Posted by: sean | November 21, 2008

Announcing uneven hands

Jeffrey Goldberg thinks that America, instead of acting as a fair dealer in the Middle East, should just tell the Arab world that it will always favor Israel:

[A] comprehensive peace will come about when the Arab side understands clearly that America has red lines of its own. The Palestinians suffer sometimes from the irrational hope that America’s support for Israel is mutable, and that the key to success is to bring about direct American pressure on Israel. This won’t happen for any number of reasons, and I think Hillary Clinton understands that American pressure will only encourage Israeli politicians to descend into the bunker.

The new secretary of state should plan on giving two speeches almost right away: One to the Palestinian parliament (or even better, to the Arab League) explaining exactly why most Americans tend to side with Israel. It should be, in essence, a speech that justifies the original Zionist idea. Then, the secretary of state should speak to the Israeli Knesset, and lay out, in very clear terms, the U.S. vision for Israel’s borders, and talk very specifically about the need to bring about the end of the settlement project, and the birth of a viable Palestinian state — and to speak of that birth as a direct American national security interest (and a direct national security interest of the State of Israel). Neither speech will be popular, of course, which is the point. But the hope is that these speeches, which would lay out in very specific terms the way things must be to ensure the survival of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, will shock the two peoples into an awareness of reality. Hillary Clinton, based on what she’s said and done so far, understands this issue better than most anyone, and I think she is smart, savvy and energetic enough to, just maybe, pull this off.

I suppose there’s something of the realist worldview in such a presicription, but I just can’t accept that the US must necessarily be unfair in its Mideast dealings. Also, I’d be curious to know why exactly Goldberg thinks that “most Americans tend to side with Israel.” I’ve got a few ideas on the question, but none that I’m totally sure about.

This, of course, begs the question of why Arabs would then want the US to be a part of an agreement anyway, if the US is incapable of being an even-handed arbitrer. While Washington remains indespensible these days, it might find its position being usurped by other regional countries like Turkey, or capitals like Beijing or Moscow that Arab capitals may see as nearly as important and much more impartial.



  1. “…but I just can’t accept that the US must necessarily be unfair in its Mideast dealings….”

    Dear Sean,
    Please just go ahead and accept this, this is simply a fact of life here in the middle east.

    As for your other question of why Arabs would then want the US to be part of an agreetment, the anwser is because they have no choice.

    The Isrealis (and the US) wil not allow anybody else (e.g. the Europeans) to arbitrate since they cannot take the risk that the arbitrator is not 100% on the Israeli side no matter what. The Arabs are too weak to have any say in the matter.

  2. Ya Lalebanessa: I think you’re right for the short term, but if there’s one thing the Arabs have on their side, it’s time, particularly given Muslim birth rates. So while the US is the only game in town right now, that may not be true thirty years from now. Regardless of what optimists in Strasbourg and Bruxelles might think, the Europeans are unlikely to fill any American power vacuum. This is likely to be filled by countries like China or India, who do not have a “special relationship” with Israel.

    Another problem I have with Goldberg’s reasoning is the implication that Israelis are likely to respond poorly to American pressure, whereas Arabs will respond well. I just don’t think that’s true.

    Finally, I don’t agree with Goldberg. The American discussion about Israel has changed and continues to change a lot, thanks in no small part to the work done by Walt and Mearsheimer, but also to groups like J-Street and Americans for Peace Now.

    As an American who made aliyah and served in the IDF, Goldberg is coming from a particular position that is far from representing all of America. So the more we talk realistically about American and Israeli interests (and by realistically, I mean recognizing that they’re not necessarily identical), the more change is likely to occur. It’s a slow process, but I don’t think that the Arab fatalists or Israeli triumphalist are right in saying that the American stance must remain as it is.

  3. Sean,
    I hope you are right, but I wouldn’t hold my breath….

  4. i cant see beijing or moscow ever being accepted as viable mediators in the process..

  5. By whom? Of course the Israelis wouldn’t accept this, but that’s because Israel is used to a unipolar world in which it is unconditionally supported by the global superpower.

    Things may very well look a lot different in a few decades or a century, when Jews will most likely be a minority between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. And with a rising China and a declining US, Israel may no longer have much say in the matter if things don’t get settled in the next few years.

  6. In a hundred years nobody will care about the middle east since an alternative to oil would have been found. Heck, if Obama’s plan works, oil will be irrelevant much sooner, and so will the middle east policy wise. Therefore, the Arabs are in a precarious situation. If they don’t get their act together soon, they will have to democratize and modernize under dire economic conditions, making the task much harder. Israel is lucky to have an economy not based on oil, so will prosper into the future.

  7. (a) sean your assumptions on numbers i suspect are more base don stereotypes than on figures.. jewish birth rates are increasing while arab rates are plummeting.. you should qualify the myth.. its interesting stuff

    (b) aig – alternative energy is a huge industry in israel.. its called green tech.. our new post bio and way post high tech baby.. we’re taking good care of this one and we’re one of the few.. dont count on us becoming less interesting next century

  8. Unfair or fair is inapplicable in this case… let’s call it ethical and unethical, yes?

    It is ethical to side by people who are defending themselves from genocide.

    It is unethical to side by the would-be-genociders.

    Because genocide is unethical.

    Ergo, until Arabs (as a group and a culture) give up on genocide and admit without reservations that genocide is not nice, no ethical person can “side” with the Arabs.

    No buts or ifs. No lies. No saying one thing in English and another in Arabic.

    Just plain old “We are against genocide. We believe in the right of the Jewish people – as we believe in the right of all people – to exist”.

    That would be a good start.

    Accepting the right of the Jewish nation to self-determination (AKA Israel’s existence) is the next step up from barbarism.

  9. This probably fits your world view really well, doesn’t it? Since most of the world is against what Israelis have done and continue to do to Palestinians, then the rest of the world must obviously, by your logic, support genocide. So it’s really just Israel against the whole world, which apparently wants nothing more than to kill Jews, if we’re to follow your argument. If it weren’t such a depressingly and violently paranoid view of the world, it would be somehow be comforting in its simplicity.

    Also, I’ll clue you in on one thing: refusing to accept the right of the Jewish people to live in your home at your expense, sometimes even in your house or village while you’re corralled into a refugee camp, is not the same thing as refusing to accept the right of the Jewish people to live.

    And by the by, genocide denial is only heightened by the rhetoric of people like you who brandish the holocaust as a club to beat people who had nothing to do with it. Your remarks cheapen the memory of the holocaust.

  10. […] Goldberg is happy about Hillary as Sec'y of State and advises her to push for a Palestinian state now, but one pretty much on Israel's terms. […]

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