Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 24, 2010

Whom Do You Trust More?

Last month Berkshire Hathaway sold two-year bonds that yield less than federal notes of the same maturity, according to Bloomberg (h/t: Michael Barone).

That is a truly astonishing fact. The interest the market demands on a bond is determined by 1) the present cost of money, 2) the expected inflation over the life of the bond, and 3) the risk of the bond issuer defaulting. The first two affect every bond equally, so differences in interest rates on similar securities reflect the market’s judgment on the possibility of default.

For a century and more, the securities of the United States Government have been, almost by definition, the safest investment one could make. Even in the depths of the Great Depression no one doubted that the federal government would make good on its debts. Indeed, in the fall of 1932, as the American economy was falling off a cliff, interest rates on treasury bills (the shortest-term federal debt) went negative. Treasury bills are sold at a discount and mature at par rather than pay interest. But in 1932, demand for them pushed the price over par. Investors, in other words, paid for the privilege of investing in the safest possible investments, the short-term paper of the United States.

So the market now has more faith that Warren Buffett (and Proctor and Gamble and Johnson & Johnson too, by the way) will pay off their bonds than that the federal government will do so – just two years down the road.

Thanks, President Obama and Nancy Pelosi. Thanks very much.

Last month Berkshire Hathaway sold two-year bonds that yield less than federal notes of the same maturity, according to Bloomberg (h/t: Michael Barone).

That is a truly astonishing fact. The interest the market demands on a bond is determined by 1) the present cost of money, 2) the expected inflation over the life of the bond, and 3) the risk of the bond issuer defaulting. The first two affect every bond equally, so differences in interest rates on similar securities reflect the market’s judgment on the possibility of default.

For a century and more, the securities of the United States Government have been, almost by definition, the safest investment one could make. Even in the depths of the Great Depression no one doubted that the federal government would make good on its debts. Indeed, in the fall of 1932, as the American economy was falling off a cliff, interest rates on treasury bills (the shortest-term federal debt) went negative. Treasury bills are sold at a discount and mature at par rather than pay interest. But in 1932, demand for them pushed the price over par. Investors, in other words, paid for the privilege of investing in the safest possible investments, the short-term paper of the United States.

So the market now has more faith that Warren Buffett (and Proctor and Gamble and Johnson & Johnson too, by the way) will pay off their bonds than that the federal government will do so – just two years down the road.

Thanks, President Obama and Nancy Pelosi. Thanks very much.

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Still Vouching for Obama and Trashing Bibi

Back in 2008, when Barack Obama was doing his best to reassure Jewish voters and contributors that despite a flimsy record and troubling associations with anti-Israel extremists like his pastor, he could be trusted to be a friend to Israel, Chicago Jews who were looking to get in on the ground floor of the candidate’s presidential boomlet were quick to come forward with testimonials. Two years later, after President Obama has demonstrated, again, his desire to distance himself from Israel, such tributes ring false. Yet despite the absurdity of using these statements as proof of Obama’s goodwill toward the Jewish state, they have been resurrected in, all of places, the New Yorker, a magazine that once prided itself on being on the cutting edge of thought, not the recycler of discarded political talking points. But that’s exactly what David Remnick does in a piece in which he joins the administration’s mugging of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The conceit of the article is that the fight Obama picked earlier this month over the timing of the announcement of a Jerusalem housing project was all the fault of Netanyahu and his bumbling, bigoted government. But Remnick, who likes to put himself forward as being knowledgeable about Israel, betrays his own lack of sophistication. He claims that Netanyahu’s coalition suffers “from a troubling degree of instability.” But as anyone who’s actually been paying attention to Israel knows, that isn’t true. Bibi’s cabinet is as stable as any multi-party coalition can hope to be. It has its outliers, such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, but the parties that came together to form the government have good reasons to hang together, and there has been no serious threat to break it up. Indeed, far from being hostage to the far Right, there was hardly a peep from Netanyahu’s pro-settler allies when he agreed to a building freeze in the West Bank last fall, something that was especially surprising — and disappointing — to the Obama White House, since it has been trying to knock the Israeli leader out of office ever since he was elected a few weeks after Obama was sworn in as president.

But in an attempt to pretend that the blatant change in atmosphere toward Israel isn’t happening, all Remnick can do is recycle the same lame propaganda that the Democrats shoveled to the press in 2008: Obama’s Jewish neighbors — and contributors — all thought he was great, with one even gushing that Obama would be “the first Jewish president.”

Remnick’s misreading of the spirit of the current White House, which he insists against all evidence is still a stalwart friend of Israel, is matched by his lack of understanding of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. He claims the question now is whether Netanyahu is “the arrogant rejectionist that he was in the nineteen-nineties.” The characterization of Netanyahu’s first term as prime minster as “rejectionist” is absurd. In his three years in office, he signed both the Hebron pact and the Wye Plantation Agreement, which both mandated Israeli territorial withdrawals in exchange for the usual (unfulfilled) Palestinian promises. And since coming back to power, Netanyahu has already formally accepted a two-state solution and agreed to freeze building in the West Bank. Just as absurd is Remnick’s claim that the Palestinian Authority leadership is “moderate and constructive.” Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad may mean well, but these two are the same Palestinians who adamantly rejected an offer of a state in the West Bank and Gaza and part of Jerusalem less than two years ago. Indeed, they would not even discuss such a plan and today won’t sit down and negotiate directly with Israel. They and their Hamas rivals who rule Gaza are the rejectionists, not Netanyahu.

Remnick says that an Israeli devotion to the status quo will eventually sour a friendly Obama on Israel. But the truth is that the status quo cannot be altered unilaterally by Israel without a sea change in Palestinian thinking. Far from Netanyahu needing to do a “Nixon goes to China” transformation, it is still the Palestinians who must learn to take “yes” for an answer. The obsession with forcing Israel to make concessions to revive a peace process that the Palestinians don’t care about speaks volumes about Obama and his supporters.

Back in 2008, when Barack Obama was doing his best to reassure Jewish voters and contributors that despite a flimsy record and troubling associations with anti-Israel extremists like his pastor, he could be trusted to be a friend to Israel, Chicago Jews who were looking to get in on the ground floor of the candidate’s presidential boomlet were quick to come forward with testimonials. Two years later, after President Obama has demonstrated, again, his desire to distance himself from Israel, such tributes ring false. Yet despite the absurdity of using these statements as proof of Obama’s goodwill toward the Jewish state, they have been resurrected in, all of places, the New Yorker, a magazine that once prided itself on being on the cutting edge of thought, not the recycler of discarded political talking points. But that’s exactly what David Remnick does in a piece in which he joins the administration’s mugging of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The conceit of the article is that the fight Obama picked earlier this month over the timing of the announcement of a Jerusalem housing project was all the fault of Netanyahu and his bumbling, bigoted government. But Remnick, who likes to put himself forward as being knowledgeable about Israel, betrays his own lack of sophistication. He claims that Netanyahu’s coalition suffers “from a troubling degree of instability.” But as anyone who’s actually been paying attention to Israel knows, that isn’t true. Bibi’s cabinet is as stable as any multi-party coalition can hope to be. It has its outliers, such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, but the parties that came together to form the government have good reasons to hang together, and there has been no serious threat to break it up. Indeed, far from being hostage to the far Right, there was hardly a peep from Netanyahu’s pro-settler allies when he agreed to a building freeze in the West Bank last fall, something that was especially surprising — and disappointing — to the Obama White House, since it has been trying to knock the Israeli leader out of office ever since he was elected a few weeks after Obama was sworn in as president.

But in an attempt to pretend that the blatant change in atmosphere toward Israel isn’t happening, all Remnick can do is recycle the same lame propaganda that the Democrats shoveled to the press in 2008: Obama’s Jewish neighbors — and contributors — all thought he was great, with one even gushing that Obama would be “the first Jewish president.”

Remnick’s misreading of the spirit of the current White House, which he insists against all evidence is still a stalwart friend of Israel, is matched by his lack of understanding of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. He claims the question now is whether Netanyahu is “the arrogant rejectionist that he was in the nineteen-nineties.” The characterization of Netanyahu’s first term as prime minster as “rejectionist” is absurd. In his three years in office, he signed both the Hebron pact and the Wye Plantation Agreement, which both mandated Israeli territorial withdrawals in exchange for the usual (unfulfilled) Palestinian promises. And since coming back to power, Netanyahu has already formally accepted a two-state solution and agreed to freeze building in the West Bank. Just as absurd is Remnick’s claim that the Palestinian Authority leadership is “moderate and constructive.” Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad may mean well, but these two are the same Palestinians who adamantly rejected an offer of a state in the West Bank and Gaza and part of Jerusalem less than two years ago. Indeed, they would not even discuss such a plan and today won’t sit down and negotiate directly with Israel. They and their Hamas rivals who rule Gaza are the rejectionists, not Netanyahu.

Remnick says that an Israeli devotion to the status quo will eventually sour a friendly Obama on Israel. But the truth is that the status quo cannot be altered unilaterally by Israel without a sea change in Palestinian thinking. Far from Netanyahu needing to do a “Nixon goes to China” transformation, it is still the Palestinians who must learn to take “yes” for an answer. The obsession with forcing Israel to make concessions to revive a peace process that the Palestinians don’t care about speaks volumes about Obama and his supporters.

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The Orwellian Peace Process

We are indebted to George Orwell for the observation that the corruption of public life begins with the corruption of language, and nowhere has that been more evident than in the “peace process” — whose very name has proved Orwellian.

The “peace process” has so far produced three wars. The first occurred in 2000, after Israel offered the Palestinians a state on all of Gaza and virtually all of the West Bank. Yasir Arafat rejected the offer, returned home to a hero’s welcome, and commenced a barbaric terror war, quaintly named an “intifada,” waged in Israeli restaurants, discos, hotels, schools, and buses. In 2005, Israel removed every soldier and settler from Gaza to enable the Palestinians to demonstrate their willingness to live “side by side in peace and security”; the result was a rocket war against Israel from new forward positions. In 2008, Israel offered a state on 100 percent of the West Bank and Gaza (after land swaps) with a shared Jerusalem; the “peace partner” rejected the offer. A month later, a new war in Gaza became necessary to bring the rockets to a halt.

In 2003, the Palestinians agreed to a three-phase “Performance-Based Road Map” and then failed to perform Phase One — dismantling terrorist groups and infrastructure — much less Phase Two. The result was that their “performance” was waived and the U.S. pushed immediate Phase Three final-status negotiations. The failure to abide by the Road Map was called “accelerating” it.

