Needed Preliminary Steps on the Road to Middle East Peace
Last month President Barack H. Obama, in his first State of the Union address, admitted that his Middle East policy as pertains to the Israel-Palestine conflict has been a failure. Iran's continued rejection of all western diplomatic offers demonstrates graphically that President Obama's policy of engagement likewise has been a dismal failure. Nearly three-quarters of a year ago, this writer suggested that Obama follow a different course in order to achieve his goals.1 Despite being awarded the Nobel Peace prize, it's time to for the White House to recognize that peace requires more homework than either the president's team performed, or did the team of his predecessor, despite genuine good intentions on the part of both groups. After all, we are talking about the Middle East, where history is measured in millennia and not in single years or decades.
A large part of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is exacerbated by the extremist position of the Palestinian Moslem Brotherhood, aka Hamas, which categorically denies any and all legitimacy to the State of Israel and continually declares its intention to eradicate the Jewish state, a goal stated clearly in its charter.2 Similarly, strife between Israel and its northern neighbor Lebanon has been provoked by the activities of the Shiite resistance organization Hezbollah, whose cross-border attack on an Israeli army patrol sparked the three week Lebanon War of July 2006. Both Hamas and Hezbollah receive training, financial support and huge amounts of arms and explosives from their benefactor and patron, the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has been gripped by an unprecedented level of social ferment for the last eight months since the fraudulent election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a second term of the presidency. Despite the problems at home, the regime has cranked up its aid and supply to Hezbollah and Hamas, the recent dramatic discoveries of weapons smuggling including the mid-January 2009 unidentified air-strike in the northern Sudan on a truck convoy smuggling arms into Egypt for transport to Gaza3, the January 20, 2009 search of the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea by a combined U.S.-Egyptian naval task force searching for the Iranian freighter M/V Monchegorsk, aka M/V Iran-Hedayat renamed en route as the Panamanian-registered M/V Famagustus loaded with an estimated 60 tons of arms meant for Hamas in Gaza4, the January 23, 2009 boarding of an Iranian freighter flying the Cypriot flag with weapons discovered in its hold, bound for Latakia, Syria, the cargo either intended for Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon5, the sinking in the Red Sea of an Iranian vessel transporting arms to Gaza in mid-April 20096, and most dramatically, the Israeli capture of the Antigua-flagged freighter M/V Francop, carrying hundreds of tons of Iranian arms bound for Hezbollah via Syria7.
The preceding short list of interdicted Iranian arms shipments to Hamas and Hezbollah should serve to make it crystal clear that the Ali Khamenei regime of Iran is actively pouring fuel on the fire in the conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians as well as that between Israel and the Lebanese who are being held hostage by Iran's proxy, Hezbollah8.
As any firefighter knows, the first thing to do in fighting a fire is to cut the oxygen and fuel supplies that are feeding the inferno. It's time for Obama and the State Department, as well as the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Lady Catherine Ashton, to visit Texas and take a lesson from the ghost of legendary oil-well firefighter "Red" Adair in how to put out fires: cut the fuel supply! If one wants to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict, cut off the fuel to the terrorists that have been torpedoing every attempt to bridge the gaps between the opposing parties. And today it is the Iranian regime that is supplying the gasoline to intensify the flames of conflict.
With Iran itself in flames due to the courageous supporters of the "Green Revolution" that now seek to finally end the three-decade nightmare of radical Islamic theological rule that has engulfed Iran, the U.S. and the E.U. should be doing the utmost to support the Iranian people's attempt to bring about regime change9. Specifically it's time to apply a very strict regime of sanctions against Iran10-cutting off everything other than food and medicines. The argument that such sanctions only hurt the people but not the regime is faulty as these sanctions are meant to cause the lower classes to turn against the regime for its mismanagement of the oil wealth. The recent vote of the Iranian Majlis (parliament) to end a three-decade old program of subsidies for food and fuel11 has already caused the level of discontent to rise dramatically12. Strict sanctions and embargoes of Iran will ratchet up the pressure on the Iranian economy to the point where the working class will be fed up with a regime that spends its wealth on building nuclear weaponry, suppressing its citizenry13, and financing world-wide terrorism14. From the beginning of the protests the street demonstrations regularly repeat the chant "Na ghazeh na lobnan janam fadai iran"-"Neither Gaza nor Lebanon is our business; no to Gaza and no to Lebanon. Iran is our business, and I give my life for that!"15-indicating the popular displeasure with the Iranian regime's support of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Hizballah-Iraq. Although it has been clear to the Iranian resistance movement for years, the popular press is now reporting that at best 10-15% of the Iranian population supports the current regime16.
