Iran: Bruce Bueno de Mesquita updates his TED talk

TED asked Bruce Bueno de Mesquita to explain the Iranian negotiations. Do not miss his thoughtful answers at TED Blog – you will definitely not see any of this in big media. I have excerpted two fragments of his commentary, one on the nuance of sanctions, and then on the media frenzy over Ahmadinejad (who Bruce reckons is roughly #17 in the power ranking):

President Obama has also made reference to sanctions as a possible response to Iran developing their nuclear program further. How effective do you think US sanctions would be in this situation?

I’m going to try to answer this very precisely, because there’s a very important distinction to be made between the threat of sanctions and the enactment of sanctions. The threat of sanctions can be very effective if the Iranian leaders calculate that the cost of the concessions being asked for is smaller for them than the cost that sanctions will impose, and to avoid sanctions they will make concessions in negotiation. And so, threatening sanctions is a very good thing to do at this stage as negotiations get going. On the other hand, if the Iranian leaders calculate that the cost of the threatened sanctions when imposed is smaller than the benefits that they gain when maintaining the policy that we’re trying to change, then they’ll maintain the policy and the sanctions won’t work. And so, generally, except for calculation error, the threat of sanctions can be effective. Once sanctions are implemented, that’s a pretty good indicator that the target of the sanctions has made the calculation that they can bear the cost of the sanctions better than they can bear the consequences of making the concessions, and they won’t work. That’s a subtle distinction, but an important distinction.

It’s also important to distinguish between sanctions that are aimed at the general economy of Iran and sanctions that are leader-specific, that are aimed specifically, for example, at tying up the leadership’s access by the leadership to their money or their funds. Sanctions of the latter type, leader-specific, are more likely to get them to decide up front to make concessions, rather than pay that price. Sanctions of the other type, aimed at the general country, are more likely to either form an opposition to the regime which, if they anticipate, will produce concessions beforehand, or to consolidate support for the regime, sympathy for the regime internally, in which case they would backfire. I’ve not analyzed what the likely consequences are along those lines, but those are the questions from a strategic perspective that one would have to work out. The threat is, in any event, a good thing because the threat forces the Iranians to make these calculations and therefore to reveal, through the negotiations, whether they have concluded that the sanctions really would be costly to them or not.

Sanctions at our end are typically more or less cheap talk because they don’t really cost the United States a lot. It doesn’t cost us a lot not to buy oil from Iran since we currently don’t buy oil from Iran. So, we’re not really giving up much. And tying up their bank accounts doesn’t really cost us much. It costs a little credibility to our banks, but that’s about it. Sanctions are also more effective if they are politically costly to the people imposing the sanctions, because then it’s an announcement that they view the issues as so important that they are willing to pay a price. So far, we have not shown that.

There are also the negotiations around the three Americans who are being held by Iran at the moment.

They’re a bargaining piece on the Iranian side. They’re something that the Iranians can give up to make themselves look nice, thoughtful, considerate. And presumably they are going to try to extract something of value. It’s actually quite funny — Ann Curry of NBC interviewed (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad, a week or so ago, and brought up these three alleged hikers, and he indicated that Iran was open to releasing them when the United States released several diplomats that we were holding in Iran and Iraq. She informed him that we had released those diplomats in July. He obviously didn’t know that, so he found himself in this awkward position. So now, he’s got to presumably look for something else to get.

That anecdote has an important element to it. The American media spend much too much time paying attention to Ahmadinejad. He is not a big power in Iran. Khomeini and the Supreme Council and the Guardian Council — these people are important. They’re the ones who run the show. He can’t wander very far form what they want and get away with it. Look at after he was installed, and attempted to appoint a cabinet that Khomeini didn’t like.

Please continue reading…

Palestine: Hopeless, but Not Serious

David Goldman illuminates the conflict from a perspective not seen in the NYT. Excerpt:

In a recent “Spengler” essay for Asia Times, I characterized the Palestine problem as “hopeless, but not serious.” Subsidies give the Palestinians a living standard double that of Egypt and much higher than Jordan or Syria, paying perhaps a quarter of young Palestinian men to carry guns. Persuading them to give up the guns and take a pay cut is not an easy task, particularly if it involves the destruction of cherished illusions about throwing the Jews into the sea. The United Nations relief agencies have created a new sort of people with whom it is extremely difficult, and probably impossible, to have a peace.

To paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, the right thing to do is for the government to dismiss the people and elect another — except he meant it ironically, and I mean it in dead seriousness. This can occur through 1) immigration, 2) attrition in war, or 3) aging. One has to find a Palestinian people that is content to find employment in a Holy Land theme park for Christian tourists, for example.

Because Palestinian gunmen hide amongst civilians, unlike the Confederate Army of 1861-1865, attrition is too messy a prospect. Immigration is proceeding apace but it creates adverse selection, for those who can leave, do, depleting the skills of the population and leaving in place those who have no other profession but the gun. The best thing to do would be to ignore the situation. That’s right: simply announce that it is not a priority for diplomacy. Drastically reduce funding for the Palestine Authority (the easiest way is to insist on a fair census and adjust for the 1.1 million non-existent residents for whom the PA is receiving aid).

Annoying as it is, Hamas is not going to develop a nuclear bomb; the attentions of the US should be concentrated on countries that well might develop nuclear bombs.

Patience, patience. Israel is relatively safe behind its security barrier and booming economically (as well as demographically). Let the Palestinians sit there and wonder what will happen next. If other Arab countries complain about the position of the Palestinians, Washington should say: “If you don’t like it, you go talk to the Israelis.”

[From Hopeless, but Not Serious: Pipes on Victory]

And from the above-linked Spengler essay

The Palestinians cannot form a normal state. They cannot emigrate to Arab countries without accepting a catastrophic decline in living standards, and very few can emigrate to Western countries. The optimal solution for the Palestinians is to demand a state and blackmail Western and Arab donors with the threat of violence, but never actually get one.

The Palestinian Peace Process as Political Theater

For this reason, the entire peace process — including the two-state solution — is a chimera. Neither side can live with what the other can offer. But if it is a fiction, it is a fiction that serves U.S. purposes. The United States has interests that go well beyond Israeli interests and sometimes go in a different direction altogether. Like Israel, the United States understands that one of the major obstacles to any serious evolution toward a two-state solution is Arab hostility to such an outcome. — George Friedman

John Mauldin’s email newsletter came today incorporating a recent analysis by George Friedman of Stratfor. It is moderately long, so you’ll definitely want time to read the whole thing. I liked it because, in his usual style, George doesn’t pussyfoot around, clearly outlining the limited outcomes and the motives of the key players:

That Israel has a new prime minister and the United States a new president might appear to make this meeting significant. But this is Netanyahu’s second time as prime minister, and his government is as diverse and fractious as most recent Israeli governments. Israeli politics are in gridlock, with deep divisions along multiple fault lines and an electoral system designed to magnify disagreements.

Obama is much stronger politically, but he has consistently acted with caution, particularly in the foreign policy arena. Much of his foreign policy follows from the Bush administration. He has made no major breaks in foreign policy beyond rhetoric; his policies on Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia and Europe are essentially extensions of pre-existing policy. Obama faces major economic problems in the United States and clearly is not looking for major changes in foreign policy. He understands how quickly public sentiment can change, and he does not plan to take risks he does not have to take right now.

This, then, is the problem: Netanyahu is coming to Washington hoping to get Obama to agree to fundamental redefinitions of the regional dynamic. For example, he wants Obama to re-examine the commitment to a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. (Netanyahu’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has said Israel is no longer bound by prior commitments to that concept.) Netanyahu also wants the United States to commit itself to a finite time frame for talks with Iran, after which unspecified but ominous-sounding actions are to be taken.

Facing a major test in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Obama has more than enough to deal with at the moment. Moreover, U.S. presidents who get involved in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations frequently get sucked into a morass from which they do not return. For Netanyahu to even request that the White House devote attention to the Israeli-Palestinian problem at present is asking a lot. Asking for a complete review of the peace process is even less realistic.


