Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 18, 2013

Euros Don’t Care PA Steals Their Money

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was in Berlin this week and received the usual reception that he gets in European capitals. German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned Israeli settlement building and then vowed to continue funneling cash to the PA. The latter point is especially crucial because the PA dependent on European aid. But nowhere in Merkel’s remarks did the question of what exactly the PA does with all the funds poured into its coffers by Germany and the rest of the EU community.

Had she done so, she could have referred to an article in Britain’s Sunday Times that said the European Court of Auditors, the official European Union body monitoring the group’s funds, found that the PA has misspent nearly $3 billion in EU donations during the period covering 2008 to 2012. The audit body said the money was not being used for the purpose for which it was intended and that there were “significant shortcomings” in the PA’s accounts of what it did with the money. In other words, they are now well aware that Abbas and his cronies are robbing them blind just as his predecessor Yasir Arafat did when he ran things in Ramallah.

The question is, why does a nation like Germany, that was rightly prepared to pull the plug on a debt-ridden fellow EU member state like Greece unless they got their fiscal house in order, not care that the Palestinians are stealing their money?

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Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was in Berlin this week and received the usual reception that he gets in European capitals. German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned Israeli settlement building and then vowed to continue funneling cash to the PA. The latter point is especially crucial because the PA dependent on European aid. But nowhere in Merkel’s remarks did the question of what exactly the PA does with all the funds poured into its coffers by Germany and the rest of the EU community.

Had she done so, she could have referred to an article in Britain’s Sunday Times that said the European Court of Auditors, the official European Union body monitoring the group’s funds, found that the PA has misspent nearly $3 billion in EU donations during the period covering 2008 to 2012. The audit body said the money was not being used for the purpose for which it was intended and that there were “significant shortcomings” in the PA’s accounts of what it did with the money. In other words, they are now well aware that Abbas and his cronies are robbing them blind just as his predecessor Yasir Arafat did when he ran things in Ramallah.

The question is, why does a nation like Germany, that was rightly prepared to pull the plug on a debt-ridden fellow EU member state like Greece unless they got their fiscal house in order, not care that the Palestinians are stealing their money?

Merkel, who in many ways functions as the financier of the continent, is not as hostile to Israel as many of her European colleagues. But like everyone else in the EU, she thinks nothing of pouring her people’s money down the rat hole of the PA. The reasons for this are not hard to figure out.

The primary reason is the bigotry of low expectations. Like many of those who form the Palestinians’ foreign cheerleaders, the Europeans tend to act as if the PA and its people are not capable of responsible behavior. They believe, perhaps not entirely wrongly, that the only way to persuade the Palestinian people to keep Abbas and the corrupt Fatah in power rather than choosing the Islamists of Hamas is to bribe them. They seem to think them incapable of choosing democracy and good government over violence and terrorism.

It may well be that Abbas and Fatah are better than Hamas but the only way to force them to start using the billions that come into their hands from foreign donors on the Palestinian people is to make them accountable. Abbas, who is in the ninth year of the four-year-term as president to which the Palestinians elected him, depends on the European Union for the money that keeps the PA afloat via no show and no work jobs that spread that portion of the wealth that isn’t pocketed by the Fatah elite around the territories. While former PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad tried to reform the Ramallah government, he never stood a chance against Fatah.

But instead of trying to stop the PA from abusing their people, Germany and the rest of the EU continues to enable them to go on stealing. That’s something they’d never do the Greeks, who were driven hard to cut back on their profligate government in order to be bailed out of bankruptcy by the Germans.

The Palestinian government will never act in a responsible manner until they are forced to. That’s something that probably most ordinary Palestinians would like to see. But because pressure on the PA would be seen as somehow betraying the Palestinian cause or favorable to Israel (which also needs the PA to function), it never happens in a meaningful way.

In the meantime, Germans who care very much how the Greeks spend their money, continue to act as if the Palestinians can do what they like with it. Blaming the Israelis for all of the Palestinians’ woes is popular but it doesn’t come close to diagnosing the real problem. Until that changes, the PA will continue to be not only corrupt, but also a hotbed of potential violence ready to bubble over.

