Commentary Magazine


Topic: Abbas

Hamas Has Nothing to Teach Abbas About Promulgating Hate

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has just hired a new adviser, the Jerusalem Post reports. Mahmoud Awad Damra is one of the prisoners Israel freed to ransom kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in October; he was then five years into a 15-year sentence for his role as planner and logistics coordinator of several deadly terror attacks whose victims included three U.S. citizens. That, combined with his previous job running Yasser Arafat’s Force 17 security service, clearly qualifies him for his new role of advising Abbas on local government.

Two weeks ago, during a working visit to Turkey, Abbas took time out to meet with Amna Muna and 10 other convicted terrorists who were also freed in the Shalit deal, but whom Israel considered particularly dangerous and therefore refused to allow back into the West Bank. Muna used an Internet romance with a 16-year-old Israeli to lure him to Ramallah, where her partners in crime murdered him. When Israel protested this meeting, Abbas adviser Nimer Hamad insisted it was “natural” for a president to “meet his people wherever they are.” But of course: American and European presidents always make a point of meeting with convicted murderers during overseas trips – just like they always hire convicted terrorists as special advisers. Isn’t that how “moderate,” “peace-seeking” leaders are supposed to behave?

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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has just hired a new adviser, the Jerusalem Post reports. Mahmoud Awad Damra is one of the prisoners Israel freed to ransom kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in October; he was then five years into a 15-year sentence for his role as planner and logistics coordinator of several deadly terror attacks whose victims included three U.S. citizens. That, combined with his previous job running Yasser Arafat’s Force 17 security service, clearly qualifies him for his new role of advising Abbas on local government.

Two weeks ago, during a working visit to Turkey, Abbas took time out to meet with Amna Muna and 10 other convicted terrorists who were also freed in the Shalit deal, but whom Israel considered particularly dangerous and therefore refused to allow back into the West Bank. Muna used an Internet romance with a 16-year-old Israeli to lure him to Ramallah, where her partners in crime murdered him. When Israel protested this meeting, Abbas adviser Nimer Hamad insisted it was “natural” for a president to “meet his people wherever they are.” But of course: American and European presidents always make a point of meeting with convicted murderers during overseas trips – just like they always hire convicted terrorists as special advisers. Isn’t that how “moderate,” “peace-seeking” leaders are supposed to behave?

Then there’s the children’s magazine Zayzafuna, which is partially funded by the PA and has several PA officials on its advisory board, including Deputy Education Minister Jihad Zakarneh. As Palestinian Media Watch revealed in a damning expose, the magazine combines genuinely positive educational content with gems like an essay by a teenage girl citing Hitler as one of her four heroes, because he’s “the one who killed the Jews.” The essay describes a dream in which she meets all four; Hitler receives her thanks for the sage advice he offers.

After PMW’s report was published, the Simon Wiesenthal Center urged UNESCO to end its support for the magazine, and surprisingly, UNESCO promised to do so. But there’s been no similar contrition from the PA. Indeed, as PMW noted, the latest issue of Zayzafuna contains new gems: an essay by a school principal lauding Arafat for demanding “the liberation of all the Palestinian land, without bargaining, without compromise,” and a map that makes the same point by showing all of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza painted as a Palestinian flag.

All this begs the question of why American taxpayers should be supporting such activity: While the Obama administration demanded  UNESCO halt funding for Zayzafuna, it has simultaneously been urging Congress to approve funding for the PA – and since money is fungible, that helps Abbas finance projects like the magazine and Damra’s salary.

But it also underscores the absurdity of expecting the recent unity deal between Abbas’s Fatah party and Hamas to moderate the latter. When it comes to inciting terror and promulgating hatred of Jews and Israel, Hamas has nothing to teach Abbas, only something to learn: For unlike Hamas, Abbas has figured out how to traffic in hatred while still being lauded worldwide as a peace-maker.

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RE: Why Did Peace Talks Fail?

Jonathan, I agree that the failure of the year-long final status negotiations in 2008 demonstrates that even “moderate” Palestinian leaders are unable to make peace — even when given an offer that, as you write, was “unprecedented” and reflected a “terrible deal” from the standpoint of Israeli security and Jewish rights.

The New York Times article states Olmert recounts that his last meeting with Abbas occurred on September 16, 2008, at which time he presented his map to Abbas, told him to “take the pen and sign now,” argued he would “never get an offer that is fairer or more just,” and said Abbas was making a “historic mistake” if he didn’t sign on the spot. Abbas asked to meet the following day, then called and asked for a week postponement, and then never responded to Olmert’s offer and never met with Olmert again.

The Times notes that, by the time of the September 16 meeting, “Olmert was mired in corruption investigations” and “resigned days later.” It seems obvious that the Olmert offer was made by an Israeli prime minister on the verge of indictment, desperate to get a peace proposal signed within days, hoping it might change his political and legal fortunes. Condoleezza Rice urged the Palestinians to accept the Olmert offer, but they told her they doubted Olmert had the political influence to implement it, even though he would remain in office for months until new elections were held.

The following year, the Palestinians were offered new negotiations, with no preconditions, by Benjamin Netanyahu — the one Israeli prime minister with the stature necessary to assure political approval of any peace deal. They knew they would not get an offer from him as good as Olmert’s, since Netanyahu would insist on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state and demilitarization arrangements that did not depend on third parties. But it would be an offer under the only conditions that could assure acceptance across the Israeli political spectrum.

And the Palestinians responded by refusing to negotiate, establishing preconditions and seeking pre-negotiation assurances of an even better offer than the dangerous one Olmert had made — and that they had failed to accept. But it is not likely they will receive even the Olmert offer again; given the circumstances under which it was made, they will not likely get the opportunity to miss that opportunity again.

Jonathan, I agree that the failure of the year-long final status negotiations in 2008 demonstrates that even “moderate” Palestinian leaders are unable to make peace — even when given an offer that, as you write, was “unprecedented” and reflected a “terrible deal” from the standpoint of Israeli security and Jewish rights.

The New York Times article states Olmert recounts that his last meeting with Abbas occurred on September 16, 2008, at which time he presented his map to Abbas, told him to “take the pen and sign now,” argued he would “never get an offer that is fairer or more just,” and said Abbas was making a “historic mistake” if he didn’t sign on the spot. Abbas asked to meet the following day, then called and asked for a week postponement, and then never responded to Olmert’s offer and never met with Olmert again.

The Times notes that, by the time of the September 16 meeting, “Olmert was mired in corruption investigations” and “resigned days later.” It seems obvious that the Olmert offer was made by an Israeli prime minister on the verge of indictment, desperate to get a peace proposal signed within days, hoping it might change his political and legal fortunes. Condoleezza Rice urged the Palestinians to accept the Olmert offer, but they told her they doubted Olmert had the political influence to implement it, even though he would remain in office for months until new elections were held.

The following year, the Palestinians were offered new negotiations, with no preconditions, by Benjamin Netanyahu — the one Israeli prime minister with the stature necessary to assure political approval of any peace deal. They knew they would not get an offer from him as good as Olmert’s, since Netanyahu would insist on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state and demilitarization arrangements that did not depend on third parties. But it would be an offer under the only conditions that could assure acceptance across the Israeli political spectrum.

And the Palestinians responded by refusing to negotiate, establishing preconditions and seeking pre-negotiation assurances of an even better offer than the dangerous one Olmert had made — and that they had failed to accept. But it is not likely they will receive even the Olmert offer again; given the circumstances under which it was made, they will not likely get the opportunity to miss that opportunity again.

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Another Thumbs Down on Obama’s Middle East Gambit

We’ve yet to find a Middle East expert — right, left, or centrist — who thinks that the Obami’s bribe-a-thon is a swell idea. The latest to weigh in is Leslie Gelb, who objects on the grounds that the deal is too generous and gives up American leverage (such as it is) over Israel. My complaints are different, but I don’t disagree with his ultimate conclusion:

Based on my reading of this torturous history, I would not try to start negotiating between Israel and Palestine by leaning on or bribing Israel for the umpteenth time. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work. What might succeed is a dramatic step not by the Israelis, but by the Palestinians. Their leaders should be emulating Anwar Sadat, the great Egyptian president who went to Jerusalem in 1977. His nation had been defeated in the 1973 war, and Israel occupied the entire Sinai Peninsula, a historic Egyptian territory. There was no prospect that Israel would return this land after Egypt had attacked Israel in 1973. But President Sadat took his pride and his great dream for peace with Israel and stood before the Israeli Knesset. In effect, he put his life, not to mention his popularity at home, on the line and conferred recognition and legitimacy upon the state of Israel. In return, Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt, every square inch. …

Today, President Abbas of the Palestinians and his Prime Minister Fayyad also can journey to the Knesset. And there, they can pledge acceptance of “a Jewish state of Israel.” Those very words could not help but unleash a positive Israeli response on the West Bank and even East Jerusalem. That act alone would shrink the haystack of hatred so that the two sides might find the needle of peace.

Well, if you reply that this will never happen, then the question becomes: what are we doing spending precious time and attention on the so-called peace process? If it is inconceivable that the PA leaders would transform themselves into Sadat, then it’s time to stop the charade and focus on improving life in the West Bank and wait for a new generation of leaders and Palestinian citizens to agree that they want the grapes more than they desire to kill the vineyard guard.

We’ve yet to find a Middle East expert — right, left, or centrist — who thinks that the Obami’s bribe-a-thon is a swell idea. The latest to weigh in is Leslie Gelb, who objects on the grounds that the deal is too generous and gives up American leverage (such as it is) over Israel. My complaints are different, but I don’t disagree with his ultimate conclusion:

Based on my reading of this torturous history, I would not try to start negotiating between Israel and Palestine by leaning on or bribing Israel for the umpteenth time. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work. What might succeed is a dramatic step not by the Israelis, but by the Palestinians. Their leaders should be emulating Anwar Sadat, the great Egyptian president who went to Jerusalem in 1977. His nation had been defeated in the 1973 war, and Israel occupied the entire Sinai Peninsula, a historic Egyptian territory. There was no prospect that Israel would return this land after Egypt had attacked Israel in 1973. But President Sadat took his pride and his great dream for peace with Israel and stood before the Israeli Knesset. In effect, he put his life, not to mention his popularity at home, on the line and conferred recognition and legitimacy upon the state of Israel. In return, Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt, every square inch. …

Today, President Abbas of the Palestinians and his Prime Minister Fayyad also can journey to the Knesset. And there, they can pledge acceptance of “a Jewish state of Israel.” Those very words could not help but unleash a positive Israeli response on the West Bank and even East Jerusalem. That act alone would shrink the haystack of hatred so that the two sides might find the needle of peace.

Well, if you reply that this will never happen, then the question becomes: what are we doing spending precious time and attention on the so-called peace process? If it is inconceivable that the PA leaders would transform themselves into Sadat, then it’s time to stop the charade and focus on improving life in the West Bank and wait for a new generation of leaders and Palestinian citizens to agree that they want the grapes more than they desire to kill the vineyard guard.

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Hmm, Moratorium Ended. Non-Peace Talks Don’t.

The settlement moratorium ended today. For now, Bibi didn’t give away something for nothing. And for now, Abbas didn’t walk out. It seems that giving the Palestinians precisely what they want isn’t necessarily essential to Israel’s security. But for the sake of argument, let’s say Abbas stays in the room. What then? Is he ready to recognize the Jewish state as the Jewish state? We’ve seen no sign of it. And that is something that can’t be finessed.

It is interesting that the New York Times saw Bibi’s move in terms of its impact on Obama. (“For President Obama, who had publicly called on Israel to extend the freeze, the Israeli decision was another setback in what has been a tortuous effort to help resolve one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.”) And in a way, that is right. Bibi rebuffed Obama’s public pleas. Obama’s been trying to push a settlement freeze on Bibi from day one, and he’s having no luck. Still. Maybe Bibi has concluded there really is nothing to gain and much to lose from agreeing to the requests of Obama and George Mitchell.

For now, Abbas is stalling. (“Speaking in Paris during an official visit to France on Monday, Mr. Abbas said there would be no ‘quick decision’ on whether to withdraw from the peace talks, and he would consult with Arab leaders next Monday on how to proceed, according to The Associated Press. The announcement appeared designed to give American mediators time to continue diplomacy, but it remained unclear how Arab leaders would react.”) His bluff has been called. And he’s going to figure out some other gambit for getting out of doing what is required of him.

The settlement moratorium ended today. For now, Bibi didn’t give away something for nothing. And for now, Abbas didn’t walk out. It seems that giving the Palestinians precisely what they want isn’t necessarily essential to Israel’s security. But for the sake of argument, let’s say Abbas stays in the room. What then? Is he ready to recognize the Jewish state as the Jewish state? We’ve seen no sign of it. And that is something that can’t be finessed.

It is interesting that the New York Times saw Bibi’s move in terms of its impact on Obama. (“For President Obama, who had publicly called on Israel to extend the freeze, the Israeli decision was another setback in what has been a tortuous effort to help resolve one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.”) And in a way, that is right. Bibi rebuffed Obama’s public pleas. Obama’s been trying to push a settlement freeze on Bibi from day one, and he’s having no luck. Still. Maybe Bibi has concluded there really is nothing to gain and much to lose from agreeing to the requests of Obama and George Mitchell.

For now, Abbas is stalling. (“Speaking in Paris during an official visit to France on Monday, Mr. Abbas said there would be no ‘quick decision’ on whether to withdraw from the peace talks, and he would consult with Arab leaders next Monday on how to proceed, according to The Associated Press. The announcement appeared designed to give American mediators time to continue diplomacy, but it remained unclear how Arab leaders would react.”) His bluff has been called. And he’s going to figure out some other gambit for getting out of doing what is required of him.

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Spy Talk Illustrates Unreality of Mideast Talks

The debate over how the Israeli government will deal with the expiration of its six-month settlement freeze in the West Bank got stranger yesterday when both the New York Times and Politico published stories alleging that Jerusalem had asked the United States whether it would free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for a freeze in settlements. According to the Times’s Isabel Kershner, such a deal would help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sell a renewal of the freeze to his coalition partners. Pollard’s fate was discussed in 1998 during the negotiations between Netanyahu and Bill Clinton over the Wye Plantation Agreement, one of the many interim agreements that stemmed from the failed Oslo peace process. At that time, the U.S. intelligence community revolted at the idea of freeing Pollard and wound up spiking the proposal.

The anonymous sources for the current reports don’t seem to be based on anything more than rumination inside the prime minister’s bureau, but Israel’s interest in springing Pollard, an American Jew who has spent the last 25 years in prison for spying for the Israelis while he served as a U.S. Navy analyst, is a longstanding issue. While Pollard was guilty of a very serious crime and deserved punishment, his sentence was extremely harsh when compared with the treatment of others who spied here on behalf of allies. Some American Jews have foolishly lionized Pollard’s espionage, which did great harm to Israel and its alliance with the United States. It’s not entirely clear whether the reason Pollard is still in jail is due to his own refusal to express contrition for his actions or the continued intransigence of the American intelligence community. Either way, Pollard’s chances for clemency have long been considered remote. Yet, despite the fact that the heavy-handed tactics of some of his supporters alienated many who might otherwise have been sympathetic to Pollard’s plight and further undermined the chances of successful appeals for his release, there is still considerable sympathy for Pollard in Israel, where he is seen as a man who was exploited and then abandoned by his handlers.

But injecting Pollard into the delicate negotiations with the Obama administration and the Palestinian Authority is a tactic of questionable utility for Netanyahu. Though the idea that Pollard appears to be destined to rot in jail forever while those who spied here for hostile nations receive light sentences or are exchanged after virtually no time in prison strikes many Israelis as unjust, buying his freedom with a costly policy concession cannot be considered wise statecraft. Nor is it clear that Pollard’s release would do much to comfort Israeli right-wingers who are upset about a settlement freeze.

If anything, the floating of Pollard’s name in connection with the peace talks illustrates the lack of seriousness of these negotiations. The reality of Palestinian politics and the strength of Hamas mean there is no chance that the Palestinian Authority will sign any peace agreement, and both Abbas and Netanyahu are merely trying to act in such a manner as to evade blame for the eventual failure of the talks. So instead of serious give and take about final-status issues, we are hearing about tangential topics such as Pollard or Palestinian threats to walk out over the failure of Israeli to concede its position in the territories even before the talks begin. Whether or not the spy-exchange proposal is genuine, the discussion of such an eventuality says a lot more about the futility of President Obama’s ill-considered push for talks at a time when progress is virtually impossible than it does about Pollard’s fate.

The debate over how the Israeli government will deal with the expiration of its six-month settlement freeze in the West Bank got stranger yesterday when both the New York Times and Politico published stories alleging that Jerusalem had asked the United States whether it would free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for a freeze in settlements. According to the Times’s Isabel Kershner, such a deal would help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sell a renewal of the freeze to his coalition partners. Pollard’s fate was discussed in 1998 during the negotiations between Netanyahu and Bill Clinton over the Wye Plantation Agreement, one of the many interim agreements that stemmed from the failed Oslo peace process. At that time, the U.S. intelligence community revolted at the idea of freeing Pollard and wound up spiking the proposal.

The anonymous sources for the current reports don’t seem to be based on anything more than rumination inside the prime minister’s bureau, but Israel’s interest in springing Pollard, an American Jew who has spent the last 25 years in prison for spying for the Israelis while he served as a U.S. Navy analyst, is a longstanding issue. While Pollard was guilty of a very serious crime and deserved punishment, his sentence was extremely harsh when compared with the treatment of others who spied here on behalf of allies. Some American Jews have foolishly lionized Pollard’s espionage, which did great harm to Israel and its alliance with the United States. It’s not entirely clear whether the reason Pollard is still in jail is due to his own refusal to express contrition for his actions or the continued intransigence of the American intelligence community. Either way, Pollard’s chances for clemency have long been considered remote. Yet, despite the fact that the heavy-handed tactics of some of his supporters alienated many who might otherwise have been sympathetic to Pollard’s plight and further undermined the chances of successful appeals for his release, there is still considerable sympathy for Pollard in Israel, where he is seen as a man who was exploited and then abandoned by his handlers.

But injecting Pollard into the delicate negotiations with the Obama administration and the Palestinian Authority is a tactic of questionable utility for Netanyahu. Though the idea that Pollard appears to be destined to rot in jail forever while those who spied here for hostile nations receive light sentences or are exchanged after virtually no time in prison strikes many Israelis as unjust, buying his freedom with a costly policy concession cannot be considered wise statecraft. Nor is it clear that Pollard’s release would do much to comfort Israeli right-wingers who are upset about a settlement freeze.

If anything, the floating of Pollard’s name in connection with the peace talks illustrates the lack of seriousness of these negotiations. The reality of Palestinian politics and the strength of Hamas mean there is no chance that the Palestinian Authority will sign any peace agreement, and both Abbas and Netanyahu are merely trying to act in such a manner as to evade blame for the eventual failure of the talks. So instead of serious give and take about final-status issues, we are hearing about tangential topics such as Pollard or Palestinian threats to walk out over the failure of Israeli to concede its position in the territories even before the talks begin. Whether or not the spy-exchange proposal is genuine, the discussion of such an eventuality says a lot more about the futility of President Obama’s ill-considered push for talks at a time when progress is virtually impossible than it does about Pollard’s fate.

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Bibi Puts the Spotlight on Abbas

Michael Oren isn’t the only Israeli official giving stirring speeches. Bibi, in a speech to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, made clear that Israel has plenty of reasons to walk from the peace talks but has shown restraint:

Believe me, every day the Palestinians do things I don’t like: whether it’s incitement in the schools or media, or an international campaign that they back to delegitimize Israel.

Just yesterday, a Palestinian Authority court ruled that the sale of Palestinian land to Israelis is punishable by death.  You know, all these things do not square well with me, and my colleagues often question why is it that we’re staying in the talks.  Some have even questioned why I’m having peace talks with President Abbas when half of the Palestinian people are controlled by Hamas, which is a terror organization that openly calls for our destruction.  I’m mentioning all of these things – and there are many others that I could raise here – because these could afford me many reasons to walk away from the table.  But I haven’t walked away from the table.  I want to give these talks a chance to succeed.  And I very much hope that President Abbas will have the same attitude.  I expect him to sit down with me even when we disagree, and to work with me through those disagreements in a sincere effort to forge an historic compromise, which I believe is possible.

We got rid of the preconditions before the talks.  We can’t reintroduce them five minutes after the talks begin.

Israel gets little if any credit for this, and the chattering class doesn’t demand that Abbas extend (or even come up with, for there has never been one) a moratorium on killing Jews or teaching anti-Semitism to Palestinian children.

But Bibi has a larger point to make, which, despite his complimentary words for the president and secretary of state (on whom the words are lost), gets to the heart of the matter and the pointlessness of peace talks:

It’s time for the Palestinians to do something they have refused to do for 62 years. It’s time for them to say yes to a Jewish state. Now what does it mean to recognize the Jewish state, or the nation-state of the Jewish people? It means that the Palestinians recognize the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in our historic homeland.  I recognized the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and sovereignty. They must finally recognize the Jewish people’s right to self determination and sovereignty. … It’s important because the Palestinian leadership must begin to make clear to its own people that they are making a permanent peace with the Jewish people, a people that has a right to be here, a right to live in its own state and in its own homeland.

Which is why Abbas will never do it. So what is the point, then? The Obami shouldn’t lose face, our sympathetic ally has determined. Unlike the Obama administration, the Netanyahu government sees no benefit in embarrassing its ally, nor in emphasizing the gaps in perception between the U.S. and Israel. There is another reason for Bibi to put the spotlight on Abbas’s refusal to recognize the Jewish state as the Jewish state. In case the Obami were contemplating an imposed peace deal, Bibi has raised a red flag: what’s the point if Abbas won’t give up finally and completely the fight for a one-state solution?

Michael Oren isn’t the only Israeli official giving stirring speeches. Bibi, in a speech to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, made clear that Israel has plenty of reasons to walk from the peace talks but has shown restraint:

Believe me, every day the Palestinians do things I don’t like: whether it’s incitement in the schools or media, or an international campaign that they back to delegitimize Israel.

Just yesterday, a Palestinian Authority court ruled that the sale of Palestinian land to Israelis is punishable by death.  You know, all these things do not square well with me, and my colleagues often question why is it that we’re staying in the talks.  Some have even questioned why I’m having peace talks with President Abbas when half of the Palestinian people are controlled by Hamas, which is a terror organization that openly calls for our destruction.  I’m mentioning all of these things – and there are many others that I could raise here – because these could afford me many reasons to walk away from the table.  But I haven’t walked away from the table.  I want to give these talks a chance to succeed.  And I very much hope that President Abbas will have the same attitude.  I expect him to sit down with me even when we disagree, and to work with me through those disagreements in a sincere effort to forge an historic compromise, which I believe is possible.

We got rid of the preconditions before the talks.  We can’t reintroduce them five minutes after the talks begin.

Israel gets little if any credit for this, and the chattering class doesn’t demand that Abbas extend (or even come up with, for there has never been one) a moratorium on killing Jews or teaching anti-Semitism to Palestinian children.

But Bibi has a larger point to make, which, despite his complimentary words for the president and secretary of state (on whom the words are lost), gets to the heart of the matter and the pointlessness of peace talks:

It’s time for the Palestinians to do something they have refused to do for 62 years. It’s time for them to say yes to a Jewish state. Now what does it mean to recognize the Jewish state, or the nation-state of the Jewish people? It means that the Palestinians recognize the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in our historic homeland.  I recognized the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and sovereignty. They must finally recognize the Jewish people’s right to self determination and sovereignty. … It’s important because the Palestinian leadership must begin to make clear to its own people that they are making a permanent peace with the Jewish people, a people that has a right to be here, a right to live in its own state and in its own homeland.

Which is why Abbas will never do it. So what is the point, then? The Obami shouldn’t lose face, our sympathetic ally has determined. Unlike the Obama administration, the Netanyahu government sees no benefit in embarrassing its ally, nor in emphasizing the gaps in perception between the U.S. and Israel. There is another reason for Bibi to put the spotlight on Abbas’s refusal to recognize the Jewish state as the Jewish state. In case the Obami were contemplating an imposed peace deal, Bibi has raised a red flag: what’s the point if Abbas won’t give up finally and completely the fight for a one-state solution?

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In the Middle East, They Mean What They Say

Jackson Diehl takes a look at the ongoing peace talks: Bibi is talking peace and compromise (Netanyahu “spent the past week talking up a ‘historic compromise with our Palestinian neighbors’ and promising ‘to embrace original thinking’ to achieve it, even as ministers of his own cabinet loudly proclaim their opposition”). Meanwhile, Abbas is acting, well, like the Palestinians have acted for the past 60 years. When presented with the basic requirements of a peace deal (“Israel is recognized as ‘the national state of the Jewish people’ and that a stringent security regime ensures that ‘there will be no repetition of what occurred after we left Lebanon and Gaza’”), Abbas makes clear that the PA’s mindset hasn’t changed at all:

[I]t’s worth noting that Abbas, following his first extended private conversation with Netanyahu in Washington, spent the subsequent days giving interviews to Arab media in which he publicly rejected each of those terms. Palestinians, he said, will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state; they will not allow Israeli forces to remain in the West Bank. In fact, if he’s pressured to make any concessions, he told the al-Quds newspaper, “I’ll grab my briefcase and leave.”

Palestinian partisans rush to explain: Abbas says such things only because he is under terrible domestic pressure, not only from Hamas but from the Palestinian “street.” But is he? A study of recent Palestinian opinion polls by David Pollock of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy pointed out that 60 percent of Palestinians will accept “mutual recognition of Israel as the state for the Jewish people and Palestine as the state for the Palestinian people.” Half say they could tolerate an interim Israeli presence on the Jordanian border “for reasons of security.”

No wonder Obama was telling the rabbis to ignore the parties’ public statements, for if they focused on what Bibi and Abbas were saying, it would become apparent that Obama has done nothing to alter the dynamic that has prevented a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for 60 years. Israel wants a deal; the Palestinians don’t have the will or the ability to make one. If Abbas really did share the yearning for a peace deal, he’d be preparing his side for compromise, not stoking the flames of rejectionism that has kept his side stateless these many decades.

In fact, it’s arguable that Obama has made things much worse. He’s emphasized the settlements — the PA’s favorite excuse for rejecting a deal — and given the PA the impression that this and perhaps other concessions can be extracted from Israel without corresponding moves by the Palestinians. So once again, he is doing the PA’s bidding, publicly turning the screws on Israel on settlements, while ignoring Abbas’s obvious disdain for a workable peace agreement.

Contrary to Obama’s advice, I think it’s time we started taking everyone in the Middle East at their word. Israel wants a deal, will defend itself against the Iranian threat, and isn’t going to continue to dole out unilateral concessions. The Palestinians can’t agree to the essential elements of a peace deal. Iran wants to dominate the region and wipe Israel off the map. Once the administration takes the Middle East players and their motives at face value, there might be a chance to construct an effective and reality-based foreign strategy. But not before.

Jackson Diehl takes a look at the ongoing peace talks: Bibi is talking peace and compromise (Netanyahu “spent the past week talking up a ‘historic compromise with our Palestinian neighbors’ and promising ‘to embrace original thinking’ to achieve it, even as ministers of his own cabinet loudly proclaim their opposition”). Meanwhile, Abbas is acting, well, like the Palestinians have acted for the past 60 years. When presented with the basic requirements of a peace deal (“Israel is recognized as ‘the national state of the Jewish people’ and that a stringent security regime ensures that ‘there will be no repetition of what occurred after we left Lebanon and Gaza’”), Abbas makes clear that the PA’s mindset hasn’t changed at all:

[I]t’s worth noting that Abbas, following his first extended private conversation with Netanyahu in Washington, spent the subsequent days giving interviews to Arab media in which he publicly rejected each of those terms. Palestinians, he said, will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state; they will not allow Israeli forces to remain in the West Bank. In fact, if he’s pressured to make any concessions, he told the al-Quds newspaper, “I’ll grab my briefcase and leave.”

Palestinian partisans rush to explain: Abbas says such things only because he is under terrible domestic pressure, not only from Hamas but from the Palestinian “street.” But is he? A study of recent Palestinian opinion polls by David Pollock of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy pointed out that 60 percent of Palestinians will accept “mutual recognition of Israel as the state for the Jewish people and Palestine as the state for the Palestinian people.” Half say they could tolerate an interim Israeli presence on the Jordanian border “for reasons of security.”

