Netanyahu had been correct in claiming that not a single nuclear facility would be demolished. Thousands of centrifuges would continue to be used to enrich uranium. Thousands more would be temporarily disconnected, but not destroyed. But the question was whether those disconnected and those not yet commissioned would pose a danger. To assert this would was an explicit insult to the IAEA and the P5+1 negotiators and the technical staff.

From 2008 to 2013 when the Joint Plan of Action was signed, Iran roughly tripled the number of centrifuges it had, from 6,000 to 19,000, 9,000 of them operating. In speeches, the ayatollah leadership had articulated an ambition to have 50,000 in operation. Fifty thousand might be considered a vast number for Iran. Nineteen thousand was considered too large a number by P5+1 during the negotiations throughout 2014. The goal, seemingly achieved, was to push Iran back to 6,500 centrifuges. About half would be of the advanced high-speed variety. Was that number considered “vast”? Not according to the IAEA, the international agency monitoring the capacities of various countries to produce enriched uranium under the international non-proliferation treaty.

Netanyahu had now come to one central issue. He was clearly engaged in extraordinary hyperbole. Further, he was late in the game. All along, he had pushed for a zero sum game – NO centrifuges for Iran. In his Congress speech, he seemed to have modified his position to argue that Iran would still be left with too many under the agreement. Making this argument in a politically divisive climate and a context of hyperbolic statements and without any detailed arguments to back up his claim, an argument that might have been put forth as a reasonable position about a year ago, especially if backed up by data and analysis, now came across as desperation by an individual with an inflated vision of himself and backed into a corner.

Though he had been correct in asserting that simply disconnecting a few pipes, as he seemed to suggest, would be an inadequate step, it would be hard to find anyone who disagreed with such an assertion. The real question was whether the de-commissioned and unused centrifuges would be stored in a safe manner and at a location where they could not be easily put back into production.

Though he made his claim, it had virtually no credibility in terms of known facts, but he made the claim as if it were a fact. And he was applauded for it. Why? Because leading Republicans make the same wild assertions that Bibi just echoed. Then he stretched the truth even further and engaged in an outright lie when he claimed that Iran’s nuclear program would be left largely intact. The program’s goals of 50,000 centrifuges had been stopped in its tracks. The actual number of centrifuges that would be left in an operating capacity would have been rolled back to 6,500.

The conclusion of every single expert, including Israeli ones, was not the one Netanyahu had made that Iran’s break-out time would be very short – even shorter by Israeli calculations – but would be about a year, sufficient time to make enough highly enriched fuel of 90% for one nuclear device. Perhaps one year was too short to allow the reports of inspectors to filter through the capitals of various states and to put measures in place to counteract an Iranian effort. But attend to the issue. Don’t distort accepted conclusions to score invalid points.

Then Netanyahu made a concession. “True, certain restrictions would be imposed on Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s adherence to those restrictions would be supervised by international inspectors.” But he made it just to undermine the argument. “But here’s the problem. You see, inspectors document violations; they don’t stop them. Inspectors knew when North Korea broke to the bomb, but that didn’t stop anything. North Korea turned off the cameras, kicked out the inspectors. Within a few years, it got the bomb.”

Unfortunately, any reasonable historical understanding of how North Korea acquired nuclear weapons is precisely the opposite of the one Netanyahu suggested. What was the history of North Korean‘s nuclear program? In 2003, NK opted out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and kicked out international inspectors. By 2006, NK announced that it had conducted its first underground explosion. In 2007, NK confirmed it had nuclear weapons. In 2009, Korea was confirmed as a member of the small club of nations in possession of nuclear weapons. The break-out period between removal of inspectors and acquisition of a nuclear device had been 3-4 years and was six years before NK became a nuclear menace. The separation enrichment process needed to carry out this program was carried out first in 2003 after the inspectors were kicked out and then again in 2005.

To get just a glimpse of what had happened it is necessary to go back another decade before the inspectors were forced to leave. In 1994, NK’s reprocessing had been frozen a year after NK threatened to withdraw from the NPT. Under threat of air strikes against its reactors, and in return for an American promise to supply light water reactors and the requisite fuel, NK stopped its enrichment program. The latter condition was never fulfilled – whether because of NK subversion of the arrangements or an American change of mind under George W. Bush. The result – a tough line, no inspectors and the development of nuclear weapons. It was not inspections conjoined with constructive engagement that led to NK acquiring nuclear weapons. Rather it was the absence of inspections and constructive engagement the produced that result.

When NK and the U.S. agreed to a framework agreement back in 1994 when it was estimated that NK already had a capacity to make one or two bombs per year, The Agreed Framework signed by the United States and North Korea signed on 21 October 1994 in Geneva agreed that:

  • North Korea would freeze its existing nuclear program and agree to enhanced international Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.
  • Both sides would cooperate to replace the D.P.R.K.’s graphite-moderated reactors for related facilities with light-water (LWR) power plants.
  • Both countries would move toward full normalization of political and economic relations.
  • Both sides will work together for peace and security on a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.
  • And that both sides would work to strengthen the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.

The framework agreement and the inspections worked for nine years. When NK broke out of the agreement, the U.S. was busy with a war in Iraq based on a lie that Iraq had acquired weapons of mass destruction, but George W. Bush did not bomb NK’s facilities when he could and perhaps should have. Netanyahu’s argument was that Iran had followed the North Korean path. “Like North Korea, Iran, too, has defied international inspectors. It’s done that on at least three separate occasions – 2005, 2006, 2010. Like North Korea, Iran broke the locks, shut off the cameras.”  The lesson most observers would take is that coercive diplomacy does not work. Constructive diplomacy does. When it fails, the problem is not inspectors who are being cheated. The problem was that coercive diplomacy when needed was applied to the wrong country.

What about the second major “concession” which so bothered Netanyahu – the expiry of any deal in only ten years? Notice, Netanyahu was no longer insisting that the amount of low enriched uranium that Iran was allowed to retain was the problem. Nor was he insisting any longer that the issue was that the deal had a sunset clause. He now argued that the sunset clause came too fast. But he no sooner mentioned that issue than he totally misconstrued it. “What will happen when Iran’s nuclear capabilities are virtually unrestricted and all the sanctions will have been lifted, Iran would then be free to build a huge nuclear capacity that could result in a more dangerous Iran, a Middle east littered with many, many nuclear bombs?”

However, no one has ever suggested that Iran’s capabilities would be totally unrestricted. They would continue to be restricted by the NPT. Inspections would continue. What was suggested was that if Iran had kept its part of the deal, sanctions would not just be waived but cancelled altogether. Further, Iran would be allowed to acquire and install another 3,500 centrifuges. .Rather than an unrestricted regime following a restricted one, restrictions would continue, but the terms eased to those in conformity with the obligations and rights of any UN member operating according to the NPT.

Further, if Iran, like NK, decided to break the agreement after ten years, the situation would not be that, “When we get down that road, we’ll face a far dangerous Iran, a Middle East littered with nuclear bombs and a countdown to a potential nuclear nightmare.” Utter balderdash! Iran in 2015 is far less dangerous vis-a-vis nuclear weapons than in 2013. In 2025 it will be far less dangerous still. If Iran decides to follow the lead of NK and make a break towards a nuclear bomb, Iran would have a harder time then. Deterrence might then fail as it did for NK in 2003 when the U.S. lost its credibility in its commitment to restricting weapons of mass destruction because there were none in Iraq, and then proved incapable of using force against NK when it was fully justified to do so.

