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October 31, 2007

Follow up: Livni, McCain and Iran

Some quick updates on issues raised in recent posts:

A number of people have commented to me that the Haaretz article about Israel’s Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, that I blogged about here, never made it into English translation. The full piece by Gidi Weitz and Na’ama Lanski did obviously appear in Haaretz in Hebrew. It is a good piece, full of insights regarding Livni, although the teaser regarding Iran was the most interesting headline from the article. Weitz and Lanski discussed Livni’s popularity – she adds about 5 Knesset seats to her Kadima party according to polls – but contrast it to the absence of her having built any serious organizational or field support structure within Kadima. That will seriously affect her prospects of winning any future Kadima leadership contests.

On the Iran issue, here is the full quote from the article:
A few months ago in a series of closed meetings, Livni expressed a unique position: she claimed that the Iranian bomb would not threaten Israel’s existence. Even if a bomb would fall in the center of Israel, she said in these meetings with intentional exaggeration, it would cause significant damage, but we are not talking about a threat to our existence. Livni’s assessment is that wiping out the state of Israel is a project that the Iranians are just not up to. These important things she will not say in public.
The article goes on to explain that Livni generally avoids taking clear cut positions or choosing sides. They describe a Minister, almost paralyzed by fear of failure. In addition, they quote an anonymous source, who met with Livni, together with Palestinians as saying
As far as [the Palestinians] were concerned, similar to other foreign parties that she meets, Livni is the perfect first date. In the first meeting she is impressive and expresses her positions with clarity. In the second meeting, when you get the same repertoire, the magic has dissipated.
But there is one additional and important insight and that is regarding Livni’s role during last summer’s Lebanon war. This Haaretz article building on testimony, given by Livni to the Winograd Committee and other interviews provides yet further evidence that there was a missed opportunity to a pursue a diplomatic option in the very first days of the war. In fact, Livni suggested this route almost from day one and she, along with others, expected the military conflict to be brief and that US led diplomacy would replace it. Some of the outlines of what became UN Security Council Resolution 1701were first explored in Livni’s office. That was the work of Livni’s advisor, Tal Becker, who appears in this Haaretz article, both as the brain behind 1701 and the person preparing important policy documents on the Israeli Palestinian issue. Tal is one of an unfortunately short list of advisors to the current government, who has made a name for himself and earned well-deserved respect as an extremely sharp, constructive and creative thinker. I don’t agree with Tal on all things and it probably wouldn’t help his career for me to be too praise worthy, but he is definitely someone to look out for.

Back to Livni and the Lebanon war: Weitz and Lanski draw the following conclusions,
If Livni understood better than the Generals the folly of the war, it is very possible that if she had pressed harder to reach a diplomatic agreement, built a coalition on this issue inside the government and sparked a heated public debate, she would have finished the war rather differently.
All that needs to be added is where was the Bush administration when diplomacy was so badly needed in the region? – oh yes, Ambassador John Bolton was preventing UN intervention for 30 days and encouraging escalation. Aye.

McCain and Rabin
The Washington correspondent of Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper and website, nrg.co.il, Tal Schneider picked up on the ProspectforPeace exposé of paid McCain campaign ads on a weird Kahanist website that promotes the idea that Shimon Peres was behind Rabin’s assassination. Schneider asked the McCain campaign for their response, which in her words were “very unsatisfying.” They claimed that they were not responsible for the content of sites on which they advertise. No apology was forthcoming. It seems however that the ads have at least been removed.

When my Iran Haaretz op-ed appeared in Hebrew, I was pleasantly surprised at a) how little abuse there was on the talk backs and b) how many calls and notes of support I received from former colleagues and other people I respect. Maybe there is more room for a debate inside Israel than is commonly assumed.

As for the debate here in the US, it is well worth watching this spirited rebuttal by Farid Zakaria of Norman Podhoretz speaking from his 1930s time machine on Jim Lehrer’s Newshour. Watch it or read the transcript here. Zakaria makes a sober and compelling case against the military option and walks us back from the hysteria that is so prevalent.

Finally, not to be missed, is this post on my colleague, Steve Clemons’ blog, the Washington Note, revealing a previously unreleased letter from Senator Chuck Hagel to President Bush about America’s Iran policy. In the letter, Hagel urges Bush to “pursue direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks with Iran.” Read the full post here.

October 26, 2007

Candidate McCain and the Rabin Assassination Conspiracy Theory

ahavat-israelThis week (in the Hebrew calendar) marked the 12th anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. This time the backdrop was an increasingly active and ugly campaign by the Israeli far-right for the release of his assassin, Yigal Amir. Part of that campaign has been the attempt to advance a conspiracy theory regarding the assassination, namely that the Israeli authorities orchestrated it and even that Shimon Peres was responsible. What you may ask has all this to do with the John McCain Presidential campaign?

Here’s what – the McCain campaign has placed official ads on a Kahanist, pro-extremist settler website that promotes the claim that Shimon Peres, Israel’s President, “master-minded” the Rabin assassination!

Here is the link to the site – Ahavat–Israel.com (literally love of Israel) – you may have to click refresh a few times to get the McCain ads (that is, until they are eventually taken down – after all the McCain campaign pockets don’t run so deep).

The website and the group behind it seem pretty obscure and very extreme, clearly Kahanist. Ahavat-Israel brings together a collection of the more bizarre predilections of the Israeli-religious settler right – don’t even ask how I stumbled across this!

Alongside some rather useful Kosher cooking tips (especially this late on a Friday…), there are promos for the settlers in Hebron, calls to demonstrate against the Israeli government, and adulation of the racist Meir Kahane who was banned from standing for Israeli Knesset.

Here’s what the site says about Israel’s Arab minority: “the transfer of Arabs to Arab lands should be done…most Jews in Israel and abroad would prefer that there be no Arabs in Israel.” And on the Rabin assassination, “Rabin was hated by most Jews in Israel. Rabin was considered a traitor and Israel’s most incompetent politician…when Rabin was murdered Peres became Prime Minister and accelerated the process of giving away land…Peres had the motives and the evidence is against him.”

So, does Senator McCain think that Israel’s new President “master-minded” (as the website claims) the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin? Does McCain feel comfortable advertising on a website that makes these accusations – would he like to distance himself from such claims, apologize and remove the ads?

