Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 23, 2014

Three More Palestinian “No’s” to Peace

After the visits to Washington by both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas this month, it’s clear that Secretary of State John Kerry’s Middle East peace talks are at an impasse. If one were only listening to the statements coming from President Obama and Kerry, you’d think the obstacle to continued talks was their perennial whipping boy Netanyahu and not Abbas, whom they went out of their way to praise for his supposed commitment to peace. Yet while the Israelis have been prepared to accept Kerry’s framework for continued talks, albeit with misgivings about the direction of the process, it is the Palestinians who are digging in their heels and won’t commit to the framework or to keep talking after April. Demonstrating just how strong he thinks his hand is with the Americans, Abbas delivered three significant “no’s” to Obama last week that call into question both the Palestinians’ intentions as well as the future of the current process:

Abbas “went to the White House and said ‘no’ to Obama,” [Israel’s] Channel 2 news reported, quoting unnamed American and Israeli sources. Specifically, the report said, Abbas rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that he recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He also refused to abandon the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” for millions of Palestinians and their descendants — a demand that, if implemented, would drastically alter Israel’s demographic balance and which no conceivable Israeli government would accept. And finally, he refused to commit to an “end of conflict,” under which a peace deal would represent the termination of any further Palestinian demands of Israel.

It must be understood that a framework without these three elements is a formula for continued conflict, not peace. Moreover, according to a report in the Arab press, Abbas had some demands of his own before he would agree to keep talking even with a framework that did not include the three points he has rejected. He wants Israel to release the last of the more than 100 terrorist murderers it agreed to free in exchange for his agreement to return to the table last year plus one more: Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah leader who is currently serving five life-in-prison sentences for five murders.

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After the visits to Washington by both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas this month, it’s clear that Secretary of State John Kerry’s Middle East peace talks are at an impasse. If one were only listening to the statements coming from President Obama and Kerry, you’d think the obstacle to continued talks was their perennial whipping boy Netanyahu and not Abbas, whom they went out of their way to praise for his supposed commitment to peace. Yet while the Israelis have been prepared to accept Kerry’s framework for continued talks, albeit with misgivings about the direction of the process, it is the Palestinians who are digging in their heels and won’t commit to the framework or to keep talking after April. Demonstrating just how strong he thinks his hand is with the Americans, Abbas delivered three significant “no’s” to Obama last week that call into question both the Palestinians’ intentions as well as the future of the current process:

Abbas “went to the White House and said ‘no’ to Obama,” [Israel’s] Channel 2 news reported, quoting unnamed American and Israeli sources. Specifically, the report said, Abbas rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that he recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He also refused to abandon the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” for millions of Palestinians and their descendants — a demand that, if implemented, would drastically alter Israel’s demographic balance and which no conceivable Israeli government would accept. And finally, he refused to commit to an “end of conflict,” under which a peace deal would represent the termination of any further Palestinian demands of Israel.

It must be understood that a framework without these three elements is a formula for continued conflict, not peace. Moreover, according to a report in the Arab press, Abbas had some demands of his own before he would agree to keep talking even with a framework that did not include the three points he has rejected. He wants Israel to release the last of the more than 100 terrorist murderers it agreed to free in exchange for his agreement to return to the table last year plus one more: Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah leader who is currently serving five life-in-prison sentences for five murders.

As the Times of Israel notes, the release of Barghouti, who led the terrorist Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade during the second intifada (and was therefore actually responsible for the deaths of hundreds and injury to thousands more Israelis and Palestinians than the mere five civilian deaths for which he was convicted), would be a coup for Abbas and might give him the kind of political breathing room to keep talking. If he were sprung, Barghouti would also be seen as Abbas’s successor since the spilling of so much Jewish blood has enhanced his political stock among Palestinians. If, as is likely, the Israelis refuse, that would allow Abbas to once again blame Netanyahu for obstructing the peace process.

The Barghouti demand may be just window dressing intended to strengthen the always shaky political standing of Abbas as he serves the ninth year of the four-year term as president of the PA to which he was elected in 2005. But the key to understanding his negotiating strategy is his apparent confidence that nothing he does or says will cause the United States to call him out for his intransigence and blatant insincerity.

