Professional Capitol Hill watchers still can’t accurately handicap the fate of Senate Resolution 1881, the Kirk-Menendez-Schumer bill designed to torpedo negotiations with Iran. But Tuesday was a very good day for those opposing it.
First of all, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein gave an eloquent speech on the floor of the Senate, whose centerpiece was a personal and historical overview of how nations can and frequently do change their policies and orientations, how Iran gives every indication of being on the cusp of such changes, and how Kirk-Menendez-Schumer would “play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see diplomacy fail.” She referenced Germany and Japan, Spain and Argentina, South Korea and Vietnam, all states whose nuclear programs have been modified or political orientation transformed. Her words were at once broad-reaching and personal, so unlike the tired and ritualistic AIPAC talking points regurgitated by the bill’s supporters. (Of course those inclined to quibble with Di-Fi could point out that we more or less flattened Germany and Japan, and then occupied them. Iran hawks think for some reason we can bomb, but not occupy.)
Secondly, five major “mainstream” newspapers editorialized against the bill: the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and Minneapolis Star Tribune. As a former newspaper editorial page editor, I know such endorsements are less than monumentally important, but when five of them line up together like that, it’s a good indication of where the mainstream consensus lies. (Note: The Washington Post ed page has long had a neoconservative bent, so the editorial may reflect the thinking of new owner Jeff Bezos.)
Thirdly, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote a very good “Iran Hawk” column against Kirk-Schumer-Menendez. I’m by no means a Goldberg fan, but readily acknowledge his influence and journalism ability. Here he points out what our AIPAC corner of legislators never manages to get its brains around: the current regime of sanctions in Iran has been effective because it has been international, and the United States, with great effort, managed to secure sanctions support from other nations as a way to get Iran to the negotiating table. That has been accomplished, but it certainly doesn’t mean the international community supports the Israeli (and Saudi) wish list of complete dismantlement off Iran’s nuclear energy program. Key Goldberg ‘graf:
The most dangerous consequence of these Senate sanctions would manifest itself in places such as Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul and New Delhi. In order to work, sanctions must have the support of the world’s main industrial powers. If countries such as China and India decide that the U.S. is making a concerted attempt to subvert negotiations, their enthusiasm for sanctions will wane dramatically.
These are but one day’s events over a long campaign. AIPAC may decide that trying to destroy the negotiations now through the Kirk-Menendez poison bill isn’t going to work, and will let quietly slip that it’s not putting out a full-fledged lobbying effort for the bill. I’m sure the group is uncomfortable with the level of attention it’s drawing. I believe that never in its history has AIPAC seen five major newspapers oppose one its favored pieces of legislation.
And don’t forget, negotiations are inherently difficult, and might fail anyway. Iran’s President Rouhani has his own hard-liners entrenched in the Iranian parliament, who take it as axiomatic that any negotiation with the Great Satan is bad for Iran (as it probably is bad for their political fortunes in Iran). But right now Senate support for the bill seems stalled in the high fifties, short of veto-proof, and well short of the 70 signatures which an AIPAC staffer once boasted could be rounded up within 24 hours. Tuesday was a good day.
John Kerry’s statement on Ariel Sharon’s death is here. Of course diplomats should be diplomatic and avoid gratuitous insults. But isn’t it possible to say something appropriate or even respectful about Ariel Sharon without pretending he was any kind of peacemaker? In an act of truly world class groveling, Kerry manages to repeat the falsehood of Sharon the peacemaker four times within four brief paragraphs–no modest effort. There’s this:
I will never forget meeting with this big bear of a man when he became Prime Minister as he sought to bend the course of history toward peace, even as it meant testing the patience of his own longtime supporters and the limits of his own, lifelong convictions in the process. He was prepared to make tough decisions because he knew that his responsibility to his people was both to ensure their security and to give every chance to the hope that they could live in peace.
Followed a few lines later by this:
In his final years as Prime Minister, he surprised many in his pursuit of peace, and today, we all recognize, as he did, that Israel must be strong to make peace, and that peace will also make Israel stronger.
A notable constant in Sharon’s career was his readiness to massacre defenseless Palestinian civilians. He made his bones, so to speak, at Qibya in 1953, a West Bank town in Jordan. Some Palestinian “infiltrators” had crossed the cease-fire line to murder an Israeli mother and her two children, and the Israeli government decided upon reprisals. (Jordan had denounced the murders and promised to cooperate in tracking down the perpetrators).
