Obama-Netanyahu: What’s the deal?

24 May

Obama-Netanyahu: What’s the deal?

Has President Obama’s reception of PM Netanyahu form a constructive dialogue, a rift, an insult, an honest discussion, a small disagreement among friends and allies, a reaffirmation of the US-Israel strategic relationship? It all depends who you ask, and not that you’re asking, but below I offer a few reflections.

Obama’s speech.

Israelis took objection to a number of points in Obama’s speech.

From an Israeli perspective, Obama gave the Palestinians the crux of what they would presumably receive through negotiations—“The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps”—at a time when Palestinians are refusing to negotiate.

Two, By adopting the 1967 lines as a US platform, Obama further transformed this position into the opening foray of potential negotiations for Palestinians rather than the end result of a negotiating process.

Three, Palestinians are less likely to rejoin a negotiating process where they will be expected to make their own concessions if they are able to extract Israeli concessions through Obama outside the negotiating process.

Four, in Netanyahu’s perception, as expressed at the join press conference on Friday, a “full” withdrawal to the 1967 lines, even with swaps, is not acceptable since it would leave Israel incapable of properly defending its people. As to the last point, Netanyahu could be posturing in an attempt to reset the middle ground on the issue of borders. But he could also be genuine in expressing Israeli policy while he is in office, which means the US position runs counter to Israeli security interests as Netanyahu perceives them.

At Friday’s press conference, and presumably in the Oval Office, Netanyahu pointed out that Israel’s War of Independence created two refugee problems, as roughly the same amount of Jews and Arabs fled their respective opponents. The President’s speech on Thursday took into account only “the fate of Palestinian refugees.” Meanwhile, the Palestinian demand to “return” these people to Israel along with millions of their descendants is nothing short of demographic destruction from an Israeli point of view. Netanyahu took umbrage that Obama was very specific with what Israel will have to accept as part of a settlement, but did not “state frankly what everyone knows” regarding Palestinian refugees, that they and their descendants will have to remain outside of Israel.

Since these were the issues put forward by Netanyahu at the press conference, we can assume they were the primary sticking points in the Obama-Netanyahu meeting at the Oval Office. We can also assume that there were significant areas of agreement as well, such as on Iran and other matters of security cooperation.

However, the media seized on the points of tension to cover the speech through the lens of a US-Israel rift.

Netanyahu’s press conference did not help with this perception. Netanyahu could have presented the same Israeli positions as points of general agreement rather than disagreement. Obama’s speech had enough positive elements to accomplish this.

For example, Obama stated, “As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat.  Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security.” Netanyahu could have couched his intention to keep Israeli forces along the Jordanian border within the context of what Obama said above instead of voicing this position as a disagreement with Obama’s insistence on “full” Israeli withdrawal.

Even a full withdrawal is conditional on Palestinian security cooperation. Israel could try to raise the expectations of what is acceptable security cooperation.

While Obama did give credence to the issue of Palestinian refugees, it can be reasonably concluded that the US position does not support a Palestinian “right of return.” Obama’ expressly supported “Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people.” Netanyahu was fair in pointing out that there was also a Jewish refugee problem, but he could have forcefully agreed with Obama that Israel must remain “a Jewish and democratic state,” which is why Palestinian refugees and their descendants will remain outside of Israel. In other words, the issue of refugees is not one of disagreement, but one of agreement as Israel understands it.

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. The Palestinians did this in February, when they put forward a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity, lifting the language from Secretary Clinton’s recent statements. While the US vetoed the resolution due to its one-sided nature, it was made harder since they were essentially vetoing their own expressed positions. While Netanyahu must be careful not to misconstrue Obama’s words, his same points could have been made using a different tone and approach. Let’s remember, press conferences are for public consumption, and the primary goal is to posture effectively.  Netanyahu is one the few Israeli leaders who understand media savvy, so perhaps his focus on setting the record straight was more calculated than I imply.  Still, it seems that a different tone would have been more effective.

(By the way, I am not sure how much spin could have salvaged the issue of 1967 lines. However, by voicing the other positions as points of agreement, 1967 lines would have become the only point of obvious contention.)

Finally, Obama gave Netanyahu an easy out. Obama’s language could have been stronger (as it was during his follow-up speech at AIPAC on Sunday) but he did say that the Fatah-Hamas pact is an obstacle to negotiations. The Israelis can now emphasize their agreement with the US that Palestinians are preventing negotiations.  Netanyahu did take advantage of this at the press conference.

Palestinian reaction.

Hamas rejected the speech outright. Palestinian President Abbas, head of the rival Fatah faction, was disappointed for his own reasons, although chose to withhold public comment.

The Palestinians have not been on the same page as the US for a while now. By brokering a unity deal with Hamas and insisting on declaring Palestinian statehood through the UN, Abbas has sidelined the US.

What explains this seemingly counterproductive pursuit?

Palestinian President Abbas is at an age where he cannot continue to lead much longer, as he himself acknowledged. As a result, he is thinking more about his exit strategy and legacy than about an arduous negotiating process.

With Netanyahu’s government in charge, he figures he cannot maximize Israeli concessions. Besides, a newly resurgent Hamas (a side effect of the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise in the Egyptian revolution) would make proper negotiations impossible. By ushering a detente with Hamas, he would leave a less divided Palestinian body politic upon his departure.

The declaration of statehood at the UN is meant to embolden Palestinian public opinion and enhance international pressure on Israel at a time when negotiations are not desirable. Palestinians know that real statehood can only come through an accord with Israel, which only the US is in a position to broker, but the symbolic victory at the UN can be achieved now. There is some speculation that Palestinians may seek to invoke the United for Peace resolution by which the UN Security Council is bypassed and a binding resolution is enacted by the General Assembly with the help of Arab and Islamic states. However, this is unlikely to succeed (see in depth analysis by Robbie Sabel here). The ultimate purpose is to strengthen the Palestinian position in the court of public opinion and enhance international standing.

The US is clearly unhappy about this, and Obama’s speech made that point clear. However, Abbas likely figures that US aid will continue unabated, or be replaced by the Europeans in the worst case scenario. As for US-Palestinian diplomatic relations, they will resume where they left off once Palestinians are ready to negotiate. At that time, however, the Palestinians will be in a stronger position vis-a-vis the Israelis.

Netanyahu at joint session of Congress.

