In his Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony last week, Secretary of State John Kerry blamed Israel for the breakdown in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He argued that an Israeli announcement of 700 new housing units for a neighborhood in Jerusalem were what did in the talks. “Poof, that was sort of the moment,” Kerry said. “We find ourselves where we are.”Read more
Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson was a congressman and then senator from Washington state from 1941 until his death in 1983. Jackson was a traditional Democrat: liberal on domestic policy, strongly tied to the labor movement, and a hawk on national security matters. He was very much in the tradition of Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson, with all of whom he worked closely—as he did with George Meany and Lane Kirkland at the AFL-CIO, who were also Cold War hawks.Read more
The Israeli debate over Iran’s nuclear program is, perhaps oddly, not yet heated. For now, the action is with the Americans: Israelis watch the negotiations nervously and without confidence, but there is little sense of impending doom—or impending war.
What would Arik have done? The death of former prime minister Ariel “Arik” Sharon last week has evoked this question for Israelis, who face chaos and jihadists in Syria, Hamas in Gaza, instability in Egypt, and above all a potential nuclear threat from Iran.Read more
When the history of the Obama administration is written, there will be a long and damaging chapter on its immense humanitarian and strategic failure in Syria. With three years of Obama yet to come, we have not even seen the full humanitarian disaster play out—nor have we yet confronted the dangers that are arising there from the vast jihadist presence.Read more
There’s a Washington think-tank variation on the board game Risk, and here’s how it goes: I give you a short statement about Obama policy in the Middle East, and you have to say who it’s from.
“The Persians are taking over Iraq and Syria and building a nuclear weapon. Are you Americans crazy? You think you will outsmart them in Geneva? They send Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah troops to fight in Syria and you do nothing? You draw a red line over chemical weapons and let Putin erase it?”Read more
Christian Whiton occupied several posts at the State Department during the administration of George W. Bush, all of them at the juncture where realpolitik meets ideology. Or would meet, anyway, if the department were able to recognize the importance of ideas in international politics. Whiton served under Jay Lefkowitz when Lefkowitz was Bush’s special envoy for human rights in North Korea, where he learned what the department can do to corner and undermine a foreign body it views as dangerous.Read more
In his speech today at the United Nations, President Obama continued his administration’s odd and somewhat schizophrenic policy with respect to freedom, human rights, and democracy.Read more
Americans watch our tragedy-of-errors Syria policy from the safety of houses and apartments in suburbs and cities 5,000 miles from the conflict. Israelis are next door, and two weeks ago—when an American strike and possible Syrian counterstrike at Israel seemed imminent—they were lining up for gas masks.
There are no such lines in Tel Aviv today. But what can Israelis make of the Syria crisis now, after the Obama speech and with action moving to Geneva and to the United Nations? What are the lessons they may learn?Read more
Egypt is an unruly military dictatorship, Syria is at war and will soon be hit by American bombs, the government may fall in Tunisia, Libya has no real government, Lebanon is now seeing growing Sunni-Shia strife, Jordan has a half-million Syrian refugees and the flow continues—one could go on. The “Arab Spring” seems to have led to a summer of tornadoes.
This week the EU took a stance that it heralded as pro-peace, pro-"peace process," and anti-settlement. Henceforth, new guidelines require all 28 member nations to refuse any grants, scholarships, prizes, or funding to entities in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Or any part of Jerusalem that was not part of Israel prior to the 1967 war. Or the Golan Heights.Read more
The spirited debate over suspension of aid to Egypt has given rise to a good argument over how to encourage progress in Egypt toward stable, responsible, and democratic government. We know what we would, as Americans, like ideally to see there: respect for civil liberties such as freedom of speech and press, an independent judiciary, religious freedom, free elections, and so on. And we would like to see an end to violence, whether by the state or by political and religious factions. We would like to see a system based on law, rather than on mob action or military fiat.Read more
Grasping the realities of the Middle East is never easy. This is not primarily because they change quickly, but because so much time, effort, and money is spent to prevent reality from breaking through. Fifteen Saudis kill 3,000 Americans on 9/11, so the Saudis spend even more millions to persuade Americans they are friends and allies. Egypt under Hosni Mubarak presents itself as the very model of stability.Read more
The effort to build a modern Palestinian state that will live in peace with Israel suffered a great setback last week when pressure from both Fatah and Hamas forced the resignation of the Palestinian Authority prime Minister, Salam Fayyad.Read more
President Obama spoke to the Israeli people today, at the Jerusalem Convention Center. His remarks moved his administration toward the pre-Obama consensus views of the Clinton and Bush administrations, indeed at several points echoing Bush’s 2008 speech to the Knesset. But he presented a view of the chances for peace with the Palestinians that was far rosier than reality permits—or than he may really believe.Read more
To prepare for President Obama's trip to Israel this week, it's worth reading Elliott Abrams's book Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.Read more
President Obama will make his first presidential visit to Israel in March, and Secretary of State Kerry will make his own trip even sooner. The White House is trying to dampen the inevitable speculation about a possible breakthrough to peace negotiations, and its spokesman has said the president’s trip is “not focused on specific Middle East peace process proposals.” Let’s hope so. But given the itinerary—Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Amman—the so-called peace process will be near the top of the agenda at every meeting Kerry and Obama have.Read more
During the hearings on Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense, it’s clear that the views of gay rights organizations will be heard. There the issue seems to be whether Hagel’s apology for previous remarks and beliefs was sincere, or motivated solely by self-interest. He had years to apologize publicly, but did so only when opposition from gay rights groups threatened his nomination.Read more
Denmark has long been regarded as one of the world's most attractive nations, for citizens and tourists alike. My own visits there, years ago as a student, were delightful. And the Danes have a wonderful history of civic virtue, not least during the Holocaust. As the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum notes in a web site dedicated to "The Rescue of the Jews of Denmark."Read more
If the truce announced in Cairo last Wednesday truly brings the Gaza war to a close, it is not too soon to assess who gained and who lost from this conflict.
Hamas provoked the war and chose the timing, so it is not surprising that they thought they would gain—and they have gained. The PLO initiative in the United Nations (to be classified as a “non-member observer state”) was shifting energy to the West Bank leadership, and by these attacks on Israel Hamas shifted it back. President Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies in Ramallah barely made the papers, despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit there. They were marginalized while Arab leaders and Turkish officials visited Gaza, and Hamas leaders traveled to Cairo for high-publicity meetings. The PLO leadership in Ramallah is one of the big losers of the last few weeks.Read more
It is now two months until the inauguration in Washington, and it would be nice if the world went into a postelection recess for the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s holidays. With Israel facing elections on January 22, there might once have been some hope for a brief respite. Alas, events in the Middle East are heating up and are likely to keep getting hotter this winter and into the spring.Read more
If the truce announced in Cairo last Wednesday truly brings the Gaza war to a close, it is not too soon to assess who gained and who lost from this conflict.Read more
Robert Gates, the former secretary of defense, got considerable attention this week when, speaking in Norfolk, Virginia, he said American officials should make it clear to the government of Israel that "they do not have a blank check to take action that could do grave harm to American vital interests." Strongly objecting to an Israeli or U.S. attack on Iran's nuclear sites, he claimed, "The results of an American or Israeli military strike on Iran could, in my view, prove catastrophic, haunting us for generations in that part of the world."Read more
Type in your email
address to get started:
Thank you for signing up for the Jonathan V. last newsletter! You should receive your first newsletter very soon.
We're sorry, there was an error processing your newsletter signup.