Monday, August 30, 2010
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
1) Neither side wants to be there. Netanyahu and Abbas are both participating in talks primarily to further engagement with the United States, not to make peace with each other. In 1979, there was a mutual desire between Begin and Sadat to cut a deal following the Yom Kippur War. In 1993, the aftermath of the first Intifada created pressure on Rabin and Arafat to cut a deal, which the U.S. mediated. But in this case, Netanyahu has simply calculated that the US-Israel relationship is too important to jeopardize any further and has nothing to lose by talking. Short of near-total agreement to his demands, Netanyahu has little to gain politically from a peace deal. Abbas is likely to get bogged down with the Israelis in negotiations, as his negotiating team is famous for its maximalist positions. The Palestinians are also likely to insist on dealing with Gaza and the West Bank as one, even though they are separate for all intensive purposes. From the American side, despite strong pressure from George Mitchell, Secretary Clinton, and the State Dept., President Obama has not made Middle East peace talks an administration priority a-la-Carter in 1979 or even Clinton in 1993. Short of pressure from the President of the United States, a deal is unlikely. And Obama is unlikely to put significant pressure on Israel two months before midterm elections.
2) The parties are dealing with violent extremists by ignoring them. Just because after a year and a half of talking about talking, both sides are coming to the table doesn't mean extremism has disappeared. Hamas, the radical Settlers, and extremists on all sides are watching the unfolding events closely [case in point]. These camps do not negotiate. But the U.S. and both negotiation parties have not taken preemptive action of any kind to mitigate the danger to peace talks these groups pose. Extremists in Israel and the Palestinian territories will wait until a critical moment in the negotiations to strike. At that point, the victimized side will withdraw from talks, asking how a side which has done XYZ could possibly want peace. The threshold for violence is still far too low for a peace deal.
Failure of peace talks will deal a blow to the already pessimistic citizens of the Middle East. In some sense, the money being spent on the peace talks might have been better spent on Palestinian infrastructure, or fostering IDF-Palestinian Security Forces cooperation. They might have been better spent on supporting non-partisan pro-peace social movements in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Investments like these usually garner less press. However, they are more effective at creating conditions in the Middle East which maximize the abilities and freedoms of citizens and promote the U.S. interests of liberal values, economic growth, and regional stability.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Posting has been light lately and may continue to be light over the next few weeks, as I begin a PhD program in Political Science here in Washington DC. Thanks for reading and be sure to keep checking back for new posts!
- The Confused Sheikh
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
The soldier who originally posted photos has now been relieved of reserve duty and stripped of her rank, according to YNet News.
So far so good, IDF. But the Arab press is making comparisons to Abu Ghraib. The biggest tests are yet to come.
Monday, August 16, 2010
UPDATE 8:15am: Btselem has posted 11 photos on Facebook taken in the presence of Palestinian detainees or casualties. Photos are being continuously uploaded, though it's unclear if these are pictures being sent in by users or if Btselem is releasing them as it discovers them. It does not specify how many separate individuals are behind each photo (faces are blurred), and nine out of tens of thousands of IDF soldiers is hardly a trend. But the point is that Btselem is making the case that this should be a topic of public discussion in Israel. In that sense, it is right.
Both Haaretz and JPost report that an ex-IDF soldier has posted photos on her Facebook posed next to Palestinian detainees, with friends making comments such as "Its sexiest for you like that" under a picture of the soldier mock kissing a blindfolded detainee. The detainees evidently were individuals captured attempting to infiltrate Israel from Gaza. The pictures are mixed in with other innocuous photos from the soldier's IDF service. Philip Zimbardo, eat your heart out.
What these photos indicate is not just that there is a bad apple in the IDF. True, most IDF soldiers are more intelligent than to post pictures of themselves with detainees on Facebook, and this soldier does not represent all IDF soldiers. The post below can attest to that. However, this one incident is indicative of a greater trend of disrespect towards Palestinians. Here are the translated comments of two photos in question:
Friend: hahahahahahahahahahahahaha all of my loves in one picture!! My heart is beating so hard!!
Friend: It's sexiest for you like that... :)
Soldier: Haha I know. Whoa mama what a day that was, look how he completes the picture for me. It would be interesting if he had Facebook. I have to tag him in the picture. Hahaha.
Friend:Hahahahahahahaha you're mental.
...it's interesting who took the pictureeeeee.
Friend 2: [Soldiers name], he's erect for you...hahaha check it out.
Soldier: No sweetie he's erect for YOUU, that's why I took a picture of it hahaha. You photographed me!!!
The key measure of the IDF response will be whether the incident is viewed in the context of the professionalism of the IDF or simply a Hasbara disaster (it is both). What's posted is posted. But the deeper issue here is the attitude of Israeli soldiers towards Palestinians. What steps will the IDF take to dispel the notion that Palestinian detainees are less than human? The world will be watching closely. So will American Jews. And Israel will be judged by what it does, not how it justifies.
"In the beginning, instead of starting the sentence with 'Wakef' (stop), we said 'Sabah al-heir' (good morning ). This changed their reaction almost immediately," Cohen said.
'Instead of saying 'gib al awiya,' ordering them to show ID, we said 'min fadlakum' (please ), with an emphasis on the request,' he said. 'But it wasn't just the words. We decided that we would look everyone in the eye and that we would not aim our gun at anyone. This is out of the assumption that the overwhelming majority of people are interested in quiet and going to work."Full article here.
The point is not that the IDF is just being nicer to Palestinians, it's that by being more polite it removes an element of the occupation which unnecessarily antagonizes them. This is one positive, albeit small, step towards drawing in the moderate center of Palestinians. If Palestinians feel less dis-empowered by soldiers barking at them at checkpoints, it may reduce the number who support violence against those troops and against Israelis. In war zones like the West Bank, rough language is sometimes necessary in a dangerous situation. However, in this case, a small change can make a big difference.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Soldiers have been asked to 'demonstrate a high level of respect and understanding,' the IDF said, in a statement it released Tuesday.
In advance of the holy month, 'Civil Administration representatives met with Palestinian religious authorities and discussed prayer times and upcoming religious events, in addition to informing the population of the accommodations being made,' the IDF said.
Full article here
Monday, August 9, 2010
1) The Lebanese Government is a deterrent to Hizbullah. In fact, the U.S. strategy up until now has been to build up the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in order to increase the power of the government and check Hizbullah's power in the Shia south. Additionally, Hizbullah's participation in the political process of a strong, U.S.-supported Lebanon puts political responsibilities on it which conflict with its original aims of attacking Israel. That's why despite its 12,000 katyusha rockets, Hizbullah's weapon of choice today was a glorified powerpoint presentation. However, the weaker the Lebanese government gets, the more enticing a return to military action will look for Hizbullah.
2) Witholding aid highlights special treatment of Israel. Any call by Congress to withold U.S. aid to Israel would be a drastic, radical step. Yet the fact that lawmakers are threatening to withold aid to Lebanon after an incident which is, by all accounts, an anomaly, is a fact which will not be lost on the Arab world. Threats by lawmakers to withold aid will be percieved in the Middle East as a blatant double standard. From a policy perspective, this is damage that could easily be avoided.
UPDATE: U.S. support for Lebanon also wedges out Iranian support for Lebanon. See today's Haaretz.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
Full editorial here.