Category Archives: U.S. – Israel Relationship

The Iran Debate: The View from Congress

Last week I was privileged to speak with members of Congress and the their foreign policy experts as the deliberations and votes on The Iran Deal were taking place.  My objective was to explain that despite the manipulative political machinations that deprived the American people of an up or down vote on the agreement, there was much that can be done.

The emphasis needs to change from the focus of sanctions on nuclear weapons that the president will waive, to enacting new sanctions on the Islamic Republic for its egregious support of terrorism and human rights abuses, which threaten both our allies and our national security interests.

Watch my latest vlog to learn more about The Iran Debate:

 

 

 

Does an ‘Ally’ Have the Right to Redefine Zionism?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post.)

The founders of Israel were mostly secular and atheist, seeing themselves as a people, rather than a religion, returning to their homeland.

“The fact Obama linked the State of Israel’s legitimization to the Holocaust in that speech [Cairo 2009] was him adopting the Arab narrative: We’re here because of the Holocaust, not because of Jewish roots and 3,000 years of history.” – Former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, June 27, 2015

Michael Oren’s new book, Ally, has generated lots of attention. The mild mannered historian turned diplomat turned politician is now in the cross-hairs of the Obama administration, his political rivals at home and progressive Jewish figures. What has drawn such animus to Oren from the administration are some unpleasant truths about the US-Israel relationship under President Barack Obama that he reveals. As Newsweek reported, “Oren blames President Barack Obama for the sorry state of US-Israel relations and most of what’s wrong in the Middle East.”

As I have said for several years, I believe the president thinks of Israel as more a strategic liability than a strategic asset, and that his goal since day one of his administration has been to change the relationship with Israel and turn toward the Muslim world, particularly favoring the fundamentalist regime controlling Iran. Or, as Oren put it, to create some daylight between the two long-time allies. The White House has indeed supported some important military aid to Israel during these years, but meanwhile has jeopardized Israel and America’s foreign policy interests in pursuit of a friendship with the reliably unreliable mullahs of Iran.

One revelation that is not entirely new but is essential to address if your vision is a two-state solution based on a respect for both parties’ narratives is Oren’s assertion that the president believes Israel’s raison d’etre is the Holocaust, with only incidental incorporation of other Jewish history. This is very important, because if it becomes part of the mainstream narrative regarding Israel’s founding, Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state can be challenged, making it the only state in the world required to kneel and beg for its right to exist.

The charge that Israel exists only as a consequence of the Shoah has created both a firestorm and confusion among both American Jewry and the wider Jewish Diaspora. This is particularly relevant as the Palestinian Authority is currently attempting to delegitimize Israel by going to the ICC (International Criminal Court) seeking support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to question Israel’s right to exist. Therefore it is imperative to understand and educate America about what Zionism really is, and how the two most pivotal events of the 20th century affecting world Jewry relate to one another. In an era when much of the world, and many on American academic campuses, see Zionism as racism and colonialism it is incumbent upon pro-Israel supporters to communicate the truth clearly.

After President Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech in which he reached out to the Muslim world, his comparison of the plight of Palestinians to the survivors of the Shoah outraged many people.

Anne Bayefsky, who directs the Touro College Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust, challenged the president’s assertion that, “The aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied,” for, she said, “around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries. A Jewish homeland in Israel is not rooted in tragedy or in centuries of persecution around the world. It is rooted in a wondrous, unbroken, and spiritual relationship to the land of Israel and to Jerusalem for thousands of years.”

Former ADL leader and Holocaust survivor Abe Foxman responded that the president was implicitly asserting that Israel’s legitimacy is based on the “suffering of the Jewish people’s “tragic history” and not on their historic ties to the Land of Israel. Obama’s choice of words and his decision to mention only the Holocaust as a reason for the creation of the State of Israel “gave fodder to the many in the Arab world who argue against the legitimacy of Israel.”

So if the Holocaust had not occurred, would there be an Israel? According to Tom Segev, a center-left historian and a reliable critic of Israel who has written extensively on the issue, “The State of Israel would have come to being even without the Holocaust. It was a result of 30 years of intensive work by the Zionist movement.”

But rooted in the Muslim world is the irrational contradiction of both denying the Holocaust while perpetuating the narrative that the Arabs were unfairly made to pay the price for the Holocaust in the creation of Israel, with the forced imposition of a non-indigenous Jewish people on the region.

SO DID nations of the UN vote in 1947 to create Israel only out of guilt at their complicity in the genocide of the Shoah? Is Zionism simply a reaction to the Shoah? If, as President Obama and others contend, the creation of Israel is solely due to the Holocaust, then the Palestinians have an argument. It then follows that Zionism is not a many-centuries’ yearning to return to ancient land, but was a simply spur-of-the moment land grab.

