Into the Fray: Folly at the Forum

It is perhaps possible to imagine proclamations more moronic than some made at the recent Saban Forum – but that definitely would not be easy.

US Secretary of State John Kerry at the Foreign Ministry in Madrid, Spain, October 19, 2015 (photo credit: REUTERS)
US Secretary of State John Kerry at the Foreign Ministry in Madrid, Spain, October 19, 2015
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There are no easy answers, but we can’t stop trying to find solutions that move us closer to peace… [T]hat is why President Obama has called on both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to a two-state solution.
– John Kerry, US secretary of state, 2015 Saban Forum
We have to gather the Sunni countries, go to a regional summit… which will be the opening salvo for a regional process that will end up with us separating from the Palestinians.
– Yair Lapid, Yesh Atid, 2015 Saban Forum
The curious thing about the discourse on the Arab-Israeli conflict, in general and Israeli-Palestinian one, in particular, is that it does not matter how utterly unhinged what you have to say is, as long as you declare that you support the two-state principle. Once you utter the “magic password,” you are immediately welcomed into “polite society,” embraced by the “enlightened, erudite” bonton, and invited to participate in prestigious events to expound on your “progressive perspectives” – no matter how deluded/detached from reality they may be.
Intellectual inbreeding?
The recent Saban Forum in Washington provided prime examples of this pernicious perversity in what is, with a few exceptions, a cozy “Democratophilic” environment for intellectual inbreeding.
Take, for instance, the key note address by US Secretary of State John Kerry, never accused of being the sharpest knife in the drawer. Kerry addressed the esteemed Forum on December 5, focusing on the nuclear agreement with Iran and, of course, the pressing imperative for a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
On Iran, Kerry declared “... we aren’t making any assumptions about Iran’s future policies because we base our policy on observable facts, on actions that we can see...”
Strangely enough, this pronouncement was not received by hoots of derisive laughter or howls of indignant protest.
Not making any “assumptions,” Mr. Secretary?? Basing policy on observable facts, are we? Really? One can only wonder how closely you are, in fact, following the “observable facts.” I guess you must have missed the one about Iran’s November 21 “ballistic missile test in breach of two United Nations Security Council resolutions.” The missile, a “liquid-fueled missile with a 1,900-km. range... was capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.” (Reuters, December 8)
What are we to assume, Mr. Secretary?
Surely that must have provided a good fact-based indication of “Iran’s future policy,” making “assumptions” somewhat superfluous.
What are we to assume, Mr. Secretary? Disturbingly, this is not the first observed launch of such a missile. Indeed, US Ambassador Samantha Power herself told the Security Council that an Iranian ballistic missile, launched on October 10, capable of delivering a nuclear weapon, was also in violation of the council’s resolutions.
In the wake of this launch, the US, Britain, France and Germany called for the Security Council’s Iran sanctions committee to take action. (Reuters, October 16) So far, no action has been taken, though Power said council members would be discussing the issue next week. (The Guardian, Dec 8) Given the months of inaction, it is difficult to disagree with chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, who condemned the lack of response to Iranian missile violations: “Iran violates UN Security Council resolutions because it knows neither this administration nor the UN Security Council is likely to take any action.”
This disconcerting lack of action in the face of blatant Iranian violations of UN resolutions make a mockery of Kerry’s attempt to justify the egregious nuclear deal he orchestrated last July.
He claimed: “It was the right thing to do...
because any effort to roll back Iran’s behavior, my friends, is a heck of a lot easier if they don’t have a nuclear weapon.” Well, this hardly seems to be borne out by the “observable facts,” Mr. Secretary, with an as yet un-nuclearized Iran blatantly thumbing its nose at the West with evident disdain... and hitherto impunity.
Accordingly, Mr. Secretary, given these disheartening realties, what assumptions should be made as to US resolve to respond to future Iranian violations of your vaunted nuclear deal?
Hardly reassuring
These past “observable facts” leave little confidence that any future breaches will be met with more robust reaction. So it is hardly reassuring when Kerry proclaims, “We will know if Iran tries to break out. I’m not telling you they might not, but I’m telling you we’ll know... [I]f it ever steps out it is in contravention of this agreement and of the Nonproliferation Treaty... and of the UN resolution, I might add.”
But as we have just seen, even if it violates UN resolutions and even if the violations are known, Iran can expect little retribution – and therefore has little incentive to desist from such violations.
It is against this background of befuddled analysis, unpersuasive prognosis and pledges palpably devoid of credibility that Kerry’s pronouncements on the Palestinian problem should be assessed.
He gushed: “... history teaches us the importance of peace, because peace is ultimately the best guarantor of security. The United States is deeply committed to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state... The only way to achieve that is through a negotiated solution that creates two states for two peoples living side by side in peace and security.”
So there you have it. The US secretary of state – who appears to think that the only way to prevent the Islamic Republic from acquiring a nuclear weapon is to guarantee it will acquire one – continues to urge us to believe, despite all “observable facts” to the contrary, that the only way to secure Jewish democracy is to establish yet another Islamic tyranny.
So they can live “side by side” in peace and harmony.
Credo quia absurdum
Rarely has a widely held political doctrine been so worthy of the oxymoronic designation Credo quia absurdum (“I believe because it is absurd”) than the bizarre principle of two-states-for-two-peoples, crammed into the narrow sliver of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Indeed, it appears that as more evidence accumulates, demonstrating how implausible and unworkable it is, the more dogmatically its adherents cling to it. The more it becomes apparent that its implementation will not only fail to achieve its declared aims, but will, in fact, induce precisely the opposite outcomes, the more it devotees insist it is an unavoidable imperative.
