Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 24, 2013

Incitement Is the Obstacle to Peace

During the course of his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations, President Obama repeated his evenhanded mantra about the Middle East peace process. The short version of it is to say that if you want Israel to survive you also have to support a Palestinian state. Both sides of the conflict have a right to live “in dignity and security” and both sides should be urged to make compromises and accept peace. But the problem with this formulation, which was repeated by many other world leaders at the UN podium, is that it reflects a false moral equivalence between the two sides. That false balance was reflected in the events last weekend that led to the murders of two Israeli soldiers in terrorist incidents.

As the Times of Israel’s David Horovitz wrote yesterday, these were not the acts of isolated extremists trying to undermine the peaceful intentions of Palestinian leaders. Responsibility for one of the murders was taken by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the military wing of the Fatah Party led by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who was praised by President Obama for engaging in talks with Israel. The PA condemned neither killing. But even if it did issue some statement of regret, it would be pure hypocrisy since such acts are encouraged every day by the PA’s official media and education system which continues to laud terrorism and to treat murders of Jews and Israelis as the duty of every Palestinian.

Yet neither the Obama administration nor anyone at the UN ever bothers to point out that there is only one side in this contract that devotes its resources to inciting hatred and violence against their antagonists: the Palestinians. Until that imbalance is corrected, all the evenhanded rhetoric heard at the UN or anywhere else will be a waste of time.

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During the course of his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations, President Obama repeated his evenhanded mantra about the Middle East peace process. The short version of it is to say that if you want Israel to survive you also have to support a Palestinian state. Both sides of the conflict have a right to live “in dignity and security” and both sides should be urged to make compromises and accept peace. But the problem with this formulation, which was repeated by many other world leaders at the UN podium, is that it reflects a false moral equivalence between the two sides. That false balance was reflected in the events last weekend that led to the murders of two Israeli soldiers in terrorist incidents.

As the Times of Israel’s David Horovitz wrote yesterday, these were not the acts of isolated extremists trying to undermine the peaceful intentions of Palestinian leaders. Responsibility for one of the murders was taken by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the military wing of the Fatah Party led by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who was praised by President Obama for engaging in talks with Israel. The PA condemned neither killing. But even if it did issue some statement of regret, it would be pure hypocrisy since such acts are encouraged every day by the PA’s official media and education system which continues to laud terrorism and to treat murders of Jews and Israelis as the duty of every Palestinian.

Yet neither the Obama administration nor anyone at the UN ever bothers to point out that there is only one side in this contract that devotes its resources to inciting hatred and violence against their antagonists: the Palestinians. Until that imbalance is corrected, all the evenhanded rhetoric heard at the UN or anywhere else will be a waste of time.

Even dedicated peace processors like longtime State Department official Dennis Ross have long acknowledged that the principal failure of those pushing the implementation of the Oslo Accords was their decision to ignore Palestinian incitement. Back in the 1990s, discussions of how the Palestinians were laying the groundwork for a new campaign of terrorism was considered irrelevant or a distraction of the big picture in which Israel was being pressured to make more concessions to satisfy the Palestinians. That fatal mistake was Oslo’s undoing. But 20 years after the ecstatic reaction to the signing on the White House Lawn, President Obama is making the same mistake when he and Secretary of State John Kerry ignore the Palestinian campaign of hate.

Anyone who expects peace talks to succeed or to be meaningful when the same party that is supposedly negotiating with Israel is encouraging its people to treat terrorism against Jews as an act of heroism is deluding themselves. Allowing the PA to get away with saying one thing in English to the Western press and another in Arabic in their official media and school texts is a formula that will ensure that the mistakes of Oslo will be repeated.

The path to peace is not as simple as merely saying both sides have rights–though any formulation that accepts that Israel has rights in the dispute over Jerusalem and the West Bank rather than just security concerns, as Obama indicated, would be an improvement. But what is truly necessary is for the West to make it plain to Abbas and the PA that it cannot go on subsidizing terrorists like the Aqsa Brigades or eulogizing them when murderers are released from Israeli jails at the behest of the U.S. So long as that is the rule, it won’t matter what happens in the talks that Kerry has orchestrated with such great effort. Settlements can be negotiated and, as Israel has shown in the past, surrendered in the hope of real peace (a hope that has so far been disappointed). But the conflict will not end so long as the Palestinians and the rest of the Muslim and Arab world think there’s nothing wrong with killing Jews. If President Obama really wants to advance the cause of peace, he should focus on that point the next time he rises to the UN podium.

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Engagement Is Back

President Obama’s policy of engagement with Iran is back on track–this is the core message of the president’s speech earlier today at the United Nations General Assembly.

The president outlined his vision in January 2009, a few days before taking office, in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, where he said that “We are going to have to take a new approach,” adding, “My belief is that engagement is the place to start” and that “a new emphasis on respect and a new willingness on being willing to talk” would guide his policy.

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President Obama’s policy of engagement with Iran is back on track–this is the core message of the president’s speech earlier today at the United Nations General Assembly.

The president outlined his vision in January 2009, a few days before taking office, in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, where he said that “We are going to have to take a new approach,” adding, “My belief is that engagement is the place to start” and that “a new emphasis on respect and a new willingness on being willing to talk” would guide his policy.

