Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Egypt’s Three Revolutions. By Thomas L. Friedman.

Egypt’s Three Revolutions. By Thomas L. Friedman. New York Times, July 23, 2013.


If you’re looking for any silver lining in what is happening in Egypt today, I suggest you go up 30,000 feet and look down. From that distance, the events in Egypt over the past two-and-a-half years almost make sense.  Egypt has actually had three revolutions since early 2011, and when you add them all up, you can discern a message about what a majority of Egyptians are seeking.
The first revolution was the Egyptian people and the Egyptian military toppling President Hosni Mubarak and installing the former defense minister, the aging Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, as the de facto head of state. Tantawi and his colleagues proved utterly incompetent in running the nation and were replaced, via a revolutionary election, by the Muslim Brotherhood’s party, led by President Mohamed Morsi. He quickly tried to consolidate power by decapitating the military and installing Brotherhood sympathizers in important positions. His autocratic, noninclusive style and failed economic leadership frightened the Egyptian center, which teamed up last month with a new generation of military officers for a third revolution to oust Morsi and the Brotherhood.
To put it all in simpler terms: Egypt’s first revolution was to get rid of the dead hand, the second revolution was to get rid of the deadheads and the third revolution was to escape from the dead end.
The first revolution happened because a large number of mostly non-Islamist Egyptian youths grew fed up with the suffocating dead hand of the Mubarak era — a hand so dead that way too many young Egyptians felt they were living in a rigged system, where they had no chance of realizing their full potential, under a leader with no vision. After some 30 years of Mubarak’s rule and some $30 billion in American aid, roughly one-third of Egyptians still could not read or write.
The generals who replaced Mubarak, though, were deadheads not up to governing — so dead that many liberal Egyptians were ready to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi over a former Mubarak-era general in the June 2012 election. But Morsi proved more interested in consolidating the Brotherhood’s grip on government rather than governing himself, and he drove Egypt into a dead end — so dead that Egyptians took to the streets on June 30 and virtually begged the military to oust Morsi.
Add it all up and there is a message from the Egyptian majority: No more dead hands; we want a government that aspires to make Egypt the vanguard of the Arab world again. No more deadheads; we want a government that is run by competent people who can restore order and jobs. And no more dead ends; we want a government that will be inclusive and respect the fact that two-thirds of Egyptians are not Islamists and, though many are pious Muslims, they don’t want to live in anything close to a theocracy.
It is difficult to exaggerate how much the economy and law and order had deteriorated under President Morsi. So many Egyptians were feeling insecure that there was a run on police dogs! So many tour guides were out of work that tourists were warned to avoid the Pyramids because desperate camel drivers and postcard-sellers would swarm them. A poll this week by the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research found that 71 percent of Egyptians were “unsympathetic with pro-Morsi protests.”
Yes, it would have been much better had Morsi been voted out of office. But what is done is done. We need to make the best of it. The right thing for President Obama to be doing now is not only to ignore calls for cutting off economic aid to Egypt — on grounds that the last revolution amounted to a military coup. We should be trying to get everyone in the world to help this new Egyptian government succeed.
Not surprisingly, people are worried that Egypt’s military could stay in power indefinitely. It’s a danger, but I am less worried about that. The Egyptian people have been empowered. A majority of Egyptians have — three times now since 2011 — called a halt to their government’s going down the wrong path.
I am worried about something else: Egyptians defining the right path and getting a majority to follow that path. That is an entirely different kind of challenge, and I am not sure Egypt can ever get to that level of consensus. But this government offers the best hope for that. It has good people in important positions, like Finance and Foreign Affairs. It is rightly focused on a fair constitution and sustainable economic reform. Its job will be much easier if the Muslim Brotherhood can be re-integrated into politics, and its war with the military halted. But the Brotherhood also needs to accept that it messed up — badly — and that it needs to re-earn the trust of the people.
This is no time for America to be punishing Egyptians or demanding quick elections. Our job is to help the new government maximize the number of good economic decisions it makes, while steadily pressuring it to become more inclusive and making it possible for multiple political parties to form. If that happens, Egypt will have a proper foundation to hold democratic elections again. If it doesn’t happen, no number of elections will save it.

Stand Your Ground, Be a Man. By Stanley Fish.

Stand Your Ground, Be a Man. By Stanley Fish. New York Times, July 22, 2013.