After all, once Israel relinquishes jurisdiction over the land designated for a “Palestinian state,” it cannot determine who will take control of it. In all past precedents, whenever the IDF evacuated territory, it invariably became a platform to launch attacks on Israel.
There is precious little to lead us to believe that these precedents will not be followed in the event of further evacuations. Idle prattle about unspecified – indeed, unspecifiable – “security arrangements,” offer cold comfort, given past “observable facts.”
Accordingly, what the US administration is urging Israel to accept is the establishment of a mega Gaza-like entity on the fringes of Greater Tel Aviv, overlooking the runways of the nation’s only international airport, abutting the Trans-Israel Highway – with an almost 500-km. border (as opposed to Gaza’s 50 km.), under which thousands of attack tunnels can be dug.
What could possibly go wrong?
So, just as in the case of the Iranian debacle, there is no need for “any assumptions about...
future [outcomes]” because based... on observable facts, on actions that we can see...” we can already foretell the plausible outcome: The emergence of a misogynistic, homophobic Muslim-majority tyranny, that will comprise a forward base for jihadi terrorism, reflect the diametric antithesis of all the noble values invoked for its establishment and precipitate the very perils it was designed to prevent.
What a splendid idea! What could possible go wrong? Precisely the same question should be raised regarding an equally far-fetched proposal raised during the Forum’s discussions by MK Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party.
There is a rather disparaging popular joke about Israeli parliamentarians, which goes something like this: Q: How do Knesset members commit suicide? A: They jump off their ego on to their IQ.
Now of course, it would be entirely inappropriate for me to suggest that this uncharitable barb is in anyway remotely reminiscent of Lapid For one thing, I have no idea what Lapid’s IQ is. After all, he has composed some excellent lyrics for several successful popular songs and was a very affable TV-news anchor. But whatever his IQ, he seems to make scant use of it before sallying forth with his political initiatives for grand strategic policy.
True, in the past I have written several columns harshly critical of Lapid. To be fair, I have never met the man, who by many accounts, is a very congenial individual, and I do not want to create the impression of a personal vendetta against him. But his proposed policies are so devoid of logical consistency (indeed, of any consistency at all) and fraught with such peril, they must be exposed (and dismissed) as the frivolous folly that they are.
As someone who – for whatever reason – has risen to considerable public prominence he should expect nothing less.
‘… what we need to do is something’
Having apparently despaired of a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians – something he avidly championed as a columnist before actively entering politics – Lapid utilized the Saban Forum to pull out a “new rabbit” from his conjurer’s hat: A compliant Sunni coalition that by some, as yet unspecified, mechanism will provide for Israel to “separate from the Palestinians.”
Of course, the briefest glance at the composition of the proposed coalition immediately conveys how foolish and futile his suggested initiative is: Saudi Arabia (the crucible of Wahhabi extremism that begot al-Qaida); the Gulf states (some of which are the leading sponsors of terrorism and provided the seed money for ISIS); Jordan (beset by a destabilizing flood of Syrian refugees, seething with discontent from domestic Islamic elements and threatened by political upheaval from radical rivals of the monarchy); and Egypt (teetering on the brink of economic disaster, wracked by jihadi insurgency, and unable to impose anything approaching law-and-order in Sinai).
One can only wonder what could possibly prompt him to advance such a patently absurd “plan” (for want of a better word) – although I do recall a New York Times interview with Lapid (May 19, 2013), which might provide a clue. In it, he expounded on his “considered” position on what should be done with regard to the Palestinian issue, telling NYT’s Jodi Rudoren: “I am saying what we need to do is something” – without elaborating on what that “something” should be.
So perhaps, according to “Lapidian logic” doing something patently pointless and perilous is better than doing nothing. Or alternatively, is it an urge to advance something – anything – that Netanyahu isn’t?
‘Opening salvo for separation?’
Lapid told the Forum, “This is a plan I have introduced... Go to a regional summit from which will be the opening salvo for a regional process that will end up with us separating from the Palestinians... [This] should happen either in Cairo, in Riyadh... you have to have the Egyptians, the Jordanians, the Saudis, the Gulf countries involved from day one...”
Readers will recall that Lapid’s Yesh Atid electoral pledges include rejecting division of Jerusalem, withdrawal from the Golan, return to pre-1967 borders and any right of return of Palestinian refugees.
Is Lapid seriously asking anyone to believe that an “opening salvo” from Riyadh or Cairo will embrace all – indeed, any – of these electoral pledges? Does he seriously believe that this coalition of the world’s most decadent/ nepotistic/anachronistic/imperiled regimes could – indeed, would – impose on the Palestinians any concessions on these issues? What role would they play in enforcing any agreement reached? And even if they did adopt such a role, surely the perception of a fleeting confluence of interest with such regimes is hardly a firm basis for making permanent and perilous concessions... especially in light of who their successors might be.
I could, of course, continue detailing the defects of this dangerous delusion, but constraints of time and space preclude...
Perhaps in a coming column.
In conclusion...
It is, perhaps, possible to imagine proclamations more moronic than some made at the recent Saban Forum – but that definitely would not be easy. We can only hope that Mr. Saban will, in future, put his considerable resources and evident goodwill to better use.
Martin Sherman ( is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. (