In Its Negotiations with the Taliban, the U.S. Is Repeating Familiar Mistakes

Feb. 12 2019

Late last month, American officials announced that they had agreed upon a framework for a deal with the Taliban that would involve the withdrawal of U.S. troops and a commitment from the Islamist group never to allow terrorists to use territory under their control. Husain Haqqani is pessimistic that such terms will lead to a good outcome:

The very fact that a U.S. presidential envoy has been negotiating with [its leaders] has given the Taliban a degree of legitimacy. Accepting their assurance about not letting terrorists use Afghan soil implies that the terrorist acts perpetrated by the Taliban [itself] and its Haqqani network—including attacks on the U.S. embassy in Kabul and American civilians—are now forgotten and forgiven.

By announcing withdrawal, the Trump administration repeated the folly of the Obama administration. When a superpower signals its desperation to get out of a conflict, the subsequent negotiations are designed only to provide diplomatic cover. The Taliban knows this, which explains its willingness to make promises it does not intend to keep. It has offered similar assurances in the past. Knowing that the Americans are eager to leave enables the Taliban to wait before it marches victoriously into Kabul once again. . . .

The U.S. negotiating position should be to secure the Taliban’s participation in Afghanistan’s political process, not to undo the constitution and the institutions that have evolved over the last seventeen years—and that have produced successes including an improved role for women in society and a growing economy.

Most Afghans believe that the reason for the Taliban’s endurance is not popular support or even battlefront resilience but support from Pakistan. They fear that an Afghan settlement based on concessions to the Taliban and Pakistan would only lead to another war between Afghan patriots and Pakistan’s proxies. Pakistan promised that it wasn’t sheltering Osama bin Laden, and the promises of its proxies, including the Taliban, are no more reliable.

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More about: Afghanistan, Paksitan, Politics & Current Affairs, Taliban, U.S. Foreign policy, War on Terror

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank