Saturday, May 17, 2014

Doing Almost Nothing is a Good Option

From BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 247, 15 May 2014, by Prof Efraim Inbar*:

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Following the failure of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, ‘doing nothing’ and managing the conflict is Israel’s most sensible approach to the situation. Israel should patiently adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach, and certainly not undertake any radical unilateral moves.

Now that the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations have ended in failure, many political actors advocate taking advantage of the political limbo to advance their preferred unilateral plans. The Israeli political right-wing is promoting annexation of Area C, while the left-wing is advocating a “coordinated” (whatever that means) unilateral withdrawal. Government officials have spoken about the need for Israel to “do something.” Others suggest negotiating with the Quartet, instead of the Palestinians.

Activism is unquestionably a trait that is admired in Israel. Zionist-rooted rhetoric such as “we have to determine our borders and destiny on our own” indeed falls on receptive ears 

However, probably the wisest course of action for Israel is a patient and cautious “wait and see” approach. Resolving the conflict is impossible, but attempting to manage it in order to minimize suffering to both sides and to minimize the diplomatic costs to Israel – is within reach.

Kerry’s initiative has indeed ended in failure. But the sky has not fallen. There is no sense of alarm or fear of a great impending crisis, not in Israel nor in the region nor elsewhere in the world.

Real pressure on Israel to change the status quo is unlikely. The assumption that time is running against Israel is simply wrong. As a matter of fact, the Palestinian issue is likely to become less salient in the international arena over time.

After the Kerry debacle, Washington is left counting an additional foreign policy failure, trying to digest what happened and pondering on how to proceed. Its current instinct is to stay away from interventionist initiatives. The US, drained by two wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) and blessed with new energy finds, does not want to get dragged into further conflicts in a Middle East that seems less central to its interests. So the Obama administration may be less inclined to intervene in the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict than ever before. Even if the US obsession with Palestinian statehood persists for some reason, it is still better for Israel to wait and learn Washington’s next moves before devising an adequate response.

Moreover, in light of America’s great importance to Israel, uncoordinated unilateral steps by Israel regarding the West Bank are not advisable. Israeli statements expressing a commitment to future peace negotiations, coupled with restraint in building beyond the settlement blocs, might be enough to keep America at bay and reluctant to intervene.

The US is also unlikely to be confronted with Arab pressure to focus on the Palestinian issue if Israel does not engage in drastic steps. The Arab world is undergoing a tremendously difficult economic and socio-political crisis and is busy dealing with domestic problems. Moreover, the Iranian nuclear threat continues to be the most urgent foreign policy issue, putting most Sunni states in the same strategic boat as Israel. Even the Palestinians do not take Arab lip service on their behalf seriously.

In all probability, most countries of the world can also live with an unresolved Palestinian issue. There are many simmering territorial conflicts all over the world. Nowadays, Crimea and Eastern Ukraine dominate the news. In the coming months and years, many human and political tragedies will divert attention away from the Palestinian issue.


Significantly, the Palestinians have no impact on truly important strategic issues such as nuclear proliferation or energy that might galvanize powerful states into action. Once, the Palestinians were an important actor in international terrorism. This is no longer true. Nowadays, Palestinians are very dependent upon international aid. Rocking the boat by using too much violence threatens the livelihood of Palestinians receiving the Palestinian Authority’s salaries and benefits, and risks Israel’s strong retaliation. Simply put, the Palestinians have only limited international leverage and are vulnerable to Israel’s potentially harmful countermeasures.

Moreover, the Palestinians have an excellent record of “shooting themselves in their own foot.” The unity agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas is the latest example of this.

Whatever some experts say, Israel is not isolated in the international community. Israel is a strong country, possessing a remarkable web of international interactions. Significantly, Israel’s relations with the world are only marginally affected by its conflict with the Palestinians.

The political actors most obsessed with the Palestinian issue, the Israeli political Left and the Europeans, are in decline. The Oslo process, with which the Israeli Left was associated, has failed, delegitimizing its initiators. The Eurozone is facing acute problems, further reducing its limited ability to be a true strategic actor. The ability of these weakened political actors to push the Palestinian issue to the top of the international agenda has become increasingly curtailed. Contemporary international circumstances could lead to further marginalization of the Palestinian issue.

