Posts Tagged Palestinians

Ian Lustick’s iron dice

This post first appeared on the Commentary blog on September 24.

One state or two?As both Jonathan Tobin and Jonathan Marks have previously written here [at Commentary], University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian Lustick, author of a recent op-ed promoting the “one-state solution” and featured prominently in the New York Times, isn’t an outlier. To the contrary, American academe is full of Lusticks: 60-something Jewish radicals who went through some transient phase of simplistic far-left Zionism before discovering that the real Israel is complex. Disillusioned, they rode their leftism to minor eminence as repentants in departments and centers of Middle Eastern studies, where Jewish critics of Israel provide ideal cover for the real haters. Such Jews used to be devotees of a Palestinian state, but now they’re scrambling to keep up with the freakish fad of a “one-state solution” set off by the late Edward Said’s own famous conversion (announced, of course, on the pages of the New York Times, in 1999). Because Lustick’s piece ran in the Times, it was a big deal for some American Jews who still see that newspaper as a gatekeeper of ideas. In Israel, it’s passed virtually unnoticed.

Whatever the article’s intrinsic interest, it’s particularly fascinating as a case study in intellectual self-contradiction. For Lustick has reversed his supposedly well-considered, scientifically informed assessment of only a decade ago, without so much as a shrug of acknowledgement.

Let’s briefly recap Lustick’s dismissive take on the two-state solution in his new article. It is “an idea whose time has passed,” it is neither “plausible or even possible,” it’s a “chimera,” a “fantasy.” The “obsessive focus on preserving the theoretical possibility of a two-state solution is as irrational as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.” Conclusion? “The pretense that negotiations under the slogan of ‘two states for two peoples’ could lead to such a solution must be abandoned.” In fact, negotiations do actual harm: “Diplomacy under the two-state banner is no longer a path to a solution but an obstacle itself. We are engaged in negotiations to nowhere.”

The ultimate two-stater

Yet only a decade ago, Lustick thought that the success of the “peace process” in achieving its aim of two states wasn’t only plausible and possible. It was inevitable. Lustick explained his thesis in a lengthy 2002 interview peppered with analogies and metaphors, including this one:

I like to think of it as a kind of gambler throwing dice, except it’s history that’s throwing the dice. Every throw of the dice is like a diplomatic peace process attempt. In order to actually succeed, history has got to throw snake eyes, 2. And, you know, that’s not easy, you have to keep throwing the dice. Eventually, you’re going to throw a 2. All of the leadership questions and accidents of history, the passions of both sides, the torturous feelings of suffering, the political coalitions, the timing of elections will fall into place.

What is Lustick saying here? Remember that the odds of throwing snake eyes on any given toss of the dice are 36 to 1, so only a fool or an idiot would despair after, say, a dozen or even two dozen throws. Even failure is just a prelude to success, since as long as you keep throwing, “eventually, you’re going to throw a 2.” The old sawhorse that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is belied by the dice-thrower, who repeats the same action knowing that each result will be different. And that’s why the United States keeps repeating the diplomatic moves that Lustick now finds so tiresome. The “peace processors” are just adhering to his logic, circa 2002, which guarantees that one of these initiatives is destined to succeed—provided there are enough of them.

And what did Lustick in 2002 have to say to those Israelis who “want the West Bank and Gaza to remain permanently under Israeli rule”? “You will have to roll a 13,” Lustick told them.

But you can’t roll a 13, which is to say that the right has no plan for how it can successfully keep the territories anymore. They don’t even advocate as a realistic option expelling the Palestinians. So they have no plan. So if you are the right and you know you have to roll a 13, the strategy is, don’t let the dice get rolled, keep trying to stop every initiative and subvert it if it gets started…. It’s the only rational thing to do in order to prevent history from eventually producing what it will produce, which is a two-state solution.

So the Israeli version of a one-state solution—an Israel from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean—was the hopeless cause of dead-enders who defied “history” itself. In 2002, Lustick was certain that “one of these days,” Israel would leave the West Bank:

Israel is caught between the inability to make the issue disappear by making the West Bank look like Israel, and the inability to make it disappear by actually withdrawing, by getting through that regime barrier, that regime threshold. Some day, one of these days, that regime threshold is going to be crossed.

The Palestinian version of the one-state option? Lustick didn’t even mention it in 2002.

So Lustick was the ultimate two-state believer. I don’t think even the inveterate “peace processors,” whom he now dismisses so contemptuously, ever assumed that repeated failures would bring them closer to their goal. Lustick did believe it: one couldn’t “prevent history from eventually producing what it will produce, which is a two-state solution,” and it was just a matter of time before “that threshold is going to be crossed.” So certain was Lustick of the inexorable logic of the two-state solution that he believed even Hamas had acquiesced in it. And because Israel had spurned Hamas, Israel had squandered an opportunity to turn it into a “loyal opposition.”

Here lies the problem—perhaps dishonesty is a better word—in Lustick’s latest piece. Lustick ’13 never takes on Lustick ’02, to explain why “history,” destined to lead to two states only a few years ago, is now destined to end in one state. It’s tempting to make light of the seemingly bottomless faith of “peace processors,” and I’ve done it myself, with relish. But the case Lustick made for them in 2002 had a certain logic. The case he’s made against them in 2013 is weak. Indeed, he never really builds much of a case at all.

Is it the number of settlers? If so, he doesn’t say so. Lustick knows how many settlers there are, and he numbered them in a lecture in February. In 2002, he says, there were 390,000 (West Bank and East Jerusalem). In 2012, he says, there were 520,000. That’s 130,000 more (two-thirds of it, by the way, natural growth). Presumably, some significant proportion of the 130,000 have been added to settlements whose inclusion in Israel wouldn’t preclude a two-state solution, because of their proximity to pre-1967 Israel. So we are talking about some tens of thousands. Which 10,000 increment, between 2002 and 2013, put Israel past the “point of no return”?

Lustick doesn’t say. In the Times, he claims that American pressure could have stopped Menachem Begin’s re-election in 1981, precluding the building of “massive settlement complexes” and prompting an Oslo-like process a decade earlier, in the 1980s. It’s a we’ll-never-know counter-factual, but it doesn’t solve the conundrum. Lustick knew all this in 2002, and it didn’t dampen his faith in the historic inevitability of the two-state solution. So the question remains: what’s happened since 2002 to change Lustick’s mind so drastically?

“The state will not survive!”