To be honest, I assume the Senator knows nothing at all about the ads on the website and that some low-level aide out-sourced some media-buys to a mad-man.

But there it is and I hope this revelation embarrasses the McCain campaign (the ad links to their official donation page), and leads to many voices being raised that demand an apology for the association with this offensive Kahanist hatred.

Then again, maybe I’m wrong and this is all pre-mediated and this exposure is music to the McCain campaign ears and will fill the coffers. After all, if Giuliani has recruited Daniel Pipes, Norman Podhoretz and Martin Kramer to advise him on the Middle East, then being more extremist right-wing on Israel really takes some effort! Well, it is up to McCain to clarify.

And for a kinder take on Rabin’s real legacy, read this piece from Yossi Sarid in Haaretz and this excerpt from Ofer Shelah’s piece in Ma'ariv.

Farewell Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week

 David HorowitzAs David Horowitz's week long campaign to promote awareness on college campuses of so-called "Islamo-Fascism" draws to a close, it is perhaps time to forget the whole affair over the oblivion of a few Friday happy hour beers (yes, Mr. Horowitz, I'm fully aware that the "Islamo-Fascists" want to take away my beer). "Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week" is a creation of Horowitz, Daniel Pipes and other neo-con nasties and has attracted some of the attention and controversy they crave. It is clear that Islamophobia still has an audience in the US, is a factor for undermining religious tolerance, and can still help drive devastatingly de-stabilizing policies in the Middle East.

I saw the Islamo-Fascism Week posters up at George Washington University today, while there to speak at a DACOR/Elliott School Conference on the Middle East together with Under Secretary Nicholas Burns, amongst others. These posters advertised a talk by Horowitz and a screening of “Obsession,” a hate-film thinly veiled as a documentary. Friends at GWU informed me that a few zealous and over-excited students had been showing up for the events.
 On the blogosphere there’s been some well-argued outrage – read Jim Lobe for a particularly informative take. A few, (Think Progress and TPM,) have looked at the half-full cup. For instance, several prestigious schools, including Yale and Princeton have demanded that their names not be included in Horowitz' campaign, for instance. Even Liberty University, founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, requested that they not be mentioned.  Josh Marshal writes, "it turns out that the campaign against Islamo-Fascism is plagued by phony data and incompetent management. . ." (the ellipses is Marshal's own).

Even Mr. Meak, here-as-a-fig-leaf, Alan Colmes on Fox, had this to say to Horowitz in an interview, "the word Islamo-Fascism is hate speech.  It equates an entire religion with fascism.  That is what people object to.  It conflates the two and it's wrong." Promoters of the term Islamo-Fascism have sometimes tried to insist that the ideology to which it refers is not the same as the religion of Islam but at least one “Awareness Week” headliner, Robert Spencer, has confidently contended that Islam is not a religion, but a political order incapable of teaching peace (see this interview with Pat Robertson in which Spencer calls the Qur’an “fraudulent.”)
 One major line of attack used by the week’s organizers sounds eminently reasonable and worthy of support – namely, the positions that Islamists take on women’s rights, in for instance, Iran. But as Ali Eteraz, writing in the Huffington Post, points out, Horowitz has chosen a strange cast of characters to defend the rights of women in Iran. Surely Anne Coulter and Rick Santorum are curious selections.  Coulter has advocated for revoking women's suffrage and she recently lost syndication over a homophobic remark regarding John Edwards. Rick Santorum, too, is a well-known opponent to gay rights and of women’s right to choose.

Moreover, in the lead-up to the "Awareness Week" both Coulter and Spencer stumbled into embarrassing anti-Semitic episodes. Spencer shared the floor with far-right European parties with Neo-Nazi affiliations at the "Counterjihad Brussels 2007" conference. Coulter, on the other had, got into it with CNBC's Donny Deutsch over her claim that an ideal America would be a "Christian" nation.  Pushed by Deutsch regarding the status of Jews in her hypothetical Christian nation, Coulter suggested that they convert, insisting that she "just want[s] Jews to be perfected."

How about someone organizing a “Neo-Con Danger Awareness Week” – oh, and kudos to the Emory students for booing Horowitz off the stage.

October 25, 2007

Worth looking out for: Gidi Weitz on Livni

Just a short post to flag this. Hareetz has a promo today for a longer piece that will appear in the Friday magazine about Tzipi Livni. The piece is likely to look at the evolution of Livni’s political thinking, her current role and remaining weaknesses as a possible future leader worth investing hope in. The teaser we get today says this:

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said a few months ago in a series of closed discussions that in her opinion that Iranian nuclear weapons do not pose an existential threat to Israel.

Former Mossad Chief Ephraim Halevy recently made similar points in a lecture in Jerusalem. He stated that “the State of Israel cannot be destroyed” and that the “Iranian threat to Israel is substantive but not existential.” According to Haaretz, “Halvey’s lecture presented a less-disturbing picture from the one offered by President W. Bush.” It “called on the government to…offer Iran a diplomatic option.”

All this stands in stark contrast to the war-drums we have become accustomed to hearing. Unfortunately, this refreshing and realistic antidote is likely to be denied pretty quickly.

The Livni piece should be especially insightful as one of its authors ranks among the brightest sparks of next generation Israeli journalists – Gidi Weitz (I do not know his co-writer on this piece, Na’ama Lanski).

Gidi first came to my attention in the weekly Jerusalem local city paper – but he has long since moved on to bigger things. Weitz recently had this splendid investigation into Ehud Barak’s business contacts and political campaign financing.

Gidi blazes the too-often now neglected trail of solid investigative journalism that refuses to serve any political master. So, look out for the Livni piece, but keep an eye out too for Gidi Weitz.

For a delicious additional read on Iran – and the World War III – mongers, read Tony Karon’s post, Bob Dylan & Ayatollah Khamenei.

October 19, 2007

Op-ed on Iran

This op-ed of mine just came out in Haartetz.


It may sound counterintuitive, even heretical, but it could just be that Israel is overlooking - or worse, helping to block - what is possibly the best option available for avoiding a nuclear Iran.

