Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 11, 2013

Palestinians Build a Settlement

Though it was entirely unintentional, the New York Times deserves credit today for pointing out the hypocrisy of critics of Israel’s settlement building. No, the paper hasn’t reversed its policy of treating the presence of Jews in the heart of their ancient homeland as wrong or an obstacle to peace that is reflected on its news pages as much as it is on their editorial page. What they did was something more subtle than that and will require some context for their readers to understand. They published a feature about the Palestinians doing something that Israel hasn’t tried in more than two decades, the building of an entirely new city in the West Bank.

What’s wrong with that? Actually, nothing. If the planners of Rawabi own the land where they are constructing a town north of Ramallah, then why shouldn’t they build new homes and places of business for Arabs who want them? But the story about the effort and the travails of the planners—who are, ironically, under attack from Palestinians for their efforts to cooperate with Israel and Israeli businesses and contractors to get the job done—should remind us that doing so is no more of an obstacle to peace than the builders of homes for Jews.

Read More

Though it was entirely unintentional, the New York Times deserves credit today for pointing out the hypocrisy of critics of Israel’s settlement building. No, the paper hasn’t reversed its policy of treating the presence of Jews in the heart of their ancient homeland as wrong or an obstacle to peace that is reflected on its news pages as much as it is on their editorial page. What they did was something more subtle than that and will require some context for their readers to understand. They published a feature about the Palestinians doing something that Israel hasn’t tried in more than two decades, the building of an entirely new city in the West Bank.

What’s wrong with that? Actually, nothing. If the planners of Rawabi own the land where they are constructing a town north of Ramallah, then why shouldn’t they build new homes and places of business for Arabs who want them? But the story about the effort and the travails of the planners—who are, ironically, under attack from Palestinians for their efforts to cooperate with Israel and Israeli businesses and contractors to get the job done—should remind us that doing so is no more of an obstacle to peace than the builders of homes for Jews.

The point about the West Bank that cannot be reiterated enough is that the conflict about ownership of the land is one in which both sides can muster arguments in their favor. Should the Palestinians ever reject their culture of violence and delegitimizing of Jewish rights to any part of the country, peace will be possible and the land will have to be divided, however painful that would be for both sides. Such a negotiation would be difficult but, assuming that the Palestinians were ever actually willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn, it would not be impossible. And since it is likely that if such a partition were ever to take place, Rawabi would be part of the Palestinian state, then why would Israelis complain that building on the site would make peace impossible?

Of course, Israelis aren’t making such a protest, any more than they speak out against the building going on in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem or any other place in the West Bank.

But when new homes are built in existing Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem or in those towns and communities in the major settlement blocs in the West Bank that everyone knows would be retained by Israel in the event of a peace accord, they are bitterly condemned by the Obama administration, the Europeans, and the liberal media.

In fact, Israel hasn’t done anything on the scale of Rawabi in many years. Outside of scattered hilltop camps with trailers, it hasn’t actually built a new settlement since the Oslo Accords. What Israel has done is added new housing developments to existing places. But the Arabs have done the same and in the case of Rawabi, they are seeking to expand their hold on the land by establishing new facts on the ground that strengthen their claims.

Of course, Israel’s critics assert that Arabs have a right to live in Rawabi while the Jews don’t have a right to live in “stolen land” on the West Bank. That argument rests on the fallacy that history began in 1967 when Israel came into the possession of the West Bank as a result of a defensive war. But in fact, the “West Bank” (a name for the territories of Judea and Samaria that only came into existence when the Kingdom of Jordan illegally occupied the land to differentiate it from their territory on the East Bank of the Jordan River) is part of a territory set aside by international authorities for a Jewish homeland where Jews, as well as Arabs, had rights. Though the international community has sought to abrogate Jewish rights there, they cannot be extinguished in this manner. The resolution of the dispute over the land requires a negotiation in which each side must be prepared to compromise rather than, as the Palestinian Authority continues to do, simply dictate.

Contrary to the claims of Israel’s critics, if both sides continue doing as they are now and building at the same pace, peace won’t be any easier or harder to reach in the future than it is now. The same boundaries will be there to be drawn with Jews and Arabs on Israel’s side and Arabs only on the Palestinian side (as Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have repeatedly made clear), then as they are now. The building of new settlements, whether Jews or Arabs populate them, won’t stop peace if both peoples truly want it. Israel has already demonstrated that it is prepared to do so, as it has repeatedly offered and made territorial withdrawals while the Palestinians have never given up their maximalist demands that aim at Israel’s destruction, not coexistence. The reason the Palestinians focus on settlement building as a threat to their future is not because these places are actually obstacles to peace but because they are opposed to Jews living in anywhere in the country.

Rawabi also demonstrates the priorities of Israel’s foes. Many of them are, as the Times makes clear, opposed to it, because building it undercuts the attempt to boycott Israel. Much like the efforts to prevent the descendants of the 1948 refugees from being resettled so as to keep them as an issue to hold over Israel, they’d rather keep Palestinians from having a new town so long as it doesn’t mean doing business with Jews. 

If the Palestinians that will live in Rawabi and elsewhere in the West Bank truly want peace with Israel and to gain self-determination in exchange, they will get it. Moreover, if Palestinians persist in building on lands they are likely to keep and Israel keeps building in those places they will retain, it won’t put off peace by a single day. Let’s hope that, like its Jewish counterparts in Maale Adumim and Ariel, Rawabi will raise the quality of life for its inhabitants. Perhaps in doing so it will undermine the efforts of those Palestinians that continue to foment the hatred of Jews and Israel that remains at the core of the conflict.

Read Less

The Ambivalent Commander in Chief

On Friday, President Obama conducted a rare press conference at the White House. The leading topic of the day was his effort to defend the government’s efforts to defend the country from terrorism. With the closing of numerous embassies and consulates last week, due to terrorist threats as well as the controversy driven by the leaking of National Security Agency procedures by Edward Snowden, the president had an opportunity to make a full-throated appeal to Americans to reject the efforts of isolationists to dismantle our intelligence efforts and to put away the paranoid suspicions that they have helped fuel.

But while it was good to see the president making any case for the NSA’s necessary monitoring programs, however belated, it was unfortunate that the tone of his remarks was so ambivalent and lacking in the passion he showed when he bragged (once again) about his personal role in killing Osama bin Laden in response to a question about Benghazi, attacked Republicans for their opposition to ObamaCare, or skewered Russian President Vladimir Putin as having the posture of a “bored kid sitting in the back of a classroom.”

Though he agreed, after prompting from NBC’s Chuck Todd, that Snowden was no patriot, his decision to try to appease critics of the NSA via the creation of new review boards, a transparency website, or to amend the Patriot Act betrayed a lack of confidence in the rectitude of his administration’s actions. Indeed, the president’s attempt to dance around the core issues at stake here and to play both ends against the middle—as if he were both the commander in chief and the left-wing community activist opposing the government—undermined his purpose. Suffice it to say that when he said he, too, would be upset about the NSA’s actions, “if I wasn’t inside the government,”—which is to say that the only thing that validates the measures is the magic of his own personality—that wasn’t the strongest argument to be made for a vital national security program.

Read More

On Friday, President Obama conducted a rare press conference at the White House. The leading topic of the day was his effort to defend the government’s efforts to defend the country from terrorism. With the closing of numerous embassies and consulates last week, due to terrorist threats as well as the controversy driven by the leaking of National Security Agency procedures by Edward Snowden, the president had an opportunity to make a full-throated appeal to Americans to reject the efforts of isolationists to dismantle our intelligence efforts and to put away the paranoid suspicions that they have helped fuel.

But while it was good to see the president making any case for the NSA’s necessary monitoring programs, however belated, it was unfortunate that the tone of his remarks was so ambivalent and lacking in the passion he showed when he bragged (once again) about his personal role in killing Osama bin Laden in response to a question about Benghazi, attacked Republicans for their opposition to ObamaCare, or skewered Russian President Vladimir Putin as having the posture of a “bored kid sitting in the back of a classroom.”

Though he agreed, after prompting from NBC’s Chuck Todd, that Snowden was no patriot, his decision to try to appease critics of the NSA via the creation of new review boards, a transparency website, or to amend the Patriot Act betrayed a lack of confidence in the rectitude of his administration’s actions. Indeed, the president’s attempt to dance around the core issues at stake here and to play both ends against the middle—as if he were both the commander in chief and the left-wing community activist opposing the government—undermined his purpose. Suffice it to say that when he said he, too, would be upset about the NSA’s actions, “if I wasn’t inside the government,”—which is to say that the only thing that validates the measures is the magic of his own personality—that wasn’t the strongest argument to be made for a vital national security program.

While any government program deserves scrutiny from Congress and the courts, the president could have done the country some service by not sounding so defensive about NSA activities that have already been subjected to that treatment. Given that he spoke during a week when the terrorist threat had been heightened and NSA intercepts were vital elements in the effort to prevent al-Qaeda affiliates from committing new atrocities, the time was ripe for the commander in chief to remind the country that those who would turn the page back to a September 10th mentality are playing right into the hands of America’s enemies.

The problem is that the president bears a great deal of the responsibility for the fact that polls show that large numbers of Americans are more afraid of government snooping than they are of the al-Qaeda. Obama spent most of 2012 claiming that al-Qaeda was as dead as bin Laden, so why shouldn’t the public that reelected him believe that the war against Islamist terrorism was over too? Of course, the president knows that his reelection campaign’s claims on this issue were largely fraudulent, so he must now tap dance between upholding the government’s ability to defend the public while also maintaining his stance as a critic of the war on terror. If Americans aren’t buying it, it’s not because the threat isn’t real or the NSA programs aren’t necessary, but because they’ve been sold a bill of goods by the man in the White House.

True leadership on national security issues requires more than electioneering slogans, especially when it turns out that, contrary to his assertions last year, Detroit is dead and al-Qaeda is very much alive. I’ve no problem with the president beating his chest a bit about killing terrorists, though it would be in better taste if he didn’t continually refer to the killing of bin Laden in the first person—“I didn’t get him in 11 months”—rather than give credit to the Navy SEALs. But what we need during this phase of the war against Islamism is for Obama to stop sounding ambivalent about doing his duty when it comes to the everyday work of monitoring our enemies. So long as he keeps trying to have it both ways, support for these measures won’t follow.

