Abbas Ruins Israel-Palestine Peace Negotiations

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Most issues regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are two-sided, but the recent action of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to create a “unity” government with the terrorist group Hamas has buried any potential peace deal with Israel in the foreseeable future.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has expressed that there will be no negotiations with a government working with a terrorist organization, especially Hamas.

Palestinian officials claim that this new coalition government will strengthen Palestine through unity. President Abbas has claimed that a coalition government and peace with Israel are not incompatible. At the same time, President Abbas has claimed this new unity government is not one specifically with Hamas, but will be a government of independent representatives with no direct party affiliation and will renounce violence. In other words, the new government will be a coalition with Hamas covered with a blanket of technicalities under the pretense that the Palestine people desire it.

After the announcement of the new coalition government, the leader of Hamas in Gaza said outright that the group has no intention of discussing peace with Israel. The very core of Hamas is to eradicate Israel and all of its citizens. The terrorist group controls the Gaza strip and has sent over 10,000 missiles into Israel cities.

Many claim that a united Palestine will allow for peace, when it does come, to be implemented and maintained. Those on the other side of the argument claim that there is no way Hamas would allow for Israeli peace while the group exists, even more so if they have legitimate power within the Palestinian government.

The United States has openly opposed the action by President Abbas but has tried to keep the peace negotiations alive until the set deadline of the 28th. Due to the fact that the US labels Hamas a terrorist organization, it is unknown what the future holds in terms of US aid to Palestine. In the past, a Hamas-Fatah alliance has failed; perhaps this time it will again and/or will be heavily weakened by lack of US aid or possibly even limited sanctions.

Israeli-Palestinian peace is dead once again, killed this time by President Abbas and Hamas. Now the question on everyone’s minds is how long it will be until negotiations are revived, if they are revived at all.

Doomed From the Start: Palestine Peace Talks Fail

Kerry_NetanyahuOnce again, it appears that progress toward a lasting settlement between Israel and Palestine has ground to a halt. On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that his government would take retributive action–most likely to be manifested in economic sanctions–against the Palestinian Authority for its decision on Tuesday to pursue further international recognition by ratifying fifteen United Nations treaties. In turn, Palestinian officials claimed that their government adopted these treaties in response to Israel’s failure to follow through with its planned release of 26 Palestinian prisoners. Under the current round of negotiations, which is due to expire on April 29th after nine months of intermittent talks orchestrated by Secretary of State John Kerry, Israel agreed to release 104 Palestinian convicts in four groups in exchange for Palestine’s promise to not unilaterally seek further international recognition. Suffice it to say that both sides have amply broken their word and returned to the tit-for-tat strategies for which these two adversaries are notorious.

To add insult to injury, the failure of negotiations brought simmering tensions within Prime Minister Netanyahu’s cabinet to a boil. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni–Israel’s chief negotiator and a political moderate–accused Housing Minister Uri Ariel–a member of the far-right Jewish Home party–of attempting to sabotage the talks by announcing plans for over 700 new settler homes in East Jerusalem. Although settlement construction continued during negotiations, Israel promised “restraint” on this front–a promise that the Housing Minister’s announcement rendered untenable.

The swift unravelling of these talks in the final stretch of negotiations reveals three distressing realities. First, very little has been achieved in the past eight months of talks–Palestinian negotiators are eager to make this fact known–what’s more, both sides’ willingness to walk out on all prior progress with only weeks to go indicates that said prior progress is hardly worth keeping on the table. Second, both parties lack the will necessary to produce a lasting accord: not only do political leaders on both sides not feel any exigency to bring about an agreement; they often profit personally from the unresolved state of affairs. Third, Secretary Kerry has made a complete fool of himself by prioritizing Israeli-Palestinian peace; by dithering in an intractable conflict with no prior indication of success, Kerry diverted precious time and attention away from China, Russia and turmoil-stricken Arab states. Despite the political capital to be made by running one’s mouth about Israel, let this failure serve as a valuable lesson to all future administrations: keep Israel-Palestine at arm’s length until the leaders of both factions are truly in need of an agreement. Forcing détente down the throats of those leaders who have no appetite for it will only dash the hopes of the millions who earnestly desire peace–and squander American resources in the process.

