Friday, May 27, 2011

Dispatch Assad to the dustbin of history

From National Review Online, May 24, 2011by Daniel Pipes:
The revolt in Syria offers great opportunities, humanitarian and geo-political. Western states should quickly and robustly seize the moment to dispatch strongman Bashar al-Assad and his accomplice. Many benefits will follow when they reach their appointed dustbin of history.

Syrians pulling down pictures of al-Assads, Bashar (left) and his father Hafez.
Foreign: The malign but tactically brilliant Hafez al-Assad blighted the Middle East with disproportionate Syrian influence for decades. His son, the feckless Bashar, has continued this pattern since 2000 by sending terrorists to Iraq, murdering Lebanon's prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, overthrowing his son Saad, aiding the Hezbollah and Hamas terror groups, and developing chemical and nuclear weapons. His riddance will be a universal boon.

But Bashar's main role internationally is serving as Tehran's premier ally. Despite Westerners usually seeing the Syrian-Iranian alliance as a flimsy marriage of convenience, it has lasted over thirty years, enduring shifts in personnel and circumstances, due to what Jubin Goodarzi in 2006 called the two parties' "broader, long-term strategic concerns derived from their national security priorities."
The Syrian intifada has already weakened the Iranian-led "resistance bloc" by exacerbating political distancing Tehran from Assad and fomenting divisions in the Iranian leadership. Syrian protesters are burning the Iranian flag; were (Sunni) Islamists to take power in Damascus they would terminate the Iranian connection, seriously impairing the mullah's grandiose ambitions.

Kurds protesting for citizenship in Qamishli, Syria, in April 2011.
The end of Assad's rule points to other important consequences. Bashar and the ruling Islamist AK party in Turkey have developed such close relations that some analysts see the Assad regime's removal leading to a collapse of Ankara's entire Middle East policy. Also, unrest among the Kurds of Syria could lead to their greater autonomy that would in turn encourage co-ethnics in Anatolia to demand an independent state, a prospect that so worries Ankara, it sent a stream of high level visitors to Damascus and urgently pushed a counter-insurgency accord on it.

Turmoil in Syria offers relief for Lebanon, which has been under the Syrian thumb since 1976. Similarly, a distracted Damascus permits Israeli strategists, at least temporarily, to focus attention on the country's many other foreign problems.

Domestic: In a smug interview discussing developments in Tunisia and Egypt, and just weeks before his own country erupted on March 15, Bashar al-Assad explained the misery also facing his own subjects: "Whenever you have an uprising, it is self-evident that to say that you have anger [which] feeds on desperation."

The word desperation nicely summarizes the Syrian people's lot; since 1970, the Assad dynasty has dominated Syria with a Stalinist fist only slightly less oppressive than that of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Poverty, expropriation, corruption, stasis, oppression, fear, isolation, Islamism, torture, and massacre are the hallmarks of Assad rule.

Vogue's puff-piece on the wife of Bashar al-Assad in its March 2011 issue.
Thanks to Western greed and gullibility, however, outsiders rarely realize the full extent of this reality. On one hand, the Syrian regime financially supports the Centre for Syrian Studies at the University of St Andrews. On the other, an informal Syria lobby exists. Thus, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refers to Bashar al-Assad as a "reformer" and Vogue magazine publishes a puff-piece on the tyrant's wife, "Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert" (calling her "glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies").

One potential danger resulting from regime change must be noted. Expect not a relatively gentle coup d'état as in Tunisia or Egypt but a thorough-going revolution directed not only against the Assad clan but also the Alawi community from which it comes. Alawis, a secretive post-Islamic sect making up about one-eighth of the Syrian population, have dominated the government since 1966, arousing deep hostility among the majority Sunnis. Sunnis carry out the intifada and Alawis do the dirty work of repressing and killing them. This tension could fuel a bloodbath and even civil war, possibilities that outside powers must recognize and prepare for.

As impasse persists in Syria, with protesters filling the streets and the regime killing them, Western policy can make a decisive difference. Steven Coll of the New Yorker is right that "The time for hopeful bargaining with Assad has passed." Time has come to brush aside fears of instability for, as analyst Lee Smith rightly observes, "It can't get any worse than the Assads' regime." Time has come to push Bashar from power, to protect innocent Alawis, and to deal with "the devil we don't know."

Netanyau's masterful response to Obama

Israel's 'leftist intelligenstia" - shooting ourselves in the foot

From an email, 27 May 2011, by Martin Sherman:

...Despite some generally praiseworthy performances of  the prime minister on his visit to the US  - at his press conference with president Obama, in his speech  at the  AIPAC convention  and his address to Congress -  Netanyahu is being vilified in much of the Israeli  press by leading opinion makers  - for the responsible and resolute positions he took on several central issues.
Prominent Israeli journalists and academics have flayed him for not capitulating to unreasonable demands, for not committing to irresponsible concessions - and thereby for allegedly “endangering Israel’s relationship with the US”. 