Given the information just sited, it should be clear that any regime change in Iran that removes the theocratic mullah regime and its valeyat-e faqih (rule of the Islamic jurisprudent) doctrine would not only be an improvement for Iran itself, but would put a stop to the exportation of Khomeinism (i.e., Islamic revolutionary fundamentalism). Hezbollah/Hizbullah-Iraq would wither for a lack of funds and direction, and Hamas would find its threat capabilities severely diminished for lack of funding and supply of weaponry. With these Iranian proxies removed or seriously curtailed, the Palestinian populace would have a chance to decide whether or not it wants genuine peace with Israel.
However, there remains another hurdle to cross before peace can become a realistic goal. It applies to both parties to the Israel-Palestine conflict, but there is a greater problem currently on the Palestinian side. I am referring to the problem of corruption. The Palestinian electorate didn't vote for Hamas in 2006 because it wanted to be governed by sharia law, but because it was thoroughly disgusted with the endemic corruption of Fatah. Despite the trouncing that Fatah took at the polls in 2006, it has done almost nothing to reform itself in the meantime. Baqshish (bribery) is the order of the day, and forget about accountability or transparency17. As a result, Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority, peopled as it is with Fatah fat-cats, has little popularity with the average Palestinian. Until that situation changes, Islamic radicals will be able to seduce the average Palestinian voter to support Islamist parties that promise justice, law and order18.
Although Israel doesn't suffer the degree of corruption that does the Palestinian Authority, it too, could benefit greatly from greater transparency and accountability19. Too many political figures in Israel operate under a cloud of suspicion of financial misdeeds20.
There remains another area that must be encountered before peace talks have any chance of success. I refer to the subject of incitement. Predominantly a problem from the Palestinian side21, but not exclusively so22, incitement to violence against the other remains a critical barrier to peace. Although the "Roadmap" of 2003 discussed the need to end incitement23, non-compliance by extremists (on both sides) has prevented progress in traveling the map which originally envisioned a completed solution by 200524.
When the above mentioned steps have been implemented, then honest parties on both sides of the conflict will be able to find ways to make the necessary compromises to bring about a solution agreement that lays the groundwork for genuine peace and cooperation. But if these steps are disregarded or sidestepped, peace will remain just as elusive as it has been for the past sixty-two years.
Rabbi Daniel M. Zucker is founder and Chairman of the Board of Americans for Democracy in the Middle-East, a grassroots organization dedicated to teaching our elected officials and the public of the dangers posed by Islamic fundamentalism and the need to establish in the Middle-East genuine democratic institutions that promote the dignity of the individual as an antidote to the venom of fundamentalism. He may be contacted at contact@ADME.ws.
1 "Solving the Iran Problem Could Help Solve the Palestinian Problem, but not Vice Versa", http://www.worldsentinel.com/articles/view/102662, May 17, 2009.
2 See Articles 6, 7, 13, 14, and especially 15 and 28 of "The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), August 18, 1988, http://www.mideastweb.org/hamas.htm.
3 Michael R. Gordon & Jeffrey Gettleman, "U.S. Officials Say Israel Struck in Sudan", The New York Times, March 26, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/27/world/africa/27sudan.html?_r=1, and Robert Mackey, "The Sudan Airstrike Mystery", The New York Times, March 26, 2009, http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/26/sudan-airstrike-mystery/.
4 Debka, "US-Egyptian Red Sea hunt for Iranian ship carrying 60-tons of arms for Hamas", http://docstalk.blogspot.com/2009/01/us-egyptian-red-sea-hunt-for-iranian.html, January 23, 2009.
5 Debka, "US Warships Board Iranian Ship Carrying Arms For Hamas", http://patdollard.com/2009/01/us-warships-board-iranian-ship-carrying-arms-for-hamas/, January 24, 2009.
6 Al-Usbu, "Report: 'Iranian ship sunk while bringing weapons to Gaza'", http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=210123, April 26, 2009. See also:
Haaretz Service, "Iran arms ship bound for Gaza downed near Sudan", Haaretz, April 27, 2009, http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1081215.html.
7 Yossi Melman, "ANALYSIS: Arms ship seizure just another battle in the secret war with Iran", Haaretz, November 5, 2009, http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1125896.html.