No wonder Obama was telling the rabbis to ignore the parties’ public statements, for if they focused on what Bibi and Abbas were saying, it would become apparent that Obama has done nothing to alter the dynamic that has prevented a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for 60 years. Israel wants a deal; the Palestinians don’t have the will or the ability to make one. If Abbas really did share the yearning for a peace deal, he’d be preparing his side for compromise, not stoking the flames of rejectionism that has kept his side stateless these many decades.

In fact, it’s arguable that Obama has made things much worse. He’s emphasized the settlements — the PA’s favorite excuse for rejecting a deal — and given the PA the impression that this and perhaps other concessions can be extracted from Israel without corresponding moves by the Palestinians. So once again, he is doing the PA’s bidding, publicly turning the screws on Israel on settlements, while ignoring Abbas’s obvious disdain for a workable peace agreement.

Contrary to Obama’s advice, I think it’s time we started taking everyone in the Middle East at their word. Israel wants a deal, will defend itself against the Iranian threat, and isn’t going to continue to dole out unilateral concessions. The Palestinians can’t agree to the essential elements of a peace deal. Iran wants to dominate the region and wipe Israel off the map. Once the administration takes the Middle East players and their motives at face value, there might be a chance to construct an effective and reality-based foreign strategy. But not before.

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Re: Palestinian Democracy Requires Palestinian Democrats

Jonathan, you are undoubtedly correct that the current culture of Palestinian politics makes a peaceful Palestinian state highly unlikely. In the last 10 years, the peace-partner Palestinians have rejected three formal offers of a state – each of them on all of Gaza and substantially all of the West Bank, with a capital in Jerusalem. Call them the “Three Noes” – and it is not clear what part of them remains to be understood. A society without a single leader ready to endorse a two-state solution, if it requires recognition of a Jewish state with defensible borders, is not ready to live side by side in peace.

You are correct that more than elections are required for a democratic state, but the inability of the Palestinian Authority to fulfill even the most elementary requirement of such a state is nevertheless noteworthy. The PA has managed only one presidential election in the last 14 years – in 2005, two months after Yasser Arafat’s death, in which the winner (Arafat’s second-in-command) ran essentially unopposed. The 2006 legislative election was won by Hamas — the terrorist group the PA committed in 2003 to dismantle immediately as part of the Roadmap. In 2009, the PA postponed the scheduled presidential election for a year – and then called it off altogether. This month’s local elections, already boycotted by Hamas, were called off because Fatah said it needed first to resolve which party members would run; in other words, before they could hold an election, they first needed to decide who would win it.

Reuters reported yesterday that the nominal Palestinian president, about to begin the 68th month of his 48-month term, criticized the latest electoral cancellation:

“If what happened is allowed to pass, I tell you that this movement must say goodbye,” [an official who attended the Fatah meeting] quoted Abbas as saying, in remarks which were omitted from a broadcast version of the speech. …

“Even with competition, we managed to fail,” said Abbas, who had been on an official visit to Washington at the time of the cancellation. He expressed anger at being woken up early so he could order his cabinet in Ramallah to postpone the vote.

It is a nearly perfect picture of the peace process: the unelected Palestinian president, at the White House to discuss a peace agreement he has no power to implement (even assuming there is one he would actually sign), cranky at being woken up early to cancel elections once again.

A recent poll shows increasing popularity of Hamas in the West Bank, and a Palestinian analyst reports that it “will be difficult if not impossible to hold any other legislative or presidential elections in the foreseeable future.”  When you cannot even schedule an election, you are not ready for a state.

Jonathan, you are undoubtedly correct that the current culture of Palestinian politics makes a peaceful Palestinian state highly unlikely. In the last 10 years, the peace-partner Palestinians have rejected three formal offers of a state – each of them on all of Gaza and substantially all of the West Bank, with a capital in Jerusalem. Call them the “Three Noes” – and it is not clear what part of them remains to be understood. A society without a single leader ready to endorse a two-state solution, if it requires recognition of a Jewish state with defensible borders, is not ready to live side by side in peace.

You are correct that more than elections are required for a democratic state, but the inability of the Palestinian Authority to fulfill even the most elementary requirement of such a state is nevertheless noteworthy. The PA has managed only one presidential election in the last 14 years – in 2005, two months after Yasser Arafat’s death, in which the winner (Arafat’s second-in-command) ran essentially unopposed. The 2006 legislative election was won by Hamas — the terrorist group the PA committed in 2003 to dismantle immediately as part of the Roadmap. In 2009, the PA postponed the scheduled presidential election for a year – and then called it off altogether. This month’s local elections, already boycotted by Hamas, were called off because Fatah said it needed first to resolve which party members would run; in other words, before they could hold an election, they first needed to decide who would win it.

Reuters reported yesterday that the nominal Palestinian president, about to begin the 68th month of his 48-month term, criticized the latest electoral cancellation:

“If what happened is allowed to pass, I tell you that this movement must say goodbye,” [an official who attended the Fatah meeting] quoted Abbas as saying, in remarks which were omitted from a broadcast version of the speech. …

“Even with competition, we managed to fail,” said Abbas, who had been on an official visit to Washington at the time of the cancellation. He expressed anger at being woken up early so he could order his cabinet in Ramallah to postpone the vote.

It is a nearly perfect picture of the peace process: the unelected Palestinian president, at the White House to discuss a peace agreement he has no power to implement (even assuming there is one he would actually sign), cranky at being woken up early to cancel elections once again.

A recent poll shows increasing popularity of Hamas in the West Bank, and a Palestinian analyst reports that it “will be difficult if not impossible to hold any other legislative or presidential elections in the foreseeable future.”  When you cannot even schedule an election, you are not ready for a state.

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Why Don’t They Talk About Ramallah?

A friend writes:

You might not have time to read the Travel section of the Sunday Times, but the story on page 13 of Sunday’s edition highlights a problem for the Palestinian Authority. The article makes clear that Ramallah, the PA’s effective capital, is a hip town with all kinds of exciting nightlife and restaurant choices. Hmm. Hardly squares with the beleaguered, impoverished, starving, besieged Palestinian-refugee narrative the Western media have been feeding us.

Salaam Fayyad, the PA prime minister, wants to encourage private-equity investments, but to do that you have to let investors know that there will be a return on capital. Suicide bombers and private equity don’t mix, whereas a dynamic social, cultural, economic climate do. So, who wins? The foreign-aid class represented by the UN or the economic-development group represented by Fayyad?  Fayyad wants to show the reality of a booming economy, while President Abbas (Fayyad’s boss, in principle) and Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator (whatever that means, given that there are no negotiations), want to show the Palestinians as beaten down by circumstances and beaten up by brutal Israeli troops.

Not mentioned in the Travel section Ramallah story or in Thomas Friedman’s column in the same Sunday paper on West Bank economic development is the name Benjamin Netanyahu. Not that the New York Times is about to give Bibi credit for anything, but the fact is Bibi campaigned for office in January 2009 on two main planks: addressing the Iranian threat and rebuilding the West Bank economy. It was Bibi who ordered more than 200 roadblocks/checkpoints to be removed, and it is Bibi who meets weekly with Palestinian and Israeli economic-development experts to see what red tape he can cut through to help the Palestinian Authority aid the rapid economic growth of the West Bank.

Give all of the credit to Fayyad, but his silent partner in all of this growth and relaxation of security is Bibi. Even Fayyad has said this to visiting American groups.

Both Fayyad and Bibi believe that the growth of a vibrant economy will lead to the development of better security for both sides, the creation of civil society, and the institutions needed to survive Fayyad. And both believe that ultimately the people of Gaza will be asked to choose: Do you want Hamas, Islam, and poverty with the hope of a world without Israel some day, or do you want a quality of life, free movement, and a political entity that has Israel as a partner?

A friend writes:

You might not have time to read the Travel section of the Sunday Times, but the story on page 13 of Sunday’s edition highlights a problem for the Palestinian Authority. The article makes clear that Ramallah, the PA’s effective capital, is a hip town with all kinds of exciting nightlife and restaurant choices. Hmm. Hardly squares with the beleaguered, impoverished, starving, besieged Palestinian-refugee narrative the Western media have been feeding us.

Salaam Fayyad, the PA prime minister, wants to encourage private-equity investments, but to do that you have to let investors know that there will be a return on capital. Suicide bombers and private equity don’t mix, whereas a dynamic social, cultural, economic climate do. So, who wins? The foreign-aid class represented by the UN or the economic-development group represented by Fayyad?  Fayyad wants to show the reality of a booming economy, while President Abbas (Fayyad’s boss, in principle) and Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator (whatever that means, given that there are no negotiations), want to show the Palestinians as beaten down by circumstances and beaten up by brutal Israeli troops.

Not mentioned in the Travel section Ramallah story or in Thomas Friedman’s column in the same Sunday paper on West Bank economic development is the name Benjamin Netanyahu. Not that the New York Times is about to give Bibi credit for anything, but the fact is Bibi campaigned for office in January 2009 on two main planks: addressing the Iranian threat and rebuilding the West Bank economy. It was Bibi who ordered more than 200 roadblocks/checkpoints to be removed, and it is Bibi who meets weekly with Palestinian and Israeli economic-development experts to see what red tape he can cut through to help the Palestinian Authority aid the rapid economic growth of the West Bank.

Give all of the credit to Fayyad, but his silent partner in all of this growth and relaxation of security is Bibi. Even Fayyad has said this to visiting American groups.

Both Fayyad and Bibi believe that the growth of a vibrant economy will lead to the development of better security for both sides, the creation of civil society, and the institutions needed to survive Fayyad. And both believe that ultimately the people of Gaza will be asked to choose: Do you want Hamas, Islam, and poverty with the hope of a world without Israel some day, or do you want a quality of life, free movement, and a political entity that has Israel as a partner?

