Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 13, 2014

Blaming Kerry for Palestinian Rejectionism

Give left-wing author Peter Beinart some credit. He’s paying enough attention to the negotiations going on between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to understand that there’s almost no chance that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas will sign a peace deal. But whom does he blame for this in his latest cri de coeur about the peace process in Haaretz? Secretary of State John Kerry.

Of course, Beinart thinks Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is also at fault for insisting that Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, which is to say that they renounce their dreams of destroying it. He also slams Netanyahu for asking for serious security guarantees in the event that an agreement is concluded as well as demanding that the U.S. make good on the promises made to Israel prior to the Gaza withdrawal about the major settlement blocs in the West Bank being retained. In carping about Netanyahu he’s essentially blaming the people of Israel for rejecting the policies of the left after the collapse of Oslo and the Gaza disaster. To his way of thinking, democracy is all well and good but since liberal intellectuals like himself know what’s best for the country, the results of the last two Knesset elections should be set aside in order to allow American pressure to dictate peace terms with the Palestinians. Most of all he refuses to give the Palestinians any agency in their decision to turn down peace again.

This is familiar territory for Beinart. But now that Kerry is in the midst of an all-out effort to get Israel and the PA to agree to a new framework to allow for further talks with the Israelis set to say yes and the Palestinians almost certain to say no again, he’s been forced to come up with a new set of justifications for the left’s perennial argument that the lack of peace is Israel’s fault. His answer is that the true villain of the moment is Kerry and the liberal Jews who have been cheering the secretary on in his efforts to pressure Israel into accepting the framework. Why? Because, according to Beinart, Kerry’s terms are too favorable to Israel.

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Give left-wing author Peter Beinart some credit. He’s paying enough attention to the negotiations going on between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to understand that there’s almost no chance that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas will sign a peace deal. But whom does he blame for this in his latest cri de coeur about the peace process in Haaretz? Secretary of State John Kerry.

Of course, Beinart thinks Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is also at fault for insisting that Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, which is to say that they renounce their dreams of destroying it. He also slams Netanyahu for asking for serious security guarantees in the event that an agreement is concluded as well as demanding that the U.S. make good on the promises made to Israel prior to the Gaza withdrawal about the major settlement blocs in the West Bank being retained. In carping about Netanyahu he’s essentially blaming the people of Israel for rejecting the policies of the left after the collapse of Oslo and the Gaza disaster. To his way of thinking, democracy is all well and good but since liberal intellectuals like himself know what’s best for the country, the results of the last two Knesset elections should be set aside in order to allow American pressure to dictate peace terms with the Palestinians. Most of all he refuses to give the Palestinians any agency in their decision to turn down peace again.

This is familiar territory for Beinart. But now that Kerry is in the midst of an all-out effort to get Israel and the PA to agree to a new framework to allow for further talks with the Israelis set to say yes and the Palestinians almost certain to say no again, he’s been forced to come up with a new set of justifications for the left’s perennial argument that the lack of peace is Israel’s fault. His answer is that the true villain of the moment is Kerry and the liberal Jews who have been cheering the secretary on in his efforts to pressure Israel into accepting the framework. Why? Because, according to Beinart, Kerry’s terms are too favorable to Israel.

This is, of course, the same secretary of state that pressured the Israelis to release over 100 terrorist murderers to bribe the PA to come back to the negotiating table after boycotting talks for years. And he’s the same guy who threatened Israel with a new intifada and with expanded boycotts and economic warfare if they didn’t agree to his framework, setting the stage for more violence and delegitimization of the Jewish state after his efforts failed.

But Beinart has a beef with Kerry because in coming up with his framework, he’s incorporated some of Israel’s key demands and left other elements up to negotiations between the two parties. According to Beinart, Kerry has deviated from the plans offered to the Palestinians by Ehud Barak in 2000 and 2001 and the one proposed by Ehud Olmert in 2008. The differences between those schemes and the one in Kerry’s framework are small but significant.

The first problem is that Kerry agrees with the Israelis that the Palestinians should swallow hard and say the two little words—“Jewish state”—that signify they are ending the conflict for all time rather than pausing it in order to resume it later under more favorable circumstances.

The second is agreeing to a phased transition in which Israeli troops would remain in the Jordan Valley for perhaps as long as 10 or 15 years. Beinart agrees with the Palestinians that that kind of a security guarantee, made all the more necessary in recent years because of the rise of Hamas and Islamic Jihad as well as the threats to Jordan from Iran and Syria, is unacceptable.

What else? Beinart is unhappy about Kerry’s terms for the division of Jerusalem. Kerry is leaving the details of how to partition it to the parties and said one of the Arab neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city could serve as the Palestinian capital. Beinart agrees with Abbas and wants all Arab neighborhoods in the city to be constituted as the new capital of Palestine.

