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Alan Edelstein

Biden, Bibi, the Emir, and Tony Soprano

Over his decades in politics, President Biden has demonstrated a genuine warmth for and attachment to Israel. One cannot question that in the current war he demonstrated unprecedented support at some political risk.

He made a trip to Israel to demonstrate his support while it was under attack. In an unprecedented step, he moved two aircraft carrier groups and a nuclear submarine into the Mediterranean and twice firmly declared “Don’t,” an admonition clearly directed at Hezbollah and Iran. He vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire.

When Congress failed to approve additional support because of Republican recalcitrance to support Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression, he took the extraordinary and controversial step of supplying military equipment to Israel without Congressional approval.

Now, the Biden Administration is taking some serious steps that could be mistakes or could lead to tremendous positive change. One thing is for sure: they are fraught with danger.

I have long supported the creation of a Palestinian state. Anyone living in the real world and understanding the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, is under no illusions that such a state will bring peace, will stop terrorism, will create regional stability, and/or will result in a flowering democracy. It undoubtedly will not.

But the status quo has not been a great success either. The crucial advantage of a two-state solution is that it preserves Israel as a Jewish and democratic nation and, at least partially, relieves Israel of the responsibility for another people. And there is a slight chance, with an emphasis on slight, that a state of Palestine could result in Palestinians being forced to take responsibility for themselves and to be held accountable as a nation.

It might, to a certain extent at least, encourage them to stop wallowing in victimhood, a wallowing that, as explained well in two-state supporters Adi Schwartz and Einat Wilf’s The War of Return: How Western Indulgence of the Palestinian Dream Has Obstructed the Path to Peace, has handicapped their progress, has provided an incubator for terrorism, and has spawned so much misery for themselves and for Israelis.

It will turn the Israeli-Palestinian dispute from one of supposed omnipotent occupier/conqueror versus downtrodden, powerless victim to one of nation- versus-nation. For too long the world has assumed that the Palestinians have no agency and, therefore, no responsibility for themselves or for their conduct. Establishment of a nation, albeit a demilitarized one with limitations on sovereignty, might disabuse the world and the Palestinians of that notion.

In some ways, this may be an opportune time to propose a pathway to a Palestinian state. As the time-worn quip goes: “Never let a crisis go to waste.” But it is also a time fraught with risk.

Firstly, while Hamas’ objectives are clearly not two states but the elimination of Israel and the genocide of the Jews, any apparent concession by Israel, or even a hint of a concession, at this time will be taken as a sign of weakness and a confirmation of the effectiveness of the atrocities of October 7. That is Middle East 101, Chapter 1.

Secondly, Israelis are reeling from the attack of October 7: the vulnerability of the country; the depravity of the atrocities; the uninhibited expressions of hate in much of the world; the continued imprisonment of the hostages; the trauma of the war to free the hostages and to eliminate Hamas; the fact that a significant part of Israel is uninhabitable, with over 200,000 displaced. Tensions are raw. Politics are volatile.

Is now the time to ask Israelis to think about the future, about taking risks and making concessions, about caring about the perpetrators and supporters of the attack?

Conventional wisdom across the political spectrum has been that it is not. President Herzog, former leader of the Labor Party and a long-time supporter of peace and reconciliation, recently declared “no Israeli in his right mind” is thinking about a peace process or two states right now.

It turns out, however, that conventional wisdom and President Herzog may be wrong. A recent poll showed that, even under the current circumstances, a very slim majority (51.3%) of Israelis would approve of a deal that included release of all hostages, normalization of relations with Saudi Arabia, and establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian which, it should go without saying, anticipates the elimination of Hamas as a threat. (19.8% were undecided, with 28.9% opposed)

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent apparent outright rejection of a Palestinian state does not help matters. If his priorities were the future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, continued strong support from the Biden Administration, and essential bipartisan support for Israel in the U.S., he would have responded that he is open to discussing two states once the hostages are returned, once Hamas is eliminated as a threat to Israel, and once a Palestinian leader who is willing to drop future claims on Israel in return for a Palestinian state speaks up loudly and clearly in Arabic as well as English. To be sure, the latter condition would take quite a while to meet.

Unfortunately, Netanyahu has substituted appeasing his very extreme coalition partners and ensuring his political survival for Israel’s best interests. Having alienated parties of the center and left, as well as several on the right with his lies, duplicitousness, and schemes, Netanyahu is totally dependent for his political survival on extremists like Itamar Ben-Gvir and his Jewish Power Party and Bezalel Smotrich and his Religious Zionism Party.

Keeping them in his coalition and thereby staying in power is evidently more important to Netanyahu than avoiding alienating the most supportive U.S. President in decades and many Democratic members of Congress that have stood with Israel.

When your position is repudiated by an Administration that moved two aircraft carrier groups and sent arms without Congressional approval and by Congress members Ritchie Torres, Jerry Nadler, Dan Goldman, Elissa Slotkin, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, to name a few, you should take stock of the consequences of a position dictated by your overwhelming desire to stay in power.

When Senator Ben Cardin, a stalwart supporter and a man who does his best to avoid public criticism of Israel, takes issue with you, it is past time to reconsider your approach. That is, if you care about Israel’s future and its relationship with its most vital ally.

Netanyahu knows that an unequivocal rejection of the possibility of a two-state solution will irreparably harm Israel with its essential ally, not to mention its future as a democratic, Jewish state. That is why in a telephone conversation with Biden, he left the door open. As is his habit, he fudged.

But, when that bit of news leaked out, in true Netanyahu form, he denied leaving the door open. If there is anyone left in the Western world who is still not acquainted with the Bibi style, this is a terrific introduction.