Direct American-led negotiations are not in play, and Israel is complicit in this omission. The United States looms largest in Iranian threat perceptions and only the U.S. - not the EU, UN, or the International Atomic Energy Agency - can deliver a deal for verifiable re-suspension of an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

In Jerusalem there is a perhaps understandable tendency to imagine that Tehran has an Israel obsession. Indeed, the Iranian president does have a particularly vile reverse infatuation with the Jewish state. But this should not be confused with the map of real threats and interests occupying Iran, in which Iraq, the Gulf, even Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Caspian Sea region all normally feature more prominently than Zion. Above all, there is America, with its talk of and support for regime change and an annual military budget 90 times that of Iran.

Over-simplifying Iran tends to lead to bad policy-making. President Ahmadinejad may be all of the things that the president of Columbia University accused him of being, and more, but he does not solely define Iran's national interest - far from it. Tehran hosts a complex web of competing power centers, and Ahmadinejad's brand of messianism does not necessarily translate into a suicidal or even nonrational state policy. There is widespread dissatisfaction with his domestic and especially economic policies, and his reelection in 18 months is far from assured. American and Israeli bellicosity only serve to boost his popular appeal.

The current policy approach is very unlikely to succeed. Lack of an agreed-upon objective is one reason: Is it regime change or weapons non-proliferation? The two are not interchangeable, and may even be incompatible. Iran is expected to curtail its nuclear program while remaining a target for regime change. The lesson of recent history as understood by Iran's leadership is that axis-of-evil membership plus nuclear weapons equals reasonable negotiating terms (North Korea); minus those weapons one's fate is less appealing (Iraq). Regime-change strategies seem hopelessly naive. The U.S. has been backing at least three proxy opposition groups to little effect: the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK, Iraq-based), the Baluchi Jundullah group (Soldiers of God) and the Kurdish Pejak. Other, more credible, exile and human rights groups recently shunned official U.S. support. Meanwhile the Islamic republic will soon have outlasted its fifth American president.

The nuclear prevention-focused policy revolves around sanctions backed with threats of more painful punitive measures. The impact of the sanctions, however, seems to be completely out of synch with the timeline of nuclear progress. Ineffective sanctions can serve to narrow the corridor leading to a military strike, and for some that is the precise intention. Washington has recently hardened its threats against Tehran, accusing it of being responsible for American deaths in Iraq. President Bush has a track record in dealing with "bad regimes" suspected of producing "bad weapons," yet U.S. military action need not be a given.

Most senior U.S. military are known to be actively opposed. The option of independent Israeli action against Iran is largely a myth. The long-standing "no surprises" commitment, the likely need for U.S. flyover permission, and almost certain targeting of U.S. assets in retaliation, makes any Israeli military calculation very much a joint affair. No military plan guarantees success, and the almost certain devastating consequences make the idea very ill-advised. An attack would likely provoke a military response in the region and beyond, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan, wreak havoc on oil supplies, enrage the Muslim (including Sunni) world, be a gift to jihadi recruitment, create new enemies and harden hatreds. Israel would face a particularly fierce backlash, conceivably for generations.

Although hard to stomach, a deterrence and containment strategy for dealing with a nuclear Iran are preferable to the military option, even for Israel. After all, India and Pakistan survived going nuclear.

Yet it should not come to this. Let's call the alternative double-dip diplomacy. The U.S. would offer Iran two negotiating tracks. The first focuses on the priority security concerns of each side: the nuclear file, Iraq, regime security, sanctions. The second would address all issues of mutual concern, region-wide. For Washington, the key emphasis should be securing a verifiable freeze in any nuclear-weapons program. The second track of grand bargaining seems unpromising in current circumstances, although, conversely, addressing all issues might be the only way for the Iranians to make progress on any issue and this option should always be on offer.

The U.S.-Iranian talks would be direct, not via proxy, and without preconditions. A genuine U.S. offer would most effectively give regime pragmatists a tool to work with and leverage the pressure that has been generated but that, absent diplomacy, leaves nothing constructive to navigate toward. Beyond the nuclear question, a U.S.-Iranian detente may best deliver on Israeli interests across a range of issues.

Variations on the diplomatic option have been advocated by numerous experts, think tanks and politicians in the U.S.; official Washington remains skeptical and split on this. An Israeli green light would greatly enhance the prospects of the U.S. giving diplomacy a try - helping to tip the balance inside the administration and providing political cover. Any Israeli leader serious about "stopping" Iran should tear up those speaking notes about 1938 and have a quiet diplomatic word in Uncle Sam's ear.

October 16, 2007

How about a peace lobby?

This op-ed of mine just came out in the International Herald Tribune.


After seven lean years, Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are back on the agenda for a planned summit meeting next month in Annapolis, Maryland. Intriguingly, the return of the peace process coincides with an unusual public debate taking place in America regarding the U.S.-Israel relationship following the attention received by a book about the Israel lobby.

The debate triggered by the authors, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, has understandably touched on raw emotions and too often degenerated into name-calling. But it has also aired a rather important question: Is the special relationship as currently pursued actually healthy for either Israel or America?

Addressing that challenge and achieving a constructive outcome in Annapolis are two sides of the same coin. Of course the Palestinians too will have a say in how things unfold, but the undeniable asymmetry between occupier and occupied places the onus on the former, and its enabler.

On the Israel side, the relationship delivers the very dubious luxury of misbehavior without consequences. It also denies Israel's leaders an external impetus and excuse for taking necessary, if unpopular steps.

Settlements, land confiscations, the resulting anger, violence and internal moral decay: Many Israelis now recognize that the entire accessories catalog of a continued occupation is terribly self-destructive.

But instead of organizing an intervention, Israel's best friend indulges the addiction. The fiction is maintained that Israel can coexist snugly with greater Israel; and the Muslim world, from Sahara to Sumatra, is fed the daily bloody Palestinian soap opera.

On the U.S. side, the relationship encourages Lilliputian politics on an issue that, especially post 9/11, touches defining foreign policy and security concerns. The failed framing of the war on terror, for instance, becomes more difficult to recast.

To address the root causes and legitimate grievances that facilitate anti-American mobilization and jihadi recruitment and embarrass allies requires a recognition of the role of the Israeli occupation. If that is a "no go" area for politicians, then the pushback against current policy is severely handicapped.

The choice is not an unattractive and unrealistic all-or-nothing, America as Israel's best friend or America turning its back on Israel. Rather, can the special relationship be deployed to more mutually beneficial effect with the United States, at Annapolis for instance, vigorously pushing a dignified two-state solution and engaging if necessary with stakeholders that are shunned by Israel?