But his “willingness on being willing” to talk got trampled over by the reality of Iran’s regime. Iranians rebelled against the regime’s blatant cheating at the June 2009 presidential elections, and blood started flowing. The president was initially incapable of denouncing the brutal repression in the streets of Tehran. After all, he was fresh from his barnstorming speech in Cairo, where he had publicly opened the door to Iran’s leaders for government-to-government engagement. He was just a few months away from his first Nowruz greetings in March 2009 when, for the first time since 1979, a U.S. president had spoken of “The Islamic Republic” of Iran, an implicit but important symbolic recognition that Iran’s regime was legitimate.

The protests against Iran’s fraudulent elections that broke out barely ten days after the Cairo speech did not square well with its underlying themes–and left the president in the embarrassing limbo of silence for far too long before a timid condemnation was finally uttered on June 20, 2009. But they were too hard to dismiss or ignore. It was heart-breaking, for those accustomed to seeing America as freedom’s sentinel in a world of tyranny, to compare the moral clarity of such leaders as German Chancellor Angela Merkel or then French President Nicolas Sarkozy to Mr. Obama’s hesitation.

America’s novice president must have known that, because his tone got harder and his policy of engagement fell by the wayside.

But four years are long enough to paper over those turbulent days of June. Iran’s ruthlessness is nay a glitch for a president who, after passing on the opportunity to punish Syria for using chemical weapons against civilians, has convincingly proven his talent for being morally outraged and politically callous at the same time. Besides, the culprits of that repression are no longer in power–Iran’s new president is only responsible for putting down rebellions in 1999 and 2003–far too long ago for anyone in a Western government to remember.

And so the president has come full circle, telling the world, from the UN podium, that “We are not seeking regime change” in Iran. Engagement is back.

The mullahs may rest assured–America is ready to throw the Green Movement and Iran’s jailed dissidents under the bus in exchange for resuming the engagement with Iran’s rulers, which President Obama had envisaged early on and which a stolen election and a cruel repression only temporarily derailed.

Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Kerroubi can rot under house arrest–America is quite content to negotiate with their oppressors.

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A Leadership Vacuum? Obama Created It

President Obama’s speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations today contained much of the usual boilerplate material we’ve come to expect from any American president. The laundry list of international issues touched upon was voluminous. We learned that the president is almost as concerned about the situation in Mali as he is the Middle East peace process. He favors human rights whenever possible (no, we’re not cutting off ties with Egypt’s military government and rightly so) and would like very much to have some sort of diplomatic process with Iran so as to avoid having to keep his promise to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons.

There was much in the address that was commendable and some points that were risible, especially his insistence that diplomacy with Iran must be given a chance–as if more than a decade of futile efforts that have been used by Tehran to buy more time for their nuclear program had never happened. But one got the feeling that the most important audience for this speech was not so much at the world body but Congress and the American people. After Benghazi, the missteps in Egypt, the flubbed Syria crisis, and with every indication that he is about to punt on the imperative to stop Iran, it is increasingly difficult to make the argument that the president has a coherent foreign policy that can be defended. But lost in the middle of his lengthy oration, Obama did at least try to come to grips with one of the core issues being debated in the country now: isolationism.

The danger for the world is not an America that is too eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries, or to take on every problem in the region as its own. The danger for the world is, that the United States after a decade of war, rightly concerned about issues aback home, aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim world, may disengage creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.

I believe such disengagement would be a mistake. I believe America must remain engaged for our own security, but I also believe the world is better for it. Some may disagree. But I believe America is exceptional. In part because we have shown a willingness through the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up not only for our own narrow self interest, but for the interest of all.

Obama is largely right on both counts. But one of the main reasons why the spirit of isolationism is posing such a threat to a strong American foreign policy is five years of uninspiring leadership and administration failures that have made Rand Paul’s point of view look like a rational alternative.

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President Obama’s speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations today contained much of the usual boilerplate material we’ve come to expect from any American president. The laundry list of international issues touched upon was voluminous. We learned that the president is almost as concerned about the situation in Mali as he is the Middle East peace process. He favors human rights whenever possible (no, we’re not cutting off ties with Egypt’s military government and rightly so) and would like very much to have some sort of diplomatic process with Iran so as to avoid having to keep his promise to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons.

There was much in the address that was commendable and some points that were risible, especially his insistence that diplomacy with Iran must be given a chance–as if more than a decade of futile efforts that have been used by Tehran to buy more time for their nuclear program had never happened. But one got the feeling that the most important audience for this speech was not so much at the world body but Congress and the American people. After Benghazi, the missteps in Egypt, the flubbed Syria crisis, and with every indication that he is about to punt on the imperative to stop Iran, it is increasingly difficult to make the argument that the president has a coherent foreign policy that can be defended. But lost in the middle of his lengthy oration, Obama did at least try to come to grips with one of the core issues being debated in the country now: isolationism.

The danger for the world is not an America that is too eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries, or to take on every problem in the region as its own. The danger for the world is, that the United States after a decade of war, rightly concerned about issues aback home, aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim world, may disengage creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.

I believe such disengagement would be a mistake. I believe America must remain engaged for our own security, but I also believe the world is better for it. Some may disagree. But I believe America is exceptional. In part because we have shown a willingness through the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up not only for our own narrow self interest, but for the interest of all.