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Iran Belittles Confidence-Building

As diplomats and journalists look forward to a new round of nuclear negotiations next month (with centrifuges spinning all the while), hope is rampant. Alas, it appears increasingly misplaced. President Hassan Rouhani promises talks—but speaking to the press back in Iran declares Iran’s uranium enrichment non-negotiable. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei speaks of Iran’s “heroic flexibility,” but his aides bend over backwards to explain that means a shift in tactics, not in policy. Now, Kayhan—a newspaper many Iran watchers pay close attention to because its editor is a Supreme Leader appointee and therefore seems to mirror Khamenei’s positions—has published a lengthy column belittling the notion of confidence-building measures that lay at the heart of Western diplomacy. According to the author:

When facing the international environment, especially when we are facing the enemies, we cannot begin based on confidence building; because, on the one hand, on this basis, we accept that our behavior and actions in the past have been such that they have created concerns for the other side and resulted in this dispute of several years. In other words, in this very first step, we are signing a document of indebtedness and allowing the rival to write whatever he wants above our signature, and then say, very well, and now you must answer these, for example, 100 questions, one by one, and for the other side to have the option in every case to say whether he agrees or does not agree. Instead of confidence, we must create in the enemy belief, belief in the fact that you have the ability, despite all this opposition and confrontation, to follow your own path. The enemy must believe that the effect of its pressures and the ability to impose pressures is not at such a level as to force the opposite side into submission. The fact is that the ability of the Iranian people is very high with regard to neutralizing the pressures by the enemy, and the ability of the enemy to impose its will on the Iranian people is not great… Confidence building is not under our control, because the other side needs to accept it. Our religious beliefs and experience and the imperialist nature of the domineering powers tell us that this confidence will never be gained unless, God forbid, our people become a dead people.

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As diplomats and journalists look forward to a new round of nuclear negotiations next month (with centrifuges spinning all the while), hope is rampant. Alas, it appears increasingly misplaced. President Hassan Rouhani promises talks—but speaking to the press back in Iran declares Iran’s uranium enrichment non-negotiable. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei speaks of Iran’s “heroic flexibility,” but his aides bend over backwards to explain that means a shift in tactics, not in policy. Now, Kayhan—a newspaper many Iran watchers pay close attention to because its editor is a Supreme Leader appointee and therefore seems to mirror Khamenei’s positions—has published a lengthy column belittling the notion of confidence-building measures that lay at the heart of Western diplomacy. According to the author:

When facing the international environment, especially when we are facing the enemies, we cannot begin based on confidence building; because, on the one hand, on this basis, we accept that our behavior and actions in the past have been such that they have created concerns for the other side and resulted in this dispute of several years. In other words, in this very first step, we are signing a document of indebtedness and allowing the rival to write whatever he wants above our signature, and then say, very well, and now you must answer these, for example, 100 questions, one by one, and for the other side to have the option in every case to say whether he agrees or does not agree. Instead of confidence, we must create in the enemy belief, belief in the fact that you have the ability, despite all this opposition and confrontation, to follow your own path. The enemy must believe that the effect of its pressures and the ability to impose pressures is not at such a level as to force the opposite side into submission. The fact is that the ability of the Iranian people is very high with regard to neutralizing the pressures by the enemy, and the ability of the enemy to impose its will on the Iranian people is not great… Confidence building is not under our control, because the other side needs to accept it. Our religious beliefs and experience and the imperialist nature of the domineering powers tell us that this confidence will never be gained unless, God forbid, our people become a dead people.

If Kayhan is outlining the Supreme Leader’s thinking, then he is suggesting that the basis for the negotiations in which President Obama has invested so much hope is false. He appears to be reassuring his hardline constituency which is worried about the seeming direction of Iran’s diplomacy that they need not worry: There will be no fundamental change, and that therefore the flexibility is for show only. How comforting it must be for the Iranian regime to know that they can be forthright in Persian about their strategy, and need never worry that Western officials will pay attention because the Western press has forfeited its analytical role in favor advocacy.

