Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 17, 2010

Punishing the Innocent Instead of the Guilty

You have to admire Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s negotiating savvy. Someone less shrewd might have assumed that with the whole world seemingly desperate to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks, the party that refused would be penalized. Abbas correctly calculated that by refusing to talk, he could reap concrete benefits even before negotiations began.

He has already secured a 10-month settlement freeze from Israel. Initially, that was supposed to be matched by gestures toward normalization from Arab states. But the Arab states refused; Washington declined to press; and in the end, Israel gave something for nothing.

Yet Abbas still said no. So now the world is busily seeking more unilateral Israeli concessions to entice him to the table. Haaretz reported today that at a Quartet meeting last Wednesday, the European Union and Russia proposed demanding that Israel allow Orient House (the PA’s de facto foreign ministry) and other PA government offices to reopen in East Jerusalem. That is effectively a demand that Israel concede Palestinian sovereignty in East Jerusalem even before the talks begin: while embassies are located in foreign countries, government offices are usually located in one’s own.

U.S. envoy George Mitchell, in his PBS interview earlier this month, declared that Washington was also seeking additional Israeli concessions to lure Abbas to the table. “What we have suggested to the Israelis is a series of steps and actions that they could take that would encourage President Abbas to enter the discussions,” he said, though declining to specify.

But nobody worries about enticing Israel to the table, because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spent the past nine months endlessly proclaiming his eagerness to resume talks. Hence Washington felt no need to press Arab states to reciprocate for the settlement freeze, nor did the Quartet feel a need to reward Israel for this gesture.

The U.S. did try to secure a Quartet statement praising the freeze in November, but Russia reportedly refused. Why? Washington’s draft included a call for renewed talks aimed at reconciling both sides’ goals, and described Israel’s goal as a “Jewish state” in borders that, inter alia, “reflect the developments” that have occurred since 1967. Russia said it opposed both defining Israel as a Jewish state and adapting the border to the settlement blocs, and therefore refused to acknowledge these as legitimate Israeli goals. Thus even as the EU and Russia publicly support Palestinian final-status demands on borders and Jerusalem, the Quartet has deemed Israel’s demands so illegitimate that they don’t even deserve mention as aspirations.

So here’s the bottom line: because Abbas is being recalcitrant, the world is punishing Israel by demanding more concessions from it. That’s a highly ineffective way to run negotiations, since it encourages further recalcitrance rather than compromise. But if that’s how the Quartet wants to run things, Israel needs to start playing this game, too.

Hence, instead of constantly declaring his eagerness for talks, Netanyahu must start setting his own conditions for renewed negotiations. Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state might be a good place to start.

You have to admire Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s negotiating savvy. Someone less shrewd might have assumed that with the whole world seemingly desperate to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks, the party that refused would be penalized. Abbas correctly calculated that by refusing to talk, he could reap concrete benefits even before negotiations began.

He has already secured a 10-month settlement freeze from Israel. Initially, that was supposed to be matched by gestures toward normalization from Arab states. But the Arab states refused; Washington declined to press; and in the end, Israel gave something for nothing.

Yet Abbas still said no. So now the world is busily seeking more unilateral Israeli concessions to entice him to the table. Haaretz reported today that at a Quartet meeting last Wednesday, the European Union and Russia proposed demanding that Israel allow Orient House (the PA’s de facto foreign ministry) and other PA government offices to reopen in East Jerusalem. That is effectively a demand that Israel concede Palestinian sovereignty in East Jerusalem even before the talks begin: while embassies are located in foreign countries, government offices are usually located in one’s own.

U.S. envoy George Mitchell, in his PBS interview earlier this month, declared that Washington was also seeking additional Israeli concessions to lure Abbas to the table. “What we have suggested to the Israelis is a series of steps and actions that they could take that would encourage President Abbas to enter the discussions,” he said, though declining to specify.

But nobody worries about enticing Israel to the table, because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spent the past nine months endlessly proclaiming his eagerness to resume talks. Hence Washington felt no need to press Arab states to reciprocate for the settlement freeze, nor did the Quartet feel a need to reward Israel for this gesture.

The U.S. did try to secure a Quartet statement praising the freeze in November, but Russia reportedly refused. Why? Washington’s draft included a call for renewed talks aimed at reconciling both sides’ goals, and described Israel’s goal as a “Jewish state” in borders that, inter alia, “reflect the developments” that have occurred since 1967. Russia said it opposed both defining Israel as a Jewish state and adapting the border to the settlement blocs, and therefore refused to acknowledge these as legitimate Israeli goals. Thus even as the EU and Russia publicly support Palestinian final-status demands on borders and Jerusalem, the Quartet has deemed Israel’s demands so illegitimate that they don’t even deserve mention as aspirations.

So here’s the bottom line: because Abbas is being recalcitrant, the world is punishing Israel by demanding more concessions from it. That’s a highly ineffective way to run negotiations, since it encourages further recalcitrance rather than compromise. But if that’s how the Quartet wants to run things, Israel needs to start playing this game, too.

Hence, instead of constantly declaring his eagerness for talks, Netanyahu must start setting his own conditions for renewed negotiations. Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state might be a good place to start.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The party of “no” is ahead in the congressional generic poll.