The Florida Stand Your Ground law is often characterized as an expansion of the venerable “castle doctrine” — because a man’s home is his castle, he is justified in repelling intruders with force if necessary — but, as many have observed, it may be more accurate to see it as the return to the contemporary American landscape of the “shoot first” ethic of the old west, at least as it has been portrayed in dozens of movies.
The opposite of standing your ground is to retreat, and in many states the rule still is that if you are confronted outside your home and violent conflict seems imminent you have a duty to retreat (provided that an avenue of retreat is available) before resorting to deadly force. Stand Your Ground laws remove that duty; your home is now any place you happen to be as long as you are there lawfully. Wherever you are, you have the right to be there and no one has the right to push you around.
In fact, “stand your ground” is more than a declaration of a right; it is an injunction — stand your ground, be a man. Retreating in order to avoid violence is not the commendable act of a prudent man, but the act of a coward, of someone who runs away. It is this aspect of the Stand Your Ground laws — their implicit affirmation of a code of manliness — that links them to the novelistic and filmic representations of the old west.
Recall two iconic moments in the tradition. Early in Owen Wister’s 1902 novel “The Virginian,” the hero is playing cards and one of the other players, Trampas by name, says to him, “Your bet, you son of a ____.” The response is immediate — “The Virginian’s pistol came out” — and the act is followed by words: “When you call me that, smile.” That is, if you smile, I’ll know you don’t mean it, and if I know that I’ll put my gun away. An observer explains to the narrator what’s going on. “He has handed Trampas the choice to back down or draw his steel,” or in other words to back down or stand his ground.
Trampas backs down and is thereby the loser in the encounter. A loss more final is suffered by “Stonewall Torrey,” a character in George Stevens’s “Shane” (1953) played by Elisha Cook Jr. Torrey is making his way to a saloon on a muddy street. Looming above him on the wooden porch is Jack Wilson (Jack Palance), a professional gunfighter who menacingly follows — we might say stalks — the nervous homesteader (“Where do you think you’re going?”) while serially insulting his Southern heritage. Provoked, Torrey lashes out verbally: “You’re a low-down lyin’ Yankee! ” “Prove it,” says Wilson, and when Torrey, in obedience to the code of the west, draws, he kills him. Later, Shane takes over Torrey’s role and when Wilson says “prove it,” Shane does, with fatal results. Standing your ground is a good idea if you’re the fastest.
In “Shane,” as in many westerns, the plot pits the forces of civilization, represented by the agricultural activities of the homesteaders, against the forces of, well, force, represented by the rancher Ryker, who is a law unto himself. The conflict is emblematized, both physically and metonymically, by the gun on one hand and women on the other. Marian, the wife of Joe Starrett (played, respectively, by Jean Arthur and Van Heflin) exclaims that “we’d all be better off if there wasn’t a single gun in this valley.” Of course if there were no guns, there could be no shootings, no showdowns and no opportunity to stand your ground. Manhood would have to be demonstrated in other ways, by tilling the ground, raising a family, running a general store.
Just what it is that constitutes manhood is debated endlessly in the genre that (at least rhetorically) wants to be on the side of civilization and peace, but can’t quite ever make it, even in its revisionist period, a period that seems to begin at the beginning. Again and again, women like Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly) in “High Noon” ask their men to back away, retreat, give ground rather than stand their ground; and again and again men respond by saying, “This is a hard land” or “If we run now we’ll be running forever” or “Someone has to stand up to them.”
As civilization advances, and the law book replaces the gun, these rationales for violence sound increasingly hollow, and more and more westerns are self-consciously elegiac — “High Noon,” “The Gunfighter,” “Ride the High Country,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “Lonely Are the Brave,” “The Wild Bunch,” “Monte Walsh,” “The Big Country,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” — caressing the lonely figures at their center even as they say farewell to the values they embody. Outright satirical comedies like “Cat Ballou” (1965) and “Blazing Saddles” (1974) announce loudly and without nuance what the genre as a whole had already implicitly proclaimed: the reign of what Bosley Crowther (in a review of “Shane”) called “legal killers under the frontier code” was over.
Stand Your Ground laws bring it all back. That is what President Obama meant when he said on Friday that such laws seem “designed in such a way that they encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations … that we saw in the Florida case rather than defuse potential altercations.” Do Stand Your Ground laws, he asked, really contribute to “the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?” The answer is that not everyone wants to see them. There are some who imagine themselves as the modern-day Wyatt Earp or Will Kane or Shane — bravely seeking out malefactors, confronting them in the main street, and shooting them down to the applause and gratitude of less heroic citizens. Stand Your Ground laws are for them.

Stand Your Ground laws, as Fish describes them, are an acknowledgement of Jacksonian manhood and its continuing importance in American life.

Qatar’s Sheikha al Mayassa: Art, Globalization, and Arab Identity.

