George Soros: Solving Israel/Palestine Must be Core of New US Strategy in the Middle East


George Soros has published a significant truth-telling article in the Boston Globe this morning, “Blinded by a Concept,” about some of the shortcomings of America’s foreign policy and Israel’s mistakes in its recent incursions into Lebanon and Gaza.
Soros’s article convinces because it ticks through the challenges US policy faces in an unstable Middle East with surgical precision not only as to what started the current set of crises but which also sent Israel’s security situation off the rails. Both America and Israel really did fail to set Mahmoud Abbas up for success, and that key mistake has generated enormous consequences that have cost lives and harmed fundamental security in the region.
While Soros provides three key weaknesses of the “war-on-terror” as an organizing principle of foreign policy — much like RAND strategist James Dobbins did recently at a meeting I helped organize — let me start at the third in his article. Soros makes a point about fine-tuning our approach to divergent groups and factions if for no other reason than to be effective. Recently, Flynt Leverett in an important American Prospect cover story makes precisely the same point.
Soros writes:

A third weakness is that the war-on-terror concept lumps together different political movements that use terrorist tactics. It fails to distinguish among Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, or the Sunni insurrection and the Mahdi militia in Iraq. Yet all these terrorist manifestations, being different, require different responses. Neither Hamas nor Hezbollah can be treated merely as targets in the war on terror because both have deep roots in their societies; yet there are profound differences between them.
Looking back, it is easy to see where Israeli policy went wrong. When Mahmoud Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority, Israel should have gone out of its way to strengthen him and his reformist team. When Israel withdrew from Gaza, the former head of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, negotiated a six-point plan on behalf of the Quartet for the Middle East (Russia, the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations). It included opening crossings between Gaza and the West Bank, allowing an airport and seaport in Gaza, opening the border with Egypt; and transferring the greenhouses abandoned by Israeli settlers into Arab hands. None of the six points was implemented. This contributed to Hamas’s electoral victory. The Bush administration, having pushed Israel to allow the Palestinians to hold elections, then backed Israel’s refusal to deal with a Hamas government. The effect was to impose further hardship on the Palestinians.
Nevertheless, Abbas was able to forge an agreement with the political arm of Hamas for the formation of a unity government. It was to foil this agreement that the military branch of Hamas, run from Damascus, engaged in the provocation that brought a heavy-handed response from Israel — which in turn incited Hezbollah to further provocation, opening a second front.
That is how extremists play off against each other to destroy any chance of political progress.
Israel has been a participant in this game, and President Bush bought into this flawed policy, uncritically supporting Israel. Events have shown that this policy leads to the escalation of violence. The process has advanced to the point where Israel’s unquestioned military superiority is no longer sufficient to overcome the negative consequences of its policy. Israel is now more endangered in its existence than it was at the time of the Oslo Agreement on peace.

I highly recommend that those who want to think about how metaphors of war and conflict can be dangerously exploited, read Soros’s book, The Age of Fallibility: Consequences of the War on Terror.
I have invited George Soros to speak about his book at a public meeting of the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program in Washington, and he has accepted.
For those of you interested in receiving an invitation, be sure to email me. The meeting will be taking place on the late afternoon of September 13 at the offices of the New America Foundation. We will have books there for sale — and Soros has agreed to sign books and to engage in a “quality discussion” about fallibility and our current conflicts.

— Steve Clemons


20 comments on “George Soros: Solving Israel/Palestine Must be Core of New US Strategy in the Middle East

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  5. weldon berger says:

    George Soros is a very smart man, and it’s nice to see an unsentimental summation of the current dynamic and how we arrived in it.
    It’s really frickin’ depressing, though, that 1) the commentary is coming from Soros and not from anyone who might influence foreign policy in the near or intermediate term, and 2) that we’ve arrived a point where someone who says dealing honestly with moderates in a movement or country works better than enabling extremists is hailed as a foreign policy visionary.


  6. Carroll says:

    Faster,faster…more bodies to come.
    From the Financial Times:
    “The United Nations on Wednesday described as ‘shocking and immoral’ the fact that Israel dropped well over 90 per cent of its cluster munitions in Lebanon during the last three days of the conflict – when it was already clear there would be a cessation of hostilities [my italics].”
    “Israel intensified its military offensive in southern Lebanon in the 72 hours between Security Resolution 1701 being signed in New York and the ceasefire on August 14.
    “Cluster weapons contain dozens of small explosives which spread over a wide area and are either air-dropped or ground launched.
    “The UN said it had identified 359 cluster bomb-strike locations, and that 102,000 unexploded small bombs continued to maim and kill people every day.
    “‘Civilians will die disproportionately again, after the war,’ [Jan Egeland, UN humanitarian chief] said. ‘This should not have happened. It’s an outrage.'”


  7. Carroll says: faster please…people are dying.
    US Loses 15 in Five Days of Iraq
    Baghdad, Aug 31 (Prensa Latina) The US Central Command in Iraq said on Thursday that 15 of its soldiers have died in the last five days, and resistance continues increasing its attacks against the invaders.
    The US military admitted on Thursday that a service member of the 34th Infantry Division died in a bomb explosion during a reconnaissance mission north of Baghdad.
    The recent American death brings the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq in five days to 15, thirteen of them killed in combat with rebels.


