Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 8, 2012

Obama and the Consensus on Jerusalem

Leftists in both Israel and the United States would like President Obama to try and impose a peace plan on Israel in his second term. But the main plank of any American or international diktat is something that the vast majority of Israelis will not accept: division of Jerusalem. Earlier today, Evelyn Gordon wrote about how the woman leading the Labor Party back to political relevance has similar positions to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the peace process. But Shelly Yacimovich isn’t the only rising star of Israeli politics that wants no part of any Obama diktat. Haaretz repots today that Yair Lapid, the head of the new centrist party Yesh Atid, went even further than Yacimovich.

Lapid said yesterday that he explicitly opposes the division of Jerusalem and that retention of the united city by Israel is not an obstacle to the signing of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. This is significant not just because it shows that Israeli centrists are competing with Netanyahu for votes by taking allegedly right-wing stands on peace process issues, but also because it runs completely contrary to one of the firmest positions articulated by the Obama administration in the last four years.

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Leftists in both Israel and the United States would like President Obama to try and impose a peace plan on Israel in his second term. But the main plank of any American or international diktat is something that the vast majority of Israelis will not accept: division of Jerusalem. Earlier today, Evelyn Gordon wrote about how the woman leading the Labor Party back to political relevance has similar positions to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the peace process. But Shelly Yacimovich isn’t the only rising star of Israeli politics that wants no part of any Obama diktat. Haaretz repots today that Yair Lapid, the head of the new centrist party Yesh Atid, went even further than Yacimovich.

Lapid said yesterday that he explicitly opposes the division of Jerusalem and that retention of the united city by Israel is not an obstacle to the signing of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. This is significant not just because it shows that Israeli centrists are competing with Netanyahu for votes by taking allegedly right-wing stands on peace process issues, but also because it runs completely contrary to one of the firmest positions articulated by the Obama administration in the last four years.

If there has been one point of contention with Israel on which the president has pushed the envelope farther than any of his predecessors it is Jerusalem. While all American governments have refused to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the entire city, let alone over those parts of it that were occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 commonly known as East Jerusalem, Obama has gone further than that. Previous administrations had tacitly accepted the Jewish neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city, most of which are 40 or more years old, as de facto parts of Israel. By contrast, Obama has treated these neighborhoods as being the equivalent of the most remote hilltop settlement in the West Bank.

It was over a housing project in one of these existing Jewish city neighborhoods that the president started a major ruckus with Israel because the announcement of the approval came during a visit by Vice President Biden. This supposed “insult” to Biden became a diplomatic crisis that supposedly demonstrated the extremism of Netanyahu. Yet as Lapid’s statement shows, Netanyahu’s position on the city still represents a solid consensus of Israeli public opinion, not just that of the settler minority.

I think Lapid is wrong when he says the Palestinian Authority will consent to a peace deal that leaves Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, since it’s quite clear that neither the PA under Mahmoud Abbas nor its Hamas rivals will recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state under any circumstances. But the Lapid statement also shows why President Obama’s attempts to undermine Netanyahu politically have failed. Though Israelis don’t want their leaders to be entangled in disputes with their only ally, they resented the president’s stand on their capital and backed Netanyahu.

If Lapid, whose party may turn out to be the third biggest in the next Knesset now that Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu has merged with Likud (Yacimovich’s Labor is the likely runner-up), is in agreement with Netanyahu on Jerusalem, it’s clear that the overwhelming majority of the Israeli public will not accept one of the key provisions in every plan that is put forward as a solution to be imposed on the Israelis: division of the city. That’s something that would remain true even if, as is quite unlikely, former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni were able to persuade President Shimon Peres to step down and lead a new anti-Netanyahu alliance in the January elections.

Though Netanyahu is not in as strong a position as he was a few months ago, the notion that the Israeli center rejects his position on peace is a leftist delusion. Quite the contrary, it is time for those who call themselves friends of Israel but wish to override its democratic system to ponder why they are so out of touch with the views of most Israelis.

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Dominance of GOP Governors Continues

Conservatives still reeling from the presidential election and the loss of some very winnable Senate seats can take comfort in a rather significant consolation prize: Republicans now control 30 governorships for the first time in more than a decade. The victory in North Carolina was particularly sweet for Republicans. But on a more fundamental level, the right has swamped the country with conservative reform-minded governors, and this success is not geographically constrained: such conservatives are at the helm in New Jersey, Wisconsin, Louisiana, New Mexico, and even Michigan.

In the last couple of years, out of power in the White House and stymied in Congress by Harry Reid–so enamored of grinding business to a halt that he’s refused to pass a budget for going on three years–conservative governors have led the charge. Though Virginia voters went for Barack Obama both in 2008 and 2012, they elected Bob McDonnell, a Republican, governor. And we can’t forget Texas Governor Rick Perry, who despite having a rough go in the presidential primary debates has presided over a state that has become a laboratory of conservative reform: tort reform, prison reform, education reform (ultimately blocked by the Democrats). Just how dominant is the GOP at the state level? U.S. News & World Report has this reaction from the Democrats:

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Conservatives still reeling from the presidential election and the loss of some very winnable Senate seats can take comfort in a rather significant consolation prize: Republicans now control 30 governorships for the first time in more than a decade. The victory in North Carolina was particularly sweet for Republicans. But on a more fundamental level, the right has swamped the country with conservative reform-minded governors, and this success is not geographically constrained: such conservatives are at the helm in New Jersey, Wisconsin, Louisiana, New Mexico, and even Michigan.

In the last couple of years, out of power in the White House and stymied in Congress by Harry Reid–so enamored of grinding business to a halt that he’s refused to pass a budget for going on three years–conservative governors have led the charge. Though Virginia voters went for Barack Obama both in 2008 and 2012, they elected Bob McDonnell, a Republican, governor. And we can’t forget Texas Governor Rick Perry, who despite having a rough go in the presidential primary debates has presided over a state that has become a laboratory of conservative reform: tort reform, prison reform, education reform (ultimately blocked by the Democrats). Just how dominant is the GOP at the state level? U.S. News & World Report has this reaction from the Democrats:

But while Republicans hailed their victory in North Carolina as a way forward to “four years of balanced budgets, limited taxes and economic growth,” critics argued that losses in several other contested states revealed fissures in the GOP strategy.

“Like Republicans’ failure to reclaim control of the Senate, 2012 presents a year of missed opportunities for the GOP in governors’ races,” a release from the Democratic Governors Association said.

That is the statement of someone at the wrong end of an election drubbing. The DGA’s response to the GOP’s election night success was that Republicans didn’t crush them quite as thoroughly as they could have. An unspinnable victory has got to alleviate at least some of the bitterness on the right for what was a terrible night on other fronts, especially the Senate.