Indeed, somewhat perversely - albeit  not unpredictably - the mainstream media in Israel is arguably more critical of Netanyahu than the mainstream press in the US ...

As the level-headed  Israel Harel pointed out in his recent perceptive article  Israeli opposition should recognize Netanyahu's U.S. victory

Even CNN did not hesitate to heap praise on Netanyahu. And The Washington Post last week attacked Obama for his attitude toward Israel.

...It is in this context I refer you to the latest article of the ever-incisive Caroline Glick ...  In her Jerusalem Post piece,  "Obama's diversionary tactics" Glick succinctly points out that :

"Obama would never have been able to create his diversion from the unwelcome fact of Palestinian duplicity and rejectionism, to imaginary problem with the size of Israel without the enthusiastic support given to him by the Israeli Left....the Israeli Left responded to Obama's full-scale assault on Israel's legitimacy by launching a full-scale partisan assault on Netanyahu"
Israel Harel echoes these sentiments in his previously cited article - and elaborates :

Only in Israel...are such reactions possible: Members of both the American Houses of Congress applaud the prime minister of the Jewish state, rising to their feet time after time to emphasize their agreement with what he says, and the hearts of most Israeli commentators turn sour[!!!]

 The peak of the fury came when Netanyahu declared, to the sounds of the most prolonged applause registered during the entire speech, that the Jewish people has an ancestral right to the land of its forefathers and it is not an occupier in Judea and Samaria.

 Netanyahu's opponents…are full of frustration at his having succeeded in winning the heart of Congress and moderating the pressure from the White House. Is it any wonder the Palestinians waited for the disappointed reactions in Israel in order to recite them in their entirety?

 The aim of the pens that took aim at Netanyahu was to minimize his important diplomatic achievement. They cannot forgive him for having proved that also standing on basic principles can enlist America's support, and to that end there is no need for total surrender...

...Without a clear understanding of the pernicious part played by the powerful "intellectual elites", it is impossible to understand or to make sense of events in Israel over the last two decades...

Palestine Declares Independence and Its Currency Is: the Israeli Shekel?

From Hudson New York, May 25, 2011, by Malcolm Lowe:
Worldwide euphoria has been generated by the Palestinian threat to "declare independence" in September 2011. Never mind that Palestine no longer has a legitimately elected parliament or president, thus no legitimate government. From Syria westward, the Arabs are governed by illegitimate regimes. Why not add one more?
Money, however, is a reality that no euphoria can survive. The money that circulates under the Palestinian Authority (PA) is the Israeli new shekel. The interest rates set monthly by the Bank of Israel dictate Palestinian financial policy. As long as this continues, Palestinian claims of "independence" will be a sham, a joke.

How much of a joke it will be was recently underlined by the quick collapse of a Palestinian publicity stunt. In March 2011, two clever dicks in Ramallah started an internet campaign calling on Palestinians to write "Free Palestine" on Israeli banknotes. The scheme collapsed within forty-eight hours when the Palestinian banks, none other, announced that they would refuse to honor the defaced currency. Why? Because they were concerned that Israeli banks would not honor it. As in many countries, it is a crime in Israel to write anything on banknotes. Whoever did write "Free Palestine" on the money in their pockets just made it worthless.

Consider also this: banks are constantly in need of new cash, and not merely because banknotes wear out and coins get lost. So one of the commodities that Israel supplies to Gaza, along with flour and toilet paper, is freshly printed shekel notes. Without them, Gaza's Hamas government would see economic life under its rule gradually becoming paralyzed. Israel has to supply its currency to Gaza and Hamas cannot refuse it.

Curiously, for the 2006 parliamentary elections Hamas adopted a platform that included a pledge to "mint Palestinian currency." But Hamas shelved that pledge when it formed a government after winning the elections; it has ignored it since seizing absolute power in Gaza in 2007.

It is amazing that amid all the buzz in the "international community" about whether Palestine is ready for independence, the question of a currency for Palestine has not been featured at all. Now that the head of the International Monetary Fund has been thrown into jail, the question is even less likely to be considered.

Apart from the occasional academic study, the only people who seem to have taken the problem seriously are a few officials in the Palestinian Monetary Authority (PMA). This is a body that most people have never heard of. It was set up as part of the Oslo Accords with the remit of authorizing and supervising banks under the PA. Should Palestine genuinely become independent, the PMA would have to be transformed into its central bank.

Last January, the PMA made a briefly noticed announcement that it was planning the creation of a Palestinian currency. So far as is known, however, Palestinian banknotes are not being printed secretly in preparation for a big surprise in September 2011. The only decision made was to choose a name: the Palestinian pound. That is, they wish to revive the currency of the British Mandate in Palestine. It is another manifestation of the fundamental Palestine aspiration of turning the clock back to a time when Israel did not exist.