The existing, unhelpful reality is perpetuated by many factors, but three stand out in the current terrain. First, the traditionally liberal American Jewish community has outsourced leadership on Israel-related issues to an increasingly hawkish right-wing minority. It's part diaspora guilt and identity politics, part fear mongering that is both effective and great for fundraising, and part the justifiable liberal tendency to be multi-issue, campaigning and donating across a range of worthy causes. The liberal majority often avoid the internal community headache of being progressive on Israel. Not so the single-issue Israel zealots.

A second and increasingly powerful factor is the evangelical Christian Zionist right. Their philo-Zionism has a disturbing little anti-Semitic twist to it (once the Jews are all gathered in the promised land they either die or convert), but this inconvenient truth is overlooked by those who have welcomed them as allies in the American Jewish establishment. A rich vein of populist Islamophobia also now plays into the equation.

The final factor is the strong and mutually supportive cooperation built between the neocons and their benefactors in the U.S. and certain right-wing politicians and think tanks in Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky both have more of a constituency in Washington than in Jerusalem. These long-cultivated links have been most effectively deployed since 9/11.

The urgent challenge is to construct a competing alliance. To steal a page from the hawks' playbook, let's call it Sanity Watch. The political leadership of the center-left in both Israel and America is unlikely to rise to the challenge. The drive for a coalition of sanity may have to come from civil society.

On the Israeli side, the peace camp would need to rediscover its voice, its confidence, and to prioritize reaching out to potential allies in the United States. Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, will have to feel a sense of ownership of this issue. No one in history ever washed a rental car.

Although it is a stretch, the devastation and instability wrought in the region by recent policy offers a moment of opportunity. Middle East peace or the lack thereof now impacts not only American troops serving in the region, but also homeland security.

Copy writers should be able to find a popular formula that expresses Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution as a vital U.S. interest. And for American Jews there might be an additional impetus: saving Israel from the slow death of occupation deluxe. For all its influence and - for argument's sake - good intentions, the existing "pro-Israel" community has not helped deliver what is most vital for Israel's future: permanent agreed borders and an end of conflict. Sanity Watch has its marching orders.

October 10, 2007

Bipartisan Foreign Policy Leaders on Annapolis Conference

Below is the full text of a letter just released to President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as part of an effort supported by the U.S./Middle East Project, Inc., the International Crisis Group, and the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program. The letter is signed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lee H. Hamilton, Carla Hills , Nancy Kassebaum-Baker, Thomas R. Pickering, Brent Scowcroft, Theodore C. Sorensen and Paul Volcker. It is an initiative that I am very involved with and keen to encourage. The statement correctly identifies that after seven lean years of disengagement from peace efforts, the November conference creates both opportunity and risks. The administration is finally showing some political will to move on Middle East peacemaking. It must now combine that with political skill to achieve positive results and a good place to start would be a listening to the wise and experienced counsel of the letter’s signatories.

The text provides reasonable, meaningful and sufficiently detailed suggested language for an agreement that could be announced at the conference. It suggests that if the parties cannot reach this bilaterally, then the international Quartet, led by the US, should step in with bridging proposals along these lines. The authors explain that to invite Syria to attend the conference is a useful, but insufficient step that needs to be backed up by “genuine engagement.” Likewise, dialogue with Hamas (led by others, not the US) is preferable to isolation and should begin with a ceasefire between Gaza and Israel (as advocated here on ProspectsforPeace). Most importantly, the statement conveys an understanding of how the different issues are inter-related and connects the dots for the administration on a process that deals with substance, is inclusive, and delivers visible improvements on the ground for both sides. A diplomatic gauntlet has been placed at the door of the administration. Now, they must rise to the occasion.

The full text follows:


The following letter on the Middle East peace conference scheduled for Annapolis, Maryland in late November, was addressed by its signatories to President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  The statement is a joint initiative of the U.S./Middle East Project, Inc., the International Crisis Group, and the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program. 

The Israeli-Palestinian peace conference announced by President Bush and scheduled for November presents a genuine opportunity for progress toward a two-state solution. The Middle East remains mired in its worst crisis in years, and a positive outcome of the conference could play a critical role in stemming the rising tide of instability and violence. Because failure risks devastating consequences in the region and beyond, it is critically important that the conference succeed.

Bearing in mind the lessons of the last attempt at Camp David seven years ago at dealing with the fundamental political issues that divide the two sides, we believe that in order to be successful, the outcome of the conference must be substantive, inclusive and relevant to the daily lives of Israelis and Palestinians:

The international conference should deal with the substance of a permanent peace: Because a comprehensive peace accord is unattainable by November, the conference should focus on the endgame and endorse the contours of a permanent peace, which in turn should be enshrined in a Security Council resolution. Israeli and Palestinian leaders should strive to reach such an agreement. If they cannot, the Quartet (US, EU, Russia and UN Secretary General)—under whose aegis the conference ought to be held— should put forward its own outline, based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the Clinton parameters of 2000, the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and the 2003 Roadmap. It should reflect the following:

• Two states, based on the lines of June 4, 1967, with minor, reciprocal, and agreed-upon modifications as expressed in a 1:1 land swap;

• Jerusalem as home to two capitals, with Jewish neighborhoods falling under Israeli sovereignty and Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty;

• Special arrangements for the Old City, providing each side control of its respective holy places and unimpeded access by each community to them;

• A solution to the refugee problem that is consistent with the two-state solution, addresses the Palestinian refugees’ deep sense of injustice as well as provides them with meaningful financial compensation and resettlement assistance;

• Security mechanisms that address Israeli concerns while respecting Palestinian sovereignty.

The conference should not be a one-time affair. It should set in motion credible and sustained permanent status negotiations under international supervision and with a timetable for their completion, so that both a two-state solution and the Arab peace initiative’s full potential (normal, peaceful relations between Israel and all Arab states) can be realized.

The international conference should be inclusive:

• In order to enhance Israel’s confidence in the process, Arab states that currently do not enjoy diplomatic relations with Israel should attend the conference.

• We commend the administration for its decision to invite Syria to the conference; it should be followed by genuine engagement.

A breakthrough on this track could profoundly alter the regional landscape. At a minimum, the conference should launch Israeli-Syrian talks under international auspices.