Beinart is also in a huff about the fact that Kerry’s framework doesn’t pay even lip service to the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” that would allow them to flood Israel with the descendants of the 1948 refugees. While Olmert foolishly offered the Palestinians the right to bring as many as 15,000 into Israel, Kerry has wisely turned them down flat on this question.

These differences from the plans of 2000, 2001, and 2008 don’t change the fact that if the Palestinians are smart enough to say yes to the framework, they would get their independent state including almost all of the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem and be compensated for the settlement blocs with equal amounts of Israeli territory. But in order to get it they have to agree to the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside their nation and they have to agree not to use their state to restart the conflict once Israel withdraws. Since its inception, Palestinian nationalism has been solely focused on denying Zionism’s legitimacy rather than on building a nation. That’s why Abbas is no more capable of agreeing to peace now than he was in 2008 when he fled from Olmert’s offer or Yasir Arafat was when he said no twice to Ehud Barak.

But Beinart prefers to ignore the truth about Abbas and the political culture of rejection to which he is both enabler and hostage. Instead, he blames Israel and Kerry for not giving even more.

Interestingly, Beinart’s plan of action to deal with the problem doesn’t involve efforts to beg the Palestinians not to say no to peace and independence for the fourth time since the summer of 2000. Instead, he wants his friends at J Street and other liberal Jewish backers of the Obama administration to turn their wrath on the secretary of state. He wants the left to “raise a stink” against Kerry and the administration in order to get them to change the framework to make it more acceptable to the Palestinians, including deleting references to the Jewish state and giving the green light for the refugees.

Such an effort on the part of J Street is as unlikely as it would be absurd. J Street is more pro-Obama than it is pro-peace or pro-Israel. It will never launch a campaign against Kerry’s efforts to broker a deal in order to tilt the playing field even more toward the Palestinians than the secretary has already done.

This difference between Beinart and Kerry illustrates, if nothing else, the secretary’s sincerity. Kerry’s chances of success were always near zero and his willingness to undertake this mission despite the very real chances that attempting it would cause more harm than good by encouraging terrorism and boycotts after the inevitable Palestinian refusal testifies both to his poor judgment and his hubris. But Kerry also understands that after the collapse of Oslo, the withdrawal from Gaza and the three Palestinian “no’s” to peace offers, Israelis need to be persuaded that this peace is genuine and will guarantee the Jewish state’s survival. And that is why Abbas will never sign any deal with anything like reasonable terms.

Beinart understands that this decision will, like the many Palestinian decisions to repeatedly reject peace throughout the last century, undermine his thesis about Israel being to blame. So in order to preserve his dubious narrative of the conflict, he must start setting up Kerry as the fall guy for Palestinian rejectionism. Reading Beinart’s piece, I almost felt sorry for Kerry. Almost. 

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Rubio and Paul Trading Places?

Much has been made about the fact that Marco Rubio struggled last year and has thrived thus far in 2014. But while Rubio never seemed to have a specific rivalry with Rand Paul (who sparred with Chris Christie and more recently Ted Cruz), the two prospective 2016 presidential candidates seem to have their political fates connected in a way others don’t: one’s loss often accompanies the other’s gain. And this year, as Rubio recovers his footing it’s Paul who appears to be struggling. That’s been fairly consistent with the two Republicans’ shared term in the Senate thus far.

When Rubio burst onto the national GOP stage in 2010 in his Senate race against Charlie Crist, conservatives loved his message but fretted that his political persona was too dependent on that one message. The concern was voiced in August of that year by Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes, who wrote: “In every appearance, including my interview with him in late July, he delivers the speech in whole or in part. There’s a reason for this: It’s an awfully good speech. It’s intensely patriotic and focused on how he’d like voters to see the choice they face in the election. It’s better than any speech I’ve heard from a Republican candidate or elected official in a long time. And Rubio delivers it passionately.”

That was all correct, but a question lingered: the right hoped Rubio would run for president sooner rather than later. Would his policy chops catch up, and could he build a record in time? The answer over the last couple of years, but especially this year so far, seems to be: Yes. His biggest setback has been his attempt to reform immigration law, but it showed at least that he wasn’t shy about putting forth detailed plans and advocating for them. Since immigration reform, he’s put out plans to tackle poverty, economic growth, higher education reform, and he hit his stride when attention turned to foreign affairs with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the popular unrest in Venezuela.