  8. Carroll says:

    I was going to order this book when Steve mentioned it some time ago and got onto other things and forgot to…but you can download some sections of his book at his website if you haven’t bought it yet…looks to me like it’s worth reading the whole book.


  9. selise says:

    steve, thanks for the boston globe link. very important analysis and i hope you will be posting audio of the meeting for those of us not in the dc area…
    in addition to soros, dobbins et al., may i suggest the addition of Ian Lustick’s “Trapped in the War on Terror”? (book,interview, lecture links below) would love to see what a synthesis of these (soros, dobbins, lustick,…) perspectives could provide.


  10. PUBLIUS says:

    I would have loved to discuss a few matters in person with George on the 13th, but I will, unfortunately, be travelling to Europe that evening. In the meantime, please remind him of my earlier advice that his views on the subjects shared with him in the past must be heard in the states and forums identified on March 20th – Austin, Dallas and Houston in particular – with urgency. The Boston Globe does not help public opinion formation where such efforts count most. As for the sanguine analysis posted yesterday regarding Iran, Bush’s comments of today on Iran needing to face “consequences” are a direct, identical reprise of the deliberate efforts to escalate conflict with the Hussein regime in 2003. Let’s hope sanguine analyses are rooted in genuine insight. One wonders at Nelson’s attempt at reading tea leaves in the period of September 2002 to March 2003.


  11. Piet says:

    The trouble with the Israel/Arab debate is that it has become extremely difficult to say who really started any given event. Sure, you can look at the preceding five minutes, but I don’t think that tells the whole story – there’s always the five minutes before that. The mischief goes back to at least the 1917 war, Lawrence of Arabia and the efforts of Britain and France to parcel out formerly Turkish territory at the end of that war.
    And our beloved media does not help, because they repeat the propaganda of the moment endlessly, like a child hoping that “saying so” will “make it so”.
    If we value life, especially human life, we desperately need a new approach. There’s nothing for either side, or their respective allies, to be proud of in the events of the past few weeks.


  12. Easy E says:

    More people should be listening to Soros than the neocon imbeciles that don’t have a clue. How about their latest ploy at solving Iraq quagmire: Paying millions for better propaganda……..
    To the neocons, the Rendon Group is solution for Israel/Palestine/ME dilemma.


  13. Cabaret Voltaire says:

    The US and Israel did not fail to set Abbas up for success. They succeeded in setting him up for failure, which was their desired outcome.


  14. Dan Kervick says:

    Anne-Marie Slaughter recently commented on Soros’s criticism of the “war on terror” metaphor. I wrote a lengthy comment in response, adding some of my own criticisms to those put forward by Soros.


  15. susan says:

    Israel squandered whatever was left of its moral capital a long time ago. I fail to understand how its government can condemn the tactics of the Palestinians while using the same tactics, albeit on a much larger and more ballistic scale.
    Unfortunately, the vast majority of the American public has no idea of the vastness our role in enabling Israel’s behavior. Most of those cluster bombs had “made in USA” stamped on them.
    It is important to point out, and point out repeatedly, that those cluster bombs were dropped AFTER the point the Israel knew it was going to have to stop bombing. This is unconscionable and Israel must be brought to account for it.


  16. eric blagadoush says:

    arko’s and John B’s thirded.


  17. John B. says:

    arko’s views seconded


  18. arko says:

    clemons, your network, outreach, and ability to churn events and people and ideas is really impressive. i bet the white house on some levels underestimates you, but on others, you scare them.
    i learn so much when i come to twn, where i actually learn something rather than just having my views told back to me.
    thanks for giving me some hope about our situation and for working so damned hard.


  19. abcd says:

    Soros is such an interesting guy.
    A spokesperson had to say Soros wasn’t behind the private eye who had tracked down the former Israeli intelligence officer who has been selling large scale telephone surveillance equipment as part intelligence sharing deals between Israel and the western world. (This is the equipment that got the DEA and FOX news upset, is confirmed by an anonymous intel or police source to be part of a intel sharing deal in the Netherlands (where it replaced CIA equipment) and the contracting around it upset an MEP (who is big on stocks) in Malta. The US is a really big customer of Israeli signals intelligence equipment… just ask AT&T)
    The guy who was a wall street favourite is now on the run over a stock backdating scheme. (Which gets you on the FBI`s most wanted list these days) And this detective said he had found the guy in Sri Lanca (Of all places, would you go to a country with new flares of violence and an extradition treaty if you had to take your millions and run?).
    The detective said he wanted to show you can run but you cant hide…. Like I said, Soros is an Interesting guy, but to be on the safe side, don’t screw with his stocks, even if you are with Israeli intelligence 😉


  20. Neal says:

    Hey, maybe this time the lesson of “the road to peace in the middle east runs through Jerusalem” will stick. I hope so, but this crew has invented its own “reality” and we’re living it. The moral high ground has turned out to be the all-time quagmire. What is the moral equivalence of the hundred thousand cluster bombs deposited by the Israelis in the last 72 hours of the current conflict and a suicide bomber? Don’t both seek to maim or kill uninvolved civilians in an effort to disrupt normal life and create terror?


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