Desmond Tutu is Wrong about Marwan Barghouti (The Times of Israel, 14 June 2016)

By recommending Marwan Barghouti for the Peace Nobel Prize, Archbishop Desmond Tutu made two mistakes: firstly, by comparing the struggle of the Palestinians to that of South Africa’s Blacks; secondly, by depicting Barghouti as a peace-loving freedom fighter.

The Dutch and British colonists in South Africa were the subjects of empires that sent them to settle foreign lands on their behalf.  The Jews who resettled in their historic homeland at the end of the nineteenth century did so to gain the rights and the freedom they were denied in their host countries.  They were not sent by powers; they fled powerlessness.  The Blacks in South Africa were indigenous.  The Arabs of the Ottoman Sanjaks of Jerusalem and Beirut were themselves former colonizers: they came from Arabia, and in the 7th century conquered Jerusalem from the Byzantines.  Under Ottoman rule, there was no Palestine: this Latin word was chosen by the Romans after they destroyed the Province of Judea in 135 CE, and it was reintroduced by the League of Nations with the dismembering of the Ottoman Empire in 1922.

The Mandates established by the League on Nations (roughly along the lines of the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement) were artificial: there were no Iraqi, Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian peoples, but Arabs (many of them nomads), Kurds, Jews and other populations that became separated by new borders designed by Britain and France.  In British Palestine, both Arabs and Jews were under foreign rule and both aspired to statehood.  Precisely because the two nations had competing and incompatible claims over the same territory, partition was proposed by the Peel Commission in 1937 and by the United Nations (UN) in 1947.  In both instances, the Jewish leadership accepted partition and the Arab leadership rejected it.

The UN plan of 1947 proposed the partition of British Palestine between a “Jewish state” and an “Arab state” (and not of a “Palestinian state” since no one had ever heard of a Palestinian people at the time).  Six Arab armies attacked the newly proclaimed State of Israel to prevent the implementation of the UN proposal.  The 1949 armistice agreements partitioned the former British Mandate de facto, though not along the lines proposed by the UN.  This de facto partition was between Israel, Egypt, and Jordan.  Rather than establishing a “Palestinian state” in the territories they had conquered from the former British Mandate, and which they controlled for eighteen years (between 1949 and 1967), Jordan and Egypt kept those territories for themselves (the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, respectively).

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was established in 1964, three years before Israel took control of the West Bank and of the Gaza Strip.  What the PLO meant by “liberation” was the elimination of pre-1967 Israel.  Its purpose was not to implement partition, but to undo it.  Only in 1988 did Yassir Arafat equivocally endorse, for the first time, the principle of partition.  When he was offered a state on 92% of the West Bank in July 2000 by Ehud Barak and on 96% of the West Bank in December 2000 by Bill Clinton, he said no.  As for Mahmoud Abbas, he did not respond to an even more far-reaching offer by Ehud Olmert in September 2008.

So blaming Israel, and Israel alone, for the Palestinians’ statelessness flies in the face of historical facts and of intellectual integrity.  As for Marwan Barghouthi, is he fighting for a two-state solution or for the elimination of Israel?  Here again, Archbishop Tutu should check his facts.

Barghouti has declared many times (e.g. in a statement issued on May 15, 2014) that there shall be no peace with Israel without the “right of return.”  What the Palestinians mean by the “right of return” is that the descendants from the 700,000 Palestinians refugees of 1948 (which UNWRA estimates at 5 million today) should be entitled to become Israeli residents and citizens.  Besides having no basis in international law and no precedent in history, such a “right” is incompatible with the two-state solution, since its implementation would turn pre-1967 Israel into a binational state with an Arab majority.  In a two-state model, each nation-state absorbs its own refugees, just as Israel did with many of the 900,000 Jewish refugees expelled from Arab and Muslim countries in the 1950s.  Clearly, Barghouti’s struggle continues to deny the Jews’ right to their own nation-state.

Barghouti was the leader of the military wing of the Al-Aqsa Brigades, which carried out thousands of deadly attacks (including suicide bombings) against Israeli civilians. These deadly attacks included the murder of a Greek Orthodox monk on June 12, 2001; the murder of six Israelis during a bar-mitzvah celebration on January 7, 2002; the murder of three Israelis in a shooting spree at a Tel-Aviv restaurant on March 5, 2002.  Barghouti was also directly responsible for operating the terrorist cell of Raed Karmi in Tulkarem, which carried out many deadly attacks against Israeli civilians.

As Alan Bauer, the victim of a terrorist attack masterminded by Barghouti, wrote to President Obama in March 2014: “We cannot re-wind the clock and make the injuries and suffering disappear; the one thing we can do is to pursue justice and to do everything in our power to prevent terrorists from striking again.”  Archbishop Tutu would be well-advised to ponder those words.


