George Soros 88.
(photo credit: )
Recent reports that George Soros is poised to enter the fray about the US role in the Israel-Arab conflict suggest that his views on the Middle East be given more serious scrutiny.
Soros's desire to help fund an effort to convince Congress that it may feel free of the constraints of domestic politics and pressure Israel will undoubtedly pose a serious challenge to the pro-Israel community, especially if as expected Democrats gain control of one or both Houses of Congress.
It also marks a reversal for Soros, who has hitherto refrained from funding Jewish organizations and causes.
His views about how to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict, however, suffer from a basic flaw: He views Israeli policy through the prism of his hostility to the Bush administration and displays a troubling tendency to blame Israel for everything that's gone wrong.
As laid out in an August 31, 2006 column in the Boston Globe ("Blinded by a concept"), Soros argues against the "war on terror" concept generally and its application in Lebanon specifically, on the grounds that "even if the targets are terrorists, the victims are often innocent civilians, and their suffering reinforces the terrorist cause."
Hitting back at terrorists and inadvertently killing civilians is largely the result of terrorists intentionally placing themselves in civilian settings. If we were to adopt Soros's view, there would no defense against terrorist attacks, except in the curious circumstance that a terrorist group was found operating in an isolated setting.
Soros fails to account for the irony that not only does a forward strategy potentially increase support for terrorists, but so do strategies of withdrawal.
Two cases in point: The withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and the disengagement from Gaza in 2005 both produced the same results, because they were interpreted as signs of weakness.
Soros has an answer for that: "Israel previously withdrew from Lebanon and then from Gaza unilaterally, rather than negotiating political settlements with the Lebanese government and the Palestinian Authority. The strengthening of Hizbullah and Hamas was a direct consequence of that approach."
Well, yes, but both unilateral actions were the result of the fact that Lebanese and Palestinian political systems were broken. The real meaning of an admonition not to have unilaterally withdrawn was to unilaterally remain in place, not to consummate negotiated settlements that were beyond reach.
SOROS MAKES it sound as if had Israel only wished it, former prime minister Ehud Barak could have settled the Lebanese affair with then prime minister Rafik Hariri, and prime minister Ariel Sharon could have brokered a deal with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
But the weakness of the Lebanese state and the Palestinian Authority is not the result of Israeli policies.
In blaming this summer's Israeli fighting for "weakening Lebanon," thereby making "it more difficult to rein in Hizbullah," Soros gets it exactly backward: Before this summer's fighting, the Lebanese state could not have been any weaker in trying to curb Hizbullah. It was the fighting that finally led to an emboldened Lebanese state, backed by a ramped-up UNIFIL force, to deploy in southern Lebanon.
Soros argues further that the war on terror conflates all Muslim-based terrorist movements regardless of their differing theologies and circumstances. Neither "Hamas nor Hizbullah can be treated merely as targets in the war on terror," he writes, "because both have deep roots in their societies; yet there are profound differences between them." By now, we all know that Hizbullah is Shi'ite and strategically bound to Iran; while Hamas is Sunni and only tactically bound to Iran. As to recognizing their deep roots in their respective societies, both have been offered political roles, and both have undertaken to simultaneously live in both worlds rather than to choose between them.
What Soros appears to be advocating, without having the courage to say so clearly, is that America should turn a blind eye to the failure of both Hizbullah and Hamas to break with their respective terrorist dimension and opt for its political one.
SOROS BELIEVES Israel might have shown greater generosity toward Abbas. Instead, he writes, Israeli opposition blocked the implementation of even one of the six-point plan developed by James Wolfensohn on behalf of the Quartet for the Middle East: "opening crossings between Gaza and the West Bank, allowing an airport and seaport in Gaza, opening the border with Egypt; and transferring the greenhouses abandoned by Israeli settlers into Arab hands."
Soros should fire his fact checker. The greenhouses were purchased and handed over to Palestinian businessmen, and then ransacked by Palestinian rioters. The border with Egypt is mostly open, with monitoring by emissaries of the European Union and Egypt. (Just last week, the head of IDF Military Intelligence's research division informed the Olmert government that Hamas has been smuggling anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza through the opening at the Egyptian border.) The other steps await the demonstrated ability of Abbas' forces to contain the situation and prevent rocket and other terrorist attacks into Israel.
Soros is once again mistaken when he asserts that these alleged Israeli failures to bolster Abbas "contributed to Hamas' electoral victory." Hamas is widely thought to have won a plurality of the votes in the January election because voters were fed up with the corruption endemic to the Fatah-dominated PA and because Hamas successfully argued that the Gaza disengagement validated its policy of "resistance." Fatah was also weakened by indecisiveness over its own political/terrorist conundrum.
Soros opposes the Bush administration decision to back Israel's "refusal to deal with a Hamas government," the effect of which was "to impose further hardship on the Palestinians."
Just last month, a senior European foreign minister told us that, in retrospect, the American policy to condition funding to the PA on changes in the Hamas program had been correct. The only reason there is now some small possibility of movement on the Palestinian side was because Brussels and Washington had cut off PA funding.
Overly baleful about Israeli behavior, Soros is overly optimistic about the chances for a Palestinian unity government.
Characteristically, he blames the collapse of unity hopes on "the military branch of Hamas, run from Damascus," combined with "a heavy-handed response from Israel."
"That is how extremists play off against each other to destroy any chance of political progress," he writes, equating Hamas Damascus with the Olmert government.
Soros would be well advised to acquire a more mature understanding of the complex issues at stake before he completes his reported new venture into the field of dovish American Jewish politics.
The writer is the president of the American Jewish Congress.