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Photo by: Ralph Alswang/Courtesy Saban Forum
Into The Fray: Wacko in Washington
By MARTIN SHERMAN
12/12/2013
When it comes to the Mideast, bad ideas never die, no matter how implausible, improbable or impractical.
 
I ask you to imagine what a two-state solution will mean for Israel, Palestine, Jordan and the region. Imagine what it would mean for trade and for tourism – what it would mean for developing technology and talent, and for future generations of Israeli and Palestinian children. Imagine Israel and its neighbors as an economic powerhouse in the region. – John Kerry, US secretary of state, Saban Forum, December 7.

Enough is enough. At some stage there must be a limit to the verbal garbage – I resist the strong temptation to employ a somewhat coarser epithet – that one can be subjected to before giving vent to pent-up exasperation and outrage.

A spade is still a spade.

Of late, this limit has been breached with increasing frequency – particularly when the matter of the “Palestinian issue” is broached.

As the clock runs out on the viability of the so-called “two-state-solution,” efforts to sustain it have become increasingly desperate, bizarre and disingenuous.

The annual Saban Forum held in Washington over the weekend provided ample examples of this near-hysteria, thinly veiled by the niceties of diplomatic decorum and dialect, masquerading as far-sighted diplomacy and inspired statesmanship.

No dogma, however disproven, no folly, however farcical, no notion, however nonsensical was discarded.

They were all bandied about, with great fanfare, as if they comprised a bold, yet-untried vision of a new future for peace, prosperity and regional understanding – rather than a proven recipe for calamity.

But smooth semantics cannot transform frenetic fantasy into sound substance. Merely because one describes a spade as a “manually operated device whose principal function is the creation of elevation differentials on the surface of the earth” does not mean that a spade is anything more lofty or exalted than a spade.

Similarly, shying away from more earthy and abrasive expressions will not transform utter absurdities into pearls of wisdom, no matter who is articulating them and no matter how glittering the setting in which they do so.

So no matter how prominent and preeminent the participants at the Saban Forum were, what took place in Washington was, well… wacko.

Resuscitating zombies?

Arguably, by far the wackiest performance at this upmarket theater of the absurd was that of Secretary of State John Kerry, who omitted no opportunity to harness any bit of hogwash, no matter how hackneyed, in an endeavor to convince his audience that they should learn nothing from previous events.

Impervious to past failures, unmindful of present realities, and unmoved by future probabilities, he sallied forth, seemingly oblivious to – or purposefully ignoring – the policy train-wrecks that litter the Mideastern political landscape, prescribing that the same wildly improbable ideas that proved disastrous before be adopted again – under even more improbable conditions.

Regurgitating moronic – indeed oxymoronic – mantras, he advocates the patently preposterous precept that the key to regional tranquility and development is Israeli withdrawal to indefensible borders which, in his mind, will somehow miraculously make Israel “more secure.”

Listening to Kerry, it is difficult to avoid the eerie sensation of someone trying to breathe life into what was presumed long-dead – in the macabre belief that resurrected zombies can accomplish what their living predecessors failed to do.

Bordering on delirium?

In an exhortation bordering on delirium, he urged his audience: “Just think of how much more secure Israel would be if it were integrated into a regional security architecture and surrounded by newfound partners.” A regional security architecture? Really?

Could it be that the US secretary of state has been trapped in an Oslo-era time-warp? Has he been too busy to catch up on the news in recent years as to regional realities?

With turmoil in Egypt, carnage in Syria, brewing instability in Jordan, burgeoning terror in Iraq (to name but a few of the centers of tumult in Israel’s neighborhood), one can only puzzle over what “region” Kerry had in mind when envisioning his “security architecture”; and what “newfound partners” he thinks Israel might surround itself with to comprise the building blocks of his imagined edifice.

In a futile attempt to bend recalcitrant reality to futile fancy, he exhorted his audience to adopt wishful thinking as grand strategy, appealing: “I believe that if you indeed care about Israel, and everybody here does, if you care about its security, if you care about its future… we need to believe that peace is possible.”

See what I mean by desperate?

More than two decades after Oslo – after all the assumptions on which that ill-conceived and ill-considered process was based have been dramatically and definitively disproven – what might have been excused as exuberant naiveté can only be explained by moronic myopia or malevolent intent.

The return of the 'New Middle East'?

When it comes to the Mideast, bad ideas never die, no matter how implausible, improbable or impractical.

So long as they are compliant with precepts of political correctness, they are resurrected time and time again, in the forlorn hope that what failed before will later succeed – see “Zombies” above.

This certainly seems the case with the failed notion of a “New Middle East,” originally posited by Shimon Peres in wake of the post-Oslowian euphoria.