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Much has been made about the fact that Marco Rubio struggled last year and has thrived thus far in 2014. But while Rubio never seemed to have a specific rivalry with Rand Paul (who sparred with Chris Christie and more recently Ted Cruz), the two prospective 2016 presidential candidates seem to have their political fates connected in a way others don’t: one’s loss often accompanies the other’s gain. And this year, as Rubio recovers his footing it’s Paul who appears to be struggling. That’s been fairly consistent with the two Republicans’ shared term in the Senate thus far.

When Rubio burst onto the national GOP stage in 2010 in his Senate race against Charlie Crist, conservatives loved his message but fretted that his political persona was too dependent on that one message. The concern was voiced in August of that year by Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes, who wrote: “In every appearance, including my interview with him in late July, he delivers the speech in whole or in part. There’s a reason for this: It’s an awfully good speech. It’s intensely patriotic and focused on how he’d like voters to see the choice they face in the election. It’s better than any speech I’ve heard from a Republican candidate or elected official in a long time. And Rubio delivers it passionately.”

That was all correct, but a question lingered: the right hoped Rubio would run for president sooner rather than later. Would his policy chops catch up, and could he build a record in time? The answer over the last couple of years, but especially this year so far, seems to be: Yes. His biggest setback has been his attempt to reform immigration law, but it showed at least that he wasn’t shy about putting forth detailed plans and advocating for them. Since immigration reform, he’s put out plans to tackle poverty, economic growth, higher education reform, and he hit his stride when attention turned to foreign affairs with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the popular unrest in Venezuela.

Rubio seemed to sputter in 2013 as Paul saw his moment in the sun. Paul’s famous filibuster not only won him plaudits from both sides of the aisle but also got his fellow Republican senators–Rubio among them–to appear on the chamber floor as supporting characters. Then the Edward Snowden affair happened, and Paul appeared to go from potential dark horse candidate in 2016 to the top tier. As the NSA domestic surveillance revelations were easily folded into the broader narrative of President Obama’s intrusive, big-government agenda, Paul took a step toward the front of the pack.

Part of Paul’s appeal was a term and a concept we’ve come to prize in American politics, with its ubiquity of television cameras and endless debates: authenticity. Paul came across as genuine and comfortable in his own skin, and he spoke confidently and fluently to any audience that would hear from him. It was no surprise that Paul and Christie developed something of a (brief) rivalry; neither pulls punches.

But Paul comes across as genuinely uncomfortable talking about foreign crises where the choice isn’t war or peace but something in the middle. Ukraine has made the contrast with Rubio clear, not just on policy but on the fact that events have shifted onto the latter’s turf. Paul’s TIME magazine piece on the appropriate American reaction to the Crimean crisis has already come in for some tough criticism, for example from National Review’s Patrick Brennan, who called Paul’s ideas “terrible or delusional.” But what caught my attention was more the stylistic clumsiness of the messaging–not that U.S. senators should be graded on whether their prose matches up to Tolstoy’s but to their own. In other words, Paul’s surefootedness is completely absent. For example:

America is a world leader, but we should not be its policeman or ATM.

At the end of the day, I still agree with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen — the greatest threat to America’s security is our national debt.

Russia, the Middle East or any other troubled part of the world should never make us forget that the U.S. is broke. We weaken our security and defenses when we print money out of thin air or borrow from other countries to allegedly support our own.

Like Dwight Eisenhower, I believe the U.S. can actually be stronger by doing less.

Like Ronald Reagan, particularly regarding Russia, I also believe, “Don’t mistake our reluctance for war for a lack of resolve.”

That’s just a sample, but much of the piece is written that way. It’s unlike Paul to speak without saying something, but he comes close to doing so on Ukraine. More than a week before Paul’s piece was published, Rubio published at Politico an immediate reaction to the crisis, whose applicability showed he was either prepared for the Russian action or he didn’t need to be to know how to react.

The issues underpinning Rubio and Paul’s fortunes demonstrate something else: unlike Christie’s “bridgegate,” which involved his staff, for Paul and Rubio events beyond their control have exerted upward or downward pressure on them–in Paul’s case, the NSA revelations and for both the crisis in Ukraine (and to a lesser extent Venezuela). It shows the degree of uncertainty and luck in the process. But then again, that’s often how it is in the White House too.

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A New Twist on the Gaza “Cycle of Violence”

As far as most of the world is concerned, this week’s outbreak of fighting along the border between Gaza and southern Israel is just another boring chapter in a never-ending story that is usually dismissed as a “cycle of violence.” But while the terrorist rocket attacks from Gaza, the “work accident” in which a malfunctioning rocket took the lives of a few terrorists, and the Israeli counter-attacks all seem depressingly familiar, there was something new and particularly dangerous about this week’s events. The latest incidents not only were the first major outbreak in Gaza since 2012. The decision to attack Israel on this scale as well as the manner in which the parties are backing away from the abyss of all-out war both indicate that a major change for the worse is going on Gaza.