Modern Zionism is not a reaction to the Shoah. It began well before WWII and the Holocaust, only partially motivated by the anti-Semitism that preceded the Shoah; recall Herzl’s reactions to the Dreyfus Affair. On the one hand, Zionism is an affirmation of the Jewish people’s 2,000-year-long yearning to return to their ancestral homeland, manifested in the daily prayers of the Jewish people.

On the other hand, the founders of Israel were mostly secular and atheist, seeing themselves as a people, rather than a religion, returning to their homeland.

Jews learned that without a national homeland, nations and communities infected with anti-Semitism offered at best temporary shelter, all too often as tides shifted offering only humiliation, expropriation and expulsion. The horrors experienced over the centuries in the Diaspora, punctuated by pogroms, inquisitions, crusades and culminating in humanity’s descent to its lowest level in the Shoah, made the prayers and hopes for salvation and return to Zion more desperate and poignant, but the yearning to return, “next year in Jerusalem,” was always there, in good times and bad.

Zionism is a modern word to describe an ancient desire to return to the Land of Israel. Necessity and modernity played a part, but the desire for a Jewish homeland started in earnest in the 19th century, and culminated in the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations Mandate for a Jewish national home in Palestine. The European and Russian anti-Semitism of the Kishinev pogroms, the Dreyfus Affair, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and WWI all occurred years before the Shoah.

As Israeli statesman, former defense minister and Haaretz columnist Moshe Arens said, “In the minds of some, the establishment of the State of Israel is linked to the Holocaust, or even seen as a direct result of the Holocaust.” Which is precisely why the writers of Israel’s declaration of Independence purposely omitted any reference to the Shoah.

International organizations and governments did write the international law to help create the modern state of Israel, but shrugged their shoulders when the state was immediately attacked at its birth by five Arab armies. As Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer said, “Israel didn’t come into being because of the Shoah, Israel exists in spite of it.”

It was Israelis who fought back and saved the country from extinction. It was a Jewish desire for millennia to return to the Jewish homeland that preserved the dream.

On the Jewish Agency for Israel’s website they ask the question: “Did the State of Israel come about because of the Holocaust? Imagine the Holocaust happening before a single kibbutz was built, before a flourishing Jewish culture had been reestablished in Israel, and without armed Jews fighting to defend themselves in the Land. Would any one have supported Jewish sovereignty in that situation? Surely not!” The Holocaust was a contributing factor to the timing and circumstances of the struggle for independence. It certainly affected the kind of Jewish state that was created, its population mix, its self-perception and its worldview. But the events that underpin its creation are located elsewhere.

The author is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders. He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

 

Why does President Obama Treat His Friends as Enemies, and His Enemies as Friends?

(Published previously on The Jerusalem Post)

With his misguided and naïve outreach, the president has spawned a new Iranian assertiveness, bolstered by an economic resurgence directly related to our unilateral concessions on sanctions.

Less than a day after the Republican midterm election landslide, President Barack Obama lashed out against the Republican Party as if it were America’s primary adversary in the world. On the very next day, we learned the president was secretly negotiating with one of America’s most implacable enemies, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

After six years of trying to placate America’s enemies, you would think that Obama would have learned that, in the Middle East, weakness is seen as weakness. The response to weakness will be – as it always is – increased demands, greater intransigence, disrespect and violence.

If repeating the same mistakes is astute American diplomacy, then President Obama and his foreign policy advisers are masters.

Somehow, the president has concluded that Islamic State (IS) is a much more dangerous threat to America than Iran.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Iran is a powerful nation-state that is developing nuclear weapons, while it remains the leading state sponsor of worldwide terrorism. As Shahram Akbarzadeh opined in Al Jazeera, “From Iran’s point of view, history is on its side… Iran maintains the most battle-ready military force…

buttressed with strong political ties with Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah.

The Iranian leadership remains confident… to reclaim its role as regional leader.”

As dangerous as IS potentially is, Iran is infinitely more dangerous to long-term American security interests.

If the president thinks Iran is a bulwark against Sunni jihadist terrorism, then he really doesn’t understand the nature of jihadist Shi’ite Iranian hegemonic ambitions.

The president apparently thinks there are gradations within radical Sunni and Shi’ite Islamism, some of which can become partners for shared US interests. This misguided policy was most evident with the president’s assessment that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt could be a moderating democratic Islamist movement. He still does not realize that Iran, Islamic State, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Boko Haram and al-Shabab are different sides of the same coin.

It is a risky bet for the US to align with Shi’ites, who represent 15 percent of the Islamic world, while abandoning our Sunni “friends,” who share with us a common security interest and who represent 85% of the worldwide Muslim population. If we advocate a value-based foreign policy, then we should align with smaller groups (like Israel or the Kurds) that share our principles. However, Iranian radical Shi’ite Islam and Sunni radical Islam of all stripes are two enemies that should be weakened, not embraced.

There is no reason for America to partner with unsavory “friends” in the Middle East.

Nor is it an option for America to follow the misguided foreign policy of my fellow ophthalmologist Senator Rand Paul and completely withdraw from the region. That is a prescription for disaster.

With time and increased American energy independence, we should strategically distance ourselves from repressive Gulf States, without abandoning them to populist Islamist movements. We also need to support Egypt as a friend, despite its military-led government. This balancing act will require experienced diplomatic leadership, something in short supply in the Obama administration.

Yet, Obama is still sending secret messages to the ayatollah in the hope that he will sign a nuclear agreement.

It would leave the odious, repressive Iranian government even more empowered to torture its people and spread Shi’ite radicalism throughout the world. This is the very definition of diplomatic negligence.

It is ironic that the Iranian people are our most natural allies, and are most likely to become democratic if only given the chance. President Obama’s abandonment of the people of Iran to the ayatollah during the 2009 Green Revolution for the possibility of détente was both morally wrong and a disaster for American national security interests.

What should be done? Firstly, the nuclear negotiation deadline must not be extended. Current sanctions must be enforced, and new sanctions considered. In addition, Congress should write new, veto-proof legislation in anticipation of European nations trying to circumvent sanctions. In tandem with these measures, lines of communication with Iran should be left open.

The most likely way to limit Iranian nuclear ambitions is by asserting diplomatic and economic strength. That is the only way to get their attention.

My friends on Capitol Hill really do get it. They have watched the president dilute sanctions and, in the process, allow Iran to move away from the brink of economic collapse.

With his misguided and naïve outreach, the president has spawned a new Iranian assertiveness, bolstered by an economic resurgence directly related to our unilateral concessions on sanctions.

It is time for Congress to assert its constitutional rights and become the president’s foreign policy partner. This is a bipartisan issue and should not be politicized by the fringes of either party. Let’s hope the president, in his final two years in office, can learn from the past, become more humble in his assessments, show less hubris and display as much conciliation in dealing with his fellow Americans, the Republican majority, as he has displayed in dealing with Iran.

The author is the director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders.

 

Secretary of State Kerry Simply Doesn’t Learn from His Mistakes

(Published previously on The Jerusalem Post)

Kerry will again be raising the profile and influence of nations and organizations that are historically biased against Israel. And he still is not learning from his mistakes.

“US Secretary of State says that unrest between Israel and the Palestinians fuels unrest in the Middle East.” – The Jerusalem Post

“There wasn’t a leader I met with in the region who didn’t raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment.” – US Secretary of State John Kerry

By blaming Israel for fueling the rise of radical Islamism, US Secretary of State John Kerry reveals a lack of comprehension that the rise of radical Islam is in fact rooted in long-standing religious geopolitical rivalry, and has little to do with Israel. His use of this rationale to justify restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks transforms his opinion from embarrassing to dangerous.

I spoke last week to the Middle East dialogue group at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA ). The group included students from Egypt, Israel, China, the US, France, the Netherlands and Morocco.

What follows is what I told them.

The rise of Islamic extremism in the modern period began with the Iranian Revolution in 1979, and the response of the Sunni world to the new Shi’ite assertiveness. The vicious rivalry between the Sunnis and Shi’ites began anew.

Wahhabi Sunnis created and supported al-Qaida and propagated a radicalization of the whole Sunni world. Shi’ite Persians wanted hegemony in the region partly because of their maltreatment at the hands of Sunnis over millennia. The fundamentalist Iranian state became the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, with the blood of many Americans on its hands.

Israel has been around for 66 years.

The Sunnis and Shi’ites have hated each other for 1,400 years. Israel has little to do with extreme Islamism, except for being a convenient scapegoat. Naïve Western diplomats believe Israel is the root cause of the problem primarily because autocratic and corrupt Arab leaders tell them so.

