Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 15, 2011

Nakba “Nonviolence” Will Destroy What’s Left of Land-for-Peace

During the 1990’s the skeptical critique of land-for-peace was that it was structurally asymmetrical. The Israelis were expected to give up tangible land for intangible promises of moderation, a dynamic that encouraged Palestinian abuses. Israeli withdrawals were measurable, while the Palestinians could claim that they were cracking down on extremists and no one could know for sure. Israeli withdrawals were one-off events, while the Palestinians were in the continual process of moderation. Israeli withdrawals were expensive to reverse—requiring military campaigns and costing diplomatic capital—while the most that Palestinians ever lost was “faith” in negotiations. Israeli withdrawals exposed Israeli civilians to terrorist attacks, while the Palestinians at worst got to keep a status quo ante in which thousands of people were very pointedly not dying. And so on, and so on.

To overcome these asymmetries the United States and the West offered Israel a bevy of security and diplomatic assurances, both in the context of Oslo and regarding Israeli withdrawals in general. These assurances were aimed at persuading Jerusalem either that its enemies wouldn’t be able to militarize evacuated territories or that—if they did—the Israelis would have wide latitude in defending themselves. Obviously things didn’t quite work out as promised.

The West Bank became a terrorist cesspool and thousands of Israelis died, until Defensive Shield and the Separation Barrier—both undertaken in the face of international criticism—defeated the Second Intifada. The Gaza Strip is currently an Iranian outpost bristling with rockets and missiles, years after U.S.-backed Fatah forces got rolled by Hamas, and Israel is routinely condemned for its anti-Hamas campaigns. Across the board, the Jewish State has never had less freedom to act than it does today, despite Western promises that it could afford to take risks for peace because self-defense was always an option. And of course the sitting American administration declared a few years ago that, hey, assurances made by previous administrations don’t count any more!

Let’s imagine, though, that none of this were true. Let’s imagine, for instance, that Hamas and Hezbollah had been stymied in their efforts to plant tens of thousands of missiles on Israel’s border, or at least that the IDF was permitted to conclude a decisive military victory against Iran’s proxies. In this alternate universe, where things went in practice the way they were supposed to go in theory, land-for-peace might make sense.

But today’s “nonviolent” Nakba demonstrations present existential threats to Israel, including the hemorrhaging of Israeli sovereignty described by Michael Oren in this 2009 COMMENTARY article, which aren’t checked by security assurances. If you set out with the goal in mind of undermining Israeli confidence in the peace process, you’d be hard-pressed to hit upon a better game plan than encouraging civilian mobs to crash the Israeli border. This is an anti-Israel strategy that, even in theory, is exacerbated by Israeli territorial concessions but can’t be mitigated by security arrangements.

The difficulty of the situation is of course what makes it attractive to anti-Israel partisans in the first place. They think that Israel will have no option but to capitulate. They’re wrong. The Israelis will have at least one option left, and that’s to dig in and refortify themselves diplomatically and militarily. No country can be expected to allow itself to be overrun, and Israelis won’t take seriously the promise that the mobs will stop coming if only they make one more concession. Instead they’ll do what they need to do to defend themselves against those mobs, which will mean diplomatic isolation but will be better than guaranteed eradication.

If international monitors are simply going to stand aside while explicitly genocidal Palestinian “refugees” rush into Israel, the Israelis will need raw space to respond. The IDF will need distance to keep infiltrators away from Israeli civilians. Israeli soldiers will need open spaces to out-maneuver rioters.

If Israel didn’t control the Golan Heights, hundreds of Syrian infiltrators would today have run down into Israel rather having run up the plateau. It’s the old concept of strategic depth, which wasn’t supposed to matter once wars became high-tech video games. It turns out that physical terrain still matters when anti-Israel fanatics, protected by their ostensibly civilian status, are trying to cross swaths of difficult physical terrain.

More importantly, the goal of these media stunts is to have the IDF make mistakes at the expense of Molotov-throwing, stone-hurling rioters (or as they’re described by international press outlets, “protesters”). They’re designed to create claustrophobic, chaotic environments that escalate quickly and establish their own momentum—at which point agitprop-producing photojournalists will create evidence for their outlets’ anti-Israel narratives. The Israelis will quickly conclude that they need literal and metaphorical room for error to contain these crises, to the detriment of any negotiated solution

During the 1990’s the skeptical critique of land-for-peace was that it was structurally asymmetrical. The Israelis were expected to give up tangible land for intangible promises of moderation, a dynamic that encouraged Palestinian abuses. Israeli withdrawals were measurable, while the Palestinians could claim that they were cracking down on extremists and no one could know for sure. Israeli withdrawals were one-off events, while the Palestinians were in the continual process of moderation. Israeli withdrawals were expensive to reverse—requiring military campaigns and costing diplomatic capital—while the most that Palestinians ever lost was “faith” in negotiations. Israeli withdrawals exposed Israeli civilians to terrorist attacks, while the Palestinians at worst got to keep a status quo ante in which thousands of people were very pointedly not dying. And so on, and so on.

To overcome these asymmetries the United States and the West offered Israel a bevy of security and diplomatic assurances, both in the context of Oslo and regarding Israeli withdrawals in general. These assurances were aimed at persuading Jerusalem either that its enemies wouldn’t be able to militarize evacuated territories or that—if they did—the Israelis would have wide latitude in defending themselves. Obviously things didn’t quite work out as promised.

The West Bank became a terrorist cesspool and thousands of Israelis died, until Defensive Shield and the Separation Barrier—both undertaken in the face of international criticism—defeated the Second Intifada. The Gaza Strip is currently an Iranian outpost bristling with rockets and missiles, years after U.S.-backed Fatah forces got rolled by Hamas, and Israel is routinely condemned for its anti-Hamas campaigns. Across the board, the Jewish State has never had less freedom to act than it does today, despite Western promises that it could afford to take risks for peace because self-defense was always an option. And of course the sitting American administration declared a few years ago that, hey, assurances made by previous administrations don’t count any more!

Let’s imagine, though, that none of this were true. Let’s imagine, for instance, that Hamas and Hezbollah had been stymied in their efforts to plant tens of thousands of missiles on Israel’s border, or at least that the IDF was permitted to conclude a decisive military victory against Iran’s proxies. In this alternate universe, where things went in practice the way they were supposed to go in theory, land-for-peace might make sense.

But today’s “nonviolent” Nakba demonstrations present existential threats to Israel, including the hemorrhaging of Israeli sovereignty described by Michael Oren in this 2009 COMMENTARY article, which aren’t checked by security assurances. If you set out with the goal in mind of undermining Israeli confidence in the peace process, you’d be hard-pressed to hit upon a better game plan than encouraging civilian mobs to crash the Israeli border. This is an anti-Israel strategy that, even in theory, is exacerbated by Israeli territorial concessions but can’t be mitigated by security arrangements.

The difficulty of the situation is of course what makes it attractive to anti-Israel partisans in the first place. They think that Israel will have no option but to capitulate. They’re wrong. The Israelis will have at least one option left, and that’s to dig in and refortify themselves diplomatically and militarily. No country can be expected to allow itself to be overrun, and Israelis won’t take seriously the promise that the mobs will stop coming if only they make one more concession. Instead they’ll do what they need to do to defend themselves against those mobs, which will mean diplomatic isolation but will be better than guaranteed eradication.

If international monitors are simply going to stand aside while explicitly genocidal Palestinian “refugees” rush into Israel, the Israelis will need raw space to respond. The IDF will need distance to keep infiltrators away from Israeli civilians. Israeli soldiers will need open spaces to out-maneuver rioters.

If Israel didn’t control the Golan Heights, hundreds of Syrian infiltrators would today have run down into Israel rather having run up the plateau. It’s the old concept of strategic depth, which wasn’t supposed to matter once wars became high-tech video games. It turns out that physical terrain still matters when anti-Israel fanatics, protected by their ostensibly civilian status, are trying to cross swaths of difficult physical terrain.

