Tag Archives: Israel

The Intractable Riddle: US Policy in the Middle East

Middle eastern foreign policy is the one topic assured to bring the house down around the ears, no matter what position may be taken.  The continued ill-will between the Palestinians and the Israelis is at once both one of the most complex and nuanced of conflicts, and one of the most blatantly bisected into warring quarters.   Sometimes we also forget that what is foreign policy for us, is someone else’s domestic policy.

Recommended Reading

Nahum Goldmann, “The Future of Israel,” Foreign Affairs, April 1970.  There is much to be extracted from this piece, even though it is framed in Cold War terms and assumes the polarization of the Soviet Union and the United States.  Among other insightful statements, Goldmann offers the prescient comment that gains secured by force of arms are, by their very nature, transient.

The domestic politics of Israel are summarized, albeit too briefly, in Brent Sasley’s “The Domestic Politics of Israeli Peacemaking,” Foreign Policy, July 22, 2013.  A piece in the Cyprus Mail, brings the problems into sharper focus:

“Recent statements by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggest that he is increasingly aware of the fundamental dilemma that Israel is bound to face: If it holds on to the occupied territories, it will be forced to choose between being a Jewish but non-democratic state and being a democratic state but seeing the Jews become a minority in their own land. It is unclear whether this dilemma is a pressing concern for the current government, but the fact that Netanyahu brought it up is quite significant.” [CM March 11, 2014]

On the other side of the border, Hamas won the 2006 elections in Gaza, but it’s hardly the only group in play.  The Jewish Policy Center has  thumb-nail sketches of the other players in the game as they were constituted as of May 2012.  Just as there are segments of Israeli politics which are incorporated into the mix of domestic/foreign politics, there are several groups which have adherents in Gaza who are not directly associated with Hamas.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad is once such group, supported by Iran, it is apolitical and primarily interested in armed resistance to Israel, [CFR]  The Al-Quds Brigade has also made its presence known in the recent conflicts with Israel, as the armed wing of the PIJ. [Al Arabiya] Efforts to negotiate any truce or even cease fire agreements has to acknowledge that the Azzeddine el-Kasam (armed wing of Hamas) may or may not be able to control the PIJ or coordinate with it.  In sum, there is no shortage of groups of varying physical capacities, membership, affiliation, and ideological strains in Gaza. Nor is one likely to find an undated  ‘scorecard’ which includes all the possible variations.*

Our Domestic Issues

The right wing talking point of the day is that Secretary of State John Kerry is “feckless.” This category would include almost anyone who (1) isn’t following the Israeli lead unconditionally, and (2) has the temerity to suggest that there are other players in the game who have some, even small, parts which might be inserted into the script.

Consider for a moment, the last cease fire negotiated, the one in which the Egyptian government (Muslim Brotherhood) was trusted by Hamas, and could assert pressure on the government in Gaza to accept terms.  Since the ouster of the government in September 2013, the now clearly anti-Hamas Egyptian government no longer has leverage in the situation in Gaza.  Israel, no doubt would prefer to have the military government of Egypt as the interlocutor, but this seems almost like wishful thinking for times now gone in the rubble of Egyptian politics.  Secretary Kerry suggested two other interlocutors — Qatar and Turkey — which now may have more leverage with Hamas, to the fury of the Israeli press. [Haaretz]

While the shuffling and realignment of Hamas and its allies plays out the role of the Palestinian Authority remains a problem. Does acknowledging Gazan/Hamas issues necessarily diminish the clout of the Palestinian Authority?  How can we keep Egypt engaged in the peace process while accepting that the Gazan/Hamas government doesn’t have much use for their services?

Is it enough to say that a cease fire — who’s even hoping for a truce now? — mentions “addressing security issues” as an umbrella for more specific discussions, or must the agreement include particular security issues to be resolved, or at least discussed? And, by whom?

Complicating the matter even more are the charges and counter-charges shedding  more heat than light on the subject.  Even a comparatively innocuous timeline of events in Gaza drew angry fire from commenters who decried its failure to include elements of the conflict going back to the foundation of the state of Israel, and the validation of Palestinian claims after World War I. [CNN]

At the very least we have a conflict in which Goldmann’s central question from 1970 (Is Israel a democracy with a Jewish minority, or a Jewish state without a democracy?) and his secondary question, (How does one disentangle a question in which there is no right or wrong, but two rights in conflict?) both remain unanswered.

See also: Palestinian Islamic Jihad, al Quds Brigades, Fatah, PFLP  Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, Popular Resistance Committees, Salafi-Jihadist (Jaish al-Islam) and Tawid wa al-Jihad.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Israel, Middle East, Politics

War Games: Real and Imagined

The NV Rural Democratic Caucus picked up the sounds of Neo-Cons on the March. The Stove-Pipers seem desperate to have another WAR, with someone, anyone, please…”We’ll only look strong if we’re bombing someone.” Perpetual Warmonger John Bolton thinks it’s in our best interest to get directly involved in a conflict between Iran and Israel (assuming, of course, that Israel and Iran want to get into an armed conflict). [MMFA] Yesterday Faux News got its knickers in a twist over U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Rice because of insufficient bellicosity. [Crooks & Liars]

The interesting thing is, that in my experience, the same people who vociferously call for military intervention also tend to be the ones with the least actual military experience. The veterans in my circle of acquaintance are concerned that the U.S intervene directly only after all diplomatic efforts have failed, only after the aims of the operation are clear and precise, and only after due diligence has been performed in which the costs and the casualties are stringently contrasted to the rewards and objectives. They truly understand that war is not a board game like Risk, or an exciting version of a  video game — real people with real families are placed in real peril.