My Advice to French Diplomacy (The Times of Israel, 15 May 2016)

There is something symbolic about the fact that Jean-Marc Ayrault, France’s foreign minister, visited Israel to promote his peace initiative on the day commemorated by the Palestinians as the Nakba (the “catastrophe” of Israel’s independence on May 15, 1948).  In the Palestinian national psyche, the true historical scar is the loss of lands and homes in 1948, not Israel’s seizure of the West Bank and of the Gaza Strip in 1967.  Yet Mr. Ayrault, like most of his Western colleagues, insists that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be solved by solely addressing the outcome of the 1967 war.

When Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed a Declaration of Principles in September 1993, they left open the questions of Jerusalem and of the refugees precisely because no agreement could be reached on those thorny issues.  When Jerusalem and the refugees were addressed and negotiated at Camp David in July 2000, and after the Annapolis Conference of November 2007, the gap between Israel and the Palestinians remained unbridgeable and unresolved.

The rejection by Yasser Arafat of Ehud Barak’s proposal in July 2000 and of the Clinton parameters in December 2000, and Mahmoud Abbas’ lack of response to Ehud Olmert’s September 2008 offer, have made Israelis distrustful of the Palestinian leadership (thus dealing a fatal blow to the Israeli left).  And when Israelis look around their neighborhood today, they have good reasons to wonder what is the logic of creating another failed Arab state at their doorstep.

The implosion of Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen have not only confirmed the artificiality of the post-World War One Arab states carved out of the Ottoman Empire by Britain and France.  They have also removed two formerly threatening armies from Israel’s northern and eastern fronts (Syria and Iraq).    In Egypt, the Islamic regime of Mohamed Morsi was replaced in 2014 by that of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi –thus restoring the “cold peace” and security cooperation between Israel and Egypt.  The self-proclaimed “Caliphate” of the Islamic State is still spreading mayhem around the Middle East despite nearly two years of US-led airstrikes.  The growing regional clout of Iran has forged tacit alliances between Israel and Sunni monarchies.  Meanwhile, plunging oil prices have weakened Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

Just like Richelieu’s France during the Thirty Years War, Israel can sit back and build unholy alliances as its enemies are killing each other.  In today’s Middle East, Israel has every reason to play for time.  Except, that is, when it comes to demography.  And this is where Jean-Marc Ayrault and his colleagues can play a constructive role.

The conventional wisdom of European diplomacy is that Israel should accept the so-called “Arab Peace Initiative.”  Yet this initiative is as clear-cut on the territorial issue (Israel is expected to withdraw from every inch of land conquered in 1967, something that is not even required by UN Security Resolution 242) as it is vague on the question of refugees (it calls for a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee problem, which the Palestinians interpret as a “right of return” within Israel).  If American and European diplomats want to make themselves useful and credible, they need to be equally explicit about both the territory and the refugee issues: if Israel is to abandon the West Bank, the Palestinians are to abandon the “right of return.”

Were the US and the EU to officially endorse this trade-off, Israel would have better reasons to consider a partial disengagement from the West Bank for its own demographic interest, but on the condition that the US and the EU commit to endorse a modified and more viable status quo so long as the Palestinians refuse to abandon the “right of return.”  Such trade-off will not solve the conflict, but it might give Israel an incentive to act and it might convince the Palestinians that the era of diplomatic free rides is over.  Short of such modest yet potentially far-reaching paradigm shift, Mr. Ayrault will once again confirm the French saying: “Plus ça change, et plus c’est la même chose.”

Israel’s New NGO Bill Will Reveal Hidden Agendas (Newsweek, 10 January 2016)

State Department spokesman John Kirby has publicly rejected the comparison between the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and a recently proposed Israeli bill on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) funded by foreign governments.  Kirby, however, did not explain why he rejects such comparison.  He certainly knows why: there is no explanation.  In fact, FARA is stricter than the proposed Israeli bill.

FARA requires agents who lobby on behalf of foreign governments to register with the Department of Justice, and to report their activities and finances.  The purpose of FARA is to prevent the deception of US lawmakers by lobbyists who actually act on behalf of foreign governments in order to influence US policy making and legislation.  Lobbyists who do not comply with FARA can be severely punished.  In March 2012, for example, Kashmir-born US lobbyist Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai was sentenced to two years of imprisonment by a US court for not reporting a $3.5 million donation from the Pakistani government.

