Double post today...
US Demands Settlement Freeze - Israel Reacts
Senior Israeli officials expressed disappointment over the results of a meeting with US Middle East envoy George Mitchell in London. It appears that the Obama administration will be holding firm to a demand that Israel halt all settlement expansion. This latest development, for those tracking the Israeli-US relationship, yields a few important clues about the nature of the current relationship and its prospects for the future.
Firstly, it illustrates that the Obama administration is not as "naive" as some of its detractors would like to believe. The demand to halt settlements is strong enough to be seen as substantive by the Arab world, an important precursor to Obama's speech in Cairo on Thursday. However, it is not so strong as to seriously jeopardize the US-Israel relationship, and more importantly, the Israeli public. Obama is walking a fine line in his defiance of Israeli policy, but he is doing so successfully. Ultimately, Israel will have no choice but to halt settlements, or risk harm to the US-Israel relationship. While Israel may ultimately choose the latter, Obama's demand is one which will have resonance in the Arab world. And this leads into another important point, which is that Obama, unlike former leaders, understands that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is regional and not localized. What happens in Gaza matters not only in Ramallah but also in Cairo, Beirut, Baghdad, and Riyadh. The coordination of drawing a red line with Obama's speech is no accident and represents an extremely competent policy.
Secondly, the Obama administration continues to demonstrate a clear committment to the use of action, rather than words, in its Middle East policy. Treaties, road maps, and verbal agreements will no longer be the stuff of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Rather, the administration will require action. While this has been a fairly clear trend from the beginning of the administration's Israeli-Palestinian policy, the extent to which the US is taking resposibility and holding Israeli to its policy is unprecedented in the US-Israel relationship.
This hard-lining is reflected in the response of right-wing MKs, one of which compared the US' policies to that of Pharoah in Egypt. The grumblings from Jerusalem represent an Israeli leadership which is suprised and extremely unhappy with US policy. After years of holding to the policy that Israel is the best friend of the US, the government is now being asked to put its money where its mouth is. This in turn demonstrates that the US role has shifted significantly in the Middle East. Obama understands that the US has not been seen and will not be seen as a neutral mediator...by either side. Palestinians and Israelis alike expect the US to side with Israel. By accepting that this perception exists, however, Obama will be able to use it pragmatically to his advantage. Obama has a treasury of political capital with the Israeli government, and he is choosing to spend some of it now. This will increase his standing among Arabs, and ultimately better secure Israel.
Fatah-Hamas clash in the West Bank
Speaking of security, it appears that a clash erupted early this morning between Palestinian Authority security and Hamas. While on patrol, a group of PA security officers came under fire from a house. After intense negotiations, a hand grenade was thrown from the house, killing three officers. The PA forces stormed the house, killing the head of the Qalqilya Hamas organization, and the innocent owner of the house. While this may be an omen of more violence to come, the incident illustrates that the PA security is willing and able to take on Hamas in the West Bank. The article also describes Hamas weapons caches that the PA is discovering. This development is extremely important. As the US experience in Iraq shows, citizens are most likely to side with the power that has the capability to protect them.
If Fatah is willing and able to take on Hamas in the West Bank, it stands to become a sovereign security force in a future Palestinian state, meaning that violence against Palestinians - and Israelis - could be kept under control. This isn't to say it always would be, but the opportunity exists. Some experts are skeptical of investing money in Fatah's security because a) it makes Fatah look like a puppet of Israel and b) Fatah security often clashes with the IDF and Israeli security interests in general. However, in Iraq, the Sons of Iraq were paid by the US yet were still successful in separating those with strong allegiance to Al-Qaeda in Iraq. This was called the Anbar Awakening, and it led to the Iraq-wide Sons of Iraq program which drastically reduced Al-Qaeda in Iraq's power. Arguably this was in the US' best interest...
Considering the dire state of Anbar province in 2006, with enough funding and understanding of the power structure in the territories, Israel could use many of the principles of the Awakening to create sustainable security for Palestinians and thus for itself. The two situations are not analygous, but they are similar (see: Future Dissertation, My).
Akiva Eldar echoes the idea that it would be a mistake for Israel to jeopardize the US-Israel relationship over settlement expansion. Best line from his article:
"The right believes that the more they fatten this bastard goat, the more its removal will be considered to be what former prime minister Ariel Sharon called a "painful concession." However, even Netanyahu knows that Obama does not intend to participate in these goat games."
1) Israel: US Demand for Settlement Freeze 'Not Fair,'" Haaretz, May 30, 2009.
2) "Obama's decrees are like Pharaoh's," Jerusalem Post, May 31, 2009.
3) Smith, Niel; Sean MacFarland, "Anbar Awakens: The Tipping Point," Military Review (March - April 2008).
4) Akiva Eldar: "What Will Happen if Israel 'Defeats' Obama?" Haaretz, May 31, 2009.