Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 24, 2011

Who’s Behind the Palestinian Papers?

As Noah and others have written, nearly all the supposed revelations in the Palestinian Papers were already public knowledge before yesterday. And while the media has unsurprisingly spun the story to make Israel look as bad as possible, the political fallout for the Israelis will be minimal.

In fact, as Noah pointed out, if the papers make any Israeli lawmaker look bad, it’s the current opposition party leader, Tzipi Livni. So if the point of the leak was to harm the Netanyahu administration, then this was a pretty brainless way to go about it.

One other possibility is that the papers were meant to undermine the peace process. But that would have been a failed strategy as well. The negotiations can’t get much deader than they are right now, so releasing the papers to that end is simply unnecessary.

The ones who have been most damaged by the papers so far are PA officials, who are perceived by hardliners in the West Bank as being too soft during negotiations. PA leaders have been extremely defensive about the leak today, claiming that the documents were doctored and that their statements were intentionally mischaracterized.

The Guardian noted the political consequences for the PA in an article yesterday, and pointed out that the leak could benefit Hamas:

Some Fatah leaders are likely to accuse al-Jazeera of having an anti-PA agenda by publishing the leaked documents, which they believe will benefit their Hamas rivals, backed by Iran — as shown in critical comments about the TV station in the documents themselves.

Al Jazeera, the news outlet the documents were released to, is also known to have a bias against the PA. So it seems reasonable that whoever released the papers may have been aiming to embarrass the current West Bank leadership. The question is who?

Hamas officials or sympathizers are one possibility. But there isn’t a strong likelihood that anyone like that would have had access to these government documents.

It’s also possible that the leak could have come from a current or former PA official who has an ax to grind with the present leadership. And while there are many possibilities, one name has been mentioned as a potential leaker: Muhammad Dahlan. Once an extremely powerful Fatah leader, Dahlan has undergone a steep fall from grace over the past few months. After clashing with President Mahmoud Abbas, Dahlan has been exiled from the Fatah movement, stripped of his government position, and is currently being investigated for allegedly plotting to overthrow Abbas.

It’s likely that Dahlan would have access to the types of documents that were released. And he certainly has a reason to want to weaken the current Fatah leadership.

Of course, there’s no serious evidence linking Dahlan to the leak. And there are undoubtedly many others in the PA government and elsewhere who would also have a motive to release the documents. But one thing seems to be obvious, based on the evidence so far. Despite the media spin, the Israelis were not the intended target.

As Noah and others have written, nearly all the supposed revelations in the Palestinian Papers were already public knowledge before yesterday. And while the media has unsurprisingly spun the story to make Israel look as bad as possible, the political fallout for the Israelis will be minimal.

In fact, as Noah pointed out, if the papers make any Israeli lawmaker look bad, it’s the current opposition party leader, Tzipi Livni. So if the point of the leak was to harm the Netanyahu administration, then this was a pretty brainless way to go about it.

One other possibility is that the papers were meant to undermine the peace process. But that would have been a failed strategy as well. The negotiations can’t get much deader than they are right now, so releasing the papers to that end is simply unnecessary.

The ones who have been most damaged by the papers so far are PA officials, who are perceived by hardliners in the West Bank as being too soft during negotiations. PA leaders have been extremely defensive about the leak today, claiming that the documents were doctored and that their statements were intentionally mischaracterized.

The Guardian noted the political consequences for the PA in an article yesterday, and pointed out that the leak could benefit Hamas:

Some Fatah leaders are likely to accuse al-Jazeera of having an anti-PA agenda by publishing the leaked documents, which they believe will benefit their Hamas rivals, backed by Iran — as shown in critical comments about the TV station in the documents themselves.

Al Jazeera, the news outlet the documents were released to, is also known to have a bias against the PA. So it seems reasonable that whoever released the papers may have been aiming to embarrass the current West Bank leadership. The question is who?

Hamas officials or sympathizers are one possibility. But there isn’t a strong likelihood that anyone like that would have had access to these government documents.

It’s also possible that the leak could have come from a current or former PA official who has an ax to grind with the present leadership. And while there are many possibilities, one name has been mentioned as a potential leaker: Muhammad Dahlan. Once an extremely powerful Fatah leader, Dahlan has undergone a steep fall from grace over the past few months. After clashing with President Mahmoud Abbas, Dahlan has been exiled from the Fatah movement, stripped of his government position, and is currently being investigated for allegedly plotting to overthrow Abbas.

It’s likely that Dahlan would have access to the types of documents that were released. And he certainly has a reason to want to weaken the current Fatah leadership.

Of course, there’s no serious evidence linking Dahlan to the leak. And there are undoubtedly many others in the PA government and elsewhere who would also have a motive to release the documents. But one thing seems to be obvious, based on the evidence so far. Despite the media spin, the Israelis were not the intended target.

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Activists Find It’s Easier to Slur Peter King than to Look in the Mirror

Ever since Rep. Peter King announced his plans to hold hearings on the influence of radical Islam on the rise of homegrown terrorism in this country, he has been subjected to a furious backlash from groups purporting to represent American Muslims and their cheerleaders in the media. In today’s Washington Post, his critics take the fight to his home ground in the form of a profile of a Long Island mosque that is represented as a peaceful congregation of perplexed King constituents who don’t know why their congressman is doing them harm.

But while the intent of the article seems to be to cast aspersions on King’s hearings, the result is not entirely flattering to the supposedly “moderate” Muslims who are angry with him. As it turns out, King was a supporter of the Westbury, N.Y., mosque and once received an award from it for his advocacy on behalf of U.S. intervention to save Bosnian Muslims. But the love affair between King and the Islamic Center of Long Island ended when leaders of the mosque reacted to the 9/11 atrocities by denying that Muslims took part in the crime, instead blaming it on Israel. In other words, far from being a source of genuine moderation, this mosque was just another venue for the anti-Zionist and anti-American conspiracy theories and hatred that are the bedrock of Islamist ideology that fuels homegrown terrorism.

King has now become the target of false charges of Islamophobia and McCarthyism, but rather than stirring up hate against Islam, what he has done is to challenge American Muslims to stand up and participate in the fight against terror. Instead, groups such as the Council on American Islamic Relations, which are lauded as representing “mainstream” Islam, are actually urging their members not to cooperate with federal terror probes. This is a development that proves King’s point about the need to highlight the ideological support that terrorists and their fellow travelers and apologists are getting from mosques and Muslim groups.

Instead of working hard to reinforce the myth that Muslims are being subjected to a post-9/11 discriminatory backlash, King’s Muslim critics should be devoting their energies to creating an American Islam that is hostile to Islamism and supportive of government efforts to fight it. King rightly describes arguments put forward to spike his hearings as “politically correct nonsense,” but the problem goes deeper than just an aversion to hurting the feelings of certain groups. At the heart of this fight is a false narrative of both how followers of Islam have been treated since 9/11 and the way in which American Muslim institutions have been compromised by Islamist tendencies. Unless and until the truth about both subjects is fully aired, it is Rep. King and not the troubling way mosques have been used to rationalize and support terror that will continue to be the subject of press scrutiny.

Ever since Rep. Peter King announced his plans to hold hearings on the influence of radical Islam on the rise of homegrown terrorism in this country, he has been subjected to a furious backlash from groups purporting to represent American Muslims and their cheerleaders in the media. In today’s Washington Post, his critics take the fight to his home ground in the form of a profile of a Long Island mosque that is represented as a peaceful congregation of perplexed King constituents who don’t know why their congressman is doing them harm.

But while the intent of the article seems to be to cast aspersions on King’s hearings, the result is not entirely flattering to the supposedly “moderate” Muslims who are angry with him. As it turns out, King was a supporter of the Westbury, N.Y., mosque and once received an award from it for his advocacy on behalf of U.S. intervention to save Bosnian Muslims. But the love affair between King and the Islamic Center of Long Island ended when leaders of the mosque reacted to the 9/11 atrocities by denying that Muslims took part in the crime, instead blaming it on Israel. In other words, far from being a source of genuine moderation, this mosque was just another venue for the anti-Zionist and anti-American conspiracy theories and hatred that are the bedrock of Islamist ideology that fuels homegrown terrorism.

King has now become the target of false charges of Islamophobia and McCarthyism, but rather than stirring up hate against Islam, what he has done is to challenge American Muslims to stand up and participate in the fight against terror. Instead, groups such as the Council on American Islamic Relations, which are lauded as representing “mainstream” Islam, are actually urging their members not to cooperate with federal terror probes. This is a development that proves King’s point about the need to highlight the ideological support that terrorists and their fellow travelers and apologists are getting from mosques and Muslim groups.

Instead of working hard to reinforce the myth that Muslims are being subjected to a post-9/11 discriminatory backlash, King’s Muslim critics should be devoting their energies to creating an American Islam that is hostile to Islamism and supportive of government efforts to fight it. King rightly describes arguments put forward to spike his hearings as “politically correct nonsense,” but the problem goes deeper than just an aversion to hurting the feelings of certain groups. At the heart of this fight is a false narrative of both how followers of Islam have been treated since 9/11 and the way in which American Muslim institutions have been compromised by Islamist tendencies. Unless and until the truth about both subjects is fully aired, it is Rep. King and not the troubling way mosques have been used to rationalize and support terror that will continue to be the subject of press scrutiny.

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The Fierce Urgency of UNRWA

At tomorrow’s hearing on “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action,” the House Foreign Affairs Committee will consider recommendations that the U.S. end its funding for the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). An even more urgent issue, however, relates to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Some argue that the U.S. should stop funding UNRWA as well, but the urgency involves more than UNRWA’s financing. Its latest three-year mandate comes up for renewal in June, and the U.S. needs to decide soon what its position should be.

