Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 7, 2014

Should Hillary Fear Warren? Maybe.

Put me down as a skeptic about the theory floated by author Edward Klein about President Obama having a preference for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren over Hillary Clinton on the question of who should be his successor. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Warren was rethinking her decision to stay out of the 2016 contest.

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Put me down as a skeptic about the theory floated by author Edward Klein about President Obama having a preference for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren over Hillary Clinton on the question of who should be his successor. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Warren was rethinking her decision to stay out of the 2016 contest.

Klein is the author of a new book Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. The Obamas. The conceit of this effort centers on the tension that has existed between the two rivals for the 2008 Democratic nomination and which is now beginning to resurface after a four-year hiatus while Hillary served as secretary of state. That Clinton has more centrist tendencies is no secret, especially with regard to foreign policy. Other differences are more a matter of style and temperament. As Seth wrote earlier today, the slow rollout of her 2016 campaign will involve a degree of triangulation as she struggles to thread the needle between establishing her own identity and not offending a Democratic base that still reveres Obama.

It’s also probably true that Obama may have a greater affinity for Warren’s left-wing populist shtick than Hillary’s ill-fitting pose as a woman of the people even though she is far more comfortable associating with the Goldman Sachs crowd than rank and file Democrats.

But Klein’s tale about Obama consigliere Valerie Jarrett being ordered “to conduct a full-court press to convince Warren to throw her hat into the ring” in 2016 strikes me as the sort of scoop that seems more about promoting book sales than providing any real insight about the battle to succeed Obama.

It’s not that I disagree with Klein’s speculations about the president’s dislike of Bill Clinton, suspicions about the Clinton political machine, or his distaste for the Clinton’s second-guessing about his inability to work with Republicans. It’s just that I don’t really believe the president cares that much about the identity of the next president aside from a vague desire to see any Democratic successor as serving a third Obama term. Obama has always viewed himself as sui generis, a historic figure that cannot be compared to any of his predecessors. I doubt that any latent animus for the Clintons would be enough to cause him to be willing to expend the sort of political capital that would be needed to derail Hillary. My guess is that the only future political question that will really excite him is defending his historic legacy. The identity of the 2016 Democratic nominee is relevant to that issue but not integral to the effort to bolster his reputation after he has left the White House.

But even if we leave Obama and Jarrett out of any pre-2016 intrigue, Senator Warren may well be wondering if her promise not to oppose Clinton could be walked back. Clinton’s shaky book tour performance did more than expose the awkward political instincts that hurt her in 2008 against Obama. Her “broke” gaffe and the subsequent attention devoted to the wealth she and her husband have accumulated since 2001 constitute a huge opening for a credible left-wing opponent who is willing to buck the “inevitability” factor that is the engine driving Clinton’s drive for the presidency.

It won’t be easy for anyone to challenge a candidate who has all but wrapped up the Democratic nomination years before the contest starts. It has also got to be difficult for any Democratic woman to muster the guts to try to stop a candidate whose main argument for the presidency is that she is female.

But there’s also no question that much of the Democratic base would be delighted with a real race, especially if it meant that Clinton would be forced to shift hard to the left to avoid being outflanked by an ideologue like Warren. The Massachusetts senator is not quite the magical political figure that Obama proved to be but, just as was the case in 2008, Clinton has shown herself to be vulnerable. If anyone were to have a chance against her, it would have to be a candidate who could also appeal to women and to the party’s liberal roots. Though Warren might not have the same hubris that drove Obama to think himself ready for the presidency after only a couple of years in the Senate, a few more Clinton missteps might convince her to try her luck.

If she does, I don’t think the alleged Obama-Clinton feud will be the driving force in such a race. Rather, it would be a recognition that the woman many Democrats have anointed as their next leader is not quite as inevitable as she would like us to think.

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Where Apologies Are Needed

Some are reacting to the news that Israelis were responsible for the murder of an Arab teen by issuing apologies on behalf of all Jews for the crime. Some go further and also denounce anyone who tried to call the Palestinians to account for their applauding the kidnapping and murder of Israeli boys. But some of those who are now talking about Jewish collective guilt generally don’t apply the same standard to the Palestinians.

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Some are reacting to the news that Israelis were responsible for the murder of an Arab teen by issuing apologies on behalf of all Jews for the crime. Some go further and also denounce anyone who tried to call the Palestinians to account for their applauding the kidnapping and murder of Israeli boys. But some of those who are now talking about Jewish collective guilt generally don’t apply the same standard to the Palestinians.

Apologies for these crimes are in order. As our Seth Mandel wrote yesterday, the instances of anti-Arab incitement might not be as numerous as those of anti-Jewish rhetoric. Nor do they come from the organs of the Jewish state, as does the endless stream of hate that originates from official Palestinian Authority and Hamas sources. But they are nonetheless deplorable.

It doesn’t matter that what is rare among Jews is commonplace in the political culture of the Palestinians. If we have ignored or downplayed this virus, then it is appropriate at such moments to think seriously about where we have failed to sufficiently combat these awful tendencies. Even as we seek to place these views and the isolated actions of a few in the context of a conflict whose focus remains the determination of most of the Arab and Muslim world to destroy the Jewish state, there should be no downplaying the insidious nature of hatred expressed by Jews or, as our John Podhoretz noted earlier today, the profound betrayal of the Zionist enterprise that the actions of the killers of Muhammed Khdeir represent. If, while focusing so much on the behavior of Israel’s foes, we have, even unwittingly, given encouragement to those Jews who mimic the font of vicious anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic language that flows from the Muslim and Arab worlds, then we must hold ourselves accountable. As was the case when such things have happened in the past, this is the moment to say that we must be more vigilant in denouncing such expressions rather than ignoring or minimizing them.

But if our apologies are to be offered, is it too much to ask that both sides attempt to make amends? Is it offensive, as Bradley Burston says in a Haaretz piece, for Jews to have the temerity or the bad taste to mention the behavior of Palestinians during the two-week search for the three missing Israeli teenagers?

If Jews today feel ashamed about the murderers of an Arab teenager—and we are right to feel that way—is it really out of bounds to note the mainstreaming of hate and applause for terrorism that is integral to Palestinian nationalism?

Apologists for the Palestinians seem to think so. Palestinian identity has become inseparable not only from anti-Zionism but also from a sense of victimhood. It is true that the experience of the last two millennia culminating in the Holocaust has created a Jewish sense of victimhood that also tends to mire Jewish identity in purely negative history at the expense of more positive attributes. Yet the narrative of Jewish achievements and the triumph of the Zionist dream are able to mitigate the overpowering and lugubrious tale of woe. But for Palestinians, nothing is allowed to distract from their sacred “narrative” in which their martyrdom at the hands of wicked Jews is established.

It is not just that the Palestinian Authority has inculcated the youth of their country with hatred of Jews and Israel since they were given autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza. The problem isn’t just hate speech and the glorification of terror by official media and textbooks. It’s that there is no place in Palestinian culture for competing views in which their leaders’ historic rejection of compromise is discussed.

Palestinians cheered the ordeal of the three Jewish teens in much the same way that they have always honored those who committed acts of the most brutal terror against Jews. They feel no obligation to apologize for these horrible acts because they believe their victim status entitles them to inflict any possible cruelty on their enemies.

What we must come to terms with in this discussion is that the contrast between Israeli and Palestinian society is not that one side obsesses with the wrongs committed against them and a desire for revenge and the other does not. These sentiments are natural to all human beings and are just as present among Jews as they are among Arabs. The difference rests in that the Israelis have, thank Heaven, never allowed their self-absorption to overwhelm their cultural norms that act as a check against such behavior. The Palestinians have enshrined their sense of grievance to a point where they no longer have any perspective on it or their collective relationship with other peoples.

That is why Jews, from Israel’s prime minister and chief rabbis to pundits on both ends of the spectrum, are falling over themselves to apologize for Khdeir and Palestinians are, with rare exceptions, treating the suffering of Jews as a non-issue and cheering the terrorist missiles now raining down on Israeli towns and cities. To state this does not relieve Jews of the obligation to account for senseless hatred against Arabs. But those who think Palestinians need not apologize for terror and a culture that glorifies such crimes are not only wrong but also helping to make peace impossible.

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Haaretz Portrays Judaism as the Obstacle to Peace

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper will tomorrow host the grandly-named “Israel Conference on Peace” in Tel Aviv. In a crammed schedule across twelve hours, an intriguing array of speakers–Israelis, Arabs, Europeans, and Americans, left-wingers and right-wingers–will address economic development, human rights, access to water, the prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough, and other critical aspects of this particular Middle Eastern conflict.

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Israel’s Haaretz newspaper will tomorrow host the grandly-named “Israel Conference on Peace” in Tel Aviv. In a crammed schedule across twelve hours, an intriguing array of speakers–Israelis, Arabs, Europeans, and Americans, left-wingers and right-wingers–will address economic development, human rights, access to water, the prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough, and other critical aspects of this particular Middle Eastern conflict.

As is often the case with such events, one can tell a great deal about the nature of this conference through what’s not being discussed, as well as who isn’t in attendance. Despite Israel’s location in one of the most violent and illiberal regions of the world, the conference does not deem the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program, or the conquest of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq by the Islamists of ISIS, as worthy of a separate session–evidently, all that is secondary to the fate of the Palestinians. However, since two prominent Palestinian leaders, Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat and businessman Munib al Masri, have already pulled out of the conference, citing as a reason “respect” for the “feelings of the Palestinian people” in the light of “the developments of the last few days,” one might legitimately wonder whether the Palestinians share the conviction of the Israeli left that in times of crisis, dialogue is of paramount importance.

Yet to portray this conference as a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians–as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon does, in an op-ed that praises “Israeli civil society” for “its vibrancy in speaking out against incitement,” while ignoring the integral role that incitement plays in the articulation of Palestinian goals­–rather misses the point. There is another agenda here, one that centers upon promoting the idea among Jews that racism and bigotry are inherent in the notion of a “Jewish state.”

That is why, in the collection of articles assembled by Haaretz to accompany the conference, you will find Gideon Levy, one of the paper’s resident anti-Zionists, declaring preposterously that “a Jewish state means a racist, nationalistic state, meant for Jews only.” You will find an official Haaretz editorial insisting that the murderers of the Palestinian teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, are the “descendants and builders of a culture of hate and vengeance that is nurtured and fertilized by the guides of ‘the Jewish state.’” And you will find a longer meditation on the same theme by Avraham Burg, the scion of a leading Zionist family and the former Speaker of the Knesset, who concludes that the root of Israel’s problem lies (as he describes it) in the anti-gentile culture that distinguishes the Jewish faith.

To anyone familiar with the historical trajectory of anti-Zionism, this linkage between an antagonism towards non-Jews that is underscored by Jewish religious beliefs with the very existence of a Jewish state is nothing new. In “Judaism Without Embellishment,” a notorious anti-Semitic screed published by the Soviet Union in 1963, Trofim Kichko asserted that “all of Judaic ideology is impregnated with narrow practicality, with greed, the love of money, and the spirit of egoism.” The Jewish state, Kichko went on, expresses these values through its discrimination against non-Jews.

What is new and worrying, however, is the revival of this discredited anti-Judaic discourse by those Jews and Israelis for whom a Jewish state is, by definition, a racist endeavor. Writing in a tone that is slightly less contemptuous than that adopted by Kichko, Burg says, in his Haaretz piece, “The element of distrust of other nations is woven into the fabric of the way Jews operate. This stems not only from persecution and hatred, ghettos and bloodshed: It is also an internal and active choice expressed through our normative system of halakha (traditional Jewish law), which ensured this mode of thinking.”

For Burg, this emphasis on Jewish separatism, embodied in dietary laws, Sabbath observance, and restrictions on intermarriage, has been incorporated into the “pathological view of Jewish-gentile relations” practiced by the State of Israel. Three millennia of fiendishly complex history are summarized thusly: “The State of Israel is continuing to employ the strategy of alienation that was always practiced by the Jewish people. We cast all our cumulative historic accounting onto our Palestinian adversaries. They fulfill the present needs; in the past we had Pharaoh, Haman, Antiochus, Khmelnytsky and Hitler. Now it’s the Palestinians’ turn.”

It’s tempting to submit that no form of Judaism would pass Burg’s ethical test. Had Judaism claimed for itself, as Christianity and Islam did, the status of universal, transcendent truth, he would be denouncing its imperial character. As it is, Judaism’s acceptance of its lot as a minority faith, along with the rules and practices that such minorities necessarily adopt to preserve their independence, is defamed as a form of racism. The logic of such a mindset determines that anti-Jewish persecution, insofar as it reinforced these separatist tendencies, was a perverse gift to the “ideologues” of Jewish separation.

A century ago, the sin of the Jews was their perceived internationalism. Hitler railed against “international Jewish financiers,” while Stalin’s prosecutors denounced the influence of “rootless cosmopolitans.” These days, the polar opposite is true: now, the perceived sin of the Jews is their aggressive, religiously-centered nationalism, which prevents them from realizing that the attainment of peace, as Burg argues, “is the total, completely beneficial alternative to all our historical phobias–a condition that can replace or erase them.” Never mind Hamas, Iran, ISIS, or Mahmoud Abbas’s double talk: the true enemy resides within us.

Doubtless, Burg’s message will resonate with those who, in another era, would have warmly endorsed Karl Marx’s maxim that “the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.” The fact that we are still having this same conversation is precisely what should alarm us.

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The GOP’s Growing Vulnerability on Cultural Issues

Several weeks ago I met with an influential Republican lawmaker to discuss economic matters. Yet I found myself raising another set of issues: Republicans need to prepare (especially in 2016) for an assault by Democrats on a range of cultural and quasi-cultural issues, including contraception, gay marriage, abortion, religious liberties, immigration, evolution, and climate change.

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Several weeks ago I met with an influential Republican lawmaker to discuss economic matters. Yet I found myself raising another set of issues: Republicans need to prepare (especially in 2016) for an assault by Democrats on a range of cultural and quasi-cultural issues, including contraception, gay marriage, abortion, religious liberties, immigration, evolution, and climate change.