The proposed Israeli bill would require Israeli NGOs that receive more than half of their funding from “foreign political entities” (i.e. the European Commission and European Governments) to make that information public whenever they lobby elected Israeli officials and whenever they publish their reports.  The proposed bill does not restrict the activities of NGOs, neither does it limit the amount of money they can receive from foreign governments.  Rather, the bill enables lawmakers to know whether or not they are being lobbied by an organization acting on behalf of foreign governments.  NGOs whose funding is mostly governmental can hardly claim to be “non-governmental” and not to promote the agenda of the governments that fund them.

In recent years, the extent of European meddling in Israeli politics via supposedly “non-governmental” organizations has reached unprecedented levels.  Both the European Commission and European governments donate dozens of millions of Euros every year to Israeli NGOs that influence Israel’s decision-making and that affect Israel’s international standing.  Some of these NGOs are active in the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) campaign; some support the so-called Palestinian “right of return” (which is incompatible with the two-state solution); some petition Israel’s High Court of Justice to amend laws passed by the Knesset (Israel’s parliament).

For example, the High Court of Justice was petitioned twice (in 2006 and in 2012) to amend Israel’s citizenship law so as to enable “family reunifications” between Israeli Arabs and Palestinians from the West Bank.  Yet the purpose of the petitioners (among them NGOs funded by European governments) was to open a back-door channel for the granting of Israeli citizenship to Palestinians (via fictitious marriages).  In 2009, European-funded Israeli NGOs actively testified to the Goldstone Commission, whose final report accused Israel of intentionally committing war crimes during its military operation in Gaza (an accusation later retracted by Judge Richard Goldstone himself).

If European governments want to influence Israel’s policies, they should do so via the accepted diplomatic channels.  If they choose to hide their game, that game should be exposed.  Under the proposed Israeli transparency bill, government-funded NGOs will continue to operate freely and to receive unlimited amounts of foreign donations.  But those NGOs will now have to reveal up-front to Israeli elected officials the identity and agenda of their backers.

A Right-Wing Eulogy of Yossi Sarid (The Times of Israel, 6 December 2015)

On 10 May 1994, Yasser Arafat declared in a Johannesburg mosque that the Oslo agreements were a modern version of the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah signed in the year 628 between Mohamed and the Kuraish tribe of Mecca (Mohamed signed this treaty for lack of better options, but once he grew in strength he broke the deal and killed his enemies).  Then Environment Minister Yossi Sarid reacted angrily to Arafat’s Johannesburg speech: “Arafat [must] declare that the grave things he said in the Johannesburg mosque are null and void and that he is standing by the agreement with Israel” he warned.
Sarid’s demand, unfortunately, made no difference: the Labor-led government elected in 1992 turned the “peace process” into an end in itself, and Arafat knew he would get away with anything. As for the Israeli left, it progressively scared off the average voter with its rhetoric and deeds. Education Minister Shulamit Aloni missed no opportunity to ridicule Judaism and to offend tradition-minded Israelis. Chief Justice Aharon Barak declared that “the enlightened ones” should be granted the last word, via the Supreme Court, about ideological controversies. Sarid himself, as Education Minister in 2000, suggested adding Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish to the curriculum of Israeli schools.
Had the Israeli left convinced Israeli voters that its policy was motivated by political realism and that its ultimate purpose was to maintain Israel’s Jewish majority, it might have kept the trust of Israel’s mainstream even after the failure of the July 2000 Camp David summit and the eruption of the second intifada. But the words and deeds of Aharon Barak, of Shulamit Aloni, and even of Yossi Sarid himself convinced hesitant voters that Oslo was not only (or even maybe not at all) about Realpolitik.
Yossi Sarid blamed Arafat for the Israeli Left’s political exile since 2000.  Sarid had a point: Arafat’s rejection of the Camp David proposal in July 2000 and of the Clinton Parameters in December 2000 dealt a fatal blow to the Israeli left — a blow from which it has not yet recovered. But the Israeli left lost the trust of most Israelis not only because of Arafat. It also lost that trust because of its arrogance and scorn. And the Israeli left does not seem to learn from its mistakes: before the 2015 elections, it threw hesitant Israeli voters into the arms of the right by hosting in one of its electoral rallies Israeli artist Yair Garboz who ridiculed traditional and religious Jews.
Yossi Sarid, in a way, encapsulated the tragedy of the Israeli left: he was brilliant and insightful, but his arrogance and obnoxiousness kept him away from power. He just couldn’t help showing disdain for the people whose votes he needed to govern.
This is a shame, because Yossi Sarid was a man of exceptional courage, integrity, and insightfulness.
He stuck to his principles even at the price of his political career. He quit Labor in 1984 because he disagreed with Shimon Peres’ decision to form a government with Likud. This principled decision cost Yossi Sarid his political life: he was 44 and was set to eventually become Labor’s chairman and, probably, Israel’s prime minister. Ten years later, as a member of Yitzhak Rabin’s cabinet, Yossi Sarid initiated the sending of an Israeli military field hospital to Zaire to save lives from the Rwandan genocide.
Sarid was one of the rare voices who opposed the first Lebanon War. Yet he was far from being indifferent to the fate of the Galilee’s residents. On the contrary: he moved with his family to the northern city of Kiryat Shmona while it was being shelled by the PLO. Back then, Sarid realized that Ariel Sharon was deceiving the government and the Israeli public about the war’s aims. Sarid’s judgement about Sharon was as accurate in 1982 and it was in 2003 when Sharon initiated the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. “The depth of the withdrawal will be proportional to the depth of the police investigation [against Sharon]” he said to MK Tvi Hendel (who unduly took credit for this typical Sarid wittiness).
As we are about to celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah, we are reminded of the Jewish civil war between Hellenized Jews and the Hasmoneans.  The controversy between the two sides has not abated. Hellenized Jews often used political realism as an excuse to abandon Judaism. Traditional Jews were so keen to preserve Judaism that they often ignored the political reality (as tragically proven by Bar-Kokhva’s revolt).
Both Israel’s right and left can and should learn a lesson from Yossi Sarid. The left must understand that you cannot insult and scare off people whose vote you solicit. The right should remember that there is a price to be paid for ignoring reality. Sarid’s voice will be missed, precisely because it was harsh.