Sheikha al Mayassa: Globalizing the local, localizing the global. Video. TED. Filmed December 2010, posted February 2012. YouTube.

Qatari Riches Are Buying Art World Influence. By Robin Pogrebin. New York Times, July 22, 2013.

Building Museums, and a Fresh Arab Identity. By Nicolai Ouroussoff. New York Times, November 26, 2010.

Obamanomics: A Rising Tide Does Not Lift All Boats. By Rush Limbaugh.

Obamanomics: A Rising Tide Does Not Lift All Boats. By Rush Limbaugh. RushLimbaugh.com, July 23, 2013.

President Adopts Catchphrase to Describe Proposed Recipe for Economic Revival. By Annie Lowrey. New York Times, July 22, 2013.

Weiner: Lewd Behavior Continued After Resignation. By Scott Conroy.

Weiner: Lewd Behavior Continued After Resignation. By Scott Conroy. Real Clear Politics, July 23, 2013,

Huma Abedin On Anthony Weiner’s Latest Sex Scandal: “I Strongly Believe This Is Between Us.” The Huffington Post, July 23, 2013.

Weiner Admits Recent Sexting, “Hopes” New Yorkers Still “Willing To Give Him Second Chance” In Press Conference. By Matt Wilstein. Mediaite, July 23, 2013.

Huma Speaks: “I Believe in Him.” By Eliana Johnson. National Review Online, July 23, 2013.

Will Weiner Finally Go Away Now? By Andrew C. McCarthy. National Review Online, July 23, 2013.

The Most Carlos Dangerous Game. By Jim Geraghty. National Review Online, July 24, 2013.

When Ambition Trumps Shame. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, July 23, 2013.

The Cure for Anthony Weiner, If He Wants One. By Walter Russell Mead. Via Meadia, July 24, 2013.

Anthony Weiner’s woes – does New York City really need an addict for mayor? By Dr. Keith Ablow. FoxNews.com, July 24, 2013.

In Defense of Carlos Danger. By Richard Kim. The Nation, July 24, 2013.

The Anthony Weiner Spectacle. By Peter Wehner. Commentary, July 24, 2013.

Anthony Weiner’s Alleged Sexting Partner Revealed — Sydney Leathers. By Eleanore Hutch. Hollywood Life, July 24, 2013.

Tweetheart: Meet Sydney Leathers, Anthony’s sexty online honey. By Lorena Mongelli and Laura Italiano. New York Post, July 25, 2013.

Sydney Leathers’ mom Laura blasts Anthony Weiner as he downplays latest sexting scandal, pressure to quit mayoral race. By Rich Shapiro, Annie Karni, and Jennifer Fermino. New York Daily News, July 24, 2013.

Putting on a brazen face: Anthony Weiner hits the campaign trail and ignores calls for him to quit “for the sake of his wife” after he’s plunged into new sex message scandal with Obama campaigner, 23. By David Martosko, Meghan Keneally, Louise Boyle, and Hayley Peterson. Daily Mail, July 23, 2013.

Huma Abedin’s Red Lipstick Takes Her Through Tough Times (PHOTOS). By Rebecca Adams. The Huffington Post, July 24, 2013.

Huma Abedin pens essay defending decision to stand by Anthony Weiner: “I know in my heart that I made the right one.” By Leslie Larson. New York Daily News, July 24, 2013.

Huma Abedin steps into high-profile role as Anthony Weiner’s chief defender. By Karen Tumulty and Jason Horowitz. Washington Post, July 24, 2013.

NY Post Cover Attacks Huma Abedin: “What’s Wrong With You?” (PHOTO). By Rebecca Shapiro. The Huffington Post, July 25, 2013.

SeƱora Danger . . . what’s wrong with you? The good wife? Oh, give us a break! By Maureen Callahan. New York Post, July 25, 2013.

She’s even worse: Why we’re mad at Huma. By Karol Markowicz. New York Post, July 25, 2013.

Huma Abedin, What We Know We Don’t Know And Why It’s Time To Back Off. By Kia Makarechi. The Huffington Post, July 25, 2013.

The Huma Craze. By Kay Hymowitz. National Review Online, July 25, 2013.

If Huma and Hillary Were Emailing . . . By Bari Weiss. Wall Street Journal, July 26, 2013.

The Desperate Life of Carlos Danger. By Heather Wilhelm. Real Clear Politics, July 26, 2013.

Don’t Leave the Mayor’s Race Yet, Anthony Weiner. By Peter Beinart. The Daily Beast, July 26, 2013.

Hillary’s Self-Serving “Stand by Your Man” Advice. By Rush Limbaugh. RushLimbaugh.com, July 25, 2013.

Limbaugh: “Muslim Women” Like Huma “Don’t Have Any Power,” So Weiner Can Get Away With Anything. By Noah Rothman. Mediaite, July 25, 2013. Audio at Daily Rushbo and YouTube.

Rush Limbaugh Says Huma Abedin Is Muslim, Powerless, So Anthony Weiner Can “Get Away With Anything.” By Meredith Bennett-Smith. The Huffington Post, July 27, 2013.

Rush Limbaugh Offers His Huma Abedin Theory, and It’s Pretty Awful. By Doug Barry. Jezebel, July 28, 2013.

Rush Limbaugh: “Muslim Women” Like Huma Abedin “Don’t Have Any Power.” By Fatimah. Carbonated.TV, July 28, 2013.

Huma Abedin’s Muslim Brotherhood Ties. By Andrew C. McCarthy. National Review Online, July 25, 2012.

The Huma Unmentionables. By Andrew C. McCarthy. National Review Online, July 24, 2013.

Huma Abedin: Muslim Brotherhood Princess. By Diana West. WND, July 25, 2013.

The Explosive Secret Huma Is Hiding. By Aaron Klein. Klein Online, July 26, 2013.

Huma and Anthony: Washington Horror Couple. By Robert W. Merry. The National Interest, July 26, 2013.

Time to Hard-Delete Carlos Danger. By Maureen Dowd. New York Times, July 27, 2013.

Huma and Anthony: The Post-Scandal Playbook. By Jonathan Van Meter. New York Times Magazine, April 14, 2013. Also here.

Anthony Weiner Addresses Re-Emerging Sexting Scandal. Video. ABCNews, July 23, 2013. YouTube.

Weiner’s Sexting Partner Sydney Leathers Speaks: “I Am Proof” He Did Not “Learn From His Mistakes.” By Matt Wilstein. Mediaite, July 25, 2013. YouTube.

Brooke Goldstein on Fox News: Weiner “un-attracted” to Huma Abedin “because she is connected with Islamists.” By David Edwards. The Raw Story, July 29, 2013.

Oy! Latest Conspiracy Theory on Huma Abedin. By Elisha Strauss. The Jewish Daily Forward, July 30, 2013.

Fox Panelist: Anthony Weiner “Un-attracted”to Huma Abedin Because She’s An Islamist Who Wants to Destroy America. By Brian Tashman. Right Wing Watch, July 29, 2013. Video at YouTube.

Huma Abedin’s Ties to Muslim Brotherhood Comes Up on Hannity Panel. By Fatimah. Carbonated.TV, July 29, 2013. Video at YouTube.

Is Huma Abedin blaming herself? By Kelly Wallace. CNN, August 2, 2013.

Huma Abedin’s Problem: Nice Jewish Boy Derangement Syndrome. By Rachel Shukert. Tablet, August 2, 2013.

Kerry’s Mideast Fool’s Errand Ignores Reality. By Jeffrey Goldberg.

Kerry’s Mideast Fool’s Errand Ignores Reality. By Jeffrey Goldberg. Bloomberg, July 22, 2013.