More importantly, the goal of these media stunts is to have the IDF make mistakes at the expense of Molotov-throwing, stone-hurling rioters (or as they’re described by international press outlets, “protesters”). They’re designed to create claustrophobic, chaotic environments that escalate quickly and establish their own momentum—at which point agitprop-producing photojournalists will create evidence for their outlets’ anti-Israel narratives. The Israelis will quickly conclude that they need literal and metaphorical room for error to contain these crises, to the detriment of any negotiated solution

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Nicholas Kristof Tries Out the Anti-Israel Nakba Day Themes

Let’s keep in mind—as these kinds of media frames start to trickle in—that Nakba Day isn’t about establishing some kind of peaceful Palestinian state outside of Israel’s 1967 borders. It’s a “holiday” that marks and celebrates full-blown Arab rejectionism of any Jewish State anywhere in the Middle East. In 1948 the hope was to eradicate Israel by crushing it with the military power of five Arab armies. In 2011 the hope is to eradicate Israel by overrunning it with 3 million fifth-generation “refugees,” a population drawn from UN camps and routinely identified as the most virulently anti-Israel in the Arab world. This latter scheme, of course, is the famous “right of return,” institutionalized among other places in the Saudi plan.

The meaning of Nakba Day isn’t really up for debate. Elsewhere in Israeli-Arab reality, there’s room for Middle East analysts to insist that the Palestinians don’t actually mean what they say they mean (“sure that Palestinian Authority official just advocated mass genocide of ‘Jewish swine’ and said that the peace process is a two-phase strategy of destroying Israel, but he meant it moderately!”) Nakba Day is impossible to spin. It stands for hysteria about Israel’s creation as such. The giant photojournalism-friendly keys carried around by rioters aren’t allusions to nice villas in Bethlehem. They are references to villages never seen by the refugees’ parents’ parents’ but to which Palestinians still insist they have a right.

And so against that backdrop, here are two initial tweets from Nicholas Kristof. They’ve each been retweeted hundreds of times. Here’s the first:

Do I have this right? Israeli forces fired today on protesters at 3 different borders—Gaza, Syria and Lebanon?

And here’s the second:

Pres. Assad must be so relieved that Israel shot Syrians at the border, distracting from his own shootings of Syrians.

These themes are about to get tangled up into much longer anti-Israel articles—there’s going to be no end to the hand-wringing over Israel defending its own border—so it’s valuable to get them here in distilled form. Rhetorically the first theme works by not providing enough context. In its journalistic headline form it appears as what David Hazony just blogged about, where the first-scan read is that Israel just randomly decided to shoot a bunch of Palestinians.

As analysis it will become a meditation on Israel’s “unforced error,” to take the phrase that anti-Zionist J Street co-founder Daniel Levy used in describing the Mavi Marmara operation. Anti-Israel journalists and analysts generate criticism in the context of predicting and commenting on it. That’s obnoxiously dishonest enough on its own. But in this case it also requires leaving out the implicit and obviously unacceptable alternative, where Israel allows thousands of rioters, with IRGC and Hezbollah operatives undoubtedly among them, to stream across the border.

The second tweet is going to be the pseudo-sophisticated pretext for criticizing Israel. It’s perfect on any number of levels. For generic Israel bashers, it’s a way to stick the Jewish State with regional instability. For Obama defenders, it creates an excuse for why the administration’s Syria policy has spectacularly failed to remove or moderate Assad. Just last week the consensus was that Assad was going to survive intact, as Randa Habib reported:

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is likely to survive his country’s uprising thanks to the army’s loyalty and the world’s muted response to the bloody crackdown on protests, analysts say. “The international community is cautious in its response to the actions of the Syrian regime, which apparently has won the first round of the battle through bloodshed,” a Syrian analyst in Amman told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Now analysts get to pretend that Assad was on the brink of collapse, but for Israeli actions that Syrian pro-democracy don’t seem to care about. Again, perfect. Look for this theme to be making an appearance on NPR, and on Stephen Walt’s Foreign Policy blog, by tomorrow.

Let’s keep in mind—as these kinds of media frames start to trickle in—that Nakba Day isn’t about establishing some kind of peaceful Palestinian state outside of Israel’s 1967 borders. It’s a “holiday” that marks and celebrates full-blown Arab rejectionism of any Jewish State anywhere in the Middle East. In 1948 the hope was to eradicate Israel by crushing it with the military power of five Arab armies. In 2011 the hope is to eradicate Israel by overrunning it with 3 million fifth-generation “refugees,” a population drawn from UN camps and routinely identified as the most virulently anti-Israel in the Arab world. This latter scheme, of course, is the famous “right of return,” institutionalized among other places in the Saudi plan.

The meaning of Nakba Day isn’t really up for debate. Elsewhere in Israeli-Arab reality, there’s room for Middle East analysts to insist that the Palestinians don’t actually mean what they say they mean (“sure that Palestinian Authority official just advocated mass genocide of ‘Jewish swine’ and said that the peace process is a two-phase strategy of destroying Israel, but he meant it moderately!”) Nakba Day is impossible to spin. It stands for hysteria about Israel’s creation as such. The giant photojournalism-friendly keys carried around by rioters aren’t allusions to nice villas in Bethlehem. They are references to villages never seen by the refugees’ parents’ parents’ but to which Palestinians still insist they have a right.

And so against that backdrop, here are two initial tweets from Nicholas Kristof. They’ve each been retweeted hundreds of times. Here’s the first:

Do I have this right? Israeli forces fired today on protesters at 3 different borders—Gaza, Syria and Lebanon?

And here’s the second:

Pres. Assad must be so relieved that Israel shot Syrians at the border, distracting from his own shootings of Syrians.

These themes are about to get tangled up into much longer anti-Israel articles—there’s going to be no end to the hand-wringing over Israel defending its own border—so it’s valuable to get them here in distilled form. Rhetorically the first theme works by not providing enough context. In its journalistic headline form it appears as what David Hazony just blogged about, where the first-scan read is that Israel just randomly decided to shoot a bunch of Palestinians.

As analysis it will become a meditation on Israel’s “unforced error,” to take the phrase that anti-Zionist J Street co-founder Daniel Levy used in describing the Mavi Marmara operation. Anti-Israel journalists and analysts generate criticism in the context of predicting and commenting on it. That’s obnoxiously dishonest enough on its own. But in this case it also requires leaving out the implicit and obviously unacceptable alternative, where Israel allows thousands of rioters, with IRGC and Hezbollah operatives undoubtedly among them, to stream across the border.

The second tweet is going to be the pseudo-sophisticated pretext for criticizing Israel. It’s perfect on any number of levels. For generic Israel bashers, it’s a way to stick the Jewish State with regional instability. For Obama defenders, it creates an excuse for why the administration’s Syria policy has spectacularly failed to remove or moderate Assad. Just last week the consensus was that Assad was going to survive intact, as Randa Habib reported:

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is likely to survive his country’s uprising thanks to the army’s loyalty and the world’s muted response to the bloody crackdown on protests, analysts say. “The international community is cautious in its response to the actions of the Syrian regime, which apparently has won the first round of the battle through bloodshed,” a Syrian analyst in Amman told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Now analysts get to pretend that Assad was on the brink of collapse, but for Israeli actions that Syrian pro-democracy don’t seem to care about. Again, perfect. Look for this theme to be making an appearance on NPR, and on Stephen Walt’s Foreign Policy blog, by tomorrow.

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Miami Imams Arrested on Terror Charges

They’re accused of helping to finance the Pakistani Taliban, among other charges. But members of the Miami mosque led by one of the imams for 14 years say they are “shocked,” of course, because they’ve never heard the Taliban-supporting religious leader utter a controversial statement.

Meanwhile, the first warning that the arrest may spark an “anti-Muslim backlash” comes from Sofian Zakkout of the American Muslim Association of North America:

In the wider Islamic community of South Florida, many feared that the imams’ arrests would trigger a backlash against Muslims.

“It’s like a hurricane hit our communities,” said Mr. Zakkout. Area Muslims are “very worried, they are upset, they are confused.”

He said that the recent news of Osama Bin Laden’s killing brought a sense of relief to the community. “We felt that it would be a change, that the black cloud has passed,” said Mr. Zakkout. “Now the nightmare is coming back.”

The two imams arrested were Hafiz Khan and his son Izhar Khan. Hafiz’s other son, Irfan Khan, was also arrested in Los Angeles. According to the indictment, Hafiz sent thousands of dollars to the Pakistani Taliban and called for terror attacks against Pakistani officials. He also allegedly operated an overseas madrassa, and sent some of his young students to terrorism training camps in Afghanistan.

These children allegedly forced into terrorism are the ones Zakkout should be saving his concern for. Nobody has blamed the Muslim community for the actions of a few imams. But it seems as if every time a terrorist incident happens, certain Muslim leaders are more eager to warn of American bigotry rather than sympathize with the actual victims of the crime.

They’re accused of helping to finance the Pakistani Taliban, among other charges. But members of the Miami mosque led by one of the imams for 14 years say they are “shocked,” of course, because they’ve never heard the Taliban-supporting religious leader utter a controversial statement.