The reprisal raid was carried out by Unit 101, commanded by Major Sharon. When it was over, Qibya was reduced to rubble, 45 houses had been blown up, most with their inhabitants inside. 69 civilians, mostly women and children, were left dead. There was a storm of international protest, and Israel initially sought to deny IDF responsibility for the massacre, claiming instead that irate Israeli villagers had taken revenge on their own initiative. The lie didn’t stand up. Israel faced universal condemnation, including from the United States, which called for those responsible for the killing to be held to account. Abba Eban, entrusted with defending Israel at the United Nations, wrote his foreign minister Moshe Sharrett that “Sending regular armed forces across an international border, without the intention of triggering a full-scale war, is a step that distinguishes Israel from all other countries. No other state acts this way.” Sharon was well pleased with the action however, as was most of the Israeli political establishment.
Sharon’s more famous massacre took place at the refugee camps of Sabra and Shattilah in Lebanon. In 1982, the camps were under Israeli control after Israel’s invasion of southern Lebanon. Protected by Sharon’s forces, Lebanese Phlangists –allied with Israel and rabidly hostile to the Palestinians, entered the camps and killed 800 Palestinians, (Israel’s estimate: others are far higher) mostly women and children. Israeli forces protected the forces carrying out the massacres, illuminating the camps with flares. An Israeli investigating commission found Sharon personally responsible for allowing the carnage. He was removed from his post at the Ministry of Defense, though Menachem Begin kept him in the Likud cabinet. Throughout the 1980′s he remained in government, and was a pivotal figure in accelerating Israeli settlement of the occupied West Bank. In 2000, his notorious visit to Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque, accompanied by 200 armed military policeman, was an intentional act of incitement, one of the matches which ignited the second, enormously destructive, intifada that fall.
There is reason to believe that Sharon felt that provoking the Palestinians to violence could be of strategic benefit for Israel. In a lengthy portrait of Sharon published in the 2006 New Yorker (behind a paywall), Ari Shavit writes:
When he went back to the cozy living room and sank into his favorite armchair, he showed me the book he was reading: it was about the Arab revolt of 1936-39. He said that what interested him was the way the rebellion had ultimately collapsed, causing a disintegration of Palestinian society. He clearly saw a certain similarity between the revolt of the nineteen thirties and the intifada that began in 2000. In time, it became evident that the strategic plan that Sharon was considering involved bringing the Palestinians to a point of political chaos and then luring them into a partial agreement on Israel’s terms—one that would not require evacuation of major settlements on the West Bank or a return to the pre-1967 borders.
I’ve heard other Israeli politicians argue in this vein, implying that they would actually welcome Palestinian violence, because militarily Israel is far stronger and and can damage Palestinian society far more in the context of war than peace.
In most tellings, consideration of Sharon as a peacemaker rests on Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2004, when he was prime minister. The move gave Israel a talking point before international audiences: look, Israel is ready to withdraw from occupied territory. Of course it didn’t lead to peace, as the withdrawal was unilateral, and almost entirely limited to Gaza, and was quickly followed by a blockade of Gaza. Sharon aide Dov Weissglas described the Gaza disengagement as fomaldehyde, designed not to make peace but to smother the peace process. In that, it would seem, the maneuver was hugely successful.
It would be more truthful to conclude that Sharon is a war criminal who should have been indicted and tried for his crimes. If one doesn’t want to speak ill of the dead, he could be deemed a brutal but crudely effective general, a type which has existed in many countries. But it is a stretch too far to call Sharon a “man of peace” and to go on about it as Secretary Kerry did, as if black were white. We have still before us contemplation of the parade of American political figures to Sharon’s funeral, many who will mouth panegyrics to the brutal general, making sure their AIPAC donors hear every fulsome word. By all rights, Americans should find their country’s obsequious lauding of this man a source of national shame.
It has been often repeated that former AIPAC official Steve Rosen boasted to Jeffrey Goldberg that within 24 hours he could have the signatures of 70 U.S. senators on a cocktail napkin. Such was the clout of the Israel lobby’s main congressional enforcement arm. But students of the lobby often wondered what would happen if AIPAC faced an actual political contest. Its victories seemed almost too effortless, the Harlem Globetrotters versus the Washington Generals.
