Jan 21st 2018

When Geopolitical Conditions And Moral Values Converge

by Alon Ben-Meir

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is an expert on Middle East politics and affairs, specializing in peace negotiations between Israel and the Arab states. For the past twenty five years, Dr. Ben-Meir has been directly involved in various negotiations and has operated as a liaison between top Arab and Israeli officials. Dr. Ben-Meir serves as senior fellow at New York University's School of Global Affairs where he has been teaching courses on the Middle East and negotiations for 18 years. He is also a Senior Fellow and the Middle Eastern Studies Project Director at the World Policy Institute. Dr. Ben-Meir hosts "Global Leaders: Conversations with Alon Ben-Meir," a series of debates and conversations with top policy-makers around the world. He also regularly holds briefings at the US State Department for international visitors. Dr. Ben-Meir writes frequently and has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines and websites including the Middle East Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Le Monde, American Chronicle, the Week, the Political Quarterly, Israel Policy Forum, Gulf Times, the Peninsula, The Jerusalem Post, and the Huffington Post. He also makes regular television and radio appearances, and has been featured on networks such as CNN, FOX, PBS, ABC, al Jazeera (English and Arabic), and NPR. He has authored six books related to Middle East policy and is currently working on a book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Dr. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. He is fluent in English, Arabic, and Hebrew.

The geopolitical developments in the Middle East over the past fifteen years have created new political and security dynamics engendered by the violent turmoil and profound concerns over the Iranian threat, shared by Israel and the Arab states. Israel is now facing a new critical juncture: continue with its oppressive occupation and creeping annexation of Palestinian land, which stands in total contrast to its moral responsibility and Jewish values; or seek a peace agreement with the Palestinians in the context of an Arab-Israeli comprehensive peace, which the Arab states seek now more than any time before because of their domestic and foreign security concerns.

The current government, led by Netanyahu with the support of three radical ministers, Lieberman, Bennett, and Shaked—who hold the key ministries of Defense, Education, and Justice respectively—relishes the new geopolitical environment. They complement each other by developing a defense posture, biased educational curriculum, and skewed public narrative while weakening the judiciary, with Netanyahu orchestrating the long-term strategy that denies the Palestinians a state of their own.

Blinded by the euphoria created by Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and the near-unimpeded expansion of settlements and annexation of Palestinian land, the ministers feel confident that the occupation is no longer a major concern to the Arab states. And with the unwavering backing of Trump, they are assuming a free hand to do what they choose with impunity. They are tragically wrong.

Israel must now seize the momentous, time-sensitive opportunity provided by the changing geopolitical regional dynamic precipitated by the common Iranian threat against Israel and the Arab states. The leading Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf states, view Israel today as a strategic ally rather than an enemy, which presents Israel with two options:

The first is to make further territorial gains by building new, expanding existing, and legalizing illegal settlements, which will basically foreclose any prospect of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement based on two states. This will not stop the Arab states from cooperating with Israel because of their preoccupation with domestic and foreign threats, which assumes priority over the Palestinians’ aspiration for statehood.

The relatively mute reaction to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital only reinforces the view that the Arab states’ anxieties about the Iranian threat takes precedence, even over such a sensitive issue as the future status of Jerusalem.

That said, although the Arab states want to normalize relations with Israel, they will not do so because that would be seen as a blatant betrayal of the Palestinian cause which they have championed for decades. Instead, they would (continue to) maintain tacit strategic cooperation with Israel against Iran, which they need, but deprive Israel of a comprehensive peace which the Israelis greatly seek.

The second option for Israel is to capitalize on its current state of relations with the Arab countries by reaching out to the Palestinians to resume serious peace talks. This may well be a historic opportunity because the Arab states, who want to maintain their strategic cooperation with Israel, are now predisposed to pressure the Palestinians to make important concessions to Israel, especially on national security, refugees, and land swaps.

The current conditions provide a rare opportunity to reach a peace agreement that can be implemented over a long period of time (ten years or more), during which both sides can develop trust (which is sorely lacking) through joint socio-economic projects while cementing security arrangements and cooperation.