UNRWA is a “temporary agency” currently in its 62nd year. It was established in 1949 to serve approximately 700,000 Arabs and more than 800,000 Jews who became refugees as a result of the Arab war against Israel. In 1952, UNRWA stopped assisting Jewish refugees, since they had been resettled in Israel and other countries. But in its 62 years, UNRWA has yet to resettle a single Arab refugee. It is instrumental in keeping them in squalid camps, generation after generation, expanding their numbers with a unique definition of “refugee” not applied in other refugee situations.

Forget the controversy over how many Palestinians left at Arab urging to make way for the promised destruction of Israel by the invading Arab armies; how many fled the horrors of war on their own initiative; how many were pushed out in the course of the war. That issue is the subject of faux Palestinian scholarship, but the fundamental fact is there would be no refugees at all if the Arabs had accepted the UN’s two-state solution in 1947 instead of starting a war – and trying it again in 1967.

It is a human-rights violation of the first order that Arab refugees and their descendants have not been offered citizenship in the Arab countries where they have now lived most or all of their lives. But UNRWA rules out such resettlement – unlike the remedy used for all other refugees in the world. As Jonathan D. Halevi has demonstrated in a compelling analysis, and as Michael Bernstam has shown in his extraordinary article in the December issue of COMMENTARY, “The Palestinian Proletariat,” the refugee problem is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and UNRWA is part of the problem.

Before the “temporary” agency’s mandate is renewed again, that mandate needs to be reconsidered. Instead of holding refugees in camps for decades, hoping to force them on Israel — the state that resettled an even greater number of Jewish refugees resulting from the 1948 war — Arab states should finally assume moral and financial responsibility for the refugees their war created, and UNRWA should start resettling them there. After 62 years, the time is now.

At tomorrow’s hearing on “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action,” the House Foreign Affairs Committee will consider recommendations that the U.S. end its funding for the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). An even more urgent issue, however, relates to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Some argue that the U.S. should stop funding UNRWA as well, but the urgency involves more than UNRWA’s financing. Its latest three-year mandate comes up for renewal in June, and the U.S. needs to decide soon what its position should be.

UNRWA is a “temporary agency” currently in its 62nd year. It was established in 1949 to serve approximately 700,000 Arabs and more than 800,000 Jews who became refugees as a result of the Arab war against Israel. In 1952, UNRWA stopped assisting Jewish refugees, since they had been resettled in Israel and other countries. But in its 62 years, UNRWA has yet to resettle a single Arab refugee. It is instrumental in keeping them in squalid camps, generation after generation, expanding their numbers with a unique definition of “refugee” not applied in other refugee situations.

Forget the controversy over how many Palestinians left at Arab urging to make way for the promised destruction of Israel by the invading Arab armies; how many fled the horrors of war on their own initiative; how many were pushed out in the course of the war. That issue is the subject of faux Palestinian scholarship, but the fundamental fact is there would be no refugees at all if the Arabs had accepted the UN’s two-state solution in 1947 instead of starting a war – and trying it again in 1967.

It is a human-rights violation of the first order that Arab refugees and their descendants have not been offered citizenship in the Arab countries where they have now lived most or all of their lives. But UNRWA rules out such resettlement – unlike the remedy used for all other refugees in the world. As Jonathan D. Halevi has demonstrated in a compelling analysis, and as Michael Bernstam has shown in his extraordinary article in the December issue of COMMENTARY, “The Palestinian Proletariat,” the refugee problem is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and UNRWA is part of the problem.

Before the “temporary” agency’s mandate is renewed again, that mandate needs to be reconsidered. Instead of holding refugees in camps for decades, hoping to force them on Israel — the state that resettled an even greater number of Jewish refugees resulting from the 1948 war — Arab states should finally assume moral and financial responsibility for the refugees their war created, and UNRWA should start resettling them there. After 62 years, the time is now.

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Colin Powell: Budget Cutter

On CNN yesterday, in discussing the budget, Colin Powell said that “the real money [is] in the entitlements … and unless we do something about those, you can’t balance the budget.” He added, “You can’t fix the deficit or the national debt by killing NPR or National Endowment for the Humanities or the Arts. Nice political chatter, but that doesn’t do it.” And then, putting on his David Stockman cape, Powell said: “Don’t tell me you’re going to freeze to a level. That usually is a very inefficient way of doing it. Tell me what you’re going to cut, and nobody up there yet is being very, very candid about what they are going to cut to fix this problem.”

Secretary Powell is quite right that entitlement programs are where the real money is. And Powell is also correct when he says that you can’t fix the deficit or the national debt by killing NPR or the NEA. Of course, the former secretary of state can’t name a single influential Republican figure who has made such a claim.

The case against NPR and the NEA isn’t that they absorb a huge percentage of federal dollars; it is that they are undeserving of taxpayer money. They don’t have a legitimate claim on public funds. Why should NPR get taxpayer subsidies when no other news outlet does? And why should the federal government be subsidizing such a thing in the first place? Does anyone really believe Diane Rehm or Terry Gross are national treasures who merit taxpayer support?

Beyond that, symbolism matters. Having the House cuts its own budget won’t fix our fiscal imbalance either — but it’s still a worthwhile thing to do, both symbolically and on the merits.

Finally, Powell wants to know specifically what Republicans are going to cut. To which I would say: Patience, Mr. Secretary, patience. In just a matter of months, Representative Paul Ryan is going to produce a detailed budget, and his colleagues on the appropriations committee are going to list specific programs they want to cut. This will cause official Washington to shriek in protest, even though those cuts by themselves won’t be nearly enough. But it will be a start.

I hope conservative lawmakers can count on Powell’s support rather than criticism once they gin up the courage and do what Powell is now demanding of them. As this drama unfolds, will he be arguing for fiscal discipline and limited government — or will he try to ward off cuts in his favorite programs?

I would be delighted — and frankly surprised — if Secretary Powell ends up being a strong, visible ally of genuine budget cutters. But here’s to hoping.

On CNN yesterday, in discussing the budget, Colin Powell said that “the real money [is] in the entitlements … and unless we do something about those, you can’t balance the budget.” He added, “You can’t fix the deficit or the national debt by killing NPR or National Endowment for the Humanities or the Arts. Nice political chatter, but that doesn’t do it.” And then, putting on his David Stockman cape, Powell said: “Don’t tell me you’re going to freeze to a level. That usually is a very inefficient way of doing it. Tell me what you’re going to cut, and nobody up there yet is being very, very candid about what they are going to cut to fix this problem.”

Secretary Powell is quite right that entitlement programs are where the real money is. And Powell is also correct when he says that you can’t fix the deficit or the national debt by killing NPR or the NEA. Of course, the former secretary of state can’t name a single influential Republican figure who has made such a claim.

The case against NPR and the NEA isn’t that they absorb a huge percentage of federal dollars; it is that they are undeserving of taxpayer money. They don’t have a legitimate claim on public funds. Why should NPR get taxpayer subsidies when no other news outlet does? And why should the federal government be subsidizing such a thing in the first place? Does anyone really believe Diane Rehm or Terry Gross are national treasures who merit taxpayer support?

Beyond that, symbolism matters. Having the House cuts its own budget won’t fix our fiscal imbalance either — but it’s still a worthwhile thing to do, both symbolically and on the merits.

Finally, Powell wants to know specifically what Republicans are going to cut. To which I would say: Patience, Mr. Secretary, patience. In just a matter of months, Representative Paul Ryan is going to produce a detailed budget, and his colleagues on the appropriations committee are going to list specific programs they want to cut. This will cause official Washington to shriek in protest, even though those cuts by themselves won’t be nearly enough. But it will be a start.

I hope conservative lawmakers can count on Powell’s support rather than criticism once they gin up the courage and do what Powell is now demanding of them. As this drama unfolds, will he be arguing for fiscal discipline and limited government — or will he try to ward off cuts in his favorite programs?

I would be delighted — and frankly surprised — if Secretary Powell ends up being a strong, visible ally of genuine budget cutters. But here’s to hoping.

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Americans Conflicted About How Arizona Tragedy Could Have Been Prevented

A new Gallup poll out today highlights how difficult it is to deal with the Arizona shooting from a public-policy standpoint. While the majority of Americans want policies put in place to prevent these kinds of attacks from taking place in the future, there doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus as to what those policies would be.

Stricter gun control was the top choice on the list, with 24 percent of respondents saying it could prevent mass shootings. But oddly, Americans were less convinced that gun control would have specifically stopped the Arizona shooting — seven out of 10 said it wouldn’t have made a difference in that case, according to a previous Gallup poll. That’s similar to another Gallup poll from 2007, which found that the majority of Americans didn’t think stronger gun control would have prevented the Virginia Tech shootings.

“The public’s instinctive reaction when asked about shooting prevention is to talk about guns, perhaps because these types of mass shootings by definition involve individuals with firearms shooting other individuals,” said the Gallup study.

The idea of “stricter gun control” does seem like a good preventative measure, hypothetically. But the actual facts of the attacks in Arizona and at Virginia Tech make it obvious to the public that gun-control laws probably wouldn’t have prevented the shooters from obtaining a firearm.

In fact, it doesn’t appear that any of the suggestions on the Gallup list would have had much of an effect on the shooting in Arizona. Better mental-health screening and support — which was the most popular choice after gun control — are only helpful if the person in need of the support cooperates. Teaching kids about violence and the proper use of guns came in third on the list. But just because someone knows the proper use of guns doesn’t mean he’ll use one lawfully. Other possibilities included extensive background checks on gun purchases, stricter security measures at public gatherings, and increased public awareness of danger — all of which have their own limitations.

