- By “Paleo-con,” in case it is not obvious, I mean a traditional conservative who seriously tries to put the emphasis on U.S. national security, without getting swamped by either fundamentalist myths or unbridled greed.
- As for the distinctions among extremist, radical, and reformist political movements within a Muslim tradition, think of the differences between Cheney, William Lloyd Garrison, and Dennis Kucinich. In 1825 the idea of eliminating slavery from the U.S. was radical, but Garrison’s carefully reasoned and peaceful approach meant he was no extremist. Kucinich is the classic American reformer who makes the special interests very nervous. A Washington serious about defending U.S. national security would be focusing very hard on finding common ground with political Islamic radicals and reformers to isolate the violence-prone extremists.
- It is the “conflict” with Islam that threatens the U.S. more than the existence or behavior per se of America’s Muslim adversaries, i.e., the danger lies not in them so much as in U.S. attitudes and behavior toward political Islam.
- It is not the existence of an alliance with Israel but the subservience of U.S. decision-makers to the extremist factions that constitutes the problem.
As far as President Barack Obama and his senior advisers are concerned, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to blame for nothing less than damaging the standing of the U.S.in the Middle East and the Muslim world.
The messages coming to the White House from Riyadh and Amman, then, were starkly clear: If you don’t rein in your Israeli friends, Tehran won’t be the only Middle East capital where American flags will burn.
The lack of progress toward Middle East peace clearly is an issue that is exploited by our adversaries in the region and is a source of, certainly, political challenge….Whether it has a direct impact, I’m not entirely sure. But there is no question that the absence of Middle East peace does affect U.S. national security interests in the region.
Question: Can the Arab dictators afford to appear less critical of Israel than Washington?
- For an eloquent summary of the background to the current debate, see Uri Avnery on Hagada Hasmalit (3/23/10).
- For a view of unofficial American thinking on this issue, see the National Journal‘s National Security discussion of 1/5/09.
- For an ominous warning against continued American involvement in what is turning into “unendable Israel-Muslim religious war — now in the hands of violent zealots on both sides,” see Georgetown professor and former CIA manager Michael Scheuer in the National Journal of 3/22/10.
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.
[“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.]
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.
Consider: despite all the viciousness of the regime toward mostly very peaceful and very moderate protestors expressing very minimal demands, the fact remains that by the standards of Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Israel (as far as Palestinians are concerned), Iran looks very modern and democratic.
- In Iran, intense criticism of the regime and of individuals is printed in the mass media.
- In Iran, there are a parliament, elections, open organizations that while not quite modern political parties nevertheless express political positions.
- In Iran, checks and balances against dictatorship are assiduously built into the state structure.
It is wonderful to measure countries against the standard of perfect democracy and not so bad to measure the laggards against the high achievers, either. But let’s be a little more fair about our day-to-day metric for judging a country that has only been allowed to figure things out for itself for a generation. Compare Iran to the U.S. if you wish, but the relevant comparison might be Iran today vs. the U.S. a generation after it was formed. Does anyone remember the Alien and Sedition Laws, slavery, or the vote for men only? Or perhaps we should compare Iran today with the U.S. today: say, treatment of protestors in Iran jails today vs. treatment of prisoners at Bagram or Guantanamo.
But much more relevant would be to compare neighbors. Compare the treatment of elite dissenters in Iran with Egypt’s treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood or Saudi Arabia’s treatment of the leaders of Riyadh Spring or Jordan’s treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood. Compare Iran’s treatment of Majlis criticism with Israel’s treatment of Palestinian members of Knesset.
And while you’re at it, compare the number of people in Iran willing to put their personal safety on the line by going into the streets unarmed and peaceful to protest injustice with the number of Saudis or Egyptians or Jordanians…or Israelis or Americans willing to protest the faults in those countries.
Two-state solution unfeasible? Zionist expansion the road to endless war? What about the Jordanian option?
It may well be that the two-state solution has been overtaken by Israel’s apartheid scheme for the West Bank and simply will not work. On the other hand, continuation of the Zionist plan for ethnic cleansing of Palestine and constant expansion of Israel may well be the road to insecurity for both Israelis and their neighbors, endless war, and the transformation of Israeli democracy (for Jews) into a garrison state dictatorship. An idealist might counter that a secular, multi-ethnic democracy in which Jews and Palestinians relearn the art of living together (something that actually occurred before WWII) is the solution. If you don’t believe that the extremists of Hamas and the Zionist movement can be persuaded to accept such a compromise, there is still…the Jordanian option.
The problem with the two-state solution is the difficulty of finding room in the small land area available to construct a viable Palestinian state. Admittedly, there are also several additional problems. The whole nation-building process sounds a lot more feasible if Jordan, already half Palestinian, merges with the West Bank – not under its current leadership but as a genuine Arab democracy. Instead of two poor countries (Jordan and the new Palestine), there would be one country – and one that already has structure, armed forces, etc. Ambitious? Yes. But unlike the first three options, the Jordanian option sounds feasible. At least, it is worth a look.