As I write this, Netanyahu is addressing the a joint session of Congress. I’m on a train, and will hear the speech only later, but I can presume the following.

I expect that Netanayhu will reiterate Israel’s stance on the 1967 lines, but generally take a positive tone, emphasize close US-Israel ties, and focus on areas of agreement. Congress is perceived as more favorable to Israel than Obama’s Administration has been at times. By focusing on the positive, Netanyahu would separate his disagreement with Obama as one between two leaders rather than one between two nations whose close relationship is defined by mutual trust and cooperation.

Addressing a US Joint Session of Congress is an opportunity few leaders are granted, and Netanyahu is unlikely to have another such opportunity himself. Mere platitudes about close US-Israel ties would waste this opportunity. He has to say something big, which is why I suspect he will unveil his own peace initiative. But even here I wonder what can he say that would add anything new to the conversation. At the very least, he can deflect criticism from the Israeli Left by showing initiative and presenting a plan, however stillborn, rather that merely reacting to events.

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

David Bratslavsky analyzes US foreign policy and the Middle East. He studied politics, language and religion in Washington, D.C., Tel Aviv, Cairo and Jerusalem. Become a Facebook fan. Follow on Twitter.

Israel Cannot Get a Break

17 May

Guest Blog: Israel Cannot Get a Break
by Jess Sadick

Indulge me for a moment while I tell you something you already know too well.

Israel never seems to get a break, even on its birthday.

This week, on what Arabs refer to as al-Nakba (Catastrophe) Day, Arabs in Syria and Lebanon amassed at Israel’s border.  Some of them set upon cutting down the border fence while others were content just with trying to climb over it.  There was little reaction from the media, other than to predictably focus on the dozen or so Arabs said to have been killed, by whose gunfire remains unclear.  Reports are that Lebanese, not just Israeli, soldiers fired.

But the impetus for this column lies in other distasteful events of late that seemed not to go Israel’s way.

We start with the U.S. Administration, which not surprisingly managed even to bungle its traditional Israel Independence Day greeting.  President Obama could not help but seize the occasion to show the requisite balance and objectivity.  In the same sentence in which he called Israel a “close ally,” Obama said he hoped to see the “legitimate aspirations” of all of the region’s people fulfilled, alluding of course to the Palestinians.  There was no compelling reason why, on this particular occasion, Palestinians needed mention.

Secretary of State Clinton’s Independence Day message was no better.  She called Israel a “young nation” and “a beacon of hope and freedom “for so many” around the world.  “For so many” sounds like she is referring to Jews only.  Do not Israel’s many achievements in its relatively short life thus far serve as inspiration for all people around the world and not just “for so many?” Certainly, some will find this nit-picking.  But such speeches are carefully prepared, with every word having specific meaning and intent, sometimes purposefully hidden.  Clinton’s choice of words was a way to sound, perhaps without really meaning to be, sincere.

This also seemed the intent of France’s Ambassador for Human Rights, Francois Zimeray, who delivered a speech to members of the American Jewish Committee in Washington on May 1.  Zimeray started off by saying that some who address such audiences pronounce themselves a friend of Israel but then have only criticisms of it to share.  When Zimeray then insisted that he was a friend of Israel but really meant it, I knew what was coming next would not be good.

Zimeray then proceeded to treat Israel as a child, telling it what to think and do and suggesting it is paranoid.

“We have to tell the Israelis that the changes in the Middle East are positive and good things,” he said, effectively suggesting that Israel’s caution is misplaced.  “One has to show the Israelis the positive aspects of Middle East change.”  With the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Islam on the rise in post-Mubarak Egypt and in Syria, how is Zimeray so sure that the changes unfolding are no cause for concern?  Doesn’t Israel know its neighbors best?  After all, its survival depends upon it.

Most outrageous was Zimeray’s suggestion that Israeli Jews do not yearn for peace.  He said, “Israel often asks where is the next Arab Sadat,” meaning who among Arab leaders will next visit Jerusalem in a sincere effort to forge peace?  But, then he asked, “Where is the Jewish Sadat?” as if to suggest Israeli Jews, themselves, do not sufficiently aspire for peace.  In fact, there are more than 5.5 million of them!

Zimeray didn’t stop there.  He insisted that expecting Palestinians to recognize Israel – a key demand of the current Israeli government before peace talks can proceed – is “impossible for them at this moment.”  And he implied that Israel’s fears and concerns are not legitimate but stem, instead, from irrational paranoia:  “Sometimes Israel acts as if it has no friends.  We have to tell the Israelis that they are [a] legitimate [state]…. Israel needs to wage the battle for world public opinion.”

Zimeray should be part of that battle and should be telling his Arab interlocutors at every opportunity that Israel is a legitimate, permanent member of their region and the world.  It’s the Arab countries, not Israel, that need to hear it, and it should not be Israel’s job alone to convey it.  If Zimeray is the “friend of Israel” he professes to be, he should be helping Israel to make its case to the Arabs and everywhere he visits.

Speaking of Zimeray’s travels as France’s Ambassador for Human Rights, an AJC event program listed Iraq as the only Arab country Zimeray has visited.  Has Zimeray not found it necessary to investigate first-hand the continued deprivation of human rights in places like Syria and Saudi Arabia, where human rights are violated daily and without consequence?

I wish I could say that I would have expected better from the Frenchman.

Jess Sadick, a social media entrepreneur in Washington, DC, is a former Middle East terrorism analyst at the U.S. Department of State and Federal Bureau of Investigation and Editor of www.ClearedCommunity.com.

Middle East expert Dr. Walid Phares speaks

12 May

Interview with Middle East expert Dr. Walid Phares
by David Bratslavsky

 
I was recently in Washington D.C. and had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Walid Phares. He is an American scholar born in Beirut and frequent commentator on global terrorism and developments in the Middle East. Dr. Phares has testified before committees of the US Departments of Justice, Defense, State, Homeland Security, as well as Congress, UN Security Council, and the European Parliament. He is a frequent contributor to publications on international affairs and author of eleven books, the latest of which is The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East.

What follows is a summary of our interview.

Q: What is the impact of bin Laden’s death?

A: It’s going to be a “game changer” that transgresses geopolitics and political division.