So while the policy proposals being tossed around in Washington may help lawmakers feel like they’re doing something helpful and productive, at the moment, there just aren’t any ideas on the table that will make a big difference in the long run.

A new Gallup poll out today highlights how difficult it is to deal with the Arizona shooting from a public-policy standpoint. While the majority of Americans want policies put in place to prevent these kinds of attacks from taking place in the future, there doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus as to what those policies would be.

Stricter gun control was the top choice on the list, with 24 percent of respondents saying it could prevent mass shootings. But oddly, Americans were less convinced that gun control would have specifically stopped the Arizona shooting — seven out of 10 said it wouldn’t have made a difference in that case, according to a previous Gallup poll. That’s similar to another Gallup poll from 2007, which found that the majority of Americans didn’t think stronger gun control would have prevented the Virginia Tech shootings.

“The public’s instinctive reaction when asked about shooting prevention is to talk about guns, perhaps because these types of mass shootings by definition involve individuals with firearms shooting other individuals,” said the Gallup study.

The idea of “stricter gun control” does seem like a good preventative measure, hypothetically. But the actual facts of the attacks in Arizona and at Virginia Tech make it obvious to the public that gun-control laws probably wouldn’t have prevented the shooters from obtaining a firearm.

In fact, it doesn’t appear that any of the suggestions on the Gallup list would have had much of an effect on the shooting in Arizona. Better mental-health screening and support — which was the most popular choice after gun control — are only helpful if the person in need of the support cooperates. Teaching kids about violence and the proper use of guns came in third on the list. But just because someone knows the proper use of guns doesn’t mean he’ll use one lawfully. Other possibilities included extensive background checks on gun purchases, stricter security measures at public gatherings, and increased public awareness of danger — all of which have their own limitations.

So while the policy proposals being tossed around in Washington may help lawmakers feel like they’re doing something helpful and productive, at the moment, there just aren’t any ideas on the table that will make a big difference in the long run.

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Was Tim Russert Olbermann’s ‘Greatest Protector’?

The divorce between Keith Olbermann and MSNBC is no surprise. Mr. Olbermann is a notoriously difficult personality; he left on bad terms with ESPN, FOX sports, and now, for a second time, MSNBC.

Olbermann proved to be a ratings draw for MSNBC and helped it secure a solid second place among cable news networks — far behind FOX but still ahead of CNN. Yet higher ratings came at a high cost. Olbermann’s presence stained the journalistic reputation of not only MSNBC but also NBC News. After all, it was the home for, and gave a platform to, an individual who embodied liberalism at its most enraged, most extreme, and most irresponsible. Moreover, for a time Olbermann was not simply a commentator for MSNBC; he was also (with Chris Matthews) an anchor for its political coverage. Having Olbermann as one of the stars in NBC’s journalistic galaxy revealed its biases and also made them more pronounced.

One other thing is worth calling attention to — Olbermann’s statement, in his final broadcast, that Tim Russert was Olbermann’s “greatest protector and most indefatigable cheerleader.”

Since Tim died in 2008, it’s impossible to know whether he would agree with Olbermann’s characterization. But count me a skeptic.

We know Russert was himself an outstanding journalist, a man of impressive fairness who cared deeply about NBC’s reputation. It has also been widely reported that one of Russert’s best friends, Tom Brokaw, felt that Olbermann was doing significant damage to MSNBC. (“After Russert died and Brokaw appointed himself the custodian of the Russert legend, he began beating on Steve Capus and Jeff Zucker and Jeff Immelt that MSNBC was an embarrassment,” one source familiar with the inner workings of the newsroom has said.)

Is it possible that Russert saw in Olbermann what no other serious person did? Could Russert have actually considered Olbermann a jewel in the NBC News crown? Perhaps. But it would take a lot more for me to believe Russert was an “indefatigable cheerleader” for Olbermann than simply Olbermann’s claim that this was the case. After all, Olbermann fashioned himself as not simply a journalist but a modern-day Edward R. Murrow, which tells you everything you need to know about the scale of his self-deception and conceit.

The divorce between Keith Olbermann and MSNBC is no surprise. Mr. Olbermann is a notoriously difficult personality; he left on bad terms with ESPN, FOX sports, and now, for a second time, MSNBC.

Olbermann proved to be a ratings draw for MSNBC and helped it secure a solid second place among cable news networks — far behind FOX but still ahead of CNN. Yet higher ratings came at a high cost. Olbermann’s presence stained the journalistic reputation of not only MSNBC but also NBC News. After all, it was the home for, and gave a platform to, an individual who embodied liberalism at its most enraged, most extreme, and most irresponsible. Moreover, for a time Olbermann was not simply a commentator for MSNBC; he was also (with Chris Matthews) an anchor for its political coverage. Having Olbermann as one of the stars in NBC’s journalistic galaxy revealed its biases and also made them more pronounced.

One other thing is worth calling attention to — Olbermann’s statement, in his final broadcast, that Tim Russert was Olbermann’s “greatest protector and most indefatigable cheerleader.”

Since Tim died in 2008, it’s impossible to know whether he would agree with Olbermann’s characterization. But count me a skeptic.

We know Russert was himself an outstanding journalist, a man of impressive fairness who cared deeply about NBC’s reputation. It has also been widely reported that one of Russert’s best friends, Tom Brokaw, felt that Olbermann was doing significant damage to MSNBC. (“After Russert died and Brokaw appointed himself the custodian of the Russert legend, he began beating on Steve Capus and Jeff Zucker and Jeff Immelt that MSNBC was an embarrassment,” one source familiar with the inner workings of the newsroom has said.)

Is it possible that Russert saw in Olbermann what no other serious person did? Could Russert have actually considered Olbermann a jewel in the NBC News crown? Perhaps. But it would take a lot more for me to believe Russert was an “indefatigable cheerleader” for Olbermann than simply Olbermann’s claim that this was the case. After all, Olbermann fashioned himself as not simply a journalist but a modern-day Edward R. Murrow, which tells you everything you need to know about the scale of his self-deception and conceit.

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Politico Swallows New White House Spin on Israel

It’s a new year and a somewhat new crew running things at the White House, what with Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod gone, so it’s to be expected that we’re now getting a new spin about the Middle East from their successors. That’s the only way to interpret Ben Smith’s somewhat puzzling article in Politico today.

In the wake of the collapse of the administration’s last incompetent effort to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, there’s little question about the piece’s conclusion that the peace process is dead in the water. No one should be surprised that the president’s spin masters are attempting to absolve the president and his foreign-policy team of all blame for the Middle East failures that have marked their two years in office. But it is astonishing that Smith, who has been covering them during this period, has swallowed whole their absurd rewriting of the history of this period.

The main point of the piece seems to be that the White House is fed up with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to Smith, after two years of trying to “give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the benefit of the doubt as a prospective peace partner,” they’ve had it with him. Netanyahu’s “intransigence,” Smith writes, is chiefly responsible for the collapse of American diplomacy, though he — and his highly placed sources — concedes that the feckless Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is no better. The conclusion is that Obama is giving up on the whole thing, since the chances “of a personal alliance growing between the Israeli leader and President Barack Obama to be just about zero.”

This makes for a neat narrative designed to make Obama look good, but only rings true if you haven’t been paying the slightest attention to U.S.-Israel relations since January 2009.

Contrary to Smith, if there has been one consistent point about the administration’s attitude toward Israel during this period, it has been its hostility to Netanyahu. From the start, Obama, who prior to his election claimed to be all right with Israel but not with Netanyahu’s Likud Party, showed his dissatisfaction with the outcome of the Israeli vote in February 2009. Rather than seek a common strategy to revive a peace process that had crashed in 2008, when Abbas refused Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert’s offer of a Palestinian state, Obama was determined to create some distance between the United States and Israel. Though the Palestinians had already conceded that most Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem would stay under Israeli control even as they rejected Israel’s offer of peace, Obama drew a new line in the sand. The president demanded that Israel freeze all building, even in areas — like Jerusalem — where everyone knew that Israel would not retreat even in the event of peace. Finding themselves outflanked, the Palestinians had to similarly dig in their heels, and the last two years of failed attempts to get them back to the negotiating table were the inevitable result. Read More

It’s a new year and a somewhat new crew running things at the White House, what with Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod gone, so it’s to be expected that we’re now getting a new spin about the Middle East from their successors. That’s the only way to interpret Ben Smith’s somewhat puzzling article in Politico today.

In the wake of the collapse of the administration’s last incompetent effort to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, there’s little question about the piece’s conclusion that the peace process is dead in the water. No one should be surprised that the president’s spin masters are attempting to absolve the president and his foreign-policy team of all blame for the Middle East failures that have marked their two years in office. But it is astonishing that Smith, who has been covering them during this period, has swallowed whole their absurd rewriting of the history of this period.

The main point of the piece seems to be that the White House is fed up with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to Smith, after two years of trying to “give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the benefit of the doubt as a prospective peace partner,” they’ve had it with him. Netanyahu’s “intransigence,” Smith writes, is chiefly responsible for the collapse of American diplomacy, though he — and his highly placed sources — concedes that the feckless Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is no better. The conclusion is that Obama is giving up on the whole thing, since the chances “of a personal alliance growing between the Israeli leader and President Barack Obama to be just about zero.”

This makes for a neat narrative designed to make Obama look good, but only rings true if you haven’t been paying the slightest attention to U.S.-Israel relations since January 2009.