John Kerry, whom Netanyahu referred to as his friend – if Netanyahu is a friend of Kerry’s, Kerry needs no enemies – did NOT say that Iran could legitimately possess a massive nuclear capacity at the end of ten years. Iran would be enabled to acquire a larger capacity. Look at Netanyahu’s choice of adjectives: “vast”, “massive”. These are both distortions and fear mongering. They are not accurate attempts to engage in a difficult debate over options. Netanyahu’s “friend,” John Kerry, actually said that he questioned the judgment of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu over his stance on Iran’s nuclear program. The Israeli PM “may not be correct,”, Mr Kerry said after attending the latest Iran nuclear talks in Geneva after reacting to a speech in which Mr Netanyahu had said the U.S. and others were “accepting that Iran will gradually, within a few years, develop capabilities to produce material for many nuclear weapons”. Mr Kerry told senators President Obama had made it clear that the policy was not to let Iran get nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu does not always distort and exaggerate when he comes to the analysis of the negotiations. After all, Iran’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missile program is indeed not part of the deal, and Iran refuses to even put it on the negotiating table. Iran could indeed in ten years have the means to deliver that nuclear arsenal to reach the far corners of the earth, including to every part of the United States. But Iran’s missiles were never intended to be part of the deal as is clear in the JPA. The issue in dispute is not over missiles, but over the research to produce a warhead that could carry a nuclear weapon. Further, Iran is free to conduct research to improve the rate at which it can produce enriched uranium.

Part V: The Bottom Line

Why would anyone make this deal? Because, according to Bibi, they hope that Iran will change for the better in the coming years, or they believe that the alternative to this deal is worse. The latter is certainly true and so is the former for a minority in the Obama administration. Further, I agree with Netanyahu that Iran’s radical regime supporting terrorism, seeking regional power status and continuing its aspiration to have Israel disappear from the Middle East will continue. Whether it grows, decreases or remains the same, it is not the deal that will wet its appetite. Rather, the deal will enhance Iran’s opportunities when it neither has the expense nor the propensity to turn itself into a pariah with a nuclear energy program. The deal will diminish not enhance the possibility of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Part VI: A Realistic Alternative

Netanyahu then offered two alternatives. The first was a non-starter – linkage of the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program to restrictions on Iran’s support for terrorism and constraining Iran’s political ambitions, including becoming a regional power and aspiring to eliminate Israel from the Middle East. This had been his repeated position. The second alternative was one Alan Dershowitz latched onto as the core issue in the deal – extending the sunset clause. I suspect this would be a deal breaker, but I am not sure. In any case, making it a deal breaker depends on accepting Netanyahu’s assessment of the results of not doing so – a runaway Iran seeking to acquire nuclear weapons after the ten years, a proposition based on false logic and little evidence. Put forth in a reasonable way, backed up with facts and analyses and argued one year earlier, then this would have been a reasonable position to take. As a last minute switch, it could only be properly viewed as a parlour trick as much as Dershowitz was entranced by it. But then Dershowitz is a litigation lawyer with an expertise in parlour tricks before a jury.

While the lack of a deal might lead to a Middle East nuclear arms race, the presence of a deal will not propel a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The absence of one has a high probability of doing just that. Insisting on depriving Iran of even a peaceful use of a nuclear program is far more likely to set off such a race than the arriving at a restrictive agreement.

Without thousands of centrifuges, tons of enriched uranium or heavy water facilities, Iran can’t make nuclear weapons. True. But Iran already has them. The issue is not total deprivation but managed constraint. False aspirations, not an agreement, will produce a far worse scenario. Unfortunately, the audience applauded Netanyahu’s absurd and illogical claim. But that merely set the stage for the final session of open cheerleading until each sentence uttered elicited standing applause until the members of Congress had been subjected to the enormous strain of standing up and sitting down while they clapped for 27 times in total.

Robert Frost was cited as offering the road less traveled by to applause, even though constructive diplomacy is the road less traveled by, one which tends to be more successful. Elie Wiesel sitting beside Netanyahu’s wife for a photo-op was pointed to as standing for “Never Again” when “Never Again” had nothing to do with the nuclear negotiation. Nevertheless, there was another standing ovation. When Netanyahu played the Zionist as well as Holocaust card, he put forth the oft repeated but false thesis of a revived national state that would and could guarantee a refuge for Jews under threat, ignoring totally that Jews in Israel were most under threat. Again applause. For Netanyahu and his ilk, Israel is not the result of justified self-determination of a people in its historic homeland, but was created in the aftermath of a holocaust and world guilt when there is absolutely no historical evidence that the Holocaust had anything to do with the world community recognizing Jewish collective rights.

Each card played – the Frost one of choices, the anti-appeasement card, the Holocaust and the Zionist cards – each elicited after each part was uttered standing room applause. After those cards were dropped on the platform, Netanyahu returned to the American one identifying America and Israel. This elicited the most applause, even more than the Biblical card when Netanyahu pointed to a portrait of Moses leading his people to the Promised Land.

Netanyahu came to Washington to lead a cheer-leading session, not to weigh evidence and argue logically with empirical backing to critique the negotiations. So he could ignore the position Mohammad Javad Zarif took in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs, namely that, “Iran has no interest in nuclear weapons and is convinced that such weapons would not enhance its security. Iran does not have the means to engage in nuclear deterrence—directly or through proxies—against its adversaries. Furthermore, the Iranian government believes that even a perception that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons is detrimental to the country’s security and to its regional role, since attempts by Iran to gain strategic superiority in the Persian Gulf would inevitably provoke responses that would diminish Iran’s conventional military advantage.”

It is too bad. An opportunity to enhance a rational debate on a most fundamental issue was squandered.

Consequences of an Iranian Nuclear Deal on U.S.-Israel Relations

Consequences of an Iranian Nuclear Deal on U.S.-Israel Relations

by

Howard Adelman

Whoa! Halt! Hold your horses. John Kerry seemed eager this week to damp down speculation that a nuclear deal with Iran was almost completed. Kerry insisted that a deal was not imminent. There were still significant gaps. But in Geneva this past weekend, the U.S. energy chiefs joined the talks, including U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, The head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) and a former foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, also joined the Iran nuclear negotiations on 21 February, clear signs that the differences had boiled down to a crucial few but very important issues requiring high level intervention. It helps that Salehi was educated at MIT.t was on that image believe the total number of the centrifuges had been settled and are to be reduced from 19,000 to 6,500. Perhaps the mixture of the original R-1 centrifuges and the more advanced centrifuges still had to be settled, but the information I have is that this issue had also been determined at about 50% of each kind. There were minor issues, such as the inventory and use of the tailings, but neither of these required a high level of input from either side. Another major issue was whether IAEA would be allowed full inspection of the Parchin facility to deal with the issue of militarization of nuclear weapons, but Salehi and Moniz were not the right senior personnel to sort out this issue. I, therefore, concluded that the restrictions on the production of plutonium at the Arak reactor had not yet been finalized. This was both a very technical as well as high level political issue. The two sides might also have been in contention over the period of limitation on the number of centrifuges. If the period was to be ten years, how many additional centrifuges after the termination of that restrictive period? 3,500 as rumoured and these over a further five or ten years?