Number one impact is the US relationship with Pakistan. For bin Laden to be in a conspicuously fortified compound near a Pakistani military academy so close to the capital indicates that there was a shielding of bin Laden on some level within the intelligence apparatus of Pakistan. I personally project (unless proven wrong) that the government was not shielding him, but “there are segments of the national security apparatus within Pakistan which allowed this to happen.”

Although, a new theory is now emerging that segments of Pakistan’s ISI was in fact containing bin Laden in a type of house arrest. But up till what level in the intelligence and defense establishment it was covered, that we’ll have to discover. For it would be illogical that the top leaders pf the People’s Party in the cabinet would have endorsed a shielding of Bin Laden, as his group, the Taliban and the Jihadists in general were waging a terror campaign against them. In any event, the Pakistanis must have known at least of his presence inside Pakistan while svery few people knew of his presence there.

Q: What happens next?

A: Congress and the Administration are going to initiate a review of the relationship with the Pakistanis.

In this review I am calling for two things:

The Pakistani government must reform its intelligence services. Government policy is already on the right track. However, the ISI has a historically sympathetic relationship with Islamists in general and al-Qaeda in particular, which remains in some capacity today. As part of the reform, more action on al-Qaeda and Taliban in Pakistani territories is required.

US foreign policy must better identify and deal with the long term strategic threat to the US and the region. This analysis should clarify for the US that “there are two species of jihadis.” On the one hand there are the Salafists, al-Qaeda being the most extreme, and on the other hand is Iranian Islamism. I call on the US government administration to “start developing a national security doctrine which will see the threat as it is and not as it wants it to be.”

Q: How is the media in the Middle East reporting bin Laden’s death?

A: There are several kinds of media. Pro-Jihadist and Salafist media on the web and certain shows on Al-Jazeera are clearly anti-American. They are calling this an attack against Islam. The spin on bin Laden’s death is that he “wanted to die as a martyr” and “this will not change the course of al-Qaeda.”

For the most part, Al-Jazeera, although influenced by a Muslim Brotherhood-type outlook, is not making an issue of bin Laden’s death. They are making an issue of Pakistani sovereignty. They’re also advancing the point that now that bin Laden is dead, there is no reason for the US to be deployed in the region.

Q: How popular is this mindset?

A: Even if this viewpoint is not the majority, it is often the most vocal. We see this phenomenon in general with respect to Islamic fundamentalism. While civil society is generally moderate, the extremists are the most organized and the best equipped. I made the case for this in my last book, The Coming Revolution, which was published before the revolutions, in which I said that eventually all these societies are going to stand up. But at the same time, because they are not organized, “those who will harvest the revolution are the Islamists.” We see that now everywhere, including in Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Q: Do we have a clear understanding of these dynamics in the West?

A: Many in Washington and the West have a bifurcated outlook. Some focus almost exclusively on the Islamist element and others focus almost exclusively on moderate civil society. We need a better analysis. What we have seen are truly popular revolutions on the onset. The Islamists on their own would not have been able to get hundreds of thousands into the streets. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt did not show up until the third or fourth day. At the same time, the tidal wave of popular outrage is then co-opted by more organized Islamist elements whose aim is to take over the leadership. The West and the United States in particular have to be smart in understanding these forces, in understanding who controls what.

We need to partner with the right people. Within Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Jordan, and even to some degree the Arabian peninsula, the US must determine what are the pro democracy and civil society elements in those societies.

Q: Why has the American establishment analysis been clouded in your opinion?

A: Over the past many years, the body of  experts serving the US foreign policy establishment “have not given the administration, the president, and Congress the right expertise.” In my book, Future Jihad, I describe how our academic expertise and the national security analysis that is derived from it is compromised. Most of those who give academic advice come from the universities, whose Middle East departments are funded to a large degree by petrodollar regimes with strings attached. Thus, we have generations that have been raised in the classroom with the ideas of apology for jihadism. In sum, this explains why the President and Congress did not have from their experts the right information on either the threat or the democracy forces in the region.

The bigger change has to be done not in the Middle East but here in Washington.

Q: Should the US have gone into Libya?

A: With the exception of genocide, there is no single principle by which to decide whether to enter a conflict. The other exception is helping defend an ally if we’re bound to do so by treaty. There is a ground to help the Libyan civil society defend itself against brutal oppression but at the same time the forces seeking democracy have to be identified clearly 

Q: Is the conflict in Libya a revolution or a tribal conflict?

The jury is still out on this. In the beginning these were popular demonstrations against Qadaffi inspired by Tunisia and Egypt. The response by the regime was so sharp and violent that it encouraged members of the armed forces to break away and join demonstrators from their tribe or home town who were harmed in Qadaffi’s response. When you have a split army fighting each other along tribal lines, it’s a civil war.

We know Qadaffi is a bad guy, but we must also understand who is there to replace him. In my analysis, the core of the revolution in Libya is made up of former diplomats, bureaucrats, military personnel, and intellectuals. However, a wide swath of rebels is made up of Islamist-inspired militias. The concern is that if this conglomeration of groups reach Tripoli, the Islamists “would overthrow the others and then declare a Taliban or Muslim Brotherhood inspired state.”

Q: Do you believe economic sanctions will dissuade Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon?


A: “Sanctions are not a policy, they are tools of a policy.” To change the course of the Iranian regime, additional pressure must accompany sanctions. Sanctions worked against South Africa and may work against Syria along with other measures,  given the nature and interests of those countries. Iran, on the other hand, is interested in becoming a regional empire and a few sanctions will not dissuade them.

I am not even sure that more pressure will alter Iran’s course. Ultimately, what may required is regime change.
Some hold that they are against regime change in Iran because such change is accomplished through military action. Since they are against military action, by extension they oppose regime change.

But when we say regime change, it does not necessarily entail military action. The military option is for instances when national security is concerned. The other option, which I propose in my book, is to support the popular movement against the regime.

Q: Do you believe that the current US Administration failed to do this so far? 

A: “The Administration is not yet there.” They were given a great opportunity in June 2009 when 1.5 million people marked for reform in the streets of Iran. The beauty about it is that 60% of them were under the age of 20 and half of all demonstrators were females. This is unusual. When you have young protesters of both genders who are not proposing fundamentalism as a solution, you are in business with moderate civil society.