Here we come to Lustick’s supposedly original contribution to the “one-state” argument. He isn’t repeating the usual claim that Israeli settlements have made a Palestinian state unachievable. He’s arguing that the Israeli state is unsustainable. “The disappearance of Israel as a Zionist project, through war, cultural exhaustion or demographic momentum, is at least as plausible” as an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. The best indicator? Israelis say so! “Many Israelis see the demise of the country as not just possible, but probable. The State of Israel has been established, not its permanence. The most common phrase in Israeli political discourse is some variation of ‘If X happens (or doesn’t), the state will not survive!'”

I don’t know any research that’s established “the most common phrase in Israeli political discourse,” and I’m guessing that Ian Lustick doesn’t either. He just made it up. In his February lecture, he did cite one work, from 2009, that counted how many articles published in the left-wing Haaretz employed the phrases “existential danger” or “existential threat.” There’s a bump up after 2002 (Second Intifada), then a spike up in 2006 (Second Lebanon War). The “study” proves absolutely nothing. After all, this is Haaretz, the Wailing Wall of the Israeli left. A perfectly plausible explanation is that the paper’s editorial bias, exacerbated by the eclipse of the left, has tended to favor doomsday prognostication.

And Lustick is contradicted by real research on real people, which he either ignores or of which he’s ignorant. The Israel Democracy Institute’s latest large-scale poll, for 2012, shows that optimists outnumber pessimists among Israeli Jews by a margin of 79 percent to 18 percent. Over 85 percent say Israel can defend itself militarily and only 33 percent think Israel will become more isolated than it now is. The Tel Aviv University academic who oversees the poll summarized the results: “It is important to note that most Israelis view the country’s future optimistically. Our national resilience rests heavily on the fact that even though people are negative on Friday evenings at their family dinner table and the zeitgeist is discouragement, when you scratch a little deeper, people are not really depressed here.” That may be an understatement. Israel is ranked eleventh in the world in the latest UN-commissioned World Happiness Index, which hardly correlates to any level of depression.

According to the Peace Index poll ahead of this Jewish New Year, only 16 percent of Jewish Israelis think the country’s security situation will worsen. 46 percent think it will stay the same, and 28 percent think it will actually improve—this, despite the chaos in Syria and the Sinai, and the spinning centrifuges in Iran. The only thing Israelis are persistently pessimistic about is the “peace process,” but that doesn’t sour the overall mood—except for the small minority, including those op-ed writers for Haaretz, who apparently constitute Lustick’s “sample.”

(Lustick also alludes to “demographic momentum” as working against Israel, and he has puttered around with figures in an attempt to show that Israelis are lining up to emigrate. He got away with this until an actual demographer, Sergio DellaPergola, took a hammer to one of his amateur efforts and left nothing intact. It’s a must-read takedown.)

Israel the balloon

But in the end, for Lustick, it doesn’t really matter how prosperous or stable or viable Israel appears to be, even to Israelis. That’s because Israel is like… wait for it… a balloon. “Just as a balloon filled gradually with air bursts when the limit of its tensile strength is passed, there are thresholds of radical, disruptive change in politics.” Zionist Israel is a bubble that’s bound to burst. It’s been inflated by American support, and the “peace process” has protected it from rupture. But the larger the balloon gets, the more devastating that rupture will be. In February, Lustick revealed that he is writing an entire book on this thesis, evoking “history” again, with a fresh analogy to exchange rates:

History will solve the problem in the sense of the way entropy solves problems. You don’t stay with this kind of constrained volatility forever. When you constrain exchange rates in a volatile market by not allowing rates to move even though the actual economy makes them absurd, rates will eventually change, but in a very radical, non-linear way. The more the constraint, the less the adaptation to changing conditions, the more jagged and painful that adaptation is going to be.

Better, thinks Lustick, that the “peace process” in pursuit of the two-state solution be shut down now, so that both sides can slug it out again—this time to “painful stalemates that lead each party to conclude that time is not on their side.” Israel, which has defeated the Palestinians time and again, has to stop winning. Pulling the plug on the “peace process,” he writes in the Times, would

set the stage for ruthless oppression, mass mobilization, riots, brutality, terror, Jewish and Arab emigration and rising tides of international condemnation of Israel. And faced with growing outrage, America will no longer be able to offer unconditional support for Israel. Once the illusion of a neat and palatable solution to the conflict disappears, Israeli leaders may then begin to see, as South Africa’s white leaders saw in the late 1980s, that their behavior is producing isolation, emigration and hopelessness.

And that’s where we want to be! Enough rolling of the diplomatic dice! It’s time to roll the iron dice! It may sound cynical to you, but Lustick thinks it’s destiny: “The question is not whether the future has conflict in store for Israel-Palestine. It does. Nor is the question whether conflict can be prevented. It cannot.” Remember, this is someone who just a few years ago insisted that a two-state solution was inevitable. Now he argues exactly the opposite. The world should get out of the way and let the inescapable violence unfold—only this time, the United States won’t be in Israel’s corner, and so Israel will be defeated and forced to dismantle itself.

The problem with rolling the iron dice, as even an armchair historian knows, is that the outcome is uncertain. What Lustick would like “history” to deliver is a defeat of Zionist Israel of such precise magnitude as to create a perfect equilibrium between Jew and Arab. But it may well be that the outcome he desires is the equivalent of rolling a 13, because Israel has deep-seated advantages that would be magnified greatly were Israel ever to find itself up against a wall. (The fortieth anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur war may be an apt moment to remember that.) Or something in his scenario could go wrong. As Clausewitz noted about war, “No other human activity is so continuously or universally bound up with chance.”

One of the possible outcomes Lustick imagines is that “Israelis whose families came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as ‘Eastern,’ but as Arab.” Given that even “the Arabs” don’t think of themselves anymore as “Arabs” (especially when they gas or bomb one another), and that Jews never thought of themselves as “Arabs” even when they lived in Arabic-speaking countries and spoke Arabic, one wonders how many thousands of dice rolls it would take to produce that outcome.

Prophet of Philly

In the end, it’s pointless to debate Lustick on his own hypothetical grounds, invoking rolling dice, bursting balloons, and volatile exchange rates. That’s because nothing has happened since 2002 between Israel and the Palestinians, or in Israel, that can possibly explain his own total turnaround. I suspect his Times article has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and everything to do with Lustick’s attempt to keep his footing in the shifting sands of American academe.

Ever since Edward Said veered toward the “one-state solution,” the pressure has been growing, and it’s grown even more since Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor at Columbia, finally gravitated toward the same position (something I predicted he would do well before he actually did it). This turn of events left Lustick in the rear of the radical vanguard and far from the action. Ever since Tony Judt passed on, there’s been a vacancy for a professorial Jewish supporter of the “one-state solution.” So this is Lustick’s late-career move, and I anticipate it will do for him a bit of what it did for Judt, transforming him from an academic of modest reputation into an in-demand hero. Invitations will pour in. Soon we will hear of a controversy involving an invitation rescinded, which will raise his standing still higher. And it’s quite plausible that the Times piece will land him a heftier advance for his next book (as of February, “I’ve not written the conclusion yet”), and the promotional push of a major publisher.

