Who Threw Israel Under the Bus?
By EFRAIM HALEVY
Published: October 23, 2012
Sparring Over Foreign Policy, Obama Goes on the Offense (October 23, 2012)
Times Topic: Middle East
ON Monday, in their final debate, Mitt Romney denounced President Obama for creating “tension” and “turmoil” with Israel and chided him for having “skipped Israel” during his travels in the Middle East. Throughout the campaign, Mr. Romney has repeatedly accused Mr. Obama of having “thrown allies like Israel under the bus.”
But history tells a different story. Indeed, whenever the United States has put serious, sustained pressure on Israel’s leaders — from the 1950s on — it has come from Republican presidents, not Democratic ones. This was particularly true under Mr. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush.
Just one week before the Iraq war began in March 2003, Mr. Bush was still struggling to form a broad international coalition to oust Saddam Hussein. Unlike in the 1991 Persian Gulf war, Russia, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, decided to opt out, meaning that the United Nations could not provide formal legitimacy for a war against Mr. Hussein. Britain was almost alone in aligning itself with America, and Prime Minister Tony Blair’s support was deemed crucial in Washington.
Just as the British Parliament was about to approve the joint venture, a group of Mr. Blair’s Labour Party colleagues threatened to revolt, demanding Israeli concessions to the Palestinians in exchange for their support for the Iraq invasion. This demand could have scuttled the war effort, and there was only one way that British support could be maintained: Mr. Bush would have to declare that the “road map” for Middle East peace, a proposal drafted early in his administration, was the formal policy of the United States.
Israel’s prime minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, had been vehemently opposed to the road map, which contained several “red lines” that he refused to accept, including a stipulation that the future status of Jerusalem would be determined by “a negotiated resolution” taking into account “the political and religious concerns of both sides.” This wording implied a possible end to Israel’s sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, which has been under Israeli control since 1967.
On March 13, 2003, senior Israeli officials were summarily informed that the United States would publicly adopt the draft road map as its policy. Washington made it clear to us that on the eve of a war, Israel was expected to refrain from criticizing the American policy and also to ensure that its sympathizers got the message.
The United States insisted that the road map be approved without any changes, saying Israel’s concerns would be addressed later. At a long and tense cabinet debate I attended in May 2003, Mr. Sharon reluctantly asked his ministers to accept Washington’s demand. Benjamin Netanyahu, then the finance minister, disagreed, and he abstained during the vote on the cabinet resolution, which eventually passed.
From that point on, the road map, including the language on Jerusalem, became the policy bible for America, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. Not only was Israel strong-armed by a Republican president, but it was also compelled to simply acquiesce and swallow the bitterest of pills.
Three years later, the Bush administration again pressured Israel into supporting a policy that ran counter to its interests. In early 2006, the terrorist group Hamas ran candidates in the Palestinian legislative elections. Israel had been adamant that no leader could campaign with a gun in his belt; the Palestinian party Fatah opposed Hamas’s participation, too. But the White House would have none of this; it pushed Fatah to allow Hamas candidates to run, and pressured Israel into allowing voting for Hamas — even in parts of East Jerusalem.
After Hamas won a clear majority, Washington sought to train Fatah forces to crush it militarily in the Gaza Strip. But Hamas pre-empted this scheme by taking control of Gaza in 2007, and the Palestinians have been ideologically and territorially divided ever since.
Despite the Republican Party’s shrill campaign rhetoric on Israel, no Democratic president has ever strong-armed Israel on any key national security issue. In the 1956 Suez Crisis, it was a Republican, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who joined the Soviet Union in forcing Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula after a joint Israeli-British-French attack on Egypt.
In 1991, when Iraqi Scud missiles rained down on Tel Aviv, the administration of the first President Bush urged Israel not to strike back so as to preserve the coalition of Arab states fighting Iraq. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir resisted his security chiefs’ recommendation to retaliate and bowed to American demands as his citizens reached for their gas masks.
After the war, Mr. Shamir agreed to go to Madrid for a Middle East peace conference set up by Secretary of State James A. Baker III. Fearful that Mr. Shamir would be intransigent at the negotiating table, the White House pressured him by withholding $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel, causing us serious economic problems. The eventual result was Mr. Shamir’s political downfall. The man who had saved Mr. Bush’s grand coalition against Saddam Hussein in 1991 was “thrown under the bus.”
In all of these instances, a Republican White House acted in a cold and determined manner, with no regard for Israel’s national pride, strategic interests or sensitivities. That’s food for thought in October 2012.
Efraim Halevy was the director of the Mossad from 1998 to 2002 and the national security adviser to the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, from October 2002 to June 2003.
and please note that Qatar considered a Saudi and US ally, is not only involved in Syria, but is backing now Hamas as well, and it is to be expected that next US President will be faced with new situations in the Middle East.
among the new facts on the ground are a potential ceasefire in Syria for the Eid-al-Adha holiday as announced in Cairo by U.N special envoy to Syria the Algerian Lakhdar Brahimi – who by the way just also ended the contact with the spokesman for his Syria Mission – the Arab League favored Ahmad Fawzi.
Qatar’s Emir Visits Gaza, Pledging $400 Million to Hamas.
Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister, drove the emir of Qatar in Gaza City on Tuesday.
