Posts Tagged Palestinians

The metal detectors of Islam

Bauernfeind, entrance to Temple MountIsrael has capitulated over the metal detectors (and surveillance cameras) that it installed last week at the entrances to the Temple Mount/Haram ash-Sharif. As anyone familiar with the long history of the “status quo” in Jerusalem knows, the “crisis” is wholly manufactured, and is but the latest chapter in a fifty-year Israeli-Palestinian struggle over sovereign authority.

The Palestinian aim has been to expand the autonomous administration of the Haram ash-Sharif, permitted them in 1967, and turn the esplanade into an extra-territorial enclave by leveraging Israeli and international fears of a wider conflagration. In this long-term campaign, they have had much success, and the latest “crisis” has produced yet another Palestinian “victory.”

The episode has raised the question of just what constitutes legitimate security measures at Islamic holy shrines and iconic mosques. We live in a time when the primary threat to the security of these sites arises from Muslims themselves—notably, extremists bent on using them as launching pads for violent acts designed to destabilize and terrorize. Across the Muslim world, governments are acutely aware of the vulnerabilities of these sites, and have taken measures to secure them. In particular, they have resorted to a very commonplace technology: metal detectors.

At this link, I provide some prime examples, from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates. How do these states differ from Israel? They are effective and sole sovereigns over the holy shrines and major mosques in their territory. Israel apparently is not.

“The Metal Detectors of Islam,” here, for a quick trip to Islam’s bucket list of top sites. Please place your keys and camera in the basket.

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    The decline of Palestine studies

    Middle East Studies AssociationThis weekend, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) is meeting in its annual conference in Boston, on the organization’s fiftieth anniversary. It was also exactly thirty years ago, at a Boston MESA conference, that Edward Said debated Bernard Lewis. This was the last substantive debate about the state of the field at a MESA conference—that is, a debate with two clearly opposing sides. The bearers of the tradition of scholarship represented by Lewis (and Fouad Ajami) subsequently seceded from MESA. Some of them eventually found a home in an alternative association of Middle Eastern studies, known as ASMEA—the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa. On October 28, I delivered the keynote address at its annual conference in Washington, on the state of Middle Eastern studies. (Watch it here, or read a transcript here.)

    One of the points I made in my keynote was that the study of the Palestinians in American academe seemed to me to be in decline, at least quantitatively. I’ve since gone back to collect some data. Specifically, I’ve looked at the last program of a MESA conference convened in Boston (it was in 2009), and compared it to this year’s (2016) program. Why Boston? It’s a popular venue for MESA conferences, and it usually draws a larger number of participants than, say, Denver or New Orleans. The sample is correspondingly large. My interest is in the geographic skew of American scholarly interest across the Middle East. So I’ve looked for the names of countries in the titles of papers, a data field that provides a rough measure of what’s up and what’s down in Middle Eastern studies. (The MESA website also categorizes papers by geographic area, but I’m not certain about the criteria used, so I don’t rely on it. Still, I ran those numbers too, and the results were very similar.)

    Below are the totals. After the name of each country, you’ll find the number of papers delivered at the 2009 conference, followed (after the slash) by the number of papers to be delivered at the 2016 conference. In the first set of parentheses is the absolute increase or decrease in numbers of papers between 2009 and 2016. In the second set of parentheses is the increase or decrease in percentages from 2009 to 2016. I’ve ordered the countries according to the percentage of increase/decrease. In 2009, there were 850 papers presented at MESA, and this year, 1,012, so you’d expect an average increase for each country of 19%. Anything below that points to underperformance of a country in inspiring new research. (I’m excluding the countries where the number of papers this year falls below twenty.)

    Tunisia: 9/45 (+36) (400%)
    Syria: 23/55 (+32) (140%)
    Egypt: 48/83 (+35) (73%)
    Lebanon: 31/38 (+7) (23%)
    Iran: 43/50 (+9) (16%)
    Turkey: 79/89 (+10) (13%)
    Kurds: 27/26 (-1) (-4%)
    Palestine/Gaza/West Bank: 56/48 (-8) (-14%)
    Iraq: 31/22 (-9) (-29%)
    Israel: 32/22 (-31%)

    This is a very rough measure, and paper titles don’t capture everything. But the trend is obvious. The dramatic growth since 2009, which was before the “Arab Spring,” resides in researching the “Arab Spring” and its effects. (It would be even more obvious if I’d included the smaller clusters. Papers on Bahrain went from zero to eight; on Libya, from one to thirteen.)

    So the upheavals since 2011 are stirring this generation of younger scholars. Palestine? Passé. (So is Iraq.) Papers on Israel have also dropped sharply, but the consequences, overall, are greater for Palestine than Israel studies. Why? MESA is still the largest clearinghouse for Palestine studies. It isn’t for Israel studies, which have their own association (the Association for Israel Studies) and a separate annual conference. And since, for the last couple of years, MESA has been formally debating the possibility of passing a BDS resolution, not a few Israel scholars have packed up and left the organization. Israel studies are expanding—just not at MESA.

    Another factor contributing to the relative decline of Palestine studies is BDS. Because the old guard, such as Columbia’s Rashid Khalidi and Lila Abu-Lughod, have so totally immersed themselves in identity politics and BDS activism, Palestine studies are regarded as tainted by advocacy. Why would a promising young scholar enter such a field, when the first thing he or she must do is sign an ideological pledge of allegiance? And why enter it if you can make a bigger mark in a more visible, faster-growing, and less politicized area of study? BDS is driving ambitious young scholars away from Palestine studies, which have become a closed echo chamber.