Obama is largely right on both counts. But one of the main reasons why the spirit of isolationism is posing such a threat to a strong American foreign policy is five years of uninspiring leadership and administration failures that have made Rand Paul’s point of view look like a rational alternative.

Faced with a president who is committed to avoiding confrontation with the nation’s foes and rivals while also eager to use executive power to spy and employ drone attacks, it’s not hard to understand why so many Americans have grown weary and cynical about the need to engage with the world. Part of that was the fruit of the Bush administration’s unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But having run for office declaring his lack of interest in fighting terror or in promoting democracy abroad, it is difficult for this president to turn around and explain to the American people why the hated neo-cons were basically right to speak about American exceptionalism and the necessity for the U.S. to act on behalf of human rights.

If there is a potential leadership vacuum in the world it is the one that Barack Obama created with the incoherent zigzag course on which he has steered the country from crisis to crisis. After claiming credit for ending the war in Iraq that Bush had largely won by the time he left office, insulting allies like Israel and the Czech Republic, leading from behind in Libya, angering both the Islamists and the military in Egypt, and not leading at all on Syria and Iran, does Obama wonder why Americans think the government can’t be trusted to act abroad?

There is no doubt that the isolationist caucus in the Senate and House is gaining supporters on both sides of the aisle. But that is due as much to Barack Obama’s inability to make a case for a strong American foreign policy and to sustain it with action as it is to the ability of people like Rand Paul to call into question the need for the nation to remain engaged in the great struggle against Islamist terror and other totalitarian threats to freedom. But it is hard for the man who just got played like a piano by Vladimir Putin and seems ready to lie down for Hassan Rouhani’s fake charm offensive to issue a call to engage with the world that anyone can take seriously.

Rather than talking to his beloved U.N. about the need for a strong America in an address that was characteristically laced with caveats about grievances with the U.S. being justified, he should be telling this to Congress. Even better, perhaps he should give the same pep talk to himself the next time he feels himself about to punt on yet another foreign crisis.

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EU: What’s Fine for Spain Is Unacceptable for Israel

Recent news reports from Spain beautifully illustrate why nobody should take the European Union’s pretensions to moral superiority seriously–and especially not when it comes to Israel. Spain is now committing virtually every “abuse” the EU sanctimoniously accuses Israel of, without a peep of protest from its European peers.

For instance, Spain recently erected checkpoints along its border with Gibraltar that are creating real hardship. The checkpoints have lengthened travel times from 45 minutes to two hours for cross-border commuters and also increased costs, since people who used to drive now combine foot travel and taxis to reach work on time. These are precisely the complaints Europeans routinely level at Israeli checkpoints: that they undermine the Palestinian economy by increasing the time and expense of commuting to work or moving cargo.

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Recent news reports from Spain beautifully illustrate why nobody should take the European Union’s pretensions to moral superiority seriously–and especially not when it comes to Israel. Spain is now committing virtually every “abuse” the EU sanctimoniously accuses Israel of, without a peep of protest from its European peers.

For instance, Spain recently erected checkpoints along its border with Gibraltar that are creating real hardship. The checkpoints have lengthened travel times from 45 minutes to two hours for cross-border commuters and also increased costs, since people who used to drive now combine foot travel and taxis to reach work on time. These are precisely the complaints Europeans routinely level at Israeli checkpoints: that they undermine the Palestinian economy by increasing the time and expense of commuting to work or moving cargo.

But unlike the Spanish checkpoints–which blatantly violate the EU’s open-border rules–Israeli checkpoints are perfectly legal under international law, even if you accept the EU’s definition of the West Bank as “occupied territory” (which Israel doesn’t; it considers the area disputed territory). Under the laws of belligerent occupation, an occupying army is entitled to take reasonable military measures within the occupied territory to ensure its country’s security; it isn’t restricted to operating along the border. And Israel’s checkpoints were established to stop Palestinian suicide bombers.

Spain’s checkpoints, in contrast, are officially there to stop cigarette smuggling, though Gibraltar claims they are pure retaliation for its efforts to curb Spanish overfishing in its waters. By any standard, stopping suicide bombers is a stronger justification. Yet the same European officials who vociferously condemn Israel’s checkpoints have nothing to say about the Spanish ones.

Then there are the hundreds of thousands of Catalonians who formed a 250-mile human chain this month to demand independence from Spain. Catalonians also gave an absolute majority to pro-independence parties in last year’s provincial elections. Yet Spain adamantly refuses to let the province hold a referendum on secession.

By any standard, Israel has more justification for caution about Palestinian statehood than Spain does about Catalonian statehood. Catalonia has never threatened Spain in any way, nor is there any Catalonian terrorism. In contrast, large swathes of Palestinian society still call for Israel’s destruction, and every previous Israeli cession of land to the Palestinians has produced a security nightmare: nonstop rocket fire from Gaza, and endless suicide bombings and shooting attacks from the West Bank (until Israel reoccupied it). Indeed, of the roughly 1,800 Israelis killed by terrorists since Israel’s founding in 1948, fully two-thirds–about 1,200–were killed after Israel began ceding land to the Palestinians under the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Yet the European officials who repeatedly demand Israel’s immediate withdrawal from the West Bank haven’t said a word to support Catalonia. Apparently, Catalonians have no right to self-determination.

Then there are the Basques, whose oft-proclaimed desire for independence can’t be tested in a vote because Spain repeatedly bars pro-independence parties from running on the grounds of alleged ties to the Basque terror group ETA. That also doesn’t bother anyone in Europe, even though Europe objects vociferously when Israel refuses to talk to Palestinian parties that actively support terror, like Yasser Arafat’s PLO during the second intifada. Nor was Europe troubled when Spain severed peace talks with ETA at the very first terror attack, which killed exactly two people, though it condemned Israel viciously for halting talks with Arafat over repeated terror attacks that killed more than 1,000 people.

In short, Europe denounces Israeli actions as unacceptable even as it deems the exact same actions by Spain unexceptionable. There’s a name for such double standards, and it isn’t “human rights.” It’s known as hypocrisy.

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Rouhani Fever at the UN

I am old enough to remember how some hardline conservatives criticized Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher for concluding that Mikhail Gorbachev was someone they could do business with. For their temerity, Reagan and Thatcher were denounced in some quarters as dupes and sell-outs–but they were absolutely right: Gorbachev really was a new kind of Russian leader. Arms-control deals that had been concluded with his hardline predecessors were worthless, but Gorbachev really was interested in reducing tensions and cutting the USSR’s defense budget. Even so, Reagan didn’t give away the house–remember that he refused to trade away SDI (“Star Wars”) at the 1988 Reykjavik summit even in return for major cuts in nuclear forces.

All this history needs to be kept in mind as Washington is gripped by Rouhani fever, with expectations spiking that the presidents of Iran and the United States will meet for the first time since the Iranian Revolution and that a deal might be concluded to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Reagan’s experience should teach us that we can’t dismiss the possibility that Rouhani is serious about a deal–but that we shouldn’t get so giddy about achieving that goal that we lose sight of the bottom line: One way or another, we need to stop Iran from going nuclear.

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I am old enough to remember how some hardline conservatives criticized Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher for concluding that Mikhail Gorbachev was someone they could do business with. For their temerity, Reagan and Thatcher were denounced in some quarters as dupes and sell-outs–but they were absolutely right: Gorbachev really was a new kind of Russian leader. Arms-control deals that had been concluded with his hardline predecessors were worthless, but Gorbachev really was interested in reducing tensions and cutting the USSR’s defense budget. Even so, Reagan didn’t give away the house–remember that he refused to trade away SDI (“Star Wars”) at the 1988 Reykjavik summit even in return for major cuts in nuclear forces.

All this history needs to be kept in mind as Washington is gripped by Rouhani fever, with expectations spiking that the presidents of Iran and the United States will meet for the first time since the Iranian Revolution and that a deal might be concluded to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Reagan’s experience should teach us that we can’t dismiss the possibility that Rouhani is serious about a deal–but that we shouldn’t get so giddy about achieving that goal that we lose sight of the bottom line: One way or another, we need to stop Iran from going nuclear.

The tentative outreach from Hassan Rouhani since his election is welcome; certainly it’s preferable to the poisonous hostility of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But let’s keep in mind that Rouhani hasn’t made any real concessions yet–he has certainly not done anything as dramatic as Anwar Sadat did when he flew to Israel to prove his commitment to peace. Wishing Jews a happy Rosh Hashanah isn’t quite on the same level.

Moreover, even if we were to assume that Rouhani really is a Gorbachev-like figure who is committed to a deal, we need to keep in mind that he doesn’t wield Gorbachev-like power. Real authority in the Iranian system is vested in the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, whom no one would mistake for a born-again moderate.

Indeed, the New York Times today has a bracing exposition of the supreme leader’s views courtesy of regime insider Hamid-Reza Taraghi:

“We have no intention to change,” said Mr. Taraghi. “Our ideology will remain the same. Iran will remain the same even after possible talks.”

By this he meant that Iran would never recognize the state of Israel or stop supporting Palestinian groups fighting what it calls “the Zionist entity.” In nuclear matters, it means accepting nothing less than full recognition of what Iran says is its “right” to a nuclear program under its own control. Support for the Syrian government will continue, as will Iran’s overall confrontational stance toward the West.

Given such thinking in Tehran, the odds are that those who expect rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran are likely to be disappointed. Khamenei seems to be calculating that the U.S. is so weak now (see recent events in Syria) that it will drop sanctions and accept Iran’s ambitions to dominate the Middle East in return for a cosmetic slowdown in its nuclear development. It is critical that President Obama stick to a high standard for any possible deal, as outlined by the Foreign Policy Institute’s Robert Zarate.

What does this mean in practice? “1. Any Iranian nuclear deal should require ‘zero enrichment’ to close off Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb using centrifuges to produce weapons-usable high enriched uranium…. 2. Any Iranian nuclear deal should require ‘zero reprocessing’ to close off Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb using plutonium that could be separated from a reactor’s spent nuclear fuel…. 3. Any Iranian nuclear deal should require Iran to fully comply with its international obligations through ‘complete and total transparency’—that is, by allowing nuclear inspection activities far beyond those required by its NPT-required IAEA safeguards agreement.”