• As to Hamas, we believe that a genuine dialogue with the organization is far preferable to its isolation; it could be conducted, for example, by the UN and Quartet Middle East envoys.

Promoting a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza would be a good starting point.

The international conference should produce results relevant to the daily lives of Israelis and Palestinians: Too often in the past, progress has been stymied by the gap between lofty political statements and dire realities on the ground. The conference therefore should also result in agreement on concrete steps to improve living conditions and security, including a mutual and comprehensive cease-fire in the West Bank and Gaza, an exchange of prisoners, prevention of weapons smuggling, cracking down on militias, greater Palestinian freedom of movement, the removal of unjustified checkpoints, dismantling of Israeli outposts, and other tangible measures to accelerate the process of ending the occupation.

Of utmost importance, if the conference is to have any credibility, it must coincide with a freeze in Israeli settlement expansion.  It is impossible to conduct a serious discussion on ending the occupation while settlement construction proceeds apace. Efforts also should focus on alleviating the situation in Gaza and allowing the resumption of its economic life.

These three elements are closely interconnected; one cannot occur in the absence of the others. Unless the conference yields substantive results on permanent status, neither side will have the motivation or public support to take difficult steps on the ground. If Syria or Hamas are ostracized, prospects that they will play a spoiler role increase dramatically. This could take the shape of escalating violence from the West Bank or from Gaza, either of which would overwhelm any political achievement, increase the political cost of compromises for both sides and negate Israel’s willingness or capacity to relax security restrictions. By the same token, a comprehensive cease-fire or prisoner exchange is not possible without Hamas’s cooperation. And unless both sides see concrete improvements in their lives, political agreements are likely to be dismissed as mere rhetoric, further undercutting support for a two-state solution.

The fact that the parties and the international community appear—after a long, costly seven-year hiatus—to be thinking of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is welcome news. Because the stakes are so important, it is crucial to get it right. That means having the ambition as well as the courage to chart new ground and take bold steps.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter
Lee H. Hamilton, former Congressman and Co-chair of the Iraq Study Group
Carla Hills, former U.S. Trade Representative under President George H.W. Bush
Nancy Kassebaum-Baker, former Senator
Thomas R. Pickering, former Under-Secretary of State
Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor to President Gerald Ford and President George H.W. Bush
Theodore C. Sorensen, former Special Counsel and Adviser to President John F. Kennedy
Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the U.S. Federal Reserve System

October 4, 2007

Ok, here we go, the Israel Lobby

I have not commented thus far on the publication of the Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer book on the Israel lobby. The reason is simple – I agreed to review the book for Haaretz and so have waited for that to be published. Well the review came out yesterday in the monthly Haartetz book supplement and should be on the website any day (it is being delayed by the Succot holiday). I have though decided to post that review here below. (I will provide the Haaretz link once it’s available.)

It is a long piece, but I hope that you stick with it. Allow me to set out my stall in this kind of pre-amble. While I certainly take issue with the specific recent policy examples in the book (Iraq and Syria in particular), I am convinced that the relationship between the US, Israel and the lobby that speaks in its name needs to change for everyone’s sake, that this book contributes to a re-think and that the authors are not driven by prejudice.

A key distinction to draw for instance is that it is not Israel per se that has become a strategic liability for the US, but rather Israel as an occupier (which is indeed, a liability to itself). To quote Walt and Mearsheimer, “if the conflict were resolved, Israel might become the sort of strategic asset that its supporters often claim it is.”

I am not an American Jew (despite the valiant and appreciated efforts of Matt Yglesias to enfranchise me as such). I can at best empathize with the sensitivities of American Jews and the raw nerves that the book and the debate surrounding it have touched. Some of the commentary, including from people I respect, admire and personally like – JJ Goldberg, Jeffrey Goldberg and Leonard Fein (I had to find a non-Goldberg) for example, pushes back powerfully against the book and comes from a place that is undoubtedly sincere and, I believe, often emotional. It is an emotive subject for me also, but my emotions are those of an Israeli (by choice admittedly) who has witnessed the devastating consequences of the lobby-mediated US policy towards Israel, on our ability to build an Israel of hope, peace, decency and dare I say, longevity.

Without himself being an Israeli, my friend MJ Rosenberg probably captures the essence of this position best when he writes: “There is nothing pro-Israel about supporting policies that promise only that Israeli mothers will continue to dread their sons’ 18th birthdays for another generation.”

Some of the commentary, by the way, has just been plain shoddy – a word hurled too often at Messrs. Walt and Mearsheimer. Leslie Gelb, reviewing the book in the NY Times is the most disappointing and inexcusable example of this. Gelb for instance claims that the official American policy against settlements and in favor of a Palestinian state proves the limitations of the lobby. Hardly! If anything it suggests the opposite – 40 years and over 400,000 Israelis living beyond the green line later – there is perhaps a disconnect and might this not require an explanation.

Understandably, Walt and Mearsheimer’s chapter about the Iraq war has drawn the most fire and ire – and with no small degree of justification. Yes, as Leonard Fein argues, the book does go too far in conflating the Israel lobby with neocons. But that act of conflating does not exist only in the minds of Walt and Mearsheimer. As I argue, the mainstream lobby allowed itself to be co-opted and it moved so far to the right and made such dubious alliances, that the co-option gave the impression of being almost seamless.

Yes, the ingredients of Middle East policy post 9/11 are characterized by elements of exceptionalism, not just continuity. But Israel and the lobby speaking in its name, out-sourced their policy to neo-cons (and even the Christian Right and also Islamo-phobes) with devastating effect. And Walt and Mearsheimer are not to blame for this unfortunate reality.

The more important challenges though concern the future. Freedom’s Watch and the push for a military attack on Iran has an eerie familiarity about it. Just look at who the prime donor and mover behind Freedom’s Watch is – Sheldon Adelson – close ally of Bibi Netanyahu who has poured millions into a pro-Bibi daily paper in Israel (read this Jim Lobe piece for more).

Will Jewish and non-Jewish Americans who care about and understand the connection between American security, Middle East stability and Israeli well-being stand up, speak out and be a counter-weight this time?

