POLITICAL observations & opinions

* Missing Yitzhak Rabin: Twenty Years After His Assassination … by Robert Lifton

Posted by Lew Weinstein on November 4, 2015

lifton & rabin

As I tearfully hugged Leah Rabin at the funeral of her husband Yitzhak murdered by an assassin’s bullet, she whispered in my ear ” To us, he was a God.” Rabin would not have recognized himself in that description. Unlike all too many heads of state of Middle East nations, he was personally modest without the ego and arrogance attached to power. Everyone who knew him had endearing examples of this. He much enjoyed playing tennis but continued to use an old fashioned wooden racket until I finally brought him one of the new technologically advanced large faced rackets that he consistently used from then on. And even as Prime Minister, he always reminded Amos Eiran , his former chief of staff and tennis partner, to reserve the court for the next weekend or “we won’t have a court.” Once when I showed up at his office in a blazer, tie and pocket kerchief he noted that he “wasn’t dressed for our meeting.” “When I’m the Prime Minister and you’re visiting me,” I told him, “you can get dressed up properly.”

Fortuitously, I had a date to meet him on the day that the Oslo deal was announced in August 1993. I expected him to cancel our meeting in view of the momentous announcement but instead found him sitting alone in his office willing to share with me his fears about how well the deal was negotiated. But despite his many concerns about the deal, he was willing to move forward with it as part of his over all strategy for Israel’s position in the region. Long before most others, Rabin understood the threat from Iran seeking hegemony over the Middle East. As he explained to me as early as 1993, “If we have nuclear weapons and Iran has nuclear weapons, which one of us will blink? We, who care about life or the mullahs who do not care about life?”

To be secure in the region and prepared to defend against the threat from Iran, he believed that Israel had to have a peaceful relationship with the entities on its borders – Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians. Israel already had a peace agreement with Egypt forged in Camp David by Begin and Sadat. In October 1994, he made a treaty with Jordan, which was built on an ongoing relationship with Jordan’s King Hussein, who had trusted Rabin enough to meet him in secret even while their nations were officially still at war. An essential part of his strategy was also to resolve Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. Those of us who were present at the signing ceremony of the “Declaration of Principles” at the White House saw how reluctant Rabin was to shake Arafat’s hand. Yet, we could not hear his words without being moved: “Enough of blood and tears. Enough.”

From his days as Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Rabin was convinced of the importance of Israel’s relationship with America and the role of the American Jewish community as an integral element in that relationship. I was with him one evening when he berated a member of his government for not recognizing that American financial aid to Israel was linked to financial support from American Jews. To implement his strategy of making peace with the Palestinians, he wanted the support of American Jewish organizations, but he was not comfortable relying on the existing American Jewish organizations, particularly AIPAC. During a meeting in his office together with leaders of the Labor Party, we discussed establishing a new American Jewish organization to generate American support and with his backing, some American Jewish leaders and I founded the Israel Policy Forum (IPF) of which I later became Chair. On his first official visit to the U.S. Rabin met with IPF before the Conference of Presidents or AIPAC to signify its high value in his eyes.

In this same connection, Rabin believed that winning the allegiance of the younger generation of American Jews was important to Israel’s future. In a conversation with him in June 1993, a few days before we both were to be awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Bar Ilan University, I presented my view that Israel, at peace with its neighbors and reflecting the vast capabilities of its citizens, could be a beacon for young American Jews looking for a connection with their people. At the open-air award ceremony, with the voices of protestors denouncing him sounding in the background, he went to the podium to accept the awards on behalf of all of us recipients. As he passed me he punched me in the shoulder and said: “Bob. I’m making your speech.” What I didn’t realize then was the ominous quality of the protests; how the extremist religious nationalists were being inflamed by their religious authorities to consider Rabin a criminal and that the political leaders on the right not only made no effort to calm things down but actually attacked Rabin’s peace making efforts. Rabin was assassinated on November 4, 1995, at the end of a rally to support the Oslo Accords by Yigal Amir, a radical Orthodox Jew who had been a law student at Bar Ilan University and who opposed Oslo.

Twenty years after the assassination of Rabin, as Israel and the Palestinians are still mired in the same conflict, hurling the same accusations against each other, once again suffering violence, I keep re-thinking my experiences with him, wondering whether the situation would have been different had Rabin not been murdered that night. I can’t presume to predict how the course of history would have developed but I am convinced that his assassination did change the future dramatically. Rabin’s strategic overview called for peace with the Palestinians to tie in with the Egyptian and Jordanian peace already in place. At the same time, his years in the Israel military, culminating in his position of Chief of the General Staff, earned Rabin the trust of the Israeli public to protect Israel’s security so they would likely follow his leadership. And I think that his innate honesty and sincerity would have influenced the response from any Palestinian leader, as well. I believe that combination of factors would find Israel in a far different – and better – place than it is today.

Robert K. Lifton has served as President of the American Jewish Congress; Co-Chair of the Middle East Project of the Council On Foreign Relations and Chair and presently a Board member of the Israel Policy Forum. He is the author of “An Entrepreneurs’ Journey: Stories From A Life In Business And Personal Diplomacy.”


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* American Jews Worry That Netanyahu’s Speech Here Can Hurt Israel

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 24, 2015

Bob Lifton

American Jews Worry That Netanyahu’s Speech Here Can Hurt Israel

by: Robert K. Lifton


While few American Jewish leaders will speak openly on the subject, many thoughtful Jews are worried that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s planned speech in the House of Representatives on March 3rd will actually harm Israel’s security interests rather than help them. They fear that the US electorate, which is clearly unwilling to get involved in another major conflict following on the costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, may see Netanyahu’s speech as war mongering – an attempt to push the United States into military conflict with Iran. 

Until now, the implications of the positions taken by Netanyahu and the arguments he has made have not been closely followed by the American public or carefully scrutinized by the media in this country. However, a speech by Netanyahu before the Congress intended to influence the legislative process, especially now, after the tensions with the Obama Administration and the politicization of his speech both here and in Israel, will attract great attention.  

The thrust of Netanyahu’s position is that anything short of an enforceable agreement by Iran to give up all efforts at achieving nuclear capability is unacceptable. However, it appears that the negotiators from United States and other of the P5+1 countries (Russia, China, United Kingdom, France plus Germany) are seeking an agreement that would permit Iran to retain its nuclear infrastructure but delay its ability to build a nuclear weapon by more than a year with sufficiently rigorous inspection and other protection elements.