In anticipation, Lustick is already casting himself as a prophet of Israel, exemplified in this quote from an answer he gave to a question last winter:

I argued in 1971 that 1,500 settlers in the West Bank were a catastrophe that would lead Israel into a political dungeon from which it might never escape. I was laughed at. I also argued for a Palestinian state alongside of Israel in the early 1970s, but it took twenty-five years before the mainstream in Israeli politics agreed with that. It may take another twenty-five years before they realize that what I’m saying is true now and will be even truer if Israel is still around in twenty or twenty-five more years.

This is not a human measure of prescience, as Lustick himself has acknowledged. How far in advance would anyone have been able to imagine the Iranian revolution or the fall of the Soviet Union? Lustick: “Ten years? No. Five years? Maybe two, if you were very, very good.” If, as Lustick claims, he consistently sees the future of Israel twenty-five years forward, he must inhabit a sphere far above the regular run of prognosticating political scientists. He is now compiling the Book of Ian. Read it, O Israel (enter credit card here), and weep.

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    Chuck Hagel and linkage

    This post appeared yesterday on the website of The Weekly Standard. I wrote it not out of a deep conviction about the Chuck Hagel nomination per se, but because I have an abiding interest the magical mindset behind the notion of linkage (see my piece “The Myth of Linkage,” 2008). Hagel seemed to be the absolutely perfect exemplar of linkage-think, so this proved irresistible. My modest hope is that a senator will pick up on the subject during Hagel’s confirmation hearing, and we will gain some insight into the metastasis of an idea.

    Former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel is President Obama’s nominee for secretary of defense. Much has already been said about the pros and cons of the nomination, and much more will be said during confirmation hearings in the Senate. Here is one possible line of questioning: given the centrality of the Middle East in U.S. military planning, how does Hagel think the region works? If the United States has limited resources, and must apportion them judiciously, where is it best advised to invest them?

    Hagel has a view of this, expressed on numerous occasions. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the core problem of the Middle East. Until it is resolved, it will be impossible to make progress in treating any of the region’s other pathologies. Hagel claims to have reached this conclusion by talking with leaders of the Middle East. He’s just repeating what they tell him, he has said. So it’s interesting to go back and see just what they did tell him—an exercise made feasible via WikiLeaks. (If you belong to that class of persons who have to avert their eyes from WikiLeaks, don’t follow the links and take my word.)

    The Core Conflict

    But first, let’s look at how Hagel thinks the Middle East works. In 2002, he put it this way:

    The Arab-Israeli conflict cannot be separated from America’s foreign policy. Actions in the Middle East have immense consequences for our other policies and interests in the world. We are limited in dealing with other conflicts until this conflict is on a path to resolution. America’s policy and role in the Middle East, and the perception of our policies and role across the globe, affects our policies and interests in Afghanistan, South Asia, Indonesia, and all parts of the world.

    This is a broad exposition of the idea of “linkage,” which might best be described as a Middle Eastern domino theory. The assumption is that in places as far afield as Afghanistan and Indonesia, people are so preoccupied with the fate of the Palestinians that they cannot see the United States (which supports Israel) as a friend. These millions of people have their own conflicts that impact U.S. interests, but they won’t respond to American efforts to resolve them, unless the United States conjures up something for the Palestinians first. Often this claim is made regarding the Arabs. Hagel effectively extended it to the entire Muslim world.

    In 2006, Hagel put it this way:

    The core of all challenges in the Middle East remains the underlying Arab-Israeli conflict. The failure to address this root cause will allow Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorists to continue to sustain popular Muslim and Arab support—a dynamic that continues to undermine America’s standing in the region and the Governments of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and others, whose support is critical for any Middle East resolution.

    The vocabulary here—”core,” “root cause,” “underlying”—is taken from the standard linkage lexicon, which elevates the Arab-Israeli or Palestinian-Israeli conflict to a preeminent status, above all others. It is this conflict, practically alone, that prompts the rise of terrorists, weakens friendly governments, and makes it impossible for the United States to win Arabs and Muslims over to the good cause. That same year, he again described the “underlying” Arab-Israeli conflict as the “core” of the region’s maladies:

    In the Middle East, the core of instability and conflict is the underlying Arab-Israeli problem. Progress on Middle East peace does not ensure stability in Iraq. But, for the Arab world, the issue of Middle East peace is inextricably, emotionally and psychologically linked with all other issues. Until the United States helps lead a renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace process, there will be no prospect for broader Middle East peace and stability.

    In 2008, Hagel developed this into a full-blown “ripple” theory, in a passage in his book, America: Our Next Chapter (p. 82). There he wrote that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

    cannot be looked at in isolation. Like a stone dropped into a placid lake, its ripples extend out farther and farther. Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon feel the effects most noticeably. Farther still, Afghanistan and Pakistan; anything that impacts their political stability also affects the two emerging economic superpowers, India and China.

    The notion that the greater Middle East would be a “placid lake” were it not for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be regarded as extreme, even for someone in the grip of linkage fever. But Hagel, doubling down, extended the conflict’s baleful influence even beyond the world of the Arabs and South Asian Islam, suggesting that it “affects” India and China in a detrimental way, although he didn’t explain how.

    That same year, Hagel made the most far-reaching claim for linkage. By this time, Americans knew considerably more about the complexities of the Middle East than they had known in 2002. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had demonstrated the salience of deep conflicts that defined the politics of the region, and that went back in time before there was an Israel. The great Sunni-Shiite divide, the region-wide Kurdish question, the rivalries of tribes, the chasm between rulers and ruled—all were sources of conflict and instability with long and autonomous histories. That’s what makes Hagel’s 2008 statement so striking: he was clearly aware that the linkage thesis looked shakier than ever, but he dug in his heels anyway:

    The strategic epicenter of the Middle East [is] the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Why do I say that more than any other reason? It is the one issue, the one issue alone, the Israeli-Palestinian issue alone. Fixing that alone is not going to fix every problem in the Middle East. We understand that. We have religious hatred. We have centuries of it. We have regional, tribal issues. Yes, all complicated. But that one issue, the Israeli-Palestinian issue shapes almost every other issue, not just the optics of it, but the reality of it. It is allowed to—as it plays itself out to dominate relationships, to dominate the people who would like a different kind of world. I know that there is a lot made on the issue of—well it’s important, but it certainly doesn’t affect everything. It does.