Ok, here goes – the full book review:

Two authors from the elite of American academia, an attempted answer to the what-went-wrong-for-the-U.S.-in-the-Middle-East question, and a controversy that has been brewing for over a year no wonder this book is on the New York Times Best-Seller list. Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer's book is far more expansive in scope, detailed in argument, and thoroughly sourced (106 pages of footnotes) than their 2006 article on the same subject, although their methodology still eschews firsthand interviews. This is a difficult and challenging book. It is also an important book that deserves to be keenly debated.

The book has generally elicited three types of response since its release. The first: Ignore it. Controversy, after all, breeds attention, debate and even sales, all of which, for some, are undesirable. Second: Take it seriously and deal with the substance, something this review will do in a moment. But before that, one must note the third type of response: To vilify, delegitimize and discredit the book and its authors. "Anti-Jewish bias" (Jeff Robbins, Wall Street Journal); "inspired by the Nuremburg Laws" (Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times); "a bigoted attack" (Alan Dershowitz) these are just a few of the Pavlovian responses to the book. Despite the accusations, this a not a hateful screed. Painful, yes. Prejudiced, no. As the authors close off each possible avenue of anti-Semitic intent or effect, they come across as thorough, not ritualistic or tokenistic.

According to Walt and Mearsheimer, both political scientists, the former at Harvard, the latter at the University of Chicago, "the Israel lobby is the antithesis of a cabal or conspiracy." Interest group politics, including ethnic lobbies, are for them central to America's democracy and pluralistic society "as American as apple pie." Multiple loyalties are also very American, and not confined to Jews. To specifically question the dual loyalty of Israel's supporters would be "wrong," say the authors, as they "have every right to advocate their positions." Walt and Mearsheimer argue that, far from controlling the media, the Israel lobby has to work hard to ensure that its position wins out. Perhaps unexpectedly, the authors even describe themselves as "pro-Israel," and declare, "we are not challenging Israel's right to exist, or questioning the legitimacy of a Jewish state." Hardly very radical stuff. Their gripe is with where the lobby, effective as they claim it is, has taken U.S. foreign policy. Yes, they recognize it would be easier and more comfortable to discuss the pharmaceutical, gun or Free Cuba lobbies. Alas, their theme is the Middle East.

Their more shrill detractors have either not read the book, are emotionally incapable of dealing with harsh criticism of something they hold so close (certainly a human tendency), or are intentionally avoiding a substantive debate on the issues. The authors' challenge is "to convince readers that the United States provides Israel extraordinary material aid and diplomatic support, the lobby is the principal reason for that support, and this uncritical and unconditional relationship is not in the American national interest." Proving the first point does not make for particularly arduous labor. Israel became the largest single annual recipient of U.S. foreign assistance in 1976 and has topped the league ever since. We receive approximately $500 every year for every Israeli (it's $5 per Pakistani). All this is rather nice. In fact, it is a remarkable achievement that few Israelis would prefer to do without. But is it a consequence of the Israel lobby's work?  Rather than replying with an "obviously it is," and moving on, Walt and Mearsheimer treat us to an unforgiving debunking of the alternative explanations. This entails holding a mirror up to Israel and highlighting all the warts. We all know they exist, but still, it's not a pretty sight.

Punch to the gut
Chapter Three, "A Dwindling Moral Case," is their punch to the gut of any Israeli claim to extraordinary U.S. support on the basis of merit alone. It is hardly unfair that they give us the most egregious examples of Israel behaving badly, that is precisely what clinches their argument. Just for good measure, the vast majority of their sources are Israeli. Many will recoil at this chapter, especially when the criticism comes from outsiders. By the time the authors ask "which group [Israelis or Palestinians] now has a stronger moral claim to U.S. sympathy?,” the question is clearly rhetorical.

But what about Israel's value as a strategic ally?  Walt and Mearsheimer are having none of it, and here the American elite consensus is probably on their side. If Israel was of "limited strategic value" during the Cold War, it has become a veritable "liability" in the war on terror. The alliance with Israel does not serve American Middle East interests as defined by these authors: It doesn't help keep Gulf oil flowing to markets; doesn't discourage the spread of weapons of mass destruction; and certainly doesn't reduce anti-American terrorism originating in the region. Last year's bipartisan Iraq Study Group of wise American policy elders may have put it more politely, but they essentially reached the same conclusion. For Walt and Mearsheimer, support for an Israel that is at war with its neighbors "has fueled anti-Americanism ... gives Islamic terrorists a powerful recruiting tool, and contributes to the growth of radical Islam." It is not Israel per se that is a liability, but Israel as an occupier: "If the conflict were resolved, Israel might become the sort of strategic asset that its supporters often claim it is." The distinction should be on the radar screen of Israel's strategic planners. The authors argue that current Israeli policy is a liability to the U.S., and many would argue (the authors actually do) that it is also a liability to Israel itself. This is the first half of their argument often debatable, sometimes flawed, always compelling.

I would argue for instance that they understate at least three factors in popular culture that embellish U.S. support for Israel. First, there is a significant element of emotion, sentiment and identification in the way Americans relate to Israel; manufactured or not, it exists. Just witness the response to Shahar Peer at this year's U.S. Tennis Open. Second they refer to but underestimate the role of the Christian evangelical Zionists and their impact at the local level, especially in the media. The main Christian pro-Israel lobby group, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), has grown exponentially in recent years. It is fanatical in its devotion and politically way over to the right, channeling millions annually to support settlements. A third and not unconnected phenomenon requires a closer look at America's warts namely, the prevalence of popular Islamophobia. Pro-Israel sentiment is strengthened not by Israel's moral case, but by an immoral negative stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims by many mainstream media outlets since 9/11. But Walt and Mearsheimer are less good at seeing America's warts, and totally overlook this trend.

Having set out their own stall, that this extraordinary state of affairs is explained by the influence of the Israel lobby, the authors then describe what the lobby is and how it operates. The lobby, they say, is a "loose coalition of individuals and organizations," not all of whom are lobbyists, with "fuzzy" boundaries. Their definition is interesting and probably over-inclusive, ranging from obvious groupings, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and Christian Zionists, to think tanks, certain journalists and scholars, and the neoconservative movement (neocons), of whom more in a moment. It is not synonymous with American Jewry. Their description of how the policy process is "guided" would have most interest groups green with envy, and makes for entertaining, if at times disturbing reading. Former House Speaker Richard Armey's eminently quotable "my number one priority in foreign policy is to protect Israel," from 2002, does get you thinking how it would be received were the Speaker of the Knesset to opine that "my number one priority in foreign policy is to protect America." The tools and tactics used include: draft legislation, speeches, talking points; tours of Israel for politicians and radio talk-show hosts; cultivation of congressional staffers; campaign contributions. Their analysis of campaign financing is weak and leaves one feeling somewhat short-changed.