What’s so different about these attacks? First, it looks like Iran may have played a role in precipitating the missile barrage on Israeli cities, towns, and villages. Second, if reports are to be believed, rather than conducting indirect negotiations with the Hamas terrorist movement that rules Gaza in order to end the confrontation, this time the deal was with the even more extreme Islamic Jihad that is directly allied with Iran. If so, Gaza has now gone from being the independent Palestinian state-in-all-but-name ruled by an Islamist tyranny that Israel still could hold accountable for violence to one that is one step closer to chaos or, even worse, falling under the thumb of an Iranian auxiliary.

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As far as most of the world is concerned, this week’s outbreak of fighting along the border between Gaza and southern Israel is just another boring chapter in a never-ending story that is usually dismissed as a “cycle of violence.” But while the terrorist rocket attacks from Gaza, the “work accident” in which a malfunctioning rocket took the lives of a few terrorists, and the Israeli counter-attacks all seem depressingly familiar, there was something new and particularly dangerous about this week’s events. The latest incidents not only were the first major outbreak in Gaza since 2012. The decision to attack Israel on this scale as well as the manner in which the parties are backing away from the abyss of all-out war both indicate that a major change for the worse is going on Gaza.

What’s so different about these attacks? First, it looks like Iran may have played a role in precipitating the missile barrage on Israeli cities, towns, and villages. Second, if reports are to be believed, rather than conducting indirect negotiations with the Hamas terrorist movement that rules Gaza in order to end the confrontation, this time the deal was with the even more extreme Islamic Jihad that is directly allied with Iran. If so, Gaza has now gone from being the independent Palestinian state-in-all-but-name ruled by an Islamist tyranny that Israel still could hold accountable for violence to one that is one step closer to chaos or, even worse, falling under the thumb of an Iranian auxiliary.

While outside influences have always helped to exacerbate Palestinian terrorism in the past, the suspicion that Iran is playing a role in the rocket attacks is hard to avoid. Iran was Hamas’s leading supplier of arms and cash during the second intifada. But it broke with the group over the civil war in Syria when Hamas joined other Sunni groups in cutting off ties with the Assad regime in Damascus that is still closely aligned with Tehran. There has been some speculation that Hamas might reconcile with Iran now that it has become more isolated because Egypt’s new military government sees the Gaza enclave as an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood. Given the fact that Assad has, with Iranian help, won in Syria, the argument between Hamas and Tehran seems pointless. But since Hamas has been forced by circumstances to abstain from regular attacks on Israel, Iran may prefer dealing with the far smaller and more militant Islamic Jihad.

That may mean that Israel’s capture of the Iranian arms ship Klos-C last week filled with missiles intended for Islamic Jihad to use against the Jewish state may have been the factor that caused the outbreak. Perhaps Iran or Islamic Jihad decided to remind the Israelis that they are still there and can inflict some damage if they are so inclined.

But more than that, the really serious aspect of this incident is that Hamas seems unable to keep Islamic Jihad in check. In the past, Israel rightly held Hamas, as the rulers of the strip, responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza. But if the only way for Israel to stop the fighting once it had given Islamic Jihad a necessary military response was to actually reach out to that group rather than Hamas via Egyptian emissaries, then we have entered a new era in Gaza that ought to scare everyone.

Like everything else that happens in the Middle East, Israel’s critics will claim the new prominence of Islamic Jihad is somehow the fault of the Jewish state. We will be told that if only the Israelis had dealt with Hamas and brought them into the peace process or been given concessions that would have empowered them to make compromises that could have helped end the conflict, then maybe Islamic Jihad wouldn’t have gained more support. In the same way, we were told that if the Israelis had bowed to the demands of the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority, Hamas wouldn’t have become powerful enough to seize the strip in a 2006 coup.

The problem, however, is not the fault of insufficient Israeli concessions but the reality of Palestinian politics. Hamas gained ground on Fatah because the latter was seen as too moderate and unwilling to shed as much Jewish blood as their Islamist rivals. Islamic Jihad is growing in influence because it is now seen as tougher and bloodier than Hamas. The support of Iran, which cares nothing for the Palestinians but has a vested interest in keeping up the level of violence against Israel and preventing any chance of peace, is the icing on the cake. In any case, both Hamas and Islamic Jihad reject an end to the conflict on any terms, meaning that any Israeli concessions to them would be as pointless as they are dangerous.