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RE: Giving Hamas a Helping Hand

Michael Rubin does the math:

1. There have been eight terrorist attacks against Israel since Obama’s inauguration, so Obama is paying President Abbas a modest sum of $50 million per attack.

2. The were 2,048 rockets and mortars fired from Gaza into Israel in 2008, but let’s not hold that against President Obama since, obviously, to channel our commander-in-chief, that was President Bush’s fault. And during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli incursion into Gaza from January 1–18, 406 rockets were fired into Israel. Again, let’s not count these against Obama; he hadn’t taken his oath of office yet. Since Hamas’s third ceasefire, however, there have been 370 missiles fired from Gaza into Israel. So, if we want to discount terrorist attacks and just count missile attacks, then President Obama is rewarding Hamas to the tune of $1,080,000 for every rocket or mortar launched.

Well, we’ve come to expect this from Obama. Carrots are for foes; sticks are for friends. I await the explanation from Dennis Ross as to why this all makes perfect sense.

Michael Rubin does the math:

1. There have been eight terrorist attacks against Israel since Obama’s inauguration, so Obama is paying President Abbas a modest sum of $50 million per attack.

2. The were 2,048 rockets and mortars fired from Gaza into Israel in 2008, but let’s not hold that against President Obama since, obviously, to channel our commander-in-chief, that was President Bush’s fault. And during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli incursion into Gaza from January 1–18, 406 rockets were fired into Israel. Again, let’s not count these against Obama; he hadn’t taken his oath of office yet. Since Hamas’s third ceasefire, however, there have been 370 missiles fired from Gaza into Israel. So, if we want to discount terrorist attacks and just count missile attacks, then President Obama is rewarding Hamas to the tune of $1,080,000 for every rocket or mortar launched.

Well, we’ve come to expect this from Obama. Carrots are for foes; sticks are for friends. I await the explanation from Dennis Ross as to why this all makes perfect sense.

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Peace Process “Starts”?

This report tells you just how unserious — and unrelated to “peace” — is the process that supposedly started today: “United States special envoy George Mitchell met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, as Israelis and Palestinians readied themselves for the start of long-awaited indirect peace negotiations.” Yes, after 15 months George Mitchell has gotten the Palestinians and the Israelis to do exactly what they have been doing — talking to him and not each other. Yes, they came up with a fancy name — “proximity talks” — but that’s not exactly truth in advertising. There is no talking between the parties, in contrast to what happened during the Bush and Clinton administrations, which at least got the two sides in the same room. It’s not even clear what authority the PA has to negotiate:

Despite media reports that Mitchell’s meetings with Netanyahu would kick off the talks, the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization has still to convene to give the go-ahead to Palestinian participation in the negotiations. The Arab League gave its backing to the talks on Saturday.

It is unclear when the Committee will meet. Abbas, the PLO head, was in Cairo and Amman on Wednesday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II, and was not expected to return to Ramallah before Friday.

But just as the title of the talks signals that nothing much is going on, so does the pablum put out to the media after the first session: “A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said that the two met for three hours and described the atmosphere as good. Mitchell and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet again on Thursday. In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the meeting was good and productive but did not give details.” Presumably this meant that no one left in a huff, but “productive” — well, that’s open to debate, not only for today’s session but for the entire exercise.

Both sides have said they don’t expect the talks to “succeed” and both want to maneuver not to be blamed. You thought the Iranian nuclear talks were the pinnacle of gamesmanship? Prepare to see both sides talk and talk and talk some more. So how does this end? In a third Intifada? With the administration announcing that they have “no choice” but to propose an American plan and a deadline for its implementation? The best we can hope for — and it would be a stretch at this point — is that the talks would quietly fizzle and the Palestinians will return to the business of creating the preconditions for real peace — that is, the formulation of institutions and the development of a new mindset that eschews victimology and violence. But the Obama crew has made that all the more difficult.

This report tells you just how unserious — and unrelated to “peace” — is the process that supposedly started today: “United States special envoy George Mitchell met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, as Israelis and Palestinians readied themselves for the start of long-awaited indirect peace negotiations.” Yes, after 15 months George Mitchell has gotten the Palestinians and the Israelis to do exactly what they have been doing — talking to him and not each other. Yes, they came up with a fancy name — “proximity talks” — but that’s not exactly truth in advertising. There is no talking between the parties, in contrast to what happened during the Bush and Clinton administrations, which at least got the two sides in the same room. It’s not even clear what authority the PA has to negotiate:

Despite media reports that Mitchell’s meetings with Netanyahu would kick off the talks, the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization has still to convene to give the go-ahead to Palestinian participation in the negotiations. The Arab League gave its backing to the talks on Saturday.

It is unclear when the Committee will meet. Abbas, the PLO head, was in Cairo and Amman on Wednesday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II, and was not expected to return to Ramallah before Friday.

But just as the title of the talks signals that nothing much is going on, so does the pablum put out to the media after the first session: “A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said that the two met for three hours and described the atmosphere as good. Mitchell and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet again on Thursday. In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the meeting was good and productive but did not give details.” Presumably this meant that no one left in a huff, but “productive” — well, that’s open to debate, not only for today’s session but for the entire exercise.

Both sides have said they don’t expect the talks to “succeed” and both want to maneuver not to be blamed. You thought the Iranian nuclear talks were the pinnacle of gamesmanship? Prepare to see both sides talk and talk and talk some more. So how does this end? In a third Intifada? With the administration announcing that they have “no choice” but to propose an American plan and a deadline for its implementation? The best we can hope for — and it would be a stretch at this point — is that the talks would quietly fizzle and the Palestinians will return to the business of creating the preconditions for real peace — that is, the formulation of institutions and the development of a new mindset that eschews victimology and violence. But the Obama crew has made that all the more difficult.

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Hillary Announces Proximity Talks

In remarks on Friday with the Kuwati Deputy Prime Minister, Hillary Clinton repeated her wishy-washy talking point on Iran:

I also updated the deputy prime minister on our ongoing efforts, along with our international partners, to secure a United Nations Security Council resolution on Iran. We discussed the importance of diplomatic efforts to encourage Iran to abide by its international nuclear obligations. On Monday, I will attend the conference in New York reviewing the Nonproliferation Treaty and we will be underscoring once again the importance of all nations upholding their responsibilities.

Good grief — could she sound any less serious about thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions? (Notice how nonproliferation meetings are used as camouflage to hide the utter lack of progress on the proliferation issue which is most urgent.) Later in the news conference, she adds: “We are working to isolate Iran through the United Nations. We’re in the midst of negotiations over a Security Council resolution that will impose consequences on Iran for its unwillingness to follow the IAEA or the United Nations Security Council requirements about its nuclear program. We are working to support the defense and territorial integrity of our partners and allies in the Gulf, and we consult closely.” You think that induces fear in Tehran? No, me neither.

Then she moves on to the “peace process” with her usual pablum. (“As I said last night at the American Jewish Committee, the Middle East will never realize its full potential, Israel will never be truly secure, the Palestinians will never have their legitimate aspiration for a state, unless we create the circumstances in which positive negotiations can occur.”) She announces that next week, after fifteen months, the Obami have been able to get the Palestinians to not talk directly to Israel. (Yes, this is a step backward from the Bush administration, which at least managed to force the parties into fruitless face-to-face talks.) She announces: “We will be starting with proximity talks next week. Senator Mitchell will be going back to the region. And we look forward to the meeting of the Arab follow-up committee in Cairo tomorrow night to support the commitment by President Abbas to move forward with these talks.”

Then, perhaps sensing this is indeed thin gruel and less than other administrations have achieved, she adds: “Ultimately, we want to see the parties in direct negotiations and working out all the difficult issues that they must – they’ve been close a few times before. I remember very well the Camp David experience, and I know that President Abbas negotiated with former Prime Minister Olmert. So we are looking to see the resumption of those discussions.” In other words: for all their smart diplomacy, the Obami have managed to set back the “peace process” by more than a decade.

In remarks on Friday with the Kuwati Deputy Prime Minister, Hillary Clinton repeated her wishy-washy talking point on Iran:

I also updated the deputy prime minister on our ongoing efforts, along with our international partners, to secure a United Nations Security Council resolution on Iran. We discussed the importance of diplomatic efforts to encourage Iran to abide by its international nuclear obligations. On Monday, I will attend the conference in New York reviewing the Nonproliferation Treaty and we will be underscoring once again the importance of all nations upholding their responsibilities.

Good grief — could she sound any less serious about thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions? (Notice how nonproliferation meetings are used as camouflage to hide the utter lack of progress on the proliferation issue which is most urgent.) Later in the news conference, she adds: “We are working to isolate Iran through the United Nations. We’re in the midst of negotiations over a Security Council resolution that will impose consequences on Iran for its unwillingness to follow the IAEA or the United Nations Security Council requirements about its nuclear program. We are working to support the defense and territorial integrity of our partners and allies in the Gulf, and we consult closely.” You think that induces fear in Tehran? No, me neither.

Then she moves on to the “peace process” with her usual pablum. (“As I said last night at the American Jewish Committee, the Middle East will never realize its full potential, Israel will never be truly secure, the Palestinians will never have their legitimate aspiration for a state, unless we create the circumstances in which positive negotiations can occur.”) She announces that next week, after fifteen months, the Obami have been able to get the Palestinians to not talk directly to Israel. (Yes, this is a step backward from the Bush administration, which at least managed to force the parties into fruitless face-to-face talks.) She announces: “We will be starting with proximity talks next week. Senator Mitchell will be going back to the region. And we look forward to the meeting of the Arab follow-up committee in Cairo tomorrow night to support the commitment by President Abbas to move forward with these talks.”