A New Direction for Democratic Foreign Policy

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There are certain fundamental ideals upon which the basic foundation of the Democratic Party is built. The notions of promoting equal opportunity and social justice, requiring the most successful and fortunate citizens to occasionally contribute more than others to ensure the collective advancement of the populace, and utilizing the regulatory hand of government as a check against chaos and injustice, all are manifested in the party’s characteristic responses to fundamental political issues. These policies have defined Democratic doctrine since 1964, and likely will continue to shape the mindset of future liberal leaders for generations to come.

The ideological accord of the Democratic Party, therefore, while occasionally offset by internal plurality borne of differing regional and individual perceptions, is a potent unifying force. However, there are exceptions. Most notably, questions relating to American foreign policy have proven historically divisive, conducive to the formation of strange alliances among interventionists, advocates of engagement and diplomacy, and staunch isolationists, rather than along traditional red and blue lines.

Furthermore, changing circumstances may alter lawmakers’ responses to foreign policy challenges. For example, many Democrats supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq but did not vote to authorize additional funding, while certain leaders who condemned the use of drone attacks by the Bush administration changed positions upon the ascension of the pro-drone Obama. Indeed, the global landscape is constantly evolving, and thus can never truly be considered through a static, narrow viewpoint. The danger of strictly adhering to a particular doctrine is evident in the failed US policies under the Johnson administration, when events in Vietnam were seen only in the context of the Cold War-era Containment Doctrine; this misinterpretation of nationalistic ambitions and strategic consequences led to the loss of millions of lives, the erosion of diplomatic and military credibility, and the inability of the government to effectively address pressing domestic issues. Why, then, should elected leaders’ foreign policy perspectives be limited by a potentially ideologically constraining political platform or doctrine? Would it not be better to allow these individuals to independently interpret the benefits of particular responses to situations as they develop?

I wish to assert that the answer to this question is unequivocally “No.” In short, while limiting leaders’ ideological freedom through partisan directive is undesirable in a nation founded upon a reverence for free thought, the benefits of allowing a powerful political organization in the world’s only superpower to rally behind a centralized series of foreign policy ideals could have monumental implications for the accomplishment of internationally beneficial goals. The key, however, is determining in which situations American ambitions coincide with those of other world actors, and how the party could therefore promote domestic objectives through globally-oriented initiatives.

What foreign policy principles or ideology, however, would warrant a comprehensive endorsement from an ideologically diverse Democratic Party? The answer, rudimentary but certainly impactful, is the promotion of international peace. By definition, this ultimate goal produces a situation in which a) existing armed conflicts are markedly mitigated, b) international organizations meant to promote cooperation possess the legitimate power to initiate and facilitate negotiations between belligerents, c) world powers are disincentivized from promoting the continuation of hostilities, and d) there exist systems of accepted international norms to which at least a strong majority of nations adhere. In a peaceful world, the potential for volatility certainly remains, but the mechanisms for defusing these situations and larger benefits of not exacerbating hostilities outweigh any potential for conflict that may arise.

Why would this policy be in the interest of the United States? In the global community, a dedicated commitment to preserving peace would not only be seen favorably by allies who may now question American intentions (i.e. Pakistan), but may additionally begin to reestablish some of the international trust eroded by decades of Cold War interventionism and neoconservative influence. And while nations would have reason to distrust American ambitions in the promotion of peace, those who would be most wary could actually stand to benefit the most. For example, the cessation of hostilities between Saudi and Iranian proxies in the Middle East would eliminate a constant threat to oil exports; and even failed talks would open previously nonexistent lines of communication between polarized parties. Moreover, China would likely be surprised by a legitimate American diplomatic outreach involving the seemingly selfless promotion of renewed regional economic relations. The goal would be for China to eventually view America as a partner in shared ambitions for promoting trade and diplomatic discourse, rather than a threatening hegemonic presence. Ultimately, the long run benefits would be self-evident; the potential strategic losses of sacrificing some military influence overseas would be more than offset through the cultivation of mutually beneficial political and commercial alliances.

