Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Passenger: Let Her Go.

Passenger: Let Her Go. Video. passengermusic, July 25, 2012. YouTube.

Iran Is Playing Obama, Says Savvy Saudi Prince. By Jeffrey Goldberg.

Iran Is Playing Obama, Says Savvy Saudi Prince. By Jeffrey Goldberg. Bloomberg, November 22, 2013.

When the US let Iran off the hook. By David Horovitz. The Times of Israel, November 25, 2013.

A Dangerous, Wrongheaded Deal with Iran. By Ted Cruz. Foreign Policy, November 25, 2013. Also here.

Iran Deal Could Reconfigure the Middle East. By Rami G. Khouri.

Iran deal could reconfigure the Middle East. By Rami G. Khouri. The Daily Star (Lebanon), November 27, 2013.


The most striking implication of the agreement signed in Geneva last weekend to ensure that Iran’s nuclear industry does not develop nuclear weapons while gradually removing the sanctions on the country is more about Iran than it is about Iran’s nuclear industry. The important new dynamic that has been set in motion is likely to profoundly impact almost every significant political situation around the Middle East and the world, including both domestic conditions within countries and diplomatic relations among countries. This agreement breaks the long spell of estrangement and hostility between the U.S. and Iran, and signals important new diplomatic behavior by both countries, which augurs well for the entire region. It is also likely to trigger the resumption of the suspended domestic political and cultural evolution of Iran, which also will spur new developments across the Middle East.
Perhaps we can see the changes starting to occur in Iran as similar to the developments in Poland in the early 1980s, when the bold political thrust of the Solidarity movement that enjoyed popular support broke the Soviet Union’s hold on Polish political life, and a decade later led to the collapse of the entire Soviet Empire. The resumption of political evolution inside Iran will probably move rapidly in the years ahead, as renewed economic growth, more personal freedoms, and more satisfying interactions with the region and the world expand and strengthen the relatively “liberal” forces around Rouhani, Rafsanjani, Khatami and others; this should slowly temper, then redefine and reposition, the Islamic revolutionary autocrats who have controlled the power structure for decades but whose hard-line controls are increasingly alien to the sentiments of ordinary Iranians.
These domestic and regional reconfigurations will occur slowly, comprising the situations in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the Gulf Cooperation Council states led by Saudi Arabia. The critical link remains a healthy, normal, nonhostile relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which I suspect will start to come about in the months ahead, as both grasp the exaggerated nature of their competition for influence in the region and learn to behave like normal countries. They will learn to compete on the basis of their soft power among a region of half a billion people who increasingly feel and behave like citizens who have the right to choose how they live, rather than to be dictated to and herded like cattle.
Should a more normal Iran-Saudi relationship occur, as I expect, this will trigger major adjustments across the entire region, starting in Syria and Lebanon where the proxies of both countries face off in cruel and senseless confrontations. The Geneva II conference in January to explore a peaceful transition in Syria will be the first place to look for signs of an emerging new order in the region that will be shaped by a healthier Iranian-Saudi relationship.
The reason that Iran will be able to impact conditions around the region so significantly stems from what I believe is the most significant underlying lesson of the Iran sanctions/nuclear agreement: It reflects the fact that Iran steadfastly resisted and boldly defied American-Israeli-led sanctions, assassinations, industrial sabotage and explicit military threats for over a decade, and finally caused the U.S. and allies to accept the two long-standing principal demands from Tehran – to accept the enrichment of uranium in Iran for peaceful purposes, and to drop the threats of changing the regime in Tehran through military force. In this dangerous game of diplomatic chicken that nearly brought the region to a deadly war, the Americans blinked first, and then they sensibly engaged Iran in serious negotiations that have achieved an initial success.
This is coupled with a parallel historic development inside the United States, which is the successful determination of the Obama administration to stare down Israel and its powerful lobby in Washington and complete the agreement with Iran. In fact, the Obama administration has now done this twice in a row – first by going against the Israeli government’s strong advocacy for an American military attack against Syria a few months ago, and now in completing the Iran agreement which Israel’s lobby institutes and proxies in Washington worked hard to stop. Obama showed that a policy that is in the best interest of the U.S. and has the support of the American public will always prevail against even the most intense lobbying efforts by Israel and its American surrogates. This has profound and positive implications for future U.S. policy-making in the Middle East, which will benefit all concerned, including Israel.
These breakthroughs reflect the fact that both the American and Iranian leaderships conducted policies that reflected the sensible, nonviolent preferences of their own people. They should both be congratulated, and let us hope that other leaders in the region follow suit.

