Wednesday, November 1, 2006

The Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group (ISG), named after part-time diplomatic illusionists James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton, doesn’t have an Iraq exit rabbit to pull out of the hat. ISG’s volunteer helpers have been told mum’s the word until the American people have spoken Nov. 7. But some are speaking out, albeit anonymously. They feel precious time is being wasted at a time when each day counts for the inevitable shift in strategy.

One of the senior staffers with ISG are encouraging the two principals to recognize that the road to relative stability in the Middle East “rather than running from Baghdad to Jerusalem, as the Bush administration has always advertised, just might start out through Jerusalem and from there wind its way eastward to Baghdad.” Middle Eastern hands pooh-pooh the notion that “victory” in Iraq would somehow facilitate an equally triumphant solution in Palestine.

Other ISG staffers are suggesting the U.S. should subsume the Iraq problem within a larger set of regional issues and treat the stabilization of Iraq as only one part of a new grand strategy for the Middle East as a whole. This, they say, should be done by enlisting the interest and support of some parties in the region who are enjoying the spectacle of American disgrace and humiliation — e.g., Iran, Syria and Palestine.

Short of such bold initiatives, the group of restless ISG sherpas believe the U.S. is headed straight toward a trainwreck that “will hurt many more governments and individuals than just the United States and the poor Iraqi people.”

The starting point for these restless dissenters is the Arab peace initiative, originally proposed by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah in March 2002, to which 22 Arab states, including Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, subscribed. They offered full diplomatic recognition of Israel and normal economic relations in return for the pre-1967 war border and a full-fledged Palestinian state in the West Bank.

Israel was not interested in March 2002 and President Bush ignored the Arab overture — and an unprecedented chance for peace. Today Israel is even less inclined to make the kind of concessions that might facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state. In fact, Palestine became a failed state before it became a state. In an attempt to avert all-out Palestinian civil war in Gaza — Hamas versus Fatah — bubbling just below the surface, a senior Hamas official suggested “Hudna,” or prolonged truce. In the past month, Israeli troops have found 14 tunnels used by the two sides (and Islamic Jihad) to smuggle weapons in from Egypt.

In Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has broadened his coalition to the far right to include the Yisrael Beitenu Party, headed by Knesset member Avigdor Lieberman. The newcomer’s platform calls for the de facto expulsion of Israel’s Arab citizens. Mr. Lieberman would do this by redrawing Israel’s frontiers along the West Bank to leave Arab Israelis and their areas outside the country.

Last May, Mr. Lieberman, now the incoming minister for strategic affairs, called for the execution of Israeli Arab Knesset members who met with Hamas leaders. In the Knesset, Mr. Lieberman said, “At the end of the Second World War, not only criminals were executed at the Nuremberg Trials, but also those who collaborated with them. I hope that this will be the fate of the collaborators in this house.”

In 2001, Mr. Lieberman told ambassadors from the former Soviet republics that if relations with Egypt continued heading south, Israel should bomb Egypt’s Aswan Dam, a move that would cause a national disaster. Israel’s Ha’aretz described Mr. Lieberman as a “strategic threat” to the Jewish state.

The prospect of a Palestinian state in the foreseeable future looked even dimmer with the creation of a newly-formed evangelical Christian organization in the U.S. that aims to include all pro-Israel Christians, and, according to its founder, will soon make it the single most powerful Christian organization in America. “We are a one-issue organization — and the issue is Israel, Israel and then Israel,” Pastor John Hagee told the Jerusalem Post from his headquarters in San Antonio, Texas. Mr. Hagee, 66, is president and CEO of Global Evangelical Television, which is broadcast to over 90 million homes in the U.S.

The group’s main focus, according to Ha’aretz, is to lobby the U.S. government on Israel-related issues. Its leaders are planning a weekly teleconference among senior church leaders about Israel-related events happening in Washington, as well as an annual summer meeting of thousands of Christian leaders in Washington with U.S. legislators.

Dubbed the “Christian AIPAC,” after the powerful American Jewish lobby for Israel, the newly-created evangelical Christian group interfaces with the Knesset’s “Christian Allies Caucus,” according to the Jerusalem Post. A Pew Foundation poll shows 53 percent of Americans believe God gave Israel to the Jews. And 59 percent, according to a CNN/Time survey, agree paradise for Christians can only be achieved once Jews are in control of the Holy Land (which includes Palestine).

Those advising the Baker-Hamilton ISG to find the exit from Iraq by persuading President Bush to force-feed Israel a Palestinian state, should think again. Or be willing to wait a few years. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the mullahocracy do not have a monopoly on the conviction that Allah/God has decreed a clash of civilizations. Peace between Israel and a “viable and contiguous” Palestinian state is not part of the celestial narrative on either side.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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