Indeed, though Kerry attempted to create a framework that was more or less on the terms that the Palestinians have always demanded–an independent state whose borders would be based on the 1967 lines that would include a share of Jerusalem–they have refused to assent to it since it would obligate them to actually end the conflict and recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. Obama’s decision to publicly hammer Netanyahu while praising Abbas seems to have emboldened the Palestinian to think he has carte blanche to up the ante on the Israelis while giving nothing in return. That Kerry and Obama cheerleaders like the left-wing J Street group have endorsed Abbas’s refusal to say those two little words—Jewish state—that would indicate his willingness to envision actual peace only reinforces his reluctance to give an inch.

Israelis are now expected to release the last of the murderers Abbas demanded as a ransom for his presence at the table just as he is abandoning it with the extra insult that the names of the terrorists on the list are actually Israeli citizens rather than residents of the territories. The bottom line is that after issuing three historic “no’s” to Israeli peace offers including statehood in 2000, 2001, and 2008, Abbas has now added three more refusals that add up to yet another instance in which the Palestinians have rejected a compromise that would end the conflict. How many more “no’s” will convince the administration that Abbas hasn’t the courage to challenge the Palestinian political culture of intransigence that he helped create and therefore must be held responsible for the deadlock rather than Netanyahu? Right now, Abbas is betting the number is infinite.

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Time to Eliminate Ethnic Studies?

Earlier this month, word broke that the Black Student Union at the University of Michigan is demanding that racial and ethnic studies required as part of the core curriculum for the College of Literature, Science and Arts be also required at the university’s other component colleges, such as the College of Engineering. The student government president supported the new requirement, according to a Daily Caller report:

It would be helpful for economics students to study “poverty, inequality and labor through the scope of race,” he [Sagar Lathia] suggested. Activists hope that any proposal approved by the administration would assert identity-based themes — such as gender, sexuality, immigration status, religion and race — as a core focus of the curriculum at each of the university’s colleges.

Frankly, the opposite might be truer: It might be comforting to students who seek education simply to amplify their political beliefs—after all, that is pretty much the effect if not the purpose of most racial and ethnic studies courses—but engineering courses would teach a discipline of thought and the difference between fact and theory that would enhance any Michigan student’s education, even if they lowered the grade-point average of those more accustomed to being marked on effort rather than result.

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Earlier this month, word broke that the Black Student Union at the University of Michigan is demanding that racial and ethnic studies required as part of the core curriculum for the College of Literature, Science and Arts be also required at the university’s other component colleges, such as the College of Engineering. The student government president supported the new requirement, according to a Daily Caller report:

It would be helpful for economics students to study “poverty, inequality and labor through the scope of race,” he [Sagar Lathia] suggested. Activists hope that any proposal approved by the administration would assert identity-based themes — such as gender, sexuality, immigration status, religion and race — as a core focus of the curriculum at each of the university’s colleges.

Frankly, the opposite might be truer: It might be comforting to students who seek education simply to amplify their political beliefs—after all, that is pretty much the effect if not the purpose of most racial and ethnic studies courses—but engineering courses would teach a discipline of thought and the difference between fact and theory that would enhance any Michigan student’s education, even if they lowered the grade-point average of those more accustomed to being marked on effort rather than result.

Perhaps the University of Michigan—and other prominent schools—should go further, however, and eliminate race and ethnic studies courses altogether, at least at the undergraduate level, because they are hopelessly narrow and deny students the broader base and context they would need to address race and ethnicity in a serious way. There is nothing wrong with African-American history, Latino studies, or gay studies, but they are by definition compartmentalized, more suited for a final thesis project or a Ph.D. concentration than the broader base a bachelor’s degree should afford. To use an area studies metaphor, limiting oneself to any specific ethnic group in the context of U.S. history is akin to studying Jordanian or Palestinian history without studying Islam, Christianity, broader Arab history and, for that matter, Ottoman history and Iran. Or, perhaps in the world of medicine, the analogy would be to studying gynecology without studying physiology, anatomy, or chemistry.

Perhaps the students taking race and ethnicity courses believe that U.S. history isn’t adequately reflective of their own experience, but embracing a willful ignorance of broader American history isn’t the way to further either knowledge or citizenship, nor is it the way to acquire the perspective to understand the difference in importance between Cesar Chavez and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This does not mean minorities or women should be ignored in history. But certainly social history classes and, where appropriate, political or diplomatic history classes as well, might incorporate them.

Ethnic studies do a disservice to many of those immersing themselves because it promotes intellectual ghettoization to the detriment of education. And while feminist theory, gender theory, and racial theories might sound good in narrow academic jargon, too often they become a cover to supplant research with politics. Simply put, theory is for people who don’t have libraries. Two cheers for the Black Student Union at Michigan for starting a debate. But now that debate is opened, perhaps it can be pursued to the opposite conclusion, one that prioritizes educational rigor over politics and inclusiveness over separation.

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More on the Gaza Missile Ship Raid

I wrote earlier about what Israel’s interdiction on the high seas of a ship bringing missiles from Iran to Gaza (under the obligatory cover of building supplies) means for international law. It turns out the operation had a far simpler legal basis than was previously evident: the ship’s flag state, Panama, consented to the operation.

Because a ship is legally an extension of the flag state’s territory, that state has an absolute right to consent to search on the high seas. Of course, nations have always been reluctant to allow interference with their civilian ships. Moreover, flags of convenience like Panama have about as much taste for allowing foreign security forces peeking into their ships as the Swiss have for peeking into their banks. So Panama’s cooperation is laudable. It is a happy example of a registry state taking actual responsibility for what happens under its flag, and yet another of many contradictions to the Jewish state’s alleged “growing isolation.”

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I wrote earlier about what Israel’s interdiction on the high seas of a ship bringing missiles from Iran to Gaza (under the obligatory cover of building supplies) means for international law. It turns out the operation had a far simpler legal basis than was previously evident: the ship’s flag state, Panama, consented to the operation.

Because a ship is legally an extension of the flag state’s territory, that state has an absolute right to consent to search on the high seas. Of course, nations have always been reluctant to allow interference with their civilian ships. Moreover, flags of convenience like Panama have about as much taste for allowing foreign security forces peeking into their ships as the Swiss have for peeking into their banks. So Panama’s cooperation is laudable. It is a happy example of a registry state taking actual responsibility for what happens under its flag, and yet another of many contradictions to the Jewish state’s alleged “growing isolation.”

Yet in contrast to the brilliant success of the naval commandoes in seizing the ship, it is a scandal that amid threats of isolation Prime Minister Netanyahu cannot personally thank Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, as an ongoing strike by Foreign Ministry workers has cancelled his Latin American visit. Regardless of the merits of the workers’ grievances, they should not feel that their mundane pay issues justify holding hostage the country’s good relations and geopolitical security.

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Europeans Fund Lawfare Against “Allies” Israel and Canada

The growing European hostility toward the Jewish state is well publicized, as is the corresponding European support for the Palestinians and their agenda. The Palestinian Authority’s largest funder is not the oil-rich and supposedly sympathetic Arab world. It is not even the United States. No, despite its own critical financial situation, the largest single funder of the dubious Fatah-run mini-state in the West Bank is the European Union. Given the way in which the PA is known to squander huge sums of money through corruption, that it is guilty of torturing and persecuting political opponents, openly incites genocidal levels of Jew-hatred among its population and generally obstructs the peace process at every turn, this level of European funding ought to raise some eyebrows.

Yet, in addition to this direct funding to the PA, European countries are also channeling large amounts of money to highly politicized activist groups, and in doing so financing the legitimacy war being waged against Israel. In a report released by NGO Monitor earlier this month, it has been exposed that the EU, along with several other European governments, is paying for the waging of what has come to be known as “lawfare” against Israel. More noteworthy still is the way this funding is also being used by one particularly hostile and activist NGO to even pursue Canada, a close of ally of Israel, at the UN. The large body of evidence here really does have to be seen to be believed. Yet there is no denying it: European countries are indeed financing “lawfare” against two nations that they purport to consider friends.

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The growing European hostility toward the Jewish state is well publicized, as is the corresponding European support for the Palestinians and their agenda. The Palestinian Authority’s largest funder is not the oil-rich and supposedly sympathetic Arab world. It is not even the United States. No, despite its own critical financial situation, the largest single funder of the dubious Fatah-run mini-state in the West Bank is the European Union. Given the way in which the PA is known to squander huge sums of money through corruption, that it is guilty of torturing and persecuting political opponents, openly incites genocidal levels of Jew-hatred among its population and generally obstructs the peace process at every turn, this level of European funding ought to raise some eyebrows.

Yet, in addition to this direct funding to the PA, European countries are also channeling large amounts of money to highly politicized activist groups, and in doing so financing the legitimacy war being waged against Israel. In a report released by NGO Monitor earlier this month, it has been exposed that the EU, along with several other European governments, is paying for the waging of what has come to be known as “lawfare” against Israel. More noteworthy still is the way this funding is also being used by one particularly hostile and activist NGO to even pursue Canada, a close of ally of Israel, at the UN. The large body of evidence here really does have to be seen to be believed. Yet there is no denying it: European countries are indeed financing “lawfare” against two nations that they purport to consider friends.

The Palestinian NGO in question is the cryptically named Norwegian Refugee Council, a title that offers few clues as to the group’s actual activities. Quite simply, the primary function of this organization appears to be to wage “lawfare” against Israel’s judicial system in an effort to sabotage its legal process and subvert the democratic structures for determining Israeli policy. NGO Monitor reports that NRC has financed at least 677 cases that received full legal representation in court and other administrative bodies in Israel. According to an eyewitness report, the strategy here is to “try every possible legal measure to disrupt the Israeli judicial system… as many cases as possible are registered and that as many cases as possible are appealed to increase the workload of the courts and the Supreme Court to such an extent that there will be a blockage.” 

In addition, NGO Monitor details how NRC pursues “public interest cases” concerning some of the most sensitive aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute in an effort to circumvent the democratic process for determining Israeli policy on these matters, instead seeking to alter policy by obtaining legal precedents at the court level. Some of the most outrageous cases taken up by the NRC involve attempts to abrogate Jewish property rights in Jerusalem by bringing private cases seeking to nullify Jewish claims to property owned prior to 1948 and the Jordanian expulsion of all Jews from north, east, and south Jerusalem.

Most remarkable of all has to be the NRC’s activities against Canada. In 2008 another Palestinian campaign group masquerading as an NGO called Al Haq brought a civil case to court in Quebec that accused three Canadian companies of having operated illegally by being involved in the construction of West Bank settlements on privately owned Palestinian land. This was despite the fact that six lawsuits on this matter had already been filed in Israel itself. Primarily it appears that bringing the case to Canada was part of an orchestrated publicity stunt.

Yet, in 2009 the court in Quebec found that the campaigners had produced “no evidence whatsoever” to support their claims about the ownership of the land, and as such their case was thrown out, with partial costs being awarded to the defendants. In 2010 the court of appeal upheld the lower court’s decision and in 2011 the Canadian Supreme Court endorsed both of these previous rulings. Having still not received their desired outcome, in 2013 the NRC took the astonishing action of pursuing Canada at the UN, using funds specifically provided by Britain to do so. Issuing a complaint against the Canadian judicial system to the UN Human Rights Committee, the group also claimed that, “Canada violated its extra-territorial obligation to ensure respect for Articles 2, 7, 12, 17 and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” Given just how supportive Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has been of Israel, one cannot help but wonder if this might not be part of the reason that Canada is being targeted at the UN in this way.