By establishing a Palestinian state, Israel will end its human rights violations and stop the continuing moral erosion precipitated by the occupation, which has infected the country for five decades and severely undermined Jewish values and humanitarianism. These values were the very secret behind Jewish survival throughout the millennia, even though they were subjected to discrimination, persecution, expulsion, and death.

As Rabbi Daniel Polish eloquently stated in his writing “Judaism and Human Rights”, “The system of values and ideas [on which human rights are based] are among the beliefs which constitute the very core of Jewish sacred scripture and the tradition of ideas and practices which flows from it…”

At their core, Netanyahu and his company are dedicated to the idea that God bequeathed the “Land of Israel” exclusively to the Jews, which justifies taking any measure, however wrong and humanly abusive, to secure the land in perpetuity in the name of God. They have become oblivious to the fact that “Human rights are an integral part of the faith and tradition of Judaism.”

The right-wing segment of the Israeli population views the development of events between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and the US’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as proof of the unassailability of the Netanyahu government’s judgment and policies. But there is nothing further from the truth.

If these policies could, in fact, lead to a comprehensive peace, I’d say, stay the course. But given the volatility of the Middle East, today’s friends may well become the foes of tomorrow. This is a prospect that the Netanyahu government cannot ignore.

At the present, the Saudis and other Gulf states need strategic cooperation with Israel, as it serves their interests as long as Iran is seen as a threat to their national security. This could change in many ways, including the mitigation of the Saudi-Iranian conflict, once Syria and Iraq stabilize, in which case strategic cooperation with Israel becomes irrelevant.

Without striking a peace agreement with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab states, Israel will leave itself vulnerable to the changing geopolitical environment. Can Netanyahu, Lieberman, Bennett, and Shaked guarantee they can indefinitely frame the development of events in the region to Israel’s advantage?

There is no real adversary today that can potentially destroy Israel. Israel’s greatest enemy comes from within—its misguided leaders, whose blind messianic mission will be behind the destruction of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