Obama Needs to Take On the Israel Lobby Over Iran. By Gideon Rachman.

Obama needs to take on the Israel lobby over Iran. By Gideon Rachman. FT, November 25, 2013.


The outcome of a showdown between two leaders who loathe one another will be critical.

For Barack Obama, striking a nuclear deal with Iran may turn out to be the easy part. The president’s biggest struggle now is facing down Israel and its supporters in the US as they attempt to rally opposition to the deal. The administration knows this and it is quietly confident that it can take on the Israel lobby in Congress – and win.
Beneath all the arcane details about centrifuges and breakout times, the Israeli-American dispute over Iran is quite simple. The Israelis want the complete dismantlement of the Iranian nuclear programme. The Americans and their negotiating partners want to freeze it in the first instance – and also recognise that any final deal will have to leave Iran with some nuclear capacity.
The real alternative to the Geneva process, argue the Americans, is not the better deal of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s dreams. It is a breakdown in negotiations followed by an accelerated nuclear programme in Iran – leading either to an Iranian bomb or to war. The Obama administration believes that, by making this case, it can face down Israel’s formidable phalanx of supporters in Congress, traditionally marshalled by the American Israel Public Affairs committee.
The debate in Congress is likely to focus on whether the legislature will agree to a relaxation in sanctions – or whether, on the contrary, congressional leaders press for toughened sanctions that would undercut Mr Obama’s negotiating stance. While the president can relax some sanctions by executive order of the White House, sooner or later he is going to need Congress to go along with an Iran deal.
The administration’s confidence that it can win the argument over Iran is bolstered by an opinion poll, taken before the Geneva agreement was nailed down, which showed the American public was in favour of a nuclear deal with Iran by 56 per cent to 39 per cent. The administration’s calculation is that the strong public desire to avoid further wars in the Middle East will override the public’s traditional sympathy with Israel and antipathy towards Iran.
Aipac is a formidable lobbying organisation. But the recent fiasco over Mr Obama’s request to Congress to approve missile strikes on Syria following the use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad’s regime showed that the Israel lobby cannot always deliver victory on Capitol Hill. Aipac lobbied hard in favour of strikes on Syria. But deep public opposition to military action weighed more heavily with Congress.
However, the analogies may not be as reassuring as the administration hopes. The route from a Syria vote to military action was clear and direct. By contrast, rejection of an Iran deal is not explicitly a vote for war. What is more, the fiasco over Mr Obama’s healthcare reforms has driven the president’s approval ratings to new lows and weakened him.
If the Obama administration’s domestic political strategy over Iran is to work, therefore, its arguments in favour of the nuclear deal will have to be able to withstand the fierce scrutiny that the Israelis and others will subject them to. So do the arguments stack up?
Broadly speaking, they do. Important weaknesses in the earlier draft of the agreement, a fortnight ago, have been addressed. In particular, development of Iran’s heavy water plant at Arak, southwest of Tehran, which potentially opened an alternative route to a plutonium bomb, is now to stop. Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 per cent, which is dangerously close to weapons-grade, will be diluted. Iran has agreed to an intrusive regime of inspections, which will make it much harder for it to violate a nuclear deal, as North Korea once did.
Iranian relief at this interim deal is palpable – and alarming to Israel and Saudi Arabia. But the reality is that Iranians have not yet got very much by way of sanctions relief. The biggest measures agreed are one-off releases of frozen assets. The main financial sanctions remain in place and continue to cost Iran dearly. The Obama administration has retained considerable leverage as the two sides move to negotiate a full deal over the next six months.
The Israelis point out that they are not the only US ally in the region that is deeply wary of this deal. Saudi Arabia is also clearly angry. But Saudi concern is only partly to do with the prospect of an Iranian bomb. More broadly, the Saudis are engaged in a struggle for regional and theological supremacy with Iran – which has led them to undermine peace efforts in Syria. While both Israel and Saudi Arabia are close American allies, their interests are not identical to those of the US.
As the Iran debate moves forward in America, so it will take on a personal aspect. Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu detest each other. Now they are about to stage a very public showdown. It would be a humiliation for the US president if his Iran policy is pulled apart in Congress at the behest of the Israelis. But the stakes are very high for Mr Netanyahu and Israel, too – and victory could be as dangerous as defeat. If a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear issue is blocked and war follows, Israel will be accused of dragging America into a conflict. But if Mr Netanyahu confronts the Obama administration through the US Congress – and loses – the fabled power of the Israel lobby may never be quite the same again.