However important the outstanding items, the parties were within striking distance of a deal. There were also the issues of the waiving or lifting of sanctions which Secretary of State, John Kerry, and the Iranian foreign affairs minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, were trying to finalize. Kerry did not want to lose leverage and bargaining power with the suggestion that such a deal was imminent for that alone might have undercut the momentum. And it had become important, if possible, to make the deal before Netanyahu’s scheduled 3 March speech before both houses of Congress to take the wind totally out of his sails. That tight deadline was the real challenge now. For Iran now had the tremendous incentive of seeing the widening gulf between the U.S. and Israel increased and reified. A rare accomplishment for an avowed enemy of both the U.S. and Israel.

Netanyahu, Ya’alon and Bennett were all in a panic mode. What if the major security issue for the right, the bogeyman of a nuclear Iran, was suddenly removed as a major issue in the Israeli elections? All three had run on a platform of the prime importance of security. Netanyahu was still considered best positioned to defend Israel. However, if the security issue was cut down to size, most Israeli voters preferred the Zionist unity group led by Herzog and Livni to take care of the important domestic social and economic issues. The rumours of an impending deal did not mean that Israel was no longer threatened by Iran. Iran would remain a supporter of terrorism. Iran would grow as a regional power. But the removal of the nuclear option suddenly revealed Netanyahu to be an emperor without any clothes. For it was he that had done the most to cast Iran as a nuclear enemy and not as the country most determined to wipe Israel off the map. As he repeatedly stated, “there is no doubt that the greatest challenge to our security is the attempt by Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons.” Well if Iran no longer can produce nuclear weapons, what happens to the major thrust of Israeli foreign policy? It was on that image of Iran as a nuclear threat to the whole world and not just to Israel that Netanyahu had placed his total bet. Once removed, the absence of the image of Iran as a nuclear military power left him not only naked but hoisted with his own petard.

But the problem is made far worse by Netanyahu repeatedly reinforcing his own self portrait as a person not only in hyperbole but in outright lies. He kept insisting that the impending nuclear agreement with Iran “leaves Iran the ability to produce the necessary material for a nuclear bomb within a few months and afterwards, to produce dozens of nuclear bombs.” Utter nonsense! The agreement not only prevents such a possibility, but the release of the Mossad memo as well as the reports of the IAEA clearly show both that Iran was still far from being within a few months of producing a bomb and, perhaps, even more importantly, Netanyahu had been informed of this by his own highly respected intelligence agency. Netanyahu’s shrill rhetoric has not only undermined his own credibility, it has seriously damaged Israel’s. What is even far worse, his entire failed effort to paint Iran as this huge nuclear threat has strengthened Iran, and distracted genuine criticism from Iran as a supporter of terrorism, as a rising and dangerous military power in the Middle East and, most importantly, as Israel’s main enemy as Iran has not retracted its goal of eliminating Israel. For Israel, Netanyahu’s policies could not have resulted in a more perverse result.

Netanyahu, by placing all his efforts at demonization of Iran by the nuclear imagery, had, in effect, damaged Israel. That image would now boomerang back on his own small country as the only nation in the Middle East with a nuclear arsenal. Netanyahu’s portraiture of Iran would henceforth harm the country that he led, not Iran. The effort to brand Iran as a threatening nuclear power now would turn against Israel as the sole nuclear power in the Middle East, but one without the rationale of a competing nuclear threat. The number and size of Iran’s nuclear production facilities were to be fully transparent as would its dedication solely to peaceful purposes for all to see. And Iran had never been shown to have engaged in underground testing even before the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) of November 2013. Israel’s own intelligence agency, Mossad, had informed the political leadership in Israel that Iran had no operational plan, only research, on how to weaponize its nuclear arsenal.

That Mossad report was probably even more damaging than even the prospective nuclear deal with Iran. For all the claims of the right that Iran was on the verge of becoming a nuclear power had been revealed as so much malarkey. Israel’s own intelligence service had said as much. The misused expression “on the verge” had been used to obscure and mislead, for Iran evidently had no capacity to become a nuclear power within a year let alone 3-6 months. Rather, the petard intended to blow a significant hole in Iran’s foreign and military policy had rebounded against Israel. Successive revelations within only one week had revealed the Israeli right wing leadership as tricksters if not outright liars. What they had said no longer would be perceived as coming from thinking or even sincere belief, but as emanating from their own rear ends.

A worst case scenario had developed, not of Iran emerging as a nuclear power, but of the portrait of Iran as a nuclear power self-destructing. The destruction of that image had blown a huge breach in the unity of the most powerful nation on earth with Israel. Israel had been literally hoisted upon its own petard.  Rouhani could now playfully ruminate like Hamlet: “tis the sport to have the engineer Hoist with his owne petar.” Engineers in the sixteenth century were the constructors of military devices. That device was now blowing up, not only in the faces of the right wing leadership in Israel, but in the face of the plotting and scheming of the Republican leadership in the United States. We have yet to see how badly wounded the twin messengers of doom, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, will be as they try to flee as fast as possible from the explosion, but since they will almost surely dodge and dart in their retreat, they may not be as badly hurt as if they simply retreat backwards from the backblast in the most direct route possible. Yet Obama may smirk and think to himself how most sweet it is when two craft headed towards you are forced to veer off course and end up crashing into one another.

Unfortunately, Israel will be the real victim as its relations with the United States will suffer enormously. The withholding of strategic intelligence from Israel will be the least of Israel’s worries. With the sidelining of Iran as a nuclear bogeyman, the search for a final resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict may return to the limelight. Even if the United States does not go so far as reversing itself in its opposition to a Middle East Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (MENWFZ), the White House in future may be expected to adopt some if not almost all of the following new initiatives even as it continues to reiterate that the U.S. remains committed to Israel’s genuine security requirements and the right to defend itself.

  1. Prioritizing the creation of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security
  2. Denounce many of the myriad of efforts by Israel to develop a one-state future for the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean with Palestinians only having “autonomy”
  3. Cease expending diplomatic capital to protect Israel from international actions against Israeli policies with which the U.S. disagrees
  4. Explicitly begin depicting any expansion of West Bank settlements outside of the areas already agreed to be traded when a two state solution is agreed upon as not simply “illegitimate” but as “illegal” and a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention
  5. Abstain from, or even support, a UN Security Council Resolution condemning Israeli settlement expansion
  6. Support a UN Security Council resolution setting forth a framework for a two-state final status agreement that include a basic set of principles
  7. If not 4 above, the U.S. may independently put forth a framework for a final status agreement including fundamental principles as the basis for such an agreement
  8. Provide indirect and even overt support for the Arab Peace Initiative and explore and move towards recognizing the Palestinian Authority as the government of an independent state
  9. Provide a myriad of indirect forms of support for the “peace” parties in Israel
  10. Move to deny tax-exempt status to American organizations that use tax-deductible funds to support west bank settlements.

Israel is now on the most dangerous swamp since the end of the Six Day War. Netanyahu, the man most Israelis believe was best equipped to defend Israel’s security interests, has emerged as the leader who has most endangered those interests. The Israeli ship of state is now surrounded by shoals and needs a highly skilled captain to avoid crashing on the rocks. If Netanyahu is re-elected, as seems likely, the danger will increase enormously. Iran will remain as Israel’s most threatening enemy with a leader least capable of countering the threat.

Nigeria and the Obama Administration

Nigeria and the Obama Administration           

by

Howard Adelman

This past Sunday, John Kerry traveled to Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, to meet President Goodluck Jonathan and show solidarity in Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram, the radical Nigerian Islamist movement that developed a highly militant program in 2009 since Obama took office. The visit comes just after Islamist Boko Haram fighters captured the north-eastern Nigerian town of Monguno 146 km north of the strategically-located northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri. Boko Haram then attacked Maiduguri itself, the capital of Borno State, its population already swollen by thousands of IDPs who had fled to the city. Boko Haram had failed to capture the city in its last assault in December 2013. This latest attack was repelled by a mixture of Nigerian troops and “volunteers,” reinforced by air strikes against Boko Haram positions.

In his press conference, Kerry stressed the importance of the scheduled February national elections being peaceful and setting “a new standard.” He elaborated: “We are prepared to do more [to counter the threat of Boko Haram], but our ability to do more will depend to some degree on the full measure of credibility, accountability, transparency and peacefulness of this election.” Though America has been supplying not only advice, but military training and equipment to help the Nigerian government in its fight against Boko Haram to “professionalize the response of its security forces, including to respond to crime and terrorism,” it has always been with a caveat emphasizing “human rights, civilian protection and adherence to rule of law at all levels.” No such qualifications seemed to have accompanied the supply of Navy Seals to fight the Lord’s Resistance Army.

I am puzzled. Truly puzzled. America has 150 special forces Naval Seals in landlocked Central African Republic (CAR) and has authorized the deployment of 150 more to try to eliminate Joseph Kony when Kony has only 200 followers left and when he is cornered by four African armies. Though America also insists it is fully in support of Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram in north-eastern Nigeria, the U.S. cut off the resale by Israel of helicopters to Nigeria, helicopters ostensibly crucial to the fight against Boko Haram. Boko Haram, though not directly involved in any war against the West and has no official relationship with other militant Islamicists, openly identifies with Al Qaeda and Islamic State, sometimes imitating their tactics. Boko Haram is part of the loose international network of radical Islamic forces at war against the U.S. and the West. In contrast, Kony is the leader of an exhausted idiosyncratic and isolated Christian militant sect that poses no danger to the U.S. Further, Boko Haram is estimated to have 9,000 fighters, not 200.

I need your help in puzzling through this seeming paradox, but I will make an initial stab at it, first by elaborating on American policy towards Nigeria in its fight against terrorism. Sunday, I will provide some background on Boko Haram itself and recent developments in Nigerian history. Only then will I attempt to answer more fully my initial puzzle.

America’s vetoing of the helicopter sale was explained in terms of “consistency with U.S. policy interests.” Further, the veto was procedurally correct since “requests for one country to transfer U.S.-origin defense items to another country” require American approval in accordance with the U.S. Conventional Arms Transfer Policy and American norms are stricter than the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms to which Israel, de facto, subscribes that restricts transfers “where there is imminent risk that arms might be internally diverted, illegally proliferated and re-transferred, or fall into the hands of terrorists or entities and states that support or sponsor them.”

Third, there were allegations of human rights abuses committed by Nigerian troops. Amnesty International in its August 2014 report claimed to have both video footage and testimonials that suggest that the Nigerian military has been involved in war crimes. American aid is dependent upon and emphasizes “human rights, civilian protection and adherence to the rule of law.” The regulations on arms transfers forbid them when retransfer is to a recipient “who would [not could] commit human rights abuses or serious violations of international humanitarian law.” However, well-founded allegations of human rights abuses by the Ugandan army did not prevent the U.S. from supplying the Ugandan army with equipment, training and seconded training forces.

But what were the policy interests? Human rights? U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, James F. Entwistle, had signaled last October that American was concerned that arms transfers could affect “the human situation.” The U.S. requires that, for the sale of military equipment, such as the Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters at $40 million each, “the risk that significant change in the political or security situation of the recipient country” must be taken into account lest the sale result in “inappropriate end-use.”

Is the American State Department worried that the government of Nigeria is so precarious that there is a danger of a takeover by Boko Haram, at least of the three northeastern states of Nigeria? Then, the helicopters could fall into Boko Haram’s hands. But this merely replaces one paradox with another. That is, we can supply Uganda with arms because the government is strong and the LRA is now so weakened that it poses no real challenge to Kampala. On the other hand, the government of Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria is apparently so weak, militarily at least, that giving Nigerian troops helicopters is too risky. Or is the veto of the Chinook helicopter sale a shot across the bow to signal Israel that such cancellations are at the President’s discretion? Is Obama signaling that he could stop military transfers to Israel itself?

In other words, if your country is strong and your enemy is very weak, the U.S. will supply weapons. But if the government is at all precarious and the enemy is strong – the very reason the government desperately needs the weapons – then that is a situation where America cannot and will not risk supplying weapons. This Catch-22 on the surface seems so absurd as not to be plausible. But is it?

America has a large training program for Nigerian forces in its fight against Boko Haram. However, Barak Obama in his address to the United Nations on the threat of Islamicism stressed education and enlightenment rather than the use of force. “The ideology of ISIL [Islamic State] or al-Qaida or Boko Haram will wilt and die if it is consistently exposed and confronted and refuted in the light of day.” Without asking how exposing, confronting and refuting Islamicist ideology can help or even be critical in the fight against radical Islam, in particular, and against Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria, does such a policy square with the military support the U.S. does provide Nigeria for its fight against Boko Haram and this emphasis on enlightenment?

A partial explanation may be economic not humanitarian or military. In 2008, America imported almost a million barrels of Nigerian crude per day, 44% of Nigeria’s oil exports. Nigeria was the fifth largest supplier of oil for the U.S. market, slightly down from the over a million barrels average per day imported between 2004 and 2007. Because of the shale revolution and the move back to self-sufficiency in oil for the U.S., the U.S. now produces almost 10 million b/d with a large portion from its Bakken, Eagle Ford and Permian Basin fields. This has totally upended the 2001 Cheney report which defined Nigeria as a core national security interest because of its production of oil and American reliance on those oil imports. In the first quarter of 2014, imports of Nigerian crude by the U.S. continued to decline from the old norm of 90 million barrels per quarter to just over 25 million. Then they fell off the cliff altogether. For six weeks, between July and mid-August of 2014, the U.S. did not import a single barrel of Nigerian crude. There was a similar story between mid-October and 7 November. The oil trade between Nigeria and the U.S. is no longer one of “follow the money,” but the reality that there is NO money to follow.

Just recall that in December 2000, the U.S. National Intelligence Council of the CIA predicted that Africa would be supplying 25% of America’s total oil imports by 2015. What a transformed situation! Asian imports have picked up some of the slack, but only some, and at a much lower per barrel price. And the economic drop has not only come from the fall-off in oil exports, but also from the rapid decline in national receipts for bids for exploration blocks and the drop in large sums traditionally invested in oil infrastructure – drilling platforms, pipelines, loading facilities, production machinery, transportation, etc. Instead of West Africa replacing the Middle East as the number one exporter of oil to the world as predicted ten and even five years ago, instead of posting significant production increases, West Africa, and Nigeria in particular, has posted production declines. This has meant not only a significant decrease in income to the federal Nigerian government, but also that the U.S. has lost the ability to strong arm Nigeria using the oil import card. As a result, the U.S. may have had to fall back on the military export card.

But that too has a back side. In the 1990s, when American policymakers foresaw increased dependence on oil from Africa, and, therefore, demarcated Africa as a primary national security interest, the U.S. dramatically increased its military involvement in Africa. As the need for African oil – though not necessarily other resources – has declined precipitously in the last five years, America has been preaching African military self-sufficiency. More particularly, whereas the U.S. provided military support to undemocratic and repressive regimes in Nigeria, the U.S. now declines to do so unconditionally. Just when its economic leverage is lowest, America has increasingly used its 2004 expansion of its 1997 Africa Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI), renamed as African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA), as leverage. However, the U.S. no longer has the same justification that U.S. military aid was needed to secure its oil supply.