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Who Lost the Shutdown Matters

Most of the nation is just glad it’s over. The government shutdown and the related debt ceiling showdown was widely seen as a symptom of political dysfunction that hurt the country and led to declining favorability ratings for everyone involved though Republicans suffered more in that respect than President Obama and the Democrats. Now that it’s finished, most of us may still not think highly of the government but the standoff illustrated that even a conservative-leaning country does not like the idea of things falling apart. We may not want things to go back to business as usual in Washington but neither are we enamored of the notion of letting it fall apart. Americans are understandably tired of the debate about what led to the shutdown and moving on to the next big thing or crisis. But Republicans are still arguing about just what happened. And that is a good thing.

 The GOP can’t just move on, as Bill Clinton’s supporters used to say about his misdeeds, in the wake of the shutdown. It must assess what just happened and sort out who was right and who was wrong. Doing so isn’t merely sour grapes or recriminations. It’s a necessary post-mortem on a disaster that must be conducted. That’s why it’s vital that the accusations that the Republicans’ humiliating surrender to President Obama was somehow the fault of those who were skeptical of the shutdown tactic is so pernicious. If the lesson that many in the GOP base draw from these events is that they need to listen and obey Senator Ted Cruz, they are not only fated to undergo more such catastrophes in the future; they are ensuring that the Democrats will be running Washington for the foreseeable future.

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Most of the nation is just glad it’s over. The government shutdown and the related debt ceiling showdown was widely seen as a symptom of political dysfunction that hurt the country and led to declining favorability ratings for everyone involved though Republicans suffered more in that respect than President Obama and the Democrats. Now that it’s finished, most of us may still not think highly of the government but the standoff illustrated that even a conservative-leaning country does not like the idea of things falling apart. We may not want things to go back to business as usual in Washington but neither are we enamored of the notion of letting it fall apart. Americans are understandably tired of the debate about what led to the shutdown and moving on to the next big thing or crisis. But Republicans are still arguing about just what happened. And that is a good thing.

 The GOP can’t just move on, as Bill Clinton’s supporters used to say about his misdeeds, in the wake of the shutdown. It must assess what just happened and sort out who was right and who was wrong. Doing so isn’t merely sour grapes or recriminations. It’s a necessary post-mortem on a disaster that must be conducted. That’s why it’s vital that the accusations that the Republicans’ humiliating surrender to President Obama was somehow the fault of those who were skeptical of the shutdown tactic is so pernicious. If the lesson that many in the GOP base draw from these events is that they need to listen and obey Senator Ted Cruz, they are not only fated to undergo more such catastrophes in the future; they are ensuring that the Democrats will be running Washington for the foreseeable future.

Let me restate, as I have done many times, that I think there is much that is admirable about Cruz as well as the Tea Party movement in general. His resistance to business as usual on Capitol Hill is refreshing and needed. Conservatives should be pleased about the fact that there is a core group of Republicans in the House and the Senate that understands that the power of government must limited and that the GOP should not be co-opted in order to assist the implementation of President Obama’s plans to expand it. The days of Republican leaders operating as, in Newt Gingrich’s memorable takedown of Bob Dole, “the tax collector for the welfare state” should be over. Moreover, ObamaCare deserved to be defunded. Indeed, it must continue to be opposed wherever possible, especially as its disastrous rollout makes clear just how much of a boondoggle this vast expansion of government truly is.

But there is a difference between principled conservatism and destructive zealotry. The willingness of Cruz to cynically call conservatives to arms this fall on behalf of a strategy that never had a prayer of success calls into question his judgment. Republicans cannot run the government with only control of the House of Representatives. The attempt to defund ObamaCare could not succeed and Cruz knew it. The fact that President Obama had been daring, even begging the GOP to try it, should have tipped off the conservative base that not only could it not work, but that it would materially damage their cause. And, to one’s great surprise (including Cruz), that’s exactly what happened.