Contrary to Smith, if there has been one consistent point about the administration’s attitude toward Israel during this period, it has been its hostility to Netanyahu. From the start, Obama, who prior to his election claimed to be all right with Israel but not with Netanyahu’s Likud Party, showed his dissatisfaction with the outcome of the Israeli vote in February 2009. Rather than seek a common strategy to revive a peace process that had crashed in 2008, when Abbas refused Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert’s offer of a Palestinian state, Obama was determined to create some distance between the United States and Israel. Though the Palestinians had already conceded that most Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem would stay under Israeli control even as they rejected Israel’s offer of peace, Obama drew a new line in the sand. The president demanded that Israel freeze all building, even in areas — like Jerusalem — where everyone knew that Israel would not retreat even in the event of peace. Finding themselves outflanked, the Palestinians had to similarly dig in their heels, and the last two years of failed attempts to get them back to the negotiating table were the inevitable result.

Obama’s first attempts to outmaneuver Netanyahu seemed to be based on a foolish hope that the prime minister would be forced into a coalition with the American favorite Tzipi Livni or out of office altogether. Rather than being weakened by this, Netanyahu gained strength. In the spring of 2010, Obama tried again when he deliberately picked a fight with Israel over the construction of new homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. The White House and the State Department subjected Netanyahu to an unprecedented campaign of abuse, but the result was no different than their previous efforts. Soon Obama was forced to back down and resort to a charm offensive aimed at damping down criticism from American Jews.

Rather than take responsibility for their own mistakes and the president’s relentless hostility to Netanyahu — whose grip on his parliamentary majority is stronger than ever — all we’re getting from the White House is more negative spin about Israel. But in order to believe a word of it, you’ve got to be afflicted with the sort of short-term memory loss that is the premise of Ben Smith’s article.

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Karzai Does the Right Thing

Some of Afghanistan’s wiliest politicos outsmarted themselves in last fall’s parliamentary elections. As usually happens in that part of the world, they committed massive fraud to ensure that their allies would win seats. But — and this is what sets Afghanistan apart — the fraud was detected and corrected by Afghanistan’s own Independent Election Commission, which threw out about a quarter of the ballots and disqualified a number of candidates who thought they were entitled to seats.

The result was that Pashtuns, who are the dominant group politically, actually wound up being underrepresented. President Karzai, himself a Pashtun, was hoping he would have a solid parliamentary majority that would allow him to amend the constitution so he could run for a third term in 2014, but instead wound up facing the prospect of a parliament that would not do his bidding. Karzai then created an extra-constitutional court to review the election results and threatened not to seat the parliament on schedule — even though the election results had been duly certified by the Independent Electoral Commission. A potentially explosive situation was thus created that pit Pashtuns against other ethnic groups.

This led the U.S. and our NATO allies to come together to tell Karzai that he had better seat the parliament–or else. The same message was delivered to the president personally by the winning candidates. So, lo and behold, Karzai has now backed down and agreed to seat the parliament after all. The message of the story? Perhaps we should adapt Winston Churchill’s saying about Americans to Afghans: they eventually do the right thing but only after exhausting all the other alternatives. I do think this shows that Karzai is far from irrational or intractable; he was trying to juggle competing concerns and ultimately came down on what is, I believe, the right side.

The larger message is that holding elections in a war-torn country is not necessarily a smart idea. In Iraq, elections only exacerbated ethnic tensions without conferring any real legitimacy on a government that could not control its own territory. Much the same effect has been visible in Afghanistan, with the added complication that the elections have highlighted the pervasive corruption of the Afghan political class. There ought to be easier ways to choose a parliament, perhaps through a loya jirga — a grand assembly of elders. But at least the Afghan government has muddled through this crisis. For now.

Some of Afghanistan’s wiliest politicos outsmarted themselves in last fall’s parliamentary elections. As usually happens in that part of the world, they committed massive fraud to ensure that their allies would win seats. But — and this is what sets Afghanistan apart — the fraud was detected and corrected by Afghanistan’s own Independent Election Commission, which threw out about a quarter of the ballots and disqualified a number of candidates who thought they were entitled to seats.

The result was that Pashtuns, who are the dominant group politically, actually wound up being underrepresented. President Karzai, himself a Pashtun, was hoping he would have a solid parliamentary majority that would allow him to amend the constitution so he could run for a third term in 2014, but instead wound up facing the prospect of a parliament that would not do his bidding. Karzai then created an extra-constitutional court to review the election results and threatened not to seat the parliament on schedule — even though the election results had been duly certified by the Independent Electoral Commission. A potentially explosive situation was thus created that pit Pashtuns against other ethnic groups.

This led the U.S. and our NATO allies to come together to tell Karzai that he had better seat the parliament–or else. The same message was delivered to the president personally by the winning candidates. So, lo and behold, Karzai has now backed down and agreed to seat the parliament after all. The message of the story? Perhaps we should adapt Winston Churchill’s saying about Americans to Afghans: they eventually do the right thing but only after exhausting all the other alternatives. I do think this shows that Karzai is far from irrational or intractable; he was trying to juggle competing concerns and ultimately came down on what is, I believe, the right side.

The larger message is that holding elections in a war-torn country is not necessarily a smart idea. In Iraq, elections only exacerbated ethnic tensions without conferring any real legitimacy on a government that could not control its own territory. Much the same effect has been visible in Afghanistan, with the added complication that the elections have highlighted the pervasive corruption of the Afghan political class. There ought to be easier ways to choose a parliament, perhaps through a loya jirga — a grand assembly of elders. But at least the Afghan government has muddled through this crisis. For now.

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Turkel Report Reveals Ankara’s Responsibility for Flotilla Deaths

As Alana noted yesterday, the Turkel Committee’s investigation of Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla last May largely confirmed what any fair-minded person already knew: that the blockade of Gaza was legal, that Israel therefore had the right to enforce it militarily, and that its soldiers fired in self-defense after being brutally attacked when they boarded the Mavi Marmara. Nevertheless, the probe did unveil one important bit of new information: that Turkey’s government bears direct responsibility for the bloodshed that ensued.

The report revealed that Ankara had initially proposed having the Turkish Red Crescent take responsibility for the flotilla. Under this proposal, the ships were to dock in Ashdod Port, after which the Turkish Red Crescent would shepherd the cargo overland to nearby Gaza. Israel (obviously) agreed. And then, at the last minute, Turkey reneged.

In other words, Turkey recognized that the flotilla presented a potentially dangerous problem — that, unlike other flotillas before and since, this one, sponsored by an organization with well-known terrorist links, could not be trusted to divert peacefully to Israel or Egypt. So it proposed a solution and secured Israel’s agreement. And then, at the last minute, it decided instead to let the problem go ahead and explode. Consequently, nine Turks died.

Unfortunately, that has become the norm in Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey: Ankara’s stated policy of “zero problems” with its neighbors, for all the paeans it has won in places like the New York Times, somehow never extends to Israel. On the contrary, Turkey often seems to go out of its way to create problems with Israel — as it did in this case by reneging on the flotilla deal.

Indeed, Erdogan appears to have made a strategic decision that anti-Israel incitement serves his purposes. The flotilla was obviously a gold mine in this department, but there have been many other equally telling incidents.

Take, for instance, the viciously anti-Semitic television series Valley of the Wolves, which featured such gems as Israeli soldiers murdering children at point-blank range and Israeli intelligence agents kidnapping babies to convert them to Judaism. When Israel complained, Turkey responded that freedom of the press precluded it from intervening.

That would be fair enough — except that Turkey has no qualms about intervening in television productions that don’t suit its purposes. Just this month, Bloomberg reported that “Turkey’s television regulator threatened to yank a new television series for failing to respect the privacy of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1520 until his death in 1566.” In other words, insufficient deference to a long dead sultan is off-limits, but vicious incitement against live Israelis is fine.

That, in a nutshell, defines Erdogan’s Turkey. And last May, nine Turks died for it.

As Alana noted yesterday, the Turkel Committee’s investigation of Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla last May largely confirmed what any fair-minded person already knew: that the blockade of Gaza was legal, that Israel therefore had the right to enforce it militarily, and that its soldiers fired in self-defense after being brutally attacked when they boarded the Mavi Marmara. Nevertheless, the probe did unveil one important bit of new information: that Turkey’s government bears direct responsibility for the bloodshed that ensued.

The report revealed that Ankara had initially proposed having the Turkish Red Crescent take responsibility for the flotilla. Under this proposal, the ships were to dock in Ashdod Port, after which the Turkish Red Crescent would shepherd the cargo overland to nearby Gaza. Israel (obviously) agreed. And then, at the last minute, Turkey reneged.

In other words, Turkey recognized that the flotilla presented a potentially dangerous problem — that, unlike other flotillas before and since, this one, sponsored by an organization with well-known terrorist links, could not be trusted to divert peacefully to Israel or Egypt. So it proposed a solution and secured Israel’s agreement. And then, at the last minute, it decided instead to let the problem go ahead and explode. Consequently, nine Turks died.

Unfortunately, that has become the norm in Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey: Ankara’s stated policy of “zero problems” with its neighbors, for all the paeans it has won in places like the New York Times, somehow never extends to Israel. On the contrary, Turkey often seems to go out of its way to create problems with Israel — as it did in this case by reneging on the flotilla deal.

Indeed, Erdogan appears to have made a strategic decision that anti-Israel incitement serves his purposes. The flotilla was obviously a gold mine in this department, but there have been many other equally telling incidents.

Take, for instance, the viciously anti-Semitic television series Valley of the Wolves, which featured such gems as Israeli soldiers murdering children at point-blank range and Israeli intelligence agents kidnapping babies to convert them to Judaism. When Israel complained, Turkey responded that freedom of the press precluded it from intervening.

