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ICG Risk Blog - [ Charting Israel's disengagement from the US: Daniel Levy’s commentary on Dobbins ]

Charting Israel's disengagement from the US: Daniel Levy’s commentary on Dobbins


Part 1

Daniel Levy was invited to comment on James Dobbins speech at the New America Foundation’s panel discussion on Moral Clarity & the Middle East: Long War, Wider War, or the Return to a Peace Process?, 24 August, 2006.

Whereas James Dobbins was recapping a sage approach spurned by the current administration, Daniel Levy was bringing new news from Israel, that of a growing public and private view that current US policy has become a liability to Israel and that it must seek a new approach with new partners in the aftermath of its month-long conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Daniel Levy was the lead Israeli drafter of the Geneva Initiative and directed policy planning and international efforts at the Geneva Campaign Headquarters in Tel Aviv. [Levy] served as senior policy adviser to former Israeli Minister of Justice, Yossi Beilin, [where] he was responsible for coordinating policy on various issues including peace negotiations, civil and human rights…. During the Barak government, he worked in the prime minister’s office as special adviser and head of the Jerusalem Affairs unit. He was a member of the Israeli delegation to the Taba negotiations with the Palestinians in January 2001, and of the negotiating team for the ‘Oslo B’ Agreement [under] Prime Minister Rabin.

This is NOT A TRANSCRIPTION per se but I submit that it substantially presents Levy's encapsulation of his comments on the themes presented by James Dobbins and Levy's presentation of Israel's sea change in its search for new solutions with new partners outside US orbit.

Daniel Levy: Your three chapters struck home court, especially capturing the distinction between occupier and the occupied and what that means to us. Those three chapters constitute a simplistic national security strategy based on ballots and bombs without doing what you describe in your Afghan experience of doing the heavy diplomatic lifting in which righteous indignation is not a policy. It’s a nice rhetorical flourish but you have to get down and deal with those who may be quite unpleasant in order to do nation building right, do alliance building right, do post-war reconstruction right, and it all comes together in your phrase "calculated ignorance."

I’ve just arrived from a Tel Aviv that is "shorn of a lot of hubris" over the events of the past month and it’s a Tel Aviv that is asking tough questions publicly. It is asking what happens next and for the first time there is a chorus of voices, some still behind closed doors, but many out there in the media that is beginning to call into question the US trajectory in foreign policy mean to Israel and is this not detrimental to Israel and its interests in the region. To give you an example, the former Israeli foreign minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami, wrote a remarkable piece in Haaretz [on 23 August]. He writes [Note: items in brackets were inserted by Levy during his quoting Ben-Ami]:

An arrangement with Syria and the Palestinians based on internationally agreed-on principles is also essential [for Israel] because of the worrisome decline of the status of Israel's ally in this part of the world and beyond. U.S. deterrence, and respect for the superpower, have been eroded unrecognizably [this is not some irrelevant person; this is the former foreign minister of Israel], and Israel is still having difficulty adapting its diplomatic and security strategies… An exclusive pax americana in the Middle East is no longer possible because not only is the U.S. not an inspiration today, it does not instill fear.

As we speak, the Israeli Foreign Minister, Tsipy Livney, is in Italy. Why is she in Italy? Because the way out of the Lebanese impasse as embraced by Israel was through Europe. The US was not talking, chose not to have contacts in the region, and was not in a position to be part of any deployment of a ceasefire implementation force; so we’re actually relying on the Europeans. The phone traffic between Jerusalem and Rome, jut to name one European capital, is greater than that between Jerusalem and Washington.

Three points to draw out from your talk:

#1: You spoke of the US having no peer competitors when the national security estimate was created. I would argue that the sum of US actions you describe have now created a peer competitor in the region – Iran. That is one of the unintended consequences that we face today and do we therefore go for a Grand Bargain and start talking as Flynt Leverett’s piece recommends while noting past failures to engage.

#2: You talk about loose language and not lumping everyone together and that applies equally to Iran. You spoke a lot about changing how we talk but I would also like to suggest we add a second part to that equation and that is how we listen.

Lumping everyone together, calling everyone an Islamofascist, is easy, but it leaves us deaf to the debates going on inside political Islam, to the struggles of Hamas, Hezbollah and others within political Islam. As far as we are concerned, it is self-evident that they are lying and deceiving us, and it is equally self evident that our intentions are sincere and perceived as such by others.

I believe that we have three options when it comes to political Islam:

  • Bomb them, which has not gone too swimmingly so far
  • Ignore them, which is not wise in the current environment
  • Find a way to talk to them

#3: That brings me to my third point, which is Israel-Palestine. We missed one of our most golden opportunities, however it is still out there, of not dealing with Hamas when it was elected. While I have my issues with Hamas and especially with its charter, is it not reasonable to expect that a group that enters government might undergo its own transformation, of assuming some form of moderation as it proceeds to govern? It sound crazy to me to not confer legitimacy on a group that has been democratically elected by their populace.

I hope that if you see Mahmoud Abbas, in an attempt to create a national unity government, beginning to enlist Hamas’ participation that you will not threaten to cut off ties with Abbas as well as Hamas, and thus pass up another opportunity to engage them.

You may be familiar with Alastair Crooke and Mark Perry who have conducted an in-depth depth dialog with many of these Islamists. Their conclusion has been that:

[All] of the Islamist groups with whom we spoke claimed that a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would do more than any other single event to calm and stabilize the region.