For this reason, the entire peace process — including the two-state solution — is a chimera. Neither side can live with what the other can offer. But if it is a fiction, it is a fiction that serves U.S. purposes. The United States has interests that go well beyond Israeli interests and sometimes go in a different direction altogether. Like Israel, the United States understands that one of the major obstacles to any serious evolution toward a two-state solution is Arab hostility to such an outcome.

The Jordanians have feared and loathed Fatah in the West Bank ever since the Black September uprisings of 1970. The ruling Hashemites are ethnically different from the Palestinians (who constitute an overwhelming majority of the Jordanian population), and they fear that a Palestinian state under Fatah would threaten the Jordanian monarchy. For their part, the Egyptians see Hamas as a descendent of the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks the Mubarak government’s ouster — meaning Cairo would hate to see a Hamas-led state. Meanwhile, the Saudis and the other Arab states do not wish to see a radical altering of the status quo, which would likely come about with the rise of a Palestinian polity.

At the same time, whatever the basic strategic interests of the Arab regimes, all pay lip service to the principle of Palestinian statehood. This is hardly a unique situation. States frequently claim to favor various things they actually are either indifferent to or have no intention of doing anything about. Complicating matters for the Arab states is the fact that they have substantial populations that do care about the fate of the Palestinians. These states thus are caught between public passion on behalf of Palestinians and the regimes’ interests that are threatened by the Palestinian cause. The states’ challenge, accordingly, is to appear to be doing something on behalf of the Palestinians while in fact doing nothing.

The United States has a vested interest in the preservation of these states. The futures of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are of vital importance to Washington. The United States must therefore simultaneously publicly demonstrate its sensitivity to pressures from these nations over the Palestinian question while being careful to achieve nothing — an easy enough goal to achieve.

The various Israeli-Palestinian peace processes have thus served U.S. and Arab interests quite well. They provide the illusion of activity, with high-level visits breathlessly reported in the media, succeeded by talks and concessions — all followed by stalemate and new rounds of violence, thus beginning the cycle all over again.

Continue reading…

And Spengler is …

Aha — the pseudonymous “Spengler” (originally writing columns for Asia Times print editions) fame turns out to be one of Seekerblog’s reliable sources: former banker, former hedgie David P Goldman, who today writes the indispensable Inner Workings.

Since 1999 “Spengler” has written some 300 essays for Asia Times — so we who valued his writings did not have too long a wait between essays. Now there is even less of a wait, what with several essays each week appearing at Inner Workings, the “by Spengler” at Asia Times and David’s First Things essays, such as Demographics and Depression.

I recommend this site search which will provide you a ready list of sharp and insightful “Spengler” essays. I also recommend The Complete Spengler at Asia Times — which know hosts Spengler’s Forum.

Here is a fragment of the revelatory essay at Asia Times:

And Spengler is …

By Spengler

During the too-brief run of the Asia Times print edition in the 1990s, the newspaper asked me to write a humor column, and I chose the name “Spengler” as a joke – a columnist for an Asian daily using the name of the author of The Decline of the West.

Barely a dozen “Spengler” items appeared before the print edition went down in the 1997 Asian financial crisis. A malicious thought crossed my mind in 1999, though, as the Internet euphoria engulfed world markets: was it really possible for a medium whose premise was the rise of a homogeneous global youth culture to drive world economic growth?

Youth culture, I argued, was an oxymoron, for culture itself was a bridge across generations, a means of cheating mortality. The old and angry cultures of the world, fighting for room to breath against the onset of globalization, would not go quietly into the homogenizer. Many of them would fight to survive, but fight in vain, for the tide of modernity could not be rolled back.

As in the great extinction of the tribes in late antiquity, individuals might save themselves from the incurable necrosis of their own ethnicity through adoption into the eternal people, that is, Israel. The great German-Jewish theologian and student of the existential angst of dying nations, Franz Rosenzweig, had commanded undivided attention during the 1990s, and I had a pair of essays about him for the Jewish-Christian Relations website. Rosenzweig’s theology, it occurred to me, had broader applications.

