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Friday, January 12, 2018 - 1:07pm

By American Jewish Congress President Jack Rosen

Featured in Newsweek

As Iranians take to the streets and the international community looks on nervously, President Trump is facing a crucial turning point on Iran.

As Iranians take to the streets and the international community looks on nervously, President Trump is facing a crucial turning point on Iran.

Last October, he took a decisive step back from the nuclear agreement, which he has famously branded the “worst deal ever.”

This week, for the first time since then, the President must decide whether to continue both certifying the deal and waiving sanctions against Tehran.

The time has come for Trump to hold Iran to account. However, the task is complex. The process extends far beyond the end of this week. It will require Trump to create a unity of purpose both at home and abroad that has so far been lacking. But it can and must be done.

The first challenge for the President is to turn the existing nuclear agreement from a decade-long arrangement into a permanent deal, removing the so-called “sunset clause.”

The second is to see the deal curb Iran’s ballistic missile development, which also poses a serious threat to regional stability. Such changes will give real purpose to a deal which currently guarantees nothing.

The Obama administration hoped that by signing a deeply flawed agreement and waiving crippling economic sanctions, it could bring Iran in from the cold, and strengthen the regime’s moderates on the way to bringing stability to the wider region.

This plan has clearly and demonstrably failed. Since Washington and five fellow Western powers signed the nuclear deal in 2015, Iran has increasingly sown chaos in the region.

Tehran’s fingerprints are all over the Middle East’s bloodiest conflicts from Syria to Yemen and beyond. Unencumbered by sanctions, Tehran continues to spread terror across the region.

Meanwhile, the Iranian people have once again taken to the streets in wide scale protest against the Islamic Republic’s authoritarian rulers, who have not hesitated to brutally suppress their voice.

The crux of these public demonstrations is a disillusionment over continued price rises and economic hardship at home, while vital resources are funnelled towards bankrolling President Assad, Hezbollah, Houthi rebels and others to fight wars abroad.

The demonstrations have been a reminder that large swathes of the Iranian public are increasingly frustrated by a regime that seeks to isolate them from the international community and damaging economic progress, thereby depriving the people of a future.

Some have argued that forgoing the nuclear deal at this juncture, would risk playing into the hands of Iranian rulers only too eager to portray America as the enemy and the very catalyst of civil unrest.

Decertifying the agreement now and a renewal of sanctions would make it easy for the ayatollahs to further condemn popular protest as the work of the “Great Satan.” It could prove a setback for those in Iran who so desperately want engagement with the West.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration could present an alternative way of forgoing the nuclear deal in its current form while supporting the Iranian people’s struggle for a more progressive future for Iran. Such an outcome will require a long term plan.

The Senate resolution 368 tabled by Senator Ed Royce and scheduled for vote next week not only expresses solidarity with the legitimate protests of the Iranian people and seeks international consensus on condemning the Iranian regime’s human rights violations, but it calls on the US to introduce targeting sanctions to hold the regime to account.

The collaboration of the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker and Senator Ben Cardin, the most senior Democrat on the Committee, on the Corker-Cardin proposal is another such example. Both of these initiatives illustrate the important role Congress can play in helping the administration to create a bipartisan consensus at home, which is essential if the US is to persuade her allies to amend a deal which they continue to champion.

Support from both sides of the aisle to alter meaningfully the nuclear agreement would be a persuasive statement to the international community. The united voice of Republicans and Democrats would give confidence that President Trump’s opposition to the deal is rooted in very real, grave concerns, rather than political interest.

And there are two clear and important alterations to the agreement, which a Corker-Cardin compromise can secure.

Having said that, Iran has already shown itself to be a bad actor in the process and if they won’t commit to renegotiating the agreement, then the US position must be to resort to stronger action to hold the regime to account.

Holding Iran to account and halting its nuclear program has long been a priority for the West. Washington must continue to take a leading role in this process.

There is now a real opportunity to collaborate with parties from both sides of the political spectrum, in order to make this reality and garner support from the international community. As President Trump approaches the first anniversary of taking office, he has the chance to build a lasting legacy of stability in the Middle East.

But it will take patience and determination far beyond this week’s deliberations.

Jack Rosen is President of the American Jewish Congress.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018 - 5:46pm

1. Why are the Iranians protesting?

Iranian Protests

 

There are many factors that have brought Iranians out to protest, many of these reasons are linked to the state of the economy, and mostly, years of political and social repression.

 

The endemic corruption, fraud, and mismanagement of the government have caused the people of Iran to grow tired of the leadership in place and its funding of terrorism abroad while their economy is suffering. It is estimated that almost half of the countries GDP goes to the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps)  for continued involvement in proxy wars in the Mideast. Iran is proud of their increased status as a result of fighting in Syria and Yemen but at what cost will this continue?

 

Due to the inflation in the region, the cost of living is so high most people need to work multiple jobs in order to keep their families afloat.

 

2. What are they asking for?

Iranians are asking for their government to listen to them. Iran needs a fundamental change in it's economy and government. Many believe this is an impossible task to accomplish without breaking the stranglehold of groups like the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) on the Iranian economy.

 

3. How has the government responded?

 

 

Due to travel restrictions and limitations on internet access in the region media networks have limited ability to report on the ongoing unrest. The government also limited the use of the internet and social media in order to disrupt its citizens ability to continue to organize protests as well as remove online footage that would incite more of its citizens to protest violently.

 

4. When did this begin?

 

 

The first protest began Thursday, December 28, 2017, in Mashhad, Iran's second largest city, and holy site. There, protesters were found shouting "leave Syria alone, think about us" Referring to Iran's military involvement in Syria.

 

5. What will happen in the coming weeks?

 

 

Although we have no way of knowing how this development will continue to unravel in the weeks and months to come, many experts expect the regime to grow increasingly repressive. The IRGC is no stranger to containing protests such as these and is prepared for much worse.

