Commentary Magazine


Topic: Aaron David Miller

David Landau vs. Aaron Miller on Haredim

Last week, veteran Israeli-Palestinian peace process negotiator and author Aaron David Miller penned a column for the New York Times in which he wrote the following about Israel: “The country’s demographics look bad — too many ultra-Orthodox Jews, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs and not enough secular Jews.” Normally, when someone looks at a country’s ethnic makeup and identifies the “problem” as the proliferation of everyone except his own kind, the very reasonable obvious objections will be made across the board.

Miller’s line did not engender this outrage, because it was aimed at Haredim, to which the normal rules of civility do not apply in the American media. But he came in for a walloping from what may seem an unlikely source: David Landau. Landau, the former editor of Haaretz, has made shockingly offensive comments about Israel, and is currently Israel correspondent for The Economist, a magazine whose Israel coverage includes just this type of casual bigotry toward the Haredim. (Three weeks ago, the magazine wrote that “the hallmark of haredism is intolerance.”) But Landau was so upset by Miller’s apparent ignorance that he rose to a quite effusive defense of the Haredim in an interview with his former newspaper:

“I’m sitting here and thinking to myself, ‘Could a non-Jewish person have written that?’” asks Landau. “Would Aaron David Miller have written in The New York Times that the demographics in Turkey look bad — too many veiled women and not enough secular Turks?’ Could he get away with writing that? I feel like saying to him, ‘Tell me, have you bothered checking the demographics of the Jewish community of Cleveland, Ohio, where you come from? Today, 49 percent of the Jewish children in New York are Haredi, so Aaron David Miller has to look in his own backyard before he makes this sort of statement. This is the kind of know-it-all elitism that has been so characteristic of the Diaspora Jewish leadership and the Israeli elite for so long. It’s pathetic, and if in this Economist piece, I’ve succeeded in making six people of consequence rethink Jewish demographics, then the whole thing was worth it.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ability to blur the distinctions between Haredim and Orthodox Zionists, maintains Landau, has contributed enormously to his political success. “The fact that it’s been so easy for Bibi to lump together all the Haredi parties with the settlers and make them the bulwark of his coalition — it’s remarkable when you think about it. Has anyone thought about the fact that there are really no Haredim in the West Bank? That in 2005 the Haredim joined Sharon’s government with the full knowledge that this would enable him to move ahead with the disengagement from Gaza? Why hasn’t that left an impact on people?”

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Last week, veteran Israeli-Palestinian peace process negotiator and author Aaron David Miller penned a column for the New York Times in which he wrote the following about Israel: “The country’s demographics look bad — too many ultra-Orthodox Jews, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs and not enough secular Jews.” Normally, when someone looks at a country’s ethnic makeup and identifies the “problem” as the proliferation of everyone except his own kind, the very reasonable obvious objections will be made across the board.

Miller’s line did not engender this outrage, because it was aimed at Haredim, to which the normal rules of civility do not apply in the American media. But he came in for a walloping from what may seem an unlikely source: David Landau. Landau, the former editor of Haaretz, has made shockingly offensive comments about Israel, and is currently Israel correspondent for The Economist, a magazine whose Israel coverage includes just this type of casual bigotry toward the Haredim. (Three weeks ago, the magazine wrote that “the hallmark of haredism is intolerance.”) But Landau was so upset by Miller’s apparent ignorance that he rose to a quite effusive defense of the Haredim in an interview with his former newspaper:

“I’m sitting here and thinking to myself, ‘Could a non-Jewish person have written that?’” asks Landau. “Would Aaron David Miller have written in The New York Times that the demographics in Turkey look bad — too many veiled women and not enough secular Turks?’ Could he get away with writing that? I feel like saying to him, ‘Tell me, have you bothered checking the demographics of the Jewish community of Cleveland, Ohio, where you come from? Today, 49 percent of the Jewish children in New York are Haredi, so Aaron David Miller has to look in his own backyard before he makes this sort of statement. This is the kind of know-it-all elitism that has been so characteristic of the Diaspora Jewish leadership and the Israeli elite for so long. It’s pathetic, and if in this Economist piece, I’ve succeeded in making six people of consequence rethink Jewish demographics, then the whole thing was worth it.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ability to blur the distinctions between Haredim and Orthodox Zionists, maintains Landau, has contributed enormously to his political success. “The fact that it’s been so easy for Bibi to lump together all the Haredi parties with the settlers and make them the bulwark of his coalition — it’s remarkable when you think about it. Has anyone thought about the fact that there are really no Haredim in the West Bank? That in 2005 the Haredim joined Sharon’s government with the full knowledge that this would enable him to move ahead with the disengagement from Gaza? Why hasn’t that left an impact on people?”

Landau makes an important point: identifying Haredim with religious fanaticism shows a disturbing lack of basic knowledge about both Judaism and the state of Israel. Are there incidents of intolerance from the Haredim? Indeed there are, though not on the scale of the hateful blacklisting, threats of violence, and near riot that took place in Tel Aviv when some Chabadniks tried to move into a secular neighborhood.

In truth, neither the yeshiva students nor the secular Jews are accurately represented by the few among them who misbehave. And American Jews probably hope that Israelis don’t think Miller is representative of the level of knowledge and engagement of the Diaspora.

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Obama Loses Pro-Israel Surrogates

Conservative pro-Israel groups are preparing for a massive assault on President Obama’s Israel record that will dwarf any similar efforts from four years ago. But this time around, Obama won’t have support from his top Israel surrogate, Dennis Ross, a trusted face in the Democratic pro-Israel community who stumped at synagogues and helped calm Jewish voters in 2008. Eli Lake reports:

“I am the counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy,” [Dennis] Ross said in an email on Friday. “The Washington Institute is a non-profit organization and I cannot do political work from here. When I acted for the campaign in 2008, I had to take a leave of absence to do so. Having only recently returned to the Institute, I cannot now again take a leave of absence.” …

Ross himself said, “I can give substantive advice to the administration, the president’s campaign, or any campaign that would ask for it. And, of course, when I speak I can talk about my views on policy and I have been supportive of the president’s policy on leading foreign policy issues.”

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Conservative pro-Israel groups are preparing for a massive assault on President Obama’s Israel record that will dwarf any similar efforts from four years ago. But this time around, Obama won’t have support from his top Israel surrogate, Dennis Ross, a trusted face in the Democratic pro-Israel community who stumped at synagogues and helped calm Jewish voters in 2008. Eli Lake reports:

“I am the counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy,” [Dennis] Ross said in an email on Friday. “The Washington Institute is a non-profit organization and I cannot do political work from here. When I acted for the campaign in 2008, I had to take a leave of absence to do so. Having only recently returned to the Institute, I cannot now again take a leave of absence.” …

Ross himself said, “I can give substantive advice to the administration, the president’s campaign, or any campaign that would ask for it. And, of course, when I speak I can talk about my views on policy and I have been supportive of the president’s policy on leading foreign policy issues.”

Ouch. Ross can advise any campaign? And speaking in the past tense about supporting Obama’s policies? It doesn’t sound like there was much love lost there. Ross did just return to the Washington Institute, but it’s hard to imagine he would be blamed for taking some time to help the president of the United States on the campaign trail. Note that Ross also bluntly criticized the president’s early focus on the settlement freeze in WaPo last month.

Aaron David Miller, Ross’s deputy on the peace talks under the Clinton administration, suggests that Ross wasn’t thrilled with the idea of trying to sell Obama’s Israel record to Jewish voters:

“Dennis is about doing things,” said Aaron Miller, who was Ross’s deputy on the peace process during the Clinton years and is now a scholar at the Wilson Center, a public policy think tank in Washington, D.C. “The peace process is stuck and is likely to remain stuck. The fact is no amount of hand-holding is going to assuage the concerns and suspicions of a pro-Israel community which has now seen some of its fears realized. It may well be that this is the other piece of this. I wouldn’t want to try to sell Obama to the Jewish community in this environment.”

Whatever the reason for Ross sitting this one out, it doesn’t look good for Obama or his pro-Israel outreach. The New York Times reports that another one of Obama’s top Jewish surrogates, Penny Pritzker, is also taking a less active role in the campaign than she did in 2008. Obviously, the president will always have the die-hard believers to stump for him at synagogues — Alan Solow, DWS, Robert Wexler. But will that be enough to combat the GOP’s serious play for the Jewish vote?

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Veteran Diplomat: Obama No Israel Lover

While Obama campaign surrogates are spending the summer beating the bushes trying to convince Jewish voters not to believe anything they saw the president do to Israel during his first three years in office, a veteran Washington peace processor and critic of Benjamin Netanyahu has the chutzpah to tell the truth about the state of the U.S.-Israel relationship, in an article in Foreign Policy today. Aaron David Miller spent 24 years working for several administrations, pushing hard to force Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. But he understands the difference between presidents who care about Israel and ones who don’t. In an article in which he forecasts “Turbulence Ahead” for the U.S.-Israel relationship if President Obama is re-elected, Miller says one of the key problems is the attitude of the man in the White House:

I’ve watched a few presidents come and go on this issue, and Obama really is different. Unlike Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama isn’t in love with the idea of Israel. As a result, he has a harder time making allowances for Israeli behavior he doesn’t like. Obama relates to the Jewish state not on a values continuum but through a national security and interest filter.

It’s true that the president doesn’t emote on many policy issues, with the possible exception of health care. But on Israel, he just doesn’t buy the “tiny state living on the knife’s edge with the dark past” argument — or at least it doesn’t come through in emotionally resonant terms. …

In this respect, when it comes to Israel, Obama is more like Jimmy Carter minus the biblical interest or attachment, or like Bush 41 minus a strategy. My sense is that, if he could get away with it, the president would like to see a U.S.-Israeli relationship that is not just less exclusive, but somewhat less special as well.