The end of the old ethnicities, I believed, would dominate the cultural and strategic agenda of the next several decades. Great countries were failing of their will to live, and it was easy to imagine a world in which Japanese, German, Italian and Russian would turn into dying languages only a century hence. Modernity taxed the Muslim world even more severely, although the results sometimes were less obvious.

The 300 or so essays that I have published in this space since 1999 all proceeded from the theme formulated by Rosenzweig: the mortality of nations and its causes, Western secularism, Asian anomie, and unadaptable Islam.

Why raise these issues under a pseudonym? There is a simple answer, and a less simple one. To inform a culture that it is going to die does not necessarily win friends, and what I needed to say would be hurtful to many readers. I needed to tell the Europeans that their post-national, secular dystopia was a death-trap whence no-one would get out alive.

I needed to tell the Muslims that nothing would alleviate the unbearable sense of humiliation and loss that globalization inflicted on a civilization that once had pretensions to world dominance. I needed to tell Asians that materialism leads only to despair. And I needed to tell the Americans that their smugness would be their undoing.


As I wrote pseudonymously for Asia Times Online, new friends announced themselves – journalists, academics, clergy, and people of faith from many walks of life, not least the indefatigable group of good friends that manages the Spengler Forum. The editors of First Things asked me for an essay on Franz Rosenzweig and Islam, which I published in 2007, and later a piece entitled “Zionism for Christians”, which appeared in 2008 under the pseudonym “David Shushon”. That was a milestone for me.

I had subscribed to the journal not long after its inception in 1990, the year I finished my PhD coursework in music. To write for First Things was an unanticipated honor. I came to know the magazine’s editor Joseph Bottum, as well as such regular contributors as George Weigel, Russell Hittinger and R R Reno.

On January 8, 2009, the magazine’s founder Richard John Neuhaus died. A few weeks later Jody Bottum asked me to join the staff of First Things as an editor and writer. It seems only heartbeats ago that I was in dark seas, looking up at this beacon; now it is my turn to help keep the lighthouse.

As for Asia Times Online – this scrappy, virtual expat bar – I was there at the founding, and will contribute to it as long it continues to upload, if somewhat less frequently than before.

“Spengler” is channeled by David P Goldman, associate editor of First Things (

Seeking an Israel Palestine solution via rational-choice theory

Triggered by the desire to calibrate the value of the game theory research of Bruce Bueno De Mesquita (BDM) I found a useful review of his work by Michael Lerner. Following is a sample from the article — of BDM’s thoughts on more effective approaches to the Middle East conflict:

Recently, he’s applied his science to come up with some novel ideas on how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “In my view, it is a mistake to look for strategies that build mutual trust because it ain’t going to happen. Neither side has any reason to trust the other, for good reason,” he says. “Land for peace is an inherently flawed concept because it has a fundamental commitment problem. If I give you land on your promise of peace in the future, after you have the land, as the Israelis well know, it is very costly to take it back if you renege. You have an incentive to say, “˜You made a good step, it’s a gesture in the right direction, but I thought you were giving me more than this. I can’t give you peace just for this, it’s not enough.’ Conversely, if we have peace for land–you disarm, put down your weapons, and get rid of the threats to me and I will then give you the land–the reverse is true: I have no commitment to follow through. Once you’ve laid down your weapons, you have no threat.

Bueno de Mesquita’s answer to this dilemma, which he discussed with the former Israeli prime minister and recently elected Labor leader Ehud Barak, is a formula that guarantees mutual incentives to cooperate. “In a peaceful world, what do the Palestinians anticipate will be their main source of economic viability? Tourism. This is what their own documents say. And, of course, the Israelis make a lot of money from tourism, and that revenue is very easy to track. As a starting point requiring no trust, no mutual cooperation, I would suggest that all tourist revenue be [divided by] a fixed formula based on the current population of the region, which is roughly 40 percent Palestinian, 60 percent Israeli. The money would go automatically to each side. Now, when there is violence, tourists don’t come. So the tourist revenue is automatically responsive to the level of violence on either side for both sides. You have an accounting firm that both sides agree to, you let the U.N. do it, whatever. It’s completely self-enforcing, it requires no cooperation except the initial agreement by the Israelis that they are going to turn this part of the revenue over, on a fixed formula based on population, to some international agency, and that’s that.”