Most Palestinians would doubtless embrace the Palestinian pound with the same enthusiasm as met the "Free Palestine" campaign. And they would not realize, until maybe too late, that they might be endangering not just some notes in their pockets but their whole financial existence.

At present, as determined also by the Oslo Accords, three currencies are legal tender under the Palestinian authority: the Israeli new shekel, the Jordanian dinar and the US dollar. With the revival of the Palestinian pound, it is to be expected that the PA, out of national pride, will declare this to be the only permitted currency and demand that all bank accounts be converted into it. Thereafter, all would depend on Palestinian financial probity, which is not a highly valued item. If the Palestinian pound collapsed in the manner of the Zimbabwean dollar, the savings of Palestinians could be wiped out.

Recall that after Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation agreement in April 2011, the Israeli finance minister briefly suspended the transfer to the PA of tax revenues collected on its behalf. The result was that the Palestinian government, which is the biggest employer by far under the PA, could not pay monthly salaries for May 2011. Had the Palestinian pound been in place, no problem: the Palestinians could just have printed lots more money. Of course, the exchange rate of their currency would then have plummeted against all others.

Israel's suspension of those transfers aroused the world. Less remembered today are much more serious and prolonged suspensions of Palestinian finance. After the Hamas won the Palestinian elections of 2006 and a Hamas-led government took over, not just Israel but also the US, Canada and the EU froze all funds to the PA. The resulting financial crisis forced the Hamas prime minister to resign in January 2007. Then a unity government briefly existed until June 2007, after which Hamas ruled Gaza but was suppressed in the West Bank. These developments enabled the donors to resume the supply of funds to the PA.

The EU has also used the threat of suspending financial aid to pressure the PA to reduce an ever-growing number of public sector employees. Were the PA to be paying them with its own currency, however, the greater pressure would come from a Palestinian public eager for state jobs.

For many European political decision makers, the existence of any such problem has been obscured by the introduction of the euro a decade ago. If, say, the government of the Basque region of Spain were to declare unilateral independence, then independent Euskadi might face many obstacles, but a currency would not be one of them. It would obviously continue to use the euro as at present.

Indeed, this was the model adopted by the Kosovo government in its bid for independence in 2008. It had already adopted the German mark in 1999 and made the switch to the euro along with Germany. This was relatively easy, since the other countries in the area of Kosovo have either already adopted the euro, like its neighbour Montenegro, or aspire to do so in the future.

Palestine, however, is a long way from the euro zone and even further from the US. Consider its neighbors. The Israeli new shekel has fluctuated considerably against the euro and the US dollar, but it has been strengthening against both in recent years. On the other hand, the Jordanian dinar has gradually declined from about 1.6 euro a decade ago to 1.0 euro at present. The Egyptian pound has fallen by nearly two thirds against the euro in that time.

Obviously, the economies of all three countries are far from being in synch with the euro or with each other. In particular, if Egypt had been on the euro, it would have been forced to adopt the same drastic measures as Greece currently, precipitating an earlier collapse of the Mubarak regime. But even the pound sterling has fluctuated markedly against the euro, although only twenty miles separate the UK from France. The channel tunnel has not prevented that.

All this shows that the euro or dollar is a non-starter for Palestine, although the head of the PMA has floated the idea of pegging the Palestinian pound to one of them. Sooner or later, the pegging would come unstuck, probably with a big crash. There would also be rich pickings to be made by Palestinian insiders. Remember how George Soros reportedly made a billion dollars, betting on the collapse of the pegging of the pound sterling to the European Currency Unit (the predecessor of the euro). That pegging had survived a mere two years.

Likewise, even if Palestine adopted a neighboring currency, this would have various major consequences, depending on the choice made. Besides the fluctuations mentioned, the there are differences of GDP. The GDP of the Palestinian territories is currently about a quarter of that of Jordan; it is a mere thirtieth of that of either Israel or Egypt. Thus Palestine would have limited impact within a currency union with Jordan; it has none in its current union with Israel.

On the other hand, any replacement of the Israeli new shekel would disrupt many financial transactions that are currently easy. These include not just the disruptions that would occur if European countries reverted from the euro to national currencies. There would also be complications for the cosy arrangements that accompany EU donations to the PA.

At present, the EU contributes large amounts of money for Palestinian government salaries. The Palestinians spend a lot of that money on Israeli products, while Israelis spend a lot of their money on European ones. So Israel has a large trade surplus with Palestine and a large deficit with the EU, but everyone is happy except, maybe, some European taxpayers. Obviously, the use of the Israeli currency by Palestinians facilitates this cycle of payments.

