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Balaam's Asses

- Abstract

In a bizarre reversal of the Biblical tale of Balaam—the Gentile prophet who found himself singing the praises of the Hebrews rather than cursing them as his king had commanded—senior officials and diplomats serving the Obama Administration find words critical of and hostile to Israel spilling from their mouths when every practical impulse surely tells them to hold their tongues.

What possible good could it have served Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in a speech at the Saban Center in December, to place the onus on Israel for opening up talks with Palestinians, Arabs in general, and Turkey—in a setting where many listeners are sympathetic to Israel and believe correctly that the political changes in the Arab world since January have only placed the Jewish state in a more fragile position?

Israel needs to “lean forward” for peace, Panetta said, evidently auditioning for a post-administration job hosting a talk show on MSNBC. What is it Israel should do, in Panetta’s view? “Just get them to the damn table,” he said, as though such a thing were simply in Israel’s power to will. The Palestinians are busy negotiating with themselves, and until Hamas and Fatah come up with a deal, there is no one to negotiate with.

About the Author

John Podhoretz is editor of COMMENTARY.