The Israel lobby’s campaign to scuttle negotiations with Iran is not going easily. Yesterday, Jonathan Broder reported in Congressional Quarterly that “momentum for a new Iran sanctions bill appears to have stalled.” The bill in question is the Kirk-Mendendez-Schumer legislation, which imposes new sanctions on Iran and stipulates that the United States go to war on Israel’s side in the event Tel Aviv decides, for reasons of “self-defense,” that it needs to attack Iran. (As of this writing, the legislation has 51 co-sponsors and will surely acquire more, but Obama would obviously veto it, as would any President who wished to maintain some control over America’s foreign policy.) Meanwhile, Adam Kredo in the neoconservative Washington Free Beacon published a hit piece on Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, accusing her of stalling a companion negotiations scuttling bill in the House. The piece pointed out that Florida Jewish organizations were upset Schultz was not doing the Israel lobby’s bidding.
Honestly no one would ever have expected Wasserman Schultz, an influential congresswoman who is often flamboyantly pro-Israel, to be AWOL when AIPAC wanted something done. She famously orchestrated the congressional standing ovations when Netanyahu spoke before Congress in 2011. And yet here she is, at least thus far standing quietly in the corner of Obama and the American diplomats who know anything about the issue, to the chagrin of those who want an American war with Iran. Like no previous issue, the Iran question is forcing the American Jewish political establishment to choose between its often reflexive and unquestioning backing of Israel’s hawkish positions and its own professedly liberal political values—which in this case militate towards testing whether negotiation is better than bombing. Schumer lines up with Netanyahu. Wasserman Schultz may well support Obama. Sprinkled throughout the Senate are veteran Jewish lawmakers who have already made it clear that they want to give the administration every possible chance to forge a nuclear deal, and possibly someday a detente, with Iran. I can’t imagine that these choices between competing impulses and allegiances are easy, and I hope there is a novelist (probably but not necessarily Jewish) who can work them into a period-defining novel.
On the merits of the issue too, everything is suddenly in play. The rise of Sunni jihadists in Syria and their reemergence in Iraq underscores what to some has long been obvious: objectively the United States has more grounds for cooperation with Iran (and Turkey) than with a backward looking Wahabi sheikdom. The Israel Project is frantically sending around worried reports about the rush of international businessmen to Tehran. Let it be a flood. The stories unintentionally underscore one of the Obama administration’s main talking points: there is no chance to hold together a coalition of international sanctions if the administration refuses to take the outstretched hand of an Iranian president. Yes it is conceivable, perhaps even fifty-fifty, that AIPAC and Netanyahu will prevail in the Senate in the next few weeks, and that Obama’s diplomacy with Tehran will be effectively collapsed. But China, Russia, Germany, Britain, and France will not fall back in line to implement a tougher AIPAC orchestrated sanctions regime. This week, two former British cabinet ministers lead a delegation of British lawmakers to Tehran, a small step but symbolically significant. Are they going to sign up for Netanyahu’s war train? Not likely. And if not Britain, who? China? Russia? India? Japan?
What the Israel lobby envisions is America alone, its only ally a gallant little Israel, fighting Mideast wars in perpetuity to maintain Israel’s nuclear monopoly. It could happen, but it probably won’t.
There are many salient points in John Mearsheimer’s National Interest cover story, ”America Unhinged,” and months from now different ones may stand out. But generally the 12,000-word essay is a systematic exercise in well-grounded exasperation. Mearsheimer is exasperated that neoconservative hawks and liberal imperialists still dominate the foreign-policy discourse in Washington, despite the Iraq failure and an “0 for 5″ record in recent wars. Bizarre exaggerations of America’s international peril or outlandish claims about the “vital strategic nature” of one country or another are commonplace among leading voices in both parties.
The essay was written when Syria and Egypt were on the front pages, and Mearsheimer tosses cold water on the notion that what happens internally in those countries of any critical importance to us. Since the piece was written, senators of both parties have been grandstanding about internal matters in Ukraine, while South Sudan—a completely new country whose independence was encouraged by American foreign policy in the past several years—is on the front pages. Do we have an American solution to the problem of the Nuer and Dinka, the ethnic groups vying for power there? The sober answer, the one which at least nine of ten Americans would give reflexively, is that it doesn’t matter if we don’t.