The Academics Boycotting Israel are Misguided (Newsweek, 28 October 2015)

On October 27, the Guardian published a full-page advertisement by 343 British academics calling for the boycott of Israel until it ends its “illegal occupation” of “Palestinian land” and until it stops “resisting” any “feasible settlement.” On October 23, Professors Steven Levitsky of Harvard University and Glen Weyl of the University of Chicago published an op-ed in theWashington Post in which they called for the boycott of Israel out of “love for Israel and desire to save it.”

While the 343 British signatories claim to act out of concern for the Palestinians, the two above authors justify their move by their concern for Israel. The intentions of these 345 academics might be sincere. Their arguments less so.

Those arguments are demonstratively false: Israel does not illegally occupy “Palestinian land,” and Israel does not resist a feasible settlement with the Palestinians.

The 1949 armistice agreement between Israel and its Arab aggressors established a temporary armistice line—not a final international border—between Israel and Jordan. Jordan took control of a sizable part of the former British mandate, known today as the “West Bank”, and annexed it in 1950. This annexation was not recognized by the international community, with the exception of Britain and Pakistan. When Israel took control of the West Bank after being attacked by Jordan in June 1967, this territory had not previously been legally and legitimately under Jordanian sovereignty. Only territories conquered from a recognized sovereign state can be considered occupied.

This is why U.N. Security Resolution 242 does not require an unconditional Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines, but withdrawal “from territories” to “secure and  recognized boundaries” in exchange for peace. There is therefore nothing illegal about Israel’s partial presence in the West Bank—whose Arab population has been ruled by the Palestinian Authority since 1995—certainly as long as there is no peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Is Israel to be blamed for the absence of such an agreement? The 343 British academics and Professors Levitsky and Weyl claim so. Here also, they are wrong. When the partition of British Palestine was proposed by the Peel Commission in 1937 and then by the United Nations in 1947, it was accepted by the Jewish leadership and rejected by the Arab leadership on both occasions. At the Camp David Conference in July 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered PLO leader Yasser Arafat to establish a Palestinian state on all of the Gaza Strip and 92 percent of the West Bank, with Palestinian sovereignty over the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Arafat rejected the offer.

In December 2000, U.S. President Bill Clinton suggested to extend Palestinian statehood to 96 percent of the West Bank, over the Arab quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem, and over the Temple Mount. The Israeli government accepted the “Clinton parameters” but Arafat rejected them. In September 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, to establish a Palestinian state over the entire West Bank—with mutual land swaps and the removal of Israel’s isolated settlements—to transfer sovereignty over the Temple Mount and the “holy basin” to an international trusteeship, to accept thousands of Palestinian refugees to Israel, and to establish a safe passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Abbas said he would think about it and get back to Olmert. He never did.

Precisely because Israel despaired of the Palestinian leadership, and because Israel feared the demographic and international consequences of the status quo, it decided to act unilaterally by pulling out from the Gaza Strip in 2005. As a result, Hamas took over the vacated territory and shelled Israeli cities with dozens of thousands of missiles, thus triggering three wars—in 2008, 2012, and 2015. Were Israel to repeat the experience to the West Bank, the outcome would be similar on a worse and larger scale.

Thus is Israel in a Catch-22 situation: the Palestinians will not end the conflict no matter what Israel offers; the status quo is demographically untenable; unilateral pullout will drag Israel into recurrent wars with another and larger Hamas-run failed state.