Meanwhile, the first warning that the arrest may spark an “anti-Muslim backlash” comes from Sofian Zakkout of the American Muslim Association of North America:

In the wider Islamic community of South Florida, many feared that the imams’ arrests would trigger a backlash against Muslims.

“It’s like a hurricane hit our communities,” said Mr. Zakkout. Area Muslims are “very worried, they are upset, they are confused.”

He said that the recent news of Osama Bin Laden’s killing brought a sense of relief to the community. “We felt that it would be a change, that the black cloud has passed,” said Mr. Zakkout. “Now the nightmare is coming back.”

The two imams arrested were Hafiz Khan and his son Izhar Khan. Hafiz’s other son, Irfan Khan, was also arrested in Los Angeles. According to the indictment, Hafiz sent thousands of dollars to the Pakistani Taliban and called for terror attacks against Pakistani officials. He also allegedly operated an overseas madrassa, and sent some of his young students to terrorism training camps in Afghanistan.

These children allegedly forced into terrorism are the ones Zakkout should be saving his concern for. Nobody has blamed the Muslim community for the actions of a few imams. But it seems as if every time a terrorist incident happens, certain Muslim leaders are more eager to warn of American bigotry rather than sympathize with the actual victims of the crime.

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The Cost of “Free” Federal Money

The small town (5000 people in an area the size of Manhattan) where I live is going to have to replace its street signs—which are quite new and perfectly serviceable. Why? Because the federal government says so, that’s why. Needless to say, the federal government is not supplying the money needed, merely mandating the change.  It’s not a lot of money in a small town with a relatively small number of local street corners. But in New York City it means replacing 250,900 street signs. At a hundred and ten bucks a pop, that adds up.

What’s wrong with our current street signs? They’re in all capital letters and the geniuses at the Department of Transportation have determined that street signs in upper- and lower-case letters (and a particular typeface—“Clearview”) are fractionally easier to read and thus a driver’s attention is diverted by a few milliseconds less than with the older signs. Multiply that by the billions of miles American drive every day and there should be fewer accidents.

I’ll presume that that is true. My objection is with the fact that the Constitution does not give the federal government authority over highway signage. But because the federal government hands out money to the states for highway construction and maintenance, it can—and does—attach conditions, such as mandating the typeface of street signs and requiring a drinking age of 21.  These federal payments to states have been the royal road to ever-increasing federal control of American life and have gone a long way to reducing the once sovereign states to mere federal administrative districts. The late Rep. Bella Abzug even wanted to withhold federal payments to states that had not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. Her idea, thankfully, got nowhere, but the fact that the idea—a breath-taking change in the constitutional balance—even surfaced is evidence of how far the balance had already shifted.

State politicians find federal money irresistible. After all, they get credit for building the new bridge or repaving the highway and Uncle Sam gets the bill. But every dollar of federal money is paid for in lost power and sovereignty. In the long run that makes the “free” federal money very expensive indeed.

The small town (5000 people in an area the size of Manhattan) where I live is going to have to replace its street signs—which are quite new and perfectly serviceable. Why? Because the federal government says so, that’s why. Needless to say, the federal government is not supplying the money needed, merely mandating the change.  It’s not a lot of money in a small town with a relatively small number of local street corners. But in New York City it means replacing 250,900 street signs. At a hundred and ten bucks a pop, that adds up.

What’s wrong with our current street signs? They’re in all capital letters and the geniuses at the Department of Transportation have determined that street signs in upper- and lower-case letters (and a particular typeface—“Clearview”) are fractionally easier to read and thus a driver’s attention is diverted by a few milliseconds less than with the older signs. Multiply that by the billions of miles American drive every day and there should be fewer accidents.

I’ll presume that that is true. My objection is with the fact that the Constitution does not give the federal government authority over highway signage. But because the federal government hands out money to the states for highway construction and maintenance, it can—and does—attach conditions, such as mandating the typeface of street signs and requiring a drinking age of 21.  These federal payments to states have been the royal road to ever-increasing federal control of American life and have gone a long way to reducing the once sovereign states to mere federal administrative districts. The late Rep. Bella Abzug even wanted to withhold federal payments to states that had not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. Her idea, thankfully, got nowhere, but the fact that the idea—a breath-taking change in the constitutional balance—even surfaced is evidence of how far the balance had already shifted.

State politicians find federal money irresistible. After all, they get credit for building the new bridge or repaving the highway and Uncle Sam gets the bill. But every dollar of federal money is paid for in lost power and sovereignty. In the long run that makes the “free” federal money very expensive indeed.

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More Proof That a Palestinian State Would Already Be a Failed State

Rick Richman has been closely following the international effort to create another failed Arab state in the Middle East, a process that will culminate in September when the Palestinians unilaterally declare independence and the General Assembly signals its approval of same. The process has an Alice-in-Wonderland quality. Everyone pretends that everyone else is being sincere in vetting Palestinian readiness. The Palestinians don’t have a constitution, they don’t have an independent judiciary, and they don’t have a free press; they can’t hold elections and their President is seven years into his four-year term; their educational system is a cesspool of primitive and savage anti-Jewish bigotry.

But according to Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store—speaking on behalf of donors and echoing the World Bank, the IMF, and the UN—they’re “above the threshold of a functioning state.” Nobody really believes that’s true in any theoretical or empirical sense. But part of the beauty of anti-Israel diplomacy is that you just kind of get to make things up and—if your inventions aren’t too absurd on that particular day—people pretend to believe you. Fantastical assertions and predictions are used to change facts on the ground before reality has a chance to catch up.

So while a Palestinian state as currently projected will certainly fail, the international community will pretend otherwise just long enough to get past September. The “promising” Fatah-Hamas unity deal is part and parcel of this nudge-nudge-wink-wink game, a temporary fiction established lest the Palestinian Authority declare sovereignty over Gaza without actually controlling Gaza. The unity government will quickly collapse, along with the rest of the Palestinian state. At that point some foreign policy analysts and diplomats will simply move on—there’s never been any consequence to getting things wrong about the Middle East, provided one was toeing the proper ideological line—while others will invent new ways to blame Palestinian failures on Israel. It’s not like intellectual honesty is going to come to the debate over Middle East pathologies any time soon.

That said, the “Palestine-is-above-the-threshold” crowd should really be held to some sort of minimum argumentative consistency, and today’s Nakba demonstrations are another example of just how difficult that can be for them. Palestinians across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip rioted extensively in a series of violent, coordinated actions. Not to get pedantic but either those riots were coordinated by Fatah-Hamas or they were coordinated by what would—in the aftermath of a Palestinian statehood declaration—be subnational groups. If it’s the former then the international community is giving birth to a state that uses civilians to conduct warfare by proxy. If it’s the latter then the Palestinian Authority doesn’t have control over the territories in which it intends to declare itself sovereign.

It’s not just the Nakba rioting. The Palestinians want to have it both ways for all violence coming out of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They and their apologists are quite literally incoherent on this point. For the purposes of statehood, they insist that the Palestinian Authority has full control over future Palestinian territories. For the purposes of rocket launches and terrorist attacks, they insist that Hamas and Fatah have no control over splinter terrorist groups operating from within future Palestinian territories.

They can’t admit that subnational militias are operating out of territories they want for a state, since that’s the textbook definition of a failed state. But they also can’t admit that their own soldiers are attacking Israelis, since that would detonate the narrative of a peaceful Palestinian state. So they’re saying both at the same time. There are days where they can’t even keep track of which terrorist groups they’ve pretended to disband.

And they’re being allowed to get away with it, because choosing one or the other would be uncomfortable for their international apologists.

Meanwhile Palestinians are rioting across the West Bank and Gaza, either with Palestinian Authority connivance or in the face of Palestinian Authority impotence. Somewhere out there, a Reuters or Associated Press journalist is very much not writing an article about how “this is a window into the fundamental tension underlying the Palestinian narrative as Mr. Abbas and Mr. Fayyad move towards a September statehood declaration.” But they could be.


Rick Richman has been closely following the international effort to create another failed Arab state in the Middle East, a process that will culminate in September when the Palestinians unilaterally declare independence and the General Assembly signals its approval of same. The process has an Alice-in-Wonderland quality. Everyone pretends that everyone else is being sincere in vetting Palestinian readiness. The Palestinians don’t have a constitution, they don’t have an independent judiciary, and they don’t have a free press; they can’t hold elections and their President is seven years into his four-year term; their educational system is a cesspool of primitive and savage anti-Jewish bigotry.