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May 8th 2022
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May 4th 2022
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May 3rd 2022
EXTRACT: " The conventional wisdom among students of the Russian arts and sciences is that Russian culture is “great.” The problem is that, while there are surely great individuals within Russian culture, the culture as a whole cannot avoid responsibility for Putin and his regime’s crimes." ---- "Russianists will not be able to avoid examining themselves and their Russian cultural icons for harbingers of the present catastrophe. What does it mean that Fyodor Dostoevsky was a Russian chauvinist? That Nikolai Gogol and Anton Chekhov were Ukrainian? That Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was an unvarnished imperialist? That Aleksandr Pushkin was a troubadour of Russian imperial greatness? May these writers still be read without one eye on the ongoing atrocities in Ukraine?"
Apr 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "The following day Lavrov met his Eritrean counterpart, Osman Saleh, in Moscow. Eritrea was the only African country to vote against the UN resolution condemning the invasion. In this refusal to condemn Russia, Eritrea was joined by only Belarus, North Korea and Syria. Even longstanding allies such as Cuba and China abstained. It’s an indication of Russia’s increasingly limited diplomatic options as this war continues."
Apr 24th 2022
EXTRACT: "Although the milestone lasted only for a brief time, it points to a future in which California runs on 100% wind, solar, hydro and batteries, a future that will certainly arrive even faster than the state plans. As it is, California is ahead of its green energy goals." ...... "A world of 100% green energy and electric cars is not only a healthier and more comfortable world, it is a world where oil and gas dictators like Vladimir Putin are defunded."
Apr 17th 2022
EXTRACT: "Kazakhstan’s authorities have also showed uncharacteristic leniency in allowing public rallies in support of Ukraine. Thousands of protesters holding banners reading “Russians, leave Ukraine”, “Long Live Ukraine” and “Bring Putin to trial” marched across the capital, Almaty, wrapping monuments to Lenin and other Soviet-era figures with yellow and blue balloons symbolising the Ukrainian flag."
Apr 15th 2022
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Apr 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "Worse yet, the Hungarian government has effectively been helping Putin by prohibiting the shipment of weapons to Ukraine across its borders. Hungarian public TV spreads Russian disinformation day and night. The day before the election, an assembly of ordinary people expressing solidarity with Ukraine was framed on state television as a “pro-war rally.” "
Apr 13th 2022
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Apr 13th 2022
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Apr 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russian society has so far failed to stop Putin, just as German society failed to stop Hitler. And so, like a poisoned chalice, that task has fallen to the West, as it did in 1939. The West must now treat Putin and his regime the same way that Winston Churchill treated Hitler: Don’t talk to him, just defeat him. Dead-enders such as Putin are too fanatical and desperate to be reliable negotiating partners."
Apr 3rd 2022
EXTRACT: "From 1807 to 1814 on the Iberian peninsula, Napoleon had to fight Spanish, Portuguese and British armies while beset by ubiquitous, ferocious insurgents. He described this war as his “bleeding ulcer”, draining him of men and equipment. It is the west’s aim to make Ukraine for Putin what Spain was for Napoleon. In the absence of a negotiated settlement, Ukraine and Nato will continue to grind away at Russia’s army, digging away at that bleeding ulcer and prolonging Russia’s agony on the military front, as the west continues its parallel assault on its economy. If Putin’s plan is to proceed with the Korea model, he will fail. There is a strong possibility that Putin has only a limited idea of how badly his army is faring. So be it – he’ll find out soon enough that there is now no path for him to military victory."
Apr 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "Policymakers expected that the country would be able to secure its energy supply entirely from renewable sources, so they resolved to phase out coal and nuclear energy simultaneously. The last three of Germany’s 17 nuclear power plants are set to be shut down this year." ---- ".... the share of wind and solar power in Germany’s total final energy consumption, which includes heating, industrial processing, and traffic, was a meager 6.7%. And while wind and solar generated 29% of the country’s electricity output, electricity itself accounted for only about a fifth of its final energy consumption." ----- "If Germany suddenly halted Russian gas imports, gas-based residential heating systems – on which half the German population, approximately 40 million people, rely – and industrial processes that rely heavily on gas imports would break down....."
Apr 1st 2022
EXTRACT: "For Putin, the past that matters most is the one the dissident author and Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn exalted: the time when the Slavic peoples were united within the Orthodox Christian kingdom of Kievan Rus’. Kyiv formed its heart, making Ukraine central to Putin’s pan-Slavic vision. ---- But, for Putin, the Ukraine war is about preserving Russia, not just expanding it. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently made clear, Russia’s leaders believe that their country is locked in a “life-and-death battle to exist on the world’s geopolitical map.” That worldview reflects Putin’s longstanding obsession with works of other Russian emigrant philosophers, such as Ivan Ilyin and Nikolai Berdyaev, who described a struggle for the Eurasian (Russian) soul against the Atlanticists (the West) who would destroy it. ---- Yet Putin and his neo-Eurasianists seem to believe that the key to victory is to create the kind of regime those anti-Bolshevik philosophers most detested: one run by the security forces. A police state would fulfill the vision of another of Putin’s heroes: the KGB chief turned Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov."
Apr 1st 2022
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Mar 31st 2022
EXTRACT: "The horrors of World War II – the death camps, slave labor, and inhumane experiments on people – produced a global commitment never to permit such crimes to be repeated. This began a transformation of international politics whereby appreciation of the value of every person’s life and dignity ensured that even most authoritarian governments at least paid lip service to human rights.  ----- But the Soviet Union and many of its successor states, particularly Russia, never internalized this change. More than three decades after the USSR collapsed, most post-Soviet countries are still governed according to the old “imperial” paradigm. So, it should come as no surprise that we are now witnessing a clash between fundamentally different sets of values and ultimate goals for statehood."
Mar 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "Referencing past legacies as a justification for present-day political decisions is often effective – such appeals trigger emotional reflexes and contribute to thinking about politics in terms of rivalry and defence. The irony within the tragedy of the current situation is that Putin will assuredly go down in history as the figure that did more to unite the Ukrainian people (albeit against Russia) than any other in recent memory."
Mar 24th 2022
EXTRACT: " Despite the death and destruction that Russia rains down daily on them, the vast majority of Ukrainians are bullish about the future: 77% believe the country is moving in the right direction, 93% think they can beat back Russia, and 47% expect to win in the next few weeks.  Ukrainian policymakers are no less bullish, driving a hard bargain in negotiations with the Russians. Several factors account for this remarkable optimism."