    This is the context for understanding the BDS drive in MESA. It’s a last-ditch effort to assert the primacy of Palestine, by insisting that Israel uniquely deserves condemnation (in a Middle East mired in gross human rights violations), and that the Palestinians uniquely deserve sympathy (in a Middle East awash in refugees and suffering). In the past, there was no need to run such a campaign. Back in 2005, I did a similar paper-count on MESA’s conferences, and found that papers on Palestine and the Palestinians outnumbered those on any other country. Edward Said had turned the Palestinians into MESA’s chosen people. But over the years, that special privilege has been eroded. BDS activism at MESA now functions as a substitute for the conference papers and panels, as a rear-guard tactic to keep the Palestinians from falling further down the scale.

    I have no idea what will come out of MESA this year or next—probably nothing good, and possibly some sort of precursor to a BDS resolution. But the easy privileging of Palestine in Middle Eastern studies is over. That’s a good thing. The over-concentration of a whole branch of area studies in one highly politicized corner did inestimable damage to the field’s reputation. The Middle East keeps changing, so does America, and new realities generate new priorities. I can’t predict how Middle Eastern studies will be reconfigured as the ground shifts. But a quiet transformation is underway, even if no one has the courage to acknowledge it. Happy fiftieth, MESA.

    The War on ErrorOrder your copy of my new book, The War on Error: Israel, Islam, and the Middle East from Amazon right here. Josef Joffe: “Martin Kramer exposes sloppy or mean-spirited thinking with an incisive mind and first-rate empirical research. This collection is required reading for anybody who prefers intellectual rigor to ideological obfuscation.”

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      The original truck people

      This post first appeared at the Commentary blog on August 31.

      Austrian authorities on Thursday discovered an abandoned truck on a highway near the Hungarian border, packed with the decomposed bodies of 71 dead migrants, including four children. While migrants have perished at sea in the multitudes, this tragedy has put Europe on notice: The horrors from which the migrants flee, and that regularly play themselves out in the middle of the Mediterranean, will soon become commonplace in the heart of the continent unless something changes.

      Now how addled and obsessed must one be, to use this event as a stick to beat Israel? About as addled and obsessed as Juan Cole, professor at the University of Michigan and popular blogger on the edge of the left. See as evidence this post: “Austrian Truck Tragedy echoes Palestinian Story, reminding us of 7 million still stateless [Palestinians].”

      What is that Palestinian story? It is a 1962 novella by the Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani entitled Men in the Sun. The allegorical storyline is about three Palestinians who flee the misery of Lebanon’s refugee camps to Iraq, in the hope of reaching the Xanadu of Kuwait. They are smuggled across the desert from Basra in the empty barrel of a water tanker truck. But because of a delay at the Kuwaiti border, the three suffocate to death. (The novella was made into a film in 1972.)

      I won’t make an issue of the “seven million still stateless” Palestinians. (The upper-end estimate is closer to five million.) And far be it from me to quibble with anyone’s free associations. But Cole tops off his with this statement, which purports to be historical: the Palestinians’ “home has been stolen from them by the Israelis and they were unceremoniously dumped on the neighbors or in the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip. They are stateless. They are the original truck people.” (My emphasis.)

      This concluding dramatic flourish, identifying the Palestinians as “the original truck people,” jolted me. The first people made stateless, dispossessed, stripped of their humanity, and packed into sealed trucks where they died horribly, all in the very heart of Europe, were many thousands of Jewish victims of the Nazi extermination machine.

      As anyone who has read even one history of the Holocaust knows, before there were gas chambers there were mobile gas vans. These were air-tight trucks which could be packed with as many as sixty persons, who would be killed by cycling the carbon monoxide exhaust back into the cargo area. Himmler ordered the invention of the method to spare the Germans in SS killing squads the damaging psychological effects of shooting thousands of victims, one at a time. The trucks were deployed primarily to kill Jews, who were loaded into them without separation by gender or age. I will spare readers the horrific testimonies of the operators of these trucks, and the documentary evidence of how technicians worked to perfect them. I’ll only quote this argument, made by a technician, for keeping the cargo area lit:

      When the back door is closed and it gets dark inside, the load pushes hard against the door. The reason for this is that when it becomes dark inside the load rushes toward what little light is left. This hampers the locking of the door. It has also been noticed that the noise [i.e., screams] provoked by the locking of the door is linked to the fear aroused by the darkness. It is therefore expedient to keep the lights on before the operation and during the first few minutes of its duration. Lighting is often useful for night work and for the cleaning of the interior of the van.

      Hundreds of thousands died in these trucks, at least 150,000 in Chelmno alone. According to that same technician, three vehicles succeeded in killing 97,000 persons in the six months prior to June 1942. However, it turned out that the mobile gas vans were subject to breakdown on the back roads where they operated away from sight, and even then they proved impossible to keep secret. (Passersby could hear the screams.) Gas chambers located in extermination camps finally replaced the vans.

      Of course, one mustn’t confuse botched human trafficking with planned genocide. But part of what is so shocking about the Austrian truck tragedy is the earlier precedent of men, women, and children packed into trucks and asphyxiated to death in the heart of Europe. If the horror on the Austrian motorway should evoke anyone’s fate, it is that of six million exterminated Jews, not five million living Palestinians. To anyone who knows history, death trucks on European highways recall why the “original truck people,” the Jews, needed the refuge finally secured by the creation of Israel.

      Deportation of Jews from Wloclawek, Poland to the Chelmno Death Camp, April 1942.

      Deportation of Jews from Wloclawek, Poland to the Chelmno Death Camp, April 1942. Photo: Yad Vashem.

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        Ian Lustick’s iron dice

        This post first appeared on the Commentary blog on September 24.

        One state or two?As both Jonathan Tobin and Jonathan Marks have previously written here [at Commentary], University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian Lustick, author of a recent op-ed promoting the “one-state solution” and featured prominently in the New York Times, isn’t an outlier. To the contrary, American academe is full of Lusticks: 60-something Jewish radicals who went through some transient phase of simplistic far-left Zionism before discovering that the real Israel is complex. Disillusioned, they rode their leftism to minor eminence as repentants in departments and centers of Middle Eastern studies, where Jewish critics of Israel provide ideal cover for the real haters. Such Jews used to be devotees of a Palestinian state, but now they’re scrambling to keep up with the freakish fad of a “one-state solution” set off by the late Edward Said’s own famous conversion (announced, of course, on the pages of the New York Times, in 1999). Because Lustick’s piece ran in the Times, it was a big deal for some American Jews who still see that newspaper as a gatekeeper of ideas. In Israel, it’s passed virtually unnoticed.