The Obama Administration did not go for it and I do not see in Washington a real change of direction yet. We’ll see a real change when the narrative, speeches, expertise, behavior, and funding priorities will change.
Q: Iranian public opinion surveys, to the degree that they are accurate, show a wide support for pursuing nuclear development. The issue is seen as a matter of national pride and defense across the political spectrum. Will a more moderate regime alter nuclear development given the popular base of support for it? 

A: If Iran was Italy or Poland, one would worry less about it seeking a nuclear segment of the economy or even a nuclear deterrent because those countries are committed to democratic ideals and norms.
Iran is a regime which has a stated goal to destroy Israel. To this effect, they support Hamas and Hezbollah and threaten use of missiles and gas. A nuclear weapon in the hands of such a regime is extremely detrimental to regional stability and to the West. What we need to see in Iran is not just a change of regime but of the political direction of that regime.
Currently, nuclear development is one way of expressing their national pride. Were they a practicing democracy, the Iranian regime would be focused on what to do with oil revenues, labor unions, and other quotidian concerns about the welfare of their citizens. In such an environment, Iranian nuclear ambitions could then be negotiated and they will likely find more productive ways of expressing their national dignity.

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Ukraine provides a good example, since at one point it had nukes. It left the Soviet orbit and is developing as a democracy. The basis of their pride now revolves primarily around economic development.

The Iranian alternative, the Green movement, is another Iran. If this Iran takes over, I would be less inclined to see Iranian nuclear development as posing a problem. But if, say, another president replaces Ahmadinejad, this is not true reform. We need to see change at the level of Khamenei—not an Islamic republic, but just another democratic republic.

Q: Switching our focus for a moment, how will the recently announced Fatah-Hamas unity government affect prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace?

A: First issue is how will the alter the Palestinian scene itself. It is unfortunate that Mahmoud Abbas accepted the deal of unifying Fatah and Hamas without even asking Hamas to reform. They have killed hundreds if not thousands of Palestinians in Gaza. In my opinion, Mahmoud Abbas has done a poor evaluation of events after the Egyptian revolution. He figured the Palestinians are not getting much from the Israelis and the United States is busy with other matters. These are legitimate concerns. The reaction to this was to go to the opposite pole of their position and join with Hamas.

What factored into this decision? The Egyptian revolution has brought the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to have a significant influence on the Egyptian military, which is now going to be more supportive of Hamas, and MB offshoot. Also, since Hamas is going to be supported by a Sunni regional power, they are expected to move away from Iran. The thinking was that if Fatah connects with Hamas, they will be at equal distance from the Egyptians. This is a big mistake because in Egypt there will be a struggle between MB on the one hand and the moderates on the other. The military will aim to survive and maintain the dollars coming from the US. Palestinian interests are not their primary concern.

My view is that the military is allowing this level of MB influence for peculiar reasons. The MB has a lot of embarrassing information on the military establishment about their financial involvement in the Egyptian economy. As a result, the military is trying to establish an understanding with the MB while keeping an equal distance from the United States. The military does not fear distancing from Israel because it does not receive any tangible support from them. With respect to maintaining peace, the US will anyone come and moderate between the US and Israel because it is important to them.

In short, Egypt will not be as important a partner as the United States for the Palestinians. Mahmoud Abbas should have instead built a direct relationship with the United States, and that would have been his guarantee to continue negotiations with the Israelis. As for the original question, my feeling is that Hamas will eat the PLO and not the other way around in this instance.

Q:  Does that change European policy?
The Europeans are divided. We have the classical more “progressive” Europeans who will continue to be with Hamas, albeit in a very limited way. There are also Europeans who are concerned with the rise of Islamism worldwide. The politics in Europe are moving slightly right, while the political establishment remains tilted to the left. In other words, the majority of the elites in Europe are on the progressive/left while the majority of the public is going in another direction. At some point there will be a political clash within Europe. That is why official Europe considers Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood as acceptable partners, but the emerging Europe will be very different.

David Bratslavsky comments on US foreign policy and the Middle East.  Follow StreetSmartPolitics on Facebook and Twitter.

What really bothers London?

7 May

What really bothers London?

What really bothers London?
by Adi Schwarts

How come the UK is more concerned with issues of human rights in Israel, than in Syria, Libya or Egypt?

The British Foreign Office published at the end of March its annual Human Rights and Democracy report for 2010. One could have imagined that due to the tremendous ongoing turmoil in the Arab world, Britain would prioritize promoting human rights issues exactly there. The whole world’s eyes are fixated since last December not only on the cruel brutality of Arab autocratic regimes facing huge demonstrations, but also on the decades-long systemic violations of basic human rights that sent so many millions of people to the streets in the first place.

But it seems that the British Foreign Office has a different agenda.

Most of the official document is dedicated to 26 “countries of concern”, but Egypt, for example, is not one of them. It is the most populated Arab country, with paramount regional importance. It is also a place where tens of thousands of people were arrested and tortured by virtue of the draconic emergency law enacted in 1981, and it is where the ruling party managed to get more than 80 percent of the votes in the elections in December 2010. But Egypt is apparently not concerning enough, and does not merit a chapter of its own.

The few references to Egypt appear in a handful of paragraphs, and all in all there are no more than 778 words dedicated to the country. Would the 846 Egyptians that lost their lives in the uprising write the same report?

And who are the 26 countries that do bother Britain? One of the most prominent of those is Israel, with a long and detailed chapter (2,918 words). A bit less worrying apparently is the situation in Syria, the same one which Bashar Assad is currently flooding with rivers of blood (2,647 words). Even less worrying is the situation in Libya, where according to Western officials more than 10,000 people lost their lives, some of whom were shelled with cluster bomb by the Kaddafi regime (1,772 words).

Israel and Colombia are the only democratic states among the 26 “countries of concern”. The report is very careful not to criticize any other Western or democratic state, despite many human rights violations by them in 2010, such as killings of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan by the American army, the inhuman conditions in which immigrants and asylum seekers are held in Greece, the deportation of thousands of Roma from France, and so on. None of these, it seems, bothers Britain.

The document has a very brief and gentle reference to the Guantanamo detention camp. Regarding a British resident held there, Shaker Aamer, the document politely states: “Ultimately, any decision regarding Mr Aamer’s release remains in the hands of the US government”.

The report states in its introduction that “it is not an exhaustive list, nor should it be seen as a league table”. Nonetheless, someone in the Foreign Office had to decide which countries to include in it. Someone also had to decide how elaborate and detailed should every chapter be. And after all this decision making process, the British Foreign Office concluded that Israel is worth a much longer discussion than Syria, Libya and Egypt.

In order to understand better the rationale behind this thinking, I approached the British Embassy in Tel Aviv with a few questions:

1. Why is Israel considered a “country of concern”?
2. Since Israel and Colombia are the only democratic countries in the report – is Britain not concerned by human rights violations in any other democratic country?
3. How come there’s more on Israel in the report than on countries with far worse human rights record?

The Embassy ignored the second and the third questions, and sent the following response to the first question: “The featured countries of concern are those countries where we had the most serious and wide-ranging human rights concerns during 2010, but it is not an exhaustive list. When deciding on which countries to include, we also considered whether highlighting that country could have broader positive impacts in the wider region should their human rights record improve”.

It is hard to know if Britain fully understands how severe a blow to its reputation is a report that treats Kaddafi and Assad in a lighter way than it treats Israel. What is crystal clear, however, and is even worse, is the harm done to the justified cause of fighting for human rights. If remorseless leaders such as Kaddafi and Assad are of less concern to London than Israel, then who will hold them accountable?

If someone really wanted to promote the cause of human rights, he would write a totally different document.

Adi Schwartz is a journalist, author, and editor.  He is a Monocle Magazine correspondent in Israel and also blogs on www.adi-schwartz.com.

Bin Laden

2 May

OSAMA BIN LADEN IS DEAD

US Navy Seals shot bin Laden in a mansion in Abbottabad and recovered his body.  It was confirmed through DNA analysis that it was in fact bin Laden.  It appears that a US helicopter went down near the scene of the operation.  However, President Obama confirmed that no Americans were harmed.

Interestingly, the following spot was marked as Osama’s compound on Google Earth:


Link to map: http://bit.ly/jsgckO (updated picture)

Pakistani TV has a picture of Osama dead:

Is this picture genuine?  American special forces most likely took photographs, but I find it difficult to believe it would be released to Pakistani TV.  Then again, perhaps only a picture can adequately satisfy doubts about Osama’s death, and the US officials could have made it available for this purpose.  If in the US some wonder if Tupac and Biggie are still alive, how much more so would bin Laden’s death be questioned in a region rife with conspiracy theories?

Several thoughts:

1) Osama bin Laden will be seen as a martyr in some parts of the world.  As a symbol of martyrdom bin Laden is less damaging than as a symbol of anti-American success.

2) This helps President Obama tremendously. But for how long?   George H.W. Bush’s immense approval rating in 1991, after victory in the first Gulf War did not ensure election success in 1992.

Bush (Sr.) approval ratings 1989-1992

3) Difficult to determine if Pakistan’s ISI (spy agency) was helpful or not, in spite of Obama’s official remarks.  Osama bin Laden spent his days in a city of 80,ooo+ people, in mansion with a government university to the east and a police station 800 feet away to the west, and the ISI didn’t know he was there from the beginning?

David Bratslavsky analyzes US foreign policy and the Middle East. He studied politics, language and religion in Washington, D.C., Tel Aviv, Cairo and Jerusalem. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Interview with Gil Hoffman of The Jerusalem Post

15 Apr

Interview with Gil Hoffman of The Jerusalem Post

Interview with Gil Hoffman, Chief Political Correspondent for the Jerusalem Post
by David Bratslavsky

Gil Hoffman is the chief political correspondent and analyst for The Jerusalem Post. I met him in Cincinnati, where he spoke on recent developments in the Middle East. What follows is a synopsis of our interview together (4/5/2011) with the full audio transcript. (Note: Audio was edited due to phone interruptions, but contains full responses) .

Q: Netanyahu, Abbas, and Obama all agree in theory on the need for peace through a two-state solution. Why is there currently no progress on this issue?

A: America mishandled the peace process. Obama thought that pressure on Israel with regards to settlements, including those settlement that would remain as part of Israel under proposed agreements, would make the Palestinians more willing to make concessions. This policy backfired by creating a confrontation with Israel and making Palestinian demands less conciliatory, since Abbas could not be seen as demanding less than the US. Even though America has backed down from its demands, the Palestinians never did. The other reason Palestinians do not come to the negotiating table is that the international community gave indications that Palestinian statehood may be recognized at the UN General Assembly even without a negotiating process toward peace.

Q: What will restart the peace process?

A: The world must make clear to the Palestinians that the only way to achieving statehood is at the negotiating table and that Netanyahu is willing to go a lot farther than they may think if given the opportunity. The Palestinian Authority may need another election, currently schedule for September, before progress can be made.

Q: Is progress at the negotiation table possible while Israel’s settlement policies continue?

A: Settlements are not the issue. Israel froze construction for 10 months with little effect on Palestinian willingness to negotiate. Negotiations are necessary to determine boundaries. At that point it will be clear where each party can build housing. Israel and the Palestinians were negotiating since 1993. Only since settlements were made the primary issue by Obama did Palestinians start using it as a pretext not to negotiate.

Q: The peace process is predicated on a “land for peace” formula. If Abbas in the West Bank cannot guarantee peace and Hamas will not guarantee peace from Gaza, what is Israel’s incentive to consider further land concessions?

A: Netanyahu made clear that one of the conditions for statehood is that the area would be demilitarized under the supervision of the international community and that Palestinians would recognize Israel as a Jewish state to denote a complete end of the conflict. The arrangement necessitates a leader on the Palestinian side that could enforce this. Currently in Gaza this is not the case. In the West Bank it’s debatable.

Q: What can you tell us about Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman?

A: I cannot share personal opinions on the issue since I cover internal Israeli politics and must remain objective. As leader of the second largest party in the coalition Lieberman chose the Foreign Ministry portfolio. He has made clear that Israel can make concessions only to a genuine partner on the other side, which he believes Abu Mazen (Abbas) is not. Israel’s last election was during a war which helped propel Lieberman’s popularity. Currently his influence is “negligible.” He is not involved with the negotiations or the US-Israel relationship, instead focusing on improving Israel’s relationship with Eastern Europe, Africa, and South America.

Q: The removal of Mubarak from power in Egypt has allowed all segments of Egyptian society, including the Muslim Brotherhood, to participate in the formation of a new government. What is likely to be the nature of the new Egyptian government and how will this affect Egypt’s relations with Israel?