What I told this GOP lawmaker is that what cultural issues were to Republicans in the 1980s–think welfare, law and order, and George H.W. Bush’s criticism of Michael Dukakis over the Pledge of Allegiance–is what they are to Democrats in the 2010s. This conversation took place before the Supreme Court ruling on the Hobby Lobby case, but the reaction to it confirmed the observation. Democrats, in their frenzied overreaction to the Court ruling–none more overwrought than that of Hillary Clinton–clearly believe this is an issue that will help them politically.

In many places, they’re probably right.

With that in mind, I’d commend to you an article by Ron Brownstein of National Journal, in which he writes:

While Republicans took the offense on most cultural arguments through the late 20th century, now Democrats from Obama on down are mostly pressing these issues, confident that they represent an expanding majority of public opinion. Veteran pollster Stanley B. Greenberg captures this almost unprecedented Democratic assurance when he declares flatly: “Republicans are on the losing side of all of these trends.”… amid public unease over Obama’s economic and foreign policy record, cultural affinity has become the Democrats’ most powerful electoral weapon.

Many Republicans don’t want to focus on cultural and social issues, fearing the issues will damage them while also believing that economic and foreign-policy topics are where their attention should be. But progressives, in combination with a sympathetic press, will push cultural issues front and center. Which means it’s imperative that high-profile Republicans prepare themselves for the coming wave of attacks.

To be clear, I don’t believe the correct response, morally or politically, is for the GOP to become a socially liberal party. But I do think that there are ways to re-frame some of these issues in a manner that will benefit not just the Republican Party but social conservatism itself.

Precisely how to do so is beyond the scope of this post. For now, it’s obvious that Republicans with national ambitions need to gird themselves for the coming offensive; to prepare themselves not just in terms of public policy but also to find a vocabulary to discuss these issues. This means adopting a tone and countenance that is principled and non-censorious, that can articulate one’s views in a way that is not seen as angry and intolerant. (It doesn’t help when one Republican running for president in 2012 promised that if elected, he would talk about the dangers of contraception.)

Obviously one has to approach things on a case-by-case basis. But generally speaking, Republicans need to be seen as speaking out on behalf of moral truths in ways that are more winsome than judgmental, in a way meant to persuade rather than inflame, and making sure their views align with science rather than against it. What this means, in part, is the individuals making the arguments need to radiate some measure of grace rather than zeal. What we’re talking about is using a light touch rather than a heavy hand. To understand the difference, think about how the language (and spirit) of the pro-life movement shifted from accusing people of being “baby killers” to asking Americans to join a movement committed to enlarging the circle of protection to the most vulnerable members of the human community, in which every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. (In addition, science, in the form of sonograms, has been a friend of the pro-life movement. It’s no accident, then, that Americans have become more pro-life in their views over the last 15 years. In 2012, for example, Gallup reported that the 41 percent of Americans who identified themselves as “pro-choice” is one percentage point below the previous record low in Gallup trends, recorded in May 2009, while 50 percent now call themselves “pro-life,” one point shy of the record high, also from May 2009.)

Social conservatism, if it ever hopes to succeed, needs to be articulated in a way that is seen as promoting the human good and advancing human dignity, rather than declaring a series of forbidden acts that are leading us to Gomorrah. That alone isn’t enough to turn the tide in a nation that is trending toward liberal social views on many issues. But it is a start.

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Hamas Reaps Benefits from Terror

The arrest of six Israeli Jews for the murder of an Arab teenager last week has largely let Hamas off the hook for its campaign of terrorism.

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The arrest of six Israeli Jews for the murder of an Arab teenager last week has largely let Hamas off the hook for its campaign of terrorism.

The aberrant act of an isolated group that has been condemned by every sector of Israeli society has reinforced a narrative of moral equivalence. But Hamas’s confidence that it is profiting from the crisis that began with its kidnapping and murder of three Jewish boys last month is illustrated by the barrage of missiles it is firing on southern Israel.

The torrent of rockets—with hundreds being fired from Gaza in the last few days—is more than a routine statement about Hamas’s desire to show its belligerence to Palestinians who can always be counted on to applaud terror. The Islamist group was in dire straits when it decided in April to go into partnership with the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority. At the time, many commentators believed this would allow PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to tame the terrorist group and forge an alliance that would create room for both Palestinian unity and peace. But the events of the last month demonstrate just how foolish that hope proved to be.

Far from influencing Hamas to support peace, the Islamists have shown that they are the ones calling the tune. When a Hamas cell kidnapped three Israeli teens, Palestinian society didn’t recoil in horror. Nor did Abbas and Fatah drop Hamas from the PA government. While the PA leaders made a belated though welcome condemnation of the crime, Palestinian social media delivered the verdict that Hamas had hoped for as the atrocity was cheered with a popular three-fingered salute. Instead of supporting measures to isolate a movement that was determined to oppose peace, Palestinians took to the streets to obstruct and harass Israeli troops searching for the lost boys with rocks and violence.

Nor was there any outpouring of regret or soul searching about this behavior once the bodies of the three Israeli teens were found. After the Palestinian youth was discovered, the crime was used as an excuse for more Arab rioting, both inside Israel and in the West Bank. With Hamas now raining down hundreds of missiles on southern Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu finds himself in a quandary in which any action ordered to silence the terrorist enclave in Gaza will be seen as an escalation of the situation rather than a needed effort to contain it.

The despicable murder of Muhammed Khdeir has reinforced the Western media’s predictable narrative of moral equivalence in which all violence is seen as part of one pointless cycle of violence in which both sides are trapped. But though the two crimes give some superficial justification to that frame of reference, this focus has allowed the Obama administration to evade scrutiny for its coddling of the PA-Hamas alliance.

Netanyahu has good reason to be wary of a large-scale assault on Gaza. Israel has neither the desire to take back control of the strip nor any appetite for the casualties on both sides that would result from a new counter-offensive. The United States, which demanded that Israel show “restraint” in response to Hamas’s murder of the three boys, is now even more adamant about stopping any effort to make the terrorists pay for their crime. The prime minister also knows that Hamas is hoping for an opportunity to demonstrate to Palestinians that they are still the address for anti-Israel terror even as they remain firmly ensconced in the PA government.

How will all this end? At this point, Hamas seems to think that it will be Netanyahu who will blink first since at this point it seems unlikely that the normally cautious prime minister will risk further antagonizing the U.S. when he seems not to think that Israel has much to gain from a new fight in Gaza.

But if the two sides do merely stand down, there should be no illusions about who was the winner in this exchange. Hamas started this fight with a gruesome terror attack but rather than paying any real price—other than the arrest of some of its West Bank operatives—for this atrocity, it has enhanced its standing among Palestinians. By provoking a group of Jewish extremists to behave in the same bestial fashion, it has also obscured the real differences between the two societies and hurt their erstwhile rival/partner Abbas by exposing him to ridicule from Palestinians who saw his condemnation of terror as weakness or toadying to the Israelis. By firing rockets deep into Israel without incurring a response that will threaten its leadership or its weapon stores, Hamas will have re-established itself as an equal to Abbas rather than a junior partner.