It’s more significant, however, because of the way the GOP has utilized those governorships. Blue states used to elect liberal Republicans who would basically govern as the Democrats would. But that’s not the case with this (young) crop. Many on the right are thinking about the promising future of these governors in terms of a 2016 presidential run. But it’s also important for conservatives to keep reforming the states’ approaches to economic and education policy to help insulate them from the worst of the Obama economy’s doldrums and the consequences of the left’s decision to completely give up on education reform. One lesson for the GOP on Election Day was that candidates matter. When it comes to governors, the right appears to need no such reminder.

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Will Hillary Go Rogue in Benghazi Hearing?

Congressional Republicans aren’t letting up on the Benghazi investigations, and they’re planning a series of committee hearings next week. The House Foreign Affairs Committee has invited Hillary Clinton to testify, Fox News reports:

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has scheduled an open hearing for next Thursday on the Libya terror attack and has invited Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to testify, Fox News has learned. 

The committee joins two others planning to hold hearings, albeit closed ones, that day. 

Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the consulate in Benghazi. A local Libyan extremist group is suspected of carrying out the attack, but the Obama administration has been criticized for its confusing explanation for the strike and for security warnings that apparently weren’t heeded.

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Congressional Republicans aren’t letting up on the Benghazi investigations, and they’re planning a series of committee hearings next week. The House Foreign Affairs Committee has invited Hillary Clinton to testify, Fox News reports:

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has scheduled an open hearing for next Thursday on the Libya terror attack and has invited Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to testify, Fox News has learned. 

The committee joins two others planning to hold hearings, albeit closed ones, that day. 

Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the consulate in Benghazi. A local Libyan extremist group is suspected of carrying out the attack, but the Obama administration has been criticized for its confusing explanation for the strike and for security warnings that apparently weren’t heeded.

We’ll see if Clinton takes them up on the invitation. If it comes down to it, committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen can always issue a subpoena. The State Department has been trying to shift a lot of the criticism to the CIA recently, but based on what we know so far, it still has the most inconsistencies and blunders to answer for.

Clinton testifying could be a problem for the White House. Even though she said the buck stopped with her on the Benghazi attack, it’s hard to picture her publicly taking the fall for everything if she has 2016 ambitions. And since she’s not sticking around for a second term, the White House may not be able to rein her in. It’s unlikely she would say something that really damages President Obama personally, but she could easily say something that complicates her most likely successor Susan Rice’s chances at the nomination.

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Boehner: GOP Ready for Fiscal Cliff Compromise

The battle over the “fiscal cliff” resumed yesterday, and so far it’s sounding much more mellow than it was before the election. In a speech, House Speaker John Boehner emphasized that Republicans are open to raising tax revenues through tax code reform:

House Republicans, Boehner said, are open to raising more tax revenue to reduce deficits — a key Democratic requirement — but only if it’s done through tax reform that lowers income tax rates and in conjunction with entitlement reform.

Done right, Boehner said in public remarks in Washington, a reformed tax code can raise more revenue by curbing special interest loopholes and deductions and by generating economic growth.

That’s very different than raising tax rates — something that has been off the table for Republicans.

Obama, by contrast, has proposed making a down payment on debt reduction by letting the portion of the Bush tax cuts that apply to high-income households expire. That would mean the top two income tax rates would increase to 36% and 39.6% next year from 33% and 35% today.

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The battle over the “fiscal cliff” resumed yesterday, and so far it’s sounding much more mellow than it was before the election. In a speech, House Speaker John Boehner emphasized that Republicans are open to raising tax revenues through tax code reform:

House Republicans, Boehner said, are open to raising more tax revenue to reduce deficits — a key Democratic requirement — but only if it’s done through tax reform that lowers income tax rates and in conjunction with entitlement reform.

Done right, Boehner said in public remarks in Washington, a reformed tax code can raise more revenue by curbing special interest loopholes and deductions and by generating economic growth.

That’s very different than raising tax rates — something that has been off the table for Republicans.

Obama, by contrast, has proposed making a down payment on debt reduction by letting the portion of the Bush tax cuts that apply to high-income households expire. That would mean the top two income tax rates would increase to 36% and 39.6% next year from 33% and 35% today.

Meanwhile, Obama seems to be working on his interpersonal relations:

“He’s simply going to have to take a more active and forceful role,” said Democratic strategist Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. “He never got involved in the nitty-gritty of the legislative process. In light of the hyper-partisanship that still surrounds Capitol Hill, he’s going to have to change, and he’s going to have to take more of a lead in breaking the logjam.” 

There are already indications that Obama is ready to do so. The president, who said in his Nov. 6 victory speech that he was “looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together,” spoke yesterday by telephone with the top congressional Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate.

A new tone, or just the parties regrouping for what’s expected to be a particularly nasty battle? As CNN notes, Boehner hasn’t specified how much he would want to raise through closing loopholes and deductions, and how much he would want to raise through economic growth generated by tax reform (more jobs, higher salaries, more tax revenue for the government). The latter is trickier to calculate, which means it may not be included in the Congressional assessment of how much revenue will be brought in, reports CNN:

In any case, the conventional way Congress assesses how much revenue a proposal would raise does not include potential economic growth effects of the kind Boehner expects, noted Jim Kessler, senior vice president for policy at the centrist think tank Third Way. 

So an official “score” of revenue raised from such a tax reform plan would be most heavily reliant on the tax breaks that are curtailed.

But if that “economic growth” revenue is left out of the equation, the proposal would have to rely primarily on closing loopholes and deductions. That means a lot of people would be paying more taxes, even if rates don’t change (the left portrays this as Republicans letting taxes rise across the board in order to protect their cronies in the top tax bracket). It’s hard to imagine Democrats passing up a chance to dredge up the class warfare rhetoric during the lame duck session, but enjoy this (probably brief) lull in partisan sniping while it lasts.

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“Apology Tour” Critique of Obama’s Foreign Policy Isn’t Enough

What impact did foreign policy have on the presidential election? Not much, to judge by the Fox News exit poll showing that only 5 percent of voters considered that to be their top issue. That fact that of those 5 percent, 56 percent chose Obama and only 33 percent chose Romney leads some observers (e.g. Dan Drezner) to suggest that “the GOP has managed to squander an advantage in perceived foreign policy competency that it had owned for decades.” He has a point, although the situation is not as dire as the one statistic cited above would indicate. The exit poll also asked whether voters would trust each of the candidates to handle an international crisis—50 percent said yes for Romney and 57 percent for Obama.