Veteran Middle East peace processors are arguing that naysayers are in bad odor this week, now that John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, has seemingly defied the skeptics.
Kerry has actually achieved what so many American officials have achieved before – which is to say, getting the Israelis and Palestinians to agree, provisionally, to sit down and yell at each other before retreating to their respective corners, thus providing the next secretary of state a chance to score yet another “Groundhog Day” Middle East breakthrough.
I’m not discounting Kerry’s achievement, by the way (though I wish he’d spend more time focused on the Syrian civil war and the tragic, slow-motion collapse of Egypt). It isn’t easy to bring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas together to talk about anything, and Kerry’s indefatigability and sincerity are impressive.
His reported choice for Middle East peace envoy, Martin Indyk, is also impressive. Indyk (a friend, though a friend who is often peeved at me for my opinions) is a former ambassador to Israel and feels the need for such a two-state solution in his bones. Although he is well versed on this issue, he was sidelined, as were other former Middle East peace negotiators, during the reign of Kerry’s predecessor, Hillary Clinton (who famously sidelined the entire issue of Middle East peacemaking). It’s a welcome sign that he might be back.
But as I’ve written before, I think Kerry is on a fool’s errand, and I think the collapse of these talks, which is almost inevitable, could have dangerous consequences. Remember what followed the collapse of the Camp David peace process in 2000: years of violence, including horrific bus-bombing campaigns.
To believe in this process, as Kerry envisions it, you have to blind yourself to at least two realities.
The first is that Hamas exists and is in control of the Gaza Strip, whether we like it or not. Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, which will be bargaining with Israel, will represent at best half of Palestine. How do you negotiate a state into existence that is divided between two warring factions? It isn’t even clear if the Palestinian Authority is fully in control of those parts of the West Bank that Israel deigns to let it control. (I will save for another time the deeper discussion of whether the maximum an Israeli government could offer the Palestinians represents the minimum the Palestinians could plausibly accept.)
You also have to blind yourself to the reality that the Jewish settlement movement on the West Bank is now the most powerful political force in Israel. This is a movement whose leaders and Knesset representatives and cabinet ministers will subvert any peace process that would lead to the dismantling of even a single settlement, including any of the dozens of well-populated ones far beyond Israel’s West Bank security barrier.
Oh, and by the way, to believe in this process you have to believe that the parties are ready to divide Jerusalem.
Instead of pursuing direct talks between the two sides, Kerry would be better off first negotiating with them separately.
With the Israelis, Kerry (and his boss) should talk about the demographic, security and moral challenges of governing a population that doesn’t want to be governed by Israel. He would be pushing on a bit of an open door – the increasingly centrist Netanyahu (who is becoming more and more alienated from his robustly right-wing Likud party), seems to understand now that continued occupation (an occupation that exists at this point mainly to support the settlers) is undermining Israel’s international legitimacy and its future as a Jewish-majority democracy.
Kerry is understood in Israel as a true friend; his lobbying could be effective. If the Israelis would take small, unilateral steps on settlements, they could change the Palestinian calculus and improve Israel’s reputation (which has become a genuine national-security concern).
On the other side, Kerry might want to try a bit more aggressively to help the Palestinian Authority become a viable governing body with a functioning economy and a bureaucracy that is reasonably free of corruption. Strengthening the Palestinian Authority (and working to weaken Hamas) while cajoling the Israelis to wean themselves from their addiction to settlements are two steps Kerry could take to advance negotiations.
It’s true that Kerry has gotten the Israelis to agree to release some Palestinian prisoners. And he may convince the Palestinians to cease, for a while, their campaign to delegitimize Israel in the international arena. But these developments, by themselves, won’t advance the larger cause.
I’d like to be proved wrong, but given my doubts about the viability of a two-state solution – even a solution negotiated by the most visionary and large-hearted of Palestinian and Israeli leaders – I’m not imagining great success for Kerry in the coming months.

