Commentary Magazine


Topic: Anwar Sadat

The Folly of “Symmetrical Negotiation”

Ridiculing Tom Friedman’s famous habit of letting his cab drivers determine his column ideas is a popular pastime for foreign-policy commentators. But the truth is those columns are generally more sensible than the ones he comes up with all on his own. Today’s piece is a case in point, and it’s a convincing answer to those who say Friedman’s columns should just be ignored.

Getting the Middle East conflict wrong can be dangerous for those, unlike Friedman, who actually have to live with the consequences. So the following sentence should be printed and framed in the office of every aspiring Western diplomat, because it is about as wrong as you can get:

That is, has Israel become so much more powerful than its neighbors that a symmetrical negotiation is impossible, especially when the Palestinians do not seem willing or able to mount another intifada that might force Israel to withdraw?

Read More

Ridiculing Tom Friedman’s famous habit of letting his cab drivers determine his column ideas is a popular pastime for foreign-policy commentators. But the truth is those columns are generally more sensible than the ones he comes up with all on his own. Today’s piece is a case in point, and it’s a convincing answer to those who say Friedman’s columns should just be ignored.

Getting the Middle East conflict wrong can be dangerous for those, unlike Friedman, who actually have to live with the consequences. So the following sentence should be printed and framed in the office of every aspiring Western diplomat, because it is about as wrong as you can get:

That is, has Israel become so much more powerful than its neighbors that a symmetrical negotiation is impossible, especially when the Palestinians do not seem willing or able to mount another intifada that might force Israel to withdraw?

Let’s take the second part of that sentence first. The idea that only another intifada can save Israel from itself, and thus save the peace process, is grotesque. Secretary of State John Kerry flirted with this assault on logic and morality in his tirade on Israeli TV. This is a form of blackmail: Israel must agree to the terms of Kerry’s peace deal or there will be bombs in cafes again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s not a surprise Friedman would wade into this territory either; once you’ve accepted the Walt-Mearsheimer conspiracy theories of furtive Jewish domination, as Friedman has, you’ll believe anything. But the first part of the sentence in question should not be overshadowed by the wistful phrasing on the intifada. Because it’s a mistake that warrants correcting.

The plain fact, demonstrated by the history of this conflict in every instance, is that the “symmetrical negotiation” Friedman hopes for would bury the chances for peace. Israel’s neighbors made peace with the Jewish state only when they learned once and for all that they could not destroy her militarily, and they could not isolate her, and thus strangle her economically, from the world.

That’s because Israel was always willing to make peace, as is still the case. The Arab states in the neighborhood were not, because they viewed a peace deal as a strategic defeat, a capitulation to the reality that their dream of annihilating the Jews in their midst was untenable. A peace deal was a consolation prize for them.

What enabled the peace between Israel and her neighbors was precisely the absence of “symmetrical negotiation.” In his remembrance of Ariel Sharon’s dealings with the Arab world, Lee Smith opens with the following story:

During Anwar Sadat’s historic trip to Jerusalem in 1977, he met Ariel Sharon, the Israeli general credited by his countrymen as one of the heroes of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Sharon’s crossing of the Sinai and his encirclement of the Egyptian Third Army had turned the tables on Sadat’s forces, ensuring a victory that had once been uncertain. “I tried to catch you when you were on our side of the canal,” Sadat told Sharon. And now, replied Sharon, “you have the chance to catch me as a friend.”

Once Sadat had failed enough times to destroy Israel, his relationship with the state changed immediately. He didn’t try to “catch [Sharon] as a friend” first; he tried to kill Sharon first. When that couldn’t be done, friendship could be spoken of.

The development of the relationship between the U.S. and Israel was another aspect of the Arab-Israeli conflict that offered more hope for peace. Whether or not individual subscribers to the odious boycott-Israel movement would support Israel’s continued existence, the Palestinian leadership doesn’t see strangling Israel economically as a way to bring the Israelis to the negotiating table. Israel is already at the negotiating table, having yet again made concessions just to get the Palestinians to join them there.

The Palestinians would not see an Israel brought to its knees as an ideal state with which to strike a deal. They would see it as a weakened state on its way to the dustbin of history, to be replaced by a Palestinian state. Similarly, military parity between the Israelis and Palestinians is a foolish goal, because it cannot be brought about except through ways that would convince the Palestinian leadership that a peace deal isn’t necessary or in their interest. It should be an obvious point–one Friedman’s cab driver could have explained to him–but nonetheless bears repeating to counteract the dangerous, though predictable, misinformation of the New York Times op-ed page.