“Peace process,” “peace partner,” “intifada,” “side by side in peace and security,” “accelerating” — these are all Orwellian terms designed to mask the fact that the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected a state in order to pursue the Orwellian “right of return” — an alleged “right” not given to the millions of other 20th century refugees (including the 820,000 Jews expelled from Arab lands), much less to those whose refugee status resulted from their decision to reject a two-state solution in 1948 and start a war instead.

Even the term “refugee” is Orwellian, since it has been deemed to mean not only the 700,000 people who left the area in 1948 (a large proportion of whom moved out to make way for the invading Arab armies) but also three generations of descendants who have never lived in Israel. It is a definition not applied in the case of any other refugees. The rest of the world’s refugees decrease each year as they are resettled in other countries; only in the case of the Palestinians does the number of “refugees” increase every year — by definition.

The Obama administration has not been in office long but has already made its own Orwellian contribution. Six weeks after he took office, Benjamin Netanyahu met with Barack Obama and offered immediate negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions; Mahmoud Abbas rejected the offer. The administration is now trying to get Abbas to agree to “proximity talks” — the Orwellian description of a non-talk process in which the Palestinians employ George Mitchell to convey their demands for pre-negotiation concessions to the nearby State of Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu, reflecting a national consensus, has said a two-state solution will require that one of the two states be recognized as Jewish (which means no “right of return”) and that the other be demilitarized (to avoid a “peace agreement” that simply repositions the parties for a new war). Those are the minimal requirements for a true peace process rather than an Orwellian one, but they have been rejected by the “peace partner” Palestinians.

We are indebted to George Orwell for the observation that the corruption of public life begins with the corruption of language, and nowhere has that been more evident than in the “peace process” — whose very name has proved Orwellian.

The “peace process” has so far produced three wars. The first occurred in 2000, after Israel offered the Palestinians a state on all of Gaza and virtually all of the West Bank. Yasir Arafat rejected the offer, returned home to a hero’s welcome, and commenced a barbaric terror war, quaintly named an “intifada,” waged in Israeli restaurants, discos, hotels, schools, and buses. In 2005, Israel removed every soldier and settler from Gaza to enable the Palestinians to demonstrate their willingness to live “side by side in peace and security”; the result was a rocket war against Israel from new forward positions. In 2008, Israel offered a state on 100 percent of the West Bank and Gaza (after land swaps) with a shared Jerusalem; the “peace partner” rejected the offer. A month later, a new war in Gaza became necessary to bring the rockets to a halt.

In 2003, the Palestinians agreed to a three-phase “Performance-Based Road Map” and then failed to perform Phase One — dismantling terrorist groups and infrastructure — much less Phase Two. The result was that their “performance” was waived and the U.S. pushed immediate Phase Three final-status negotiations. The failure to abide by the Road Map was called “accelerating” it.

“Peace process,” “peace partner,” “intifada,” “side by side in peace and security,” “accelerating” — these are all Orwellian terms designed to mask the fact that the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected a state in order to pursue the Orwellian “right of return” — an alleged “right” not given to the millions of other 20th century refugees (including the 820,000 Jews expelled from Arab lands), much less to those whose refugee status resulted from their decision to reject a two-state solution in 1948 and start a war instead.

Even the term “refugee” is Orwellian, since it has been deemed to mean not only the 700,000 people who left the area in 1948 (a large proportion of whom moved out to make way for the invading Arab armies) but also three generations of descendants who have never lived in Israel. It is a definition not applied in the case of any other refugees. The rest of the world’s refugees decrease each year as they are resettled in other countries; only in the case of the Palestinians does the number of “refugees” increase every year — by definition.

The Obama administration has not been in office long but has already made its own Orwellian contribution. Six weeks after he took office, Benjamin Netanyahu met with Barack Obama and offered immediate negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions; Mahmoud Abbas rejected the offer. The administration is now trying to get Abbas to agree to “proximity talks” — the Orwellian description of a non-talk process in which the Palestinians employ George Mitchell to convey their demands for pre-negotiation concessions to the nearby State of Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu, reflecting a national consensus, has said a two-state solution will require that one of the two states be recognized as Jewish (which means no “right of return”) and that the other be demilitarized (to avoid a “peace agreement” that simply repositions the parties for a new war). Those are the minimal requirements for a true peace process rather than an Orwellian one, but they have been rejected by the “peace partner” Palestinians.

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“Ideological” and “Vindictive”

Those are the words the Washington Post‘s Jackson Diehl uses to describe President Obama’s approach to Israel. A must-read piece.

Those are the words the Washington Post‘s Jackson Diehl uses to describe President Obama’s approach to Israel. A must-read piece.

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A Libel

A Canadian journalist named Jeet Heer has called out our Jennifer Rubin out today over an item she wrote yesterday quoting an elderly attendee at AIPAC who said she heard echoes in the present moment of the nightmarish Jewish past:

An elderly couple from Florida were agitated by recent events. The wife explained she that had fled Nazi Germany as a child for Shanghai. “There are parallels,” she said. “This is depressing. It’s scary.” She said that she had argued with her liberal friends during the campaign about Obama’s associations with anti-Israel figures. “My mother always said where there is smoke, there is fire,” she explained, then added wearily, “They didn’t listen.”

Heer’s accusation is that Obama is here being compared to Hitler, that the idea being expressed is that “there are ‘parallels’ between the Führer and Obama.” That characterization of Jennifer Rubin’s item is preposterous, offensive, and a patently deliberate misreading. The fear being expressed these days is toward Iran as the potential second coming of Jewish genocide, not toward Obama. The parallel being drawn here is to the Western powers at Munich and their refusal to look clearly at the evidence of Hitler’s intentions, not to Hitler. Obama’s past association with anti-Israel figures like Rashid Khalidi and Jeremiah Wright heralded the lack of sympathy toward Israel that he has shown as president, and the way his lack of sympathy provides him with a convenient emotional way of refusing to confront the Iranian nuclear threat as it should be confronted — just as the Western powers seemed in the years before the outbreak of the Second World War to have a deficit of concern about the increasingly perilous position in which the Jews of Germany and Austria were finding themselves.

It is especially galling to see Jeet Heer, a foul anti-Israel polemicist of uncommonly repellent vintage, going on about this when, in his own writings, time and again, he expresses the sorts of thoughts designed to fog the minds of policymakers who should be grappling every moment with the overwhelming nature of the existential threat to Israel and the Jewish people, not to mention to the wider Middle East and the planet as a whole.

A Canadian journalist named Jeet Heer has called out our Jennifer Rubin out today over an item she wrote yesterday quoting an elderly attendee at AIPAC who said she heard echoes in the present moment of the nightmarish Jewish past:

An elderly couple from Florida were agitated by recent events. The wife explained she that had fled Nazi Germany as a child for Shanghai. “There are parallels,” she said. “This is depressing. It’s scary.” She said that she had argued with her liberal friends during the campaign about Obama’s associations with anti-Israel figures. “My mother always said where there is smoke, there is fire,” she explained, then added wearily, “They didn’t listen.”

Heer’s accusation is that Obama is here being compared to Hitler, that the idea being expressed is that “there are ‘parallels’ between the Führer and Obama.” That characterization of Jennifer Rubin’s item is preposterous, offensive, and a patently deliberate misreading. The fear being expressed these days is toward Iran as the potential second coming of Jewish genocide, not toward Obama. The parallel being drawn here is to the Western powers at Munich and their refusal to look clearly at the evidence of Hitler’s intentions, not to Hitler. Obama’s past association with anti-Israel figures like Rashid Khalidi and Jeremiah Wright heralded the lack of sympathy toward Israel that he has shown as president, and the way his lack of sympathy provides him with a convenient emotional way of refusing to confront the Iranian nuclear threat as it should be confronted — just as the Western powers seemed in the years before the outbreak of the Second World War to have a deficit of concern about the increasingly perilous position in which the Jews of Germany and Austria were finding themselves.

It is especially galling to see Jeet Heer, a foul anti-Israel polemicist of uncommonly repellent vintage, going on about this when, in his own writings, time and again, he expresses the sorts of thoughts designed to fog the minds of policymakers who should be grappling every moment with the overwhelming nature of the existential threat to Israel and the Jewish people, not to mention to the wider Middle East and the planet as a whole.

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Who’s Anti-Israel Now?

Robert Wright has a very inventive blog item at the New York Times website in which he very audaciously if not very convincingly tries to turn the “anti-Israel” moniker back on those of us who don’t think the Obama administration should be bullying Israel into agreeing to a freeze on all building in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a precondition for negotiating with the Palestinians. Normally you would think it’s pretty simple: if you generally support the policies of the state of Israel, you’re pro-Israel. Not so, says Wright, suggesting a higher sort of support — which would involve opposing the policies not only of the Netanyahu government but also of all its predecessors since 1967 that have treated Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel and have allowed construction of housing for both Jews and Arabs within both east and west Jerusalem. He writes:

[T]he more settlements get built — especially in East Jerusalem — the harder it will be to find a two-state deal that leaves Palestinians with much of their dignity intact. And the less dignity intact, the less stable any two-state deal will be. … So, by my lights, being “pro-Israel” in the sense embraced by [Gary] Bauer, [Max] Boot and [Abraham] Foxman — backing Israel’s current policies, including its settlement policies — is actually anti-Israel.

The condescension — and ignorance — implicit in this argument is staggering. Wright suggests that Israel’s elected leaders from all the major parties — all of them united in supporting the construction of housing for Jews at least in traditionally Jewish parts of East Jerusalem — don’t know what’s good for their country. But he does. And anyone who disagrees with him is objectively “anti-Israel.”

Perhaps he could explain why the greatest progress toward a two-state solution was made in the 1990s, when construction continued in the West Bank, and why talks are at a standstill now even though Netanyahu agreed in November to halt all construction in the West Bank (though not in Jerusalem) for 10 months. Perhaps he could explain why Palestinian leaders have repeatedly refused to embrace Israeli offers to turn over almost all the West Bank and even part of Jerusalem in return for a lasting settlement. Or why Israeli concessions such as evacuating the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon have been met with more attacks rather than any lasting peace. But no. The honest answers to those questions might shake his certitude that he knows better than those whose lives are actually on the line about what’s good for them.

Robert Wright has a very inventive blog item at the New York Times website in which he very audaciously if not very convincingly tries to turn the “anti-Israel” moniker back on those of us who don’t think the Obama administration should be bullying Israel into agreeing to a freeze on all building in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a precondition for negotiating with the Palestinians. Normally you would think it’s pretty simple: if you generally support the policies of the state of Israel, you’re pro-Israel. Not so, says Wright, suggesting a higher sort of support — which would involve opposing the policies not only of the Netanyahu government but also of all its predecessors since 1967 that have treated Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel and have allowed construction of housing for both Jews and Arabs within both east and west Jerusalem. He writes:

[T]he more settlements get built — especially in East Jerusalem — the harder it will be to find a two-state deal that leaves Palestinians with much of their dignity intact. And the less dignity intact, the less stable any two-state deal will be. … So, by my lights, being “pro-Israel” in the sense embraced by [Gary] Bauer, [Max] Boot and [Abraham] Foxman — backing Israel’s current policies, including its settlement policies — is actually anti-Israel.