The Dead’s Envy for the Living. By David P. Goldman.

The Dead’s Envy for the Living. By David P. Goldman. PJ Media, November 26, 2013. Also at the Middle East Forum.

Worse Than Munich. By Bret Stephens. Wall Street Journal, November 25, 2013.

Obama’s women reveal his secret. By David P. Goldman. Asia Times, February 26, 2008.

Zionism for Christians. By David P. Goldman (writing as David Shushon). First Things, June/July 2008. Also here.

Jimmy Carter’s heart of dorkiness. By David P. Goldman (writing as Spengler). Asia Times, January 17, 2007.

Goldman (PJ Media):

Why the Iranians, and why the Jews? Jew-hatred is rampant in the Muslim world, to be sure, but that did not prevent Egypt and Jordan from keeping the peace with Israel for 30 years. Nor does it prevent Saudi Arabia, where Arabic editions of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion line bookstore shelves, from making a tactical alliance with Israel. Except for Iran no Muslim regime trumpets its intention to “annihilate the Zionist” regime in routine utterances.
Iran has no common border with Israel. No Iranian soldier has killed an Israeli soldier in combat since the founding of the Jewish State. Yet hatred and fear of the Jews is a palpable presence in the minds of Iran’s rulers. Some days the mullahs make the Nazis look rational by comparison. I cited a lecture given by an advisor to Iran’s culture minister insisting that the cartoon “Tom and Jerry” was part of a plot by Jewish studio executives in Hollywood to rehabilitate the image of Jews.
Iran’s theocrats hate and fear the Jews for the same reason that Hitler did. The “Master Race” delusion of the Nazis twisted the Chosenness of Israel into a doctrine of racial election; for the “Master Race” to be secure in its dominion, the original “paragon and exemplar of a nation” (Rosenzweig) had to be exterminated. Islam is by construction a supercessionist religion. It claims that the Jewish and Christian Scriptures perverted the original prophecy of Islam, and that Mohammed restored the true religion through the Koran. Mohammed is the “seal of the prophets,” the final and definitive exponent of God’s word, replacing the falsified version of Christians and Jews.
Muslims may believe this and peaceably await the day when its competitor religions will crumble and the whole world will acknowledge its prophet, just as Jews pray thrice daily for the Messianic era when all the world will acknowledge one God by one name. But it is difficult for Iran to be patient when its self-conceived guardians of God’s message are staring into an inescapable abyss at the horizon of a single generation.  This is a culture inherently incapable of reflection on its own deficiencies, one that has nourished itself for 1,200 years on morbid rancor against the Sunni Muslim majority and more recently against the West. Patience in this case is a poison.
Israel thus faces a new Hitler and the threat of a new Holocaust. There is no way to portray the situation in a less alarming light. That is one parallel to 1938; another is the response of the world’s powers to the emergence of this monster.
To the declining nations of Western Europe, Israel’s national self-assertion is a moral outrage. Since St. Isidore of Seville persuaded the Visigoth kings of Spain to adopt Christianity with the promise that they would become the leaders of a chosen nation in emulation of King David, the national consciousness of the European nations has taken the form of national election. I argued in a 2008 essay for the religious monthly First Things:
As Franz Rosenzweig observed, once the Gentile nations embraced Christianity, they abandoned their ancient fatalism regarding the inevitable extinction of their tribe. It is the God of Israel who first offers ­eternal life to humankind, and Christianity extended Israel’s promise to all. But the nations that adhered to Christendom as tribes rather than as individuals never forswore their love for their own ethnicity. On the ­contrary, they longed for eternal life in their own ­Gentile skin rather than in the Kingdom of God promised by Jesus Christ. After Christianity taught them the election of Israel, the Gentiles coveted election for themselves and desired their own people to be the chosen people. That set ethnocentric nationalism in conflict both with the Jews—the descendents of Abraham in the flesh—and with the Church, which holds itself to be the new People of God.