That may be the case for most of the foreign issues Washington talks about. In the midst of World War II, Churchill was presented with the intractability of the Yugoslavia problem and the growing influence of the Titoist communists by one of his top intelligence officials. Churchill asked Fitzroy Maclean whether he planned to make his home in Yugoslavia after the war. Told he did not, Churchill replied, “Neither do I” and proceeded to move on to the next topic. If that could be reasonably said about Yugoslavia, it could be repeated a thousandfold about South Sudan. Read More…
The early reports from John Kerry’s latest trip to the Mideast, to try to breathe life into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, are unpromising. Few informed observers expected otherwise. Prime Minister Netanyahu treated Kerry to a lecture on the savagery of the Palestinians who would celebrate the freeing of prisoners accused of committing acts of terror. I assume Kerry did not remind Netanyahu that Israel has elected two former terrorists as its prime ministers. Foreign Policy today ran an interesting book excerpt on Israeli terrorism and the British intelligence services. In the immediate post war period, when Britain lacked coal and food, Zionist terrorism was perceived by British intelligence as its primary threat.
These are atmospherics: Netanyahu wishes to signal to his cabinet and supporters that no serious negotiations will be forthcoming, that they need not worry, Greater Israel is in good hands. Kerry will lo0k for any faint sign that the continuation of ongoing negotiations are not, as they have been for more than twenty years, a cover under which Israel can proceed with colonizing the West Bank and a slow motion ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem.
Required reading for any attempt to understand the what is at stake in the negotiations is the work of Jerome Slater, a SUNY-Buffalo professor who has written perhaps a dozen methodical, careful, footnote-rich essays on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His work is a model of how much one can do with a scholarly temperament and wide and careful reading in freely available English sources. One always comes away from a Slater essay enriched—whether it is a topic one thought one understood (the failure of Oslo Camp David negotiations) or knew little about (the nearly successful Israeli-Syrian negotiations of the early 1990′s).
I recently read “What Went Wrong: The Collapse of the Israeli Palestinian Peace Process,” which appeared (behind a firewall) in Political Science Quarterly in the summer of 2001. (The essay is available online to subscribers and those with access to various academic data bases). I’ve not seen anywhere a more careful and substantial debunking of the main talking points of Israeli hasbara, from the notion that the war was forced upon Israelis who in 1948 were otherwise all too happy to accept the UN’s partition resolution, to the idea that Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians everything they could conceivably have wanted for an independent state at Camp David in 2000, only to have Yasser Arafat walk away. Both propositions are simply false, though they have become–through constant media repetition—very nearly the American received wisdom. Since there is no reason to think that Bibi Netanyahu is more inclined to allow the Palestinians a viable state than Barak was, there really is little chance that Kerry’s mission will succeed—unless of course the Palestinian leadership has been sufficiently corrupted and bribed to sell out legitimate Palestinian aspirations.
Since Slater’s exemplary scholarship is not easily available on the internet, I will quote at length several of his paragraphs, which challenge the conventional wisdom but should be part of it.
The evidence is now irrefutable that David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, and the other leading Zionists “accepted” the UN compromise only as a necessary tactical step that would later be reversed, a base from which Israel would later expand to include all of biblical Palestine. In many private statements, Ben-Gurion was quite explicit, as in a 1937 letter to his son: “A partial Jewish state is not the end, but only the beginning. The establishment of such a Jewish state will serve as a means in our historical efforts to redeem the country in its entirety. . . . We shall organize a modern defense force . . .and then I am certain that we will not be prevented from settling in other parts of the country, either by mutual agreement with our Arab neighbors or by some other means. . . . We will expel the Arabs and take their places . . . with the force at our disposal.” A year later, Ben-Gurion told a Zionist meeting: “I favor partition of the country because when we become a strong power after the establishment of the state, we will abolish partition and spread throughout all of Palestine.” And “Palestine,” as understood by the Zionists, included the West Bank, Jerusalem, the Syrian Golan Heights, southern Lebanon, and much of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
Or this, assaying the readiness of the assassinated Yitzhak Rabin to make peace:
Two years after the Oslo agreements were signed, Rabin announced his detailed plans for a permanent settlement with the Palestinians: there would no return to the pre-1967 borders; a united Jerusalem, including the Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, would remain under exclusive Israeli sovereignty;most of the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza would remain there, under Israeli sovereignty; free access to and military control over the settlements would be assured by a series of new roads to be built throughout the territories; Israel’s security border “in the broadest meaning of that term” would be the Jordan River, meaning that Israel would retain settlements and military bases in the Jordan River valley, deep inside Palestinian territory. What the Palestinians would get was an “entity” that would be the “home to most of the Palestinian residents living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. . . . We would like this to be . . . less than a state.” In the next year, Rabin began implementing this peace plan, under which the Palestinians would end up with a series of isolated enclaves on less than 50 percent of the West Bank and Gaza, cut off fromeach other and surrounded by Israeli settlers and military bases. Jewish settlement in an ever-expanding Jerusalemcontinued, including in Arab areas, and the massive road building project got under way, often requiring the confiscation and destruction of Palestinian homes and orchards. Astonishingly, under Rabin the growth of the Jewish settlements was greater than it had been under the previous hardline Likud government of Yitzhak Shamir.
Or this, on the Ehud Barak and the “perfect offer” given to Arafat at Camp David in the summer of 2000:
The first difficulty in assessing Camp David, as well as subsequent Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that continued until just before the February elections,is that all of Barak’s proposals were verbal; evidently seeking to keep all his options open, even as he was supposedly negotiating a final settlement, Barak refused to allow the creation of an official record. As a result, even the participants at Camp David and at subsequent meetings have differing accounts of precisely what Barak offered… . [snip]
It is true that Barak’s proposal went further than any other previous Israeli offer to the Palestinians, especially in agreeing to a Palestinian state and to the sharing of at least part of Jerusalem. On the other hand, it is no less true that Barak’s proposals fell far short of a genuinely fair compromise that would result in a viable Palestinian state. Within a few weeks of Camp David, a number of Israeli political analysts had reached this conclusion. Particularly revealing was the forthright assessment of Ze’ev Schiff, the dean of Israel’s military/security journalists and a centrist in the Israeli political spectrum. According to Schiff, because of Barak’s ongoing violations of the spirit of the Oslo agreements—“above all . . . the relentless expansion of the existing settlements and the establishment of new settlements, with a concomitant expropriation of Palestinian land . . . in and around Jerusalem, and elsewhere as well”—the Palestinians had been “shut in from all sides.” Thus, Schiff concluded, “the prospect of being able to establish a viable state was fading right before their eyes. They were confronted with an intolerable set of options: to agree to the spreading occupation . . . or to set up wretched Bantustans, or to launch an uprising.” As both the Palestinians and Israeli political analysts began to draw up detailed maps, it became evident not only that Gaza and the West Bank would be divided by the State of Israel, but that each of those two areas would in turn be divided into enclaves by the Israeli settlements, highways, and military positions, the links between which “would always be at the mercies of Israel, the Israel Defense Forces and the settlers.” With little or no control over its water resources, with no independently controlled border access to neighboring countries, and with even its internal freedom of movement and commerce subject to continued Israeli closures, the already impoverished Palestinian state would be economically completely dependent on—and vulnerable to—Israel.
In greater detail, this is what the consequences of Barak’s proposals would have been:
Borders. First, the Jerusalem “metropolitan area,” which since 1967 had been expanded to include almost one-fifth of the entire West Bank, would now be incorporated into the city. The eastern boundaries of this “Greater Jerusalem” and the other newly annexed settlements would reach almost to the Palestinian town of Jericho, itself only a short distance from the Jordan River and at Camp David and at subsequent meetings have differing accounts of precisely what Barak offered. Still, there is general agreement on the main Dead Sea. The net effect of these Israeli facts on the ground would be to split the West Bank nearly in half. Second, the so-called blocs of settlements that Barak proposed to annex were ten times the area of Tel Aviv and contained Palestinian villages whose population of some 120,000 was actually greater than the settler population. What would happen to that Arab population? Since it was inconceivable that Israel would want to incorporate a large number of new Arab citizens into the Jewish state, presumably they would be relocated or transferred by one means or another, thereby adding still further to the refugee problem, with all the moral and practical problems that would entail. Third, the land that Barak proposed to give to the Palestinian state in a territorial exchange was only about 10 percent of what Israel was taking from the Palestinians. Moreover, it was empty desert. By contrast, the land that Israel would annex was relatively fertile; even more important, it contained most of the West Bank underground water aquifers—precisely why the settlements had been put there in the first place.
Israeli military control. The independence of the Palestinian state would have been severely compromised—perhaps nullified—by the continuation of Israeli military control throughout the new state. Under the terms of Barak’s proposals, Israel would continue to control all of Palestine’s border access points with the outside world; would continue to patrol and protect all the Jewish settlements that remained in place in the West Bank, and perhaps even in Gaza; and would remain for at least six years—perhaps indefinitely, for all Palestinians knew—throughout the Jordan River valley.