Finally and not surprisingly, given their own treatment, the authors turn the spotlight on the ugliest face of supposedly pro-Israel activism-smear campaigns and silencing tactics, often perpetrated by organizations masquerading as watchdog groups. The attacks, for instance, on Kenneth Roth and Human Rights Watch, after they criticized Israel's offensive activity in Lebanon in 2006, were not only unjustified, undemocratic and un-Jewish, they are also a big turn-off for an increasing number of young American Jews.

Bad for U.S., bad for Israel
The second half of the book is devoted to concrete examples, with which the authors make their case that the lobby influences foreign policy in ways that are detrimental to the U.S. national interest, "and," the authors add, "although these policies were intended to benefit Israel, many of them have damaged Israeli interests." All of the examples are taken from the Bush era, post 9/11 and this brings us to the book's core weakness. Walt and Mearsheimer see too much continuity and not enough exceptionalism in this period. At the center of their argument stand the neocons, and their interplay with the Israel lobby.

The neocons are a tight-knit group of ultra-hawks, favoring unilateral projection of U.S. power as a benign hegemon. They are predominantly, though not exclusively, Jewish, congregate around certain think tanks and publications (notably the American Enterprise Institute and The Weekly Standard, respectively) and are most associated with the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), which set out their goals in the 1990s. After 2000, neocons took up key positions in the Bush administration. Walt and Mearsheimer place them four-square inside the Israel lobby. The reality seems more complicated than that. Many leading neocons, by their own admission, care greatly about Israel, but they want to impose their policy, not follow Jerusalem's. Unlike, for instance, AIPAC, which takes its lead from the Israeli government, and then tends to give it an extra twist to the right, the neocons adhere to a rigid ideological dogma and are not afraid to confront a government in Jerusalem they view as too "soft."

The view that sees neocons as spearheading the Israel lobby position under Bush has serious flaws. It is more likely that the neocons co-opted the Israel lobby, and Israel itself, to their own vision of regional transformation. This is more PNAC than AIPAC. Still, most of the Israel lobby were willing accomplices, and this represents their historic error. The gradual and consistent ideological drift to the right of key Israel lobby elements since the 1970s, and the hawkish excess of mainstream groups, made this cooperation not only possible, but natural, almost seamless. The picture is complete when the role of Ariel Sharon, then Israeli premier, is added. Sharon was a hawk, but no neocon. He viewed dreams of regional transformation, democratization and regime change with scorn and disdain, but he could spot a useful political ally when he saw one. The neocons would be his bulwark against being dragged into a negotiating process with the Palestinians or Syrians, as America re-calibrated its approach to the Middle East post-9/11. Negotiations were Sharon's "Room 101." The Dov Weissglas-Elliott Abrams channel saved him the trouble. Walt and Mearsheimer describe a damning end product, policies that are a disaster for America and Israel alike, but in over-conflating the neocons with the Israel lobby they overlook a dynamic and nuance that might have implications for the future.

Outsourcing regional policy
In recent years the Israel lobby, and even Israel itself, largely outsourced regional policy to the neocons, and this is crucial for better understanding all the issues that "The Israel Lobby" looks at: Iraq, Iran, Syria, the Palestinians and the Second Lebanon War. Walt and Mearsheimer devote a chapter to each of these, but there is no space here for a detailed discussion of the entire region. "Removing Saddam Hussein from power" was, to quote Walt and Mearsheimer, a neocon "obsession," and it is more likely that Israel and the lobby fell into line in promoting the Iraq war than that they drove the agenda. Israeli leaders much too publicly went to bat for the war in American media outlets, and this is well documented in the book, even embarrassingly so (Ehud Barak, in The Washington Post: "Once he [Saddam] is gone there will be a different Arab world"), but there are also suggestions of senior Israelis urging caution in private. Democratic support for the war was propelled by the post-9/11 mood and a political fear of appearing weak on national security issues, and if the Israel lobby played a role it was not the leading one.

On Iran, the authors draw our attention to two missed opportunities, both under former-president Mohammad Khatami, for a comprehensive U.S.-Iranian dialogue, and suggest a diplomatic way forward out of the current impasse. They contend that Israel and the lobby are driving policy in the opposite direction. If that is true, and evidence is certainly out there, then it suggests the neocon world view is still in the driver's seat, and that Israel and the lobby have learned nothing from the last years. Israel, declaratively at least, prefers a diplomatic solution, and both Israel and her friends should be pushing actively for enhanced diplomacy, not the ratcheting up of military threats that so play into the hands of Ahmadinejad.

Syria is the arena in which the neocon-inspired U.S. position and the Israeli position seem most at odds: a policy of promoting regime change versus one that says, we are ready to negotiate with you (when we're not conducting military missions inside your territory). The book also makes the case that in the Second Lebanon War, the Israel lobby helped prevent early U.S. intervention to end the war. If that is true, it would present a particularly glaring example of the lobby working against the Israeli interest, and another reason why Israelis should follow this issue closely. Analysis of key ministerial testimonies to the Winograd Committee and the Interim Winograd Report itself suggests that very senior Israelis based their calculations and decisions on an expectation that the U.S. would pursue an early diplomatic solution. The neocons implacably opposed this, the lobby fell into line and Israel "reaped the rewards," all the way to the cemeteries.

Walt and Mearsheimer explain Bush Middle East policy as Israel-lobby driven. Another way to look at it would be: This is the first Republican administration since the Christian evangelical Zionists emerged as a potent force in the GOP; since the mainstream pro-Israel community planted itself firmly on the Likud right, and with an executive that contained a sizeable and senior neocon presence. At the same time a hawk was ensconced in the Israeli Prime Minister's residence (Sharon). Then came the shock of 9/11, followed by the swagger and hubris that followed an apparently easy military victory in Afghanistan. This was a potent mix. These actors can all be described with some accuracy as pro-Israel, but they are also all different, and charting a future course is helped by recognizing that difference.

