Thursday, June 02, 2016

Avigdor Lieberman Is Just What Israel Needs Right Now

From the Forward, 25 May 2016, by Gregg Roman*:

Peaceniks may be up in arms about the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as Israel’s next minister of defense, but the country’s enemies are worried — and rightly so.

Yes, as the inevitable flurry of articles accompanying his appointment are sure to point out, Lieberman once said that Israel could bomb the Aswan dam in the event of war with Egypt and he also said that captured Palestinian terrorists should be “drowned in the Dead Sea.” But Lieberman, arguably the biggest loudmouth in Israel (he recently called Netanyahu — the man he’s been angling to work for — “a liar, cheater and crook”), is also a reasonable politician.
Lieberman’s core beliefs are squarely rooted in principles that most Israelis accept and that make good sense. He has expressed support for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as part of a final settlement, but he also maintains , as he put it at the Saban Forum in 2006, that the negotiating process is based on three fundamentally erroneous assumptions: “that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the main fact of instability in the Middle East, that the conflict is territorial and not ideological, and that the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders will end the conflict.”
Although willing to trade land (including the West Bank settlement of Nokdim, where he lives) under certain conditions, Lieberman resents the Obama administration’s relentless pressure for upfront Israeli concessions, noting that two decades and more of concessions to the Palestinians “brought neither results nor solutions.” He is correct that finding more things for Israel to give up, even as the cycle of Palestinian incitement and violence continues, is not the answer.
Having experienced poverty first-hand while growing up in the Soviet Union, Lieberman has spoken eloquently about the need to address the deplorable socioeconomic conditions among Palestinians. This is partly why he has long called for toppling the Hamas regime in Gaza, which Netanyahu, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and the rest of Israel’s political and military establishment have come to accept as a manageable problem.

Not everything Lieberman believes is nestled firmly within Israeli public consensus, but even his more extreme ideas are rooted in hard-nosed realism, not ideology or ethnic particularism. His long-standing advocacy of the death penalty for convicted terrorists, for example, is premised on the simple recognition that Palestinian terrorists are today free to murder based on the correct expectation that they will later be released in prisoner exchanges.

Lieberman is also cognizant of the fact that the U.S.-Israel relationship is of the utmost importance. When Israeli minister Naftali Bennett attacked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to rekindle the peace process, Lieberman quickly fired back, stating , “There can be disagreements among friends, but one [Israel] doesn’t have to attack someone [the U.S]. When the supply of ammunition ran out during Operation Protective Edge, it was the United States that supplied it. The Americans were the ones who gave the money for Iron Dome. The United States was the one that helped us at the United Nations Human Rights Council and they prevent a lot of trouble in the Security Council with vetoes.”
Of course, Obama administration officials hoped that Netanyahu would stabilize his coalition by drawing in the center-left, not someone like Lieberman. Just days before the announcement, it was widely expected that Netanyahu would form a coalition with Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union, which advocates greater accommodation of Palestinian demands.

But the Zionist Union has been paralyzed by internal divisions, with numerous members of this bloc openly opposing Herzog’s coalition talks with Netanyahu, while Lieberman’s MKs are expected to remain loyal. A stable, right-leaning government may have more credibility with the Israeli public than a fragile “national unity” government when it comes to making compromises for peace. After all, it was the “hard-line” Likud leader Menachem Begin who signed the Camp David Accords with Egypt in 1978.

My esteemed colleague David Makovsky worries that Netanyahu is “closing the door” on policies that “could have blunted a string of international initiatives” targeting Israel in the months ahead. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Lieberman accepts the Middle East Quartet’s conditions for a two-state solution. Most important, he stated ,
“When there is a dispute between the integrity of the nation and the integrity of the land, then integrity of the nation is more important. I support a [peace] agreement…when we insist on security arrangements, this is just to avoid the crazy reality we are in.”

The doom-and-gloomers are right that Lieberman’s appointment to the defense ministry will almost certainly be consequential. Word has it that he demanded and received assurances regarding the latitude he will have in office. But Lieberman may just be the man of consequence Israel needs right now.

*Gregg Roman is Director of the Middle East Forum, a research center based in Philadelphia. He is a former party official in Yisrael Beytenu and served as an adviser in the Israeli Ministry of Defense.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Turkey’s demographic winter and Erdogan’s duplicity

From the Asia Times, , b ("

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded that Turkish women abandon contraception in a televised address May 30, Reuters reported. “We will multiply our descendants. They talk about population planning, birth control. No Muslim family can have such an approach,” Erdogan said. The Turkish leader has denounced Turkish women for refusing to have more babies on many earlier occasions.

Woman walks with umbrella in snow-covered Ankara
Turkish woman walks with umbrella in snow-covered Ankara

Erdogan has played every side of every issue, alternately courting and rejecting the European Union, claiming the United States as an ally against ISIS while aiding the terrorist army on the sly, succoring Hamas while proposing to rebuild relations with Israel, helping Iran run sanctions while claiming the Gulf States as Sunni allies. Christina Lin catalogued his double-dealings in a May 31 news analysis for this publication.