The condescension — and ignorance — implicit in this argument is staggering. Wright suggests that Israel’s elected leaders from all the major parties — all of them united in supporting the construction of housing for Jews at least in traditionally Jewish parts of East Jerusalem — don’t know what’s good for their country. But he does. And anyone who disagrees with him is objectively “anti-Israel.”

Perhaps he could explain why the greatest progress toward a two-state solution was made in the 1990s, when construction continued in the West Bank, and why talks are at a standstill now even though Netanyahu agreed in November to halt all construction in the West Bank (though not in Jerusalem) for 10 months. Perhaps he could explain why Palestinian leaders have repeatedly refused to embrace Israeli offers to turn over almost all the West Bank and even part of Jerusalem in return for a lasting settlement. Or why Israeli concessions such as evacuating the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon have been met with more attacks rather than any lasting peace. But no. The honest answers to those questions might shake his certitude that he knows better than those whose lives are actually on the line about what’s good for them.

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Scott Brown’s Victory — a Curious Interpretation

According to Obama’s aide David Axelrod, here is the deeper, almost metaphysical meaning of the Massachusetts Senate race:

“It’s an analogy I used the other day,” Axelrod said. “I always believed in the presidential race they just didn’t want to shut the race down because they liked Obama, they thought he had potential. But he was new. He was four years out of the State Senate and they weren’t prepared to hand him an early knockout. They wanted him to go through the entire battle, and they wanted to judge him based on how he performed on that long hard road.

“And actually, with Massachusetts, I think people wanted to see this debate go on for a while and they wanted to see our suppositions tested and retested. But what Massachusetts did at the end of the day was that it persuaded people on our side of the fight not to make the perfect the enemy of the good. And it really rallied our base behind the president’s proposal.”

If Mr. Axelrod believes this, he must suffer from an almost clinical case of delusion. (Calling Dr. Krauthammer. Calling Dr. Krauthammer. Please report to duty.)

The notion that the public rejected the Democratic candidate in a Senate race in Massachusetts for a Republican who ran against ObamaCare, simply in order to see how Obama performed on “that long hard road,” is rather silly and adolescent. (It is also condescending to voters, who aren’t terribly interested in being part of some kind of manufactured, Axelrod-directed drama.)

David Axelrod is forcing prosaic political events into some kind of romantic notion about Obama that is detached from reality. But I suppose such things might be expected from a group that has perpetrated a cult-of-personality around Obama and who referred to him during the campaign as a “Black Jesus.” Still, it’s weird.

It will be interesting, and in some respects amusing, to see how Axelrod interprets the results of the mid-term election, which might well inflict enormous damage on the Democratic Party. If it happens, it will undoubtedly be seen as yet one more great trial in the great life and times of liberalism’s political Messiah.

According to Obama’s aide David Axelrod, here is the deeper, almost metaphysical meaning of the Massachusetts Senate race:

“It’s an analogy I used the other day,” Axelrod said. “I always believed in the presidential race they just didn’t want to shut the race down because they liked Obama, they thought he had potential. But he was new. He was four years out of the State Senate and they weren’t prepared to hand him an early knockout. They wanted him to go through the entire battle, and they wanted to judge him based on how he performed on that long hard road.

“And actually, with Massachusetts, I think people wanted to see this debate go on for a while and they wanted to see our suppositions tested and retested. But what Massachusetts did at the end of the day was that it persuaded people on our side of the fight not to make the perfect the enemy of the good. And it really rallied our base behind the president’s proposal.”

If Mr. Axelrod believes this, he must suffer from an almost clinical case of delusion. (Calling Dr. Krauthammer. Calling Dr. Krauthammer. Please report to duty.)

The notion that the public rejected the Democratic candidate in a Senate race in Massachusetts for a Republican who ran against ObamaCare, simply in order to see how Obama performed on “that long hard road,” is rather silly and adolescent. (It is also condescending to voters, who aren’t terribly interested in being part of some kind of manufactured, Axelrod-directed drama.)

David Axelrod is forcing prosaic political events into some kind of romantic notion about Obama that is detached from reality. But I suppose such things might be expected from a group that has perpetrated a cult-of-personality around Obama and who referred to him during the campaign as a “Black Jesus.” Still, it’s weird.

It will be interesting, and in some respects amusing, to see how Axelrod interprets the results of the mid-term election, which might well inflict enormous damage on the Democratic Party. If it happens, it will undoubtedly be seen as yet one more great trial in the great life and times of liberalism’s political Messiah.

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Who Will Run Defending ObamaCare?

There are a number of polls out on ObamaCare. Democrats have seized upon a Gallup poll of all adults, showing a plurality favoring ObamaCare; Republicans point to other polls, showing a majority of voters oppose it. But this might be the most troubling of all for Democrats:

As Florida’s attorney general, Bill McCollum is suing the federal government to prevent implementation of the newly passed health-care plan. As a candidate for governor, McCollum may have found a popular campaign position.

Fifty-four percent (54%) of Florida voters favor their state suing the federal government to challenge the requirement in the new plan that every American must get health insurance. Thirty-six percent (36%) oppose such a lawsuit.

This was a state that Obama carried in 2008. By a huge margin voters not only don’t want ObamaCare but expect elected officials to sue the government to get rid of it. (Nationwide, 49 percent favor suing to get rid of ObamaCare while 37 percent do not.) That should be a warning sign to attorneys general and gubernatorial candidates as well as House and Senate contenders. And it raises an interesting question: which Democrats in competitive races will want to appear on the same stage with Obama, defending ObamaCare?

There are a number of polls out on ObamaCare. Democrats have seized upon a Gallup poll of all adults, showing a plurality favoring ObamaCare; Republicans point to other polls, showing a majority of voters oppose it. But this might be the most troubling of all for Democrats:

As Florida’s attorney general, Bill McCollum is suing the federal government to prevent implementation of the newly passed health-care plan. As a candidate for governor, McCollum may have found a popular campaign position.

Fifty-four percent (54%) of Florida voters favor their state suing the federal government to challenge the requirement in the new plan that every American must get health insurance. Thirty-six percent (36%) oppose such a lawsuit.

This was a state that Obama carried in 2008. By a huge margin voters not only don’t want ObamaCare but expect elected officials to sue the government to get rid of it. (Nationwide, 49 percent favor suing to get rid of ObamaCare while 37 percent do not.) That should be a warning sign to attorneys general and gubernatorial candidates as well as House and Senate contenders. And it raises an interesting question: which Democrats in competitive races will want to appear on the same stage with Obama, defending ObamaCare?

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The Less Obama Talks, the More Popular His Issues Become?

My former White House colleague Peter Feaver, in examining the latest CNN polling data, makes this incisive point:

What interests me about this poll, however, is not the overall number, but rather that for the most part President Obama scores the lowest on the issues he has made centermost and about which he has talked the most:

  • Health Care: 40 percent approve and 58 percent disapprove
  • The economy: 43 percent approve and 54 percent disapprove
  • Unemployment: 45 percent approve and 53 percent disapprove
  • The federal budget deficit: 36 percent approve and 62 percent disapprove

And he scores the highest on the issues that he talks about the least:

  • The situation in Afghanistan: 55 percent approve and 42 percent disapprove
  • Terrorism: 53 percent approve and 45 percent disapprove
  • The situation in Iraq: 51 percent approve and 46 percent disapprove

There are several conclusions one might draw from this data; none of them are particularly good for the administration. And one in particular, if it is in fact accurate, should alarm the White House: “perhaps,” Feaver writes, “the more the president talks about an issue the more he drives his own numbers on that issue down.”

This is not quite the effect our next Lincoln or FDR was supposed to have. Perhaps if Obama ceases talking about health care, it might get somewhat greater support.

My former White House colleague Peter Feaver, in examining the latest CNN polling data, makes this incisive point:

What interests me about this poll, however, is not the overall number, but rather that for the most part President Obama scores the lowest on the issues he has made centermost and about which he has talked the most:

  • Health Care: 40 percent approve and 58 percent disapprove
  • The economy: 43 percent approve and 54 percent disapprove
  • Unemployment: 45 percent approve and 53 percent disapprove
  • The federal budget deficit: 36 percent approve and 62 percent disapprove

And he scores the highest on the issues that he talks about the least:

  • The situation in Afghanistan: 55 percent approve and 42 percent disapprove
  • Terrorism: 53 percent approve and 45 percent disapprove
  • The situation in Iraq: 51 percent approve and 46 percent disapprove

There are several conclusions one might draw from this data; none of them are particularly good for the administration. And one in particular, if it is in fact accurate, should alarm the White House: “perhaps,” Feaver writes, “the more the president talks about an issue the more he drives his own numbers on that issue down.”

This is not quite the effect our next Lincoln or FDR was supposed to have. Perhaps if Obama ceases talking about health care, it might get somewhat greater support.

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What Is Irreversible and What Is Not

Ed Koch finds the Obami’s treatment of Israel “outrageous and a breach of trust” and concludes that the “relations will never be the same again. Humpty Dumpty has been broken and the absolute trust needed between allies is no longer there. How sad it is for the supporters of Israel who put their trust in President Obama.” Those Israel supporters who put their trust in Obama have a lot to answer for, but I do not believe that the rift between the countries is permanent or that the U.S.-Israel relationship is irretrievably damaged. Israel’s relationship with this administration may be marred, but Obama, as we have seen this week, is unique, even within his own party, in his fondness for Israel-bashing and disdain for the elected government of the Jewish state.

The overwhelming opposition of Republicans to the Obami Israel offensive suggests that its party nominee in 2012 will be genuinely and avowedly pro-Israel. An e-mail from Eric Cantor’s office this morning began — even though health care was seemingly at the top of the agenda — with this:

Yesterday, the Prime Minister from one of America’s closest and most strategic allies visited the White House. But did anyone know it? Nope. For the second time in a row, the White House apparently didn’t want the President to be seen with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Was he trying to avoid difficult questions from the press? Did he not want the photo to appear on newspapers across the world? Was he sending a message to our allies or our enemies? Surely the White House made the strategic decision to keep the meeting closed for a reason, but doesn’t feel it necessary to explain why. One thing is clear — President Obama missed an opportunity to show the world that the special relationship between Israel and the United States remains strong.

