The Aftermath of Obama’s Visit to Israel

The Obama-Netanyahu summit was one of the most carefully choreographed “reconciliation” meetings in recent history. When it was over, a poll found that 39 percent of Israelis said that their opinion of Obama had changed for the better, and 58 percent said that they now believed that the United States would not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.


The surprising success of the visit lay in the fact that, while the two leaders did not broach a single new issue or resolve a single old problem, Obama did say almost all the things that the Israelis, for four years, had pleaded with him to utter…such as that Israel is a Jewish state. And Netanyahu did or agreed to do almost all the things that Obama, for four years, had been pleading that he do…such as repeat that he supports a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.


According to well-informed Israeli sources, the immediate outcome is that they now anticipate that Secretary of State John Kerry will spend most of the next six months shuttling into and out of the region in an attempt to prepare the groundwork so that the United States can present a new peace plan next fall.


Formulating a peace plan will probably be easier said than done because, while the two leaders may have finally gotten around to doing what they should have done years ago, during the interim period when nothing of any import was said or done, the diplomatic and political playing field in the Middle East had changed beyond all recognition. The result is that the impact of their statements and their actions this time are unlikely to have the impact they could and would have had even two years ago.


So the most important question that has arisen out of the Obama visit is: What is Kerry capable of accomplishing?


Before I go into greater detail about the difficulties that lie ahead, let me just survey quickly, the baggage that the protagonists are now bringing with them.


I’ll start with the Americans.

The formal agenda of the Obama visit to Israel, as relayed to the media, was that the bilateral talks were to focus on events taking place in Iran, Syria, and among the Palestinians…in that order. However, it is clear that, from the outset, all three issues were inter-twined.


The reason is that, since the so-called Arab Spring began, the US has been searching, almost desperately, for a policy framework it can adopt in order to protect and further its interests in the region.


In the past, its policy was designed to ensure oil supplies, to protect regimes that were amicable to the United States, and to prevent another destabilizing Israeli-Arab conflagration.


But since the revolts in the Arab countries began, most US decision-making has been ad hoc—and the results prove it. The US supported the overthrow of President Mubarak in Egypt, only to see the anti-American Moslem Brotherhood take power. It supported the bombing of Libya, only to have the US ambassador there killed by Salafists, and governance there degenerate into brutal clan infighting.


Many have urged that the US become more involved militarily in Syria, but that would mean having the US Air Force face Syria’s Russian-built modern air defences; and the possibility that US forces might end up assisting jihadists to take power in a post-Assad Syria.


So, with no comprehensive long-range plan in the works, the basic strategy of the Obama administration has been to try to create the seemingly impossible—a regional alliance that would be both anti-Iranian Shiite and anti-Sunni jihadist.


In practical terms, this would mean somehow getting Turkey, the Gulf States, Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians—at a minimum—to climb into bed with each other…without biting each other.


But, as the old political framework in the region continues to collapse, the potential coalition partners appear to be preoccupied with other things, especially the contest for power that has been created by the recent upheavals.


As we saw, even before John Kerry returned to Israel, he had to spend time in Turkey trying to shore up the deal that the US had brokered between Erdogan and Bibi that was in danger of almost immediate collapse because Erdogan just couldn’t conceive of giving up the pleasure he gets from using Israel as a punching bag. No less importantly, he could not conceive why he should give up his public enmity towards Israel when it serves his aims of imposing Turkish hegemony on the region so well.


At least in the short term, this competition for power has led to a geometric growth in the level of distrust among all those parties the United States wants to bring into its alliance.


In the past, when the region was divided up by the cold war, everyone knew, more or less, whose side each country was on. Then, when Russian influence collapsed, there was a modicum of trust between the Americans and the Israelis, and the dictators in the region who were addicted to maintaining stability.  That trust was the product of the fact that all the dictators in the region had put most of their efforts into ensuring that they controlled all the instruments of state, such as the army and the courts system.


One of the notable features today of the Arab countries where rebellions have taken place is that the instruments of state have weakened and the relationship between those various institutions has broken down. This has led to weak, and therefore inherently untrustworthy governments.


For example, in Egypt, the relationship between the government and the courts and the government and the military leadership has deteriorated to the point where the sides are almost in open war with each other.