When he talks about Turkey’s failing demographics, though, Erdogan is speaking from the heart. Turkey’s Kurdish citizens continue to have three or four children while ethnic Turks have fewer than two. By the early 2040s, most of Turkey’s young people will come from Kurdish-speaking homes. The Kurdish-majority Southeast inevitably will break away. Erdogan’s hapless battle against the inevitable motivates the sometimes bewildering twists and turns of Turkish policy.

A review of the recently-released 2015 population data shows that the demographic scissors between Kurds and Turks continues to widen. Despite Erdogan’s exhortations on behalf of Turkish fertility, the baby bust in Turkish-majority provinces continues while Kurds sustain one of the world’s highest birth rates. Even worse, the marriage rate outside of the Kurdish Southeast of the country has collapsed, portending even lower fertility in the future.

According to Turkstat, the official statistics agencies, the Turkish provinces with the lowest fertility rates all cluster in the north and northwest of the country, where women on average have only 1.5 children. The southeastern provinces show fertility rates ranging between 3.2 and 4.2 children per female.

Turkish Fertility, Highest and Lowest Provinces

Even more alarming are Turkey’s marriage statistics as reported by Turkstat. Between 2001 and 2015, the number of marriages in Istanbul, the country’s largest city, fell by more than 30%, and by more than 40% in the capital Ankara. Most of the northern and northwestern provinces report a decline of more than half in the number of marriages. Not only are Turkish women refusing to have children; they are refusing to get married. The plunge in the marriage rate among ethnic Turks makes a further sharp decline in fertility inevitable.

Marriages by Province (% Change 2001-2015)

As I reported in my 2011 book Why Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying, Too), Muslim countries that achieve a high rate of adult literacy jump from infancy to senescence without passing through adulthood.

Like their Iranian, Algerian and Tunisian counterparts, Turkish women reject the constraints of Muslim family life as soon as they obtain a high school education. The shock of sudden passage from traditional society into the modern world has produced the fastest-ever fall in fertility rates in the Muslim world.

Iran, whose fertility rate fell from 7 children per female in 1979 to less than 1.8 today, has the fastest-aging population of any country in the world. Turkey has an average total fertility rate of 2.18, or just at replacement, but the split between ethnic Turks and ethnic Kurds will make Turkey’s present geographic configuration untenable.

The Kurds’ courage and military prowess leave Turkey in a quandary. Any effective action against ISIS enhances the Kurds’ political standing and advances the day when they will have their own state including the northwest of Iraq and the southeast of Turkey,  as well as the southwest corner of Iran and a large swath of northern Syria. But Turkey cannot abandon the NATO alliance, which stands as a guarantor of its territorial integrity. It has no choice but to play both sides, playing the public role of an alliance member while covertly sabotaging the effort to destroy ISIS.

That is the origin of the present refugee crisis.

From the start of the present refugee wave this summer, European security services have blamed Turkey for provoking the migration crisis. Last August the Daily Telegraph showed that Turkey’s electronic visa system allowed instant access to Turkey for migrants from 89 countries, as long as the travelers use Turkey’s national airlines.  Migrants required no proof of identity to obtain a visa, and were subject to virtually on controls on arrival at Istanbul.

Whether Turkey opened its borders to boost the revenues of its national airlines, or planned to employ the migrants as a bargaining chip from the beginning, is unclear. But Turkey’s President Tayyip Recep Erdogan long since worked out that Turkey’s position as a valve in the great migration gives it enormous bargaining power with Bonn. In return for the promise of 6 billion Euros and visa-free travel in Europe for holders of Turkish passports, Erdogan has closed off the border to migrants—which implies that he might have done so a year ago when the migrant wave peaked.
Europe and the Gulf States, meanwhile, have stepped up their lending to the Turkish economy, which has incubated a consumer debt bubble worse than the 2008 subprime problem in the United States, I documented here on April 29. Erdogan’s popular support depends on the free flow of credit, especially in commercial construction and private housing. A financial reckoning would make his position untenable, and the Europeans and Sunni Gulf States are at pains to prop him up.

The West has chosen to give Erdogan all the slack he wants, which leaves the Levant and Mesopotamia are in a state of permanent civil war. May 19 marked the centenary of the Sykes-Picot agreement under which France and Britain carved up the Middle East into spheres of influence, respectively controlling Syria and Iraq. The imperialists who imposed their maps on the Middle East did not have the welfare of the region in mind, but they did accomplish one important thing. They stabilized the region for nearly a century.