If Rouhani can agree to such terms and get the rest of the Iranian establishment, led by Ayatollah Khamenei, to go along, then he is what he seems to be–a true moderate who is interested in de-escalating the confrontation between Iran and the West. If not, Rouhani is up to his old tricks–using negotiations to buy time for the nuclear program to develop, as he has previously admitted to doing.

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Why Republicans Are Sniping at Cruz

Even if, like me, you don’t agree with Senator Ted Cruz’s belief that Republicans should go down in flames in a vain effort to defund ObamaCare, it’s hard not to sympathize with him over the way the Texas senator is being treated by some of his colleagues. The revelation by Fox News host Chris Wallace that he received opposition research and possible questions to be posed to Cruz in advance of an announced interview with him from the staffs of both Democrats and fellow Republican senators makes it clear just how disliked the freshman legislator has become in just nine months in office. Cruz’s response to this in which he said these senators feared anything that “changes the clubby way Washington does business” is undoubtedly true.

But while a lot of the antagonism currently being directed at Cruz can be attributed to the way he chooses not to play the traditional go-along-to-get-along Capitol Hill game, it would be a mistake to dismiss it as merely an effort by the Senate club to protect the dysfunctional culture of their institution. I actually like the way Cruz is willing to muss up his colleagues’ hair on routine as well controversial issues in an effort to shake up the Senate. But no matter where you come down on the question of which tactics the GOP should adopt in fighting the implementation of ObamaCare, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the only thing Cruz has actually accomplished lately is to become the focus of an unprecedented amount of attention for a first-year legislator. If Republicans loathe and fear him it is also because they know the path that he would lead them down is one that has no possible conclusion but their political destruction while he is left standing blaming the debacle on their timidity rather than his foolhardiness. Refusing to be part of a failed system is a virtue. But in Cruz’s case it is one that may be overwhelmed by the egotism he is displaying in charting a path for his party that has no end game other than the political aggrandizement of the junior senator from Texas.

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Even if, like me, you don’t agree with Senator Ted Cruz’s belief that Republicans should go down in flames in a vain effort to defund ObamaCare, it’s hard not to sympathize with him over the way the Texas senator is being treated by some of his colleagues. The revelation by Fox News host Chris Wallace that he received opposition research and possible questions to be posed to Cruz in advance of an announced interview with him from the staffs of both Democrats and fellow Republican senators makes it clear just how disliked the freshman legislator has become in just nine months in office. Cruz’s response to this in which he said these senators feared anything that “changes the clubby way Washington does business” is undoubtedly true.

But while a lot of the antagonism currently being directed at Cruz can be attributed to the way he chooses not to play the traditional go-along-to-get-along Capitol Hill game, it would be a mistake to dismiss it as merely an effort by the Senate club to protect the dysfunctional culture of their institution. I actually like the way Cruz is willing to muss up his colleagues’ hair on routine as well controversial issues in an effort to shake up the Senate. But no matter where you come down on the question of which tactics the GOP should adopt in fighting the implementation of ObamaCare, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the only thing Cruz has actually accomplished lately is to become the focus of an unprecedented amount of attention for a first-year legislator. If Republicans loathe and fear him it is also because they know the path that he would lead them down is one that has no possible conclusion but their political destruction while he is left standing blaming the debacle on their timidity rather than his foolhardiness. Refusing to be part of a failed system is a virtue. But in Cruz’s case it is one that may be overwhelmed by the egotism he is displaying in charting a path for his party that has no end game other than the political aggrandizement of the junior senator from Texas.

If Cruz were proposing to his fellow Republicans a strategy that had a prayer of accomplishing the goal of stopping ObamaCare or in any way discomfiting their Democratic antagonists, their resentment of his lack of concern for their sensibilities would be laughable. The Senate is always in need of a few members who don’t fear to step on their colleagues’ toes and Cruz’s disdain for the clubby nature of the institution is laudable. Indeed, it is exactly why Texans sent him to the Senate instead of some other Republican willing to become a member of the D.C. establishment.

But the problem is that there is no discernible endgame to his demand to refuse to fund the government if it means allowing ObamaCare to go forward that would give the GOP a chance of success. ObamaCare should be stopped, but so long as the White House and the Senate are both controlled by Democrats, that won’t happen. Republicans can’t make up for their failure to win the 2012 elections by a filibuster. The person who is really cheering for the GOP to be led by Cruz is President Obama. He knows that a government shutdown is the one way to save his presidency and doom the Republicans to defeat in 2014. A GOP-controlled Congress would have the leverage to start chipping away at the way the president’s signature health-care legislation erodes our liberties and expands the power of the government. But if Republicans listen to Cruz and make a Custer’s Last Stand on the issue now, they will lose that chance.

Moreover, the way Cruz has hogged the spotlight while denouncing everyone who doesn’t drink the suicide caucus’s Kool-Aid lends credence to the idea that what he is really about is making himself look good at the expense of more sensible conservatives. Playing the righteous prophet now might help bolster Cruz’s possible presidential candidacy in 2016 but it does nothing to really stop ObamaCare or to help the GOP take back the Senate.

Seen in that light, the desire of some Republicans to see Cruz taken down a notch or two must be seen as not only an act of spite but one aimed at averting their party’s destruction.

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Ian Lustick’s Iron Dice

As both Jonathan Tobin and Jonathan Marks have previously written here, University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian Lustick, author of a recent op-ed promoting the “one-state solution” and featured prominently in the New York Times, isn’t an outlier. To the contrary, American academe is full of Lusticks: 60-something Jewish radicals who went through some transient phase of simplistic far-left Zionism before discovering that the real Israel is complex. Disillusioned, they rode their leftism to minor eminence as repentants in departments and centers of Middle Eastern studies, where Jewish critics of Israel provide ideal cover for the real haters. Such Jews used to be devotees of a Palestinian state, but now they’re scrambling to keep up with the freakish fad of a “one-state solution” set off by the late Edward Said’s own famous conversion (announced, of course, on the pages of the New York Times, in 1999). Because Lustick’s piece ran in the Times, it was a big deal for some American Jews who still see that newspaper as a gatekeeper of ideas. In Israel, it’s passed virtually unnoticed.

Whatever the article’s intrinsic interest, it’s particularly fascinating as a case study in intellectual self-contradiction. For Lustick has reversed his supposedly well-considered, scientifically informed assessment of only a decade ago, without so much as a shrug of acknowledgement.

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As both Jonathan Tobin and Jonathan Marks have previously written here, University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian Lustick, author of a recent op-ed promoting the “one-state solution” and featured prominently in the New York Times, isn’t an outlier. To the contrary, American academe is full of Lusticks: 60-something Jewish radicals who went through some transient phase of simplistic far-left Zionism before discovering that the real Israel is complex. Disillusioned, they rode their leftism to minor eminence as repentants in departments and centers of Middle Eastern studies, where Jewish critics of Israel provide ideal cover for the real haters. Such Jews used to be devotees of a Palestinian state, but now they’re scrambling to keep up with the freakish fad of a “one-state solution” set off by the late Edward Said’s own famous conversion (announced, of course, on the pages of the New York Times, in 1999). Because Lustick’s piece ran in the Times, it was a big deal for some American Jews who still see that newspaper as a gatekeeper of ideas. In Israel, it’s passed virtually unnoticed.

Whatever the article’s intrinsic interest, it’s particularly fascinating as a case study in intellectual self-contradiction. For Lustick has reversed his supposedly well-considered, scientifically informed assessment of only a decade ago, without so much as a shrug of acknowledgement.

Let’s briefly recap Lustick’s dismissive take on the two-state solution in his new article. It is “an idea whose time has passed,” it is neither “plausible or even possible,” it’s a “chimera,” a “fantasy.” The “obsessive focus on preserving the theoretical possibility of a two-state solution is as irrational as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.” Conclusion? “The pretense that negotiations under the slogan of ‘two states for two peoples’ could lead to such a solution must be abandoned.” In fact, negotiations do actual harm: “Diplomacy under the two-state banner is no longer a path to a solution but an obstacle itself. We are engaged in negotiations to nowhere.”

The ultimate two-stater

Yet only a decade ago, Lustick thought that the success of the “peace process” in achieving its aim of two states wasn’t only plausible and possible. It was inevitable. Lustick explained his thesis in a lengthy 2002 interview peppered with analogies and metaphors, including this one:

I like to think of it as a kind of gambler throwing dice, except it’s history that’s throwing the dice. Every throw of the dice is like a diplomatic peace process attempt. In order to actually succeed, history has got to throw snake eyes, 2. And, you know, that’s not easy, you have to keep throwing the dice. Eventually, you’re going to throw a 2. All of the leadership questions and accidents of history, the passions of both sides, the torturous feelings of suffering, the political coalitions, the timing of elections will fall into place.

What is Lustick saying here? Remember that the odds of throwing snake eyes on any given toss of the dice are 36 to 1, so only a fool or an idiot would despair after, say, a dozen or even two dozen throws. Even failure is just a prelude to success, since as long as you keep throwing, “eventually, you’re going to throw a 2.” The old sawhorse that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is belied by the dice-thrower, who repeats the same action knowing that each result will be different. And that’s why the United States keeps repeating the diplomatic moves that Lustick now finds so tiresome. The “peace processors” are just adhering to his logic, circa 2002, which guarantees that one of these initiatives is destined to succeed—provided there are enough of them.

And what did Lustick in 2002 have to say to those Israelis who “want the West Bank and Gaza to remain permanently under Israeli rule”? “You will have to roll a 13,” Lustick told them.

But you can’t roll a 13, which is to say that the right has no plan for how it can successfully keep the territories anymore. They don’t even advocate as a realistic option expelling the Palestinians. So they have no plan. So if you are the right and you know you have to roll a 13, the strategy is, don’t let the dice get rolled, keep trying to stop every initiative and subvert it if it gets started…. It’s the only rational thing to do in order to prevent history from eventually producing what it will produce, which is a two-state solution.

So the Israeli version of a one-state solution—an Israel from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean—was the hopeless cause of dead-enders who defied “history” itself. In 2002, Lustick was certain that “one of these days,” Israel would leave the West Bank:

Israel is caught between the inability to make the issue disappear by making the West Bank look like Israel, and the inability to make it disappear by actually withdrawing, by getting through that regime barrier, that regime threshold. Some day, one of these days, that regime threshold is going to be crossed.