Thus, explicitly or implicitly, Netanyahu may ask the Congress to reject any agreement reached by the negotiators and acceptable to the Obama Administration. In addition, he may ask the Congress to add more sanctions on Iran. Negotiations with Iran are already running into problems and it is very possible that they may fail. The threat of increased sanctions may be blamed for that failure. Even if the negotiation achieves the objectives set by the Administration, Congress may reject the agreement.

Either way, a failed negotiation with Iran will put the Obama Administration in a position to make good on the President’s statement “My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.” With sanctions and negotiation not working, the only open path is military action.

Whether Netanyahu’s intention is to lead America into war or only to increase pressure on Iran, the fear is that those opposed to another military intervention by the United States – and there will be many – will quickly seize on blaming Netanyahu and Israel for creating the conditions requiring military action. One can be sure that Iran will certainly do so and those opponents of Israel and anti-Semites here will readily take up that argument. In the end, they may prevail in stopping military action or if nothing else, create strong resentment by American citizens against Israel for pressing the United States into an unwanted war.

Netanyahu’s views have been expressed before and need not be restated before the Congress.  There are other venues available that will not suggest that the Prime Minister of Israel is attempting to influence American legislators to take action that can lead to the United States going to war. The risk to Israel’s interests is too great to take for the putative benefit of airing Netanyahu’s views in an important forum.


Robert K. Lifton is former President of the American Jewish Congress and a founder, former President and now Board Member of the Israel Policy Forum. His memoirs titled: “An Entrepreneur’s Journey: Stories From A Life In Business And Personal Diplomacy” were published by AuthorHouse in 2012.

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* In Bob Lifton’s latest post, he says Israel is running out of time to create a two state solution.

Posted by Lew Weinstein on November 21, 2014

Bob Lifton

Robert K. Lifton


The religious nationalists in Israel have become increasingly more successful in their drive to incorporate the West Bank (what they call Judea and Samaria) into the State of Israel. Their effort is based on their belief in a biblical allotment of that land to the children of Israel or in some form of nationalistic “manifest destiny.”

To the Israeli public, world Jewry and other interested parties, they frame their plan, as Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Minister of the Economy and leader of the Jewish Home Party has done in a November 5  op. ed in the New York Times, as driven  by  a concern for Israel’s security.  After unilaterally pulling out of Lebanon and Gaza, they say, Israel still suffered attacks. How then can it pull out of the West Bank, which would leave major Israeli areas even more vulnerable. And now they will try to buttress their argument by pointing to the horrific killings of four leading rabbis in a Jerusalem synagogue by two Palestinian terrorists and the rejoicing about that act by Palestinians in Gaza.

Of course, terrorist acts by angry individuals are totally different from and do not define how a state would act. 

After all, former Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, when they were part of the Irgun resistance movement against British colonial control of Palestine, effectively used terror tactics to help drive the British out of Palestine. Yet, the state of Israel under their leadership did not carry out terror activities.

Moreover, as a recent open letter to Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu from over 100 former Israeli Generals and intelligence chiefs led by retired General Amnon Reshef has explained, true security for Israel does not lie in trying to control an unwilling Palestinian population but in separate Israeli and Palestinian states as part of a comprehensive regional peace deal with the moderate Arab nations.

Yes, there are security risks, General Reshef has said, but Israel is strong enough to overcome those risks and the perils of not reaching a two state solution are greater than the risks.

We should recognize that without partition and separation Israel’s very legitimacy as a Jewish state can be subject to challenge, representing a threat to the Zionist dream of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people.

A key strategy used by the nationalists to accomplish their aim is to push the boundaries of Israeli settlements to the point where it is politically impossible to reverse the course and create a viable separate Palestinian state.  In that process, if they weaken those Palestinian leaders who could make a two state deal, or undermine the American representatives who could help bring that goal about, that furthers their aim.

At this point too, the Israel Defense Force, itself, is so populated with religious nationalists that doubt has been raised whether they would act to move settlers physically, if ordered by their rabbinical authorities not to do so.

What the religious nationalists fail to discuss openly however, is what their plan is for the 2.7 million Palestinians living in the West Bank.

  • If they treat them as full citizens of Israel adding them to the approximately 1.7million current Arab citizens and residents of Israel – which nobody believes they have in mind – they will give so much voting power to the Palestinians as to threaten Israel as a Jewish state and will add enormous economic burdens on the state.  
  • If they treat those Palestinians as  second-class citizens or as having no rights of citizenship at all, they risk being accused of being an apartheid state with the consequences of that charge in world opprobrium.
  • If they plan to transfer those Palestinians to another area like Jordan – they will meet great resistance by the Palestinians and the Jordanians as well as international condemnation. Such a course of action would also generate continuing tension and violence far beyond any we have seen so far.

It would be naïve not to recognize that the religious nationalists are succeeding in their aim.

  • Step by step they are expanding settlements, creating facts on the ground that will make it politically impossible to move settler in order to to create a viable Palestinian state.
  • They have created obstacles to every effort by the Obama Administration to move a peace process forward.
  • And they are destroying the hopes of Palestinians for a state of their own, so that too many, particularly younger Palestinians, are now thinking about a bi-national state.

There is very small window of opportunity left to stop the nationalist momentum and create the conditions for a regional negotiation that has some chance of success.

It will take a major effort to alert the Israeli public that unless they act quickly the two-state solution will be off the table, even though most of them say they want it. And world Jewry, particularly in the United States, must join in that effort.

As the General’s letter points out, generating movement by the Israeli public has to take place in a regional context so the Palestinian leaders and Arab states must show the courage to advance the interests of their people by opening a dialogue with Israel which contemplates a comprehensive political, economic and cultural regional relationship and which also encompasses a two state solution of the  Israeli-Palestinian issue. For the various parties to hold back in a “you first, Alphonse” approach is a recipe for failure. 

Only a major joint effort can stem the tide against a two state solution.


Robert K. Lifton, a businessman and political activist, is a Board Member of the Israel Policy Forum. His memoir “An Entrepreneur’s Journey: Stories From A Life In Business And Personal Diplomacy” was published by Author House in 2012.


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* Some Thoughts on the Battle in Gaza from my friend Robert K. Lifton … his essential conclusion: the Israeli people must vote out religious nationalists groups from the Knesset and in the government, where their actions are endangering the Zionist vision by pressing to expand settlements and frustrating any effort leading to a peaceful two state resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 30, 2014

Bob Lifton

Bob Lifton has a vast experience dealing with the issues underlying and precedent to the current war in Gaza. He has held many official and unofficial positions related to these issues and is currently a Board Member of the Israel Policy Forum.

Here are his latest thoughts …

In 2005, under the leadership of then Prime Minister “Arik” Sharon, Israel unilaterally pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza. Between Israel’s withdrawal and now, Hamas leadership has engaged in a long term strategy of allocating funds desperately needed for public use instead to acquiring missiles and building a complex structure of tunnels through which it could launch terrorist attacks against Israel. When Prime Minister Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government, a Hamas ally, was replaced by the antagonistic government of Abdel Fatteh el-Sisi, Hamas found itself under pressure as Egypt blockaded the crossings they had previously used to access the outside world and Hamas was unable to pay salaries to its personnel.

In reaction to this pressure, Hamas’ strategic decision was to use the missiles they had been stockpiling and the tunnels they had been constructing against the State of Israel. Hamas knew full well that it could not defeat Israel and that there could only be one outcome; Israel would be forced to attack Gaza to eliminate the missiles and tunnels, resulting in deaths of a large number of civilians and the destruction of parts of Gaza. From the beginning, Hamas leadership’s sole strategy was to use sympathy from the deaths and maiming of its civilian population and the destruction of their homes, schools and hospitals to win favor in the international community. This extensive operation by Hamas leadership must be seen by the rest of the world for the crime it is – a very clear case of violation of the human rights of the people of Gaza.

It is disappointing, but perhaps not surprising, that blame for the current violence has been placed on Israel rather than on Hamas. In part, this is due to misrepresentation of the realities on the ground in Israel and Gaza. Many in the international community are not familiar with the Hamas Covenant calling for the total destruction of Israel and denigration of Jews. But unfortunately, in some part, it is also a reflection of the fact that the battle in Gaza has exposed levels of anti-Semitism that have not been seen or heard for many years. On twitter, the hashtag #HitlerWasRight” was a popular discussion topic, with far too many speaking in favor of the sentiment.. In Turkey, Prime Minister Erdogan made the shocking statement that Israel “[has] surpassed Hitler in barbarism” and a newspaper called on Turkey’s chief rabbi to apologize for Israel’s Gaza Operation. In France, worshippers were trapped inside a Paris synagogue while protestors attacked it, and other synagogues have been bombed with Molotov cocktails. In Germany, protesters screamed “Jew, Jew, cowardly swine, come out and fight on your own!” and “Hamas, Hamas – Jews to the gas!”

“Never in our lives did we believe it possible that anti-Semitism of the most primitive kind would be heard on the streets of Germany,” Dieter Graumann, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany told reporters. My own reaction was quite similar to that of Mr. Grauman. I was shocked at the virulent open anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions, reminiscent of what I saw as a child in the 30’s and 40’s: anti-Semitism that I thought my children and grandchildren would never experience. This new wave of anti-Semitism underscores one of the central reasons for the Zionist movement and the founding of the State of Israel. The Jewish people need a state of their own – a homeland where they can find sanctuary from the anti-Semitism that has beleaguered and oppressed them throughout history. In founding and building Israel, the Jewish people created just such a state; one that has welcomed Jews from every part of the world, integrating them into their new nation, finding them homes and livelihoods and a safe place to carry out their lives and raise their families.

Unfortunately, religious nationalists in Israel are ignoring the lessons of Gaza and endangering the Zionist enterprise. These religious nationalists, led by Minister of the Economy, Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home Party and his allies, are motivated by the belief that “Eretz Yisroel” – the greater Land of Israel – was promised to the Jewish people by God. Thus, this group calls for a single state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea with the annexation of all Israeli settler territories and the rest of the West Bank into Israel. Additionally, they call for “separate rules” for Palestinians living in the West Bank. If such a state was established, Israel would lose its Jewish character due to the large Palestinian population. And if, as Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett implies, the Palestinians would become second-class citizens with their own “separate rules,” the state would lose its democratic identity and would quickly find itself accused of apartheid and condemned by the world.

Moreover, it should be abundantly clear that incorporating an additional approximately 2.6 million Palestinians from the West Bank into the state of Israel (added to the 1.2 million Arab citizens in the state of Israel) would burden the state with huge economic and social responsibilities. The failure to satisfy those needs for the Arab population would create a distressed population that could readily demonstrate its unhappiness in physical attacks on Jewish citizens and assets. By the same token, in placing settlers among the Palestinian population in the West Bank, the Religious Zionists are adding major security problems. In the light of the Gaza experience, imagine the impossibility of fighting a war where Israeli families and children are mixed in with Palestinians.

The words and actions of the Religious Zionists are aiding the Hamas cause.

At present, it is clear to see that underlying all of the conflict is the fact that by the very terms of its charter, Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel. However, the issues become clouded when some Israelis claim Palestinian lands as part of Israel and voice their commitment to annex the Palestinian territory.

The Religious Nationalists and the settler movement have created enormous obstacles to any effort toward a two state solution. Bennett and his allies have threatened to break up the present governing coalition led by Prime Minister Netanyahu if it attempts to enter agreements leading to a two-state solution. And they have done everything in their power to undermine Secretary Kerry’s efforts to bring about a deal with the Palestinians.

There is only one power that can change that situation. That power lies in the hands of the Israeli people who must vote out religious nationalists groups from the Knesset and in the government, where their actions are endangering the Zionist vision by pressing to expand settlements and frustrating any effort leading to a peaceful two state resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The final lesson from the experience in Gaza for the Israeli public and for anyone, who like me, advocates a two state solution to the Palestinian conflict is this: separation does not mean the resulting situation can be ignored.

Any agreement for two states must include a complete security package including de-militarization that enables Israel to monitor the activities of the Palestinians to ensure that the tragedy of the past few weeks will never happen again

And security must be far reaching, able to deal with the extremists on both sides of the kind who helped bring the conflict in Gaza to a boil- the Palestinians who murdered three Jewish youths and the Jews who retaliated by killing a Palestinian boy. Moreover, many hope that the Arab Peace Initiative will follow a two state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, bringing normalized, peaceful relations between Israel and all Arab States. As part of this development, it benefits all the parties to be as helpful as they can for the success of a new Palestinian state. That is the way to enrich the lives of all the people in the region, which is the best environment for peace and security for all.


Robert K. Lifton, a businessman and political activist, is a Board Member of the Israel Policy Forum. His memoir “An Entrepreneur’s Journey: Stories From A Life In Business And Personal Diplomacy” was published by Author House in 2012.

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* Israel and The Palestinians – What Now? … a new article by my friend Bob Lifton …

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 4, 2014

Israel and The Palestinians – What Now?

israel, west bank, gaza 

Mr. Lifton’s conclusion … All that seems to be left is a slow, educational process for the Israeli public on how continued control over the Palestinians can lead to pressure for a bi-national state that will erode the Jewish and democratic values of their nation and of the Palestinians on how such control will not eventuate in their being a part of Israel, but only in losing their hope of governing themselves in their own state.