Miller doesn’t pull punches about Netanyahu’s shortcomings nor does he blow the current difficulties out of proportion. He rightly acknowledges this isn’t the first time there has been tension between the two nations. But Miller’s discussion of Obama’s view of the Jewish state goes right to the heart of the problem. Obama’s apologists can deny these facts all they want, but the ordinary pro-Israel voter isn’t fooled, which accounts not only for the polls that show the president bleeding support but also for the Jewish charm offensive the administration has been conducting in recent months.

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While Obama campaign surrogates are spending the summer beating the bushes trying to convince Jewish voters not to believe anything they saw the president do to Israel during his first three years in office, a veteran Washington peace processor and critic of Benjamin Netanyahu has the chutzpah to tell the truth about the state of the U.S.-Israel relationship, in an article in Foreign Policy today. Aaron David Miller spent 24 years working for several administrations, pushing hard to force Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. But he understands the difference between presidents who care about Israel and ones who don’t. In an article in which he forecasts “Turbulence Ahead” for the U.S.-Israel relationship if President Obama is re-elected, Miller says one of the key problems is the attitude of the man in the White House:

I’ve watched a few presidents come and go on this issue, and Obama really is different. Unlike Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama isn’t in love with the idea of Israel. As a result, he has a harder time making allowances for Israeli behavior he doesn’t like. Obama relates to the Jewish state not on a values continuum but through a national security and interest filter.

It’s true that the president doesn’t emote on many policy issues, with the possible exception of health care. But on Israel, he just doesn’t buy the “tiny state living on the knife’s edge with the dark past” argument — or at least it doesn’t come through in emotionally resonant terms. …

In this respect, when it comes to Israel, Obama is more like Jimmy Carter minus the biblical interest or attachment, or like Bush 41 minus a strategy. My sense is that, if he could get away with it, the president would like to see a U.S.-Israeli relationship that is not just less exclusive, but somewhat less special as well.

Miller doesn’t pull punches about Netanyahu’s shortcomings nor does he blow the current difficulties out of proportion. He rightly acknowledges this isn’t the first time there has been tension between the two nations. But Miller’s discussion of Obama’s view of the Jewish state goes right to the heart of the problem. Obama’s apologists can deny these facts all they want, but the ordinary pro-Israel voter isn’t fooled, which accounts not only for the polls that show the president bleeding support but also for the Jewish charm offensive the administration has been conducting in recent months.

As Miller points out, the impending crisis about Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons makes the need for close cooperation between the U.S. and Israel vital. But Obama’s coldness toward the Jewish state not only creates dangerous daylight between the two nations but also undermines the notion that Israelis should defer to and rely on the United States in a crisis. If the president is unhappy about the prospect of Israel striking out on its own on Iran, he has no one to blame but himself.

While Obama’s supporters keep trying to pretend there is no problem, Miller is merely saying what everyone already knows when he observes: “Obama’s views are much closer to the Palestinians than to Israel.”

As for the future, Miller points out that past confrontations between U.S. and Israeli leaders has led to them both being defeated for re-election, as was the case with the elder George Bush and Yitzhak Shamir in 1992. But Netanyahu is not in much danger of losing the next Israeli election. That means if Obama survives Romney’s challenge, the odds are the next four years will be difficult. As Miller writes, “Buckle your seat belts. It may be a wild ride.” That’s a prediction pro-Israel voters should take seriously this fall.

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How History Weighs on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

In September 1993, Yasir Arafat told one of recent history’s most significant lies. At the time, Arafat still resided where he certainly belonged: on the State Department’s terrorism list. But the date of the White House ceremony announcing the signing of the declaration of principles was nearing, and the Clinton administration had given up its earlier resistance to asking Yitzhak Rabin to shake the bloodstained hand of the committed murderer on the White House lawn so everyone could have their “historic” moment in the sun.

So Arafat wrote a letter. He would–scout’s honor–end his campaign to annihilate the Jewish people. “Our lawyers judged this written renunciation as sufficient grounds for the president to take Arafat and the PLO off the State Department’s terrorism list,” wrote Martin Indyk in his memoir of the Clinton administration’s Middle East diplomacy. The rest, as they say, is history.

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In September 1993, Yasir Arafat told one of recent history’s most significant lies. At the time, Arafat still resided where he certainly belonged: on the State Department’s terrorism list. But the date of the White House ceremony announcing the signing of the declaration of principles was nearing, and the Clinton administration had given up its earlier resistance to asking Yitzhak Rabin to shake the bloodstained hand of the committed murderer on the White House lawn so everyone could have their “historic” moment in the sun.

So Arafat wrote a letter. He would–scout’s honor–end his campaign to annihilate the Jewish people. “Our lawyers judged this written renunciation as sufficient grounds for the president to take Arafat and the PLO off the State Department’s terrorism list,” wrote Martin Indyk in his memoir of the Clinton administration’s Middle East diplomacy. The rest, as they say, is history.

I recount this story not to take a gratuitous swipe at the naïveté of the Clinton administration nor at the cavalier way Israeli security concerns were put in a box in the White House attic so Clinton could mug for the cameras. The point is that allowing Arafat to hijack and destroy the chances for peace cannot be so easily undone, even if we’ve learned something from these mistakes.

Aaron David Miller, a member of the Clinton team, is now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a regular columnist for Foreign Policy, and has used his perch to attempt to atone for the mistakes of the Clinton administration. It is an honorable and laudable act. And yesterday at the center, Miller moderated an interesting discussion between former Shin Bet director Ami Ayalon and former Obama campaign adviser Robert Malley. The event was ostensibly about how the old negotiations paradigm has become somewhat useless and the value of unilateralism in moving forward.

Malley described a strategy of “parallel unilateral steps.” Ayalon mostly agreed, but insisted “this is a friendly unilateralism, not an antagonistic unilateralism.” Neither, however, went on to describe in any great detail what your friendly neighborhood unilateralism would look like in practice. And Malley restated Miller’s own thesis, suggesting that it was difficult to understand how giving up the fiction of a bilateral peace process could possibly be more damaging than maintaining it, at this point.

But there are two problems here. First, Ayalon readily admitted that “we know the parameters” of a final deal, and those would be “the Clinton parameters… and all that was discussed in the last 20 years.” Because the “last 20 years” have been used by the Palestinian leadership to broadcast as loudly and as often as possible that they utterly reject this idea, it’s hard to imagine why Ayalon still thinks this is a workable plan. But his opening seems to be that Israel should conform to those parameters with or without Palestinian cooperation.

This may or may not be worth exploring–I’ve written about “coordinated unilateralism” before, though I’m not sure changing the tactics while keeping the same parameters of a final-status agreement is practical.

But Ayalon does have one revolutionary idea, and it’s one he has been drawing attention to recently. That idea is: treat Israeli settlers like human beings. As Ayalon wrote in the New York Times in April: “We have learned that we must be candid about our proposed plan, discuss the settlers’ concerns and above all not demonize them. They are the ones who would pay the price of being uprooted from their homes and also from their deeply felt mission of settling the land.”

Ayalon repeated this thesis yesterday. This is important, because among mainstream media outlets and left-of-center journalists you will not find such empathy toward the settlers. Nor will you find nuance or complexity.

For his part, Malley wants the settlers at the table too. This is in part because Malley wants everyone at the table–he’s long been a proponent of negotiating with Hamas. But that just makes those who would exclude the settlers look that much more ridiculous. (Among leftists, the idea that you would talk to Hamas but not Orthodox Jews makes perfect sense–which helps explain the marginalization of the Israeli left.)

But this raises an important question: Are you bringing settlers to the table as props, to display your empathy and humanity and ask them to sit there quietly as you pat them on the head? Or are you bringing them to the table to include them in negotiations? Malley, Ayalon, and Miller are all men of the left, so it’s encouraging to hear them talk like this, but the panel was not exactly balanced. And history is, once again, an obstacle–disrespect of the settlers and the whitewashing of violent Palestinian rejectionism have become ingrained elements of the peace process.

During the presentation, Ayalon said he believes “there is no peace without partners.” If that’s true, then based on the behavior of Israel’s “partner,” there is no peace.

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Lessons of the Peace Process: The Missing Reflection

The final chapter of Dennis Ross’s 800-page book on the Oslo Process (The Missing Peace) is entitled “Learning the Lessons of the Past and Applying Them to the Future.” Among his lessons was a warning that the process can become “essentially an end in itself” — self-sustaining because there is never a right time to disrupt it. He concluded that less attention should have been paid to the negotiators and more to preparing their publics for compromise. With respect to the Palestinians, it is a lesson still unlearned.

The lessons the Bush administration drew from the Clinton experience were that Arafat was an obstacle to peace; the Palestinian Authority needed new leadership and democratic institutions; and peace could be achieved only in phases, not all at once. Bush endorsed a Palestinian state in 2002; arranged the three-phase Roadmap in 2003; assured Israel in 2004 of the U.S. commitment to defensible borders; facilitated the Gaza withdrawal in 2005; began moving the parties in 2006 to final status negotiations; and sponsored the Annapolis Process in 2007-08, which produced another Israeli offer of a state and another Palestinian rejection. In the meantime, the Palestinians elected Hamas — an inconvenient fact that peace processors simply ignore.

There were multiple lessons to be drawn from the successive failures of Clinton and Bush, but Obama did not pause to consider them. He appointed George Mitchell on his second day in office and sent him immediately to the Middle East on the first of an endless series of trips. He sought a total Israeli construction freeze and reciprocal Arab concessions — getting nothing from the Arabs but obtaining a one-time Israeli moratorium, which produced nothing. The administration has tried “proximity talks,” followed by “direct talks,” and now “parallel talks.”

The process has produced an endless supply of names for unproductive procedures, but not much else. It has become essentially an end in itself, and it is time, once again, to learn the lessons of the past so we can apply them to the future. Aaron David Miller and Jennifer Rubin have produced about seven between them.

But the most relevant lesson may be the one Obama disregarded when he rushed into his own peace process. In a December 2008 article, Obama’s erstwhile adviser Robert Malley urged him to slow down and reflect on “the reasons for recurring failures, the effectiveness of U.S. mediation, the wisdom and realism of seeking a comprehensive, across-the-board settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or even the centrality of that conflict to US interests.”

