Perverse Incentives Discourage Palestinian Leaders from Making Peace

In a detailed analysis of the Biden administration’s emerging approach to foreign affairs in general, and the Middle East in particular, Douglas Feith sees a general inclination to pay less attention to the region, with two exceptions: nuclear negotiations with Iran and the Israel-Palestinian peace process. As far at the former is concerned, Feith concludes that “President Biden is not interested in taking advantage of Iran’s current economic vulnerabilities [and] has not shown an intention to fix the nuclear deal’s major flaws.” As for the latter, Feith offers some advice:

Palestinian strategy [has long] aimed for international pressure to do to Israel what such pressure did to South Africa’s apartheid regime—to bring it to its knees and compel it to relinquish power. The strategy became bankrupt, however, and the recent normalization deals exposed its hopelessness. If the Palestinians stick with it, it is they and not the Israelis who will suffer increasing marginalization.

The world incentivizes Palestinian leaders to perpetuate the conflict with Israel. Because they are widely celebrated as embodying an important, as-yet-unfulfilled national cause, those leaders are granted extraordinary diplomatic attention and generous financial aid, much of which they divert improperly to build huge houses for themselves in Ramallah, Gaza, and elsewhere. Were they to settle the conflict, reducing themselves to mere functionaries of a state in poor condition, they would lose much of what they value in life—international solicitude, money, and personal pride in heading what they see as a noble revolutionary struggle against a hated enemy.

Israel’s new friends in the Arab world have an interest in changing the economic and political landscape of Palestinian politics. They may be able to do so in cooperation with the United States and those foreign powers that still provide financial aid to the Palestinians. They may be able to empower Palestinians who are not enmeshed in the perverse incentive system that requires perpetuation of the conflict against Israel. Therein lies the best hope for progress toward peace.

If the Biden team has its eye on the prize, it will direct its energies not at recreating the old “peace process” but at working with Arab states to encourage the rise of new Palestinian leaders.

Feith’s essay can be found on p. 27 of the document linked below.

Read more at Ezri Center for Iran & Gulf States Research

More about: Iran, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Joseph Biden, Peace Process


Leaked Emails Point to an Iranian Influence Operation That Reaches into the U.S. Government

Sept. 27 2023

As the negotiations leading up to the 2015 nuclear deal began in earnest, Tehran launched a major effort to cultivate support abroad for its positions, according to a report by Jay Solomon:

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues—particularly its nuclear program—by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative. The scope and scale of the IEI project has emerged in a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails.

The officials, working under the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, congratulated themselves on the impact of the initiative: at least three of the people on the Foreign Ministry’s list were, or became, top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, who was placed on leave this June following the suspension of his security clearance.

In March of that year, writes Solomon, one of these officials reported that “he had gained support for the IEI from two young academics—Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiary—following a meeting with them in Prague.” And here the story becomes particularly worrisome:

Tabatabai currently serves in the Pentagon as the chief of staff for the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, a position that requires a U.S. government security clearance. She previously served as a diplomat on Malley’s Iran nuclear negotiating team after the Biden administration took office in 2021. Esfandiary is a senior advisor on the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, a think tank that Malley headed from 2018 to 2021.

Tabatabai . . . on at least two occasions checked in with Iran’s Foreign Ministry before attending policy events, according to the emails. She wrote to Mostafa Zahrani, [an Iranian scholar in close contact with the Foreign Ministry and involved in the IEI], in Farsi on June 27, 2014, to say she’d met Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal—a former ambassador to the U.S.—who expressed interest in working together and invited her to Saudi Arabia. She also said she’d been invited to attend a workshop on Iran’s nuclear program at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. . . .

Elissa Jobson, Crisis Group’s chief of advocacy, said the IEI was an “informal platform” that gave researchers from different organizations an opportunity to meet with IPIS and Iranian officials, and that it was supported financially by European institutions and one European government. She declined to name them.

Read more at Semafor

More about: Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy