Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 8, 2010

Obama Beats the Record

In the RealClearPolitics poll average, Obama’s disapproval rating has reached an all-time high (48 percent), and his approval score, an all-time low (46.1 percent). Whatever he is doing — mainly attacking Republicans, BP, and Wall Street — isn’t working. You wonder how many Democratic candidates will have him in their ads. I’m betting many more Republicans than Democrats will be doing that. After all, the most critical factor in midterm congressional races is the political standing of the incumbent president. Right now, it looks like a tsunami is heading the Democrats’ way.

In the RealClearPolitics poll average, Obama’s disapproval rating has reached an all-time high (48 percent), and his approval score, an all-time low (46.1 percent). Whatever he is doing — mainly attacking Republicans, BP, and Wall Street — isn’t working. You wonder how many Democratic candidates will have him in their ads. I’m betting many more Republicans than Democrats will be doing that. After all, the most critical factor in midterm congressional races is the political standing of the incumbent president. Right now, it looks like a tsunami is heading the Democrats’ way.

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Palestinians Freak — No Direct Talks!

This makes it clear just how petrified by the prospect of direct negotiations the Palestinians are:

The Palestinian Authority has added new conditions for resuming direct talks with Israel, presenting new demands that in effect preclude negotiations.

The stipulations stated to the BBC by PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat reflect a previously stated strategy of waiting “a year or two” for the United Nations to recognize it as a new Arab country instead of trying to reach a compromise agreement with Israel. …

Erekat told the BBC that in order for direct talks to resume, Israel also must accept former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s proposal as a starting point. Olmert has said that the PA never replied to his offer, which accepted most of the PA’s demands on Jerusalem but did not satisfy its insistence that Israel allow the immigration of millions of foreign Arabs claiming ancestry in the country.

You almost get the idea that the PA has neither the will nor the ability to make a deal and has been banking on Obama to deliver Israel (or what would be left of it ) on a platter. If Obama had not carried water for the Palestinians for a year and a half, would they take a different position? Maybe. But if you are desperate to conceal that you have no authority to make a deal and no ability to curtail terrorism, you’ll always come up with some excuse to avoid showing up for serious negotiations. Rather than encourage this nonsense with “confidence building” measures, it would be a good idea for Bibi (especially now that Obama is in kiss-and-make-up mode) to end the proximity talks. If the Palestinians decide it’s time to make a deal, I’m sure Bibi will take their call.

This makes it clear just how petrified by the prospect of direct negotiations the Palestinians are:

The Palestinian Authority has added new conditions for resuming direct talks with Israel, presenting new demands that in effect preclude negotiations.

The stipulations stated to the BBC by PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat reflect a previously stated strategy of waiting “a year or two” for the United Nations to recognize it as a new Arab country instead of trying to reach a compromise agreement with Israel. …

Erekat told the BBC that in order for direct talks to resume, Israel also must accept former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s proposal as a starting point. Olmert has said that the PA never replied to his offer, which accepted most of the PA’s demands on Jerusalem but did not satisfy its insistence that Israel allow the immigration of millions of foreign Arabs claiming ancestry in the country.

You almost get the idea that the PA has neither the will nor the ability to make a deal and has been banking on Obama to deliver Israel (or what would be left of it ) on a platter. If Obama had not carried water for the Palestinians for a year and a half, would they take a different position? Maybe. But if you are desperate to conceal that you have no authority to make a deal and no ability to curtail terrorism, you’ll always come up with some excuse to avoid showing up for serious negotiations. Rather than encourage this nonsense with “confidence building” measures, it would be a good idea for Bibi (especially now that Obama is in kiss-and-make-up mode) to end the proximity talks. If the Palestinians decide it’s time to make a deal, I’m sure Bibi will take their call.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: A Short History of the Recess Appointment

President Obama’s recess appointment of Dr. Donald Berwick to be head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services escalates the abuse of the recess appointment power one step further.

The Constitution gives to the president the power to nominate and, “by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate,” to appoint high government officials, such as ambassadors, judges of the Supreme Court, and department heads (Art. II, Sec. 2). This is a classic example of the checks and balances the Founding Fathers put into the Constitution to ensure that the power of each branch of government was limited by the powers of the other two branches.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

President Obama’s recess appointment of Dr. Donald Berwick to be head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services escalates the abuse of the recess appointment power one step further.

The Constitution gives to the president the power to nominate and, “by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate,” to appoint high government officials, such as ambassadors, judges of the Supreme Court, and department heads (Art. II, Sec. 2). This is a classic example of the checks and balances the Founding Fathers put into the Constitution to ensure that the power of each branch of government was limited by the powers of the other two branches.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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How Dare You Fire the Hezbollah Cheerleader!

As one might imagine, the pro-terrorist lobby (wait — you’ll see it’s appropriate in this context) is raising a fuss over CNN’s decision to can an editor for praising a Hezbollah leader. This is particularly revealing:

“This is unbelievable what is happening in the United States of America,” said Osama Siblani, the publisher of the Arab American News. “You can say anything you want – except when it comes to Israel.”

He accused CNN of a double standard, citing what he said was CNN host Wolf Blitzer’s history of working for the Jerusalem Post and for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). “But for Octavia Nasr to make a statement that’s in agreement with millions of people around the world, has become a firing offense at CNN. It’s incredible the level we have sunk to.”

