As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Israel is negotiating with Syria.

After eight years of stalemate and periodic tension, Israel and Syria announced Wednesday that they have launched “serious and continuous” indirect peace talks aimed at ending one of the region’s longest-running disputes.

In identical statements issued from Damascus and Jerusalem, the rival neighbors said that they are taking part in indirect negotiations with Turkish diplomats serving as mediators.

“The two sides stated their intention to conduct these talks in good faith and with an open mind,” according to the statement. “They decided to pursue the dialogue between them in a serious and continuous way, in order to achieve the goal of comprehensive peace.”

If successful, the talks could lead to a broader shift in regional dynamics by returning the Golan Heights to Syria, cutting off critical support for Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, and diminishing the influence of Iran in the region.

Yes, apparently talking to enemies can do all of that. Syria has always been the wild-card in the Middle East, wanting to get out from the shadow of Iran and assert themselves independently, and also rationally believing that the return of the Golan Heights is a satisfactory trade for ending the cycle of violence. Israel doesn't need additional enemies and wants to stop the flow of materials to Hezbollah. So both sides are acting in their own interests to forge a compromise.

That's called diplomacy. And it may be a foreign concept to George Bush and John McCain, but it's certainly not inside Israel, where the range of attitudes about negotiation are far broader than what you would expect if you've been fed on a steady diet of articles from Commentary and Fox News.

There are some Jews who would be made anxious by Mr. Obama even if he changed his first name to Baruch and had his bar mitzvah on Masada. But after speaking with him it struck me that, by the standards of rhetorical correctness maintained by such groups as the Conference of Presidents and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, Mr. Obama is actually more pro-Israel than either Ehud Olmert or Ehud Barak. (To say nothing of John McCain and President George W. Bush, who spoke to the Knesset last week about external threats to Israel’s safety but made no mention of the country’s missteps.)

This is an existentially unhealthy state of affairs. I am not wishing that the next president be hostile to Israel, God forbid. But what Israel needs is an American president who not only helps defend it against the existential threat posed by Iran and Islamic fundamentalism, but helps it to come to grips with the existential threat from within. A pro-Israel president today would be one who prods the Jewish state — publicly, continuously and vociferously — to create conditions on the West Bank that would allow for the birth of a moderate Palestinian state. Most American Jewish leaders are opposed, not without reason, to negotiations with Hamas, but if the moderates aren’t strengthened, Hamas will be the only party left.

And the best way to bring about the birth of a Palestinian state is to reverse — not merely halt, but reverse — the West Bank settlement project. The dismantling of settlements is the one step that would buttress the dwindling band of Palestinian moderates in their struggle against the fundamentalists of Hamas.

The myopia in the neoconservative community when it comes to Israel is so destructive to that nation's survival. A binational Arab-Israeli state is untenable. A moderate Palestinian state in the West Bank is the only viable solution. And ending the settlement project is the only path to peace, along with a negotiated settlement on a two-state solution.

This type of negotiation is treachery in the neocon circles. But the track record for their worldview is grim.

The United States really only has two experiences with a sustained effort at the Bush/McCain approach to diplomacy. One would be our effort to deny recognition to Communist China during the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations. This, it's generally acknowledged, was a strategic fiasco that denied us the opportunity to gain leverage vis-à-vis the Soviet Union [...] The other is our fifty year effort to starve the people of Cuba into rebelling against Fidel Castro. McCain actually defends continuing this policy, but everyone with a functioning brain understands that it's been a ludicrous failure. So that's the path Bush has been taking with Syria and Iran and used to take with North Korea. McCain wants to keep on taking it, put North Korea back under the interdict, and perhaps add Russia to the disfavored list. Like McCain's apparent belief that it would be better if we'd spent another decade or two fighting in Vietnam, it really calls into question whether he has any understanding of what he's talking about.

Of course, it's easier to shout words divorced from their meaning like "appeasement!" and run against Democrats by saying they will ruin society and give in to terrorists. That used to be a decent political strategy, but as a fundamental policy doctrine it's disastrous and the consequences are grave.

P.S. Lebanon's government has made some sort of deal with Hezbollah. More appeasers.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,