        Whatever the article’s intrinsic interest, it’s particularly fascinating as a case study in intellectual self-contradiction. For Lustick has reversed his supposedly well-considered, scientifically informed assessment of only a decade ago, without so much as a shrug of acknowledgement.

        Let’s briefly recap Lustick’s dismissive take on the two-state solution in his new article. It is “an idea whose time has passed,” it is neither “plausible or even possible,” it’s a “chimera,” a “fantasy.” The “obsessive focus on preserving the theoretical possibility of a two-state solution is as irrational as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.” Conclusion? “The pretense that negotiations under the slogan of ‘two states for two peoples’ could lead to such a solution must be abandoned.” In fact, negotiations do actual harm: “Diplomacy under the two-state banner is no longer a path to a solution but an obstacle itself. We are engaged in negotiations to nowhere.”

        The ultimate two-stater

        Yet only a decade ago, Lustick thought that the success of the “peace process” in achieving its aim of two states wasn’t only plausible and possible. It was inevitable. Lustick explained his thesis in a lengthy 2002 interview peppered with analogies and metaphors, including this one:

        I like to think of it as a kind of gambler throwing dice, except it’s history that’s throwing the dice. Every throw of the dice is like a diplomatic peace process attempt. In order to actually succeed, history has got to throw snake eyes, 2. And, you know, that’s not easy, you have to keep throwing the dice. Eventually, you’re going to throw a 2. All of the leadership questions and accidents of history, the passions of both sides, the torturous feelings of suffering, the political coalitions, the timing of elections will fall into place.

        What is Lustick saying here? Remember that the odds of throwing snake eyes on any given toss of the dice are 36 to 1, so only a fool or an idiot would despair after, say, a dozen or even two dozen throws. Even failure is just a prelude to success, since as long as you keep throwing, “eventually, you’re going to throw a 2.” The old sawhorse that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is belied by the dice-thrower, who repeats the same action knowing that each result will be different. And that’s why the United States keeps repeating the diplomatic moves that Lustick now finds so tiresome. The “peace processors” are just adhering to his logic, circa 2002, which guarantees that one of these initiatives is destined to succeed—provided there are enough of them.

        And what did Lustick in 2002 have to say to those Israelis who “want the West Bank and Gaza to remain permanently under Israeli rule”? “You will have to roll a 13,” Lustick told them.

        But you can’t roll a 13, which is to say that the right has no plan for how it can successfully keep the territories anymore. They don’t even advocate as a realistic option expelling the Palestinians. So they have no plan. So if you are the right and you know you have to roll a 13, the strategy is, don’t let the dice get rolled, keep trying to stop every initiative and subvert it if it gets started…. It’s the only rational thing to do in order to prevent history from eventually producing what it will produce, which is a two-state solution.

        So the Israeli version of a one-state solution—an Israel from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean—was the hopeless cause of dead-enders who defied “history” itself. In 2002, Lustick was certain that “one of these days,” Israel would leave the West Bank:

        Israel is caught between the inability to make the issue disappear by making the West Bank look like Israel, and the inability to make it disappear by actually withdrawing, by getting through that regime barrier, that regime threshold. Some day, one of these days, that regime threshold is going to be crossed.

        The Palestinian version of the one-state option? Lustick didn’t even mention it in 2002.

        So Lustick was the ultimate two-state believer. I don’t think even the inveterate “peace processors,” whom he now dismisses so contemptuously, ever assumed that repeated failures would bring them closer to their goal. Lustick did believe it: one couldn’t “prevent history from eventually producing what it will produce, which is a two-state solution,” and it was just a matter of time before “that threshold is going to be crossed.” So certain was Lustick of the inexorable logic of the two-state solution that he believed even Hamas had acquiesced in it. And because Israel had spurned Hamas, Israel had squandered an opportunity to turn it into a “loyal opposition.”

        Here lies the problem—perhaps dishonesty is a better word—in Lustick’s latest piece. Lustick ’13 never takes on Lustick ’02, to explain why “history,” destined to lead to two states only a few years ago, is now destined to end in one state. It’s tempting to make light of the seemingly bottomless faith of “peace processors,” and I’ve done it myself, with relish. But the case Lustick made for them in 2002 had a certain logic. The case he’s made against them in 2013 is weak. Indeed, he never really builds much of a case at all.

        Is it the number of settlers? If so, he doesn’t say so. Lustick knows how many settlers there are, and he numbered them in a lecture in February. In 2002, he says, there were 390,000 (West Bank and East Jerusalem). In 2012, he says, there were 520,000. That’s 130,000 more (two-thirds of it, by the way, natural growth). Presumably, some significant proportion of the 130,000 have been added to settlements whose inclusion in Israel wouldn’t preclude a two-state solution, because of their proximity to pre-1967 Israel. So we are talking about some tens of thousands. Which 10,000 increment, between 2002 and 2013, put Israel past the “point of no return”?

        Lustick doesn’t say. In the Times, he claims that American pressure could have stopped Menachem Begin’s re-election in 1981, precluding the building of “massive settlement complexes” and prompting an Oslo-like process a decade earlier, in the 1980s. It’s a we’ll-never-know counter-factual, but it doesn’t solve the conundrum. Lustick knew all this in 2002, and it didn’t dampen his faith in the historic inevitability of the two-state solution. So the question remains: what’s happened since 2002 to change Lustick’s mind so drastically?

        “The state will not survive!”