The Past – Failed Efforts

Despite the heroic efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry and Special Envoy Martin Indyk to bring Israel and the Palestinians to agreement, the current peace process effort has failed. To understand what the future holds, it is worth looking at why the process failed and what courses of action are now available.

 As a starting point, it is abundantly clear that although we are often told that the United States can’t “want the peace more than the parties” that was indeed what happened.

While we cannot fully know what went on in the secret negotiations between Israeli negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat, one issue that was negotiated in the public view tells the story. At one point of time in the negotiation process, Prime Minister Netanyahu presented a new pre-condition – that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the “nation state of the Jewish people,” which became phrased as recognition as “a Jewish state.”

While one could make the argument that such recognition would reflect the willingness of the Palestinians to put an end to the conflict and live with their neighbor, it was never before a stated pre-condition to negotiations and in light of the abundant and enormously sophisticated protections being negotiated for Israel’s security, it is questionable to what extent Palestinian recognition was truly required in any event.

By raising it as an essential pre-condition, Netanyahu showed that at best his desire for a deal was not compelling, and even, as the Palestinians argued, that he was actually looking for a reason not to have to move forward on a deal.

 On the other side, was the refusal of Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, to satisfy Netanyahu’s condition. After all, even Yasser Arafat had openly stated that peace would bring a “Palestinian and a Jewish state” living side by side. Abbas’ arguments against agreeing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state did not convince even those strongly supporting a two state solution. At the least, if Abbas truly wanted a deal he could have said he was prepared to recognize Israel as a Jewish state when all the other issues were resolved satisfactorily or indicated he would trade it off in the negotiating process.  Obviously, for whatever reason, he didn’t want a deal enough to do that.

 Other actions by each side further demonstrated that neither side was concerned with the negative reaction of the other.

All during the negotiating period, Israel continued to expand settlements, reportedly finalizing 4868 home tenders and processing plans for another 8983 homes. http://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/Peace-Now-Israel-issued-tenders-for-thousands-of-settler-homes-during-talks-350742. And while a number of these were in areas that were expected to be part of Israel after the final borders were established, the sheer size of the expansion and the timing of announcing new building had to be a blow to Abbas’ political standing and sent a message that the Palestinians read as showing that Israel was just using the negotiating period to expand settlements and had no real interest in a deal.

Similarly, when Abbas signed a “Reconciliation Agreement” with Hamas, the sworn enemy of Israel dedicated to its destruction, the arguments that the “technocrats” would run the joint government until elections and even that the final governing body would agree to the three principles of the Quartet (EU, UN, U.S., Russia,) including recognition of Israel and renouncing violence, not surprisingly fell on deaf Israeli ears.

 Why were both parties so reluctant to make a deal?

In both cases there were rejectionist forces acting against a deal and most importantly, both general publics – Israeli and Palestinian – were never engaged in supporting a deal. At best, they were apathetic,

 In Israel, powerful forces were aligned against a deal. These are primarily religious nationalists who make up a significant part of Israel’s governing coalition. They include members of Netanyahu’s Likud party and of the Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party, led by Naftali Bennett, who aspire to expand Israeli control over the West Bank and in some instance to annex it as part of Greater Israel. It is not clear, but those forces may also include the Russian Jewish party (Yisrael Beitenu) led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. In order for Netanyahu to enter into an agreement with Abbas, he would have to be willing to see his governing coalition collapse and to try to form a new coalition.  While Isaac (“Bougie”) Herzog, head of the Labor Party, held out the prospect of joining such a new coalition, that was a difficult political choice for Netanyahu.

Moreover, a deal might require moving as many as 100,000 settlers from their homes at a great political and financial cost. In that context, while the polls show that most Israelis support a two state solution in theory, Israelis are mainly focused on domestic issues and there is no urgent desire to change the status quo. Under those circumstances, it is hardly surprising that despite all of Kerry’s cajoling, Netanyahu, brought up in a revisionist Zionist home, only lately come to accept a two-state solution, was not going to risk his comfortable position as Israel’s longest lasting Prime Minister to make a deal.

 For his part, Abbas faced growing opposition to a deal from those Palestinians, especially younger people, who believe their best interests lie in a bi-national state with Israel. The Palestinian public, like the Israeli public, generally show support in polls for a two state solution. But here, too, there is no public pressure to press forward with a deal. Abbas, at age 79, seeing the Oslo Agreement that he was instrumental in creating result in 400,000 Israeli settlers and seeing a very difficult negotiation ahead with no assurance of success, understandably decided to leave the problem to his successor.

The Future

In the immediate aftermath of the failed effort, Secretary Kerry’s message about future plans for the peace process contained two thoughts:  “We believe the best thing to do right now is pause, take a hard look at these things, and find out what is possible and what is not possible.” However, referring to what he called “significant progress in certain areas” Kerry stated: “What has not been laid out publicly and what I will do at some appropriate moment of time is make clear to everybody the progress that was made.” http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.588600

 There are those on the left who believe that what the Obama administration should do now is present to the parties and the international community its view of what the final status agreement should look like, covering each of the areas – Recognition of a Jewish State, borders, security, status of Jerusalem and the claim of a right of return. And perhaps that is what Kerry is suggesting.

But it is hard to see what impact this will have unless the President is prepared to put some teeth in the recommendation, and given the political cost of that course, it is highly unlikely. So laying out the Obama vision will be much along the lines of the “Clinton parameters” presented by President Bill Clinton in 2000 or the exposition by ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert after his 2008 negotiation with Abbas – a basis for future negotiations and discussion.

 The truth is that unless something comes along – either in the form of great pain or great benefit – that galvanizes the Israeli and Palestinian general publics to see this process as a central rather than tangential issue in their lives, nothing will happen to change the political dynamics.

Of course, nobody wants to see the pain of violence from an intifada or the costs of a collapse of the Palestinian Authority. And it is unlikely that in the near future the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) will have a serious impact on Israel. (See my blog “The BDS Threat To Israel: A Realistic Appraisal”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-k-lifton/the-bds-boycott-divestmen_1_b_4818833.html

By the same token,  it is difficult to conceive of significant benefits that could be available. All that seems to be left is a slow, educational process for the Israeli public on how continued control over the Palestinians can lead to pressure for a bi-national state that will erode the Jewish and democratic values of their nation and of the Palestinians on how such control will not eventuate in their being a part of Israel, but only in losing their hope of governing themselves in their own state.


Mr. Lifton, a businessman and political activist, is a Board Member of the Israel Policy Forum. His memoir “An Entrepreneur’s Journey: Stories From A Life In Business And Personal Diplomacy” was published by Author House in 2012.