 

In Tehran alone 450 protesters have been arrested in the last 3 days. Although Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has said, "People are free to express their criticism and to protest," The head of Tehran Revolutionary Court warned on Tuesday that arrested protesters could potentially face death penalty cases when they come to trial. Some Iranians even fear the IRGC has allowed the protest to fester as a pretext for expanding their authority in the name of national security

 

SOURCES:

- https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/12/the-battle-for...

- http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5229033/Iran-blocks-social-media...

- http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/01/deaths-reported-iran-anti-governme...

- https://www.timesofisrael.com/qa-whats-happening-with-irans-ongoing-prot...

- https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/22/rift-between-irans-ayatoll...

- http://www.cnn.com/2017/12/31/middleeast/iran-protests-sunday/index.html

- https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2017/12/31/Iran-cuts-o...

- https://gizmodo.com/iran-moves-to-block-social-media-apps-mobile-network...

- https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/democracy-post/wp/2018/01/02/the-rea...

- http://metro.co.uk/2018/01/02/protestors-threatened-death-penalty-speaki...

 
Monday, December 18, 2017 - 10:32am
By: American Jewish Congress President Jack Rosen
Featured in The Hill
 

As Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” When it comes to relations between the U.S., Israel and the Arab world, while governments set the tone, American Jewish leaders can play an important role in fostering a culture of mutual understanding between both sides. Rather than stoking tensions, America’s Jews should recognize the encouraging signs of progress that are being made.

There is only one way to bring positive change to the Middle-East and the Gulf, and that is through dialogue and diplomacy. Although there is much to criticize and there are wrongs to right, we need to engage with all parties in the neighborhood if progress is to be achieved. If the ultimate goal is peace between Israel and the Palestinians, then the other countries in the region need to be on board. The Arab world needs to help bring the Palestinians to the table and support an agreement. They will do this if they are convinced it is in their best interests, both domestically on the Arab street and internationally when it comes to trade with the U.S. and other countries.

The signs that peace is achievable are there. In the past month alone, I have travelled to both Qatar and Saudi Arabia and have spoken extensively with leaders and high-level officials there. They are all clear that positive relations with the U.S., be it with lawmakers, business leaders or opinion-formers, is something all Arab countries see as valuable. The signs are also there that rejuvenating the Middle East Peace Process will continue to be a priority for the Trump administration.

The Trump administration is crafting a plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace to be unveiled “by early next year,” according to The New York Times. Following his recent weeklong trip to the region, U.S. Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt declared the U.S. “will never impose a deal — our goal is to facilitate, not dictate a lasting peace agreement”.

Those that say Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a barrier to this peace are misguided. What matters is not the location of an embassy, which is trivial on a greater scale. What matters is the political will on both sides to come to the table and negotiate. This has to be the focus if we are to progress. Kushner’s efforts behind the scenes will hopefully also help achieve this. The number of visits he has taken to the Arab world can only be a good thing, and will hopefully contribute towards new channels of dialogue and a refreshed vision of optimism opening up amongst Arab countries. 

The question is, can American Jews play a part in this process and make peace more achievable? I believe so. Our contribution starts from a diplomatic level. There are signs of diplomacy emerging on both sides. Attitudes in many of the Arab States are going through a gradual metamorphosis and becoming more aligned with America’s position in many areas. How the administration and Congress speak about the Arab world makes a real difference in promoting dialogue. Americans, and American Jews, can help support this process. 

However, diplomacy requires two players, there needs to be a feeling of reciprocity. If there is a sense that neither side is willing to communicate effectively, they have no time for each other’s opinion and there is no appetite for cooperation, then dialogue has no chance of succeeding. 

For the first time in a long time, the Arab world is now making efforts to show they want to engage.

They may only be taking small steps, but they are no less significant for that. In the last couple of months UNESCO, a thorn in Israel’s side, has delayed a negative vote on Israel and not objected to a Jew becoming its new director-general.

Further afield, Qatar has made it clear that Israelis (and Jews) are welcome at its World Cup. Israel Judo Association officials also “shared greetings and positive discussion” with officials from their UAE counterparts following last month’s Abu Dhabi Judo Grand Slam. When taken together these developments represent the signs that a significant movement may be underway. I believe the tide is turning and American Jews need to play their part. 

Many argue that Qatar is different, that they support terrorist groups such as Hamas which refutes Israel’s right to exist and we should act to condemn them where their interests run contrary to Israel’s. The situation is extremely complex and nuanced and Qatar is viewed by many as an outlier in the region. But the fact remains that America is heavily invested in Qatar and Israel is engaging with them. There are shared interests between Israel and Qatar and both countries want to take those interests forward. Where Israel and America are aligned, American Jewry should be following suit. We should be sending a message to Qatari officials that we are ready to communicate and open to engagement. American Jewry is equally well-equipped to help support diplomatic mechanisms, by creating a positive environment conducive to peace.

Engaging in a comprehensive dialogue with the Arab world is sometimes delicate but stability will only be brought through mutual cooperation and that requires making tough and often difficult decisions. If we foster a climate of collaboration, welcoming the positive changes and opening the door to greater dialogue the rewards could be immense.  Attitudes are changing, but profound change doesn’t happen overnight and what’s needed now is some level heads, time and care to allow these small changes to develop and see where they lead.

Jack Rosen is president of the American Jewish Congress and chairman of the American Council for World Jewry.

Thursday, December 14, 2017 - 9:40am
By: American Jewish Congress President Jack Rosen
Featured in the Ynetnews
 
Jerusalem is and has always been the heart of the Jewish people. This most ancient and controversial of cities is the capital of the Jewish state as recognized by the government of Israel and Jews all over the world.
 
Rather than being lambasted, US President Donald Trump should be applauded for taking the brave step to recognize officially Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city and committing to relocating the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This historic acknowledgement by the Trump administration recognizes Jerusalem’s just and rightful position as the centerpiece of the Jewish state.
 