Kerry’s Mad Mission: Misreading the Middle East. By Amir Taheri.

Kerry’s mad mission. By Amir Taheri. New York Post, July 22, 2013.

Misreading the Middle East.


Egypt is in turmoil while Syria is fragmenting into ungoverned “territories” and Lebanon is inching toward civil war. Iran is setting the stage for another diplomatic rope trick to speed up its nuclear project and jihadists are reappearing in Iraq’s Arab Sunni provinces. Washington’s closest regional allies, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are falling out over Egypt and Syria.
Well, that’s the Middle East, you might say, and it should be no surprise that John Kerry has visited it six times in his first five months as secretary of state.
The trouble is, Kerry’s visits had little to do with real threats to the region’s stability. He visited in pursuit of an old chimera: peace between Israel and the Palestinians. That he has now persuaded both sides to agree to talk about possible peace talks is even less impressive than it seems.
Kerry says he’s spent months “listening to all sides.” The result is the mysterious “package of ideas” he has presented to the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government.
Anyone could’ve told Kerry that he was not only wasting his time but might actually diminish chances of peace. He should’ve read the notes left by another Democratic ex-senator, George Mitchell, who was dispatched by President Obama early in his first term with the mission to create a Palestinian state within a year.
Mitchell quickly found that a peace settlement was not a priority for either protagonist. He also knew that, in his final months in office, President Bill Clinton had brokered the best deal imaginable within reason but failed to persuade Yasser Arafat to accept it.
The Mitchell mission failed because there was no active and urgent demand for peace. Today, there’s not even demand. A status quo has been established and both sides are comfortable with it.
This doesn’t mean that Palestinians and Israelis don’t suffer. They do, albeit in different ways. Nor does it mean that Palestinians and Israelis don’t want peace. They do, albeit with different definitions of “peace.” However, weighing the risks of a “golden” unknown against the certainties of the status quo, most Palestinians and Israelis tend to prefer the latter.
The Israel-Palestine problem has a regional dimension as well. From the 1940s to the 1990s, that regional dimension excluded any serious attempt at peace-making. Most Arab states wanted the Palestinian “cause” to remain alive and active; they had an interest in supporting Palestinian groups opposed to peace with Israel.
The current upheaval in Arab countries has plunged that regional dimension into uncertainty. Today, no one is actively interested in the Palestinian issue. Those who follow the Arab media would know that Palestine has all but disappeared even from public discourse. Thus, the regional dimension can’t be used as a lever either for war or peace.
Of course, if the new Middle East emerges as a more or less democratic space, solving the Israel-Palestine problem could become easier.
Thus, Kerry and, more importantly, Obama should focus their energies on helping the Middle East shed its despotic political culture and take the path of democratization. That, however, requires a clarity of vision and real commitment of intellectual and material resources to tackle the Herculean task of unchaining the peoples of the region.
Obama and Kerry aren’t ready to deploy the United States’ immense moral, economic, political and military power in support of such a task. They’re still debating whether or not the military coup in Egypt was actually a coup; the State Department says it is no longer sure whether the Taliban could be described as “terrorist,” and Obama fixes “red lines” on Syria but ends up pressuring US allies not to supply arms to anti-Assad rebels.
Kerry keeps repeating that “time is running out,” whereas, in fact, the only thing that never runs out is time. What is running out is the credibility of the Obama-Kerry tandem as serious leaders.
Palestinians tell me that Kerry’s “package” is a jumble of contradictions. For example, he promises to stop Jewish settlement in exchange for recognizing Israel as a “Jewish” state.
Kerry’s mission is twofold: to divert attention from Washington’s failure to even understand what’s happening in the Middle East, and, to persuade Israelis and Palestinians to agree to “talk about talks.”
That would let the Obama-Kerry duo claim they succeeded in restarting “the peace process” after winning the support of the Arab League. That the league, split three ways on a range of issues, is no longer a functioning entity is quietly forgotten.
However, no one in the region is ready to play the game.
“Kerry’s move does not make us angry,” says a Palestinian parliament member. “It only makes us yawn.”