However, U.S. security assistance is also provided to Nigeria through ACOTA, the Anti-Terrorism Assistance program. Is this not sufficient incentive for the U.S. and its war on terror, particularly against radical and militant Islam?

In the beginning of the Obama administration, the emphasis was on the Niger Delta, the source of Nigeria’s oil. The U.S. was concerned with the rise of terrorist and separatist forces there. On 12 August 2009, during her trip to Africa, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Nigerian Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe that the U.S. supports the efforts of the “Nigerian Government’s comprehensive political framework approach toward resolving the conflict in the Niger Delta.” Since that was the source of oil, this was understandable. But even then, military cooperation was totally proportionate to Nigerian efforts.

However, the new threat that has been developed since then has been from the northeast sector. The incentive to continue military support for Nigeria raises its head because of the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. So why all the qualms and conditions? Without the issue of protection of the oil interests, direct U.S. military intervention was never on the table. Instead, the policy required the smallest U.S. signature in any initiative. The stress was on capacity building and thickening intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance related to national cooperation, but now conjoined with democratic and human rights improvements.

Thus, even though Obama retained Defense Secretary Robert Gates as well as Army Chief of Staff, General George Casey, their efforts focused on security assistance, even to repressive and undemocratic governments, provided the countries were either direct U.S. allies (Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and Ethiopia) or rich in resources needed by the U.S. such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. How does this impact on the increasing threat of Boko Haram to Nigerian stability?

A CNN commentator, satirized in the Nigerian media, was responding to Maj. General James “Spider” Marks clarification on why there was zero (not just reduced) military aid to Nigeria in its fight against Boko Haram. Black West Africa is not a priority, the commentator suggested. Not West Africa! Not Nigeria! But BLACK West Africa. Yet BLACK Uganda was a priority? The commentator said that, although the U.S. has the means and capability to help us combat/possibly rid us of Boko Haram, the U.S. was committed elsewhere.

In a long term effort, the U.S. could, even unilaterally, do almost anything needed to rout Boko Haram. But Nigeria is not a priority. Defeating militant Islamic terrorism is not a priority. Defeating international militant Islam is, though Obama is always careful to dub it terrorism and not Islamic or religious terrorism. It is not because Nigeria is black or the terrorists are black. Racism is not the differentiating factor. The reduction of Nigeria as an economic and, hence, national security priority, conjoined with the Obama priority on human rights and democracy as conditions for military assistance, except where the countries are explicit allies, are key factors.

Kerry at Davos, before he left for Abuja, spoke at length on the threat to the world from Islamist extremist groups, including Boko Haram. But upon his arrival, he did not focus on the insurgency in the northeast, but of ensuring fair presidential and parliamentary elections in the lead up and on 14 February. The United States has even pressed for the elections to proceed despite the raging violence in northeastern Nigeria, even though Nigeria’s national security adviser, Sambo Dasuki, recommended that polling be delayed, especially in the northeast where tens of thousands have been displaced and three million live in fear.

Perhaps Boko Haram had learned its lesson when it brought the wrath of the U.S. down upon itself when it planned a terror attack on U.S.-bound Northwest Airlines flight on 25 December 2009. Don’t threaten America – just Nigerian schoolgirls, the public, the police, the army, politicians, moderate Muslim clerics, and even businessmen and Christians. America’s involvement in anti-terror programs had not evolved in proportion to the increased threat in the northeast because the terrorist threat in the Niger Delta from the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) significantly diminished.

The decline seems to have had no relationship to the efforts of the Nigerian legislature to pass anti-terrorism legislation between 2006 and 2009. Besides, MEND was always been classified as simply a militant not a terrorist threat. But the anti-terrorism legislation clearly had no impact on a real and growing terrorist threat in the northeast. Nevertheless, critical arms were denied to Nigeria. Boko Haram could wreck all the havoc it wanted as long as Nigeria was not allied with the U.S., was of no overt economic prime interest to the U.S., and the insurgents were not engaged in ‘international’ terrorism. In fact, even as the lethality ratcheted up, military aid could decline.

Bright and promising young security professionals were increasingly sent to Western-sponsored seminars to improve local capacity for effectively countering terrorist threats, but, at the same time, stressing the need for them to protect human rights and enhance democracy. The U.S. Department of Defense’s Counterterrorism Fellowship Program built relationships and developed networks of cooperation. Technology and infrastructure were supplied for detection and recording (early warning), but the supply of lethal force has been inadequate, though aid has been forthcoming to develop appropriate legal frameworks and institutional capacity to counter terrorism.

Ambassador Samantha Power, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, addressed the Security Council on action to sanction Boko Haram and hold its leaders accountable by adding Boko Haram to the UN’s 1267 sanctions list. The Security Council helped close off funding sources, travel and weapons supplies for Boko Haram. But demonstrations of world unity and such measures, however beneficial, do little to mitigate Boko Haram’s growing strength unless sufficient military supplies of the right type and training are forthcoming.

Samantha Power said, “Last weekend in Paris, the United States and our partners agreed to assist Nigeria in developing a comprehensive strategy to address Boko Haram’s threat to the region by strengthening regional cooperation on counterterrorism, including intelligence sharing and border security. Today’s listing also supports and facilitates regional cooperation in confronting Boko Haram. The United States has been working with Nigeria to provide critical tools and support for confronting Boko Haram, like helping professionalize its military; working on law enforcement so that they can better investigate and assist in hostage situations; and providing economic assistance, including education and job training programs, to help lift people out of poverty and provide an alternative to extremist ideologies.” But one would have to wait eons and arms supplies would not be mentioned. The U.S. is not, counter to what Samantha Power said, “doing everything we can to help the people of Nigeria bring back their girls and…eliminate Boko Haram,” though it will increase its efforts to refute Boko Haram’s “backwards and bloodthirsty ideology,” as if this was an ideological debate. After 17 April 2013, Obama did send “military experts to help track down more than 200 girls seized in a ‘heartbreaking’ kidnapping,” but not the helicopters crucial to freeing them. Outrage and saying NO are just milquetoast.

When the threat is adequately described and analyzed on Sunday, this pusillanimous response will be seen as totally inadequate.

Fallout from the Failed Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

Fallout from the Failed Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

by

Howard Adelman

By fallout, I am not talking about the post-apocalyptic scenario envisioned as a result of a nuclear war that is the backdrop of the videogame of that same name. Fallout need not be so drastic but can initiate a widespread piecemeal catastrophe. I am referring to the fallout Barack Obama predicted that would result if the peace talks failed. At the beginning of March, Obama warned Israel that the United States would have more difficulty defending Israel if the talks faltered let alone failed. Both Barack Obama and John Kerry have warned both sides that the window of opportunity for a deal was closing. “Seize the Day,” was the message. Rephrasing the Jewish sage, Rav Hillel, Obama told Netanyahu directly, “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?” The negotiating parties did not for some of the reasons I outlined in previous blogs seize the day or the hour.

ALL failures have consequences. Those consequences are now upon us. The peace talks did not result in an agreement. They did not result in a watered down framework agreement. They did not even result in an agreement to continue the talks. Now is the time to observe the fallout.