    In this remark, Hagel was clearly struggling to force all of the new and “complicated” American knowledge about the Middle East into his old template. He knew that his linkage thesis looked less plausible than it once did. How exactly could the Israeli-Palestinian issue “affect everything” and “shape almost every other issue,” not just the “optics” but the “reality”? Hagel couldn’t say how, except to assert that “it does.”

    But Hagel, knowing his bald assertion might seem dubious, did something new. He invoked the authority of Middle Eastern leaders:

    I don’t know any other way to gauge this, than you go out and listen to the leaders. You listen to Jewish leaders, and you listen to Arab leaders. You sit down with all the leaders with all those countries, and I have many times, different leaders, and they will take you right back to the same issue. Right back to this issue. Now I am not an expert on anything, and I’m certainly not an expert on the Middle East. Most of the people in this room, especially those that were on the panels tonight know a lot more about this issue than I do. But I do listen. I do observe. I am somewhat informed. That informs me that when the people of the Middle East themselves tell me that this issue has to be dealt with or there will not be a resolution to any other issue in the Middle East.

    No other issue in the entire Middle East can be resolved until Israel and the Palestinians deal with theirs: this was Hagel’s long-standing belief, now placed in the mouths of authoritative interlocutors, those Middle Eastern leaders he met on his travels, and who always took him “right back to this issue.”

    Meeting Arabs and Jews

    On the face of it, this is a plausible assertion. It is often said that Arab leaders never miss an opportunity to browbeat American officials over U.S. neglect of the Palestinians. A senior American diplomatic once made this complaint: “Every American ambassador in the region knows that official meetings with Arab leaders start with the obligatory half-hour lecture on the Palestinian question. If we could dispense with that half-hour and get down to our other business, we might actually be able to get something done.”

    But are these the sorts of discussions that Hagel had with Arab leaders? We don’t have a record of all his meetings with them, but we have several accounts, via WikiLeaks. These seem to contradict Hagel’s own assertion that his Arab interlocutors always came “right back to this issue.” In fact, it was usually the third or fourth item on the agenda, sometimes raised not by Arab leaders but by visiting Americans. Arab leaders who met Hagel expressed a very wide range of concerns, usually focused on Iran and Iraq. (There is one important exception, to which I’ll come in a moment.) Here are the publicly documented instances, from his trips to the region between 2004 and 2008:

    • On December 1, 2004, King Abdullah of Jordan had lunch in Amman with Hagel (as well as Senators Joe Biden, Dianne Feinstein, and Linc Chafee). The account may not be complete, but the discussion as reported focused only on Iraq and the “negative role” of Iran. King Abdullah, looking ahead to Iraqi elections in January, “worried that elections held without credible Sunni participation could lead to cantonization or civil war,” and opined that Iraqi Shiites were loyal to Iran, not Iraq. “The King painted a picture of a monolithic Shia Arab/Iranian threat to Jordan and Israel if they ‘take over’ southern Iraq.” (A few days later, King Abdullah said much the same in an interview with The Washington Post, coining the phrase “Shiite crescent” to describe the menace.)
    • On December 4, 2004, the Crown Prince of Bahrain, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, received Hagel, Feinstein, and Chafee. The conversation also focused on impending elections in Iraq, which the Bahrainis feared might be captured by “radical elements.” Later, Feinstein raised the Israeli-Palestinian issue, urging Bahrain and Gulf governments to “speak out on the need for a two-state solution in Palestine in order to ostracize extremists on both sides and bring the Arab media on board.” Sheikh Salman gently deflected this, suggesting that the United States, “even if politically difficult, must engage in a public discourse that demonstrates that the goal of promoting democracy in the Middle East includes Palestinians as well.” So it wasn’t the Arab ruler who “came back to the issue,” but a peace-process-fixated American senator—an effort artfully foiled by Sheikh Salman.
    • A meeting in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah on November 29, 2005 was dominated again by Iran and Iraq. (Attending: Hagel, Senator Tom Carper and Representative Ellen Tauscher.) The monarch, still in his “Shiite crescent” mode, expressed his fear that Iran would establish its dominance over Iraq: “If this influence was not checked, he warned, it could lead to effective Iranian rule of southern Iraq, and to an even more active and dangerous Hizballah in Lebanon.” King Abdullah’s second concern: Syria, where he speculated that too much pressure on the Assad regime could lead to a “possible takeover of the country by the Muslim Brotherhood”—which, “the king warned, would be very negative for both Syria and the region.” Israel and the Palestinians? This figured as the third item on the agenda. In this case, Abdullah didn’t “warn” about anything, but simply highlighted Jordan’s commitment to train and reform Palestinian security forces, Jordan’s interest in more economic cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, and a vague hope that there might be an “increased dynamism” in Israel, as a result of changes in the Labor Party.
    • Hagel (and Carper and Tauscher) met with Saudi King Abdullah, then-Crown Prince Sultan, and Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, in Riyadh on November 30, 2005. (Pictured above: Hagel and the king.) Again, the top agenda issues were Iraq followed by Iran. Hagel would later go on the record as opposing the 2007 “surge” in Iraq (“the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam”). But in 2005, when Hagel asked the Saudis about a U.S. troop withdrawal, King Abdullah “urged the U.S. not to withdraw forces or lose focus until Iraq was stabilized,” and the Saudi foreign minister added that “the U.S. should consider increasing troop levels in the short term to ensure the political process concludes successfully.” Only after a lengthy discussion of Iran did they get on to Israel and the Palestinians. Prince Sultan explained the various Saudi peace proposals, and praised Israel’s then-prime minister Ariel Sharon as “a clever and courageous man” who might “move in a direction which serves Israel and the Israeli people.” (This section of the dispatch carried the headline: “Sharon as Peacemaker: Saudis Surprisingly Pragmatic.”) Hagel later would claim that lack of a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “undermines” the Saudi (and other pro-American) governments. But he didn’t hear that from the Saudis, who in their 2005 meeting with him treated the issue as a mid-level priority.
    • On December 4, 2005, Hagel (accompanied by the U.S. ambassador to Egypt) met with Egyptian President Mubarak in Cairo. At the top of the agenda: the threat posed by the prospect of Shiite ascendency in Iraq. “In Mubarak’s view, the Shi’a were extremely difficult to deal with and given to deception,” and they represented a potential Iranian fifth column in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and other Gulf states. Second: Syria, where he advised the United States to “avoid stating publicly that it sought ‘regime change.'” It was Hagel who raised the Palestinian-Israel issue, thanking Egypt for supporting the peace process. Mubarak responded by calling Ariel Sharon, “a strong leader, the strongest since Begin,” and he went on to blame Syria’s late leader, Hafez Assad, for failing to reach a peace deal with Yitzhak Rabin. Mubarak then circled back to “the untrustworthiness and duplicity of the regime in Tehran,” with illustrative examples. In this conversation, it was Hagel, not Mubarak, who had “come right back” to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
    • On May 31, 2007, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora received Hagel (as well as Senators Patrick Leahy, Thad Cochran, Ken Salazar, Ben Cardin, and Representative Peter Welch). The prime minister dwelt at length on the UN resolution establishing the Hariri tribunal (it “meant the end of an era of impunity for assassins and Lebanon would now never turn back”). He then gave a detailed preview of the army’s plan to crush the terrorist group Fatah al-Islam, holed up in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Barid near Tripoli. Siniora did urge the United States to persuade Israel to open talks based on the Saudi peace initiative. If the opportunity were missed, “it would give considerable momentum to extremists in the region and all that entailed.”
    • On July 20, 2008, the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al Sabah, received Hagel (as well as Senator Barack Obama). The conversation focused Iraq, oil prices, and Aljazeera. Israel and the Palestinians weren’t discussed.

