Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 5, 2011

Re: Obama’s Misguided UN Appeal to Abbas

Let me add a footnote to Jonathan’s post about the Obama administration’s attempt to “bribe or cajole” the Palestinian Authority to forego seeking UN recognition of a state. It was clear back in April there was a different way to proceed — one that would not have wasted this crisis.

When Mahmoud Abbas announced his “reconciliation” with the terrorist group the PA was required under the Roadmap to dismantle, and moved to seek a determination of the boundaries of a Palestinian state through the UN (rather than through the negotiations required by the Roadmap), the U.S. should have seen the move not as something to be countered by pre-negotiation concessions by Israel or the U.S., but as a moment of truth for the putative Palestinian state: if the PA cannot meet its commitments under the Roadmap, there is no reason to believe it can meet its commitments under a peace agreement. The PA should have been given a choice: forego further attempts to run around the Roadmap, or forego further U.S. support for a Palestinian state.

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Let me add a footnote to Jonathan’s post about the Obama administration’s attempt to “bribe or cajole” the Palestinian Authority to forego seeking UN recognition of a state. It was clear back in April there was a different way to proceed — one that would not have wasted this crisis.

When Mahmoud Abbas announced his “reconciliation” with the terrorist group the PA was required under the Roadmap to dismantle, and moved to seek a determination of the boundaries of a Palestinian state through the UN (rather than through the negotiations required by the Roadmap), the U.S. should have seen the move not as something to be countered by pre-negotiation concessions by Israel or the U.S., but as a moment of truth for the putative Palestinian state: if the PA cannot meet its commitments under the Roadmap, there is no reason to believe it can meet its commitments under a peace agreement. The PA should have been given a choice: forego further attempts to run around the Roadmap, or forego further U.S. support for a Palestinian state.

The “reconciliation” agreement pledged new elections “within a year” — a transparent attempt to show the UN the two halves of the putative Palestinian state were united and ready to be recognized as a democratic state. The chances of those elections occurring are as likely as General Franco recovering, since Fatah and Hamas cannot live “side by side in peace and security”™ with each other, much less with Israel. But the U.S. should have held the PA to its word: hold your election, elect someone committed to peace with Israel and to prior agreements, or forget about further U.S. efforts to create a Palestinian state.

If the PA is not able to hold an election, or to elect leaders committed to prior agreements, or willing to negotiate without preconditions, or to make the concessions necessary for a state, the U.S. should have no interest in supporting such a state, much less making it a central part of U.S. foreign policy. Such a response to the PA stratagem would have placed the burden where it should have been, as J.E. Dyer has noted, and would have done so at a time when it was still possible for the PA to call off its self-destructive move. Instead, the Obama administration is coming to the end of an increasingly desperate effort to preserve a process the PA has already made clear it cannot complete.

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Obama’s Misguided UN Appeal to Abbas

According to the New York Times, the Obama administration is going all out to try and bribe or cajole the Palestinian Authority into withdrawing its plan to ask the United Nations General Assembly to vote recognition of an independent Palestinian state. The United States, along with the diplomatic Quartet, intends to issue a new peace proposal favorable to the Palestinians in order to entice PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to step back from a confrontation in New York this month.

But this effort is based on a fundamental misreading of the Palestinians’ motivations for going to the UN. Abbas has pursued this tactic in order to avoid further negotiations with Israel–not get more diplomatic support from the West on settlements or borders. The administration also fails to understand that for all of the difficulties a U.S. veto of Palestinian statehood in the Security Council might entail for Washington, the decision to go to the UN poses a greater danger to Abbas and his Fatah Party than it does to the United States or Israel.

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According to the New York Times, the Obama administration is going all out to try and bribe or cajole the Palestinian Authority into withdrawing its plan to ask the United Nations General Assembly to vote recognition of an independent Palestinian state. The United States, along with the diplomatic Quartet, intends to issue a new peace proposal favorable to the Palestinians in order to entice PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to step back from a confrontation in New York this month.