Prescriptions on what to do next are precisely how Walt and Mearsheimer end their book. They come from the realist school of American foreign policy, and their policy advice combines off-shore balancing (deploy militarily only when under direct threat; maintain a military presence in, but do not own, the region) with broad diplomatic engagement and a push to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This last point is crucial, given the conflict's mobilizing and recruiting role for radicals, and its potency as a symbol for anti-American PR in the era of the Internet and Al Jazeera.

On addressing the lobby, the authors consider four options. They reject weakening the lobby via campaign finance reform as impractical, and countering it via an anti-Israel lobby as unwelcome, given that it might lead to anti-Semitism. They prefer countering the lobby with a more open debate on the Middle East and encouraging the evolution of a more moderate Israel lobby (building, for instance, on the work of Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek veShalom and the Israel Policy Forum). For liberal American Jews who care about Israel, that means ending the outsourcing contract with neocons and right-wing evangelicals. It also means disowning the McCarthyite hate-mongering tactics used by groups like Campus Watch, and accepting dissenting voices. On his delightfully named and popular blog, "Rootless Cosmopolitan," Tony Karon has spoken of the beginnings of a "Jewish glasnost." It will take though a greater commitment of time and resources from liberal Jews who pursue multi-issue agendas. This debate would become acutely relevant were the Democrats to re-take the White House in next year's election.

And finally, what about our role, in Israel? Three powerful conclusions emerge. First, as exposed in the Lebanon war and understood by the Winograd Committee, there is a dire lack of Israeli strategic planning capacity. How to respond to a weakened America in the region, occupation or peace with the Palestinians and Syrians, whether to outsource our policy to the neocons? For Israel, the answer seems to be: No comment. Israel lacks a definition of strategic objectives and their articulation to our friends across the pond. Second, alongside the undoubted benefits, the agenda pursued by the lobby in America has come at a great cost to Israel. NIS 45 billion could not have been wasted on settlements without U.S. complicity. As the book's authors argue, "Washington has helped insulate it [Israel] from some of the adverse consequences of its own actions," and that is a very dubious luxury indeed.

Finally, while the right was busy investing in building allies and alliances in the U.S., the left was asleep or intimidated or both. A small number of center-left Israeli politicians display an active interest in events States-side, but very few display sufficient courage and conviction to challenge the self-defeating orthodoxy of the current mainstream Israel lobby. It is an absence sorely felt. Walt and Mearsheimer suggest that "it is time to treat Israel like a normal country." Presumably unintentionally, they echo the classical Zionist goal of creating a normal country. The two are linked. Absent a different discussion with the U.S. and our friends there, Israel is unlikely to become normal. Perhaps this difficult book can help advance that discussion.

October 3, 2007

Constructive ideas for the November Conference

The Israel Policy Forum convened several former US officials (Ambassadors Sam Lewis, Tom Pickering, and Ned Walker among them) to develop some ideas for the proposed November summit. The resulting paper has been entitled, “A Guide to a Successful November International Conference” and IPF has sent it to Secretary Rice. The full document can be read here at ProspectsforPeace.com.

The IPF guide touches on many of the issues raised by this ProspectsforPeace post from five weeks ago and comes out, perhaps unsurprisingly with recommendations that push in a very similar direction. Their conclusion is as follows:

We believe that the process outlined here, with a series of conferences, a Declaration of Principles endorsed by the U.N., a Facilitating Agreement for next steps on the ground, and a broad-based regional representation at the first conference would trigger additional international conferences and a new Israeli-Palestinian momentum. The outcome would create a program that would not rise or fall on the success of one meeting this November.

Some of the specifics are interesting and I will get to them in a moment, but the more important question that this paper and other unofficial efforts bring into focus is whether the administration is undertaking a serious planning process for November and then whether it has the diplomatic competence to pull off something meaningful. On the planning side, there is every indication that the State Department is taking its homework seriously. Doubts remain though as to whether the political ideologues elsewhere in the administration food chain will allow good ideas to see the light of day. A case in point would be whether to include or exclude Syria: inside the US government, some favor and some oppose the idea. The decision, so far, is to invite Syria, but not to commit to engaging them. But the time for meaningless and harmful internal administration compromises, rather than tough decisions, has long passed. If the tough decisions are made, the moment will have arrived for heavy diplomatic lifting and this may well be a moment of truth for Secretary Rice.

By December, the words 'Condi' and 'diplomatically adroit' need to be able to coexist happily in one sentence if we are to avoid a summit that does more harm than good. The administration could do worse than listening to the ex-Ambassadors who authored this paper - among them, also, Robert Pelletreau, Frederic Hof, and the initiator of the council, UCLA professor Steven Spiegel.

They describe the issue of Hamas as the most difficult problem in advance of the international meeting: “simply saying no to Hamas without planning for the consequences is a likely ticket to new problems.” Their proposals include working to gain Hamas acceptance of the Arab Peace Initiative, or clarifying to Hamas that they would be an issue for a second follow-up conference. My argument has been that a more effective and realistic first step is to pursue a parallel ceasefire with Gaza. But the IPF paper is right on the money in its attempt to be constructive on this issue. The same applies to its counseling for an inclusive approach to Syria.
The “guide” suggests that the administration be ready with its own bridging proposals for the substance of a November Declaration: “the Bush administration cannot remain on the sidelines for long.” Their “illustrative” proposals for a successful statement make sense and are based on the Ayalon-Nusseibah plan with a little Geneva Initiative thrown in. One novel piece of framing that the IPF guide proposes is what they call a 'facilitating agreement' that would also be produced for November and would sit along side the substantive declaration. This facilitating agreement seems to essentially be a new way to reintroduce Roadmap phase I issues, such as security, settlement freeze, outpost removal, closure and prisoner release. Indeed, the former officials do not mention the Roadmap - not even once - in their guide paper. I think they are right. One of the more useful outcomes in November would be to finally bury the farce known as the Roadmap.
By the way, for a bit of fun (well, not really fun actually), one could compare and contrast the constructive ideas generated by the seasoned pros with the gloriously divorced from reality and meaningless grandstanding of the 79 Senators (including all six presidential candidates serving in the Senate) who just sent their own letter to Secretary Rice about the November Conference. Vive la difference!

More Gaza Ceasefire

A shorter version of the below blog post appeared on the Guardian Online - it can be read here.