Read Less

What to Make of Rouhani’s Letter?

Over at AEI-Ideas, I take a look at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s op-ed in today’s Washington Post and argue that, while we shouldn’t be afraid to take “yes” for an answer, Rouhani’s sincerity is extremely unclear. Both the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and the late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi made grand gestures to demonstrate their respective changes of heart.

Alas, reading the tea leaves back in Tehran does not give cause for optimism. As Will Fulton points out in his invaluable “Iran News Round Up,” on September 17, Rouhani suggested creating a commission “to pursue spiritual and material compensation” from the United States and United Kingdom for their role in the 1953 coup against Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq.

Read More

Over at AEI-Ideas, I take a look at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s op-ed in today’s Washington Post and argue that, while we shouldn’t be afraid to take “yes” for an answer, Rouhani’s sincerity is extremely unclear. Both the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and the late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi made grand gestures to demonstrate their respective changes of heart.

Alas, reading the tea leaves back in Tehran does not give cause for optimism. As Will Fulton points out in his invaluable “Iran News Round Up,” on September 17, Rouhani suggested creating a commission “to pursue spiritual and material compensation” from the United States and United Kingdom for their role in the 1953 coup against Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq.

While that might sound good to a self-flagellating audience of American intellectuals, putting aside whether the coup was wise or not given the Cold War context, the simple fact is that the Iranian clergy was complicit in the coup and, indeed, had made an alliance of convenience with the U.S., British, and Iranian military: All feared Mosaddeq’s populism, which, to be frank, was about as democratic as Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s in Haiti.

That Rouhani wants the United States to pay Iran for the 1953 coup which his teachers and predecessors supported shows just how manipulative and insincere he is in his populist games in Tehran and Washington.

Read Less

Middle East Optimism Requires Blinders

Optimism about peace between Israel and the Palestinians has always been a matter of religious faith rather than rational analysis. Every new proof that the process begun in 1993 with the Oslo Accords was based on false premises must be dismissed or ignored simply because believers in peace insist it is possible and because they wish it be so. While the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has not generally been among the most dogged optimists about peace, he was still willing to co-author a 2,200-word essay with Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine published on today’s New York Times op-ed page that argues that despite the evidence of our lying eyes, there is still plenty of room for belief that the process can be revived.

Their thesis rests on the idea that changes in the political cultures of both Israel and the Palestinians make progress inevitable. It is true that there is an overwhelming consensus within Israel in favor of a two-state solution and that even the supposedly intransigent right-wing government of the country has made it clear it is ready to accept a Palestinian state. It is also true that the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad has made great strides toward making the territories a better place for its inhabitants, though Goldberg and Ibish overestimate the PA’s abandonment of anti-Semitic incitement and the language of delegitimization of Israel. The PA has also created a security apparatus that has been allowed greater scope by the Israelis, and Abbas and Fayyad understand it is in their interest to clamp down on terrorism.

These are factors that theoretically ought to allow the two sides to come to an agreement and finally make peace. But that hasn’t happened. The reason is that the less-hopeful developments of the past few years are still far more important in determining whether the conflict can be brought to an end. Read More

Optimism about peace between Israel and the Palestinians has always been a matter of religious faith rather than rational analysis. Every new proof that the process begun in 1993 with the Oslo Accords was based on false premises must be dismissed or ignored simply because believers in peace insist it is possible and because they wish it be so. While the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has not generally been among the most dogged optimists about peace, he was still willing to co-author a 2,200-word essay with Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine published on today’s New York Times op-ed page that argues that despite the evidence of our lying eyes, there is still plenty of room for belief that the process can be revived.

Their thesis rests on the idea that changes in the political cultures of both Israel and the Palestinians make progress inevitable. It is true that there is an overwhelming consensus within Israel in favor of a two-state solution and that even the supposedly intransigent right-wing government of the country has made it clear it is ready to accept a Palestinian state. It is also true that the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad has made great strides toward making the territories a better place for its inhabitants, though Goldberg and Ibish overestimate the PA’s abandonment of anti-Semitic incitement and the language of delegitimization of Israel. The PA has also created a security apparatus that has been allowed greater scope by the Israelis, and Abbas and Fayyad understand it is in their interest to clamp down on terrorism.