That is perhaps a natural gap given that Obama has been president for four years and Romney had scant foreign policy experience. Considering his background in foreign policy (or lack thereof), Romney actually did well to reach the 50 percent threshold of credibility. That suggests that lack of confidence in his ability to handle foreign policy was not a major contributing factor to his defeat.

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What impact did foreign policy have on the presidential election? Not much, to judge by the Fox News exit poll showing that only 5 percent of voters considered that to be their top issue. That fact that of those 5 percent, 56 percent chose Obama and only 33 percent chose Romney leads some observers (e.g. Dan Drezner) to suggest that “the GOP has managed to squander an advantage in perceived foreign policy competency that it had owned for decades.” He has a point, although the situation is not as dire as the one statistic cited above would indicate. The exit poll also asked whether voters would trust each of the candidates to handle an international crisis—50 percent said yes for Romney and 57 percent for Obama.

That is perhaps a natural gap given that Obama has been president for four years and Romney had scant foreign policy experience. Considering his background in foreign policy (or lack thereof), Romney actually did well to reach the 50 percent threshold of credibility. That suggests that lack of confidence in his ability to handle foreign policy was not a major contributing factor to his defeat.

But Drezner does have a point—Republicans can’t simply take for granted the expectation, engendered since the Vietnam War when the Democratic Party turned dovish, that they are the natural party of national security. Republicans may see Obama as an apologizing peacenik, but that’s not how he comes across to most voters—for them his biggest selling point is that he’s the president who killed Osama bin Laden. There is a case to be made against Obama’s foreign policy, but Republicans didn’t really make it. Instead, Romney resorted to shorthand, such as accusing Obama of undertaking an “apology tour” which appealed only to true believers. Romney simply did not devote substantial time in his campaign to making his case on foreign policy grounds because he and his aides figured, perhaps rightly, that the election would be decided on the economy and that little else mattered.

But, whatever the polls say, future Republican presidential candidates would be well advised to undertake a real effort to explain their foreign policy positions to the country and to reestablish foreign policy credibility which, to some extent, has been frittered away by George W. Bush’s early mistakes in Iraq. It may be unfair to hold an entire party responsible for one president’s mistakes—and not to give Bush proper credit for rescuing the situation in Iraq with the surge—but Republicans will have to recognize that that’s the way it is. They cannot take national security policy for granted. Instead, they must work hard between now and 2016 to make a convincing case about why Obama has gone wrong and what a credible alternative is. That is something that Sen. Marco Rubio, who is already being talked about as a potential candidate in 2016, has done especially well. Other GOP hopefuls would be well advised to follow his example.

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Do Demographics Point to a Permanent Democratic Majority?

The inevitable narrative after a presidential election is that the losing side is on its way to extinction. In 2008, the argument was that the GOP had become a regional party of white southerners. We’re seeing a variation on that this time around, with the claim that Republicans can’t win an election because minorities and women are eclipsing the white male demographic:

The Los Angeles Times is leading the charge with a story headlined “Obama’s reelection marks a turning point in American politics: With the growing power of minorities, women and gays, it’s the end of the world as straight white males know it.”

Even more than the election that made Barack Obama the first black president, the one that returned him to office sent an unmistakable signal that the hegemony of the straight white male in America is over. …

Exit poll data, gathered from interviews with voters as they left their polling places, showed that Obama’s support from whites was 4 percentage points lower than in 2008. But he won by drawing on a minority-voter base that was 2 percentage points larger, as a share of the overall electorate, than four years ago.

The president built his winning coalition on a series of election-year initiatives and issue differences with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. In the months leading up to the election, Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, unilaterally granted a form of limited legalization to young illegal immigrants and put abortion rights and contraception at the heart of a brutally effective anti-Romney attack ad campaign. 

The result turned out to be an unbeatable combination: virtually universal support from black voters, who turned out as strongly as in 2008, plus decisive backing from members of the younger and fast-growing Latino and Asian American communities, who chose Obama over Romney by ratios of roughly 3 to 1. All of those groups contributed to Obama’s majority among women. (Gay voters, a far smaller group, went for Obama by a 54-point margin.)

There are two ways conservatives can respond to this analysis. One is to devolve into a Buchananite frenzy that the White Male is under siege and the country is being hijacked by minorities and women who are fundamentally at odds with the Republican Party. Not only is that unhelpful, it also buys into identity politics in a way that runs counter to the conservative and American message.

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The inevitable narrative after a presidential election is that the losing side is on its way to extinction. In 2008, the argument was that the GOP had become a regional party of white southerners. We’re seeing a variation on that this time around, with the claim that Republicans can’t win an election because minorities and women are eclipsing the white male demographic:

The Los Angeles Times is leading the charge with a story headlined “Obama’s reelection marks a turning point in American politics: With the growing power of minorities, women and gays, it’s the end of the world as straight white males know it.”

Even more than the election that made Barack Obama the first black president, the one that returned him to office sent an unmistakable signal that the hegemony of the straight white male in America is over. …

Exit poll data, gathered from interviews with voters as they left their polling places, showed that Obama’s support from whites was 4 percentage points lower than in 2008. But he won by drawing on a minority-voter base that was 2 percentage points larger, as a share of the overall electorate, than four years ago.

The president built his winning coalition on a series of election-year initiatives and issue differences with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. In the months leading up to the election, Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, unilaterally granted a form of limited legalization to young illegal immigrants and put abortion rights and contraception at the heart of a brutally effective anti-Romney attack ad campaign. 

The result turned out to be an unbeatable combination: virtually universal support from black voters, who turned out as strongly as in 2008, plus decisive backing from members of the younger and fast-growing Latino and Asian American communities, who chose Obama over Romney by ratios of roughly 3 to 1. All of those groups contributed to Obama’s majority among women. (Gay voters, a far smaller group, went for Obama by a 54-point margin.)

There are two ways conservatives can respond to this analysis. One is to devolve into a Buchananite frenzy that the White Male is under siege and the country is being hijacked by minorities and women who are fundamentally at odds with the Republican Party. Not only is that unhelpful, it also buys into identity politics in a way that runs counter to the conservative and American message.

Instead, why not challenge the notion that people vote primarily based on their allegiance to an identity group, rather than their individual interests? It’s supported by the statistics. While immigration is an important issue for Hispanic voters and can have a big influence on their vote, their biggest individual concern in 2012 was jobs and the economy. The same goes for women voters and abortion. 

Just look at the Jewish vote. The overarching issue that connects American Jews is Israel, but as a bloc they vote reliably for the party that has a weaker record on Israel because it is liberal on social issues.

The point is, people don’t always vote based on their primary identity interest. There are, however, group sensitivities that need to be considered. A Democratic politician who sounds like Tom Tancredo isn’t going to win over Hispanic voters, just like Jewish voters aren’t likely to support Charles Barron, no matter how liberal he is on abortion and welfare programs. 

It was these sensitivities that Obama exploited. He was able to use his presidency to indulge identity groups in small but concrete ways, while arguing that Romney would set back their interests if he were elected. Hence, the executive order on immigration, the “evolution” on gay marriage, the birth control insurance mandate, the auto bailout, and so on. This was helped along by Romney’s hard line on immigration during the primary, Romney’s inability to support gay marriage, controversial comments from Republicans about abortion, and Romney’s opposition to the auto bailout.  

But that strategy isn’t going to be as easy for Democrats in 2016. First, the Democratic candidates won’t be able to distribute these handouts before the election. And second, Republicans aren’t likely to give Democrats as many opportunities to demagogue them on immigration and women’s issues (at least not if they learned any lessons from this year).

Rather than pander to different groups, it’s more helpful to find common ground between identity groups and broader national interests. For example, the GOP isn’t going to become a pro-choice party anytime soon, and it doesn’t need to. The majority of Americans support restrictions on abortion to some degree — just not in cases of rape and incest. Pro-life politicians would be smart to focus on the former and steer clear of the latter. Even if they personally oppose abortion in cases of rape and incest, there’s no need to bring those controversial personal views into the policy debate. 

Tone is just as important here as policy. It didn’t matter that Romney wouldn’t have governed as a hardliner on immigration; Democrats were able to use his comments from the primary to portray him as anti-immigrant. And it didn’t matter how many times Romney’s campaign insisted he wouldn’t support an abortion ban — Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock set the tone for the entire party.

The only way the Democratic Party can keep its identity-based coalition together in 2016 is if Republicans give them enough fodder to do it.

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Will Obama Impose a Peace Plan On Israel?

President Obama started his first term seeking to distance the United States from Israel in an effort to jump-start Middle East peace talks. As it turned out, the fights he picked with Israel over settlements, borders and Jerusalem not only failed to entice the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, but also actually caused them to be more intransigent on issues that required compromise if peace is ever to be made. But that hasn’t stopped some on the left from dreaming about the president starting off his second term with one of their favorite fantasies: an American peace plan that would be imposed on Israel’s government on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

That’s the rumor floated by Akiva Eldar in Haaretz yesterday. The veteran journalist is a virulent critic of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and, like others on the Israeli left, has long since despaired of being able to convince their fellow Israelis to follow their advice. Since Israeli democracy has consistently failed to produce a government that will do as he thinks best, he is hoping the re-elected American president will issue a dictat that will effectively nullify the results of the planned January vote for a new parliament that is likely to return Netanyahu’s existing center-right coalition to power. But though Eldar is right to think that Obama would probably like nothing better than to hammer the Israelis again, he’s making the same mistakes Israeli leftists have made for the last 20 years of peace processing: ignoring the Palestinians. They can always be counted on to spike any deal no matter how favorable it might be to their cause.

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President Obama started his first term seeking to distance the United States from Israel in an effort to jump-start Middle East peace talks. As it turned out, the fights he picked with Israel over settlements, borders and Jerusalem not only failed to entice the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, but also actually caused them to be more intransigent on issues that required compromise if peace is ever to be made. But that hasn’t stopped some on the left from dreaming about the president starting off his second term with one of their favorite fantasies: an American peace plan that would be imposed on Israel’s government on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

That’s the rumor floated by Akiva Eldar in Haaretz yesterday. The veteran journalist is a virulent critic of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and, like others on the Israeli left, has long since despaired of being able to convince their fellow Israelis to follow their advice. Since Israeli democracy has consistently failed to produce a government that will do as he thinks best, he is hoping the re-elected American president will issue a dictat that will effectively nullify the results of the planned January vote for a new parliament that is likely to return Netanyahu’s existing center-right coalition to power. But though Eldar is right to think that Obama would probably like nothing better than to hammer the Israelis again, he’s making the same mistakes Israeli leftists have made for the last 20 years of peace processing: ignoring the Palestinians. They can always be counted on to spike any deal no matter how favorable it might be to their cause.

It may be asking too much to hope the president and his foreign policy team have learned their lesson when it comes to counting on the Palestinians. Every attempt by Obama to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction has been met with rejection or indifference. Rather than taking advantage of the president’s stands on borders and especially Jerusalem, which have done more to undermine Israel’s position than that of any of his predecessors, the Palestinian Authority always refused to budge. Indeed, in a stinging insult to Obama that was a poor reward for his favors, the PA actually tried an end run around American diplomacy by asking the United Nations to recognize their independence without first making peace with Israel. In the last year, Obama appeared to get the message that there is no benefit to trying to help the Palestinians. Though that may have been as much a product of his election-year Jewish charm offensive as anything else, it is still hard to avoid the conclusion the president isn’t interested in wasting any more time on futile efforts that will always be rejected by Mahmoud Abbas or Hamas no matter how hard he presses the Israelis.

Nevertheless, Eldar thinks the second attempt of the PA to win UN recognition will give Obama the opening he needs to float a new American peace plan. Eldar assumes the president doesn’t want to veto the Palestinian initiative and fears the result of its adoption, since that would bring Israeli retaliation that could bring down Abbas. Though Eldar doesn’t mention it, it would also trigger a U.S. aid cutoff to the president’s beloved UN. Eldar thinks a better third option would be a U.S. peace plan that could be imposed on Israel in exchange for a promise to safeguard its security and to prevent Iran from going nuclear. To that end, he cites a report being prepared by former U.S. diplomats that would meet his criteria for an Israeli retreat and an independent Palestinian state.

But Eldar’s scenario is a leftist fantasy that won’t come true. The PA’s UN campaign — the so-called diplomatic “tsunami” that was supposed to isolate Israel but which turned out to be nothing more than a light drizzle — failed in 2011. That was not just the result of Obama’s veto threat, but also because even the Palestinians’ friends know that granting independence to the PA when its Hamas rival controls much of its territory is insane. The PA is a corrupt, bankrupt failure that can’t make peace even if it wanted to, and even the Europeans know Abbas’s gambit would be a disaster.

Obama might like to settle his account with Netanyahu, but he knows it would mean picking a nasty and costly political fight that would not bring peace any closer. Nor will it make Netanyahu more amenable to a compromise over Iranian nukes–something that is probably much higher on Obama’s priority list.

The next four years are likely to be just as stormy as the previous four were for the U.S.-Israel relationship. But the idea that Obama will stick his neck out for the Palestinians is probably just wishful thinking for Netanyahu-bashers.