8 Elias Bejjani, "Extinguish Lebanon's Inferno before it Burns You", Global Politician, January 28, 2010, http://www.globalpolitician.com/26198-lebanon, and Ibid, "Shiite Lebanese are fleeing Hezbollah's ministate", Global Politician, January 22, 2010, http://www.globalpolitician.com/26180-hezbollah-lebanon.
9 Saba Farzan, "Iran's Revolution Devoured By Its Own Children", Wall Street Journal, February 9, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704820904575054810881353520.html?mod=googlenews_wsj.
10 Mehdi Kaliji and J. Scott Carpenter, "America and the Iranian Political Reform Movement: First, Do No Harm", The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, February 3, 2010, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/templateC07.php?CID=512. For video of their presentation before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs,, see: http://www.internationalrelations.house.gov/hearing_notice.asp?id=1148.
11 Gregg Carlstrom, "Iran's parliament approves controversial subsidy reforms", The Majlis, January 14, 2010, http://www.themajlis.org/2010/01/14/irans-parliament-approves-controversial-subsidy-reforms.
12 Djavad (Salehi-Isfahani), "A good time for goodbye to subsidies", Tyranny of numbers, January 16, 2010, http://djavad.wordpress.com/2010/01/16/a-good-time-for-goodbye-to-subsidies/#more-647.
13 Ali Alfoneh, "The Basij Resistance Force: A Weak Link in Iranian Regime?" (Policy Watch # 1627), The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, February 5, 2010, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/templateC05.php?CID=3171.
14 Brian Binley, "BINLEY: Iran revolution needs support", The Washington Times, February 9, 2010, http://washingtontimes.com/news/2010/feb/09/new-revolution-needs-support-of-sanctions/.
15 Afshin Ellian, "Iranians Want Regime Change", Wall Street Journal, December 30, 2009, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703510304574625713733452476.html. Also see the following videos: "No to Gaza No to Lebanon, I die for Iran", Tehran, September 17, 2009, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozU5KTSyh7c&NR=1, and "No Gaza, no Lebanon just Iran", June 15, 2009 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSpG7EH6yrA.
16 Amil Imani, "Empowering Iranians", Arutz Sheva, January 14, 2010, http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/9260. See also: Jerry Guo, "Iranians Tire of Ahmadinejad's Nuclear Push", Newsweek, October 5, 2009, http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/wealthofnations/archive/2009/10/05/iranians-tire-of-ahmadinejad-s-nuclear-push.aspx, and Dieter Bednarz & Eric Follath, "The Iranian Regime's Fear of the People-The Beginning of the End?", Der Spiegel, January 5, 2010, http://www.sanfranciscosentinel.com/?p=55168.
17 Ed Rettig, "The New Fatah Charter, 'Long Live Palestine: Free and Arab'", AJC Weekly Briefing on Israeli and Middle Eastern Affairs, February 3, 2010, http://www.ajc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=ijITI2PHKoG&b=1717407&ct=7982403&msource=IMPACT13&tr=y&auid=5893885.
18 Khaled Abu Toameh, "Corruption will let Hamas take W. Bank", The Jerusalem Post, January 29, 2010, http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=167194.
19 Ron Friedman, "Israel ranks 32 in global corruption index", The Jerusalem Post, November 18, 2009, http://220.127.116.11/search?q=cache:pHUeHIA7WFwJ:www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite%3Fcid%3D1258489190747%26pagename.
20 Haaretz service, "Poll: 90% of public believes Israeli leadership rife with corruption", Haaretz, October 6, 2008, http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasen/spages/991476.html, and Ze'ev Segal, "Olmert indictment sounds alarm on Israel corruption", Haaretz, August 30, 2009, http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1111127.html.
21 Peggy Shapiro, "Palestinian Hate-Education Continues", American thinker, April 2, 2008, http://www.americanthinker.com/2008/04/palestinian_hateeducation_cont.html, and Brooke M. Goldstein, "Can Hamas Make Sesame Street Sweet?", The American Spectator, October 12, 2009, http://spectator.org/archives/2009/10/12/can-hamas-make-sesame-street-s.
22 Haaretz Service, "West Bank rabbi: Jews can kill Gentiles who threaten Israel", Haaretz, November 24, 2009, http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1126890.html.
23 U.S. Department of State, "Roadmap to Solution of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict", America.gov, April 30, 2003, http://www.america.gov/st/washfile-english/2003/April/20030430134837relhcie0.3930475.html.