Friday, November 25, 2011

Kushner - From Israel: He's Not Buying It

Arlene Kushner
Arlene from Israel
24 November '11

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is not remotely convinced, nor should he be:

In certain quarters of the international community the idea is being promoted that a peace treaty hastily negotiated between Israel and the PA would have a mollifying effect on the unrest in the Arab world. EU Ambassador to Israel Andrew Standley, for example, said at a Jerusalem press conference yesterday that Israel should move quickly to settle with the Palestinians to remove this conflict as an issue on the Egyptian street.

Failure to move ahead on negotiations, he declared, should not be allowed to become an additional "disturbing factor" in the Arab world.


Now, really. This is a spin off of the arguments the Obama administration was making some while ago. The notion that a peace treaty between Israel and the PA, or lack thereof, is an issue of major importance within the Arab world is a myth that has no legs to stand on.

While I would never go as far as to state unequivocally that this issue is never mentioned on the Egyptian street -- although when it is, it is more as a function of anti-Israel sentiment than because of genuine concern for the Palestinian Arabs -- it clearly is not center stage. The Egyptians are engaged in conflict about the future of their own nation.

As Boaz Bismuth, reporting for Israel Hayom writes, while there had been a sense of enthusiasm and unity expressed by the mobs in Tahrir Square when Mubarak was overthrown, "This time around, Egypt is divided, disappointed, not expecting anything, scared, violent, opportunistic and in terrible pain." It's the military regime against the street, which has not been satisfied with promises of elections and reforms. The Muslim Brotherhood is joining forces with Salafists, says Bismuth, to gain control.

In the course of this struggle, Israel is occasionally being vilified on the street because we are perceived as being allied with the military regime: "Israel is no friend of the Egyptian people. They support the army that is shooting at us."

Well, it's true. The military regime has maintained the peace treaty -- something the Muslim Brotherhood might well not do -- and has sustained a relationship with Israel in spite of rocky moments. That radical jihadists should replace the regime that is currently welcoming back our ambassador is our worst nightmare with regard to Egypt.

Were Netanyahu to sit down at a table across from Abbas, it would change none of this. It's the old story of the onus being placed unreasonably on Israel.


Not only does Netanyahu understand this, he grasps the fact that our rushing to negotiations with the PA at this juncture (which at a minimum would mean stopping all construction outside the Green Line and agreeing to that line as the basis for negotiations) would play against Israel's best interests.

In two statements within the last couple of days, he made it clear that making concessions at a time of uncertainty would not be a wise move.

"Last February I stood on this stage," he told the Knesset, "as millions of Egyptians took to the streets of Cairo, and my friends in the opposition explained that this is a new time of liberalism and modernity. When I said that, despite our hopes, it's more likely that an Islamist, anti-America, anti-Israel wave will come, I was told that I'm trying to scare people and that I don't understand where things are going.

"Well, things are going somewhere. They're going backwards, not forwards. I'm looking at reality, not hopes and wishes."

Netanyahu warned that, "We can't know who will end up with any piece of territory we give up. Reality is changing all the time, and if you don't see it, your head is buried in the sand." It was clear, he said, that his "careful attitude was correct, smart and responsible." Israel is facing regional instability.


Before turning to other, albeit related, issues, I want to make one other point with regard to Egypt. This is from Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council.

Egypt's economy, he warns, is in dire shape: "Since this spring, in a development largely unnoticed by the outside world, the Egyptian economy has virtually imploded...

"Just how bad is the situation? A telling assessment was recently provided by Ahmed al-Borai, Minister of Manpower and Immigration in the country's transitional government. 'Egypt is currently passing through a critical period and on the brink of bankruptcy,' the Egyptian daily Al-Masry al-Youm reports al-Borai telling an investment conference in Alexandria in early October. '[Egypt's] losses are growing day by day.' The forecast, according to al-Borai, is dire. 'Either we band together and change the current situation, or let Egypt be destroyed.'

" least in the case of Egypt, the 'Arab Spring' hasn't netted prosperity at all. Rather, it has produced the kind of economic malaise that predisposes societies to seek relief by embracing authoritarian central control. That, in turn, could be a boon to illiberal elements - including the country's main Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now organizing to dominate upcoming parliamentary polls to the detriment of its secular rivals."


One is hard put to understand why this has been largely ignored by a host of media analysts, especially as this unquestionably has to be a source of the unrest on the street.

Berman does not see the situation as hopeless: "New infusions of foreign capital from Western stakeholders, if judiciously disbursed and pegged to real economic and political reforms, could begin to reverse the country's current, ruinous course - or, at least, provide Egypt's government with much-needed breathing room to begin putting its economic house in order."


And yet one other thought occurs to me. A nation that close to bankruptcy literally cannot afford to wage war.


After two hours of talks in Cairo today, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and head of the Hamas politburo Khaled Mashaal emerged with glowing statements regarding a new partnership.

Enthused Mashaal:
"We want to assure our people and the Arab and Islamic world that we have turned a major new and real page in partnership on everything do to with the Palestinian nation."

While Abbas declared:
"There are no more differences between us now. We have agreed to work as partners with joint responsibility."

No more differences indeed. That's pure PR hype. What matters now is not these glib words, but what follows in terms of true understandings. There is no announcement at this point regarding composition of the joint government, or -- most critically -- of the identity of the projected new prime minister.

Seems that individual has not yet been selected -- his identity will be determined in meetings in December. Also still to be discussed are the restructuring of the security forces of each group, and changes to the PLO -- to which Hamas does not now belong but which it seeks in time to control.

What this means, then, is that the "new partnership" could yet founder as the hard issues are confronted. But if this cooperation does proceed, there will a considerable shift in what has been the situation to date.


A key issue will be that of funding for this new Palestinian Arab entity-in-the-making.

Abbas, with his UN/UNESCO gambits of the last few months, had already generated a reluctance to provide the PA with funds. Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) -- enormously irked by his counterproductive actions -- had put a hold on US funds to the PA. Under truly incredible pressure, she removed the hold. However, it is impossible for me to conceive of a situation in which the PA-Hamas jointly would receive US funding; what is more, EU funding would likely be cut as well.


With regard to US funding of the PA, I draw particular attention to the on-going funding and training of the so-called PA security forces. When moves have been made to stop funding to the PA, the protest was often heard that the one program that should not be cut was the training of the forces.

But this has been an error of colossal proportions. Two years ago I wrote a major report analyzing the dangers of this program. The forces were being trained to take on terrorists -- notably Hamas. But, I asked in 2009, how could this training be done when its US sponsors could not be sure at the end of the day who would control these forces. And now we have a situation in which there may be a "restructuring" of PA-Hamas forces, such that Hamas may end up commanding the very forces that were supposed to act against it.

Abbas has said he would join Hamas in a "resistance" government; Hamas has said there would be no recognition of Israel or agreements with Israel. If a joint PA-Hamas security force should be formed and decide to take on Israel, it will be better trained and better equipped than it otherwise would have been thanks to the stupidity of the Americans promoting this program.

If I could see this possibility coming, why could they not? Because they were invested in the program, and were wearing blinders -- the blinders many don when dealing with the Palestinian Arabs.


Israel, for her part, decided to withhold tax revenues collected for the PA, in response to the recent UNESCO acceptance of "Palestine," which had been requested by Abbas. Pressure within the international community was then promoted by Abbas to get Israel to release the funds -- most notably a demand in this regard from UN Secretary-General Ban. This past Sunday, the Cabinet voted not to release the funds pending the outcome of today's meeting between Abbas and Mashaal. I do not believe that money will be seen by the PA any time soon.


Another change we would witness would be -- I must assume -- a cessation of demands that Israel rush to the negotiating table with the Palestinian Arabs. Israel, for her part, has made it very clear that this possibility should not even be entertained if there is a unity government.

The recent demands by persons such as the EU's Standley that we rush to the negotiating table were made before today's meeting in Cairo. But it was known that the meeting was pending. Makes the demands on Israel rather incredible. Unless there was some unspoken hope that by making requisite concessions with all possible speed we might lure Abbas from meeting with Mashaal. Sorry guys.


The last change I would fervently hope to see would be definitive action on the part of Israel with regard to finally recognizing that Oslo is truly, truly dead. Maybe application of civil law to all communities in Judea and Samaria, for starters.


With regard to the application of Israeli civil law in Judea and Samaria:

The Canadians for Israel's Legal Rights has just announced that "The Jewish People's Rights to the Land of Israel" by Salomon Benzimra has been published in Kindle format via Amazon. Please see their website for full information on how to access this material, which "is the result of extensive research on the historical events and legal documents that enshrined Israel's Legal Rights in international law."


Former head of the Mossad, Danny Yatom, speaking yesterday at a security conference at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies came out firmly in favor of Israel hitting Iran:

"As difficult a price it may be [if Iran is hit], and even if those predicting apocalyptic results are correct – and I don’t think they are – this is still not as bad as the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb."

Israel can’t allow herself to be put in the position of having "to wake up every morning and ask, 'Will they go crazy and throw a bomb on us or not?'...the damage that an Iranian nuclear bomb can cause is so great."

As to the rocket response from Hamas and Hezbollah, he predicted that Israel’s response would be 'so painful and crushing that rockets will come to an end.

“Civilian facilities and infrastructures in Lebanon and Gaza will be hit...But the barrage of rockets will no longer be falling over our heads."


See this article about attempts by the PA -- acting as a full member of UNESCO -- to get this UN agency to declare the Cave of the Patriarchs (the Machpelah), Judaism's most ancient site, to be a World Heritage site belonging only to the Palestinians.


While it's business as usual for me here today, I do recognize that in the US it is Thanksgiving. And so I wish a happy holiday to all. Enjoy your turkey, and your sweet potatoes, and your pumpkin pie. Enjoy each other, as you gather around the table.

This American holiday, in particular, has always seemed to me quintessentially Jewish in its practice and sensibility: Both because of the need to express gratitude for blessings, and because of the model of the harvest festival of Sukkot. Actually, I believe that the Pilgrims, who were immersed in their Old Testament, were mindful of Sukkot.


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.

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