Hence my question to Professors Levitsky and Weyl, and their British colleagues. Assuming that Israel re-submits an Olmert-like proposal to Mahmoud Abbas and that he rejects it again, and assuming that, as a result, Israel unilaterally pulls out from the West Bank. Will you, then, end your boycott of Israel? Or will you maintain it in order to protest the deadly military operations that Israel will be compelled to conduct on a regular basis in order to temporarily stop the shelling of its cities?

Unless you answer positively and convincingly to the first question, you will have a hard time convincing pragmatic Israelis like me to take bold steps just for you to book a flight again to Tel-Aviv.

John Kerry’s Irresponsible Statements about Palestinian Terrorism (I24News, 21 October 2015)

Asked about the recent wave of Palestinian terrorism, US Secretary of State John Kerry declared at Harvard University on October 13 that “you have this violence because there’s a frustration” and that “there’s been a massive increase in settlements over the course of the last years.” In other words, Arabs stab Jews out of frustration caused by the building of settlements by Israel. Kerry is flat wrong on both accounts: the current wave of violence was not caused by Israeli settlements, and there has been no massive increase in settlements over the past years.
That settlements are the cause of terrorism must have been news to Muhanad Alkobi, the Israeli Bedouin who murdered an Israeli soldier on October 18 in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba. Alkobi was himself the resident of an illegal Bedouin settlement in the Negev Desert. According to his friends’ testimonies he had become a devout Muslim and an admirer of the Islamic State, which recently expressed support for the murder of Jews by “the Mujahedin of the Al-Aqsa [Mosque]”. In one of its recently uploaded videos (accompanied by the hashtag #BeheadtheJews), the Islamic State encourages the “Mujahedin of Jerusalem” to “take the path of jihad against the Jews. Strike fear in their hearts, they are the enemies of Allah.”
The Islamic State calls for jihad against the Jews, not against settlements. So do Palestinian preachers and leaders. On October 16, Palestinian preacher Sheikh Khaled Al-Mughrabi declared: “The Children of Israel will be forced to change their plans to build the Temple inside the structure of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and will have to build it outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque… A Temple of heresy to worship the Devil … [At the End of Days] we will follow the Jews everywhere. They will not escape us … The Children of Israel will all be exterminated, the Anti-Christ will be killed and the Muslims will live in comfort for a long time.”
On October 10, Fatah (the party of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas) praised Is’haq Mresh, the 16 year-old Palestinian who stabbed two Israelis in the Old City of Jerusalem, calling him a “martyr hero” who died for the Al-Aqsa mosque. On October 12, Fatah tweeted a map of all of “Palestine” (not of the West Bank and Gaza) with the words: “My land, to you my love and my heart.” On October 13, Fatah tweeted a picture of four of the Palestinian terrorists who recently killed Israelis with the following praise: “O Martyrs, come in droves!” On October 14, Fatah posted on its Facebook account a doctored picture showing a corpse with a smiling face and the words: “We are a nation of martyrs that die with a smile on their face.” On October 18, Fatah’s Facebook page featured the cartoon of a Palestinian child kicking out a long-nosed and terrified Jew from the Temple Mount with the words: “Leave our country, our land, our sea.”
In all these statements, the murder of Jews is encouraged and death is glorified for the sake of Al-Aqsa and of “Palestine” (not only the West Bank). Settlements are nowhere mentioned.
John Kerry is not only wrong about the underlying cause of Palestinian terrorism, but also about the myth of “massive settlement expansion”.
Ahead of Israel’s 2015 elections, theJerusalem Post published (on March 11, 2015) the actual figures of settlement construction based on data provided by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. Here are the facts. Settlement constructions dropped by 52% in 2014 compared to the previous year; 9,216 Jewish homes were built in the West Bank between 2009 and 2014 (an average of 1,536 a year), as opposed to 11,366 between 2003 and 2008 (an average of 1,894 a year), meaning that there has been a 19% decrease in settlement construction under Netanyahu (since 2009). So Netanyahu was correct when he declared at the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem on October 20 that that there has been less settlement building under his premiership than under that of his predecessors. Indeed, it is no coincidence he has been criticized by settlement mayors for building less than his predecessors.
As the Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry has responsibilities and duties that include thinking before talking and checking facts. Kerry does neither.