Jerusalem. The situation in Jerusalem would have been intolerable for the Palestinians—and not simply for religious or symbolic reasons. As noted, Barak insisted that the Palestinians accept all of Israel’s “facts on the ground” since 1967, except that they would be given sovereignty over the remaining Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. The problem was that these neighborhoods would be isolated and impoverished enclaves, cut off not only from the rest of the Palestinian state but even from each other by the Jewish neighborhoods, roads, and military outposts. Since 1967 it had been Israeli policy to establish Jewish political and economic control over all of Jerusalem and to create conditions that would convince the Arab residents to leave. To this end, highly subsidized Jewish neighborhoods were built in East Jerusalem, while the Arab neighborhoods were left in poverty, denied economic assistance and even most city services. As a result, even if Arafat had agreed to Barak’s proposals, long-run prospects for Jewish-Arab stability in the context of such extreme political, social, and economic inequality would have been dismal.
Some former Jerusalem city officials and city planners, including Deputy Mayor Meron Benvenisti, now openly admit that this was the purpose of Israel’s policies. For example, see a major but little-remarked story in the New York Times on 15 March 1997, in which a number of current and former Israeli officials admitted that “political planning” and “lopsided development strategies” had been employed to ensure Jewish dominance over Jerusalem and to encourage the Palestinians to move out of the city into neighboring West Bank towns. Even long-time Jerusalem mayor, Teddy Kollek, who in the past had claimed he did everything he could to help the Jerusalem’s Arab population, spoke quite differently in an 10 October 1990 interview with the Israeli newspaper, Ma’ariv. The Arabs of East Jerusalem, he bluntly admitted, had become “second and third class citizens,” for whom “the mayor [that is, Kollek himself] nurtured nothing and built nothing. For Jewish JerusalemI did something. . . . For East Jerusalem? Nothing!”
Barak’s Camp David proposals effectively perpetuated Israel’s control over most of the West Bank’s water, since the most important aquifers would be incorporated into the newly annexed Israeli territory. If for no other reason, this made the Barak plan intolerable to the Palestinians, and a strong indication that Barak continued to resist the establishment of a genuinely independent and viable Palestinian state.
Here and in other essays Slater provides detailed opinions about other sticking points in the negotiations, including the Palestinian “right of return” and Israel’s demand that Palestinians recognize it as “a Jewish state”. He believes that these are far from insurmountable obstacles, subject to compromise and symbolic actions—provided that there is sufficient Israeli good will and realism to actually leave the Palestinians with a viable (if largely disarmed) state at the end of the negotiation. I tend to agree, though we are likely never find out so long as Israel can contemplate no more than an archipelago of Palestinian bantustans.
The real question is whether the liberal Zionist convictions of someone like Slater have already been overtaken by events, or as it happens, by the construction of Israeli settlements. Already much of the Palestinian population has moved on from the desire to build small state on the 22 percent remnant of Palestine, to placing their hopes on the idea that a broad based, international campaign for boycott and divestment will tear down Israel’s walls. South Africa is not an exactly similar case, but it is not entirely dissimilar either.
In any case, any realistic assessment of Kerry’s latest efforts—which I believe are probably doomed—requires some sense of what has gone before. To this, there are few better sources than Jerry Slater’s work.
Steve Walt wonders when Hillary is going to let us in on her opinion on Iran diplomacy:
Amazing, isn’t it? The former chief diplomat of the United States is supposedly an expert on foreign policy and may still harbor a desire to be leader of the free world. Yet she’s been completely silent on the whole question of the negotiations with Iran, even though I’ll bet the Obama administration would love to get her to endorse its efforts. Does she support it? Damned if I know. Does she think it’s naïve, foolish, or not bold enough? Your guess is as good as mine. No doubt we will find out HRC’s true convictions just as soon as her focus groups report in or her major donors tell her what to think. -
Another leading prospective candidate whom we’ve yet to hear from is Rand Paul. I’m slightly more sympathetic to Paul than Clinton, in part because he’s already gotten slammed by the neocons on Iran without having really said anything. For him to endorse the administration’s efforts at Iran diplomacy, when the grassroots of his party would learn to hate ice cream if Obama were associated with it, might qualify him for a chapter in the next edition of Profiles in Courage. I don’t really expect it, but if it happened it would be pretty impressive.
On second thought, doesn’t that set the bar kind of low? Is it too much to expect that a leading Republican senator would remind people of Reagan and his “trust but verify,” and that Richard Nixon started talking to China, while noting that we actually have serious national interests in ramping down the blind hostility with Teheran? You know, actually lead, instead of arguing that he is well qualified to do so.
Let’s have a contest: which would-be leader of the Free World will be the first to tell us what they actually think about Iran diplomacy, including of course the deal inked in Geneva in late November? Who will be the first to break silence, Rand or Hillary?
