Thursday, May 02, 2013
"The Flip Side"
Yesterday I wrote about certain things that PM Netanyahu said at the National Public Diplomacy Forum of the Foreign Ministry. Today I want to look at some other things he said.
What I cited yesterday was what he himself emphasized, and what I felt was most important to share. But I would be remiss if I didn't also allude to this.
What he said was: "I want to solve the conflict with the Palestinians because I don't want a binational state."
What this implies is that, if the Palestinian Arabs in Judea and Samaria are not separated from our population via a state of their own, they will ultimately be absorbed into Israel, affecting the Jewish nature of the state.
It is an argument used by some who are promoting a Palestinian Arab state and it is thus disconcerting to hear it coming from our prime minister.
What I wish to emphasize is that his position here is simplistic and not well founded. Thinking on this issue remains frozen in that same either/or box and it's unfortunate that he did not offer more creative or dynamic thinking.
There is, first of all, a body of opinion regarding the demographics of the region that indicates that even if Israel were a sovereign state across all of Judea and Samaria, its Jewish population would remain solidly in the majority.
See Yoram Ettinger, on "Defying demographic projections":
To begin with, the PA has over-estimated its population by about a million (via double-counting of population and more). And then, projections for Arab growth are based on inflated expectations: the Arab birthrate is decreasing significantly, just as the Jewish birthrate is increasing. Actually the two birthrates are beginning to converge. Add to this the fact that Israeli Jewish population is enhanced by aliyah, while Arabs are leaving the area. Ettinger sees the possibility of an 80% Jewish majority by 2035.
And there are, as well, other potential ways to deal with the issue, and it's time we began considering the alternatives seriously. One proposal, of many: The Palestinian Arab population might be provided with autonomous enclaves, in which they would determine the parameters of their own civil society -- electing mayors, running schools, etc. These enclaves would establish significant connections with Jordan -- which has a Palestinian Arab majority now and via which they would be fully enfranchised.
However it might be ultimately worked out -- and it's impossible for me to address all possibilities here -- the presence of Muslim Arabs in Judea and Samaria is not a valid reason to surrender this area, which represents Israel's heritage.
Perhaps what struck me as most interesting about the prime minister's statement is that it deviates from his Bar Ilan speech of 2009. Then he spoke about:
"...two free peoples living side by side in this small land, with good neighborly relations and mutual respect, each with its flag, anthem and government, with neither one threatening its neighbor's security and existence." (Only the violins are lacking here.)
This is the quintessential "two-state" vision, highly idealized and predicated on the notion that the Palestinian Arabs deserve their own flag, their own culture, freedom in their own state, etc. etc. It implies an obligation to the Arabs.
Now Netanyahu talks about giving them a state in order to divest ourselves of them -- to do it for our sake only. Is this because he knows how impossible is the vision he laid out a mere three years ago? Is it because he's tired up to the top of his head with any notion that we owe these corrupt and terror-supporting people anything?
Whatever his rationale, what he has done is erase any suggestion of obligation to the Arabs. If it can be shown that his argument has holes, there is nothing left for him to stand on.
There are, without question, people very nervous about this statement by Netanyahu. They see in this a slide to the left -- it's a leftist argument, embraced by Livni, for example -- and are afraid that this is meant as a prelude to going to the table.
What mitigates the concern, for me, is my expectation that Abbas is so totally allergic to any notion of negotiating with Israel that, one way or the other, he will sabotage the possibility. This is not exactly the same as saying I fully trust my prime minister to do what's right for our nation. But I'll take what I can get. Heaven works in many ways.
I refer to an article by The Tower. It says that, while the PA assured Kerry that they would postpone any initiatives regarding taking Israel to the International Criminal Court or applying to UN agencies for full membership -- actions which Kerry feared would interfere with his initiative -- they have now reconsidered. They are telling US officials that this applies only until June 3, and in the interim they demand (demand?) that the US pressure Israel into accepting the 1949 armistice line as the basis for negotiations and submitting a map verifying that understanding.
I have checked this with a highly reliable source who tells me it is true, and that the PA stance may yet change many more times.
We can only ponder what Kerry must be thinking about all of this.