Then, perhaps sensing this is indeed thin gruel and less than other administrations have achieved, she adds: “Ultimately, we want to see the parties in direct negotiations and working out all the difficult issues that they must – they’ve been close a few times before. I remember very well the Camp David experience, and I know that President Abbas negotiated with former Prime Minister Olmert. So we are looking to see the resumption of those discussions.” In other words: for all their smart diplomacy, the Obami have managed to set back the “peace process” by more than a decade.

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Clinton Plays Defense for Abbas?

I pointed out that during the AIPAC conference, Hillary Clinton suggested that the naming of a square after the notorious terrorist Dalal Mughrabi was the work of a “Hamas-controlled municipality” despite ample evidence of the involvement of Fatah. Now Palestinian Media Watch has taken up the issue, explaining:

Palestinian Media Watch has documented the continuous Mughrabi veneration by Abbas and the Palestinian Authority in recent years, both in connection to the square near Ramallah on the West Bank and in many other contexts. The following are 15 examples of the glorification of this one particular terrorist, Dalal Mughrabi. Five by Abbas himself, five by the Palestinian Authority or its leaders, and five by Fatah or its leaders.

You can read the list for yourself. Certainly the State Department knows of these incidents as well, yet Clinton singled out the “Hamas-controlled municipality” without tying Abbas or the PA to the incident.

So we come back to the eternal Obama inquiry: sloppy/incompetent or deceptive? Either way, as Palestinian Media Watch aptly puts it, when the U.S. fails to accurately pin “terror glorification” on Abbas and the PA, “the message to the Palestinian leadership is that it can continue with its incitement to hatred and violence without consequences.” And that is precisely the objection that Bibi and many have raised this week, namely that the Obami seem to afford every nicety, evasion, and excuse on behalf of the Palestinians, while clubbing Israel in public. Surely the message, then, to friends and foes well beyond the Middle East is clear: it’s no picnic being a “friend” of the U.S.

I pointed out that during the AIPAC conference, Hillary Clinton suggested that the naming of a square after the notorious terrorist Dalal Mughrabi was the work of a “Hamas-controlled municipality” despite ample evidence of the involvement of Fatah. Now Palestinian Media Watch has taken up the issue, explaining:

Palestinian Media Watch has documented the continuous Mughrabi veneration by Abbas and the Palestinian Authority in recent years, both in connection to the square near Ramallah on the West Bank and in many other contexts. The following are 15 examples of the glorification of this one particular terrorist, Dalal Mughrabi. Five by Abbas himself, five by the Palestinian Authority or its leaders, and five by Fatah or its leaders.

You can read the list for yourself. Certainly the State Department knows of these incidents as well, yet Clinton singled out the “Hamas-controlled municipality” without tying Abbas or the PA to the incident.

So we come back to the eternal Obama inquiry: sloppy/incompetent or deceptive? Either way, as Palestinian Media Watch aptly puts it, when the U.S. fails to accurately pin “terror glorification” on Abbas and the PA, “the message to the Palestinian leadership is that it can continue with its incitement to hatred and violence without consequences.” And that is precisely the objection that Bibi and many have raised this week, namely that the Obami seem to afford every nicety, evasion, and excuse on behalf of the Palestinians, while clubbing Israel in public. Surely the message, then, to friends and foes well beyond the Middle East is clear: it’s no picnic being a “friend” of the U.S.

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Another Cairo Speech

Lady Catherine Ashton is no Barack Obama, and she should be forgiven if her utterances may not generate the kind of wild adoration (adulation?!) that the U.S. president became accustomed to earning at each speech. But speeches are about the message and not only the charisma with which they are delivered, and Lady Ashton’s speech, yesterday, in Cairo, has so much substance that it deserves some comment.

There are three elements to her speech. First message: the nature and importance of the relation between Europe and the Arab world. Second message: the danger of Iran’s nuclear program. Third message: the importance and urgency of the peace process. Let’s dissect them by first quoting her words.

On relations between the EU and the Arab world, Ashton says:

I am especially pleased to be here at the headquarters of the Arab League. For Europe and the Arab world share a common history and, I believe, a common destiny. Our relations go back a long way. The footprints of your culture are scattered throughout Europe: literature and science, words and music, and of course our food.

No mention of human rights’ violations there — only a reference to orange water in Naples’ Pastiera cake and the sprinkle of Arabic in Sicilian dialect (but, presumably, not to the croissant, which was thus shaped to celebrate the Arab defeat at the Gates of Vienna). And yes, the footprint is truly scattered all over Europe: the watchtowers on the entire Mediterranean coast to warn of Arab marauders coming to kill, loot, plunder and enslave; the glorious-sounding names of battlefields like Poitiers and of naval battles like Lepanto; the early French literature of the Chanson de Roland — and many others. It all attests to conflict, war, clashes, and attempts to conquer, efface, subdue.

A common history, perhaps — but only to a certain extent. And hardly a common destiny. Like President Obama, then, Lady Ashton’s speech is an exercise in historical revisionism — papering over the inconvenient truth of the past as a way to appease our interlocutors, reminding them of a mythical time of idyllic friendship that never existed in order not to remind them of their present shortcomings: authoritarianism, social and economic injustice, human rights’ abuses, oppression of religious and ethnic minorities, gender apartheid, fomenting of hatred, condoning of terrorism, among other things. By ignoring the present and subverting the past, Lady Ashton has confirmed what the EU priorities are in the region — work with the powers that be, condone their errors as well as their horrors, ignore the broader regional context, and focus on one thing and one thing only: Israel.

This she does well, but not before she lists the perfunctory policy guidelines on Iran:

Our double track approach remains valid and we stand ready for dialogue. But the EU also fully supports the UN Security Council process on additional measures if, as is the case today, Iran continues to refuse to meet its international obligations. Our position is based on the firm belief that an Iran with nuclear weapons risks triggering a proliferation cascade throughout the Middle East. This is the last thing that this region needs.

Now that must have been exceptionally hard to pronounce. It almost sounds like a threat! How ominous, to have an EU high official (the highest one, in fact, when it comes to foreign policy) evoke the threat of a “proliferation cascade” throughout the Middle East.

So to ensure that no one became upset that the EU foreign-policy tsar was thundering, for a moment, against a Muslim nation without apologizing first, Lady Ashton threw in this closing line: “A nuclear weapons free Middle East remains a European goal.” That little reference to Israel gets everyone off the hook!

It seemed the perfectly seamless way to transition from the things she had to say pro forma and what she really wished to say:

The primary purpose of my visit is to show the continued importance that the European Union attaches to the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is a vital European interest and is central to the solution of other problems in the region.

Truly central: if you are a political prisoner languishing in an Egyptian prison and electric wires are about to be attached to your genitals for a bit of rough interrogation (surely not the one EU officials denounce on their trips to Cairo), what are the chances that you’ll feel better knowing the Palestinians will get a state? And what are the chances the police will forego this act of kindness as a result of Palestinian statehood?

Lady Ashton may not have the charisma of Barack Obama — but she can’t be so naïve as to believe that what is currently happening in Yemen is a byproduct of Palestinian-Israeli disputes; that piracy off the coast of Somalia would be called off at the announcement of a historic compromise; that al-Qaeda would lay down its weapons and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood would stop calling President Mubarak “Pharaoh” as soon as the Palestinian flag flies over the Noble Sanctuary. She must know. And so she says what she says — “central to the solution of other problems in the region” — because she is pandering to an audience of Arab autocrats.

From this we move on to the next step — one where Israeli wrongs are listed in excruciating detail and Israel’s government is slapped on the wrist repeatedly — its intentions are called into questions and its actions are blamed for lack of progress. But what of the Palestinians?

Much in the way of “the footprint of your culture” and other such rhetorical niceties, the share of responsibility the Palestinians get in the list of Lady Ashton’s no-no’s comes down to a gentle reminder to be more fraternal to one another. Just compare and contrast.

Premise of her comments on peacemaking:

Everyone has to make their contribution and take their responsibility. As the European Union we have a firm commitment to the security of Israel; and we stand up for a deal that delivers justice, freedom and dignity to the Palestinians.

The overall goal:

The parameters of a negotiated settlement are well known. A two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

So far, nothing too shocking. But then Ashton offers details to her vision of a negotiated settlement:

Our aim is a viable State of Palestine in the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip, on the basis of the 1967 lines. If there is to be a genuine peace a way must be found to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of Israel and Palestine. And we need a just solution of the refugee issue.

The EU is here reiterating its bias in favor of the Palestinian position. But there is more:

Recent Israeli decisions to build new housing units in East Jerusalem have endangered and undermined the tentative agreement to begin proximity talks. …

Settlements are illegal, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. …

The decision to list cultural and religious sites based in the occupied Palestinian territory as Israeli is counter-productive. …

The blockade of Gaza is unacceptable. It has created enormous human suffering and greatly harms the potential to move forward.

So many details of Israeli mischief! But, again, what about the Palestinians?

The Palestinians too of course have responsibilities. First however I want to commend President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad for showing us that they can build the institutions of a future Palestinian State. But the Palestinians must get their house in order. Continued Palestinian divisions do not serve their interests. The political and physical separation between Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous. Palestinian reconciliation is more crucial than ever. The PLO must take its responsibilities in this regard, and face the challenge of renewal and reform.

Yes, that’s what is wrong with the Palestinian side of the equation. They are not fraternal enough to one another and the political and physical separation of Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous — though Ashton blamed Israel for it before!