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* Robert Lifton … an evaluation of Secretary Kerry’s efforts to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2014

Kerry & Netanyahu 

Secretary John Kerry has devoted enormous time and effort to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together to resolve their conflict.  Recently, Israel’s Minster of Defense and a leading member of the Likud party – Moshe Ya’alon – reportedly called Kerry ‘obsessive” and “messianic” and said that Kerry “Should take his Nobel and leave us alone.” He reportedly added that a security plan drawn up by retired Marine Corps General John Allen, former American Commander of NATO–led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, as part of Kerry’s peace making effort “is not worth the paper it is written on.” Other Israeli government ministers who are leading members of the Likud party, while disapproving of Mr. Ya’alon’s choice of language, echoed similar rejectionist sentiments about Kerry’s mission. .

In light of these kinds of comment, one has to ask whether Mr. Kerry’s intense commitment to this subject is making any progress; and what are the expectations for its success and the consequences of its failure. In short, is it worth the effort?

Let’s look at where his efforts have gotten to until now. The starting point of this process was the announcement in Jordan on July 19, 2013 that Kerry had gotten both parties for the first time in three years to ”establish a basis” to start negotiations with the hope that the negotiations would reach a point beyond the “initial phase” that would allow Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to meet face to face to conclude an agreement. The first phase was given six months to produce that understanding. In December, four months into that process, after the two sides met over 20 times, and it was clear that no significant progress was achieved, Kerry announced that he would soon present the parties with a “Framework Agreement.” Kerry pointed out that the solutions to each of the core issues between the parties are known from previous negotiation rounds  – such as the negotiations in 2000 held by President Clinton and the negotiations begun at Annapolis in 2007 and continued in 2008 between then Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Mr. Abbas. He argued that it was essential to have a framework that addressed all the core issues – borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem, mutual recognition and an end of claims. And to “establish agreed guidelines for subsequent negotiations that will fill out the details in a full peace treaty.”

That Kerry has undertaken such a huge effort knowing the obstacles to success is a statement about his commitment and character. To the student of this conflict, the obstacles are more apparent than the path to success. The Palestinian leadership is weak and Hamas, which is still controlling the Gaza, is opposed to any deal that Israel might accept. However, I have always believed that the power to make a break a deal lies with Israel. And neither the political leadership of Israel nor the Israeli people are demonstrating a deep commitment to a deal with the Palestinians. It has taken a long time, but Prime Minister Netanyahu has finally adopted some of the language of those who are pressing for a peace deal by acknowledging that his desire to make a deal is based on ensuring that Israel does not risk becoming a bi-national state. Still, as the process has moved along he has elevated the emphasis on two demands that his predecessors – and even he, until recently, did not make overt conditions.  One is that in any peace deal, the Palestinians acknowledge that Israel is a “Jewish State” and the second, related to the first is that the Palestinians stop “incitements” to violence and teach their young students to recognize the existence of Israel.  To be sure, there is ample support for the proposition that Israel is a Jewish state, including the 1947 UN Resolution for Partition that calls for a “Jewish state.”  And other Israeli leaders have mentioned the concept without elevating it to a condition. Still, Secretary Kerry has accepted that condition as one of the basic deliverables in a deal between the parties. On the other hand, it is difficult to condition a deal on a course of action that stops “incitement” in a sufficiently provable manner.

The fact is that in any deal Mr. Netanyahu would face serious problems, political and social. The political problem is clear: the present governing coalition could not hold together under a deal with the Palestinians. The Habayit Hayehudi party, for example led by Naftali Bennet is irreconcilably opposed to the West Bank becoming a Palestinian state. Even the centrist leader of the Yesh Atid party – Yair Lapid – has publicly stated his unwillingness to share Jerusalem as a capital with a Palestinian state, although that may be more manageable. To help Netanyahu with the problem of continuing to govern, Secretary Kerry has asked Isaac “Bougie” Herzog who recently became head of the Labor Party and Leader of the opposition to support Netanyahu if his coalition frayed because of a peace deal. Herzog agreed to do that.

Another problem involves moving settlers out of the areas that would be turned over to the Palestinian state. The best estimate is that any anticipated deal would require moving as many as 100,000 settlers. And even though many of those settlers would be prepared to move, we have seen that there are a hard core of settlers that would fight any effort, including one by the by Israel military to move them.

Moreover, popular support for a two-state solution by Israelis as well as Palestinians is waning. The most recent Pew Survey of Israelis and Palestinian show that although a majority of both would approve a deal there is a declining support from both for a two state solution..

On the other hand there are strong incentives for Israel to make a deal. For Israel, the only alternatives to a two state solution are either a bi-national state, which means adding to its citizenry a large Palestinian population or an effort to continue what the UN characterizes as an “occupation” of Palestinian territory. Including a large and faster growing Palestinian population in a broader Israel would end the character of Israel as a “Jewish” state, and an effort to retain that Jewish character by disenfranchising the Palestinian population would end its democratic status. That, or continued “occupation” will inevitably lead to a challenge of Israel as an apartheid state which as was demonstrated in the case of South Africa can bring with it great costs. We are already witnessing efforts to pressure Israel using threats of boycott, divestments and sanctions. Whatever his view of the Palestinians, as partners for peace, Prime Minister Netanyahu, like his Likud nurtured predecessors – Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert – clearly has grasped the need for Israel to avoid a bi-national state.

The other incentive for Israel to complete a two state deal has to do with countering the threat from Iran.  As I noted in my memoirs, even as early as 1993 the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shared with me his strategic vision that to best be able to counter Iranian ambitions, Israel should make peace with its neighbors, including ending the conflict with the Palestinians.  Additional potential value in that connection for Israel lies in the possibility of its joining forces with Sunni states, led by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States in a coalition against Iranian hegemony in the region if Israel resolved the Palestinian issue. This is a message delivered to me and three other Jewish leaders by leading Saudi officials some years ago. It is also reflected in the recent willingness of the Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, to expand   the kind of territorial deal that would meet the requirements of the Arab Peace Initiative to include the 1967 borders with land swaps. That initiative, which was led by Saudi King Abdullah, stated Arab willingness to accept Israel as a neighbor with full political social and economic relationships if it completed a deal with the Palestinians. .

Of course, a failure of the Kerry effort would leave Israel exposed not only to the possibility of a resurgence of Palestinian violence but, probably more threatening to the well being of its citizens, to an intense international effort at expanding the boycott, divestment and sanctions programs through the UN and outside of it.  It would also mean the failed opportunity to join forces in an anti-Iran coalition with Arab states that could be of significant value to Israel. And if, after all of his intense effort and commitment, Kerry were to fail in this mission, it is highly doubtful that the two-state solution would be considered a viable approach to resolving the conflict. Under these circumstances, it is clear that anyone who cares deeply about Israel and its future as a Jewish homeland should be applauding Mr. Kerry’s efforts as he pursues his difficult task.