But according to Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store—speaking on behalf of donors and echoing the World Bank, the IMF, and the UN—they’re “above the threshold of a functioning state.” Nobody really believes that’s true in any theoretical or empirical sense. But part of the beauty of anti-Israel diplomacy is that you just kind of get to make things up and—if your inventions aren’t too absurd on that particular day—people pretend to believe you. Fantastical assertions and predictions are used to change facts on the ground before reality has a chance to catch up.

So while a Palestinian state as currently projected will certainly fail, the international community will pretend otherwise just long enough to get past September. The “promising” Fatah-Hamas unity deal is part and parcel of this nudge-nudge-wink-wink game, a temporary fiction established lest the Palestinian Authority declare sovereignty over Gaza without actually controlling Gaza. The unity government will quickly collapse, along with the rest of the Palestinian state. At that point some foreign policy analysts and diplomats will simply move on—there’s never been any consequence to getting things wrong about the Middle East, provided one was toeing the proper ideological line—while others will invent new ways to blame Palestinian failures on Israel. It’s not like intellectual honesty is going to come to the debate over Middle East pathologies any time soon.

That said, the “Palestine-is-above-the-threshold” crowd should really be held to some sort of minimum argumentative consistency, and today’s Nakba demonstrations are another example of just how difficult that can be for them. Palestinians across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip rioted extensively in a series of violent, coordinated actions. Not to get pedantic but either those riots were coordinated by Fatah-Hamas or they were coordinated by what would—in the aftermath of a Palestinian statehood declaration—be subnational groups. If it’s the former then the international community is giving birth to a state that uses civilians to conduct warfare by proxy. If it’s the latter then the Palestinian Authority doesn’t have control over the territories in which it intends to declare itself sovereign.

It’s not just the Nakba rioting. The Palestinians want to have it both ways for all violence coming out of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They and their apologists are quite literally incoherent on this point. For the purposes of statehood, they insist that the Palestinian Authority has full control over future Palestinian territories. For the purposes of rocket launches and terrorist attacks, they insist that Hamas and Fatah have no control over splinter terrorist groups operating from within future Palestinian territories.

They can’t admit that subnational militias are operating out of territories they want for a state, since that’s the textbook definition of a failed state. But they also can’t admit that their own soldiers are attacking Israelis, since that would detonate the narrative of a peaceful Palestinian state. So they’re saying both at the same time. There are days where they can’t even keep track of which terrorist groups they’ve pretended to disband.

And they’re being allowed to get away with it, because choosing one or the other would be uncomfortable for their international apologists.

Meanwhile Palestinians are rioting across the West Bank and Gaza, either with Palestinian Authority connivance or in the face of Palestinian Authority impotence. Somewhere out there, a Reuters or Associated Press journalist is very much not writing an article about how “this is a window into the fundamental tension underlying the Palestinian narrative as Mr. Abbas and Mr. Fayyad move towards a September statehood declaration.” But they could be.


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Slanting Nakba

Question: What do the following headlines have in common?

1.   “Israeli Troops Fire on Palestinian Protesters in Deadly Clashes”—Huffington Post

2.   “Israeli Police Fire on Protesters”—Daily Beast

3.   “9 Killed as Israel Clashes with Palestinians”—New York Times

Answer: All of these headlines appear today on the sites’ home pages, covering the incident on the border between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights. None of these headlines tells you that the protesters in question were crossing a hostile border between Syria and Israel, en masse, in a violent protest at least permitted (if not organized) by the Syrian government. You see, the term “Palestinians,” when combined with “clashes” and “IDF,” almost always refers to Palestinians in the Palestinian territories, maybe in East Jerusalem. They don’t live on or near the Golan Heights. They have no way of getting to that border. In the interest of being informative about the actual news item, shouldn’t the protesters have been called “Syrians,” even if they were waving Palestinian flags?

Even worse, the first two headlines give you the distinct impression of a moral equivalence with what’s happening elsewhere in the Middle East: that just as Syria and Libya attack peaceful protesters, so does Israel—which, incidentally, is exactly the impression Bashar Assad was hoping you’d get. You’d never guess that hundreds of Syrians stormed the border with Israel, tearing down fences, and hurling rocks.

At moments like these, can supporters of Israel be blamed for accusing these news outlets of bias?

For a totally different report on what happened, here is YNet’s piece. There you’ll discover something that the main news outlets apparently missed: that some of the people who crossed the border into Israel weren’t really protesting at all.

They were defecting.

Question: What do the following headlines have in common?

1.   “Israeli Troops Fire on Palestinian Protesters in Deadly Clashes”—Huffington Post

2.   “Israeli Police Fire on Protesters”—Daily Beast

3.   “9 Killed as Israel Clashes with Palestinians”—New York Times

Answer: All of these headlines appear today on the sites’ home pages, covering the incident on the border between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights. None of these headlines tells you that the protesters in question were crossing a hostile border between Syria and Israel, en masse, in a violent protest at least permitted (if not organized) by the Syrian government. You see, the term “Palestinians,” when combined with “clashes” and “IDF,” almost always refers to Palestinians in the Palestinian territories, maybe in East Jerusalem. They don’t live on or near the Golan Heights. They have no way of getting to that border. In the interest of being informative about the actual news item, shouldn’t the protesters have been called “Syrians,” even if they were waving Palestinian flags?

Even worse, the first two headlines give you the distinct impression of a moral equivalence with what’s happening elsewhere in the Middle East: that just as Syria and Libya attack peaceful protesters, so does Israel—which, incidentally, is exactly the impression Bashar Assad was hoping you’d get. You’d never guess that hundreds of Syrians stormed the border with Israel, tearing down fences, and hurling rocks.

At moments like these, can supporters of Israel be blamed for accusing these news outlets of bias?

For a totally different report on what happened, here is YNet’s piece. There you’ll discover something that the main news outlets apparently missed: that some of the people who crossed the border into Israel weren’t really protesting at all.

They were defecting.

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The Nakba Day Tragedy

The Palestinians have institutionalized the establishment of Israel as their “Nakba,” their catastrophe, but it is important to remember that the 1948 war actually started not with the Israeli declaration of independence on May 14, 1948 (the day the British Mandate ended), but six months earlier—on November 30, 1947, the morning after the UN endorsed a two-state solution.

But for the Arab rejection of even a miniscule Jewish state, and the Arab war commenced in response to the UN resolution, there would not have been a single refugee, and Palestinians would today be celebrating the 63rd year of their state. There would also never have been, as Jonathan observes, an even larger number of Jewish refugees created in 1948, who have never been compensated for their losses.

The 1948 Declaration of Independence of Israel promised “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,” as well as “freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture” and the safeguarding of the Holy Places of all religions. It also included a paragraph directed to its Arab residents:

WE APPEAL—in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months—to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.

The “catastrophe” of 1948 was the failure of the Arabs to respond to that appeal, as they began the first of their successive efforts to destroy Israel. The tragedy of today is that there are still no Palestinian leaders willing to recognize a Jewish state in the land where the Jewish people was born, and every year they blame the Jewish state for the catastrophe they brought on themselves.

The Palestinians have institutionalized the establishment of Israel as their “Nakba,” their catastrophe, but it is important to remember that the 1948 war actually started not with the Israeli declaration of independence on May 14, 1948 (the day the British Mandate ended), but six months earlier—on November 30, 1947, the morning after the UN endorsed a two-state solution.

But for the Arab rejection of even a miniscule Jewish state, and the Arab war commenced in response to the UN resolution, there would not have been a single refugee, and Palestinians would today be celebrating the 63rd year of their state. There would also never have been, as Jonathan observes, an even larger number of Jewish refugees created in 1948, who have never been compensated for their losses.

The 1948 Declaration of Independence of Israel promised “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,” as well as “freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture” and the safeguarding of the Holy Places of all religions. It also included a paragraph directed to its Arab residents:

WE APPEAL—in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months—to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.

The “catastrophe” of 1948 was the failure of the Arabs to respond to that appeal, as they began the first of their successive efforts to destroy Israel. The tragedy of today is that there are still no Palestinian leaders willing to recognize a Jewish state in the land where the Jewish people was born, and every year they blame the Jewish state for the catastrophe they brought on themselves.

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George Mitchell and Nakba Day

As Rick recalled earlier today, when George Mitchell assumed the role of President Obama’s Middle East peace coordinator on the second day of the administration’s existence, he bragged about his success in brokering the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland and said that there was no reason why similar persistence would not be rewarded with a Palestinian state living in peace alongside a Jewish one.

