Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 16, 2011

Group Defies Dutch Government, Continues to Fund Anti-Israel Website

A government-funded Netherlands organization has rejected requests from the Dutch foreign minister to stop supporting financially the Electronic Intifada. The Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO), which receives about 90 percent of its budget from the Dutch government, said it will continue to steer money to the anti-Israel online publication, in a potential violation of Dutch law:

Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal last week told a Netherlands interchurch group, the ICCO, that its funding of Palestinian website Electronic Intifada, which it said has published calls to promote Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel, contradicts official Dutch government policy.

Rosenthal urged the ICCO to remedy the situation, saying that continuing such activities could endanger the group’s government funding. ICCO receives some 75 million Euros from the Dutch government. “There’s nothing wrong with holding critical views, but going directly against government policy is something else,” Rosenthal said.

Promoting Anti-Semitism is illegal in the Netherlands, and the Dutch foreign minister has suggested that by funding the Electronic Intifada, the ICCO may be in violation of this policy. But the group remained defiant in a press release last Friday, saying that it did not see a reason to cut off funding for the website, praising the anti-Israel boycott and divestment movement:

Thursday the 13th of January ICCO discussed its funding of the website The Electronic Intifada with Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Uri Rosenthal. It was a tough and straightforward discussion, but ICCO sees no reason to change its policy. International law is the main guideline for ICCO’s work.

According the Minister, the site offers a platform for the call for boycott of Israel. Supporting this website is therefore, in the Minister’s view, diametrically opposed to Dutch foreign policy. ICCO disagrees with the Minister on this.

Since 2005, more than 170 Palestinian and some Israeli organisations have called for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli policy. The purpose is for Israel to comply with International law and respect human rights. This pressure is justified as the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories continue. It is a peaceful and legal way to push for an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and to achieve a peaceful and just solution. …

It is a good custom in the Netherlands for civil organisations to make their own decisions. ICCO therefore doesn’t see reason to change its policy.

As I wrote in November, the Electronic Intifada is one of the major promoters of Israel-demonization propaganda on the Internet. The publication is founded and run by vicious anti-Israel demagogue Ali Abunimah, and its articles often cross the line of legitimate criticism of the Jewish state into the swamp of anti-Semitism. Its writers promote a one-state solution, accuse the Israeli government of “ethnically cleansing” the Palestinian people, and use Nazi and apartheid epithets to describe Israel.

It’s a pretty brazen move for the ICCO to release such a strong public statement flouting the foreign minister’s request, especially when the group receives nearly all its budget from the Dutch government.

But will there be any consequences? I’d like to hope so, but judging by the ICCO’s cavalier attitude, I’m going to guess no.

A government-funded Netherlands organization has rejected requests from the Dutch foreign minister to stop supporting financially the Electronic Intifada. The Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO), which receives about 90 percent of its budget from the Dutch government, said it will continue to steer money to the anti-Israel online publication, in a potential violation of Dutch law:

Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal last week told a Netherlands interchurch group, the ICCO, that its funding of Palestinian website Electronic Intifada, which it said has published calls to promote Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel, contradicts official Dutch government policy.

Rosenthal urged the ICCO to remedy the situation, saying that continuing such activities could endanger the group’s government funding. ICCO receives some 75 million Euros from the Dutch government. “There’s nothing wrong with holding critical views, but going directly against government policy is something else,” Rosenthal said.

Promoting Anti-Semitism is illegal in the Netherlands, and the Dutch foreign minister has suggested that by funding the Electronic Intifada, the ICCO may be in violation of this policy. But the group remained defiant in a press release last Friday, saying that it did not see a reason to cut off funding for the website, praising the anti-Israel boycott and divestment movement:

Thursday the 13th of January ICCO discussed its funding of the website The Electronic Intifada with Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Uri Rosenthal. It was a tough and straightforward discussion, but ICCO sees no reason to change its policy. International law is the main guideline for ICCO’s work.

