Life rarely gives you second chances. But if handled deftly, the Arab Peace Initiative (API), discussed yesterday at a Blair House meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and an assembled group of Arab foreign ministers, could help form the basis of a serious reconstituted peace process. The delegation came to Washington under the guise of the Arab Peace Initiative Follow-up Committee -- a group charged with securing acceptance of the API by Israel and others.
The API was proposed over a decade ago by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah at a 2002 Arab League Summit in Beirut that convened amidst raging Israeli-Palestinian violence. Endorsed by the Arab League, the proposal offered Israel the prospect of peace, security, and normal relations -- a goal Israel has sought since its independence in 1948. In return, the Arabs called on Israel to agree to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital.
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After a three-year rupture, one of the most important relationships in the Middle East is on the cusp of repair. It will be a long while before Turkey and Israel can go back to business as usual, and the relationship will remain hostage to Israeli policy toward Palestinians. Nevertheless, last month's Israeli apology to Turkey has far-reaching implications for the region. It clears a path for the two countries to work together, albeit behind-the-scenes, on their most urgent common concern -- Syria -- as well as a host of other issues, including military technology and NATO-Israel cooperation.
The impasse broke two weeks ago when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to his Turkish counterpart, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for a 2010 Israeli raid that resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish citizens. The two countries' relationship had been strained in the preceding years, in part because of Israel's war in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, in December 2008 to January 2009. In the summer of 2009, Erdogan famously stormed off a stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland after a clash with Israel's President Shimon Peres over the war. But the 2010 raid gave Erdogan an opportunity to curry favor at home with the MHP, the Nationalist Action Party, and raise his regional stature further.
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The brouhaha over Israel's recent settlement announcements faded as suddenly as it emerged. After the United Nations General Assembly vote on November 29, 2012 that granted Palestine non-member observer status, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized an aggressive push in and around East Jerusalem. Construction plans, some of which already were on the fast track, were further accelerated and thousands of new housing units were approved, both to deter the Palestinian leadership from taking further steps in the international arena and as an unsuccessful election gambit to shore up his right flank. Within weeks, the bureaucracy reverted to a plodding pace, partly because the brouhaha had served its purpose, partly because of the quick and relatively forceful international response.
International condemnations of Israeli settlement activity are often pro forma. Not this time. The United States and European Union have been sensitive to these particular plans for nearly a decade already because they are seen to pose potentially insurmountable obstacles to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The most provocative project in question -- a development in the area known as E-1, an approximately 4.5 square mile zone east of Jerusalem that stretches to the settlement of Maale Adumim -- would all but separate the putative Palestinian capital from its Arab hinterland and foreclose the possibility of suturing the West Bank's urban continuum.
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On the night before Christmas, the streets of downtown Ramallah were relatively tame. A car drove around the traffic circle at Manara Square with a passenger dressed as Santa Claus leaning halfway out the window ringing a bell. It was quiet aside from the occasional car horn, and most shops were closed by 8:00 p.m.
"Normally, it is more crowded for the holiday," said my taxi driver as we passed through the roundabout. Where are all the people? I asked. "The people?" He chuckled sadly. "The people have no money."
Even though the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has experienced long periods of stalemate over the past 20 years, a majority of Palestinians and Israelis never ceased to support its final goals. They disagreed about the contours of negotiations, preconditions, and timing, but they consistently agreed about the most important things: the viability of a two-state solution and the acceptance of mutual recognition of each other's right to self-determination. Israeli and Palestinian opinion polls since the signing of the Oslo Agreement have shown this again and again. However, recent polls indicate that 2013 could be the year when this all changes.
The latest joint Israeli-Palestinian poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) from December 2012 shows that a majority among Israelis (65 percent) and Palestinians (62 percent) now believe the chances for a final agreement are low to non-existent. In Israel, unlike the 2009 election in which the center-left and the right blocs were approximately tied, the election planned for January 2013 is likely to generate an easy victory for the hawkish Netanyahu and Lieberman coalition. The two main players in this coalition -- the Likud and Yisrael Beitenu parties (which have merged into one list) -- are dominated by politicians who adamantly reject the two-state paradigm, some of whom even advocate for an Israeli annexation of the West Bank.
