Land of Confusion

Building on the idea that Israel needs to control more of its own destiny, the country needs to realize it is going through profound changes at a time of three competing powers attempting to exert their influence upon the whole of the Middle East.

Israel, against the stereotypes of many, is beholden to American influence in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and Iran are now rising powers in the region, involving a Saudi backlash to an Iranian insurgence in the wake of the American invasion of Iraq.

Israel has been resigned to a position of proxy in the eyes of Arab states, and confidence in its own military’s ability to execute has lowered for most Israelis. The country is extremely tense and depressed because of its Prime Minister’s ability to disappoint an increasingly disillusioned public. More so than a war being characterized by poor decisions, the onslaught of corruption scandals and the ability of the corrupt to get away with their improprieties is gashing the collective surface of Israeli society’s skin.

But there is a cap on a pressured euphoria. The disillusionment with alternative agendas, thanks to the corruption and inhibitions of Kadima’s leadership and the failed venture of the Gaza Disengagement, have Israelis thinking more conservatively.

The ultra-left Peace Now organization criticized Thursday’s Tel Aviv demonstrations as lacking an alternative solution to the state’s ills, rather than a simple demand for Ehud Olmert to step down. The movement is taking an unusually misplaced stance on the political upheaval, trying to defend Ehud Olmert and his government’s deserving to stay in government.

Peace Now fears the support for withdrawing from the West Bank is waning. The reality is Peace Now is only joining a chorus made up of current government ministers and Kadima parliamentarians who are committing political suicide by attempting to save Ehud Olmert.

When Olmert resigns, the euphoria that will have been uncorked will provide Israelis with an opportunity to install a practical vision for Israel’s future into power. The sad thing is there is no profound party, nor candidate, waiting for the votes to implement this installation.

Israel’s foreign and domestic policies are intertwined. All countries’ are in this region. Control over the environment is essential to counter both Saudi and Iranian influence in the Middle East, and to begin handling the mounting crisis of the Iraqi refugees flooding Israel’s neighbors.

With a solid control over the West Bank, Israel can control a massive reconstruction program that would put the keys back into the Israeli drivers’ hands. Being forced into an arbitrary withdrawal from the West Bank before security can be guaranteed for Israel is an impossible scenario. Israel would be in need to resolve itself to fighting more wars with a new and unstable state on its borders.

Throughout the peace process, Palestinian autonomy has been emphasized over Israeli security. The reality is that Palestinian autonomy is unsustainable without Israeli security, for whose lack of it would force Israel into new armed conflicts with Palestinian militias and rocket squads.

Israel’s strongest asset is its economy, having grown in spite of a major war that threatened a third of the state last summer. Considering this, Israel’s economic clout is essential to maintaining a peace with the Palestinians of the West Bank (and Gaza).

A focused campaign of Israeli-monitored reconstruction would enable Palestinians to jump-start their economy, and at the same time be intertwined with the Israeli investment into its rise. Economic interdependence would create a mutual incentive to avoid war, and provide Israel with the financial and physical security necessary to allow Palestinians more openness.

Additionally, Israel’s planned expansion into other regions of the country should enable it incentives for further environmental and technological research and development. This R&D will invite a new resurgence in scientific study in the country and a more active international element in the slew of studies the research programs at institutions like Ben Gurion University and the Weizmann Institute would conduct.

Israel’s numbers necessitate the creation of stronger financial networks throughout the region to enable itself to gain more in terms of resources, particularly water.

The country essentially needs a leadership that can consider all these factors and provide Israel with the ability to foster as a regional influence. Israel needs to consider its ability to develop better relationships with its Arab neighbors for future years, and in order to create investments and interests for itself in its immediate neighbors, particularly Jordan, Egypt and the West Bank.

It must become a state that enables all its citizens to contribute to the state’s growth, at the same maintaining its integrity as a Jewish state. This can be done without a problem, and it need not exacerbate already prevalent sectarian overtones in Israeli society. Avoiding the trap of restriction is vital to Israel’s ability to break the necessity to capitulate to problematic compromises which may itself hurt Israel’s own ability to grow.

Future Community in the Negev Desert

Yes, the Source of the Law Matters

For anyone reading this note, you are about to get a quick crash course in Jewish law.

There are three main types of laws practices in Judaism – those taken or derived from the Torah, those legislated by the Rabbis over the last 2,000 or so years, or customs which are maintained by families & communities and are so authoritative they become law.