Kerry and his team should ask themselves the following questions: • What does Israel have to do with the Sunni-Shi’ite war playing out in Syria, Iraq and Yemen? • What does Israel have to do with Qatar and Kuwait supporting al-Qaida in Syria? • What does Israel have to do with Iran’s despicable human rights record? • What was Israel’s connection to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood – before Israel even existed? • How did Israel force the Arab world to import Nazi anti-Semitism as exemplified by the Hamas Charter, that rivals Mein Kampf? • What does Israel have to do with NATO ally Turkey becoming Islamist? • What is Israel’s role in the Islamist persecution and ethnic cleansing of the Middle East’s ancient Christian population? Kerry’s nine-month deadline for the last round of negotiations was probably the most important reason for Operation Protective Edge. Yet there is no indication Kerry understands that it is he who was the cause of so much death and destruction.

Now he wants to restart the peace talks. Violence inevitably and unfortunately will follow and again Kerry will find someone other than himself to blame.

There are reports that the Quartet of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia will be meeting soon to discuss the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. Has anyone stopped recently to look at the makeup of the Quartet? The US, Israel’s only friend, will be represented by Kerry, who is convinced that the occupation – not Palestinian intransigence – is the cause of all problems.

It only gets worse from there. The EU cannot decide which is more important to do first – boycott Israel or recognize a Palestinian state. The UN’s disproportionate focus on delegitimizing Israel is the very definition of anti-Semitism. To its shame, 120 UN states of the “non-aligned movement” are lined up in back of the world’s leading state sponsor of terror – Iran.

In light of Russia’s current occupation of northern Georgia, Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, perhaps they are best suited to discuss occupations.

Yet Kerry will again be raising the profile and influence of nations and organizations that are historically biased against Israel. And he still is not learning from his mistakes.

The author, an MD, is founder and director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political and Information Network.

Israel, US, and the World Community Face Upcoming Diplomatic Clash

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

Next, America will pressure Israel to open trade and sea routes in the name of humanitarianism and insist the PA be present at the crossings.

“For Hamas… and I suspect for many Palestinians in the West Bank – the only solution is Israel’s elimination.

For many Israelis, the only solution is to continue to occupy all captured territories until the Palestinians commit to peace and recognition.”– George Friedman, Stratfor

Sooner or later, a fragile cease-fire will be negotiated, and a lull in hostilities will take hold. For how long, no one knows. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon clearly do not want to re-occupy Gaza or control a population raised on allegiance to terrorism and hatred of Jews. A military operation to eradicate Hamas and all affiliated terrorist groups would take many months, if not years, to achieve. The toll on IDF soldiers and Palestinian civilians will be beyond what the US, the world, or Israel can bear. This is not good news for Israeli communities in the south. Add to this the danger of the potential chaos and anarchy that may ensue in the vacuum that would be created with the fall of Hamas.

If the Palestinian Authority is unwilling to govern Gaza because it fears accusations of complicity with the Zionist enemy, who will step in? Forgotten is that the collapse of peace talks in May preceded the June kidnappings and Operation Protective Edge. The primary American negotiator, Martin Indyk, a reliable critic of Israel, blamed Israel for the failure of the talks. Indyk blamed Israel despite the fact that it was PA President Mahmoud Abbas who broke his promise not to go to the UN for recognition.

Abbas knew that neither Indyk nor US Secretary of State John Kerry would blame him for the failure of talks. Nor did the formation of the unity government of Fatah and Hamas factor into the US’s decision of whom to blame – even though the PA was supposed to have one government and one army.

(Hamas is 100% independent from the PA.) This brings us to the upcoming collision between the US and Israel. Kerry and US President Barack Obama will claim that this Hamas-initiated war is actually an opportunity for a breakthrough for peace. Despite President Abbas still demanding the right of return for refugees, and vowing never to accept a Jewish state, he is seen as a trustworthy negotiating partner by the US administration. (Kerry apparently still believes that his destiny is a Nobel Prize for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite the more overwhelming concerns of global Islamist jihad growing throughout the Middle East, threatening American national security interests.) American pressure probably will be in the form of a quid pro quo. We will try to stop the PA from charging Israel with war crimes before the International Criminal Court, the US will say, but you, Israel, must agree to negotiate based on the 1967 “borders,” and allow the PA to include Hamas in a technocratic government. There will be language and rationalizations that Hamas accepts previously signed PA treaties, but anyone other than the naïve, malevolent or ignorant will dismiss this as folly.

Next, America will pressure Israel to open trade and sea routes in the name of humanitarianism and insist the PA be present at the crossings.

With global jihad on the march throughout the Middle East, Hamas will rightly claim victory if it is not completely demilitarized, and its commerce and trade are reinstated. The billions in foreign aid that will pour into Gaza will erase any memory of the pain Israel inflicted as deterrence against future missile and tunnel attacks.