The flip side, however, is that we may regrettably be reaching the point at which there is a distinct partisan difference — despite American Jews’ unflinching loyalty to the Democratic party — on Israel policy. As the Washington Times reports, most Democrats remain obsessed with domestic issues. Daniel Levy of the leftist New America Foundation in essence concedes that Democrats really don’t care all that much about Israel: “The vast majority of American Jewish voters in November won’t be basing their vote on this spat. … A small minority [of] Jewish Democrats will raise it, and part of the Republican base will use it as one of many mobilizing vehicles, but those voters will be mobilized anyway — though, on margins, it could raise money for certain candidates.” Well, at least in 2012, voters will have a choice between Obama and a candidate sharply critical of and willing to reverse the administration’s Israel policy.

Nevertheless, we should not be so pollyannaish to believe that much of what the Obami are up to won’t have long-lasting consequences, even if a more pro-Israel president enters the White House in two and a half years. The Obami are of course reinforcing the well-known predilection of Palestinian rejectionists to hold out for more unilateral concessions. The goal of a two-state solution is therefore being undermined by the administration, which is straining so hard to champion the peace process. Even more dangerous, the administration’s behavior signals to those whose aim it is to delegitimize Israel that the U.S. might not leap to Israel’s defense. If we’ve had a plethora of Israel-bashing from international institutions lately, be prepared for more. And then let’s not forget the most permanent damage that the Obami might leave behind: a revolutionary Islamic state with nuclear weapons. That truly is irreversible, and calamitous.

The bottom line then: the U.S.-Israel relationship may recover, but not before much harm is done to Israel and ultimately to our own security. That is the price for electing the most openly anti-Israel president in history.

Ed Koch finds the Obami’s treatment of Israel “outrageous and a breach of trust” and concludes that the “relations will never be the same again. Humpty Dumpty has been broken and the absolute trust needed between allies is no longer there. How sad it is for the supporters of Israel who put their trust in President Obama.” Those Israel supporters who put their trust in Obama have a lot to answer for, but I do not believe that the rift between the countries is permanent or that the U.S.-Israel relationship is irretrievably damaged. Israel’s relationship with this administration may be marred, but Obama, as we have seen this week, is unique, even within his own party, in his fondness for Israel-bashing and disdain for the elected government of the Jewish state.

The overwhelming opposition of Republicans to the Obami Israel offensive suggests that its party nominee in 2012 will be genuinely and avowedly pro-Israel. An e-mail from Eric Cantor’s office this morning began — even though health care was seemingly at the top of the agenda — with this:

Yesterday, the Prime Minister from one of America’s closest and most strategic allies visited the White House. But did anyone know it? Nope. For the second time in a row, the White House apparently didn’t want the President to be seen with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Was he trying to avoid difficult questions from the press? Did he not want the photo to appear on newspapers across the world? Was he sending a message to our allies or our enemies? Surely the White House made the strategic decision to keep the meeting closed for a reason, but doesn’t feel it necessary to explain why. One thing is clear — President Obama missed an opportunity to show the world that the special relationship between Israel and the United States remains strong.

The flip side, however, is that we may regrettably be reaching the point at which there is a distinct partisan difference — despite American Jews’ unflinching loyalty to the Democratic party — on Israel policy. As the Washington Times reports, most Democrats remain obsessed with domestic issues. Daniel Levy of the leftist New America Foundation in essence concedes that Democrats really don’t care all that much about Israel: “The vast majority of American Jewish voters in November won’t be basing their vote on this spat. … A small minority [of] Jewish Democrats will raise it, and part of the Republican base will use it as one of many mobilizing vehicles, but those voters will be mobilized anyway — though, on margins, it could raise money for certain candidates.” Well, at least in 2012, voters will have a choice between Obama and a candidate sharply critical of and willing to reverse the administration’s Israel policy.

Nevertheless, we should not be so pollyannaish to believe that much of what the Obami are up to won’t have long-lasting consequences, even if a more pro-Israel president enters the White House in two and a half years. The Obami are of course reinforcing the well-known predilection of Palestinian rejectionists to hold out for more unilateral concessions. The goal of a two-state solution is therefore being undermined by the administration, which is straining so hard to champion the peace process. Even more dangerous, the administration’s behavior signals to those whose aim it is to delegitimize Israel that the U.S. might not leap to Israel’s defense. If we’ve had a plethora of Israel-bashing from international institutions lately, be prepared for more. And then let’s not forget the most permanent damage that the Obami might leave behind: a revolutionary Islamic state with nuclear weapons. That truly is irreversible, and calamitous.

The bottom line then: the U.S.-Israel relationship may recover, but not before much harm is done to Israel and ultimately to our own security. That is the price for electing the most openly anti-Israel president in history.

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Public Anger, Corrective Elections

Noemie Emery smartly observes that the passage of ObamaCare has revealed a gulf between the public and its elected leaders:

If this has the sense of a civic rebellion, it is one, and for a good reason: The members of Congress who passed the bill are the constitutionally and legitimately elected representatives of the voters in question, but, at least in this instance, they are legislating consciously and defiantly against those voters’ will. … There is a disconnect here between Congress and voters that is causing the system to buckle in places, as voters maneuver and struggle to make themselves heard. Passage increased the debate and the anger, instead of resolving them. They won’t be resolved very soon.

As she points out, we’ve had a series of “throw the bums out” elections, in which voters upset about a mismanaged war or corruption or a financial meltdown replaced the crew they held responsible for our travails. Those replacements, however, have only further enraged the electorate by doing precisely what the voters have been pleading with them not to do — create a massive new entitlement that will only add to our crippling debt. “So the voters have taxation with misrepresentation, and discontent and the anger roll on.”

The solution, only a partial one in an off presidential election year, will come this November when conservatives and independents can sweep out all the lawmakers who stubbornly defied them. It is a first step, but only a first step. The debate and the wave will not subside until 2012, when the voters will have their chance to rip up ObamaCare before it takes root.

Obama said he’d be content to be a one-term president, and he may well be if the Republicans find an attractive and competent standard bearer to replace him. What Obama perhaps did not count on was the consequence of such a repudiation: the obliteration of the target of their anger, ObamaCare.

Noemie Emery smartly observes that the passage of ObamaCare has revealed a gulf between the public and its elected leaders:

If this has the sense of a civic rebellion, it is one, and for a good reason: The members of Congress who passed the bill are the constitutionally and legitimately elected representatives of the voters in question, but, at least in this instance, they are legislating consciously and defiantly against those voters’ will. … There is a disconnect here between Congress and voters that is causing the system to buckle in places, as voters maneuver and struggle to make themselves heard. Passage increased the debate and the anger, instead of resolving them. They won’t be resolved very soon.

As she points out, we’ve had a series of “throw the bums out” elections, in which voters upset about a mismanaged war or corruption or a financial meltdown replaced the crew they held responsible for our travails. Those replacements, however, have only further enraged the electorate by doing precisely what the voters have been pleading with them not to do — create a massive new entitlement that will only add to our crippling debt. “So the voters have taxation with misrepresentation, and discontent and the anger roll on.”

The solution, only a partial one in an off presidential election year, will come this November when conservatives and independents can sweep out all the lawmakers who stubbornly defied them. It is a first step, but only a first step. The debate and the wave will not subside until 2012, when the voters will have their chance to rip up ObamaCare before it takes root.

Obama said he’d be content to be a one-term president, and he may well be if the Republicans find an attractive and competent standard bearer to replace him. What Obama perhaps did not count on was the consequence of such a repudiation: the obliteration of the target of their anger, ObamaCare.

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Waiting for “Isratine”

In Monday’s Washington Post, Jackson Diehl reminds us of what the true stumbling block is on the road to peace. Referring to Condoleezza Rice’s peace efforts during George W. Bush’s second term, he has this to say:

Eventually, Olmert presented Abbas with a detailed plan for a final settlement — one that, in its concessions to Palestinian demands, went beyond anything either Israel or the United States had ever put forward. Among other things it mandated a Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem and would have allowed 10,000 refugees to return to Israel. That’s when Rice learned another lesson the new administration seems not to have picked up: This Palestinian leadership has trouble saying “yes.” Confronted with a draft deal that would have been cheered by most of the world, Abbas balked. He refused to sign on; he refused to present a counteroffer. Rice and Bush implored him to join Olmert at the White House for a summit. Olmert would present his plan to Bush, and Abbas would say only that he found it worth discussing. The Palestinian president refused.

Three times in the past 10 years, the Palestinians were presented with comprehensive peace proposals that would establish a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank and Gaza, would put its internationally recognized capital in Arab Jerusalem, would offer a solidly funded, reasonable and dignified solution to the refugee issue, and would put an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict once and for all. First, it was Ehud Barak’s Camp David proposal. Then it was the Clinton Parameters. Then it was Olmert’s peace plan. Each time, confronted with an Israeli prime minister who was ready, pen in hand, to put his name on the dotted line and face the fury and discontent of part of his political constituency to take a risky peace gamble, Palestine’s acclaimed peace seekers — Yassir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas — walked away.

This history alone should encourage U.S. and European leaders to recognize that the burden of proof, when it comes to peace credentials and readiness for compromise, is on the Palestinian side, not the Israeli one. But history lessons and Aristotelian logic do not always intersect.

For one thing, the Palestinians have learned that every time they say no, sooner or later pressure will be brought to bear on Israel, and a new offer — better than the previous one — will be coming their way. Meanwhile, their tireless efforts to undermine, isolate, delegitimize, and demonize Israel in the international arena strengthen their bargaining position over time and enable them to expect more for less.

This, incidentally, offers at least a partial answer to David Hazony’s post from the other day, when my colleague was understandably puzzled about a growing support for a one-state solution among Palestinians. Why would a national movement give up its dream and settle for such a solution? After all, the Palestinians never seriously entertained this notion when a handful of Jewish intellectuals were toying with the idea in the 1930s and early 1940s. Brith Shalom and Ihud, the two small organizations that counted Yehuda Magnes and Martin Buber in their ranks, after all, not only could not get traction within the Yishuv — they never even got a single Arab leader interested in discussing their vision of a bi-national state for the Palestine Mandate, where Jews would forever be relegated to the role of a minority.

Clearly, the difference is that, back then, the Zionist movement was weak, its staying power in Palestine was questionable, its backing from Britain was waning, and its reservoir of support in Europe’s Jewish Diaspora under mortal threat of annihilation. Why would the Palestinians concede little when they believed — as they certainly did then — that they could have it all?

