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Posts For: January 29, 2012

Obama’s ’67 Borders Mistake Haunts Talks

The Palestinian reaction to Israel’s position about West Bank settlement blocs once again demonstrates that rather seeking an agreement that will lead to a Palestinian state, what they are doing is looking for an excuse to avoid ever having to sign a peace deal. Even worse, it is evidence that President Obama’s misguided intervention into the question of future borders last May is still having a harmful effect on the effort to revive negotiations.

The Israeli position in the discussions taking place in Jordan is they want the major settlement blocs (which comprise a tiny portion of the West Bank’s territory but also the vast majority of the more than 250,000 Jews who live there) to be incorporated into Israel as part of a deal. But rather than negotiate this point, the Palestinians have rejected it out of hand and said they won’t talk if the Israelis stick to their position. Israel’s position is compatible even with President Obama’s stand on the issue which allows for territorial swaps that would enable Israel to retain these blocs. But even though the president’s Jewish defenders claim his May 2011 speech merely restated existing policies, the Palestinian interpretation seems to illustrate how damaging his mention of the 1967 lines has been.

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The Palestinian reaction to Israel’s position about West Bank settlement blocs once again demonstrates that rather seeking an agreement that will lead to a Palestinian state, what they are doing is looking for an excuse to avoid ever having to sign a peace deal. Even worse, it is evidence that President Obama’s misguided intervention into the question of future borders last May is still having a harmful effect on the effort to revive negotiations.

The Israeli position in the discussions taking place in Jordan is they want the major settlement blocs (which comprise a tiny portion of the West Bank’s territory but also the vast majority of the more than 250,000 Jews who live there) to be incorporated into Israel as part of a deal. But rather than negotiate this point, the Palestinians have rejected it out of hand and said they won’t talk if the Israelis stick to their position. Israel’s position is compatible even with President Obama’s stand on the issue which allows for territorial swaps that would enable Israel to retain these blocs. But even though the president’s Jewish defenders claim his May 2011 speech merely restated existing policies, the Palestinian interpretation seems to illustrate how damaging his mention of the 1967 lines has been.

By stating that a Middle East peace deal should be negotiated on the basis of the 1967 lines, Obama strengthened the Palestinians’ belief that their demands for a complete Israeli retreat and the eviction of every Jew living in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem had America’s tacit backing. Though Obama quickly followed up with a reassurance that he backed the idea of territorial swaps that would allow Israel to try to keep some settlements, the Palestinians viewed that as inconsequential, as the president had buttressed their position that a return to the status quo of June 4, 1967 was an imperative.

The Palestinians approach the West Bank–an area to which no sovereign nation had a claim that the world recognized in 1967–as theirs without any need to negotiate. Indeed, they are even incredulous at the notion that Israel has any claim or rights. Israel’s position is the West Bank is disputed territory, not Palestinian. By speaking of 1967 as the starting point, Obama tacitly endorsed the Palestinian position that the West Bank was “stolen” from them, even though they never owned it in the first place.

Given the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement and the impending changes in Palestinian politics that this will cause, there is no reason to believe the PA will ever agree to any peace deal that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. But what Israel is doing here is explicitly demonstrating that even the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, derided by the American left for its supposed opposition to peace, is once again offering the Palestinians a state in most of the West Bank and Gaza. But rather than pursuing this opportunity and seeking to use the certain support of the United States and the European Union to better their negotiating position, the Palestinian Authority is merely looking a for a way out of the talks.

The irony is that although the Obama administration has always wanted to further peace talks, its every effort to achieve that goal has made it more difficult. Just as the president’s unprecedented demands for an Israeli building freeze even in Jerusalem made it impossible for the Palestinians to negotiate for anything less, so, too has Obama’s borders blunder given the PA an excuse to avoid talking about creating a viable border between Israel and a putative Palestinian state.

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Palin, Stalin and Alinsky

Just a week ago, some of Sarah Palin’s fans were attempting to give the former Alaska governor a little bit of the credit for Newt Gingrich’s second surge and his victory in South Carolina. Bill Kristol said as much in the Weekly Standard’s blog and wondered what would happen if she “really comes out for Newt.” While I think the evidence of a Palin connection to what happened in the Palmetto state seems to be more the product of the imagination of Palinites than anything else, there was no harm in allowing her to jump on the short-lived Gingrich bandwagon. But the quick decline of the candidate she seemed to be favoring appears to have angered the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, and the latest blast from her Wasilla Fortress of Solitude is yet another reminder why many conservatives find it difficult to take her seriously anymore.

In a posting on her Facebook page on Friday, Palin took aim at Gingrich’s critics with the sort of language that says more about her own lack of judgment than anything else. She claimed former Reagan administration officials who noted this week Gingrich was anything but a loyal soldier of the 40th president were engaged in a “Stalin-esque rewriting of history.” This is not merely nonsensical, it is illustrative of the defects in her own character and intellect that have led many of us who once cheered her rise to conclude that she has no business ever putting herself forward for high office again.