Unfortunately, those who practice all these laws actually have problems remembering from where these laws derive. It is not an error on their part. Being a religious Jew is a lot like going to law school, and it is not easy to remember the direct source for everything.

Understanding how to practice and maintain Judaism is done through understanding the details of every law that Judaism and its legal structure mandate you maintain.

So naturally, for anyone who is entering into Orthodox practice, he or she will have to become quickly learned in the ins and outs of the legal system. Consequently, you are going to have to delve into where we are getting all these laws and their exact sources.

Over the last few years, there has been an effort to delegitimize Rabbinical laws and popular customs, in an effort to make Judaism less restrictive – or, to put it simply, easier. This effort has not been taken kindly by those who maintain all these laws without prejudice to where they come from.

In Judaism, all laws, no matter their source (Torah/God, the Rabbis, or long-maintained custom) have to be kept. Rabbinical laws are actually mandated by the Torah itself, in that it commands we have to listen to our leaders and judges (for the sake of maintaining societal stability).

Asking whether something is ‘of the Torah,’ ‘of the Rabbis,’ or ‘custom’ will not always get you an easy answer. There is now a reactionary portion of Orthodoxy which will see the question as ‘irrelevant’ because in the end, “you have to follow it anyway.”

This is totally wrong, and detrimental for anyone who is trying to understand all the intricacies of Jewish law. It ALWAYS matters what the source of a specific law is (firstly, its status as Biblical, Rabbinical or Customary), and then on top of that more specific details (secondarily, where in the Bible it is written and what context it is in, which Rabbis enacted the law and why did they enact it, or from which people did this custom start?).

Why does it matter? Well to be a devout Jew, you inherently have to be following the actual law as you know it, devoutly. You cannot truly do this unless you make the concerted effort to determine every single relevant detail of a law, and from that you will be able to analyze the accuracy of any aspect of any law.

Now consider you are not sure if a law comes from a divine mandate – from the Torah, or a human mandate – from the Rabbis. It makes a major difference now. This is because there is:

1) more leniency in regards to keeping Rabbinical laws because these laws are fallible. There is, inherently and always, circumstances in which Rabbis would find it acceptable to break a Rabbinical law.

The best example is when one has to choose between breaking a Torah law and breaking a Rabbinical law. If this choice were to come up, which may or may not come up that much, you have to keep the Torah law. Why? – because it is infallible, and a Rabbi’s authority is *almost* ALWAYS superceded by that of God.

2) a degree of fallibility for Rabbinical laws. Laws from God cannot be overturned. Unless God decreed we can break it in certain cases, there is no way to tear up a law straight from the Torah.

(for example, in the case of emergency you can and should break Jewish laws that would otherwise interfere with you attempting to save someone’s life).

Rabbinical laws however are man-made, and are enacted for a reason. Firstly, Rabbinical laws cannot break Torah laws, otherwise they are invalid. If a piece of Congressional legislation violates the cornerstone concepts of the Constitution, it is thrown out – the same with Rabbinical laws to the religion’s cornerstone laws from the Torah.

If the reason for enacting it no longer applies, then that specific law itself can come into question, as to whether or not we still need it. There are more details to consider, but this would be a major detail in these cases.

Plus, a Rabbinical law can be enacted to benefit the community. If the enactment is no longer beneficial, then the law can be brought into question.

So, if the law is Rabbinical, we need to be able to know this innate characteristic about the law’s source in order for us to determine if it has a degree of leniency, if it contains any errors, its continued relevance, necessity and benefits.

Then, there is custom. Customs have to be strongly adhered to in order to become binding. They are not legislated, and they do not have to have reasons for being initiated though many do: for symbolic value, respect, not being sure about something, etc.

When dealing with a custom, it is important to remember customs are carried on through family traditions and the traditions of the community in which a person is living. If someone moves from one community to another, it is – well – customary to take on the traditions of the people making up that particular community.

And just like Rabbinical laws, if they are against Torah law, they are illegal. If a custom is detrimental to a community, there is a strong argument in order for it to be nixed.

So there: it is always important to know where the law is coming from. Understanding whether or not you can do this or that thing, in this or that way, comes directly form your knowledge of which laws are made obligatory by God or by man. If you ever want to argue the validity of a law, you will not be able to argue something from God, but certainly you will be able to scrutinize something from the Rabbis or their interpretation of laws God may have phrased ambiguously in the Torah.