These are factors that theoretically ought to allow the two sides to come to an agreement and finally make peace. But that hasn’t happened. The reason is that the less-hopeful developments of the past few years are still far more important in determining whether the conflict can be brought to an end.

The chief of these is the power of Hamas. Optimists like Goldberg acknowledge the fact that Gaza is a Hamas state and that no peace can be signed without its agreement. Unacknowledged in the Goldberg-Ibish piece is the fact that Abbas’s hold on the West Bank rests not on his legitimacy or the strength of his forces but on Israel’s unwillingness to allow it to fall into the hands of Hamas, as happened in Gaza in 2006. After all, Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert offered Abbas a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2008 and was turned down flat. President Obama’s foolish insistence on an Israeli settlement freeze even in those areas (as the recently released Al Jazeera documents show) the PA had already agreed would stay in Israeli hands has made it impossible for those talks to be renewed. But even if Abbas were to return to the table, he would be faced with the same dilemma he had before. Were he to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders were drawn, he would face the wrath of his own people (as the reaction from the released documents proves), and even Israel’s support might not be enough to keep him in power, or alive.

Goldberg and Ibish conclude their lengthy article by calling for both Netanyahu and Abbas to visit the other side and acknowledge their antagonists’ respective rights and pain much in the way that Anwar Sadat and King Hussein of Jordan once did. But they forget that the original Oslo Accords were just such an acknowledgment, and that while Israelis swooned over such gestures (even though Yasir Arafat’s credibility was very much doubtful), Palestinians merely took Israel’s willingness to make concessions as a sign of weakness and lack of faith in the rightness of their cause. Moreover, Abbas doesn’t dare do more. In a region where both Israel and the PA are faced with the growing influence of Iran and its allies Hezbollah (which is moving toward control of Lebanon) and Hamas, the tide of extremism is more than a match for Fayyad’s pragmatism. Under such circumstances, optimism about peace requires the sort of tunnel vision that comes only with blind faith.

Read Less

The Public Be Damned

Jonathan noted yesterday that foreign critics are outraged by Israel’s passage of a law this week mandating referenda on certain types of territorial concessions. But their outrage doesn’t hold a candle to that of Israel’s own left.

In today’s editorial, for instance, Haaretz complained bitterly that “the public is being given veto power over crucial decisions on foreign policy and security issues.” By “handcuffing the political leadership’s moves in the peace process,” it charged, Israel is spitting in the world’s face.

Labor Party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak similarly complained that “this is not a good law,” because the world will think “Israel is rejecting peace and is handcuffing itself to avoid progress in the diplomatic process.”

These arguments are mind-boggling. First, why should anyone in the democratic world object to giving the public a say in “crucial decisions on foreign policy and security”? Haaretz’s editors would evidently prefer a dictatorship of Plato’s philosopher-king, with themselves on the throne. But democracies are supposed to give the public a say in crucial decisions.

That’s why Britain, for instance, held a referendum on joining the European Economic Community, while France held one on leaving Algeria. In the U.S., this goal is achieved by requiring treaties to be ratified by a two-thirds Senate majority, which is unachievable without significant bipartisan consensus.

But the even more shocking assumption behind these plaints is that, given a choice, the public would reject any deal likely to be signed — yet the government should sign it anyway, and the public be damned.

Like Jonathan, I think Israelis would in fact support any reasonable agreement. But no reasonable agreement would ever be brought to a referendum, because the law requires a referendum only if an agreement doesn’t pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority. And any reasonable agreement would easily surpass this threshold.

The history of Israeli diplomatic agreements amply proves this point. The treaties with both Egypt and Jordan did pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority, and both, despite producing a colder peace than Israelis hoped, have stood the test of time. In contrast, not a single agreement with the Palestinians ever came close to achieving a two-thirds majority — and every single one has proved a bloody failure.

Nor is this mere coincidence. The Jordanian and Egyptian treaties won sweeping majorities because both countries’ leaders had proved their commitment to peace: Anwar Sadat by his dramatic visit to the Knesset, in defiance of the pan-Arab boycott on Israel, and Jordan’s King Hussein by decades of quiet security cooperation. And both treaties succeeded because these leaders truly wanted peace.

