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

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Instant Arab-Israeli Conflict Resolution!

I think Greg Mitchell's post - harassing the US government, media and "liberal bloggers" for being silent on the Israeli attacks on Gaza - is incredibly unfair, and I would still say that if I didn't write something about it yesterday. First, he provides absolutely no examples of this silence, at least in the blogosphere. And in fact, Firedoglake has had excellent coverage, along with plenty of other foreign policy sites. Second, saying "bloggers are silent" is just a ridiculous construction, as if all political bloggers, with their varied areas of expertise, are a completely like-minded entity who have the some thoughts and experiences on all subjects. I don't really want to know Nate Silver's take on the effectiveness of Hamas mortar attacks. I'm sure he can articulate an opinion, but there's no reason to demand one. Some people know enough to stick to the topics about which they are conversant and comfortable.

Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. So I'm all too happy to give an opinion, although I recognize that nobody has an off-the-shelf solution to an intractable conflict that has lasted thousands of years, and a shade over 60 in its current incarnation. But when pressed, I would say that Israel's attacks are disproportionate, especially considering that they are in response to Hamas crude rocket attacks that have killed nobody. There is nothing that Israel is doing that will put them in any better position for peace. Inside Palestine and throughout the Arab world, hundreds of thousands if not millions will become more radicalized by this series of events, and if the IDF should "neutralize" Hamas, what will rise in its wake will be even more extreme and dedicated to Israel's destruction. Hamas itself was a product of Israel trying to find a counterbalance to the PLO (Tel Aviv aided them with direct and indirect funding). Israel has never been successful in choosing its partner for peace in Palestine, and trying to wipe out Hamas to make a deal with Fatah is just as likely to fail.

Of course, that's probably not even their goal. These attacks are far more likely a cause of petty internal politics. National elections will be held Feb. 10, and the hawkish Likuds are leading opinion polls. And so the Kadima/Labor alliance, both for their own reasons, are putting themselves to the right of Likud to win votes, no matter that hundreds die in the process. Both the Defense Minister and the Foreign Minister are seeking to run the country, leading this conflict inexorably toward further escalation. There were wider strikes today and preparations for a ground invasion.

On some level, Mitchell is correct. There is a narrow band of opinion in the United States about the Arab-Israeli conflict, something I am all too familiar with as a Jewish-American. In Israel editorialists and opinion makers are far more willing to criticize their own country's actions than we are willing to do with Israel. And yet, what happens in Israel is irrevocably tied to the United States, and treating the situation with kid gloves or silence does nobody any good, particularly those in the region feeling the impacts of endless conflict.

Here’s the bad news folks – America is involved, up to its eyeballs actually. Today, after Israeli air-strikes that killed over 200 Palestinians in Gaza, the Middle East is again seething with rage. Recruiters to the most radical of causes are again cashing in. If Osama Bin Laden is indeed a cave-dweller these days then U.S. intel should be listening out for a booming echo of laughter. Demonstrations across the Arab world and contributors to the ever-proliferating Arabic language news media and blogosphere hold the U.S., and not just Israel, responsible for what happened today (and that is a position taken, for good reasons, by sensible folk, not hard-liners). America’s allies in the region are again running for cover. America’s standing, its interests and security are all deeply affected. The U.S.-Israel relationship per se is not to blame (that is something I support), the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict is – and thankfully we can do something about that.

What I know is that while there has never been much progress in any negotiated two-state solution, what peace has been made in the Middle East, the treaties with Egypt and Jordan, have been a direct result of US engagement at the Presidential levels. Only when the United States makes an honest effort to broker peace has anything realistically been accomplished, though it has often fallen short. Recent US policy in the region has been terrible, creating the conditions for the rise of hamas by forcing elections and then trying to shut out a major coalition reflecting the popular will by supporting the blockade in Gaza and working to overthrow a popularly elected party. There needs to be a major effort undertaken to reverse that and carve out the kinds of gains that Presidents Carter and Clinton were able to achieve, building toward a greater peace which has been sadly damaged by this week's events.

But there is a bigger picture – and it is staring at the incoming Obama administration. Today’s events should be ‘exhibit A’ in why the next U.S. Government cannot leave the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to fester or try to ‘manage’ it – as long as it remains unresolved, it has a nasty habit of forcing itself onto the agenda. That can happen on terms dictated to the U.S. by the region (bad) or the U.S. can seek to set its own terms (far preferable). The new administration needs to embark upon a course of forceful regional diplomacy that breaks fundamentally from past efforts. A consensus of sorts is emerging in the U.S. foreign policy establishment that this conflict needs to be resolved – evidenced in the findings of a recent Brookings/Council of Foreign Relations Report or the powerful statements coming from elder statesmen like Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, themselves building on the findings of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. It will require tenacity and bold ideas – in framing the solution, bringing in previously excluded actors, creating mechanisms to implement a deal (such as international forces) and utilizing the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative – but the alternative is far worse, its what we see today and it guarantees ongoing instability in a region of paramount importance to the United States.

This is the problem with a Presidential election that largely sidestepped issues of foreign policy. I understand that a coming global depression will tend to do that, but instead of offering the forceful liberal alternative to neoconservative foreign policy that he hinted toward at points in the campaign, Barack Obama was content to advocate for certain goals or tactics without an underlying vision. Because of the narrowness of traditional US opinion on the subject, the natural inclination for Democrats unwilling to buck powerful lobbying interests is to repeat warmed-over Bush-lite talking points about Israel's right to self-defense and cautiously step away from the real work that needs to be done to help repair the region. Obama's failure to even come up with a statement yet is an example of this caution. That would be a grave mistake, as the hatred developed through this conflict spreads throughout the world, recruits extremists willing to use terrorism, and degrades our national security. The neoconservative idea that "the forces of good" can bomb and kill their way to dominance with no repercussions is ignorant, and official silence does presume a concurrence with that idea.

I fault no one for trying to make sense of this seemingly impossible situation before commenting, and think that it's bizarre to hold bloggers, of all people, to the standard of having to articulate something. But the newly elected leaders don't have that luxury. They must act - and in the process offer a new vision for foreign policy in the post-Bush age.

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