(For those wondering, I am well aware that even this preliminary Geneva deal is running into difficulties with a new Iranian insistence on modernizing centrifuges, as well as the Iranian Parliament proposing legislation that would bar Rouhani from negotiating. This group should caucus with Schumer, Menendez, and Kirk. None of this will be easy.)
Over the weekend, we went to a joint Bethlehem-Washington National Cathedral service, possible through the magic of Skype. About 300 Washingtonians sang Christmas carols with the congregation of Mitri Raheb’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bethlehem—and blended joint services in English and Arabic. I was cheered that the congregants in Bethlehem were a good deal younger than our group. Christians in the Middle East may be facing the greatest crisis in their history; it’s tragic to look back at the far from optimal situation Christians enjoyed in Iraq, Syria, the occupied West Bank, and Egypt at the time of the last millennium, thirteen years ago, and realize that period, compared to the present, must loom as a golden age.
Speaking of Bethlehem, this was interesting: in the center of London, a major church decides to demonstrate to people what Israel’s separation wall does to the city. It surrounds Bethlehem on three sides, cutting residents off from access to Jerusalem and turning the city into a ghetto. I wonder if major American churches, who have taken some great initial strides towards working for justice in Israel and Palestine in the past year, might learn something from the example of St. James.
Of course the major focus of Israel-Palestine action was the boycott vote of the American Studies Association, previously discussed here. The pushback against the vote has grown intense, with major Jewish organizations putting pressure on the universities to come down hard on the ASA, while figures like former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren and New York assemblymen Dov Hikind call for legal action to be taken against the professors. If Oren and Hikind believed they could get a law passed making it illegal to criticize Israel, their fierce First Amendment convictions would kick in to persuade them that free speech is a higher value. Well actually no, I don’t think that.
One tactic of the ASA denouncers is to take a quote from Curtis Marez, the president of the ASA, and use it to try to illustrate the organization’s idiocy. Leon Wieseltier did it like this: Read More…
Peter Beinart raises the troubling question: Why is the Left good at protesting stupid wars once they begin (and inflicting political punishment on their instigators) but feeble at preventing them in the first place? His concern is raised by the Schumer-Menendez-Kirk “back door to war” legislation, which has already gotten 14 Democratic cosponsors. He doesn’t provide an answer. AIPAC influence may explain part of it, but that could be countered by political opposition at the grass roots. Beinart observes,”despite the best efforts of MoveOn, CREDO, that doesn’t exist right now.”
I would like an answer too, though I appreciate that Beinart doesn’t try to supply a glib one. Just the somber fact:
In 2006, Democrats enraged by Joe Lieberman’s support for the Iraq war denied him their party’s renomination for senate. In 2008, Democrats embittered by Hillary Clinton’s support for Iraq helped orchestrate one of the biggest upsets in presidential history. But they were too late; the damage was already done. The American left is very good at punishing politicians for supporting disastrous wars. Its challenge in 2014 is to show that it can stop politicians from promoting those wars in the first place.
Clearly readiness to slip into war without weighing the consequences is more symptomatic of today’s GOP. A generation ago, prominent Republicans who would have objected strongly to legislation designed to tie the hands of the Secretary of State and outsource American decision-making about war and peace to Israel. Today’s party lacks a Dick Lugar or a Bob Dole, a Mark Hatfield, Jack Kemp, or Lincoln Chafee—none of whom were eager bombardiers. I honestly can’t see Richard Nixon backing into a war like this, or Dwight Eisenhower.
One seldom explored sidebar is the salience of politicians of Cuban ancestry in the new hawk consensus. The GOP’s center of gravity on foreign policy now resides with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who have now have found a willing collaborator in New Jersey’s Senator Bob Menendez. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen calls the tune in the House. Somewhere Fidel Castro must be having a good chuckle.
Democrats Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Robert Menendez (N.J.) have joined Republican Mark Kirk (Ill.) in placing a ticking bomb under President Obama’s Christmas tree. The bomb is an AIPAC-sponsored bill that commits the United States to stop Iran from enriching any uranium at all, and also requires the United States to “stand with Israel” in the event Netanyahu decides, for reasons of “self-defense,” to start a war with Iran. The purpose of the bill is transparent: to scuttle the P5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China) diplomacy with Tehran, because it is well known to everyone concerned that Iran is not going to abandon completely a nuclear energy program underway since the Shah was in power.