For a brief period in the long history of EU-Israel relations, it looked like the EU had finally understood that to influence Israel it had to be friendlier to Israel — not just in words but also in deeds. That included being more understanding of Israeli concerns and more nuanced about the complexities and intricacies of the Arab-Israeli conflict, its history, and its challenges.

Lady Ashton has just made it abundantly clear that Europe has reverted to its old habits of appeasing Arab authoritarianism while chastising Israeli democracy.

In a different time, we would have dismissed it all as yet another example of European irrelevance and a guarantee that only the U.S. would really have a role in being the midwife of regional peace. But now, given the United States’s substantive and rhetorical posture vis-à-vis Israel, Lady Ashton’s speech should have Jerusalem worried. There aren’t any friends left around to shield Israel from this kind of European worldview — and so it might just stick.

Lady Catherine Ashton is no Barack Obama, and she should be forgiven if her utterances may not generate the kind of wild adoration (adulation?!) that the U.S. president became accustomed to earning at each speech. But speeches are about the message and not only the charisma with which they are delivered, and Lady Ashton’s speech, yesterday, in Cairo, has so much substance that it deserves some comment.

There are three elements to her speech. First message: the nature and importance of the relation between Europe and the Arab world. Second message: the danger of Iran’s nuclear program. Third message: the importance and urgency of the peace process. Let’s dissect them by first quoting her words.

On relations between the EU and the Arab world, Ashton says:

I am especially pleased to be here at the headquarters of the Arab League. For Europe and the Arab world share a common history and, I believe, a common destiny. Our relations go back a long way. The footprints of your culture are scattered throughout Europe: literature and science, words and music, and of course our food.

No mention of human rights’ violations there — only a reference to orange water in Naples’ Pastiera cake and the sprinkle of Arabic in Sicilian dialect (but, presumably, not to the croissant, which was thus shaped to celebrate the Arab defeat at the Gates of Vienna). And yes, the footprint is truly scattered all over Europe: the watchtowers on the entire Mediterranean coast to warn of Arab marauders coming to kill, loot, plunder and enslave; the glorious-sounding names of battlefields like Poitiers and of naval battles like Lepanto; the early French literature of the Chanson de Roland — and many others. It all attests to conflict, war, clashes, and attempts to conquer, efface, subdue.

A common history, perhaps — but only to a certain extent. And hardly a common destiny. Like President Obama, then, Lady Ashton’s speech is an exercise in historical revisionism — papering over the inconvenient truth of the past as a way to appease our interlocutors, reminding them of a mythical time of idyllic friendship that never existed in order not to remind them of their present shortcomings: authoritarianism, social and economic injustice, human rights’ abuses, oppression of religious and ethnic minorities, gender apartheid, fomenting of hatred, condoning of terrorism, among other things. By ignoring the present and subverting the past, Lady Ashton has confirmed what the EU priorities are in the region — work with the powers that be, condone their errors as well as their horrors, ignore the broader regional context, and focus on one thing and one thing only: Israel.

This she does well, but not before she lists the perfunctory policy guidelines on Iran:

Our double track approach remains valid and we stand ready for dialogue. But the EU also fully supports the UN Security Council process on additional measures if, as is the case today, Iran continues to refuse to meet its international obligations. Our position is based on the firm belief that an Iran with nuclear weapons risks triggering a proliferation cascade throughout the Middle East. This is the last thing that this region needs.

Now that must have been exceptionally hard to pronounce. It almost sounds like a threat! How ominous, to have an EU high official (the highest one, in fact, when it comes to foreign policy) evoke the threat of a “proliferation cascade” throughout the Middle East.

So to ensure that no one became upset that the EU foreign-policy tsar was thundering, for a moment, against a Muslim nation without apologizing first, Lady Ashton threw in this closing line: “A nuclear weapons free Middle East remains a European goal.” That little reference to Israel gets everyone off the hook!

It seemed the perfectly seamless way to transition from the things she had to say pro forma and what she really wished to say:

The primary purpose of my visit is to show the continued importance that the European Union attaches to the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is a vital European interest and is central to the solution of other problems in the region.

Truly central: if you are a political prisoner languishing in an Egyptian prison and electric wires are about to be attached to your genitals for a bit of rough interrogation (surely not the one EU officials denounce on their trips to Cairo), what are the chances that you’ll feel better knowing the Palestinians will get a state? And what are the chances the police will forego this act of kindness as a result of Palestinian statehood?

Lady Ashton may not have the charisma of Barack Obama — but she can’t be so naïve as to believe that what is currently happening in Yemen is a byproduct of Palestinian-Israeli disputes; that piracy off the coast of Somalia would be called off at the announcement of a historic compromise; that al-Qaeda would lay down its weapons and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood would stop calling President Mubarak “Pharaoh” as soon as the Palestinian flag flies over the Noble Sanctuary. She must know. And so she says what she says — “central to the solution of other problems in the region” — because she is pandering to an audience of Arab autocrats.

From this we move on to the next step — one where Israeli wrongs are listed in excruciating detail and Israel’s government is slapped on the wrist repeatedly — its intentions are called into questions and its actions are blamed for lack of progress. But what of the Palestinians?

Much in the way of “the footprint of your culture” and other such rhetorical niceties, the share of responsibility the Palestinians get in the list of Lady Ashton’s no-no’s comes down to a gentle reminder to be more fraternal to one another. Just compare and contrast.

Premise of her comments on peacemaking:

Everyone has to make their contribution and take their responsibility. As the European Union we have a firm commitment to the security of Israel; and we stand up for a deal that delivers justice, freedom and dignity to the Palestinians.

The overall goal:

The parameters of a negotiated settlement are well known. A two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

So far, nothing too shocking. But then Ashton offers details to her vision of a negotiated settlement:

Our aim is a viable State of Palestine in the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip, on the basis of the 1967 lines. If there is to be a genuine peace a way must be found to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of Israel and Palestine. And we need a just solution of the refugee issue.

The EU is here reiterating its bias in favor of the Palestinian position. But there is more:

Recent Israeli decisions to build new housing units in East Jerusalem have endangered and undermined the tentative agreement to begin proximity talks. …

Settlements are illegal, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. …

The decision to list cultural and religious sites based in the occupied Palestinian territory as Israeli is counter-productive. …

The blockade of Gaza is unacceptable. It has created enormous human suffering and greatly harms the potential to move forward.

So many details of Israeli mischief! But, again, what about the Palestinians?

The Palestinians too of course have responsibilities. First however I want to commend President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad for showing us that they can build the institutions of a future Palestinian State. But the Palestinians must get their house in order. Continued Palestinian divisions do not serve their interests. The political and physical separation between Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous. Palestinian reconciliation is more crucial than ever. The PLO must take its responsibilities in this regard, and face the challenge of renewal and reform.

Yes, that’s what is wrong with the Palestinian side of the equation. They are not fraternal enough to one another and the political and physical separation of Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous — though Ashton blamed Israel for it before!

For a brief period in the long history of EU-Israel relations, it looked like the EU had finally understood that to influence Israel it had to be friendlier to Israel — not just in words but also in deeds. That included being more understanding of Israeli concerns and more nuanced about the complexities and intricacies of the Arab-Israeli conflict, its history, and its challenges.

Lady Ashton has just made it abundantly clear that Europe has reverted to its old habits of appeasing Arab authoritarianism while chastising Israeli democracy.

In a different time, we would have dismissed it all as yet another example of European irrelevance and a guarantee that only the U.S. would really have a role in being the midwife of regional peace. But now, given the United States’s substantive and rhetorical posture vis-à-vis Israel, Lady Ashton’s speech should have Jerusalem worried. There aren’t any friends left around to shield Israel from this kind of European worldview — and so it might just stick.

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Peace Plans and Palestinian Politics

Writing in the widely circulated Israeli newspaper Yisrael Hayom (“Israel Today”), Israeli journalist Dan Margalit reviews the prospects for the new peace process. The article is in Hebrew, but is summarized by the Israel Foreign Ministry:

The author recalls that in 2000, at Camp David, “Ehud Barak agreed to discuss the division of Jerusalem and the Palestinians fled the negotiations,” and adds that “In 2009, Ehud Olmert even offered to soften on the principle against ‘the right of return’ and again they fled.” The paper speculates that “In the current round, Israel is in a more complex position. Benjamin Netanyahu cannot offer Abu Mazen what came up in Ehud Olmert’s plan and if Ramallah rejected the previous move, what will it accept now?” The author notes that the Palestinians will, apparently, proffer a plan of their own in the hope that an Israeli rejection will draw the Obama administration to their side.

Presenting a plan they know Israel will not accept — to generate a condemnation of Israel for not accepting it – would be, in the weird world of the peace process, a step forward: at least the Palestinians would be proffering a plan. The last three times Israel offered the Palestinians a state – at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and in the Olmert offer – the Palestinians rejected the offer without making a counterproposal.

If the process plays out as Margalit predicts, here is one way to determine the seriousness of the Palestinians’ plan: will they release it to their public before July 17? July 17 is the date set for local elections in the West Bank – coincidentally (or maybe not) a week after the four-month period the Palestinians have set for the new indirect talks. In an analysis for Ynet News, Alex Fishman discusses how that election relates to the peace process:

Abbas and Fayyad are aspiring to win at least 50% of the vote this time around. With such support, they would be able to move on to negotiations with Israel with the legitimacy of the Palestinian public, and not only with the backwind provided by moderate members of the Arab League. This would be a real source of power, not a bogus one. Hamas has already announced that it will not take part in the elections. The PA will go to elections even without it.