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The Arab League Ministerial Council that convened in Doha Sunday to review the Arab Peace Initiative and reevaluate the peace process concluded without any decisive action. Qatar's Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani maintained that the initiative would "not be on offer for ever." Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas objected saying, "It is not permissible to talk about sidelining the Arab Peace Initiative. It should stay." Abbas went on to warn that withdrawal of the initiative could lead to regional war. From press reports, there is no sign that the ministers undertook an in-depth evaluation of the initiative itself to better understand why it has not been successful, or to consider how to revitalize it.
The initiative, adopted by the League of Arab States in March 2002, was an historic opening that could have made a major contribution toward resolving the Israeli- Palestinian as well as the Israeli-Arab conflicts. When the initiative was put forward, Ariel Sharon was Prime Minister of Israel, and there was no likelihood that the architect of Israel's settlement policy would agree to the withdrawal to the 1967 lines called for by the Arab states. The primary audience for the initiative was not the Israeli government, but the Israeli people. The message to Israelis essentially was: In the context of a comprehensive peace, with your neighbors and the Palestinians, the entire Arab world will "consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended" and "establish normal relations with Israel."
With his decision to oppose the U.N. General Assembly's granting Palestine non-member state observer status, U.S. President Barack Obama leaves no doubt he is not modifying his pre-election position that "There is no daylight between Israel and the United States," and that no matter how deeply Israeli behavior violates international norms and existing agreements, U.S. support for Israel remains "rock solid." This continuity of U.S. Middle East peace policy was promptly reinforced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she assured Israel that despite her condemnation of its decision to proceed with new construction in the E1 corridor of the West Bank that will doom the two-state solution, this administration will continue to "have Israel's back."
The decision confirms America's irrelevance not only to a possible resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict but to the emerging political architecture of the entire region, the shape and direction of which will increasingly be determined by popular Arab opinion, not autocratic regimes dependent on the United States for their survival.
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The Obama administration's opposition to yesterday's United Nations General Assembly vote on the Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) bid for non-member observer state status once again places the United States outside the consensus of the vast majority of the international community. While the merits and usefulness of such a move by the PLO can be debated, the United States has once again made it clear that it lacks any new ideas as to how to move toward a just and lasting peace in the region and suggests that the administration is likely to continue to support blindly whatever the current Israeli government wants.
However, looking forward to his second term, President Barack Obama faces three basic options for dealing with the Palestine issue. Their outlines have not really changed since the most recent Israeli attacks on Gaza. The first is the tried and true method of simply ignoring Palestine and the Palestinians, while paying lip service to the "peace process" and attempting to extract unreciprocated Palestinian concessions to Israel. This approach was practiced during most of the administration of George W. Bush, and over the last two years by that of Obama. There are many pretexts for following this course of action today. These range from the persistent political divisions in Palestinian ranks and the feebleness of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah, to the supposedly "terrorist" nature of the Hamas leadership in Gaza. They include as well the stubborn unwillingness of the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to engage in serious negotiations to change the intolerable status quo of never-ending settlement growth and strict Israeli control over the millions of Palestinians who have lived under Israel military occupation for over 45 years. If, as clearly seems to be the case, the Israeli government is not fully willing to allow unfettered Palestinian self-determination, terminate its occupation, and remove its settlers, what is the point of "negotiations" for the Palestinians? Another reason for doing nothing is the unbroken record of failure of every U.S. president since Jimmy Carter in trying to stop the inexorable expansion of the Israeli settlement enterprise. This vast endeavor now comprises nearly 600,000 colonists -- or about one in every 10 Israeli Jews, who live on stolen Palestinian land in a far-flung archipelago explicitly intended to make the creation of a contiguous, viable Palestinian state physically impossible, with majestic success thus far.