None of this means you will be able to overturn any major Rabbinical enactments, but trying to will get you a better understanding of the laws and principles they are built on then never exerting the effort for yourself. It is not that “it does not matter” where the law comes from because one would have to follow it anyway, it ALWAYS matters.

Bush Has Created a Terrorist State in Iraq

This has been the most back asswards and painfully intellectual experience of my life. Listening to George W. Bush make an absolute military fool of himself and then having to listen to his excuses for his mistakes over the last four years. For all his ideas, I truly believe I trust his intentions with his latest scheme – to secure Baghdad. He may have finally realized that the men he is dealing with in that city – ruled by corrupt power-seeking former revolutionaries with militias full of murderous delusional failures of seminary students – are leading the newest and most sinister terrorist government in the world. I am essentially accusing George W. Bush and his policies of creating a terrorist state in Baghdad.

For the last four years, Iraq has become a cesspool of corrupt former revolutionaries and mobsters (I’m looking at you Muqtada al-Sadr), hell-bent on carving out their “fair” share of what will be a new order in the new Iraq. No matter how much the bush Administration sugarcoats it, the Baghdad government is precisely the opposite of what we had been led to believe George W. Bush had set out to destroy – terrorist-sponsoring states.

Look at the logic. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has created for himself and his government a consistent and disturbing track record of behavior. I will use two of the most recent examples to demonstrate what I mean.

A couple months ago, George W. Bush went to Jordan to meet with Prime minister Maliki. They were going over security – obviously. What disturbed President Bush and demonstrated to me the man still had a conscience was when the Prime Minister disagreed with the idea of a new security operation in Baghdad. He wanted American troops to redeploy to fight Sunni insurgents in the infamous al-Anbar province west of Baghdad. The problem with this is that all the developing security problems are popping up in Baghdad – the entire purpose of the meeting.

Those problems in Baghdad are sectarian. They involve militias ethnically cleansing major neighborhoods in the city – mostly Shi’is pushing Sunnis out of the city and driving them either across the Euphrates River or making them into Syrian or Jordanian refugees. The Iraqi police, which have been infiltrated by the Badr Brigades (a Shiite militia) and the Mahdi Army (a Shiite militia), have been accused of these crimes. Maliki, who himself is a Shiite – as is most of his government – tried to sell his idea on the basis it involved Iraqis taking control of security.

Unfortunately, Maliki is also a malicious and developing tyrant who has essentially turned a blind eye to crimes perpetuated by Shiites against Sunnis, while trying to utilize every asset he has to only stamp out Sunni insurgent activity.

LAST MONTH, Shi’i Iraqi troops that were part of the latest security “surge” in Baghdad were accused of assaulting and raping a Sunni girl in her home. It turned into one of the most awkward domestic political disputes in modern Middle Eastern history. All Sunni politicians sympathized with the young girl – but all Shiite politicians accused her of fabricating the story. Within hours the Iraqi Prime Minister was hailing the soldiers as heroes. He refused to investigate the incident.

He is not the only sectarian politician in Iraq, but he is assuredly no many with whom the United States can work to secure the alleys of Baghdad – and thus the rest of the country. The suggestion US troops stay in al-Anbar provoked Bush to order the “surge,” BECAUSE Maliki was trying to get US troops out of the way so Shiite insurgents could freely impose their will on the Sunni inhabitants of the city. There is no reason to believe a Sunni Prime Minister might not do the same thing at this point in Iraqi history, but either scenario would only prove this point – Iraq has become what George W. Bush claimed to have been seeking to destroy – A TERRORIST STATE.

4 Years Ago: What I Remember from the Beginning of the Iraq War

I initially saw the War against Terrorism (T.W.A.T.) as something important that had to be done. I watched everything fall apart on September 11th on television in my high school German classroom. I watched CNN and MSNBC for about a month up until the exact moment newscasters started announcing we were bombing Afghanistan on October 7th (too bad no one remembers that date without looking it up).

Either way, the media had me caught up in the action for months. It was one of the things that drove me toward studying the Middle East (even though I had already decided to do so because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). I watched with intrigue wondering who we would strike next. I remember what should be seen as eerie reports on which countries would be the next “targets in the War on Terror.” News reports about Somalia, Iran, Lebanon, a slew of African countries and possibly Iraq were released within months of the attacks. Before long I began analyzing all these news reports. I started looking at what exactly made these countries newsworthy, and was glued to the History Channel.

Oh what an amazing advantage to live in an age where books were not necessary to become moderately intelligent, especially when you hate reading!

I felt I was on an intellectual high. I remember having to debate the issue of Iraq in both my History and Civics classes on the same day, in back-to-back class periods, while taking one side of the debate in the first class and the opposite argument in the next class – I won both debates. Regardless, I felt like I was the most learned about the issues for months (I was pretty freaking arrogant, but I thought I was respectful so it does not matter what you think).

Aside from my obvious genius, I did become confused and slightly frightened after a while when I decided that there was no logical reason to invade Iraq when Iran posed much more of a Middle Eastern and global danger – and the massive amount of domestic opposition to the Iranian regime would have been a lot cheaper of a tool for regime change in Iran than a military invasion of Iraq. I was barely against the war, but for practical reasons. I despised people who were accusing George W. Bush of trading “BLOOD FOR OIL” and was frustrated by people who were blindly following Bush’s logic on Iraq – considering after what I thought was a respectful look at the facts I did not understand that logic myself.

So I put my thoughts down on paper. Some big shot at the Philadelphia Inquirer edited it and BOOM-SHAKA-LAKA I had myself an editorial printed and published on Tuesday March 20th, 2003. It talked about the strategic blunder it would be to invade Iraq at this point, draining our military resources from other potential hotspots around the world. We were using our military to democratize the Middle East at an illogical starting point. I thought it made a lot more sense to crunch Iran and let it crumble under its own people’s pressure. We would have had a regional democratic superpower in Iran that would have been friendly to the United States. Too bad we had actually started dropping the bombs on Baghdad Monday night, March 19, 2003.

Some experts probably came to the same conclusions I did (about the overstretched military AND democratizing Iran), but the ones who were on the news every night were not necessarily advocating this view. Sometimes the most qualified are not necessarily correct, and the most amateur do not necessarily have to incorrect.

So my Mom basically snagged all the copied of the inquirer from the local convenience store before anyone had the chance to buy a copy of the biggest headline since 9/11.

Where am I going with this? I could go in a lot of different directions. I could talk about three things: how this was a proud moment in my life and an intellectual high point I have been aspiring to get back to; how I came to believe that the Iraq war was over money and business; how George W. Bush has essentially created a terrorist state in Iraq; or, MOST IMPORTANTLY, it is not too late to view the IRANIAN PEOPLE as the most important AGENT OF CHANGE in the Middle East and the Iranian government has been trying to frantically consolidate its own power over the last three years and still has its weak points. I feel like writing about all of them. I will get to them later.

Democracy in Iran is Still the Way to Peace in the Middle East

Democracy is blossoming again in a country that has seen so many external and internal interference in that process. After decades of oppression under the Shah, an Iranian Revolution became a fruitless endeavor, as a country’s revolutionary hopes were dashed by a megalomanic leadership. Following a brief period of liberalization, the Iranian regime is now consolidating power and keeping its citizens deadlocked in a cycle of disappointment.

The parliament in Iran has no power – its decisions can be vetoed by a group of 12 elitist clerics. The president has no power – he can set economic policy but all power is vested in the “Supreme Leader. Even those candidates Iranians can choose are limited to who the regime lets run – a filtered democracy, a limited democracy.

Iranian elections are more expensive public opinion polls than efforts by the citizenry to determine their own fate. Recent elections for the Assembly of Experts – the body that gets to select a new supreme leader when the position is vacant – did not fare well for Ahmadinejad’s supporters. The public does not support this regime, nor its policies. It is only holding Iranians back from taking the helm and creating a powerful Iranian democracy that would economically prosper and contribute to stabilizing the region.

The Next Lebanese Civil War

Lebanon is on the verge of a new civil war, something about hwich analysts have been in disbelief for months. Following 15 years of terrible civil war, it was thought unthinkable that Lebanese today would allow their country to again fall into sectarian disarray.

But yesterday’s protests have proven those ideals wrong. There is still a substantial contingent of people willing to fight for their political power. Six Lebanese died in clashes on 22 January and a shootout was sparked at a funeral for one of those killed. Pro and anti-government forcesclashed in the northern city of Tripoli, well outside the city limits of Beirut.

The main reason for this simmering war is not the Israel-Hizbullah war of this summer – that was merely a catalyst. The tensions between the government in Beirut and the Hizbullah-led opposition is over control of the country and territorial power. Hizbullah’s dominance resonates in Shiite areas, which take up almost half the country in the northeast and the southern region that borders Israel. The brunt of this summer’s war was fought there, where local residents who may support Hizbullah, and many do, would accommodate any Hizbullah war effort.

In the months leading up to the war, the Lebanese government had been asking the United States and Great Britain to request Israel leave the small niche territory called the Shebaa Farms, which Hizbullah claims is occupied Lebanese territory. While the United Nations recognizes it is not, Hizbullah has popularized this claim inside Lebanon. The logic behind Prime Minister of Lebanon Fouad Siniora’s request was that without the justification to maintain its militia – the reacquisition of “Lebanese” territory occupied by Israel – Hizbullah would have to disarm.

Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbullah’s secretary general, was facing domestic political pressure to disarm, plus international pressure thanks to the UN Resolution 1559. Thus, when Israel launched an operation in the Gaza Strip in June 2006 in response to a raid by Hamas on the Israeli-Gazan border, Nasrallah saw an opportunity to regain political capital by relegitimizing his militia. The result was Hizbullah’s exact mirroring of the Hamas operation, only on the Israeli-Lebanese border. The result was a similar, though larger, Israeli response. While its size may not have been expected, an Israeli counterattack would have been expected given Israel’s response the same type of raid only two weeks earlier. Hassan Nasrallah provoked a political war to regain domestic strength and political capital in Lebanon’s turbulent politics.

This continues to be the case, as large demonstrations organized by Hizbullah have attempted to gain more seats in the Lebanese cabinet for Hizbullah and its allies. With southern Lebanon in disarray following the war, the six-week long anti-government protests have only hurt the economy more. Yesterday’s strike, organized by Hizbullah, again crippled the Lebanese economy further, blocking roads in and out of the capital which is the main economic hub of the country.

Ironically, the strikes were motivated by the Lebanese government’s economic reform plans which are being drawn in order to win more financial aid from the international community and a donors’ conference Thursday, January 25 in Paris.

Given the contempt for the country’s declining economy and the willingness to get involved in political clashes with little hesitation or restraint from Sheikh Nasrallah, it is evident that this crisis is not a matter of leigitmate financial concern but one of a struggle for power motivated by outside factors – Syria & Iran for Hizbullah and Europe & the US for the Lebanese government. A recent report in the New York Times highlighted the plight of southern Lebanese towns which have seen more political wrangling over reconstruction than actual work. This is after an initial invasion of Hizbullah construction equipment into the area that seems to have attracted more media attention than actually gotten work done. Now, both the weak Beirut government and a politically motivated Hizbullah are blaming each other for the lack of progress.

Two parallel armed forces exist in Lebanon – the one controlled by the government in Beirut plus Hizbullah’s militia. Even the Lebanese Army is even made up of a large segment of Shiites, making a significant part of the Lebanese military potentially owing its allegiance to Hizbullah’s militia if their political and community ties lead them in that direction. Any strengthening of the Lebanese military needs to coincide with a greater diversification of the Lebanese Army, which would likely see a large influx of Shiite soldiers if Hizbullah’s militia were to integrate into it.

This is not just a problem from a geopolitical standpoint in being advantageous to Syria and Iran, but perhaps sewing the seeds of another civil war if Lebanese Shiites see their community doing the majority of the grunt work in the military while Christian and Sunni communities largely stay out of it.

This is just a small set of factors to consider when looking at the internal Lebanese situation, and this particularly piece of writing largely focuses on Hizbullah’s flaws, while Beirut is not itself without faults, though no balancing act of mutual flaws can negate the significant political maneuver it was for Hizbullah to provoke a war with Israel. Watch for Hizbullah to look for any opportunity to increase pressure on the government, including expanding protests and potentially grinding the economy to an absolute halt.

Empower Iraqi Kurdistan and Let it Influence the Rest of the Country: Part I

Kurdistan has been a flower in junkyard when one looks at the situation in Iraq. Without any playing down of the remarkable contrast and amazing progress of Iraq’s north, Kurdistan has been a G-dsend. Kurdistan’s economy is booming, investment is coming in, its security is stable (and actually exists), plus it is not sending its militias into the sectarian free-for-all that is engulfing the Arab parts of the country. Iraq’s instability is an Arab affair, and Kurdistan is an aspect of relief for the Coalition’s efforts there.