It is to be hoped that Israel’s response to the rocket attacks as well as its interdiction of the flow of Iranian arms to the Palestinians will make further fighting less likely or at least less costly. Israel has no good options in Gaza since re-occupying it would be politically impossible and inflicting serious damage on Hamas right now might only help make Iran and Islamic Jihad stronger.

But there should be no doubt about the fact that Iran’s growing influence—a development that is the inevitable byproduct of its apparent victory in Syria and its ability to force the United States to negotiate on Iranian terms on the nuclear issue—makes the Middle East a lot more dangerous. And if Iran has more to say about Palestinian politics via its Islamic Jihad ally, the already slim chances that Fatah can make peace with Israel just got a lot slimmer. 

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The GOP and Scott’s Immigration Flip

When Rick Scott successfully ran for governor of Florida in 2010 beating Democrat Alex Sink, he called for a crackdown on illegal immigration. He endorsed Arizona’s controversial law calling for law enforcement authorities to check the immigration status of those who were arrested, blamed illegals for taking jobs away from Floridians, and said they should be sent back where they came from. But, due in no small part to support from the Cuban-American community, he wound up winning a whopping 50 percent of the Hispanic vote according to exit polls that year.

Despite calls from other Republicans who interpreted their 2012 defeat in the presidential election as a sign they needed to start thinking differently about immigration, he has generally stuck to that hard line, even vetoing a bill passed by the GOP-controlled legislature that would have allowed the children of illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses. But apparently Scott, who trails his predecessor Charlie Crist in all the polls, may be thinking that now would be a good time to reach out to Hispanics who regard immigration as a litmus test.

As Fox News Latino reports:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who urged a crackdown on immigration four years ago, is throwing his support behind a bill that would allow qualified Florida students to pay in-state college tuition rates even if they are in the country illegally. But Scott is supporting the idea as long as it is combined with his own proposal to place limits on how much state universities can raise tuition each year.

It’s not entirely clear what Scott is up to, but this has the feel of an election-year conversion that is more likely to anger right-wing opponents of immigration than it will entice Hispanic voters to vote for him. If so and if Scott winds up losing to the former Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Crist, then it is likely that conservatives will blame it on the governor’s lack of principles rather than on faulty policies. But Scott’s fate is not the only matter at stake in this debate. Though Florida’s electorate has a different makeup than other states with large Hispanic populations, the governor’s flip-flop may be a sign that even those who benefitted from rabble-rousing anti-immigrant stands in the past are starting to realize that the negative fallout from that position may be greater than the benefits.

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When Rick Scott successfully ran for governor of Florida in 2010 beating Democrat Alex Sink, he called for a crackdown on illegal immigration. He endorsed Arizona’s controversial law calling for law enforcement authorities to check the immigration status of those who were arrested, blamed illegals for taking jobs away from Floridians, and said they should be sent back where they came from. But, due in no small part to support from the Cuban-American community, he wound up winning a whopping 50 percent of the Hispanic vote according to exit polls that year.

Despite calls from other Republicans who interpreted their 2012 defeat in the presidential election as a sign they needed to start thinking differently about immigration, he has generally stuck to that hard line, even vetoing a bill passed by the GOP-controlled legislature that would have allowed the children of illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses. But apparently Scott, who trails his predecessor Charlie Crist in all the polls, may be thinking that now would be a good time to reach out to Hispanics who regard immigration as a litmus test.

As Fox News Latino reports:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who urged a crackdown on immigration four years ago, is throwing his support behind a bill that would allow qualified Florida students to pay in-state college tuition rates even if they are in the country illegally. But Scott is supporting the idea as long as it is combined with his own proposal to place limits on how much state universities can raise tuition each year.

It’s not entirely clear what Scott is up to, but this has the feel of an election-year conversion that is more likely to anger right-wing opponents of immigration than it will entice Hispanic voters to vote for him. If so and if Scott winds up losing to the former Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Crist, then it is likely that conservatives will blame it on the governor’s lack of principles rather than on faulty policies. But Scott’s fate is not the only matter at stake in this debate. Though Florida’s electorate has a different makeup than other states with large Hispanic populations, the governor’s flip-flop may be a sign that even those who benefitted from rabble-rousing anti-immigrant stands in the past are starting to realize that the negative fallout from that position may be greater than the benefits.

Given the desire of conservatives to turn out to send a message to Washington against President Obama and especially ObamaCare, perhaps it’s smart politics for Scott to risk a backlash from conservatives. But his decision to break down and start mending fences with those who want a softer approach to illegal immigration has an air of desperation about it. The governor has had a rocky term in Tallahassee and is easily among the most vulnerable GOP incumbents in 2014. Even taking into account the fact that the large Cuban-American demographic in Florida is more Republican than any other group of Hispanics, his standing among Hispanic voters has dropped since his 2010 win. Though he remains within striking distance of Crist and can count on a midterm environment that looks to be very friendly to Republicans (as the vote in the special election in Florida’s 13th Congressional District showed on Tuesday), Scott remains an underdog heading toward November.

Nevertheless, Scott’s abandonment of the anti-immigration crowd this year may be a signal that some Republicans are starting to understand that bashing illegals may not be quite as potent a talking point as it was only four years ago. It was one thing for Scott to urge that the 800,000 illegals in Florida be deported when he was running for office. But that sort of empty threat rings hollow from someone sitting in the governor’s chair. Support for DREAM Act-type measures such as those involving in-state tuition rates are growing, making those holding the line against them look mean-spirited and out of touch with reality. That’s why GOP majorities in the legislature have backed such stands.

Moreover, if Republicans are going to be able to build winning coalitions in the future, they’re going to need Hispanic votes. In Florida, that once meant just taking a strong stand against the Communist regime in Havana. But even Cuban-Americans may now require more than a casual swipe at Castro in order to gain their support.

If Scott is defeated this year, it’s likely that it won’t be due primarily to his position(s) on immigration. But by doing an about-face on the issue in the middle of a tough reelection race, he has certainly given other Republicans food for thought about how best to build a majority in an era when Hispanic votes are up for grabs.

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The “Roadblocks” to Peace Haven’t Budged

Today’s international edition of the New York Times carries an op-ed on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by Ephraim Sneh, the former IDF general and well-known figure in the defense establishment. Sneh wants to solve the four “insurmountable stumbling blocks: Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, the ‘right of return,’ Jerusalem and security arrangements.” And he offers his plan to remove what the headline calls the “roadblocks” to peace. Unfortunately, Sneh’s good-faith effort to move the negotiations forward reminds the reader just why those four roadblocks are so difficult to dislodge.

On security arrangements, Sneh follows the logic that the Palestinians, Israelis, and Jordanians all have a shared interest in preventing the rise of Islamist rebel factions with the ability to cross borders between the three. That’s true, but the logic goes both ways: it may be rational for Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling party to oppose and marginalize Islamist extremists, but it’s also rational for him to believe–especially in the age of the Arab Spring–that he can’t prevent the organic gravitational pull of homegrown (or foreign-funded) extremists to disaffected Palestinians living under his corrupt authoritarianism. In such a case, logic suggests capitulation and cooptation, not a high-minded show of backbone by standing with Israel.

Sneh proposes a division of East Jerusalem instead of a division of Jerusalem. Permit Israel to keep its Jewish neighborhoods–including those built after 1967–Sneh argues, and give the Palestinian state the rest. It’s not clear if either side would agree to this, though given Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements over the last few years, Israel seems far more likely to accept these parameters than would the Palestinians, to say nothing of the logistical nightmare of actually dividing the city. But the centerpiece of Sneh’s Jerusalem proposal would be “a Vatican-like status” for the city’s holy sites. We don’t get the details from Sneh for how a tri-faith version of the Vatican would work exactly, probably because it would do nothing to dissolve conflict over the area but would erode some degree of Jewish sovereignty over its holiest site.

On the Palestinian “right of return,” Sneh proposes that Secretary of State John Kerry put together a framework that excludes the word “right.” The Palestinian legislature can pass their own right of return laws the way Israel has, but using terms like “rights,” according to Sneh, is a surefire way to get the Palestinians to loudly embrace their victimology and walk away. Thus they should simply talk about a “return,” and a symbolic one at that. It’s difficult to imagine this idea getting off the ground with the Palestinians, but it won’t get pushback from Israel.

On the remaining issue, the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Sneh writes:

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Today’s international edition of the New York Times carries an op-ed on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by Ephraim Sneh, the former IDF general and well-known figure in the defense establishment. Sneh wants to solve the four “insurmountable stumbling blocks: Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, the ‘right of return,’ Jerusalem and security arrangements.” And he offers his plan to remove what the headline calls the “roadblocks” to peace. Unfortunately, Sneh’s good-faith effort to move the negotiations forward reminds the reader just why those four roadblocks are so difficult to dislodge.

On security arrangements, Sneh follows the logic that the Palestinians, Israelis, and Jordanians all have a shared interest in preventing the rise of Islamist rebel factions with the ability to cross borders between the three. That’s true, but the logic goes both ways: it may be rational for Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling party to oppose and marginalize Islamist extremists, but it’s also rational for him to believe–especially in the age of the Arab Spring–that he can’t prevent the organic gravitational pull of homegrown (or foreign-funded) extremists to disaffected Palestinians living under his corrupt authoritarianism. In such a case, logic suggests capitulation and cooptation, not a high-minded show of backbone by standing with Israel.