Mr. Lifton’s memoirs, “An Entrepreneur’s Journey: Stories From a Life in Business and Personal Diplomacy,” was published by AuthorHouse in 2012.

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* Bob Lifton … Egypt’s And The Middle East Grim Futures – Revisited

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 1, 2013

My friend Bob Lifton’s latest article for the Huffington Post about Egypt, the Middle East and by extension our own country.

Two years ago, on January 31, 2011, the Huffington Post published my blog titled: “The Outlook For Egypt And The Middle East Is Grim.” Referring to a likely new government in Egypt to replace then President Mubarak, the thrust of the article was that “The problem is that the new government, any more than a Mubarak government, will not be able to provide the economic conditions that the demonstrators are demanding. It will not be able to provide jobs for the millions of young people who are unemployed and it will not be able to keep prices of food, oil and other commodities from rising.
Egypt does not have the financial resources or borrowing capability to provide its people with subsidies to offset the inflationary rise in food and other commodities. It does not have the industry that can create jobs for the unemployed. And in the face of the violence, it will be even less able to attract new capital or retain the capital it has, even to continue the unacceptable current levels of employment.”

The article concluded: “The result of a failure of a democratic government to solve the Egypt’s woes can well result in another wave of demonstrations and violence.” It then went on to suggest that the same set of conditions would likely affect other nations in the Middle East.

Now we are witnessing what I predicted – a resurgence of high levels of protest and street violence. It is spreading beyond Cairo to other major cities in Egypt. It has reached a point that the Defense minister, Egypt’s top General Abdul Fattah el-Sisi has publicly warned that “the disagreement on running the affairs of the country may lead to the collapse of the state and threatens the future of the coming generation.”

The commentators – media and academic – continue to focus most of their attention on the political differences between the Morsi led Muslim Brotherhood party in power and the opposition groups, suggesting that a solution lies in some reconciliation of the Islamists and secular groups. The fact is that the problems facing Egypt, as reflected in my earlier blog, are grounded in economics and go far beyond the power of the political system to correct. Moreover, as discussed below, these same problems beset Syria and other nations of the Middle East and represent a growing cancer in the region that cannot be repaired under the circumstances of today’s world.

 Put in its simplest terms the problem is that there are not enough jobs to employ the young people of the region and as the population grows, the number of unemployed will keep rising. In a few countries like Saudi Arabia and some of the Gulf States, there is sufficient funding available from the sale of oil that the governments can for the while provide subsistence levels of support to the increasingly large proportion of younger people. But in Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, the governments do not have the resources to palliate the pain of unemployment and the youthful population is left with no jobs, no future and no reason to do anything but violently protest, risking death and pain to express their anger and frustration.

 There is no immediate visible solution for the problems facing these countries. The developed nations in Europe and the United States are facing their own issues of high unemployment and low economic growth. They are not in a financial position to provide significant help to the Middle East countries, even if the political circumstances warranted it, which given the levels of chaos in Egypt and Syria, for example, they do not.  

 Finally, we should recognize that the conditions in the Middle East are not unique to that region.  There are dramatic changes taking place across the whole world as technology increasingly replaces human labor, as productivity continues to increase without being shared by the working and middle classes. These changes will put pressure on the developed countries to find employment for their youthful populations, which, while not growing as rapidly as that of the Middle East, are nevertheless growing at a pace that requires new jobs to be created at a much faster rate than is happening now.  The danger is that a failure to find solutions for the youth employment problems of the developed countries may lead to some form of tear in the fabrics of those societies, as well. As the younger population continues to be frustrated in the effort to find jobs, build families and enter the normal patterns of life, that frustration may spill over to protest that eventually runs out of control. We already saw a hint of that in the “Occupy” movements. There seems to be a growing complacency about the employment situation but the world economies are not out of the woods yet. There are still too few jobs being created to meet the population growth. The political and business leaders would do well to focus far more attention on this problem that they are at present.

Mr. Lifton is a businessman and political activist. His book “An Entrepreneur’s Journey: Stories From A Life In Business And Personal Diplomacy” has recently been published by Author House.


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* Robert K. Lifton – Don’t Let The Neo-cons Punish Chuck Hagel For Pointing Up Their Failures And Try To Scare Off Future Opposition To Their Strategy

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 14, 2013

The motives behind the effort by the Neo-conservatives and their Republican supporters to block the appointment of former Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense are all too obvious.

They pushed this nation into a disastrous war in Iraq that cost many lives and damaged many others and that squandered our financial resources. Now, they want to punish the man who having first endorsed the war, was enlightened enough to speak out early on about the pointlessness of expanding our involvement. By doing so, they are also trying to teach a lesson to others who would decry their effort in getting us into that war and urging that warlike strategy for other situations like Iran and Syria. They are doing this by openly making false allegations and resorting to improper innuendo. The American people should not countenance that process.

Let’s examine some of the allegations against Hagel that are being stated openly and also hinted at.  One criticism relates to the claim that Hagel is not supportive of Israel; obviously an attempt to influence the American Jewish community. Hagel, they note, has argued against ruling out any discussions by Israel and the United States with Hamas. Hagel has referred to “the Jewish lobby.” And Elliot Abrams, who served on George W. Bush’s National Security team, and now is a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has gone so far as to suggest that Hagel had “some kind of problem with Jews.” Finally, Hagel is being attacked for suggesting that other solutions should be pursued than a war on Iran.

First, let me note that direct negotiations with Hamas would require that Hamas meet the American conditions, including recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a state. I happen to believe that Hamas will not change its positions. But offering to meet with them if they meet our conditions arguably is a way to determine if we can induce them to change and imposes no obligation on the U.S. other than to see if it can bring the parties closer together. As former Secretary of State Colin Powell pointed out, being pro-Israel “doesn’t mean you have to agree with every single position that the Israeli government takes.” Indeed, in my view, based on a long history of dealing with both parties, described in my book “An Entrepreneur’s Journey,” there is little likelihood of a deal between Israel and the Palestinians while Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas continue to lead their respective entities without a strong effort by Washington to bring them together and probably that may not be enough.