Israelis, like many misguided Westerners, often succumb to counterproductive hyper-activism. Yet doing almost nothing might bring about better results than activating unilateral plans of all kinds.

*Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, is a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Syrian Rebel Wants to Ally with Israel

Kamal Labwani is a dissident and leading member of the Syrian opposition. Due to his political activism, he spent 11 years in Syrian prisons accused of "weakening national morale" and “spreading false information about the government."  He was released in 2011.

To protect the innocent and to defeat the Assad dictatorship, Syrians should work with Israel to create a safe haven.

I spent more than a decade in Syrian prisons and therefore know what kind of regime this is. It is one which believes that torture is a form of dialogue. This was long before the Syrian uprising. Long before my countrymen went to the streets in a peaceful protest calling for freedom. Long before the death toll reached 150,000. 
In the past three years, we Syrians have learned a lot about who our friends are and who our enemies are. Russia and Iran provide the backing critical for Bashar Assad to remain in power. Hezbollah filled the ranks of the Syrian army. Islamist radicals were brought in from other parts of the region attempting to take Syria away from the Syrian people who had risen to protest. 
The United Nations and its allies try to support us by allowing diplomacy under the Geneva convention. But the Geneva process has effectively collapsed and we must again realize that much more must be done to stop the Assad dictatorship from continuing to slaughter its people. While we received humanitarian aid from America and Europe, more could have been done to weaken Assad.

Once, Israel was blamed for everything. But Israel is not our enemy anymore. We see how Israel opened its doors to our injured. We see how Syrian children are treated in Assad’s prisons and how they are treated in Israeli hospitals. Israel gave food while Assad starved his own people. 

Syria has only one enemy now: the Assad regime backed by Iran and Hezbollah. I meet with Syrian dissidents and military leaders daily and have seen how, after decades of brainwashing, their mentality has begun to change. 

It is naive to believe that diplomacy can stop a regime that dismembers children in cold blood and uses chemical weapons against innocent civilians. We must first realize that Assad will not leave unless pushed away. Israel, which has felt the brunt of Assad’s recklessness through his support for terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, would be a natural ally. 

We see how Syrian children are treated in Assad’s prisons and how they are treated in Israeli hospitals.

I recently proposed a controversial idea: asking Israel to help our opposition get rid of the most brutal dictator alive today. I said that this is our joint challenge and one that is much more important than the Golan Heights. Golan in the future can remain a garden of peace for all. I believe that Israel is able to be a partner, not an enemy. After meeting with dozens of rebels in the majority of Syrian provinces, I believe that many would support such a plan.

As Western powers allow us a process of diplomacy based on international law, radical groups have seized the opportunity to fill the void left by Assad’s brutality and the chaos that has followed. While it is true that proxy powers brought jihadis to fight their proxy wars I can tell you that the moderates who had started the revolution still exist and are still fighting. But they are desperate for support. 

The Syrian people had to rise up because we were left alone: our children killed and wives raped in front of our very eyes. We had no choice but to defend ourselves. Nothing can bring back those gassed to death in Ghota or starved to death in Homs. But for the sake of tomorrow we must break the impasse; it will not be a conference in Geneva with Assad’s regime that does this.

The immediate step needed for the 4 million people displaced in Syria is the establishment of a protected free zone, in which Assad will have no reach and where the process of reconstruction can begin. Our allies in the United States, Europe, the Middle East and, yes, Israel, should act upon this resolution. We plead once again for help.

Obviously the Syrian problem is too complex for us to handle alone and, once again, we plead for help before even more civilians die. But we offer something else in a return, a paradigm shift that comes from people who have been awakened

Let us join forces and change this Middle East. Yes, we can, together, to end a nightmare and begin to build a different chapter in our region. And we must start before all hopes are crushed by a killing machine that is destined to continue its work. We must act before it’s too late.