But that is not something Israelis should gloat about. There is even deep distrust between the Americans and the Israelis over what to do about what both view as the core regional problem that they face—how to deal with Iran’s search for nuclear weaponry.


For example, both Israel and the US fear that the other might not give it sufficient advance warning if the other party changes its current approach to Iran’s nuclear threat. The Americans fear that the Israelis might attack Iran without warning. And the Israelis continue to fear that the United States may extend its diplomatic efforts to the point where the threat of a military campaign might not prevent the Iranians from building a bomb.


So, the only agreement the two sides have been able to come to in the wake of the Obama visit to Israel is that they should continue to disagree on the criteria that should be used to determine when and if the use of military force is required in Iran.


That was a non-solution to a pressing problem, if there ever was one.


The thing to keep in mind is that no matter where you are in the world, a failure to find real and effective solutions to pressing problems always ends up making things worse. For example, The Israeli-American non-solution has already had at least one very unfortunate negative outcome.


Last year, the Israeli-American disagreements over what to do with Iran impelled Bibi to do the very thing that many of Israel’s top strategists had consistently opposed and that almost all those who have studied the Cuban missile crisis warn about.


If you recall, for years, Bibi had been pressing Obama to set red lines that would force the US to act in a certain way if the Iranians continued with their nuclear weapons project. But the Americans, realizing that doing so would limit their maneuvering room, and that that could create new dangers, refused to do so.


As a result, Bibi felt he had to do something—especially since so many top level Israel security experts had come out publicly against an immediate Israeli military strike on Iran.


So, in order to play the role of a tough guy and in order to box himself into a position where he would be forced to act militarily if Iran reaches the point where it is on the verge of acquiring a nuclear bomb, in his UN speech last October, Bibi laid out, for the first time, what was Israel’s “red line” with regard to Iran’s nuclear weapons development efforts. By doing so, though, he both bound Israel not to act so long as the red line was not crossed, and he freed Iran to do anything and everything else it could think of to acquire those very weapons…other than to cross that line.


Think for a moment about the real implications of what Bibi was doing when he held up his cartoon of a bomb at the General Assembly meeting. He was saying that so long as Iran didn’t go beyond the limits Israel had set for producing uranium enriched to more than 20 percent, Israel had no excuse for attacking Iran. And the Iranians, once they understood what that limitation entailed, were freed to figure out what they could do to promote their development effort without giving Israel a prima facie reason for launching an attack.


We were witness just recently again to why setting formal limits under these circumstances is a mistake. North Korea has launched yet another example of its penchant for nuclear gamesmanship. In effect, Kim Jong Un, forced all the Western nations to reveal most, if not all, their secret, non-violent plans for coping with nuclear proliferation. Most of those plans do not include a military adventure. Teheran certainly could not have asked for a better act of good fortune than to have its suspicions confirmed or undermined.


Despite, or maybe because of the election campaign and its aftermath, Netanyahu prepared extremely carefully for the Obama visit. One of Netanyahu’s primary objectives prior to the visit was to demonstrate that the claim by Israeli and foreign pundits that the extreme right had taken control of the cabinet is simply not true. The extreme right wing is in a majority in the cabinet, but it is not in control of policy-making. Netanyahu understood that he couldn’t allow that to happen.


But before I get to what Netanyahu did, let me just review what some of the country’s top security experts have been saying about the region in recent weeks, because their assessments played a major role in Bibi’s efforts to limit the far-right’s freedom of action.


In the weeks preceding the Obama visit and the coalition negotiations, top Israeli policy advisors, ranging from the right-wing former Head of the National Security Council Uzi Arad and the right-of-center former Head of the National Security Council Giora Eiland, to the left of centre former Director General of the Foreign Ministry Shlomo Avineri and the leftist former foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami,  had independently published or been interviewed about their assessments of the potential for the negotiating an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.


As I noted last month, their conclusions and the reasons they gave for reaching those conclusions were unanimous. The conclusions were that:


  • A full-fledged peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians is highly unlikely or impossible to achieve because each side is incapable of accepting the minimum demands of the other side. For example, the Palestinians have been unable to agree to an Israeli and American demand that the Arabs accept the concept of Israel as a Jewish state and give up the “right of return.” Likewise, Netanyahu had refused to accept a division of Jerusalem so that it could become the capital of two states.
  • Since Hamas would not be a party to talks involving real concessions, any agreement would apply only to the West Bank. But, even negotiations on limited concessions by the West Bankers would be almost impossible to achieve because they too would be opposed by Hamas.
  • Mahmoud Abbas will have difficulty renouncing his preconditions for renewing peace talks, such as a freeze on settlement construction. The only way Mahmoud Abbas would be able to overcome this problem would be by appealing to the Arab League for support. However, given the situation in the Arab world today, unanimous support by League members for such move is unlikely.
  • Therefore, the only agreement worth pursuing is a partial one, based on elements on which the two sides are known to be willing to compromise further, such as water allocations and reduced restrictions on Palestinian travel in the West Bank.
  • And for that reason, some items that had previously been high up on the American peace-making agenda, such as first negotiating an agreement on final borders, should be ignored for the moment.


These conclusions appear to have had little impact on Kerry’s perceptions. But they do appear to have had a profound impact both on the way Netanyahu negotiated the makeup of the new Israeli government…and on the way in which he prepared for the Obama visit.


In the weeks prior to Obama’s visit, Netanyahu was under pressure from the Americans to renew his commitment to a “two-states” solution to the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. However, he was also in the midst of difficult coalition negotiations, especially with the settlers’ political allies, the HaBayit HaYehudi party.


Naftali Bennett, the leader of the HaBayit HaYehudi party, had been regularly calling for the annexation of most if not all of the West Bank.


However, the deeply pessimistic consensus of the analysts had a totally unexpected impact than might have been expected. It enabled Netanyahu to convince Bennett to announce publicly that he would not object to renewed negotiations with the Palestinians because he doubted that the talks would make any progress.


Having thus guaranteed the success of his coalition negotiations with a hardliner like Bennett, Netanyahu could then set about silencing the extremist pro-settler radicals within his own party—even though they would become a majority of the Likud ministers.


He did so by first allowing the two moderate parties in the coalition to take control of those ministries that would allow them to directly influence the rate at which any pro-settler legislation is actually enacted and paid for.


For example, since all Knesset bills must be vetted by the justice ministry before final reading, Justice Minister Tzippi Livni is now in a position to delay the presentation of any pro-settler bills still requiring final reading.


Likewise, the head of the Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid, was awarded the finance ministry; and he is now in a position to block any and all government funding to the settlers. For example, Uri Ariel, the Habayit HaYehudi Housing Minister proclaimed on Independence Day that he would begin building in the extraordinarily sensitive and controversial area of E-1. But because Lapid, is now on a huge cost-cutting exercise, that is highly unlikely. aYehudi housing ministerH


Finally, Netanyahu made the pro-settler advocates within the Likud offers that most of them could not refuse—prestigious but inherently uninfluentual deputy ministerships and the chairmanship of Knesset committees. Zeev Elkin got the post of deputy foreign minister, which means almost nothing because Netanyahu is the foreign minister pro tem while the trial of Avigdor Liberman proceeds; and both Yuval Steinitz and Tzippi Livni have carved out for themselves all the fiefdoms held by the ministry relating to peace negotiations.


Danny Danon has been made the deputy defence minister. But anyone who believes that the thoughtful Defence Minister Moshe “Boogie” Yaalon will give up any substantial power to the extremist Danon is a fool. And Tzippi Hotovely, the princess of the extreme right, agreed to be made deputy Transportation minister. Since the transportation ministry is expected to take the biggest hit of all the so-called “civilian ministries” in Lapid’s cost cutting, exercise, there will be little of any substance for her to do there.


Two other extreme right wingers, Yair Levin and Miri Regev have been buried in the positions of coalition chairman and Knesset internal affairs committee chairwomen respectively. Netanyahu’s obvious expectation is that now that the radical rebels have agreed to take up these positions they will find it difficult to openly criticize cabinet policy from inside the government.


In effect, by not making a major issue of the differences he has with Obama over when to employ military force against Iran; by agreeing to apologize to Turkey over the deaths of Turkish citizens trying to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza; and by silencing, at least for the moment, the most vocal settler supporters in his government, Netanyahu has protected his backside by doing all that Obama has asked for so that Kerry’s mission can proceed.


That does not mean, though, that this mission will succeed.


That is because 3 other parties that are crucial to negotiating any peace settlement are so dysfunctional and in such turmoil that it is difficult, if not impossible to negotiate with them.


The Egyptians, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza are totally different political entities by almost every conceivable political, economic, demographic and military measurement. Nonetheless, as a result of all the upheavals that have been taking place in the region, all three have been exhibiting similar perceptions about the world around them. They thus have been acting in remarkably similar ways. So, for the purposes of this talk, I am going to treat them as a single bloc.


All three are suffering from economic crises, and all three are totally dependent on external aid for their political and economic survival. Nonetheless, all three carry with them a conviction that the financial aid they are being given is a right—or what economists would call “an entitlement.” Not only that, they believe that they need not take economic planning seriously—economic planning that might lower their dependency on outside donors—because they are absolutely sure that the Americans, the Europeans and the Israelis have come to the belief that they (Egypt, the PA and Hamas) are like the Western banks—too important to be allowed to fail.


In other words, no matter what mistakes they have made, no matter what they say, and no matter what obstacles they put in the way of the Americans’, the Europeans’ and the Israelis’ plans, they are convinced that they cannot and will not be punished for having failed to govern or to come to a compromise deal with Israel..


But these 3 groups, the Israelis, and the Americans are not the only actors in this ongoing drama.


Another group of states that has increased its influence over the course of events as a result of the rebellions includes the Gulf states and Turkey. That is because all the recent events have significantly altered perceptions of what sociologists call the “patterns of deference” in the region.


The most notable example of this phenomenon has been Turkey. Turkey is determined to come out of all of this as the country to whom all the others must defer. So far, it has had only a few, very moderate successes in achieving that aim. For example, just after the Egyptian elections, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan had the temerity to lecture the new Egyptian government on how it should run its business. In return, the new Moslem Brotherhood government, very politely, told Erdogan to get lost.


In recent months, tiny Qatar has been no less bold. It may not have Turkey’s population and military strength, but it does have substantial funds at its disposal, and it owns and controls the most important media franchise in the region—al Jazeera television. Qatar has recently been going out of its way to put on a series of exhibitions of its self-perceived importance and place in the social hierarchy. For example, significantly, when the latest meeting of the Arab league was held in Doha, Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh a-Thani did not even go out to the airport to greet the King of Saudi Arabia (who is his royal equivalent) or the President of Egypt (once acknowledged by all to be the leading political entity in the Arab world). These were obvious, deliberate snubs designed to show that the sheikh does not consider either of these two rulers to be his equal.


So, where does this leave the Kerry mission, and the whole peace process? Kerry has not yet revealed what his objectives are. However, sources in Washington have said that, in the next few months, he will be trying two diametrically opposed tactics. The first will be to try to get an agreement on final borders. If that fails, the second will be to try to cobble together a whole bunch of small agreements and then present them for approval as a large, single package deal.


Bibi ha s already rejected the very idea of participating in talks on boundaries—unless they also include comprehensive talks on security issues, which the Palestinians have refused to take part in.


Nonetheless, a shuttle mission by an American Secretary of State, even if it fails totally, cannot but have an impact on the region. So it should be tracked closely.


To my mind, the easiest way to follow the Kerry mission successes and failures will be to book a seat in the stands overlooking the money trail.


Once you have done that, you will have to mark where every actor now is on that trail.


Actually, I’ve already done that for you.


I’ll start with Israel.


Israel, is now confronting a major economic crisis. Budgets are having to be cut. So no one wants to alienate Finance Minister Yair Lapid. During the election campaign, Lapid stated that not sitting down to the negotiating table with the Palestinians was a mistake because it had lost Israel support from the Europeans. So, for example, he will certainly not look kindly on those vocal settlers who oppose all negotiations.


That, of course, doesn’t mean Lapid is a lefty. During the campaign, he also came out against the division of Jerusalem.


But, one thing we can be quite sure of is that Lapid will also not want to alienate the United States, especially since as the trip here by Chuck Hagel has shown, the US has agreed to foot a large part of Israel’s defence equipment procurement bills over the net decade.


Lapid’s good buddy HaBayit HaYehudi leader Naftali Bennett has said that Lapid opposes a withdrawal from the West Bank. But Lapid himself didn’t confirm that claim.


My hunch is that Lapid will probably follow the guidance of Yaakov Perry, his party’s defence expert and the suggestions of the other professional defence policy specialists. In any case, for financial reasons, he will not openly oppose American demands for territorial compromise.


As you can see, Netanyahu has done a pretty good job of ensuring that there will be few major, open divisions within the Israeli government on how to approach the Kerry mission. Getting such a broad agreement was relatively easy because there is a general agreement in the cabinet that Netanyahu’s previous decision to play to his hard right flank by not showing a real interest in renewing the peace talks was a mistake. It lost Israel international support, especially in Europe, while providing no other benefits. One important side-effect of that loss of European support was that it enabled many European states, which might otherwise have abstained from the UN vote on Palestinian statehood, to vote for the resolution.


As many pundits have pointed out, that victory, in itself, was essentially meaningless because it did not bring the establishment of a true, independent Palestinian state any closer. But it did help to confirm Mahmoud Abbas’s perception that he can create the appearance of political victories without having to compromise on anything. And, as we have seen over many years, appearances can have as much of an effect on political processes as realities.


Fortunately for Netanyahu, because Bennett was persuaded that nothing substantive would be discussed in the Kerry talks, he chose not to oppose the reopening of negotiations as such. In order to quieten his own extremist flank, he has now promised to reserve any criticisms he may have for that indefinite time in the future when the negotiators may come up with an actual proposal to present to the cabinet.


In sum, the Israeli response to the Kerry mission is now fairly clear. Israel will not present any preconditions unless the Palestinians do so, and it will try to present itself as doing nothing to delay progress in the talks. To that end, Bibi will also continue to try to silence his far-right critics. And there will likely be a silent halt to settlement construction outside the settlement blocks and Jerusalem. In the meantime, as demanded by the voters, the Israeli government will put its emphasis on domestic issues and the economy.


However, as a backstop, should the current government’s planned scenario not work out, Bibi has to create a situation in which he believes that he can put any and all blame for any failure in the peace talks squarely on the shoulders of the Palestinians.


One thing Israel will try to avoid is becoming a player again in the Palestinians very successfully game of reverse auctions. Each time the Americans or the Europeans proposed something and Israel responded negatively, the Palestinians were able to take advantage of the situation.  When the Israelis were eventually forced to back down, as usually happened, and even when they were not forced to back down, the Palestinians then felt free to up the ante for rejoining the negotiations as payment for their renewed participation in the talks. The term usually used to describe this ploy was “to provide signs of good will.”


The reason the Palestinians could get away with these maneuvers was that Bibi’s original actions had, in effect, turned what the Western countries wanted, (an attempt at conflict resolution), back into what these countries were tired of, (conflict management). So, so long as the Palestinians could present Israel as the party responsible for avoiding conflict resolution, the Palestinians could escape having to present a reasonable proposal of their own.


So, now, all the Israeli efforts, at least in the early stages of the negotiations will be focused on trying to present the Palestinians as the intransigent party that is preventing diplomatic progress. This plan appears to be an attempt to provide a justification for adopting a later-stage strategy that has already been laid out in a paper that will soon be made public by the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. That paper recommends that Israel court the Europeans to the point where, if the Palestinians continue to be unwilling to say yes to anything, the Europeans will be forced to accept Israel launching a series of unilateral actions, such as lifting a few roadblocks in the West Bank in return for intensified settlement building in the established settlement blocks.


What are the Palestinians now planning to do?


That is difficult to say because the Palestinian Authority appears to be in greater disarray than ever before; and, no less importantly its economy is more vulnerable than ever before.


The resignation of Salam Fayyad as prime minister has put the PA into a situation that, at least at the moment, is a lose-lose one. Despite all of Fayyad’s efforts to rebuild the Palestinian economy and cut down on corruption, he was never able to totally undo the legacy left by Yassir Arafat’s corrupt, economically-destructive regime.