As Rosenzweig put it, “Precisely through Christianity the idea of Election has gone out amongst the individual nations, and along with it a concomitant claim upon eternity. It is not that the case that such a claim upon eternity conditioned the entire life of these peoples; one hardly can speak of this. The idea of Election, upon which such a claim [upon eternity] uniquely can be based, becomes conscious for the peoples only in certain exalted moments, and in any case is more of a festive costume than their workaday dress. . . . Still, there sleeps upon the foundation of one’s love for one’s own people the presentiment that someday in the distant future it no longer will be, and this gives this love a sweetly painful gravity.”
The European elite cannot distinguish its own past parody of Israel’s election from the self-understanding of the Jewish people as a blessing to all nations by virtue of its unique national life. Israeli nationalism only brings to mind Europe’s failed nationalisms and their horrendous denouement in the world wars of the past century. Europe is enervated, exhausted by past wars, aging, hedonistic and cynical. It is not surprising that the nations of Europe once again would avert their eyes to the threat of another Holocaust.
What explains, though, the Obama administration’s obsession with a compromise at any cost with the Tehran regime? I have not changed my view of what an Asian leader privately called “America’s NGO president” since I profiled Barack Obama in February 2008:
America is not the embodiment of hope, but the abandonment of one kind of hope in return for another. America is the spirit of creative destruction, selecting immigrants willing to turn their back on the tragedy of their own failing culture in return for a new start. Its creative success is so enormous that its global influence hastens the decline of other cultures. For those on the destruction side of the trade, America is a monster. Between half and nine-tenths of the world’s 6,700 spoken languages will become extinct in the next century, and the anguish of dying peoples rises up in a global cry of despair. Some of those who listen to this cry become anthropologists, the curators of soon-to-be extinct cultures; anthropologists who really identify with their subjects marry them. Obama’s mother, the University of Hawaii anthropologist Ann Dunham, did so twice.
Obama’s most revealing disclosure, perhaps, came in his autobiography Dreams from My Father as he recounts his thoughts while visiting Chicago’s public housing as a young community organizer:
And yet for all that poverty [in the Indonesian marketplace], there remained in their lives a discernible order, a tapestry of trading routes and middlemen, bribes to pay and customs to observe, the habits of a generation played out every day beneath the bargaining and the noise and the swirling dust. It was the absence of such coherence that made a place like [the Chicago housing projects] so desperate.
He deeply identifies with the fragile, unraveling cultures of the Third World against the depredations of the globalizing Metropole. So, I suspect, does his mentor and chief advisor, the Iranian-born Valerie Jarrett, and most of his inner circle. This goes beyond the famous declaration of Jimmy Carter’s advisor Hamilton Jordan—“the Palestinians are the n****ers of the Middle East”—and Carter’s own mainline-Protestant reverence for the “holy men” of Iran’s 1979 Iranian revolution. It goes beyond the post-colonial theory of liberal academia. For Obama, it is a matter of personal experience. His father and stepfather were Third World Muslims, his mother was an anthropologist who dedicated her life to protecting the traditional culture of Indonesia against the scourge of globalization, and four years of his childhood were spent at an Indonesian school. The same point has been made by Dinesh d’Souza, among others.
Obama’s commitment to rapprochement with Iran arises from deep personal identification with the supposed victims of imperialism. That is incongruous, to be sure. Persia spent most of its history as one of the nastier imperial powers, and its present rulers are no less ambitious in their pursuit of a pocket empire in the Shi’ite world. The roots of his policy transcend rationality. Israel can present all the evidence in the world of Iran’s plans to build nuclear weapons and delivery systems, and the Iranians can cut the Geneva accord into confetti. Obama will remain unmoved. His heart, like his late mother’s, beats for the putatively oppressed peoples of the so-called Third World.
No factor of this sort was present in 1938: Neville Chamberlain did not sympathize with Hitler. He simply feared him and needed time to rearm, as the Wall Street Journal’s Mr. Stephens observes. If Lord Halifax rather than Chamberlain had been prime minister then, the parallel to Obama would be stronger.
I do not know how Israel will respond. There are too many unknowns in the shifting political equation of the Middle East to solve that equation. But the facts on the ground support the Israeli view that the Geneva accord puts the Jewish State at existential risk.