Israel-Palestine Is Still Issue No. 1 in the Middle East. By Shibley Telhami.

Is Kerry Right to Put Peace First? By Shibley Telhami. Foreign Policy, July 22, 2013.

Forget Egypt and Syria. Israel-Palestine is still issue No. 1 in the Middle East.


As Secretary of State John Kerry continues to give much time and effort to the Palestinian-Israeli issue, with plans to convene negotiations in Washington this week, his critics have come from right and left: With all the pressing issues, why is Mr. Kerry focused on this one?
Critics miss the point: No issue is more central for Arab perceptions of the United States – even as Arabs are focused on their immediate local and national priorities.
America has little influence in the events unfolding in the Arab world, from Egypt to Syria. More centrally, Arab perceptions of Washington are less dependent on short-term American policy and more a product of deep-seated Arab mistrust that ties everything the United States does to helping Israel and controlling oil. That’s why both sides of every Arab divide – the Assad regime and its opponents, the Muslim Brotherhood and its Egyptian opponents – blame the United States for supporting the other side.
Just the other day, even as many opponents of Mohamed Morsy blamed Palestinian Hamas for supporting him, leaders of the Tamarod activists who helped depose the Egyptian president refused to meet with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns because of American support for Israel.
How could this be the case? In part, it is a consequence of one of the few successes of U.S. policy over the past decade. As American officials, from the White House to Congress, have sought to project “no light” between Israel and the United States, Arabs have come to believe it. It is rare to hear the words “Israel” and “America” in the Arab world except in a pair. When Arabs are angry with Israel, they are also angry with Washington. When Arabs are asked to name the two countries that pose the biggest threat to them, they identify Israel and the United States – far more often than Iran. For example, in May 2012, 94 percent of Egyptians identified Israel and 80 percent identified the United States as the greatest threat, with only 20 percent identifying Iran. These results were roughly comparable to poll findings in prior years.
It is of course true that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not the source of most problems in the Arab world and that most Arabs wake up in the morning thinking about their daily challenges, not about Israel, Palestine, or America.
But, as my research on Arab public opinion over the past decade shows, the conflict remains the prism of pain through which Arabs view Washington and much of the world – even more so since the region's uprisings. In October 2011, when I asked Arabs in Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, and the UAE what two steps the United States could do to improve their view of Washington, 55 percent of respondents said “brokering Israeli-Palestinian peace” based on the 1967 borders, with 42 percent choosing “stopping aid to Israel” as the second step. In comparison, only 12 percent suggested providing more economic aid to the region, and 11 percent proposed greater efforts at democratization. In a 2012 poll in Egypt, 66 percent identified brokering peace followed by 46 percent who recommended stopping aid to Israel; only 12 percent suggested that Washington do more to spread democracy.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is part and parcel of collective Arab identity; a constant reminder of contemporary Arab history full of dashed aspirations and deeply humiliating experiences. It is seemingly unending, with repeated episodes of suffering over which Arabs have no apparent control. It is an open wound that flares up all too frequently, representing the very humiliation Arabs seek to overcome. Just this month an example was provided when Arabs watched helplessly as Israel expanded settlements in East Jerusalem. If the Arab awakening is first and foremost about restoring dignity, about raising Arab heads high in the world, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict represents dignity's antithesis.
In the absence of peace, there is another reason the Arab-Israeli conflict will remain an Arab focal point – the Israeli response to its sense of insecurity. Without Palestinian-Israeli peace, Israelis assume that war with Arabs will remain possible. The net result is that Israelis feel their security requires strategic and technological superiority over any combination of Arab states. On this they have the unreserved support of the United States and assurance from Congress and the White House that Israel will receive what it needs to maintain its “qualitative superiority” and that Arabs will be denied similar capabilities.
Seen from the Arab side, this Israeli imperative entails exactly the sort of dominance they are revolting against. In an era of Arab awakening, 350 million Arabs find it impossible to accept the strategic domination of a country of 8 million people. This is at the core of Arab attitudes on the nuclear issue: Arab publics are suspicious of Iran, but in the past decade they have consistently opposed limits on Tehran's nuclear program in large part because they don’t accept that Israel alone can have nukes. For example, in my 2011 six-country poll, 64 percent of respondents said they opposed international pressure on Iran to curtail its nuclear program. Remarkably, that same year a majority of Arab citizens of Israel, 57 percent, also opposed international pressure.
In the absence of Palestinian-Israeli peace, Israel and the Arabs are condemned to a relationship of confrontation and occasional war, and America will be caught in the middle.
Peace would not of course determine the outcome of the battles in the Arab world, but its absence guarantees that Israel, and therefore the United States, will be the focus of almost every faction in the ongoing battles. And if Israeli-Palestinian violence ensues, this will become even more the case.
Israelis worry that acknowledging the centrality of their conflict with the Palestinians for American foreign policy means that they will be blamed for everything that goes wrong. This is improbable; Israelis also feared they might be blamed for Arab anger toward America after the 9/11 attacks, but American support for Israel only increased. More likely, Israel would be blamed if, in the absence of peace, Americans started to see Israeli control of the Palestinians as an apartheid relationship. The recent European Union decision to stop dealing with Israeli settlements in the West Bank is a flavor of things that could follow.
The Obama administration should be applauded for understanding the centrality of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Certainly, an argument can be made that it is too late for the two-state solution; if it’s not, few believe there is much time left. But few see good American options once Washington finally concludes that a two-state solution is no longer feasible.
The administration thus cannot be faulted for active diplomacy; no time is a good time, and soon enough there may not be any time left. But it will be justifiably faulted if, as in Obama's first term, it tries only half-heartedly and fails.

Comment by misaacm:

Do the 350 million Arabs in the middle east, ruling over 99% of the landmass, in 22 countries really believe that the continued existence of tiny (9 million people on less than 1% of the land) Israel is a “strategic domination”? Seriously? That’s like saying the continued existence of Communist Nicaragua or Cuba is a “strategic domination” of the US. I think that we have identified the key issue here; Arab manhood is humiliated by the fact that they can’t seem to destroy tiny Israel.
The author suggests that we assuage Arab insecurity by helping them cut Israel down to size, and that somehow this will heal the Arabs of all of their nihilistic tendencies. Perhaps the Arabs need to heal their own countries first, then they won’t feel the need to prove their manhood by destroying Israel. My advice to the failing Arab societies; forget about Israel. I know it shows your impotence, but you can’t destroy it, and doing so won’t help you solve your problems. Move on.

What America Wants in Egypt. By Anne-Marie Slaughter.

What America Wants in Egypt. By Anne-Marie Slaughter. Project Syndicate, July 22, 2013.

The Two-State Imperative. By Roger Cohen.

The Two-State Imperative. By Roger Cohen. New York Times, July 22, 2013.

The Occupation Preoccupation. By Shmuel Rosner. New York Times, July 22, 2013.

Israel and Palestine Agree to Peace Talks, But with Reluctance. By Karl Vick. Time, July 20, 2013.