    So in none of these meetings was there a preliminary half-hour lecture on Palestine. In most of them, the threat posed by Iran loomed larger than any angst over the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Looking back at these meetings in 2008, Hagel claimed that “the people of the Middle East themselves tell me that this issue has to be dealt with or there will not be a resolution to any other issue in the Middle East.” In none of these meetings did any Arab leader tell Hagel any such thing.

    Hagel didn’t just claim to get the linkage message from Arab leaders. “You listen to Jewish leaders, and you listen to Arab leaders.” By “Jewish,” he must have meant Israeli (an elision he has made elsewhere, in his well-known reference to the “Jewish lobby”). Hagel has met many Israelis, and only he and they know what they told him. But on at least one occasion, he heard one of them brusquely dismiss the linkage argument. Hagel (and Senator Biden) met with then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in December 2004, and one of the Americans in the delegation (unnamed in the dispatch) had the temerity to suggest that “progress towards Israeli-Palestinian peace would have a dramatic impact on ending regional and international terrorism. Sharon quickly stated that Israel should not be held responsible for terrorism, asserting that it was the target of terror even prior to June 1967. It was not correct to believe that terror would disappear if the Israeli-Palestinian dispute were solved. The only thing that Israel was ‘responsible’ for, he maintained, was defending its people.” If “Jewish leaders” told Hagel anything that reinforced his thesis, Ariel Sharon definitely was not among them.

    Neither was his successor, Ehud Olmert, who told Hagel (and several other senators) in May 2007 that Arab fear of Iran had created a situation where, “for the first time, we are not enemy number one.” On that same visit, then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni told the senatorial delegation that “there was a new understanding in the region that the Iranian threat is an ‘existential’ one and has become more significant than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

    Abdullah of Jordan: Linkage Man

    In Hagel’s meetings (as revealed in the WikiLeaks sample), there is one exception—one meeting in which an Arab leader said something approximating what Hagel claimed they all told him. In Hagel’s meetings with King Abdullah in 2004 and 2005, he heard little about the Palestinians, and a lot about the “Shiite crescent” and a possible Iranian takeover of southern Iraq. But in a meeting in Amman in May 2007 with Hagel (plus Leahy, Cochran, Salazar, Cardin, and Welch), the Jordanian monarch did a turnaround. King Abdullah “highlighted his view that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the key issue facing Jordan and the region.” He claimed that “within as little as one and a half years the opportunity for a two-state solution may be lost.” Jordanian then-foreign minister Abdelelah al-Khatib told the visiting senators that “lack of progress on peace was undermining efforts on other issues such as stabilizing Iraq, Lebanon, and isolating Syria and Iran.”

    Why did King Abdullah change his tune? Thanks to the U.S. “surge” in Iraq, he’d come to believe that Iran had been checked. In June 2008, Lally Weymouth interviewed him for The Washington Post. “I remember a couple of years ago, you warned against the danger posed by Iran to moderate Arab regimes,” she told him. “Do you view Iran as the number one threat in this region?” King Abdullah: “I think the lack of peace [between Israel and the Palestinians] is the major threat. I don’t see the ability of creating a two-state solution beyond 2008, 2009. I think this is really the last chance. If this fails, I think this is going to be the major threat for the Middle East.” Weymouth: “But aren’t you concerned that Iran is a threat both to your country and to other countries in the region?” Abdullah: “Iran poses issues to certain countries, although I have noticed over the past month or so that the dynamics have changed quite dramatically, and for the first time I think maybe I can say that Iran is less of a threat. But if the peace process doesn’t move forward, then I think that extremism will continue to advance over the moderate stands that a lot of countries take.”

    So Jordan’s King Abdullah became the linkage lead man, and it’s not difficult to see why. Jordan is the Arab state that sits astride the West Bank, that has a Palestinian majority, and that shares the longest border with Israel. Were things to go very wrong between Israelis and Palestinians on the West Bank, Jordan would be the first to feel it. So it is Jordan’s national interest to elevate Israeli-Palestinian peace to preeminence. In particular circumstances, such as the Iraq war, it will strike other chords. But its default position is to declare, always with urgency, that the sky is about to fall on Israelis and Palestinians, that the world must act now to prevent that, and that a Palestinian state will help solve every problem, everywhere. In that respect, Jordan is unique in the Arab world.

    And King Abdullah of Jordan seems to have been the only Arab leader whose message strictly conformed to Hagel’s idée fixe about linkage. This would become significant in July 2008, when candidate Barack Obama set off for the Middle East, accompanied by Hagel (and Senator Jack Reed). This visit has been described as “an intense bonding experience” between Hagel and Obama, in which they “delved deeply into policy discussions—’wonkfests,’ as one former aide called them.” The swing included a stop in Amman. (King Abdullah returned from Aspen to be there, and at the end of the visit, he personally drove Obama to the airport like the regular guy he is.) We don’t have a leaked record of the king’s meeting with the delegation. But the press statement issued by the royal palace reported that the king stressed to Obama “that ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and achieving a just settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict tops the priorities of the people of the Middle East.” The king’s view of how linkage actually operated came through in Obama’s own account, in a press interview:

    I think King, King Abdullah is as savvy an analyst of the region and player in the region as, as there is, one of the points that he made and I think a lot of people made, is that we’ve got to have an overarching strategy recognizing that all these issues are connected. If we can solve the Israeli-Palestinian process, then that will make it easier for Arab states and the Gulf states to support us when it comes to issues like Iraq and Afghanistan.