The primary donors for the NRC are Norway, Sweden, the UK, and the EU. Given that both Sweden and the UK already pay into the EU budget, tax payers in these countries are funding this organization twice over. Between 2011 and 2013 alone, the NRC spent $20 million on its lawfare campaigns. With the considerable deficits that most EU countries are currently running up, how might European publics react to discovering that this is how their tax euros are being spent? The British public exists in a permanent state of embitterment regarding the poor state of the country’s National Health Service. Imagine the news going down that while hospital wards are being closed, the British government is directing huge sums of money to a rogue NGO that engages in such activity as pursuing Canada at the UN on entirely trumped-up charges?

If nothing else, as long as this funding continues to flow, the Europeans cannot expect to play any role as fair brokers in the peace process, and they must be allowed absolutely no say in that matter. 

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State Department Ignoring Treaty Cheating Nothing New

Bill Gertz over at the Washington Free Beacon reports that House leaders seek a General Accounting Office (GAO) investigation into the State Department’s failure to report Russian violations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Gertz writes:

“It is clear from my subcommittee’s oversight that the administration did not fully disclose what it knew about Russian arms control violations when it was trying to get the New START treaty ratified,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces. “Its all-consuming drive to protect its Russia reset policy has gutted our missile defenses, alienated allies, and only encouraged Vladimir Putin’s lawlessness,” he said in a statement.

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Bill Gertz over at the Washington Free Beacon reports that House leaders seek a General Accounting Office (GAO) investigation into the State Department’s failure to report Russian violations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Gertz writes:

“It is clear from my subcommittee’s oversight that the administration did not fully disclose what it knew about Russian arms control violations when it was trying to get the New START treaty ratified,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces. “Its all-consuming drive to protect its Russia reset policy has gutted our missile defenses, alienated allies, and only encouraged Vladimir Putin’s lawlessness,” he said in a statement.

Alas, the willingness of the State Department (often the Central Intelligence Agency as well) to turn a blind eye to intelligence that undercuts high-profile diplomatic engagements is more the rule than the exception. Researching Dancing With the Devil, it became clear that diplomats and analysts often seek to bury information that might lead Congress to conclude that diplomacy is not successful. When Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter, both the CIA and the State Department changed their interpretation of the “yellow rain” incident to suggest that the battlefield presence of deadly toxins dropped from airplanes had less to do with the Soviet planes that dropped them than naturally occurring bee feces that just happened to appear in the area at the same time. To conclude that the Soviet Union had violated the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), diplomats and analysts feared, might undercut efforts to conclude the second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT-2). Years later, however, as the Soviet Union collapsed, Russian officials acknowledged that they had indeed cheated on the BWC.

Likewise, when Congress asked the State Department to certify that the Palestine Liberation Organization had foresworn terrorism, and made U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority contingent on that certification, senior Clinton administration State Department officials appear to have lied to Congress, when the now declassified intelligence is compared with their contemporary testimony. And, of course, the State Department reacted with outrage when the GAO found that North Korea had been cheating on its commitments because senior Clinton administration officials said such a finding could endanger diplomacy.

Let us hope that Mike Rogers and Ted Poe (R., Texas), chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation, and trade, continue to press the GAO to report on the State Department’s actions. For unless the pattern in which diplomats twist truth to justify diplomacy is broken, American national security will continue to suffer and adversaries will continue to understand that they need not adhere to their commitments.

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“Right of Return” Is Not About “Refugees”

In A Jewish State,”the Wall Street Journal notes that “the right of return, with its implicit promise to eliminate Israel, is the centerpiece of the conflict” between Israelis and Arabs. The Journal observes that it is a “right” recognized “for no other refugee group in the world,” and that its acceptance by Israel would risk “a demographic time bomb that could turn the country into another Lebanon, sectarian and bloody.” The Journal explains the Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state as follows: “As to why Mr. Abbas won’t accept a Jewish state, it’s because doing so means relinquishing what Palestinians call the ‘right of return.’”