All in all, the currency is a major issue for any kind of independent Palestine. So far, it has been ignored by the relevant political decision makers, whether locally or internationally. As long as that is the case, talk of Palestinian independence remains a bluff.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Saudi Arabia and USA: incompatible values, but still bedfellows

From BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 140, May 23, 2011, by Dr. Joshua Teitelbaum*:

[brief excerpts only - follow the link to read the full article]

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Many in the West have looked upon the “Arab Spring” with hopeful optimism. But for the rulers of Riyadh the Arab Spring’s primary result has been a shaking of the strategic foundation and alignments that have shaped Saudi regional policy since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The Saudis had previously believed that they were the leaders, with US backing, of a united Sunni coalition against Shiite Iran. Now its partners have fallen by the wayside – Egypt appears to be dropping out, Bahrain is threatened, and the US is wobbly. And, US President Obama’s speech on May 19 did not calm the Saudis down.

This is certainly a rocky period in Riyadh-Washington relations. As the US struggles to align its interests with its values, it finds it more difficult to support authoritarian monarchies like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

But values and interests do not neatly align themselves in international relations. While the US wants to favor democracy and oppose authoritarianism, the authoritarian Islamic regime in Riyadh still plays an integral role in long-term stability and assuring oil supply.

In October 2010, the US announced an arms deal with the kingdom worth over $60 billion. In early April 2011, the US Navy disclosed that Saudi Arabia had asked the US to prepare a proposal for the supply of warships with integrated air and Aegis missile defense systems, as well as helicopters, patrol craft and shore infrastructure. Even if this latter deal does not go through, it demonstrates that the long-term survival of the Saudi regime is still a major US priority in light of the mutual Iranian threat. And, the Saudis knew they could turn to America, indicating business as usual.

There are those who have counseled the administration to reach a new understanding with the Saudis that would lead to the establishment of constitutional monarchies in the region. But it seems the Saudis are in no mood for such talks, nor will they be for many years. The current King, Abdullah, is 87 years old and ailing. The Crown Prince, Sultan, is also over 80 and ailing. The next in line, Prince Nayif, is a known conservative. It is hard to conceive of the Saudi ruling family countenancing any power-sharing arrangement in the near future.

Thus, both countries [USA and Saudi Arabia] will have to continue strategic cooperation, even as their values continue to be at odds. When President Obama said in his speech “there will be times when our short-term interests do not align perfectly with our long-term vision of the region,” he was speaking about Saudi Arabia.

*Dr. Joshua Teitelbaum is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, principal research associate at the IDC’s GLORIA Center, and a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University. He is also a visiting fellow and contributor to the Task Force on Islamism and the International Order at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. His latest book is Saudi Arabia and the New Strategic Landscape (Stanford: Hoover Press).

Israel's defence should respond to the wider Middle East environment, not just the "Palestinians"

From BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 141, May 23, 2011 by Dr. Jonathan Rynhold*:

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Following US President Barack Obama's May 19 speech, the focus of debate has been on his endorsement of the 1967 borders. Yet, the overwhelming bulk of his speech focused on the so-called 'Arab Spring', not on the terms for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. By effectively ignoring most of the speech, the media has missed its most significant element: the enunciation of a new US foreign policy doctrine for the Middle East – the Obama doctrine. It is the strategic implications of this doctrine for the Arab-Israeli arena that are the primary cause of concern in Israel – not the territorial specifics of Obama's speech.

The Obama Doctrine

First and foremost, the Obama doctrine for the Middle East prioritizes the engagement of the public in the Middle East, rather than the engagement of the states in the region. America's strategic credibility is based, then, on being seen to support populist calls for reform, rather than on supporting its long-time strategic allies...

...One might have thought (correctly) that recent events demonstrate that America's only reliable ally in the Middle East is Israel. However, the Obama administration does not see it this way. Rather, it believes that in order to obtain the support of the Muslim-Arab public, the US must be perceived as not only supporting the demonstrators' domestic agenda, but also supporting legitimate Palestinian aspirations...

...The problem lies in Obama's grossly over-optimistic assessment of regional realities, which could have dangerous unintended consequences. ...For Obama, the 'Arab Spring' recalls the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution, Rosa Parks and the struggle for civil rights, and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Eastern European transition to democracy.

Unfortunately, these metaphors tell us more about the admirable side of the American political imagination than they do about the current political struggles in the Middle East.

In 1989, the transition to democracy was successful in countries with a significant liberal tradition grounded in a functioning civil society. ...In the Middle East of 2011, although many of the demonstrators are driven by the demand for reform, they lack the deep and widespread ideological and civil society institutional foundations that undergirded success in 1989. Reformers do not live in a neighborhood populated by robust and generous democracies but rather in a region where leading powers view reform as an existential threat and where the helping hand of the West remains relatively weak and distant.