Domestically, the external effects of promoting peace are likely to prove correspondingly significant. The continual erosion of civil liberties through NSA espionage and the threat of domestic drone use show the makings of an increasingly authoritarian society; however, achieving the long-run objective of promoting engagement rather than militarism would provide an avenue by which basic rights could be protected without threatening national security. Furthermore, increased international cooperation would hypothetically limit the necessity of a continued global American armed presence, and would legitimize the possibility of further defense budget cuts. Lastly, Eisenhower’s conception of the military-industrial complex allowing special interest groups to exert political influence in times of security threats holds true today. As strategic threats have proven conducive to undue corporate power, a commitment to peacefully addressing threats would serve to benefit the national political culture and society as a whole.

But what political party would not seek the previously described objective? Contrary to some perceptions, influential governmental factions have indeed sought to sow the seeds of conflict to serve political, economic, and ideological goals for decades. The passage of the 1998 Iraqi Liberation Act, as well as Ronald Reagan’s interventions in Latin America and arming of the Afghan mujahedeen illustrate policies seeking to do just this. Furthermore, aggressive sanctions against Iran and covert actions against Al Qaeda targets will undoubtedly increase the possibility of future hostility.

Taking these factors into account, how, then, can Democratic lawmakers utilize their influence as a means of promoting international peace? This is the fundamental question that must be addressed in order for any truly unified Democratic foreign policy to be legitimized. From my perception, legislators can and should begin by undertaking the following:

  1. Fully support any initiatives offering support to the United Nations. While Republicans may gripe about potential infringements upon American sovereignty and the organization may be condemned as ineffective, the UN remains the most influential and inclusive global agency promoting cooperation and peace, and America, as the world’s sole superpower, has the responsibility to ensure the UN’s military viability.
  2. Support diplomatic outreach rather than aggressive policies, but leave the diplomacy up to the diplomats. Earlier, I wrote about how if America is to engage Iran in meaningful dialogue, it must ensure that Israel is not incensed by these actions, for risk of upsetting the regional strategic dynamic, not to mention increasing the chances of armed conflict. However, that balancing act is not the problem of Congress, but rather Mr. Kerry and his staff –instead, lawmakers must ensure that any drastic plans such as imposing additional sanctions upon Iran are immediately scrapped.
  3. Open, rather than close diplomatic windows. Recently, many officials have expressed that they would be open to ending the diplomatic embargo of Cuba that has been in place for over fifty years. At the same time, it is easy to criticize Russia, China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, for various governmental policies and actions, but in almost all circumstances, American support rather than condemnation would be well-received and could prove valuable in future enterprises.
  4. Expand congressional oversight of war powers. This is simple: with conflict and threats come more executive authority and the possibility of sanctioning actions that are not consistent with legislative intentions. However, if Congress is allowed to oversee and check and potential abuses of power, covert drone strikes and interventions could be eliminated as sources of international friction.
  5. Increase foreign aid, but not to belligerents. Particularly in Africa, where in Sudan and the Congo-region states have engaged in bloody civil war that is just recently beginning to draw media attention, America has the possibility to play the role of both peacemaker and developer; however, individually picking a side in any particular conflict will not prompt anything but additional strife.
  6. Be realistic rather than moralizing. Humanitarian abuses in Syria and Darfur are detestable, and leaders should face intense diplomatic pressure to address these domestic crises; however, America has neither the right nor the responsibility to determine which situations necessitate humanitarian military interventionism. Unless it has the backing of the international community, any unilateral measures can prove dangerous.
  7. Dispel any concept of preemptive strikes as necessary tools of alleviating particular difficulties. Every action has an equal, and often more violent and uncontrollable reaction, and therefore the long-term diplomatic and strategic ramifications of military involvement are often unpredictable.
  8. Work with non-governmental organizations seeking to promote peaceful objectives. Groups like J Street, for example, can serve in a liaison capacity between the Democratic Party and Israeli pro-peace institutions, allowing American lawmakers to attain a better conception of how their legislative actions could impact global politics.