Two years later, we can dissect the Obama foreign policy team’s mistakes, such as its foolish decision to pick fights with Israel over settlements that ensured that the Palestinians would dig in their heels and refuse to even negotiate with the Netanyahu government. But for all of their wrong-headed insistence on distancing themselves from Israel, the lack of peace is not the fault of President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, or the woebegone George Mitchell who has now given up his fool’s errand of a job. The reason there are no peace negotiations, let alone a signed agreement is that the Palestinian Authority can’t do it. Not even the “moderates” of the Fatah-run PA think they can survive signing a peace of paper that acknowledges the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn.

The reason for this is that, unlike Ireland, where the leadership of the rebellion against the British accepted partition of their island in 1922 and waged a war against IRA maximalists to ensure that the peace would hold, the Palestinian leadership has never accepted that sort of responsibility. Instead, the PA, just like the supposedly more extreme Hamas movement, is celebrating Nakba Day today, keeping alive the hopes of Palestinian refugees and others that someday the verdict of history will be reversed and Israel will disappear. Had George Mitchell understood the differences between Irish and Palestinian history, he might have had an easier time figuring just how hopeless the task that Barack Obama set for him really was.

As Rick recalled earlier today, when George Mitchell assumed the role of President Obama’s Middle East peace coordinator on the second day of the administration’s existence, he bragged about his success in brokering the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland and said that there was no reason why similar persistence would not be rewarded with a Palestinian state living in peace alongside a Jewish one.

Two years later, we can dissect the Obama foreign policy team’s mistakes, such as its foolish decision to pick fights with Israel over settlements that ensured that the Palestinians would dig in their heels and refuse to even negotiate with the Netanyahu government. But for all of their wrong-headed insistence on distancing themselves from Israel, the lack of peace is not the fault of President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, or the woebegone George Mitchell who has now given up his fool’s errand of a job. The reason there are no peace negotiations, let alone a signed agreement is that the Palestinian Authority can’t do it. Not even the “moderates” of the Fatah-run PA think they can survive signing a peace of paper that acknowledges the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn.

The reason for this is that, unlike Ireland, where the leadership of the rebellion against the British accepted partition of their island in 1922 and waged a war against IRA maximalists to ensure that the peace would hold, the Palestinian leadership has never accepted that sort of responsibility. Instead, the PA, just like the supposedly more extreme Hamas movement, is celebrating Nakba Day today, keeping alive the hopes of Palestinian refugees and others that someday the verdict of history will be reversed and Israel will disappear. Had George Mitchell understood the differences between Irish and Palestinian history, he might have had an easier time figuring just how hopeless the task that Barack Obama set for him really was.

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Traffic Accidents and Protesters: Media Downplays Nakba Violence

It’s that time of year again, when the Arab world rises up to protest Israel’s sin of existing. So far the Nakba festivities have included a deadly terrorist attack in Tel Aviv and an attempted mass infiltration of Israel’s Syrian border by rioters.

But almost as predictable as the anti-Israel violence is the media’s attempt to whitewash it. Here’s how the Guardian described today’s Tel Aviv terrorist attack (h/t: CiF Watch):

Inside Israel, police were on high alert for disturbances among the country’s Arab minority. In a reflection of the jitters, a deadly traffic accident involving an Arab lorry driver in Tel Aviv set off fears that an attack had been carried out. The lorry plowed through a crowded street, crashing into a bus, several cars and pedestrians, killing one and injuring 16 others. Police said the 22-year-old driver claimed it was an accident, but said they were still investigating.

The suspicion that this was a terrorist attack wasn’t so much due to the Nakba “jitters,” as it was due to the fact that the driver mowed down several vehicles before reportedly jumping out of his truck and attacking a woman with a toppled traffic light. During the incident, was also reportedly yellingitbach al yahud! (death to Jews!)” and “allahu akbar (God is great!)”

Several news organizations have also characterized the mobs rushing the Israeli border as “protesters.” In fact, they appear to be rioters, who were bussed to the area in an attempt to infiltrate the border and provoke Israeli security forces.

More bias will be likely as the coverage continues. Israel’s self-defense efforts are regularly condemned by the international community, and unfortunately this time isn’t likely to be any different.

It’s that time of year again, when the Arab world rises up to protest Israel’s sin of existing. So far the Nakba festivities have included a deadly terrorist attack in Tel Aviv and an attempted mass infiltration of Israel’s Syrian border by rioters.

But almost as predictable as the anti-Israel violence is the media’s attempt to whitewash it. Here’s how the Guardian described today’s Tel Aviv terrorist attack (h/t: CiF Watch):

Inside Israel, police were on high alert for disturbances among the country’s Arab minority. In a reflection of the jitters, a deadly traffic accident involving an Arab lorry driver in Tel Aviv set off fears that an attack had been carried out. The lorry plowed through a crowded street, crashing into a bus, several cars and pedestrians, killing one and injuring 16 others. Police said the 22-year-old driver claimed it was an accident, but said they were still investigating.

The suspicion that this was a terrorist attack wasn’t so much due to the Nakba “jitters,” as it was due to the fact that the driver mowed down several vehicles before reportedly jumping out of his truck and attacking a woman with a toppled traffic light. During the incident, was also reportedly yellingitbach al yahud! (death to Jews!)” and “allahu akbar (God is great!)”

Several news organizations have also characterized the mobs rushing the Israeli border as “protesters.” In fact, they appear to be rioters, who were bussed to the area in an attempt to infiltrate the border and provoke Israeli security forces.

More bias will be likely as the coverage continues. Israel’s self-defense efforts are regularly condemned by the international community, and unfortunately this time isn’t likely to be any different.

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Nakba Day: UN Forces Do Little or Nothing to Stop Rioting

Palestinian “refugees” from the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Syria, and Lebanon—the Palestinians being the only people on the planet with fifth-generation “refugees”—have been trying to storm Israel all day. Their rioting comes as part of the Palestinians’ annual Nakba Day celebrations, during which they violently indulge in the fantasy of eradicating Israel while fawning global media outlets write about “the uprooting they suffered at the time of Israel’s founding on May 15, 1948” (actual Associated Press phrasing).

On the Lebanese border rioters got all the way to the Israeli border at two different spots. Lebanese troops used light weapons to disperse one riot, but at Marun Aras the LAF was a non-presence—Lebanese soldiers literally stepped aside—and IDF soldiers had to open fire, killing as many as four. On the Syrian border thousands of people, including women and children, rushed the border fence to tear it down. The IDF commander on authorized only selective fire, and the result was that almost one hundred infiltrators managed to enter Israel.

It’s possible that the IDF got caught flat-footed, with Israeli intelligence relying on the Syrian army to maintain calm. Apparently unanticipated was that Assad would try to distract his people from how he’s been killing them, and that he would order his troops to allow a border incident. The Israelis will now start working on where and why they failed to properly anticipate the coordinated riots.

While that’s happening, U.S. policies in Lebanon and on the Golan Heights should also come in for some reevaluation. It’s not that the U.S. is charged with assuring Israel’s security, although that’s the rhetoric we use when we’re pushing the Israelis to give up badly needed strategic depth. It’s that we contribute weapons and money to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and to UN peacekeeping missions, and those policies have costs, and those costs are supposed to be outweighed by stability-enhancing benefits. And yet this morning it’s been mostly costs and not many benefits. Across the board. Again.

In Lebanon we’ve been vigorously pouring weapons into the LAF since late 2007, with justifications running from “it will shame Hezbollah into disarming” to “it will allow Lebanon to secure its territory.” The subsequent half-decade has seen Hezbollah take over the Lebanese government, something that was explicitly and easily predictable when we embarked on the scheme, while the Lebanese army is still apparently torn over the need to secure their border. Lebanese soldiers have been more than willing to use US weapons to launch sniper attacks against Israelis and destabilize the region. But as far as keeping their own citizens from launching de facto invasions of neighboring countries? Not so much.

Now to the UN peacekeeping missions. Writing in one of his many retrospectives, former Israeli diplomat Abba Eban mused about the “unparalleled speed” with which UN forces stationed in the Sinai Peninsula stepped aside in May 1967, the request to evacuate having been made by Egypt so its forces could wage war against Israel. Plus ça change.

The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force on the Golan Heights is supposed to maintain “overall supervision” of the Israeli-Syrian buffer zone—that’s one of the few reasons they’re suffered to exist, and they’ve recently had their mandate extended—and it doesn’t seem like they did very much. Israeli radio says that UNDOF is even refusing to comment on the incidents. Money well spent, trust well-placed.