Yasir Arafat had a canny knack for ensuring that Palestine never strayed too far from the world's headlines. His ghost may turn out to be no less resourceful. Today, a multinational team of medical and forensic experts exhumed the late Palestinian president's remains, as part of an investigation to determine whether he was poisoned. And, Thursday, the United Nations General Assembly, Arafat's favorite international forum, appears poised to confer the status of "non-member observer state" upon Palestine. The timing of these two developments appears coincidental, but what happens next may determine the fate of another apparent victim of foul play: the Middle East peace process.
The decision to exhume Arafat's remains, almost eight years after his demise, is itself illuminating. Why, many have asked, wasn't it done earlier, when potential evidence of wrongdoing remained fresh? Although it is tempting to suspect a conspiracy, the reality likely hews closer to Hamlet than Julius Caesar. Just after Arafat's death in 2004, a negotiated settlement of the conflict remained a tantalizing prospect: Israel withdrew its troops from the Gaza Strip in 2005, a new Palestinian-Israeli agreement on movement and access was concluded later the same year, and Palestinians returned to the polls in 2006 for the first time in a decade. While many Palestinians suspected from the start that Arafat died from unnatural causes, their leadership, like the court of Denmark in Hamlet, preferred not to be confronted with potentially unpleasant facts about the late patriarch's death. Why inflame the situation just as tempers were cooling? Why risk souring relations with Israel and the United States when progress was close at hand? Wasn't it possible, after all, that Arafat had been the obstacle to peace all along?
The U.S. State Department recently warned (again) that any move by the Palestine Liberation Organization to enhance the organization's status at the United Nations would, among other things, put United States aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) at risk.
That day may not be far off. PA President Mahmoud Abbas plans to ask the U.N. General Assembly to upgrade Palestine to non-member state status later this month. But is a U.S. aid cutoff such a bad thing? More voices are questioning international aid to the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, with some even calling for a full boycott of the aid industry.
Recent developments in Jerusalem pose a threat to the stability of the city and to the region. The world saw a preview over the recent Jewish holidays, when activists challenged the Israeli-imposed ban on Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif. Sensitivities at the site tend to peak during any holiday season; however, these latest challenges cannot be dismissed as routine or benign. The radicalization in the political discourse in Israel and the growing power of an emboldened group of Israeli activists focused on the Temple Mount are today coalescing into concrete initiatives that aspire to alter the status quo at the site for the first time since 1967. With Israeli elections approaching, the temptation of right-wing politicians to pander to Temple Mount activists will grow. In parallel, as the radicalization trend within Israel continues a settler-inspired "price tag" incident at the site becomes increasingly likely.
The site at the center of this brewing crisis is revered in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. For Jews, it is the Temple Mount, site of the ancient first and second Jewish Temples. For Muslims, since 705 AD the same spot has been home to the third holiest site in Islam, al Aqsa Mosque. For some dispensationalist Christians, restoration of Jewish contol over the site is an essential component in bringing about the "end of days."
While most media attention focused on the cartoon bomb presented by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, something even more newsworthy passed almost without notice: Netanyahu made it clear that he has endorsed U.S. President Barack Obama's policy on Iran. By literally drawing a red line to show how far he could tolerate Iran's nuclear program, Netanyahu in effect approved of the international efforts led by the Obama administration to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
In fact, while he would never admit it in the midst of a campaign, even Mitt Romney picked up on this view and has, in practice, endorsed Obama's approach. That sudden outbreak of unspoken consensus is the real story of the last week of diplomacy. The real question now is what can be done with the broad agreement that there is both time and space for a diplomatic solution to the crisis over Iran's nuclear program that has created a new window of opportunity. And that depends on two big wildcards: what Netanyahu's red lines really are, and Iran's real intentions and capabilities.
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Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had high hopes for the visit to Tehran by new Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. His trip on Thursday for the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit might have been brief -- his spokesman emphasized ahead of time that he would spend only four hours on Iranian soil, including getting stuck in traffic -- but Iran's leaders relished the opportunity to demonstrate progress in overcoming its isolation in the Arab world and to gain some democratic and revolutionary legitimacy by proxy.