The Clash of Islamizations? (I24News, 14 October 2015)

Foreign attitudes to civil wars provide a useful way of understanding international relations. The Syrian civil war is no exception, though what it reveals about the current state of world politics is exceptionally dire.
During the American Civil War (1861-1865), Britain and France were first tempted to side with the Confederates but were deterred by Russia. The Russian-British rivalry of post-Napoleonic Europe, and US animosity toward the former colonial power and enemy, produced a de-facto entente between America and Russia (a collusion predicted by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America). Had it not been for the risk of finding themselves at war with Russia, Britain and France would likely have fought with the Confederates. In 1861, when the American Civil War erupted, Russian Czar Alexander II emancipated the 23 million serfs of the Russian Empire. The war was about emancipation versus colonial rule. Britain and France were eager to prevent the emergence of a world order likely to undermine their power.
During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the French and British democracies sided (platonically) with the Spanish republicans, while the German and Italian dictatorships actively supported the Spanish nationalists. European powers took sides along ideological lines. During the Yugoslavian Civil War (1991-2001), countries took sides along ethnic and religious lines: Muslim countries sided with the Muslim Bosnians; Russia supported its Slavic and Orthodox Serbian brethren; the Vatican (soon followed by European countries) recognized the Catholic republics of Slovenia and Croatia. In light of the contrast between the motivations of foreign attitudes to the Spanish and Yugoslavian civil wars, American political scientist Samuel Huntington claimed in 1993 that ideological conflicts were about to be replaced by “clashes of civilizations.”
In the case of the Syrian civil war (which started in 2011), we are witnessing a “clash of Islamizations,” with the Sunni Islamic State (and other rebel groups) fighting the Shia Alawite regime of Bashir Assad. Unsurprisingly, Muslim countries are taking sides along the Sunni/Shia divide, with Iran supporting Assad and with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar demanding his departure.
Not only does the Syrian war reveal a “clash of civilizations” within the Muslim world, but also the collapse of the “new world order” that was supposed to have emerged from the end of the Cold War. The fact that NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 without a Security Council resolution was telling about the balance of powers between Russia and the West: the former was helpless and the latter was unstoppable. Today, the situation is almost reverse. Russia’s military intervention is actually helping Assad, while US airstrikes have been unable (for a year) to repel the Islamic State. As for international law, foreign powers don’t even pretend to care about it: neither the United States not Russia bothered to secure a Security Council resolution before using military force in Syria.
Foreign attitudes to the Syrian civil war, in other words, reveal a new global disorder in which the Middle East is the world’s most dysfunctional, explosive, and violent region. Yet even in the chaotic Middle East, people have learned whom not to trust and whom not to fear: the United States of America. President Obama dropped his Egyptian ally Hosni Mubarak after the latter shot demonstrators, but when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did just that Obama said it was none of America’s business. The message? In the Middle East, the common practice of killing your subjects will only cost you your job if America is your ally. Vladimir Putin, by contrast, is far less picky. As Assad can testify, making 200,000 victims, millions of refugees, and gazing your own people will not cost you the support of Russia. It is fair to assume that our region’s autocrats took notice.
As Noah Rothman recently wrote in Commentary Magazine: “This is not the Cold War, It’s Worse.” During the Cold War, American and Russian fighters would not have bombed different targets in a same country, and Russian planes would not have violated the airspace of a NATO member (as just happened in Turkey).
If foreign attitudes to civil wars provide a useful way of understanding international relations, then the grim conclusion from the Syrian inferno is that the loss of American leadership in the Middle East is unprecedented and might be irreparable.

Why Palestinian Terrorists Target Civilians (I24News, 7 October 2015)