All that time “engaging” Iran was supposed to prepare the ground for international sanctions. But China and Russia are as unhelpful as ever. China sent only a low-level flunky to the international meeting: “China’s virtual snub has caused consternation among the four Western powers in the group, which had hoped to use the meeting to reach an agreement on whether to begin drafting a Security Council resolution on a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Tehran.” And Russia thinks there is “still time for meaningful political engagement and efforts to find a solution.” I wonder if the Czech Republic and Poland can get their missile-defense systems back now.

Martha Coakley tells the Big Lie the weekend before the election, accusing Scott Brown of wanting to turn away rape victims from hospitals. It is so ludicrous and false (even by Boston Globe standards) that one wonders if that will be the final nail in her coffin.

More bad polling news for Coakley suggests that she was desperate to throw the long bomb.

Let’s get this straight: if ObamaCare proves to be so unpopular that Massachusetts sends a Republican to the Senate, the Democrats will try to force the hugely unpopular bill through with a bare 51-vote majority? Yup: “Democrats are prepared to use a budgetary procedure to pass healthcare reform legislation if they lose a key Senate race on Tuesday, a House leader said this weekend. … Senate Democrats had previously ruled out using reconciliation, reasoning that the maneuver was politically and procedurally risky. The tactic, for instance, leaves it up to the Senate parliamentarian to decide whether elements of the bill under consideration are relevant to the budget process, risking reforms seen as critical to Democrats’ reform efforts.” There is no reason to ever listen to the voters, they must figure.

Is there any wonder that there’s an “enthusiasm gap” in Massachusetts?

Obama is now resorting to good old-fashioned business-bashing: “The White House has spent months imploring banks to lend more money, so will President Obama’s new proposal to extract $117 billion from bank capital encourage new bank lending? Just asking. Welcome to one more installment in Washington’s year-long crusade to revive private business by assailing and soaking it. Mr. Obama’s new ‘Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee’—please don’t call it a tax—is being sold as a way to cover expected losses in the Troubled Asset Relief Program. That sounds reasonable, except that the banks designated to pay the fee aren’t those responsible for the losses. With the exception of Citigroup, those banks have repaid their TARP money with interest.”

Dana Milbank chides the Democrats for meeting in a bunker but then regurgitates the mind-numbingly silly and unsubstantiated mantra that has sent them marching over the political cliff: “They can pass health-care reform and have a losing year, or they can shelve health-care reform and have a disastrous year. Voters may not like the health-care bill, but they’ll punish the majority party even more for dithering and drifting without accomplishing anything.” Actually, I think they’re punishing them for ignoring the voters’ clear message.

The party of “no” is ahead in the congressional generic poll.

All that time “engaging” Iran was supposed to prepare the ground for international sanctions. But China and Russia are as unhelpful as ever. China sent only a low-level flunky to the international meeting: “China’s virtual snub has caused consternation among the four Western powers in the group, which had hoped to use the meeting to reach an agreement on whether to begin drafting a Security Council resolution on a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Tehran.” And Russia thinks there is “still time for meaningful political engagement and efforts to find a solution.” I wonder if the Czech Republic and Poland can get their missile-defense systems back now.

Martha Coakley tells the Big Lie the weekend before the election, accusing Scott Brown of wanting to turn away rape victims from hospitals. It is so ludicrous and false (even by Boston Globe standards) that one wonders if that will be the final nail in her coffin.

More bad polling news for Coakley suggests that she was desperate to throw the long bomb.

Let’s get this straight: if ObamaCare proves to be so unpopular that Massachusetts sends a Republican to the Senate, the Democrats will try to force the hugely unpopular bill through with a bare 51-vote majority? Yup: “Democrats are prepared to use a budgetary procedure to pass healthcare reform legislation if they lose a key Senate race on Tuesday, a House leader said this weekend. … Senate Democrats had previously ruled out using reconciliation, reasoning that the maneuver was politically and procedurally risky. The tactic, for instance, leaves it up to the Senate parliamentarian to decide whether elements of the bill under consideration are relevant to the budget process, risking reforms seen as critical to Democrats’ reform efforts.” There is no reason to ever listen to the voters, they must figure.

Is there any wonder that there’s an “enthusiasm gap” in Massachusetts?

Obama is now resorting to good old-fashioned business-bashing: “The White House has spent months imploring banks to lend more money, so will President Obama’s new proposal to extract $117 billion from bank capital encourage new bank lending? Just asking. Welcome to one more installment in Washington’s year-long crusade to revive private business by assailing and soaking it. Mr. Obama’s new ‘Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee’—please don’t call it a tax—is being sold as a way to cover expected losses in the Troubled Asset Relief Program. That sounds reasonable, except that the banks designated to pay the fee aren’t those responsible for the losses. With the exception of Citigroup, those banks have repaid their TARP money with interest.”

Dana Milbank chides the Democrats for meeting in a bunker but then regurgitates the mind-numbingly silly and unsubstantiated mantra that has sent them marching over the political cliff: “They can pass health-care reform and have a losing year, or they can shelve health-care reform and have a disastrous year. Voters may not like the health-care bill, but they’ll punish the majority party even more for dithering and drifting without accomplishing anything.” Actually, I think they’re punishing them for ignoring the voters’ clear message.

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