Washington Babylon — March 3, 2008, 12:43 pm

More Failure for “Sensible” American Middle East Policy

Former CIA official: concessions by Israel cannot be discussed ”rationally” in United States

The week opens with President Bush’s “peace plan” for the Middle East in shambles, more than 100 Palestinians dead, many of them civilians, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heading to the Middle East for a round of talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials. A New York Times story published today said that encouraging Israel to negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas would pose problems because according to Middle East experts consulted by the newspaper, that would “further legitimize Hamas.”

Martin Indyk, a former United States ambassador to Israel, said reaching a cease-fire would “make it look like Hamas is the entity with which Israel and the West should be negotiating . . . Excluding them doesn’t work,” Indyck told the Times, “and including them doesn’t work, either. So what do you do? This is a situation that does not lend itself to a sensible policy.”

But Hamas already has legitimacy among Palestinians, who in theory are a party to peace talks. The group won the 2006 Palestinian elections and enjoys far greater popular support than Mahmoud Abbas, the American-backed Palestinian president. You don’t have to endorse Hamas to recognize that any “sensible” policy involves conversations with the group. Even Israelis understand this, a poll published by the newspaper Haaretz last week showed. According to the survey, 64 percent of Israelis “say the government must hold direct talks with the Hamas government in Gaza toward a cease-fire and the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit.” Only 28 percent opposed such talks.

In this country any such talk of engagement with Hamas amounts to political heresy. Indeed, on the broader subject of Israel and Palestine, there are no notable differences between the major presidential candidates. After generating a wave of criticism for once merely expressing sympathy for Palestinians, Barack Obama was long ago bullied into submission. “In carefully worded speeches to American Jewish groups, [Obama] has stressed an absolute commitment to Israeli security and played down anything remotely likely to cause controversy,” the Washington Post said in a story today.

The Post said that despite Obama’s “professions of being the candidate of change, most of the policies outlined in his speeches, in the briefing papers issued by his campaign and in the written answers he gave to questions submitted by The Washington Post fall well within the mainstream of Democratic and moderate Republican thinking. On a number of issues, such as the Middle East peace process, Obama advocates a continuation of Bush Administration policies but promises more energetic and intense presidential involvement.” Despite all of this, Obama is being increasingly attacked on the ridiculous grounds that he is “an enemy of Israel.”

I recently spoke with Paul Pillar, a 30-year CIA veteran who between 2000 and 2005 coordinated intelligence on the Middle East, about current American policy and the likelihood that it might change under the next administration, whichever that might be. Pillar, now a visiting professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, said:

Engagement with Hamas is essential to any Israeli-Palestinian peace. Politically that’s a very hard position to take in this country–and impossible for this administration, which considers Hamas to be nothing more than a terrorist group. The Israeli-Palestinian issue is going to be difficult for the next president as well. Israel needs to be pushed to make concessions, and that’s a topic that we can’t seem to be able to discuss rationally in this country. Perhaps the only real chance that the topic can be approached is if the next president has a successful first term and is re-elected in 2012, and if the economy is strong. Maybe then he or she will decide to make the huge effort required to address the situation–it would require that level of favorable circumstance.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

Commentary November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm

Shaky Foundations

The Clintons’ so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2016

Atlas Aggregated

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Origins of Speech

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Four in Verse

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Sigh and a Salute

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Four in Prose

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Don the Realtor

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Martin Amis on the rise of Trump, Tom Wolfe on the origins of speech, Art Spiegelman on Si Lewen, fiction by Diane Williams, and more

In Havana, the past year has been marked by a parade of bold-faced names from the north — John Kerry reopening the United States Embassy; Andrew Cuomo bringing a delegation of American business leaders; celebrities ranging from Joe Torre, traveling on behalf of Major League Baseball to oversee an exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team, to Jimmy Buffett, said to be considering opening one of his Margaritaville restaurants there. All this culminated with a three-day trip in March by Barack Obama, the first American president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. But to those who know the city well, perhaps nothing said as much about the transformation of political relations between the United States and Cuba that began in December 2014 as a concert in the Tribuna Antiimperialista.

Illustration by Darrel Rees
Article
Don the Realtor·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"If you have ever wondered what it’s like, being a young and avaricious teetotal German-American philistine on the make in Manhattan, then your curiosity will be quenched by The Art of the Deal."
Photograph (detail) © Polly Borland/Exclusive by Getty Images
Article
The Origins of Speech·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"To Chomsky...every child’s language organ could use the 'deep structure,' 'universal grammar,' and 'language acquisition device' he was born with to express what he had to say, no matter whether it came out of his mouth in English or Urdu or Nagamese."
Illustration (detail) by Darrel Rees. Source photograph © Miroslav Dakov/Alamy Live News
Article
A Sigh and a Salute·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Si told me that various paintings had spoken to him, but he wished they had been hung closer together 'so they could talk to each other.' This observation planted a seed that would come to fruition years later in his mature work."
Artwork (detail) by Si Lewen
Article
El Bloqueo·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Amid the festivities and the flood of celebrities, it would be easy for Americans to miss that the central plank of the long-standing cold war against Cuba — the economic embargo — remains very much alive and well."
Photograph (detail) by Rose Marie Cromwell

Estimated temperature of Hell, according to two Spanish physicists ‘ interpretation of the Bible:

832°F

The ecosystems around Chernobyl, Ukraine, are now healthier than they were before the nuclear disaster, though radiation levels are still too high for human habitation.

A TSA agent in Seattle was arrested for taking up-skirt photos of women in the airport, a Maryland police officer was arrested for taking up-skirt photos of an off-duty colleague, and the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that taking up-skirt photos is legal in the state.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today