A Pharaoh’s-Eye View of the Exodus

April 20 2017

Nowadays one is constantly urged to see things through the eyes of the “other.” Liel Leibovitz, applying this logic to the Passover story, draws an unusual lesson from the holiday. At the outset of the Exodus story, he notes, Pharaoh’s efforts to subdue the Israelites prove successful: so demoralized are they by slavery and infanticide that they initially reject Moses’ mission to set them free. Only God’s most awesome miracles render them willing to leave Egypt—a point lost on many who wish to draw analogies from the Haggadah to contemporary politics:

Talk to any enlightened soul, and you’ll soon hear [that] Israel’s struggle against Palestinian terrorism is futile; America’s war on the marauders of Islamic State is a waste of time; Europe’s attempt to identify and arrest its homegrown Islamist fanatics is doomed. Why? Because our understanding of the world is weirdly Haggadic [in that] we believe that each oppressed people, whether afflicted by real burdens or by imagined slights, is destined to pull itself forth and march itself out of its own private Egypt. In this reading, any use of might is useless because the mighty, just like Pharaoh, can never really win: just as the Egyptians failed to crush the Israelites, so is the collective will of indigenous peoples and divergent religious groups bound to persist.

[But] if Pharaoh is any example, you can comfortably wage a gradually escalating war against your perceived foes and achieve a victory so crushing that the Lord of the Universe himself would have to emerge and speak and perform strange miracles in order to undermine your efforts.

If this possibility troubles you, try to imagine [its application]. What, for example, if our endlessly erratic president followed up his missile strike on Syria’s Shayrat airbase with increasingly robust measures aimed not only at the murderous Bashar al-Assad but at his enablers and financiers in Tehran? What if, after a decade of trying to appease the homicidal mullahs [of Iran] largely because we didn’t believe a military option could lead to concrete victory, we gave the Pharaoh Doctrine a go? What if we set out to eliminate those foes who endangered our strategic interests and inflicted untold pain and suffering on millions of innocent human beings? To read the Passover story literally, it’s quite possible that, crushed by might, our enemies would do what all humans do under similar circumstances and abandon hope for any resolution save for that which arrives from the heavens. And if might can be used for good, hallelujah!

Read more at Tablet

More about: Exodus, Passover, Pharaoh, Religion & Holidays, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy

How the White House Can Bring Mahmoud Abbas to the Negotiating Table

April 28 2017

Next month, the Palestinian Authority president is expected to arrive in Washington to meet with President Trump, perhaps as a prelude to a summit between Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu under American auspices. A Palestinian delegation is currently in the U.S. to conduct preliminary meetings with administration officials. Eran Lerman discusses what can be accomplished:

The most important aspect [in the present discussions] may remain unspoken. It can be defined as “strategic reassurance”: the realization that after years of uncertainty under Barack Obama, the American administration . . . is once again committed without reservation to its friends in the region, the so-called “camp of stability.”

President Obama’s abandonment of [the former Egyptian president], Hosni Mubarak, regardless of the merits of the case, was catastrophic in terms of the loss of any residual political courage on Abbas’s part. Obama was sympathetic to the Palestinians’ cause, but his policies generated an acute level of uncertainty for the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, laced with what seemed like a measure of support on Obama’s part for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere. This was not an environment in which to take fateful decisions.

The Trump team seems to be working to restore confidence and reconstruct [alliances with] both Israel and the pro-Western Arab states. In this new environment, it could be safer for Abbas to take measured risks and enter into an open-ended negotiation with Netanyahu. The effort may still fall apart, if only because the Palestinians have fallen into the habit of posing preconditions. But there seems to be a better chance of drawing them in when they feel that their traditional patrons in the Arab world, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are once again basking in the sunshine of American strategic support. . . .

At least in theory, it should therefore be easier now for . . . the White House to persuade Abbas to accept a point of entry into negotiations that stays within the two-state paradigm but is no longer predicated on strict adherence to the June 4, 1967 lines.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Donald Trump, Hosni Mubarak, Israel & Zionism, Mahmoud Abbas, Peace Process, U.S. Foreign policy