The Palestinian goal seems less to obtain a state (they have repeatedly rejected one) than to reverse history: a return to the 1967 lines would reverse the 1967 war; a “right of return” would reverse the 1948 one; and controlling the Old City (aka East Jerusalem) would reverse the history before that. At the end of his book, Ross describes the Oval Office meeting where Arafat rejected the Clinton Parameters, with Arafat denying that the Temple ever existed in Jerusalem. Ten years later, the PA denies any Jewish connection to the Western Wall. Not only has the PA taken no steps to prepare its public for peace; its maps and media presume Israel does not exist.

In thinking about the recurring failures of the peace process, it is time to reflect on that.

The final chapter of Dennis Ross’s 800-page book on the Oslo Process (The Missing Peace) is entitled “Learning the Lessons of the Past and Applying Them to the Future.” Among his lessons was a warning that the process can become “essentially an end in itself” — self-sustaining because there is never a right time to disrupt it. He concluded that less attention should have been paid to the negotiators and more to preparing their publics for compromise. With respect to the Palestinians, it is a lesson still unlearned.

The lessons the Bush administration drew from the Clinton experience were that Arafat was an obstacle to peace; the Palestinian Authority needed new leadership and democratic institutions; and peace could be achieved only in phases, not all at once. Bush endorsed a Palestinian state in 2002; arranged the three-phase Roadmap in 2003; assured Israel in 2004 of the U.S. commitment to defensible borders; facilitated the Gaza withdrawal in 2005; began moving the parties in 2006 to final status negotiations; and sponsored the Annapolis Process in 2007-08, which produced another Israeli offer of a state and another Palestinian rejection. In the meantime, the Palestinians elected Hamas — an inconvenient fact that peace processors simply ignore.

There were multiple lessons to be drawn from the successive failures of Clinton and Bush, but Obama did not pause to consider them. He appointed George Mitchell on his second day in office and sent him immediately to the Middle East on the first of an endless series of trips. He sought a total Israeli construction freeze and reciprocal Arab concessions — getting nothing from the Arabs but obtaining a one-time Israeli moratorium, which produced nothing. The administration has tried “proximity talks,” followed by “direct talks,” and now “parallel talks.”

The process has produced an endless supply of names for unproductive procedures, but not much else. It has become essentially an end in itself, and it is time, once again, to learn the lessons of the past so we can apply them to the future. Aaron David Miller and Jennifer Rubin have produced about seven between them.

But the most relevant lesson may be the one Obama disregarded when he rushed into his own peace process. In a December 2008 article, Obama’s erstwhile adviser Robert Malley urged him to slow down and reflect on “the reasons for recurring failures, the effectiveness of U.S. mediation, the wisdom and realism of seeking a comprehensive, across-the-board settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or even the centrality of that conflict to US interests.”

The Palestinian goal seems less to obtain a state (they have repeatedly rejected one) than to reverse history: a return to the 1967 lines would reverse the 1967 war; a “right of return” would reverse the 1948 one; and controlling the Old City (aka East Jerusalem) would reverse the history before that. At the end of his book, Ross describes the Oval Office meeting where Arafat rejected the Clinton Parameters, with Arafat denying that the Temple ever existed in Jerusalem. Ten years later, the PA denies any Jewish connection to the Western Wall. Not only has the PA taken no steps to prepare its public for peace; its maps and media presume Israel does not exist.

In thinking about the recurring failures of the peace process, it is time to reflect on that.

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For Secretary of Defense? (Updated)

Chuck Hagel made news by endorsing Joe Sestak, but quite apart from Sestak there is reason to examine Hagel’s record. The administration, it seems, is seriously considering him for secretary of defense when Robert Gates retires. Yes, Hagel – the Republican opposed to the Iraq war and who’s compiled an anti-Israel record that brought appropriate condemnation from Jewish Democrats — is in the mix, according to news reports.

Ben Smith reports that Hagel is being championed by National Security Adviser Jim Jones (often the originator of silly ideas and ill-advised statements). Smith explains:

He opposed the war in Iraq, has spoken of the need to leave Afghanistan, and — though this is hazier territory — has infuriated supporters of Israel for a refusal to sign on to the many statements of support on the Hill for the Jewish State, and by suggesting the more dispassionate approach to that conflict that — on some days — Obama seems to prefer.

This is the context for the fierce attacks on Joe Sestak, incidentally, for accepting Hagel’s endorsement: It’s a warning signal that whatever the other merits, confirmation would hardly be a cakewalk. He’s taken fire from Democrats as well as Republican for his Middle East politics, and with both that process and Iran on the front burner, his appointment would likely concentrate debate on those issues.

Indeed, it is unclear, with a nuclear-armed Iran looming and a more Republican Senate in the offing, whether Hagel would be confirmable. His national security record would be hard to defend, even by Democrats wishing to support the faltering president.

For example, in 2006, when Hezbollah’s attacks provoked Israeli retaliation and the war in Lebanon, Hagel screeched for the president to demand an immediate cease-fire, arguing it was essential in order to “enhance America’s image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East.” Our credibility, in his eyes, depends on the United States’s preventing Israel from defending itself.

Last year, Hagel signed a letter urging Obama to open direct negotiations with Hamas, a position so extreme that Obama hasn’t (yet) embraced it.

On Iran, Hagel was one of two senators in 2004 to vote against renewal of the Libya-Iran sanctions act. (“Messrs. Hagel and Lugar … want a weaker stance than most other senators against the terrorists in Iran and Syria and the West Bank and Gaza and against those who help the terrorists. They are more concerned than most other senators about upsetting our erstwhile allies in Europe — the French and Germans — who do business with the terrorists.”)

Hagel seems to be a member in good standing of the Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett school of Iran suck-uppery. In 2007 Hagel wanted to open direct, unconditional talks with Iran. (“It could create a historic new dynamic in US-Iran relations, in part forcing the Iranians to react to the possibility of better relations with the West.”) In 2007 he voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. In 2008 he voted against Iran sanctions.

His views on Syria are equally misguided:

On November 11, 2003, when the Senate, by a vote of 89 to 4, passed the Syria Accountability Act authorizing sanctions on Syria for its support of terrorism and its occupation of Lebanon. Mr. Hagel — along with Mr. Kerry — didn’t vote. Mr. Hagel met in Damascus in 1998 with the terror-sponsoring dictator, Hafez Al-Assad, and returned to tell a reporter about the meeting, “Peace comes through dealing with people. Peace doesn’t come at the end of a bayonet or the end of a gun.”

If Obama’s pick for ambassador to Syria couldn’t get through the Senate, how would Hagel?

Finally, Hagel is a nominee who would thrill the Walt-Mearsheimer Lobby:

In an interview quoted in Aaron David Miller’s book on the peace process called The Much Too Promised Land, Hagel said: “The political reality is that … the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”

Hagel then described a meeting he had in New York with a group of supporters of Israel, one of whom suggested Hagel wasn’t supportive enough of Israel. Hagel said he responded: “Let me clear something up here if there’s any doubt in your mind. I’m a United States Senator. I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States Senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is, I take an oath of office to the constitution of the United States. Not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel.”

A Democratic, pro-Israel activist alarmed by the possibility of a Hagel appointment told me:

In 2006, after Hezbollah attacked Israel and instigated a war, Hagel took to the Senate floor and called on President Bush to demand an immediate Israeli cease-fire and accused Israel of “the systematic destruction of an American friend, Lebanon” and of “slaughter.” Given that Hezbollah has killed more Americans than any terrorist group except al-Qaeda — including 241 brave young Marines and some of our finest CIA officers — and Israel is one of our closest allies in the world, these kinds of statements not only call into question Hagel’s views but his fitness to serve as secretary of defense or in any other national security capacity.

Given his long, questionable record and the clear problems his nomination would cause — not to mention the volumes of criticism by other Democrats for his rank hostility to Israel — it is hard to believe that the White House would want to make such a risky choice at precisely the time we are asking the Israelis to “trust us” on Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict. I wonder if his career-long effort to derail sanctions to stop Iran’s nuclear program will comfort the Israelis or our Arab and European allies at this critical juncture. Then again, given President’s Obama’s record in this area, this is a matter of serious, ongoing concern.

A Hagel nomination would be a political nightmare for Senate Democrats — another “walk the plank” request from the White House that would paint them as weak on defense and on the Iranian nuclear threat. Maybe this is a trial balloon. If it’s more than that, it will go over like a lead one.

UPDATE: A reader emails that “Hagel didn’t just vote no on sanctions in 2008; he killed the bill.” The reader is correct: “In early October, he prevented action on a bill, which had passed in the House, proposing economic sanctions against Iran. Hagel has long criticized unilateral sanctions as ineffective and counterproductive.”

Chuck Hagel made news by endorsing Joe Sestak, but quite apart from Sestak there is reason to examine Hagel’s record. The administration, it seems, is seriously considering him for secretary of defense when Robert Gates retires. Yes, Hagel – the Republican opposed to the Iraq war and who’s compiled an anti-Israel record that brought appropriate condemnation from Jewish Democrats — is in the mix, according to news reports.

Ben Smith reports that Hagel is being championed by National Security Adviser Jim Jones (often the originator of silly ideas and ill-advised statements). Smith explains:

He opposed the war in Iraq, has spoken of the need to leave Afghanistan, and — though this is hazier territory — has infuriated supporters of Israel for a refusal to sign on to the many statements of support on the Hill for the Jewish State, and by suggesting the more dispassionate approach to that conflict that — on some days — Obama seems to prefer.

This is the context for the fierce attacks on Joe Sestak, incidentally, for accepting Hagel’s endorsement: It’s a warning signal that whatever the other merits, confirmation would hardly be a cakewalk. He’s taken fire from Democrats as well as Republican for his Middle East politics, and with both that process and Iran on the front burner, his appointment would likely concentrate debate on those issues.

Indeed, it is unclear, with a nuclear-armed Iran looming and a more Republican Senate in the offing, whether Hagel would be confirmable. His national security record would be hard to defend, even by Democrats wishing to support the faltering president.

For example, in 2006, when Hezbollah’s attacks provoked Israeli retaliation and the war in Lebanon, Hagel screeched for the president to demand an immediate cease-fire, arguing it was essential in order to “enhance America’s image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East.” Our credibility, in his eyes, depends on the United States’s preventing Israel from defending itself.

Last year, Hagel signed a letter urging Obama to open direct negotiations with Hamas, a position so extreme that Obama hasn’t (yet) embraced it.

On Iran, Hagel was one of two senators in 2004 to vote against renewal of the Libya-Iran sanctions act. (“Messrs. Hagel and Lugar … want a weaker stance than most other senators against the terrorists in Iran and Syria and the West Bank and Gaza and against those who help the terrorists. They are more concerned than most other senators about upsetting our erstwhile allies in Europe — the French and Germans — who do business with the terrorists.”)

Hagel seems to be a member in good standing of the Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett school of Iran suck-uppery. In 2007 Hagel wanted to open direct, unconditional talks with Iran. (“It could create a historic new dynamic in US-Iran relations, in part forcing the Iranians to react to the possibility of better relations with the West.”) In 2007 he voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. In 2008 he voted against Iran sanctions.

His views on Syria are equally misguided:

On November 11, 2003, when the Senate, by a vote of 89 to 4, passed the Syria Accountability Act authorizing sanctions on Syria for its support of terrorism and its occupation of Lebanon. Mr. Hagel — along with Mr. Kerry — didn’t vote. Mr. Hagel met in Damascus in 1998 with the terror-sponsoring dictator, Hafez Al-Assad, and returned to tell a reporter about the meeting, “Peace comes through dealing with people. Peace doesn’t come at the end of a bayonet or the end of a gun.”

If Obama’s pick for ambassador to Syria couldn’t get through the Senate, how would Hagel?

Finally, Hagel is a nominee who would thrill the Walt-Mearsheimer Lobby:

In an interview quoted in Aaron David Miller’s book on the peace process called The Much Too Promised Land, Hagel said: “The political reality is that … the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”

Hagel then described a meeting he had in New York with a group of supporters of Israel, one of whom suggested Hagel wasn’t supportive enough of Israel. Hagel said he responded: “Let me clear something up here if there’s any doubt in your mind. I’m a United States Senator. I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States Senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is, I take an oath of office to the constitution of the United States. Not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel.”

A Democratic, pro-Israel activist alarmed by the possibility of a Hagel appointment told me:

In 2006, after Hezbollah attacked Israel and instigated a war, Hagel took to the Senate floor and called on President Bush to demand an immediate Israeli cease-fire and accused Israel of “the systematic destruction of an American friend, Lebanon” and of “slaughter.” Given that Hezbollah has killed more Americans than any terrorist group except al-Qaeda — including 241 brave young Marines and some of our finest CIA officers — and Israel is one of our closest allies in the world, these kinds of statements not only call into question Hagel’s views but his fitness to serve as secretary of defense or in any other national security capacity.

Given his long, questionable record and the clear problems his nomination would cause — not to mention the volumes of criticism by other Democrats for his rank hostility to Israel — it is hard to believe that the White House would want to make such a risky choice at precisely the time we are asking the Israelis to “trust us” on Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict. I wonder if his career-long effort to derail sanctions to stop Iran’s nuclear program will comfort the Israelis or our Arab and European allies at this critical juncture. Then again, given President’s Obama’s record in this area, this is a matter of serious, ongoing concern.

A Hagel nomination would be a political nightmare for Senate Democrats — another “walk the plank” request from the White House that would paint them as weak on defense and on the Iranian nuclear threat. Maybe this is a trial balloon. If it’s more than that, it will go over like a lead one.

UPDATE: A reader emails that “Hagel didn’t just vote no on sanctions in 2008; he killed the bill.” The reader is correct: “In early October, he prevented action on a bill, which had passed in the House, proposing economic sanctions against Iran. Hagel has long criticized unilateral sanctions as ineffective and counterproductive.”

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Democratic Mideast Negotiator Joins Mosque Opponents

Joining the ranks of those whom his Democratic colleague have deemed bigots, Aaron David Miller tells us that he doesn’t like the idea of the Ground Zero mosque. And he knows a thing or two about monstrously misplaced symbolism:

If there is one lesson to be learned from the controversy over the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, it is that messing with memory, particularly traumatic memory of the first order, is akin to messing with Mother Nature: It rarely ends well, no matter how good the intention.

I learned this the hard way 12 years ago, when my idea of inviting Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat to visit the Holocaust museum in Washington proved to be a disaster. There is great danger in misappropriating memory and attempting to link it to another agenda or to a tragic historical experience seared in the minds of millions.

His narration of his own experience with disastrous symbolism is refreshingly honest. (“Inviting Arafat to the museum, one of the dumbest ideas in the annals of U.S foreign policy, created a perfect storm. … How I could have believed such an invitation would head any way but south is beyond me.”) And because of this episode,  Miller — unlike the intentionally obtuse left punditocracy — grasps what the Ground Zero mosque is about:

The number of Americans killed on 9/11 was exceeded by only one day in our nation’s history: Sept. 17, 1862, during the battle of Antietam. The events of Sept. 11 are in many ways still untouchable. The risks of linking that day to anything else or confusing it with another issue are vast. However worthy the benefits of promoting interfaith dialogue and greater understanding among Christians, Muslims and Jews, the reality is that the payoff will be small. We meddle in our tragic memories and those of others at our peril.

And let’s be honest: there is no chance any interfaith “dialogue” is going to come of this. It was intended as and certainly has become a provocative act. If you don’t believe me, take the word of two Muslims:

New York currently boasts at least 30 mosques so it’s not as if there is pressing need to find space for worshippers. The fact we Muslims know the idea behind the Ground Zero mosque is meant to be a deliberate provocation to thumb our noses at the infidel. The proposal has been made in bad faith and in Islamic parlance, such an act is referred to as “Fitna,” meaning “mischief-making” that is clearly forbidden in the Koran.

The Koran commands Muslims to, “Be considerate when you debate with the People of the Book” — i.e., Jews and Christians. Building an exclusive place of worship for Muslims at the place where Muslims killed thousands of New Yorkers is not being considerate or sensitive, it is undoubtedly an act of “fitna.”

The Ground Zero mosque debacle is much worse than Miller’s gaffe, and with far more serious consequences. After all, it’s one thing for a negotiator to make hash out of an Arafat visit; it’s another for the president to reveal that he is utterly clueless about Americans’ sentiments, values, and concerns.

Who would have thought that we’d elect a president who couldn’t go to Israel or Ground Zero without risking boos and catcalls? Yes, it’s come to that.

Joining the ranks of those whom his Democratic colleague have deemed bigots, Aaron David Miller tells us that he doesn’t like the idea of the Ground Zero mosque. And he knows a thing or two about monstrously misplaced symbolism:

If there is one lesson to be learned from the controversy over the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, it is that messing with memory, particularly traumatic memory of the first order, is akin to messing with Mother Nature: It rarely ends well, no matter how good the intention.

I learned this the hard way 12 years ago, when my idea of inviting Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat to visit the Holocaust museum in Washington proved to be a disaster. There is great danger in misappropriating memory and attempting to link it to another agenda or to a tragic historical experience seared in the minds of millions.

His narration of his own experience with disastrous symbolism is refreshingly honest. (“Inviting Arafat to the museum, one of the dumbest ideas in the annals of U.S foreign policy, created a perfect storm. … How I could have believed such an invitation would head any way but south is beyond me.”) And because of this episode,  Miller — unlike the intentionally obtuse left punditocracy — grasps what the Ground Zero mosque is about:

The number of Americans killed on 9/11 was exceeded by only one day in our nation’s history: Sept. 17, 1862, during the battle of Antietam. The events of Sept. 11 are in many ways still untouchable. The risks of linking that day to anything else or confusing it with another issue are vast. However worthy the benefits of promoting interfaith dialogue and greater understanding among Christians, Muslims and Jews, the reality is that the payoff will be small. We meddle in our tragic memories and those of others at our peril.

And let’s be honest: there is no chance any interfaith “dialogue” is going to come of this. It was intended as and certainly has become a provocative act. If you don’t believe me, take the word of two Muslims:

New York currently boasts at least 30 mosques so it’s not as if there is pressing need to find space for worshippers. The fact we Muslims know the idea behind the Ground Zero mosque is meant to be a deliberate provocation to thumb our noses at the infidel. The proposal has been made in bad faith and in Islamic parlance, such an act is referred to as “Fitna,” meaning “mischief-making” that is clearly forbidden in the Koran.

The Koran commands Muslims to, “Be considerate when you debate with the People of the Book” — i.e., Jews and Christians. Building an exclusive place of worship for Muslims at the place where Muslims killed thousands of New Yorkers is not being considerate or sensitive, it is undoubtedly an act of “fitna.”

The Ground Zero mosque debacle is much worse than Miller’s gaffe, and with far more serious consequences. After all, it’s one thing for a negotiator to make hash out of an Arafat visit; it’s another for the president to reveal that he is utterly clueless about Americans’ sentiments, values, and concerns.

Who would have thought that we’d elect a president who couldn’t go to Israel or Ground Zero without risking boos and catcalls? Yes, it’s come to that.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The Obama economy isn’t getting better anytime soon: “The U.S. economic recovery will remain slow deep into next year, held back by shoppers reluctant to spend and employers hesitant to hire, according to an Associated Press survey of leading economists. The latest quarterly AP Economy Survey shows economists have turned gloomier in the past three months. They foresee weaker growth and higher unemployment than they did before.”