Islamism represents the most popular alternative ideology to the status quo and the Islamists are inestimably better organized than the democratic reformers.

Thus, in Egypt, it looks like elections will result in a government with much greater Islamist influence, led by former Secretary-General of the Arab League Amr Moussa, a Nasserite Arab nationalist ...Moussa is likely to pull his country away from the US and closer to Iran, just as Turkey has already done.

... what is strategically important is not so much who is demonstrating, but who is likely to politically benefit from these demonstrations. There is good reason to fear that the benefactors will not be the reformers but groups with varying degrees of hostility to the US and its liberal agenda.

Meanwhile, in the country most hostile to that agenda, Iran, the regime looks likely to survive and improve its regional standing. Furthermore, all of this is unfolding against a background of the rising power of Hamas and Hizballah, and the shift of Lebanon and Turkey away from the American orbit while moving closer to Tehran.

Assessing the Obama Doctrine: Implications for Israel

The deepest level of Israeli concern over the May 19 speech is not what Obama said about Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Indeed, much of the specifics were good for Israel. He called for the international community to endorse a peace based on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and the creation of a non-militarized Palestinian state. He opposed the Palestinians' UN initiative to unilaterally establish a Palestinian state.

Rather, Israel's main worry stems from the US administration's apparent failure ... to appreciate both the depth of the strategic dangers in the region as a whole, and the implications of these dangers for the peace process.

To begin with, the Iranian threat was only a very minor element of the speech. Yet Iran and its allies pose a major strategic threat to Israel, to core American interests and, indeed, to any chance of peace.
...In contrast to the Israeli position, and despite the current regional turmoil, the Obama administration conceptualizes Israeli security vis-à-vis the West Bank in terms of the Palestinians alone. Obama's speech was good in that it referred to Israel's right to defend itself and made any Israeli military withdrawal phased and dependent on the actual performance of the Palestinians, rather than being based simply on a timetable.

However, by making a complete military withdrawal dependent on only the Palestinian situation, and not the wider Middle East environment, Obama's vision poses a serious danger to Israel's security, especially in the uncertain and deeply problematic regional environment we see before us right now.

For Netanyahu, it would then seem, an Israeli withdrawal from the Jordan River would only be possible once the regional situation in the Middle East comes to resemble that of Obama's metaphor – Europe post-1989.

*Jonathan Rynhold is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a senior lecturer in political science at Bar-Ilan University.

Israel: last man standing....

From The Asia Times Online, 24 May 2011, by Spengler (David P Goldman):

...At constant fertility, Israel will have more young people by the end of this century than either Turkey or Iran, and more than German, Italy or Spain.

Population aged 15 to 24 years, Israel vs selected countries

Source: United Nations Population Division

With a total fertility rate of three children per woman, Israel's total  population will rise to 24 million by the end of the present century. Iran's fertility is around 1.7 and falling, while the fertility for ethnic Turks is only 1.5 (the Kurdish minority has a fertility rate of around 4.5).

Not that the size of land armies matters much in an era of high-tech warfare, but if present trends continue, Israel will be able to field the largest land army in the Middle East. That startling data point, though, should alert analysts to a more relevant problem: among the military powers in the Middle East, Israel will be the only one with a viable population structure by the middle of this century.

That is why it is in America's interest to keep Israel as an ally. Israel is not only the strongest power in the region; in a generation or two it will be the only power in the region, the last man standing among ruined neighbors. The demographic time bomb in the region is not the Palestinian Arabs on the West Bank, as the Israeli peace party wrongly believed, but rather Israel itself.

The right way to read this projection is backwards: Israelis love children and have lots of them because they are happy, optimistic and prosperous. Most of Israel's population increase comes from so-called "secular" Israelis, who have 2.6 children on average, more than any other people in the industrial world. The ultra-Orthodox have seven or eight, bringing total fertility to three children.
Europeans, Turks and Iranians, by contrast, have very few children because they are grumpy, alienated and pessimistic. It's not so much the projection of the demographic future cranked out by the United Nations computers that counts, but rather the implicit vision of the future in the minds of today's prospective parents.

People who can't be bothered to have children presumably have a very dim view of days to come. Reams have been written, to be sure, about Europe's demographic tailspin. Less has been said about Persian pessimism and Anatolian anomie.

Paradoxically, this makes Israel's present position dangerous, for its enemies understand that they have a very brief window in which to encircle the Jewish superpower. The collapse of Egypt and possibly that of Syria shortens this window. Nothing short of American support for a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state on the 1949 armistice lines followed by economic sanctions against Israel, though, is likely to make a difference, and this seems unlikely.