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Must GOP Bow to Obama’s Fiscal Demands?

With the president’s election victory still fresh in their minds, Democrats are assuming that Tuesday’s results mean that Congressional Republicans are bound to bow to their demands for tax increases. Such sentiments are understandable given the Democrats’ clear victory in the presidential contest as well as their gains in Congress. Having campaigned on a platform of raising taxes on the wealthy, there may be little reason to assume President Obama is going to back down on his demands and, as many liberals have already pointed out, he’s going to be bitterly criticized if he does compromise on his soak-the-rich approach. Yet though Republicans may still be shell shocked by the election returns, there is no reason for them to cave in on their principles just because the president and his media cheering section expect them to.

House Speaker John Boehner sounded an appropriate note, albeit one that was pure political boilerplate, when he said yesterday, “Mr. President, this is your moment. We’re ready to be led — not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans. We want you to lead, not as a liberal or a conservative, but as president of the United States of America.” But his airy rhetoric contains a kernel of truth. If the country is to avoid going over the fiscal cliff in the next month, and avoid the terrible consequences that would result from a failure to reach a budget deal, it is going to require the kind of presidential leadership and ability to compromise that Obama has never been willing to provide in his first four years in office. The question before the country is not so much the one that liberals have been asking about Republicans simply waving the white flag as it is whether the president can actually bargain in good faith and get a deal.

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With the president’s election victory still fresh in their minds, Democrats are assuming that Tuesday’s results mean that Congressional Republicans are bound to bow to their demands for tax increases. Such sentiments are understandable given the Democrats’ clear victory in the presidential contest as well as their gains in Congress. Having campaigned on a platform of raising taxes on the wealthy, there may be little reason to assume President Obama is going to back down on his demands and, as many liberals have already pointed out, he’s going to be bitterly criticized if he does compromise on his soak-the-rich approach. Yet though Republicans may still be shell shocked by the election returns, there is no reason for them to cave in on their principles just because the president and his media cheering section expect them to.

House Speaker John Boehner sounded an appropriate note, albeit one that was pure political boilerplate, when he said yesterday, “Mr. President, this is your moment. We’re ready to be led — not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans. We want you to lead, not as a liberal or a conservative, but as president of the United States of America.” But his airy rhetoric contains a kernel of truth. If the country is to avoid going over the fiscal cliff in the next month, and avoid the terrible consequences that would result from a failure to reach a budget deal, it is going to require the kind of presidential leadership and ability to compromise that Obama has never been willing to provide in his first four years in office. The question before the country is not so much the one that liberals have been asking about Republicans simply waving the white flag as it is whether the president can actually bargain in good faith and get a deal.

Ever since last year’s debt ceiling crisis that set in motion the events that could lead to an automatic tax increase and sequestration of funds that would require massive across-the-board budget cuts for vital services and national defense, both the president and his antagonists have acted as if they had nothing to lose by going to the brink. In particular, the president’s strategy has seemed to revolve around an effort to drive the GOP leaders in the House away from a deal so as to be able to use their refusal to bow to his dictates as a political talking point. Obama’s model was the 1995 government shutdown in which President Clinton managed to outmaneuver then House Speaker Newt Gingrich into a corner and make him take the blame for the problem.

Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor managed to avoid being fitted for the Gingrich clown suits but no deal was ever struck that they — or their caucus — could live with. But most observers seem to think that after the president’s re-election they have no choice but to give in on the extension of the Bush tax cuts. Congress’s reputation is in tatters and it stands to reason that the GOP would prefer to avoid not only the catastrophic cuts and taxes that a failure to make a deal would entail but the blame for the economic distress that would ensue.

However, the House Republicans aren’t the only ones feeling some pressure.

Most Democrats may be strutting this week and engaging in triumphalist rhetoric about their ability to dominate the country’s politics for the foreseeable future. But the president understands that a budget standoff could trigger an economic downturn that could cripple the start of his second term and set in motion a train of events that will make the next four years a nightmare for the country and for him. Though Republicans don’t want to be the scapegoats for a budget meltdown, the president needs a deal far more than they do.

But in order to get one, the president is going to have to eschew the sort of high-handed approach to Congress that has been the pattern for his first term. While that worked politically for him, it also served to give Boehner less room to negotiate since the president infuriated the GOP caucus and helped make it easier for them to dig in their heels and oppose a compromise. If the president wants Boehner to give him a deal, that will mean sitting down and asking for more revenue in ways that the GOP can live with–such as closing loopholes and deductions, but not confiscatory tax policies that will cripple economic growth.

For two years, President Obama has refused to take this deal, since it was in his political interest to portray Boehner and the GOP Congress as extremists. But though his supporters don’t seem to realize it, his political interests now lie in a policy that requires him to avoid the class warfare rhetoric and tactics designed to demonize Republicans he has employed in past negotiations.

The president needs to negotiate and take the deal Boehner is offering him with modifications that will allow him to save face. Doing so is good for the country and for his prospects for a second term that isn’t as awful as those of most of his predecessors.

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Obama’s Second-Term Obstacle: His First

By all accounts, given President Obama’s focus on domestic policy initiatives in his first term, he will play the “flexibility” card he promised the Putin/Medvedev tandem and seek to cement a foreign policy legacy in his second term. But there are serious challenges to this, flexibility or no flexibility.

The immediate challenge that comes to mind is that, as has been exhaustively chronicled by a usually adoring media, Obama is not only terrible at diplomacy, but it’s the part of his job description he most loathes. He doesn’t like building relationships at home or abroad, which may very well put statesmanship far beyond his reach. But there is a more fundamental problem, and it’s not one limited to Barack Obama: For all the talk of a second-term “clean slate,” which exempts the president from electoral considerations, a president cannot undo his first term. There is no true clean slate abroad on any issue, or with any country, that was part of the first term agenda.

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By all accounts, given President Obama’s focus on domestic policy initiatives in his first term, he will play the “flexibility” card he promised the Putin/Medvedev tandem and seek to cement a foreign policy legacy in his second term. But there are serious challenges to this, flexibility or no flexibility.

The immediate challenge that comes to mind is that, as has been exhaustively chronicled by a usually adoring media, Obama is not only terrible at diplomacy, but it’s the part of his job description he most loathes. He doesn’t like building relationships at home or abroad, which may very well put statesmanship far beyond his reach. But there is a more fundamental problem, and it’s not one limited to Barack Obama: For all the talk of a second-term “clean slate,” which exempts the president from electoral considerations, a president cannot undo his first term. There is no true clean slate abroad on any issue, or with any country, that was part of the first term agenda.

Take Russia, for example. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports on the Putin administration’s continued suspicion toward Obama and opposition to missile defense in Europe. Obama’s big gamble at the beginning of his time in office was to discard the missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Not only can he no longer offer that to the Russians, the lesson Putin learned was that the defense of Europe was negotiable. It took no effort for Putin to chase missile defense out of Eastern Europe, so he figured he’d next chase them out of the rest of the continent.

Sanctions to which Putin was willing to agree on Iran haven’t stopped its nuclear program, and Putin’s desperate desire to keep NATO in Afghanistan–which keeps the Americans bogged down defending Russia’s near-abroad for them while working to stem the drug trade–now seems hopeless. Without a serious Western presence in Afghanistan, Putin is now threatening to end all cooperation with NATO’s mission there, meager as it was to begin with. Next, Putin expelled USAID and moved to end the historic Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction regime. RFE/RL offers a revealing quote:

“The low-hanging fruit has already been picked, so [cooperation] will be less substantial than before,” Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Petersen Institute of International Economics in Washington, says. “And the Russian suspicions about missile defense — rather Putin’s suspicions about missile defense — will be quite strong.”

Indeed, Russia’s accession to the WTO–a genuine accomplishment for the Obama administration, which should be especially beneficial to the U.S. during a down economy–has already been secured. The point is, Obama cannot simply “reset” relations with the world. This is especially true in places where the administration has already tried such a reset, like Russia.

But it’s also true in other places. Take the Middle East, where former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is hoping a second-term peace process escapade is in the offing. But Obama can’t undo the damage he’s done by picking fights with Israel over Jerusalem or by pushing the Palestinians as far away from the negotiating table as they’ve ever been by telling them to demand a bouquet of silly preconditions that no Israeli governing coalition–as Evelyn pointed out this morning–would agree to. Obama’s astounding failure in the Middle East can’t be erased, so on this issue the president is his own worst enemy. Reuters unwittingly gives the game away on the prospects for peace in the Middle East:

Blair represents the so-called “quartet” of Middle East peacemakers — the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia — and has visited Israel and the Palestinian Territories some 90 times since taking the job in 2007.

He’s the West’s primary diplomatic representative in the region, and he’s been there ninety times in the last five years. And the two sides are farther apart than they’ve been in two decades–thanks, by the way, to Western policymaking in the time Blair has been at his post. I’m not blaming Blair; I’m simply making the point that he’s been spending a tremendous amount of time there and produced absolutely nothing to show for it.

Iran is another example. Thanks to the failure of diplomacy, Obama actually has the political capital to order military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Polls show such a move would have the support of the American people, and Obama would have all the credibility in the world if he declared that diplomacy had finally failed precisely because he has been the poster president for engagement at all costs. But he can’t go back to 2008, when he let himself be strung along, or 2009, when he ignored a brewing democratic protest movement there. And trying to do so would make him look foolish.

So while I can understand Obama’s desire to set a new legacy abroad–after all, his current foreign policy legacy is the Benghazi debacle–he has plenty of room for improvement and almost no room to maneuver. And he only has himself to blame.

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“Muhammed” Filmmaker Sentenced to Year in Prison

It may be tempting for some to try to turn anti-Muslim filmmaker Mark Bassely Youssef, who was blamed by the Obama administration for the attack in Benghazi, into a martyr for free speech, but the fact is he took the plea deal. If he truly believed he was innocent, or thought a one-year sentence was wildly disproportionate to his charges, he could have fought it out in court. Why pass up the free publicity of a public trial, unless you’re guilty and think a plea bargain is the best deal you’re going to get?

The California man behind an anti-Muslim film that led to violence in many parts of the Middle East was sentenced Wednesday to a year in federal prison for probation violations in an unrelated matter, then issued a provocative statement through his attorney.

The sentence was the result of a plea bargain between lawyers for Mark Bassely Youssef and federal prosecutors. Youssef admitted in open court that he had used several false names in violation of his probation order and obtained a driver’s license under a false name. He was on probation for a bank fraud case. 

Shortly after Youssef left the courtroom, his lawyer, Steven Seiden, came to the front steps of the courthouse and told reporters his client wanted to send a message.

“The one thing he wanted me to tell all of you is President Obama may have gotten Osama bin Laden, but he didn’t kill the ideology,” Seiden said.

Asked what that meant, Seiden said, “I didn’t ask him, and I don’t know.”

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It may be tempting for some to try to turn anti-Muslim filmmaker Mark Bassely Youssef, who was blamed by the Obama administration for the attack in Benghazi, into a martyr for free speech, but the fact is he took the plea deal. If he truly believed he was innocent, or thought a one-year sentence was wildly disproportionate to his charges, he could have fought it out in court. Why pass up the free publicity of a public trial, unless you’re guilty and think a plea bargain is the best deal you’re going to get?

The California man behind an anti-Muslim film that led to violence in many parts of the Middle East was sentenced Wednesday to a year in federal prison for probation violations in an unrelated matter, then issued a provocative statement through his attorney.

The sentence was the result of a plea bargain between lawyers for Mark Bassely Youssef and federal prosecutors. Youssef admitted in open court that he had used several false names in violation of his probation order and obtained a driver’s license under a false name. He was on probation for a bank fraud case. 

Shortly after Youssef left the courtroom, his lawyer, Steven Seiden, came to the front steps of the courthouse and told reporters his client wanted to send a message.

“The one thing he wanted me to tell all of you is President Obama may have gotten Osama bin Laden, but he didn’t kill the ideology,” Seiden said.

Asked what that meant, Seiden said, “I didn’t ask him, and I don’t know.”

Admittedly, the sentence does sound harsh for a probation violation. But this guy was also a con artist and a federal convict who previously pulled off a major check fraud scheme. He was specifically prohibited from using aliases and the Internet without specific permission from his probation officer, which he apparently didn’t have.

So it’s not so much the sentence itself that’s problematic, but whether he was treated differently by federal prosecutors because of the film. Would he have been arrested if his movie hadn’t been blamed for the protests in Benghazi and Cairo? Would prosecutors have pursued him so vigorously, and pushed for the maximum sentence? These are grey areas, and it’s a surprise the ACLU hasn’t gotten involved. There’s no overt violation of civil liberties here, but there should be legitimate concerns about a chilling effect on free speech.

The biggest red flag was was when the father of fallen Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods said Hillary Clinton assured him at the Benghazi memorial service that the feds were going to “arrest and prosecute” the filmmaker. Nobody else has backed up or confirmed this. But if true, it would be a bombshell, and it certainly warrants further investigation.