Sneh proposes a division of East Jerusalem instead of a division of Jerusalem. Permit Israel to keep its Jewish neighborhoods–including those built after 1967–Sneh argues, and give the Palestinian state the rest. It’s not clear if either side would agree to this, though given Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements over the last few years, Israel seems far more likely to accept these parameters than would the Palestinians, to say nothing of the logistical nightmare of actually dividing the city. But the centerpiece of Sneh’s Jerusalem proposal would be “a Vatican-like status” for the city’s holy sites. We don’t get the details from Sneh for how a tri-faith version of the Vatican would work exactly, probably because it would do nothing to dissolve conflict over the area but would erode some degree of Jewish sovereignty over its holiest site.

On the Palestinian “right of return,” Sneh proposes that Secretary of State John Kerry put together a framework that excludes the word “right.” The Palestinian legislature can pass their own right of return laws the way Israel has, but using terms like “rights,” according to Sneh, is a surefire way to get the Palestinians to loudly embrace their victimology and walk away. Thus they should simply talk about a “return,” and a symbolic one at that. It’s difficult to imagine this idea getting off the ground with the Palestinians, but it won’t get pushback from Israel.

On the remaining issue, the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Sneh writes:

A demand to officially recognize Israel as the Jewish state has never been submitted to any Arab counterpart: not Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, Jordan’s King Hussein or Syria’s Hafez al-Assad. Yet Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, keeps raising such a declaration as a condition because there is no Israeli — certainly not me — who would not sympathize with it and because he believes that President Abbas cannot provide it, knowing that it could drive a wedge between Mr. Abbas and the Arab citizens of Israel.

However, the Palestine National Council, in its Declaration of Independence of Nov. 15, 1988, already acknowledged the definition of Israel as the Jewish state when it referred to the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947, saying it had partitioned Palestine into two states, Arab and Jewish. In fact, Yasir Arafat reiterated this recognition. The Palestinian leadership just needs to declare that the recognition Mr. Netanyahu is demanding is implicit in that 25-year-old document.

I’m afraid this appears to miss the point on such recognition. An “implicit” recognition in a pre-Oslo document that the current Palestinian leadership refuses to repeat (even “implicitly”) is not what’s being asked. And there’s a good reason for that. Saying someone else kinda sorta implied recognition removes such recognition from the intent of the man actually signing the agreement, if there is one.

Israel wants recognition from its “peace partner,” not a ghost. They want this because they believe–with much justification–that such recognition is the difference between a peace agreement and actual peace. The stated purpose of the two-state solution is to resolve the conflict. Palestinian statehood that merely strengthens their hand in an ongoing war to annihilate their Jewish neighbors is not something Israelis have much interest in, nor should they.

It’s Sneh’s conclusion, however, that goes off the rails:

In Israel, there cannot be such an agreement without a political crisis. In the Knesset, 42 of the 68 members of Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition are beholden to the settlers who fiercely oppose any agreement with the Palestinians. Mr. Netanyahu therefore will be compelled to change his coalition partners, make way for another prime minister or call elections so that a government that is not dependent on settlers’ support can take power. But a transient political crisis is better for Israel than the horrible repercussions of a failure of Mr. Kerry’s efforts.

Netanyahu presides over this governing coalition because the Israeli voters chose these parties to represent them in the government. Why should Netanyahu be compelled to call elections? The last elections were only a year ago, and this is the government the people chose. What kind of banana republic would call elections repeatedly and unceasingly until the people capitulated to the American secretary of state?

And what in modern Israeli history suggests this is the road to success anyway? Sneh isn’t unaware that left-leaning Israeli leaders already tried, more than once, to strike such an agreement. Labor took two bites at that apple, Kadima one. This is precisely the pattern of failure Israelis are trying not to replicate. Sneh’s frustration is understandable and widely shared, and his column is an expression of an admirable Israeli desire for peace. But it’s also quite wide of the mark.

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Even in KY, Focus Is Obama, Not McConnell

In a week in which Democrats have already received a harsh wake-up call about the nature of the 2014 midterms in the form of a stunning loss in the special election for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, today’s New York Times article about the Kentucky Senate race will likely give liberals another conniption fit. The piece, a preview of a new Times-run site called Upshot, debunks the popular Democratic belief that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is doomed to defeat this November. Upshot may turn out to be nothing more than an attempt at an edgier version of Times political coverage intended to compete with the popular political news websites that have been running rings around old media print-based papers for years. But in this case author Nate Cohn is right on the money. Despite the wild optimism about Alison Lundergan Grimes’s challenge to McConnell that has become conventional wisdom in the liberal mainstream media, the odds against the Democrats in Kentucky are far greater than most on the left will concede.