In broad brush strokes, it envisaged that a peace pact with Palestinians would provide the impetus for the establishment of an EU-like reality across the Mideast and North Africa, from Casablanca to Kuwait. It of course was shattered on the rocky regional realities and for years was considered a risible casualty of history, consigned to well-deserved obscurity in dusty archives.

But judging from the introductory excerpt from Kerry’s Saban Forum address, it has taken on a new lease on life. If only Israel would expose its coastal metropolis, its only international airport, its major seaports, its vital infrastructures (power, water and land transport systems), 80 percent of its civilian population and 80% of its commercial activity to the very weapons being used against it today, from territory handed over to Palestinian control in the past, then, miraculously, peace, prosperity and progress would suddenly blossom.

As implausible as this idea was in the dizzying days of the ‘90s, when there was a semblance of regional stability and a sense of US credibility and influence, today in the tectonic post-“Arab Spring” upheavals and accelerating erosion of America’s standing, any such notion is so detached from reality as to be borderline deranged.

It is difficult to know what would be more disconcerting, that the secretary of state of the United States believes the tripe he is disseminating, or he doesn’t, and is disseminating it anyway.

Invoking the wrong models

I could, of course, continue to dwell on the myriad ludicrous flaws, and glaring non sequiturs that pervade Kerry’s address, but his was not the only example of the wildly implausible that surfaced during the weekend Washington deliberations. The ideas conveyed by his boss, Barack Obama, during his interview by Forum’s sponsor, Haim Saban, made no more sense.

In response to Saban’s eminently cogent question as to what the value of a settlement with Mahmoud Abbas would be if Gaza, in which Abbas exerts no control, is not included.

Obama’s response: “If there is a model… even if initially it’s restricted to the West Bank… where young Palestinians in Gaza are looking and seeing that in the West Bank Palestinians are able to live in dignity, with self-determination, and suddenly their economy is booming and trade is taking place because they have created an environment in which Israel is confident about its security and a lot of the old barriers to commerce and educational exchange and all that has begun to break down, that’s something that the young people of Gaza are going to want.”

There are of course many criticisms that could be leveled at this response, which disregards the sequence of events that led to the present situation and ignores the causal mechanisms that produced the current realities in the “West Bank” and Gaza, but I will limit myself to one.

There is already a model in place for the Palestinians to take note of – but, sadly, it is the opposite of that proposed by Obama.

It is not some future theoretical model that the “West Bank” might one day comprise for the young Palestinians in Gaza. Rather, it is a very real, existing model – that which Gaza represents for the young Palestinians in the “West Bank.” It is a model that vividly illustrates to them what their fate is liable to be if Israel accepts the Obama/Kerry prescription and withdraws its forces.

I bet it is a model that scares the bejeezus out of many of them. Except of course for those who feel that it is a model to be emulated.

Like tossing a coin

Perhaps the most troubling aspects of Obama’s interview was his reference to the Iranian nuclear issue and the agreement recently reached with Tehran, which has drawn sharp criticism from even his closest devotees.

Disingenuously, he remarked, “I want to be very clear there’s nothing in this agreement or document that grants Iran a right to enrich.” But the overwhelming international interpretation – including that of Russia and Iran – is that it does.

This underscores the problematic (read “pernicious”) ambiguity in the newly signed pact and is an ominous harbinger of the difficulties that will be encountered in interpreting whether future Iranian behavior constitutes compliance with, or contravention of, its terms. It is indicative of the hurdles that will have to be overcome in reconstituting a united international front against Tehran, should any suspicion – however well-founded in US eyes– arise that it is in violation of its commitments.

Obama waxed optimistic: “It is my strong belief that we can envision a[n] end-state that gives us an assurance that even if they have some modest enrichment capability, it is so constrained and the inspections are so intrusive that they, as a practical matter, do not have breakout capacity…” But he then admits: “If you asked me what is the likelihood that we’re able to arrive at the end-state that I was just describing earlier, I wouldn’t say that it’s more than 50/50.”

So there you have it. On arguably the most crucial foreign policy issue for his country – and undoubtedly one of existential importance for Israel – the US president is blithely prepared to embark on a course that has at least a 50% chance of failure. Like betting on the toss of a coin. Can Washington get any more wacko than that?

Blueprint for a horrific future

There is much that has been left unsaid about the disastrous direction in which US foreign policy is headed. But even from the abbreviated critique that has been laid out above, one thing clearly emerges.

The agenda being aggressively advanced by Obama and Kerry is founded on myth and/or malice.

It is prolonging the conflict by propagating and perpetuating pernicious fictions and falsehoods.

History will prove it to be a blueprint for a horrific future – for Jews and Muslims alike.

Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.
(www.strategic-israel.org)
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