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Predictions for 2014? I Prefer Calling Them Possibilities

by Shmuel Rosner

December 30, 2013 | 7:59 am

U.S. President Barack Obama shares a laugh with Israel's
PM Benjamin Netanyahu, during an official state dinner
hosted by Israel's President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem,
March 21, 2013, photo by Reuters/Jason Reed

I don't trust predictions. Not even ones made by the experts. They tend to be wrong when it counts and to be right when it doesn't – when the obvious happens. Events change the world rapidly and often make last week's predictions – or last month's – or last year's – seem irrelevant or ridiculous. That is, unless they are vague enough to include almost all potential outcomes.

Take a look, for example, at these expert predictions on 2013 as the "year of decision" on Iran.

The art of statecraft is not to choose between war and diplomacy as if they were mutually exclusive alternatives, but to understand how they fit together. In the case of Syria, the West has repeatedly called for diplomacy while ruling out any military action, with predictably bad results. The US will not make that mistake with Iran…

I think in late 2013 or early 2014, especially if America sees that Iran is not serious about reaching an acceptable agreement and only continues to buy time, the US will accept an Israeli attack because a nuclear Iran is absolutely against American vital national security interests… 

The first one is by Anne Marie Slaughter, from January of 2013. The second one is by Amos Yadlin from October 2013. No doubt, both are at the top of their trade. No doubt, their predictions are still well within the area of reasonableness. Why? Because both can argue that their predictions materialized as the US decided – this was "a year of decision", wasn't it? – to sign an interim agreement with Iran. Yadlin can say that the US found Iran to be "serious" about reaching an acceptable agreement – and hence, no need for accepting an Israeli attack arose. Slaughter could say that the mistake was not repeated, that the US showed the necessary "resolve" and hence, the Iranians came to the table to compromise.

Of course, a counter argument could also be made: you could say that the US decided to surrender and sign a bad deal with Iran because military action was "ruled out" by the Obama administration. And that the US let Iran buy more time – and found it preferable to accepting an Israeli attack. Predictions are not just tricky – their validity often depends on one's interpretation of the unfolding events. So I don't take predictions very seriously, not even my own.

So what about 2014? Here are some, well, non-predictions-

Iran – a year of no decision

The six months of negotiations will not be enough, and a decision will have to be made: is Iran serious enough for the west to keep negotiating? Trust Iran, it will be serious enough to make negotiations look like the more tempting option.

Syria – a year of no intervention

If the Syrian war can be contained without having much influence on neighboring countries, no one is going to invest too much in putting an end to it. With the chemical weapons – and the threat of crossing an unbearable threshold – gone the US has no real interest in this conflict (and as for Israel: the sad truth is that it isn't bad for Israel to see the war continue – again, as long as it is contained).

Palestine – a year of no final agreement

Israel will have to say yes to the American framework proposal. The Palestinians are less likely to say yes. But even if both sides agree to the framework, I don't quite see how this could be translated to a workable agreement. Again, the sad truth is that for Israel the best thing that could come out of this is the continuation of negotiations that will keep the hope of agreement alive and Israel's detractors at bay. If the talks fail, international pressure might become too heavy to be ignored (the result is likely to be an Israeli political crisis).

Israeli politics – a year of, well, ask Kerry

Everything is possible. Except for having a new Prime Minister (that is, if Netanyahu is healthy). The coalition can change, elections can be scheduled (but this is not very likely to occur during 2014), parties can split. Still, when it comes to economics there is not a lot of disagreement within the government and on the state-religion front, while the parties will keep fighting, I don't see anything crucial enough this year to be the straw that breaks the government's back. The main thing that could put the coalition under intolerable pressure is developments related to the Palestinian track. 

US politics – a quiet election year

2014 is an election year in the US, and congressional races can be a magnet for Israel-related debates and controversies. Yet 2014 might be the quietest year in quite a while when it comes to Israel as an electoral issue. Americans see more important matters that need to be discussed – but this was also true in many of the years in which Israel was still quite visible as a political issue. What makes 2014 (possibly) different is that - as 2013 has showed us time and again- this is not a good time for a candidate to make a foreign-policy issue his top electoral priority. The public doesn't care about the world, and it gets annoyed when it senses an attempt to drag the US back into foreign interventions. In other words: except for very few and very safe places, making Israel a key electoral issue can be tricky. I assume that more than one legislator is going to try to avoid it.

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