The US will likely clash with Israel over what constitutes effective demilitarization. Israel’s past experience with international forces and false promises in this regard justifies any skepticism on its part. UN Security Council Resolution 1701 was supposed to keep southern Lebanon missile-free after the Second Lebanon War in 2006. UNIFIL (UN Interim Force in Lebanon) allowed nearly 100,000 Hezbollah missiles to enter Lebanon over an eight-year period (2006- 2014), and intercepted none.

Similarly, UN Resolution 1860 called for the prevention of “illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition” to Gaza after Operation Cast Lead in 2008.

Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 and Operation Protective Edge in 2014 clearly demonstrate the ineffectiveness of international guarantees for demilitarizing Islamist terrorists.

A bipartisan American Congress has been much wiser and realistic about whom to call America’s friend in the region, and it is not the administration’s choice of Qatar and Turkey, Hamas’ main supporters.

The author is founder and director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political and Information Network.

Progressives and Moral Equivalence during Operation Protective Edge?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

Operation Protective Edge is a fight between good and evil. There is no moral equivalence here.

From the Hamas Charter: • “Israel will exist…until Islam will obliterate it” (Preamble) • “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight Jews and kill them” (Article 7) • “There is no solution for the Palestinian problem except by Jihad” (Article 13) • “[Peace] initiatives…are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement” (Article 13) At a time when the Jewish Diaspora should be coming together to fight a movement whose raison d’etre is the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews, progressives have introduced a concept of moral equivalence into debate on a conflict that is as close to black-and-white as one could imagine.

Haaretz recently featured an article titled, “Is Israel Committing War Crimes in Gaza?” Yet, the Geneva Convention states: “The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.” Translation: According to international law, Israel can legally attack military targets “protected” by human shields.

Yet Israel, unlike almost any other nation in an equivalent situation, chooses to carefully minimize aiming at legitimate military targets to minimize civilian casualties. This, because civilians were purposefully placed there by Hamas.

Progressive Zionist Rabbi Eric Yoffie describes Operation Protective Edge as the same “cycle of violence [that] has repeated itself endlessly.”

“Cycle of violence” is a neutral proxy for moral equivalence, and equal culpability. Hamas, the genocidal organization that aspires to kill Jews worldwide, and Israel, the vital democracy under existential threat for its entire existence, are immorally conflated by most of the world. “Stop the Rockets, Stop the Settlements,” is the headline of Rabbi Yoffie’s article about Hamas and Operation Protective Edge. He writes, “Israel’s settlement policy is an utter disaster. It has no supporters of consequence anywhere in the world.”

If Hamas didn’t fire rockets, there would be no cycle of violence.

Why do progressive Jews feel the need to bring the issue of settlements into Israel’s conflict with Hamas – while the fighting is still raging and 5,000,000 Israelis are under threat – a conflict between good and evil that is so obviously black-and-white? There have been no settlements in Gaza since 2009, since which time the Palestinians could have turned Gaza into Dubai, but instead chose to turn it into a terrorist enclave.

Hamas does not want to destroy Israel because of settlements.

Hamas considers even Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba settlements.

Rabbi Yoffie writes that progressives are “encouraged by signs of moderation from PA President Mahmoud Abbas.” What signs? President Abbas is now serving the 10th year of his four-year term, and he still demands the right of return for Palestinian descendants of refugees to Israel proper. He refuses to recognize a Jewish state. He refuses to sign an end-of-conflict agreement, demanded by prime ministers Rabin, Barak and Netanyahu.

Most egregiously, Fatah’s military wing is now operating in Gaza with its “unity” partner Hamas, firing missiles at Israeli civilian targets.

In this context, so-called “moderation” and war crimes seemingly go hand in hand.

Progressives ignore the belief of many Israeli officials and military analysts that if Israel left the West Bank today, it would be overrun by Hamas within days. It would be 100 times more dangerous than Gaza is now.

While sirens were ringing in Tel Aviv last week, Obama’s Middle East representative Phillip Gordon was at a “peace” conference in Tel Aviv, chastising Israel.

“How can Israel have peace if it’s unwilling to delineate a border, end the occupation?” he asked.

When will progressives realize that the Arab speakers invited to “peace” conferences tell their Jewish audience what it wants to hear? The audience never gets around to reading the Arabic translation.

Operation Protective Edge is a fight between good and evil. There is no moral equivalence here. In 2005 the Palestinians had open borders, and there was not a Jew in Gaza, but they chose terrorism when they took over. Maybe someday they will change their minds. Until then the world should not confuse self-defense with genocide.

The author is founder and director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political and Information Network.

A Road Map for American Diplomacy in the Middle East

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

The Obama administration’s attempt to resolve the Israeli- Palestinian conflict once again has failed. This should have surprised no one. The administration should take a break after the recent kidnappings, but don’t count on it.

Israel remains the only nation in the Middle East susceptible to American pressure.

The administration’s belief that Israel is the intransigent party, and that a breakthrough in this conflict will open up possibilities for engagement throughout the Middle East, will motivate it to try again soon. Failures created by America’s dysfunctional foreign policy in the region (where American influence is almost non-existent) will motivate the administration to return sooner than later to the Israelis and Palestinians.

So what went wrong this time? There is a litany of reasons why these particular negotiations failed. But among them is the fact that these negotiations followed the well-worn pattern of ignoring the fundamental reasons for the conflict. Some make excuses such as “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a weak leader,” but this is a symptom of the disease, not a cause.

The important question to ask is: “Will this president and those that follow learn the lessons of the past, or will they repeat the same mistakes?” Entering negotiations that are doomed to failure gives the Palestinian people false hope, while the Israelis endure the inevitable subsequent terrorism. America, for its part, suffers another black eye in the international community, which undermines American foreign policy interests and influence throughout the world.

With this in mind and acknowledging that American pressure on Israel will return sooner rather than later, here is a checklist for the next American president to consider with regard to initiating another round of negotiations: • Understand the Arab and Muslim World. The Arab and much of the Muslim world think and negotiate in profoundly different ways than the West.

This is not meant to be condescending, but is merely a statement of fact.

Whether it is ignorance of the Iranian concept of taddiyah, whereby deceiving your enemy in negotiations is religiously sanctioned, or the assumption that Arabs will follow economic interests over tribal allegiances, lack of understanding of the Arab and Muslim world will lead to failure.

  • Brush up on history. Remember that most of the Arab World was artificially created less than 100 years ago.

Treating the borders of Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Saudi Arabia as sacrosanct will not only thwart a resolution of Middle East conflicts, but also will make almost impossible territorial resolutions with these countries and with the Kurds.

  • Don’t equate elections with democracy.

Unless the rule of law, tolerance, pluralism, freedom of speech and freedom of the press precede an election, you must remain skeptical about the results of elections in the Middle East.

  • Remember the issues run deep.

Realize that even if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved, it will actually make a relatively small impact on the Arab and Muslim worlds. Sunnis and Shi’ites will still fight for regional hegemony, and Iran will still want a nuclear weapon in pursuit of that goal. The chaos and slaughter in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq will not diminish, while the Saudis will still be just as misogynistic and intolerant as ever.

  • Understand that border adjustments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are a final-status issue. They are not the essence of the conflict. Until one stops treating the conflict as simply a land dispute, there is almost no chance of resolution. At a deeper level, conflict resolution must address whether the Palestinian Arabs can overcome the concept of Dar al-Islam, the Islamic belief that no land once controlled by Muslims can revert to infidel hands, i.e. Jews, Hindus or Christians.
  • Know your enemies and your friends. Understand that Israel is an irreplaceable ally. Remaining neutral in negotiations will be interpreted by the world as American abandonment of an ally.
  • See (and treat) the UN for what it is.

Realize that the UN needs to be marginalized in any Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty because of its inherent anti-Semitic agenda. America should treat the UN as simply a humanitarian organization.

  • Be realistic. Understand that the Middle East is an area in flux, which we cannot control, but must not abandon.
  • Recognize your predecessors’ mistakes.

Accept that many American demands and pressures on Israel in the past were misguided and dangerous, e.g., pressuring Israel to withdraw from Golan and trust in the Syrian regime.

  • Put the “Arab Winter” in proper perspective. The Arab Winter did not weaken Israel’s traditional enemies to the point that Israel can now take more risks for peace.

So, before America re-enters the negotiations, it must extract agreement from both parties that: • Israel has legitimate internationally recognized land rights over the Green Line. If this fundamental fact is not clearly acknowledged at the outset, the conflict will never be resolved, and Israel will always be considered a thief if it retains any territory over the Green Line in a land swap.

  • We must redefine “Palestinian refugees” (or else the Palestinian Right of Return will never end).
  • They will agree to an end-of-conflict agreement with resolution of all outstanding issues that cannot be challenged in the future.
  • Consequences will be incurred by any party that transgresses any final resolution.
  • Any final agreement must contains specifics. For example, we must define a “demilitarized West Bank” and “incitement.”
  • They will accept UN Resolution 181 calling for an “Arab State” and a “Jewish State.”

Critics will charge that the Palestinians cannot accept so many preconditions.