In a 2012 essay for Asia Times, I consulted the ghost of Cardinal Richelieu (metaphorically, of course) for an explanation of why Sykes-Picot had worked so well for so long. The Cardinal explained:
“It is a simple exercise in logique. You had two Ba’athist states, one in Iraq and one in Syria. Both were ruled by minorities. The Assad family came from the Alawite minority Syria and oppressed the Sunnis, while Saddam Hussein came from the Sunni minority in Iraq and oppressed the Shi’ites.
“It is a matter of calculation – what today you would call game theory. If you compose a state from antagonistic elements to begin with, the rulers must come from one of the minorities. All the minorities will then feel safe, and the majority knows that there is a limit to how badly a minority can oppress a majority. That is why the Ba’ath Party regimes in Iraq and Syria – tyrannies founded on the same principle – were mirror images of each other.”
“What happens if the majority rules?,” I asked. 
“The moment you introduce majority rule in the tribal world,” the cardinal replied, “you destroy the natural equilibrium of oppression.
That is precisely what the Bush administration did in 2007 by foisting majority (that is, Shi’ite) rule upon Iraq. As Angelo Codevilla explained in these pages, the Sunnis responded by fighting to the death. Their rebellion against the Shi’ite majority was postponed by then-US commander Gen. David Petraeus, who hired them to be the “Sons of Iraq” and the “Sunni Awakening.” Without a permanent US occupation force, Iraq and Syria inevitably devolved into civil war.

Whether the continued oppression of majorities by minorities might have kept Syria and Iraq stable for another century is a matter of pure conjecture. The world of Sykes-Picot is forever gone and cannot be restored.

The only way to end the permanent civil war is on the model of the former Yugoslavia: create ethnic and confessional enclaves where Sunnis, Shi’ites, Christians, Kurds, Druze and others will be safe from those who wish to exterminate them. Devolution is simply the next-to-worst solution, but it is the only one that will reduce the pace of killing. And it would not affect the flow of economic migrants from Pakistan or sub-Saharan Africa. It would be messy, with a lot of population transfers, but it is a lot better than mass extermination.

There is, however, one insuperable obstacle to the creation of such enclaves, and that is Turkey. The first and most viable such enclave would be a Kurdish state.  Turkey is violently opposed to a Kurdish State, which inevitably would carve off a large chunk of its own southeast.

Nonetheless, there has to be a fall guy, just like in the detective novel, and Turkey is the sole candidate for the position.  A humanitarian solution in the region requires putting Turkey in its place. Instead, Washington and Berlin have given President Erdogan the wherewithal to strut and posture for some time to come. And that will keep the region at war indefinitely.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Sanders' anti-Israel backers spark uproar

Jerusalem fire
James Zogby‏ and Cornel West‏.

The Democratic Party is facing a possible dilemma as supporters of the two candidates vying for the nomination gear up for a debate on what to do with its Mideast policy.

The Israel issue is threatening to tear the party apart as Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who has mounted a considerable presidential campaign that has earned him greater clout within the left-wing camp, has tapped two individuals to a key committee who seek to insert language into the Democratic platform that some see as hostile to Jerusalem.

The Democratic Party platform drafting committee is top heavy with veterans of political battles over Israel - some friendly, some critical, and including at least one major backer of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
The Democratic National Committee named the committee on Monday, a day after reports emerged that Sanders, an Independent senator from Vermont running for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, wants the platform to elevate the issue of Palestinian rights.

The names signal that the robust debate on Israel that has rattled the party’s relationship with the mainstream pro-Israel community over the past two years will continue through the party convention in Philadelphia in July.

Sanders, the first Jewish candidate to win major party nominating contests, named five of the committee’s members, while Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and front-runner in the party’s presidential primaries, named six. The remaining four were named by the DNC’s chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., among the most prominent Jewish leaders in the party.

Three of the Sanders backers on the committee - Cornel West, a philosopher and social activist; James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to Congress - are known in part for their criticisms of Israel.

West is a prominent BDS backer and Zogby has spoken forcefully against attempts to marginalize the movement. Ellison has called for greater consideration of Palestinian rights, but also has close ties to his home state Jewish community and says Israel’s security must be taken into account.

The standout appointment is West, a fiery speaker who has called the Gaza Strip “the ‘hood on steroids” and, in 2014, wrote that the crimes of Hamas “pale in the face of the US supported Israeli slaughters of innocent civilians.”

Zogby and Ellison are longtime insiders who have taken leadership roles in the party, so their inclusion is not extraordinary.

Among the six Clinton backers is Wendy Sherman, the former deputy secretary of state who was a lead negotiator in the Iran nuclear talks. Sherman, who has spoken lovingly of her involvement in Jewish life in suburban Maryland, was wounded by the tough criticisms of the deal from Israel’s government and centrist pro-Israel organizations.

“Justice for Palestinians cannot be attained without the lifting of the occupation,” West was quoted as saying by The New York Times on Wednesday.

West has also been quoted as saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a “war criminal” and that “the role of money and lobbies makes it difficult for there to be a candid dialogue” about Israel.

...The drafting committee presents the document to the full platform committee, which votes on it during the convention. Usually there are few objections. In 2012, however, the drafting committee omitted from the draft platform recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. New language including the recognition was passed during the meeting of the full committee, but not without objections and boos.

All four of the Congress members on the drafting committee – Cummings, Lee, Ellison and Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., a Clinton appointee – are endorsed by the political action committee affiliated with J Street, the liberal Middle East policy group.