That would be fair enough — except that Turkey has no qualms about intervening in television productions that don’t suit its purposes. Just this month, Bloomberg reported that “Turkey’s television regulator threatened to yank a new television series for failing to respect the privacy of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1520 until his death in 1566.” In other words, insufficient deference to a long dead sultan is off-limits, but vicious incitement against live Israelis is fine.

That, in a nutshell, defines Erdogan’s Turkey. And last May, nine Turks died for it.

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Senate Freshmen Decline to Join Tea Party Caucus

Remember that Afghanistan trip Sen. Mitch McConnell took some of the GOP freshmen on last week? At the time, some conservative activists worried it was a “ploy” to co-opt the Tea Party members of the Senate. And now, interestingly, some of the same freshmen who went on the trip — Pat Toomey, Ron Johnson, and Marco Rubio — have decided not to join the Senate’s Tea Party Caucus.

In an interview with a Florida political website, Tea Party favorite Rubio said he won’t be involved in the caucus, because he thinks it will “co-opt” the whole concept of the movement:

“My concern is that politicians all of a sudden start co-opting the mantle of Tea Party. If all of a sudden being in the Tea Party is not something that is happening in Main Street, but rather something that’s happening in Washington D.C.,” he said in an interview with the Shark Tank, a Florida political website. “The Tea Party all of a sudden becomes some sort of movement run by politicians. It’s gonna lose its effectiveness and I’m concerned about that.”

What Rubio says is correct on its face. The Tea Party is a ground-up movement, and it would be completely inconsistent with its platform if Washington politicians began “running” it. But that doesn’t seem to be the point of Tea Party Caucus at all. The idea of the caucus is to take direction from the grassroots of the conservative movement and carry it out in Congress — not the other way around.

So Rubio is spinning a bit. But it’s not hard to see why. Politically, it wouldn’t be the greatest move for him to tie himself to a caucus, at least not if he wants to compromise and get things done in the Senate.

That might be why the Senate’s Tea Party Caucus hasn’t been successful in drawing members. The Hill reported that it currently has only three senators committed to attending its first meeting: Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Jim DeMint.

The House of Representatives, in comparison, has a 30-member strong Tea Party Caucus, which was created by Rep. Michele Bachmann last year. But the Senate is also a fraction of the size of the House, meaning that senators need to compromise much more with other members in order to get legislation through.

Remember that Afghanistan trip Sen. Mitch McConnell took some of the GOP freshmen on last week? At the time, some conservative activists worried it was a “ploy” to co-opt the Tea Party members of the Senate. And now, interestingly, some of the same freshmen who went on the trip — Pat Toomey, Ron Johnson, and Marco Rubio — have decided not to join the Senate’s Tea Party Caucus.

In an interview with a Florida political website, Tea Party favorite Rubio said he won’t be involved in the caucus, because he thinks it will “co-opt” the whole concept of the movement:

“My concern is that politicians all of a sudden start co-opting the mantle of Tea Party. If all of a sudden being in the Tea Party is not something that is happening in Main Street, but rather something that’s happening in Washington D.C.,” he said in an interview with the Shark Tank, a Florida political website. “The Tea Party all of a sudden becomes some sort of movement run by politicians. It’s gonna lose its effectiveness and I’m concerned about that.”

What Rubio says is correct on its face. The Tea Party is a ground-up movement, and it would be completely inconsistent with its platform if Washington politicians began “running” it. But that doesn’t seem to be the point of Tea Party Caucus at all. The idea of the caucus is to take direction from the grassroots of the conservative movement and carry it out in Congress — not the other way around.

So Rubio is spinning a bit. But it’s not hard to see why. Politically, it wouldn’t be the greatest move for him to tie himself to a caucus, at least not if he wants to compromise and get things done in the Senate.

That might be why the Senate’s Tea Party Caucus hasn’t been successful in drawing members. The Hill reported that it currently has only three senators committed to attending its first meeting: Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Jim DeMint.

The House of Representatives, in comparison, has a 30-member strong Tea Party Caucus, which was created by Rep. Michele Bachmann last year. But the Senate is also a fraction of the size of the House, meaning that senators need to compromise much more with other members in order to get legislation through.

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House Republicans Want to Cut UN Funding

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new House Foreign Affairs Committee chair, has come up with another superb proposal. The congresswoman wants to cut funding for the UN — particularly the money that goes toward supporting the UN Human Rights Council.

“The fact that the U.S. continues to contribute billions of taxpayer dollars every year to an unaccountable, unreformed U.N. is no laughing matter,” she said in a statement. “These allegations reinforce the need for expanded and effective oversight of the U.N. Next week, our committee will lead the way by holding the first of several briefings and hearings on UN reform.”

Ros-Lehtinen is holding a panel tomorrow that will discuss the problems with the UN and how Congress can take steps to solve them.

One of the main issues with the Human Rights Council, of course, is that its entire existence revolves around demonizing Israel at every opportunity. It’s also composed of many of the same countries that commit the worst human-rights abuse.

The executive director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, told the Hill that out of the 45 resolutions passed by the UNHRC over the past half-decade, 35 of them have been “one-sided measures against Israel.”

“One of the most significant tools has been used to wallop Israel over the head and not to promote peace,” added Neuer.

The 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act prohibited the U.S. from funding the UNHRC unless the secretary of state certified that this funding was in the “national interest of the United States” or if the U.S. were a member of the council.

The U.S. was voted off the UNHRC under the Bush administration, but President Obama lobbied to get us back on after he was elected. So even if the council works against our national interest, there’s no current prohibition against funding it.

Also, defunding the UNHRC would be mainly a symbolic act, since the U.S. allocates money to the entire UN, not specific parts of it. Because of that, we could withhold a budgetary amount that’s equal to the cost of the UNHRC, but it appears that there’s no way of knowing whether the money will be spent on the council or not.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new House Foreign Affairs Committee chair, has come up with another superb proposal. The congresswoman wants to cut funding for the UN — particularly the money that goes toward supporting the UN Human Rights Council.

“The fact that the U.S. continues to contribute billions of taxpayer dollars every year to an unaccountable, unreformed U.N. is no laughing matter,” she said in a statement. “These allegations reinforce the need for expanded and effective oversight of the U.N. Next week, our committee will lead the way by holding the first of several briefings and hearings on UN reform.”

Ros-Lehtinen is holding a panel tomorrow that will discuss the problems with the UN and how Congress can take steps to solve them.

One of the main issues with the Human Rights Council, of course, is that its entire existence revolves around demonizing Israel at every opportunity. It’s also composed of many of the same countries that commit the worst human-rights abuse.

The executive director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, told the Hill that out of the 45 resolutions passed by the UNHRC over the past half-decade, 35 of them have been “one-sided measures against Israel.”

“One of the most significant tools has been used to wallop Israel over the head and not to promote peace,” added Neuer.

The 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act prohibited the U.S. from funding the UNHRC unless the secretary of state certified that this funding was in the “national interest of the United States” or if the U.S. were a member of the council.

The U.S. was voted off the UNHRC under the Bush administration, but President Obama lobbied to get us back on after he was elected. So even if the council works against our national interest, there’s no current prohibition against funding it.

Also, defunding the UNHRC would be mainly a symbolic act, since the U.S. allocates money to the entire UN, not specific parts of it. Because of that, we could withhold a budgetary amount that’s equal to the cost of the UNHRC, but it appears that there’s no way of knowing whether the money will be spent on the council or not.

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Fight Off, Don’t Pay Off, Pirates

Good for South Korea. Last week its commandos staged a daring assault on a freighter ship hijacked by pirates off Somalia. Eight pirates were killed, five captured. All 21 hostages were released; only one of them — the captain of the ship — was wounded.

This raid comes only a few months after the ship in question, the Samho Jewelry, was freed by Somali pirates from a previous period of captivity. South Korea reportedly paid a ransom $9.5 million — the highest ever. Ransom payments to the pirates have been going up dramatically. According to the Financial Times: “A recent study from the US-based One Earth Future foundation showed the average ransom paid to Somali pirates rose nearly 60 per cent from 2009 to 2010, reaching $5.4m. The average ransom paid in 2005 was $150,000.”

The experience of the Samho Jewelry should  confirm that paying off pirates is not a wise move. Fighting them makes more sense. After all, the Somali pirates are lightly armed; professional military forces like South Korea’s can make mincemeat of them. The problem is that most of the countries that have sent naval vessels off the coast of Somalia have been reluctant to give them the kind of robust rules of engagement that would allow them to take the fight to the pirates. Too often, even when pirates have been captured, they have been released because Somalia has no functioning courts and no other country is eager to try them. Shipping lines have operated under the assumption that it’s cheaper to cooperate with pirates than to fight them. Under those circumstances, is it any wonder that piracy has grown and grown? If the risk is low and the payoff high, it’s safe to expect that more Somalis will take to the seas to take down merchant shipping.

The key to securing this vital shipping lane is to unleash all the naval power that is already in the region. The U.S. and our allies should give our fleets shoot-on-sight orders when they detect suspected pirates — the same kind of order our troops operate under when dealing with armed insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan. It would not take many gunfights, I suspect, to deter all but the most foolhardy or daring pirates from continuing with their criminal racket.

Good for South Korea. Last week its commandos staged a daring assault on a freighter ship hijacked by pirates off Somalia. Eight pirates were killed, five captured. All 21 hostages were released; only one of them — the captain of the ship — was wounded.

This raid comes only a few months after the ship in question, the Samho Jewelry, was freed by Somali pirates from a previous period of captivity. South Korea reportedly paid a ransom $9.5 million — the highest ever. Ransom payments to the pirates have been going up dramatically. According to the Financial Times: “A recent study from the US-based One Earth Future foundation showed the average ransom paid to Somali pirates rose nearly 60 per cent from 2009 to 2010, reaching $5.4m. The average ransom paid in 2005 was $150,000.”