        Here we come to Lustick’s supposedly original contribution to the “one-state” argument. He isn’t repeating the usual claim that Israeli settlements have made a Palestinian state unachievable. He’s arguing that the Israeli state is unsustainable. “The disappearance of Israel as a Zionist project, through war, cultural exhaustion or demographic momentum, is at least as plausible” as an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. The best indicator? Israelis say so! “Many Israelis see the demise of the country as not just possible, but probable. The State of Israel has been established, not its permanence. The most common phrase in Israeli political discourse is some variation of ‘If X happens (or doesn’t), the state will not survive!'”

        I don’t know any research that’s established “the most common phrase in Israeli political discourse,” and I’m guessing that Ian Lustick doesn’t either. He just made it up. In his February lecture, he did cite one work, from 2009, that counted how many articles published in the left-wing Haaretz employed the phrases “existential danger” or “existential threat.” There’s a bump up after 2002 (Second Intifada), then a spike up in 2006 (Second Lebanon War). The “study” proves absolutely nothing. After all, this is Haaretz, the Wailing Wall of the Israeli left. A perfectly plausible explanation is that the paper’s editorial bias, exacerbated by the eclipse of the left, has tended to favor doomsday prognostication.

        And Lustick is contradicted by real research on real people, which he either ignores or of which he’s ignorant. The Israel Democracy Institute’s latest large-scale poll, for 2012, shows that optimists outnumber pessimists among Israeli Jews by a margin of 79 percent to 18 percent. Over 85 percent say Israel can defend itself militarily and only 33 percent think Israel will become more isolated than it now is. The Tel Aviv University academic who oversees the poll summarized the results: “It is important to note that most Israelis view the country’s future optimistically. Our national resilience rests heavily on the fact that even though people are negative on Friday evenings at their family dinner table and the zeitgeist is discouragement, when you scratch a little deeper, people are not really depressed here.” That may be an understatement. Israel is ranked eleventh in the world in the latest UN-commissioned World Happiness Index, which hardly correlates to any level of depression.

        According to the Peace Index poll ahead of this Jewish New Year, only 16 percent of Jewish Israelis think the country’s security situation will worsen. 46 percent think it will stay the same, and 28 percent think it will actually improve—this, despite the chaos in Syria and the Sinai, and the spinning centrifuges in Iran. The only thing Israelis are persistently pessimistic about is the “peace process,” but that doesn’t sour the overall mood—except for the small minority, including those op-ed writers for Haaretz, who apparently constitute Lustick’s “sample.”

        (Lustick also alludes to “demographic momentum” as working against Israel, and he has puttered around with figures in an attempt to show that Israelis are lining up to emigrate. He got away with this until an actual demographer, Sergio DellaPergola, took a hammer to one of his amateur efforts and left nothing intact. It’s a must-read takedown.)

        Israel the balloon

        But in the end, for Lustick, it doesn’t really matter how prosperous or stable or viable Israel appears to be, even to Israelis. That’s because Israel is like… wait for it… a balloon. “Just as a balloon filled gradually with air bursts when the limit of its tensile strength is passed, there are thresholds of radical, disruptive change in politics.” Zionist Israel is a bubble that’s bound to burst. It’s been inflated by American support, and the “peace process” has protected it from rupture. But the larger the balloon gets, the more devastating that rupture will be. In February, Lustick revealed that he is writing an entire book on this thesis, evoking “history” again, with a fresh analogy to exchange rates:

        History will solve the problem in the sense of the way entropy solves problems. You don’t stay with this kind of constrained volatility forever. When you constrain exchange rates in a volatile market by not allowing rates to move even though the actual economy makes them absurd, rates will eventually change, but in a very radical, non-linear way. The more the constraint, the less the adaptation to changing conditions, the more jagged and painful that adaptation is going to be.

        Better, thinks Lustick, that the “peace process” in pursuit of the two-state solution be shut down now, so that both sides can slug it out again—this time to “painful stalemates that lead each party to conclude that time is not on their side.” Israel, which has defeated the Palestinians time and again, has to stop winning. Pulling the plug on the “peace process,” he writes in the Times, would

        set the stage for ruthless oppression, mass mobilization, riots, brutality, terror, Jewish and Arab emigration and rising tides of international condemnation of Israel. And faced with growing outrage, America will no longer be able to offer unconditional support for Israel. Once the illusion of a neat and palatable solution to the conflict disappears, Israeli leaders may then begin to see, as South Africa’s white leaders saw in the late 1980s, that their behavior is producing isolation, emigration and hopelessness.

        And that’s where we want to be! Enough rolling of the diplomatic dice! It’s time to roll the iron dice! It may sound cynical to you, but Lustick thinks it’s destiny: “The question is not whether the future has conflict in store for Israel-Palestine. It does. Nor is the question whether conflict can be prevented. It cannot.” Remember, this is someone who just a few years ago insisted that a two-state solution was inevitable. Now he argues exactly the opposite. The world should get out of the way and let the inescapable violence unfold—only this time, the United States won’t be in Israel’s corner, and so Israel will be defeated and forced to dismantle itself.

        The problem with rolling the iron dice, as even an armchair historian knows, is that the outcome is uncertain. What Lustick would like “history” to deliver is a defeat of Zionist Israel of such precise magnitude as to create a perfect equilibrium between Jew and Arab. But it may well be that the outcome he desires is the equivalent of rolling a 13, because Israel has deep-seated advantages that would be magnified greatly were Israel ever to find itself up against a wall. (The fortieth anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur war may be an apt moment to remember that.) Or something in his scenario could go wrong. As Clausewitz noted about war, “No other human activity is so continuously or universally bound up with chance.”

        One of the possible outcomes Lustick imagines is that “Israelis whose families came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as ‘Eastern,’ but as Arab.” Given that even “the Arabs” don’t think of themselves anymore as “Arabs” (especially when they gas or bomb one another), and that Jews never thought of themselves as “Arabs” even when they lived in Arabic-speaking countries and spoke Arabic, one wonders how many thousands of dice rolls it would take to produce that outcome.