    It will also weaken Iran, which has been using Hamas and Hezbollah as a way to stir up mischief in the region. If we’ve gotten an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, maybe at the same time peeling Syria out of the Iranian orbit, that makes it easier to isolate Iran so that they have a tougher time developing a nuclear weapon.

    So Obama, under the combined influence of Hagel and Abdullah, became a convert to linkage. It was this notion that propelled the Obama administration, from its very first day, into a flurry of efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The very urgency with which this campaign was launched may have been its undoing, producing the “self-inflicted wound” of the U.S. demand for an Israeli settlement freeze. Hagel wasn’t implicated in that decision. The linkage mindset was.

    A Dangerous Notion

    It could do still more damage. Linkage-think can lead to panicked overreaction whenever Israelis and Arabs do exchange blows, as they occasionally do. In the summer of 2006, when Israel and Hezbollah fought another round (not their first and probably not their last), Hagel had just such a seizure:

    I think it is so serious now, I think we are at the most dangerous time maybe we have seen ever in the Middle East with all the combustible elements… The president needs to get seriously engaged now. If we do not do that now at this moment, and I mean this moment, then the possibility of this escalating into a Middle East catastrophe, which would drag in all nations of the world, if for no other reason than just the energy dynamic here. The ramifications, the significance of all of this is astounding once you start to chart it out.

    “The most dangerous time ever,” “catastrophe,” “drag in all nations of the world,” “astounding”—there is not a sentence here (even an incomplete one) that isn’t a model of apocalyptic hyperbole, more evocative of an end-time preacher than a U.S. senator. Linkage, like any domino theory, inflates events way out of their true proportion. Israel’s mini-wars aren’t preludes to Armageddon, and one would hate for a U.S. secretary of defense to think they were.

    And linkage mania is a standing temptation to an open-ended intervention of the kind Hagel is supposed to abhor. Hagel signed his name (with other “realists”) to a 2009 paper warning the new President Obama that the “last chance” for a two-state solution could be lost in “six to twelve months.” The paper proposed deployment of a UN-mandated, U.S.-led NATO force (plus Egyptians and Jordanians) to the West Bank for five to fifteen years, to assume security responsibilities. The United States has always been steadfast in resisting proposals to put U.S. troops between Israelis and Palestinians, for fear of not ever being able to extricate them. A 2010 NATO-published planning paper concluded that “NATO’s mission in Palestine would have slim chances of success, and a high probability of failure…. It seems irresponsible to hasten NATO into a mission that has all the ingredients to turn into a quagmire that equals the Alliance’s involvement in Afghanistan.” Hagel would consider taking that plunge.

    Of course, if you believe that the future of America and all humankind hinges on urgent creation of a Palestinian state, you might favor such a risky intervention. But does it? That would be a great question to pose to Chuck Hagel when he comes up for confirmation.

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      The NIC of time

      The National Intelligence Council (NIC) has just published its fifth long-term prognostication, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds. This is an officially sponsored guessing game, but much of what government does has long lead times, so long-term projections need to be made by somebody.

      By their nature, these hedged predictions say as much about present politics as future probabilities. One prediction (p. 71) is particularly striking, touching as it does on the drivers of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world:

      Although al-Qa’ida and others have focused on the United States [as] a clear enemy, the appeal of the United States as the “great enemy” is declining. The impending withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and decreases in US forces in Afghanistan help to reduce the extent to which terrorists can draw on the United States as a lightning rod for anger. Soon, US support for Israel could be the last remaining major focus of Muslim anger.

      It’s a peculiar assessment. After all, when al-Qa’ida attacked the United States on 9/11, there were no US forces in Iraq or Afghanistan. The 9/11 attacks undoubtedly did resonate in the Muslim world, and that couldn’t have been the result of an American boots-on-the-ground presence in the region. So what drove anti-Americanism back then? Is there a suggestion here that US support for Israel was already the “major focus”? What about American support for authoritarian regimes? We are told again and again how deeply Muslims have resented such support, and they could resent it even more in 2030, should the oil-saturated monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf last that long.

      And what happened to the assessments in past reports, which cited “globalization” as the source of Muslim anger against the West in general, and the United States in particular? The report issued in 2000, anticipating 2015, offered this: “Popular resentment of globalization as a Western intrusion will be widespread. Political Islam in various forms will be an attractive alternative for millions of Muslims throughout the region, and some radical variants will continue to be divisive social and political forces.” Right on the mark, as evidenced by events unfolding before our eyes. Why isn’t such “intrusion” likely to continue to inflame the Muslim world?

      Such resentment has a long history, and so does its neglect by Western analysts. The British historian Arnold Toynbee, in his 1922 book The Western Question in Greece and Turkey: A Study in the Contact of Civilisations, offered a striking allegory to illustrate the West’s effect upon the East:

      Savages are distressed at the waning of the moon and attempt to counteract it by magical remedies. They do not realise that the shadow which creeps forward till it blots out all but a fragment of the shining disc, is cast by their world. In much the same way we civilised people of the West glance with pity or contempt at our non-Western contemporaries lying under the shadow of some stronger power, which seems to paralyse their energies by depriving them of light. Generally we are too deeply engrossed in our own business to look closer, and we pass by on the other side—conjecturing (if our curiosity is sufficiently aroused to demand an explanation) that the shadow which oppresses these sickly forms is the ghost of their own past. Yet if we paused to examine that dim gigantic overshadowing figure standing, apparently unconscious, with its back to its victims, we should be startled to find that its features are ours…

      It is difficult for us to realise the profound influence on the East which we actually, though unconsciously, exercise… and the relationship described in my allegory cannot permanently continue. Either the overshadowing figure must turn its head, perceive the harm that unintentionally it has been doing, and move out of the light; or its victims, after vain attempts to arouse its attention and request it to change its posture, must stagger to their feet and stab it in the back.

      The attacks of 9/11 were just such a stab in the back, and the confusion that ensued over Muslim enthusiasm for them arose precisely from America’s failure to grasp how thoroughly its revolutionary example undermines traditional orders everywhere. Where Toynbee erred, of course, was in his assumption that the West could simply “move out of the light,” thus liberating those in its shadow. No doubt there are still those who believe that if only we were to stand aside or step back, our profile would diminish, and with it the resentment against us. It was the historian and political thinker Elie Kedourie—a relentless critic of Toynbee as historian and seer—who added the necessary refinement.

      In his view, the damaging effect of the West upon the East had nothing to do with what the West did. It was an inevitable effect of what the West was, and no amount of sidestepping or backtracking could mitigate the consequences. The West, Kedourie asserted, “cannot help being what it is. By the very fact of its existence, it was a destabilizing force for the Middle East.” And he employed a different allegory: “Someone who has influenza is not really responsible for the fact that someone else catches his disease.” The West could not be blamed for being what it is: the carrier of an aggressive virus that ravages all traditions.