History offers some reckoning and what looked like a flight of fancy in the mid-1930s is more attractive today. A bi-national state is actually more promising than a nation-state, at least for Palestinian intellectuals, not so much because it would force them to renounce their aspirations but because it would keep their nationalist dream alive — a dream whereby, as Professor Fouad Ajami once so artfully put it, “there still lurks in the Palestinian and Arab imagination a view, depicted by the Moroccan historian Abdallah Laroui, that “on a certain day, everything would be obliterated and instantaneously reconstructed and the new inhabitants would leave, as if by magic, the land they had despoiled.” Arafat knew the power of this redemptive idea. He must have reasoned that it is safer to ride that idea, and that there will always be another day and another offer.”

Little by little, the sands are shifting in the Middle East — or rather, in the perception of the Middle East as seen from Western capitals. Why sign on the dotted line when more pressure will be brought to bear on Israel? Why agree to end the conflict when Israel’s legitimacy is eroded day by day, with its traditional allies ready to do less and less to support the Jewish state? Why not embrace the rhetoric of a bi-national state — in the silly spirit of our irresponsible age — where you can plan the destruction of your adversary and make it look like a human-rights crusade?

A bi-national state is just a stage to redress the balance of power between the two conflicting national claims. It would not be the end of the story though but the beginning of another chapter where the Zionist movement would be stripped of its national symbols, its power to control immigration, and its ability to define national security exclusively in the name of the Jewish people. Meanwhile, the keys to the Middle East’s most prosperous economy and most powerful army would have to be handed over to the Palestinians for power-sharing. It would be a stage on the way to fulfilling the dream of obliterating the consequences of the last century of Middle East history.

Fanciful? Maybe, but if you take the long view of history, and the mismatch between the reality of a small shoe-box-size Palestinian state and the dream of a whole “Isratine” is unbearable, it makes perfect sense.

In Monday’s Washington Post, Jackson Diehl reminds us of what the true stumbling block is on the road to peace. Referring to Condoleezza Rice’s peace efforts during George W. Bush’s second term, he has this to say:

Eventually, Olmert presented Abbas with a detailed plan for a final settlement — one that, in its concessions to Palestinian demands, went beyond anything either Israel or the United States had ever put forward. Among other things it mandated a Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem and would have allowed 10,000 refugees to return to Israel. That’s when Rice learned another lesson the new administration seems not to have picked up: This Palestinian leadership has trouble saying “yes.” Confronted with a draft deal that would have been cheered by most of the world, Abbas balked. He refused to sign on; he refused to present a counteroffer. Rice and Bush implored him to join Olmert at the White House for a summit. Olmert would present his plan to Bush, and Abbas would say only that he found it worth discussing. The Palestinian president refused.

Three times in the past 10 years, the Palestinians were presented with comprehensive peace proposals that would establish a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank and Gaza, would put its internationally recognized capital in Arab Jerusalem, would offer a solidly funded, reasonable and dignified solution to the refugee issue, and would put an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict once and for all. First, it was Ehud Barak’s Camp David proposal. Then it was the Clinton Parameters. Then it was Olmert’s peace plan. Each time, confronted with an Israeli prime minister who was ready, pen in hand, to put his name on the dotted line and face the fury and discontent of part of his political constituency to take a risky peace gamble, Palestine’s acclaimed peace seekers — Yassir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas — walked away.

This history alone should encourage U.S. and European leaders to recognize that the burden of proof, when it comes to peace credentials and readiness for compromise, is on the Palestinian side, not the Israeli one. But history lessons and Aristotelian logic do not always intersect.

For one thing, the Palestinians have learned that every time they say no, sooner or later pressure will be brought to bear on Israel, and a new offer — better than the previous one — will be coming their way. Meanwhile, their tireless efforts to undermine, isolate, delegitimize, and demonize Israel in the international arena strengthen their bargaining position over time and enable them to expect more for less.

This, incidentally, offers at least a partial answer to David Hazony’s post from the other day, when my colleague was understandably puzzled about a growing support for a one-state solution among Palestinians. Why would a national movement give up its dream and settle for such a solution? After all, the Palestinians never seriously entertained this notion when a handful of Jewish intellectuals were toying with the idea in the 1930s and early 1940s. Brith Shalom and Ihud, the two small organizations that counted Yehuda Magnes and Martin Buber in their ranks, after all, not only could not get traction within the Yishuv — they never even got a single Arab leader interested in discussing their vision of a bi-national state for the Palestine Mandate, where Jews would forever be relegated to the role of a minority.

Clearly, the difference is that, back then, the Zionist movement was weak, its staying power in Palestine was questionable, its backing from Britain was waning, and its reservoir of support in Europe’s Jewish Diaspora under mortal threat of annihilation. Why would the Palestinians concede little when they believed — as they certainly did then — that they could have it all?

History offers some reckoning and what looked like a flight of fancy in the mid-1930s is more attractive today. A bi-national state is actually more promising than a nation-state, at least for Palestinian intellectuals, not so much because it would force them to renounce their aspirations but because it would keep their nationalist dream alive — a dream whereby, as Professor Fouad Ajami once so artfully put it, “there still lurks in the Palestinian and Arab imagination a view, depicted by the Moroccan historian Abdallah Laroui, that “on a certain day, everything would be obliterated and instantaneously reconstructed and the new inhabitants would leave, as if by magic, the land they had despoiled.” Arafat knew the power of this redemptive idea. He must have reasoned that it is safer to ride that idea, and that there will always be another day and another offer.”

Little by little, the sands are shifting in the Middle East — or rather, in the perception of the Middle East as seen from Western capitals. Why sign on the dotted line when more pressure will be brought to bear on Israel? Why agree to end the conflict when Israel’s legitimacy is eroded day by day, with its traditional allies ready to do less and less to support the Jewish state? Why not embrace the rhetoric of a bi-national state — in the silly spirit of our irresponsible age — where you can plan the destruction of your adversary and make it look like a human-rights crusade?

A bi-national state is just a stage to redress the balance of power between the two conflicting national claims. It would not be the end of the story though but the beginning of another chapter where the Zionist movement would be stripped of its national symbols, its power to control immigration, and its ability to define national security exclusively in the name of the Jewish people. Meanwhile, the keys to the Middle East’s most prosperous economy and most powerful army would have to be handed over to the Palestinians for power-sharing. It would be a stage on the way to fulfilling the dream of obliterating the consequences of the last century of Middle East history.

Fanciful? Maybe, but if you take the long view of history, and the mismatch between the reality of a small shoe-box-size Palestinian state and the dream of a whole “Isratine” is unbearable, it makes perfect sense.

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From Screaming to Silence

The Obama administration, acting like a wounded spouse, has now migrated from screaming at Israel to the silent treatment. Both Obama and Hillary Clinton had meetings with Bibi Netanyahu. But if the relationship was as “rock solid” as Hillary disingenuously proclaimed in her AIPAC speech, you’d never know it :

No reporters, or even photographers, were invited when Netanyahu met with Secretary of State Clinton Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice President Biden on Monday or when he met with Obama on Tuesday night. There was no grand Rose Garden ceremony. Official spokesmen issued only the blandest of statements.

This is petulance, if not rudeness. Can one imagine any other “ally” receiving such dismissive treatment? The Obami are, I suppose, technically abiding by the advice to move their disputes with Bibi behind closed doors. But the snippy reception that telegraphs their anger with Bibi over his continuing to allow Jews to live anywhere in Israel’s eternal capital is just more of the same Obama gambit in another guise. The message to Israel, to the Muslim World, and to the Palestinians is the same: the U.S. is in a snit over Israel’s housing policy, and a significant gap between the two countries has not been healed. The contrast between the warm greeting from members of Congress and the stony silence from the White House only highlighted the point.

The result is real and troubling: when the U.S. backs away from Israel, we send a signal to our allies that Israel deserves the cold shoulder:

The cooling in the U.S.-Israel relationship coincides with an apparent deepening of Israel’s diplomatic isolation. Anger has grown in Europe in the wake of Israel’s suspected misuse of European passports to kill a Palestinian militant in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced the expulsion of a senior diplomat over the incident, an unusually drastic step for an ally. Relations with Turkey, a rare Muslim friend of Israel for decades, have hit a new low.

As the Washington Post notes, the Obami have made hash out of the Middle East from the get-go:

The Obama administration has struggled from the start to find its footing with Israel and the Palestinians. Obama took office soon after Israel’s three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip, which had ruptured peace talks nurtured by the George W. Bush administration. Obama appointed a special envoy, former senator George J. Mitchell, on his second day in office. But then the administration tried to pressure Israel to freeze all settlement expansion — and failed. The United States further lost credibility when Clinton embraced Netanyahu’s compromise proposal, which fell short of Palestinian expectations, as “unprecedented.”

U.S. pressure at the time also backfired because it appeared to let the Palestinians off the hook. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to enter into direct talks before a settlement freeze, even though he had done so before. The administration had to settle for indirect talks, with Mitchell shuttling back and forth. The recent disagreement has set back that effort.

Quite obviously the relationship is anything but “rock solid,” after 14 months of Obami Middle East policy. Having picked a losing fight over the issue nearest and dearest to Israelis and American Jews and provoking a retort that may now become a slogan of defiance (“Jerusalem is not a settlement — it’s our capital!”), the Obami have no where to go. More stony silence? More condemnation statements with each new housing announcement? The proximity talks, yet another accommodation to Palestinian intransigence, are a dead end. And meanwhile, the mullahs proceed with their nuclear program. A nuclear-armed Iran may be “unacceptable” to the Obami, but in all this brouhaha it should not go unnoticed that they are making no progress in thwarting the Iranians’ nuclear ambitions.

The Obama administration, acting like a wounded spouse, has now migrated from screaming at Israel to the silent treatment. Both Obama and Hillary Clinton had meetings with Bibi Netanyahu. But if the relationship was as “rock solid” as Hillary disingenuously proclaimed in her AIPAC speech, you’d never know it :

No reporters, or even photographers, were invited when Netanyahu met with Secretary of State Clinton Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice President Biden on Monday or when he met with Obama on Tuesday night. There was no grand Rose Garden ceremony. Official spokesmen issued only the blandest of statements.

This is petulance, if not rudeness. Can one imagine any other “ally” receiving such dismissive treatment? The Obami are, I suppose, technically abiding by the advice to move their disputes with Bibi behind closed doors. But the snippy reception that telegraphs their anger with Bibi over his continuing to allow Jews to live anywhere in Israel’s eternal capital is just more of the same Obama gambit in another guise. The message to Israel, to the Muslim World, and to the Palestinians is the same: the U.S. is in a snit over Israel’s housing policy, and a significant gap between the two countries has not been healed. The contrast between the warm greeting from members of Congress and the stony silence from the White House only highlighted the point.