Israel already is a high-tech superpower. Israeli leads the Group of 7 industrial nations in patent applications. As Professor Reuven Brenner of McGill University wrote in the January 2010 issue of First Things:

Today Israel's venture capital industry still raises more funds than any other venue except the United States. In 2006 alone, 402 Israeli hi-tech companies raised over $1.62 billion - the highest amount in the past five years. That same year, Israel had 80 active venture capital funds and over $10 billion under management, invested in over 1,000 Israeli start-ups.

Maintaining the stunning progress of the past decade will be a challenge, because Israel's high-tech sector received a one-time boost from Russian emigration. As Brenner observes:

Of the million Russians who moved to Israel during the 1980s and 1990s, more than 55 percent had post-secondary education, and more than half held academic and managerial positions in their former country ... This made Israel the world leader in the scientist and engineer workforce, followed by the United States with 80 and Germany with 55 scientists and engineers per 10,000 members of its labor force.

Israel's prowess in the arts matches its accomplishments in technology and business. Israel has become something of a superpower in that most characteristically Western art form, classical music. In a July 21, 2010, survey of Israeli music for the webzine Tablet, I wrote, "Israelis take to classical music - the art form that most clearly creates a sense of the future - like no other people on earth, to the point that music has become part of Israel's character, an embodiment of the national genius for balancing hope and fear."

Israel has one the largest local audience for chamber music recitals of any country in the world, and its leading musicians occupy top slots around the world - for example Guy Braunstein, concertmaster (principal violin) of the Berlin Philharmonic.

This, I believe, explains the implacable hostility of Israel's neighbors, as well as the Europeans. It is the unquenchable envy of the dying towards the living. Having failed at Christianity, and afterward failed at neo-pagan nationalism, Europe has reconciled itself to a quiet passage into oblivion.

Israel's success is a horrible reminder of European failure; its bumptious nationalism grates against Europe's determination to forget its own ugly embrace of nationalism; and its implicitly religious raison d'etre provokes post-Christian rage. Above all, it offends Europe that Israel brims with life. Some of Europe's great nations may not survive the present century. At constant fertility, Israel will have more citizens than any of the Eastern European countries where large numbers of Jews resided prior to the Holocaust.

Total population, Israel vs selected Eastern European countries (constant
fertility scenario)

Source: United Nations Population Division

In the constant fertility scenario, Israel will end the century at a median age of 32, while Poland will have a median age of 57. That is an inherently impossible outcome, because in that case most of Poland's population would be elderly dependents. To support them, the remaining young people would have to emigrate and work overseas (perhaps in Israel).

The Muslim world, meanwhile, is turning grey at an unprecedented rate. Turkey's and Iran's median age will surpass the 40-year mark by mid-century, assuming constant fertility, while Israel's will stabilize in the mid-30s. Europe will become an impoverished geriatric ward.

Median age in years (constant fertility assumption)
Source: United Nations Population Division

The implications of these trends have not escaped the leaders of the affected countries. "If we continue the existing trend, 2038 will mark disaster for us," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned in May 2010 (see The heart of Turkness Asia Times Online, March 23, 2011).

I do not know whether Erdogan chose the year 2038 by statistical projection, or whether he consulted the Muslim counterpart of Harold Camping, but it will do as well as any. Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, has warned repeatedly of "national extinction" if the country's low birth rate persists.

What happens to Egypt and Syria in this scenario is of small importance. Neither country will come out of the present crisis in any condition to fight, if they come out of it at all. Egypt's social structure - with two-fifths of the country immured in extreme rural poverty, and another quarter starving on thin subsidies in Cairo and Alexandria - simply is not viable.
It needed only one swift kick to shatter, and that came from the doubling of food prices. The rebellion that deposed Hosni Mubarak made things much worse; the collapse of tourism and other sources of foreign exchange, the jump in import prices, and flight capital have left Egypt without the funds to cover half its annual import bill. The country will be broke by year-end, despite US President Barack Obama's aid package (The hunger to come in Egypt Asia Times Online, May 10, 2011).

Development economists have known for years that a disaster was in the works. A 2009 World Bank report on Arab food security warned, "Arab countries are very vulnerable to fluctuations in international commodity markets because they are heavily dependent on imported food. Arab countries are the largest importers of cereal in the world. Most import at least 50 percent of the food calories they consume." The trouble is that the Arab regimes made things worse rather than better.

Egypt's rulers of the past 60 years intentionally transformed what once was the breadbasket of the Mediterranean into a starvation trap. They did so through tragedy, not oversight. Keeping a large part of one's people illiterate on subsistence farms is the surest method of social control.

Crop yields in Egypt are a fifth of the best American levels, and by design, for no Egyptian government wished to add more displaced peasants to the 17 million people now crowded into Cairo. Syrian President Basher al-Assad made a few tentative steps in this direction, and got a 100,000 landless farmers living in tent cities around Damascus (Food and Syria's failure Asia Times Online March 29, 2011).

Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Mubarak did not invent the system. Post-revolutionary Russia imprisoned its peasants on collective farms; as the Mexican historian Enrique Krauze showed (in his 1992 book TextosHereticos), post-revolutionary Mexico emulated the Stalinist model of social control and imposed its own system of collective farms during the 1930s.
Mexico eventually dumped a fifth of its population on its northern neighbor, mainly rural people from the impoverished south. The remaining Mexican poor provided an inexhaustible source of foot-soldiers for the drug cartels with which the Mexican government is fighting a low-intensity civil war.

Egypt, the most populous Arab country, postponed these problems for three generations. It is governable only by military rule, de facto or de jure, because the military is the only institution that can take peasants straight from the farm and assimilate them into a disciplined social structure.

There is no civil society underneath the military. The collapse of Mubarak's military dictatorship came about when food price inflation revealed its incapacity to meet the population's basic needs. But the collapse of military rule and the flight of the army-linked oligarchy that milked the Egyptian economy for 60 years is a near-term disaster.
In place of the orderly corruption over which Mubarak presided, there is a scramble on the part of half-organized political groups to get control of the country's shrinking supply of basic goods. Civic violence likely will claim more lives than hunger.

Refugees from Libya and Tunisia have swamped the refugee camps on the closest Italian island, and hundreds have drowned in small boats attempting to cross the Mediterranean. By the end of this year, tourists on the Greek islands may see thousands of small boats carrying hungry Egyptians seeking help. Europe's sympathy for the Arab side may vanish under an inundation of refugees.
Events are most likely to overtake diplomacy. The sort of economic and demographic imbalances implied by the projections shown above reflect back into the present. Chaos in Egypt, Syria and other Arab countries probably will pre-empt the present focus on Israel and the Palestinians.

It would not be surprising if the Palestinians were to mount another Intifada, or Egypt and Syria were to initiate one last war against Israel. It might be their last opportunity.

But I rate the probably of another war at well under 50%. The internal problems of Egypt and Syria are more likely to make war too difficult to wage.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Fatah also wants to destroy Israel

From an email, 22 May 2011, by Martin Sherman:

Much fuss is being made about the recent agreement between Fatah and  Hamas. Great emphasis being placed on the latter's pernicious and implacable rejection of the right of Israel (and the Jews) to exist - as expressed in the Hamas Charter.

For some - inexplicable - reason what is being ignored is that the  the very same sentiments are reflected in the Fatah's Constitution.  Indeed this document  (not to be confused with the  PLO's Palestinian National Covenant) is no less inimical than the Hamas Charter - and if anything it is more explicit in its aspiration to to destroy "the Zionist Entity" - some illustrative excerpts follow. 

In reading them it should be recalled that

  • The Fatah Constitution was formulated in 1964 - well before Israel held a square inch of territory now claimed as usurped Palestinian land.
  • The Fatah Emblem shows the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea as "Palestine" so we can have doubt as to what the organization means when it calls for the "complete liberation  of Palestine"
  • This Constitution was not amended or abolished at the The 2009 Fatah Movement Assembly  in Bethlehem - which must indicate its ongoing validity”.
Some elucidating excerpts

Article (12) Complete liberation of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence.

Article (17) Armed public revolution is the inevitable method to liberating Palestine.
Article (19) Armed struggle is a strategy and not a tactic, and the Palestinian Arab People's armed revolution is a decisive factor in the liberation fight and in uprooting the Zionist existence, and this struggle will not cease unless the Zionist state is demolished and Palestine is completely liberated.
Article (22) Opposing any political solution offered as an alternative to demolishing the Zionist occupation in Palestine, as well as any project intended to liquidate the Palestinian case or impose any international mandate on its people.

So it is quite clear:
  • Hamas and Fatah are united in their aspiration to destroy Israel. It is only nuance and semantics that differ between them.
  • The one, driven by religious fanaticism, strives to destroy Israel …in the name of Islam
  • The other, driven by radical nationalism, strives to destroy Israel …in the name of “Armed Revolution”.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Defensible Borders

From JCPA:

Israel, in any future agreement with the Palestinians, has a critical need for defensible borders. This 5-minute video outlines the threats to Israel from terrorist rockets, ballistic missiles, and conventional ground and air threats from the east.

See more.

Joint Remarks of Obama and Netanyahu after 20 May Meeting (15min video)

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - Joint Remarks Following Oval Office Bilateral Meeting. Delivered 20 May 2011. (15min video From YouTube)

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU's concluding remarks:

... It’s a great people ...the ancient nation of Israel. And, you know, we've been around for almost 4,000 years. We've experienced struggle and suffering like no other people. We've gone through expulsions and pogroms and massacres and the murder of millions. But I can say that even at the dearth of -- even at the nadir of the valley of death, we never lost hope and we never lost our dream of reestablishing a sovereign state in our ancient homeland, the land of Israel.

