‘Peace process’ is irrelevant
- Last Updated: 3:48 AM, November 26, 2012
- Posted: 10:59 PM, November 25, 2012
The first Israeli-Palestinian skirmish of the post-Arab Spring era is over, and a much-predicted tectonic regional shift has failed to materialize.
Here’s a quick tour of the Mideast after the end of a weeklong Israeli operation that was designed to at least temporarily defang Hamas.
Egypt: Last week’s hero, President Mohamed Morsi, is this week’s goat, as millions once again flood Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Guess what: Palestine isn’t their cause.
Last Wednesday, Morsi managed to forge a cease-fire between Israel and the Islamist movement’s offshoot in Gaza.
Kudos all around. Egypt is back at the helm of the Arab world. America once again has a trusted ally in Cairo. Morsi is not only democratically elected, but also a man of peace.
But wait. Basked in world adulation, Morsi immediately turned inward with an assault on his country’s judiciary. With Egypt’s constitution still a work in process, his power grab steers the country away from the democratic notion of checks and balances, and into a more theocratic, Sharia-based legal system.
As disappointed crowds take to the streets (never mind democracy; Egypt remains an economic mess), Morsi started to rethink his decrees. By becoming a Muslim pharaoh this early in the game, he risks turning the forces that got him in power against him.
Turkey: Morsi’s power grab may well have been modeled on Recep Tayyep Erdogan’s. Turkey’s Islamist president is seen in the region and beyond as a model ruler who can successfully mesh religion-based rule with democracy.
But Erdogan also increasingly does away with the competing secular powers that the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, put in place to Westernize his country. Erdogan’s Turkey, instead, favors Allah-fearing legislators and judges, loyal cops and soldiers and sycophantic journalists and businessmen.
As long as things went swimmingly in economically thriving Turkey, Erdogan’s moves were acceptable. But his zigzagging on Syria raised fears of prosperity-ending war. His popularity is now greatly diminished.
Last week, Erdogan hoped Gaza would reverse his sagging poll numbers. But calling Israel a “terrorist state” and accusing it of “ethnic cleansing” wasn’t enough. The public isn’t buying it.
Qatar: Visiting Gaza last month, the emir of this tiny but influential country hugged Hamas leaders and promised them $400 million in cash. Right after his trip, widely publicized by Qatar’s own al- Jazeera, an emboldened Hamas escalated attacks on Israel, leading to last week’s war.
Saudi Arabia: Riyadh’s silence last week was most conspicuous. Fearing a spillover that would threaten their kingdom, the Saudis eye Hamas with much suspicion. Along with other Arab kingdoms, including Jordan, they’re reluctant to jump on the Gaza bandwagon.
The Palestinian Authority: President Mahmoud Abbas is widely perceived as a post-Gaza loser. The popularity of Hamas is rising among Palestinians as fast as his Fatah party’s sinks.
Why? Hamas’ action, however self-defeating, overshadows Abbas’ futile maneuvering. On Thursday, he’ll visit New York to “upgrade” Palestine’s status at the United Nations. And while Abbas engages in all this shadowboxing, he steadfastly refuses to engage with Israel.
Last month, Abbas called to congratulate President Obama on his election victory. But when the president asked him to postpone the UN maneuver, Abbas said no. Now many in Washington urge Obama to reward this poke in the eye with renewed support for the Palestinian Authority.
Their advice is based on the belief that everything in the Mideast begins and ends with the Israeli-Palestinian dispute; solve it, and everything else will fall in place.
Yet Israel’s Gaza action hasn’t changed the regional equation. Egypt is still an economic basket case teetering between democracy and Islamism. Erdogan still rules Turkey erratically. Qatar still hedges its bets, while the Saudis and other monarchies sit back.
And Syria is still bleeding.
Yes, America must keep all these Sunni powers as allies, however unreliable (though it’s time to end our overreliance on Erdogan).But most of all, we must remember that the greatest menace foreveryonein the region and beyond is Shiite Iran.
Obama learned in his first term how deceiving the promises of professional Israel-Palestine peace-processors can be. He should realize by now that it’s Iran, and not Israel, that has the greatest potential (and capacity, if we let it) to ignite the Mideast.
By stripping Hamas of much of its Iranian-supplied arms and proving its missile-defense prowess (yesterday it successfully tested a new anti-missile device, Magic Wand), Israel has created a short window of opportunity. The question is whether we now start planning a move to hit the head of the snake, or instead revert to dreams of a process that would magically calm the region by miraculously ending Israeli-Arab enmity.
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