US officials have been keen to quash claims that the designation would in any way prejudice final-status negotiations as part of any future peace deal. There is little reason why it should, so I say to my friends in the Arab world that they should not lose hope. It’s clear that there is still room for negotiations, and no reason why a settlement—one that is palatable for both sides—cannot be reached. As Ambassador Ron Dermer said following the announcement, “The US did not say they were deciding the boundaries of Jerusalem,” and so a comprehensive peace deal is still very much alive.

Recognizing Jerusalem is an acknowledgement of reality (Photo: Israel Bardugo)

Jerusalem

Unfortunately, the international community does not see it this way. The reaction has moved from plain critical to outrage. Leaders from London to Montevideo, from the UN to the Vatican are falling over themselves to condemn President Trump. The reaction is both wrong-headed, misguided and, indeed, dangerous.

You can’t help wondering why it is that the Jewish state is singled out in this way, given the ongoing atrocities in countries like Syria and Myanmar that have not received the same reaction. What other country on earth has its own choice of capital city questioned? What moral right does any other country have to dictate to Israel where it chooses its Capital? The outrageous thing about this whole episode is that it is so controversial in the first place.

While it cannot be denied that the announcement represents a different approach by the US and a break with its long-time policy of ambiguity on its status, Jerusalem is and always has been the capital of the Jewish state. President Trump’s announcement, in this context, is little more than a belated acknowledgement of historical fact. Jerusalem is after all the designated seat of the Israeli government, the Prime Minister’s Office and the legislature. It is a pure charade to pretend otherwise. Every person travelling to Israel, from a casual tourist to a head of state is left in no doubt where Israel’s capital lies.

Much of the focus from opponents to the move has been on the obstacles it will present the US in its efforts to broker peace, which President Trump has described as the “ultimate deal.” In reality, the Palestinian attitude to the peace process has long been entrenched, with the Palestinian leadership preferring to embark on unilateral action and diplomatic terrorism at international institutions, such as the UN, the International Criminal Court and UNESCO, instead of returning to the negotiating table with Israel.

President Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital (Photo: AP)

President Donald Trump

We all understand the pain felt by ordinary Palestinians, but the Palestinian leadership really only has itself to blame for its current predicament. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ warning of the “dangerous consequences” for lasting peace as a result of the US action speaks of a cynical attempt, given legitimacy by the over-blown outcry of world leaders, to inflame tensions and justify further diplomatic and military terror.

US allies roundly criticized the policy deviation, with the UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May declaring it “unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace in the region.” French President Emmanuel Macron, on the other hand, condemned it as a move that “(went) against international law and all the resolutions of the UN Security Council”. Perhaps to be expected, Turkey also chipped into the furor, with President Tayyip Erdogan likening the announcement to “throwing the region into a ring of fire.”

The vehemence of the collective response from world leaders demonstrates yet again that where Israel is involved, the international community always seems to revel in its condemnation and faux-outrage. This is clear hypocrisy, the likes of which we have seen repeated countless times at the UN Security Council, as the same standards are not applied to Western countries, much less more unsavory regimes around the world. Such an outcry was simply not seen on the same scale when Assad unleashed Chemical Weapons against his own people in Syria and following the ethnic cleansing of Myanmar’s Rohingyas, which continues to rage on.

Recognizing Jerusalem is an acknowledgement of reality. Peace will only be achieved by furthering the dialogue between Israel and Sunni Arab states with a shared interest in helping to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table. Overreacting on Jerusalem is not going to help and only serves to encourage and embolden Islamic radicals and their apologists in the West, which in turn entrenches the extreme Israeli right. These, in combination, are the real obstacles to peace.

Jack Rosen is president of the American Jewish Congress.

Monday, November 20, 2017 - 4:49pm
By: Dr.Kazmir's
Featured in the Huffington Post
 
I was heartened to see recently that Argentina and the United States are talking about increasing trade with each other. I think open trade is a hallmark of a productive economy and the United States couldn’t have a better partner to deal with on the Argentinian end of the spectrum than President Mauricio Macri. I met President Macri last year at the house of American Jewish Congress President Jack Rosen and then again earlier this month at a private dinner at the same location.

Jack is working hard around the world to build relationships that could be beneficial not only to AJC, but to many countries worldwide. This includes President Macri, whom Jack is very close with.

On a personal level, President Macri is a charming guy. When you combine his charisma and his penchant for reform, you can easily tell why many consider him to be the Argentinian Ronald Reagan. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a lot of world leaders but to this point, President Macri has been the most impressive one I have met.

I have been to Argentina many times since my daughter studied abroad in Buenos Aires for her law degree. Without a doubt, the country has changed in a positive way under President Macri’s leadership.

Most recently Macri’s party won re-election, which is good news for the Argentinian people and for us, since it makes the road to trade between our two countries easier. There are many investment opportunities for American businesses in Argentina and I hope the friendship between our two nations grows so that the U.S. and Argentina can benefit from each other over the long haul.

In addition, for as long as President Macri is in office, it means that we have a key ally in the region, which is excellent. I am very pleased that President Macri is a friend to Israel as well.

I look forward to progress continuing to be made in Argentina under President Macri and am excited for the positive global outcomes that should occur as a result.

 

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

 

 

 

 

http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/religion/346887-charlottesville-does-not-stop-me-from-being-a-proud-american-jew
Tuesday, August 22, 2017 - 4:01pm

The scenes from Charlottesville last week were truly harrowing. My parents, and thousands of other Jews across Europe, did not flee the Nazis and come to America for their grandchildren to face the kind of violence and hatred from the extreme-right that we all witnessed this weekend. However, the response to the tragedy has, if anything, made me even more proud to be an American Jew.

After witnessing the disgusting protests and statements made in Charlottesville, I came away with a feeling of revulsion. Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and Confederates brought hatred and discrimination into an otherwise peaceful community. Anti-Semitism and other forms of grotesque racism were suddenly acceptable and violence seemed to be inevitable. 

This was a scene that many of us had hoped was confined to the history books.