And now it falls on my shoulders as the Prime Minister of Israel, at a time of extraordinary instability and uncertainty in the Middle East, to work with you to fashion a peace that will ensure Israel’s security and will not jeopardize its survival. I take this responsibility with pride but with great humility, because, as I told you in our conversation, we don't have a lot of margin for error. And because, Mr. President, history will not give the Jewish people another chance...

Complete transcript and HD audio mp3 are available here.

Obama reneges on Bush commitment

From J-wire, May 22, 2011 by David Singer*:

Remarks made by President Obama at the State Department in Washington on 19 May indicate he is prepared to honour some – but not all – commitments made to Israel by former American President George W Bush in his letter to Israeli Prime Minister Sharon on 14 April 2004 (the Bush Letter).
President Obama first stressed the following points:

1. It is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them — not by the United States; not by anybody else.

2. What America and the international community can do is to state frankly what everyone knows — a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.

President Obama was indeed confirming America’s written commitment to Israel in the Bush Letter
“The United States is strongly committed to Israel’s security and well-being as a Jewish state.”
This commitment – made now by two American Presidents to Israel – has been repeatedly rejected by the Palestinian Authority, Fatah, the PLO, Hamas and the Arab League. But it is a commitment that America has no intention of abandoning.

However President Obama ignored another commitment in the Bush Letter when he then told his State Department audience:
"We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.."

This statement is contrary to the following statement appearing in the Bush Letter:
“As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.”

Bush had clearly committed to back Israel’s position that sovereignty in 100% of the land occupied in the Six Day War by Israel would not be ceded in any ultimate peace settlement.
Obama was obviously trying to wheedle his way out of this Bush commitment by some semantic toe stepping. – suggesting that
1. any loss of such territory to Israel could be compensated by an equivalent swap of existing Israeli sovereign territory and
2. this swap could still lead to the creation of secure borders for Israel.
Israel was certainly not prepared to let Obama back peddle from the terms of the Bush Letter .
The Israeli rebuttal was swift and came just one day later when Israel’s Prime Minster told President Obama during a meeting at the White House:
“ I think for there to be peace, the Palestinians will have to accept some basic realities. The first is that while Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines — because these lines are indefensible; because they don’t take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.”

Those concerned to ensure that American Presidential commitments made to third parties are honored and upheld by their successors should be as equally worried as Israel at Obama’s apparent attempt to breach such a fundamental Presidential commitment.

The price Israel paid to secure the Bush Letter was its decision to unilaterally disengage from Gaza in 2005. This disengagement exposed Israel’s civilian population living in its southern region to the threat of continuing indiscriminate missile and terrorist attacks from Gaza without any Israeli military forces being retained in Gaza any more to prevent, defend and respond to any such attacks. 8000 Israeli citizens were forced to evacuate their homes and businesses established in Gaza over the preceding 38 years.

This is indeed what happened after Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005 – with disastrous consequences for both civilian populations in Israel and Gaza and for those 8000 Israelis who had evacuated Gaza..

Jeopardizing its security on the entire Gaza front required Israel to be absolutely assured of American commitment to Israel’s security on the West Bank front. That assessment saw the refusal to cede sovereignty in 100% of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as being non-negotiable.

America’s decision to stand by and support Israel on this fundamental territorial issue is critical.
Israel’s Government in 2008 had unsuccessfully explored the possibility of land swaps with the Palestinian Authority – but those negotiations ended inconclusively and are now in total lock down.
Exploring land swaps might again be considered by Israel in future negotiations. The current Israeli Government shows no intention to do so. But that will have to be Israel’s decision – not America’s.
America’s view – now or later – regarding land swaps is irrelevant under the Bush Letter.

President Obama’s statement will no doubt be seen by some to indicate a shift in America’s position – perhaps made in an attempt to induce the Palestinian Authority to resume the stalled negotiations with Israel.

Obama’s position will be viewed by Israel and its supporters as a shift that does no honor to America and badly damages its reputation and integrity.

The Bush commitment was made for an Israeli commitment that has resulted in the death, injury and traumatisation of tens of thousands of Israelis.

Obama’s attempt to minimize or modify that commitment in any way must be firmly and publicly resisted by Israel and its supporters in the American Congress – which had voted overwhelmingly in favor of President Bush signing the Bush Letter in the first place.

Doing so will certainly help restore America’s reputation for honesty and transparency in its dealings with third parties – and for standing by and remaining staunchly committed to the decisions of its Presidents.

Aren’t these indeed cardinal democratic principles which Obama – as leader of the world’s leading democracy – is sworn to uphold?

*David Singer is a Sydney Lawyer and Foundation Member of the International Analysts Network