We use the term “war” too often. Perhaps part of the problem evidenced by the free and easy way the word is tossed around is that we use it too often in inappropriate ways.  For example, the “war on drugs” merely describes a system of law enforcement operations designed to reduce domestic consumption and to arrest, try, and convict those apprehended selling and using controlled substances.  For all the governmental agency coordination involved, this isn’t and never has been a real war.

President Lyndon Johnson wanted a war on poverty, but that too was simply a description of coordinated domestic government programs designed to ameliorate the most severe effects of poverty, such as illness, homelessness, and hunger. People die in wars, the concept of Medicare was that life would be prolonged.  However, the war motif makes issues sound every so much more grand.  Thus now we have all manner of little “wars.”

Right wing pundits created a “War On Christmas.” They creatively imagined that retailers wishing their customers “happy holidays” was part of an overarching  effort to secularize the Christmas season.  Not that this “war” stopped the American public from spending some $976 million on real trees, and another $530 million on artificial trees in 2010. [NCTA]  Nor does this “war” tend to depress church attendance during the holiday season (Advent to Christmas).  In fact, for most churches the question is how to get the holiday Christians to show up for more than just the Christmas and Easter services. [TCP]  The real battle appears to be how to get the knaves in the naves when it isn’t Christmas. The artificial fight is about something else entirely.  Sometimes it almost appears as a form of “badge earning” in order to create a specific cultural identity. Consider the following:

“The reason the War on Christmas is being fought isn’t to suppress the private practice of Christianity (at least not yet!). Rather, the intent is to destroy the link between America’s majority religion and its culture. […] Americans have a right to the American holiday of Christmas. It is part of who we are… even though some of us are not Christian. It’s time for us to stand up and reclaim it from the small majority who are trying to take it away from us!” [TWOC]

If this proposition seems not to make any sense, it’s probably because it doesn’t. However, it does hint at the mind-set that informs other culture wars. The author assumes (1) the validity of the “Christian America” perspective, and further assumes (2) that to admit diversity is to sanction tolerance. Indeed, those who do practice intolerance may be justified in believing themselves to be under attack.

How alarming it must be for the intolerant to be told they must allow a mosque or synagogue in their community?  We’ve seen a truly and remarkably preposterous “battle” over a mosque at Ground Zero, which wasn’t a mosque and wasn’t at Ground Zero. [USnews] That newspapers and magazines reported that it wasn’t a mosque and it wasn’t at Ground Zero was perceived in some quarters as a “typical liberal media” attack. These would be the quarters in which any information which does not support and confirm one’s personal perspectives is unwelcome. But, there are other “battles” to be fought.

As of March 2011 at least a dozen state legislatures saw the introduction of legislation to “ban” Sharia law.  One piece of legislation was remarkably fact-free: “A Tennessee bill, S.B. 1028, explicitly defined Sharia law as a “legal-political-military doctrine and system.” It cited the “threat of terrorism” and concern about “the replacement of America’s constitutional republic” by Islamic law.” [EthicsDaily] [ThinkProgress]  Members of the Jewish faith are rightly concerned by this xenophobic atmosphere, and noticed its implications for Judaism:

“If the state legislative initiatives targeting sharia are successful, they would gut a central tenet of American Jewish religious communal life: The ability under U.S. law to resolve differences according to halachah, or Jewish religious law.” More specifically: “A number of recent beit  din arbitrations that were taken by litigants to civil courts — on whether a batch of etrogim met kosher standards; on whether a teacher at a yeshiva was rightfully dismissed; and on the ownership of Torah scrolls — would have no standing under the proposed laws.” [JTA]

Halachah, it would seem, would be just another casualty of the Culture Wars. (In case you were wondering, “etrogim” is a citrus fruit native to Israel.) It is not that the Culture Warriors don’t have some real opposition.

Anti-choice advocates convinced AT&T to cut its charitable contributions to Planned Parenthood back in 1990. Had the Susan G. Komen Foundation leadership paid attention to what happened next they may not have been so quick to announce their decision to cut their funding for the women’s health organization.  [TPM]  All that the SGK Foundation will say for now is that it may consider funding women’s health programs related to Planned Parenthood, but this is no guarantee the organization will actually reverse its recent stand in the Culture Warrior battles. The “war” moves on to contraception.

The Obama Administration announced that health insurance companies would have to cover expenses for contraceptive prescriptions in employer paid health plans.  Catholic bishops moved to earn their badges, but may have missed the target.

This particular battle in the Culture War seems not to have all that many willing participants. Those who are willing to serve in this artificial conflict appear to be among the 26.3% of the population who constitute the white evangelical category.  While their numbers nationwide may be low, their grip on the Republican Party is solid, and this is problematic:

“What’s an even bigger shame is that Republican leaders see the aforementioned poll numbers and continue to court white evangelicals, which means the most bigoted among that pious population have no incentive to change their discriminatory ways, and our nation’s ideals, including inclusion, diversity and religious freedom, will continue to be eroded for years to come.” [D&T]

There’s another iceberg in the water as well.  By assuming the defensive positions sought by those white evangelicals who are motivated by intolerance, fearful of change, and cling to a notion of “white nationalism.” the Party is in peril of shrinking its adherents to a core which is antithetical to the very mainstream it purports to represent.

Meanwhile, American continues to be part of the continent to which Estevanico of Azamor came in 1527, becoming one of the first Muslims to visit Florida, and the first mosque was probably built by Albanian immigrant followers of Islam in Maine in 1915. The first synagogue was dedicated before the Declaration of Independence was written. [Touro] And, the self same country in which Confederate General William Dorsey Pender, advised in 1862 that his wife was unexpectedly pregnant, told her the fetus was ‘God’s will, but sent along a packet of pills the company surgeon was certain would “relieve her.” [London]

There are wars and there are games. The two should not be confused.

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