In the aftermath, many focused on the President Trump’s reaction and what he did and didn’t say at various points after the attack. As a Jewish leader, many would have imagined that this would have left me questioning our country and its values. But I think it is important to understand the wider reactions, from religious leaders, politicians and society. For once, I have found the response from all parts of society overwhelming.

People from all walks of life, all races and all religions were willing to stand up against these atrocities and stand united against discrimination and hatred. Many mentioned the anti-Semitic nature of the rally directly and were willing to show that this was not acceptable.

Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-Utah) family, like my own, witnessed first-hand the atrocities of Nazi Germany. He made it very clear, “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.” He was not alone. Republicans, Democrats, liberals and conservatives all made their position public. That is without detailing the scores of Christian, Muslim, Jewish and other faith leaders who spoke out against the atrocity.

Our religious and political leaders proved that America is able to unite against this type of incident and rally behind those affected. They have proven that they are focused on the institutions that make us great: our freedom, our democracy, our passion for justice.

The public has followed this lead and instead of turning on our fellow Americans, the hatred on display this weekend brought us together. Much of the loathing comes from resentment and hardship but as American’s we are committed to understanding and unity, coupled with our desire to eliminate racist and anti-Semitic ideologies from our country once and for all.

I do not want to down play this tragedy, but we must realize that a small minority does not define us as Americans. We are a large country and there are many fringe and extreme groups. When this type of atrocity occurs, we all must clamp down and find ways to stop hateful ideologies from spreading and seeping into our society. Rallying together is our only tool in fighting these atrocities.

When my family was scattered and shaken by the horrors of the Holocaust we had America to turn to. America is still the home of liberty and freedom. As long as we continue to speak out against hatred, even when it comes from within, we will only be stronger for it. This is the hope of our nation and our people. To fight for freedom from oppression and for peace. This is our legacy, this is our duty. I am proud of my heritage and my country. I am proud to be a Jewish American.

Jack Rosen is president of the American Jewish Congress, an organization fighting for the civil rights and civil liberties of minorities.

 

 
 
Monday, July 3, 2017 - 2:30pm
By: American Jewish Congress President Jack Rosen
Featured in the Jerusalem Post
 
From today, the Kotel [Western Wall] is open to all Jews.” So said Diaspora Affairs minister Naftali Bennett in January 2016 when a deal was agreed to enable men and women to pray together at the Western Wall in a designated zone. Well, following the government’s decision to “freeze” the “Kotel Deal,” now apparently the Wall is not for all Jews. This a slap in the face to millions of Jews all over the world who believe in religious freedom and pluralism. It also makes it much harder to defend and advocate for Israel in the US and the international arena.
 
Like many others, I welcomed the January 2016 compromise, seeing in it not just a deal to enable egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall but a reaffirmation of the liberal democratic principles on which the State of Israel was established.
 
After this volte-face I feel disappointed and fearful for the future complexion of Israel.
 
Religious freedom has been a problematic issue ever since the establishment of the state. At the beginning there was the status-quo agreement struck between David Ben-Gurion and the religious parties, which effectively gave the Orthodox establishment a stranglehold on religious matters. To this day the Chief Rabbinate has authority over kashrut, shabbat, Jewish burial and personal status issues, such as marriage, divorce and conversion. Secular and non-Orthodox Israelis and Diaspora Jews still smart under the impact of that agreement.
 
In the “Kotel deal” at long last sought to address one of the injustices of the Orthodox religious monopoly. Not only did the deal provide a practical solution for those non-Orthodox Jews who wanted to express their faith according to their traditions at Judaism’s most holy place, but it also offered the hope that creative solutions could be found to address the legitimate concerns and aspirations of non-Orthodox Jews.
 
I agree with the assessment of Natan Sharansky that “[The] decision... will make our work to bring Israel and the Jewish world closer together increasingly more difficult.” For those of us at the coal face, defending Israel from criticism and vitriol, this decision is a significant obstacle. I and many others like me have not fought all these years for a haredi- dominated religious state. Here in the US, the American Jewish Congress has been a leading voice in advocating for hundreds of civil rights and religious freedoms cases.
 
Americans and especially American Jews cherish their religious freedom, and this decision in Israel portrays the country in a negative light. In one fell swoop it has the potential to alienate our youth and undermine the impressive success of the Birthright program in cementing the connection between young American Jews and Israel. Many more Jews will be turned off Israel now than were won over to Israel through Birthright. The support of the American Jewish community is crucial to the US-Israel relationship and there can be no doubt that this decision will be demotivating for a very large proportion of that community. Unsurprisingly a high-level delegation from AIPAC has been hurriedly organized to discuss the impact on support for Israel in Congress.
 
The government’s action is deeply damaging and plays into the hands of Israel’s critics, especially the growing number of progressives in the US. They will all now be emboldened in their view that the State of Israel has strayed from the high-minded principles embodied in its Declaration of Independence. This decision therefore has strategic implications.
 
It undermines the democratic pluralistic essence of Israel and Israel’s relationship both with American Jewry and the broader Diaspora.
 
Though he points to the wrong culprits, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau is absolutely right to remind everyone that the reason given for the destruction of the Temple, from which the Western Wall derives its holiness, was “sinat hinam” (baseless hatred) between Jews.
 
United we stand, divided we fall.
 
The negotiations announced by the Prime Minister’s Office last Sunday must begin soon. We hope the government can respond to rectify quickly this disappointment and repair some of the damage.
 
This was clearly a political maneuver, but the Western Wall should be out of bounds for politics.
 
Monday, June 12, 2017 - 6:06pm

 

The nation of Israel is one of the United Sates' most important allies, and the Israeli and American people share a special bond that contributes to the alliance. Here are 5 reasons why I support the state of Israel:

 

1.  Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East, and Israel is a defender of free government and equality in the region.

 

2. Israel and the United States share intelligence on terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and Middle Eastern politics to help make the world a better and safer place.

 

 

3. Israel is a "start up nation" with more start-up business on average than any country in the entire world.

 

4. Israel produces state of the art technologies that save lives and help people all over the world.

 

5. Israel holds many of the worlds most important religious and historical sites including for the world's three largest religions; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The nation of Israel preserves and cares for these locations and allow people of all faiths to visit and worship at the most important holy sites.