The experience of the Samho Jewelry should  confirm that paying off pirates is not a wise move. Fighting them makes more sense. After all, the Somali pirates are lightly armed; professional military forces like South Korea’s can make mincemeat of them. The problem is that most of the countries that have sent naval vessels off the coast of Somalia have been reluctant to give them the kind of robust rules of engagement that would allow them to take the fight to the pirates. Too often, even when pirates have been captured, they have been released because Somalia has no functioning courts and no other country is eager to try them. Shipping lines have operated under the assumption that it’s cheaper to cooperate with pirates than to fight them. Under those circumstances, is it any wonder that piracy has grown and grown? If the risk is low and the payoff high, it’s safe to expect that more Somalis will take to the seas to take down merchant shipping.

The key to securing this vital shipping lane is to unleash all the naval power that is already in the region. The U.S. and our allies should give our fleets shoot-on-sight orders when they detect suspected pirates — the same kind of order our troops operate under when dealing with armed insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan. It would not take many gunfights, I suspect, to deter all but the most foolhardy or daring pirates from continuing with their criminal racket.

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Irving Kristol and Republican Virtue

On C-SPAN’s series After Words, David Brooks hosted an engaging and wide-ranging interview with William Kristol on The Neoconservative Persuasion: Selected Essays 1942-2009, a collection of essays by Bill’s father, the late Irving Kristol. They are reprinted in this book for the first time since their initial publication.

The Neoconservative Persuasion is a wonderful collection assembled by Irving’s wife, the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb. The essays discuss Tacitus, W.H. Auden, Leo Strauss, James Burnham, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Ronald Reagan, as well as Judaism and Christianity, Jacksonian democracy, the Constitution, conservatism and neoconservatism, liberalism (ancient and modern), human nature and social reform, and supply-side economics.

There is, however, one address, originally delivered in May 1974 at Indiana University’s The Poynter Center, to which I wanted to draw attention: “Republican Virtue versus Servile Institutions.” It is quite an important essay, providing as it does an important corrective to the conservative temptation to embrace, enthusiastically and without qualification, populism.

Kristol writes that he has faith in the common people, of which he counted himself one, but just not very much faith in them. Further, he argues, the common man, being wise, only invests modest faith in himself. “That it is possible to corrupt a citizenry — or for a citizenry to corrupt itself — is something the Founders understood but which we seem to have forgotten,” according to Kristol.

His essay goes on to reflect on the ideas of “republican virtues,” which asks of people a certain public-spiritedness, which is a form of self-control, which is itself an exercise in self-government. Kristol goes on to write about the main point that emerged from the American democratic experience. “People do not have respect for institutions which, instead of making demands upon them, are completely subservient to their whims,” Kristol wrote. “In short, a people will not respect a polity that has so low an opinion of them that it thinks it absurd to insist that people become better than they are. Not simply more democratic; not simply more free; not simply more affluent; but, in some clear sense, better.”

This conception of republican virtue has been largely lost in modern times. And while a peaceful populist uprising can be a very good thing from time to time, there is something deeply wise and true in Kristol’s warning. There is a “democratic dogma” that insists our institutions should in every instance conform themselves to the whims and will of the people — a belief the Founders themselves rejected in both their writings and in their form for government (they were horrified by the notion of a “direct democracy” rather than a representative one, believing government should mediate, not mirror, popular views).

Irving Kristol’s reputation as a leading 20th-century public intellectual was secured long ago. This new collection of essays merely fortifies it.

On C-SPAN’s series After Words, David Brooks hosted an engaging and wide-ranging interview with William Kristol on The Neoconservative Persuasion: Selected Essays 1942-2009, a collection of essays by Bill’s father, the late Irving Kristol. They are reprinted in this book for the first time since their initial publication.

The Neoconservative Persuasion is a wonderful collection assembled by Irving’s wife, the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb. The essays discuss Tacitus, W.H. Auden, Leo Strauss, James Burnham, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Ronald Reagan, as well as Judaism and Christianity, Jacksonian democracy, the Constitution, conservatism and neoconservatism, liberalism (ancient and modern), human nature and social reform, and supply-side economics.

There is, however, one address, originally delivered in May 1974 at Indiana University’s The Poynter Center, to which I wanted to draw attention: “Republican Virtue versus Servile Institutions.” It is quite an important essay, providing as it does an important corrective to the conservative temptation to embrace, enthusiastically and without qualification, populism.

Kristol writes that he has faith in the common people, of which he counted himself one, but just not very much faith in them. Further, he argues, the common man, being wise, only invests modest faith in himself. “That it is possible to corrupt a citizenry — or for a citizenry to corrupt itself — is something the Founders understood but which we seem to have forgotten,” according to Kristol.

His essay goes on to reflect on the ideas of “republican virtues,” which asks of people a certain public-spiritedness, which is a form of self-control, which is itself an exercise in self-government. Kristol goes on to write about the main point that emerged from the American democratic experience. “People do not have respect for institutions which, instead of making demands upon them, are completely subservient to their whims,” Kristol wrote. “In short, a people will not respect a polity that has so low an opinion of them that it thinks it absurd to insist that people become better than they are. Not simply more democratic; not simply more free; not simply more affluent; but, in some clear sense, better.”

This conception of republican virtue has been largely lost in modern times. And while a peaceful populist uprising can be a very good thing from time to time, there is something deeply wise and true in Kristol’s warning. There is a “democratic dogma” that insists our institutions should in every instance conform themselves to the whims and will of the people — a belief the Founders themselves rejected in both their writings and in their form for government (they were horrified by the notion of a “direct democracy” rather than a representative one, believing government should mediate, not mirror, popular views).

Irving Kristol’s reputation as a leading 20th-century public intellectual was secured long ago. This new collection of essays merely fortifies it.

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A Peek into the Plans for ‘Freedom Flotilla II’

An Israeli investigation into last year’s flotilla incident may have just ended, but pro-Palestinian activists are still gearing up their plans for the “Freedom Flotilla II.”

The new flotilla will be much larger than the previous six-boat affair, with estimates ranging from 20 to 50 boats, the activists told the Washington Times:

“We have at least 15 different groups right now at one or two boats each,” said Huwaida Arraf, chairperson of the Free Gaza Movement, one of the leading nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the effort. “Every meeting we have, we get one or two new country-based networks or coalitions that want to join.”

And, of course, the participants are taking the necessary steps to ensure that this flotilla is a public-relations success. They’re even planning to send the ships out as close to the anniversary of last year’s flotilla as possible:

“May 31 would be a very good date for many reasons,” said Dror Feiler, spokesman for Ship to Gaza-Sweden. “To pay tribute to the martyrs who died for the people of Gaza and human rights. From a media perspective. And also logistics: It is not too early, and we will be very well prepared. Others want to go sooner.”

Yes, the “martyrs” — who attacked unarmed soldiers with clubs and knives.

After the first flotilla incident, Israel relaxed some of its import and export restrictions on Gaza. That move was supposed to quiet international pressure, but it looks like it was just further encouragement for flotilla activists.

One activist, Dror Feiler, told the Washington Times that their message to Israel “is that we are going to go again and again and again until the siege of Gaza ends.” Which means that Israel will probably have to contend with this annually.

The Freedom Flotilla has really become something of a franchise for these activists. In addition to the Mavi Marmara action movie set to be released later this month, Gaza flotilla T-shirts, and a “We Will Sail On” music video, they’re now apparently planning a sequel. But at least this time, Israel will be prepared.

An Israeli investigation into last year’s flotilla incident may have just ended, but pro-Palestinian activists are still gearing up their plans for the “Freedom Flotilla II.”

The new flotilla will be much larger than the previous six-boat affair, with estimates ranging from 20 to 50 boats, the activists told the Washington Times:

“We have at least 15 different groups right now at one or two boats each,” said Huwaida Arraf, chairperson of the Free Gaza Movement, one of the leading nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the effort. “Every meeting we have, we get one or two new country-based networks or coalitions that want to join.”

And, of course, the participants are taking the necessary steps to ensure that this flotilla is a public-relations success. They’re even planning to send the ships out as close to the anniversary of last year’s flotilla as possible:

“May 31 would be a very good date for many reasons,” said Dror Feiler, spokesman for Ship to Gaza-Sweden. “To pay tribute to the martyrs who died for the people of Gaza and human rights. From a media perspective. And also logistics: It is not too early, and we will be very well prepared. Others want to go sooner.”

Yes, the “martyrs” — who attacked unarmed soldiers with clubs and knives.

After the first flotilla incident, Israel relaxed some of its import and export restrictions on Gaza. That move was supposed to quiet international pressure, but it looks like it was just further encouragement for flotilla activists.

One activist, Dror Feiler, told the Washington Times that their message to Israel “is that we are going to go again and again and again until the siege of Gaza ends.” Which means that Israel will probably have to contend with this annually.

The Freedom Flotilla has really become something of a franchise for these activists. In addition to the Mavi Marmara action movie set to be released later this month, Gaza flotilla T-shirts, and a “We Will Sail On” music video, they’re now apparently planning a sequel. But at least this time, Israel will be prepared.

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Palestine Papers Confirm What Israel Has Said All Along

I don’t know whether the “Palestine Papers” published yesterday by Al Jazeera and the Guardian are real or, as Barry Rubin argues, a fake aimed at discrediting the Palestinian Authority’s current leadership. What is certainly false, however, is the claim, as Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland put it, that “Now we know. Israel had a peace partner.”