Worried that Morsi's visit would indeed bestow such a diplomatic blessing on Tehran, the New York Times for example, sternly advised him to get briefed on the events of 2009, when the Iranian regime crushed the Green Movement by killing and imprisoning demonstrators demanding reform -- the same kind of uprising that brought Morsi to power in Cairo. But Morsi's performance in Tehran disappointed his Iranian hosts as cruelly as it mocked those who warned that his visit would deliver Egypt into Iran's camp and reveal a radical new Egyptian foreign policy.
For all practical purposes this weekend ended the Israeli debate on attacking Iran. What tipped the scales were two developments. The first was the decision of the country's president, Shimon Peres, to make his opposition to a military strike public. The second was an interview given by a former key defense advisor of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, questioning for the first time publically whether his former superior and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are fit to lead Israel in time of war.
Foreign aid to Palestine is desperately in need of rethinking. Wittingly or not, external aid facilitates Israel's occupation, enables an inept Palestinian leadership to survive, and subverts much of Palestinian civil society. The extent of the dependency on aid means the Palestinian Authority (PA) must spend considerable energy begging for handouts from Arab governments, the European Union, and the United States. Facing a severe cash shortage -- which is not unusual -- the PA was recently unable to pay the salaries on which an estimated one million bureaucrats and their families rely.
One of the major problems with external aid was illustrated by the beatings a month ago of young, peaceful Palestinian protesters by PA security forces. The protesters were initially demonstrating against a planned visit to Ramallah by former Israeli Vice-Premier Shaul Mofaz, who has faced travel bans to other countries due to accusations of war crimes during Israel's attacks on Palestinian cities in 2002. But after the PA security forces assaulted them, protestors organized demonstrations against police brutality.
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For decades U.S. foreign policy discourse has been haunted by the idea that there is something categorically different about Islamist political parties. So much so that they need to be thought about, treated, and engaged differently than other political groups with equally strong ideological commitments -- like capitalists, leftists, or green parties. In practice this has led to an assumption that the United States has generally been unwilling to do business with Islamists as a matter of policy. While Iran's 1979 revolution no doubt looms large as a specter here, the policy orientation in question actually traces back most directly to a famous dictum offered by Ed Djerejian -- then Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs -- in 1992. This was in the aftermath of an Algerian election in which Islamists had been poised to win a landslide victory only to see the results annulled by the country's army. An Islamist victory at the ballot box, Djerejian argued, would likely have proven to be a case of "one man, one vote, one time." That is, Islamists would make instrumental use of elections to capture the state, but then dismantle the democratic system once in power to ensure they could never be removed.
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Last week Yitzhak Shamir, Israel's seventh Prime Minister, passed away. Israel's current premier, Benjamin Netanyahu, will shortly overtake Shamir as the second longest serving PM in the state's history. At first glance Shamir and Netanyahu strike two very contrasting profiles: Shamir was modest and private; Netanyahu is the in-your-face, cigar-smoking friend to billionaires -- "King Bibi."
Yet in terms of ideology and its political application, they are probably the two most kindred spirits to have ever held Israel's highest elected office. A week of remembering, commentary, and eulogies of Shamir are a timely portal into understanding both the current PM's policies and the journey Israeli politics has taken in reaching an era of almost unchallenged dominance for the politics of intolerant, ethnocentric nationalism.
In 2008 -- 18 years after New York City threw him a ticker tape parade for helping to end apartheid -- it took an act of Congress to ensure that Nelson Mandela did not need a special waiver to enter the United States, finally removing his terrorist designation. In November 2011, Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyah was removed from the "Individuals and Entities Designated by the State Department Under E.O. 13224" terrorist list. He had been dead for three and a half years. The "German Taliban," Eric Breininger, was dead for more than a week when he was added to the list. Although these may seem like bureaucratic oversights, they are indicative of wider problems in terrorist listing systems. While attempting to punish terrorist groups and restrict their activities, these systems have reduced the space for diplomacy, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). These disparate examples also highlight the continuing lack of agreement on who is a "terrorist."
During its latest meeting on the Middle East peace process, the Council of the European Union repeated its warning that the emergence of a viable Palestinian state living peacefully beside Israel was in jeopardy. Perhaps angered by reports that more than 60 development projects funded by the European Commission and several EU states had been deliberately demolished by Israel, the Council blamed the Israeli government for threatening to make a two-state solution "impossible" through increased settlement construction, house demolitions, forced population transfers, and revoking Palestinian residency rights in Jerusalem. The EU urged the donor community -- especially donors from the Middle East -- to do more to assist the Palestinians by providing financial assistance for donor-funded projects in areas under Palestinian Authority (PA) control.
U.S. President Barack Obama might prefer to give the "green light" for an Israeli attack on Iran (if the diplomatic talks on Iran's nuclear program fail) if he were convinced that it "could get the job done," as recently assessed by Walter Russell Mead. Is it really a bad idea? Absurd as it sounds, is there a logic to America letting Israel strike Iran's nuclear installations rather than dissuading the Israelis? Could an ill-conceived war actually be a way to achieve a net-positive impact?
In the past, diplomatic breakthroughs for Israel have come after intense and prolonged periods of violence. Ironically, therefore, Israel's attack could probably be an effective way to break the deadlock in the Middle East peace process that shows no signs of going anywhere on its own. While this path is certainly not a desirable option, it is worth considering how it might play out.
In 1975, a combination of malevolent and misguided governments managed to enshrine in a United Nations General Assembly resolution the defamatory accusation that Zionism is racism. That libel was rescinded by the General Assembly in 1991, the only time that one of its resolutions was revoked.
In 2012, having neutralized American opposition to its efforts to establish -- through the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank -- irreversible "facts on the ground" that will prevent the emergence of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, while at the same time denying Israeli citizenship to the millions of Palestinian residents of the occupied territories, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government has succeeded in reviving the calumny that Zionism is racism, something anti-Semites and Israel's enemies had been unable to do.
In a recent interview with the BBC, Israel's deputy Prime Minister, Dan Meridor, who is also the country's Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy, said that the prospect of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons "...sends shivers of fear to all Arab countries." The assumption behind this statement is that "Arab states" see in Iran's nuclear program a threat to their national security. This might lead one to believe that Arab governments and publics would support, or at least not oppose, military measures against Iran.
Even before the looming confrontation with Iran, Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu have been engaged in their own related tussle -- more civilized and subdued no doubt, but arguably no less consequential. Their dueling speeches this week were striking in the degree to which they simultaneously mirrored and defied each other. It was no coincidence.
The U.S. president lavished praise on the one Israeli in the audience who most accurately reflects his own pragmatic views (Israeli President Shimon Peres) while bringing up Netanyahu only fleetingly. The Israeli prime minister enthusiastically applauded the many Americans in the room who share his more belligerent stance (members of Congress) while politely referring to Obama. Each paid lip service to his counterpart's central claim -- Obama, by acknowledging that Israel was entitled to its own sovereign security decisions; Netanyahu by conceding that the nuclear standoff would be best resolved by diplomacy. Both then proceeded to ruthlessly tear it apart: the president, by underscoring the imprudence of precipitous military action and the need to give negotiations time; the prime minister by stating flatly that Israel had waited long enough. Finally, the two leaders took aim at statements they argued were either dead wrong, or deadly dangerous -- Obama decried careless talk of war; Netanyahu mocked the endless recitation of war's perils. Neither bothered mentioning to whom they were referring, but there was no need. Not a day goes by without Israeli officials raising the specter of military action; meanwhile, a succession of U.S. officials have warned about the catastrophe such action might provoke.
Seldom has it been as justified to be pessimistic about developments between the United States, Israel, and Iran. This dysfunctional state of affairs is getting so out of hand that the danger of war is no longer just a remote possibility but instead looms large on the horizon. David Ignatius reported on Feb. 2 in Washington Post that "[Secretary of Defense Leon] Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May, or June," though he does not believe that the final decision has been taken yet.
In a couple of days Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will arrive in Washington to reiterate the Israeli position that keeping up the pressure on Iran requires a credible threat of war. In effect he will argue that President Barack Obama must toe the Israeli party line both for the sake of keeping a united front against Iran but also, ironically, because he does not want his own decision-making process on a possible war on Iran influenced by Washington.