 

Do you support Israel? Click here and tell us why you support the nation of Israel.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017 - 2:06pm

May 26, 2017

By: Jack Rosen

Jack Rosen is the President of the American Jewish Congress and CEO of Rosen Partners, LLC. 

 

Now that the President has firmly touched down in Europe and attention has moved away from the Middle-East, we wanted to look at the five take-aways from his visits to Israel and Saudi Arabia, what we can expect and how they will impact the region going forward.

 

1.     Trump’s vows on extremism

The President’s comments on extremism were extraordinary, the leader of the free world drew a crowd of prominent Arab leaders and told them to ‘drive out’ extremism from their countries. This was unprecedented. He was rightly applauded for encouraging leaders to rid themselves of terror and do everything they can to face up to terrorism. America needs to play an active role in the region, if they are the policeman we often see a change in behaviour from across the Middle-East. Trumps speech is an important step and we all hope that it will have an effect on the war on terror. His behaviour was the opposite of what many had predicted, would it be too much to call it a U-turn?

 

2.     Direct flights

If Trump was out to make a point on this trip it wasn’t through his normal disruptive behaviour. No matter what your opinions on his views, he certainly knows how to get a reaction. On this trip we saw none of that. Rather the focus was on diplomacy and extending the hand of friendship. One possible exception was his direct flight from Saudi Arabia to Israel. The difficulty in travelling between the two countries is known but the President was out to make a statement, Israel is his ally and he was not ashamed to express it.

 

3.     Trump at the Kotel

The image of Trump at the Western Wall, was very powerful. He wanted to take in the majesty of Israel and became the first serving President to visit. This was Trump reaching out to the Jewish community following a number of months where there has been an obvious tension between his premiership and our communities. We may find out what his note said, as it seems likely that it will end up online, but the contents shouldn’t matter. This was an important and necessary gesture and we should be pleased he did it.

 

4.     The Iran Nuclear Deal

The Iran Nuclear Deal was disastrous for Israel and the Israeli people. It was no surprise that when Trump stated ‘Iran will not be a nuclear power,’ that he was greeted by applause. It came in the context of Trump reaffirming his commitment to Israel and the peace deal saying, ‘we will get it done.’ While actions speak far louder than words, this was an important engagement with both sides and one that we hope will lead to progress. We have always argued for greater dialogue and this was the first step.

 

5.     Don’t mention the Embassy

While the Ambassador seemed to accompany Trump throughout his visit, there was no mention of moving the Embassy. This key election pledge seems to have disappeared. While it may not have been the deciding factor in the peace process, it may have been a catalyst for a faster and more efficient process. It shouldn’t overshadow a successful trip but it certainly represents another U-turn from the President. Add that to his cordial meeting with the Pope on Wednesday and the predictions that his talks with NATO will be softer than expected, all in all we saw a new President. Let’s hope he is effective.

 

 

Friday, May 15, 2015 - 5:29pm

 

CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT 

Spring 2015 

By: Jack Rosen

Jack Rosen is an American businessman, President of the American Jewish Congress, and Chairman of the American Council for World Jewry

 

IF the many practitioners of politics around the globe can agree on one thing, it is the notion that “timing is everything.” The 2002 Middle East peace initiative—referred to as the Saudi Peace Plan or the Arab Peace Plan—has languished for well over a decade as a striking example of an idea that failed the “timing is everything” test. But it is an idea whose time may be coming soon.

While the Plan offered the bold promise of a wide-ranging rapprochement between Israel and its neighbors, it arose in the midst of the Al Aqsa Intifadah—the second and bloodier of the two Palestinian uprisings—claiming the lives of roughly 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians between 2000 and 2005.

That might have been a propitious time to get the combatants to come to the negotiating table; but the decades-long history of the conflict tells us it is the United States that plays the role of the indispensable mediator to push and prod the parties forward. When the Beirut Summit took place in March 2002—the venue at which then-Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah made his peace proposal—America was still in a state of shock from the events of 9/11, in the midst of being engaged in a war in Afghanistan, and one year away from invading Iraq.

In short, the timing was awful. But the wheel has turned more than once in the region, and the outlook for Israelis and Palestinians—as well as the key outside players—has changed. Certainly, peace seems no closer today than a decade ago; but the real threat of ever-widening Iranian hegemony has served to concentrate the minds of many Arab leaders in ways that could produce a once-in-a-generation opportunity. We are witnessing a historically disruptive moment. Fear is a powerful motivator.

Threats in the Gulf

While Israel has carried the banner for those in the region who see Iran as a dangerous, even existential, threat, the Arab Gulf States also are in the crosshairs.

For example, Tehran has long menacingly eyed Shia-majority Bahrain, with occasional indiscreet and revealing comments by the regime of the mullahs suggesting the small island nation ought to become the newest province of Iran. But as an Arab Member State of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Bahrain’s religious character may not be the trump card that defines its future. Even Manama’s ethnic-Persian citizens are highly dubious about life under the Ayatollahs. Still, Iran’s tentacles are long and its ambitions great—as, for instance, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon can attest.

Indeed, Iran’s growing influence in the Arabian Peninsula has ratcheted up the stakes dramatically for the entire region. In recent months—with dangerous Persian proxies finding increased success—GCC members have set aside old rivalries and tensions in the interest of creating a more solid front.

The December 2014 GCC meeting in Doha found broad agreement as to the most serious common threats. As Al Jazeera trumpeted, the meeting in Qatar was an important step in diminishing internal GCC conflict and focusing sharply the regional organization’s attention on the twin dangers of Iran and ISIS. As recently as mid-March 2015, the Emir of Qatar made a personal trip to meet with President Obama to discuss the Iran threat and review opportunities that have the potential to change the political landscape. He is not alone among regional leaders in trying to gain President Obama’s ear in the hope of convincing the White House that the Middle East requires priority attention, as well as more active involvement of the United States.