The Obama Justice Department isn’t shy about its preferences. “The politically charged gang led by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is more interested in helping felons vote than in helping the military to vote. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, has put a legislative hold on the already troubled nomination of James M. Cole to be deputy attorney general until the attorney general ensures full protection for voting rights of our military (and associated civilian personnel) stationed abroad.”

The Obama presidency isn’t what liberals imagined it would be (subscription required): “The Cook Political Report’s current outlook is for a 32 to 42 seat net gain for Republicans. Currently there are 255 Democratic and 178 Republican House members and two vacant seats, one formerly held by a Democrat and one by a Republican. Republicans need to net 39 seats to reach a bare majority of 218 seats. The Cook Political Report’s current outlook is for a 5 to 7 seat net gain for Republicans. Currently there are 57 Democrats, two independents that caucus with Democrats, and 41 Republican Senators. The Cook Political Report’s current outlook is for a 3 to 5 seat net gain for Republicans. Currently there are 26 Democratic and 24 Republican Governors.”

The Obama era isn’t “business as usual” inside the Beltway — it’s worse. “The House ethics committee announced 13 charges Thursday against Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who is accused of breaking House rules as well as federal statutes.”

The Obama administration isn’t about to take responsibility for anything. According to Obama, firing Shirley Sherrod was the media’s fault. The only thing surprising is that he didn’t find a way to blame George W. Bush for this.

The Obama “smart” diplomatic set isn’t going to take smart advice from Aaron David Miller: “One of the most enduring myths in the lore surrounding Arab-Israeli diplomacy is that direct negotiations provide the key to successful peacemaking. They don’t. The actual history of negotiations tells a far different story. Direct talks are often necessary, but have never been sufficient to ensure success. And Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, together with the Obama administration, should stop raising expectations and deluding themselves and the rest of us into thinking otherwise.”

The Obama UN team isn’t exactly wowing them. In fact, Susan Rice’s record is downright “embarrassing”: “Rice missed crucial negotiations on Iran’s continued enrichment of uranium, she failed to speak out when Iran was elected to the Commission on the Status of Women and three other UN Committees, she failed to call-out Libya when they were elected to the UN’s Human Rights Council, she recently delivered an Iran sanctions resolution with the least support Iran resolutions have ever had and she called her one and only press conference with the UN Secretary General on the issue of texting while driving. … Much of the blame for the weakness belongs to Rice and her habitual silence.  Rice has not conducted the hard negotiations nor done the sometimes unpopular work of engaging the UN on the United States’ priority issues.”

The Obama economy isn’t getting better anytime soon: “The U.S. economic recovery will remain slow deep into next year, held back by shoppers reluctant to spend and employers hesitant to hire, according to an Associated Press survey of leading economists. The latest quarterly AP Economy Survey shows economists have turned gloomier in the past three months. They foresee weaker growth and higher unemployment than they did before.”

The Obama Justice Department isn’t shy about its preferences. “The politically charged gang led by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is more interested in helping felons vote than in helping the military to vote. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, has put a legislative hold on the already troubled nomination of James M. Cole to be deputy attorney general until the attorney general ensures full protection for voting rights of our military (and associated civilian personnel) stationed abroad.”

The Obama presidency isn’t what liberals imagined it would be (subscription required): “The Cook Political Report’s current outlook is for a 32 to 42 seat net gain for Republicans. Currently there are 255 Democratic and 178 Republican House members and two vacant seats, one formerly held by a Democrat and one by a Republican. Republicans need to net 39 seats to reach a bare majority of 218 seats. The Cook Political Report’s current outlook is for a 5 to 7 seat net gain for Republicans. Currently there are 57 Democrats, two independents that caucus with Democrats, and 41 Republican Senators. The Cook Political Report’s current outlook is for a 3 to 5 seat net gain for Republicans. Currently there are 26 Democratic and 24 Republican Governors.”

The Obama era isn’t “business as usual” inside the Beltway — it’s worse. “The House ethics committee announced 13 charges Thursday against Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who is accused of breaking House rules as well as federal statutes.”

The Obama administration isn’t about to take responsibility for anything. According to Obama, firing Shirley Sherrod was the media’s fault. The only thing surprising is that he didn’t find a way to blame George W. Bush for this.

The Obama “smart” diplomatic set isn’t going to take smart advice from Aaron David Miller: “One of the most enduring myths in the lore surrounding Arab-Israeli diplomacy is that direct negotiations provide the key to successful peacemaking. They don’t. The actual history of negotiations tells a far different story. Direct talks are often necessary, but have never been sufficient to ensure success. And Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, together with the Obama administration, should stop raising expectations and deluding themselves and the rest of us into thinking otherwise.”

The Obama UN team isn’t exactly wowing them. In fact, Susan Rice’s record is downright “embarrassing”: “Rice missed crucial negotiations on Iran’s continued enrichment of uranium, she failed to speak out when Iran was elected to the Commission on the Status of Women and three other UN Committees, she failed to call-out Libya when they were elected to the UN’s Human Rights Council, she recently delivered an Iran sanctions resolution with the least support Iran resolutions have ever had and she called her one and only press conference with the UN Secretary General on the issue of texting while driving. … Much of the blame for the weakness belongs to Rice and her habitual silence.  Rice has not conducted the hard negotiations nor done the sometimes unpopular work of engaging the UN on the United States’ priority issues.”

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Bibi-Obama Presser

The presser was long on platitudes and short on specifics. To reaffirm the “special relationship” (actually a term generally used for the U.S.-British relationship, which is less than special these days) is nice. Obama disputed that he had tried to distance the U.S. from Israel — entirely disingenuous but generally a good idea to close the public distance between the two countries. As the New York Times reports:

The two leaders were not specific about what “concrete steps” Mr. Netanyahu could take to move the peace talks along, though Mr. Obama seemed to suggest a timetable when he said it was his hope that direct talks would begin “well before” a moratorium on settlement construction expires this fall. The president said he believed that Mr. Netanyahu was “willing to take risks for peace.”

Informed observers really aren’t buying that much has changed:

Even so, Aaron David Miller, a longtime Middle East peace negotiator, said that Tuesday’s session at the White House reflected a “false calm” in the relationship.

“It’s symptomatic of the fact that neither man right now has a stake in a fight, a crisis, and both in fact have stakes in wanting to demonstrate that this relationship is functional,” Mr. Miller said, adding that he saw a “fundamental expectations gap” between the two leaders.

Netanyahu seemed pleased about the progress on sanctions against Iran, but there was not much new on that most critical issue:

Obama also asked Iran to “cease its provocative behavior,” and said that “as a consequence of hard work, internationally the toughest sanctions ever have been put on Iran, in addition to [the US's] robust sanctions.”

“We will continue to pressure Iran,” Obama added.

“We will work together against new threats,” Netanyahu said. “The biggest threat is Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. I appreciate the president’s work. I urge other leaders to follow the U.S. and pass tougher sanctions, especially in the energy sector.”

It’s never a bad thing for the U.S. president and the Israeli prime minister to be chummy in public. Nevertheless, it’s apparent that whenever Israel is the topic, Obama’s focus is on the “peace process” and not on the mullahs’ nuclear program. That is a central, but certainly not the only, failing in Obama’s Middle East policy.

The presser was long on platitudes and short on specifics. To reaffirm the “special relationship” (actually a term generally used for the U.S.-British relationship, which is less than special these days) is nice. Obama disputed that he had tried to distance the U.S. from Israel — entirely disingenuous but generally a good idea to close the public distance between the two countries. As the New York Times reports:

The two leaders were not specific about what “concrete steps” Mr. Netanyahu could take to move the peace talks along, though Mr. Obama seemed to suggest a timetable when he said it was his hope that direct talks would begin “well before” a moratorium on settlement construction expires this fall. The president said he believed that Mr. Netanyahu was “willing to take risks for peace.”

Informed observers really aren’t buying that much has changed:

Even so, Aaron David Miller, a longtime Middle East peace negotiator, said that Tuesday’s session at the White House reflected a “false calm” in the relationship.

“It’s symptomatic of the fact that neither man right now has a stake in a fight, a crisis, and both in fact have stakes in wanting to demonstrate that this relationship is functional,” Mr. Miller said, adding that he saw a “fundamental expectations gap” between the two leaders.

Netanyahu seemed pleased about the progress on sanctions against Iran, but there was not much new on that most critical issue:

Obama also asked Iran to “cease its provocative behavior,” and said that “as a consequence of hard work, internationally the toughest sanctions ever have been put on Iran, in addition to [the US's] robust sanctions.”

“We will continue to pressure Iran,” Obama added.

“We will work together against new threats,” Netanyahu said. “The biggest threat is Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. I appreciate the president’s work. I urge other leaders to follow the U.S. and pass tougher sanctions, especially in the energy sector.”

It’s never a bad thing for the U.S. president and the Israeli prime minister to be chummy in public. Nevertheless, it’s apparent that whenever Israel is the topic, Obama’s focus is on the “peace process” and not on the mullahs’ nuclear program. That is a central, but certainly not the only, failing in Obama’s Middle East policy.

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Aaron David Miller: Obama Is the Biggest Concern in the Middle East

In an interview with JTA, Aaron David Miller recaps and puts an exclamation point on his important piece calling for an end to the “religion” of the peace process — that is, the reality-free belief in the centrality of the Palestinian conflict to all Middle East issues and the equally fantastical conviction that an agreement is possible in the first place. He says:

“What I find difficult to reconcile is how you’re going to get to a conflict-ending agreement which addresses the four core issues that have driven the Israelis and the Palestinians and brought each issue to a finality of claims. … I just do not see how to do that given the gaps that exist and the inherent constraints on the leaders in the absence also of a real sense of urgency.”

He reminds us that the Oslo paradigm is now badly outdated:

Miller describes how the situation has worsened since the last major effort at a resolution, the Camp David-Taba talks of 2000-01: The status of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been wounded profoundly by the ouster of his moderate party, Fatah, from Gaza at the gunpoint of Hamas; Netanyahu is bound by a right-wing coalition (of his choosing) that is not ready to countenance a full-fledged settlement freeze, never mind compromise on Jerusalem; and Obama has had 15 months, distracted by the economy and health care, to match Clinton’s six full years focused on the issue.