The result is real and troubling: when the U.S. backs away from Israel, we send a signal to our allies that Israel deserves the cold shoulder:

The cooling in the U.S.-Israel relationship coincides with an apparent deepening of Israel’s diplomatic isolation. Anger has grown in Europe in the wake of Israel’s suspected misuse of European passports to kill a Palestinian militant in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced the expulsion of a senior diplomat over the incident, an unusually drastic step for an ally. Relations with Turkey, a rare Muslim friend of Israel for decades, have hit a new low.

As the Washington Post notes, the Obami have made hash out of the Middle East from the get-go:

The Obama administration has struggled from the start to find its footing with Israel and the Palestinians. Obama took office soon after Israel’s three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip, which had ruptured peace talks nurtured by the George W. Bush administration. Obama appointed a special envoy, former senator George J. Mitchell, on his second day in office. But then the administration tried to pressure Israel to freeze all settlement expansion — and failed. The United States further lost credibility when Clinton embraced Netanyahu’s compromise proposal, which fell short of Palestinian expectations, as “unprecedented.”

U.S. pressure at the time also backfired because it appeared to let the Palestinians off the hook. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to enter into direct talks before a settlement freeze, even though he had done so before. The administration had to settle for indirect talks, with Mitchell shuttling back and forth. The recent disagreement has set back that effort.

Quite obviously the relationship is anything but “rock solid,” after 14 months of Obami Middle East policy. Having picked a losing fight over the issue nearest and dearest to Israelis and American Jews and provoking a retort that may now become a slogan of defiance (“Jerusalem is not a settlement — it’s our capital!”), the Obami have no where to go. More stony silence? More condemnation statements with each new housing announcement? The proximity talks, yet another accommodation to Palestinian intransigence, are a dead end. And meanwhile, the mullahs proceed with their nuclear program. A nuclear-armed Iran may be “unacceptable” to the Obami, but in all this brouhaha it should not go unnoticed that they are making no progress in thwarting the Iranians’ nuclear ambitions.

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The Innocents Pack for Damascus

Lebanese scholar Tony Badran quotes Robert Ford, President Barack Obama’s unconfirmed pick for ambassador to Syria, and Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, making statements last week that are breathtaking in their disconnection from reality.

Kerry said he believes Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, “understands that his country’s long-term interests … are not well served by aligning Syria with a revolutionary Shiite regime in Iran and its terrorist clients.” Ford, at the same time, said the U.S. “must persuade Syria that neither Iran nor Hezbollah shares Syria’s long-term strategic interest in … peace.”

These statements are simply off-planet. Either Kerry and Ford don’t know the first thing about how the Syrian government perceives its own interests, or they’re making stuff up for the sake of diplomacy.

It could be the latter. That happens. In Baghdad in 2008, a U.S. Army officer told me that the U.S. said things that weren’t strictly true about Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia to make it easier for him to save face, climb down out of his tree, and cut a deal. The American and Iraqi armies were still fighting his men in the streets but pretended they were only battling it out with rogue forces called “Special Groups.”

“We are giving the office of Moqtada al-Sadr a door,” the officer said. “We want them to be a political entity, not a military entity. So if you’re fighting coalition forces or the Iraqi army, we’ll say you’re a Special Groups leader or a Special Groups member.”

“So,” I said, “this is like the make-believe distinctions between military wings and political wings of Hamas and Hezbollah?”

“Yes,” he said. “That’s it. That’s exactly it.”

I’d like to give Kerry and Ford the benefit of the doubt here and assume that that’s what they’re doing with Assad, that they know Syria’s alliance with Iran is three decades old and therefore well thought-out and durable, that they know his foreign policy goal is one of “resistance” rather than peace, but I have my doubts. They otherwise shouldn’t find engaging him worth the humiliation and bother.

The U.S. military used diplomatic fictions to help convince Sadr to cool it, but he was actively losing a war at the time. He was, shall we say, open to constructive suggestions. Assad is not losing anything. On the contrary, he has all but reconsolidated his overlordship in Lebanon through terrorism and warlordism, and his patron regime in Tehran is on the brink of becoming a nuclear-armed mini regional superpower. Kerry and Ford should know they can no more flip Syria into our column than they could have lured East Germany out of the Soviet bloc during the Brezhnev era.

Diplomatic fictions have their time and place, but there’s a downside. Unsophisticated players, observers, and analysts begin to believe them and no longer understand what is actually happening. Residents of the Washington, D.C., bubble are especially susceptible, but I’ve met American journalists who live in the Middle East who don’t understand that Assad strives not for peace and stability but rather for revolution, terrorism, and war. (They might want to reread The Truth About Syria by Barry Rubin and Syria’s Terrorist War on Lebanon and the Peace Process by Marius Deeb.)

If some Americans who live in and write about the Middle East have a hard time with this, I am not optimistic that the truth has fully penetrated the Beltway, especially when policy, as well as public statements, seems to be based on this fantasy.

Kerry and Ford are undoubtedly intelligent people, or they’d be in a different line of work, but getting leverage and results in the Middle East requires something more. “American elites have a hard time distinguishing between intelligence and cunning,” Lee Smith, author of The Strong Horse, said to me recently, “largely because their lives do not depend on them outwitting murderous rivals. In hard places, intelligent people is what the cunning eat for lunch.”

Engaging Syria and describing Assad as a reasonable man would make sense if something epic had just happened that might convince him to run his calculations again, such as the overthrow or collapse of Ali Khamenei’s government in Iran. Otherwise, the administration is setting itself up for another failure in the Middle East that will damage its — no, our — credibility. One good thing will probably come of it, though. The naifs will learn. They’ll learn it the hard way, which seems to be the only way most of us learn anything over there. But they’ll learn.

Lebanese scholar Tony Badran quotes Robert Ford, President Barack Obama’s unconfirmed pick for ambassador to Syria, and Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, making statements last week that are breathtaking in their disconnection from reality.

Kerry said he believes Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, “understands that his country’s long-term interests … are not well served by aligning Syria with a revolutionary Shiite regime in Iran and its terrorist clients.” Ford, at the same time, said the U.S. “must persuade Syria that neither Iran nor Hezbollah shares Syria’s long-term strategic interest in … peace.”

These statements are simply off-planet. Either Kerry and Ford don’t know the first thing about how the Syrian government perceives its own interests, or they’re making stuff up for the sake of diplomacy.

It could be the latter. That happens. In Baghdad in 2008, a U.S. Army officer told me that the U.S. said things that weren’t strictly true about Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia to make it easier for him to save face, climb down out of his tree, and cut a deal. The American and Iraqi armies were still fighting his men in the streets but pretended they were only battling it out with rogue forces called “Special Groups.”

“We are giving the office of Moqtada al-Sadr a door,” the officer said. “We want them to be a political entity, not a military entity. So if you’re fighting coalition forces or the Iraqi army, we’ll say you’re a Special Groups leader or a Special Groups member.”

“So,” I said, “this is like the make-believe distinctions between military wings and political wings of Hamas and Hezbollah?”

“Yes,” he said. “That’s it. That’s exactly it.”

I’d like to give Kerry and Ford the benefit of the doubt here and assume that that’s what they’re doing with Assad, that they know Syria’s alliance with Iran is three decades old and therefore well thought-out and durable, that they know his foreign policy goal is one of “resistance” rather than peace, but I have my doubts. They otherwise shouldn’t find engaging him worth the humiliation and bother.

The U.S. military used diplomatic fictions to help convince Sadr to cool it, but he was actively losing a war at the time. He was, shall we say, open to constructive suggestions. Assad is not losing anything. On the contrary, he has all but reconsolidated his overlordship in Lebanon through terrorism and warlordism, and his patron regime in Tehran is on the brink of becoming a nuclear-armed mini regional superpower. Kerry and Ford should know they can no more flip Syria into our column than they could have lured East Germany out of the Soviet bloc during the Brezhnev era.

Diplomatic fictions have their time and place, but there’s a downside. Unsophisticated players, observers, and analysts begin to believe them and no longer understand what is actually happening. Residents of the Washington, D.C., bubble are especially susceptible, but I’ve met American journalists who live in the Middle East who don’t understand that Assad strives not for peace and stability but rather for revolution, terrorism, and war. (They might want to reread The Truth About Syria by Barry Rubin and Syria’s Terrorist War on Lebanon and the Peace Process by Marius Deeb.)

If some Americans who live in and write about the Middle East have a hard time with this, I am not optimistic that the truth has fully penetrated the Beltway, especially when policy, as well as public statements, seems to be based on this fantasy.

Kerry and Ford are undoubtedly intelligent people, or they’d be in a different line of work, but getting leverage and results in the Middle East requires something more. “American elites have a hard time distinguishing between intelligence and cunning,” Lee Smith, author of The Strong Horse, said to me recently, “largely because their lives do not depend on them outwitting murderous rivals. In hard places, intelligent people is what the cunning eat for lunch.”

Engaging Syria and describing Assad as a reasonable man would make sense if something epic had just happened that might convince him to run his calculations again, such as the overthrow or collapse of Ali Khamenei’s government in Iran. Otherwise, the administration is setting itself up for another failure in the Middle East that will damage its — no, our — credibility. One good thing will probably come of it, though. The naifs will learn. They’ll learn it the hard way, which seems to be the only way most of us learn anything over there. But they’ll learn.

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Repeal and Replace — but First Reveal

Politico reports:

The health care reform bill signed into law by President Barack Obama Tuesday requires members of Congress and their office staffs to buy insurance through the state-run exchanges it creates — but it may exempt staffers who work for congressional committees or for party leaders in the House and Senate.

Staffers and members on both sides of the aisle call it an “inequity” and an “outrage” — a loophole that exempts the staffers most involved in writing and passing the bill from one of its key requirements.

Well, it’s certainly not the worst thing about ObamaCare, but it sure is emblematic of the secret self-dealing and the grab bag of surprises tucked in the nooks and crannies of the thousands of pages of legislation. There are racial preferences, taxes galore, mandates on restaurants, and more yet to be fully revealed. In a bill this enormous, with this much arm-twisting and backroom dealing (by the way, all those Stupak-Pelosi meetings weren’t put on C-SPAN, were they?), it will take days and weeks to find out, as Nancy Pelosi put it in a moment of candor, what’s actually in it!

This does give a boost to the new Republican mantra “repeal and replace!” Part of the “repeal” effort will be the uncovering of all the special deals and a proper explanation of the impact on the deficit (calculated to go up $6B this year), the Medicare cuts (about $100B this year), and the regimen of taxes and mandates that await us if in fact the bill is fully implemented. Democrats want to talk about all the wonders contained in the monstrous bill? I think that’s a fine idea. It’s about time everyone understood what they all voted for.