According the Minister, the site offers a platform for the call for boycott of Israel. Supporting this website is therefore, in the Minister’s view, diametrically opposed to Dutch foreign policy. ICCO disagrees with the Minister on this.

Since 2005, more than 170 Palestinian and some Israeli organisations have called for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli policy. The purpose is for Israel to comply with International law and respect human rights. This pressure is justified as the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories continue. It is a peaceful and legal way to push for an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and to achieve a peaceful and just solution. …

It is a good custom in the Netherlands for civil organisations to make their own decisions. ICCO therefore doesn’t see reason to change its policy.

As I wrote in November, the Electronic Intifada is one of the major promoters of Israel-demonization propaganda on the Internet. The publication is founded and run by vicious anti-Israel demagogue Ali Abunimah, and its articles often cross the line of legitimate criticism of the Jewish state into the swamp of anti-Semitism. Its writers promote a one-state solution, accuse the Israeli government of “ethnically cleansing” the Palestinian people, and use Nazi and apartheid epithets to describe Israel.

It’s a pretty brazen move for the ICCO to release such a strong public statement flouting the foreign minister’s request, especially when the group receives nearly all its budget from the Dutch government.

But will there be any consequences? I’d like to hope so, but judging by the ICCO’s cavalier attitude, I’m going to guess no.

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Hillary Speaks Loudly and Carries Off Big Shtick

Every once in a while, someone high up in the Obama administration says something halfway meaningful about human rights. Immediately afterward, pundits celebrate the statement, regardless of its having no connection to anything the administration actually does. In this way, America’s foundational defense of liberty is morphing into a series of symbolic nods to bygone superstition. Soon parents will explain to puzzled kids, “You see, in olden days, Americans believed they could impact freedom around the world if they did certain things, and so it’s tradition for leaders to praise ‘human rights’ when talking about oppressed people.”

Only such an explanation could make sense of the ambivalence toward human freedom displayed by Hillary Clinton this week. “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, adopting a tone reminiscent of the Bush administration, blasted Arab governments for stalled political change, warning that extremists were exploiting a lack of democracy to promote radical agendas across the Middle East,” wrote the Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon on Friday.

Here’s the “blast”: “While some countries have made great strides in governance, in many others, people have grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order. The region’s foundations are sinking into the sand.”

Well and good. But here’s the secretary of state’s less-celebrated remark, made in an interview with Al Arabiya, regarding actual American policy and the revolt in Tunisia: “We are not taking sides in it, we just hope there can be a peaceful resolution of it.” Look who’s sinking in the sand now.

It’s one thing to note that the revolution in Tunisia, like all infant revolutions, could lead to better or worse conditions. It’s quite another not to take the side of the oppressed at the outset — especially after delivering a “blast” to corrupt Arab governments. And especially after leaked diplomatic cables show American officials describing the regime of ousted Tunisian president Ben Ali as corrupt and “sclerotic,” with “no checks in the system.”

The Obama administration feels that the U.S. has no dog in the fight between freedom and autocracy. As a country, we’ve been there before — pre-9/11, to be exact. Look how peacefully those days came to a resolution. Still, one must pay lip service to tradition. So every now and then, the secretary of state or the president talk of reforming stagnant political orders and we all applaud. It’s kind of like saying “Bless you” when someone sneezes. It’s a question of manners, mostly. No one really believes, as they used to, that your soul escapes through your nose. We now know it evaporates through the process of American smart power.

Every once in a while, someone high up in the Obama administration says something halfway meaningful about human rights. Immediately afterward, pundits celebrate the statement, regardless of its having no connection to anything the administration actually does. In this way, America’s foundational defense of liberty is morphing into a series of symbolic nods to bygone superstition. Soon parents will explain to puzzled kids, “You see, in olden days, Americans believed they could impact freedom around the world if they did certain things, and so it’s tradition for leaders to praise ‘human rights’ when talking about oppressed people.”