Peace talks, it seems, are set to resume between Israelis and Palestinians after six visits to the region by Secretary of State John Kerry.
The heart sinks.
Israel and Palestine need a two-state peace. It would involve bitter compromises on both sides, but no more bitter than those accepted by Nelson Mandela in putting the future before the past, hope before grievance.
Without a two-state peace, Israel cannot remain a Jewish and democratic state because over time there will be more Arabs than Jews between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged this in stating that avoidance of a “bi-national state” was one of his objectives.
Without it, Palestinians will face enduring humiliation, the pride of statehood sacrificed to the false consolations of victimhood. They will live under Israeli dominion, marginalized economically and condemned to the steady erosion of dignity and territory that has been their lot since 1948. A new spasm of fruitless violence, perhaps even a third intifada, is possible.
So the talks are critical. Yet the heart sinks.
Netanyahu speaks now of avoiding the bi-national state. Yet his Likud Party has been (and remains) a forthright proponent of just such a policy. After the lightning Israeli victory in the Six-Day war of 1967, Messianic Jewish thinking surged. If Israel now held all Jerusalem and the West Bank, how, in the minds of religious nationalists, could this recovery of Eretz Israel — a biblical term widely used to refer to the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River — not reflect divine will?
It is this conviction that lies behind the steady expansion of settlements in the West Bank, where some 350,000 Jews now live, with another 250,000 in annexed East Jerusalem. Nothing as yet suggests Israel is ready to abandon the maximalist territorial temptation of the past 46 years.
And so the heart sinks.
Palestinians speak of the 1967 lines as a basis for negotiation, an idea President Obama once endorsed. Yet many continue to see the conflict not as the battle of two national movements for the same land — one resolved by the United Nations in 1947 in favor of two states, one Jewish and one Palestinian, in the Holy Land — but as a fight against a colonial intruder who must be banished.
For these Palestinians, represented in Hamas and elsewhere, Zionism equals colonialism and imperialism, rather than the legitimate struggle of a persecuted Jewish people for a homeland. It must be extirpated, like the French from Algeria.
Coupled with this view is the tenacious Palestinian attachment to the so-called right of return. Well, ask the Jews of Baghdad and Cairo, the Greeks of Asia Minor, the Turks of Greece and the ethnic Germans of Poland and Hungary about this “right.” As the Israeli novelist Amos Oz once told me, “The right of return is a euphemism for the liquidation of Israel. If exercised there will be two Palestinian states and not one for Jews.”
Joschka Fischer, the former German foreign minister born into a German family from Hungary, once noted that if the 15 million displaced ethnic Germans of Europe demanded the right of return there would be no peace in the continent.
Yes, the heart sinks because acceptance on both sides of the ever more invisible “other” is still so stunted and attachment to the idea of holding or recovering all the land still so tenacious. It is 66 years since the United Nations mandated the division of the land into two states.
Israel has fallen since 1967 into a terrible temptation. No democracy can be immune to running an undemocratic system of oppression in territory under its control. To have citizens on one side of an invisible line, and disenfranchised subjects without rights on the other, does not work. A democratic state needs borders. It cannot morph into repressive military rule for Palestinians in occupied areas while allowing state-subsidized settler Jews there to vote.
Gershom Gorenberg puts the post-1967 issue with great clarity in his fine book, “The Unmaking of Israel”: “If Israel really believed that the territorial division created by the 1949 armistice was null and void, it could have asserted its sovereignty in all of former Palestine — and granted the vote and other democratic rights to all inhabitants.”
It chose not to. The reason was evident: The size of the Palestinian population — 1.1 million in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in 1967, 4.4 million today — would have meant the end of the Jewish state. And so, “Israel behaved as if the territories were part of Israel for the purpose of settlement, and under military occupation for the purpose of ruling the Palestinians.”
Peace talks offer a way out of this corrosive Israeli dilemma, back to the Zionist dream. They offer a way out of Palestinian delusion and denial to statehood.
The heart sinks. Yet I cannot help hearing Mandela from his hospital bed: Prove me wrong, you cowards, decide at last if winning an argument is worth more than a child’s life.

Love in the Time of Hookups. By Ross Douthat.

Love in the Time of Hookups. By Ross Douthat. New York Times, July 18, 2013.

The Dating World of Tomorrow. By Ross Douthat. New York Times, July 19, 2013.

Arab Human Development Reports.

Arab Human Development Reports. United Nations Development Programme.

Arabs at the Crossroads. By Thomas L. Friedman. New York Times, July 3, 2002.

A Ray of Arab Candor. By Victor Davis Hanson. City Journal, July 3, 2002. Also at VDH Private Papers.

How the Arabs Compare: Arab Human Development Report 2002. Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2002.

“A person who is not free is poor.” Interview with Nader Fergany, lead author of the 2002 Arab Human Development Report. Al-Ahram Weekly, July 11-17, 2002.