As the College Democrats’ Foreign Policy Team Leader for the second semester of this year, I will seek to use our organization’s available resources to orient the team towards promoting the aforementioned political goals. I understand that Democratic foreign policy has in the past been diversified by ideological plurality; however, I truly believe that codifying a set of objectives for which the party as a whole should strive would provide a unique opportunity for activists and lawmakers alike to influence and direct America’s role in the global community. Currently, the President and majority of Senate seats are Democratic; however, this window will not last forever. To legitimately promote global harmony through the legislative means, the work must begin now. And with the Georgetown College Democrats Foreign Policy Team, we have a place to start.

The Saudi-Israeli Relationship: Cause for Optimism or Worry?

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Sun Tzu’s famous proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” has become a well-worn cliché in discussions of international political interactions; however, no other phrase as accurately and succinctly describes what has become a predominant, and to an extent inevitable, diplomatic trend. Such is particularly seen in the Middle East, where religious ideology, political history, competing strategic claims, and often-paradoxical economic relationships have produced an incessantly dynamic diplomatic spectrum. The most recent, and potentially most surprising illustration of this trend is the newly forged military partnership between Israel and Saudi Arabia, an alliance whose inception is largely the product of collective fears regarding the threat of an Iranian nuclear presence in the region. From the perspective of the United States government, this cooperation could have equally advantageous and detrimental effects upon regional stability and the prospects for future alleviation of inter-state tensions. Thus, Secretary Kerry must approach this potentially volatile situation cautiously, taking into account the motivating factors behind key regional players in order to formulate a solution conducive to the interests of both America and its allies in the Middle East.

The fact that Israel and Saudi Arabia are concurrently threatened by the prospect of a nuclear Iran is no revelation in itself. Israel has for decades come into ideological, economic, and on occasion, physical conflict with the Islamic Republic, while the Saudi-Iranian relationship has severely deteriorated as of late, with the religiously opposed, economically competitive bloc leaders arming warring factions in the Syrian conflict. The difference now, however, is the extent to which this shared threat has prompted previously unseen cooperation between the states. In response to a potential nuclear disarmament agreement between the United States and Iran, Israeli and Saudi military leaders are reportedly coordinating plans for a potential joint strike against Iran if they perceive such an action to be warranted by Iranian nuclear intentions. According to a London Times source, Riyadh has authorized Israeli utilization of Saudi airspace in the event of a planned attack on Iranian targets, and has offered to cooperate through the use of helicopters, refueling craft, and drones. “The Saudis are furious,” this source said, “and are willing to give Israel all the help it needs.”

The contemporary motivations behind this cooperation between former hostile nations are obvious; the evolution of Israeli-Saudi relations, however, is indicative of a larger trend that could produce more impactful long-term political ramifications. While Saudi Arabia has, as recent as seven years ago, imposed complete boycotts on Israeli products and has advocated the withdrawal of Israeli occupants from Palestinian territories seized in 1967, recent years have seen both nations come to recognize their interests as largely coinciding rather than conflicting. According to Wikileaks, Mossad and Saudi intelligence have collaborated on a number of intelligence projects, particularly regarding Iran, and in October, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu held high level talks with Saudi and other Gulf state representatives, declaring afterward, “We hope that our common interests and common challenges will help us forge a more peaceful future.”

The factor that has ultimately prompted this unusual partnership has been stability. Following the Arab Spring, which rather than ushering in Western-aligned secular democracies in areas such as Egypt and Syria, instead prompted destabilizing conflict and gave rise to previously dormant movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS, Israel perceived Saudi Arabia as, in the words of New York Times writer Nicholas Kulish, a “beacon of stability” in the turbulent region. Indeed, Israel accepted a sale of German tanks to Saudi Arabia in July 2011 following the Sunni state’s suppression of popular revolts both within its own borders and in Bahrain, illustrating the Netanyahu administration to perceive the necessity of preserving Saudi stability in all circumstances. Furthermore, claims that Iran had been supporting the uprisings may have prompted Israel to consider repression of Shia movements in Saudi Arabia an effective means of preventing the expansion of Iranian influence.