The Palestinian version of the one-state option? Lustick didn’t even mention it in 2002.

So Lustick was the ultimate two-state believer. I don’t think even the inveterate “peace processors,” whom he now dismisses so contemptuously, ever assumed that repeated failures would bring them closer to their goal. Lustick did believe it: one couldn’t “prevent history from eventually producing what it will produce, which is a two-state solution,” and it was just a matter of time before “that threshold is going to be crossed.” So certain was Lustick of the inexorable logic of the two-state solution that he believed even Hamas had acquiesced in it. And because Israel had spurned Hamas, Israel had squandered an opportunity to turn it into a “loyal opposition.”

Here lies the problem—perhaps dishonesty is a better word—in Lustick’s latest piece. Lustick ’13 never takes on Lustick ’02, to explain why “history,” destined to lead to two states only a few years ago, is now destined to end in one state. It’s tempting to make light of the seemingly bottomless faith of “peace processors,” and I’ve done it myself, with relish. But the case Lustick made for them in 2002 had a certain logic. The case he’s made against them in 2013 is weak. Indeed, he never really builds much of a case at all.

Is it the number of settlers? If so, he doesn’t say so. Lustick knows how many settlers there are, and he numbered them in a lecture in February. In 2002, he says, there were 390,000 (West Bank and East Jerusalem). In 2012, he says, there were 520,000. That’s 130,000 more (two-thirds of it, by the way, natural growth). Presumably, some significant proportion of the 130,000 have been added to settlements whose inclusion in Israel wouldn’t preclude a two-state solution, because of their proximity to pre-1967 Israel. So we are talking about some tens of thousands. Which 10,000 increment, between 2002 and 2013, put Israel past the “point of no return”?

Lustick doesn’t say. In the Times, he claims that American pressure could have stopped Menachem Begin’s re-election in 1981, precluding the building of “massive settlement complexes” and prompting an Oslo-like process a decade earlier, in the 1980s. It’s a we’ll-never-know counter-factual, but it doesn’t solve the conundrum. Lustick knew all this in 2002, and it didn’t dampen his faith in the historic inevitability of the two-state solution. So the question remains: what’s happened since 2002 to change Lustick’s mind so drastically?

“The state will not survive!”

Here we come to Lustick’s supposedly original contribution to the “one-state” argument. He isn’t repeating the usual claim that Israeli settlements have made a Palestinian state unachievable. He’s arguing that the Israeli state is unsustainable. “The disappearance of Israel as a Zionist project, through war, cultural exhaustion or demographic momentum, is at least as plausible” as an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. The best indicator? Israelis say so! “Many Israelis see the demise of the country as not just possible, but probable. The State of Israel has been established, not its permanence. The most common phrase in Israeli political discourse is some variation of ‘If X happens (or doesn’t), the state will not survive!'”

I don’t know any research that’s established “the most common phrase in Israeli political discourse,” and I’m guessing that Ian Lustick doesn’t either. He just made it up. In his February lecture, he did cite one work, from 2009, that counted how many articles published in the left-wing Haaretz employed the phrases “existential danger” or “existential threat.” There’s a bump up after 2002 (Second Intifada), then a spike up in 2006 (Second Lebanon War). The “study” proves absolutely nothing. After all, this is Haaretz, the Wailing Wall of the Israeli left. A perfectly plausible explanation is that the paper’s editorial bias, exacerbated by the eclipse of the left, has tended to favor doomsday prognostication.

And Lustick is contradicted by real research on real people, which he either ignores or of which he’s ignorant. The Israel Democracy Institute’s latest large-scale poll, for 2012, shows that optimists outnumber pessimists among Israeli Jews by a margin of 79 percent to 18 percent. Over 85 percent say Israel can defend itself militarily and only 33 percent think Israel will become more isolated than it now is. The Tel Aviv University academic who oversees the poll summarized the results: “It is important to note that most Israelis view the country’s future optimistically. Our national resilience rests heavily on the fact that even though people are negative on Friday evenings at their family dinner table and the zeitgeist is discouragement, when you scratch a little deeper, people are not really depressed here.” That may be an understatement. Israel is ranked eleventh in the world in the latest UN-commissioned World Happiness Index, which hardly correlates to any level of depression.

According to the Peace Index poll ahead of this Jewish New Year, only 16 percent of Jewish Israelis think the country’s security situation will worsen. 46 percent think it will stay the same, and 28 percent think it will actually improve—this, despite the chaos in Syria and the Sinai, and the spinning centrifuges in Iran. The only thing Israelis are persistently pessimistic about is the “peace process,” but that doesn’t sour the overall mood—except for the small minority, including those op-ed writers for Haaretz, who apparently constitute Lustick’s “sample.”

(Lustick also alludes to “demographic momentum” as working against Israel, and he has puttered around with figures in an attempt to show that Israelis are lining up to emigrate. He got away with this until an actual demographer, Sergio DellaPergola, took a hammer to one of his amateur efforts and left nothing intact. It’s a must-read takedown.)

