Pro Fatah rally 311.
(photo credit: AP)
Revelations and events of recent weeks have done much to buttress Israel’s
narrative of the Middle East. First came the WikiLeaks releases that laid bare
the emptiness of the American claim that resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli
conflict is the key to preventing Iran from going nuclear. In reality, to the
extent that there is a connection between Iran and the peace process, it cuts
the other way: Clipping Iran’s wings, and thus those of Hizbullah and Hamas,
would make peacemaking far easier.
The WikiLeaks documents showed one
Middle East potentate after another conveying the explicit message to American
diplomats to forget about peacemaking and concentrate all American efforts on
denying the Iranians an offensive nuclear capacity. “Cut off the head of the
snake,” was the pithy advice of the Saudi ambassador of the US to Gen. David
WikiLeaks thus confirmed what Israel had been saying along:
Arab governments are far more leery of Iran than of Israel. Inasmuch as the
released documents were all internal US diplomatic messages, they also revealed
that the Obama administration knew that the argument it had been pressing since
day one to pressure Israel was bogus.
SECRETARY OF State Hillary
Clinton’s unusually frank speech in Qatar last month also constituted a sotto
voce retreat from one of the pillars of the Obama administration’s foreign
policy. In words that would shortly prove prophetic, Clinton warned that without
respect for human rights, improved business climates and an end to pervasive
corruption, the Arab regimes will “increasingly turn toward radicalism and
violence that will bleed outside of the region [and threaten] the rest of the
Her speech constituted an implicit repudiation of the linkage
doctrine that has been repeatedly articulated by every top Obama administration
official, from the president down, according to which resolution of the
Palestinian- Israeli conflict holds the key to solving all the region’s
pathologies. At most, Israel is a means by which Arab rulers distract their
peoples from their own failures, not the source of those failures and the
Not once during her speech did Clinton veer from
her focus on the internal failures of Arab regimes and the connection between
those failures and the attraction of radical Islam. She did not throw out any
bromides to her largely Arab audience about the necessity of creating a
Palestinian state before Arab states could possibly be expected to undertake
Fouad Ajami noted in The Wall Street Journal that the
speech also represented a sharp policy reversal. Everywhere that she visited in
the Gulf states, Clinton met with representatives of civil society groups to
drive home her message that the creation of a democratic, civil society is the
precondition for the emergence of Arab states from their current
In doing so, she effectively adopted president George W.
Bush’s vision of a “new Middle East,” which had been so ridiculed by the Obama
foreign policy team and blamed for much of the animosity towards the US in the
Muslim world. Until recently, according to Ajami, the Obama administration had
effectively accepted a doctrine of Arab exceptionalism, which posited the
inevitability of tyranny in Islamic countries.
That approach was
reflected most notably in the “moral and strategic failure” of refusing to
strongly condemn the Ahmadinejad regime’s brutal suppression of popular protests
over its election chicanery, and in the Obama administration’s passivity in the
face of the Syrian regime’s systematic reversal of the Cedar Revolution in
Rather than confront the Syrians over their reentry into Lebanon
via Hizbullah, the US has returned its ambassador and been engaged in constant
efforts to repair ties.
In this context, Clinton’s Qatar speech suggests
a retreat from two failed aspects of the Obama administration’s Middle East
diplomacy that is as welcome as it is surprising.
LAST WEEK’S release of
alleged Palestinian Authority internal documents by Al Jazeera and the Guardian
provided another teachable moment. The accuracy of the documents, which purport
to show that Palestinian negotiators were prepared to cede Jewish neighborhoods
in Jerusalem built since 1967, is questioned. Some on the Left argued that the
documents demonstrated that there is a Palestinian peace partner, though the
Guardian was a bit schizoid on this point, as it simultaneously denounced the
negotiators for signing away their patrimony.
The supposed concessions
are highly questionable.
Yasser Arafat refused to even acknowledge any
Jewish connection to the Temple Mount at Camp David in 2000. Doing so, he told
president Bill Clinton, would be tantamount to signing his own death warrant.
And PA President Mahmoud Abbas, a far weaker leader, has publicly acknowledged
that prime minister Ehud Olmert offered virtually the entire West Bank,
recklessly agreed to international peacekeepers on the Jordan River and
renounced sovereignty over the Temple Mount. Abbas never even responded or
offered a counterproposal.
What ultimately matters, however, is not what
negotiators acknowledged in private discussions as the parameters of any
possible peace agreement, but what they were prepared to present to their own
people. In that regard, the only thing relevant last week was the PA’s fervent
denunciations of the Al Jazeera “plot” to bring it down through the publication
of the alleged concessions. With those denunciations the PA leadership tacitly
admitted what its behavior has consistently demonstrated, the Palestinian public
is not prepared to accept even the most minimal concessions upon which all
negotiators have assumed a peace agreement would be built.
In short, the
PA leadership has utterly failed to prepare its people for peace in any form. As
a consequence, the two goals enunciated by Secretary of State Clinton for a
peace agreement – an end to the “occupation” for the Palestinians and safe and
secure borders for the Israelis – remain irreconcilable. There can be no safe
and secure borders as long as the Palestinians have not reconciled themselves to
the existence of a Jewish state and renounced forever the resort to arms to
The unrest currently roiling the Arab world only demonstrates
how precarious any agreement contracted with non-democratic leaders and not
commanding overwhelming popular support would be. In that context, what the
Palestinians broadcast in their media and teach in their schools is far more
important than what their leaders tell American intermediaries.
EVENTS in Egypt have trumped any victories Israel might have claimed in the
narrative wars. President Hosni Mubarak is no friend of Israel. He prevented a
warm peace from developing, fostered open anti-Semitism in the arts and media,
and has always imperiously insisted that Israeli leaders come to Egypt for
discussions. Egypt has used every international forum to undermine Israel’s
But under his rule, the peace treaty has
Street demonstrations in Egypt will not bring about a stable,
parliamentary democracy. The necessary civil society does not exist, and the
grinding poverty in which most people live makes long-range stability
Either the army will retain control, with or without Mubarak,
or rule will pass to the Muslim Brotherhood, by far the best organized
opposition force, and Egypt will experience its own version of Iran’s Islamic
The latter outcome terrifies (or should) both Israel and the
US. The Muslim Brotherhood spawned both al-Qaida and Hamas, and has always held
the Egypt-Israel peace treaty anathema. With its takeover, the Arab world’s
largest army, armed to the hilt for over 30 years with tens of billions of
dollars of the most sophisticated American weapons, would fall under Islamist
The IDF, which already faces threats of great magnitude on
multiple fronts, would have to increase its troop strength and once again deploy
in anticipation of a possible attack from Egypt. In addition, Israel would
either have to confront the Egyptian army and retake control of the Philadelphi
Corridor or watch armaments flow into Gaza unimpeded. And finally, it could
expect the abrogation of the contract under which Egypt supplies half of its
natural gas needs today.
If there is any ray of hope in massive
demonstrations in Egypt, which are keeping the rulers of many Arab states up at
night worrying about their own restive populations, it is that the same thing
could as easily happen to the hated rulers of Iran and bring about the Middle
East’s first anti-Islamic revolution since Kemal Ataturk.
millions of Iranians also take to the streets, Obama will show at least as much
support for them as he has for those in Egypt and not deem it “not productive to
be seen as meddling,” as he did in response to widespread protests after the
stolen elections of summer 2009.
The writer is the director of Jewish
Media Resources, has written a regular column in
The Jerusalem Post Magazine
since 1997 and is the author of eight biographies of modern Jewish leaders.