Only such an explanation could make sense of the ambivalence toward human freedom displayed by Hillary Clinton this week. “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, adopting a tone reminiscent of the Bush administration, blasted Arab governments for stalled political change, warning that extremists were exploiting a lack of democracy to promote radical agendas across the Middle East,” wrote the Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon on Friday.

Here’s the “blast”: “While some countries have made great strides in governance, in many others, people have grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order. The region’s foundations are sinking into the sand.”

Well and good. But here’s the secretary of state’s less-celebrated remark, made in an interview with Al Arabiya, regarding actual American policy and the revolt in Tunisia: “We are not taking sides in it, we just hope there can be a peaceful resolution of it.” Look who’s sinking in the sand now.

It’s one thing to note that the revolution in Tunisia, like all infant revolutions, could lead to better or worse conditions. It’s quite another not to take the side of the oppressed at the outset — especially after delivering a “blast” to corrupt Arab governments. And especially after leaked diplomatic cables show American officials describing the regime of ousted Tunisian president Ben Ali as corrupt and “sclerotic,” with “no checks in the system.”

The Obama administration feels that the U.S. has no dog in the fight between freedom and autocracy. As a country, we’ve been there before — pre-9/11, to be exact. Look how peacefully those days came to a resolution. Still, one must pay lip service to tradition. So every now and then, the secretary of state or the president talk of reforming stagnant political orders and we all applaud. It’s kind of like saying “Bless you” when someone sneezes. It’s a question of manners, mostly. No one really believes, as they used to, that your soul escapes through your nose. We now know it evaporates through the process of American smart power.

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Was It Time or Bias that Caused the Media to Slant the Story?

Since Daniel Okrent left the post, the men who have served as the public editor of the New York Times haven’t caused much trouble for the journalists they are supposed to be monitoring. That has certainly been true of Arthur Brisbane, the latest to sit in that seat. However, when confronted with a colossal case of journalistic malpractice, even a Brisbane can’t ignore it. Thus, Brisbane was forced to address the fact that, like much of the mainstream media, the Times‘s coverage of the Arizona tragedy led with and assumed that the shooting was the result of conservative incitement, which would lead to serious political repercussions.

Unfortunately, Brisbane’s analysis of the Times coverage ignores the real problems while focusing on the one element that journalists have always had to deal with: time. Brisbane seems to think that the Times’s initial report that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was dead was terrible. It was an error but one that was an understandable result of a chaotic situation. Brisbane is more forgiving of the bigger mistake: “The Times’s day-one coverage in some of its Sunday print editions included a strong focus on the political climate in Arizona and the nation. For some readers — and I share this view to an extent — placing the violence in the broader political context was problematic.”

While he rightly deplores the instinctive decision of both reporters and editors to “frame” the Arizona shooting as an event that was a direct result of conservative dissent against the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress, Brisbane still thinks there “were some good reasons to steer the coverage in this direction.” But the only “good reason” he cites is the assumption that any violence directed at a politician must be the result of the fact that a lot of people disagree with her policies.

Brisbane acknowledges that a better focus of the Times coverage would have been one that highlighted the fact that the shooter was mentally ill. Yet he blames the false assumptions that caused the newspaper to “frame” all its coverage around a false belief that this was a political event for which conservatives must pay on the lack of time. But that is no excuse. Journalists never have enough time. But that’s no reason to take an event and shoehorn it into a fabricated story line that is based on the delegitimization of those who espouse political views that the Times opposes. Read More

Since Daniel Okrent left the post, the men who have served as the public editor of the New York Times haven’t caused much trouble for the journalists they are supposed to be monitoring. That has certainly been true of Arthur Brisbane, the latest to sit in that seat. However, when confronted with a colossal case of journalistic malpractice, even a Brisbane can’t ignore it. Thus, Brisbane was forced to address the fact that, like much of the mainstream media, the Times‘s coverage of the Arizona tragedy led with and assumed that the shooting was the result of conservative incitement, which would lead to serious political repercussions.