Then there’s the region: “Hezbollah and Hamas,” Miller says referring to the terrorist groups in Lebanon and Gaza, respectively. “You have two non-state actors, two non-state environments who are not proxies of Iran and or Syria but who clearly reflect their capacity to want to influence events — and then you have Iran” and its potential nuclear threat.

What concerns him most? Not another failed round of peace-processing. Not the continued Palestinian radicalization. No, it’s Obama that has him most nervous:

The prospect that Miller says unnerves him most is that the Obama administration says it will step in with a conflict-ending agreement if the current proximity talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians go nowhere.

“I’m very uneasy because at the end of the day, I don’t see what the game is, I don’t see what the strategy is,” he said. “Even if it’s an initiative, what’s the objective, what’s the strategy?”

Interestingly and predictably, Jeremy Ben-Ami lets it be know that he doesn’t care much for reality: “We don’t have the luxury of time; the tensions on the ground are too high. … That’s the difference between being an analyst and actually trying to assess outcomes.” What? Even for him, that’s incoherent.

But it’s a helpful reminder that the people who favor Obama’s obsession with the peace process are the same who demand that Israel make all sorts of unilateral concessions, oppose sanctions against Iran, and are content to carve up the Jewish state into a shrunken carcass of its former self. They couldn’t be happier with Obama — enabled by the no-longer-reality-based Dennis Ross — who’s just the one to jam a deal, or try to, down Israel’s throat.

In an interview with JTA, Aaron David Miller recaps and puts an exclamation point on his important piece calling for an end to the “religion” of the peace process — that is, the reality-free belief in the centrality of the Palestinian conflict to all Middle East issues and the equally fantastical conviction that an agreement is possible in the first place. He says:

“What I find difficult to reconcile is how you’re going to get to a conflict-ending agreement which addresses the four core issues that have driven the Israelis and the Palestinians and brought each issue to a finality of claims. … I just do not see how to do that given the gaps that exist and the inherent constraints on the leaders in the absence also of a real sense of urgency.”

He reminds us that the Oslo paradigm is now badly outdated:

Miller describes how the situation has worsened since the last major effort at a resolution, the Camp David-Taba talks of 2000-01: The status of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been wounded profoundly by the ouster of his moderate party, Fatah, from Gaza at the gunpoint of Hamas; Netanyahu is bound by a right-wing coalition (of his choosing) that is not ready to countenance a full-fledged settlement freeze, never mind compromise on Jerusalem; and Obama has had 15 months, distracted by the economy and health care, to match Clinton’s six full years focused on the issue.

Then there’s the region: “Hezbollah and Hamas,” Miller says referring to the terrorist groups in Lebanon and Gaza, respectively. “You have two non-state actors, two non-state environments who are not proxies of Iran and or Syria but who clearly reflect their capacity to want to influence events — and then you have Iran” and its potential nuclear threat.

What concerns him most? Not another failed round of peace-processing. Not the continued Palestinian radicalization. No, it’s Obama that has him most nervous:

The prospect that Miller says unnerves him most is that the Obama administration says it will step in with a conflict-ending agreement if the current proximity talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians go nowhere.

“I’m very uneasy because at the end of the day, I don’t see what the game is, I don’t see what the strategy is,” he said. “Even if it’s an initiative, what’s the objective, what’s the strategy?”

Interestingly and predictably, Jeremy Ben-Ami lets it be know that he doesn’t care much for reality: “We don’t have the luxury of time; the tensions on the ground are too high. … That’s the difference between being an analyst and actually trying to assess outcomes.” What? Even for him, that’s incoherent.

But it’s a helpful reminder that the people who favor Obama’s obsession with the peace process are the same who demand that Israel make all sorts of unilateral concessions, oppose sanctions against Iran, and are content to carve up the Jewish state into a shrunken carcass of its former self. They couldn’t be happier with Obama — enabled by the no-longer-reality-based Dennis Ross — who’s just the one to jam a deal, or try to, down Israel’s throat.

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RE: Stop Worshipping the False “Peace Process” Religion

Jen, nothing better demonstrates the point that Aaron David Miller and you make about the “peace process” than the fact that, when speaking about it, one needs to put air quotes around it. The “peace process” has not produced peace, and these days is not even a process. The proposed “proximity talks” are not really talks, and the word “proximity” means . . . what? That the non-talking parties are physically near each other? That the non-talks are “approximately” talks? It is getting difficult to follow even the euphemisms used for the “peace process” rituals.

The irony is that when Benjamin Netanyahu came to Washington last May, six weeks after forming a government that included both Likud and Labor, he proposed immediate peace negotiations — rejecting the advice of his foreign minister to slow down. Netanyahu was met with a new precondition: cessation of any and all building anywhere east of the 1967 boundaries, even in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and even in major Jewish population centers that Israel would retain in any conceivable peace agreement. No similar cessation was proposed for Arab building, nor was any other precondition proposed for the Palestinians, who only months before had rejected still another Israeli offer of a state that the secretary of state had urged them to accept.

A week later, Obama met with Mahmoud Abbas and undoubtedly told him about the condition he had just imposed on Netanyahu; ever since, Abbas has refused to negotiate until the condition is met. A week after that, Obama went to Cairo and announced to the entire Muslim world that the U.S. did not accept the “legitimacy of continued settlements.” In a little over two weeks, Obama had transformed the “peace process” into a battle over a precondition that no Israeli government could accept and no Palestinian leader could forgo (not after the U.S. had insisted on it and announced it to the world).

To believe that the next logical step should be a U.S. “plan” to be effectively imposed on the parties — or at least one of them, or maybe one and a half of them — is a sign of a religion in search of stone tablets to be handed down. Having failed to initiate talks even after Israel accepted them, the peace processors in the administration now apparently want to jump to the end game and have the president simply announce it. They must think he is sort of a deity.

Jen, nothing better demonstrates the point that Aaron David Miller and you make about the “peace process” than the fact that, when speaking about it, one needs to put air quotes around it. The “peace process” has not produced peace, and these days is not even a process. The proposed “proximity talks” are not really talks, and the word “proximity” means . . . what? That the non-talking parties are physically near each other? That the non-talks are “approximately” talks? It is getting difficult to follow even the euphemisms used for the “peace process” rituals.

The irony is that when Benjamin Netanyahu came to Washington last May, six weeks after forming a government that included both Likud and Labor, he proposed immediate peace negotiations — rejecting the advice of his foreign minister to slow down. Netanyahu was met with a new precondition: cessation of any and all building anywhere east of the 1967 boundaries, even in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and even in major Jewish population centers that Israel would retain in any conceivable peace agreement. No similar cessation was proposed for Arab building, nor was any other precondition proposed for the Palestinians, who only months before had rejected still another Israeli offer of a state that the secretary of state had urged them to accept.

A week later, Obama met with Mahmoud Abbas and undoubtedly told him about the condition he had just imposed on Netanyahu; ever since, Abbas has refused to negotiate until the condition is met. A week after that, Obama went to Cairo and announced to the entire Muslim world that the U.S. did not accept the “legitimacy of continued settlements.” In a little over two weeks, Obama had transformed the “peace process” into a battle over a precondition that no Israeli government could accept and no Palestinian leader could forgo (not after the U.S. had insisted on it and announced it to the world).

To believe that the next logical step should be a U.S. “plan” to be effectively imposed on the parties — or at least one of them, or maybe one and a half of them — is a sign of a religion in search of stone tablets to be handed down. Having failed to initiate talks even after Israel accepted them, the peace processors in the administration now apparently want to jump to the end game and have the president simply announce it. They must think he is sort of a deity.

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Stop Worshipping the False “Peace Process” Religion

There have been few more dogged proponents of and participants in the “peace process” than Aaron David Miller. So when he now hops off the bandwagon and declares the “peace process” to be the equivalent of a false religion, it’s worth taking note. He explains:

Like all religions, the peace process has developed a dogmatic creed, with immutable first principles. Over the last two decades, I wrote them hundreds of times to my bosses in the upper echelons of the State Department and the White House; they were a catechism we all could recite by heart. First, pursuit of a comprehensive peace was a core, if not the core, U.S. interest in the region, and achieving it offered the only sure way to protect U.S. interests; second, peace could be achieved, but only through a serious negotiating process based on trading land for peace; and third, only America could help the Arabs and Israelis bring that peace to fruition.

He notes that he wrote his share of memos reciting the same catechism, but he couldn’t do it again today:

Today, I couldn’t write those same memos or anything like them with a clear conscience or a straight face. Although many experts’ beliefs haven’t changed, the region has, and dramatically, becoming nastier and more complex. U.S. priorities and interests, too, have changed. The notion that there’s a single or simple fix to protecting those interests, let alone that Arab-Israeli peace would, like some magic potion, bullet, or elixir, make it all better, is just flat wrong. In a broken, angry region with so many problems — from stagnant, inequitable economies to extractive and authoritarian governments that abuse human rights and deny rule of law, to a popular culture mired in conspiracy and denial — it stretches the bounds of credulity to the breaking point to argue that settling the Arab-Israeli conflict is the most critical issue, or that its resolution would somehow guarantee Middle East stability.

And of course, we have the looming threat of a nuclear-armed Iran (which should rank, but plainly doesn’t, with this administration as a higher concern). And the likelihood of a successful negotiation is now nil given, among other factors, the experience of Palestinian rejectionism over the last 60 years and the Fatah-Hamas divide. And he takes exception to the notion gaining traction in the Obama administration that the answer is to impose an American agreement. That, he says, is simply not going to happen given the reality on the ground.

One can take exception to some of Miller’s argument, but the core of it is indisputable: the peace-process believers “need to re-examine their faith.” The peace process is not merely, as Miller argues, unproductive; it has proven counterproductive, at least in the hands of the Obami. We have reinforced Palestinian rejectionism, weakened the U.S.-Israel relationship that has been a stabilizing and peace-keeping alliance for decades, rattled other Arab leaders (whose main concern is a nuclear-armed Iran), and proven our own fecklessness. You want to promote peace in the Middle East? Stop the peace process.