As we have learned, “incentives matter”, in foreign policy just as in economics. Surely BDM’s proposal would at least improve the possibility of future cooperation. Will it take two generations of such policies to wash away enough of the Palestinian indoctrination of their young?

BDM founded Decision Insights Incorporated in 1981 and the New York consulting firm Mesquita & Roundell in 2003, but has been consulting independently for years for clients in the private sector and for a long list of governments:

…As one of the foremost scholars of game theory–or “rational choice,” as its political-science practitioners prefer to call it–Bueno de Mesquita is at the center of a raging hullabaloo that has taken over some of the most prestigious halls of learning in this country. Exclusive, highly complex mathematically, and messianic in its certainty of universal truths, rational-choice theory is not only changing the way political science is taught, but the way it’s defined.

To verify the accuracy of his model, the CIA set up a kind of forecasting face-off that pit predictions from his model against those of Langley’s more traditional in-house intelligence analysts and area specialists. “We tested Bueno de Mesquita’s model on scores of issues that were conducted in real time–that is, the forecasts were made before the events actually happened,” says Stanley Feder, a former high-level CIA analyst. “We found the model to be accurate 90 percent of the time,” he wrote. Another study evaluating Bueno de Mesquita’s real-time forecasts of 21 policy decisions in the European community concluded that “the probability that the predicted outcome was what indeed occurred was an astounding 97 percent.” What’s more, Bueno de Mesquita’s forecasts were much more detailed than those of the more traditional analysts. “The real issue is the specificity of the accuracy,” says Feder. “We found that DI (Directorate of National Intelligence) analyses, even when they were right, were vague compared to the model’s forecasts. To use an archery metaphor, if you hit the target, that’s great. But if you hit the bull’s eye–that’s amazing.”

Lerner closes with “A sample of Bruce Bueno de Mesquita’s wilder–and most accurate–predictions”

Forecasted the second Intifada and the death of the Mideast peace process, two years before it happened.

Defied Russia specialists by predicting who would succeed Brezhnev. “The model identified Andropov, who nobody at the time even considered a possibility,” he says.

Predicted that Daniel Ortega and the Sandanistas would be voted out of office in Nicaragua, two years before it happened.

Four months before Tiananmen Square, said China’s hardliners would crack down harshly on dissidents.

Predicted France’s hair’s-breadth passage of the European Union’s Maastricht Treaty.

Predicted the exact implementation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement between Britain and the IRA.

Predicted China’s reclaiming of Hong Kong and the exact manner the handover would take place, 12 years before it happened.

For readers interested in a deeper assessment of Bueno de Mesquita’s work, see his 17-page CV at NYU [PDF].

1948, Israel and the Palestinians: The True Story

A quite excellent true history of the Middle East’s last sixty years by Professor Efraim Karsh, head of Mediterranean Studies at King’s College, University of London, and the author most recently of “Islamic Imperialism: A History” (Yale). Much of this is based upon recently declassified documents from the British Mandate. Excerpt:

Sixty years after its establishment by an internationally recognized act of self-determination, Israel remains the only state in the world that is subjected to a constant outpouring of the most outlandish conspiracy theories and blood libels; whose policies and actions are obsessively condemned by the international community; and whose right to exist is constantly debated and challenged not only by its Arab enemies but by segments of advanced opinion in the West.

During the past decade or so, the actual elimination of the Jewish state has become a cause célèbre among many of these educated Westerners. The “one-state solution,” as it is called, is a euphemistic formula proposing the replacement of Israel by a state, theoretically comprising the whole of historic Palestine, in which Jews will be reduced to the status of a permanent minority. Only this, it is said, can expiate the “original sin” of Israel’s founding, an act built (in the words of one critic) “on the ruins of Arab Palestine” and achieved through the deliberate and aggressive dispossession of its native population.

