1) When all else fails focus on Israel

I’m not sure that the editors of the New York Times realized how absurd the title of this recent article on the Middle East sounded, Chaos in Middle East Grows as the U.S. Focuses on Israel.

However, the content of the reporting – co-written by Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren and White House correspondent Mark Landler – is earnest. The beginning of the article emphasizes the apparent contradiction.

In Damascus, the Syrian government’s forces are digging in against rebels in a bloody civil war that is swiftly approaching the grim milestone of 100,000 dead. In Cairo, an angry tide of protesters again threatens an Egyptian president.

At the same time, in tranquil Tel Aviv, Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up a busy round of shuttle diplomacy, laboring to revive a three-decade-old attempt at peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. He insisted on Sunday that he had made “real progress.”

Much of the rest of the articles seeks to justify Kerry’s poorly timed obsession.

Former administration officials defend that conviction. Mr. Kerry’s focus, they say, makes sense precisely because of the chaos elsewhere. With little leverage over Egypt and deep reluctance about intervening in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one place that the United States can still exert influence, and perhaps even produce a breakthrough.

“You don’t have instability between the Israelis and Palestinians right now,” said Dennis B. Ross, a former senior adviser to Mr. Obama on the Middle East. “But if you don’t act, there’s a risk that the Palestinian Authority will collapse, leaving a vacuum. And if we know one thing about vacuums in the Middle East, they are never filled with good things.”

Resuscitating the peace process, he said, is also vital to Jordan, which is reeling from the wave of refugees from Syria and can ill afford a new wave of Palestinian unrest in the neighboring West Bank.

We could put that another way. Since the administration botched its handling of Egypt (supporting the Muslim Brotherhood) and Syria (allowing Islamist militias to take over the Syrian opposition), it’s hoping to pressure Israel so it can claim a (minor) political victory amid the increasing havoc throughout the Middle East.

Israel’s existence as an island of stability in a chaotic region is something that Thomas Friedman mocked in February, 2011:

Rather than even listening to what the democracy youth in Tahrir Square were saying and then trying to digest what it meant, this Israeli government took two approaches during the last three weeks: Frantically calling the White House and telling the president he must not abandon Pharaoh – to the point where the White House was thoroughly disgusted with its Israeli interlocutors – and using the opportunity to score propaganda points: “Look at us! Look at us! We told you so! We are the only stable country in the region, because we are the only democracy.’’

We don’t know what really went on. We don’t know what Israeli officials told the White House. If Israel was calling for caution from the White House, two and a half years later that advice looks pretty apt. Friedman looks foolish for his contempt.

That Israel is the focus of American diplomacy shows that the administration still hasn’t gotten the message.

As Barry Rubin observed recently:

There is an alternative: the United States will understand that Israel is just about the only reliable ally in the Middle East. It might take another president to do that.

2) Where diversity is ordinary

The usual perception of Israel perpetuated by the media is that it is a country without much regard for “the other.” The truth about Israel is much different. Diana Bletter described this reality in Diversity Makes Life Rich: An Ordinary Day in Israel at the Huffington Post.

The other day — an ordinary day — I got up and brought my car over to the auto repair shop in our village, owned and operated by a Muslim man, Nasser. Nasser employs about 15 people in his shop, including my friend, Jasmine (more on her in a minute), several mechanics (Muslims and Jews) and a Rumanian Christian woman who, after meeting a Muslim man studying medicine in Bucharest, married him and moved to Israel.

From there, I went to Akko — home to about 50,000 people, of whom 30 percent are Arab — to visit my friend, Janan. She was the first Druze woman in Israel (if not in the entire Middle East) to receive her Ph.D. Janan is founder of Akko Vision, a dialogue group consisting of Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze women. (I’m a member of the group.) There is also a Baha’i woman. (Unlike in Iran, where the Baha’i are persecuted.) The group’s lasts initiative was a visit of women from Bethlehem.

After meeting with Janan, I went to the market in the Old City of Akko where I walked through winding, ancient alleyways, Arabic music playing, incense burning, guys smoking water pipes, the smell of coriander and fresh pita bread. I stopped to buy blue ceramic dishes made by Armenian craftsmen from a Christian couple who own one of the largest tourist shops in the Old City. I learned that there’s only one country in the Middle East with an increasing Christian population and that’s Israel. (In Iraq, Lebanon and Libya, Christians have become victims of religious persecution. There has been a spike of attacks against Christians since the Muslim Brotherhood gained power in Egypt. In Gaza, Christians face attacks daily.)

What’s remarkable about this sketch of Bletter’s life in Israel is how free it is from politics. She is making no point other than: this is what’s normal.

3) Where terror is extraordinary

Next door, Israel’s “peace partner,” once again, hails a terrorist.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has awarded the “highest order of the Star of Honor” to arch-terrorist Nayef Hawatmeh. This is a continuation of the policy followed by Abbas and the PA to glorify terrorists responsible for murdering Israelis, as documented by Palestinian Media Watch.

Nayef Hawatmeh is the leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). The DFLP carried out many deadly terror attacks, including the killing of 22 schoolchildren and 4 adults after taking them hostage in Ma’alot, the killing of 9 children and 3 adults in an attack on a school bus, the killing of 7 in a Jerusalem bombing, the killing of 4 hostages in an apartment building in Beit Shean, all of which took place in the 1970′s. In addition, the DFLP has participated in and claimed responsibility for dozens of other terror attacks, including a suicide bombing near Tel Aviv that killed 4 in 2003.

Abbas himself signed the PA declaration decorating Hawatmeh with the Star of Honor, which praises Hawatmeh’s “efforts to raise the flag of Palestine since the launch of the Palestinian revolution.”

Those who continue to prioritize the peace process fail to account for the starkly different values of Israeli and Palestinian society. Not once do they ask themselves if a society that so frequently honors cold blooded killers is ready to commit to peace.

 
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