There have been few more dogged proponents of and participants in the “peace process” than Aaron David Miller. So when he now hops off the bandwagon and declares the “peace process” to be the equivalent of a false religion, it’s worth taking note. He explains:

Like all religions, the peace process has developed a dogmatic creed, with immutable first principles. Over the last two decades, I wrote them hundreds of times to my bosses in the upper echelons of the State Department and the White House; they were a catechism we all could recite by heart. First, pursuit of a comprehensive peace was a core, if not the core, U.S. interest in the region, and achieving it offered the only sure way to protect U.S. interests; second, peace could be achieved, but only through a serious negotiating process based on trading land for peace; and third, only America could help the Arabs and Israelis bring that peace to fruition.

He notes that he wrote his share of memos reciting the same catechism, but he couldn’t do it again today:

Today, I couldn’t write those same memos or anything like them with a clear conscience or a straight face. Although many experts’ beliefs haven’t changed, the region has, and dramatically, becoming nastier and more complex. U.S. priorities and interests, too, have changed. The notion that there’s a single or simple fix to protecting those interests, let alone that Arab-Israeli peace would, like some magic potion, bullet, or elixir, make it all better, is just flat wrong. In a broken, angry region with so many problems — from stagnant, inequitable economies to extractive and authoritarian governments that abuse human rights and deny rule of law, to a popular culture mired in conspiracy and denial — it stretches the bounds of credulity to the breaking point to argue that settling the Arab-Israeli conflict is the most critical issue, or that its resolution would somehow guarantee Middle East stability.

And of course, we have the looming threat of a nuclear-armed Iran (which should rank, but plainly doesn’t, with this administration as a higher concern). And the likelihood of a successful negotiation is now nil given, among other factors, the experience of Palestinian rejectionism over the last 60 years and the Fatah-Hamas divide. And he takes exception to the notion gaining traction in the Obama administration that the answer is to impose an American agreement. That, he says, is simply not going to happen given the reality on the ground.

One can take exception to some of Miller’s argument, but the core of it is indisputable: the peace-process believers “need to re-examine their faith.” The peace process is not merely, as Miller argues, unproductive; it has proven counterproductive, at least in the hands of the Obami. We have reinforced Palestinian rejectionism, weakened the U.S.-Israel relationship that has been a stabilizing and peace-keeping alliance for decades, rattled other Arab leaders (whose main concern is a nuclear-armed Iran), and proven our own fecklessness. You want to promote peace in the Middle East? Stop the peace process.

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Obama’s Hopes for Israeli ‘Regime Change’ Will Backfire

Veteran peace processor Aaron David Miller gets it half right in today’s Los Angeles Times when he dissects the apparent desire of the Obama administration to drive Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from office.

Miller, a functionary who helped carry out the State Department’s failed Middle East policy during the administrations of both the first president Bush and Clinton, is correct when he points out that American attempts to treat Israel as a banana republic don’t always work out as Washington intends. While the elder George Bush may have successfully undermined Yitzhak Shamir’s re-election in 1992, Bill Clinton’s all-out effort to help Shimon Peres beat Netanyahu in 1996 was a failure that helped sour relations between the two countries. For all of the fact that the United States is Israel’s only ally, not surprisingly Israelis don’t enjoy being dictated to, especially when the issues at stake are their own rights and security. Obama’s transparent attempt to overturn the outcome of an election that was held only a few weeks after his own inauguration doesn’t sit well with the Israeli public and has increased Netanyahu’s popularity. That Jerusalem is the issue over which Obama has sought to ditch Netanyahu is as wrongheaded as it is foolish. No Israeli prime minister is likely to accept Obama’s demand that Jews not be allowed to build in existing Jewish neighborhoods in their own capital.

Miller is also correct when he points out that if Obama were really interested in making progress toward Middle East peace, he’d be far better off cozying up to Netanyahu than attempting to somehow impose a left-wing government on Israel. Only right-wingers or former military leaders have the standing to persuade Israelis to take risks for peace. Obama’s notion that Israel’s opposition leader Tzipi Livni would be more susceptible to American pressure might be true. But there’s little chance that she could rally the country behind the disastrous peace plan that the administration is reportedly planning to try to impose on Israel at some point. Miller’s also right when he points out, albeit reluctantly, that Bibi has in fact been far from intransigent. He has signed several peace accords, including the Hebron agreement and the Wye Plantation deal during his first term in office, and in the last year he has formally agreed to a two-state solution and a building freeze in Jewish communities in the West Bank.

But what Miller leaves out of his piece is a basic fact about Middle East peacemaking: not even the most accommodating Israeli government can make peace if the Palestinians won’t take yes for an answer. Left-wing Israeli governments in the 1990s that gave all that Bill Clinton asked them to give to the Palestinians were still unable to persuade the Arabs to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state within any borders. Nor was the Left-leaning government in which Livni served as foreign minister just two years ago able to persuade the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority leadership to accept a Palestinian state in Gaza, virtually all of the West Bank and half of Jerusalem.

Miller wisely counsels that where Obama is headed in the Middle East will lead only to more failure: “A no-win fight over settlements, the threat of pushing its own peace plan — or worse: too-clever-by-half meddling in Israeli politics. Such an approach will only waste time and energy the United States doesn’t have, and risk failure at a time when America is trying to protect its own interests in an angry, complex and turbulent region.” But what Miller leaves out of this sage lecture is that the basic premise of Obama’s policies — that Israeli intransigence is the primary obstacle to peace — is itself the great myth of current American foreign policy that needs to be debunked.

Veteran peace processor Aaron David Miller gets it half right in today’s Los Angeles Times when he dissects the apparent desire of the Obama administration to drive Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from office.

Miller, a functionary who helped carry out the State Department’s failed Middle East policy during the administrations of both the first president Bush and Clinton, is correct when he points out that American attempts to treat Israel as a banana republic don’t always work out as Washington intends. While the elder George Bush may have successfully undermined Yitzhak Shamir’s re-election in 1992, Bill Clinton’s all-out effort to help Shimon Peres beat Netanyahu in 1996 was a failure that helped sour relations between the two countries. For all of the fact that the United States is Israel’s only ally, not surprisingly Israelis don’t enjoy being dictated to, especially when the issues at stake are their own rights and security. Obama’s transparent attempt to overturn the outcome of an election that was held only a few weeks after his own inauguration doesn’t sit well with the Israeli public and has increased Netanyahu’s popularity. That Jerusalem is the issue over which Obama has sought to ditch Netanyahu is as wrongheaded as it is foolish. No Israeli prime minister is likely to accept Obama’s demand that Jews not be allowed to build in existing Jewish neighborhoods in their own capital.

Miller is also correct when he points out that if Obama were really interested in making progress toward Middle East peace, he’d be far better off cozying up to Netanyahu than attempting to somehow impose a left-wing government on Israel. Only right-wingers or former military leaders have the standing to persuade Israelis to take risks for peace. Obama’s notion that Israel’s opposition leader Tzipi Livni would be more susceptible to American pressure might be true. But there’s little chance that she could rally the country behind the disastrous peace plan that the administration is reportedly planning to try to impose on Israel at some point. Miller’s also right when he points out, albeit reluctantly, that Bibi has in fact been far from intransigent. He has signed several peace accords, including the Hebron agreement and the Wye Plantation deal during his first term in office, and in the last year he has formally agreed to a two-state solution and a building freeze in Jewish communities in the West Bank.

But what Miller leaves out of his piece is a basic fact about Middle East peacemaking: not even the most accommodating Israeli government can make peace if the Palestinians won’t take yes for an answer. Left-wing Israeli governments in the 1990s that gave all that Bill Clinton asked them to give to the Palestinians were still unable to persuade the Arabs to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state within any borders. Nor was the Left-leaning government in which Livni served as foreign minister just two years ago able to persuade the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority leadership to accept a Palestinian state in Gaza, virtually all of the West Bank and half of Jerusalem.

Miller wisely counsels that where Obama is headed in the Middle East will lead only to more failure: “A no-win fight over settlements, the threat of pushing its own peace plan — or worse: too-clever-by-half meddling in Israeli politics. Such an approach will only waste time and energy the United States doesn’t have, and risk failure at a time when America is trying to protect its own interests in an angry, complex and turbulent region.” But what Miller leaves out of this sage lecture is that the basic premise of Obama’s policies — that Israeli intransigence is the primary obstacle to peace — is itself the great myth of current American foreign policy that needs to be debunked.

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RE: Obama and Israel: Not Smart

To add to John’s piece, there are probably a couple more layers of political foolishness here.

One is the timing. All the pro-Israel heavies are coming to D.C. in a few days for the AIPAC policy conference, the single most important event of the year for the pro-Israel community. And now Obama has set it up so that pretty much the only thing people are going to be talking about is this crisis — and not just talking, but planning how to push back.

He has also given Democrats in Congress yet another reason to distance themselves from the administration in the immediate runup to the health-care vote. You’d think he would have wanted still waters during this, of all weeks. But no: Laura Rozen reports that congressional Democrats are in the dark and wondering what the administration is up to — what the next steps are, what the end game is, what happens if Netanyahu cannot, or will not, meet Obama’s new demands, and so on. You know it’s bad when even an old peace-processor such as Aaron David Miller says about the administration, “The tree they’re up on this one is very tall.”

To add to John’s piece, there are probably a couple more layers of political foolishness here.

One is the timing. All the pro-Israel heavies are coming to D.C. in a few days for the AIPAC policy conference, the single most important event of the year for the pro-Israel community. And now Obama has set it up so that pretty much the only thing people are going to be talking about is this crisis — and not just talking, but planning how to push back.