Consider this, as well: The seven Arab nations present as the delegation representing the Arab League in Washington has just agreed to the possibility of minor land swaps in a "peace deal." But there 21 nations in the Arab League and my information is that this tentative offer still must go back to an Arab League Summit for a final decision. And if that decision is negative, as is likely the case, then nothing will have changed, no matter the hoopla.
Now, Syria. What I offer is my own brief, tentative assessment, based on much reading, communication with Arabic-speaking persons in the know, and my own understanding of the situation.
It's a modest attempt to provide a bit of clarity in a situation that is a political morass. A horror in which there are no good guys and it's quite a trick to figure out who is the least bad.
I believe there are certain factors that stand out as givens, all the confusion notwithstanding:
The most obvious is that Obama is all talk and no action. US forces are not going into Syria, his statements about the "red line" that would be crossed if Assad's troops used gas notwithstanding. What he's now done is to up the definition of the "red line" -- with requirements of tangible evidence beyond intelligence -- so that it will never be crossed.
From this, we can readily extrapolate with regard to what Obama means when he says he will never let Iran acquire nuclear weapons. Consider the difference of opinion between Israel and the US with regard to how late in the process it would be possible to stop Iran. Netanyahu says it must be during the enrichment process. Obama says it can go longer, until the stage at which a weapon is about to be assembled. Imagine him saying, well, we don't really know for sure yet that they are going to assemble a weapon.
While we want to imagine -- we feel compelled to believe -- that moral considerations should play a role in how the international community makes decisions regarding Syria, and while there have been many calls for moral action here, the reality is something very different. Over 70,000 Syrians, including women and children, have been killed in the last two years, and the international community chooses not to intervene.
Israeli interests here are not the same as US interests. This is a critical point. Israel by itself, sitting at the border of Syria, cannot assume the position of moral arbiter in Syria -- intervening to stop the loss of life. Whatever our own exceedingly high moral standards in warfare, we are unable to do this and will not do this. This is properly a US and international responsibility.
Thus, the Israeli red line is not Assad's use of such weapons against his people but the transfer of non-conventional weapons to terrorist groups that might use them against us. I cannot certify this with absolute certainty, but I do believe the Israeli military will act in this regard if it is perceived as necessary, even if it means going in -- and it is certainly being watched very closely.
Obama's indecision regarding whether to intervene and, if so, how -- without actually going in -- means that he has missed an opportunity to affect the outcome of the civil war positively. The rebel forces -- known as the Free Syria Army, actually a coalition of groups -- that are reasonably secular and might have secured a somewhat saner and more democratic regime -- are overwhelmed by radicals now.
When strengthening the Free Syria Army might have made a decisive difference, Obama dithered, providing some intelligence via the CIA and some training outside of Syria, but withholding arms. Now, in the face of evidence of use of gas by Assad, Obama is thinking about -- but had not yet decided on -- providing arms to the rebels.
There is huge concern about this, particularly among the Israelis. If such armaments -- being referred to as "lethal supplies" -- are provided to rebels without extreme caution, they will likely end up in the hands of the al-Qaeda associated radicals -- Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front -- who are fighting intensely in Syria and are often mingled with the Free Syria group. It may be too late.
My own absolute conviction is that the fierceness, deviousness and motivation of the radical group is such that it is likely to assume control of the anti-Assad forces, or to push its way into control of a new regime, should Assad be toppled.
This, my friends, is what concerns Israel the most. Assad is evil to the core with regard to how he has conducted himself towards his own people. But he has kept his border with Israel quiet -- actually, I'm being told, taking care that shooting across the border is kept to an absolute minimum. I'm also being told that it is not his intention to use his non-conventional weapons against Israel.
The al-Qaeda affiliated jihadists would be thrilled to do just that, and would have no compunctions about moving across our border at the Golan to challenge us.
This is also what I'm being told: Assad is not losing the war -- such predictions were premature.
Actually, if Obama supplies weaponry now to the Free Syria rebels, what this may accomplish is a prolonging of the war, with more fatalities, when, in the end they are likely to lose anyway.
What is more, Assad is now still in control of his cache of non-conventional weapons. There have been rumors to the contrary, but I'm being told that Hezbollah does not have them. Russia has a major presence in Syria, which is likely a significant factor in assuring Assad's strength. I'm being told that they are watching to be certain that WMD are not transferred to the wrong hands.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.
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