Economic – Israel

At then end of January, Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid, a strong supporter of the peace negotiations, predicted that Israel was approaching a tipping point in the BDS movement in Europe based on a Finance Ministry study. The Israeli economy was already jittery in response to an anticipated failure. If a European boycott movement expands, not only in the number of parties engaged in the boycott, but in the breadth of the sanctions movement beyond products produced in West Bank settlements and businesses operating in the West Bank, as is expected, the Israeli economy, that sailed through the international downturn of the last few years, will now contract. This downturn will be exacerbated as the BDS movement spreads its tentacles, including to the southern sphere, especially Australia, where a recent court case against BDS was lost. The decision of Dutch asset manager PGGM, which manages 150 billion in euros in investments, to halt investments in Israel’s five banks is but a foretaste. It is but the tip of the iceberg of shifts in patterns of investment that have fuelled Israel’s tremendous growth over the last decade as private investors, pension funds and foundations begin to shift resources away from Israel, even if they do so only in anticipation of the economic effects of others shifting their investment priorities. Thus, Obama’s warning in early March that Israel could expect sanctions and international isolation should Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fail to support a framework peace agreement was totally consistent with results of the Israeli Ministry of Finance own study and may result even though, in the end, Netanyahu ended up saying yes to a framework agreement.

Economic- Palestine

Any dramatic economic turndown in Israel will have even more dire consequences for Palestine since the West Bank is so dependent for its economic health on trade with Israel. Parallel to the Israeli Ministry of Finance study, a separate study by the Palestinian Authority adumbrated the negative economic consequences of failed peace talks. 

The economic consequences for the Palestinian Authority will be even worse than the consequences for Israel.

An IMF study prophesied that a breakthrough in the peace negotiations would result in a 6.5% growth rate in the West Bank, but its failure would result in a significant economic contraction, increasing the already fraught situation and undermining efforts to forge a non-violent political effort. Instead of the projected 4.5% growth, there would be a significant economic contraction. Even if talks just continued, even if inconclusive, the growth rate would be 2.5%. Given the termination of the talks, expect a decline in growth rate of at least 2%.  If Israel resorts to economic pressure tactics against the PA, that decline will be even worse.

Political – Israel

With all her experience in leading the negotiations under Ehud Olmert, Justice Minister Tzip Livni has been the widely respected chief negotiator for the Israeli side who has been clearly and unequivocally committed to a two-state solution. Though she was undercut by a number of decisions: 1)  the decision to postpone the release of the 26 Israeli Arabs from prison until the Palestinians agreed to continue the talks beyond the end of April deadline, a decision contrary to the agreement on entering the negotiations; 2) Livni was then undercut by the decision of the PA to apply for membership in 15 of 63 international organizations by becoming a signatory to those international conventions, but explicitly excluding the International Criminal Court, though Mustafa Barghouti held out the promise that this graduated approach will end with joining the ICC as the final step. The move to join fifteen rather innocuous conventions was, in itself, a move contrary to the agreement about the negotiating process, all on top of the decision Housing and Construction Minister, Ariel of the HaBayit HaYehudi Party to announce the building of 700 more housing units in Gilo in Jerusalem, a move, though not contrary to what was formally agreed in the conduct of the negotiations, but was a de facto understanding in  proceeding with those negotiations. Livni’s political wisdom is now undermined. Setting aside her rival within the party, Shaul Mofaz, who had his own plan for advancing the peace negotiations but was ignored even though he was the initiator of the previous interim security agreement, Amram Mitzna and Amir Peretz, who backed her controversial move to join the Netanyahu government even with the strong presence of right wing parties, may now enact their calls for their Hatnua party quitting the coalition. The party is in danger of splitting. If it does not leave the coalition, a move unlikely since Livni has been adamant in placing the bulk of the blame on the Palestinians and has defended Netanyahu as having backed her fully in the negotiations in spite of twice being sideswiped by her cabinet colleagues. 

Political – Fatah/Hamas Reconciliation

If Livni blamed the Palestinians, Saeb Ekrat blamed the Israelis. “To build settlements in occupied land, kill Palestinians and demolish hundreds of Palestinian homes is certainly not the behavior of a government that wants to end occupation but of a government that wants to turn occupation into annexation,” Ekrat  explicity labelled the Netanyahu government an apartheid regime. Abbas went out of his way to insist that East Jerusalem is an Islamic and Christian Arab city and will be the capital of a Palestinian state, a capital that will include ALL of Arab East Jerusalem including at the very least the Arab arts of the old city.

Contrary to many, I think the PA/Hamas negotiations will come to an agreement to set up a technical government and to schedule elections. It is in the interest of both parties to do so and instigates an end run around Israel’s complaints that Abbas was not a spokesman for all Palestinians while, at the same time, solidifying Abbas’ position against his rivals. Whether the two parties will be able to go further and unify their competing administrative organizations, given the radically different culture that inform both, is a very different question. But political unity does not require administrative unity. The latter can be postponed.

In the meanwhile, Abbas has stacked up credits by calling the Holocaust the most heinous crime of the twentieth century in direct refutation of the way he downplayed the Holocaust in his PhD thesis written in Moscow years ago. Israelis may dismiss the comment as empty rhetoric, but you cannot call his other denials of the extent of the Holocaust themselves heinous and be unwilling to offer credit when he reverses himself. All this positive payoff is in spite of Abbas’ explicit unwillingness to go ahead with a framework agreement, when Netanyahu approved it, Abbas timing the announcement to sign fifteen international conventions, contrary to the terms of the peace negotiations, on the precise day before the prisoner release was to go ahead in return for America’s release of Jonathan Pollard. Abbas further undermined the initiative to cede control of part of Area C to the Palestinians for building homes in areas slated to be part of Palestine according to previous negotiations, an initiative that in turn was blown up by the announcement of the PLO-Hamas agreement.

One important fallout of the PLO/Hamas reconciliation is an emerging split between the USA and Israel. After all, the USA deals with the Lebanese government even though that government includes Hezbollah characterized as a terrorist organization. As long as the merged government adheres to the three principles of not resorting to violence, accepting a two state solution and recognizing Israel, America sees no obstacle to negotiations with the new government any more than America refusing to negotiate with Israel because its cabinet includes a few from the hard right who still reject Palestinian self-determination and a two-state solution. Israel, thus far, has rejected such a possibility, but as in the case of negotiations with Iran, Israel’s resistance may simply drift into the byways of history as once did its refusal to negotiate with the PLO.

Political – Israeli Unilateralism

In spite of the negative lessons of the past critical of unilateral moves, it is more rather than less likely that Israel will not sit back passively as the PLO pursues broadening its international recognition and status and consolidates unification. Israel is already on the road to consolidation of its settlements. Whether Israel will actually annex the settlements scheduled for the swap, move the 100,000 or so settlers outside the consolidation areas or, at the very least, offer them compensation to relocate at a cost of up to $US10 billion, and, more problematically, whether it will enact the swap and transfer jurisdiction to the PA over the territory scheduled to be swapped, would require a bold conjecture. Michael Oren, Dan Meridor and Amos Yadlin have been advocating bold moves along these lines. Even bolder still, would it be for Israel to offer Palestinians within the annexed territories – an estimated 150,000 – citizenship in Israel, or offer them the houses of the settlers evacuated from the rest of the West Bank? Naftali Bennet, of all people, has proffered such an offer.