The Journal’s otherwise excellent editorial confuses a tactic and a goal. The reason the Palestinians won’t accept a Jewish state is not because it means relinquishing the “right of return.” It is the other way around: they won’t relinquish the “right of return” because it would mean accepting a Jewish state. Nor is this simply a matter of substituting the converse for the Journal’s formulation. Rather, it reflects a fundamental point that Ron Dermer (then one of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s closest aides and currently Israel’s ambassador to the U.S.) made in a May 2009 AIPAC presentation. Dermer’s point was that the “core issue” in the conflict was not refugees, but recognition:   

The half of the Palestinian polity that is not openly dedicated to Israel’s destruction is unwilling to recognize Israel as the Jewish state … For those of you who think that this has anything to do with the refugee issue — you’re wrong. In 1947, there wasn’t a single refugee, and the Palestinian and the Arab world was not willing to recognize a nation state for the Jewish people. That is a core issue, the core issue …

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In A Jewish State,”the Wall Street Journal notes that “the right of return, with its implicit promise to eliminate Israel, is the centerpiece of the conflict” between Israelis and Arabs. The Journal observes that it is a “right” recognized “for no other refugee group in the world,” and that its acceptance by Israel would risk “a demographic time bomb that could turn the country into another Lebanon, sectarian and bloody.” The Journal explains the Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state as follows: “As to why Mr. Abbas won’t accept a Jewish state, it’s because doing so means relinquishing what Palestinians call the ‘right of return.’”

The Journal’s otherwise excellent editorial confuses a tactic and a goal. The reason the Palestinians won’t accept a Jewish state is not because it means relinquishing the “right of return.” It is the other way around: they won’t relinquish the “right of return” because it would mean accepting a Jewish state. Nor is this simply a matter of substituting the converse for the Journal’s formulation. Rather, it reflects a fundamental point that Ron Dermer (then one of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s closest aides and currently Israel’s ambassador to the U.S.) made in a May 2009 AIPAC presentation. Dermer’s point was that the “core issue” in the conflict was not refugees, but recognition:   

The half of the Palestinian polity that is not openly dedicated to Israel’s destruction is unwilling to recognize Israel as the Jewish state … For those of you who think that this has anything to do with the refugee issue — you’re wrong. In 1947, there wasn’t a single refugee, and the Palestinian and the Arab world was not willing to recognize a nation state for the Jewish people. That is a core issue, the core issue …

The Palestinians use a definition of “refugee” that makes their “refugeehood” hereditary. Other refugees get resettled; Palestinian refugees get born. They may have never lived in Israel, but they are classified as “refugees” at birth, on grounds that their grandparents (or great grandparents) were refugees 65 years ago. This is why each year the number of Palestinian refugees increases, while the number of other refugees in the world decreases. The Palestinians have been repeatedly offered a state to which their refugees could “return,” but they repeatedly reject it, clinging to a specious “right” of “return” to Israel not because it is necessary for the “refugees,” but because it is a tool in the fight against the Jewish state.

The latest tactic is the Palestinian assertion (swallowed whole by the New York Times) that recognition of a Jewish state is a new issue, allegedly raised by Netanyahu to prevent peace. It is a Big Lie. Last Wednesday Ambassador Dennis Ross, speaking on “Israel, America, and the Middle East: Challenges for 2014,” summarized the Israeli position (my transcription and italics):

From the Israeli standpoint, they say look, if you believe in two states, why is it that Israel being the nation-state of the Jewish people is something that you can’t accept? Why is it that self-determination for the Jewish people in a part of historic Palestine is something that you can’t embrace? And it’s pretty fundamental.

When I hear it said that this is the first time this issue has been raised – the people who say that think that no one knows history.  Now maybe it’s true that most people don’t know history. But they should never say it to me. When we were at Camp David, this issue was raised. In the period after Camp David, before we did the Clinton Parameters, this issue was raised. This issue has been raised for obvious reasons. From the Israeli standpoint, there is a need to know that the Palestinians are committed to two states, meaning in fact that one state is Palestinian and one is the state of the Jewish people. They need to know the Palestinians are not about two states, one Palestinian and one bi-national.

