Peace process era over, says Middle East columnist

Anyone seeking a sunny assessment of Middle East politics should probably avoid Barry Rubin. The American-born, Israel-based columnist has a fairly gloomy forecast for the region, with no break in the geopolitical weather expected anytime soon.

As director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya, Rubin keeps his eye on Israel’s relations with friend and foe alike. In his Rubin Report, a column he writes almost every day, he describes what he sees.

His bottom line for Israeli-Palestinian relations is simple and devastating: The era of the peace process is over.

“Much as we would like to have things differently, the fact is that there is absolutely no possibility of comprehensive peace,” he says. “The Palestinian leadership is so far from making that peace, it’s ridiculous.”

Rubin will expound on this and other subjects during a lecture Nov. 1 at Berkeley’s Congregation Netivot Shalom. Bridges to Israel–Berkeley is sponsoring the event.

The Obama administration is a regular target of Rubin’s, even though he describes himself as a liberal Democrat. While he sees U.S.-Israeli relations as relatively stable, he decries Obama’s Middle East policies as “a disaster.”

“The administration has emphasized being nice, trying to reassure the radicals,” he says. “That has a number of negative effects. One is to send a message to the radicals to keep doing what they’re doing. The more moderate say ‘we can’t make a deal with the United States.’ ”

When it comes to Iran, the stakes couldn’t be higher, according to Rubin. He laments the Obama administration’s gyrating policy of carrots and sticks, neither of which has deterred Tehran from pursuing nuclear power.

“[Iran] has swung to an even more hard- line position,” he notes. “The regime wants to seize leadership of the Gulf, the Muslim world and, in their loonier moments, the whole world. You can’t make a deal with such a regime. If you don’t appease them, then you may have to fight them, and that’s so horrendous, people don’t want to face it.”

A native of Washing-ton, D.C., Rubin grew up studying foreign policy. A Fulbright scholar and former Capitol Hill staffer, he wrote a doctoral dissertation on U.S., Soviet and British Cold War policies, and went on to hold fellowships at Johns Hopkins University, Georgetown University and, later, the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Ramat Gan, Israel.

Nowadays he edits the Middle East Review of International Affairs, and writes the Rubin Report, which is often picked up in the Israeli press and American Jewish newspapers.

Despite his academic pedigree, Rubin eschews professorial airs in his writing. He sometimes gets emotional, especially when decrying what he views as Western timidity in the face of radical Islam.

“I call it lying for peace,” Rubin says. “People believe that if they consciously and deliberately tell falsehoods, that this will help things, and this is not true.”

As of today, Rubin claims, “U.S. policy is based on the idea of taking Iran at its word, that they only want [peaceful] nuclear power. This is an absurdity.”

He says were Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, the odds of the regime using them on Israel are low, but it could lead to Europe and Arab states appeasing Iran, as well as the launching of a regional nuclear arms race.

Despite Rubin’s downbeat assessment, he says he is still optimistic somehow. In a recent column, he predicts the status quo — a militarily and economically strong Israel contending with a weak and divided Palestinian society — will go on for a generation, and that the world will do little to change things.

He also thinks Islamic radicals, while dangerous, will strike out in terms of overthrowing authoritarian regimes in the region. As he wrote in the column, “Nothing really changes. Keep that in mind every day.”

So even if the peace process era is over, as Rubin claims, he says there is an alternative reality.

“You work with the Palestinian Authority to raise Palestinian living standards as high as possible,” he says. “You keep Hamas from taking over the West Bank, you defend your security and go about the business of building up Israel.”

Barry Rubin will speak at 7 p.m., Nov. 1, at Congregation Netivot Shalom, 1316 University Ave., Berkeley. $10. Information: (510) 549-9447.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.