Read Less

Obama’s Political Incompetence

Obamacare, enacted more than three years ago, has been unraveling for over a year.  And there’s a good reason for that: it was never intended to become law at all.

Ordinarily one house of Congress passes a bill and the other house then substantially amends that bill or writes its own from scratch. No one worries too much about the actual language in these bills because they eventually go to a conference committee made up of both senators and representatives. There, the differences are ironed out and legislative draftsmen put the conference bill into final shape. That’s when they worry about the exact language, cross the T’s, dot the I’s, and reconcile conflicting provisions. After both houses pass this final, cleaned up legislation, it goes to the president for signing and becomes law.

But that process was aborted in this case. The Senate passed its version, full of sloppy language, impossible mandates, and contradictory provisions, on Christmas Eve 2009. It could do so because the Democrats at that point had a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority.

Read More

Obamacare, enacted more than three years ago, has been unraveling for over a year.  And there’s a good reason for that: it was never intended to become law at all.

Ordinarily one house of Congress passes a bill and the other house then substantially amends that bill or writes its own from scratch. No one worries too much about the actual language in these bills because they eventually go to a conference committee made up of both senators and representatives. There, the differences are ironed out and legislative draftsmen put the conference bill into final shape. That’s when they worry about the exact language, cross the T’s, dot the I’s, and reconcile conflicting provisions. After both houses pass this final, cleaned up legislation, it goes to the president for signing and becomes law.

But that process was aborted in this case. The Senate passed its version, full of sloppy language, impossible mandates, and contradictory provisions, on Christmas Eve 2009. It could do so because the Democrats at that point had a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority.

But then, the people of Massachusetts stunned the political world by electing a Republican to Teddy Kennedy’s old Senate seat in January 2010. Bye-bye filibuster-proof majority. If the House didn’t pass the exact same bill the Senate had passed, the two bills would have to be reconciled and the final bill sent back to the Senate, where the Republicans now could—and certainly would—filibuster it.

There were only two choices: have the House—where the majority has total control—pass the Senate bill with all its sloppiness, or cut the Republicans in on the deal sufficiently to pick up a couple of Senate Republicans. This being Obama’s Washington, of course, they opted to pass a crudely drafted, legislative horror show into law.

Now these political chickens are coming home to roost. Some provisions have had to be dropped because they were manifestly unworkable and others have been suspended by executive fiat. The language was so sloppy and ill-considered that one provision actually cut Congress members and their staffs off from their very cushy health-care subsidies. Obama waved his hand and said that a provision of the law that clearly says X actually says Y, and subsidies will continue to flow to Capitol Hill, if not to anyone else making $175,000 a year.

None of this, of course, is Obama’s fault. It’s the fault of the Republicans who were told, almost in so many words, to drop dead while the legislation was being drafted.

At his news conference, when he was asked about his unilateral suspension of a provision of the law, the president said that:

Now, what’s true, Ed [Henry, of Fox News], is, is that in a normal political environment, it would have been easier for me to simply call up the Speaker and say, you know what, this is a tweak that doesn’t go to the essence of the law — it has to do with, for example, are we able to simplify the attestation of employers as to whether they’re already providing health insurance or not — it looks like there may be some better ways to do this; let’s make a technical change to the law. That would be the normal thing that I would prefer to do.

But we’re not in a normal atmosphere around here when it comes to “Obamacare.” We did have the executive authority to do so, and we did so.

As the Wall Street Journal pointed out on Saturday, that is nonsense. No president is going to ask for legislation, always fraught with politics, when he already has the executive authority to act on his own.

But why is there not a normal, let’s-get-the-country’s-business-done political atmosphere in Washington these days? Could it have something to do with a president who says, in a scheduled press conference, such things as:

Now, I think the really interesting question is why it is that my friends in the other party have made the idea of preventing these people from getting health care their holy grail, their number-one priority. The one unifying principle in the Republican Party at the moment is making sure that 30 million people don’t have health care and, presumably, repealing all those benefits I just mentioned — kids staying on their parents’ plan; seniors getting discounts on their prescription drugs; I guess a return to lifetime limits on insurance; people with preexisting conditions continuing to be blocked from being able to get health insurance.

Republicans, of course, don’t oppose any of those provisions, except, perhaps, for 26-year-old “kids” on their parents’ health insurance. It is pure, unadulterated, unadorned, bald-faced political slander by the president of the United States against the party that controls one house of Congress. It is also political stupidity of a very high order.

Barack Obama is, by far, the most viciously partisan president in American history. Other presidents have been partisan, often deeply so, but were careful to take the high road so as to keep open lines of communication with the other party, without which governance cannot be successful in a democracy. Not Barack Obama.  His incompetence in everything political except winning elections is now costing him (and, inevitably, us) big time.

History will not treat this man kindly.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.