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Immigration Issue Hurts GOP with More Than Just Hispanics

To follow up on my previous item on how much trouble Republicans face with Latino (and other minority) voters, take a look at the results of the Fox News exit polls.

They show that 11 percent of voters were Latinos and that they went for President Obama by margins varying from 65 percent (those 65 years old and up) to 74 percent (18- to 29-year-olds). The fact that the youngest group–which made up 4 percent of the total electorate–is the most Democratic is especially alarming because of what it says about the future.

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To follow up on my previous item on how much trouble Republicans face with Latino (and other minority) voters, take a look at the results of the Fox News exit polls.

They show that 11 percent of voters were Latinos and that they went for President Obama by margins varying from 65 percent (those 65 years old and up) to 74 percent (18- to 29-year-olds). The fact that the youngest group–which made up 4 percent of the total electorate–is the most Democratic is especially alarming because of what it says about the future.

It should also be noted that respondents who were neither white nor African-American nor Latino made up 5 percent of the electorate. They, too, went for Obama overwhelmingly by 67 percent to 31 percent. This suggests that Asian-Americans, who like Latinos ought to be a natural Republican constituency, are strongly trending the other way.

Respondents were then asked what should happen to most illegal immigrants working in the U.S.–should they be offered a chance to apply for legal status or deported? Sixty-five percent of respondents said they should be offered a chance to apply for legal status–what Republican politicians normally characterize as an “amnesty for illegal aliens.” Only 28 percent said that they should be deported. This suggests that Republicans’ anti-immigration views hurt them not only with Latinos but with a broader electorate, which is more sympathetic to undocumented migrants than Republican leaders are.

As I noted earlier, it is high time that Republicans adjust their position to show that, while they want to police our borders, they are sympathetic to the plight of millions of immigrants who are already here and who will never be deported. We need to find a way to legalize their status instead of demonizing that as an “amnesty.” Providing an opportunity to young people whose parents came here illegally–the aim of the DREAM Act–is a good place to start.

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Christie Shouldn’t Be the Scapegoat

Republicans are still licking their wounds today, but from the sound of it, some in the Romney campaign aren’t letting go of their vendetta with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. While this Washington Post story centered on Mitt Romney’s efforts to thank and console his supporters and made clear just how decent a guy he is, it also gave a platform for some of his staffers and leading fundraisers to vent their anger at Christie and his role in puffing up President Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy:

Although Romney himself stopped short of placing any blame on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who praised President Obama’s leadership during the storm, several Romney supporters privately pointed fingers at the outspoken governor.

“A lot of people feel like Christie hurt, that we definitely lost four or five points between the storm and Chris Christie giving Obama a chance to be bigger than life,” said one of Romney’s biggest fundraisers, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

Another major Romney fundraiser said Christie’s embrace of Obama after Sandy walloped his state only deepened a rift that opened between the Romney and Christie camps over the summer Christie and his wife were unhappy with Romney’s vice presidential search process, believing they were “led a little bit far down the garden path” without being picked, the fundraiser, said.

Any losing campaign needs scapegoats, and it’s clear that some in the Romney campaign are anxious to divert the focus away from their own failures. The hurricane, and Christie’s embrace of the president, was a setback. Yet a dispassionate look at the returns and the turnout figures shows that even if the weather had stayed nice on the East Coast in the week before the election, Romney would have still lost. To say that Christie lost the election for the GOP is bunk. But even though the attacks on Christie are off base and ought to stop, the controversy still tells us something about the problem with the governor and why those assuming he will succeed where Romney failed are probably wrong.

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Republicans are still licking their wounds today, but from the sound of it, some in the Romney campaign aren’t letting go of their vendetta with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. While this Washington Post story centered on Mitt Romney’s efforts to thank and console his supporters and made clear just how decent a guy he is, it also gave a platform for some of his staffers and leading fundraisers to vent their anger at Christie and his role in puffing up President Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy:

Although Romney himself stopped short of placing any blame on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who praised President Obama’s leadership during the storm, several Romney supporters privately pointed fingers at the outspoken governor.

“A lot of people feel like Christie hurt, that we definitely lost four or five points between the storm and Chris Christie giving Obama a chance to be bigger than life,” said one of Romney’s biggest fundraisers, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

Another major Romney fundraiser said Christie’s embrace of Obama after Sandy walloped his state only deepened a rift that opened between the Romney and Christie camps over the summer Christie and his wife were unhappy with Romney’s vice presidential search process, believing they were “led a little bit far down the garden path” without being picked, the fundraiser, said.

Any losing campaign needs scapegoats, and it’s clear that some in the Romney campaign are anxious to divert the focus away from their own failures. The hurricane, and Christie’s embrace of the president, was a setback. Yet a dispassionate look at the returns and the turnout figures shows that even if the weather had stayed nice on the East Coast in the week before the election, Romney would have still lost. To say that Christie lost the election for the GOP is bunk. But even though the attacks on Christie are off base and ought to stop, the controversy still tells us something about the problem with the governor and why those assuming he will succeed where Romney failed are probably wrong.

It’s now apparent that many in Romney’s camp as well as some of us in the media had a mistaken view of the state of the race in the days just before the storm. The belief that Romney was ahead was based on a model of the electorate that assumed that Democratic turnout would not come close to that of 2008. That was wrong. The Obama campaign really did have a massive ground game advantage over Romney’s more amateurish efforts, and the result was another wave of Democratic enthusiasm that swamped the upsurge in Republican enthusiasm. The storm and the adoring press coverage it got certainly aided the president and might have helped turn a more narrow margin for the president into the clear victory he achieved. But even if there were no Sandy and no photo op and gushing praise from Christie, Obama would still be planning a second term today.

Conservatives spent the last two years underestimating President Obama’s political strengths and paid the price for it on Tuesday, and this bout of Christie-bashing is just another instance of them engaging in denial about what really happened. But even though the Romney camp’s shots at Christie are way out of line, the governor has no one to blame but himself for the way this controversy has grown.

Christie built his reputation on his blunt, tough-guy persona that conservatives love because of his refusal to play by liberal rules in public debate about the issues. But the flip side to this is an arrogant disdain for anyone else’s point of view. Christie always operates as if he is in business for himself, and if he allowed his hurt feelings about the vice presidential nomination to affect his behavior during the campaign, that doesn’t speak well for his judgment. His instinct is always to fire back at any criticism, and that has helped keep this minor controversy about the storm alive. The governor has many attributes that recommend him to the country, but the last few months show that being a team player is not one of them.

Though no one should blame Christie for Romney’s loss, this is just another piece of evidence that shows that he might not do as well under the scrutiny of a national campaign as his admirers think. Christie’s temperament is perfect for the maelstrom of New Jersey politics, but might not play as well on the national stage.