Unfortunately, Brisbane’s analysis of the Times coverage ignores the real problems while focusing on the one element that journalists have always had to deal with: time. Brisbane seems to think that the Times’s initial report that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was dead was terrible. It was an error but one that was an understandable result of a chaotic situation. Brisbane is more forgiving of the bigger mistake: “The Times’s day-one coverage in some of its Sunday print editions included a strong focus on the political climate in Arizona and the nation. For some readers — and I share this view to an extent — placing the violence in the broader political context was problematic.”

While he rightly deplores the instinctive decision of both reporters and editors to “frame” the Arizona shooting as an event that was a direct result of conservative dissent against the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress, Brisbane still thinks there “were some good reasons to steer the coverage in this direction.” But the only “good reason” he cites is the assumption that any violence directed at a politician must be the result of the fact that a lot of people disagree with her policies.

Brisbane acknowledges that a better focus of the Times coverage would have been one that highlighted the fact that the shooter was mentally ill. Yet he blames the false assumptions that caused the newspaper to “frame” all its coverage around a false belief that this was a political event for which conservatives must pay on the lack of time. But that is no excuse. Journalists never have enough time. But that’s no reason to take an event and shoehorn it into a fabricated story line that is based on the delegitimization of those who espouse political views that the Times opposes.

It wasn’t time that caused the editors at the Times and other broadcast media to falsely accuse conservatives of inciting the shooter; it was their own very obvious political bias. Like the pundits who write on the paper’s op-ed page who have continued to link the crime to politics, even after President Obama urged his followers to stop doing so, the paper’s news editors live in a world where conservative opinions simply aren’t legitimate. Indeed, on the same page where Brisbane’s apologia for the paper appears was a column by Frank Rich that again sought to falsely link Palin to the shooting. Rich spoke of the widespread public anger against the Obama administration’s policies as a violent “insurrection” that threatens the rule of law rather than a grassroots movement that led to an overwhelming Republican victory at the polls last November. Like so many other liberals, Rich thinks it doesn’t matter than Jared Loughner was insane. As far as he is concerned, those who oppose the Democrats are still responsible, even though Rich has produced as much “hate” of President Bush and the Republicans as even the most rabid conservative talk-radio hosts have of Obama.

It is noteworthy that Brisbane even bothered to notice how badly his newspaper got the story wrong. But until he addresses the political bias that was the primary cause of that error, accountability at the Times is still not in the cards.

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Morning Commentary

Lee Smith writes on the plight of Christians in Middle Eastern countries and notes that unless Christians are somehow able to establish representation in government and receive protection from Middle Eastern leaders (an unlikely possibility at this point), their existence will remain in jeopardy: “Both recent converts and ancient congregations—the Assyrians in Iraq, the Copts in Egypt, Lebanon’s Maronite Catholics, and more, long antedating Islam—are under fire. The land where Christianity began is being cleansed of Jesus’ followers. It is possible that we will soon see an event without precedent: the end of a living Christian witness in this region after more than 2,000 years.”

Is the Western response to the recent events in Tunisia evidence that the Freedom Agenda is back on the rise? At Pajamas Media, Richard Fernandez writes,After years of laughing at the idea that spreading democracy was America’s most useful foreign policy weapon and touting grand bargains with the worst regimes in world, even the New York Times sees in the departure of Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali the startling idea that Arabs will not necessarily tolerate tyranny forever.”

Reince Priebus was a largely unknown name until the Wisconsin GOP chair defeated Michael Steele last Friday in the race for Republican National Committee chair. On the surface, Priebus appears to be about as different from Steele as you can get; he’s likely to be more of a fundraising-focused, behind-the-scenes leader than a TV personality. Politico has more on his background: “Anti-abortion leaders see him as unwavering on the life issue. He talks often about his faith. Support from famous fiscal conservatives like Rep. Paul Ryan, who represents Priebus’s district, gives him credibility with that wing of the party.”

Ron Reagan Jr.’s controversial new book — which claims that his father was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease while in office — has understandably ruffled the feathers of some conservatives. But now it looks like some of Ron’s evidence is falling apart under scrutiny.