Ever since taking office, Mahmoud Abbas has continued to feel obliged to pay off Fatah party leaders with perks such as licenses and jobs. That worked so long as Fayyad was able to continue to attract Western donors, and Abbas was able to keep money flowing in from the Gulf states. The international economic crisis and the rebellion in the Arab states has ended that particular and peculiar form of condominium rule under which Fayyad spent the donor money he got from the West on institution-building, and Abbas spent the money he got directly in an attempt to preserve Fatah’s control in the West Bank in the face of constant attempted predations by Hamas. The departure of Fayyad will now undoubtedly put heavy strains on Abbas’s relationship with the Western donor countries.


But, Abbas had little choice. Polls have continuously shown that the top items on the Palestinian public’s agenda are Palestinian unity, ensuring that the salaries of civil servants are paid on time, and the release of prisoners in Israeli jails.  However, the polls also show that the public is also totally opposed to those concessions that the Palestinians would have to make in order strengthen their economy and get the Israelis to release those prisoners. The best-known of these concessions is, as I said earlier, acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state.


Abbas’s weakness, though, is not unique. It has now become one part of a larger battle by all the Arab states to protect or advance their position on the social and political ladder. For this reason, Abbas is now no longer concerned just with coping with the complexities of Palestinian politics. He is having to deal with a battle for power that goes way beyond anything the Palestinians could have imagined. If it is any comfort to him, though, he is not alone. His arch-rival, Hamas, is facing similar problems.


It was initially expected that after Hamas shut down its offices in Damascus, the head of its political department, Khaled Meshaal, would retire. Instead, after more than a year political jockeying, Meshaal was reelected. As Meshaal himself admitted, he beat local leaders such as Ismail Haniyeh because he could argue in back rooms that no other Hamas leader has the experience and contacts to ensure that money will continue to flow into Hamas coffers, in the wake of Hamas’s decision not to support Assad in the Syrian civil war, and Iran’s decision to shut off its aid spigot to Gaza.




I hope I have now convinced you that money will play a significant role in the outcome of Kerry mission. However, the financial wheeling and dealing that we are already witnessing will soon get mind-bogglingly more complicated. So let me walk you as carefully as I can through the scenario that appears to be developing


As I have shown, the Fatah and Hamas leaders pursuing the same pot of gold. But—and here is a point that is too often ignored by the pundits—both Palestinian leaders are despised by the very oil-supported moneybags whom they are calling upon to save them.


The biggest Arab donors from whom the Palestinians are seeking financial support are the Saudis and the rulers of the other Gulf States. However these oil barons have always given most of their donations to the various extremist Salafist movements. That is because, while many people use the term “Salafist,” they too often don’t take account of the fact that the word “Salafist” is, effectively, an abbreviation used to describe those extremist Moslem groups whose members live outside Saudi Arabia, but who have adopted the Saudi Wahhabist interpretation of Islam, and receive money from the Saudis and their Wahhabist allies in the Gulf to support their activities.


Fatah, though, is a secular political movement, and Yassir Arafat often tried to blackmail the Saudis by threatening to train terrorists on Saudi soil. These are facts the Saudis have never forgotten. And Hamas is the child of the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood. The Gulf State Wahhabists have always viewed the Moslem Brotherhood’s adherents as religious deviants. One of the reasons why the Saudis and the Mubarak government enjoyed such good relations was that, while Mubarak cracked down constantly on the Brotherhood, he left the Egyptian Salafists alone.


Not only that, Egypt, signed the peace agreement with Israel, Fatah, signed the Oslo accords, and Hamas, finds it sometimes useful to control Salafists operating in Gaza against Saudi wishes. Therefore, as the Saudis view things, the three are not natural or preferred political targets for donations. When the Saudis and their religious allies do give out money to non-Salafist entities, it is normally only to those countries and institutions that allow or even foster Wahhabi teaching and preaching that usually get the money.


And so the plot thickens.


After the Moslem Brotherhood took power in Egypt, Hamas had assumed that it would be the recipient of Egyptian government largesse. But Egypt is now broke and cannot afford to support Hamas economically. So, Hamas too is broke. And in recent years Fatah has also not been getting enough money from the western states to compensate for the loss of Gulf financial support over the past few years. This situation has given those Arab countries that do have cash in hand and a willingness to part with it unprecedented political leverage.


Anyone else need not apply.


For example, Turkey thought that the current situation would give it a low-cost opening to foster its drive for hegemony in the area. It couldn’t supply money, so it tried to pay off the Palestinians, and especially the Moslem Brothers in Egypt and Gaza in kind by lavishing political attention on them. The whole Mavi Marmara affair is but one example of its efforts in this field.