But in the aftermath of the disaster, Cruz and some of the conservative talking heads on radio and TV who urged Republicans to go down this path are not taking responsibility for their mistake. Instead, they are blaming the surrender on other conservatives, especially Senate Republicans, for not blindly following Cruz. Others even insist that the GOP should have continued to hold out in the hope that the Democrats would crack, even if that meant extending the shutdown and even brushing up against the danger of a default.

To put it mildly, this is bunk.

Yes, there were plenty of Republican senators that warned that the tactic couldn’t work and urged the House GOP caucus not to try it. And they continued to call for compromise and demand that President Obama negotiate with the Republicans to end the standoff. But to assert, as Cruz and some Tea Partiers do, that it was this factor that enabled Obama to prevail is worse than instant revisionist history; it is an exercise in the sort of magical thinking that conservatives have always associated more with utopian liberals and Marxists than their own movement.

Even if no Republican had dared to mention that Emperor Cruz wasn’t wearing any clothes that wouldn’t have made President Obama any more willing to bend to the GOP’s will. He had no reason to do so since the longer the shutdown and the closer to default the nation got, the more blame his opponents would get for the disagreement.

Yes, part of this is a function of the liberal bias of the mainstream media. Life, especially for conservatives in Washington, is unfair. But it is difficult to blame even a biased media for the fact that some conservatives were willing to play Russian roulette with the economy, even if their motivation was a good cause like stopping ObamaCare.

So long as the Democrats control the White House and the Senate, ObamaCare can’t be repealed or defunded. That is frustrating for conservatives but that’s the price you pay for losing elections in a democracy. That doesn’t mean they must simply accept that ObamaCare is “the law of the land” and shut up. But it does mean they can’t overturn it even if they all held their breath until they turned blue on the steps of the Capitol. Understanding this doesn’t make one a liberal or a RINO or any of the other insults hurled at conservatives who criticize Cruz by his adherents. It just means you are a conservative who lives in the real world rather than the fantasy Washington in which some on the right prefer to dwell.

The “blame the establishment” meme we are hearing this week has little to do with a genuine belief that the efforts of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to craft a deal that ended this nightmare was the difference between victory or defeat. What is about is an effort on the part of Cruz and his crew to craft a myth about the shutdown that will enable them to evade blame for their mistake.

If conservatives listen to them and go out and spend the next year attempting to take down McConnell and other conservatives in Senate primaries, it will increase Cruz’s influence in the party. But it won’t give him more power in the Senate since success for some of the Tea Party alternatives in those primaries will mean, as it did in 2010 and 2012, that the Republicans will blow another chance to take back the Senate.

Having taken the party over the cliff in the shutdown, Cruz and friends seek to repeat the exercise in the future and that is why they are still doing their best to abuse those who knew better all along. If Republicans let them, they’ll have no one but themselves to blame for what follows.

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Don’t Trust Obama With Iran’s Cash

For the past five years defenders of President Obama’s Iran policy — such as Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg — have been telling us that when push comes to shove the administration will do the right thing. Their assumption has been that although the president will give diplomacy every possible chance to succeed, he takes his responsibility to defend U.S. interests as well as to ensure the security of Israel and other Middle East nations threatened by the Iranian nuclear program very seriously. Though he was slow to adopt the kind of crippling sanctions that are now doing the Iranian economy real harm and wasted years on feckless attempts to engage the ayatollahs, they told us he would stick to his principles and not relent until the danger was averted even if that meant the eventual use of force.

