Barry Rubin


A good friend and colleague of the Tundra Tabloids was present to hear the highly respected Bary Rubin give a talk about the Middle East situation, which was divided up into five segments. KGS

  1. Why is the Middle East such a mess as a region?
  2. What’s the biggest issue?
  3. What’s happening with Israel-Palestinian peace process?
  4. How does anti-semitism play into this?
  5. How do PLO/Fatah/PA play into this?
Now we can update Herzl’s comments about unchanging anti-semitism.
Liberal response to Iran, etc being behind the West is we have to adopt democracy, freedom of press, etc. This is a minority response. Iran’s response why they’re behind is we’ve repressed them and they’ve abandoned Islamism.
Nationalist response is the reasons are external; external enemies (Israel, Zionism, United States, West) must be defeated. Principal problem in the Middle East is the debate about why they’re behind. The answers given are generally unworkable.
In most of the world, if things aren’t working, you change them (including regimes). In the Middle East, the regimes have learned how to survive. In every country, the regime is the same as it was in 1974, 35 years ago.
They’ve learned how to handle the military, how to repress in a clever manner, how to use the economy to keep the regime in power. They’ve learned how to use the specter of external enemies to stay in power.
In this context, anti-semitism has a very important role. You can use all the traditional arguments of anti-semites and just change the word Jew to Zionist. From 1952 to 1992, the traditional Arab regimes were failures, promises not kept. With Iran, Islamism became a factor.
The most important issue in the Middle East and probably the entire world is the struggle between the nationalists and the Islamists. In the last five years, the liberal democrats have had to make a choice between supporting the nationalist regimes or the Islamists.
Re Israel–Palestinians – in my (BR’s) opinion – there is no possibility of a comprehensive resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
On the Palestinian side, they haven’t yet made the basic decision of whether they prefer peace and statehood or keeping open the struggle in hopes of winning a total victory in the future.
Example: Next PA leader, chosen Mohammed Ganin (?)(sp.) the most extreme leader possible designated by Abbas.
The idea that there will be a comprehensive peace in the near future is nonsense. That doesn’t mean everyone wants to fight now. Most Arab states don’t want to go to war either. They feel not agreeing to peace and giving money for terrorism is in their interest, but not going to war now is also in their interest.
Although the PA is unwilling to make peace, you can make interim agreements to minimize violence, raise living standards, postpone Hamas victory.
Re Iran nuclear weapons: Iran using a nuclear weapon is a real possibility (maybe 50%), but what interests BR is (four items):
1. Israel can defend itself, but Arab states cannot defend themselves from nuclear weapons. Arab states ask themselves whether they can depend on Barack Obama to defend themselves. The answer is generally no, so they cave into Iran on a lot of issues.
2. The same applies to Europe. Their appeasement of Iran will increase.
3. The price of oil will zoom up.
4. If Iran gets nuclear weapons, it will be perceived as proving the success of radical Islamism. The level of conflict and violence will go up in every Arab country and Europe. The Iranian inspired anti-semitism will also go up.
Re anti-semitism and PLO: Since its inception, they (Fatah and PLO) felt they had to be careful about being perceived as anti-semitic. They needed a systematic anti-Zionist ideology.

1. (progressive, in 60s and 70s): PLO and Fatah were true champions of the Jews. As early as 1968, Arafat was referring to Israel as neo-Nazi.
Problem – at the same time they were sending in terrorists to murder anyone they could.
They couldn’t stick to this argument because they were always tempted by anti-semitic arguments.
2. The classical anti-semitic position.
3. Neo-left-wing position.
Abu Yad, Nov 1989 – “the Jews are the scum of humanity, treachery flows in their blood.” (This from someone who probably considered himself a neo-Marxist.)
1970 -“Jews cannot bear to live forever under the threat of violence.” (PLO official)
1968 – PNC – Israel will inevitably lead to situation where it will be destroyed.
There was a significant amount of imported anti-semitism. ex – influence of Protocols of Zion. Don’t overestimate this.
Conspiracy theories. How do you explain the relationship between Israel and the US? Possibilities: 1. accident 2. America dominates Israel 3. Israel dominates America
How Arabs get away with saying the things they do: Things published in Arabic and not translated and unwillingness of journalists to publish items that don’t fit with the message they want to get across.
The world view that dominates the Palestinian movement makes it impossible for them to make a comprehensive peace settlement with Israel.
One part of that belief is that if you can pry world support away from Israel then it will collapse.
There are people who believed the West would be able to influence the thinking in the Middle East, but the Middle East has had more of an effect on the thinking of the West.
Charles There’s been excitement about development in the West Bank. Barack Obama’s not supporting reformists in Iran?
Answer: One of the causes of the Iranian revolution was the change brought about by economic development. The regimes want to control the economy. They will limit economic development.
Iran’s problem in extending influence in Arab world – not Arab, not Sunni. Leap Arab barrier by proving they’re the true champions of the Palestinians. It’s carefully thought out demagoguery. Also by having Arab allies.
Sunni/Shia barrier – have some of your allies Sunni, such as Hamas. Lots of Sunni Islamists hate Iran. We’ve had a reversal in American politics. Traditionally, the idea of supporting democracy and human rights was a liberal issue.
The Arab nationalists don’t quite believe what they say, but the Islamists do. In the West, if you make a concession, the other side makes a concession. In the Middle East it doesn’t work that way. The West is teaching radicals and anti-semites that what they’re doing is paying off.
Q Re Turkey, turning from Westernized to becoming shadow of Iran. Is there anything that can be done to reverse the process?
A – Don’t confuse the government with the people. The AKP (ruling party) broke off from the old style Islamists. Over the last year they’ve increasingly come out as an Islamist party. Only two ways to get them out of power – losing an election or military takeover (becoming less likely). It’s a very serious situation. For all practical purposes, the special relationship between Israel and Turkey is over.
Central demand to getting people to understand Israel’s problem is it’s counterintuitive. Even people who consider themselves Middle East experts don’t understand this.
When Oslo was signed, question arose – which Palestinians would Israel let come to the West Bank and Gaza? During the negotiations, Rabin said – give me a list of people we shouldn’t let in. That list was given to Arafat. Arafat said if you want to show you’re flexible, make the list smaller. Got the list down to four people, directly involved in particularly atrocious terrorist attacks.

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