But this effort is based on a fundamental misreading of the Palestinians’ motivations for going to the UN. Abbas has pursued this tactic in order to avoid further negotiations with Israel–not get more diplomatic support from the West on settlements or borders. The administration also fails to understand that for all of the difficulties a U.S. veto of Palestinian statehood in the Security Council might entail for Washington, the decision to go to the UN poses a greater danger to Abbas and his Fatah Party than it does to the United States or Israel.

It is the Palestinians who stand to suffer the most from a measure they may have thought would benefit them.

The certain failure of a UN statehood initiative has set the stage for a vast outpouring of frustration when the Palestinians realize nothing has changed. This could seriously undermine the already tenuous legitimacy Abbas’ Fatah government possesses. Since the PA has established a false narrative that claims Palestinian attempts at conciliation with Israel were rejected — a palpable lie because it was Yasir Arafat who rejected Israeli offers of a Palestinian state in 2000 and 2001 and Abbas himself who did so in 2008 — the inevitable disappointment that will follow the UN vote will only strengthen the position of Fatah’s Hamas rivals. Though Israel and to a lesser extent the United States will take a beating in the court of international public opinion following a General Assembly vote, it is the PA that will suffer most.

The one party that would benefit from a post-September conflagration is Hamas. Under Hamas, Gaza has become the true face of Palestinian independence. Unlike Fatah in the West Bank, the terrorist group’s power is untrammeled. Though it retains the ability to launch terror attacks against Israel whenever it wants, Hamas represents a greater threat to the PA than to the Jewish state. The endgame of a third intifada will not be a Palestinian state or a reinvigorated peace process but a crippled Fatah that will be more dependent than ever on Israel and a strengthened Hamas.

That is why the PA has spent much of the summer hinting privately at their desire to avoid the confrontation in New York that they planned themselves. The problem for Abbas is the process he began is not so easily derailed. Abbas would clearly like to be able to find a way to avoid a diplomatic confrontation with the United States (and the possibility of a cutoff of American aid), but if the price of doing so is resuming negotiations with Israel, that will be just as problematic.

Seen in this light, rather than the U.S. seeking to bribe the Palestinians, it is Abbas who should be the supplicant. Though Israel will be battered in the UN debate, Abbas and Fatah are the biggest potential losers of this affair. The Obama administration should realize this and act accordingly.

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Labor and Literature

It’s not clear any more exactly what Americans celebrate on Labor Day. As suggested by the rash of commemorative essays this weekend, including an especially doltish performance by an American novelist (you’ll forgive the expression) named Paul Theroux, its proximity to 9/11 may end up redefining the holiday.

But that’s not the whole of the story. As the late Anatole Broyard said in a 1980 review of Mary Lee Settle’s Scapegoat (which is, in large measure, a strike novel set in the coal-mining district of West Virginia), “[W]e have grown used to more complicated oppositions between good and evil or labor and management. . . .” If nothing else, this explains the literary flimsiness of so much “labor fiction.”

Whether organized labor is more committed to organization than labor remains open to dispute, but there’s never been any question where American novelists stood. Henry James may have been among the first to acknowledge the rise of the entrepreneur (Christopher Newman in The American, Caspar Goodwood in The Portrait of a Lady), but he was remarkably vague about how these hard-working men earned their “piles of money.” The likelihood is that he had no clue. Theodore Dreiser was the first American novelist whose image of man included wringing bread from the sweat of one’s face.

Since then, American writers have rarely failed to mention their characters’ jobs or professions, but have almost never dramatized the work they are said to do. The drama occurs in the characters’ off hours. In last year’s Freedom, Jonathan Franzen puts his on-again-off-again rocker Richard Katz (Patty Berglund’s adulterous lover) to work “building urban rooftop decks,” but though you supposedly hear him hammering and sawing, you never actually see him ripping a board with a table saw or deciding which side of the board should face down. You never learn what materials he uses. He performs manual labor to distinguish him from Patty’s office-bound husband Walter, a lawyer for a non-profit, and to infuse a faded red T-shirt with his smell, so that Patty can spend the day in the shirt that he wore.

Philip Roth is one of the few exceptions to the no-work rule in American fiction. He tells the stories of men whose work is fundamental to their identities. In American Pastoral, for example, Swede Levov patiently explains the technical problems of glovemaking to the young political radical who will later deliver a canting message from his fugitive daughter. In Indignation, he gives a full-length portrait of a kosher butcher at work:

First a chain is wrapped around the rear leg — they trap it that way. But that chain is also a hoist, and quickly they hoist it up, and it hangs from its heel so that all the blood will run down to the head and the upper body. Then they’re ready to kill it. Enter shochet in skullcap. Sits in a little sort of alcove, at least at the Astor Street slaughterhouse he did, takes the head of the animal, says a bracha — a blessing — and he cuts the neck. If he does it in one slice, severs the trachea, the esophagus, and the carotids, and doesn’t touch the backbone, the animal dies instantly and is kosher; if it takes two slices or the animal is sick or disabled or the knife isn’t perfectly sharp or the backbone is merely nicked, the animal is not kosher. The shochet slits the throat from ear to ear and then lets the animal hang there until all the blood flows out. It’s as if he took a bucket of blood, as if he took several buckets, and poured them out all at once, because that’s how fast blood gushes from the arteries onto the floor, a concrete floor with a drain in it. He stands there in boots, in blood up to his ankles despite the drain. . . .

The glovemaker belongs to management, though, and the butcher is a small businessowner. American literature has been hurt by the simple association of labor with unions. Perhaps on this day Americans (and their writers) should celebrate the importance of work to human identity, no matter who performs it, along with the unions that, at least historically, sought to give it some dignity.

It’s not clear any more exactly what Americans celebrate on Labor Day. As suggested by the rash of commemorative essays this weekend, including an especially doltish performance by an American novelist (you’ll forgive the expression) named Paul Theroux, its proximity to 9/11 may end up redefining the holiday.

But that’s not the whole of the story. As the late Anatole Broyard said in a 1980 review of Mary Lee Settle’s Scapegoat (which is, in large measure, a strike novel set in the coal-mining district of West Virginia), “[W]e have grown used to more complicated oppositions between good and evil or labor and management. . . .” If nothing else, this explains the literary flimsiness of so much “labor fiction.”

Whether organized labor is more committed to organization than labor remains open to dispute, but there’s never been any question where American novelists stood. Henry James may have been among the first to acknowledge the rise of the entrepreneur (Christopher Newman in The American, Caspar Goodwood in The Portrait of a Lady), but he was remarkably vague about how these hard-working men earned their “piles of money.” The likelihood is that he had no clue. Theodore Dreiser was the first American novelist whose image of man included wringing bread from the sweat of one’s face.

Since then, American writers have rarely failed to mention their characters’ jobs or professions, but have almost never dramatized the work they are said to do. The drama occurs in the characters’ off hours. In last year’s Freedom, Jonathan Franzen puts his on-again-off-again rocker Richard Katz (Patty Berglund’s adulterous lover) to work “building urban rooftop decks,” but though you supposedly hear him hammering and sawing, you never actually see him ripping a board with a table saw or deciding which side of the board should face down. You never learn what materials he uses. He performs manual labor to distinguish him from Patty’s office-bound husband Walter, a lawyer for a non-profit, and to infuse a faded red T-shirt with his smell, so that Patty can spend the day in the shirt that he wore.