Jesse Jackson Jr. clearly has no idea what “homegrown terrorism” means: “However, from the shooting of Lincoln to the events in Tucson, there is a thread that liberals and conservatives have ignored. Each event traumatized our government and disrupted its business — and was carried out by anti-government activists. And that’s terror.”

Lee Smith writes on the plight of Christians in Middle Eastern countries and notes that unless Christians are somehow able to establish representation in government and receive protection from Middle Eastern leaders (an unlikely possibility at this point), their existence will remain in jeopardy: “Both recent converts and ancient congregations—the Assyrians in Iraq, the Copts in Egypt, Lebanon’s Maronite Catholics, and more, long antedating Islam—are under fire. The land where Christianity began is being cleansed of Jesus’ followers. It is possible that we will soon see an event without precedent: the end of a living Christian witness in this region after more than 2,000 years.”

Is the Western response to the recent events in Tunisia evidence that the Freedom Agenda is back on the rise? At Pajamas Media, Richard Fernandez writes,After years of laughing at the idea that spreading democracy was America’s most useful foreign policy weapon and touting grand bargains with the worst regimes in world, even the New York Times sees in the departure of Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali the startling idea that Arabs will not necessarily tolerate tyranny forever.”

Reince Priebus was a largely unknown name until the Wisconsin GOP chair defeated Michael Steele last Friday in the race for Republican National Committee chair. On the surface, Priebus appears to be about as different from Steele as you can get; he’s likely to be more of a fundraising-focused, behind-the-scenes leader than a TV personality. Politico has more on his background: “Anti-abortion leaders see him as unwavering on the life issue. He talks often about his faith. Support from famous fiscal conservatives like Rep. Paul Ryan, who represents Priebus’s district, gives him credibility with that wing of the party.”

Ron Reagan Jr.’s controversial new book — which claims that his father was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease while in office — has understandably ruffled the feathers of some conservatives. But now it looks like some of Ron’s evidence is falling apart under scrutiny.

Jesse Jackson Jr. clearly has no idea what “homegrown terrorism” means: “However, from the shooting of Lincoln to the events in Tucson, there is a thread that liberals and conservatives have ignored. Each event traumatized our government and disrupted its business — and was carried out by anti-government activists. And that’s terror.”

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Stay Engaged with Tunisia

As Max Boot implies, riot-torn Tunisia is not predestined for any particular future. The U.S. response will matter to the outcome. The sclerotic Ben Ali regime has been under rhetorical fire from dissidents for years due to its corrupt, repressive character, but there is no evidence of an organized opposition bent on armed revolution. No ideological red flags are waving over Tunisia; there may be groups encouraging the outbreak of unrest, but there has been no accelerating drumbeat from a well-defined radical organization like the plotters of the Iranian revolution in 1979. The riots in Tunisia mirror the fears in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan over a common set of economic woes: rising food and gas prices and high unemployment.

But while Tunisia may not be experiencing a centrally directed ideological revolt, the political conditions are not quiescent there. If pluralism and consensual government are to take hold, the U.S. will have to interest itself in the process. The usual suspects — the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda — have stakes in Tunisia already. The principal opposition group, al-Nadha (“Renaissance”), is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi (not to be confused with the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took power on Friday), is an exile in Britain, a biographical detail that echoes the history of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But Ghannouchi’s profile as a Sunni Islamist leader is more similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi; Ghannouchi endorses terrorist groups like Hamas but spends most of his time writing, lecturing, and attending conferences.

Rachid Ghannouchi has been largely silent during the past week’s unrest, giving no indication that he has specific political intentions. But he would be a natural focus of interest for regional governments — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France — that are on the alert to influence developments in Tunisia. Attempts at influence by Tehran are a given as well: Ghannouchi was an early supporter of the 1979 revolution and has maintained his ties to Iranian clerics. Tunisia severed relations with Iran in the 1980s over the Islamic Republic’s penchant for fomenting unrest, but diplomatic and economic ties have been restored over the past decade. These ties include an Iranian cultural center in Tunis (referenced here and here), an entity that in other regional nations has been a means of introducing paramilitary operatives and Islamist recruiters. Read More

As Max Boot implies, riot-torn Tunisia is not predestined for any particular future. The U.S. response will matter to the outcome. The sclerotic Ben Ali regime has been under rhetorical fire from dissidents for years due to its corrupt, repressive character, but there is no evidence of an organized opposition bent on armed revolution. No ideological red flags are waving over Tunisia; there may be groups encouraging the outbreak of unrest, but there has been no accelerating drumbeat from a well-defined radical organization like the plotters of the Iranian revolution in 1979. The riots in Tunisia mirror the fears in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan over a common set of economic woes: rising food and gas prices and high unemployment.

But while Tunisia may not be experiencing a centrally directed ideological revolt, the political conditions are not quiescent there. If pluralism and consensual government are to take hold, the U.S. will have to interest itself in the process. The usual suspects — the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda — have stakes in Tunisia already. The principal opposition group, al-Nadha (“Renaissance”), is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi (not to be confused with the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took power on Friday), is an exile in Britain, a biographical detail that echoes the history of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But Ghannouchi’s profile as a Sunni Islamist leader is more similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi; Ghannouchi endorses terrorist groups like Hamas but spends most of his time writing, lecturing, and attending conferences.

Rachid Ghannouchi has been largely silent during the past week’s unrest, giving no indication that he has specific political intentions. But he would be a natural focus of interest for regional governments — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France — that are on the alert to influence developments in Tunisia. Attempts at influence by Tehran are a given as well: Ghannouchi was an early supporter of the 1979 revolution and has maintained his ties to Iranian clerics. Tunisia severed relations with Iran in the 1980s over the Islamic Republic’s penchant for fomenting unrest, but diplomatic and economic ties have been restored over the past decade. These ties include an Iranian cultural center in Tunis (referenced here and here), an entity that in other regional nations has been a means of introducing paramilitary operatives and Islamist recruiters.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) has seized on the Tunisian unrest as a pretext for issuing audio appeals and a recruiting video. There is no evidence AQIM is organized for operations on a large scale, nor is the seizure of political power an al-Qaeda method. But any period of internal disorder in Tunisia will be an invitation to AQIM to ramp up its efforts there.

Tunisia sits on a crucial geographic chokepoint — the Strait of Sicily — in the central Mediterranean Sea. The U.S. and Europe can get away with shrinking navies while the Mediterranean coast is held by well-disposed governments. But Tunisia is one of a handful of nations in the world that could single-handedly turn a maritime choke point into an oversize international security problem. A radicalized Tunisia would have even greater security implications than a radicalized Libya or Algeria; the geography of a strait is a stern taskmaster. And Iran’s history of interest in the choke points on which the West relies for commerce and naval power (see here and here) suggests that the leadership in Tehran is fully aware of those implications and will do what it can to exploit them.

The good news is that a newly liberal, consensual government in Tunisia would be the best outcome for U.S. interests as well as for Tunisians. But we will have to actively encourage that outcome if we want to see it. The forces working against it are sure to multiply.

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The Problem Will Not Be Solved with Adjectives

Laura Rozen reports that the Obama administration is seeking new ideas from outside experts to advance its peace process — one that, in the words of an administration consultant, is “utterly stuck.”

There are apparently two task forces: one headed by Sandy Berger and Stephen Hadley, national security advisers in the Clinton and Bush administrations who know something about failed peace processes; and another one headed by perennial peace processor Martin Indyk, whose last plan involved jumping out a window.

Rozen quotes another veteran peace processor who suggests three options (when someone offers three options, the first two are invariably non-starters and the third is the one he wants):

“There are three options that this administration can adopt,” former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer told POLITICO Thursday. “It can elicit an Israeli initiative. It can elicit a Palestinian initiative. Or it can develop its own initiative.”

“It’s had no success with the first two, and it hasn’t tried the third,” Kurtzer said. “So if it wants to try to develop an initiative, it’s got to come up with a substantive program that says to the parties, ‘When you get to negotiations, here are your terms of reference.’”

It is unclear what happens after the Palestinians reject the term of reference requiring them to give up a “right of return” to Israel, or after the Israelis reject the term of reference requiring them to move back to indefensible borders.

Kurtzer has long been an advocate of the U.S.’s setting forth its own “vision,” with “strong terms of reference,” backed by diplomacy that is “creative, active, sustained, bold and determined.” But in his testimony proposing that last year, Kurtzer acknowledged he did not “understand why, in 2010, the Saudis do not allow normal Israeli civilian air traffic over its territory” — the one step President Obama had requested from them to advance the peace process. He also acknowledged that the Palestinians are divided both geographically and politically, with a terrorist group governing Gaza and a public discourse and public-education system still infused with anti-Semitism.

The peace process has not lacked for plans or processes: the Oslo Process, the Camp David Summit, the Clinton Parameters, the Taba negotiations, the Roadmap, the Gaza disengagement, the Annapolis Process, and two years of non-talks and Palestinian preconditions.

If the United States cannot — even with a presidential visit, a bow, and a personal request — secure from the Saudis the minimal step of permitting Jews to traverse the country once a week, for an hour, at 35,000 feet, and if the Palestinians remain a society half in the grip of terrorists and half in a faux democracy suffused with anti-Semitism, unwilling to recognize a Jewish state, the problem is not one that will be solved by an American plan, even if accompanied by “creative, active, sustained, bold, and determined” diplomacy.

Laura Rozen reports that the Obama administration is seeking new ideas from outside experts to advance its peace process — one that, in the words of an administration consultant, is “utterly stuck.”

There are apparently two task forces: one headed by Sandy Berger and Stephen Hadley, national security advisers in the Clinton and Bush administrations who know something about failed peace processes; and another one headed by perennial peace processor Martin Indyk, whose last plan involved jumping out a window.

Rozen quotes another veteran peace processor who suggests three options (when someone offers three options, the first two are invariably non-starters and the third is the one he wants):

“There are three options that this administration can adopt,” former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer told POLITICO Thursday. “It can elicit an Israeli initiative. It can elicit a Palestinian initiative. Or it can develop its own initiative.”

“It’s had no success with the first two, and it hasn’t tried the third,” Kurtzer said. “So if it wants to try to develop an initiative, it’s got to come up with a substantive program that says to the parties, ‘When you get to negotiations, here are your terms of reference.’”

It is unclear what happens after the Palestinians reject the term of reference requiring them to give up a “right of return” to Israel, or after the Israelis reject the term of reference requiring them to move back to indefensible borders.

Kurtzer has long been an advocate of the U.S.’s setting forth its own “vision,” with “strong terms of reference,” backed by diplomacy that is “creative, active, sustained, bold and determined.” But in his testimony proposing that last year, Kurtzer acknowledged he did not “understand why, in 2010, the Saudis do not allow normal Israeli civilian air traffic over its territory” — the one step President Obama had requested from them to advance the peace process. He also acknowledged that the Palestinians are divided both geographically and politically, with a terrorist group governing Gaza and a public discourse and public-education system still infused with anti-Semitism.

The peace process has not lacked for plans or processes: the Oslo Process, the Camp David Summit, the Clinton Parameters, the Taba negotiations, the Roadmap, the Gaza disengagement, the Annapolis Process, and two years of non-talks and Palestinian preconditions.

If the United States cannot — even with a presidential visit, a bow, and a personal request — secure from the Saudis the minimal step of permitting Jews to traverse the country once a week, for an hour, at 35,000 feet, and if the Palestinians remain a society half in the grip of terrorists and half in a faux democracy suffused with anti-Semitism, unwilling to recognize a Jewish state, the problem is not one that will be solved by an American plan, even if accompanied by “creative, active, sustained, bold, and determined” diplomacy.

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