A: Israelis are concerned that the Muslim Brotherhood will win Egypt’s parliamentary elections, allowing them to reorient policy away from the West and toward Iran. Israel now sees the potential to be invaded from all sides at the same time, a situation it did not have to deal with for the last 30 years. And yet, if Egyptians elect a moderate leadership, it will be better for both countries.

Q: What do you make of Egypt allowing two Iranian warships to pass through the Suez Canal, which hasn’t happened since 1979, and the foreign minister reestablishing diplomatic relations with Iran? Do these actions signal a reorientation of Egyptian priorities vis-a-vis the West?

A: “This is a transitional period. Egypt is led by a temporary government, and I wouldn’t look too closely at what they’re doing right now.”

Q: Is there a diplomatic and/or economic solution to Iran’s nuclear development?

A: The world has tried several approaches thus far. The political approach was hindered by Iran’s undemocratic elections. The diplomatic approach of reaching out to Iran’s dictators at the expense of their people did not bear fruit. Now the world is in the middle of an economic approach with sanctions. It is possible it could work if the sanctions are tightened, better enforced, and come with a credible military threat. If Iran’s leaders are told that what’s happening in Lybia—air campaign without boots on the ground—can happen in Iran, the economic approach may work and there will not be a need for military action.

Q: Does US action in Libya stretch America’s military even further, thereby undermining the credibility of a military option against Iran?

A: Never underestimate the power of the United States. They led the campaign against Libya for two weeks and handed responsibility off to NATO. American now has more strength. Also, they are well positioned on the Persian Gulf.

Q: How will the action in Libya affect Israel?

A: Libya and Israel are unrelated matters. There is a concern in Israel that American resources that should be in reserve to counterbalance Iran are being used in Libya, there is enough American power to go around.

Q: A column published in The Jerusalem Post put forward the theory that Europe will aim to please the Arab street by putting pressure on Israel as a way for diverting anger from the Arab street for attacks on Libya.

A: Europe will pressure Israel no matter what. What’s happening in Libya is unrelated to Israel and largely a waste of resources by the West.

Q: What makes European pressure on Israel inevitable?

A: Europe has not gone through a 9/11 attack and fails to realize that there is a battle between Islamic fundamentalism and the West. There is an impatience with making peace without understanding the realities undermining this goal. Israel has to deal with these realities on a daily basis in order to protect its citizens.

Full Audio:   Gil Hoffman of The Jerusalem Post (4/5/2011)

David Bratslavsky analyzes US foreign policy and the Middle East. He studied politics, language and religion in Washington, D.C., Tel Aviv, Cairo and Jerusalem. Become a Facebook fan of Street Smart Politics.  Follow on Twitter.

Guest Blog: ‘Israel Peace Week’ Sweeps US Campuses

9 Mar

Guest Blog: ‘Israel Peace Week’ Sweeps US Campuses

Guest Blog: ‘Israel Peace Week’ Sweeps US Campuses
by Natalie Menaged

Pro-Israel students across the US and Canada have launched a powerful and innovative campaign to communicate important messages about Israel’s efforts for peace. The initiative also focuses on existential threats to the Jewish state, and the values and accomplishments of a thriving democracy in an otherwise despotic region that has captured the world’s attention in recent months. Known as ‘Israel Peace Week’ (IPW), the campaign is being hosted at nearly 50 universities across North America.

IPW also seeks to counter a disturbing trend called ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ (IAW). During each spring since 2005, the dishonest, vitriolic and unproductive IAW campaign sweeps across university campuses and urban communities. Last year events were conducted throughout North America and across the world, with organizers in more than 40 cities.

Responses from the Jewish community generally range from ‘quietly observing’ to ‘strategically ignoring’ the increasing parades of biased academic panels calling for Israel boycotts, guerilla theater displays like ‘apartheid walls’ and ‘die-ins,’ and ‘Palestinian solidarity demonstrations’ featuring veterans of the anti-apartheid movement in 1980’s South Africa that constitute IAW. The conventional wisdom has been that the pro-Israel movement should stay focused on proactive efforts to highlight Israel’s accomplishments, avoid discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and to not draw any attention to IAW.

There is merit to this argument. After all, if the goal of IAW is for universities to actually boycott, divest and sanction Israel (also known as BDS), the movement has had very little tangible success on North America’s campuses. The secondary goal of IAW, however, is to delegitimize the state of Israel, and on that front, there is room for  concern.

Most supporters of Israel recognize that criticism of particular Israeli policies is legitimate, and not inherently anti-Semitic. However, when criticism of Israel consists entirely of Natan Sharansky’s ‘3 D’s’ it becomes problematic.

The first ‘D’ is demonization, misrepresenting Israel through lies, hyperbole, and graphic imagery. Examples include comparing Israelis to Nazis (and thereby equating the mass extermination of millions with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians), or Israel and apartheid South Africa (comparing a colonial, discriminatory regime with a thriving Israeli democracy where minorities enjoy equal rights).

The second ‘D’ is holding Israel to a double standard. The prime example is Israel being singled out by the United Nations while countries like China, Iran and Syria are ignored. A classic example of this occurred last week when, as hundreds of protestors were brutally killed by the Libyan regime, the United Nations was focused on a vote to condemn the building of Jewish homes in disputed territory.

Finally, there is delegitimizing Israel, denying Israel’s fundamental right to exist, such as re-writing history to deny any Jewish historical connection to the Land of Israel.

All three of the ‘D’s’ are standard components of the IAW campaign.

One particularly important point is that the BDS movement – whose leaders have consistently rejected the two-state solution—is out of sync with the national aspirations of the Palestinian people as well. Furthermore, IAW’s relentless focus on Israel leaves no room to discuss the real issues in Palestinian society, such as political corruption, violent incitement, and the rise of fundamentalist Islam. These issues affect the Palestinian people much more regularly than Israeli actions.

And as IAW has spread to campuses across the US in cities like New York, Chicago, Boston, Houston, Miami, San Francisco and many others, pro-Israel students have expressed concern that ‘strategically ignoring’ IAW has allowed public opinion on campus become increasingly anti-Israel.

Last year, a group of pro-Israel student leaders developed a clever way to counter the anti-Israel claims raised during IAW while communicating a proactive and positive message about Israel. ‘Israel Peace Week’ was conceived of by a group of 5 student leaders – one each from Johns Hopkins University, Boston University, University of Rochester, University of Cincinnati and University of Ottawa – during their participation on the Hasbara Fellowships activism training program in Israel.