        Prophet of Philly

        In the end, it’s pointless to debate Lustick on his own hypothetical grounds, invoking rolling dice, bursting balloons, and volatile exchange rates. That’s because nothing has happened since 2002 between Israel and the Palestinians, or in Israel, that can possibly explain his own total turnaround. I suspect his Times article has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and everything to do with Lustick’s attempt to keep his footing in the shifting sands of American academe.

        Ever since Edward Said veered toward the “one-state solution,” the pressure has been growing, and it’s grown even more since Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor at Columbia, finally gravitated toward the same position (something I predicted he would do well before he actually did it). This turn of events left Lustick in the rear of the radical vanguard and far from the action. Ever since Tony Judt passed on, there’s been a vacancy for a professorial Jewish supporter of the “one-state solution.” So this is Lustick’s late-career move, and I anticipate it will do for him a bit of what it did for Judt, transforming him from an academic of modest reputation into an in-demand hero. Invitations will pour in. Soon we will hear of a controversy involving an invitation rescinded, which will raise his standing still higher. And it’s quite plausible that the Times piece will land him a heftier advance for his next book (as of February, “I’ve not written the conclusion yet”), and the promotional push of a major publisher.

        In anticipation, Lustick is already casting himself as a prophet of Israel, exemplified in this quote from an answer he gave to a question last winter:

        I argued in 1971 that 1,500 settlers in the West Bank were a catastrophe that would lead Israel into a political dungeon from which it might never escape. I was laughed at. I also argued for a Palestinian state alongside of Israel in the early 1970s, but it took twenty-five years before the mainstream in Israeli politics agreed with that. It may take another twenty-five years before they realize that what I’m saying is true now and will be even truer if Israel is still around in twenty or twenty-five more years.

        This is not a human measure of prescience, as Lustick himself has acknowledged. How far in advance would anyone have been able to imagine the Iranian revolution or the fall of the Soviet Union? Lustick: “Ten years? No. Five years? Maybe two, if you were very, very good.” If, as Lustick claims, he consistently sees the future of Israel twenty-five years forward, he must inhabit a sphere far above the regular run of prognosticating political scientists. He is now compiling the Book of Ian. Read it, O Israel (enter credit card here), and weep.

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          Chuck Hagel and linkage

          This post appeared yesterday on the website of The Weekly Standard. I wrote it not out of a deep conviction about the Chuck Hagel nomination per se, but because I have an abiding interest the magical mindset behind the notion of linkage (see my piece “The Myth of Linkage,” 2008). Hagel seemed to be the absolutely perfect exemplar of linkage-think, so this proved irresistible. My modest hope is that a senator will pick up on the subject during Hagel’s confirmation hearing, and we will gain some insight into the metastasis of an idea.

          Former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel is President Obama’s nominee for secretary of defense. Much has already been said about the pros and cons of the nomination, and much more will be said during confirmation hearings in the Senate. Here is one possible line of questioning: given the centrality of the Middle East in U.S. military planning, how does Hagel think the region works? If the United States has limited resources, and must apportion them judiciously, where is it best advised to invest them?

          Hagel has a view of this, expressed on numerous occasions. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the core problem of the Middle East. Until it is resolved, it will be impossible to make progress in treating any of the region’s other pathologies. Hagel claims to have reached this conclusion by talking with leaders of the Middle East. He’s just repeating what they tell him, he has said. So it’s interesting to go back and see just what they did tell him—an exercise made feasible via WikiLeaks. (If you belong to that class of persons who have to avert their eyes from WikiLeaks, don’t follow the links and take my word.)

          The Core Conflict

          But first, let’s look at how Hagel thinks the Middle East works. In 2002, he put it this way:

          The Arab-Israeli conflict cannot be separated from America’s foreign policy. Actions in the Middle East have immense consequences for our other policies and interests in the world. We are limited in dealing with other conflicts until this conflict is on a path to resolution. America’s policy and role in the Middle East, and the perception of our policies and role across the globe, affects our policies and interests in Afghanistan, South Asia, Indonesia, and all parts of the world.

          This is a broad exposition of the idea of “linkage,” which might best be described as a Middle Eastern domino theory. The assumption is that in places as far afield as Afghanistan and Indonesia, people are so preoccupied with the fate of the Palestinians that they cannot see the United States (which supports Israel) as a friend. These millions of people have their own conflicts that impact U.S. interests, but they won’t respond to American efforts to resolve them, unless the United States conjures up something for the Palestinians first. Often this claim is made regarding the Arabs. Hagel effectively extended it to the entire Muslim world.

          In 2006, Hagel put it this way:

          The core of all challenges in the Middle East remains the underlying Arab-Israeli conflict. The failure to address this root cause will allow Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorists to continue to sustain popular Muslim and Arab support—a dynamic that continues to undermine America’s standing in the region and the Governments of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and others, whose support is critical for any Middle East resolution.

          The vocabulary here—”core,” “root cause,” “underlying”—is taken from the standard linkage lexicon, which elevates the Arab-Israeli or Palestinian-Israeli conflict to a preeminent status, above all others. It is this conflict, practically alone, that prompts the rise of terrorists, weakens friendly governments, and makes it impossible for the United States to win Arabs and Muslims over to the good cause. That same year, he again described the “underlying” Arab-Israeli conflict as the “core” of the region’s maladies:

          In the Middle East, the core of instability and conflict is the underlying Arab-Israeli problem. Progress on Middle East peace does not ensure stability in Iraq. But, for the Arab world, the issue of Middle East peace is inextricably, emotionally and psychologically linked with all other issues. Until the United States helps lead a renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace process, there will be no prospect for broader Middle East peace and stability.

          In 2008, Hagel developed this into a full-blown “ripple” theory, in a passage in his book, America: Our Next Chapter (p. 82). There he wrote that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

          cannot be looked at in isolation. Like a stone dropped into a placid lake, its ripples extend out farther and farther. Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon feel the effects most noticeably. Farther still, Afghanistan and Pakistan; anything that impacts their political stability also affects the two emerging economic superpowers, India and China.