Politico reports:

The health care reform bill signed into law by President Barack Obama Tuesday requires members of Congress and their office staffs to buy insurance through the state-run exchanges it creates — but it may exempt staffers who work for congressional committees or for party leaders in the House and Senate.

Staffers and members on both sides of the aisle call it an “inequity” and an “outrage” — a loophole that exempts the staffers most involved in writing and passing the bill from one of its key requirements.

Well, it’s certainly not the worst thing about ObamaCare, but it sure is emblematic of the secret self-dealing and the grab bag of surprises tucked in the nooks and crannies of the thousands of pages of legislation. There are racial preferences, taxes galore, mandates on restaurants, and more yet to be fully revealed. In a bill this enormous, with this much arm-twisting and backroom dealing (by the way, all those Stupak-Pelosi meetings weren’t put on C-SPAN, were they?), it will take days and weeks to find out, as Nancy Pelosi put it in a moment of candor, what’s actually in it!

This does give a boost to the new Republican mantra “repeal and replace!” Part of the “repeal” effort will be the uncovering of all the special deals and a proper explanation of the impact on the deficit (calculated to go up $6B this year), the Medicare cuts (about $100B this year), and the regimen of taxes and mandates that await us if in fact the bill is fully implemented. Democrats want to talk about all the wonders contained in the monstrous bill? I think that’s a fine idea. It’s about time everyone understood what they all voted for.

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Around and Around Foggy Bottom

At the State Department briefing, one sometimes gets the sense it’s Abbott and Costello time (“Who’s on First?”). Reporters on Tuesday tried in vain to get answers to two questions: have the Obami thrown in the towel on the Jerusalem housing issue and have proximity talks actually begun. You can read the transcript in full and not find an answer. A sample of the questioning gives you the sense the Obami would just rather not talk about much of anything right now.

On the housing issue:

QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday in her speech to AIPAC, Secretary Clinton said that Israeli construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank — but we’ll just confine ourselves to Jerusalem here — was — did not help; it damaged the credibility of both the peace process and also the credibility of the United States as a mediator. Several hours after she spoke and after she met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, he addressed the same crowd and said that Jerusalem is not a settlement, it’s our capital. He said that Jews have been building in Jerusalem for 3,000 years and would continue to do so.

What gives here? Where is — is there any attempt to reconcile these positions or have you just — have you guys just decided that they win and you’ll agree to disagree on this?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are continuing our discussions with Israeli officials and with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He’ll meet President Obama later this afternoon. We understand that Jerusalem is deeply important to Israelis and Palestinians, and to Jews, Muslims, and Christians everywhere. We believe it’s possible to reach an outcome that both realizes the aspirations of all parties in Jerusalem and safeguards its status for the future.

Without getting into the specifics of our ongoing conversations with the prime minister or with Israeli officials, we’ve raised our concerns with them. Jerusalem is one of those issues. The prime minister has responded to our concerns. During the course of our dialogue over the past two weeks, he has added some thoughts of his own in terms of how we can create an atmosphere of trust and move the proximity talks forward, address the substance, including Jerusalem. It’s a final status issue. The only way to ultimately resolve competing claims on the future of Jerusalem is to get to direct negotiations.

We’re not putting any preconditions on this. Our task at the present time is to get the parties — get the proximity talks moving forward, get the parties into direct negotiations, putting the substance on the table, and finding a just resolution that ultimately reaches a peace agreement. That is our ongoing effort, and that conversation and that effort will continue this afternoon at the White House.

QUESTION: Yeah, but he was extremely emphatic, so I’m a little suspicious about whether this response that he gave to the Secretary contained anything in it that you would like — that you actually want to see done. I mean, how can you convince us that, in fact, progress is being made when he basically said last night that he’s taking your suggestion on East Jerusalem and said thanks but no thanks?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Israeli Government has a policy, but we also have a point of view that Jerusalem is a final status issue. And we look forward to addressing these issues first within the proximity talks, moving to direct negotiations. Ultimately, the future of Jerusalem can only be resolved through the direct negotiations that we hope will get started as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: And you don’t see him — you don’t see what he said last night, and not just in the comments that I quoted, but in others, as that Israel does not agree that Jerusalem is a final status issue?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think at one point the prime minister also added that he did not see a distinction necessarily between in Jerusalem and building in Tel Aviv. We — and we disagree with that. And that Jerusalem is a –

QUESTION: So is that the bottom line here?

MR. CROWLEY: — is a final status issue. It’s a city of significant importance to multiple communities. The issues surrounding the future of Jerusalem as part of this process can only be resolved through direct negotiations, and the sooner we get there, the better.

QUESTION: So the bottom line is you have agreed to disagree on this specific issue?

MR. CROWLEY: We are continuing our discussions.

And that’s not even the end of the ping-pong match. Hmm. Sounds like the Obami would rather move on — after they blew up Israel-U.S. relations, sunk Obama’ approval in Israel, and gave Palestinians the idea that there is plenty of daylight between the U.S. and Israel.

OK, so have proximity talks begun? Here we go:

QUESTION: P.J., we’ve gone back and forth even as long as 10 days ago on whether the proximity talks had started formally or not started. And now we’ve had the interruption, the Quartet meeting, and yet Mitchell’s — Senator Mitchell’s gone back and had meetings with both sides. Is it your contention that the proximity talks are ongoing or they’re yet to be resumed? What’s the way to phrase it?

MR. CROWLEY: We are looking to make progress through proximity talks, and that is the focus of our effort.

QUESTION: Well, are they ongoing or are they yet to start?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, again, let’s go back to — the proximity talks are a means to an end. And the first step is proximity talks. The second step is direct negotiations. Hopefully, the end result is a peace agreement that ends the conflict. What we want to see through the proximity talks are to see the parties begin to tackle the substance, to tackle the core issues at the heart of the process. That has not started yet. So we hope to resume that, but before we can, obviously we need to make sure that there’s an atmosphere of trust, so that when those proximity talks begin to address the substance, they will be productive. …

QUESTION: Because, to be honest with you, P.J., and during the last administration we were constantly told that Annapolis was yielding results, that everything was — and they were, oh, just trust us. Yes, it’s happening. Well, it went nowhere. Why should we believe either government this time?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. Look, I mean, there is a simple pass/fail test here.

QUESTION: And where do you think you’ve gotten on that right now?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, all right, can I – give me a chance, Matt. All right, the proximity talks are not an end to themselves. The proximity talks –

QUESTION: But you haven’t gotten proximity talks yet.

MR. CROWLEY: All right.

QUESTION: Right?

MR. CROWLEY: Do you want to switch places?

QUESTION: No. (Laughter.) I just want to — if you can’t — there’s a simple answer, which is why keep this stuff secret? Why keep it secret?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, it can be a straightforward answer if I can get it out.

QUESTION: All right. I’ll shut up.

Well, if you can’t even tell whether proximity talks have begun, then there’s no way to tell whether they’re working. It’s increasingly hard for reasonable people to say with a straight face that any of this is producing anything of value. Well, other than the daily dose of farce from Foggy Bottom.

At the State Department briefing, one sometimes gets the sense it’s Abbott and Costello time (“Who’s on First?”). Reporters on Tuesday tried in vain to get answers to two questions: have the Obami thrown in the towel on the Jerusalem housing issue and have proximity talks actually begun. You can read the transcript in full and not find an answer. A sample of the questioning gives you the sense the Obami would just rather not talk about much of anything right now.

On the housing issue:

QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday in her speech to AIPAC, Secretary Clinton said that Israeli construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank — but we’ll just confine ourselves to Jerusalem here — was — did not help; it damaged the credibility of both the peace process and also the credibility of the United States as a mediator. Several hours after she spoke and after she met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, he addressed the same crowd and said that Jerusalem is not a settlement, it’s our capital. He said that Jews have been building in Jerusalem for 3,000 years and would continue to do so.

What gives here? Where is — is there any attempt to reconcile these positions or have you just — have you guys just decided that they win and you’ll agree to disagree on this?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are continuing our discussions with Israeli officials and with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He’ll meet President Obama later this afternoon. We understand that Jerusalem is deeply important to Israelis and Palestinians, and to Jews, Muslims, and Christians everywhere. We believe it’s possible to reach an outcome that both realizes the aspirations of all parties in Jerusalem and safeguards its status for the future.

Without getting into the specifics of our ongoing conversations with the prime minister or with Israeli officials, we’ve raised our concerns with them. Jerusalem is one of those issues. The prime minister has responded to our concerns. During the course of our dialogue over the past two weeks, he has added some thoughts of his own in terms of how we can create an atmosphere of trust and move the proximity talks forward, address the substance, including Jerusalem. It’s a final status issue. The only way to ultimately resolve competing claims on the future of Jerusalem is to get to direct negotiations.

We’re not putting any preconditions on this. Our task at the present time is to get the parties — get the proximity talks moving forward, get the parties into direct negotiations, putting the substance on the table, and finding a just resolution that ultimately reaches a peace agreement. That is our ongoing effort, and that conversation and that effort will continue this afternoon at the White House.

QUESTION: Yeah, but he was extremely emphatic, so I’m a little suspicious about whether this response that he gave to the Secretary contained anything in it that you would like — that you actually want to see done. I mean, how can you convince us that, in fact, progress is being made when he basically said last night that he’s taking your suggestion on East Jerusalem and said thanks but no thanks?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Israeli Government has a policy, but we also have a point of view that Jerusalem is a final status issue. And we look forward to addressing these issues first within the proximity talks, moving to direct negotiations. Ultimately, the future of Jerusalem can only be resolved through the direct negotiations that we hope will get started as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: And you don’t see him — you don’t see what he said last night, and not just in the comments that I quoted, but in others, as that Israel does not agree that Jerusalem is a final status issue?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think at one point the prime minister also added that he did not see a distinction necessarily between in Jerusalem and building in Tel Aviv. We — and we disagree with that. And that Jerusalem is a –

QUESTION: So is that the bottom line here?

MR. CROWLEY: — is a final status issue. It’s a city of significant importance to multiple communities. The issues surrounding the future of Jerusalem as part of this process can only be resolved through direct negotiations, and the sooner we get there, the better.

QUESTION: So the bottom line is you have agreed to disagree on this specific issue?

MR. CROWLEY: We are continuing our discussions.

And that’s not even the end of the ping-pong match. Hmm. Sounds like the Obami would rather move on — after they blew up Israel-U.S. relations, sunk Obama’ approval in Israel, and gave Palestinians the idea that there is plenty of daylight between the U.S. and Israel.