One can only guess how much Biden is seething.

Some critics of Israel have taken to characterizing the war, or at least the way in which it is being conducted, as “Netanyahu’s war.” They paint him as someone itching to go to war, a warmonger, who is freelancing without a consensus.

It is tempting to throw every criticism imaginable at Netanyahu. Much of his conduct over the last few years has made him a tempting and often justified target. And, as evidenced above, I do my fair share.

The latest poll shows that over half the nation thinks Netanyahu is motivated by self-interest rather than the national interest. And it is true that Netanyahu’s Likud Party would suffer a huge decline if elections were held today.

But, at least up to this point, this has not been and is not “Netanyahu’s war.”

The purpose of a renewed state of the Jews in Palestine was to provide safety in a world that had proven hostile and deadly toward the Jews for centuries after they had been exiled from their ancestral homeland. Israelis recognize that if they cannot live in a significant part of the country, if they are not safe within Israel’s borders, if they do not feel confident that their government can protect them in every square meter of the country, the country’s entire purpose is eliminated and Zionism is over.

In Israelis’ eyes, the very viability of the nation is at stake. As someone remarked, if the consequences of the attack of October 7 are not rectified, the situation amounts to a “slow-motion existential threat.”

The objective of eliminating the threat posed by Hamas is supported by an overwhelming majority of Israelis from across the political spectrum, not because they like or trust Netanyahu, but because it is necessary. The post-October 7 “war cabinet“ includes former Chief of Staff and former Minister of Defense Benny Gantz, whose National Unity Party would receive the most seats if an election were held today.

Gadi Eisenkot, a National Party member who also is a former Chief of Staff and who just lost a son and a nephew in the war, is in the war cabinet as an advisor. They are not there to be part of Netanyahu’s war or to participate in efforts to save him politically.

Israel is unique among nations in that many, if not most, of the military leaders, particularly those in the reserves, are to the left of the government. Many of the reserve officers now leading in battle were leaders and activists in the democracy movement. They are not there to support Netanyahu.

In short, there is much about Netanyahu to criticize, and I do my fair share. But do not think for a minute that Israelis do not broadly support the policy of eliminating Hamas as a threat to their security.

And do not think for a minute that, given a neighbor committed to living in peace next to them, Israelis would not be willing partners.

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Tony Soprano, eat your heart out:

Qatar has the ultimate mob-racket going on. Its boss, known as the emir, heads up an absolute dictatorship. It has 2.7 million inhabitants, but the family, or citizens, consists of only 313,000 people.

It has deals and arrangements going every which way: It hosts and provides protection to Hamas terrorist leaders, so it’s protected from terrorist attacks. It is home to a large U.S. military base, so it is protected from attack and from pressure and criticism it might otherwise receive.

Question: Do U.S. generals and Hamas terrorist leaders ever run into each other? In the market? At a soccer match? At the opera? It is, after all, a very small country.

Hamas buys respectability by hosting world-class events, such as the 2022 soccer World Cup, many of the facilities for which were built with non-citizen labor working under dangerous substandard conditions akin to modern slavery.

It made its billions and established its place in the world almost exclusively as a supplier of natural gas. But it buys respectability by hosting the 2012 world climate conference.

By hosting and funding the terrorist Hamas group it supports and facilitates the kidnapping, murder, and torture of innocent victims. But then it is an “honest broker” in facilitating the release of the hostages whose kidnapping, murder, and torture it provides the finances and support for. Qatar receives kudos and concessions from the world for its role in negotiations.

All this wheeling and dealing, getting and giving, creating problems and then helping to solve them, all while being treated with respect as if it was model world citizen—it would make Tony Soprano envious. Qatar has taken Tony’s games to heights he, if a real person, could never have imagined. It’s a wonder the Qataris don’t talk with Jersey accents.

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It has become a thing for some U.S. cities that are up to their ears in problems to pass resolutions on the Hamas-Israel war. They usually call for an immediate ceasefire, thereby leaving Israel susceptible to repeat attacks that Hamas has pledged to do.

Sometimes, at the insistence of local Jewish or pro-Israel groups, they include an obligatory condemnation of Hamas and the atrocities of October 7. Sometimes they ignore that inconvenient truth. They focus on the death and destruction in Gaza allegedly caused by Israel but in reality the fault of Hamas.

Many of these cities have such problems—crime, drugs, collapsing bridges, pollution, potholed streets—that one would think they do not have the time and resources to attend to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. They apparently do not have the time and resources to attend to the atrocities in Sudan or in Syria, to the Chinese internment of a million Uyghurs, or to the many other regions where nations are doing horrible things to those that dare to oppose them or that look different than they do.

But somehow they have the time to incompetently run degenerating cities and weigh in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict they know so little about. I have observed enough of these resolutions that I have come up with a hypothesis I hope some bright young student will explore.

Hypothesis to be tested: The more a city is in financial trouble, the more mismanaged it is, the worse its drug and crime problem is, the worse its school problems are, the worse condition its streets and bridges are in, the more likely it is to have passed a resolution on the Israel-Hamas war and the more likely the resolution is to be distorted, lacking of factual basis, and anti-Israel.

Ambitious social scientists: have at it!

About the Author
Alan Edelstein made Aliyah in 2011 and lives in Jerusalem. He was the founding partner of a well-respected California government affairs firm and was involved in California government and politics as a lobbyist and consultant for 30 years. He blogs at www.edelsteinrandomthoughts.com. He can be reached at ae@edelsteinstrategies.com