Moreover, as President of the American Jewish Congress, Chair of the Israel Policy Forum and a member of the Executive Committee of the AIPAC, (the American Israel Political Action Committee) the pro-Israel lobby, I engaged in presenting pro-Israel positions to the Administration and Congress. It was clear to those I spoke to that I was speaking as an American Jew, and it was obvious that in their deliberations they were taking account of the Jewish vote and Jewish financial support. A preferred term to the “Jewish lobby” is the “pro- Israel Lobby” and Hagel has apologized for his phraseology – but what he said was fully understandable. Relating to Abram’s innuendo, the Council on Foreign Relations’ president Richard Haass said it best: that he had known Mr. Hagel for years and that any accusations of anti-Semitism were “preposterous.”

As for engaging with Iran in seeking to avoid war, Hagel sensibly argued  “Let them think about the substantial carrots of improved relations, not just the sticks and there may be a deal to be had.” Americans can only approve that kind of cautious approach by one of the few Senators who was a wounded and decorated veteran of the Vietnam war where he served as an enlisted soldier and fully comprehends the terrible toll that war takes on our troops and their families, not to say on the entire nation.

Despite support for Hagel from former National Security Advisors, and Secretaries of State as fully qualified, there have been and will be other attempts to paint Hagel as not qualified for the position of Secretary of Defense. The vague implication by Republican Senator Bob Corker about Hagel’s “overall temperament” as reflected in his treatment of his staff, is indicative of what we can expect. But we should not be fooled. What this attack on Hagel is really about is an effort to get even with him, a former Republican Senator, for disavowing the war on Iraq and the Republican Party’s movement to the far right on a number of issues – positions that the American people clearly rejected in this last Presidential election. It serves as a warning shot across the bow to those who would dare challenge a ready willingness to resort to war as a solution for difficult situations. It is also an effort to keep out of the office of Defense Secretary someone with experience and sophistication in matters of defense and politics, who will start to impose on that Department the rigorous analysis and fiscal discipline that is required to make is both more effective and less costly.

It is a rarity in this country for the President’s choice of cabinet member to be blocked by the Senate. The American people should make clear that the self-serving effort by some to smear a talented man of great integrity will not stand.

Mr. Lifton is a businessman and political activist. His book “An Entrepreneur’s Journey: Stories From A Life In Business And Personal Diplomacy” has recently been published by Author House.


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* It was really sad to watch. Mitt Romney put on a stunning debate performance … stunning in its duplicity. Romney lied and lied and lied, rejecting his own campaign positions and repeating known misstatements on Obama programs … Romney will say anything, different today from yesterday and different tomorrow from today. He is simply not worthy of America’s trust.

Posted by Lew Weinstein on October 4, 2012



Mitt Romney put on a stunning debate performance … stunning in its duplicity. In other words, he lied and lied and lied. He rejected his own campaign positions and repeating the misstatements he has made on several key Obama programs.

Here are some of the more blatant lies …

$716 billion from Medicare … Mr. Romney repeated his claim that $716 billion in Medicare reductions would come from current beneficiaries, ignoring the fact that Obama did not cut benefits by $716 billion but rather reduced Medicare reimbursements to health care providers, chiefly insurance companies and drug manufacturers. According to nonpartisan analysts, it is Mr. Romney who would both cut benefits and add costs for beneficiaries if he restored the $716 billion in reductions, which by the way is identical to cuts made by VP nominee Ryan in his budget plan. Restoring higher payments to insurers and other companies would in turn increase Medicare premiums because beneficiaries share in Medicare’s total cost.

The deficit … Mr. Romney said Mr. Obama had doubled the deficit. That is not true. The annual deficit has declined under President Obama from what it was under President Bush.

Romney’s $5 trillion tax cut … Instead of detailing the deductions and other means he would use to make his $5 trillion tax cut “revenue neutral,” Romney simply lied and said he was not proposing a $5 trillion tax cut, when that is clearly what he has been proposing for months.

Federal role in healthcare … Romney said that Obamacare would allow the federal government to “take over health care,” whereas in fact Obamacare builds on the foundation of private health insurance, providing subsidies for millions of low- and moderate-income people to buy private insurance.

Green stimulus … Romney said that half the companies backed by the president’s green energy stimulus program have gone out of business. That is a gross overstatement.


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* Why is the Arab world so easily offended? Here are excerpts from three recent articles which offer intelligent and useful analysis

Posted by Lew Weinstein on September 16, 2012


One of the least informed responses to that question came in a Facebook posting by a source I will not mention. He said … “The outbreak of violence against the United States around the world is proof positive that Obama’s foreign policy is complete failure.

That is an ignorant, politically based explanation, similar to that offered by Mitt Romney, that brings us not one whit closer to understanding what is happening here.

BTW … By that logic, the 9-11 attack was proof positive of the failure of George W. Bush’s foreign policy … which it was not. It may have been a failure of intelligence, or more likely a failure to pay attention to intelligence that was available, but a far more complex set of reasons, going back over 7 centuries is surely at play here.

Below are three recent articles which offer far more intelligent and useful analysis.

One aspect of the situation that is not mention in these articles but which I believe is very important, is the role of oil, the oil companies, and the western nations, including the U.S., who ruthlessly exploited the Arab countries, installed dictators who were supposedly loyal, and who showed for decades no evidence of interest in improving the lot of the majority of people living in those countries. To a great extent, those attitudes continue today. Such a history cannot be expected to foster trust.

If this material is too complex for candidates like Romney, and their supporters, to understand,

and if they believe that an attempt to understand the frustration, pain and anger in the Muslim world

is a sign of weakness, those are excellent reasons (among many others)

to keep Mitt Romney far away from the Oval Office.


 Ross Douthat writes in the NYT (9/16/12) …

  • THE greatest mistake to be made right now, with our embassies under assault and crowds chanting anti-American slogans across North Africa and the Middle East, is to believe that what’s happening is a completely genuine popular backlash against a blasphemous anti-Islamic video made right here in the U.S.A.
  • The mobs don’t exist because of an offensive movie, and an American ambassador isn’t dead because what appears to be a group of Coptic Christians in California decided to use their meager talents to disparage the Prophet Muhammad.
  • What we are witnessing, instead, is mostly an exercise in old-fashioned power politics, with a stone-dumb video as a pretext for violence that would have been unleashed on some other excuse.
  • The real issue is the desire of Iran’s leaders to keep the flame of their revolution burning after the debacle of the Iran-Iraq War, the desire of Pakistan’s Islamists to test the religious bona fides of their country’s prime minister, and the desire of religious extremists in Britain to cast themselves as spokesmen for the Muslim community as a whole.
  • As The Washington Post’s David Ignatius (see David’s comments below) was among the first to point out, both the Egyptian and Libyan assaults look like premeditated challenges to those countries’ ruling parties by more extreme Islamist factions: Salafist parties in Egypt and pro-Qaeda groups in Libya.
  • What we’re watching unfold in the post-Arab Spring Mideast is the kind of struggle for power that frequently takes place in a revolution’s wake: between secular and fundamentalist forces in Benghazi, between the Muslim Brotherhood and its more-Islamist-than-thou rivals in Cairo, with similar forces contending for mastery from Tunisia to Yemen to the Muslim diaspora in Europe.
  • Navigating this landscape will require an accurate understanding of the crisis’s roots, and a recognition that policing speech won’t make our problems go away.