But that argument lost some of its already shaky credibility this week with the administration’s over-the-top reaction to Iran’s performance at the revived P5+1 talks in Geneva. The enthusiasm with which Iran’s proposals for lifting international sanctions were received betrayed what many of the president’s critics already feared: Washington’s desire to find a way out of the confrontation with Iran is far greater than its determination to actually end the Iranian threat. And that is why the new proposal being put forward for non-sanctions financial relief for Iran in exchange for nuclear concessions is a bad idea. It’s not just that any easing up of the pressure on Tehran will only encourage the Islamist regime to believe that they needn’t sacrifice their nuclear ambitions. It’s that this administration can’t be trusted to implement a plan, however well thought out, that charts a path for a retreat from its responsibility to see to it that Iran doesn’t get a bomb.

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For the past five years defenders of President Obama’s Iran policy — such as Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg — have been telling us that when push comes to shove the administration will do the right thing. Their assumption has been that although the president will give diplomacy every possible chance to succeed, he takes his responsibility to defend U.S. interests as well as to ensure the security of Israel and other Middle East nations threatened by the Iranian nuclear program very seriously. Though he was slow to adopt the kind of crippling sanctions that are now doing the Iranian economy real harm and wasted years on feckless attempts to engage the ayatollahs, they told us he would stick to his principles and not relent until the danger was averted even if that meant the eventual use of force.

But that argument lost some of its already shaky credibility this week with the administration’s over-the-top reaction to Iran’s performance at the revived P5+1 talks in Geneva. The enthusiasm with which Iran’s proposals for lifting international sanctions were received betrayed what many of the president’s critics already feared: Washington’s desire to find a way out of the confrontation with Iran is far greater than its determination to actually end the Iranian threat. And that is why the new proposal being put forward for non-sanctions financial relief for Iran in exchange for nuclear concessions is a bad idea. It’s not just that any easing up of the pressure on Tehran will only encourage the Islamist regime to believe that they needn’t sacrifice their nuclear ambitions. It’s that this administration can’t be trusted to implement a plan, however well thought out, that charts a path for a retreat from its responsibility to see to it that Iran doesn’t get a bomb.

As Goldberg wrote on Wednesday and the New York Times reports today, the plan for allowing Iran access to some of the $50 billion of its assets that are currently frozen in U.S. financial institutions was conceived at a highly reputable institution: the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies which is home to scholars who have been at the forefront of the battle to sound the alarm about Iranian nukes and other important issues. According to these reports, Mark Dubowitz, the Foundation’s founder is the author of a scheme by which the U.S. would trade chunks of that cash that Iran wants in exchange for various Iranian moves such as the closing down of some or all of its nuclear plants, suspension of enrichment or the export of its stockpile of enriched uranium.

The motivation for the idea seems sound. Its authors rightly believe that if the administration were to begin the process of dismantling the restrictions on dealing with Iran as payment for some concessions, it would lead to the quick unraveling of all the sanctions. Since Europe is desperate to get Iranian oil back on the market, that would mean the Iranians cold make promises (as they have done before) and be rewarded with tangible benefits. And once the sanctions are cracked open it will be impossible to re-impose them leaving Tehran free to go back to nuclear development with little to fear from the West.

But by leaving the sanctions in place and merely doling out some of Iran’s frozen cash, the U.S. could retain control of the process and keep the pressure up on the ayatollahs without worrying about sanctions enforcement falling apart. What’s more this could also allow the U.S. layer in the even tougher sanctions now before Congress should the Iranians balk at taking the first steps toward dismantling their drive for a weapon. Using the frozen assets as the bait for Iran seems to be a way of protecting the sanctions while giving President Obama some leeway to negotiate.

It all makes perfect sense but the problem with it remains the people being entrusted with the tools for pressuring Iran.

It has taken several long years for Congress, the White House and then America’s European allies to assemble the sanctions that are now being used against Iran. Once the administration starts buying into Iran’s attempts to wriggle its way out of sanctions, there may be no stopping them. After Washington starts dispensing cash to Iran, it will be a short hop and a skip to ending sanctions, especially for those here and in Europe that were never happy about them in the first place.

Moreover, as this week’s diplomatic contacts illustrated, this may not be an administration that can be trusted to properly evaluate Iran’s moves.