That would be my final point that any belief that Israeli conversations with, exploring political avenues with, Palestinians and recreating a peace process is somehow a hostile act detrimental to Israeli interests or is an act of appeasement is to fundamentally misunderstand the changes that Israel has gone through.

Israel’s governing party is now flailing about, its mandate to hand back territory gone, and facing the unpalatable options of stagnation or unilateral withdrawal. Circumstances have never been more propitious for the recommencement of a regional peace plan.

I would argue that if we miss that opportunity that we need an X-files installment as to "how to never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity was spirited from the deathbed of Arafat to the White House."

Selected items in Q&A to both Dobbins and Levy:

Dobbins comment: One of the little known changes between Clinton and Bush43 White House: Clinton’s international speeches were written by the NSC, by someone under Tony Lake and Sandy Berger and were designed for an international audience. Bush43 moved that effort under the domestic speech writing office and not surprisingly all you see are presidential speeches that are designed for a purely domestic audience.

Q: Why is there calculated ignorance?

Dobbins: That phrase is designed for Iraq, for not adopting the lessons of the 1990s, for focusing the model on Germany and Japan instead of Yugoslavia. Nation building became a pejorative term that Bush43 eschewed. Bush43 made a conscious effort to move away from the diplomacies of the 1990s. Most administrations come in with a NIH mentality. The Bush administration was not unique in this.

Q: How do we not lose moral clarity when commencing a dialog?

Dobbins: I am a professional diplomat. You can’t convince me that there is no value in talking. We have to jettison the opinion of not talking to our enemies. We have to separate our willingness to employ diplomatic relations, to negotiate, from our opinions of the other state. We could start talking with Syria immediately and it astonishes me that we have not. It may not be as easy to talk to Iran as they may not now be ready to talk to us.

Q, Flynt Leverett: Can I push you a bit, if you are not listened to, if there is not a modification in our policy, if we do not do what you recommend, what is the impact on the US and its interests? How bad could this get?

Dobbins: Diminished influence is diminished capacity to help its allies and itself. Clearly the main challenge is Iraq, where things are disintegrating. If the war becomes symmetric with both sides in possession of tanks and aircraft, the dead and the dispossessed will rise tenfold. That could be 500,000 to a million dead and five million refugees, a level that conflict states could not stand idly by. The result would change the region is ways we cannot even begin to estimate.

Q: Why are Muslims so focused on Israel when its casualties are relatively so low in comparison to other conflicts?

Dobbins: People care about different things. Frontline states care very much about refugees while distant states do not. (We cared about Haiti because they are on our door. Iran and Pakistan cared about Afghanistan because they received its refugees.) Some states care about casualties, territorial loss, and geopolitical exposure. Some states or their populations simply care about an idea or have empathy, much as Muslims have about the Palestinians. You have to care because they care, even if it is marginal or unimportant to you.

Steve Clemons comment: The Bush administration forgot two important lessons from the Germany and Japan model:

  • The US created a new class of enfranchised individuals loyal to the US. (In Japan this was done with land reform.) We did not successfully do this in Iraq.
  • The US policy in Japan was flawed in its initial implementation. We booted out a democratically elected head and created conditions for Socialists and Communists to come roaring back. The US reversed course and looked for ways to rebadge good conservatives. In Iraq, we executed the "bad Japan" model, rather than the corrected Japan model.

Levy comment: If we look at the Palestinians’ map and the Israeli’s map, how many kilometers are we dealing with? Nothing, we are dealing with nothing. There is a degree of sobriety in Israel today and a rising recognition of the possible consequences. Israel would not dig in its heels if a genuine solution were on offer.

Washington's Enrichment Fetish
Trita Parsi
August 28, 2006

U.S. Policy Toward the Middle East
New America Foundation, American Strategy Program
Washington, District of Columbia (United States)
ID: 193995 - 08/24/2006 - 1:31 - $29.95

Quit the Canard That American Policy Advances Israeli Security
Daniel Levy
The Forward
August 25, 2006
Mirror at NAF

Illusion and Reality
The violence in the Middle East shows the negative consequences of the administration’s contempt for engagement. But the tough talk has failed.
By Flynt Leverett
The American Prospect, Volume 17, Issue 9
Issue Date: 09.12.06

The divisions of the international community
By Shlomo Ben-Ami
Wed., August 23, 2006 Av 29, 5766

Ending the neoconservative nightmare
By Daniel Levy
Tue., August 15, 2006 Av 21, 5766

Giving some perspective to the Iran-Israel-US triangle
By Trita Parsi
The Daily Star
July 21, 2006
Scrolled to
Mirror at Arabic Electronic Mail Journal

Daniel Levy: 10 Comments on the Current Crisis in the Middle East
By Daniel Levy
The Washington Note
July 18, 2006

Parsi: Iran Unlikely to Halt Nuclear Enrichment Unless the United States Agrees to Direct Talks
Interviewee: Trita Parsi
Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor
Council on Foreign Relations
May 31, 2006

Operation Regime Change
Gareth Porter
May 15, 2006

PART 1: Talking with the 'terrorists'

By Mark Perry and Alastair Crooke
Asia Times
Mar 31, 2006

PART 2: Handing victory to the extremists
By Mark Perry and Alastair Crooke
Asia Times
Apr 1, 2006

Gordon Housworth

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