The concept of ‘Israel Peace Week’ is simple: focus on a few basic messages, agreed upon by virtually everyone in the pro-Israel movement, and communicate them widely to the campus community during the week preceding ‘Israel Apartheid Week.’  Instead of avoiding difficult topics, the pro-Israel students feel that truth is on their side and they can tackle the Arab-Israel conflict head-on.

The messages are:

  1. Israel wants peace and has demonstrated its willingness to make painful sacrifices for peace.
  2. Israel does not currently have a partner for peace in the Palestinian and Arab leadership.
  3. Israel is a model of democracy, human rights, and innovation, despite its neighborhood.

In little over a month, pro-Israel students from more than 20 other universities organized ‘Israel Peace Week’ programming to their campuses in spring of 2010, and this year the number will reach nearly 50.

Many of the campuses hosting the IPW campaign this year are elite schools such as Columbia University, Harvard University, Tufts University, Yale University, Emory University, UCLA, Tulane University, and George Washington University. Schools that have experienced intense anti-Israel propaganda this year, including Rutgers University, Florida International University, UC Berkeley, Arizona State University, Brandeis University and Brooklyn College are participating as well.
The movement is primarily student-led, with organizers using a detailed primer that includes messaging, strategies, sample schedules and ideas. Hasbara Fellowships is providing print materials and campaigns, as well as on-the-ground professional support. Other organizations are also lending resources and funds.

Programming varies at each campus, but the all schools devote at least one day to highlighting Israel’s efforts for peace. One day or program focuses on threats Israel faces – from a nuclear Iran to terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah that ring Israel’s borders. Finally, many schools are highlighting Israel’s accomplishments ‘beyond the conflict’- civil liberties and human rights; advancements in hi-tech and eco-innovation; and a commitment to ‘tikkun olam.’  In many instances these events are being co-sponsored by non-Jewish groups on campus with which pro-Israel student leaders have built strong relationships based on shared values.  Student leaders have also reached out to campus media to widen their audience.

As our stomachs churn with the oncoming approach of an annual week of Israel demonizing, it is inspiring that pro-Israel students are standing up for Israel and speaking the truth.

Natalie Menaged serves as National Director of Hasbara Fellowships, overseeing the campus staff and programming, designing and producing materials and campaigns, and organizing the activism training programs in Israel.  Find out more about ‘Israel Peace Week’ or contact Hasbara Fellowships to join the IPW effort.

How Egypt, more than Libya, will affect the Middle East

1 Mar

How Egypt, more than Libya, will affect the Middle East

Rebel forces have taken over cities in Libya as Gadhafy declares “my people love me.”   Whatever the outcome of these battles, I believe Egypt more than Libya will help determine the fate of the Middle East.  Thus, I would like to offer a few additional thoughts on Egypt, even though media attention has shifted for now.

We have all seen the story.  In eighteen short days 30 years of Hosni Mubarak’s reign as president has come to an end. There is a deserved sense of triumph among Egyptians.  But this is just the first chapter of a developing saga.  Political stagnation, widespread corruption, economic inequality, abusive security forces, a 30% illiteracy rate, joblessness, and a litany of other legitimate grievances will not be addressed in Tahrir Square. These issues cannot be dealt with through slogans, populist rhetoric, religious salvation, or conspiracy theories. And they will not be resolved overnight, if indeed they are resolved.

A lot must occur to enable Egyptian reform. Democratic safeguards–free press, independent judiciary, protected constitution, independent political parties, protection of minority rights—are not yet present.  For example, deep-seated discrimination against minorities such as Copts remains.  Without minority protection and the rule of law, Egypt faces the prospect of either mob rule or exploitation of the democratic process by a new set of tyrants.

The army will soon retreat into the political background where it can maintain popularity while protecting its vast business interests. A nascent civil society will have to fill the political void. For now, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood is the most organized political opposition.  This raises a few questions and concerns.  Will Egyptians build resilient democratic institutions that enable progress or will religious fundamentalism or populism reign the day? What will the inclusion of Islamist parties in the government mean for women, minorities, and the Egypt-Israel peace treaty?  Will elections infuse fresh blood into the political system or will the old guard remain under a new label?

How Egyptians deal with these issues will determine the fate of the Middle East.  Egyptian protests have bolstered the resolve of others in the region.  A disappointing outcome will serve as a harsh lesson. If democracy becomes synonymous with turbulence, indecision, and shattered hopes, the remaining tyrants will have evidence as to why oppressive stability trumps democracy.

Whatever government emerges, it must have space to craft its own policies.  At the same time, the US should unequivocally communicate that anti-Western populism will not be appreciated and stress how both sides benefit from close bilateral relations.  Respecting “the will of the people” does not mean acquiescing to developments that are detrimental to our national interest.

Trusted partners like the spy chief Omar Suleiman (a graduate of the US Special Warfare School in Fort Bragg) have been removed from their positions.  Cooperation on important international issues such as Iranian nuclear development will diminish. In fact, an emboldened Iran will jostle for input. Similar to what happened in Afghanistan after the Taliban and in Iraq after Saddam Hussein, Iran will aim to exploit the US freedom agenda to gain influence in a formerly hostile state. Already Egypt has let two Iranian war ships into the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal, the first such voyage since 1979.

While respecting the democratic process the US should not be naive about Egypt’s immediate limitations.  We must aim to influence reform in a positive manner before others fill that role to our detriment.  We already spend billions subsidizing Egypt’s army and government.  By also underwriting emerging civil institutions, something largely avoided thus far, we can increase the possibility that Egypt’s liberal revolution remains liberal.

One important consideration of US foreign policy is the American brokered Egypt-Israel peace treaty. The agreement looks safe for now, if only because $1.3 billion dollars a year of Egypt’s military aid is tied to it.  Egypt no less than Israel, wants to avoid war and border confrontations.  However, relations with Israel will undoubtedly worsen as strong anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment is calculated into government policy. A 2010 Pew Poll found that 95% of Egyptians held an ‘unfavorable view’ of Jews (compared with only 35% of Israeli Arabs). And in a 2007 Pew survey, an overwhelming 80% of Egyptians said that the needs of the Palestinians could never be accommodated so long as Israel exists.  Protesters in Tahrir square were actively chanting “To Jerusalem we’re heading, martyrs in the millions.” In a democracy, this attitude will translate into action. For example, a new government may quit helping contain Hamas, a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot. Egypt’s role as an example of Arab-Israeli peace will cease if Egyptian hostility is reflected in government policy.