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Bibi and Main Rival Agree on Peace Process

Now that the elections are over and President Barack Obama is returning to business, one person he should pay some serious attention to is the new head of Israel’s Labor Party, Shelly Yacimovich. All polls show Labor becoming the second-largest party by a large margin after Israel’s January 22 election. Thus, if Obama is hoping for an alternative to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, she’s the only serious possibility.

So here, according to Israeli embassy reports on her meetings with French officials in July, is what she thinks on diplomatic issues: She thinks the Palestinians should negotiate without preconditions – just like Netanyahu. She thinks they must recognize Israel as a Jewish state – again like Netanyahu. She thinks Israel should retain the major settlement blocs, and shouldn’t withdraw to the 1967 lines – yet again like Netanyahu.

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Now that the elections are over and President Barack Obama is returning to business, one person he should pay some serious attention to is the new head of Israel’s Labor Party, Shelly Yacimovich. All polls show Labor becoming the second-largest party by a large margin after Israel’s January 22 election. Thus, if Obama is hoping for an alternative to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, she’s the only serious possibility.

So here, according to Israeli embassy reports on her meetings with French officials in July, is what she thinks on diplomatic issues: She thinks the Palestinians should negotiate without preconditions – just like Netanyahu. She thinks they must recognize Israel as a Jewish state – again like Netanyahu. She thinks Israel should retain the major settlement blocs, and shouldn’t withdraw to the 1967 lines – yet again like Netanyahu.

And, from an interview last year: While she thinks most settlements will have to go under any deal with the Palestinians, she, like Netanyahu, doesn’t consider them “a sin and a crime.” Moreover, again like Netanyahu, she doesn’t think the “peace process” should top Israel’s agenda (though she disagrees with him over what should). In fact, as she herself said just last week, she is “fighting for” the cause of “ending the dichotomy between left and right in foreign affairs. There are no longer two blocs … it’s all a fixation.”

In short, contrary to the media’s persistent portrayal of Netanyahu as a “hardline right-winger” heading a “far right” coalition, his positions on the Palestinian issue are shared by almost all Israelis – not only supporters of his coalition, but also supporters of what is likely to be the main opposition party come January, assuming Netanyahu (as expected) forms the next government. What will probably keep Yacimovich out of his coalition aren’t her diplomatic views, but his economic ones.

Hence if Obama is hoping for an Israeli leader whose positions on the “peace process” will be closer to his own than Netanyahu’s, he should think again: There isn’t one.

It’s not that they don’t exist in theory: Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni both deem an agreement with the Palestinians top priority, fall somewhere to the left of Netanyahu and Yacimovich on specific final-status issues, and are reportedly considering running. There’s only one problem: They have virtually no support. Between them, they have held almost every senior cabinet portfolio, whereas Yacimovich is a second-term MK with no cabinet experience whatsoever. Yet when pollsters asked Israelis last week who should lead the center-left bloc, Yacimovich got more votes than Olmert and Livni combined.

That’s no accident, any more than the fact that Labor – the party that signed the Oslo Accords and has traditionally headed Israel’s self-described “peace camp” – overwhelmingly voted to be led by a woman who deems socioeconomic issues more important than peace talks (“Before we … engage in a struggle for peace, we need to have a state,” as she put it). As I’ve written before, this has been the mainstream Israeli view for years. It just took a while to produce mainstream party leaders who agreed.

Today, Israel has two: Netanyahu and Yacimovich. One of them will be running Israel for the next four years. And the sooner Obama comes to terms with that fact, the better.

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The Taliban’s Advice to Obama

On Wednesday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued the Islamist movement’s official statement in Pashto, which the Open Source Center translated:

1. Obama should fully utilize the new opportunity preventing the United States from acting as world police, focusing on solving own problems, and not allowing the country to burn in the fire of world’s hatred.

2. Obama realizes that Americans are now tired of the war and useless military expenditure. Therefore, he should take into account the demands and expectations of his people, and end the meaningless war. He should not let the United States become notorious by committing more war crimes.

3. Obama realizes that the American nation is tired of the war losses and back-breaking economic crisis. Therefore, he should immediately withdraw his troops from the country and prevent deaths of more US troops.

4. The elements who are currently supporting the United States in our country are indeed the most disgraceful and unwanted faces. Relying on such elements will cost the United States more financial and human losses.

5. Perhaps Obama has now realized well that he has lost the battle in Afghanistan. Therefore, instead of wasting time and telling lies, he should immediately leave our sacred soil and think about his country and people’s lives.

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On Wednesday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued the Islamist movement’s official statement in Pashto, which the Open Source Center translated:

1. Obama should fully utilize the new opportunity preventing the United States from acting as world police, focusing on solving own problems, and not allowing the country to burn in the fire of world’s hatred.

2. Obama realizes that Americans are now tired of the war and useless military expenditure. Therefore, he should take into account the demands and expectations of his people, and end the meaningless war. He should not let the United States become notorious by committing more war crimes.

3. Obama realizes that the American nation is tired of the war losses and back-breaking economic crisis. Therefore, he should immediately withdraw his troops from the country and prevent deaths of more US troops.

4. The elements who are currently supporting the United States in our country are indeed the most disgraceful and unwanted faces. Relying on such elements will cost the United States more financial and human losses.

5. Perhaps Obama has now realized well that he has lost the battle in Afghanistan. Therefore, instead of wasting time and telling lies, he should immediately leave our sacred soil and think about his country and people’s lives.

When Obama was first campaigning for president back in 2007, he argued that the Iraq war was a diversion from U.S. national interests, and that the legitimate war—the one which the United States needed to win—was in Afghanistan. His policy since has been to talk back the idea of victory in Afghanistan. By enunciating an artificial deadline for transition and withdrawal, Obama demoralized American allies amongst the Afghans and convinced both Pakistan and the Taliban that their strategy was working.

It is quite telling when one reads the Taliban statement that the first three points effectively encapsulate Obama’s policy: (1) Surrender leadership; (2) Cut the military; and (3) Withdraw, regardless of consequence. Point (4) underlines the fallacy of bringing the Taliban into any political coalition, and suggests the Taliban will turn on and purge pro-Western Afghans as soon as the last American troop departs Afghanistan. Obama may dispute (5), but the idea that Taliban terrorism defeated a superpower is what every Islamist, from Minneapolis to Mogadishu and from Tehran to Timbuktu will conclude, as they plot their future strategy and tactics in their ideological confrontation with Western liberalism.

Eleven years after 9/11, how sad it is that rather than to laugh off the Taliban statement as ridiculous bluster, White House strategy now appears to affirm it.

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