As David Petraeus, President Obama’s former CIA Director and perhaps the top military strategist of our time recently said, “I would argue that the foremost threat to [...] broader regional equilibrium is not the Islamic State; rather, it is Shiite militias, many backed by—and some guided by—Iran.”

Petraeus, who still consults with the White House, argues the Iranian regime “is ultimately part of the problem, not the solution” to the region’s issues.

The most powerful Gulf player, Saudi Arabia, has been the most outspoken. For many years, Saudi princes have traveled to Western capitals to sound the alarm about Iran—especially with respect to Tehran’s decades, old, multi-billion dollar effort to acquire nuclear weapons. Their opeds have filled newspapers, whilst their advocacy—sometimes taking the form of a charm offensive and at other times utilizing threats—has been constant.

The entire Gulf community has relied heavily on the United States to stand with its traditional friends and allies in the continuing Sunni-Shia struggle. Recently, however, trust in the United States has diminished; doubts about the White House’s commitment to stop Iran’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons are common—not even U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s personal pleas for patience in
Riyadh were able to forestall the kingdom’s recent announcement that it is taking initial steps to attain nukes.

Throughout the Gulf and across the Arab world, today there is a willingness to think anew—in good ways and bad—about old relationships and assumptions. The strength and reliability of decades-long ties with the United States is under review throughout the Sunni Middle East—given the general Arab unhappiness over U.S.-Iran negotiations on nuclear weapons.

None of this has been lost on Israel. The great irony is that while it has become more politically isolated in recent years, many of the Gulf states have quietly but unmistakably shown they are willing to think about Israel in a new light. Israelis have begun working under the radar with some neighbors who see a nuclear Iran—rather than Israel—as the greatest threat to stability and security in the Middle East.

Whether these events alone are enough to drive them further into each other’s arms remains to be seen; but it wouldn’t be the first time unintended consequences produced profound change. If a cost-benefit analysis showed that the best way to achieve enhanced security and prosperity was via a broad rapprochement between Israel, the Palestinians, and most of the Arab world—as outlined in the 2002 Arab Peace Plan—it might well become the consensus vehicle to satisfy core interests endangered by Iran.

Economic Opportunity

With the prevalence of long-term economic stagnation widely evident across the Middle East—from North Africa across the Arab world to Mesopotamia—Israel stands out in stark contrast from most of its neighborhood. The exceptions, of course, are the regimes blessed with enviable natural resources. While they have bet all their marbles for sustaining political and economic security on their hydrocarbon industries, one day they may rue the fact they have not done enough to diversify their economies.

The lack of economic progress in much of the Arab world has been chronicled for decades, and is attributed to many things. For example, beginning in 2002, the United Nations issued a series of Arab development reports that cited three major “development deficits” to progress. These roadblocks were defined as: knowledge, women’s empowerment, and freedom.

Even in the relatively successful Gulf, economic prosperity has not flowed down to all citizens. Whether it is a lack of economic diversification or one or more of the factors noted in the development reports, Gulf regimes should be concerned about issues of inequality, pockets of dissent, and the one-dimensional nature of their economies. These leave them overly dependent on fluctuations beyond their full control.

Famously known as the “Start up Nation” for its booming high tech industries, Israel has not been spared from the vagaries of other market economies. Income disparity, for example, is extremely high; but quality education for all citizens and a risk-taking culture that breeds both innovation and leadership make it well situated for long-term growth and prosperity—especially if and when its security problems are resolved.

Having had its economic growth tied throughout its existence to defense and security needs has resulted in somewhat contradictory outcomes. On the one hand, through necessity Israel has built its own weapons infrastructure—allowing it to export various munitions in the world market, which helps its trade balance sheet. On the other hand, the country still devotes an inordinate percentage of its GNP to defense spending. Freed from that burden, its economy no doubt would soar to new heights.

Achieving a peace sanctioned by the larger Arab world—as envisioned in the 2002 Arab initiative—would generate vast opportunities across the region. With its cutting-edge position in countless applications in medicine, biomedical research, and agricultural innovations, as well as an array of IT products, Israel is already the envy of many emerging economies—seen by many as a desirable partner. Israel’s development and trade officials are popular guests in China, India, and the world’s other major markets.

It doesn’t take a wild imagination to understand the potentially enormous benefits of a political breakthrough between the “High Tech Nation” and a group of oil-driven economies in search of investment ideas and a pathway to economic diversity through twenty-first-century opportunities. Such ties might even lead to new hope in the wider region—especially among the vast number of idle and underemployed young Arabs, who see the world passing them by. It could be the spark that creates an economic surge, fomenting a spirit of entrepreneurialism extending to key Arab nations—most notably including Egypt and Jordan—which already enjoy relatively quiet borders with Israel, albeit in the form of a cold peace that does not yet involve economic, cultural, or other links.

Successfully negotiating an end-of-conflict treaty would constitute the single most dramatic set of changes in the region in a century, and usher in opportunities that would give true meaning to the notion of an Arab Spring. Nothing would do more harm to the region’s extremists than to see a silent majority rise up to assert national prerogatives by pursuing less ideological and more pragmatic options based on the vision of regional economic cooperation, addressing the shortcomings outlined in the UN development reports, and broad based social and political modernization.

Though seemingly far-fetched today, the idea that all these efforts to address the Arab future could include meaningful and productive ties with Israel is less remote than most believe. The main missing ingredient is creative thinking and imaginative leadership that believes Israel can turn from being a regional outcast to becoming part of the regional solution. Assuming the self-interest of a new and better life for the average citizen in much of the region is a winning argument.
Rebuilding Gaza

In the context of a successful peace initiative, Gaza can be seen either as the largest hurdle to surmount in the quest to achieve a political settlement, or as a great opportunity.