The jury is still out on the ultimate success of the Egyptian revolt.  How Egyptians define success will matter as much as whether they achieve it.

David Bratslavsky analyzes US foreign policy and the Middle East. He studied politics, language and religion in Washington, D.C., Tel Aviv, Cairo and Jerusalem. Become a Facebook fan of Street Smart Politics.  Follow on Twitter.

A rather convenient coma

16 Feb

A rather convenient coma

As far as graceful exits go, this one isn’t.   Al Arabia reports that deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak fell into a coma shortly after his last speech as president, in which he handed over executive authority to his VP/spy chief Omar Suleiman.  According to the report, he is receiving medical treatment at his residence in Sharm el Sheikh.

This follows reports from a week ago in Der Spiegel that the US was helping arrange a “prolonged health check” in a German hospital as a possible exit strategy for Mubarak.  Mubarak is 82 and has health issues.  It is even rumored that he may have cancer.  But it remains difficult to believe his well timed coma.

Mubarak’s resignation was announced one day after he delivered an energetic speech signaling his intent to stay until the September elections.  His abrupt departure was a clear sign of an internal military coup, not a coma.

Had Mubarak understood the full extent of the opposition protests and reconciled with the fact that his time to leave had come, he could have still salvaged a decent exit.  He could have expressed understanding of the protesters’ wishes (which is what he did), but maintained that Egypt needs an orderly transition, which would be facilitated by his departure in a month’s time followed by military rule until the next elections.  He would have bowed out to pressure and given up transitional power to the military before the election, but done so on his own time table, thereby retaining a modicum of dignity.  Now he has to flee under the cover of coma.

Perhaps in response to the brave new world created by Egyptian protests, Mubarak is relying on Aldous Huxley’s formula for a graceful exit.  “Ignore death up to the last moment; then, when it can’t be ignored any longer, have yourself squirted full of morphia and shuffle off in a coma.  Thoroughly sensible, humane and scientific, eh?” suggests a character in Huxley’s Time Must Have a Stop. In a region that believes shark attacks to be evidence of a Mossad plot, a conveniently timed coma is hardly a stretch.  Or perhaps having left an impoverished country with $70 billion to his name (though I doubt this figure is accurate), Mubarak laughed himself into an actual coma.

In any case, Mubarak is out.  The people’s voice has been heard.   Of course the question remains, now what?  Let’s hope that in his supposedly dreamy state, Mubarak won’t have the last laugh.

David Bratslavsky analyzes US foreign policy and the Middle East. He studied politics, language and religion in Washington, D.C., Tel Aviv, Cairo and Jerusalem. Become a Facebook fan of Street Smart Politics.  Follow on Twitter.

Doing the wave in the Middle East

1 Feb

Doing the wave in the Middle East

Is there a possibility that Egyptian protests, like the Tunisian protests for Egypt, will lead to similar results in other Arab countries? Here’s what’s brewing:

Syria

Facebook pages are popping up calling for Syrians to follow the Egyptian example, which also sparked protests via social media and the blogosphere.  Syria has about 7.8% (as of 2008) internet penetration, which is roughly equal to Egypt’s.  Despite Facebook being officially banned in Syria, access can be obtained via proxy servers.  According to a MEMRI report:

In the past week, Syrian activists have been using Facebook to call for mass protests in Syria on Saturday, February 5, 2011, dubbing it the “Day of Rage.” In Facebook pages created specifically for this purpose, members have called on the Syrian public to take to the streets on that date and stage peaceful demonstrations and rallies in all parts of the country, as well as in front of Syrian embassies in Arab and European capitals, in protest of the oppressive Syrian regime.

Syrian authorities have prepared the security forces.  They already dispersed one solidarity protest on Saturday.  The President, Bashar al-Assad, is raising fuel subsidies and tightening control on the internet to mollify public discontent and stem possible unrest.

Jordan

King Hussein dismissed his cabinet and appointed Marouf Bakhit as the new Prime Minister.  However, the protests in Jordan have been largely calling for reform rather than regime change.  According to a report in LA Times:

Even the Islamic Action Front, Jordan’s main opposition group and a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, has denounced the kind of regime change being called for in Egypt.

Saudi Arabia
Protests have spread to Saudi Arabia, but are relatively small and focused on demanding infrastructure improvements and an end to corruption.  Video of the protests below:

While protests point to widening discontent in the Arab world, each country’s predicament is unique. Yemen was already in turmoil before Tunisia/Egypt. Algerian protesters continue to organize but its not yet clear what they will achieve. In Saudi Arabia, people are orders of magnitude wealthier due to the country’s oil, which means there is less discontent. Protests were relatively small and easily dispersed. Jordanians focused their anger on the recently dismissed Prime Minister rather than the monarchy, the true source of power. It is difficult to read Syria’s public mood from available news reports. No doubt there is much frustration, but the chances of mass protests leading to an overthrow of the government are infinitesimal. Of course, that was the consensus about Egypt not too long ago. US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks quote the US Ambassador’s view that Mubarak will “inevitably” win the next presidential election and stay in office for life.

The protests are indeed exciting. A tired people standing up to oppressive rules; change coming to a stale and recalcitrant region.  But no matter how valid the objections, change is not automatically for the best. To close, a sobering piece in Slate.com by Shmuel Rosner (a former guest of StreetSmartPolitics.com):

Revolutions can bring chaos, or failure, or even more oppression, or radical Islamization, or terrible violence. They create opportunity not just for the good guys (human rights activists) but also for the bad guys (Hezbollah, Iran). They take time and patience and determination and planning and, yes, caution. And while there’s very little most observers can do to help them succeed, the least they can do is greet the revolution that is unfolding in their living rooms with wariness rather than a reality-show response of juvenile glee.

David Bratslavsky analyzes US foreign policy and the Middle East. He studied politics, language and religion in Washington, D.C., Tel Aviv, Cairo and Jerusalem. Become a Facebook fan of Street Smart Politics.  Follow on Twitter.