      So the suggestion in the NIC report, that Muslim anger against the United States might soon be reduced to a kernel of resentment over US support for Israel, is a species of wishful thinking. The United States will continue to infect the Muslim world, even if its willingness or ability to project hard power declines. The so-called “Arab Spring,” which is so often hailed as the product of indigenous processes, is in fact an inflammation produced by the most contagious of all viruses: the idea of freedom, now linked inseparably to American-style democracy. As long as Muslim societies remain internally divided over freedom and democracy, there will be governments and factions that will stoke hatred of America. In some places, American flags will be waved, but in others American embassies will be burned. In either case, the United States will be regarded, favorably or unfavorably, as the grinding wheel of change in the world.

      There is another odd assertion in the report (p. 75):

      Resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would have dramatic consequences for the region over the next two decades. For Israel, a permanent resolution to the conflict could open the door to regional relationships unthinkable today. The end of Palestinian conflict would provide a strategic setback to Iran and its resistance camp and over time undermine public support for militant groups such as Hizballah and Hamas.

      This is the myth of linkage, and it echoes almost precisely a claim made by President Obama when he was still a candidate in 2008. “All these issues are connected,” Obama said.

      If we can solve the Israeli-Palestinian process, then that will make it easier for Arab states and the Gulf states to support us when it comes to issues like Iraq and Afghanistan. It will also weaken Iran, which has been using Hamas and Hezbollah as a way to stir up mischief in the region.

      This thesis (the theatrical NIC version reads like “New Middle East” circa 1995) seems less persuasive with each passing month, as many other “dramatic consequences” unfold, eclipsing or competing with the long-running Israel-Palestine show. The reassertion of linkage here is thoroughly political. It is not a measured assessment, but it is the sort of statement that stands a chance of being echoed by a high administration official, if not by the President himself. And it draws rebuttals from people like me—which helps to keep the NIC, a poor cousin to the agencies that deal in hard intelligence, in the limelight and on a budget line. After all, this was an agency that the Obama administration first thought to entrust to the ministrations of Chas Freeman (click here in case you’ve forgotten). That wasn’t exactly a token of high regard for the institution.

      But if one really does believe in linkage, and in the “dramatic consequences” that an Israeli-Palestinian agreement would have for the region, why not reverse it? If such an agreement promises to be so transformative, shouldn’t its pursuit justify delivering hammer blows to Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas, to keep them from obstructing it? The linkage thesis has dual uses—and abuses—which make it the favorite concept behind all sorts of reductionist approaches to the Middle East. It’s a pity to see it surface in a report that pretends to nuance and sophistication.

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        Israel’s national interests (not only for Chinese)

        On September 7, I addressed a group of visiting Chinese international relations and Middle East experts, who had come to Israel under the auspices of SIGNAL (Sino-Israel Global Network and Academic Leadership). The topic: Israel’s national interests in the Middle East. It’s a challenge to explain the dilemmas of a small state to an audience accustomed to thinking big. Here is the text of my remarks.

        Map of Israel in ChineseI don’t intend to give you my own personal view of Israel’s national interests. My view is not especially important. I do want to suggest what I think most Israelis believe about Israel’s core national interests. These are basic things—I would call them the lowest common denominators. But they define the political center in Israel. Over time, Israeli policy doesn’t drift too far away from them.

        In the Israeli national anthem, there is a phrase that expresses the purpose of Zionism and the Jewish state: our hope is “to be a free people in our land, the Land of Zion and Jerusalem.” “Free people” here isn’t a reference to democracy. It refers to the collective freedom of sovereignty. The Jews, through their state, and on their ancestral land, will gain the freedom to determine their own destiny, and not have it determined by others; to act in history, and not only be acted upon; to defend their lives, and not rely on the mercy of others.

        The core national interest of the state of Israel is to preserve and enhance this freedom to act independently. How much freedom is enough? If Israel were a vast country with a large population like China, this freedom could be in rough proportion to Israel’s size. But because Israel is small in size and population, because its borders are very narrow and its population is that of one Chinese city, this is not enough. To be free, Israel must have capabilities that are disproportionate to its size and population. Otherwise it would be vulnerable to large neighbors, some of which have ten times its population and even more times its size.

        A key national interest, then, is building Israel’s disproportionate power, so that Israel can remain the dominant actor in its own neighborhood—not the only actor, of course, but the dominant actor. This power is military, political, economic, and social. And Israel does have such power—partly due to the weaknesses of its neighbors, but mostly by virtue of its own ingenuity.

        Another key Israeli national interest is an alliance with the most effective power of the day. Again, this is a function of Israel’s smallness in size and population. In the period before the creation of the state, this power was Great Britain, which provided the shelter in which the Jews built up their strength prior to 1948. Eventually, with Britain’s decline, Israel’s key ally became the United States. This was facilitated greatly by the fact that the United States is home to the largest number of Jews outside Israel, and the fact that Jews in America have flourished.

        The U.S.-Israel relationship is complex, because no two states have identical interests. Neither is it exclusive, on either side. But Israel seeks, and will always seek, a primary relationship with the greatest power in a unipolar world, or one of the great powers in a multi-polar world. Since power ebbs and flows, even at the top level, and because great powers rise and decline, a key interest of Israel, like Zionism before it, is to anticipate such changes in advance.

        Another key Israeli national interest is to prevent Israel’s enemies from forming effective coalitions against it. Israel is located in a fragmented part of the world. Although it is surrounding by hundreds of millions of people who speak Arabic and even more who profess Islam, they are divided into numerous states, sects, and tribes, many of them in conflict with one another. Israel is not the cause of these divisions—many of them are quite ancient—but it benefits from them, since these conflicts drain the power of Israel’s enemies.

        The most dangerous threats lie in those ideologies that have united Israel’s enemies despite their differences. The two prime examples are Arab nationalism in its golden era of the 1950s and 1960s, and Islamism since the 1980s. The coalitions based on these ideas work to make war with Israel thinkable, despite Israel’s preponderance of power. Israel’s interest is to undermine them and highlight their internal contradictions. Israel can bring these contradictions to the surface by military operations, peace processes and treaties, and many other strategies. But the objective is the same: never to face a large number of adversaries at one time.

        The same objective applies to the Palestinians, who constitute Israel’s nearest adversary. History has divided the Palestinians into many fragments—West Bank, Gaza, Israel, Jordan, refugee camps, diaspora. Were they unified, they could impinge on Israel’s own freedom to act. However, each fragment has its own interests, which prevents the Palestinians from forming a unified front. Historical circumstances have worked against Palestinian unity, as have certain weaknesses in Palestinian identity formation. Israel’s interest is to accommodate these divisions, by engaging separately with each Palestinian formation on the basis of its own distinct interests. In some instances, this engagement might be military, in others diplomatic.