But there are moves underway in that direction. After all, in the immediate aftermath of the termination of the negotiations, Netanyahu scheduled a cabinet meeting to discuss future Israeli unilateral moves.  There are even more solid moves to transfer more control over Area B to the Palestinians that could be used as a trade off for Palestine slowing down its own moves towards self-determination. One does not necessarily need a peace agreement to advance the two-state solution and avoid the “apartheid” state Kerry anticipated as one possible outcome. Abbas has been asking for a firm delineation of borders. Israel is free to create them – excluding Jerusalem – thus saving both Abbas and Netanyahu the embarrassment of coming to an agreement on Jerusalem that, depending on its contours, would hurt either or even both parties.

Political – USA

The flak over Kerry’s expression of fear that Israel might in future become an apartheid state, a prediction engaged in freely by Israeli politicians on the left, is only a glimpse of the squabbles sure to erupt as America approaches its mid-term elections in November. of what actually happened. But emerge they will. Kerry may launch a grenade himself by publishing the framework agreement he offered both sides. Martin Indyk is going to go back to the United States and will resume his post in Brookings, putting the final stamp and seal on the failed process. I am unable to imagine what will emerge about the process of negotiations that will shift our perceptions.

Military

Will some of that fallout include increased militancy by Palestinians? We have already witnessed an increase in tensions on the Temple Mount with a resumption of rock throwing by the Palestinians and provocative moves by Jewish zealots who dream of rebuilding the ancient Jewish temple. The root of the militancy is not likely to come from Hamas in the immediate future given both the pressures upon it and its agreement with the PLO, but from other more militant outliers. How much leeway they will be given by the PA or Hamas is a matter of debate, but given Abbas’ international approach and his need to shore up his peaceful modus operandi, it is likely he will continue to cooperate with Israeli security in squelching such developments. Similarly, Hamas, if it is to secure a place at the table given its current weakened state largely as a result of what is happening in Egypt, is also unlikely “to stir the kasha”. So I do not believe that Kerry was correct, at least in the immediately foreseeable future that there will be a significant upsurge in violence. This, in itself, will favour the Palestinians and undercut the rhetoric of the Netanyahu government.

Parallel Tracks

It is here that I betray the hoots of my Owl of Minerva still sitting on the branch of my front tree and engage in prophecy. The Palestinian Authority and Israel will both operate now on unilateral tracks, cooperating when it is in their common interest to do so, and working to undermine one another when that is in each party’s interest. But both sides will be moving towards a de facto two state solution since no other solution is feasible for either side. Each will both help strengthen its rival while trying to undermine the rival in the realm of world public opinion. My suspicion, given that Palestine is the weaker party, it will win this public relations war but Israel will advance and solidify its position on the ground. Israel, in contrast to its previous initiative in Gaza, has had lots of time to work out the logistics of these unilateral moves with careful planning and coordination with not only the USA, Egypt and Jordan but with the PA as well. These moves will be both pressure tactics but also de facto additional moves to instigate Israeli separation from occupation and Palestinian self-determination towards full statehood.

Kerry was right. The status quo is unsustainable. But the alternative is not necessarily the two options he adumbrated. Obama’s prediction that if Israel did not support the framework agreement – which Netanyahu actually eventually did and Abbas did not – then the US would no longer be able to effectively defend Israel, is a threat rather than a prediction. Obama, in particular, cited the Israeli settlement construction efforts. “If you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction – and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple of years than we’ve seen in a very long time,” Obama went onto claim that, “If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.”

Very true! But Israel and Palestine will now have to manage the pursuit of a two-state solution now on parallel tracks rather than through mediation. The consequences of the loss of American leadership could be terrible. But it could also be beneficial. Recall that the Oslo process got its start when America had dropped into the background and other avenues opened up in the pursuit of peace. The USA was a Johnny-come-lately in the Oslo process. 

So there is hope even though Hope is Barack Obama’s middle name and even if he has given up hope for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The Blame Game: John Kerry versus Pauline Marois

The Blame Game: John Kerry versus Pauline Marois

by

Howard Adelman

 

After every important political act, at significant political junctions, one of the first responses is who gets credit and who gets blamed. The peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians may be drawing its last breaths and the corpse of the process is not yet on the coroner’s gurney, yet pundits and ordinary folk alike are already weighing in and assessing blame. The dissection of the Québec election began almost as soon as the election was called.

Seventeen minutes after the results of the Québec election, a chorus that began a week before the end of the Québec election, now began its steep rise to a crescendo over the next three hours. On 9 March 2014, Pauline Marois was to blame for going off message by allowing her new star candidate, media mogul, billionaire Pierre Karl Péladeau, to upstage her, thrust his fist in the air and, like a Black Power revolutionary, shout the equivalent of, “Vive le Québec libre!”. Marois compounded the error when a video caught her shoving Péladeau aside as she once again took centre stage alone before the mike and then further compounded this double message by blabbering at length over the next week about precisely when a referendum would be held with weasel phrases such as “when Québeckers want it” or “when they are ready for it,” and then speculating at length on the currency Québeckers would use afterwards, border controls, etc.

Others blamed the introduction of the Charter of Values for being so divisive, for bringing bigotry out of the woodwork and for misrepresenting what Québeckers stood for. On 10 September 2013, when Bernard Drainville, as the ironically named Minister Responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship, introduced the Charter of Values to save secularism from the threat of religion infiltrating state institutions, this imitation of France’s doctrine of laicité and its method of contemporary enforcement did not fit the behaviour and attitude of most Québeckers who came into contact on a daily basis with members of religious minorities who wore the professions of their religion proudly on their heads or around their necks when they came to work in Québec hospitals, schools and government offices

In 1985 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled i that such decisions should be determined by the principle of reasonable accommodation. The Bouchard Taylor Commission on reasonable accommodation in its hearings around the province had already demonstrated the enormous amount of latent bigotry around the province when the issue of reasonable accommodation was raised. The Commission also concretely documented that most Québeckers in their daily intercourse with minorities were very accommodating and exemplars of tolerance. The Commission recommended against playing into the sentiments of bigots and for allowing reasonable accommodation to be worked out in practice. The Marois government chose not to follow the lead of the Commission. Their divisive policy to ban the wearing of religious symbols, either as a political ploy to help get re-elected with a majority or as an expression of their own deepest prejudices and fears or a mixture of both, backfired

Further, as the debate on the Charter of Values unfurled, instead of retreating to some degree to deal with the criticism, the exponents dug in their heels and tightened the restrictions. The recent election only permitted the unreasonable nature of the fears to be pronounced by some of the oldest and most respected citizens of the Province from the Francophones (le rattrapage) while, in practice, many Québeckers began to realize it would mean the flight from their province of highly regarded professionals whom the province needed if the economy was to complete its path to modernization and renewed economic growth.

For the first time Marois faced an opposition leader who proudly wore a Maple Leaf pin, who even dared to suggest that all Québeckers should be bilingual, who trusted and supported the strength of the French fact and reality in the province, and who echoed the sentiment of most younger voters who were tired of divisiveness in politics. However, the articulation of this set of competing values threatened the very raison d’être of the PQ party. In reality, the election was a great success, bringing forth in an open manner a fundamental choice for the people of Québec, whether in the future they were to face a series of debates over how to protect the unique character of the French fact in Canada and in North America, a renewed use of the device of a referendum on sovereignty that had become anathema to most Québeckers, a belief that Québeckers were under constant and continuing cultural threat and could not and did not feel secure enough and strong enough to go out into the world and face the competition. Marois may have been very wrong in reading the mood of her constituency but she should perhaps be praised for, even if reluctantly and contradictorily, putting the choice clearly before Québec voters.