If the papers are true, then, as Noah pointed out, they show the PA agreeing to let Israel keep most — though not all — of the huge Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, which are home to hundreds of thousands of Israelis. The Guardian deems this concession shameful. Freedland terms it “unthinkable”; the paper’s editorial goes even further, accusing Palestinians of agreeing “to flog the family silver.”

Yet, as Rick noted, every peace plan of the past decade — starting with the Clinton Parameters in 2000, which virtually the entire world claims to view as the basis for any agreement — has proposed assigning the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to Israel. The Guardian is entitled to fantasize about a Palestinian state “created on 1967 borders, not around them,” but no serious mediator or negotiator ever has. Even UN Security Council Resolution 242, which everyone accepts as the basis for talks, was drafted so as to allow changes to the pre-1967 armistice lines.

Indeed, far from constituting an “unthinkable” concession, the PA offer detailed in these documents didn’t even amount to the minimum that every peace plan of the past decade has deemed necessary for an agreement — because every such plan, again starting with the Clinton Parameters, has also proposed giving Israel additional parts of the West Bank (usually in exchange for equivalent territory inside Israel) so as to allow it to retain some of the major settlement blocs. And, according to these documents, the Palestinians wouldn’t agree to that.

This, of course, tallies exactly with what Israel has said for the past decade. Israel never claimed that negotiations broke down over Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, but it repeatedly claimed that talks broke down over other issues, such as borders. In 2008, for instance, Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians 93 percent of the West Bank plus territorial swaps equivalent to the remainder, but the Palestinians refused to sign: they insisted on land swaps of only about 2 percent (see here or here).

The Palestine Papers also claim that the PA agreed to cede exclusive control over the Temple Mount in favor of management by “a body or committee.” But that, too, was in Olmert’s offer: a five-member committee composed of Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the U.S., thereby ensuring an Arab majority. And, again, the Palestinians refused to sign. Indeed, PA President Mahmoud Abbas subsequently told the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl that “the gaps were wide.”

The documents did, however, contain one revealing quote: chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat allegedly told an American official, “Israelis want the two state solution but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians.”

Whether or not Erekat actually said that, it’s unfortunately true. And until it changes, peace will remain a distant dream.

I don’t know whether the “Palestine Papers” published yesterday by Al Jazeera and the Guardian are real or, as Barry Rubin argues, a fake aimed at discrediting the Palestinian Authority’s current leadership. What is certainly false, however, is the claim, as Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland put it, that “Now we know. Israel had a peace partner.”

If the papers are true, then, as Noah pointed out, they show the PA agreeing to let Israel keep most — though not all — of the huge Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, which are home to hundreds of thousands of Israelis. The Guardian deems this concession shameful. Freedland terms it “unthinkable”; the paper’s editorial goes even further, accusing Palestinians of agreeing “to flog the family silver.”

Yet, as Rick noted, every peace plan of the past decade — starting with the Clinton Parameters in 2000, which virtually the entire world claims to view as the basis for any agreement — has proposed assigning the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to Israel. The Guardian is entitled to fantasize about a Palestinian state “created on 1967 borders, not around them,” but no serious mediator or negotiator ever has. Even UN Security Council Resolution 242, which everyone accepts as the basis for talks, was drafted so as to allow changes to the pre-1967 armistice lines.

Indeed, far from constituting an “unthinkable” concession, the PA offer detailed in these documents didn’t even amount to the minimum that every peace plan of the past decade has deemed necessary for an agreement — because every such plan, again starting with the Clinton Parameters, has also proposed giving Israel additional parts of the West Bank (usually in exchange for equivalent territory inside Israel) so as to allow it to retain some of the major settlement blocs. And, according to these documents, the Palestinians wouldn’t agree to that.

This, of course, tallies exactly with what Israel has said for the past decade. Israel never claimed that negotiations broke down over Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, but it repeatedly claimed that talks broke down over other issues, such as borders. In 2008, for instance, Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians 93 percent of the West Bank plus territorial swaps equivalent to the remainder, but the Palestinians refused to sign: they insisted on land swaps of only about 2 percent (see here or here).

The Palestine Papers also claim that the PA agreed to cede exclusive control over the Temple Mount in favor of management by “a body or committee.” But that, too, was in Olmert’s offer: a five-member committee composed of Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the U.S., thereby ensuring an Arab majority. And, again, the Palestinians refused to sign. Indeed, PA President Mahmoud Abbas subsequently told the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl that “the gaps were wide.”

The documents did, however, contain one revealing quote: chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat allegedly told an American official, “Israelis want the two state solution but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians.”

Whether or not Erekat actually said that, it’s unfortunately true. And until it changes, peace will remain a distant dream.

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The Guardian‘s Spin on the Palestine Papers

If I may highlight one more thing regarding Noah Pollak’s excellent take-down of the “Palestine Papers” that the Guardian and Al Jazeera leaked to the public over the weekend, the Guardian editorial yesterday threw its weight behind Hamas in full.

Not much news there clearly, considering that the Guardian never made a mystery of its political sympathies: just to offer a few picks, it regularly hosts well-known Islamists, Hamas’s unofficial spokesman in London, a vast assortment of one-staters such as Karma Nabulsi, and former British Communist Party member Seumas Milne. And so to have dumped thousands of documents in the public domain that it deems so embarrassing to the Palestinian Authority as to make its leaders and negotiators lose any credibility they might still have suggests a certain agenda.

And it bears remembering that the Guardian is not new to this type of rhetoric, having been for the last decade a dedicated host of some of the most hostile columns against Israel, the patron of prominent Israeli anti-Zionist scholars and revisionist historians, the platform for left-wing opposition to the war in Iraq, anti-Bush activism, anti-globalization rhetoric, pleas against capitalism, and the occasional trivialization of Stalinism.

The Palestine Papers are less a scoop and more a tool to advance one of the above agendas. For the Guardian, they are evidence that “The Palestinian Authority may continue as an employer but, as of today, its legitimacy as negotiators will have all but ended on the Palestinian street.”

This prescription follows:

America must drop its veto on Palestinian unity talks and take up Hamas’s offer of a one-year ceasefire; a negotiating team that represents all major Palestinian factions must be formed; and Israel has to accept that a state created on 1967 borders, not around them, is the minimum price of an end to the conflict.

This in order to save a two-state solution that, for the Guardian, may already be dead anyway after its leaks have discredited the current Palestinian leadership.

The leak will generate an enormous amount of traffic on the Guardian website for the weeks ahead (good for ad buys); it may corner some European leaders into a panic as they see the PA bend over backward to deny it ever made any such concession, to avoid the loss of face the leaks may have caused it; it may ignite some debate inside Israel, not only about the quality of Israel’s leadership during the leaked negotiations, as Noah noted, but also about the existence of a Palestinian partner, whether that partner can deliver, and so on.

Regardless, the Guardian spin says more about its worldview and the views of its audience than it says about the peace process. To assume that the way forward is to have the U.S. pressure Israel, open up to Hamas, and declare the pre-1967 cease-fire line as the international boundary is not just an old and tired fantasy — it is a sure way to make the two-state solution even more moribund than at present.

If that is what the Guardian wished to achieve by leaking the papers, it may comfortably say “mission accomplished” in tomorrow’s editorial.

If I may highlight one more thing regarding Noah Pollak’s excellent take-down of the “Palestine Papers” that the Guardian and Al Jazeera leaked to the public over the weekend, the Guardian editorial yesterday threw its weight behind Hamas in full.

Not much news there clearly, considering that the Guardian never made a mystery of its political sympathies: just to offer a few picks, it regularly hosts well-known Islamists, Hamas’s unofficial spokesman in London, a vast assortment of one-staters such as Karma Nabulsi, and former British Communist Party member Seumas Milne. And so to have dumped thousands of documents in the public domain that it deems so embarrassing to the Palestinian Authority as to make its leaders and negotiators lose any credibility they might still have suggests a certain agenda.

And it bears remembering that the Guardian is not new to this type of rhetoric, having been for the last decade a dedicated host of some of the most hostile columns against Israel, the patron of prominent Israeli anti-Zionist scholars and revisionist historians, the platform for left-wing opposition to the war in Iraq, anti-Bush activism, anti-globalization rhetoric, pleas against capitalism, and the occasional trivialization of Stalinism.

The Palestine Papers are less a scoop and more a tool to advance one of the above agendas. For the Guardian, they are evidence that “The Palestinian Authority may continue as an employer but, as of today, its legitimacy as negotiators will have all but ended on the Palestinian street.”

This prescription follows:

America must drop its veto on Palestinian unity talks and take up Hamas’s offer of a one-year ceasefire; a negotiating team that represents all major Palestinian factions must be formed; and Israel has to accept that a state created on 1967 borders, not around them, is the minimum price of an end to the conflict.

This in order to save a two-state solution that, for the Guardian, may already be dead anyway after its leaks have discredited the current Palestinian leadership.

The leak will generate an enormous amount of traffic on the Guardian website for the weeks ahead (good for ad buys); it may corner some European leaders into a panic as they see the PA bend over backward to deny it ever made any such concession, to avoid the loss of face the leaks may have caused it; it may ignite some debate inside Israel, not only about the quality of Israel’s leadership during the leaked negotiations, as Noah noted, but also about the existence of a Palestinian partner, whether that partner can deliver, and so on.

Regardless, the Guardian spin says more about its worldview and the views of its audience than it says about the peace process. To assume that the way forward is to have the U.S. pressure Israel, open up to Hamas, and declare the pre-1967 cease-fire line as the international boundary is not just an old and tired fantasy — it is a sure way to make the two-state solution even more moribund than at present.