American officials who wring their hands about a cycle of violence need to understand that their initial appeasement of Hamas after the signing of its unity pact with Fatah has done real harm to the already dim prospects for peace. If in April there was an opportunity for the U.S. to make a statement about isolating the terror group after the unity deal was signed, the prevarications of President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry on the issue have created an opening for Hamas to gain ground in a way that few predicted. Unless Netanyahu is willing to take the risks associated with actions that will really make the terror group pay, it is Hamas that will emerge from these events as a stronger and more dangerous force than it was only a few weeks ago. In this case, terrorism has paid handsomely for a group the administration dismissed as having been past its expiration date.

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Hillary Clinton’s Fourth Way?

The Wall Street Journal reports on a fascinating angle to Hillary Clinton’s nascent campaign: trying to distance herself from a sitting president who (after ending her campaign in 2008) has done more than anyone else to make her candidacy possible.

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The Wall Street Journal reports on a fascinating angle to Hillary Clinton’s nascent campaign: trying to distance herself from a sitting president who (after ending her campaign in 2008) has done more than anyone else to make her candidacy possible.

The president has made it quite clear he prefers her to succeed him over his own vice president. Barack Obama also has a vast donor network and the loyal command of the feverishly partisan Democratic congressional leadership, so there’s only so far Clinton can go in ditching Obama. As Bill Whalen told the Journal, “to the extent that she throws him under the bus, she has to run over him at a very slow speed.”

In effect what we are seeing is a return to Clintonian triangulation. This is a tougher sell than the last such triangulation, under Bill Clinton, because Hillary was a visible and high-ranking member of this administration, whereas Bill could plausibly play the outsider. Finding a “third way” between two extremes isn’t as marketable if you were recently the public face abroad of one of those extremes. Indeed, pulling off such triangulation requires the kind of political skill that Bill Clinton might have but Hillary surely does not. Thus, Hillary may need to find another way than the “third way” (a “fourth way”?).

Since she does not want to explicitly denounce specific policies, Clinton’s strategy right now consists mostly of sentimental appeals to her husband’s time in office and symbolic differences in temperament. This is ironic, because many people who wanted to support Obama in 2008 but couldn’t figure out any serious reason for doing so relied on his supposed “presidential temperament”–a misjudgment on their part of epic proportions, as the eloquent denouncer of the mythical “stinkburger” has made clear.

Here’s the relevant part of the Journal piece:

In another contrast, Mrs. Clinton has said U.S. presidents must never stop courting Congress. Mr. Obama has questioned whether such efforts make any difference. Mrs. Clinton expressed skepticism of candidates with “beautiful vision,” while Mr. Obama still hammers on his 2008 campaign mantra: “Hope.”

“I mean, some people can paint a beautiful vision,” she said at a CNN event last month. “And, thankfully, we can all learn from that. But then, can you, with the tenacity, the persistence, the getting-knocked down/getting-back-up resilience, can you lead us there?” …

As she mulls a presidential bid, Mrs. Clinton also has suggested that her husband’s administration offers a more viable model for governing in polarized times than Mr. Obama’s.

Partisanship in the 1990s was as grave as it is today, she suggested at the Colorado event. Nevertheless, Mr. Clinton made inroads with hostile Republican lawmakers, Mrs. Clinton said.

“My husband had some really serious problems with the Congress when he was in office,” she said. “They shut down the government twice. They impeached him once. So it was not the most pleasant of atmospheres. But I will say this: Bill never stopped reaching out to them.”

That “some people can paint a beautiful vision” line has to sting. Clinton is basically embracing the Paul Ryan depiction of a country of betrayed Millennials staring up in disillusion at their faded Hope and Change posters. You may have been caught up in the mindless Obama worship swirling around your dorm six years ago, but unless you’re Peter Pan, she seems to be saying, you’ve got to grow up eventually.

But this is also interesting because it really does undercut one of the central fictions of the Obama presidency: the idea that the president is “forced” to act unconstitutionally because the Republicans are mean to him. As has been noted from time to time, Obama does not like building relationships with those on the Hill and has a habit of trying to torpedo deals while they’re being hammered out by Congress without him.

Obama doesn’t want to govern, he wants to rule. And Clinton seems to be acknowledging how irresponsible that tendency is. I don’t know if that means she would actually govern according to these principles, but she at least knows that the best way to win over voters is not to tell them that their representation in Congress is irrelevant, and even mildly irritating, to their president.

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Border Chaos Will Hurt Democrats

For most of the last two years, immigration has been an issue that worked in favor of President Obama and Democrats. But the flood of illegals in the past few months that has brought large numbers of unaccompanied minors as well as adults into the country is changing the national conversation about this topic as well as the politics of immigration.

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For most of the last two years, immigration has been an issue that worked in favor of President Obama and Democrats. But the flood of illegals in the past few months that has brought large numbers of unaccompanied minors as well as adults into the country is changing the national conversation about this topic as well as the politics of immigration.

The spectacle of angry citizens trying to stop busloads of undocumented children being sent to a federal shelter in Murrieta, California last week shocked many around the nation. Yet while those outbursts were considered unseemly, the inability of the government to do anything to stem, let alone stop the wave of illegals was yet another disaster for an Obama administration that lately seems as if it is going through the motions. While the president is sticking to the same script he’s been using since before his reelection in which he blames Republicans for the failure to pass immigration reform, there’s no evading the fact that the latest surge of those coming into the country without permission is being widely blamed on his past statements opposing deportation of illegals. As much as hostility to Hispanic immigrants, many of whom are illegal, is a distinct liability for Republicans, the drama along the border is further undermining Obama’s authority and demonstrating that he seems to have lost any ability to control events.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s appearance yesterday on NBC’s Meet the Press only added to the impression that the administration has no plan to deal to with the problem other than talking about GOP obstructionism. When asked point blank whether the more than 50,000 children who had streamed illegally into the country would be deported, he responded carefully about how complicated the subject was. But the bottom line here is that many of the illegals appear to have made a safe bet. If they can make it across the border after a harrowing journey in which many are victimized by criminal gangs or subjected to violence and other hardships, there is every reason to believe that most will wind up being allowed to stay.

I believe that those, like Mitt Romney, who have spoken in recent years about “self-deportation” as a solution to this problem have been engaged in magical thinking. The illegals are not going to deport themselves. Nor is there any prospect that even a less lethargic federal government under better leadership than we currently enjoy could possibly deport the 12 million people who are estimated to be here illegally. President Obama is right that comprehensive immigration reform is necessary. Republicans have been wrong to block it, especially since it presented an excellent opportunity to beef up border security. The negative message many on the right have been sending to Hispanics is also a long-term problem since it writes off a huge and growing demographic group.

But even if we admit that Republicans have failed here, that doesn’t constitute an excuse for Obama’s failure to govern or to control the border. Indeed, it’s clear that this particular surge was set off, in no small measure, by statements from the president that led many thinking about entering illegally to the not unreasonable conclusion that they had a good chance of being allowed to stay once they got here. This underlines the point that Republican backers of immigration reform like Senator Marco Rubio have tried to make: the “amnesty” for illegals that immigration foes dread is what is happening now under our current broken system. As much as we need it to be fixed, the president has exacerbated the crisis and Jeh Johnson’s poor performance in the face of this wave of young illegals is only making it worse.

The president’s defenders claim that what is happening now is a regional problem that has more to do with endemic violence in Central America and the desire of so many people there to come to this country rather than any statement issued by the White House. But this excuse doesn’t cut it. Regional violence and the dream of North American prosperity is nothing new. What is different now is that the illegals believe Barack Obama won’t throw them out.

Even supporters of immigration reform understand that what we are witnessing along the border is more than a humanitarian crisis. It is also the collapse of the rule of law. However great the misjudgments of many Republican lawmakers might be, Obama can’t evade his responsibility for governing and enforcing the law. His failure to do so creates the impression that government doesn’t function anymore, a factor that is more responsible for the hysteria in Murrieta than anti-immigrant sentiments. The problem with incumbency is not just the boredom of the public with a president after six years. It’s that they expect the president to govern and it is on this question that Obama will be judged. Democrats who think this won’t hurt them in the midterm elections aren’t thinking clearly.

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For Netanyahu and Lieberman, Breaking Up Is Easy to Do

The first thing to understand about Avigdor Lieberman’s move to dissolve his party’s pact with Likud over the correct response to Gaza is this: it’s not about the correct response to Gaza. Or anything else about Gaza. The Gaza Strip is close to irrelevant to the split between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, though it does serve as a convenient pretext.

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The first thing to understand about Avigdor Lieberman’s move to dissolve his party’s pact with Likud over the correct response to Gaza is this: it’s not about the correct response to Gaza. Or anything else about Gaza. The Gaza Strip is close to irrelevant to the split between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, though it does serve as a convenient pretext.

This is Lieberman’s second departure from Likud. He was close to Benjamin Netanyahu in the 1990s, managing his campaigns and soon becoming an incredibly influential figure once Netanyahu won the premiership the first time around. Then Lieberman tapped into the Russian immigrant community’s desire to have its representation in the Knesset more closely align with its demographic muscle. (The community also matured politically, having integrated without completely assimilating.) He formed a party to do just that.

Lieberman became a kingmaker by eventually garnering 15 seats in the Knesset in 2009–enough to make or break a coalition but not enough to lead one. Lieberman is both politically shrewd and hugely ambitious, so when he hit Yisrael Beiteinu’s ceiling he went back to the Likud, this time with an embarrassment of electoral riches.

The point was to eventually become prime minister. Netanyahu is a decade older than Lieberman and, crucially, so are Likud’s brightest and most experienced contemporaries. Lieberman understood that he’d have to wait out Bibi but that was probably it. As the last election showed, there are younger, bright stars in the Israeli political solar system, but they formed their own parties. Lieberman would have real competition in the future, but not from within Likud.

So why leave Likud (again)? Lieberman must have seen signs either that he wouldn’t inherit Likud after all or that it wouldn’t matter. The most likely answer is that it was a combination of the two, but more the latter. Lieberman has seen that there is still no serious challenge from the left; it’s other center-right or right-wing parties breathing down Likud’s neck. That means that if he can pull enough votes away from Likud, there is suddenly no real frontrunner, and there might be enough of a vacuum for another party to win now (or soon) instead of waiting out the Likud old guard.

The Likud-Beiteinu union was always an engagement that never turned into a marriage. And it was designed that way. Lieberman obviously learned plenty from his time as Netanyahu’s right-hand man: the two are by far the most politically adroit figures on the Israeli scene. They are not without flaws, of course, and this latest maneuver from Lieberman exposes his greatest weakness: he is a brilliant political operator behind the scenes, but will never have the charismatic command not only of a Yair Lapid or even Naftali Bennett but of any number of politicians who may crop up in the future.

In a parliamentary system, that charisma is less important than in a presidential system, and the ability to operate behind the scenes correspondingly more beneficial. But it is far from clear that it would be enough, in Lieberman’s case. The other potential mistake Lieberman is making has to do with the shifting math of seats in the Knesset. He should not assume that Likud’s vote total will remain stagnant at the number of seats it holds when he officially departs the party.

Likud has the advantage of brand. It’s true, this hasn’t helped Israel’s Labor Party. But the country is center-right, and so is Likud. That means Likud has the ability to attract politicians and voters in a way that other parties don’t: witness, for example, Lieberman’s ceiling at Yisrael Beiteinu, and the consistent disintegration of new parties. It’s also possible that Likud could win back voters who left when the party merged with Lieberman.

In that respect the union between the two parties may have been holding back both leaders. Netanyahu was losing out to voters who liked Lapid’s big-tent message and Bennett’s Anglo relatability more than Lieberman’s gruff polarizing rhetoric and shifting alliances. Lieberman, in turn, may have seen others threatening to do what he thought couldn’t (yet) be done: eclipse the establishment figures while they were still in power, and while he had tied his fortunes to them.

It’s an amicable split, as far as these things go, and it is unlikely to shake up Israeli politics at the moment. The real test will be the next election. In the meantime, it’s quite possible the public will barely notice the breakup of its largest political party.

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Is Administrative Federalism the Solution for Iraq?

While talking to Iraqi Sunnis disaffected with the Iraqi central government, it is easy to get sucked into discussions of the past: Many remain upset with the 2003 U.S. decision to disband the Iraqi Army, some complain about the way de-Baathification occurred, and many also complain about what they see as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s overly sectarian policies. Few put themselves in the position of the Iraqi Shi‘ites or recognize that after centuries of oppression, Shi‘ites aren’t going to subordinate themselves again to Sunni minority rule.

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While talking to Iraqi Sunnis disaffected with the Iraqi central government, it is easy to get sucked into discussions of the past: Many remain upset with the 2003 U.S. decision to disband the Iraqi Army, some complain about the way de-Baathification occurred, and many also complain about what they see as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s overly sectarian policies. Few put themselves in the position of the Iraqi Shi‘ites or recognize that after centuries of oppression, Shi‘ites aren’t going to subordinate themselves again to Sunni minority rule.

The most interesting conversations revolve around the future. There is a recognition even among Sunni Arab Iraqis most disaffected by the events of the last eleven years that there is no going back to the past, and that there is no way to simply re-impose a strong Sunni general “without blood on his hands” to restore order.

That said, Sunnis do not want to be dominated by Shi‘ites, and many Sunnis and Shi‘ites are increasingly frustrated with the sectarianism. While residents of al-Anbar, Ninewa, and Salahuddin have no desire to live under al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, they also do not wish to have those from outside their respective provinces come in to restore order. Anbaris no more want to be occupied by Basrawis than Basrawis would want to be occupied by Anbaris.

Earlier this week while brainstorming about ways forward, an Anbari professional from a prominent tribe made a persuasive case for administrative federalism in Iraq. It is an idea that I first heard while teaching in Iraqi Kurdistan in academic year 2000-2001, and one which I wrote about shortly thereafter in the New York Times and in a collection of essays (see p. 44) about Iraq published shortly before the war.

The idea is simple: Rather than divide Iraq according to ethnic or sectarian characteristics as per then-Senator Joe Biden’s plan—a recipe for chaos and ethnic cleansing in mixed areas—the center of gravity of governance should devolve to each province which would be awarded a proportion of Iraq’s oil revenue according to its share of the population. At present, some money is awarded to each province according to its population, but the center of gravity remains in Baghdad and with the centralized ministries. Iraqis resent Baghdad and national political parties, however, and should not have to rely on them for every decision, especially when they are not accountable to any specific constituency. While defense, foreign policy, and oil infrastructure might be the domain of the central government, putting provincial (or even district) leaders in charge of other aspects of governance will bring government closer to the people. Moslawis will determine what happens in Mosul and they will police Mosul. The buck will stop with local politicians who will no longer be able to blame their own incompetence on Baghdad or excuse corruption by suggesting the money disappeared in Baghdad.

When the idea was debated in the months before the war, Kurdish leader Masud Barzani opposed it fiercely because he saw federalism based on provinces as undercutting his authority over the Kurdistan Region which was comprised at the time by three provinces. So be it: The Kurds can have their trans-provincial federal unit should they choose to remain inside Iraq.

And when it came to putting together Iraq’s fiscal year 2004 budget, Patrick Kennedy—Bremer’s chief of staff and administrative guru—vetoed proposals to allow governorates to develop their budgets separate from the central government because it would be administratively inconvenient, and could complicate planning for the Coalition Provisional Authority’s plans for a donor conference. In effect, for a meaningless diplomatic event, that decision undercut local representation and reinforced centralization which many Iraqis outside of the ruling party now resent. Perhaps it’s time to reverse that mistake of a decade ago, and encourage Iraqis to allow greater administrative autonomy on a provincial basis rather than on an ethnic or sectarian one.

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Is Now the Time for a Cyprus Deal?

I and others here at COMMENTARY have written many times about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s efforts to transform Turkey from a secular state to an overtly religious one. As Erdoğan has consolidated power and dismantled checks and balances within Turkish society, he has increasingly made good on his promise to eschew secularism and instead “raise a religious generation.” He has done this not only by encouraging greater religiosity among his own constituents, but also by seeking to impose his conservative interpretation of Islamic values upon those for whom they are not part of daily culture.

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I and others here at COMMENTARY have written many times about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s efforts to transform Turkey from a secular state to an overtly religious one. As Erdoğan has consolidated power and dismantled checks and balances within Turkish society, he has increasingly made good on his promise to eschew secularism and instead “raise a religious generation.” He has done this not only by encouraging greater religiosity among his own constituents, but also by seeking to impose his conservative interpretation of Islamic values upon those for whom they are not part of daily culture.

Enter Cyrpus: It is a problem that has confounded Turkey, Greece, and Europe more broadly for more than four decades. In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus to protect the Turkish minority against a hardcore, Greek nationalist group seeking to incorporate the island into Greece. Internal and forced displacement segregated the island. In 1983, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) declared its independence. While Pakistan and Bangladesh briefly recognized the new state, once the United Nations declared it illegal, they withdrew their recognition.

Nevertheless, the TNRC has maintained theoretical independence from Turkey, even as it has depended on Turkish subsidies for decades and relies on the Turkish military for security. In reality, it remains Europe’s longest occupation—and makes Turkish complaints about Israel’s presence in the West Bank completely hypocritical, all the more so because the status of the West Bank has always been a subject of dispute, while Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus was an invasion of an internationally-recognized, existing sovereign state.

The past has seen repeated international mediation efforts come to naught. The closest the two sides came to resolution was a decade ago, when they negotiated the “Annan Plan,” which would have recognized a united Cypriot republic characterized by loose federalism. While Turkish Cypriots recognized the plan, Greeks rejected it in a referendum.

Ironically, Erdoğan may now accomplish what statesmen for years have failed to: uniting the island, albeit against him. Turkish Cypriots are increasingly unhappy at efforts by Turkey’s ruling party to impose their conservative Islamic values on the island, where the ethnic Turkish community has always been a bit more laid back. And while Turkish Cyprus remains poor, Cyprus proper has moved to exploit, in partnership with Israel, its significant offshore gas reserves. According to conversations I had in Turkey with Turkish Cypriots last month, this has encouraged Turkish Cypriots to seek a settlement more on Greek Cypriot terms, albeit one that would recognize the rights and freedom of ethnic Turkish Cypriots. Turkish troops would have to go but, then again, with the ethnic Turkish minority no longer under threat, there is no reason why Turkey should continue its decades-long occupation.

Across the Middle East, oil often fuels divisiveness. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran, for example, uses its interests in Iran’s oil infrastructure to fund terrorism around the globe. Oil was at the heart of the dispute (although, of course, not the only factor) between the Iraqi central government and Iraqi Kurdistan. It remains a major source of conflict in Libya. How refreshing it would be if new gas discoveries combined with a rejection of the Turkish government’s radicalism actually contributed to peace in the long-divided nation of Cyprus.

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The Murder of Mohammed Khdeir Was an Act of Treason

The actual larger meaning of the horrendous murder of Mohammed Khdeir will have to await revelations about the thought processes and life choices of the six monsters who committed the crime. They did so out of “revenge” for the kidnapping and killing of the three Jewish boys, that much is clear. But unless we learn they are part of a larger organization that decided to take this action and assigned them the task (which is certainly not impossible though seems unlikely), the only true common factor between what happened to the three Jewish teens and the Palestinian teen is that they were teens killed for “nationalistic” reasons.

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The actual larger meaning of the horrendous murder of Mohammed Khdeir will have to await revelations about the thought processes and life choices of the six monsters who committed the crime. They did so out of “revenge” for the kidnapping and killing of the three Jewish boys, that much is clear. But unless we learn they are part of a larger organization that decided to take this action and assigned them the task (which is certainly not impossible though seems unlikely), the only true common factor between what happened to the three Jewish teens and the Palestinian teen is that they were teens killed for “nationalistic” reasons.

What the Israeli barbarians allegedly did was slaughter an innocent, an act that seems to have united the country in revulsion just as the kidnappings united the country in grief and fear.

But what the Hamas operatives did when they kidnapped and killed the Israeli boys was an act of asymmetrical warfare in which they treated innocents as combatants—which is what asymmetrical warriors always do. The idea that all Israelis are to be considered enemy combatants has been the defining characteristic of Palestinian nationalism over the course of five decades now.

It is a harsh reality that the strategic problem posed by the murder of the three Israelis wasn’t their murder itself, tragic and evil though that was. It is that it might signal the reopening of the terrorist battlefield on the ground after a decade of relative peace since the end of the second intifada with an emboldened Hamas now enmeshed in a unity government with the Palestinian Authority. If that is the case, those three dead boys constituted the Fort Sumter of a new war.

In which case, the murderers of Mohammed Khdeir have committed an act of treason against their country—because they have made its prosecution of the war more difficult and handed their own enemy a timely tactical advantage.

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Maliki and America’s Bad Bet

The news from Iraq continues to be grim. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has proclaimed a new caliphate, called simply the Islamic State. Its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, now a self-proclaimed emir, has gotten so confident that he appeared at a mosque in Mosul to spread his message. His men are parading around in captured Iraqi army equipment such as Humvees and tanks amid reports that they have seized enough guns and ammunition to arm several divisions. Meanwhile political gridlock continues to prevail in Baghdad, where Nouri al-Maliki has made clear his determination to hold onto the prime minister’s office at all costs despite his catastrophic tenure in office.

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The news from Iraq continues to be grim. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has proclaimed a new caliphate, called simply the Islamic State. Its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, now a self-proclaimed emir, has gotten so confident that he appeared at a mosque in Mosul to spread his message. His men are parading around in captured Iraqi army equipment such as Humvees and tanks amid reports that they have seized enough guns and ammunition to arm several divisions. Meanwhile political gridlock continues to prevail in Baghdad, where Nouri al-Maliki has made clear his determination to hold onto the prime minister’s office at all costs despite his catastrophic tenure in office.

How did we get here? There is no better answer than this lengthy essay in the Washington Post by Ali Khedery. He is not a household name by any stretch of the imagination, but he was an immensely influential behind-the-scenes player in Iraq from 2003 to 2009. A young and personable Iraqi-American who spoke fluent Arabic, Khedery served as aide to a succession of U.S. ambassadors and Central Command chiefs. He worked closely with all of Iraq’s political leaders as well as with America’s representatives in that country.

Indeed he was one of the first Americans to suggest in 2006 that Maliki would make a good leader for Iraq, but by 2010, witnessing Maliki’s dictatorial and sectarian tendencies, Khedery changed his mind. Following the Iraqi election of that year, in which Maliki’s slate finished in second place behind Ayad Allawi’s party, Khedery urged his American superiors to withdraw their support from Maliki in favor of Adel Abdul Mahdi, another Shiite leader who had served as finance minister. But his entreaties fell on deaf ears. As Khedery recounts, Vice President Biden, during a visit to Baghdad, “said Maliki was the only option. Indeed, the following month he would tell top U.S. officials, ‘I’ll bet you my vice presidency Maliki will extend the SOFA,’ referring to the status-of-forces agreement that would allow U.S. troops to remain in Iraq past 2011.”

As Khedery recounts it, he was joined in his opposition to Maliki by Generals Jim Mattis and John Allen at Central Command and by Ambassador to Baghdad James Jeffrey. Even senior Shiite clerics in Iraq weighed in against Maliki. “But all the lobbying was for naught,” Khedery notes. “By November, the White House had settled on its disastrous Iraq strategy. The Iraqi constitutional process and election results would be ignored, and America would throw its full support behind Maliki.”

As Khedery notes, “catastrophe followed”: Maliki pursued a sectarian agenda leading to a Sunni backlash which has enabled the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria to take control of much of the Sunni Triangle from Fallujah to Mosul. Perhaps the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq might have restrained Maliki’s sectarian tendencies but of course, as we know, the Status of Forces Agreement was not renewed in spite of Biden’s unwarranted certainty that Maliki would endorse it.

Khedery doesn’t have much to say about those negotiations because he had already left government at that point, but he is right to highlight the Obama administration’s disastrous decision to back Maliki in 2010 as one of the American moves that set Iraq on the path to disaster (the others being the decision to let the Syrian civil war rage unabated and the decision not to push harder to keep U.S. forces in Iraq).

The implication of Khedery’s article is clear: We must today rectify the mistake of 2010 and push as hard as we can for Iraq’s parliament to select someone other than Maliki as prime minister. Too bad we have so much less leverage than we did in 2010 because today we have fewer than 1,000 troops in Iraq, as opposed to some 50,000 back then.

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Not the Time to Split Over Gaza

Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has announced his party’s split from the joint Likud-Beitenu list that Prime Minister Netanyahu headed at the last election. The move isn’t entirely unexpected and Lieberman’s party will remain in the coalition. Nevertheless, the timing is hardly helpful. Allegedly it was an argument over how to respond to the ongoing Hamas rocket fire from Gaza that forced the split. By all accounts Lieberman has been pushing for a large scale operation and possible reoccupation in Gaza, whereas the prime minister has been cautioning restraint. Under different circumstances Lieberman’s call for a large scale response might seem highly warranted, and it may be that Hamas leaves Israel with no other option. Yet given the critically fragile situation that Israelis now face within the rest of Israel it seems hard to imagine that now is the time to initiate a major ground offensive in Gaza.

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Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has announced his party’s split from the joint Likud-Beitenu list that Prime Minister Netanyahu headed at the last election. The move isn’t entirely unexpected and Lieberman’s party will remain in the coalition. Nevertheless, the timing is hardly helpful. Allegedly it was an argument over how to respond to the ongoing Hamas rocket fire from Gaza that forced the split. By all accounts Lieberman has been pushing for a large scale operation and possible reoccupation in Gaza, whereas the prime minister has been cautioning restraint. Under different circumstances Lieberman’s call for a large scale response might seem highly warranted, and it may be that Hamas leaves Israel with no other option. Yet given the critically fragile situation that Israelis now face within the rest of Israel it seems hard to imagine that now is the time to initiate a major ground offensive in Gaza.

In recent years Israel has had two minor wars with Hamas in Gaza; the first, in 2009, involved ground troops in addition to airstrikes but today it is difficult to see what strategic benefit has been achieved by either of these smaller operations. It must be clear now that the only way to bring a definitive end to the rocket fire from Gaza would be a full scale invasion that would topple Hamas. But such an operation would be no small or easy undertaking and managing the aftermath—even if with the cooperation of Fatah–would likely be equally as challenging.

While the above action may eventually prove inevitable for Israel, there are a number of ongoing security concerns that Israel cannot afford to neglect right now, and most immediately there is the matter of the widespread unrest currently playing out among its Arab population. There has of course been talk of a third intifada. The numbering here seems to fall a little short, however. Indeed, long before the establishment of the State of Israel, the local Arab population was engaging in violent uprisings against both non-Muslim British rule and the growing Jewish presence in the area as was the case in 1920, 1929, 1936-9, and 1947. The pattern continues to this day. But what is particularly alarming about the violence of recent days is that it has for the most part concerned not the Palestinians of the West Bank, but rather Israel’s Arab citizens. These are people with full accesses to the ballot box should they wish to express dissatisfaction, and while many still suffer real economic difficulties (as do the ultra-Orthodox and Ethiopian Jews) there have in recent years been some serious efforts on the part of the Israeli government to integrate this group into the wider Israeli economy.

Right now Israel’s priority has to be about restoring calm with this group. That means treading a fine line that involves using enough force to restore law and order and to resist the violence of the mob, but without being so heavyhanded as to further inflame an already volatile mood. It is safe to say that a reoccupation of Gaza and the civilian casualties that this would unavoidably involve would do nothing to help this incredibly fragile situation. And of course the casualties that would result from engaging Hamas–with its war crime tactic of hiding behind civilians–could also greatly weaken Israel’s standing with its jittery Western allies. As we saw during Israel’s efforts to try and find the three Israeli teens who had been kidnapped—and as we now know, murdered—in the West Bank, the international community was allowing Israel’s security forces precious little room for maneuver. After the Obama administration put out the word that Israel sabotaged the peace negotiations with settlement building and as such was inviting another intifada, the mood among diplomats could all too quickly become a cold: “told you so.”

