The Divide and the President-elect
Deep in a long New York Times story on Israel’s offensive against Hamas comes these paragraphs summing up the dividing line on the conflict between Israel and Islamist radicals:
Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, condemned the silence of some Arab countries, which he said had prepared the grounds for the “catastrophe,” an Iranian news agency, ISNA, reported.
“The horrible crime of the Zionist regime in Gaza has once again revealed the bloodthirsty face of this regime from disguise,” he said in a statement. “But worse than this catastrophe is the encouraging silence of some Arab countries who claim to be Muslim,” he said, apparently in a reference to Egypt and Jordan.
Egypt has mediated talks between Israel and the Palestinians and between Hamas and Hamas’s rival, Fatah, leaving it open to criticism that it is too willing to work with Israel. In turn, Egypt and other Western-allied Sunni Arab nations are deeply opposed to Hezbollah and Hamas, which they see as extensions of Iran, their Shiite nemesis.
On one side, those nations and forces that support IsrAel’s right to exist even if they also demand a state for the Palestinians. On the other: Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamist radicals across the globe that want Israel destroyed.
This is the same conflict that has defined the presidency of George Bush and it will define the presidency of Barack Obama. We have to hope that the president-elect achieves the same clarity about the conflict that the president has, and signals early and often that there will be no negotiation with any state or entity that denies the right of Israel to exist within secure borders.
The great danger is that the new Adminstration will see some upside in talking with Hamas and Hezbollah or their sponsor Iran. There is no possibility of a “grand bargain” with these forces because they are not driven by any objective that can be met short of the destruction of Israel. If the president-elect conveyed his understanding of this central fact, he’d go a long way towards reassuring the world and the region that we were not in for a Carter-like epic naivete about our enemies.