If that is what the Guardian wished to achieve by leaking the papers, it may comfortably say “mission accomplished” in tomorrow’s editorial.

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Send in the Mercenaries

The New York Times reported last week in horrified tones about an apparent plan by Saracen International — a South African security firm — to offer its services to the government of Somalia. According to the Times, Erik Prince, the former SEAL who started Blackwater, is somehow involved in the deal, which is reportedly being financed by the United Arab Emirates.

There is more than a whiff of disapprobation about the entire article, with its mention of apartheid-era connections on the part of one of Saracen’s principals and of the scandals that have plagued Blackwater. But, as far as I’m concerned, it’s good news.

Somalia, after all, is a country with hardly any functioning security force of its own. Its government is hanging on by its fingernails in the face of a concerted assault by the Islamist group known as the Shahab. An 8,000-strong African Union force has been bolstered the government only a little. Battles continue to rage daily in Mogadishu, often only a few hundred yards from the center of government. In those circumstances, what’s wrong with the Somali government looking for outside help? The U.S. and our European allies have no interest in sending in our own troops, so why not send in mercenaries?

In fact, as I’ve argued in the past,  the mercenary option can work when nothing else is viable. Blackwater and other contractors have caused their share of problems in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would undoubtedly have been better to have had their work performed by American troops. But there were not enough American troops to do all that was required. In Somalia, there are no American troops at all (aside from occasional forays by Special Operations Forces).

In this article in the American Interest, I pointed out the successes scored by the closely linked South African firms Executive Outcomes and Sandline:

[I]n their heyday in the 1990s they helped the governments of Papua New Guinea, Liberia, Angola and Sierra Leone, among others, to put down savage insurgencies at a time when the rest of the world stood idly by. In 1995–96, for instance, Executive Outcomes made short work of a rebel movement in Sierra Leone known as the Revolutionary United Front, which was notorious for chopping off the limbs of its victims. As a result, Sierra Leone was able to hold its first free election in decades. Another private firm, MPRI, helped to bring peace to the former Yugoslavia in 1995 by organizing the Croatian offensive that stopped Serbian aggression. Today MPRI provides trainers who operate side by side with local poppy-eradication forces in Afghanistan—a mission that NATO refuses to take on.

Saracen International, as it happens, is the successor to Executive Outcomes.  According to the Times, it is already “training a 1,000-member antipiracy militia in Puntland, in northern Somalia, and plans a separate militia in Mogadishu.” Now, after the Times article, those plans may be endangered. A follow-up account in the Times quotes a Somali official saying, “We need help but we don’t want mercenaries.”

Who, then, is going to help Somalia? Those who sniff at this option should be required to come up with an alternative that could work half as well to prevent Somalia from falling into the clutches of radical Islamists.

The New York Times reported last week in horrified tones about an apparent plan by Saracen International — a South African security firm — to offer its services to the government of Somalia. According to the Times, Erik Prince, the former SEAL who started Blackwater, is somehow involved in the deal, which is reportedly being financed by the United Arab Emirates.

There is more than a whiff of disapprobation about the entire article, with its mention of apartheid-era connections on the part of one of Saracen’s principals and of the scandals that have plagued Blackwater. But, as far as I’m concerned, it’s good news.

Somalia, after all, is a country with hardly any functioning security force of its own. Its government is hanging on by its fingernails in the face of a concerted assault by the Islamist group known as the Shahab. An 8,000-strong African Union force has been bolstered the government only a little. Battles continue to rage daily in Mogadishu, often only a few hundred yards from the center of government. In those circumstances, what’s wrong with the Somali government looking for outside help? The U.S. and our European allies have no interest in sending in our own troops, so why not send in mercenaries?

In fact, as I’ve argued in the past,  the mercenary option can work when nothing else is viable. Blackwater and other contractors have caused their share of problems in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would undoubtedly have been better to have had their work performed by American troops. But there were not enough American troops to do all that was required. In Somalia, there are no American troops at all (aside from occasional forays by Special Operations Forces).

In this article in the American Interest, I pointed out the successes scored by the closely linked South African firms Executive Outcomes and Sandline:

[I]n their heyday in the 1990s they helped the governments of Papua New Guinea, Liberia, Angola and Sierra Leone, among others, to put down savage insurgencies at a time when the rest of the world stood idly by. In 1995–96, for instance, Executive Outcomes made short work of a rebel movement in Sierra Leone known as the Revolutionary United Front, which was notorious for chopping off the limbs of its victims. As a result, Sierra Leone was able to hold its first free election in decades. Another private firm, MPRI, helped to bring peace to the former Yugoslavia in 1995 by organizing the Croatian offensive that stopped Serbian aggression. Today MPRI provides trainers who operate side by side with local poppy-eradication forces in Afghanistan—a mission that NATO refuses to take on.

Saracen International, as it happens, is the successor to Executive Outcomes.  According to the Times, it is already “training a 1,000-member antipiracy militia in Puntland, in northern Somalia, and plans a separate militia in Mogadishu.” Now, after the Times article, those plans may be endangered. A follow-up account in the Times quotes a Somali official saying, “We need help but we don’t want mercenaries.”

Who, then, is going to help Somalia? Those who sniff at this option should be required to come up with an alternative that could work half as well to prevent Somalia from falling into the clutches of radical Islamists.

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RE: Palestine Papers: 99 Percent Hype, 1 Percent News

I would rank the news percentage slightly higher than Noah’s penetrating post, at least by comparing a document released yesterday — the May 21, 2008, “Minutes from Plenary Session on Territory” — with the just-released Makovsky Report on possible borders for a Palestinian state.

In the May 21, 2008, session — six months into the Annapolis final status negotiation — Tzipi Livni (TL) had a significant exchange with Abu Ala (AA) after he said that Palestinians could not accept Israeli retention of Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel. Livni noted that there were 38,000 people in Ma’ale Adumim and insistence on dismantling it would be “a historic mistake.” That generated this colloquy:

AA: There are 30,000 people in Ma’ale Adumim. They can live under Palestinian rule.

TL: You know this is not realistic.

AA: So take them [out], like you did in Gaza.

Livni responded that, under the Israeli proposal, many other settlers would be removed, and she challenged the Palestinians to accept a state with everything they could reasonably expect:

TL: … My question is why you cannot have a state that represents most of your aspirations? You will get some compensation. … Why do you insist on 98%? … I know you are going to get — not most ––almost all of your desires, and compensation for things you don’t get. Saying there will be no state unless it’s 1967, would be a shame. [The ellipses reflect my editing of a back-and-forth conversation — RR]

In the Makovsky Report, the map showing a contiguous Palestinian state on 95 percent of the West Bank leaves Israel with both Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel. Ma’ale Adumim, with 37,400 people, is considered by most Israelis not as a “settlement” but as a Jerusalem neighborhood. Ariel, with more than 31,000 people (including the bloc to its north), is home to Ariel University, one of Israel’s largest institutions of higher education, with around 9,500 Jewish and Arab students. Neither city — each established more than 30 years ago — is going to be dismantled in any realistic peace agreement, not only because that is not necessary for a contiguous Palestinian state, but also because, more important, each is located on strategic high ground essential to defensible borders for Israel.

So the news out of a comparison of the Minutes and the Report is that the Palestinians, given yet another chance to establish a state in 2008, passed one up yet again, insisting on dismantlement of places not necessary for a contiguous state, which would have been offset by a land swap. The news, in other words, is not the concessions the Palestinians were willing to make but rather the ones they were not.

I would rank the news percentage slightly higher than Noah’s penetrating post, at least by comparing a document released yesterday — the May 21, 2008, “Minutes from Plenary Session on Territory” — with the just-released Makovsky Report on possible borders for a Palestinian state.

In the May 21, 2008, session — six months into the Annapolis final status negotiation — Tzipi Livni (TL) had a significant exchange with Abu Ala (AA) after he said that Palestinians could not accept Israeli retention of Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel. Livni noted that there were 38,000 people in Ma’ale Adumim and insistence on dismantling it would be “a historic mistake.” That generated this colloquy:

AA: There are 30,000 people in Ma’ale Adumim. They can live under Palestinian rule.

TL: You know this is not realistic.

AA: So take them [out], like you did in Gaza.

Livni responded that, under the Israeli proposal, many other settlers would be removed, and she challenged the Palestinians to accept a state with everything they could reasonably expect:

TL: … My question is why you cannot have a state that represents most of your aspirations? You will get some compensation. … Why do you insist on 98%? … I know you are going to get — not most ––almost all of your desires, and compensation for things you don’t get. Saying there will be no state unless it’s 1967, would be a shame. [The ellipses reflect my editing of a back-and-forth conversation — RR]

In the Makovsky Report, the map showing a contiguous Palestinian state on 95 percent of the West Bank leaves Israel with both Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel. Ma’ale Adumim, with 37,400 people, is considered by most Israelis not as a “settlement” but as a Jerusalem neighborhood. Ariel, with more than 31,000 people (including the bloc to its north), is home to Ariel University, one of Israel’s largest institutions of higher education, with around 9,500 Jewish and Arab students. Neither city — each established more than 30 years ago — is going to be dismantled in any realistic peace agreement, not only because that is not necessary for a contiguous Palestinian state, but also because, more important, each is located on strategic high ground essential to defensible borders for Israel.

So the news out of a comparison of the Minutes and the Report is that the Palestinians, given yet another chance to establish a state in 2008, passed one up yet again, insisting on dismantlement of places not necessary for a contiguous state, which would have been offset by a land swap. The news, in other words, is not the concessions the Palestinians were willing to make but rather the ones they were not.

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