And Israel finds herself all the more reliant on international goodwill given that the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program now appear to be reaching a crucial stage. Having been forbidden by the Obama administration from carrying out a strike on Iran while that was still a realistic possibility, it now appears that there is nothing other than the rickety diplomatic track standing between the Jewish state and the nightmare of life with a nuclear Iran. Nor is Iran Israel’s only pressing security concern in the region. The ongoing civil war in Syria has seen increased instability along the Golan Heights as well as the threat of Hezbollah becoming armed with some of the Assad regime’s most devastating weaponry. And now added to that is the threat of ISIS infiltrating Jordan, thus creating a renewed threat along the entirety of Israel’s eastern border.

With all of these factors in play it is difficult to fathom how Avigdor Lieberman can seriously think that now is the time for redeploying in Gaza. This split from the Likud has been in the cards for some time and is no doubt a move informed as much by party politics as anything else. Yet Gaza hardly seems like the issue to split over, and now is certainly not a particularly wise moment to be adding to Israel’s instability.

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Kidnappings, Killings, and Conspiracy Theories

The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens by Hamas, and the subsequent murder of an Arab teen by Jewish extremists, actually underscored two fundamental differences between Israeli and Palestinian society. COMMENTARY contributor Eugene Kontorovich and the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens both addressed one difference–the societal response to such murders. But the second is no less important: Israeli police swiftly nabbed the suspected Jewish killers because Israelis are generally prepared to face facts, even when the facts point to a horrific revenge killing. Palestinians, in contrast, are so mired in conspiracy theories that many refused to even believe the kidnapping had occurred.

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The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens by Hamas, and the subsequent murder of an Arab teen by Jewish extremists, actually underscored two fundamental differences between Israeli and Palestinian society. COMMENTARY contributor Eugene Kontorovich and the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens both addressed one difference–the societal response to such murders. But the second is no less important: Israeli police swiftly nabbed the suspected Jewish killers because Israelis are generally prepared to face facts, even when the facts point to a horrific revenge killing. Palestinians, in contrast, are so mired in conspiracy theories that many refused to even believe the kidnapping had occurred.

This view started from the very top: Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki, for instance, said the kidnapping might be either “a childish game on Israel’s part, meant to attract attention,” or “part of a bigger game meant to turn the Israelis from aggressors into victims.” And as even Haaretz’s pro-Palestinian reporter Amira Hass acknowledged, many Palestinians agreed:

As long as the bodies hadn’t been found, a great many Palestinians believed no abduction had ever occurred. In their view, the kidnapping was fabricated to thwart the Palestinians’ national unity government, undo the achievements (from the Palestinian perspective) of the deal to free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, and harm Hamas.

This is simply mind-blowing. For 18 days, thousands of Israeli soldiers searched for the missing boys round the clock, as did numerous civilian volunteers. Mass prayer rallies were held throughout Israel. The kidnapping dominated both politics and the media; even major geopolitical events like the Islamic State’s takeover of swathes of Iraq got second billing. Yet “a great many Palestinians” found it perfectly reasonable to think this was all part of a massive conspiracy–that Israel’s political and military leaders, media outlets, and even the boys’ own families and friends had conspired to virtually shut down the country for weeks for the sole purpose of harassing the Palestinians.

Like the glorification of murder that Stephens and Kontorovich discussed, this penchant for conspiracy theories over truth has serious implications for the prospects of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Take, for instance, the rampant Palestinian denial of any historic Jewish presence in the Land of Israel–the repeated references to the “alleged Temple,” the claim that Jesus was a Palestinian, and much more. This denial makes it psychologically almost impossible for Palestinians to accept a Jewish state’s existence. If you believe two peoples have historical rights to a land, sharing it is a reasonable proposition. But if you believe the other side has no rights at all–that it has simply stolen your land and dispossessed you–then allowing it to keep its ill-gotten gains is a shameful, virtually inconceivable concession.

Or consider the Palestinians’ claim that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would strip Israeli Arabs of their rights. In reality, this is ridiculous: Israel has defined itself as a Jewish state since its inception, but that hasn’t stopped it from granting Arab citizens full civil rights–more rights, in fact, than their brethren in the PA have. (Israel doesn’t, for instance, jail journalists for insulting its leaders.) But in the fever swamps of Palestinian conspiracy theories, where everything–even the kidnapping of three Jewish teens–is an Israeli plot to harm Palestinians, the idea that this Israeli demand is really a plot to strip Arab citizens of their rights is perfectly believable. And once having convinced themselves of this, they obviously can’t accept such a demand.

What all this means is that anyone who truly wants peace must do the opposite of what the West has done for decades: Instead of catering to Palestinian sensibilities by, for instance, avoiding all mention of Jewish rights in Jerusalem, the West must start demanding that Palestinian leaders publicly acknowledge, and educate their children to know, some basic truths about both the historic Jewish kingdom and the modern Jewish state. For only when Palestinians replace their feverish conspiracy theories about Israel with the truth will they be capable of making peace with it.

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Departure from Lydda

The first response to my essay on Ari Shavit’s Lydda “massacre” claim has appeared over at Mosaic Magazine. It’s by Efraim Karsh, who not only seconds my doubts about the “massacre,” but questions Shavit’s claim that the expulsion of Lydda’s population was planned in advance. Karsh:

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The first response to my essay on Ari Shavit’s Lydda “massacre” claim has appeared over at Mosaic Magazine. It’s by Efraim Karsh, who not only seconds my doubts about the “massacre,” but questions Shavit’s claim that the expulsion of Lydda’s population was planned in advance. Karsh:

No exodus was foreseen in Israeli military plans for the city’s capture or was reflected in the initial phase of its occupation. Quite the contrary: the Israeli commander assured local dignitaries that the city’s inhabitants would be allowed to stay if they so wished. In line with that promise, the occupying Israeli force also requested a competent administrator and other personnel to run the affairs of the civilian population.

Only when some of the townspeople refused to surrender and opened fire on Israeli forces did the calculation change, leading Israel to “encourage” the departure of the population.

I found oblique confirmation of this in the 1988 film interview with the military governor, Shmarya Gutman, now in the archives of the Palmah Museum. According to him, the original plan was to remove the fighting-age Arab men and take them prisoner. Had this been accomplished, the remaining population could not have organized itself for departure. Gutman:

There was actually a decision to take the young men held in the [Great] Mosque and convey them onward as prisoners. But I knew that if that happened, the whole departure operation wouldn’t be implemented. The place would remain a pressure cooker. We would be stuck with thousands of old people, just so that a few young men could be taken prisoner. I sent them off before the buses arrived [to transport them to detention]. When the buses came, they asked: “Where are they?” I said: “They all left.” “How’s that? We wanted to take them.” I said: “I didn’t receive an order.”

The interviewer asked Gutman whether he took that decision on his own accord. His answer: “I did everything on my own accord. I didn’t get an order to detain them.”

Read Karsh’s full response here. There are more responses to come.

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