OK, so have proximity talks begun? Here we go:

QUESTION: P.J., we’ve gone back and forth even as long as 10 days ago on whether the proximity talks had started formally or not started. And now we’ve had the interruption, the Quartet meeting, and yet Mitchell’s — Senator Mitchell’s gone back and had meetings with both sides. Is it your contention that the proximity talks are ongoing or they’re yet to be resumed? What’s the way to phrase it?

MR. CROWLEY: We are looking to make progress through proximity talks, and that is the focus of our effort.

QUESTION: Well, are they ongoing or are they yet to start?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, again, let’s go back to — the proximity talks are a means to an end. And the first step is proximity talks. The second step is direct negotiations. Hopefully, the end result is a peace agreement that ends the conflict. What we want to see through the proximity talks are to see the parties begin to tackle the substance, to tackle the core issues at the heart of the process. That has not started yet. So we hope to resume that, but before we can, obviously we need to make sure that there’s an atmosphere of trust, so that when those proximity talks begin to address the substance, they will be productive. …

QUESTION: Because, to be honest with you, P.J., and during the last administration we were constantly told that Annapolis was yielding results, that everything was — and they were, oh, just trust us. Yes, it’s happening. Well, it went nowhere. Why should we believe either government this time?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. Look, I mean, there is a simple pass/fail test here.

QUESTION: And where do you think you’ve gotten on that right now?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, all right, can I – give me a chance, Matt. All right, the proximity talks are not an end to themselves. The proximity talks –

QUESTION: But you haven’t gotten proximity talks yet.

MR. CROWLEY: All right.

QUESTION: Right?

MR. CROWLEY: Do you want to switch places?

QUESTION: No. (Laughter.) I just want to — if you can’t — there’s a simple answer, which is why keep this stuff secret? Why keep it secret?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, it can be a straightforward answer if I can get it out.

QUESTION: All right. I’ll shut up.

Well, if you can’t even tell whether proximity talks have begun, then there’s no way to tell whether they’re working. It’s increasingly hard for reasonable people to say with a straight face that any of this is producing anything of value. Well, other than the daily dose of farce from Foggy Bottom.

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Clinton Plays Defense for Abbas?

I pointed out that during the AIPAC conference, Hillary Clinton suggested that the naming of a square after the notorious terrorist Dalal Mughrabi was the work of a “Hamas-controlled municipality” despite ample evidence of the involvement of Fatah. Now Palestinian Media Watch has taken up the issue, explaining:

Palestinian Media Watch has documented the continuous Mughrabi veneration by Abbas and the Palestinian Authority in recent years, both in connection to the square near Ramallah on the West Bank and in many other contexts. The following are 15 examples of the glorification of this one particular terrorist, Dalal Mughrabi. Five by Abbas himself, five by the Palestinian Authority or its leaders, and five by Fatah or its leaders.

You can read the list for yourself. Certainly the State Department knows of these incidents as well, yet Clinton singled out the “Hamas-controlled municipality” without tying Abbas or the PA to the incident.

So we come back to the eternal Obama inquiry: sloppy/incompetent or deceptive? Either way, as Palestinian Media Watch aptly puts it, when the U.S. fails to accurately pin “terror glorification” on Abbas and the PA, “the message to the Palestinian leadership is that it can continue with its incitement to hatred and violence without consequences.” And that is precisely the objection that Bibi and many have raised this week, namely that the Obami seem to afford every nicety, evasion, and excuse on behalf of the Palestinians, while clubbing Israel in public. Surely the message, then, to friends and foes well beyond the Middle East is clear: it’s no picnic being a “friend” of the U.S.

I pointed out that during the AIPAC conference, Hillary Clinton suggested that the naming of a square after the notorious terrorist Dalal Mughrabi was the work of a “Hamas-controlled municipality” despite ample evidence of the involvement of Fatah. Now Palestinian Media Watch has taken up the issue, explaining:

Palestinian Media Watch has documented the continuous Mughrabi veneration by Abbas and the Palestinian Authority in recent years, both in connection to the square near Ramallah on the West Bank and in many other contexts. The following are 15 examples of the glorification of this one particular terrorist, Dalal Mughrabi. Five by Abbas himself, five by the Palestinian Authority or its leaders, and five by Fatah or its leaders.

You can read the list for yourself. Certainly the State Department knows of these incidents as well, yet Clinton singled out the “Hamas-controlled municipality” without tying Abbas or the PA to the incident.

So we come back to the eternal Obama inquiry: sloppy/incompetent or deceptive? Either way, as Palestinian Media Watch aptly puts it, when the U.S. fails to accurately pin “terror glorification” on Abbas and the PA, “the message to the Palestinian leadership is that it can continue with its incitement to hatred and violence without consequences.” And that is precisely the objection that Bibi and many have raised this week, namely that the Obami seem to afford every nicety, evasion, and excuse on behalf of the Palestinians, while clubbing Israel in public. Surely the message, then, to friends and foes well beyond the Middle East is clear: it’s no picnic being a “friend” of the U.S.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Eric Holder’s misstatements and gaffe-prone performance in front of Congress earlier this year lead the administration to … fire him? No! Delay the next round of testimony.

Even before ObamaCare, the Democrats were in trouble in Indiana: “Two of the three top Republican hopefuls for the U.S. Senate in Indiana continue to hold double-digit leads over Democratic Congressman Brad Ellsworth. Ellsworth supported President Obama’s health care plan in a state where opposition to the legislation is higher than it is nationally.” But post-ObamaCare, it may get worse: “Just 35% of Indiana voters favor the plan proposed by the president and congressional Democrats, while 63% oppose it.”

Republicans in a number of key Senate races are running on their pro-Israel credentials, while Democrats “must straddle” the divide in their own party between pro- and anti-Israel voters. Tevi Troy: “Support for Israel is one of those issues, like anti-communism used to be, that holds together a number of pieces of the conservative movement, including evangelicals but also neocons, economic conservatives and foreign policy hawks.”

So it begins: “Attorneys general from 13 states are suing the federal government to stop the massive health care overhaul, claiming it’s unconstitutional.”

Not deficit neutral? “The newly passed overhaul of the nation’s health care system is expected to push expenses ‘out of sight’ and cost the country ‘a couple trillion dollars,’ Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, told CNBC.”

And the chattering class was convinced Sarah Palin was the uncouth, vulgar VP candidate in 2008. Well, they also said Obama was a moderate.

Jeffrey Anderson reminds us that ObamaCare won’t really take hold “unless President Obama wins reelection, or unless enough Obamacare-supporting Democrats remain in Congress to thwart the following five-word agenda: Repeal, and then real reform. Based on CBO projections over the next decade, only 1 percent of the legislation’s costs will have kicked in over the next three years. The CBO projections cover the 2010 to 2019 stretch of Obamacare, with most entitlements not kicking in until 2014. So, most of Obamacare will not be implemented out until after the next two elections. We’ll see if the American people freely choose to send enough Obamacare-supporting Democrats — including President Obama — back to Washington, to complete their perhaps unprecedented project of ignoring the people’s will.”

John McCain or Chuck Schumer on Obama’s Iran engagement policy? “Diplomatic efforts have clearly failed. I believe that when it comes to Iran, we should never take the military option off the table. But I have long argued that economic sanctions are arguably the most effective way to choke Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”

From Democratic Public Policy Polling: “It’s really looking like a brutal year for Democrats in the Big Ten states. … If the election was today Democrats would likely lose something they currently hold in every state where they have something to lose- Pennsylvania Governor and perhaps Senate, Michigan Governor, Ohio Governor, Indiana Senate, Iowa Governor, Wisconsin Governor and perhaps Senate, and Illinois Senate and/or Governor. Only Minnesota doesn’t join the party because Democrats have nothing to lose there. What all this really makes me wonder is just how many House seats Democrats are going to lose in the region this year.”

Eric Holder’s misstatements and gaffe-prone performance in front of Congress earlier this year lead the administration to … fire him? No! Delay the next round of testimony.

Even before ObamaCare, the Democrats were in trouble in Indiana: “Two of the three top Republican hopefuls for the U.S. Senate in Indiana continue to hold double-digit leads over Democratic Congressman Brad Ellsworth. Ellsworth supported President Obama’s health care plan in a state where opposition to the legislation is higher than it is nationally.” But post-ObamaCare, it may get worse: “Just 35% of Indiana voters favor the plan proposed by the president and congressional Democrats, while 63% oppose it.”

Republicans in a number of key Senate races are running on their pro-Israel credentials, while Democrats “must straddle” the divide in their own party between pro- and anti-Israel voters. Tevi Troy: “Support for Israel is one of those issues, like anti-communism used to be, that holds together a number of pieces of the conservative movement, including evangelicals but also neocons, economic conservatives and foreign policy hawks.”

So it begins: “Attorneys general from 13 states are suing the federal government to stop the massive health care overhaul, claiming it’s unconstitutional.”

Not deficit neutral? “The newly passed overhaul of the nation’s health care system is expected to push expenses ‘out of sight’ and cost the country ‘a couple trillion dollars,’ Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, told CNBC.”

And the chattering class was convinced Sarah Palin was the uncouth, vulgar VP candidate in 2008. Well, they also said Obama was a moderate.

Jeffrey Anderson reminds us that ObamaCare won’t really take hold “unless President Obama wins reelection, or unless enough Obamacare-supporting Democrats remain in Congress to thwart the following five-word agenda: Repeal, and then real reform. Based on CBO projections over the next decade, only 1 percent of the legislation’s costs will have kicked in over the next three years. The CBO projections cover the 2010 to 2019 stretch of Obamacare, with most entitlements not kicking in until 2014. So, most of Obamacare will not be implemented out until after the next two elections. We’ll see if the American people freely choose to send enough Obamacare-supporting Democrats — including President Obama — back to Washington, to complete their perhaps unprecedented project of ignoring the people’s will.”

John McCain or Chuck Schumer on Obama’s Iran engagement policy? “Diplomatic efforts have clearly failed. I believe that when it comes to Iran, we should never take the military option off the table. But I have long argued that economic sanctions are arguably the most effective way to choke Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”

From Democratic Public Policy Polling: “It’s really looking like a brutal year for Democrats in the Big Ten states. … If the election was today Democrats would likely lose something they currently hold in every state where they have something to lose- Pennsylvania Governor and perhaps Senate, Michigan Governor, Ohio Governor, Indiana Senate, Iowa Governor, Wisconsin Governor and perhaps Senate, and Illinois Senate and/or Governor. Only Minnesota doesn’t join the party because Democrats have nothing to lose there. What all this really makes me wonder is just how many House seats Democrats are going to lose in the region this year.”

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