The performance of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon—which the Bush-era State Department insisted would secure southern Lebanon if Israel backed off Lebanon II—was even worse. UNIFIL has 12,000-plus troops and a budget of almost half a billion dollars. Where UNDOF is mostly just a useless money pit, however, UNIFIL actively works to destabilize the region. UNIFIL troops have broken up Israeli intelligence gathering operations, have leaked Israeli intelligence to Hezbollah, have threatened to open fire on Israeli military assets, have hidden evidence of Hezbollah attacks on Israel, have provided Hezbollah with human shields during wartime and then lied about it, have dressed terrorists in UN uniforms to smuggle them away from the IDF, and were almost certainly complicit in the Hezbollah operation that triggered Lebanon II.

UNIFIL backers justify the mission’s massive presence in the broadest terms, and peacekeepers are charged with “restoring international peace and security.” In light of their functional absence during multiple, severe border intrusions today, that doesn’t seem like a tenable rationalization.

Of course maybe preventing civilian cross-border rioting isn’t what the Lebanese army and those UN missions are supposed to prevent. Maybe, for instance, they’re supposed to block Israel and Hezbollah from tangling. But since they’re utter failures when it comes to doing that, basic crowd control was really the only justification left. And now it seems absurd too, raising the question of what exactly our policies are supposed to be accomplishing.

Palestinian “refugees” from the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Syria, and Lebanon—the Palestinians being the only people on the planet with fifth-generation “refugees”—have been trying to storm Israel all day. Their rioting comes as part of the Palestinians’ annual Nakba Day celebrations, during which they violently indulge in the fantasy of eradicating Israel while fawning global media outlets write about “the uprooting they suffered at the time of Israel’s founding on May 15, 1948” (actual Associated Press phrasing).

On the Lebanese border rioters got all the way to the Israeli border at two different spots. Lebanese troops used light weapons to disperse one riot, but at Marun Aras the LAF was a non-presence—Lebanese soldiers literally stepped aside—and IDF soldiers had to open fire, killing as many as four. On the Syrian border thousands of people, including women and children, rushed the border fence to tear it down. The IDF commander on authorized only selective fire, and the result was that almost one hundred infiltrators managed to enter Israel.

It’s possible that the IDF got caught flat-footed, with Israeli intelligence relying on the Syrian army to maintain calm. Apparently unanticipated was that Assad would try to distract his people from how he’s been killing them, and that he would order his troops to allow a border incident. The Israelis will now start working on where and why they failed to properly anticipate the coordinated riots.

While that’s happening, U.S. policies in Lebanon and on the Golan Heights should also come in for some reevaluation. It’s not that the U.S. is charged with assuring Israel’s security, although that’s the rhetoric we use when we’re pushing the Israelis to give up badly needed strategic depth. It’s that we contribute weapons and money to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and to UN peacekeeping missions, and those policies have costs, and those costs are supposed to be outweighed by stability-enhancing benefits. And yet this morning it’s been mostly costs and not many benefits. Across the board. Again.

In Lebanon we’ve been vigorously pouring weapons into the LAF since late 2007, with justifications running from “it will shame Hezbollah into disarming” to “it will allow Lebanon to secure its territory.” The subsequent half-decade has seen Hezbollah take over the Lebanese government, something that was explicitly and easily predictable when we embarked on the scheme, while the Lebanese army is still apparently torn over the need to secure their border. Lebanese soldiers have been more than willing to use US weapons to launch sniper attacks against Israelis and destabilize the region. But as far as keeping their own citizens from launching de facto invasions of neighboring countries? Not so much.

Now to the UN peacekeeping missions. Writing in one of his many retrospectives, former Israeli diplomat Abba Eban mused about the “unparalleled speed” with which UN forces stationed in the Sinai Peninsula stepped aside in May 1967, the request to evacuate having been made by Egypt so its forces could wage war against Israel. Plus ça change.

The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force on the Golan Heights is supposed to maintain “overall supervision” of the Israeli-Syrian buffer zone—that’s one of the few reasons they’re suffered to exist, and they’ve recently had their mandate extended—and it doesn’t seem like they did very much. Israeli radio says that UNDOF is even refusing to comment on the incidents. Money well spent, trust well-placed.

The performance of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon—which the Bush-era State Department insisted would secure southern Lebanon if Israel backed off Lebanon II—was even worse. UNIFIL has 12,000-plus troops and a budget of almost half a billion dollars. Where UNDOF is mostly just a useless money pit, however, UNIFIL actively works to destabilize the region. UNIFIL troops have broken up Israeli intelligence gathering operations, have leaked Israeli intelligence to Hezbollah, have threatened to open fire on Israeli military assets, have hidden evidence of Hezbollah attacks on Israel, have provided Hezbollah with human shields during wartime and then lied about it, have dressed terrorists in UN uniforms to smuggle them away from the IDF, and were almost certainly complicit in the Hezbollah operation that triggered Lebanon II.

UNIFIL backers justify the mission’s massive presence in the broadest terms, and peacekeepers are charged with “restoring international peace and security.” In light of their functional absence during multiple, severe border intrusions today, that doesn’t seem like a tenable rationalization.

Of course maybe preventing civilian cross-border rioting isn’t what the Lebanese army and those UN missions are supposed to prevent. Maybe, for instance, they’re supposed to block Israel and Hezbollah from tangling. But since they’re utter failures when it comes to doing that, basic crowd control was really the only justification left. And now it seems absurd too, raising the question of what exactly our policies are supposed to be accomplishing.

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Nakba Day History Lessons: Two Sets of Refugees

The conventional wisdom of our chattering classes holds that the key to Middle East peace is more Israeli territorial withdrawals will pave the way for a two-state solution. That will end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. But as Palestinians mark the anniversary of Israel’s birth with Nakba Day demonstrations, border incursions, and terror attacks, even those Palestinian leaders who say they will accept a two state solution can’t afford either to accept Israel as a Jewish state or give up on the right of return. Millions of Arab who claim to be descendants of refugees from Israel’s War of Independence are still kept stateless in countries around the borders of Israel. Their plight is the driving force behind the Arab war on Israel, and the refusal of the Arab world to accept any resolution of their situation that does not involve their “return” to what is now the state of Israel remains the primary obstacle to peace.

So long as that is true no withdrawal of Israeli troops or settlements from Gaza (as was the case in 2005 when Israel uprooted every last soldier and settlement) or even the West Bank or Jerusalem will achieve anything but a continuance of the conflict on less advantageous terms for Israel.

But Nakba Day, the Arab commemoration of Israel’s Independence Day, should also serve as a reminder that there were two groups of refugees that were created in the aftermath of May 15, 1948. While it is true that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from the territory that became Israel as the fighting heated up, an almost equal number of Jews were forced to flee or were evicted from their homes in Arab countries after May 15. These Jewish refugees fled to Israel or to new homes in the West. Unlike Arab refugees, the displaced Jews were not kept in camps to propagandize their plight and to fuel the desire for future wars. Those who landed in Israel in the aftermath of the War of Independence did not have it easy but, with the help of worldwide Jewry, they were resettled. Although they left property behind in the Arab world that was probably equal to that lost by the Palestinian Arabs, those who concoct peace plans demand no compensation for the Jewish refugees or their descendants.

Nakba Day may remind Arabs of their historical grievance against Israel’s creation and their desire to see it reversed. But it also should remind them and their cheering sections in the West that the Arabs had and continue to have a choice. They can make peace and accept the reality of a Jewish state and deal with their own problems just as the Jews did with their refugees. Or they can continue to hold millions of people hostage to their unfulfilled ambition to wipe out Israel.

The conventional wisdom of our chattering classes holds that the key to Middle East peace is more Israeli territorial withdrawals will pave the way for a two-state solution. That will end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. But as Palestinians mark the anniversary of Israel’s birth with Nakba Day demonstrations, border incursions, and terror attacks, even those Palestinian leaders who say they will accept a two state solution can’t afford either to accept Israel as a Jewish state or give up on the right of return. Millions of Arab who claim to be descendants of refugees from Israel’s War of Independence are still kept stateless in countries around the borders of Israel. Their plight is the driving force behind the Arab war on Israel, and the refusal of the Arab world to accept any resolution of their situation that does not involve their “return” to what is now the state of Israel remains the primary obstacle to peace.

So long as that is true no withdrawal of Israeli troops or settlements from Gaza (as was the case in 2005 when Israel uprooted every last soldier and settlement) or even the West Bank or Jerusalem will achieve anything but a continuance of the conflict on less advantageous terms for Israel.