Philip Roth is one of the few exceptions to the no-work rule in American fiction. He tells the stories of men whose work is fundamental to their identities. In American Pastoral, for example, Swede Levov patiently explains the technical problems of glovemaking to the young political radical who will later deliver a canting message from his fugitive daughter. In Indignation, he gives a full-length portrait of a kosher butcher at work:

First a chain is wrapped around the rear leg — they trap it that way. But that chain is also a hoist, and quickly they hoist it up, and it hangs from its heel so that all the blood will run down to the head and the upper body. Then they’re ready to kill it. Enter shochet in skullcap. Sits in a little sort of alcove, at least at the Astor Street slaughterhouse he did, takes the head of the animal, says a bracha — a blessing — and he cuts the neck. If he does it in one slice, severs the trachea, the esophagus, and the carotids, and doesn’t touch the backbone, the animal dies instantly and is kosher; if it takes two slices or the animal is sick or disabled or the knife isn’t perfectly sharp or the backbone is merely nicked, the animal is not kosher. The shochet slits the throat from ear to ear and then lets the animal hang there until all the blood flows out. It’s as if he took a bucket of blood, as if he took several buckets, and poured them out all at once, because that’s how fast blood gushes from the arteries onto the floor, a concrete floor with a drain in it. He stands there in boots, in blood up to his ankles despite the drain. . . .

The glovemaker belongs to management, though, and the butcher is a small businessowner. American literature has been hurt by the simple association of labor with unions. Perhaps on this day Americans (and their writers) should celebrate the importance of work to human identity, no matter who performs it, along with the unions that, at least historically, sought to give it some dignity.

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Outreach Won’t Solve Romney’s Tea Party Problem

Despite all the fuss that preceded Mitt Romney’s appearance at a Tea Party Express gathering yesterday in New Hampshire, the candidate’s sparsely attended speech went off without incident as well as without much evidence he is making any headway with supporters of the populist movement. If anything, the lackluster show seemed to indicate most voters on the right think Romney is so out of touch with their concerns it isn’t even worth bothering to protest him.

The Freedom Works group split off from Tea Party Express over the invitation, but according to published accounts, there was no outpouring of anger at Romney, who appears to have given his standard stump speech. Rick Perry’s large lead in the polls is due to strong backing from Tea Partiers. If Romney hopes to beat him, he’s going to have to find a way to convince conservatives he’s really one of them, so the appearance was a good idea. But Romney’s record on the key issue of health care renders any effort on his part to garner support from these activists a fool’s errand.

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Despite all the fuss that preceded Mitt Romney’s appearance at a Tea Party Express gathering yesterday in New Hampshire, the candidate’s sparsely attended speech went off without incident as well as without much evidence he is making any headway with supporters of the populist movement. If anything, the lackluster show seemed to indicate most voters on the right think Romney is so out of touch with their concerns it isn’t even worth bothering to protest him.

The Freedom Works group split off from Tea Party Express over the invitation, but according to published accounts, there was no outpouring of anger at Romney, who appears to have given his standard stump speech. Rick Perry’s large lead in the polls is due to strong backing from Tea Partiers. If Romney hopes to beat him, he’s going to have to find a way to convince conservatives he’s really one of them, so the appearance was a good idea. But Romney’s record on the key issue of health care renders any effort on his part to garner support from these activists a fool’s errand.

Accounts of the event in both Politico and the New York Times attempted to portray the gap between Romney supporters and his critics as being as much a function of the cultural divide between country club Republicans and Tea Party populists. But the candidate’s record as a sponsor of a government-mandated health care plan has always doomed his chances to win the backing of many GOP activists. While the precipitous decline in the economy in the last few months has put Obamacare on the back burner to some extent, opposition to that measure is still the one issue that unites almost all Republicans.

Romney’s a better candidate than he was four years ago, and his business resume may seem designed to win the presidency during a double-dip recession. Tht Republicans’ top priority of beating Barack Obama ought to give a big advantage to a candidate like Romney who is better able to appeal to independents and centrists.

It is also true the Tea Party isn’t the force it was in 2010. Yet this movement represents something bigger than the stray activists who show up at events like the one in New Hampshire this past weekend. A distrust of government as well as resentment of taxes and deficits runs deep in the GOP. Even many who would never personally identify with the Tea Party have such sentiments. So long as Romney remains identified with the passage of a measure that resembles Obamacare, he will remain anathema to many GOP voters. That is his dilemma, and anyone who thinks the GOP will nominate someone solely on the basis of polls that give Romney a slightly better chance to beat Obama than Perry hasn’t been paying attention to the changing political landscape of the party. Unless and until Romney figures out how to change that basic fact, he’s going to find the rest of the campaign an uphill slog.

