The Middle East
is a breeding ground for pernicious rumors, and the predicted policies of a US president-elect are great grist for the rumor mill.
The number one horror story making the rounds is that Robert Malley, former (or once and future) adviser to Barack Obama had meetings with Syria, Hamas and Egypt and did or did not promise them different things in an official or unofficial capacity. This rumor has been confirmed, denied
, confirmed partially, ad nauseum
. On this tenuous base, anxious friends of Israel have built an edifice nightmarish of speculation.
If anyone is cosying up to any countries on behalf of Obama, it is, in a way, a violation of Obama's dictum that there is only one president at a time. Nonetheless, that sort of thing, however regrettable, is done. It is the way of the world. We may never get to the bottom of those rumors. But the rumors are less important than what Barack Obama will actually do once in office, and who he will appoint to responsible positions in government.
If Malley is going to have an important role in Middle East affairs it may be bad not only for Israel
, but for the United States and for everyone in the Middle East
. This is true regardless of whether you are a Zionist, an anti-Zionist, an Arab or an American citizen concerned for American interests. It is not a matter of bias necessarily, but one of judgment.
Malley is not a novice in foreign affairs. He played a role in the Camp David negotiations. He should know the ropes. He should be capable of producing programs that are realistic, even if we disagree with them. But in 2002, Malley co-authored, with his side-kick Hussein Agha, an article
about a peace plan that looks like it might have been written by a somewhat backward teenage blogger who was never in the Middle East, let alone state department service. The major points of this plan are:
* The United States will force a peace plan on the Israelis and the Arabs.
* The plan will include a swap of territory, in which Israeli Arabs are forcibly transferred to the Palestinian state. Somehow, this is supposed to implement Palestinian Right of Return. Palestinian refugees will also be settled in this area. Five million refugees in the little triangle of Umm El Fahm. Perhaps they will build lots of skyscrapers. The refugee gets to "Israel" but presto change-o, Israel becomes Palestine!
* As the piece de resistance
for Americans, the plan will be enforced by an international force, presumably made up primarily of US soldiers.
Not since the infamous and ill-advised Clean Break
document perhaps, have any out of office Middle East pundits put together anything so divorced from reality. The virtue of this plan is that it will make everyone sore at the United States, and make American citizens sore at their government. Nobody is going to stand for an imposed solution. Israeli Arabs are not interested in being "transferred" or "swapped" to any Palestinian state. This idea, which is also a part of the plan offered by MK Avigdor Lieberman, is considered racist. Palestinians aren't going to like the idea that right of return is not really implemented. Americans are going to just love the idea of sending troops to keep the peace, right? That worked out really well in Iraq, didn't it? Mr Malley forgot that "if you break it you bought it. That means that if they force a plan on the sides and, for example, the Hamas
do not like it, then the USA must be responsible for the consequences. Hamas consequences are generally explosive. So the US will send more and more troops, and the Hamas and their Iranian bosses will be only too happy to oblige their passion for peace by blowing them to bits as the Hezbollah
did in Lebanon. If Mr Obama wants to play an active role in fixing the Middle East, he better have advisers who know enough not to come charging in like Americans in an Iraqi museum.
As if that was not enough, the ever imaginative Uzi Mahnaimi tells us (as usual, from "a source close to") that the United States is going to force the Saudi Peace Plan (as reinterpreted by Mahnaimi or the source close to Obama) on the Israelis.
Obama intends to throw his support behind a 2002 Saudi peace initiative endorsed by the Arab League and backed by Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister and leader of the ruling Kadima party.
The proposal gives Israel an effective veto on the return of Arab refugees expelled in 1948 while requiring it to restore the Golan Heights to Syria and allow the Palestinians to establish a state capital in east Jerusalem.
On a visit to the Middle East last July, the president-elect said privately it would be "crazy" for Israel to refuse a deal that could "give them peace with the Muslim world", according to a senior Obama adviser.
Whether or not Obama actually intends to push this plan, there are a few errors in the above:
1. The Arab Peace Initiative doesn't give Israel veto power over return of refugees.
2. As the name implies, the Arab Peace Initiative is ARAB and not Muslim. It was adopted by the Arab League, an organization that does not include non-Arab Muslim countries such as Iran. It is even doubtful that the member states of the Arab League all agree about what would constitute fulfillment of the conditions of this vague plan, or that countries like Libya would recognize a Jewish state in any borders or under any conditions.
3. It is not at all certain that Zippy Tzipi Livni really supports the plan in the interpretation offered by Mahnaimi or Obama or the "source close to."
4. The beauty of the Arab peace initiative from the Arab point of view, is that it has no operative mechanism. When Israel said "let's talk about it," the reply of the Arabs was that there is nothing to talk about. Israel fulfills the plan, and then the Arab states can decide or not decide to keep their end of the bargain. If Obama tries to make it into a real plan of action, he will find that it is not so easy to get agreement among the Arab states.
Before we get all excited about this, remember that Uzi Mahnaimi is infamous for manufacturing canards from whole cloth. It was he who perpetrated the hoax about the Israeli "ethnobomb" that kills Arabs but not Jews, and it was he who announced a few times (based on information from "sources close to...") that Israel was about to invade Iran.
Remember too, that Mr. Obama is not in office yet, and hasn't done anything. Right now, all we can do is point out the dangers and folly of some of these ideas and hope they aren't true.
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