As Cohn points out, the problem for liberals in Kentucky is no different from the one they faced this week in Florida when a superior and well-funded Democratic candidate lost to an inferior Republican. In Florida-13, national issues helped keep a seat in Republican hands in a district that Barack Obama won twice. As much as Democrats are trying to make the election a referendum on McConnell, 2014 is all about President Obama and ObamaCare. And as long as that is the case, Democrats are in big trouble.

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In a week in which Democrats have already received a harsh wake-up call about the nature of the 2014 midterms in the form of a stunning loss in the special election for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, today’s New York Times article about the Kentucky Senate race will likely give liberals another conniption fit. The piece, a preview of a new Times-run site called Upshot, debunks the popular Democratic belief that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is doomed to defeat this November. Upshot may turn out to be nothing more than an attempt at an edgier version of Times political coverage intended to compete with the popular political news websites that have been running rings around old media print-based papers for years. But in this case author Nate Cohn is right on the money. Despite the wild optimism about Alison Lundergan Grimes’s challenge to McConnell that has become conventional wisdom in the liberal mainstream media, the odds against the Democrats in Kentucky are far greater than most on the left will concede.

As Cohn points out, the problem for liberals in Kentucky is no different from the one they faced this week in Florida when a superior and well-funded Democratic candidate lost to an inferior Republican. In Florida-13, national issues helped keep a seat in Republican hands in a district that Barack Obama won twice. As much as Democrats are trying to make the election a referendum on McConnell, 2014 is all about President Obama and ObamaCare. And as long as that is the case, Democrats are in big trouble.

The mainstream media narrative about the Kentucky race has been fairly consistent. McConnell is the Republican liberals seem to despise the most and 2014 seemed to create a perfect storm of circumstances that could guarantee his defeat. Many Tea Party activists regard McConnell as the quintessential establishment traitor to their cause leading Matt Bevin, a wealthy investment executive, to try to take out McConnell in a primary. But even if he survived a primary, Democrats are fielding a formidable candidate in Grimes, who has a strong record as Kentucky secretary of state and can mobilize heavy hitters like former President Bill Clinton to back her candidacy. The party establishment felt so strongly about Grimes that they went all out to discourage actress Ashley Judd from running and the result is that she has a clear path to November. All that adds up to a competitive race that probably gives the Democrats their best—and perhaps only—chance to unseat a Republican senator this year.

But, as Cohn points out, assuming that a red state like Kentucky will oust an incumbent Republican senator, not to mention one as powerful as the minority leader (who may well become majority leader next January) is a leap of faith that sensible political observers shouldn’t make. The number of incumbents in McConnell’s position that have been defeated for reelection in the last generation can be counted on one hand. Indeed, the only real precedent for such an event is what happened to Alaska’s Ted Stevens in 2008 when Mark Begich narrowly defeated him after the senator was convicted in a corruption case. But, as Cohn helpfully points out, as much as Democrats and some right-wing activists might hate him, McConnell isn’t a convicted felon (while failing to note that Stevens’s conviction was later overturned because of the outrageous and illegal conduct of his prosecutors, though that did the Alaskan, who died in a plane crash soon after the election, little good).

If, as Cohn points out, McConnell could be reelected in 2008 in the middle of the electoral wave for Barack Obama as well as in the wake of his role in the passage of the TARP bailout for the banks, it’s hard to imagine him losing in the midst of what almost everyone concedes will be a big Republican year with voter outrage focused on ObamaCare. Throw in the fact that anger about Obama’s anti-coal policies is running red hot in the state’s coal producing regions and it’s hard to see how Grimes gets to a majority this year.

Moreover, as Cohn also notes, Grimes’s good poll numbers that show her even with the senator have a fatal flaw. She’s currently polling in the low 40s, which sounds good but, given Kentucky’s past voting patterns, that may be her ceiling rather than a jumping off point.

More than anything else, like other Democrats, Grimes is going to have to deal with the massive fallout from ObamaCare. Like Alex Sink in Florida-13, Grimes is trying to finesse the issue by saying the law should be fixed rather than repealed. The Kentucky ObamaCare exchange is working better than in most states leading some to conclude health care won’t be the issue in that state that it is elsewhere. But that’s an assumption that fails to take into account the dynamic of how a national issue can overwhelm local concerns. And, as Sink discovered, the “fix it” mantra may not turn out to be so smart anyway since it forces Democrats to play on Republican turf.

It’s true that Mitch McConnell has a fight on his hands and Grimes may well have a future in national politics beyond this year. But those counting on the minority leader losing are probably backing the wrong horse in this year’s Senate derby.

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