          The notion that the greater Middle East would be a “placid lake” were it not for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be regarded as extreme, even for someone in the grip of linkage fever. But Hagel, doubling down, extended the conflict’s baleful influence even beyond the world of the Arabs and South Asian Islam, suggesting that it “affects” India and China in a detrimental way, although he didn’t explain how.

          That same year, Hagel made the most far-reaching claim for linkage. By this time, Americans knew considerably more about the complexities of the Middle East than they had known in 2002. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had demonstrated the salience of deep conflicts that defined the politics of the region, and that went back in time before there was an Israel. The great Sunni-Shiite divide, the region-wide Kurdish question, the rivalries of tribes, the chasm between rulers and ruled—all were sources of conflict and instability with long and autonomous histories. That’s what makes Hagel’s 2008 statement so striking: he was clearly aware that the linkage thesis looked shakier than ever, but he dug in his heels anyway:

          The strategic epicenter of the Middle East [is] the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Why do I say that more than any other reason? It is the one issue, the one issue alone, the Israeli-Palestinian issue alone. Fixing that alone is not going to fix every problem in the Middle East. We understand that. We have religious hatred. We have centuries of it. We have regional, tribal issues. Yes, all complicated. But that one issue, the Israeli-Palestinian issue shapes almost every other issue, not just the optics of it, but the reality of it. It is allowed to—as it plays itself out to dominate relationships, to dominate the people who would like a different kind of world. I know that there is a lot made on the issue of—well it’s important, but it certainly doesn’t affect everything. It does.

          In this remark, Hagel was clearly struggling to force all of the new and “complicated” American knowledge about the Middle East into his old template. He knew that his linkage thesis looked less plausible than it once did. How exactly could the Israeli-Palestinian issue “affect everything” and “shape almost every other issue,” not just the “optics” but the “reality”? Hagel couldn’t say how, except to assert that “it does.”

          But Hagel, knowing his bald assertion might seem dubious, did something new. He invoked the authority of Middle Eastern leaders:

          I don’t know any other way to gauge this, than you go out and listen to the leaders. You listen to Jewish leaders, and you listen to Arab leaders. You sit down with all the leaders with all those countries, and I have many times, different leaders, and they will take you right back to the same issue. Right back to this issue. Now I am not an expert on anything, and I’m certainly not an expert on the Middle East. Most of the people in this room, especially those that were on the panels tonight know a lot more about this issue than I do. But I do listen. I do observe. I am somewhat informed. That informs me that when the people of the Middle East themselves tell me that this issue has to be dealt with or there will not be a resolution to any other issue in the Middle East.

          No other issue in the entire Middle East can be resolved until Israel and the Palestinians deal with theirs: this was Hagel’s long-standing belief, now placed in the mouths of authoritative interlocutors, those Middle Eastern leaders he met on his travels, and who always took him “right back to this issue.”

          Meeting Arabs and Jews

          On the face of it, this is a plausible assertion. It is often said that Arab leaders never miss an opportunity to browbeat American officials over U.S. neglect of the Palestinians. A senior American diplomatic once made this complaint: “Every American ambassador in the region knows that official meetings with Arab leaders start with the obligatory half-hour lecture on the Palestinian question. If we could dispense with that half-hour and get down to our other business, we might actually be able to get something done.”

          But are these the sorts of discussions that Hagel had with Arab leaders? We don’t have a record of all his meetings with them, but we have several accounts, via WikiLeaks. These seem to contradict Hagel’s own assertion that his Arab interlocutors always came “right back to this issue.” In fact, it was usually the third or fourth item on the agenda, sometimes raised not by Arab leaders but by visiting Americans. Arab leaders who met Hagel expressed a very wide range of concerns, usually focused on Iran and Iraq. (There is one important exception, to which I’ll come in a moment.) Here are the publicly documented instances, from his trips to the region between 2004 and 2008:

          • On December 1, 2004, King Abdullah of Jordan had lunch in Amman with Hagel (as well as Senators Joe Biden, Dianne Feinstein, and Linc Chafee). The account may not be complete, but the discussion as reported focused only on Iraq and the “negative role” of Iran. King Abdullah, looking ahead to Iraqi elections in January, “worried that elections held without credible Sunni participation could lead to cantonization or civil war,” and opined that Iraqi Shiites were loyal to Iran, not Iraq. “The King painted a picture of a monolithic Shia Arab/Iranian threat to Jordan and Israel if they ‘take over’ southern Iraq.” (A few days later, King Abdullah said much the same in an interview with The Washington Post, coining the phrase “Shiite crescent” to describe the menace.)
          • On December 4, 2004, the Crown Prince of Bahrain, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, received Hagel, Feinstein, and Chafee. The conversation also focused on impending elections in Iraq, which the Bahrainis feared might be captured by “radical elements.” Later, Feinstein raised the Israeli-Palestinian issue, urging Bahrain and Gulf governments to “speak out on the need for a two-state solution in Palestine in order to ostracize extremists on both sides and bring the Arab media on board.” Sheikh Salman gently deflected this, suggesting that the United States, “even if politically difficult, must engage in a public discourse that demonstrates that the goal of promoting democracy in the Middle East includes Palestinians as well.” So it wasn’t the Arab ruler who “came back to the issue,” but a peace-process-fixated American senator—an effort artfully foiled by Sheikh Salman.
          • A meeting in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah on November 29, 2005 was dominated again by Iran and Iraq. (Attending: Hagel, Senator Tom Carper and Representative Ellen Tauscher.) The monarch, still in his “Shiite crescent” mode, expressed his fear that Iran would establish its dominance over Iraq: “If this influence was not checked, he warned, it could lead to effective Iranian rule of southern Iraq, and to an even more active and dangerous Hizballah in Lebanon.” King Abdullah’s second concern: Syria, where he speculated that too much pressure on the Assad regime could lead to a “possible takeover of the country by the Muslim Brotherhood”—which, “the king warned, would be very negative for both Syria and the region.” Israel and the Palestinians? This figured as the third item on the agenda. In this case, Abdullah didn’t “warn” about anything, but simply highlighted Jordan’s commitment to train and reform Palestinian security forces, Jordan’s interest in more economic cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, and a vague hope that there might be an “increased dynamism” in Israel, as a result of changes in the Labor Party.
          • Hagel (and Carper and Tauscher) met with Saudi King Abdullah, then-Crown Prince Sultan, and Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, in Riyadh on November 30, 2005. (Pictured above: Hagel and the king.) Again, the top agenda issues were Iraq followed by Iran. Hagel would later go on the record as opposing the 2007 “surge” in Iraq (“the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam”). But in 2005, when Hagel asked the Saudis about a U.S. troop withdrawal, King Abdullah “urged the U.S. not to withdraw forces or lose focus until Iraq was stabilized,” and the Saudi foreign minister added that “the U.S. should consider increasing troop levels in the short term to ensure the political process concludes successfully.” Only after a lengthy discussion of Iran did they get on to Israel and the Palestinians. Prince Sultan explained the various Saudi peace proposals, and praised Israel’s then-prime minister Ariel Sharon as “a clever and courageous man” who might “move in a direction which serves Israel and the Israeli people.” (This section of the dispatch carried the headline: “Sharon as Peacemaker: Saudis Surprisingly Pragmatic.”) Hagel later would claim that lack of a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “undermines” the Saudi (and other pro-American) governments. But he didn’t hear that from the Saudis, who in their 2005 meeting with him treated the issue as a mid-level priority.
          • On December 4, 2005, Hagel (accompanied by the U.S. ambassador to Egypt) met with Egyptian President Mubarak in Cairo. At the top of the agenda: the threat posed by the prospect of Shiite ascendency in Iraq. “In Mubarak’s view, the Shi’a were extremely difficult to deal with and given to deception,” and they represented a potential Iranian fifth column in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and other Gulf states. Second: Syria, where he advised the United States to “avoid stating publicly that it sought ‘regime change.'” It was Hagel who raised the Palestinian-Israel issue, thanking Egypt for supporting the peace process. Mubarak responded by calling Ariel Sharon, “a strong leader, the strongest since Begin,” and he went on to blame Syria’s late leader, Hafez Assad, for failing to reach a peace deal with Yitzhak Rabin. Mubarak then circled back to “the untrustworthiness and duplicity of the regime in Tehran,” with illustrative examples. In this conversation, it was Hagel, not Mubarak, who had “come right back” to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
          • On May 31, 2007, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora received Hagel (as well as Senators Patrick Leahy, Thad Cochran, Ken Salazar, Ben Cardin, and Representative Peter Welch). The prime minister dwelt at length on the UN resolution establishing the Hariri tribunal (it “meant the end of an era of impunity for assassins and Lebanon would now never turn back”). He then gave a detailed preview of the army’s plan to crush the terrorist group Fatah al-Islam, holed up in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Barid near Tripoli. Siniora did urge the United States to persuade Israel to open talks based on the Saudi peace initiative. If the opportunity were missed, “it would give considerable momentum to extremists in the region and all that entailed.”
          • On July 20, 2008, the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al Sabah, received Hagel (as well as Senator Barack Obama). The conversation focused Iraq, oil prices, and Aljazeera. Israel and the Palestinians weren’t discussed.

          So in none of these meetings was there a preliminary half-hour lecture on Palestine. In most of them, the threat posed by Iran loomed larger than any angst over the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Looking back at these meetings in 2008, Hagel claimed that “the people of the Middle East themselves tell me that this issue has to be dealt with or there will not be a resolution to any other issue in the Middle East.” In none of these meetings did any Arab leader tell Hagel any such thing.

          Hagel didn’t just claim to get the linkage message from Arab leaders. “You listen to Jewish leaders, and you listen to Arab leaders.” By “Jewish,” he must have meant Israeli (an elision he has made elsewhere, in his well-known reference to the “Jewish lobby”). Hagel has met many Israelis, and only he and they know what they told him. But on at least one occasion, he heard one of them brusquely dismiss the linkage argument. Hagel (and Senator Biden) met with then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in December 2004, and one of the Americans in the delegation (unnamed in the dispatch) had the temerity to suggest that “progress towards Israeli-Palestinian peace would have a dramatic impact on ending regional and international terrorism. Sharon quickly stated that Israel should not be held responsible for terrorism, asserting that it was the target of terror even prior to June 1967. It was not correct to believe that terror would disappear if the Israeli-Palestinian dispute were solved. The only thing that Israel was ‘responsible’ for, he maintained, was defending its people.” If “Jewish leaders” told Hagel anything that reinforced his thesis, Ariel Sharon definitely was not among them.

          Neither was his successor, Ehud Olmert, who told Hagel (and several other senators) in May 2007 that Arab fear of Iran had created a situation where, “for the first time, we are not enemy number one.” On that same visit, then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni told the senatorial delegation that “there was a new understanding in the region that the Iranian threat is an ‘existential’ one and has become more significant than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

          Abdullah of Jordan: Linkage Man

          In Hagel’s meetings (as revealed in the WikiLeaks sample), there is one exception—one meeting in which an Arab leader said something approximating what Hagel claimed they all told him. In Hagel’s meetings with King Abdullah in 2004 and 2005, he heard little about the Palestinians, and a lot about the “Shiite crescent” and a possible Iranian takeover of southern Iraq. But in a meeting in Amman in May 2007 with Hagel (plus Leahy, Cochran, Salazar, Cardin, and Welch), the Jordanian monarch did a turnaround. King Abdullah “highlighted his view that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the key issue facing Jordan and the region.” He claimed that “within as little as one and a half years the opportunity for a two-state solution may be lost.” Jordanian then-foreign minister Abdelelah al-Khatib told the visiting senators that “lack of progress on peace was undermining efforts on other issues such as stabilizing Iraq, Lebanon, and isolating Syria and Iran.”

