Levantines getting a bit of backbone as Washington gets cold feet.
Jordan’s King Abdullah, running a country that is half Palestinian and living very much under the shadow of the IDF, takes great care to present an extremely understanding and submissive public face to the Israeli superpower next door. Yet here is what he had to say about Jerusalem to the EU’s visiting foreign policy representative Catherine Ashton:
Jerusalem is a red line and the world should not be silent about Israel’s attempts to get rid of Jerusalem’s Arabs residents, Muslims or Christians…[Jordan] demands the international community take a firm, swift, direct and effective action to stop Israel’s provocative measures in Jerusalem, that seek to change its identity and threaten holy sites there.
First, what did he say? “Attempts to get rid of” Arabs means “ethnic cleansing.” That is hard to retract, hard to negotiate about. (“Mr. Abbas, what degree of ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem would be acceptable to your side?”)
[“Ethnic cleansing” charges are of course high-powered armaments. For those utterly new to this but serious, Israeli Ilan Pappe is the place to start. Lawrence of Cyberia has an extremely informative blog post with the numbers.]
Second, what is the significance of anything a conservative Arab leader says about Israel? That is harder to answer, but in the current context of Palestinian protest riots, Washington political claims of having been insulted by Israel, and Washington military warnings that Israel is putting U.S. troops in danger, might one reasonably conclude that this represents another piece of evidence that the political ground may be shifting under the feet of Israel’s right wing leadership? I am, in brief, suggesting that it may be hard to return from this to business as usual.
Meanwhile, Lula, wearing the new badge of having been insulted by the Israeli government himself, visited the grave of Arafat and struck a Martin Luther King pose with his “dream” of Palestine-Israeli peace. One wonders if Lula and Erdogan are coordinating a tag-team approach to introduce the new concept of moderation to the Mideast.
Even Abbas, now “demanding” some rather logical and moderate preconditions for talking without sitting down together (Israel should keep commitments made by previous regimes), is finding backbone. But mostly, the politicians are diving for cover, Obama apparently planning on taking a trip rather than face Netanyahu when he charges into town next week, Mitchell’s trip off, Palestinian presidential advisor Sahib Oreikat‘s trip to Moscow on hold, and Biden…well, exactly where is Biden and exactly what did he say and does he still believe it? Hillary, no surprise, is losing backbone as fast as Abbas gets his. Not a word has yet been heard from Washington about something even so timid as “fully supporting the security of the Israeli people but hoping for an Israeli administration that will work sincerely with the U.S.” Oh, no. Perish the thought of any “space” between the Israeli “obstructionists”–the nail Judah Grunstein so neatly hit on its head–and Washington pols. These guys (the Washington pols) are not exactly big strategic thinkers.
A more cynical and, frankly, probably more accurate assessment was given on March 14 by the Jews Sans Frontiers website:
It does not signal a breach in the relations between Israel and the U.S. The problem for American dominance is not Israel, which is and will remain a valuable ally, but the out of control populist right wing in Israel which has developed a sort of bulimic land eating disorder, and needs to feed more and more often on Palestinian land to feel satiated. That populist right wing is also a problem for the Israeli ruling class, but primarily to the extent that it matters to the US. As long as the US allows it, the Israeli ruling class would rather not confront it. Let the fanatics, as far as the Israeli center is concerned, get their daily nibble at the Palestinian expense. The predatory relation is already deeply institutionalized; the whole Israeli military apparatus is organized around the colonization process; it can be slowed down or sped up, but it cannot be dismantled with serious damage all around. The US will not risk serious damage to Israel, unless it is pushed really hard by its Arab clients. They, in their turn, couldn’t care less, except occasionally when they fear that things have gone too far and they need to get a bone that they can hang on their breast as proof to their people that they are not totally venal but can get some respect from Washington. It’s a political game whose object for all the players is none other than the ultimate goal of politics according to Raymond Aron, “to make things last.” In its Middle East version it is often known as the bicycle principle, in the words of former Israeli FM Meridor: “the peace process [is] like being on a bicycle; one must keep pedaling lest you crash and fall off.” Except it is cycling on training rollers and need not actually go anywhere.