Gary Sick, the Columbia University Iran expert, has posted on his website an open letter to Schumer, noting that the bill seeks to “remove any negotiating authority from the U.S. government by specifying in advance the terms of an impossible settlement.” Further, Sick observes, the bill “outsources any decision about resort to military action to the government of Israel, by committing the United States in advance to support any military action by Israel.”
These are the two central points. Netanyahu wants war with Iran, but he doesn’t want to fight it by himself. Schumer, Menendez, and Kirk hope to compel the United States to step in and finish the job after Israel throws the first punch. But even if such a war were just (which it isn’t), or even if we had allies besides Israel (which we wouldn’t), the aftermath of such a war ends most likely (as the former hawk Kenneth Pollack argues in his exhaustive analysis “Unthinkable“) with an American occupation of Iran. At a cost in blood and treasure many times the invasion of Iraq.
There is no realistic scenario under which Iran’s government is going abandon entirely its nuclear program. Schumer, Kirk, and Menendez know this perfectly well. Their resolution is a backdoor to war. They just don’t have the courage, as yet, to say so.
Right now the bill has a fair number of cosponsors. Sanctions have always been an easy call for Congressmen—it’s a way of seeming tough, without actually supporting a war just now, while staying on the good side of the hawkish lobbies. But after serious diplomacy has begun, and the United States, Britain, France, China etc. have a signed international agreement that explicitly ruled out new sanctions, new Senate sanctions are not an innocent vote.
After the New Year, the Schumer-Menendez-Kirk bill’s fate will be at the top of the global political calendar. American senators will be under scrutiny in London, Moscow, and Beijing like never before. If it comes to the Senate floor and passes, not a certainty at this point, Obama would be compelled to veto it; failing to do so would be acknowledging that American diplomacy at the highest level is determined not in Washington, but in Israel, through AIPAC and its minions.
I have been following this subject closely for years, but I never thought a showdown between an American president and the Israel lobby would come so quickly, or be so naked. Israel has much to gain by keeping its role out of the public eye, not exposed to prolonged or divisive debate. AIPAC is accustomed to winning Senate votes by 99-0 scores, giving the impression that the policies it seeks are so obviously right that no reasonable person could oppose it. That may have almost never been true, but it is an awfully powerful impression to leave. But unless I am reading things very poorly, the Schumer-Menendez-Kirk bill will not pass without a vast public struggle, after which American politics will not be the same.
The American Studies Association landslide vote in favor of boycotting Israeli institutions is a milestone, a landmark event. As one commenter put it, succinctly, “history is being made before our eyes.” The vote put the BDS movement, growing in Europe and heretofore well known only to Americans who follow Israel and Palestine closely, on the American political map. The New York Times, which has long ignored the campaign, put the ASA vote on its front page.
A few discrete points:
Yes, the American Studies Association is not broadly representative of America. College professors are generally liberal, and ASA members are probably more liberal than most. Much of American Studies analyses, contextualizes, explores, deconstructs American ethnic relations, which is in great part the story of how America’s white founders and their descendants oppressed, marginalized, etc. immigrants and people of color. At many times in my life, I’ve found this discourse irritating, tiresome, latently oppressive. But it is also, in the main, true. And it is something that America can be proud of that it has (in real world comparative terms) traveled astonishingly far in fulfilling its founding ideals, which were not (explicitly) racist. I’m not an Angela Davis fan (the black former communist candidate for president is an ASA stalwart) but I’m glad that someone like her can have a prominent and influential career, rather than be denied it as she would have been in the America of my grandparents.
The vote won’t have any immediate and practical impact on Israel and the occupation. It was often argued about the boycott of South Africa that such activities “hurt the people they were supposed to help.” Perhaps in the short run this was true, but Israeli decision-makers are becoming increasingly conscious that they can’t forever occupy the West Bank and benefit from Western diplomatic support and all the economic and cultural benefits that entails. Israelis have voted increasingly for right-wing governments, supported the expansion of settlements, and are generally blithely indifferent to the occupation, whether it be the checkpoints, the destruction of Palestinian homes, the refusal to allow Palestinians to build new homes, the unrelenting bureaucratic restrictions on Palestinian travel, freedom of movement, and life. Growing international isolation will be Israel’s price for this policy. The ASA vote is the tip of the iceberg of an international campaign to sanction Israel for its refusal to allow Palestinian self-determination on even a small segment of the Palestinan Mandate territory. In Europe, major companies have pulled out of Israeli contracts, and Israelis have been provisionally denied access to EU funds and institutions which they have long been accustomed to accessing. The movement will grow slowly, but it will grow and Israel will change because of it. Just as South Africa did.