Events on the ground have a way of surprising us, and only someone unaware of Gaza’s sad history would suggest easy answers. Conventional wisdom holds that the most salient factors in seeing Gaza clearly include the vicious Hamas-Fatah rivalry; that Hamas is the ideological extension of its parent organization, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood; that Hamas is dependent on, and acts as the proxy of, Iran and its Revolutionary Guard; that large swaths of the Strip reveal unlivable, bombed-out neighborhoods where potable water and electric power are available only intermittently; and where unemployment is extremely high and governance almost entirely absent.

Further, the typical international aid conferences that take place with regularity—and which provide little more than flowery words and unkept promises of financial assistance—demonstrate the cynicism of both Western governments and the oil wealthy Arab countries. For its part, Israel remains under heavy international pressure to allow unrestricted aid to flow into Gaza-with no acknowledgment that Hamas continues to misappropriate reconstruction materials by building more terror tunnels, whilst embezzling humanitarian assistance to support its friends. The nearly two million Palestinians in Gaza are surely exhausted and frustrated after nearly 10 years of living under a terrorist regime sustained by outside forces offering only more conflict and misery—with not a single realistic, tangible political or economic plan for change.

But there is another way to look at the situation—hard as it may be to see much hope. Though Iran would work hard to block anything that diminished the stature of its Palestinian proxy, Hamas could not survive in its present form in the face of a unified Arab world in which Palestinians would have the genuine opportunity to achieve statehood.

An agreement supported by Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, and most of North Africa would be decisive—especially with the United States, Russia, China, and other major countries on board.

Could this come about through the same channels as in the past, with the United States trying to mediate between Israelis and Palestinians-as attempted by every American president in recent memory? Almost certainly not.

But could it happen in the framework of the 2002 initiative, wherein the wider Arab community takes the lead in a way that speaks to Israel’s security needs? As Israeli scholar and activist Alex Mintz has argued, “Such a coalition is Hamas’s greatest nightmare.”

It’s a nightmare scenario-not only because it would end Hamas’s dreams of destroying Israel, but also because it would lead to the demise of Hamas as we know it. Amidst its political ashes would rise the first genuine opportunity for investment to alter Gaza’s landscape. One of the main reasons putative funders speak loudly in front of the cameras, but then fail to deliver the promises they made, is the hard-headed calculation that putting money into an unstable situation controlled by Gaza’s kleptocratic leaders is both bad business and foolish public policy.

Under new management, Gaza could be expected to receive priority attention for the first time from GCC states-not to mention Western countries that could assume their investments would not be squandered. It is a reasonable expectation that in this scenario Gaza would stabilize and begin to flourish. It is not out of the question to think that within a decade of reconstruction, Gaza could become a magnet and a showcase: the beginning of a twenty-first-century Singapore in the Eastern Mediterranean.

For those around the world that insist on pointing fingers at Israel—and who have ignored the price paid by average Palestinian families in Gaza for the destructive role of their leaders—the time will come when their good will and intentions will be tested. But even absent that obligation, investment will come because time will demonstrate that it’s a wise business decision.

No one should be surprised that Israelis will be near the front of the line. They have been stymied for obvious reasons, but Israelis are eager to back real change-and they know Gaza’s success will enhance Israel’s security and prosperity. After all, Israelis and Palestinians have formed business relationships for decades in the West Bank. There is no shortage of Israelis with business know-how who have proposed reconstruction plans and who are ready for partnerships with responsible counterparts in Gaza who share the Singapore vision. Without the terrorist presence of Iran-backed Hamas, there is no reason a successful peace plan can’t create a new and inviting investment environment that welcomes Israelis, and one day catapults Gaza into the twenty-first century.

The dirty little secret about the persistent Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that there can be no final winner or final loser. Ultimately, they will either win together or lose together. If peace comes, one side’s prosperity will reinforce the wellbeing of the other. Their destinies are linked, and while all people must be free to pursue independent paths, the potential exists over time to create partnerships that can serve to advance a variety of mutual interests.

Israeli Perspectives

While the particulars have changed, the siege mentality generations of Israelis have lived with persists after more than six decades. As they look around the region, there is little to suggest meaningful change will arrive soon.

Even before its birth, through its War of Independence in 1948, and in all the years until today, Israel never has had an opportunity to work out its differences with the Palestinians without the intervention of outside Arab countries. Their combined forces attacked the fledgling state in the hope of snuffing it out in its crib; and when that didn’t work, Egypt took Gaza for itself while Jordan took the West Bank.

Needless to say, this was not done for the good of the Palestinian people, and the land grab was not sanctioned by the international community. Evidently, for nearly two decades it never occurred to Palestinians, Jordanians, or the international community that a Palestinian state should be established on those territories. When three outside Arab states provoked the pivotal Six Day War in 1967, the aim was not to redress any perceived wrong done to the Palestinians, but to try to eradicate the then 19-year-old country.

The history of the conflict demonstrates that every time Arab states took it upon themselves to try to eliminate Israel, the Palestinians paid the heaviest price whilst Israel got blamed. The moment at which we have arrived today may be one where the Arab world finally could be mobilized to make a positive contribution—not because over time they have fallen in love with Israel, but because therein may lie the salvation to their own existential problems.

The essence of the 2002 Arab Peace Plan was remarkable for its promise that reaching the finish line would provide Israel not just an agreement with the Palestinians, but a comprehensive deal with all its neighbors-opening up political and economic opportunities throughout the region.

Understandably, many Israelis now see the glass as more than half empty. Security problems abound in every direction. Hezbollah has moved into parts of southern Syria to expand its presence along Israel’s border, and other terror organizations such as the Al-Nusra Front and even ISIS elements are literally meters away from Israel in the once relatively calm Golan Heights. In the south, Hamas actually boasts that it is working feverishly to rehabilitate its tunnel system meant to get inside Israel to kill civilians. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas—now ensconced in the eleventh year of his four-year term of office—seems preoccupied not with ending corruption and improving governance, or even negotiating directly with Israel, but with erecting more statues and naming more public squares to “honor” terrorists whose claim to fame is killing Israelis.