Goldman (Asia Times):

Barack Obama is a clever fellow who imbibed hatred of America with his mother’s milk, but worked his way up the elite ladder of education and career. He shares the resentment of Muslims against the encroachment of American culture, although not their religion. He has the empathetic skill set of an anthropologist who lives with his subjects, learns their language, and elicits their hopes and fears while remaining at emotional distance. That is, he is the political equivalent of a sociopath. The difference is that he is practicing not on a primitive tribe but on the population of the United States.
There is nothing mysterious about Obama’s methods. “A demagogue tries to sound as stupid as his audience so that they will think they are as clever as he is,” wrote Karl Krauss. Americans are the world’s biggest suckers, and laugh at this weakness in their popular culture. Listening to Obama speak, Sinclair Lewis’s cynical tent-revivalist Elmer Gantry comes to mind, or, even better, Tyrone Power’s portrayal of a carnival mentalist in the 1947 film noire Nightmare Alley. The latter is available for instant viewing at Netflix, and highly recommended as an antidote to having felt uplifted by an Obama speech.
America has the great misfortune to have encountered Obama at the peak of his powers at its worst moment of vulnerability in a generation. With malice aforethought, he has sought out their sore point.
Since the Ronald Reagan boom began in 1984, the year the American stock market doubled, Americans have enjoyed a quarter-century of rising wealth. Even the collapse of the Internet bubble in 2000 did not interrupt the upward trajectory of household assets, as the housing price boom eclipsed the effect of equity market weakness. America's success made it a magnet for the world's savings, and Americans came to believe that they were riding a boom that would last forever, as I wrote recently.
Americans regard upward mobility as a God-given right. America had a double founding, as David Hackett Fischer showed in his 1989 study, Albion’s Seed . Two kinds of immigrants founded America: religious dissidents seeking a new Promised Land, and economic opportunists looking to get rich quick. Both elements still are present, but the course of the past quarter-century has made wealth-creation the sine qua non of American life. Now for the first time in a generation Americans have become poorer, and many of them have become much poorer due to the collapse of home prices. Unlike the Reagan years, when cutting the top tax rate from a punitive 70% to a more tolerable 40% was sufficient to start an economic boom, no lever of economic policy is available to fix the problem. Americans have no choice but to work harder, retire later, save more and retrench.
This reversal has provoked a national mood of existential crisis. In Europe, economic downturns do not inspire this kind of soul-searching, for richer and poorer, remain what they always have been. But Americans are what they make of themselves, and the slim makings of 2008 shake their sense of identity. Americans have no institutionalized culture to fall back on. Their national religion has consisted of waves of enthusiasm – “Great Awakenings” – every second generation or so, followed by an interim of apathy. In times of stress they have a baleful susceptibility to hucksters and conmen.
Be afraid – be very afraid. America is at a low point in its fortunes, and feeling sorry for itself. When Barack utters the word “hope,” they instead hear, “handout.” A cynic might translate the national motto, E pluribus unum, as “something for nothing.” Now that the stock market and the housing market have failed to give Americans something for nothing, they want something for nothing from the government. The trouble is that he who gets something for nothing will earn every penny of it, twice over.
The George W. Bush administration has squandered a great strategic advantage in a sorry lampoon of nation-building in the Muslim world, and has made enemies out of countries that might have been friendly rivals, notably Russia. Americans question the premise of America’s standing as a global superpower, and of the promise of upward mobility and wealth-creation. If elected, Barack Obama will do his utmost to destroy the dual premises of America’s standing. It might take the country another generation to recover.
“Evil will oft evil mars,” J R R Tolkien wrote. It is conceivable that Barack Obama, if elected, will destroy himself before he destroys the country. Hatred is a toxic diet even for someone with as strong a stomach as Obama. As he recalled in his 1995 autobiography, Dreams From My Father, Obama idealized the Kenyan economist who had married and dumped his mother, and was saddened to learn that Barack Hussein Obama, Sr, was a sullen, drunken polygamist. The elder Obama became a senior official of the government of Kenya after earning a PhD at Harvard. He was an abusive drunk and philanderer whose temper soured his career.
The senior Obama died in a 1982 car crash. Kenyan government officials in those days normally spent their nights drinking themselves stupid at the Pan-Afrique Hotel. Two or three of them would be found with their Mercedes wrapped around a palm tree every morning. During the 1970s I came to know a number of them, mostly British-educated hollow men dying inside of their own hypocrisy and corruption.
Both Obama and the American public should be very careful of what they wish for. As the horrible example of Obama’s father shows, there is nothing worse for an embittered outsider manipulating the system from within than to achieve his goals – and nothing can be more terrible for the system. Even those who despise America for its blunders of the past few years should ask themselves whether the world will be a safer place if America retreats into a self-pitying shell.