But Nakba Day, the Arab commemoration of Israel’s Independence Day, should also serve as a reminder that there were two groups of refugees that were created in the aftermath of May 15, 1948. While it is true that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from the territory that became Israel as the fighting heated up, an almost equal number of Jews were forced to flee or were evicted from their homes in Arab countries after May 15. These Jewish refugees fled to Israel or to new homes in the West. Unlike Arab refugees, the displaced Jews were not kept in camps to propagandize their plight and to fuel the desire for future wars. Those who landed in Israel in the aftermath of the War of Independence did not have it easy but, with the help of worldwide Jewry, they were resettled. Although they left property behind in the Arab world that was probably equal to that lost by the Palestinian Arabs, those who concoct peace plans demand no compensation for the Jewish refugees or their descendants.

Nakba Day may remind Arabs of their historical grievance against Israel’s creation and their desire to see it reversed. But it also should remind them and their cheering sections in the West that the Arabs had and continue to have a choice. They can make peace and accept the reality of a Jewish state and deal with their own problems just as the Jews did with their refugees. Or they can continue to hold millions of people hostage to their unfulfilled ambition to wipe out Israel.

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The Point of Nakba Day

This morning crowds of Arabs stormed Israel’s borders along the Golan Heights and Lebanon. The reason for these demonstrations, and others that took place in the territories is that it is May 15. That makes it the 63rd anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence (celebrated earlier this week according to the Hebrew calendar) but for Arabs, it is Nakba or “disaster” day.

In a sense the attempts to cross Israel’s borders is a highly appropriate way to commemorate the events of May 15, 1948. On that day, the British Mandate for Palestine expired and the forces of the United Kingdom withdraw, allowing the residents of the country to sort out their own disputes. The United Nations had voted the previous fall to partition the country into two states: one Arab and one Jewish. The Jews accepted the deal. The Arabs refused, insisting that there be no Jewish state, not even one with the truncated borders of the partition resolution that didn’t even include any of Jerusalem.

When the British withdrew, the Jews declared their state. The Arabs, who had spent the past few months launching attacks on Jewish towns, villages and cities, urged the surrounding Arab nations to invade to wipe out the newborn state of Israel. Five Arab armies complied with the request, as Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan (today’s Jordan) and Iraq sent troops into the former Mandate. When the fighting stopped in 1949, Israel was still standing and parts of Palestine (including half of Jerusalem) were occupied by foreign armies and remained under the rule of Egypt and the Jordanians until 1967.

The point of this history lesson is this: From the day of Israel’s birth, the purpose of its Arab foes was not to truncate its borders but to make sure it had no territory at all. Nakba Day should illustrate that it is not the eviction of the Jews from parts of the West Bank that has inspired Palestinian Arab nationalism but the notion that Jewish sovereignty anywhere in the country is unacceptable.

This is something that Israel’s liberal critics who continue to carp that its government must give up nationalist and religious dreams and make peace don’t understand. The fact that even the current supposedly hard-right wing government has embraced the concept of a two state solution is ignored. The history of the last 18 years of peace processing which brought the Palestinians autonomy in the West Bank and a Jew-free Hamas-run state in Gaza but no peace for Israel is of no interest to those who prefer to insist that somehow the lack of peace is still somehow Israel’s fault.

Nakba Day helps remind the Arabs that their goal is the “return” of the descendants of millions of descendants of Arab refugees of the war of 1948-49. Which is to say that they have not given up their dream of wiping out Israel. It ought to remind Israel’s critics of the same thing.

This morning crowds of Arabs stormed Israel’s borders along the Golan Heights and Lebanon. The reason for these demonstrations, and others that took place in the territories is that it is May 15. That makes it the 63rd anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence (celebrated earlier this week according to the Hebrew calendar) but for Arabs, it is Nakba or “disaster” day.

In a sense the attempts to cross Israel’s borders is a highly appropriate way to commemorate the events of May 15, 1948. On that day, the British Mandate for Palestine expired and the forces of the United Kingdom withdraw, allowing the residents of the country to sort out their own disputes. The United Nations had voted the previous fall to partition the country into two states: one Arab and one Jewish. The Jews accepted the deal. The Arabs refused, insisting that there be no Jewish state, not even one with the truncated borders of the partition resolution that didn’t even include any of Jerusalem.

When the British withdrew, the Jews declared their state. The Arabs, who had spent the past few months launching attacks on Jewish towns, villages and cities, urged the surrounding Arab nations to invade to wipe out the newborn state of Israel. Five Arab armies complied with the request, as Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan (today’s Jordan) and Iraq sent troops into the former Mandate. When the fighting stopped in 1949, Israel was still standing and parts of Palestine (including half of Jerusalem) were occupied by foreign armies and remained under the rule of Egypt and the Jordanians until 1967.

The point of this history lesson is this: From the day of Israel’s birth, the purpose of its Arab foes was not to truncate its borders but to make sure it had no territory at all. Nakba Day should illustrate that it is not the eviction of the Jews from parts of the West Bank that has inspired Palestinian Arab nationalism but the notion that Jewish sovereignty anywhere in the country is unacceptable.

This is something that Israel’s liberal critics who continue to carp that its government must give up nationalist and religious dreams and make peace don’t understand. The fact that even the current supposedly hard-right wing government has embraced the concept of a two state solution is ignored. The history of the last 18 years of peace processing which brought the Palestinians autonomy in the West Bank and a Jew-free Hamas-run state in Gaza but no peace for Israel is of no interest to those who prefer to insist that somehow the lack of peace is still somehow Israel’s fault.

Nakba Day helps remind the Arabs that their goal is the “return” of the descendants of millions of descendants of Arab refugees of the war of 1948-49. Which is to say that they have not given up their dream of wiping out Israel. It ought to remind Israel’s critics of the same thing.

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George Mitchell Takes a New Position Under the Bus

Friday afternoon, the President announced George Mitchell’s resignation with (as Elliott Abrams notes) a written statement instead of a ceremony. The statement struck a strange note: “George told me when he took this job that he would put in a couple of years, and I’m so glad he did.”

In 2009, when Mitchell was appointed Middle East envoy on the second full day of the administration, in a ceremony at which both the president and secretary of state spoke, he recalled that enemies in Northern Ireland had overcome 800 years of history in negotiations that featured 700 days of failure and one day of success:

As an aside, just recently, I spoke in Jerusalem and I mentioned the 800 years. And afterward, an elderly gentleman came up to me and he said, “Did you say 800 years?” And I said, “Yes, 800.” . . . He said, “Uh, such a recent argument. No wonder you settled it.” (Laughter.) But—800 years may be recent—but from my experience there, I formed the conviction that there is no such thing as a conflict that can’t be ended. . . . [The President and the Secretary of State] believe, as I do, that the pursuit of peace is so important that it demands our maximum effort. . . . [T]he President himself has said that his Administration—and I quote—“Will make a sustained push, working with Israelis and Palestinians to achieve the goal of two states: a Jewish state in Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security.”

In the following two years, the administration demanded a formal commitment to a Palestinian state from Benjamin Netanyahu, but not a commitment to a Jewish one from Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu proposed immediate negotiations without preconditions; the administration insisted on a settlement freeze and Abbas adopted it as an adamant precondition. Netanyahu provided an unprecedented 10-month moratorium, which Abbas ignored (and then used its expiration as a reason to quit the process). Last week Abbas signed an agreement (again) with the terrorist group he was obligated under the Roadmap to dismantle.  

The President and his envoy apparently thought a peace agreement could be produced in about 700 days by sustained pressure applied to one side, but that strategy ended up driving the process into a ditch.

Friday afternoon, the President announced George Mitchell’s resignation with (as Elliott Abrams notes) a written statement instead of a ceremony. The statement struck a strange note: “George told me when he took this job that he would put in a couple of years, and I’m so glad he did.”

In 2009, when Mitchell was appointed Middle East envoy on the second full day of the administration, in a ceremony at which both the president and secretary of state spoke, he recalled that enemies in Northern Ireland had overcome 800 years of history in negotiations that featured 700 days of failure and one day of success:

As an aside, just recently, I spoke in Jerusalem and I mentioned the 800 years. And afterward, an elderly gentleman came up to me and he said, “Did you say 800 years?” And I said, “Yes, 800.” . . . He said, “Uh, such a recent argument. No wonder you settled it.” (Laughter.) But—800 years may be recent—but from my experience there, I formed the conviction that there is no such thing as a conflict that can’t be ended. . . . [The President and the Secretary of State] believe, as I do, that the pursuit of peace is so important that it demands our maximum effort. . . . [T]he President himself has said that his Administration—and I quote—“Will make a sustained push, working with Israelis and Palestinians to achieve the goal of two states: a Jewish state in Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security.”