This claim of premeditated dispossession and the consequent creation of the longstanding Palestinian “refugee problem” forms, indeed, the central plank in the bill of particulars pressed by Israel’s alleged victims and their Western supporters. It is a charge that has hardly gone undisputed. As early as the mid-1950s, the eminent American historian J.C. Hurewitz undertook a systematic refutation, and his findings were abundantly confirmed by later generations of scholars and writers. Even Benny Morris, the most influential of Israel’s revisionist “new historians,” and one who went out of his way to establish the case for Israel’s “original sin,” grudgingly stipulated that there was no “design” to displace the Palestinian Arabs.

The recent declassification of millions of documents from the period of the British Mandate (1920-48) and Israel’s early days, documents untapped by earlier generations of writers and ignored or distorted by the “new historians,” paints a much more definitive picture of the historical record. These documents reveal that the claim of dispossession is not only completely unfounded but the inverse of the truth. What follows is based on fresh research into these documents, which contain many facts and data hitherto unreported.

Highly recommended. I have archived the Karsh essay for future reference.

Karsh has authored several other books on the Middle East, including Fabricating Israeli History: The ‘New Historians’ (2000).

Al-Dura case overturned on appeal

Israel Radio’s Paris correspondent Gil Michaeli has just reported that the French Court of Appeals has overturned the libel judgment against Phillipe Karsenty and has determined that Karsenty did not libel France 2 correspondent Charles Enderlin when he reported that the ‘death’ of 12-year old Mohamed Al-Dura at Netzarim in the Gaza Strip in September 2000 may have been staged, and that it was unlikely that the death was caused by IDF soldiers.

More at Israel Matzav

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Israel Aiming For the Hamas Brain

A useful overview from Strategy Page:

February 28, 2008: As a democracy, Israel cannot ignore threats to its citizens. So the continued rocket attacks on southern Israel create a public outcry for a solution. Moving Israeli troops out of Gaza three years ago was supposed to be a solution, but it wasn’t. Israelis can access Palestinian media, and all they see is the same old “kill the Jews and destroy Israel” propaganda (from both Fatah and Hamas, although the Hamas stuff is more strident and abundant.) So Israel is increasingly applying the same tactics in Gaza (go after the terrorist leadership and technical experts) that worked to stop the Palestinian suicide bombing campaign that began in 2000 (and was defeated by 2005). Even most pacifist Israelis have given up on trying to make deals with the Palestinians. There are too many Palestinian factions, conditioned by a century of “kill the Jews” propaganda, that will not abide by any deal, and will keep trying to kill Israelis.

Defensive measures often have serious limitations. For example, the Palestinian rocket attacks on the town (Sderot) closest to Gaza, continue to kill and wound and Israelis. The “Iron Dome” anti-rocket system Israel is building will not, it turns out, protect Sderot, because the town is too close (two kilometers) to where the rockets are launched. Iron Dome is designed to take down missiles fired from at least four kilometers away. That might change, because the basic problem is time. Missiles fired from two kilometers away arrive in 9-10 seconds, which is before Iron Dome can react. Some Israeli army commanders want to reoccupy part of northern Gaza, to force the Palestinians to launch their rockets four kilometers from Sderot. In the last year, these rockets have killed two Israelis, and wounded dozens more. Israeli attacks on the terrorist groups responsible have left over 300 Palestinians dead. The Israeli shift to mainly targeting the terrorist leaders and technicians has the best chance, in the near term, of crippling the Hamas attacks. The increased Israeli attacks are apparently the result of improved intelligence within Gaza, probably the result of Fatah ordering its supporters there to aid the Israelis in targeting the Hamas leadership.