A few people have actually begun to consider this idea. Richard Chesnoff has written a persuasive argument but omitted what to me is a critical point: only via union with Jordan are the Palestinians likely to have any immediate hope of being able to defend themselves against an Israeli state addicted to war. Perhaps settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute will transform Israel; after all, that would be one of its primary purposes. But “perhaps” will seem on day one of Palestinian independence, slim consolation. It is critically important to grant a new Palestinian state sufficient defensive capacity to reassure them. A demilitarized Palestinian state facing the Israeli superpower, which will no doubt contain many very angry extremist ex-settlers and many politicians very willing to exploit their anger, will be desperate for support. There is only one practical place from which a new Palestinian state might get such support: Iran.
Surely it must be obvious to everyone that setting up a Palestinian state bereft of friends and the ability to defend itself will only open the door to further Iranian-Israeli tensions and thus accomplish exactly the opposite of what Israel, the U.S., or the Palestinians would want. The first two obviously won’t want to make Iran an even greater champion of Palestinian rights. But relying on militant Shi’ite power Iran would hardly be an appetizing road for religiously moderate, Sunni Palestinians either.
Israeli historian Michael Bar-Zohar has also advocated this idea and makes the important point that the kind of defenseless and impoverished rump state that seems to be on the minds of short-sighted (my word) politicians in Israel and Washington is highly likely to induce Palestinians to turn with a vengence on Jordan, since taking over Jordan will be the drop-dead obvious solution to everyone in Palestine. Much better to figure out a way to pull off such a deal by agreement and peacefully right up front.
How on earth might this be accomplished? Well, there are half a million Israelis to be moved out. That will take time. Simultaneously, with the wheels well greased by U.S. and Saudi taxpayers, one could imagine a slow process of offering Palestinians new homes in open Jordanian land. Perhaps some deal could even be achieved that would persuade Palestinians to sell certain territories to Israel in return for a generous quid pro quo. The point is simple: once you accept the concept of transforming the situation, detailed steps toward that transformation suddenly become visible…
There is a larger point here: the whole enterprise of creating a Palestinian state must not be just for show. It must be a real state, able to stand on its own outside of Israel’s orbit, or the exercise will become a disaster, not just for Palestinians but for Israel as well.
Marc Lynch presents a dissenting view. I concur that the Jordanian option will mean the end of the kingdom. But this is not about whether or not a particular individual gets to be king. What does Lynch mean by “Jordan is bitterly opposed?” The pertinent question is not what certain politicians currently in office think. I suspect no poll of the whole Jordanian population on this subject exists. I suspect he is referring to the political crowd currently in charge. This is not about the politicians: they always prefer to be big frogs in a small pond. This is not about the king. That king has the option of making the most inspired decision of his life: giving up his kingship for the opportunity to create something new. All this definitely requires opening one’s mind…
And then, there’s the “Jordan option.” Everyone I spoke to seemed highly agitated about and adamantly opposed to any suggestion of Jordan returning to the West Bank. Almost everyone thinks that the Israelis want Jordan to do this, and almost everyone says that Jordan is bitterly opposed. One of the officials went on at some length explaining that the idea was not being considered by Jordan, was not acceptable, was rejected, was a non-starter, was not on the table, would be refused if put on the table (and so on).
But nevertheless, talk of the Alternative Homeland (al-Watan al-Badil, “Jordan is Palestine”) was everywhere – fueled by Gaza, Netanyahu, and fears for the future of the two-state solution. Most journalists and political commentators brought this up at the top of their list of concerns, that even though everybody in Jordan (sic) opposed the idea, the government might be forced into it by Israel and the U.S. and that would mean the end of the Kingdom. They really do mean this – this is deeply rooted in Jordanian political identity and has been for many years dating back to the 1988 severing of ties with the West Bank. I was told one anecdote (which I can’t verify) that late last year a leading Jordanian politician infuriated the King by telling him that going to the West Bank could cost him his throne. I heard lots of identity talk: one journalist, for example, explained that the problem with democracy was that Palestinians represent a majority in the Kingdom and thus democracy would lead inevitably to the Alternative Homeland… a retrograde view which I associate with a much earlier period in Jordanian politics.
I think everyone in the U.S. would do Jordan and the Palestinians alike a serious favor if they would stop talking about the Jordanian option.
The new Israeli warning that it has the right both to violate Lebanese airspace and to attack Lebanon if it attempts to protect its airspace comes on the heels of Defense Minister Barak’s February 2 assertion of the right to attack Lebanon if it imports weapons not approved by Israel.
Israel asserted the right to control Gaza and the West Bank after conquering those regions and got away with it. Now it asserts the right to sovereignty over Lebanon, which is recognized even by the U.S. as an independent country. Israel, it seems, has the right to violate Lebanon’s territory, attack it if it tries to protect its territory, and even attack it if it imports weapons that are not authorized…by Israel.
How long will Washington continue to provide the weapons that Israel uses to bully its neighbors? If Israel is allowed to get away with telling Lebanon what to do, what country will be next? Syria, which it recently attacked…for having technology not approved by Israel? Jordan, if the horrors of the recent Gaza campaign provoke a change in Jordan’s pro-Israel policy?
Then, of course, there is Iran. Iran makes unauthorized comments about Israel. Iran develops unauthorized technology. No need to argue about the likelihood of Iran actually building a nuclear weapon or using it. According to the principles of international relations in Israel’s part of the world, Iran has already broken two rules.