          Why did King Abdullah change his tune? Thanks to the U.S. “surge” in Iraq, he’d come to believe that Iran had been checked. In June 2008, Lally Weymouth interviewed him for The Washington Post. “I remember a couple of years ago, you warned against the danger posed by Iran to moderate Arab regimes,” she told him. “Do you view Iran as the number one threat in this region?” King Abdullah: “I think the lack of peace [between Israel and the Palestinians] is the major threat. I don’t see the ability of creating a two-state solution beyond 2008, 2009. I think this is really the last chance. If this fails, I think this is going to be the major threat for the Middle East.” Weymouth: “But aren’t you concerned that Iran is a threat both to your country and to other countries in the region?” Abdullah: “Iran poses issues to certain countries, although I have noticed over the past month or so that the dynamics have changed quite dramatically, and for the first time I think maybe I can say that Iran is less of a threat. But if the peace process doesn’t move forward, then I think that extremism will continue to advance over the moderate stands that a lot of countries take.”

          So Jordan’s King Abdullah became the linkage lead man, and it’s not difficult to see why. Jordan is the Arab state that sits astride the West Bank, that has a Palestinian majority, and that shares the longest border with Israel. Were things to go very wrong between Israelis and Palestinians on the West Bank, Jordan would be the first to feel it. So it is Jordan’s national interest to elevate Israeli-Palestinian peace to preeminence. In particular circumstances, such as the Iraq war, it will strike other chords. But its default position is to declare, always with urgency, that the sky is about to fall on Israelis and Palestinians, that the world must act now to prevent that, and that a Palestinian state will help solve every problem, everywhere. In that respect, Jordan is unique in the Arab world.

          And King Abdullah of Jordan seems to have been the only Arab leader whose message strictly conformed to Hagel’s idée fixe about linkage. This would become significant in July 2008, when candidate Barack Obama set off for the Middle East, accompanied by Hagel (and Senator Jack Reed). This visit has been described as “an intense bonding experience” between Hagel and Obama, in which they “delved deeply into policy discussions—’wonkfests,’ as one former aide called them.” The swing included a stop in Amman. (King Abdullah returned from Aspen to be there, and at the end of the visit, he personally drove Obama to the airport like the regular guy he is.) We don’t have a leaked record of the king’s meeting with the delegation. But the press statement issued by the royal palace reported that the king stressed to Obama “that ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and achieving a just settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict tops the priorities of the people of the Middle East.” The king’s view of how linkage actually operated came through in Obama’s own account, in a press interview:

          I think King, King Abdullah is as savvy an analyst of the region and player in the region as, as there is, one of the points that he made and I think a lot of people made, is that we’ve got to have an overarching strategy recognizing that all these issues are connected. If we can solve the Israeli-Palestinian process, then that will make it easier for Arab states and the Gulf states to support us when it comes to issues like Iraq and Afghanistan.

          It will also weaken Iran, which has been using Hamas and Hezbollah as a way to stir up mischief in the region. If we’ve gotten an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, maybe at the same time peeling Syria out of the Iranian orbit, that makes it easier to isolate Iran so that they have a tougher time developing a nuclear weapon.

          So Obama, under the combined influence of Hagel and Abdullah, became a convert to linkage. It was this notion that propelled the Obama administration, from its very first day, into a flurry of efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The very urgency with which this campaign was launched may have been its undoing, producing the “self-inflicted wound” of the U.S. demand for an Israeli settlement freeze. Hagel wasn’t implicated in that decision. The linkage mindset was.

          A Dangerous Notion

          It could do still more damage. Linkage-think can lead to panicked overreaction whenever Israelis and Arabs do exchange blows, as they occasionally do. In the summer of 2006, when Israel and Hezbollah fought another round (not their first and probably not their last), Hagel had just such a seizure:

          I think it is so serious now, I think we are at the most dangerous time maybe we have seen ever in the Middle East with all the combustible elements… The president needs to get seriously engaged now. If we do not do that now at this moment, and I mean this moment, then the possibility of this escalating into a Middle East catastrophe, which would drag in all nations of the world, if for no other reason than just the energy dynamic here. The ramifications, the significance of all of this is astounding once you start to chart it out.

          “The most dangerous time ever,” “catastrophe,” “drag in all nations of the world,” “astounding”—there is not a sentence here (even an incomplete one) that isn’t a model of apocalyptic hyperbole, more evocative of an end-time preacher than a U.S. senator. Linkage, like any domino theory, inflates events way out of their true proportion. Israel’s mini-wars aren’t preludes to Armageddon, and one would hate for a U.S. secretary of defense to think they were.

          And linkage mania is a standing temptation to an open-ended intervention of the kind Hagel is supposed to abhor. Hagel signed his name (with other “realists”) to a 2009 paper warning the new President Obama that the “last chance” for a two-state solution could be lost in “six to twelve months.” The paper proposed deployment of a UN-mandated, U.S.-led NATO force (plus Egyptians and Jordanians) to the West Bank for five to fifteen years, to assume security responsibilities. The United States has always been steadfast in resisting proposals to put U.S. troops between Israelis and Palestinians, for fear of not ever being able to extricate them. A 2010 NATO-published planning paper concluded that “NATO’s mission in Palestine would have slim chances of success, and a high probability of failure…. It seems irresponsible to hasten NATO into a mission that has all the ingredients to turn into a quagmire that equals the Alliance’s involvement in Afghanistan.” Hagel would consider taking that plunge.

          Of course, if you believe that the future of America and all humankind hinges on urgent creation of a Palestinian state, you might favor such a risky intervention. But does it? That would be a great question to pose to Chuck Hagel when he comes up for confirmation.

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