Earlier this month, the Israeli government's ministerial Committee on Legislation approved a bill to try and uphold prison sentences for solicitors of prostitution. The bill, which also grants an educational program for first time-offenders, was initiated already half a decade ago by the left-wing Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On. When Meretz's political fortunes diminished in 2009 elections and Gal-on lost her sit, Kadima MK Orit Zuaretz took upon herself to promote it. Gal-On -- now an MK again -- said in an interview that it took years of huge efforts by her and the other supporters of the bill, mainly NGOs and academia, "including arranging conferences and presenting experts' advocacy" to change perceptions among decision makers and opinion leaders. The bill still needs to gain the Knesset's vote, but should it be approved, it will be a tremendous addition to progressive trends in Israel and to the standing of women in Israeli society.
Do Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem prefer to be Israeli or Palestinian? That's the question that some recent polls purport to have answered, including a recent blockbuster report that claims to prove that most Palestinians in East Jerusalem prefer Israel. This is a bombshell finding -- seeming to prove both that Israel has treated the Palestinians of East Jerusalem better than people think, and that the Palestinian demand for a capital in East Jerusalem isn't supported by the very Palestinians who live there.
It is also a finding that, at least as a product of current polling, doesn't hold up to serious scrutiny.
Yet another deadline passed late last month in the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process," this time over the initial exchange of proposals on border and security issues. Palestinian negotiators were (and remain) under pressure on a number of fronts. The Quartet still holds to a resumption of talks under the current guise and a recent visit from Ban Ki-Moon called for "a gesture of goodwill by both sides" in order to create a positive atmosphere for continuing negotiations.
Instead, many Palestinians are urging the PLO to end negotiations altogether until Israel halts all settlement expansion in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Palestinian frustration with the international community and the hollow negotiation process was embodied by the slippers and sticks that showered the Secretary-General's convoy upon entry to the Gaza Strip two weeks ago.
When safety regulation makes automobiles safer, drivers (though obviously not all of them) are tempted to drive more recklessly, creating partially or completely offsetting effects on the overall level of safety. Economists have entertained this idea since it was first introduced by Sam Peltzman in the 1970s, some have rejected it while others, some of whom relied on data from NASCAR races, validated it. The "Peltzman effect" was also tested during the Cold War and more broadly in the realm of strategic affairs. Specifically, scholars have sought to understand the effect of the added perceived security a state acquires from nuclear weapons on its behavior in world politics.
Let us assume for a moment that Iran acquires a nuclear weapons capability (which is anything but inevitable given the many technical and political unknowns), a "nuclear seat belt or air bag" so to speak, will it behave like a more reckless driver? It is no surprise that analysts have had disagreements on this issue, some strong, others more nuanced. Most analysts however believe that a nuclear Iran -- whether overtly nuclear-armed or capable of producing weapons quickly -- would present an even greater challenge to Western interests and regional security than it does today, more aggressively protecting its strategic interests, projecting its power, pursuing its ideological ambitions, and meddling in the politics and security of its neighbors. A nuclear Iran could look more like Pakistan, a country that, after its 1998 nuclear tests, was feeling more confident on the regional and international stage and was arguably taking more risks in its policies toward its historical rival, India.
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It is one of those peculiarities of the Israeli political system that right now, under a stable government and a strong prime minister, there is almost a consensus in the Knesset that a date for early elections will be called soon. Conventional wisdom suggests that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would like to avoid the battle over the 2013 budget, especially since Israel seems to be facing the prospect of an economic slow-down. Add to that the possible electoral victory by President Barack Obama in the U.S. elections in November which could hurt the Israeli Prime Minister in the local polls, calling elections now seems like an easy way out (the other potential political game changer -- an attack on Iran -- will not be discussed here).
Yet unlike previous campaigns, when many held out hope that called-for elections could lead to new policies and a genuine Israeli interest in terminating the country's 44 year-long military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, there are growing signs that the next Knesset could be just as conservative and hawkish, if not more, than the current one. The chances of a Yitzhak Rabin-style peace coalition are therefore practically non-existent.
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