The Iranians have repeatedly demonstrated the way they use diplomacy to buy time to further their nuclear development and to deceive the West. Any agreement, partial or otherwise that leaves in place their ability to enrich uranium, continue heavy water research for a plutonium alternative or allows their facilities to keep operating will allow Tehran to eventually evade or trash any restrictions on their nuclear development.

But just as the Iranians must not be given an inch to maneuver to lie their way to a bomb neither should the Obama administration be given any method by which it can find a way to avoid keeping its promises on the issue.

By giving the administration a method to start dealing out goodies to the Iranians, pro-sanctions advocates are, in effect, negotiating with themselves and accepting the premise that the current diplomatic track is one that can lead to a real solution. That’s opening a pathway that will grant legitimacy to a strategy whose only real aim is to cut a deal with Iran, not ending the nuclear threat. Give the president an excuse to start backing down and, no matter how well-crafted the plan might be, he is almost certain to use it to move away from pressure on Tehran.

As even Goldberg has conceded, there is little reason to believe Iran has any intention of giving up its nuclear ambition. And nothing they have proposed this week, despite the joy their recycled offer brought to the administration, has undermined that conclusion. Iran’s charm offensive is working because they are feeding Washington lies the administration wants to believe. The Iranians already view President Obama with contempt. Once he starts rewarding their disingenuous promises with cash, that will only grow. Any loosening of sanctions of any kind prior to a complete dismantling of the Iranian program is a guarantee that diplomacy will fail. And any deal based on such a notion is more likely to get us closer to an Iranian bomb than it is to ending the threat.

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Sequester Isn’t a GOP Achievement

Boy do I miss Leon Panetta. That’s no knock on his successor as defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, who has done a better than expected job. At least he hasn’t done anything that has triggered much controversy. But Panetta has a well-justified reputation for plain speaking, and his voice is now worth listening to, more than ever, because he is one of the few people in Washington still reminding us of the continuing costs of budget sequestration.

The rest of the political class has moved on: the subjects du jour are the aftermath of the government shutdown and yet another looming fight over yet another deadline to raise the debt ceiling yet again. But sequestration–which amounts to $1 trillion in budget cuts over the next decade, half of them hitting the armed forces–remains in effect and the negative consequences continue to pile up.

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Boy do I miss Leon Panetta. That’s no knock on his successor as defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, who has done a better than expected job. At least he hasn’t done anything that has triggered much controversy. But Panetta has a well-justified reputation for plain speaking, and his voice is now worth listening to, more than ever, because he is one of the few people in Washington still reminding us of the continuing costs of budget sequestration.

The rest of the political class has moved on: the subjects du jour are the aftermath of the government shutdown and yet another looming fight over yet another deadline to raise the debt ceiling yet again. But sequestration–which amounts to $1 trillion in budget cuts over the next decade, half of them hitting the armed forces–remains in effect and the negative consequences continue to pile up.

On “Meet the Press” last Sunday; Panetta reminded viewers “our readiness has been badly damaged.” Earlier, in the Washington Post, he elaborated on the impact:

Fewer than half of the Air Force’s frontline fighters are combat-ready; 12 combat squadrons have been grounded; key Combat Training Center rotations have been canceled; multiple ship deployments, including the USS Truman carrier strike group, have been canceled; and furloughs for 650,000 civilian employees continue, resulting in a 20 percent pay reduction during every furlough week. These and other effects of sequestration are weakening the United States’ ability to respond effectively to a major crisis in the world beyond the war zone in Afghanistan.

Panetta concludes correctly: “To have this happen under any circumstance is irresponsible. To have it happen as the result of a self-inflicted wound is outrageous.” He notes that every member of the Congressional leadership he has talked to, whether Republican or Democrat, agrees with his analysis yet they tell him to give up the fight because “Congress is resigned to failure.”

But while the failure may be Congress’s–and the president’s–the consequences will be borne by the entire country. If the armed forces are not ready for future emergencies, the impact on America’s standing will be dire–and, even worse, good men and women in uniform will die needlessly. That is the direct consequences of Washington’s shameful failure to turn off sequestration. That some on the right are now touting sequestration as a major Republican Party achievement shows how far the GOP has lost its way.