In the following two years, the administration demanded a formal commitment to a Palestinian state from Benjamin Netanyahu, but not a commitment to a Jewish one from Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu proposed immediate negotiations without preconditions; the administration insisted on a settlement freeze and Abbas adopted it as an adamant precondition. Netanyahu provided an unprecedented 10-month moratorium, which Abbas ignored (and then used its expiration as a reason to quit the process). Last week Abbas signed an agreement (again) with the terrorist group he was obligated under the Roadmap to dismantle.  

The President and his envoy apparently thought a peace agreement could be produced in about 700 days by sustained pressure applied to one side, but that strategy ended up driving the process into a ditch.

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Huckabee’s Exit Paves Way for Bachmann

Mike Huckabee’s long farewell to the 2012 presidential contest was not exactly riveting television. If you tuned in to his FOX show after the days of hype about the former Arkansas governor announcing his decision about running on his Saturday night program, you had to suffer through almost a full hour of interviews and Huckabee jamming on the bass guitar before you heard him say the words that he wouldn’t run. That may have disappointed those who voted for him in 2008 and would do so again next year. But it was music to the ears of the other Republican candidates. In a weak field, Huckabee, an outsider and ordained Baptist minister who would up being the runner-up in the 2008 primaries to John McCain, was a potential top tier 2012 candidate. His exit from the race potentially benefits almost all of the other candidates but some more than others.

If you assume, as most people do these days, that Sarah Palin will also stay out the race, the chief beneficiary has to be Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann. Bachmann is the darling of the Tea Party crowd as well as a strong social conservative. While most pundits and party insiders consider her politics too extreme and her personality too over the top to be nominated, let alone elected, her outsider status as well as her religious frame of reference is the closest match to Huckabee’s 2008 profile. With evangelicals having a disproportionate impact on the Iowa caucuses, Bachmann is the potential candidate best positioned to benefit from Huckabee’s absence.

Rick Santorum also benefits from Huckabee’s decision. The former senator is the GOP candidate who is most clearly identified with the concerns of social conservatives who were Huckabee voters in 2008. The question for Santorum is whether the midwestern and southern voters who loved Huckabee can fall in love with a Northeastern Italian-American Catholic. The betting here is that while Santorum gets a boost it won’t be decisive. Santorum will inspire some conservatives with his hard line views but compared with the folksy Huckabee, he’s not that loveable. It’s hard to see him charging to the front in Iowa or the other states that Huckabee won last time.

As for the others, they also hope to attract Huckabee loyalists.

Tim Pawlenty certainly benefits from the absence of another former governor in the race. But it’s an open question as to whether Pawlenty’s “Minnesota Nice” style can appeal to the type of voters who were drawn to Huckabee.

It will also be interesting to see whether Newt Gingrich is able to make inroads among former Huckabee voters. Gingrich has said that he intends to contest every state and seems intent on running a campaign that will appeal directly to social conservatives. But whether they buy into Gingrich’s attempt to portray himself as a redeemed sinner will be a fascinating test of conservative opinion. My guess is that social conservatives will consider his marital infidelity while leading impeachment efforts that were rooted in President Clinton’s similar behavior as something that is between the former speaker and his God. But they and other Republicans won’t forget the embarrassment they felt when his hypocrisy was revealed. The wonkish Gingrich can neither play the guitar nor push the right buttons with evangelicals. No sale.

Mike Huckabee’s long farewell to the 2012 presidential contest was not exactly riveting television. If you tuned in to his FOX show after the days of hype about the former Arkansas governor announcing his decision about running on his Saturday night program, you had to suffer through almost a full hour of interviews and Huckabee jamming on the bass guitar before you heard him say the words that he wouldn’t run. That may have disappointed those who voted for him in 2008 and would do so again next year. But it was music to the ears of the other Republican candidates. In a weak field, Huckabee, an outsider and ordained Baptist minister who would up being the runner-up in the 2008 primaries to John McCain, was a potential top tier 2012 candidate. His exit from the race potentially benefits almost all of the other candidates but some more than others.

If you assume, as most people do these days, that Sarah Palin will also stay out the race, the chief beneficiary has to be Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann. Bachmann is the darling of the Tea Party crowd as well as a strong social conservative. While most pundits and party insiders consider her politics too extreme and her personality too over the top to be nominated, let alone elected, her outsider status as well as her religious frame of reference is the closest match to Huckabee’s 2008 profile. With evangelicals having a disproportionate impact on the Iowa caucuses, Bachmann is the potential candidate best positioned to benefit from Huckabee’s absence.

Rick Santorum also benefits from Huckabee’s decision. The former senator is the GOP candidate who is most clearly identified with the concerns of social conservatives who were Huckabee voters in 2008. The question for Santorum is whether the midwestern and southern voters who loved Huckabee can fall in love with a Northeastern Italian-American Catholic. The betting here is that while Santorum gets a boost it won’t be decisive. Santorum will inspire some conservatives with his hard line views but compared with the folksy Huckabee, he’s not that loveable. It’s hard to see him charging to the front in Iowa or the other states that Huckabee won last time.

As for the others, they also hope to attract Huckabee loyalists.

Tim Pawlenty certainly benefits from the absence of another former governor in the race. But it’s an open question as to whether Pawlenty’s “Minnesota Nice” style can appeal to the type of voters who were drawn to Huckabee.

It will also be interesting to see whether Newt Gingrich is able to make inroads among former Huckabee voters. Gingrich has said that he intends to contest every state and seems intent on running a campaign that will appeal directly to social conservatives. But whether they buy into Gingrich’s attempt to portray himself as a redeemed sinner will be a fascinating test of conservative opinion. My guess is that social conservatives will consider his marital infidelity while leading impeachment efforts that were rooted in President Clinton’s similar behavior as something that is between the former speaker and his God. But they and other Republicans won’t forget the embarrassment they felt when his hypocrisy was revealed. The wonkish Gingrich can neither play the guitar nor push the right buttons with evangelicals. No sale.

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Re: The Only Part of Christian Theology Everyone Really Needs

Peter, let me add a bit of Jewish ethics to your elegant post on applying the same standards to ourselves that we apply to others, and your followup on the need to give others the same chance for redemption we hope for ourselves. 

In the first volume of his Code of Jewish Ethics, Joseph Telushkin discusses the commandment in Leviticus 19:15 that “in justice shall you judge your fellow man.” He writes that it is understood in Jewish law not simply as an injunction to judges, but to everyone, and requires us to recognize our tendency to judge ourselves more fairly than others. As he notes: “One reason many of us have a higher regard for our character than that of others is that we judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their acts.” 

Telushkin gives this example: if we fail to visit someone in the hospital, we rationalize it (“I really did think of paying a visit. I just didn’t have enough time. But I wanted to go”). But if we are the one who is sick in the hospital, and someone does not show up, we conclude he was a fair-weather friend. 

Since character counts in a president, Gingrich’s infidelity is relevant (and for some may be determinative). In justice, his private failure was different from multiple instances of perjury, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and concealment of evidence. But his prospects for a redemptive presidential run would be better had he not rendered such an easy judgment on himself (saying his problems were occasioned by working far too hard, driven by his passionate feelings for the country, with the result that “things happened”).  

Peter, let me add a bit of Jewish ethics to your elegant post on applying the same standards to ourselves that we apply to others, and your followup on the need to give others the same chance for redemption we hope for ourselves. 

In the first volume of his Code of Jewish Ethics, Joseph Telushkin discusses the commandment in Leviticus 19:15 that “in justice shall you judge your fellow man.” He writes that it is understood in Jewish law not simply as an injunction to judges, but to everyone, and requires us to recognize our tendency to judge ourselves more fairly than others. As he notes: “One reason many of us have a higher regard for our character than that of others is that we judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their acts.” 

Telushkin gives this example: if we fail to visit someone in the hospital, we rationalize it (“I really did think of paying a visit. I just didn’t have enough time. But I wanted to go”). But if we are the one who is sick in the hospital, and someone does not show up, we conclude he was a fair-weather friend. 

Since character counts in a president, Gingrich’s infidelity is relevant (and for some may be determinative). In justice, his private failure was different from multiple instances of perjury, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and concealment of evidence. But his prospects for a redemptive presidential run would be better had he not rendered such an easy judgment on himself (saying his problems were occasioned by working far too hard, driven by his passionate feelings for the country, with the result that “things happened”).  

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