Last week, Eitam Henkin and his wife Naama were murdered in front of their four children on their way home. I had the privilege of meeting Eitam, as he attended a class I taught on Alexis de Tocqueville at the Kohelet Policy Forum. Eitam was a learned scholar, a gentle soul, and a righteous man. He had authored two books and dozens of articles on Jewish law, and was completing a doctorate in history at Tel-Aviv University. Eitam and his wife were murdered right before the Shabbat when the Book of Ecclesiastes (“Kohelet”) is read in synagogues. Kohelet states that “there is a just man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his like in his wickedness” (Eccl. 7, 15), but does not claim to have an explanation.
The question of why Eitam and Naama were murdered is not only philosophical but also political. For the Palestinians and their many apologists in the West, the Henkins brought this tragedy upon themselves by being the willing agents of “the occupation.” The Palestinian Authority (PA) did not condemn the crime, because it considers it “a legitimate act of resistance.” When, two days after the murder of the Henkins, Nehemia Lavi and Aharon Banito were stabbed to death in the Old City of Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority only deplored the shooting of their assailant. PA spokesman Ihab Bseiso added that “The only solution is the end of the Israeli occupation of our occupied Palestinian land and the establishment of our independent state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.” In other words, terrorism will end when Israel relinquishes every inch of land in conquered during the Six Day War.
This is a lie.
Eighty-six years ago, in August 1929, 133 Jews were murdered by Arabs in Jerusalem, in Hebron, and in Safed. There was no “Israeli occupation” at the time. The reason why Jews were murdered in the Old City of Jerusalem in August 1929 and in October 2015 is, in fact, identical: Palestinian leaders ignited the violence by falsely accusing the Jews of “defiling” the Al-Aqsa mosque.
In 1929, Haj Amin al Husseini (the Mufti of Jerusalem and Nazi collaborator praised as a “hero” by PLO chief Yasser Arafat) distributed leaflets with doctored photographs accusing the Jews of planning to take over the Al-Aqsa mosque. On 16 September 2015, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas declared the following: “We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah, Allah willing. Every Martyr (Shahid) will reach Paradise, and everyone wounded will be rewarded by Allah. The Al-Aqsa Mosque is ours, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is ours, and they [the Jews] have no right to defile them with their filthy feet. We will not allow them to, and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem.”
It should therefore come as no surprise that Muhannad Halabi, the 19 year-old Arab murderer who stabbed two Jews to death in Jerusalem’s Old City this past Saturday night, wrote the following on his Facebook page before committing his crime: “What is happening to the Al-Aqsa Mosque is what is happening to our holy places and the way of our Prophet.” Halabi was incited, and he acted accordingly. He did not write that what had motivated him was the establishment of an independent Arab state within the armistice lines that used to separate Israel from Jordan. His targeted victims were not military but civilian. His motivation was not political but religious.
The same applies to the murderers of Eitam and Naama Henkin. As members of Hamas, they do not strive for the establishment of an additional Arab state alongside Israel, but for an Islamic state “over every inch of Palestine” (Article 6 of the Hamas charter) where no Jew (and no Christian) will be allowed. Hamas’ Charter quotes the famous Al-Bukhari “hadith” (a statement not included in the Coran but attributed to Mohamed): “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems kill the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.” According to a poll conducted by Stanley Greenberg in July 2011, 73% of Palestinians agree with this hadith (as reported by The Jerusalem Post on 15 July 2011). It is no coincidence if the targets of Palestinian terrorism are civilian.
As in 1929, the murder of Jews today is motivated by libelous incitement and by religious belief –both of which existed before the establishment of the State of Israel, and both of which would still exist even if Israel were to withdraw from every inch of land it conquered in June 1967.

Why Putin is Coming to Assad’s Rescue (I24News, 17 September 2015)

Russia’s recent buildup in Syria includes battle tanks, military advisers, security guards and portable housing units for the building of a military base in the coastal town of Latakia (a stronghold of Bashar Assad). White House spokesman Josh Earnest claims that the motivation driving Vladimir Putin’s renewed support of Assad “are rather hard to discern.” But are they?
After the conclusion of the nuclear deal between world powers and Iran, President Barack Obama declared that he had been pleasantly surprised by Moscow’s constructive role in amending Iran’s positions. As I explained in a previous column, Russia has an economic interest in ending Iran’s international isolation in order to build up a natural gas cartel. To guarantee Tehran’s cooperation on future coordinated gas exports, Russia must maintain Iranian interests in Syria – and that means preserving Assad’s partial control of what is left of Syria.
Putin’s decision also seems to have been influenced by the inconclusive results of US-led airstrikes against the Islamic State (IS). In September 2014, Obama announced the launching of airstrikes against IS to “degrade, and ultimately destroy” it. One year later exactly, this objective is far from being achieved. The Islamic State is holding its ground and has even expanded in the past few months. Putin seems to be calculating that, if the US is not able to degrade (let alone destroy) IS after one year of military action, then Russia must take care of its own interests in Syria by preserving what is left of Assad’s strongholds. True, Britain, France and Australia have joined, or are about to join, the US airstrikes against IS, but Putin has good reasons to doubt that this will constitute a game-changer.
Assad’s recent setbacks (which include the loss of an important airbase south of Aleppo on September 9) are a source of concern both for Putin and Obama, though for different reasons. For Putin, those setbacks are a clear indication that Assad could now be gone at any time. For Obama, it reveals the inefficiency of his military strategy, since the airbase south of Aleppo was captured by Jabhat al-Nusra, which is the target of American airstrikes.
Putin obviously realizes that no amount of Russian weaponry will enable Assad to reconquer all of Syria. Even if such an option existed, doing so would dangerously escalate tensions with the West. Like his predecessors, Putin knows his limits. But he also knows that a de facto partition of Syria is likely to have one thing in common with the de facto partition of the Ukraine: the West will oppose it in words and even in deeds (with economic sanctions), but acquiesce to it for lack of better options. In Syria, such de facto partition will be along the lines of an Alawi-dominated coastal strip that will hook up with a Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon.
Putin also understands that the West has cornered itself into a Catch 22 situation with Iran. If the Obama Administration doesn’t want to derail the nuclear deal from the onset, it cannot openly challenge Iran’s fundamental interests. In the Middle East, those interests include the partial maintenance of Assad. On September 7, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif dissipated doubts about Iran’s endgame in Syria by declaring that “those who set conditions about the Syrian president should be blamed for the continued war.” As for European leaders, they claim to want Assad’s departure for the benefit of “democratic forces,” but they will be the first to acquiesce to Assad’s maintenance if doing so proves to be the only way to end the flow of Syrian refugees. If Assad loses Aleppo, more Syrian refugees will flee for Europe.
Putin’s motivations are thus not “hard to discern” at all. At this point, he has every reason to believe that the West will not defeat IS but that IS might soon defeat Assad. Putin, moreover, understands that the Obama Administration is so determined to implement the nuclear deal with Iran that it will be tolerant of Iran’s support for Assad. As for Europe, Putin knows that it will agree to Assad’s continued rule if he proves able and willing to end the flood of Syrian refugees. Putin is a shrewd tactician who has become an expert in playing Western fears, inconsistencies and duplicity to his advantage.