He has also given Democrats in Congress yet another reason to distance themselves from the administration in the immediate runup to the health-care vote. You’d think he would have wanted still waters during this, of all weeks. But no: Laura Rozen reports that congressional Democrats are in the dark and wondering what the administration is up to — what the next steps are, what the end game is, what happens if Netanyahu cannot, or will not, meet Obama’s new demands, and so on. You know it’s bad when even an old peace-processor such as Aaron David Miller says about the administration, “The tree they’re up on this one is very tall.”

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The No-Good, Horrible Biden Visit

The broken pottery is being scooped up in the wake of Joe Biden’s Israel visit. We are told that there is a “huge debate” going on now within the administration:

Administration officials said Thursday that while Mitchell is still slated to return to the region next week to try to salvage the proximity talks, there is a “huge debate” inside the administration “about what to do.” Part of Biden’s purpose in the trip was to reassure Israelis about the U.S.’s traditional commitment, and much of his speech in Tel Aviv was devoted to that theme.

So that didn’t really work out as planned, it seems. But, of course, the peace-process cottage industry sees this as an opportunity to — you guessed it! — push Israel into talks with the Palestinians: “In Washington, some experts said the settlements episode could give Washington leverage to make Netanyahu himself sign off on any housing decisions regarding contested East Jerusalem — and to push both him and the Palestinians to avoid any further such provocations in Jerusalem while proximity talks are under way.”

Well, there is no dissuading some who have devoted themselves to a process that is increasingly divorced from reality. It defies logic to think that an acrimonious relationship between the U.S. and Israel can help promote the peace process. It was, one fondly recalls from the George W. Bush days, only when the relationship between the two countries was robust, respectful, and warm that the Israeli government was emboldened to make concessions — on check points, settlements, and Gaza itself.

Aaron David Miller, no critic of the peace process, is a bit more in touch with reality than the unnamed “experts.” All of this he rightly sees as a giant non-starter and no way to run Middle East policy:

Obama has no Middle East policy without the Israelis. As frustrated as the president and vice president may be with Israel, any chance Washington has of moving negotiations forward requires Israeli cooperation. And the administration does not want to lose its influence with Israel when it comes to Iran — particularly now, with sanctions in the works. . . . Moreover, Obama now knows the settlements issue is a dog’s lunch. He can’t win — particularly when it involves Jerusalem. No, the smart money is on Obama’s keeping his powder dry, for now. Odds are that he will focus, instead, on getting the indirect talks launched, while he thinks about how to bridge the gaps on the core issues, including borders, security, refugees and, yes, Jerusalem.

“Condemning” Israel is an odd way to keep his “powder dry.” But Miller is right: the Obami are never going to win a standoff, especially a public one, with Israel over its eternal capital. And so, once again, the Obami are left with bruised feelings all around and no viable gameplan. It makes one long for smart diplomacy.

The Israelis and Palestinians will, at some point, have to sit down directly. But the history of successful Arab-Israeli peacemaking demonstrates that every agreement that lasted — with the exception of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty — came about through U.S. mediation.

The broken pottery is being scooped up in the wake of Joe Biden’s Israel visit. We are told that there is a “huge debate” going on now within the administration:

Administration officials said Thursday that while Mitchell is still slated to return to the region next week to try to salvage the proximity talks, there is a “huge debate” inside the administration “about what to do.” Part of Biden’s purpose in the trip was to reassure Israelis about the U.S.’s traditional commitment, and much of his speech in Tel Aviv was devoted to that theme.

So that didn’t really work out as planned, it seems. But, of course, the peace-process cottage industry sees this as an opportunity to — you guessed it! — push Israel into talks with the Palestinians: “In Washington, some experts said the settlements episode could give Washington leverage to make Netanyahu himself sign off on any housing decisions regarding contested East Jerusalem — and to push both him and the Palestinians to avoid any further such provocations in Jerusalem while proximity talks are under way.”

Well, there is no dissuading some who have devoted themselves to a process that is increasingly divorced from reality. It defies logic to think that an acrimonious relationship between the U.S. and Israel can help promote the peace process. It was, one fondly recalls from the George W. Bush days, only when the relationship between the two countries was robust, respectful, and warm that the Israeli government was emboldened to make concessions — on check points, settlements, and Gaza itself.

Aaron David Miller, no critic of the peace process, is a bit more in touch with reality than the unnamed “experts.” All of this he rightly sees as a giant non-starter and no way to run Middle East policy:

Obama has no Middle East policy without the Israelis. As frustrated as the president and vice president may be with Israel, any chance Washington has of moving negotiations forward requires Israeli cooperation. And the administration does not want to lose its influence with Israel when it comes to Iran — particularly now, with sanctions in the works. . . . Moreover, Obama now knows the settlements issue is a dog’s lunch. He can’t win — particularly when it involves Jerusalem. No, the smart money is on Obama’s keeping his powder dry, for now. Odds are that he will focus, instead, on getting the indirect talks launched, while he thinks about how to bridge the gaps on the core issues, including borders, security, refugees and, yes, Jerusalem.

“Condemning” Israel is an odd way to keep his “powder dry.” But Miller is right: the Obami are never going to win a standoff, especially a public one, with Israel over its eternal capital. And so, once again, the Obami are left with bruised feelings all around and no viable gameplan. It makes one long for smart diplomacy.

The Israelis and Palestinians will, at some point, have to sit down directly. But the history of successful Arab-Israeli peacemaking demonstrates that every agreement that lasted — with the exception of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty — came about through U.S. mediation.

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“Paranoid” about Malley?

Now that Samantha Power has left Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, attention should perhaps turn to Obama foreign policy adviser Robert Malley. Perhaps best known for his gushing over Yasser Arafat and Camp David revisionism, Malley’s true danger lies in the extent to which he has called key events in the Palestinian arena–his supposed area of expertise–blatantly wrong. As I noted a few weeks ago, Malley supported allowing Hamas’ participation in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, and welcomed last year’s brief period of Hamas-Fatah “unity governance,” predicting that a “wholesale breakdown of relations between the two groups” was unlikely. In short, Malley has a consistent record of supporting policies that ultimately strengthened Hamas and undermined Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects, thus warranting the scrutiny he has received as Obama’s adviser.

But Aaron David Miller, Malley’s former peace-processing colleague during the Clinton administration, won’t have any of this. In yesterday’s LA Times, Miller ignored these substantive criticisms, attributing the backlash against Malley to Jewish paranoia. Miller argues that the charges against Malley stem from “the tendency of many American Jews active in pro-Israeli causes to worry about everything”; he continues:

I’ve lost count of the number of times Jewish activists or friends have said to me that this official or that journalist or this academic must be anti-Semitic. On other occasions, I have been told that I myself should not be so publicly critical of Israel, lest we give our enemies grist for their propaganda mills.

Yet Miller’s charge that Jewish identity politics–rather than Malley’s own faulty ideas–have informed public scrutiny of Malley is profoundly ironic. After all, insofar as Miller depicts criticisms of Malley in “us versus them” terms, he is guiltiest of playing identity politics.

Still, if Miller’s utter misrepresentation of the case against Malley in a major U.S. newspaper requires further proof of its substance, examples of Malley’s dubious policy analysis abound. So, here’s another one. While addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in the aftermath of Hamas’ Gaza coup last June, Malley argued that the United Nations had erred in not engaging Hamas:

The UN, of all entities, has made the biggest mistake, because they had no restrictions on talking to anyone-their role is to speak to everyone. To talk to Hamas and to give them more realistic things that they should be doing: imposing a ceasefire and empowering Abbas to talk to Israel.

Of course, the notion that Hamas would empower Abbas to talk to Israel is delusional. But perhaps more disturbing is Malley’s belief that the UN should talk to terrorist organizations. And, to correct Miller, one need not be Jewish or paranoid to say so.

Now that Samantha Power has left Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, attention should perhaps turn to Obama foreign policy adviser Robert Malley. Perhaps best known for his gushing over Yasser Arafat and Camp David revisionism, Malley’s true danger lies in the extent to which he has called key events in the Palestinian arena–his supposed area of expertise–blatantly wrong. As I noted a few weeks ago, Malley supported allowing Hamas’ participation in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, and welcomed last year’s brief period of Hamas-Fatah “unity governance,” predicting that a “wholesale breakdown of relations between the two groups” was unlikely. In short, Malley has a consistent record of supporting policies that ultimately strengthened Hamas and undermined Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects, thus warranting the scrutiny he has received as Obama’s adviser.

But Aaron David Miller, Malley’s former peace-processing colleague during the Clinton administration, won’t have any of this. In yesterday’s LA Times, Miller ignored these substantive criticisms, attributing the backlash against Malley to Jewish paranoia. Miller argues that the charges against Malley stem from “the tendency of many American Jews active in pro-Israeli causes to worry about everything”; he continues:

I’ve lost count of the number of times Jewish activists or friends have said to me that this official or that journalist or this academic must be anti-Semitic. On other occasions, I have been told that I myself should not be so publicly critical of Israel, lest we give our enemies grist for their propaganda mills.

Yet Miller’s charge that Jewish identity politics–rather than Malley’s own faulty ideas–have informed public scrutiny of Malley is profoundly ironic. After all, insofar as Miller depicts criticisms of Malley in “us versus them” terms, he is guiltiest of playing identity politics.

Still, if Miller’s utter misrepresentation of the case against Malley in a major U.S. newspaper requires further proof of its substance, examples of Malley’s dubious policy analysis abound. So, here’s another one. While addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in the aftermath of Hamas’ Gaza coup last June, Malley argued that the United Nations had erred in not engaging Hamas:

The UN, of all entities, has made the biggest mistake, because they had no restrictions on talking to anyone-their role is to speak to everyone. To talk to Hamas and to give them more realistic things that they should be doing: imposing a ceasefire and empowering Abbas to talk to Israel.

Of course, the notion that Hamas would empower Abbas to talk to Israel is delusional. But perhaps more disturbing is Malley’s belief that the UN should talk to terrorist organizations. And, to correct Miller, one need not be Jewish or paranoid to say so.

Read Less




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