By JODI RUDOREN
Published: October 23, 2012
JERUSALEM — The emir of Qatar on Tuesday became the first head of state to visit the Gaza Strip since Hamas took full control of it in 2007, the latest step in an ambitious campaign by the tiny Persian Gulf nation to leverage its outsize pocketbook in support of Islamists across the region — and one that threatened to widen the rift between rival Palestinian factions.
The emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, pledged $400 million to build two housing complexes, rehabilitate three main roads and create a prosthetic center, among other projects, a transformational infusion of cash at a time when foreign aid to the Palestinian territories has been in free fall. The sheik, his wife and the Qatari prime minister led a large delegation that entered Gaza from Egypt and sped in a convoy of black Mercedes-Benzes and armored Toyotas through streets lined with people waving Qatari and Palestinian flags.
“Today you are a big guest, great guest, declaring officially the breaking of the political and economic siege that was imposed on Gaza,” Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister, told the emir and his cohort as they sat on sofas in a white shed in the southern town of Khan Yunis, where they plan to erect 1,000 apartments. “Today, we declare the victory on this siege through this blessed, historic visit.”
In the West Bank, allies of Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, who has struggled to preserve his own legitimacy, warned that the visit set a dangerous precedent of Arab leaders’ embracing Mr. Haniya as a head of state and thus cleaving the Palestinian people and territory in two. “We call on the Qatari prince or his representative to visit the West Bank too!” blared a headline on an editorial in the leading newspaper Al Quds.
The visit signaled just how much the region had changed for Hamas since the advent of the Arab Spring. Where Egypt under President Hosni Mubarak once allied with Saudi Arabia to squeeze Hamas by keeping the border largely closed, Egypt under a new Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, opened the crossing to allow the Qatari ruler through. But the visit also reflected the unique foreign policy that has allowed Qatar to straddle competing worlds, bankrolling political movements like Hamas, deemed a terrorist organization by the United States, while maintaining strong links to Washington.
Sheik Hamad, who has ruled Qatar since 1995, has gradually transformed the tiny nation into a regional powerhouse, relying on its immense wealth to extend its influence. That has been especially true in the past two years, as Qatar has played decisive roles in the revolutions in Libya and Yemen and the isolation of the Syrian government.
Qatar allied with the West in helping oust Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya, while financing Islamists on the ground. In Egypt, it has close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. In Syria, it provides cash and weapons to Islamists battling President Bashar al-Assad, and at the same time it hosts a large United States military base that affords it protection in a volatile neighborhood.
“Qatar is a secure little kernel with huge resources that has chosen to use those resources in foreign policy,” said Paul Salem, director of the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Center. “They have no constraints. They can take any position anytime anywhere.”
But eight months after Doha, the Qatari capital, hosted the signing of a reconciliation agreement between the Hamas leadership and Mr. Abbas, the deal has not come to fruition in the form of national elections. On Tuesday the emir’s visit drove a deeper wedge between Hamas and Fatah, the party of Mr. Abbas, and raised alarm in Israel.
Hamas has refused to reject violence or recognize Israel, which also considers it a terrorist organization, and has struggled lately to control more militant Islamist groups within Gaza. Since the uprising began in Syria in March 2011, Hamas has closed its offices in Syria, its primary patron, and tried to establish a close and direct connection to Mr. Morsi of Egypt, who was a leader within the Muslim Brotherhood before his election.
Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, declared that the emir had “thrown peace under the bus,” noting that his visit came a few hours after an Israeli soldier was severely wounded when a bomb exploded along the border with Gaza. Southern Israel has faced what he described as “a steady drizzle of rockets” in the last few weeks.
“It helps Hamas entrench themselves in Gaza, not to yield one inch to the P.A., and enhancing the division and the reality of two de facto states,” Mr. Palmor said. “Most of the money that he’s pouring in Gaza will go to Hamas pockets, directly or indirectly. You think that will encourage them to hold national elections?”
The Qatari projects dwarf the roughly $300 million in foreign aid that analysts estimate Gaza receives annually. They come as international donations to the Palestinian Authority have nose-dived, from a peak of $1.8 billion in 2008 to less than $700 million this year, according to a World Bank report. The shift is part of a broader financial crisis that has caused the delayed or partial payment of government salaries three months running, the focus of violent street protests in the West Bank last month.
Nathan Thrall, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, said a critical question was whether rumored visits to Gaza by other regional heads of state would follow Qatar’s. He said that Cairo’s role in brokering the visit was an important signal in the evolving relationship between Gaza and Egypt, and that Hamas was hoping it would help reverse the so-called “West Bank-first model of attempting to promote prosperity in Ramallah and austerity in Gaza.”
“The message that Hamas wishes to convey is ‘We are the future; the P.A. is disintegrating,’ ” he said. “The argument Hamas is hoping to make is that this is the beginning of a sort of Gaza-first model: Arabs ignoring a failing P.A., and supporting Gaza with sums of money that Europeans, even if they wanted to, couldn’t match.”
The six-hour visit ended with a large rally at the Islamic University in Gaza City, where the emir and his wife received honorary doctorates.
Speaking at the university, he called on Palestinian leaders to repair their rift, which he said “was more painful than the Israeli aggression” and left them “without peace negotiations or a resistance and liberation strategy.”