The Palestinian agreements won only narrow majorities because many Israelis weren’t convinced that the Palestinians wanted peace. And these agreements failed because this skepticism proved well-founded.

Thus the referendum law won’t prevent any deal actually worth signing. Nor will it prevent another bad deal on the West Bank, since it applies only to territory annexed by Israel. But it will at least prevent a bad deal over East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. And therefore, its passage is genuine cause for rejoicing.

Jonathan noted yesterday that foreign critics are outraged by Israel’s passage of a law this week mandating referenda on certain types of territorial concessions. But their outrage doesn’t hold a candle to that of Israel’s own left.

In today’s editorial, for instance, Haaretz complained bitterly that “the public is being given veto power over crucial decisions on foreign policy and security issues.” By “handcuffing the political leadership’s moves in the peace process,” it charged, Israel is spitting in the world’s face.

Labor Party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak similarly complained that “this is not a good law,” because the world will think “Israel is rejecting peace and is handcuffing itself to avoid progress in the diplomatic process.”

These arguments are mind-boggling. First, why should anyone in the democratic world object to giving the public a say in “crucial decisions on foreign policy and security”? Haaretz’s editors would evidently prefer a dictatorship of Plato’s philosopher-king, with themselves on the throne. But democracies are supposed to give the public a say in crucial decisions.

That’s why Britain, for instance, held a referendum on joining the European Economic Community, while France held one on leaving Algeria. In the U.S., this goal is achieved by requiring treaties to be ratified by a two-thirds Senate majority, which is unachievable without significant bipartisan consensus.

But the even more shocking assumption behind these plaints is that, given a choice, the public would reject any deal likely to be signed — yet the government should sign it anyway, and the public be damned.

Like Jonathan, I think Israelis would in fact support any reasonable agreement. But no reasonable agreement would ever be brought to a referendum, because the law requires a referendum only if an agreement doesn’t pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority. And any reasonable agreement would easily surpass this threshold.

The history of Israeli diplomatic agreements amply proves this point. The treaties with both Egypt and Jordan did pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority, and both, despite producing a colder peace than Israelis hoped, have stood the test of time. In contrast, not a single agreement with the Palestinians ever came close to achieving a two-thirds majority — and every single one has proved a bloody failure.

Nor is this mere coincidence. The Jordanian and Egyptian treaties won sweeping majorities because both countries’ leaders had proved their commitment to peace: Anwar Sadat by his dramatic visit to the Knesset, in defiance of the pan-Arab boycott on Israel, and Jordan’s King Hussein by decades of quiet security cooperation. And both treaties succeeded because these leaders truly wanted peace.

The Palestinian agreements won only narrow majorities because many Israelis weren’t convinced that the Palestinians wanted peace. And these agreements failed because this skepticism proved well-founded.

Thus the referendum law won’t prevent any deal actually worth signing. Nor will it prevent another bad deal on the West Bank, since it applies only to territory annexed by Israel. But it will at least prevent a bad deal over East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. And therefore, its passage is genuine cause for rejoicing.

Read Less

A Refreshing Change

It’s too early to declare a trend. But the near-simultaneous publication of calls for an Arab gesture toward Israel from two unlikely sources — president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb and Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar — represents a refreshing change from the usual discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which only Israel is ever expected to give.

Gelb served as assistant secretary of state under Jimmy Carter and spent years as a New York Times correspondent. One would expect someone with that resume to be reflexively pro-Palestinian, and indeed, in a Daily Beast article on Sunday, he opposed an emerging U.S.-Israeli deal on a settlement freeze for being “overly generous” and reducing American leverage over Israel.

But that makes the article’s conclusion, which Jennifer quoted at length yesterday, all the more stunning. What is needed to promote peace, he said, is a “dramatic step” by Palestinian leaders: Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad should emulate Anwar Sadat and go to the Knesset and “pledge acceptance of ‘a Jewish state of Israel.’”

Eldar’s column on Monday was perhaps even more shocking. I’ve read hundreds of Eldar columns in recent years, and they have one unchanging theme: the absence of peace is 100 percent Israel’s fault. But in this one, for the first time I can remember, he attacked Arab leaders for “treating dialogue with Israeli society as part of ‘normalization’ — the ‘fruits of peace’ that the Israelis will get to taste only after they pledge to withdraw from all the territories,” instead of understanding, as Sadat did, that the risks of withdrawal won’t seem worth taking unless Israelis are assured of peace beforehand. And he concluded:

Indeed, what would happen if [Egyptian] President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah and Saudi King Abdullah, together with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, and promised from the Knesset rostrum, “No more war”? That would be much easier for them than what Israel is being asked to do: evacuate tens of thousands of people from the settlements and divide Jerusalem.

It seems like common sense: surely a mere statement is easier than evacuating tens of thousands of fellow citizens. Moreover, as Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman noted this week, if the Palestinians are really so desperate for a state, then it’s hard to understand why Israel is the one constantly being asked to “pay another additional price for the joy of conducting negotiations” aimed at giving them one.

But of course, if the world began demanding gestures from the Palestinians or the Saudis, the inevitable refusal might finally force it to confront the truth: both are still unwilling to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist. That’s why Abbas, Fayyad, and Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah never will come to the Knesset to make the statements Gelb and Eldar suggest. And that’s why most of the international community, unwilling to give up its delusions of peace, will never ask it of them.

It’s too early to declare a trend. But the near-simultaneous publication of calls for an Arab gesture toward Israel from two unlikely sources — president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb and Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar — represents a refreshing change from the usual discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which only Israel is ever expected to give.

Gelb served as assistant secretary of state under Jimmy Carter and spent years as a New York Times correspondent. One would expect someone with that resume to be reflexively pro-Palestinian, and indeed, in a Daily Beast article on Sunday, he opposed an emerging U.S.-Israeli deal on a settlement freeze for being “overly generous” and reducing American leverage over Israel.

But that makes the article’s conclusion, which Jennifer quoted at length yesterday, all the more stunning. What is needed to promote peace, he said, is a “dramatic step” by Palestinian leaders: Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad should emulate Anwar Sadat and go to the Knesset and “pledge acceptance of ‘a Jewish state of Israel.’”

Eldar’s column on Monday was perhaps even more shocking. I’ve read hundreds of Eldar columns in recent years, and they have one unchanging theme: the absence of peace is 100 percent Israel’s fault. But in this one, for the first time I can remember, he attacked Arab leaders for “treating dialogue with Israeli society as part of ‘normalization’ — the ‘fruits of peace’ that the Israelis will get to taste only after they pledge to withdraw from all the territories,” instead of understanding, as Sadat did, that the risks of withdrawal won’t seem worth taking unless Israelis are assured of peace beforehand. And he concluded:

Indeed, what would happen if [Egyptian] President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah and Saudi King Abdullah, together with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, and promised from the Knesset rostrum, “No more war”? That would be much easier for them than what Israel is being asked to do: evacuate tens of thousands of people from the settlements and divide Jerusalem.

It seems like common sense: surely a mere statement is easier than evacuating tens of thousands of fellow citizens. Moreover, as Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman noted this week, if the Palestinians are really so desperate for a state, then it’s hard to understand why Israel is the one constantly being asked to “pay another additional price for the joy of conducting negotiations” aimed at giving them one.

But of course, if the world began demanding gestures from the Palestinians or the Saudis, the inevitable refusal might finally force it to confront the truth: both are still unwilling to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist. That’s why Abbas, Fayyad, and Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah never will come to the Knesset to make the statements Gelb and Eldar suggest. And that’s why most of the international community, unwilling to give up its delusions of peace, will never ask it of them.

Read Less

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.

Read Less

A Settlement Freeze Makes Serious Talks Less Likely

Jennifer listed several good reasons to dislike Barack Obama’s latest proposal for a settlement freeze. Here’s one more: it makes serious final-status negotiations even less likely.

To see why, consider last week’s astonishing editorial in the Kuwaiti daily Arab Times. In it, editor-in-chief Ahmed Al-Jarallah urged Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to imitate Egyptian President Anwar Sadat “and start unconditional negotiations” with Israel.

It’s a remarkable piece in many respects: its clear-eyed recognition that the Arab world exploits the Palestinians rather than helping them (“the slogan traders in Iran, Lebanon and Syria … [are] using these poor people as fighting tools”); its candid acknowledgement that Palestinians have blown previous opportunities, like the autonomy plan mandated by the 1978 peace treaty with Egypt (“they should have taken this opportunity and built on it”); and its call for unconditional negotiations, defying the Arab consensus, to avoid missing another opportunity (Sadat, he noted, regained his land by so doing, while if talks fail, that would at least “cause international embarrassment for Israel”). No Western leader has said anything half so honest or courageous.

But the minute Al-Jarallah explains why he deems this necessary, it’s obvious why neither Abbas nor the West discerns the same necessity: Palestinians, he said, must act, because Israeli settlement construction means “the longer the waiting period, the lesser the space” for the Palestinian state-to-be.

In reality, as both Abbas and Western leaders know, refusing to make a deal has proven a surefire way for Palestinians to increase the amount of land on offer. Four decades ago, Israel’s left proposed the Allon Plan, under which Israel would cede 70 percent of the territories. By 2000, Ehud Barak was offering 88 percent. The Clinton plan upped the figure to about 94 percent, and in 2008, Ehud Olmert offered almost 100 percent (after territorial swaps). Each time the Palestinians refused an offer, either Jerusalem or Washington sweetened the deal in the hopes of finally getting them to say yes.

There aren’t many territorial sweeteners left to add, but plenty of concessions remain available on other issues. And there’s no risk of losing the territorial gains because no offer, once made, has ever been taken off the table: Olmert’s offer, for instance, is now viewed by the West as the starting point for new talks, and Israel faces enormous pressure to accept that dictate.

Abbas thus has every incentive to keep saying no: he won’t lose any concession already pocketed, and he’ll probably gain new ones.

Therefore, if the West really wants a deal, it must ensure that saying no does have consequences: that far from netting the Palestinians additional gains, it will endanger those already achieved. In other words, it needs to make them think time is running out for a viable deal. And there’s only one way to do that — by settlement construction massive enough to threaten to make additional settlements too big to be evacuated.

By instead demanding a settlement freeze, Obama ensures the Palestinians can drag their feet with no negative consequences because nothing will change on the ground. So nobody should be surprised if that’s exactly what they do.

Jennifer listed several good reasons to dislike Barack Obama’s latest proposal for a settlement freeze. Here’s one more: it makes serious final-status negotiations even less likely.

To see why, consider last week’s astonishing editorial in the Kuwaiti daily Arab Times. In it, editor-in-chief Ahmed Al-Jarallah urged Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to imitate Egyptian President Anwar Sadat “and start unconditional negotiations” with Israel.

It’s a remarkable piece in many respects: its clear-eyed recognition that the Arab world exploits the Palestinians rather than helping them (“the slogan traders in Iran, Lebanon and Syria … [are] using these poor people as fighting tools”); its candid acknowledgement that Palestinians have blown previous opportunities, like the autonomy plan mandated by the 1978 peace treaty with Egypt (“they should have taken this opportunity and built on it”); and its call for unconditional negotiations, defying the Arab consensus, to avoid missing another opportunity (Sadat, he noted, regained his land by so doing, while if talks fail, that would at least “cause international embarrassment for Israel”). No Western leader has said anything half so honest or courageous.

But the minute Al-Jarallah explains why he deems this necessary, it’s obvious why neither Abbas nor the West discerns the same necessity: Palestinians, he said, must act, because Israeli settlement construction means “the longer the waiting period, the lesser the space” for the Palestinian state-to-be.

In reality, as both Abbas and Western leaders know, refusing to make a deal has proven a surefire way for Palestinians to increase the amount of land on offer. Four decades ago, Israel’s left proposed the Allon Plan, under which Israel would cede 70 percent of the territories. By 2000, Ehud Barak was offering 88 percent. The Clinton plan upped the figure to about 94 percent, and in 2008, Ehud Olmert offered almost 100 percent (after territorial swaps). Each time the Palestinians refused an offer, either Jerusalem or Washington sweetened the deal in the hopes of finally getting them to say yes.

There aren’t many territorial sweeteners left to add, but plenty of concessions remain available on other issues. And there’s no risk of losing the territorial gains because no offer, once made, has ever been taken off the table: Olmert’s offer, for instance, is now viewed by the West as the starting point for new talks, and Israel faces enormous pressure to accept that dictate.

Abbas thus has every incentive to keep saying no: he won’t lose any concession already pocketed, and he’ll probably gain new ones.