In the meantime, Israel continues its blockade of Gaza, allowing only food and medical supplies through. This has made Gaza Palestinians angry, but also apathetic and fearful. Hamas is running a police state, so the feelings of the average Palestinian have little impact. The blockade has enraged many Europeans, who are calling for diplomatic, economic and legal moves against Israel for “war crimes.” Many Israelis see this as the old European anti-Semitism, which led to the Nazi mass murder of six million Jews during World War II (with the cooperation of officials and citizens in many European countries). But the Palestinians see such support as one of the few weapons they have left. However, an increasing number of Arabs are getting tired of the Palestinian inability to work out a peace deal. These Arabs have come to recognize that the Israelis are trying harder to make a deal than the Palestinians are. Moreover, Arabs public opinion has turned against the Islamic terrorists, mainly because of the murderous tactics used by Islamic terrorists in Iraq, and elsewhere in the Arab world. The Palestinians are running out of allies, and options. It’s the Palestinians who are best able to control the radicals, whose violence is preventing any peace deal from being made, or kept. Fatah is trying to organize a “resistance” against Hamas, within Gaza. But so far, Hamas has proved too powerful for that to work. But after a few months of concentrated Israeli attacks on Hamas leadership, that may change.


Palestine: peace impossible without will

The Israelis do not aim at civilians and would stop all military action tomorrow if the terrorism stopped.

Greg Sheridan is back from Israel.

AND so international donors have pledged $8.6 billion in aid to the Palestinian Authority. This eye-popping amount of money will continue the Palestinians’ status as the highest per capita aid recipients in the world. Not that I’m suggesting Palestinians don’t have it tough, even if most of their suffering is caused by the appalling decisions of their corrupt, incompetent and extremist leadership.

The aid pledged in Paris may nonetheless do some good. It may stabilise living standards on the West Bank. And by exacerbating the contrast between a more prosperous West Bank, controlled by the secular Fatah, and an increasingly poverty-stricken Gaza Strip, controlled by the religious extremists, Hamas, it may strengthen Fatah against Hamas.

Assuming all this works out perfectly, at the very best we might get a slightly improved status quo. The chances of a long-term peace agreement, I would say, are almost nil.

I have just returned from three weeks in Israel. I spent quite a bit of time on the West Bank. I would say the situation is on a hair trigger and we are as far from peace as ever.

…It seems that every two-term American president feels a desperate need in his last year to solve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Bill Clinton was at it in his last 24 hours in office. Ronald Reagan had a plan in his last year. By trying so hard to get an agreement to bolster the legacy of a presidency in its dying days, the Americans often scramble and improvise, take foolish risks and by their own political desperation convince all parties that maximum results are possible. The result is frequently disastrous.

There are two short-term factors that will tend to keep a lid on the conflict, and one that will tend to make it explode, but all the long-term trends are unhelpful.

…Remove the Israelis and the estimates of how long Fatah would remain in power range from two weeks to two hours.

…The short-term trend that could cause a blow-up any day is the Qassam rockets being fired daily from Gaza at Israeli civilians in Sderot and increasingly near the sizeable Israeli city of Ashkelon, with its vital and vulnerable power station. Every day half a dozen of these rockets are fired. On one day when I was there recently 20 were fired. These are not fired at military targets. Their intent is to murder civilians.

Luckily, these rockets are crude, short-range and inaccurate. But they are becoming longer-range as outsiders, especially Iran, provide weaponry. Eventually one of these rockets will hit a school bus or a classroom and kill 20 Israeli children. When that happens the Israeli political process will demand a huge operation in Gaza to clean out the rocket factories. No Israeli wants to go back to Gaza. But they will if necessary and such an operation would be bloody and terrible. Many people would die. Amid all the criticism Israel would face, one question would be unanswerable: which democratic country would not respond if its civilians were being daily fired upon by rockets? There is no moral equivalence between Palestinian terrorism and Israeli military action. The Israelis do not aim at civilians and would stop all military action tomorrow if the terrorism stopped.

…The question is whether the PA can ever get to a stage where it can govern Palestinian society, and whether the PA has any genuine interest in peace. Until very recently PA school text books contained traditional anti-Semitic propaganda against the Jews. Due to international pressure that has largely been removed. But still the text books, and the Palestinian media, are full of incitement to terrorism and no suggestion that Israel will be a peace partner, or even a state Palestinians will have to live with. Instead maps of Palestine are routinely printed which simply erase Israel altogether.

This means the peace talks, and the media commentary around it, are rigged against Israel because they don’t discuss the one real obstacle to peace: the refusal of the Palestinian leadership, and much of the Middle East Islamic leadership, to genuinely accept Israel’s right to exist.