In 1947, the Jews accepted the UN two-state resolution; the Arabs not only rejected it, but started a war the next day. In 1948, when Israel declared itself a state, the Arab states sent their armies in, seeking to destroy it. Instead, they created a “catastrophe” for themselves. More than 65 years later, the Palestinians and their Arab allies still reject a Jewish state. They need to recognize it, not only for Israel’s benefit but their own: it is the necessary first step on their long road back from the self-created “catastrophe.” For the reasons succinctly stated in Ambassador Ross’s summary, no “two-state solution” is possible until they take that first step. But the Palestinians appear to have already made it clear they will not miss the opportunity to say “no” once again.

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Economics 101 for Bob Beckel

Bob Beckel, the liberal voice on Fox News Channel’s extremely successful The Five, likes to go off on rants regarding Wal-Mart. On Friday he was in rare form, damning the world’s largest retailer (and this country’s largest employer) for having caused more rival businesses to close than any other in history, and for buying most of its merchandise abroad. On other occasions he has complained that Wal-Mart doesn’t pay its employees a “living wage.”

Beckel’s first claim is probably true and the second certainly is. The third claim, however, is economic sophistry.

Wal-Mart is a profit-seeking corporation. It is, in other words, a wealth-creation machine, nothing more, nothing less. Its management, therefore, has a fiduciary duty to the stockholders to maximize the return on their invested capital. It does that in the following three ways.

First, by paying the lowest wages that will supply the company with a satisfactory work force. If Wal-Mart can get a satisfactory worker for a given job at $7.25 an hour, why should it pay more? Bob Beckel never pays more than he has to in order to get what he needs; why should Wal-Mart? Wal-Mart employees are not indentured. They’re perfectly free to search for a job that pays better than the one they have. If they don’t, it’s because they have the best job around for their skill set and particular circumstances. If market forces do not produce a “living wage,”—about as subjective a term as you can find, right up there with “fair”—then it is government’s function to make up the difference through the Earned Income Tax Credit or other mechanism. Corporations are not WPA projects and shouldn’t be used as such by government fiat.

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Bob Beckel, the liberal voice on Fox News Channel’s extremely successful The Five, likes to go off on rants regarding Wal-Mart. On Friday he was in rare form, damning the world’s largest retailer (and this country’s largest employer) for having caused more rival businesses to close than any other in history, and for buying most of its merchandise abroad. On other occasions he has complained that Wal-Mart doesn’t pay its employees a “living wage.”

Beckel’s first claim is probably true and the second certainly is. The third claim, however, is economic sophistry.

Wal-Mart is a profit-seeking corporation. It is, in other words, a wealth-creation machine, nothing more, nothing less. Its management, therefore, has a fiduciary duty to the stockholders to maximize the return on their invested capital. It does that in the following three ways.

First, by paying the lowest wages that will supply the company with a satisfactory work force. If Wal-Mart can get a satisfactory worker for a given job at $7.25 an hour, why should it pay more? Bob Beckel never pays more than he has to in order to get what he needs; why should Wal-Mart? Wal-Mart employees are not indentured. They’re perfectly free to search for a job that pays better than the one they have. If they don’t, it’s because they have the best job around for their skill set and particular circumstances. If market forces do not produce a “living wage,”—about as subjective a term as you can find, right up there with “fair”—then it is government’s function to make up the difference through the Earned Income Tax Credit or other mechanism. Corporations are not WPA projects and shouldn’t be used as such by government fiat.

Second, by paying the lowest amounts for merchandise of satisfactory quality. In a globalized world, that often means buying goods manufactured abroad. The high-wage American economy cannot compete with low-wage third-world countries when it comes to low-tech manufacturing. Most of the cost of a T-shirt or a pair of socks, after all, is the labor. With transportation costs now very low, thanks to containerization, and tariffs at the lowest point in history—a policy pursued by both Democratic and Republican administrations over the last 70 years—buying abroad is the only option for most of the merchandise sold at Wal-Mart. Does Bob Beckel think it’s a good idea for Wal-Mart to buy domestically if that means T-shirts that cost $20 each?

Third, by offering better prices, better quality, and more choices to its customers. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of mom-and-pop, Main-Street retail operations have gone out of business because of Wal-Mart. That is because the customers of those concerns found that they got better deals at Wal-Mart and started shopping there, instead of on Main Street. That was tough, no doubt, on mom and pop, but that’s the “creative destruction” that is an ineluctable aspect of capitalism. Without old-fashion businesses adapting or dying, the economy stagnates and innovation disappears. Just ask anyone who has lived in a socialist economy.