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Obama Offers Unhelpful Hand in NY-9 Race

The race for Anthony Weiner’s seat is now neck-and-neck, as President Obama continues to be a political liability in the reliably Democratic district. The Democratic candidate David Weprin has spent the past month trying to distance himself from the president, but apparently Organizing for America director Jeremy Bird didn’t get the hint. He sent out an email blast last week calling on Obama supporters to stump for his “strong ally” Weprin:

 “This Monday, September 12th, volunteers will be making calls and knocking on doors in New York’s 9th Congressional District for David Weprin. I hope you can make it. …

“From fighting for first responders to passing the Recovery Act and historic health care legislation, President Obama and Democrats in Congress have put together a long list of achievements. If we’re going to continue to build on this work and create jobs, we need strong allies like David in Congress. On the other hand, the Republican nominee supports making harmful changes to Medicare and Social Security, and has even put raising costs for seniors on the table.”

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The race for Anthony Weiner’s seat is now neck-and-neck, as President Obama continues to be a political liability in the reliably Democratic district. The Democratic candidate David Weprin has spent the past month trying to distance himself from the president, but apparently Organizing for America director Jeremy Bird didn’t get the hint. He sent out an email blast last week calling on Obama supporters to stump for his “strong ally” Weprin:

 “This Monday, September 12th, volunteers will be making calls and knocking on doors in New York’s 9th Congressional District for David Weprin. I hope you can make it. …

“From fighting for first responders to passing the Recovery Act and historic health care legislation, President Obama and Democrats in Congress have put together a long list of achievements. If we’re going to continue to build on this work and create jobs, we need strong allies like David in Congress. On the other hand, the Republican nominee supports making harmful changes to Medicare and Social Security, and has even put raising costs for seniors on the table.”

Meanwhile, Weprin continued to hold the president at arms length. “I’ve never met President Obama. [GOP candidate Bob Turner] is running against me,” he told the New York Post when asked about the letter.

In other NY-9 election news, Weprin has also been accused of sending volunteers to spy on his Republican opponent Bob Turner’s campaign. While the Democrat hasn’t denied the charge, he dismissed the story as a “distraction.” That suggests there might be more revelations to come, which could give an extra boost to Turner in the last week of the super-competitive race.

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Obama’s “Country Before Party” Nonsense

News reports suggest that on Thursday night, the president will tell Republicans in the House and Senate that they should put “country before party” and endorse his proposals for job creation. The “country before party” line has become Obama’s new theme in the wake of the debt crisis, and the passion with which he invokes it indicates it’s something he actually and truly believes in.

And it’s utter nonsense. Offensive nonsense too. Obama isn’t truly asking Republicans to put country before party. He is asking them to elevate the interests and ideas of the Democratic party higher than their own ideas, their sense of what is best for the nation, and their deeply held convictions about the moral hazard posed by a too-large government and a populace too reliant on it. They won’t do it, and they shouldn’t, and the next time liberals complain that conservatives unfairly impugn their patriotism, Obama’s effort to do just that with his loyal ideological opposition should be thrown in their face.

News reports suggest that on Thursday night, the president will tell Republicans in the House and Senate that they should put “country before party” and endorse his proposals for job creation. The “country before party” line has become Obama’s new theme in the wake of the debt crisis, and the passion with which he invokes it indicates it’s something he actually and truly believes in.

And it’s utter nonsense. Offensive nonsense too. Obama isn’t truly asking Republicans to put country before party. He is asking them to elevate the interests and ideas of the Democratic party higher than their own ideas, their sense of what is best for the nation, and their deeply held convictions about the moral hazard posed by a too-large government and a populace too reliant on it. They won’t do it, and they shouldn’t, and the next time liberals complain that conservatives unfairly impugn their patriotism, Obama’s effort to do just that with his loyal ideological opposition should be thrown in their face.

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