They are probably right. But until they and the Arab World can accept Israel’s right to exist, America should avoid being drawn into premature peace negotiations. The US should put its energies and efforts into encouraging the Palestinians and nascent Arab governments to respect the rule of law, accept freedom of speech and of the press, and end the endemic anti-Semitism that infects the region. Only then will negotiations truly bear fruit and lead to an equitable settlement for both parties.

The author is founder and director MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™.

How False Choices Define and Weaken U.S. Middle East Policy

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

The US administration’s strategy of creating simplistic false choices for the complex problems of the Middle East has strained the US-Israeli relationship, and undermined American foreign policy goals in the region.

The US administration’s strategy of creating simplistic false choices for the complex problems of the Middle East has strained the US-Israeli relationship, and undermined American foreign policy goals in the region. This strategy has lead to fruitless negotiations and weakened the traditional American role for regional conflict management, whether it is in Iran or Syria, or between the Israelis and Palestinian Arabs.

False choices and straw-man arguments are not only manipulative, but usually obfuscate a true debate about what is best for American national interests, which should be based contextual facts. A false choice or straw-man argument presents limited choices to avoid having to defend a vulnerable argument against truly worthy alternatives.

What is a straw-man argument? Here’s how it works. An opponent creates a fallacious and often extreme argument to misrepresent the opposing viewpoint, then easily shoots it down. Meanwhile, you are forced to remain on the defensive.

Closely related is the false-choice argument where you deliberately create a situation to paint your opponent into a corner by claiming only two choices, when in reality there are more realistic options. All rely on misrepresentation, over-simplification, or subtle distortion According to The Washington Post’s opinion writer Ruth Marcus, “a particular Obama specialty is the false false choice. Set up two unacceptable extremes that no one is seriously advocating and position yourself as the champion of the reasonable middle ground between these unidentified straw men.”

On Iran the president and the administration has presented the public with a dangerous false choice.

They repeatedly claim that they would rather accept no nuclear deal with Iran than a bad deal. According to this false-choice strategy, any deal to which the US agrees must be a good deal – by definition.

This is what keeps Israeli leaders up at night. It also greatly troubles many Americans who believe that a nuclear- capable Iran just weeks away from a nuclear weapon is an American national security nightmare. It will endanger our soldiers, increase the chance America will be drawn into battle, and ultimately put American civilians in harm’s way by nuclear proliferation in the very dangerous neighborhood of the ongoing Sunni- Shi’ite regional war.

While 82 bipartisan members of the US Senate asked the president to increase the possibility of future sanctions as a warning to Iran if negotiations collapse, the president created another false choice between only his vision of diplomacy, or a “march to war.” He created a straw man by claiming anyone who disagrees with his approach is a warmonger, i.e. the straw man.

In reality, almost everyone wants a diplomatic solution, just not like the one the P5+1 accepted which conceded far too much and emboldened the Iranians to ask for more concessions.

The problem is further compounded because the president’s diplomatic solution already conceded the Iranian right to enrich, and contradicted 11 UNSC resolutions between 2003-2010, to which even the Russians and Chinese agreed.

Another false choice is the seemingly uncontroversial claim by Susan Rice that “Iran must not get a nuclear weapon.” The false choice is then between Iran possessing a nuclear weapon or not having a nuclear weapon. Who could be for the former? The problem is the administration’s definition of “not having a nuclear weapon” would allow Iran advanced enrichment capabilities, possession of nuclear fissile material, possession of ballistic weapons, while ignoring 25 years of hidden proliferation and weaponization.

The public is totally unaware of this.

To this administration, Iran does not possess a nuclear weapon until the last screw is turned to activate it.

In the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Secretary of State John Kerry created a straw-man argument where he has said if Israel does not concede and create a Palestinian state it will become an “apartheid” state. Use of this word is not only incorrect by definition, but is the equivalent of the “N word” in this part of the world. This is a rhetorical device employed to create an extreme and offensive choice to make one’s case.

The onus was placed on Israel but in reality the intransigent party is the Palestinians, who could have had a state six times over the past 76 years.

Another false choice is that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is the best leader with whom Israel will ever be able to conclude a peace agreement. Here the straw man is a future Palestinian leader who will be much less accommodating and unwilling to negotiate.

Ignored is that Abbas is in the 10th year of his four-year term, and reigns over a corrupt government which promotes anti-Semitism in all of its officially supported outlets.

The false choice of Israeli acquiescence to Kerry’s pressure ignored the most logical alternative – conflict management, which had been the primary tool of American foreign policy. In Syria and Iraq, the false choice offered is between American boots on the ground or the administration’s diplomacy. Unfortunately, the administration fails to understand it is seen as a toothless superpower.