You know, he says “double standard” like it’s a bad thing. Actually, it’s good to have one standard for those who are infatuated with terrorists — so infatuated that while employed in a “news” capacity, they sing their praises — and another standard for those who used to work in Israel or for a Jewish organization who, in their current capacity, rather objectively report the news. I think if Wolf Blitzer started sending tweets about his deep and abiding respect for Bibi, he’d be in hot water too. But more to the point, it’s revealing that Arab groups and the Israel-hating John Zogby consider it an outrage that CNN would fire someone who did not merely praise Palestinians or their cause but praised an avowed terrorist. Speaks volumes about the accusers, doesn’t it?

As one might imagine, the pro-terrorist lobby (wait — you’ll see it’s appropriate in this context) is raising a fuss over CNN’s decision to can an editor for praising a Hezbollah leader. This is particularly revealing:

“This is unbelievable what is happening in the United States of America,” said Osama Siblani, the publisher of the Arab American News. “You can say anything you want – except when it comes to Israel.”

He accused CNN of a double standard, citing what he said was CNN host Wolf Blitzer’s history of working for the Jerusalem Post and for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). “But for Octavia Nasr to make a statement that’s in agreement with millions of people around the world, has become a firing offense at CNN. It’s incredible the level we have sunk to.”

You know, he says “double standard” like it’s a bad thing. Actually, it’s good to have one standard for those who are infatuated with terrorists — so infatuated that while employed in a “news” capacity, they sing their praises — and another standard for those who used to work in Israel or for a Jewish organization who, in their current capacity, rather objectively report the news. I think if Wolf Blitzer started sending tweets about his deep and abiding respect for Bibi, he’d be in hot water too. But more to the point, it’s revealing that Arab groups and the Israel-hating John Zogby consider it an outrage that CNN would fire someone who did not merely praise Palestinians or their cause but praised an avowed terrorist. Speaks volumes about the accusers, doesn’t it?

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California’s Water and Eggs

Two events this past week highlight just how far California’s political class still is from the home base of responsible policy. The events seem, to the modern American mind, to represent narrow slices of decision-making in the public realm. But that sense says more about us and our technology-enabled complacency than it does about the issues involved. It has been surreal to watch these developments unfold in concert.

Both issues are ultimately related to farming, although you wouldn’t necessarily know that from the content of the public debate. One involves a bond package for water infrastructure improvements, which the governor and legislature were planning to present to the voters in November. During its concoction last year, the bond package gained notoriety for its pork and backroom deals. Environmental purists have opposed it from the start; now good-government watchdogs argue for scrapping it and starting over. Central Valley farmers and southern coastal urbanites — the Californians most affected by the state’s current water woes — are still pushing the deal. But late last week, Governor Schwarzenegger asked the legislature to take the bond package off the November ballot and submit it in 2012 instead.

This inertia in the face of the severe economic problems caused by current water policy is remarkable. Thousands of people in the farming industry have lost their livelihoods and property since California’s “man-made drought” became reality three years ago. In some counties, unemployment tops 20 percent. The state has lost billions in revenue from its largest industry: agriculture.

Advocacy groups this spring brought the central dispute, which is over the celebrated Delta smelt in the San Joaquin River delta, to a judicially brokered compromise that now allows some level of water pumping. (A good summary of the process is here.) But this is a conditional outcome: not sustainable and not intended to be so. New development is what’s needed to transcend the limitations of our state water infrastructure, which set us up for the crisis to begin with. But legislators in Sacramento aren’t serious enough to prioritize taking action; they have to wangle votes from each other with unseemly pork, which only makes their “fix” more difficult to present to tax-weary voters.

There is, however, something on which the political leaders in Sacramento were able to take unified action this week. In 2008, California voters passed Proposition 2, which mandates a set of humane conditions for the hens tended by egg-producing farmers. This year’s legislature has passed a law that will require out-of-state egg producers to conform to the mandate as well, if they want to sell eggs in California. The governor signed it yesterday, demonstrating that they can get things done in Sacramento. The things just have to be on their list of priorities.

What will it take for California’s political class to recognize that prosperity, public order, and human survival are not givens? They can collapse under the weight of hostile regulation. The Golden State’s sour economy and staggering deficit are the chief exhibits in that lesson today, and worse is probably looming. But by all means, let us fight to ensure that hens across America can spread their wings without bumping into each other.

Two events this past week highlight just how far California’s political class still is from the home base of responsible policy. The events seem, to the modern American mind, to represent narrow slices of decision-making in the public realm. But that sense says more about us and our technology-enabled complacency than it does about the issues involved. It has been surreal to watch these developments unfold in concert.

Both issues are ultimately related to farming, although you wouldn’t necessarily know that from the content of the public debate. One involves a bond package for water infrastructure improvements, which the governor and legislature were planning to present to the voters in November. During its concoction last year, the bond package gained notoriety for its pork and backroom deals. Environmental purists have opposed it from the start; now good-government watchdogs argue for scrapping it and starting over. Central Valley farmers and southern coastal urbanites — the Californians most affected by the state’s current water woes — are still pushing the deal. But late last week, Governor Schwarzenegger asked the legislature to take the bond package off the November ballot and submit it in 2012 instead.

This inertia in the face of the severe economic problems caused by current water policy is remarkable. Thousands of people in the farming industry have lost their livelihoods and property since California’s “man-made drought” became reality three years ago. In some counties, unemployment tops 20 percent. The state has lost billions in revenue from its largest industry: agriculture.

Advocacy groups this spring brought the central dispute, which is over the celebrated Delta smelt in the San Joaquin River delta, to a judicially brokered compromise that now allows some level of water pumping. (A good summary of the process is here.) But this is a conditional outcome: not sustainable and not intended to be so. New development is what’s needed to transcend the limitations of our state water infrastructure, which set us up for the crisis to begin with. But legislators in Sacramento aren’t serious enough to prioritize taking action; they have to wangle votes from each other with unseemly pork, which only makes their “fix” more difficult to present to tax-weary voters.

There is, however, something on which the political leaders in Sacramento were able to take unified action this week. In 2008, California voters passed Proposition 2, which mandates a set of humane conditions for the hens tended by egg-producing farmers. This year’s legislature has passed a law that will require out-of-state egg producers to conform to the mandate as well, if they want to sell eggs in California. The governor signed it yesterday, demonstrating that they can get things done in Sacramento. The things just have to be on their list of priorities.

What will it take for California’s political class to recognize that prosperity, public order, and human survival are not givens? They can collapse under the weight of hostile regulation. The Golden State’s sour economy and staggering deficit are the chief exhibits in that lesson today, and worse is probably looming. But by all means, let us fight to ensure that hens across America can spread their wings without bumping into each other.

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Busted Tribute

Bedford, Virginia’s D-Day memorial has just been embellished. Among emotionally evocative statues of soldiers dying on the beaches of Normandy accompanied by heroic images of their leaders now stands … Joseph Stalin.

At the beginning of June, his visage was added to memorialize “the tens of millions who died under Stalin’s rule and in tribute to all whose valor, fidelity, and sacrifice denied him and his successors victory in the Cold War,” as the plaque explains. The only problem is that the statue commemorates the man, not the men who he killed. While the supervisors of the memorial condemned the statue, the artist, Richard Pumphrey, who remains in Switzerland, was not “concerned” that it might be controversial.

Regardless of what the artist may say, there are artistic conventions. A bust of Stalin commemorates Stalin, not his victims. It is the wrong image in the wrong place.

Bedford, Virginia’s D-Day memorial has just been embellished. Among emotionally evocative statues of soldiers dying on the beaches of Normandy accompanied by heroic images of their leaders now stands … Joseph Stalin.

At the beginning of June, his visage was added to memorialize “the tens of millions who died under Stalin’s rule and in tribute to all whose valor, fidelity, and sacrifice denied him and his successors victory in the Cold War,” as the plaque explains. The only problem is that the statue commemorates the man, not the men who he killed. While the supervisors of the memorial condemned the statue, the artist, Richard Pumphrey, who remains in Switzerland, was not “concerned” that it might be controversial.

Regardless of what the artist may say, there are artistic conventions. A bust of Stalin commemorates Stalin, not his victims. It is the wrong image in the wrong place.

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Mohammed Oudeh’s Lesson: Attacking the West Pays

After Mohammed Oudeh, planner of the terror attack that killed 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, died this weekend, media obituaries noted that he never regretted his actions. A 2006 interview with AP explained why:

“Before Munich, we were simply terrorists. After Munich, at least people started asking who are these terrorists? What do they want? Before Munich, nobody had the slightest idea about Palestine.”

George Habash, founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and architect of the campaign of airline hijackings that began terrorizing Europe in the late 1960s, offered an identical argument as far back as 1970:

“When we hijack a plane it has more effect than if we kill a hundred Israelis in battle. For decades, world public opinion has been neither for nor against the Palestinians. It simply ignored us. At least the world is talking about us now.”

Both men, of course, are right. As long as the Palestinians stuck to attacking Israelis on Israeli soil, the West ignored them. But when they began launching attacks in Europe, many Westerners suddenly started asking what could be done to satisfy their grievances and make them stop. And gradually, these questions morphed into a fixed determination to make Israel give the Palestinians whatever they wanted.

The same process is happening now with al-Qaeda. Before 9/11, almost nobody in the West had even heard of al-Qaeda. Since then, numerous articles by journalists, academics, ex-diplomats, ex-intelligence officers, et al. have argued that the West could take the wind out of al-Qaeda’s sails by withdrawing all troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim countries, forcing Israel to quit the territories, halting drone attacks on terrorists, and so forth.

This is not yet the consensus; the dominant view is still that al-Qaeda must be fought. But that was also the dominant view when Palestinians first began attacking Europe 40 years ago. It takes time for persistent questions and suggestions to create a consensus for appeasement.

In contrast, there is no talk whatsoever in the West about how to satisfy the grievances of, say, the Congolese militias, who are slaughtering 45,000 of their countrymen every month, or the Kurdish PKK, which has been attacking Turkey for decades. That is because they, poor fools, are still trying to achieve their goals by fighting those they deem their enemies. They haven’t yet grasped what the perceptive Palestinians realized four decades ago: if you want the West to help you achieve your goals, you have to attack the West directly.

This clearly isn’t the message the West should be sending, as it merely invites more terror attacks on Western soil. The rule should have been that any attack on the West would cause it to join wholeheartedly with the terrorists’ adversaries in an effort to destroy them. But through their support of the Palestinian cause over the past few decades, the message Western governments have actually sent is that attacking the West pays.

And if other terrorist groups eventually wake up and adopt the same tactics, the West will have only itself to blame.

After Mohammed Oudeh, planner of the terror attack that killed 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, died this weekend, media obituaries noted that he never regretted his actions. A 2006 interview with AP explained why:

“Before Munich, we were simply terrorists. After Munich, at least people started asking who are these terrorists? What do they want? Before Munich, nobody had the slightest idea about Palestine.”

George Habash, founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and architect of the campaign of airline hijackings that began terrorizing Europe in the late 1960s, offered an identical argument as far back as 1970:

“When we hijack a plane it has more effect than if we kill a hundred Israelis in battle. For decades, world public opinion has been neither for nor against the Palestinians. It simply ignored us. At least the world is talking about us now.”

Both men, of course, are right. As long as the Palestinians stuck to attacking Israelis on Israeli soil, the West ignored them. But when they began launching attacks in Europe, many Westerners suddenly started asking what could be done to satisfy their grievances and make them stop. And gradually, these questions morphed into a fixed determination to make Israel give the Palestinians whatever they wanted.

The same process is happening now with al-Qaeda. Before 9/11, almost nobody in the West had even heard of al-Qaeda. Since then, numerous articles by journalists, academics, ex-diplomats, ex-intelligence officers, et al. have argued that the West could take the wind out of al-Qaeda’s sails by withdrawing all troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim countries, forcing Israel to quit the territories, halting drone attacks on terrorists, and so forth.

This is not yet the consensus; the dominant view is still that al-Qaeda must be fought. But that was also the dominant view when Palestinians first began attacking Europe 40 years ago. It takes time for persistent questions and suggestions to create a consensus for appeasement.

In contrast, there is no talk whatsoever in the West about how to satisfy the grievances of, say, the Congolese militias, who are slaughtering 45,000 of their countrymen every month, or the Kurdish PKK, which has been attacking Turkey for decades. That is because they, poor fools, are still trying to achieve their goals by fighting those they deem their enemies. They haven’t yet grasped what the perceptive Palestinians realized four decades ago: if you want the West to help you achieve your goals, you have to attack the West directly.

This clearly isn’t the message the West should be sending, as it merely invites more terror attacks on Western soil. The rule should have been that any attack on the West would cause it to join wholeheartedly with the terrorists’ adversaries in an effort to destroy them. But through their support of the Palestinian cause over the past few decades, the message Western governments have actually sent is that attacking the West pays.

And if other terrorist groups eventually wake up and adopt the same tactics, the West will have only itself to blame.

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Boxer Going Down for the Count?

The Field poll delivers some bad news for Senator Barbara Boxer:

California voters are giving U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer some of the lowest approval ratings of her career, as the three-term Democrat is in a statistical dead heat against first-time GOP office-seeker Carly Fiorina, according to a new Field Poll released today.

Boxer leads Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, 47 to 44 percent. … Boxer’s slight numerical lead masks potentially serious problems for the senator, starting with how 52 percent of the respondents hold an unfavorable view of her. At the same time, her job approval rating is among the lowest that Field has measured for her since she was first elected to the Senate in 1992. …

She is vulnerable,” Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said. “This is very ominous for her.”

One of Boxer’s more vexing problems, analysts say, is that opposition to her is not just about her. She has become an avatar for broader voter frustrations about the struggling economy, President Obama and the growth of the federal government.

After many election cycles in which Republicans wasted money and political capital on the premise that California was “in play,” there is finally a year in which it really is. At the very least, the Democrats will need to spend gobs of money defending the seat, money that would otherwise go to races in Indiana, Illinois, Florida, etc. And it might just be the year in which Californians decide that they are not well served by one of the most predictably far-left senators.

The Field poll delivers some bad news for Senator Barbara Boxer:

California voters are giving U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer some of the lowest approval ratings of her career, as the three-term Democrat is in a statistical dead heat against first-time GOP office-seeker Carly Fiorina, according to a new Field Poll released today.

Boxer leads Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, 47 to 44 percent. … Boxer’s slight numerical lead masks potentially serious problems for the senator, starting with how 52 percent of the respondents hold an unfavorable view of her. At the same time, her job approval rating is among the lowest that Field has measured for her since she was first elected to the Senate in 1992. …

She is vulnerable,” Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said. “This is very ominous for her.”

One of Boxer’s more vexing problems, analysts say, is that opposition to her is not just about her. She has become an avatar for broader voter frustrations about the struggling economy, President Obama and the growth of the federal government.

After many election cycles in which Republicans wasted money and political capital on the premise that California was “in play,” there is finally a year in which it really is. At the very least, the Democrats will need to spend gobs of money defending the seat, money that would otherwise go to races in Indiana, Illinois, Florida, etc. And it might just be the year in which Californians decide that they are not well served by one of the most predictably far-left senators.

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Pivot or Feint?

The Washington Post editors think Obama is pivoting on his Middle East policy. After pummeling Israel in public, demanding unilateral concessions, and raising Palestinians’ hopes, Obama, they say, is trying something new:

With U.S. midterm elections looming, Mr. Obama tried a different tack Tuesday, showering Mr. Netanyahu with public praise and encouragement during a White House visit. The president said he believes that the Israeli leader “wants peace,” praised his “restraint” on settlements and joined with him in calling on Palestinians to begin direct peace negotiations by September, when the settlement freeze expires. This switch may look craven to some of Israel’s critics — but in fact it is smart. By reaffirming U.S. support for Israel and pressing for direct talks, Mr. Obama has created an opportunity to put both Palestinian leaders and Mr. Netanyahu to the test and to discover who is serious and who is not about a two-state settlement.

This raises a number of issues, starting with a basic question: is this a domestic political gambit brought about by the “looming” midterm election? One can imagine how dismal the fundraising numbers must have been and how frightened the White House was to bring about even an atmospheric change this dramatic. What we don’t know is whether it signals a substantive reversal and whether Obama is going to, for example, cease doing the Palestinians’ negotiating for them.

You can’t blame all the parties for being confused about Obama’s intentions and position at this point. Is he the president who spoon-fed the world the Palestinian-victim narrative at Cairo and who is going to refrain from vetoing a UN resolution should housing projects continue in Jerusalem? Or is he the Obama of the 2008 campaign, who was embracing, not distancing himself, from the Jewish state? It’s hard to know, and his wild swings in tone and rhetoric are not likely to improve our standing as a trusted interlocutor with either side. As Israel’s enemies and moderate Arab states observe all this, they must be more convinced than ever that Obama is flaky and undependable.

And then there are the Israel-bashers. The J Street gang must be melting down. They’ve been counseling the president to turn the screws on Israel and bully Bibi. Not only has this not worked, but now the president has undercut them and the rest of the anti-Israel left (I repeat myself), at least rhetorically. They were delighted by his condemnations of Israel, thrilled at the prospect of an imposed peace deal, gratified by the NPT statement singling out Israel, and emboldened by Obama’s reluctance to defend Israel over the flotilla incident. And now all that may be inoperative. If so, what is J Street to do — continue their Obama cheerleading, or go after him for abandoning their “tough love” (which was tough but never loving) stance?

All this is really a sideshow. The central issue for Israel, its neighbors, and the West is the Iranian nuclear threat. What we didn’t get from the Bibi visit was any indication that Obama is contemplating a similar pivot on his Iran policy. If he begins a full-court press to isolate Iran diplomatically, to support the Green movement, and to put a military option back on the table (and cut out all the talk that this is unacceptably “destabilizing”), then we’ll really be getting somewhere. With Obama in retreat, at least atmospherically, it would seem that this is where Jewish groups and pro-Israel lawmakers should apply pressure. After all, once midterm elections are no longer “looming,” the old Obama Middle East policy may be back.

The Washington Post editors think Obama is pivoting on his Middle East policy. After pummeling Israel in public, demanding unilateral concessions, and raising Palestinians’ hopes, Obama, they say, is trying something new:

With U.S. midterm elections looming, Mr. Obama tried a different tack Tuesday, showering Mr. Netanyahu with public praise and encouragement during a White House visit. The president said he believes that the Israeli leader “wants peace,” praised his “restraint” on settlements and joined with him in calling on Palestinians to begin direct peace negotiations by September, when the settlement freeze expires. This switch may look craven to some of Israel’s critics — but in fact it is smart. By reaffirming U.S. support for Israel and pressing for direct talks, Mr. Obama has created an opportunity to put both Palestinian leaders and Mr. Netanyahu to the test and to discover who is serious and who is not about a two-state settlement.

This raises a number of issues, starting with a basic question: is this a domestic political gambit brought about by the “looming” midterm election? One can imagine how dismal the fundraising numbers must have been and how frightened the White House was to bring about even an atmospheric change this dramatic. What we don’t know is whether it signals a substantive reversal and whether Obama is going to, for example, cease doing the Palestinians’ negotiating for them.

You can’t blame all the parties for being confused about Obama’s intentions and position at this point. Is he the president who spoon-fed the world the Palestinian-victim narrative at Cairo and who is going to refrain from vetoing a UN resolution should housing projects continue in Jerusalem? Or is he the Obama of the 2008 campaign, who was embracing, not distancing himself, from the Jewish state? It’s hard to know, and his wild swings in tone and rhetoric are not likely to improve our standing as a trusted interlocutor with either side. As Israel’s enemies and moderate Arab states observe all this, they must be more convinced than ever that Obama is flaky and undependable.

And then there are the Israel-bashers. The J Street gang must be melting down. They’ve been counseling the president to turn the screws on Israel and bully Bibi. Not only has this not worked, but now the president has undercut them and the rest of the anti-Israel left (I repeat myself), at least rhetorically. They were delighted by his condemnations of Israel, thrilled at the prospect of an imposed peace deal, gratified by the NPT statement singling out Israel, and emboldened by Obama’s reluctance to defend Israel over the flotilla incident. And now all that may be inoperative. If so, what is J Street to do — continue their Obama cheerleading, or go after him for abandoning their “tough love” (which was tough but never loving) stance?

All this is really a sideshow. The central issue for Israel, its neighbors, and the West is the Iranian nuclear threat. What we didn’t get from the Bibi visit was any indication that Obama is contemplating a similar pivot on his Iran policy. If he begins a full-court press to isolate Iran diplomatically, to support the Green movement, and to put a military option back on the table (and cut out all the talk that this is unacceptably “destabilizing”), then we’ll really be getting somewhere. With Obama in retreat, at least atmospherically, it would seem that this is where Jewish groups and pro-Israel lawmakers should apply pressure. After all, once midterm elections are no longer “looming,” the old Obama Middle East policy may be back.

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The Good, the Bad, and Nicholas Kristof

This is really quite amazing. The New York Times‘s Nick Kristof, never much of a fan of Zionist self-affirmation, has published a column so transparent in its underlying philosophy as to qualify almost as a classic. It’s called “In Israel, the Noble vs. the Ugly,” and it contains all the predictable adulation of the weak, glorified Palestinians and their Israeli advocates (the “noble”) versus the nasty, thuggish settlers (“the ugly”). Leaving aside the question of aesthetics (is no noble person ugly?), the piece winds up and delivers with this zinger of a paragraph showing how wonderful Israel is because it has so many “noble” Israelis:

This “other Israel” extends far beyond Rabbis for Human Rights. The most cogent critiques of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians invariably come from Israel’s own human rights organizations. The most lucid unraveling of Israel’s founding mythology comes from Israeli historians. The deepest critiques of Israel’s historical claims come from Israeli archeologists…. This more noble Israel, refusing to retreat from its values even in times of fear and stress, is a model for the world.

So there it is: he begins with the claim that nobility is defined not by honor, bravery, creativity, honesty, or constructive achievement but by Israelis critiquing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. You know, I can sort of accept how a reasonable, sensitive, if ill-informed, person might say that. But then he takes us two steps further. Nobility, we learn, is further defined by the “lucid unraveling of Israel’s founding mythology,” and finally by the “deepest critiques of Israel’s historical claims.”

This is the point where Kristof leaves reasoned discourse and falls down the rabbit hole of rabid anti-Zionism before spiraling into self-attacking universalism. I used to think that for an intellectual like Kristof, nobility should be defined not as attacking all self-affirming beliefs but rather as being willing to sacrifice myths when the facts dictate otherwise. But not, apparently, for Kristof, who seems to be saying that any affirmation of either the Zionist narrative (you know, the Jews were in exile for thousands of years, suffered because they had no political power, and have a right to their own state) or Israel’s historical claims (you know, that there were once a lot of Israelites in the Holy Land) is by definition not noble but ugly.

Lest you think Kristof is a wielder of anti-Zionist double-standards, holding such definitions of nobility only where Israelis are concerned, he ends by saying that noble Israelis should be a model for the world. So I wonder: does that include the Palestinians as well? I mean, where are their critiques of Palestinian treatment of Israelis, their historians challenging the reigning Palestinian myths, or their archaeologists challenging Palestinian claims?

This is really quite amazing. The New York Times‘s Nick Kristof, never much of a fan of Zionist self-affirmation, has published a column so transparent in its underlying philosophy as to qualify almost as a classic. It’s called “In Israel, the Noble vs. the Ugly,” and it contains all the predictable adulation of the weak, glorified Palestinians and their Israeli advocates (the “noble”) versus the nasty, thuggish settlers (“the ugly”). Leaving aside the question of aesthetics (is no noble person ugly?), the piece winds up and delivers with this zinger of a paragraph showing how wonderful Israel is because it has so many “noble” Israelis:

This “other Israel” extends far beyond Rabbis for Human Rights. The most cogent critiques of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians invariably come from Israel’s own human rights organizations. The most lucid unraveling of Israel’s founding mythology comes from Israeli historians. The deepest critiques of Israel’s historical claims come from Israeli archeologists…. This more noble Israel, refusing to retreat from its values even in times of fear and stress, is a model for the world.

So there it is: he begins with the claim that nobility is defined not by honor, bravery, creativity, honesty, or constructive achievement but by Israelis critiquing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. You know, I can sort of accept how a reasonable, sensitive, if ill-informed, person might say that. But then he takes us two steps further. Nobility, we learn, is further defined by the “lucid unraveling of Israel’s founding mythology,” and finally by the “deepest critiques of Israel’s historical claims.”

This is the point where Kristof leaves reasoned discourse and falls down the rabbit hole of rabid anti-Zionism before spiraling into self-attacking universalism. I used to think that for an intellectual like Kristof, nobility should be defined not as attacking all self-affirming beliefs but rather as being willing to sacrifice myths when the facts dictate otherwise. But not, apparently, for Kristof, who seems to be saying that any affirmation of either the Zionist narrative (you know, the Jews were in exile for thousands of years, suffered because they had no political power, and have a right to their own state) or Israel’s historical claims (you know, that there were once a lot of Israelites in the Holy Land) is by definition not noble but ugly.

Lest you think Kristof is a wielder of anti-Zionist double-standards, holding such definitions of nobility only where Israelis are concerned, he ends by saying that noble Israelis should be a model for the world. So I wonder: does that include the Palestinians as well? I mean, where are their critiques of Palestinian treatment of Israelis, their historians challenging the reigning Palestinian myths, or their archaeologists challenging Palestinian claims?

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UN Still Pondering Flotilla Inquiry

The UN secretary-general and the UN Human Rights Council are tussling over whether the General Assembly or the council will conduct the kangaroo court to examine Israel’s conduct in the flotilla probe. This debate should have been short-circuited long ago by the U.S., with a unequivocal statement that it would block any such effort. (The Human Rights Council, of course, has been emboldened ever since Obama decided to rejoin that band of thugocracies.) While the U.S. cannot veto a General Assembly action, the U.S. could refuse to fund it, make its adamant opposition clear, and then leave the HRC.

The Obama administration, in its never-ending quest to ingratiate itself with international bodies in which Israel’s enemies exercise influence disproportionate to their standing in the world and whose own human rights records are atrocious, may be forced to end its straddling. Will it defend Israel or cave in to the wolves seeking a reprise of the Goldstone Report?

After opening the door to an international inquiry, the Obami may now be hard pressed to slam it shut. The president can assure us all he wants that the bond between Israel and the U.S. is “unbreakable,” but all that really matters is what his administration does when the chips are down. At this point, it is not clear that Obama has the will or the skill to put the international witch hunt to rest.

The UN secretary-general and the UN Human Rights Council are tussling over whether the General Assembly or the council will conduct the kangaroo court to examine Israel’s conduct in the flotilla probe. This debate should have been short-circuited long ago by the U.S., with a unequivocal statement that it would block any such effort. (The Human Rights Council, of course, has been emboldened ever since Obama decided to rejoin that band of thugocracies.) While the U.S. cannot veto a General Assembly action, the U.S. could refuse to fund it, make its adamant opposition clear, and then leave the HRC.

The Obama administration, in its never-ending quest to ingratiate itself with international bodies in which Israel’s enemies exercise influence disproportionate to their standing in the world and whose own human rights records are atrocious, may be forced to end its straddling. Will it defend Israel or cave in to the wolves seeking a reprise of the Goldstone Report?

After opening the door to an international inquiry, the Obami may now be hard pressed to slam it shut. The president can assure us all he wants that the bond between Israel and the U.S. is “unbreakable,” but all that really matters is what his administration does when the chips are down. At this point, it is not clear that Obama has the will or the skill to put the international witch hunt to rest.

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No Peace in Sight

Lee Smith’s latest column should be read by all those who are fixated on a two-state solution. In his conversation with Dore Gold and his review of Israel’s Critical Security Needs for a Viable Peace (“essays about security and diplomacy by leading figures in Israel’s security establishment”), Smith provides some useful context for those obsessed with the “peace process”:

[E]veryone in Washington who believes that they know what Israel’s vision of a final settlement looks like is in for a surprise. Israel will have to retain security control over the Jordan rift valley, which means not just the river bank but the eastern slopes of the West Bank hill ridge. It is important to remember that the West Bank overlooks Israel’s coastal plain and 70 percent of the country’s population. If the Hamas rockets fired from Gaza were launched from the West Bank on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, it could bring Israel to its knees, disrupting the country’s economic and social life on a massive scale and shutting down Ben Gurion Airport. Moreover, Islamist militants from all around the region would attempt to transit through Jordan into the West Bank to launch attacks against the Zionist entity, destabilizing the Hashemite Kingdom.

To sum up, there is no peace partner for Israel to negotiate with and no territorial compromise that is currently feasible. But the Obami push on, oblivious to all of that — or perhaps intentionally filling the time as they fail to craft an approach that could thwart Iran’s nuclear program. But Smith finds a silver lining in the Obami’s cluelessness:

There is no going back to Oslo, no matter what the Obama Administration believes or hopes. Perhaps the only thing saving Netanyahu from having to fight with a U.S. president and thereby unnerve the Israeli electorate is the incompetence of the White House. Had Obama not pushed Netanyahu so hard on settlements, twice, he wouldn’t have pushed Mahmoud Abbas into a corner where it was impossible for the Palestinian president to be less intransigent than the United States, thus freezing the diplomatic process.

The paradox of the U.S. president’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause and lack of sympathy for Israeli territorial and security claims is that he has managed to fulfill the dreams of hard-liners on both sides and turn back the clock 20 years to before the ill-fated Oslo process even began. For the first time in two decades, the Palestinians and Israelis are not in direct negotiations. A final Palestinian-Israeli agreement couldn’t be further away, which means that Netanyahu can smile for the cameras and shake the president’s hand and breathe easily, now that he doesn’t have to explain that a peace deal, if it happens, won’t look like what everyone in Washington thinks it will.

We can understand the incompetence and utter unseriousness of the Obama team, but what is the excuse for Jewish groups? They mouth the same platitudes without answering the central dilemma: how is there to be peace with those who have not renounced terrorism, and why is “land for peace” still a viable approach? In some sense, Jewish groups are trapped in a paradigm that was central to their organizations’ missions for decades. The world has changed, the president is a change (from anyone who has previously occupied the Oval Office), and yet America Jewry is stuck in the Oslo time warp, championing a two-state solution that is not remotely attainable.

It is not only the administration that has to rethink its entire approach to Israel, but American Jewry as well. It’s time, I would suggest, to concentrate on what matters: preventing a nuclear Iran, enforcing UN resolution 1701 (regarding Lebanon), continuing support for economic development on the West Bank, and beating back attempts to delegitimize the Jewish state. As for the “peace process,” American Jewish leaders should stop pretending there’s any there there. And if they think there is, American Jewry needs savvier leaders.

Lee Smith’s latest column should be read by all those who are fixated on a two-state solution. In his conversation with Dore Gold and his review of Israel’s Critical Security Needs for a Viable Peace (“essays about security and diplomacy by leading figures in Israel’s security establishment”), Smith provides some useful context for those obsessed with the “peace process”:

[E]veryone in Washington who believes that they know what Israel’s vision of a final settlement looks like is in for a surprise. Israel will have to retain security control over the Jordan rift valley, which means not just the river bank but the eastern slopes of the West Bank hill ridge. It is important to remember that the West Bank overlooks Israel’s coastal plain and 70 percent of the country’s population. If the Hamas rockets fired from Gaza were launched from the West Bank on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, it could bring Israel to its knees, disrupting the country’s economic and social life on a massive scale and shutting down Ben Gurion Airport. Moreover, Islamist militants from all around the region would attempt to transit through Jordan into the West Bank to launch attacks against the Zionist entity, destabilizing the Hashemite Kingdom.

To sum up, there is no peace partner for Israel to negotiate with and no territorial compromise that is currently feasible. But the Obami push on, oblivious to all of that — or perhaps intentionally filling the time as they fail to craft an approach that could thwart Iran’s nuclear program. But Smith finds a silver lining in the Obami’s cluelessness:

There is no going back to Oslo, no matter what the Obama Administration believes or hopes. Perhaps the only thing saving Netanyahu from having to fight with a U.S. president and thereby unnerve the Israeli electorate is the incompetence of the White House. Had Obama not pushed Netanyahu so hard on settlements, twice, he wouldn’t have pushed Mahmoud Abbas into a corner where it was impossible for the Palestinian president to be less intransigent than the United States, thus freezing the diplomatic process.

The paradox of the U.S. president’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause and lack of sympathy for Israeli territorial and security claims is that he has managed to fulfill the dreams of hard-liners on both sides and turn back the clock 20 years to before the ill-fated Oslo process even began. For the first time in two decades, the Palestinians and Israelis are not in direct negotiations. A final Palestinian-Israeli agreement couldn’t be further away, which means that Netanyahu can smile for the cameras and shake the president’s hand and breathe easily, now that he doesn’t have to explain that a peace deal, if it happens, won’t look like what everyone in Washington thinks it will.

We can understand the incompetence and utter unseriousness of the Obama team, but what is the excuse for Jewish groups? They mouth the same platitudes without answering the central dilemma: how is there to be peace with those who have not renounced terrorism, and why is “land for peace” still a viable approach? In some sense, Jewish groups are trapped in a paradigm that was central to their organizations’ missions for decades. The world has changed, the president is a change (from anyone who has previously occupied the Oval Office), and yet America Jewry is stuck in the Oslo time warp, championing a two-state solution that is not remotely attainable.

It is not only the administration that has to rethink its entire approach to Israel, but American Jewry as well. It’s time, I would suggest, to concentrate on what matters: preventing a nuclear Iran, enforcing UN resolution 1701 (regarding Lebanon), continuing support for economic development on the West Bank, and beating back attempts to delegitimize the Jewish state. As for the “peace process,” American Jewish leaders should stop pretending there’s any there there. And if they think there is, American Jewry needs savvier leaders.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Even Max Baucus is criticizing Obama’s latest recess appointment, Donald Berwick, who is to head the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Baucus said he was “‘troubled’ that Obama chose to install Berwich without a formal confirmation process. ‘Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee — and answered,’ Baucus said in a statement.”

Even CNN can’t employ an editor (Octavia Nasr) who bemoans the death of Hezbollah leader Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. The New York Times dryly reports: “Ms. Nasr, a 20-year veteran of CNN, wrote on Twitter after the cleric died on Sunday, ‘Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah … One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.’ Ayatollah Fadlallah routinely denounced Israel and the United States, and supported suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. Ayatollah Fadlallah’s writings and preachings inspired the Dawa Party of Iraq and a generation of militants, including the founders of Hezbollah.”

Even Obama has figured out that direct negotiations are the only viable way to proceed with his “peace process.” The Palestinians are now miffed that their patron is starting to wise up. PLO representative Maen Rashid Areikat: “I hope [Obama's deadline] is not an attempt to pressure the Palestinians that if they don’t move to the direct talks, there will be a resumption of settlement construction in the West Bank.”

Even the “international community” will find it difficult to dispute the IDF’s evidence of Hezbollah in Lebanon. It won’t do anything about it, of course.

Even Democrats must realize that this is not the most transparent administration in history: “The website used to track stimulus spending does not meet the transparency requirements laid out by the administration last year, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).”

Even Jewish cheerleaders for Obama have to be a little miffed that he — shocking, I know — isn’t going to Israel anytime soon: “President Barack Obama left the impression he had accepted an invitation to visit Israel, but don’t expect the trip any time soon. During Obama’s relationship-patching meetings at the White House on Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli leader publicly asked the president and first lady Michelle Obama to come. Netanyahu said, ‘It’s about time.’ Obama replied that he looked forward to it.”

Even the ACLU should be upset about the NASA flap. The administrator said of Obama, “He wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math and engineering.” Charles Lane asked, “[S]ince when is it U.S. government policy to offer or refuse cooperation with various nations based on the religion their people practice? Last time I checked, the Constitution expressly forbid the establishment of religion. How can it be consistent with that mandate and the deeply held political and cultural values that it expresses for the U.S. government to ‘reach out’ to another government because the people it rules are mostly of a particular faith?” A good reason to abolish the ambassadorship to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Even Max Baucus is criticizing Obama’s latest recess appointment, Donald Berwick, who is to head the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Baucus said he was “‘troubled’ that Obama chose to install Berwich without a formal confirmation process. ‘Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee — and answered,’ Baucus said in a statement.”

Even CNN can’t employ an editor (Octavia Nasr) who bemoans the death of Hezbollah leader Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. The New York Times dryly reports: “Ms. Nasr, a 20-year veteran of CNN, wrote on Twitter after the cleric died on Sunday, ‘Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah … One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.’ Ayatollah Fadlallah routinely denounced Israel and the United States, and supported suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. Ayatollah Fadlallah’s writings and preachings inspired the Dawa Party of Iraq and a generation of militants, including the founders of Hezbollah.”

Even Obama has figured out that direct negotiations are the only viable way to proceed with his “peace process.” The Palestinians are now miffed that their patron is starting to wise up. PLO representative Maen Rashid Areikat: “I hope [Obama's deadline] is not an attempt to pressure the Palestinians that if they don’t move to the direct talks, there will be a resumption of settlement construction in the West Bank.”

Even the “international community” will find it difficult to dispute the IDF’s evidence of Hezbollah in Lebanon. It won’t do anything about it, of course.

Even Democrats must realize that this is not the most transparent administration in history: “The website used to track stimulus spending does not meet the transparency requirements laid out by the administration last year, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).”

Even Jewish cheerleaders for Obama have to be a little miffed that he — shocking, I know — isn’t going to Israel anytime soon: “President Barack Obama left the impression he had accepted an invitation to visit Israel, but don’t expect the trip any time soon. During Obama’s relationship-patching meetings at the White House on Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli leader publicly asked the president and first lady Michelle Obama to come. Netanyahu said, ‘It’s about time.’ Obama replied that he looked forward to it.”

Even the ACLU should be upset about the NASA flap. The administrator said of Obama, “He wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math and engineering.” Charles Lane asked, “[S]ince when is it U.S. government policy to offer or refuse cooperation with various nations based on the religion their people practice? Last time I checked, the Constitution expressly forbid the establishment of religion. How can it be consistent with that mandate and the deeply held political and cultural values that it expresses for the U.S. government to ‘reach out’ to another government because the people it rules are mostly of a particular faith?” A good reason to abolish the ambassadorship to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

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Obama Is Giving Up the Fight on Health Care — Now It’s All Muscle

My take on the recess-appointment controversy in the New York Post.

My take on the recess-appointment controversy in the New York Post.

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