In the case of John Kerry, the problem is quite different. He had repeatedly said that, in the end, the choice was up to the Palestinians and the Israelis. “We can’t want peace more than they do” had been his mantra which he repeated once again on 5 April when it was evident that the negotiations were in deep trouble. Further, Kerry had made it known that the prospects for a deal were not high when the latest effort began, but he could not accept evading making a strenuous effort. US Secretary of State John Kerry declared that he owed that as an obligation to the world community, to Americans and especially the millions of Israelis and Palestinians who generally desired an end to the conflict between the two peoples. Nevertheless, he was blamed for giving rise to unachievable expectations, for the inevitable aftermath of disappointment and depression, for the high costs of a diplomatic initiative that ends in failure and for the possible (inevitable?) violence that was likely or sure to arise as a result of that failure and the further erosion of trust between the two parties. Further, if past failures had seriously wounded the peace parties on both sides, this failure would mortally wound them.

It is true that risks have consequences, that the effort does not leave the situation at the status quo ante, that new layers of cynicism and despondency are piled upon a long history of failure. However, failures also bring about clarity, just as the Québec election did. Are negotiations and a peace agreement to be based on the 1967 cease fire lines with reasonable adjustments and equal trade offs from both sides as Kerry had declared? (“We believe 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. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.”) Or does the resolution have to go back to the 1948 deal with respect to borders, rights and mutual recognition? Or is there a third option?

Last night on Steve Paikin’s, “The Agenda” on TVO, Steve had as one guest, Diana Buttu, an Israeli-born Palestinian-Canadian lawyer who, in the past, has served as a spokesperson for the PLO and an advisor on international law with respect to the peace negotiations, but who has been outspokenly critical of Saeb Erekat, the lead Palestinian negotiator. His other guest was Emmanuel Adler a political scientist at U. of T.’s Munk Centre. The two discussed with Steve Paikin the negotiations and their likely immanent failure.

While Emmanuel Adler wanted to cling to a faint hope for the receding prospect of a two-state solution, it seemed clear that Diana wanted to go back and override the original decision on division to resurrect a one state solution with the ideal of Jews and Palestinians as equal citizens in a single state rather than the principle of national self-determination being the basis of the political order in former Palestine, but without acknowledging this would mean the end of the Zionist dream of national self-determination for the Jewish people and that this was a resolution totally unacceptable to the vast majority of Jews in Israel. Supporting her position was the fact that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had not agreed to recognition of the 1967 borders as the basis for the talks with Israel renewed last July.

What seems clear is that who gets blamed depends, in part, on the outcome wanted or expected. If the goal is a single state in which Israel is eliminated, the failure of the talks is simply a proof that the two-state solution is and has always been doomed. Then the blame goes to Kerry for convening the talks and misleading international public opinion, to Israel which refuses to grant Palestinian demands even for the two-state solution, and perhaps a little to Abbas for allowing himself to be drawn once again into such a fruitless process, though he is somewhat excused because he is operating from such a relatively weak position. If the goal is a two-state solution, then the blame could go to Netanyahu a) for not being flexible enough, b) for provocatively approving the building of 700 housing units in Gilo even though discussions had already determined that Gilo in Jerusalem would be part of Israel, and even though Israel had made clear at the beginning of the negotiations that the building freeze would only apply to the West Bank, and c) for a tactical error in not releasing the prisoners at the time originally agreed, even though by that stage of the negotiations Israel had become convinced that the talks could not have any positive results. Or blame could go to Abbas for also lacking flexibility and for taking a step of initiating an application to join various international bodies even before the talks ended.

Who gets blames also depends on the integrity of the person casting blame. Diana Buttu has a record of distorting facts and even outright lying to support arguments and allegations she makes against Israel and to advance the goal of a one state solution, while Emmanuel Adler is a renowned scholar of great integrity and a well-known dove who despairs at Netanyahu’s leadership. So the politics of blame were not balanced.

Notice that, unlike the Québec elections, there is no winner. So the blame largely overlaps with responsibility and is totally congruent with the responsibility allocated to the loser. Explaining why something happened (allocating responsibility) and then blaming someone for that responsibility – that is, adding a negative morally critical judgment to the one responsible – are related but different acts. In the case of the Québec election, the loser comes in for blame for the loss. In the peace talks, everyone loses when talks break down, including the mediator and both sides, except those who wanted the talks to break down because they deplored the two-state solution. The argument then involves how to allocate, spread or diffuse the blame. But if the moral or political reprehensibility is to be added to the judgment, it may be totally inappropriate when applied to the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, or, at least, only of use in revealing the position of the person casting judgment rather than whether any of the agents involved deserve to be characterized as morally or politically to be hung out in disgrace.

My own conviction is that understanding the reasons for the breakdown and the responsibility of the different parties is important, but when everyone is a loser, casting blame is not only useless but counter-productive. Instead, the breakdown allows one to recast the problem. A peace agreement based on a two-state solution is NOT possible, at least for the foreseeable future, no more possible than a successful secessionist referendum in Québec. Does that mean you should support a one state solution? Not at all, for that is far more impossible than a two-state solution and, in effect, would doom the victors on the ground to being losers.

So what position should one take as each party takes up positions that will best advance its cause. The Palestinians will attempt to shore up its position as the victim, to shore up its position under international law, to shore up its position in the world of public opinion by working harder on the BDS effort, and the efforts to denigrate and delegitimate Israel. For the only grounds on which the weaker party can advance its cause is through the use of moral arguments, legal arguments and through sentiment. Israel as the stronger party will have to defend itself as best it can on all these fronts, and be limited in any aggressive actions it can take lest its position significantly worsen under international law, dominant international norms and, most of all, public sentiment. At the same time, Israel can try to use its position to both pressure the Palestinians – generally counter-productive – to create partnerships with Palestinians on the ground – generally positive – to get the Palestinians to accept a two-state solution. The dilemma is that using economic pressure and the prerogatives of the powerful, such a real economic sanctions, congruently fits right into the international campaign of the Palestinians. Further, the result can run counter to any Israeli interests. For example, cutting off the rebate of taxes to the Palestinian Authority could cripple it economically, but the result may be the rise of Hamas to power in the West Bank, the initiation of the third intifada, and the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority.

My own position is to advise a fourth strategy. The pursuit of the two-state solution through peace negotiations is as dead for now as the pursuit of self-determination for Québec. The pursuit of a one-state solution is a fraudulent illusion and a mask to cover up the pursuit of the death of Zionism and Israel. The resort by Israel to economic pressure and tightening the screws of oppression are both counter-productive and will only lead to strengthening the Palestinian cause in the long run.

The only position, that I think is viable, is to use only the minimal level of economic and military coercion necessary to defend the state of Israel and its people while pursuing a two-state solution and de facto boundaries on the basis of the agreements that have already been negotiated and agreed upon while enhancing economic, intellectual and political partnerships between Israelis and Palestinians on the ground. Just as the pursuit of sovereignty has to be aufgehoben in Québec, preserved, raised up to an ideal and put away on a shelf for an unknown and far off future, so too must the goal of reaching an agreement on a two-state solution be preserved, raised up to an ideal and put away on a shelf for the foreseeable future while taking steps on the ground to advance such a goal. The PQ failed because they were impatient while the rest of Canada remained patient with Québec. The Israeli government must act with patience, generosity and forbearance using the behaviour of Ottawa as an example.