Another false choice is that if Israel simply removed its settlements in Judea and Samaria, the Palestinians would embrace peace. As Ambassador Aaron David Miller, VP of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars said, if you believe settlements are the primary cause for the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, “I have a bridge over the mighty Jordan River to sell you.”

American foreign policy needs to return to its natural place as a force for good in the world. Its absence on the world stage by leading from behind makes the world a more dangerous place. An America that is engaged and respected in the Middle East not only increases the peace but also makes America safer at home.

The administration needs to be reminded that Israel is an indispensable ally, which if it did not exist would profoundly hurt American intelligence and security interests.

The majority of Americans view Israel in a favorable light and recognize that it not the Palestinian Arabs that are the aggrieved party, but the intransigent one.

The author, an MD, is the founder and director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political and Information Network.

A New Litmus Test to Determine Who is Within the American Pro-Israel Tent

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

Wherever we stand, we stand with Israel, wherever we stand, we won’t stand for boycotts.

How do you identify someone as pro- or anti-Israel? In the name of Klal Yisrael, mainstream organizations sometimes have tried to stretch the bounds of reason to include groups whose hostility to Israel seems unrelenting.

The organizers of the New York City Celebrate Israel Parade say that any group that supports Israel as a Jewish and democratic state can participate in the parade. That is its litmus test to fit within the pro-Israel tent. Is this the appropriate standard to define a philo-Israel organization or individual in the early 21st century? In America, where we cherish our right to free speech, we are reluctant to silence anyone. This is as it should be.

But does that mean that Jewish groups should provide a platform to those who want to delegitimize and boycott the democratic state of Israel? The debate rages from the campus to the halls of some of our most recognizable and important organizations.

The Council of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations is considering J Street, the self-described pro-Israel, pro-peace movement, for membership.

Some say they belong based on their growing membership numbers, while others say their actions and associations put them more in the pro-Palestinian camp. Can an organization be pro-Israel if it receives significant funding from George Soros, a lifetime vehement critic of the Zionist experiment who has said he wants no involvement with Israel? Is he within the tent because he supports J Street? Is there or should there be a litmus test for any person or organization to be considered pro-Israel? J Street has not joined the boycott movement in its name, but it does sponsor events with those who do support boycotting Israel.

Some of the groups that have been criticized for inclusion in the 2014 Celebrate Israel Parade are trying to have it both ways on the boycott issue.

The New Israel Fund says it will not fund global BDS, but then says it “will not exclude support for organizations that discourage the purchase of goods or use of services from settlements.” Is there a different definition of a “boycott”? Criticism of Israel is certainly not the litmus test to determine whether someone is pro-Israel. I don’t know a single Israeli or supporter of Israel who does not have many valid criticisms of the current Israeli government.

Nor does opposing occupation of the disputed territories put one outside the tent.

There is one clear-cut litmus test that should be non-objectionable: those who delegitimize or challenge Israel’s right to exist because they disagree with the current democratically elected government should be well outside the tent. Just as neither a Democrat who dislikes a Republican administration nor a Republican who dislikes a Democratic administration would challenge America’s right to exist because of political disagreements, a patriotic Israeli should never question Israel’s legitimacy as a sovereign state.

The issue of boycotts is not about communities over the Green Line.

Boycott supporters hide behind the false façade of justice and equal rights, but their real agenda is about delegitimizing Israel’s right to exist as the homeland of the Jewish people.

Would the boycotts end if Israel unilaterally withdrew from Judea and Samaria? No, they would continue in the name of Israeli-Arab rights, Beduin rights, or anti-colonialism. Those who champion boycotts really support returning every descendent of an original refugee to Israel. The endgame is to demographically destroy Zionism and the Jewish homeland.

Even harsh critics of Israel like Roger Cohen of The New York Times question the motives of BDS.

“I do not trust the BDS movement.

Its stated aim is to end the occupation, secure ‘full equality’ for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and fight for the right of return of all Palestinian refugees. The first objective is essential to Israel’s future. The second is laudable. The third, combined with the second, equals the end of Israel as a Jewish state. This is the hidden agenda of BDS, its unacceptable subterfuge: beguile, disguise and suffocate.”

Should a parade that celebrates Israel welcome organizations that financially support groups that support boycotts against Israel? What if that organization does work that benefits the minority citizens of the region? If the pro-Israel community in America allows supporters of boycotts into the tent, how can we then legitimately criticize Europeans or their governments who have joined the boycott movement? I suggest a new litmus test. If you can endorse this statement, you certainly may remain a critic of Israel while well within the wide pro-Israel tent: “Wherever we stand, we stand with Israel, wherever we stand, we won’t stand for boycotts.”

The author is the founder and director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political and Information Network.