Goldman (Carter):

Where the Palestinians are concerned, Carter keens the same trope. It is repulsive to think that a people of several millions, honeycombed with representatives of international organizations, the virtual stepchild of the United Nations, appears doomed to reduce its national fever by letting blood. The 700,000 refugees of 1948, hothoused by the UN relief agencies, prevented from emigrating by other Arab regimes, have turned into a people, but a test-tube nation incapable of independent national life: four destitute millions of third-generation refugees in the small and barren territories of Gaza, Judea and Samaria, which cannot support a fraction of that number.
The project of a Palestinian economy based on tourism and light manufacturing is a delusion in the globalized economy of Chinese-dominated trade in manufactures. The subsistence-farming fellahin should have left their land for economic reasons, like the Okies during the 1920s and 1930s, and dispersed into cities, like a hundred other rural populations of the so-called developing world. Kept hostage for political reasons, they cannot stay, and they cannot leave. They have chosen instead to fight, and if need be to die.
The Palestinians cannot hope to earn their keep in peacetime; their only hope is to keep the region in perpetual tension, the better to blackmail the West and the Arab Persian Gulf states for subsidies. . . .
The former president is hard to read without taking into account the southern US context. A partial explanation for his see-and-hear-no-evil view of the world can be found in southern guilt over the maltreatment of blacks. Carter’s chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan, heard his first briefing on the Middle East in 1977 and offered, “I get it: the Palestinians are the niggers.”
Jimmy Carter knows better than that: the Palestinians are not in the position of southern American blacks, but rather of southern American whites, the exemplar of a self-exterminating people in the modern period. That is why Carter identifies with them. Apart from modern Palestine, there are very few cases in modern history in which a militant population showed its willingness to fight to the death. The US south sacrificed two-fifths of its military-age men during the Civil War of 1861-65, a casualty rate matched only by Serbia during World War I. Southern blacks, by contrast, were pacific, Christian, and long-suffering in their hopes for eventual deliverance.
The Palestinians are not an oppressed people, but rather the irreconcilable remnants of a once-victorious but now defeated empire, living in an irredentist dream world in which a new Salahuddin will drive the new Crusaders into the sea. Pour a few bourbons into the average white citizen of the US state of Georgia, and the same irredentist fantasy will bubble up: “The south shall rise again!”

Israelis, Saudis, and the Iranian Agreement. By George Friedman.

Israelis, Saudis, and the Iranian Agreement. By George Friedman. Real Clear World, November 26, 2013.

Right of Return: The True Obstacle to Peace Between Israelis and Palestinians. By Asaf Romirowsky and Alexander Joffe.

The True Obstacle to Peace Between Israelis and Palestinians. By Asaf Romirowsky and Alexander Joffe. Forbes, March 26, 2013.