This is a component of the new Iraq that cannot be lost on American strategists. As Iraq’s civil war worsens and Kurdish leaders will look to keep their region’s lot continally safe from that violence and chaos, it is in American and Coalition interests to allow that stability to resonate as far as the Kurdistan Regional Government can extend it.

Iraqi Kurds are enveloped in ethnic conflict with northern Iraq’s minorities, but hardly in the way the Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab sectors of Iraq are battering each other. This is a conflict of underprivileged minority in an ethnic majority’s world. It is parallel to the situation of many urban and lower class minorities around the world, a significant difference from the open civil war in the country center and its south.

This allows the US to focus on urban development and microeconomic issues, freeing it from the burden of economic reconstruction tied with security as is with the other parts of the country. Kurds’ ethnic conflicts also stem from Saddam Hussein’s Arabization efforts in the 1980s that kicked many Kurds out of major cities like Kirkuk and Mosul – both of which sit on the rough imaginary line between heavily Arab and heavily Kurdish communities. Today, Kurds do make up significant portions of those cities’ populations, and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) want to control them. They are the economic and and resourceful hubs of Iraq’s north.

In the event the Sunni-Shiite Arab civil war spirals out of any concept of control, it is in American interests to have the stable Kurdish authorities controlling these cities rather than a potentially anarchy-prone Baghdad government. It would also create a solid base for development in more of the region than the current area of control for the KRG. Additionally, with heavy American influence, the lot of Sunni Arab, Christian and Turkmen minorities in these cities can improve, provided heavy investment. This allows the United States to maintain a significant assemblance of order in Iraq if it fails to stabilize the situation in the central and southern parts of the country.

US Strategy and Alliances in Iraq are Hypocritical and Jeopardizing

With sectarian rifts abound in Iraq, the United States has recklessly found itself fighting the battles of a sectarian government as it engages what are unquestionably called “terrorists” or “insurgents” in Washington. In the meantime, while the US military fights Sunni forces in al-Anbar province in Iraq’s vast eastern desert, Shiite militias have turned Baghdad into their private playground. The Mahdi Army, with its strongest center of Capital-based support in Baghdad’s Sadr city Shiite slums, has taken to ethnically cleansing Sunni neighborhoods. This has happened because of US intransigence and weakness in confronting the Iraqi government to let the United States open up on Shiite militias in the same way it is giving it to Sunni insurgents.

The Shiite-dominated Iraqi government has opposed US troop boosts for one major reason – the United States wants to fight all militant elements in the country, not just the Sunni ones that were once the core of the insurgency. Besides two organized rebellions by the Mahdi Army in 2004, Sunni radicals have attacked Baghdad and dominated Anbari cities like Ramadi since the inception of the war. But these forces are hardly organized and present an irritable threat to stability as Shiite militias aim to ethnically isolate and cleanse Sunnis.

The Shiite offensive by militias as only gone on for roughly a year, since the major insurgent attack on a Shiite shrine in Samarra (which is actually north of Baghdad in heavily Sunni country). However, the American crackdown has not been focused on Shiite, but Sunni insurgents, who are incapable of these massive operations. The United States was even confronted with opposition from the Iraqi government about its new plan, because it focused too much on Baghdad, leading to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki suggesting the US focus on al-Anbar and allow the Iraqi government to take the lead ob Baghdad operations.

Those suggestions thankfully led Bush in the opposite direction, bringing him to the realization that no matter which Shiite political party was in power – Maliki’s al-Da’wa al-Islamiyya (or just al-Da’wa), Abdul Aziz al-Hakim’s Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Iraq’s largest party), or Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, that the flavor of the party and its militia will lead it to favor its own ethnic interests and thus promote sectarianism.

To his credit, Bush has tried in recent months to promote a multiethnic coalition overnment that would sideline Sadr, and those like him with a “moderate” alliance – Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs under one banner. But the flaws involved here are two-fold. One, this does not strengthen Sunni forces against Shiite and possibly government-sponsored Shiite attacks; and two, it sidelines Muqtada al-Sadr, who ironically carries political beliefs that are more similar to American interests – he opposes breaking Iraq into autonomous regions.

This idea, coming from the Kurdish demands for autonomy but popular with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), would allow groups of Iraqi provinces to form regions that would have a great degree of independence from the central government. Al-Sadr’s anti-foreign stance, and thus anti-imperialist stance, sees this as making smaller pieces of Iraq more vulnerable to outside influence than a strong centralized Iraqi state. While this sounds like it makes al-Sadr heavily anti-American and a force to be reckoned with, and it does, this also provides a strong anti-Iranian position in Iraq’s Shiite areas. Al-Sadr is tameable, and has not been at open war with American forces since the summer of 2004. In the meantime, the militia leader’s own rhetoric against Iran has increased, just as US pressure on Tehran has done the same.

On the other hand, the central government, while it depends on some support from al-Sadr, is controlled and dominated by SCIRI. SCIRI started as an exiled opposition party to Saddam Hussein by exiles in Iran. The party’s militia, the Badr Brigades fought along with the Iranians in the Iran-Iraq War during the 1980s. It is heavily influenced by Iran, and its militia members are preeminent in Iraq’s security forces. With such close ties between the clerical leaders in the Iraqi government and those of the Iranian government, you essentially see the realistic formation of an Iranian satellite state in Iraq.

IF THE US ALLOWS THISSECTARIAN AND SEPARATIST ORGANIZATION TO FRAGMENT IRAQ, IT ALLOWS IRAN TO MORE EASILY CONSOLIDATE ITS INFLUENCE IN SHIITE AREAS, that would be free of the burden of a substantial Sunni Arab minority.

This has to be opposed, and the US is left little choice in its maneuverability. At this point, allowing Iraq to become an Iranian client state would be as a parallel a disaster as the ethnic cleansing occuring right now, especially in Baghdad. The US should consider becoming more authoritative and balancing the forces of Sunnis and Shiites, plus pay closer attention to the ethnic concerns of countries like Saudi Arabia, which has vowed to support Sunni Arab Iraqis if the US fails to protect them. Countering Iranian influence is vital, and Iraq is a bigger front than Lebanon in this regard.

A Peace Process Right Now is Naïve and Stupid

The thought that is pervading in Israeli and American politics right now, to initiate a new round of peace talks with the Palestinians – is misguided. I am not calling it misguided because of the idea of a Palestinian state, but the unlikelihood that that state would succeed, thus spiraling the situation back to its founding problems and force a peace process to start from scratch.

There is no stable infrastructure, it is prudent and corrupt. There are no resources for the current state and barely any industry. There is no development going on in the country and it has little foundation to begin forming it right now. Worst of all, the territories are on the verge of civil war.

Neither dominant faction commands the legitimacy across the Palestinian population to negotiate a peace and neither has enough loyalty to ensure it succeeds. Kicking the Israelis out of the West Bank will not bring peace, only a new version of the conflictive status quo.

Forcing Palestinian independence right now negates the viability of a deal between Israel and moderate forces like Fatah is weak because of the mass opposition Hamas poses to it. Additionally, it reduces the significance and importance of Israel’s security needs, assuring that the Israelis will not be able to accept any major agreement in the near future.

These are facts that have to be accepted by the international community, which needs to alter its approach and get away from ambitious short-term goals like rushed peace deals. They are short-term because they will not hold and will only be used for short-term political gain by the negotiators, when in fact the multitude of similar interests between Israelis and Palestinians cannot possibly be resolved within the next couple of years.

Allowing a ship to leave port for the first time which has no life rafts, no starboard and no hull will inevitably sink with few survivors, making policymakers pray that it breaks down in warm water so all its occupants do not freeze to death waiting to be rescued. If the captain and the first make cannot agree on the course of the ship, the analogy breaks down when both take their own wheel and steer it in opposite directions, breaking the ship in two. This is your civil war. No state in its infancy could possibly survive on its own while its two most powerful factions are fighting each other.

Ideas for sustainable development are being passed around but few of their details have been implemented. Plus, the factors of international and civil war make for ridiculous conditions for a forced peace. Getting the Israelis to withdraw during what can easily be argued to be an international war, plus assuring an unchallenged authority can rule the Palestinian territories without the worry of rebellion or secession, are unlikely and most certainly impossible at this stage.

Policymakers and international diplomats have to accept a reform of the status quo prior to final status negotiations and the establishment of a Palestinian state. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is defensive in nature, so observers and participants in the conflict have to realize neither an imperial nor reconstructionary occupation exists there. In order to stabilize the region and give incentive to the Israeli government and military to withdraw, a reform of the nature of Israel’s presence there geared into infrastructure development, economic reconstruction and nation-building have to be implemented.

