Containing the Islamist Revolution

Whenpoliticians are in election mode, they can see nothing but victory. Alldecisions, all considerations, are subservient to one question: how they canconvince voters to check their name at the ballot box. As someone who ran foroffice nine times, I know what I am talking about. But for the candidate whowins the election, and for the voters, there is always the day after.

Therise of anti-Western Islamist movements — exemplified this week by the victoryof the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi in Egypt’s presidential election — representsa grave threat to U.S. interests and values in the Middle East. The nextpresident of the United States, on the day after the election in November, willhave to cope with this new reality. If he is to be successful, he mustdevelop a strategy that takes into account the new state of affairs in thisregion and develop a long-term strategy to unite America’s friends and confrontits enemies.

Unfortunately,the new reality in the greater Middle East is bad for the United States and itsallies, including my country. Most importantly, the president should recognizethat Islamist forces are on the move: They have seized control from Waziristanto the Atlantic Ocean in almost uninterrupted territorial contiguity.Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Libya are at the midst of a brutal anddestructive battle for their identity. Their future territorial integrity is indoubt. In these five countries, and now in Egypt, the Islamist and extremistforces have the upper hand. The media has already replaced the term “ArabSpring” with “Arab Awakening.” Sooner rather than later, it will be replacedagain by “Islamist takeover.”

In nocountry are these Islamist forces friends of the United States. The extremistsamong them despise its culture and way of life. They deplore its status as aglobal superpower. The pragmatists are ready to receive U.S. financial andmilitary aid, but will not heed U.S. advice on foreign and domestic policy.

AsIslamist movements gain strength, America’s traditional allies are waveringabout how to confront this new threat. They doubt the loyalty of the UnitedStates, and wonder if they will enjoy American backing and support when theyneed it most. They are exploring other options to protect their interests.

Nor arethere any glimmers of progress when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.The Israeli government continues to expand and foster settlements in the WestBank. The Palestinians — to whom everybody, including their Arab brothers,have given a cold shoulder — are swept into a dangerous despair and growingradicalization. The lack of a serious Israeli-Palestinian dialogue is leadingto a binational state, which would signal the end of the Jewish national dreamand the Palestinian one.

Thecomplete international illegitimacy of the settlement project and of theoccupation aimed to protect it — combined with the combustibility of theIsraeli-Palestinian conflict — is a liability for U.S. foreign policy. It willremain so even if other parts of the world become a higher priority to theUnited States than the Middle East.

BothU.S. presidential candidates and their advisors need to begin thinking aboutthe day after the election, and how the next American president will deal withthis complex reality. As one who lives in the midst of it, here is myadvice.

First,the president has to ignore the naïve illusions about an “ArabSpring.” Neither romantic expectations surrounding the emerging new forcesnor a guilt complex about supporting authoritarian regimes should affectpractical statecraft. Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi havenot been replaced by enlightened democrats. Neither will Bashar-al-Assad.

Thefew friends the United States has left in the Middle East should be bolsteredand linked together in a new alliance. The United States can build a newregional axis to confront Iran and the radical Islamists. This axis shouldstretch from the Mediterranean to the Gulf, from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi. It shouldbe based on the Gulf Cooperation Council states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar,Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), and Jordan, Israel, and Palestine. Callit the GCC plus JIP. It’s an alliance that would boast huge economic growthpotential and substantial military strength.

Thecommon denominators of the members of this new alliance are the need to defendthemselves against Iran and radical Islam, friendship with Western democracies,and the commitment to building a region based on peace and economiccooperation.

Thenew axis will change the regional balance of power. It will emerge as analternative model to the bloody chaos and economic incompetence of radicalIslam, and it will draw a clear line on the region’s map that Iran’s expansioncannot cross. This model is not yet fully realized and fundamental reforms willbe required to bring it to fruition. But with U.S assistance, if requested, thesecan be implemented wisely and without bloodshed.

Israeli-Palestinianpeace is indispensable for the formation of this new regional alliance. It isnot only vital if Israel wishes to strengthen its ties with the Arab Gulfstates, it is a necessary step to prevent the disappearance of the democraticJewish state that we Israelis fought for.

Thereare two practical obstacles blocking the way to an Israeli-Palestinianagreement, however. First, there is the need to relocate the roughly 120,000Israeli settlers who now live in the West Bank in areas that will become afuture Palestinian state. Second, there is the need to provide new jobs, properhousing, and a better future to the hundreds of thousands of Palestiniansrefugees inside and outside the territories who live in poverty and despair.

Thesetwo problems are not only political, they are economic. And they can be removedthrough an international financial initiative led by the United States.

TheG-8 states should raise $5 billion per year over five years to enable Israel torelocate the West Bank settlers, mainly through the development of the Negevand Galilee areas in southern and northern Israel. Although the small core of ideological, hardline settlers willreject this incentive, the mainstream of Israeli society, as well as thelaw-abiding majority of settlers, will not turn it down. 

Duringthe same five years, the wealthy Arab states, including those in the Gulf, shouldallocate the same amount of money for the economic benefit of the Palestinianrefugees. These economic gains would not be in the form of handouts and welfarevouchers — they would be meant to spur economic development, which will createjobs, vocational education opportunities, and offer Palestinians a hope for abetter future.

Theflow of these funds — to the Palestinian Authority (PA), to Jordan, to Israel,possibly to Lebanon — will inevitably bring political change. They willstrengthen Jordan and the PA and offer the people of Gaza a horizon of hopethat Hamas can never give them.

Atthe same time, the people of Israel will have to choose between two outcomes: atroubled, isolated, binational state or a Jewish state on 78 percent of theland between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean — a state where the northand the south are as economically strong as Tel Aviv. There is no contestbetween these possible futures: Given these terms, an overwhelming majority ofIsraelis will prefer a two-state solution over a binational state, with all itsnegative repercussions.

Forthe G-8 and Arab states footing the bill, the financial burden of the combined$50 billion might seem overwhelming — particularly at this point of worldeconomic distress. These funds, however, are an investment in a more stableMiddle East — the sums are much less than the direct and indirect damage thatthe unresolved conflict will inflict. Just think of how much money the UnitedStates spent trying to stabilize Iraq.

Buildinga strong axis of moderates in the Middle East is doable, if there is the willin Washington. And if a revolutionary, secular, and democratic change occurs inIran, then the new Iran will be a natural member of this alliance. Shia-Sunnitensions in the Middle East will subside. On the other hand, as long as theayatollahs prevail, their regime will face an economically and militarilypowerful regional front.

Today,those who deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict inspire cynicism anddespair. But cynics are not the ones who change history — people with faith,vision, and courage do. This is what is expected of the man who will lead theUnited States after November 2012.


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