Wednesday, 25 May 2011

From the NST: How not to lecture US Presidents by W.Scott Thompson

From the NST:

How not to lecture US president
By W.Scott Thompson

ONE of the most formidable people I ever met was a retired head of one of Israel's intelligence services. We shared a programme at Harvard some time back. Unsentimental, unsparing of bad analysis, realistic and soft-spoken, he was the kind of person a country in peril would wish to rely on. Right now, there are 18 men in such retirement -- from the leadership of Mossad, Shin Bet (internal), and the Israeli Defence Forces.

Interestingly, according to a highly informed report that has come my way, eight of these see a gigantic danger for Israel in the near-term. Six of them seem to echo the same view more quietly -- and the other two are in Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet and thus muzzled.

Iran? No, the "hawk's hawk", Meir Dagon, recently retired Mossad head, said at a conference at Hebrew University on May 6 that the notion of attacking Iran's nuclear sites was "one of the stupidest ideas I've ever heard". Syria? It's too wrapped up in its own problems, as is Egypt.

The problem is Netanyahu. They are all working against him. His ostrich head-in-sand attitude toward the forthcoming United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood is threatening Israel's viability. Netanyahu reacts to events, they all seem to be saying. While the Arab world is waking up, the Israeli prime minister is falling into a permanently disgruntled sleep.

It looks as if most of the intelligence boys think a two-state solution is inevitable, and the sooner dealt with the better. Netanyahu has long since made clear, one way or the other, that it won't happen on his watch.

As I read this analysis, knowing that Netanyahu was going to Washington, I pondered how he could out-chutzpah his own chutzpah. After all, he knew that the president of the United States (POTUS) would know all of the above. So, lecturing POTUS in the Oval Office, he delivered of himself a sequence of absurdities and insults. The pre-1967 borders, with adjustments compensated on both sides, have always been the starting point for everyone else.

Netanyahu scoffed. The width of Israel then, he said, was the same as the Washington Beltway. Now, I was in Israel pre-1967 and at the narrowest point it was a well-defended 18km. I've crossed the Washington Beltway at least a thousand times (and Netanyahu has crossed it enough times); at no point is its width a tiny fraction of 18km. One allows exaggeration to make a point, not total fictions.

Then he continues his lecture to POTUS. There are new "realities" on the ground, that have to be taken into account: ah, the settlements on Arab land. More than half a million Jewish illegal settlers, basically squatting. But Netanyahu wants that to be the starting point of "negotiations". Accept that, swallow it, it's a new "reality". In other words, defy the law and then tell the negotiators that the starting point is an acceptance of the very "realities" causing the problem in the first place.

The group of retired intelligence heads are concerned about a different set of realities. 

Demographics is making Jews a minority in Israel and the territories occupied for 44 years. 

Worse for Israel, one by one it's losing its traditional friends in Europe and the rest of the world -- save, of course, the US. It had quietly built a remarkable network of quiet friendships through armaments sales, intelligence sharing, and common sympathies for a "socialist" state that was born of immense suffering. It developed a brilliant network of friends in Africa to outflank Egypt, at least diplomatically. It formed a remarkable alliance with South Africa, selling it "special" equipment with which to put down black guerillas and in return have space for testing nuclear weapons. It built a solid tie with Turkey -- a lot of shared enemies, after all.

Almost all of that is of the past. The ending of the Cold War cost Israel its utility to the US as a strategic partner, baring the real basis of its support -- 64 per cent of the total cash received by congressmen and senators, which comes from Jewish groups. Israel has few friends in Africa, least of all post-apartheid South Africa. Turkey, as a really special democratic, Muslim ally, was trashed as a friend.

The world has changed -- and more in the Middle East. If the prime minister were truly interested in "new realities" he'd concentrate on laying groundwork for real peace negotiations, rather than bragging how he has Barack Obama in a frying pan until after November next year and can push him around as much as he wishes.

My guess is that Obama knows there'll be no peace process until Netanyahu is swept out by an awakening that is hitting everyone in the Middle East except him. Obama's very precise address last Thursday was a blueprint for dealing with the region when the dust settles in the major Arab countries, and when Israel has a leader who can deal with reality. Obama didn't take Netanyahu on, but he introduced some new dimensions to the dialogue -- like letting the Palestinians sort out their relationship to each other so that negotiations with Israel are possible.

Netanyahu's constant allusion to Hamas's refusal to "recognise" Israel's right to exist is no more and no less than Fatah's, until the conference table was a real possibility. (As one Palestinian minister said to me years ago, "why should we give up one of the few negotiating levers we have?") Hamas has developed over recent years. Nor does the argument of Hamas rockets in southern Israel hit very hard: read the Goldstone Report if you want to read about which side hit the other the hardest.

But Netanyahu will, of course, return saying that the American Congress is more right than his own right wing. Of course. When you want money, or something like that, you speak to the left of a leftie, and to the right of a rightie. If I had to choose whose advice to rely on, I'm sure the retired intelligence heads of Israel can speak more wisely of the right choice of roads ahead for their country than can American congressmen hungry for cash.

The writer is emeritus professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, the United States.

Source here.

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