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The Israeli-Palestinian “Distraction” Fallacy

Of all the popular idiocies perennially spouted about the Middle East, the one I find most outrageous is the idea that Israeli-Palestinian peace would foment change in Arab societies by removing the “distraction” of Israel’s “oppression of the Palestinians.” Or as the New York Times’ columnist Roger Cohen put it this week, “If Arabs could see in Israel not a Zionist oppressor but the region’s most successful economy, a modern state built in 65 years, they would pose themselves the right questions about openness, innovation and progress.”

Like many Middle Eastern tropes, this one is simultaneously too insulting and too forgiving. It’s too insulting because it deems Arabs incapable of posing “the right questions” on their own, treating their ability to do so as wholly dependent on Israel’s actions. And it’s too forgiving because it views anger at the “Zionist oppressor” as a valid reason for their inability to pose these questions, ignoring the obvious historical fact that numerous non-Arab nations have proven quite capable of posing these questions despite similar or even greater obstacles.

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Of all the popular idiocies perennially spouted about the Middle East, the one I find most outrageous is the idea that Israeli-Palestinian peace would foment change in Arab societies by removing the “distraction” of Israel’s “oppression of the Palestinians.” Or as the New York Times’ columnist Roger Cohen put it this week, “If Arabs could see in Israel not a Zionist oppressor but the region’s most successful economy, a modern state built in 65 years, they would pose themselves the right questions about openness, innovation and progress.”

Like many Middle Eastern tropes, this one is simultaneously too insulting and too forgiving. It’s too insulting because it deems Arabs incapable of posing “the right questions” on their own, treating their ability to do so as wholly dependent on Israel’s actions. And it’s too forgiving because it views anger at the “Zionist oppressor” as a valid reason for their inability to pose these questions, ignoring the obvious historical fact that numerous non-Arab nations have proven quite capable of posing these questions despite similar or even greater obstacles.

Taiwan, for instance, was founded by refugees driven from their homeland after losing a civil war that erupted immediately after the end of one of the most brutal occupations in recent history – Japan’s occupation of China. Since mainland China never stopped wanting to regain its errant province, the Taiwanese lived in constant fear of invasion. And they had the anguish of watching helplessly as their countrymen on the mainland suffered under Mao’s brutal dictatorship, which killed over 45 million Chinese. Yet none of this stopped the Taiwanese from building a flourishing economy and, later, a flourishing democracy.

Similarly, Rwanda has rebuilt itself into one of Africa’s most successful countries less than two decades after a devastating genocide killed an estimated 800,000 people.

Israel, of course, was established just three years after the Holocaust, and absorbed hundreds of thousands of refugees. During its first 25 years of existence, Arab countries launched three wars aimed at wiping it off the map, and it has suffered nonstop terrorism since its establishment. Yet none of this stopped it from building a flourishing democracy and a flourishing economy.

No less relevant, however, is the way Diaspora Jewry responded to the Holocaust and the subsequent existential threats to Israel – not by impotent rage, but by helping to create today’s flourishing country by building hospitals and schools throughout Israel and funding numerous educational and social programs. That’s something wealthy Arab states and individuals could easily do on behalf of their “oppressed brethren” in Palestine, and it would benefit Palestinians far more than spewing verbal venom at Israel would.

But of course, they haven’t. Western countries primarily fund both the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA, the agency that deals with Palestinian refugees. Wealthy Arab donors haven’t built state-of-the-art hospitals in Palestine like Hadassah or Laniado in Israel; Palestinians seeking top-notch medical care still go to Israel for it. They haven’t founded schools like the ORT network or daycare centers like the WIZO network, which still serve thousands of Israelis today.

And if Arabs haven’t done this in 65 years, when so many other peoples have, there’s no reason to think a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would suddenly make them start. This failure is entirely a product of their own culture. And therefore, change can only come from within.

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