And while it was tough on tens of thousands of moms and pops, it was great for Wal-Mart’s tens of millions of customers, whose standard of living has been raised by Wal-Mart’s low prices, high quality, and convenience.

If Bob Beckel were to have his way—and he won’t—the American standard of living and the size of the American GDP would both decline sharply as prices rose and quality declined. That, of course, would mean fewer total jobs. As with so many liberals, Bob Beckel’s heart is in the right place. But the heart is an organ very ill-suited to economic analysis.

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What Will It Take to Maintain Putin’s High?

Vladimir Putin’s land grab in Ukraine hasn’t been simply about uniting ethnic Russians; just as with the 2008 Georgia invasion, it has also been about the economy. Too many Western diplomats and policymakers—especially those who do not regularly follow Russia—are behind the curve with regard to Russian perceptions of Putin. True, Putin won plaudits for picking Russia up by its bootstraps in the wake of Boris Yeltsin’s terms, but much of his economic success was less than met the eye and due more to the steep rise in oil prices. As oil has leveled off, the Russian economy has stagnated.

The European Foundation for Democracy’s Anna Borshchevskaya (full disclosure: my wife) had a great piece a few years ago looking at Russia’s economic vulnerability against the backdrop of the Arab Spring. In short, Russia’s economy is stagnant. Rather than fix the problems and address the corruption from which he personally benefits, Putin has discovered that it is easier to whip the flames of nationalist fervor. But every time he makes a land grab–Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008 and Crimea and perhaps soon eastern Ukraine in 2014–he must subsidize the new territory, creating an even greater drain on Russian resources, all the more so since he also subsidizes client states like Belarus to keep them in line.

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Vladimir Putin’s land grab in Ukraine hasn’t been simply about uniting ethnic Russians; just as with the 2008 Georgia invasion, it has also been about the economy. Too many Western diplomats and policymakers—especially those who do not regularly follow Russia—are behind the curve with regard to Russian perceptions of Putin. True, Putin won plaudits for picking Russia up by its bootstraps in the wake of Boris Yeltsin’s terms, but much of his economic success was less than met the eye and due more to the steep rise in oil prices. As oil has leveled off, the Russian economy has stagnated.

The European Foundation for Democracy’s Anna Borshchevskaya (full disclosure: my wife) had a great piece a few years ago looking at Russia’s economic vulnerability against the backdrop of the Arab Spring. In short, Russia’s economy is stagnant. Rather than fix the problems and address the corruption from which he personally benefits, Putin has discovered that it is easier to whip the flames of nationalist fervor. But every time he makes a land grab–Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008 and Crimea and perhaps soon eastern Ukraine in 2014–he must subsidize the new territory, creating an even greater drain on Russian resources, all the more so since he also subsidizes client states like Belarus to keep them in line.

Therefore, with every territory he grabs, the speed with which the Russian economy unravels increases, forcing the need for even more land grabs to stay ahead of the issue. It’s analogous to a cocaine addict who must constantly up his dose to get the same high.

As diplomats and analysts consider what might be next in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s cross hairs, it would be a mistake to focus only on eastern Ukraine, the Baltics, and Moldova because if he really wants to bolster his economy, he must retain its energy monopoly. Here, pro-Western Azerbaijan, a neighbor to Georgia, may actually have cause for concern. Azerbaijan is a major energy hub, and last summer announced that it would direct its new pipeline to southern Europe, bypassing Russia. The completion of the project will undercut Russian leverage and the Kremlin’s ability to blackmail Europe. Russia knows this, of course, and has worked to permeate the opposition to President Ilham Aliyev, who has stood firm against both Russian pressure and Iranian attempts to infiltrate and radicalize Azerbaijan.

President Obama tends to play checkers instead of chess, but it’s time to think several steps ahead, and bolster Azerbaijan. It may really be the most crucial piece in the new great game.

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