Romirowsky and Joffe:

With the completion of Barack Obama‘s first Presidential visit to Israel, as expected there was a great deal of symbolism reinforcing the bond between the two allies. Yet still, doves on both sides acknowledge that peace is hardly around the corner.
Understanding the true barriers to a comprehensive agreement is key to knowing where the pressure to compromise will be coming from. Contrary to popular belief, the core of the conflict is not borders, Israeli settlements, or the status of Jerusalem.
An honest look at the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians  requires Obama to understand two major things before he attempts to jump-start any peace process. One is that the two state model today is only applicable to Israel and the West Bank; there can be no contiguous Palestine state between the West Bank and Gaza with Hamas in power. This would represent a threat to both Israel and to Palestine.
Second, the crux of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rooted in the Palestinian “Right of Return,” the collective belief in a legal and moral right for Palestinian refugees, and more importantly their descendants from around the world, to return to ancestral homes in Israel that were once part of Mandatory Palestine. The “right of return” is central to Palestinian national identity and is a high barrier to any peace agreement.
This is underscored in a recent telling statement made by Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar on the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigade’s website.  He said that that Israel’s attempts to end the UN classification of the Palestinian refugees is doomed to fail because of how Palestinian identity is linked to the Right of Return for eternity. “The Palestinian refugee is a citizen forcibly displaced from his land and his return is one of the constants that cannot be controlled by the occupation; it is sacred like our faith… Our grandfathers were once in their land and their grandchildren will return to it no matter how long it takes.”
This is a quasi-religious belief that crosses all sectors of Palestinian society, and which is endlessly reproduced in Palestinian media, education and culture, and which is endorsed by UNRWA, the UN organ charged with maintaining health, welfare and education services for those it has deemed Palestinian refugees.
But Al-Zahar is also misinformed regarding the Israeli position. Recent Israeli governments have been forthright in stating that there is no “right of return” and increasingly they point to it as one of the most formidable obstacles to making peace between the Israeli and Palestinian states, as well as peoples. But there have been no official Israeli efforts to end or even curtail UNRWA. Only recently has former Member of Knesset Einat Wilf called attention to UNRWA’s administrative decisions to extend refugee status to additional generations of Palestinians, creating more “refugees” and extending its own mandate. Wilf notes correctly that UNRWA’s endorsement of the “right of return” lies at the root of the Arab-Israeli conflict and not co-incidentally UNRWA’s continued existence. Important legislation to reform UNRWA has also come from U.S. Senator Mark Kirk but has not yet succeeded in passing through the Congress.
But Al-Zahar understands the problem in the most fundamental way, that the “right of return” – and until then, “refugee” status guaranteed and funded by the international community – are the cornerstones of Palestinian national identity. From his perspective, of course, it is therefore necessary to put the onus entirely on Israel for the “Nakba,” the “catastrophe” of 1948 and Israel’s creation, as opposed to seeing any Palestinian and Arab responsibility or agency in the matter. If this is the core of Palestinian identity, that can be satisfied only by exercising the Palestinian “right of return” and the destruction of Israel, then there is no room for compromise.
To understand the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Obama administration would be wise to listen to Al-Zahar, as well as Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas who stated “I have never and will never give up the right of return.” Abbas’s statement is as important as Al-Zahar’s since he was forced by Palestinian and Arab outrage to clarify an earlier comment where he had appeared to waver on the “right of return.”
In the meantime, UNRWA will continue to support continuing generations of “refugees,” the majority of whom were born outside of Palestine, a large proportion of whom are national citizens of other states. In fact, UNRWA’s former general counsel James Lindsay has observed that “In truth, the vast majority of UNRWA’s registered refugees have already been “resettled” (or, to use the UN euphemism, “reintegrated”)” and that “only thing preventing all of these citizens from ceasing to be “refugees” is UNRWA’s singular definition of what constitutes a refugee.”
Understanding how a UN agency is an integral ingredient of a long-term Arab strategy to perpetuate the misery of the Palestinians, and to keep this humanitarian burden at the center of the Arab-Israeli conflict is another key for President Obama to keep in mind as he visits Israel, and perhaps the West Bank. This has been the Arab world’s biggest success against Israel, only at the expense of the Palestinians. If Obama truly wants to move the peace process forward it would behoove him to look at what our taxpayer dollars are buying in UNRWA, and at those who are truly being served. Until he understands that the “right of return” is the essence of the conflict, and that we need  to start changing this core Palestinian belief, President Obama should not expect any change in the near future.