        Finally, a key national interest is the maintenance of a high degree of internal cohesion. Israel’s Jews constitute a very diverse population, with a large immigrant component, drawn from Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. There are other divisions as well, in approaches to modernity and religion.

        It is remarkable how effective Jewish identity has been, in binding very different people to the new Israeli nation. Of course, there are many subcultures in Israel, from secular modernists to religious traditionalists, from Arabs to settlers, from the European-descended to the Ethiopian-born. It is one of the miracles of Israel—and a prime proof for the existence of the Jews as a people—that these subcultures not only coexist in peace, but cooperate at moments of war. The army itself is one of the chief mechanisms for building this solidarity, as is the democratic system.

        So how has Israel performed of late in upholding its core national interests? As far as its dominance, Israel’s military and economic power has continued to grow relative to its neighbors, especially in the aftermath of the so-called Arab Spring. Arab peoples are largely turned inward, as struggles for power and resources unfold within each country. Since these revolutions are incomplete, these internal struggles will continue, with all their economic and political costs.

        Iran seems to have suffered a setback in its nuclear program, which may be at least partly Israel-induced. Turkey has become more assertive, but it isn’t clear that there is an overriding Turkish national interest in playing that role. Israel, by building its strength, by its self-reliance, probably has as much freedom to act as ever.

        As for Israel’s relationship with the United States, while there is no chemistry between Israel’s prime minister and America’s president, and there is some friction on strategy, the relationship remains solid, and has an expanding base in large sectors of American society. The question for Israel is whether the United States will remain the greatest power, both in absolute and relative terms. No one knows whether the present difficulties of the United States, exemplified by the debt crisis, are transitory or the beginning of a gradual decline. In any event, Israel continues to diversify its ties with rising powers (of which China is one).

        The neighbors around Israel remain divided. The Arab Spring has particular potential for aggravating the Shiite-Sunni schism along an arc reaching from Lebanon through Syria and into the Persian and Arab Gulf. This would be to Israel’s advantage. But in the past, revolution has set the stage for the rise of charismatic leaders and unifying ideologies. Nasser in his day, and Khomeini in his, created ideological coalitions poised against Israel. The possibility of a populist leader emerging from the present turmoil to forge a coalition against Israel is not unthinkable. There are rising elements in each of the Arab Spring countries, including Egypt and Syria, which are hostile to Israel and linked to one another by transnational Islamism. (The Turkish leadership also has some links to them.) Israel will have to work especially hard to find the fissures in these still-weak formations and expand them.

        As for the Palestinians, they remain thoroughly divided. The Palestinians have not joined the Arab Spring, and Israel has succeeded in preserving the status quo vis-à-vis each Palestinian formation Israel faces. So far, challenges to that status quo—most recently, the cross-border attacks from Egypt—have not undermined it. The statehood maneuver by the Palestinians at the UN will be another test. How that will end, one cannot predict, but so far Israel has been very agile in preventing Palestinians from coalescing in a way that would produce, for example, another intifada.

        The internal cohesion of Israel has come under some stress, as a result of distortions that have accompanied Israel’s rapid economic growth. The protest movement under the slogan of “social justice” has had much momentum. But this hasn’t been as polarizing as past protest movements, because of its diffuse character. There have been much more polarized moments, from the Lebanon invasion to the Oslo Accords to the Gaza disengagement. Absent a serious peace process, it is unlikely that Israel’s internal cohesion will be tested anytime soon.

        During your visit, you will hear many different views. You should understand that it is our habit to express strong opinions and debate loudly. But beneath this, there is a broad consensus on what Israel needs to survive and flourish, and a long-term record of success in creating the conditions that have made Israel the strong state you see today. I hope I have given you some understanding of those deeper considerations at play.

        Martin Kramer's bio in Chinese, from the conference program.

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          Start with two Palestinians

          In an interview in February 2003, Edward Said said this:

          An outrageous Israeli, Martin Kramer, uses his Web site to attack everybody who says anything he doesn’t like. For example, he has described Columbia as “the Bir Zeit [university] on the Hudson,” because there are two Palestinians teaching here. Two Palestinians teaching in a faculty of 8,000 people! If you have two Palestinians, it makes you a kind of terrorist hideout. This is part of the atmosphere of intimidation that is McCarthyite.

          Flash forward seven years later, to last week’s formal inauguration of the new Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia University. From its website:

          Founded in January 2010, the Center for Palestine Studies is the first such center to be established in an academic institution in the United States. Columbia University is currently the professional home to a unique concentration of distinguished scholars on Palestine and Palestinians, as well as to award-winning supporting faculty in a variety of disciplines.

          So how did Columbia go so rapidly from “two Palestinians teaching in a faculty of 8,000 people!” to “a unique concentration of distinguished scholars on Palestine and the Palestinians”? Don’t be shocked, but Edward Said was out to deceive in that 2003 interview. Obviously there were more than two Palestinians back then. But I didn’t invent the nickname Bir Zeit-on-Hudson because of their number. It was meant to evoke precisely the atmosphere of intimidation—anti-Israel intimidation—that would later come to light in the “Columbia Unbecoming” affair.

          Now that Columbia boasts of being home to “a unique concentration of distinguished scholars on Palestine” (who “will have a national and global reach”), Bir Zeit-on-Hudson hardly sounds far-fetched. By that, I don’t mean a “terrorist hideout”—those were Said’s words, not mine—but a redoubt of militant Palestinian nationalism in the guise of scholarship. And I mean militant: the affiliates of the new center aren’t only engaged in the positive affirmation of Palestinian identity, but are activists in the campaign to negate Israel. This is obviously the case in regard to Joseph Massad and Nadia Abu al-Haj—their field isn’t Palestine studies, it’s anti-Israel studies—but it’s increasingly true of the new center’s co-director, Rashid Khalidi, Columbia’s Edward Said Professor, an enthusiastic spokesman for the PLO in its terrorist phase and a severe critic of the same leadership in its present phase.

          For now, Khalidi is cleverly doing what Said did with his “two Palestinians” shtick. “We have absolutely no money,” Khalidi said at the launch (attended by an overflow crowd). “What our little modest center will be able to do may be some narrow, specific things,” he reassured a journalist from the Jewish Forward. I’m not buying it, and I think that the moniker Bir Zeit-on-Hudson is too modest to convey the scope of the ambition behind this project. So I’m working on an alternative. For a preview, click on the thumbnail or here.

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