This neo-Ottomanism did scare the Gulf states, but not enough for them to open their purses to Egypt or the Palestinians in a big way.


The Turks entry into the field, and the rumors that, if Turkey also started playing nice with Israel the US might welcome Turkey as a mediator with Hamas, only backfired. It

gave tiny Qatar an unprecedented opportunity to increase it chances of raising its status  within the Arab world. Qatar has long been a major funder of Fatah, Hamas and Egypt. Even more importantly, it has been the only Salafist state to decide to take the Moslem Brotherhood under its political wing. For example, al Jazeera has become virtually a Moslem Brotherhood mouthpiece.


After hearing that Qatar was open to appeals, Egypt, Hamas and Fatah began competing harder than ever for Qatari funding. This has naturally given the Qataris unprecedented leverage over Egyptian, Hamas and Fatah policymaking at the very time that the Kerry mission is underway.


Hint. Hint. The Qataris now want Kerry to give them due deference.


How has all this played out so far? There has been a lot of coded shadow-boxing. In public at least, Qatar and the Saudis main activity has been to try to force Fatah and Hamas to do what a majority of Palestinians have already said they want the two parties to do—to set up a national unity government. The thing is, should that happen, the Kerry mission would collapse instantaneously unless Hamas changes its basic political tune.


Hint. Hint. Both Qatar and the Saudis want Kerry to give them greater deference.


If this kind of behaviour continues, Kerry may very well find himself stuck between a rock (the Saudis and Qatar) and a hard place (Turkey, a member of NATO).


But that is not all. Behind the scenes, a no less crucial battle is going on. The Saudis and their allies have so far managed to force Hamas in Gaza not to crack down too heavily on the Salafists there. However, that agreement has already left Hamas vulnerable to attack. Salafist fire on Israeli towns and villages led the Israelis to launch Its “Defence Pillar Operation,” its latest, highly destructive assault on Gaza.


Hamas’s inability or unwillingness to control Salafists in Gaza has also led to a very costly rift with the most important and influential non-Brotherhood institution in Egypt—the Egyptian military. The army is convinced that Hamas has been assisting Salafist jihadi terrorist groups that are using the Sinai as base from which to attack not just Israel, but also Egyptian soldiers.


For example, the army has never forgiven Hamas for having  supposedly provided shelter for a jihadist group that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai who were sitting down to dinner to break their Ramadan fast.


In an attempt to punish Hamas (and, indirectly the Moslem Brotherhood government), and in an open gambit to restore its honor, the military responded by flooding some of the tunnels leading from Egypt into Gaza—thus not only creating shortages of  consumer goods, but also cutting the earnings Hamas extracts by taxing those goods brought in through the tunnels.


The military is also trying to crack down on the Salafist and Jihadist groups in the Sinai, that, among other things have virtually destroyed the Egyptian leisure tourism industry. As part of this operation, the military has charged Hamas with having supplied these religious rebels with direct aid. Potentially, these are fighting words.


So now, where does that leave Kerry?


Clearly, he has to figure out how to deal with the economic roles that the Saudis and their allies are playing in the politics of the region. The Americans have intimated that they would like to draw the Saudis into helping Kerry’s effort by supporting the Saudi peace initiative and by using it as the basis for the final American proposal.


But the Saudi proposal was presented years ago, and the situation in the Middle East has changed since then.


Can the Americans pressure the Saudis to doing more to pressure Egypt and the Palestinians?


That is highly unlikely. The reason? Again, money.


At the moment, for financial reasons, the Americans need the Saudis more than the Saudis need the Americans.


The American economy needs a huge boost, and the Saudis are obliging by buying billions of dollars worth of American arms.  The Europeans, one of the Americans’ most important trading partners, need cheap oil in order to keep their own economic recovery efforts from collapsing. Only the Saudis can guarantee that—and they are stabilizing oil prices. And everyone knows that if Israel or the US eventually attacks Iran, only the Saudis have the oil reserves to take up the slack and cover the shortages of oil on international markets that would result.


Like I say, Kerry may be spending a lot of time flying around the region, but, back on earth, the money trail is where the action is at.

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