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Just a week ago, some of Sarah Palin’s fans were attempting to give the former Alaska governor a little bit of the credit for Newt Gingrich’s second surge and his victory in South Carolina. Bill Kristol said as much in the Weekly Standard’s blog and wondered what would happen if she “really comes out for Newt.” While I think the evidence of a Palin connection to what happened in the Palmetto state seems to be more the product of the imagination of Palinites than anything else, there was no harm in allowing her to jump on the short-lived Gingrich bandwagon. But the quick decline of the candidate she seemed to be favoring appears to have angered the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, and the latest blast from her Wasilla Fortress of Solitude is yet another reminder why many conservatives find it difficult to take her seriously anymore.

In a posting on her Facebook page on Friday, Palin took aim at Gingrich’s critics with the sort of language that says more about her own lack of judgment than anything else. She claimed former Reagan administration officials who noted this week Gingrich was anything but a loyal soldier of the 40th president were engaged in a “Stalin-esque rewriting of history.” This is not merely nonsensical, it is illustrative of the defects in her own character and intellect that have led many of us who once cheered her rise to conclude that she has no business ever putting herself forward for high office again.

While Gingrich supported Reagan and Mitt Romney did not, those who pointed out the former speaker’s often petulant and negative comments about the leader of his movement were merely illuminating a little-known aspect of the truth, not “re-writing” it. For Palin to use that over-the-top rhetoric — in effect comparing someone like Elliott Abrams to a communist monster — is contemptible. For her to go on in the same piece to say Gingrich’s critics were employing “Alinsky tactics at their worst” shows again she understands little about either Saul Alinsky’s writings or history.

While Palin and Gingrich have little in common, the one characteristic they do share is hypocrisy. In her posting, Palin claims Mitt Romney needs to be “vetted” more thoroughly because Democrats will attack him in the fall. Yet she considers any attempt to give the same attention to Gingrich, a man with a freight train’s worth of damaging personal and political baggage that renders him unlikely to win a general election, to be above such concerns. According to Palin, examinations of his inconsistent record and leadership failures are examples of “the politics of personal destruction” and should be abhorred.

Palin complains that Romney supporters have attacked Gingrich from the left. But that is actually the tactic Gingrich has used. Indeed, Palin herself echoed some of those ill-advised barbs at Romney’s business career as she played to the mob. That she does so shamelessly and without even a trace of understanding of what she is doing is all part of the odd political persona she has constructed for herself and which limits her influence and dim chances of personal political advancement in the future.

For Palin, this is all part of a little self-destructive drama she has been acting out for years, since she flopped in 2008 when thrust on the national stage and then abandoned her gubernatorial responsibilities in order to become a celebrity. Gingrich’s attack on the so-called Republican establishment is an obvious ploy, as he is as much if not more of a Washington insider than any of his critics. But Palin really seems to believe the alleged “establishment” not only wants to control the party but also wishes to sabotage it. Incredibly, she even claims Republicans who support Romney and who have been leading the charge in the opinion pages and in Washington against the current administration while she spent the last two years doing nothing in Alaska would never attack Obama the way they attack Gingrich. She fails to understand that those that have pointed out the manifest shortcomings of Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul (whom Palin has gone out of her way to praise), have done so because they believe they have no chance to beat Obama.

Palin, who seems far more interested in burnishing her image than actually helping her party, manages to keep her name in the news every now and then with statements such as this one. But her problem is the more she talks, the more she reminds us why she has doomed herself to the margins of political discourse.

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Gingrich’s Mark of Cain

Herman Cain’s endorsement of Newt Gingrich yesterday was not the story it might have been had it happened far earlier in the race. Had he decided to back Gingrich a couple of months ago in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of his presidential campaign it might have been useful to Gingrich. Cain’s good humor and strong debate performances gave him a brief time at the top of the GOP polls in the fall and enough of the goodwill he engendered lingered even after allegations of sexual harassment and an affair forced the former Godfather Pizza executive out of the race. But the longer the interval between his withdrawal and his endorsement, the less his stamp of approval meant. Even those Tea Party activists who were prepared to accept Cain’s foreign policy ignorance and inability to explain his tax plans have moved on and no longer care much about what he says.

Even worse, Cain’s participation in Stephen Colbert’s comedy antics last week in South Carolina confirmed for anyone who was still paying attention to him that he isn’t a serious person. While the real candidates, including the man he has now endorsed, were campaigning in South Carolina, Cain allowed Colbert to use his name (which was still on the ballot in that state) to be the focus of his faux-presidential run and even appeared with him at a rally. It may have all been in good fun but it was proof, as if any was still needed, that Cain had always considered the GOP race as just another outlet for his outsized ego. But the justification for this belated support for his former rival also diminished its impact.

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Herman Cain’s endorsement of Newt Gingrich yesterday was not the story it might have been had it happened far earlier in the race. Had he decided to back Gingrich a couple of months ago in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of his presidential campaign it might have been useful to Gingrich. Cain’s good humor and strong debate performances gave him a brief time at the top of the GOP polls in the fall and enough of the goodwill he engendered lingered even after allegations of sexual harassment and an affair forced the former Godfather Pizza executive out of the race. But the longer the interval between his withdrawal and his endorsement, the less his stamp of approval meant. Even those Tea Party activists who were prepared to accept Cain’s foreign policy ignorance and inability to explain his tax plans have moved on and no longer care much about what he says.

Even worse, Cain’s participation in Stephen Colbert’s comedy antics last week in South Carolina confirmed for anyone who was still paying attention to him that he isn’t a serious person. While the real candidates, including the man he has now endorsed, were campaigning in South Carolina, Cain allowed Colbert to use his name (which was still on the ballot in that state) to be the focus of his faux-presidential run and even appeared with him at a rally. It may have all been in good fun but it was proof, as if any was still needed, that Cain had always considered the GOP race as just another outlet for his outsized ego. But the justification for this belated support for his former rival also diminished its impact.

While Cain has become something of a sideshow act these days, the pretext for his endorsement may cause more trouble to Gingrich than assistance. Cain says he was moved to endorse Gingrich because of the publicity given to Marianne Gingrich’s charge the former speaker had asked her for an open marriage when he was having an affair with his current wife Callista. “That’s the same crap that they pulled on me, and that’s what’s wrong with politics,” said Cain of Gingrich’s problems.

Politics certainly isn’t beanbag, but the notion that an expression of solidarity between men who cheated on their wives will be of any help to Gingrich’s hopes of winning the presidency seems to be misplaced. Though the Marianne Gingrich story did no immediate damage to her ex-husband, he needs to move on from it as much as possible lest the public focus more on what she said and less on ABC’s bias in airing the interview days before a crucial primary. Seen in that light, an endorsement from a man who was forced to leave the race because of credible charges of his own sexual misbehavior was probably the last thing Gingrich needed this week.

Gingrich thanked Cain and said he would name him co-chairman of a commission on “jobs, economic growth and taxes.” But given the declining fortunes of Gingrich’s campaign, the likelihood of such a commission ever meeting is only a little better than of Congress ever passing Cain’s “9-9-9” tax plan.

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“Mr. Lincoln-Douglas” Fades in Florida

The latest polls of likely Republican voters in Florida confirm the trend that started earlier this week: Mitt Romney seems to be set for a resounding win in Tuesday’s primary. All of the six most recent surveys conducted  show Romney with a large lead over Newt Gingrich. The only difference among them is how big, with Public Policy Polling’s numbers released yesterday showing Romney with an 8-point lead and Rasmussen’s survey published the same day giving him a whopping 16-point advantage. In a highly volatile race that had seemed to be trending to Gingrich after his big win in South Carolina last week, there’s no doubt the pendulum has swung back to Romney.

While both sides of what has become a two-man race have been slinging abuse at each other via super PAC-funded ads, the main factor that has given Romney an advantage was the two televised debates that took place this week. Gingrich’s candidacy was based more or less on the idea that he was the champion debater of the field who was the only Republican that could take on President Obama in the fall in such a forum and beat him. But after being knocked around himself this week by both Romney and Rick Santorum, the notion of Gingrich as Mr. Lincoln-Douglas has been badly undermined. Though conservatives may still not trust Romney, his new more aggressive approach has at least given more of them confidence in his candidacy as well as showing that Gingrich’s preferred tactic of bullying moderators has stopped working.

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The latest polls of likely Republican voters in Florida confirm the trend that started earlier this week: Mitt Romney seems to be set for a resounding win in Tuesday’s primary. All of the six most recent surveys conducted  show Romney with a large lead over Newt Gingrich. The only difference among them is how big, with Public Policy Polling’s numbers released yesterday showing Romney with an 8-point lead and Rasmussen’s survey published the same day giving him a whopping 16-point advantage. In a highly volatile race that had seemed to be trending to Gingrich after his big win in South Carolina last week, there’s no doubt the pendulum has swung back to Romney.

While both sides of what has become a two-man race have been slinging abuse at each other via super PAC-funded ads, the main factor that has given Romney an advantage was the two televised debates that took place this week. Gingrich’s candidacy was based more or less on the idea that he was the champion debater of the field who was the only Republican that could take on President Obama in the fall in such a forum and beat him. But after being knocked around himself this week by both Romney and Rick Santorum, the notion of Gingrich as Mr. Lincoln-Douglas has been badly undermined. Though conservatives may still not trust Romney, his new more aggressive approach has at least given more of them confidence in his candidacy as well as showing that Gingrich’s preferred tactic of bullying moderators has stopped working.

A defeat in Florida isn’t necessarily fatal for Gingrich. Thanks to some large donors — principally casino mogul Sheldon Adelson — he has enough money to continue. But a bad defeat in Florida, the first big state with a varied population to vote, is an ominous portent of what is likely to happen elsewhere in the country.

Even more importantly, there are no more debates scheduled until later in February. The last time there was a gap in the debate schedule back in December, Gingrich’s first surge in the polls collapsed. Though, as Nate Silver points out in the New York Times, the upcoming caucus states that hold elections in February will be tricky for Romney, he will be the heavy favorite everywhere. But with no upcoming debates and no states coming up in which he will have any advantage, it’s difficult to see how Gingrich can recover from his current predicament.

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