The occupation of West Germany after World War II was driven by the need to stabilize and problematic region for the country’s occupiers, and thus geared toward the country’s economic reconstruction. For a region which has not had an official status in nearly 60 years, not undertaking this would demonstrate the misguided and political motivations for a hurried and reckless peace process which has only morphed the ways the factions fight, rather than morphed the status quo from war to peace.

This is what has to be considered to have a realistic way to a sustainable two-state solution. Without these concerns for economic reconstruction and heating civil war in the Palestinian territories, any peace efforts aimed at a two-state solution will crumble.

Declaring Interdependence: A Workable Mideast Future

After years building a modern state out of an Ottoman backwater, Israel has achieved unbelievable advancements in technology, medicine, and culture. Having built a modern, thriving state, however, Israel has a new challenge: marshaling these same resources to make itself the regional leader in the Middle East, one that utilizes its substantial Jewish majority and diverse social groups to form a leading society that bridges the East-West divide.

When I say “regional leader,” I’m not referring to the country as the region’s top military force.
Besides working toward a workable and sustainable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel needs more developed foreign relations, increased economic cooperation with non-Western countries, strengthened ties with as many of its Middle Eastern neighbors as possible, and a renewed focus on improving the lot of its own poor and minorities.

First among these important objectives is an attempt to create peace with the Palestinians. Unlike past deals, the initial focus should not be on Palestinian independence, but Israeli-Palestinian interdependence. In emphasizing independence over interdependence, the international community is attempting a short-term solution to a long-term problem. If the issue were only independence for the Palestinians, the conflict would have been solved by now. But independence must also be matched with security for Israel.

Interdependence means Israel needs to better the lives of Palestinians to reduce the appeal of militancy in the disputed territories. The Palestinians’ economic situation can only get worse if they are unable to conduct international trade or get the proper international financial support for its domestic institutions and industries.

Israel’s occupation of the West Bank should not be one of limitless control, but characterized by helping the Palestinians with economic reconstruction and thus integration into the Israeli economy. Mutual dependence would deter Palestinian leaders from conducting or condoning devastating attacks against Israel that would devastate the Palestinians’ own economy.

Israel has been reluctant to admit the need to redraw the map to ensure Israel’s security. It may even be wise for Israel to consider a much larger annexation of territory from the West Bank that would extend citizenship to thousands of Palestinians. While Israel and the international community institute a Marshall Plan for the West Bank’s majority-Palestinian cities like Hebron, Nablus, and Jericho, access to the Israeli economy would improve the new Arab Israelis’ lot in Israel proper. Meanwhile, Israel would retain control of all the major Jewish settlement blocs, including several smaller ones that would otherwise be dismantled under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan.

For such a plan to work, considering the country’s need to preserve its Jewish majority, Israel needs to create conditions that would attract a new movement of immigration to balance the population shifts. Israel has begun investment into building up the unpopulated areas of the Galilee and Negev; they should be the hubs of new immigration.

Simultaneously, the state should attend to the needs of communities like the Druse and Beduin, who have contributed vitally to the Israel Defense Forces and the state as a whole. Initiatives would include more allocations for development in Druse communities in the Galilee and the recognition of currently illegitimate Beduin settlements in the Negev. The development projects being currently initiated in the Negev should open themselves up more to the particular concerns of the Beduin community in that region.

An ambitious new plan of regional interdependence is also what Israel needs to rejuvenate its own people. Years of exhausting war with the Palestinians have weakened the Zionist zeal of many Israelis. Their leaders need to recognize this by adopting initiatives that reinvigorate Israeli society. Reducing the size of the country is not going to create the prime conditions for Israel to build a strong Jewish nation. It must be matched with an effort to meet the needs of its underserved minorities and poor, whose welfare was overlooked by leaders focused on security in the West Bank and Gaza. Economic development is the key not just to peace but to boosting morale.

A premature peace deal, without a reorganization of the Israeli and Palestinian economies, would just be lumped in with the Oslo Accords, the 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon, and the Gaza disengagement as failed land-for-peace initiatives that eventually led to new wars. Each of these efforts put Palestinian independence before a workable future of Israel-Palestinian interdependence — in essence, kicking a bird out of the nest before it can fly. This time, Israel should work out how Israel and a future Palestinian state would work together ahead of plans for separation and independence.

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