Ultimately, the recent cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Israel is unlikely to dissipate even if the Iranian situation is defused peacefully. The nations have realized, after years of heated rhetoric and overt animosity, that in a rapidly changing Arab World, they are two of the most stable and regionally influential players, strategically linked by a common threat but also by the prospects of future viability through mutual defense and continued military and economic ties with the United States. Secretary Kerry called Saudi Arabia the “senior player” in Arab politics, highlighting American commitment to the Saudi regime but also underscoring the fact that relations between states with common interests in the Middle East will likely only continue to strengthen in the future.

Israel and Saudi Arabia’s recent partnership may, however present diplomatic problems for the United States in the Middle East, particularly regarding President Obama’s attempts engage Iranian President Rouhani in discussions on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Netanyahu has openly asserted plans to reject any US-Iranian agreement calling for the lessening of sanctions, declaring, “Israel is not obliged by this agreement and Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself and the security of its people.” Saudi leaders have echoed these sentiments, and have been openly supportive of the potentiality of a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities; indeed, according to Wikileaks, King Abdullah has for years been lobbying America to consider the use of force against Iran. Yet what is particularly frustrating for American policymakers now are the deliberate efforts of this new coalition to advocate opposition to any proposed peace agreement between Iran and the P5+1 powers. French President Francois Hollande recently visited Israel, where he reaffirmed earlier insistence upon the necessity of more stringent nuclear demands in order for an agreement with Iran to proceed, and Netanyahu met with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to urge Russian hesitancy in granting what considers the “deal of the century” for Iran.

Understandably, efforts to sabotage what has been a primarily American-driven diplomatic initiative with Iran have been met with displeasure by US officials. According to Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jarida, President Obama chose to not answer several phone calls from Netanyahu’s office on November 17, a claim that both leader’s offices have since denied. However, while Secretary Kerry has been understandably tactful in his stance toward the incensed Israeli leader, offering, “Nothing that we are doing here, in my judgment, will put Israel at any additional risk,” he also indefinitely postponed a visit to Israel that had been planned for Friday, potentially illustrating a widening ideological schism between the staunch allies regarding perceptions of a nuclear agreement.

This is where Israel’s recently strengthened strategic ties with Saudi Arabia come into play: because the Saudis have reportedly agreed to cooperate militarily with Israel in the event of direct action against Iran, including permitting utilization of Saudi airspace, Israel would no longer be relying solely on American tactical assistance in planning and executing a hypothetical military operation. Unlike in the past, when Israel faced the prospect of flying over hostile Iraq in order to reach Iranian targets, the clear path that the Saudi government is offering means that hypothetically, Israel could undertake a strike not only without American support, but without American knowledge of the plan. Israel certainly does not wish to make an enemy of its most dedicated backer America; however, as evidenced by Netanyahu’s declaration that Israel “will do everything it needs to defend itself,” the Israeli-Saudi diplomatic shift may allow Israel the option to undertake actions, if perceived to be necessary, that would previously have been impossible.

The recent developments in the Saudi-Israeli relationship have created a predicament for American foreign policy. Secretary Kerry must proceed with the present initiative to engage Iran in nuclear negotiations, an endeavor that if successful could not only prove a defining moment in President Obama’s diplomatic legacy, but could also eliminate a significant source of regional and global tensions. However, he must concurrently consider the interests of two key allies, and the fact their strategic partnership may lessen the importance of Israeli dependence upon the United States for tactical, logistical, and political support. US policymakers may choose to ignore the potential ramifications of this changing dynamic, forging ahead with nuclear negotiations in the hope that it may prove to the concerned parties that diplomacy can and will achieve its desired goals. Yet Washington must also remember that a newly emboldened Israel, with Saudi support, can and will strike Iran if it believes such an action to be necessary and justified, and the regional destabilization and potential war brought about by such an action would be the worst possible scenario for this situation.

Thus, Mr. Kerry must not scorn Israeli leadership or express frustration with the threatened Jewish state, but should instead take advantage of a new alliance in the Middle East that could potentially establish a framework for a lasting cooperation pact or peace agreement between two former adversaries. Expanding ties between Israel and Arab states can only lessen the probability of future conflict, although obviously such cannot come at the price of provoking war with Iran. Thus, America must continue to promote the burgeoning Israeli-Saudi alliance as a source of cooperation while remaining committed to what must continue to be its foremost goal in the region: peace.