In this context, a preponderant skepticism reigns in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent reelection reveals again the power of fear and insecurity as Israelis assess their nation’s place in a hostile Middle East. The consensus view is that reviving direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis is futile for the foreseeable future. It’s possible, though, that starting from a different vantage point—which has been necessary for years—may have received a boost as a consequence of the election.

Revisiting the Arab Peace Plan could give Netanyahu a lifeline to demonstrate he seeks solutions, with a broader approach coming to possibly offer more assurance that moderate Arabs are potential allies to address the shared Iran problem and terror threats. If the Gulf states, together with Egypt and Jordan, emerge as forces Israel believes are reliable, and the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas coalition can be diminished, Netanyahu may yet surprise his critics—at home, in Ramallah, in Washington and elsewhere around the globe.

One key difference now from when the Arab Peace Plan was introduced in 2002 is widespread Arab awareness of the acute peril they face. If Israel was uncertain about the meaning and intent of Arab outreach a decade ago, Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons has made it abundantly clear that most of the Sunni world shares Israel’s profound worries today. There may never be a better time for Israel to act on this dynamic.

Furthermore—at least for some Arab states—recognition of the futility of basing an entire foreign policy on anti-Israel diatribes is not entirely new. For example, Israel had a representative office in Qatar 15 years ago. Neither party made a huge fuss about it, but neither was it a big secret. Things changed, and the office was closed, but Qatar was the canary in the coal mine that provided a hint of the benefits that could accrue under a cooperative arrangement. Neither side has forgotten those days, and surely there are many who reminisce at the thought of what might have been—secure in the knowledge that forging a mutually beneficial relationship was doable then, and is possibly so again today.

In fact, many Israelis have moved past the theoretical to the practical. There already exists a forward-looking community of investors, business people, scientists, and others who communicate with and quietly travel to see counterparts in the GCC and elsewhere. With an existing
Qatari model in mind, conversations have taken place again in Doha, the United Arab Emirates, Riyadh, and elsewhere—and the common Iranian threat only propels these initiatives forward with greater urgency. Just as in Israel, the time seems right for a comprehensive effort that puts on the front burner the idea that many in the Sunni world are ready to move beyond old arrangements that hold back their progress.

Even though the private sectors are ready, political leaders will have to make new outreach a priority—a brave decision to sweep away irrational fears from another era, predicated on recognizing that national security realities have changed. This is why people everywhere crave strong leaders who can see around obstacles and embrace progress.

Many in the Gulf have said privately for many years that they are receptive to a normalization of relations with Israel-but that they do not want to go first. Just about everyone has been willing to be second in line. If they are serious about addressing the new threats to their security, this is the time for someone to take the lead, bear the burden, and take the Arab world forward. Israel is the place—and not Iran—to test the theory of whether an outstretched hand can be met with an unclenched fist.

As the preeminent global power from the post-World War II era until today, the United States has been viewed as the only outside country with the ability to play a facilitating role in bringing recalcitrant parties to the table and influencing the outcome of negotiations. For all the current discussion about America’s diminished capacity to lead, Washington still carries great weight.

The long wars in which the United States has been engaged for more than a decade understandably have lessened the public’s enthusiasm for military adventures; but given the many tools available in its basket—diplomacy, economic assistance, intelligence sharing, political support—the United States remains an indispensable partner in the Middle East. The prime variable is the quality of American leadership.

No one can dispute the strategic value to the region and the world of a successful initiative that practically reinvents the modern Middle East. Though it always has been an absurd fallacy to argue that peace between Israel and the Palestinians would be the balm to soothe every regional problem, it is also undeniably true that a broader rapprochement that included much of the Arab world will create new alliances and partnerships that could address many long-standing problems. Some (not all) of the region’s terrorist problems would be easier to deal with, moderates in most states would gain at the expense of extremists, and attention could be turned towards economic challenges rather than the pursuit of destructive ends.

Furthermore, as the process of working toward a plan along the lines of the 2002 Middle East peace initiative would gain more traction, the Islamic Republic of Iran and its Revolutionary Guard would suffer a major setback in the drive for regional hegemony. Hamas’s nightmare of better days through regional cooperation with Israel would be just as much a disaster for those pulling strings in Tehran as for those launching rockets in Gaza.

The last six years have witnessed a desire by Washington to “pivot” to the problems posed by various Asian nations—especially a rising China. Few would argue with the assessment that American economic and security interests should focus intensely on the challenges along the Pacific Rim. But a great nation must be able to do more than one big thing at a time. It cannot afford to turn away from a region now on fire—a part of the world in which it has historic, economic, moral, and security interests at stake.

If it has given either friend or foe the impression that it is looking for a way out of the mess—one it in fact may have inadvertently exacerbated—that must be corrected. The idea that the United States simply faces too many problems at home or elsewhere abroad to remain an active player in the region is just as misguided as the notion that it is the world’s policeman.

The White House today seems to believe the potential exists to pacify Iran through an agreement on its nuclear weapons program. Whatever one may believe about its virtues and shortcomings, even a narrow agreement—which is precisely what the parties seek—ignores fundamental questions about how a new Middle East might look in the context of such as “success.” Suffice it to say that Iran and the coalition it brings to the table—lackeys in Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, and even Iraq—are not candidates to play a positive role.

On the other hand, the potential for Israel and many of its neighbors to enter into meaningful negotiations is real. Leaving aside Iran’s allies and proxies, Israel’s neighbors are not interested in prolonging war. They have come to recognize that Israel is here to stay, and that they have far more pressing interests-not least of which is to defend themselves against a nuclear Iran further emboldened to expand its Shia Islamic revolution far beyond its borders.

Moreover, this is a project where the United States can play a central role—reestablishing the goodwill it has lost by seeming to downplay the concerns of much of the Sunni Arab world-especially in the Gulf. This would require bold action—but the United States would not have to go it alone. Resurrecting and prioritizing the 2002 Arab Peace Plan would serve Washington well in most of the Arab world in which it has lost ground; in addition, it would instantly gain the support and backing of European allies eager to see reassertion of American leadership in the region.

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