It will be a real source of power, however, and not a bogus one, only if the Palestinian public knows what it is voting for — and only if the plan, itself, addresses the criteria set forth in the 2004 Bush letter to Israel: a Jewish state with defensible borders encompassing the major Jewish population centers in the West Bank (which are necessary for such borders). But the chances of Abbas and Fayyad proposing such a plan in the indirect talks, or discussing it with the Palestinian public before an election, are slight. In Fishman’s words:

[T]he PA cannot show up at the July 17 elections with a record of concessions on the national front. The opposite is true. It has a clear interest in creating a crisis in order to prompt a warm public embrace and reach the elections with an image of national strength, clear of any indication of “collaboration.”

After the death of Yasser Arafat, it was thought that Palestinian democracy would lead to peace. But the 2006 election resulted in a victory for Hamas; the PA president’s term expired more than a year ago with no new presidential election in sight; PA leaders are afraid to make concessions in the peace process lest they lose even uncontested local elections. The tragedy of Palestinian politics is that the Palestinian electorate will not vote for anyone willing to make the concessions necessary to get them a state — in part because they lack leaders who will tell their public that painful compromises are necessary to achieve one.

Writing in the widely circulated Israeli newspaper Yisrael Hayom (“Israel Today”), Israeli journalist Dan Margalit reviews the prospects for the new peace process. The article is in Hebrew, but is summarized by the Israel Foreign Ministry:

The author recalls that in 2000, at Camp David, “Ehud Barak agreed to discuss the division of Jerusalem and the Palestinians fled the negotiations,” and adds that “In 2009, Ehud Olmert even offered to soften on the principle against ‘the right of return’ and again they fled.” The paper speculates that “In the current round, Israel is in a more complex position. Benjamin Netanyahu cannot offer Abu Mazen what came up in Ehud Olmert’s plan and if Ramallah rejected the previous move, what will it accept now?” The author notes that the Palestinians will, apparently, proffer a plan of their own in the hope that an Israeli rejection will draw the Obama administration to their side.

Presenting a plan they know Israel will not accept — to generate a condemnation of Israel for not accepting it – would be, in the weird world of the peace process, a step forward: at least the Palestinians would be proffering a plan. The last three times Israel offered the Palestinians a state – at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and in the Olmert offer – the Palestinians rejected the offer without making a counterproposal.

If the process plays out as Margalit predicts, here is one way to determine the seriousness of the Palestinians’ plan: will they release it to their public before July 17? July 17 is the date set for local elections in the West Bank – coincidentally (or maybe not) a week after the four-month period the Palestinians have set for the new indirect talks. In an analysis for Ynet News, Alex Fishman discusses how that election relates to the peace process:

Abbas and Fayyad are aspiring to win at least 50% of the vote this time around. With such support, they would be able to move on to negotiations with Israel with the legitimacy of the Palestinian public, and not only with the backwind provided by moderate members of the Arab League. This would be a real source of power, not a bogus one. Hamas has already announced that it will not take part in the elections. The PA will go to elections even without it.

It will be a real source of power, however, and not a bogus one, only if the Palestinian public knows what it is voting for — and only if the plan, itself, addresses the criteria set forth in the 2004 Bush letter to Israel: a Jewish state with defensible borders encompassing the major Jewish population centers in the West Bank (which are necessary for such borders). But the chances of Abbas and Fayyad proposing such a plan in the indirect talks, or discussing it with the Palestinian public before an election, are slight. In Fishman’s words:

[T]he PA cannot show up at the July 17 elections with a record of concessions on the national front. The opposite is true. It has a clear interest in creating a crisis in order to prompt a warm public embrace and reach the elections with an image of national strength, clear of any indication of “collaboration.”

After the death of Yasser Arafat, it was thought that Palestinian democracy would lead to peace. But the 2006 election resulted in a victory for Hamas; the PA president’s term expired more than a year ago with no new presidential election in sight; PA leaders are afraid to make concessions in the peace process lest they lose even uncontested local elections. The tragedy of Palestinian politics is that the Palestinian electorate will not vote for anyone willing to make the concessions necessary to get them a state — in part because they lack leaders who will tell their public that painful compromises are necessary to achieve one.

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Power Games in Gaza

I’m with you, David, in thinking that what is going on in Gaza is mysterious. Here’s another way to look at it: Israeli action is constrained by two major factors. On one side, the government must do something in response to the recently increased tempo in rocket fire. On the other, a full-scale ground invasion, at least right now—unless there is a major attack—is off the table. Israel’s maneuvering must take place inside of those parameters. And inside diplomatic parameters, as well, as the NYT’s Steven Erlanger explained in an unusually good piece yesterday:

So long as rockets are fired toward Israelis from Gaza, Israelis will be very reluctant, even unwilling, to make a political deal for a Palestinian state that cannot provide them security. And if the Israelis reinvade Gaza in a serious way, killing many Palestinians, it will put Mr. Abbas and moderate Arab countries in their own dilemma, making it very difficult for them to sanction a political deal with Israel.

So if you’re an Israeli strategist, the bottom line is that you need to keep the rocket fire, at least for now, to an acceptable level, and your only means of doing so is through air strikes. I am a little skeptical of the Israel-Hamas collusion theory, though, but for all I know it could be exactly what’s going on. Here’s what makes me leery: Islamic Jihad functions for Hamas like a proxy militia—in the Middle East, proxies have proxies, and perhaps soon we’ll be hearing that Islamic Jihad has hired out a network of scrap metal scavengers on rented mules to do its dirty work—allowing Hamas to maintain a fig leaf of deniability when it comes to rocket attacks, but also allowing it to take credit among its admirers for the obduracy of its “resistance.” (This is an important bona fide if you’re an Islamist.) Hamas’s complicity in IJ’s destruction would remove one of the primary means by which it keeps itself in the headlines, on Iran’s payroll, politically salient, and in the jihadist dreams of a large number of Palestinians.

But perhaps right now the Hamas leadership believes itself cornered, has decided to bargain away a little bit of its militancy, and is putting Islamic Jihad’s heads on the Israeli chopping block as part of the deal (this could also sow terrible internal division among Gaza’s jihadists, who like to think of themselves as unified in their struggle). But even if true it’ll be a short-lived, and aggressively repudiated, quiescence. Hamas has to keep up appearances.

I’m with you, David, in thinking that what is going on in Gaza is mysterious. Here’s another way to look at it: Israeli action is constrained by two major factors. On one side, the government must do something in response to the recently increased tempo in rocket fire. On the other, a full-scale ground invasion, at least right now—unless there is a major attack—is off the table. Israel’s maneuvering must take place inside of those parameters. And inside diplomatic parameters, as well, as the NYT’s Steven Erlanger explained in an unusually good piece yesterday:

So long as rockets are fired toward Israelis from Gaza, Israelis will be very reluctant, even unwilling, to make a political deal for a Palestinian state that cannot provide them security. And if the Israelis reinvade Gaza in a serious way, killing many Palestinians, it will put Mr. Abbas and moderate Arab countries in their own dilemma, making it very difficult for them to sanction a political deal with Israel.

So if you’re an Israeli strategist, the bottom line is that you need to keep the rocket fire, at least for now, to an acceptable level, and your only means of doing so is through air strikes. I am a little skeptical of the Israel-Hamas collusion theory, though, but for all I know it could be exactly what’s going on. Here’s what makes me leery: Islamic Jihad functions for Hamas like a proxy militia—in the Middle East, proxies have proxies, and perhaps soon we’ll be hearing that Islamic Jihad has hired out a network of scrap metal scavengers on rented mules to do its dirty work—allowing Hamas to maintain a fig leaf of deniability when it comes to rocket attacks, but also allowing it to take credit among its admirers for the obduracy of its “resistance.” (This is an important bona fide if you’re an Islamist.) Hamas’s complicity in IJ’s destruction would remove one of the primary means by which it keeps itself in the headlines, on Iran’s payroll, politically salient, and in the jihadist dreams of a large number of Palestinians.

But perhaps right now the Hamas leadership believes itself cornered, has decided to bargain away a little bit of its militancy, and is putting Islamic Jihad’s heads on the Israeli chopping block as part of the deal (this could also sow terrible internal division among Gaza’s jihadists, who like to think of themselves as unified in their struggle). But even if true it’ll be a short-lived, and aggressively repudiated, quiescence. Hamas has to keep up appearances.

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ANNAPOLIS: Olmert concedes

Presidents Bush and Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert have just finished giving their speeches here in Annapolis, and while Bush and Abbas said little of importance, Olmert broke new ground—and not, alas, in a good way. The money quote from his speech was:

The negotiations between us will not be here in Annapolis, but rather in our home and in yours. It will be bilateral, direct, ongoing, and continuous, in an effort to complete it during the course of 2008.

It will address all the issues that have thus far been evaded. We will do it directly, openly, and courageously. We will not avoid any subject, we will deal with all the core issues. I have no doubt that the reality created in our region in 1967 will change significantly. [Emphasis added] While this will be an extremely difficult process for many of us, it is nevertheless inevitable. I know it. Many of my people know it. We are ready for it.

Presidents Bush and Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert have just finished giving their speeches here in Annapolis, and while Bush and Abbas said little of importance, Olmert broke new ground—and not, alas, in a good way. The money quote from his speech was:

The negotiations between us will not be here in Annapolis, but rather in our home and in yours. It will be bilateral, direct, ongoing, and continuous, in an effort to complete it during the course of 2008.

It will address all the issues that have thus far been evaded. We will do it directly, openly, and courageously. We will not avoid any subject, we will deal with all the core issues. I have no doubt that the reality created in our region in 1967 will change significantly. [Emphasis added] While this will be an extremely difficult process for many of us, it is nevertheless inevitable. I know it. Many of my people know it. We are ready for it.

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