Israel the balloon

But in the end, for Lustick, it doesn’t really matter how prosperous or stable or viable Israel appears to be, even to Israelis. That’s because Israel is like… wait for it… a balloon. “Just as a balloon filled gradually with air bursts when the limit of its tensile strength is passed, there are thresholds of radical, disruptive change in politics.” Zionist Israel is a bubble that’s bound to burst. It’s been inflated by American support, and the “peace process” has protected it from rupture. But the larger the balloon gets, the more devastating that rupture will be. In February, Lustick revealed that he is writing an entire book on this thesis, evoking “history” again, with a fresh analogy to exchange rates:

History will solve the problem in the sense of the way entropy solves problems. You don’t stay with this kind of constrained volatility forever. When you constrain exchange rates in a volatile market by not allowing rates to move even though the actual economy makes them absurd, rates will eventually change, but in a very radical, non-linear way. The more the constraint, the less the adaptation to changing conditions, the more jagged and painful that adaptation is going to be.

Better, thinks Lustick, that the “peace process” in pursuit of the two-state solution be shut down now, so that both sides can slug it out again—this time to “painful stalemates that lead each party to conclude that time is not on their side.” Israel, which has defeated the Palestinians time and again, has to stop winning. Pulling the plug on the “peace process,” he writes in the Times, would

set the stage for ruthless oppression, mass mobilization, riots, brutality, terror, Jewish and Arab emigration and rising tides of international condemnation of Israel. And faced with growing outrage, America will no longer be able to offer unconditional support for Israel. Once the illusion of a neat and palatable solution to the conflict disappears, Israeli leaders may then begin to see, as South Africa’s white leaders saw in the late 1980s, that their behavior is producing isolation, emigration and hopelessness.

And that’s where we want to be! Enough rolling of the diplomatic dice! It’s time to roll the iron dice! It may sound cynical to you, but Lustick thinks it’s destiny: “The question is not whether the future has conflict in store for Israel-Palestine. It does. Nor is the question whether conflict can be prevented. It cannot.” Remember, this is someone who just a few years ago insisted that a two-state solution was inevitable. Now he argues exactly the opposite. The world should get out of the way and let the inescapable violence unfold—only this time, the United States won’t be in Israel’s corner, and so Israel will be defeated and forced to dismantle itself.

The problem with rolling the iron dice, as even an armchair historian knows, is that the outcome is uncertain. What Lustick would like “history” to deliver is a defeat of Zionist Israel of such precise magnitude as to create a perfect equilibrium between Jew and Arab. But it may well be that the outcome he desires is the equivalent of rolling a 13, because Israel has deep-seated advantages that would be magnified greatly were Israel ever to find itself up against a wall. (The fortieth anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur war may be an apt moment to remember that.) Or something in his scenario could go wrong. As Clausewitz noted about war, “No other human activity is so continuously or universally bound up with chance.”

One of the possible outcomes Lustick imagines is that “Israelis whose families came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as ‘Eastern,’ but as Arab.” Given that even “the Arabs” don’t think of themselves anymore as “Arabs” (especially when they gas or bomb one another), and that Jews never thought of themselves as “Arabs” even when they lived in Arabic-speaking countries and spoke Arabic, one wonders how many thousands of dice rolls it would take to produce that outcome.

Prophet of Philly

In the end, it’s pointless to debate Lustick on his own hypothetical grounds, invoking rolling dice, bursting balloons, and volatile exchange rates. That’s because nothing has happened since 2002 between Israel and the Palestinians, or in Israel, that can possibly explain his own total turnaround. I suspect his Times article has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and everything to do with Lustick’s attempt to keep his footing in the shifting sands of American academe.

Ever since Edward Said veered toward the “one-state solution,” the pressure has been growing, and it’s grown even more since Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor at Columbia, finally gravitated toward the same position (something I predicted he would do well before he actually did it). This turn of events left Lustick in the rear of the radical vanguard and far from the action. Ever since Tony Judt passed on, there’s been a vacancy for a professorial Jewish supporter of the “one-state solution.” So this is Lustick’s late-career move, and I anticipate it will do for him a bit of what it did for Judt, transforming him from an academic of modest reputation into an in-demand hero. Invitations will pour in. Soon we will hear of a controversy involving an invitation rescinded, which will raise his standing still higher. And it’s quite plausible that the Times piece will land him a heftier advance for his next book (as of February, “I’ve not written the conclusion yet”), and the promotional push of a major publisher.

In anticipation, Lustick is already casting himself as a prophet of Israel, exemplified in this quote from an answer he gave to a question last winter:

I argued in 1971 that 1,500 settlers in the West Bank were a catastrophe that would lead Israel into a political dungeon from which it might never escape. I was laughed at. I also argued for a Palestinian state alongside of Israel in the early 1970s, but it took twenty-five years before the mainstream in Israeli politics agreed with that. It may take another twenty-five years before they realize that what I’m saying is true now and will be even truer if Israel is still around in twenty or twenty-five more years.

This is not a human measure of prescience, as Lustick himself has acknowledged. How far in advance would anyone have been able to imagine the Iranian revolution or the fall of the Soviet Union? Lustick: “Ten years? No. Five years? Maybe two, if you were very, very good.” If, as Lustick claims, he consistently sees the future of Israel twenty-five years forward, he must inhabit a sphere far above the regular run of prognosticating political scientists. He is now compiling the Book of Ian. Read it, O Israel (enter credit card here), and weep.

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