Fouad Ajami writes in the Washington Post (9/14/12) …

  • Time and again in recent years, as the outside world has battered the walls of Muslim lands and as Muslims have left their places of birth in search of greater opportunities in the Western world, modernity — with its sometimes distasteful but ultimately benign criticism of Islam — has sparked fatal protests. To understand why violence keeps erupting and to seek to prevent it, we must discern what fuels this sense of grievance.
  • There is an Arab pain and a volatility in the face of judgment by outsiders that stem from a deep and enduring sense of humiliation.
    • A vast chasm separates the poor standing of Arabs in the world today from their history of greatness. In this context, their injured pride is easy to understand.
  • In the narrative of history transmitted to schoolchildren throughout the Arab world and reinforced by the media, religious scholars and laymen alike, Arabs were favored by divine providence.
    • They had come out of the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century, carrying Islam from Morocco to faraway Indonesia. In the process, they overran the Byzantine and Persian empires, then crossed the Strait of Gibraltar to Iberia, and there they fashioned a brilliant civilization that stood as a rebuke to the intolerance of the European states to the north. Cordoba and Granada were adorned and exalted in the Arab imagination. Andalusia brought together all that the Arabs favored — poetry, glamorous courts, philosophers who debated the great issues of the day.
  • If Islam’s rise was spectacular, its fall was swift and unsparing.
    • The Ottoman Turks overran Arab countries to their south in the 16th century, the Arabs seemed to exit history; they were now subjects of others.
  • The coming of the West to their world brought superior military, administrative and intellectual achievement into their midst — and the outsiders were unsparing in their judgments. They belittled the military prowess of the Arabs, and they were scandalized by the traditional treatment of women and the separation of the sexes that crippled Arab society.
  • Even as Arabs insist that their defects were inflicted on them by outsiders, they know their weaknesses.
    • Younger Arabs today can be brittle and proud about their culture, yet deeply ashamed of what they see around them.
    • They know that more than 300 million Arabs have fallen to economic stagnation and cultural decline.
    • They know that the standing of Arab states along the measures that matter — political freedom, status of women, economic growth — is low.
    • In the privacy of their own language, in daily chatter on the street, on blogs and in the media, and in works of art and fiction, they probe endlessly what befell them.
  • But woe to the outsider who ventures onto that explosive terrain. The assumption is that Westerners bear Arabs malice, that Western judgments are always slanted and cruel.
  • The storm that erupted this past week at the gates of American diplomatic outposts across the Muslim world is a piece of this history. As usual, it was easily ignited.
  • The offending work, a 14-minute film trailer posted on YouTube in July, is offensive indeed.

The ambivalence toward modernity that torments Muslims is unlikely to abate.

  • The temptations of the West have alienated a younger generation from its elders. Men and women insist that they revere the faith as they seek to break out of its restrictions.
  • These cultural contradictions do not lend themselves to the touch of outsiders.
    • President George W. Bush believed that America’s proximity to Arab dictatorships had begotten us the jihadists’ enmity. His military campaign in Iraq became an attempt to reform that country and beyond.
    • But Arabs rejected his interventionism and dismissed his “freedom agenda” as a cover for an unpopular war and for domination.
    • President Obama has taken a different approach … but he’s been caught in the middle, conciliating the rulers while making grand promises to ordinary people.

Fouad Ajami, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, is the author of “The Syrian Rebellion” and “Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation’s Odyssey.”



David Ignatius writes in the Washington Post (9/12/12) …

  • What’s happening in Cairo and Benghazi appears to be a case of political opportunism — no, not by Mitt Romney, though there was some of that Wednesday — but by Salafist Islamic extremists who are unhappy with the success that more moderate Islamist and secularist parties in Egypt and Libya have had in building political support.
  • it’s hard to know for sure what’s happening and who benefits, so my reporting comes with a basic caveat.
  • But based on conversations with sources who were on the streets Tuesday in the midst of the Cairo demonstration and who have been following events in Libya closely, it’s possible to pierce the fog a bit and offer some basic analysis:
    • First, the situation in Cairo:
      • The Arabic banners of the protesters moving toward the U.S. Embassy identified them as members of the Nour Partyand the al-Asala Party, the two leading Salafist groups that have competed in the Egyptian elections. The Salafists, whose name connotes respect for the Islamic “ancestors” of the prophet Mohammed’s time, are more conservative and less pragmatic than the Muslim Brotherhood, now ruling Egypt.
      • An analyst who was in the midst of that crowd Tuesday told me that he thinks the Salafist demonstrators were using the pretext of a supposedly anti-Islamic American film to send two messages: The first was obviously anti-Americanism, which is potent in today’s Egypt; the second and more interesting message was a challenge by the Salafists to their rivals in the Muslim Brotherhood government of President Mohamed Morsi.
    • The Salafists’ assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi at first appeared to be a “copycat” attack like the one in Cairo, but U.S. officials said it may have been planned by extremists linked to al-Qaeda.
      • They were augmented by a well-armed Islamic militia.
      • Their anger, again, is mixed between a baseline anti-Americanism (sadly, always a draw in the region) and a challenge to Prime Minister Abdurraheem el-Keib and the secularist parties that are the backbone of the new Libyan government.
  • Does America have an interest in the internal fights taking place in these countries still quaking from the Arab uprisings? Of course it does, especially when U.S. embassies are targets of protesters and U.S. diplomats get killed in the crossfire.

But this isn’t really about America: It’s about factions battling for power in a fluid political situation.

  • The delicate political balance in Egypt and Libya makes the blunderbuss campaign rhetoric of Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, especially unfortunate. His comments make this crisis more “about America” than it needs to be.
  • Let’s return to the main trigger for these events:
    • It’s the success of the tolerably non-extremist (I won’t say “moderate”) governments in Egypt and Libya in consolidating power,
    • and the anger of the more radical Salafists at this success.
    • Morsi, for example, has just won pledges of billions in financial support from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Gulf Arabs are making a bet that over the next year, Morsi can stabilize Egypt and get the economy moving again. Despite Tuesday’s tragic events, the United States should make the same bet.


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