Can Europe Afford to Write Off Assad? (I24News, 9 September 2015)

As a Jew, I have a hard time with the idea that boarding an overcrowded train to Germany has come to symbolize hope for survivors. “I am happy that Germany has become a country that many people outside of Germany now associate with hope,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. What a historical twist. And what an understatement.
With hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees entering the Old Continent, and with many more likely to follow, European governments are trying to figure out how to provide food, shelter and legal status for the newcomers. Increasingly they are also trying to figure out how to stop the influx. For four years, Europe has looked the other way as the civil war in Syria killed an estimated 300,000 people and made four million refugees. Now that some of those refugees are entering Europe, the source of the problem can no longer be ignored. But how should it be addressed?
To their credit, European governments tried to stay out of the Syrian quagmire precisely because of its intractability. Winston Churchill said after the 1941 German invasion of Russia that “if Hitler invaded hell, I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.” Picking a lesser evil is a no-brainer, and a necessity, when you fight for your life. As long as European interests were not at stake, European governments could hardly be blamed for avoiding to take sides between Assad and IS. The flow of migrants, and the heartbreaking image of a toddler found dead on a beach, leave no room for dithering.
Hence the growing, yet still timid, calls from European leaders to go fight IS in Syria. French President François Hollande has announced that his country is considering airstrikes against the organization. Britain has conducted its first armed drone strike in Syria. French parliamentarian (and presidential hopeful) Bruno Le Maire is calling for a French-led ground military operation against IS. The influx of Syrian refugees is undoubtedly concentrating European minds. Yet even the most gung-ho Europeans have two problems: a. they are in denial about the fact that bombing IS means helping Assad; b. cuts in military spending have seriously affected Europe’s ability to fight and destroy the organization.
Hollande declared that France will both bombard IS and demand Assad’s departure. This is wishful thinking. According to recent media reports, Russia has recently increased its military support for Assad. Since the signature of the Vienna accord on Iran’s military program in July, there are also reports of increased cooperation between Moscow and Tehran to preserve what is left of Assad’s regime. If Western powers want Iran’s cooperation on the Vienna agreement, toppling Assad is simply off the table. And airstrikes against IS benefit Assad, whether those airstrikes are conducted by the United States, by Britain or by France.
Europe’s second problem is that it is barely meeting NATO’s target for military spending. In her memoirs “Downing Street Years”, Margaret Thatcher laments that Britain, having previously exaggerated its power, now exaggerates its impotence. This impotence, however, is hardly exaggerated: it is both real and self-inflicted. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Europeans adopted the “end of history” psyche, assuming they could safely turn into one big Switzerland and cut military spending. Two-and-a-half decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, Europe is facing an aggressive Russia and an Islamic threat with reduced military means.
Military spending is 3.5% of GDP in the US, 4.5% in Russia, 2.2 % both in France and Britain, and 1.2% in Germany. In 2014, Russia’s military spending increased by 8.3%, but France’s and Britain’s decreased. In December 2014, British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced that his country would not meet NATO’s target of dedicating 2% of GDP to military spending. The Economist reported in April 2015 that Britain might cut its military spending by 10% over the next five years. France is mired in economic stagnation. Germany is wealthy but aging and pacifist.
In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt reportedly said about Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, “He might be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” What Roosevelt meant by this is that Somoza was indeed a ruthless dictator, but that he also happened to be anti-communist. If Europe wants to end the influx of Syrian refugees, it might have no other choice than to adopt the “our son of a bitch” policy vis-à-vis Assad.