Therefore, if the West really wants a deal, it must ensure that saying no does have consequences: that far from netting the Palestinians additional gains, it will endanger those already achieved. In other words, it needs to make them think time is running out for a viable deal. And there’s only one way to do that — by settlement construction massive enough to threaten to make additional settlements too big to be evacuated.

By instead demanding a settlement freeze, Obama ensures the Palestinians can drag their feet with no negative consequences because nothing will change on the ground. So nobody should be surprised if that’s exactly what they do.

Read Less

Don’t Let Extremists Define the Terms

Last week, I wrote that by fighting in Afghanistan, we were “honoring the memory of America’s 9/11 shaheeds (martyrs) — the victims of al-Qaeda and their Taliban facilitators.” Some people took offense at my (ironic) use of the Islamic term shaheed to describe the victims of Islamist terrorism. Andy McCarthy, for example, wrote: “Shaheeds are militants, and today they are guilty of the most barbaric acts imaginable. Applying the term shaheeds to those killed and wounded by shaheeds does not raise the cachet of the term, but it is certain to offend those who have been maimed or terrorized, as well as the families of those who have been murdered.”

I used to work across the street from the World Trade Center, and I was downtown on September 11, 2001. I saw the Twin Towers fall. The last thing in the world I would ever want to do would be to dishonor the memory of the victims or offend their friends and relatives. I apologize if I have inadvertently caused offense. But anyone who is offended is misreading the term shaheed.

Yes, al-Qaeda and its ilk describe dead terrorists as shaheeds. But as three different, well-respected scholars of the Middle East have confirmed to me, militants hardly have a monopoly on a word that literally means “witness” but generally denotes anyone who dies while fulfilling a religious commandment. Anwar Sadat, Rafik Hariri, and Ahmed Shah Massoud — all moderate Muslims slain by extremists — are referred to by their admirers as shaheeds, while to their enemies, their murderers are the shaheeds. The word’s elasticity should not be a surprise; it is also true of a term such as “sharia law,” which can connote everything from Indonesian democracy to Iranian theocracy. Extremists have their definitions of Islamic terms; moderate Muslims (who constitute the great majority) have differing interpretations. We should not make the mistake of assuming that the most extreme view is the “correct” one.

Last week, I wrote that by fighting in Afghanistan, we were “honoring the memory of America’s 9/11 shaheeds (martyrs) — the victims of al-Qaeda and their Taliban facilitators.” Some people took offense at my (ironic) use of the Islamic term shaheed to describe the victims of Islamist terrorism. Andy McCarthy, for example, wrote: “Shaheeds are militants, and today they are guilty of the most barbaric acts imaginable. Applying the term shaheeds to those killed and wounded by shaheeds does not raise the cachet of the term, but it is certain to offend those who have been maimed or terrorized, as well as the families of those who have been murdered.”

I used to work across the street from the World Trade Center, and I was downtown on September 11, 2001. I saw the Twin Towers fall. The last thing in the world I would ever want to do would be to dishonor the memory of the victims or offend their friends and relatives. I apologize if I have inadvertently caused offense. But anyone who is offended is misreading the term shaheed.

Yes, al-Qaeda and its ilk describe dead terrorists as shaheeds. But as three different, well-respected scholars of the Middle East have confirmed to me, militants hardly have a monopoly on a word that literally means “witness” but generally denotes anyone who dies while fulfilling a religious commandment. Anwar Sadat, Rafik Hariri, and Ahmed Shah Massoud — all moderate Muslims slain by extremists — are referred to by their admirers as shaheeds, while to their enemies, their murderers are the shaheeds. The word’s elasticity should not be a surprise; it is also true of a term such as “sharia law,” which can connote everything from Indonesian democracy to Iranian theocracy. Extremists have their definitions of Islamic terms; moderate Muslims (who constitute the great majority) have differing interpretations. We should not make the mistake of assuming that the most extreme view is the “correct” one.

Read Less

The Same Mistake

Even Richard Cohen has figured out that it is not Bibi’s intransigence but Obama’s incompetence that is at the root of the non-peace-talks impasse. He writes:

Obama ought to confer with someone who knows the region — and listen to him or her. Trouble is, many experts have told him that his emphasis on settlements was the wrong way to go. As late as last week and the succession of meetings held at the United Nations, it was clear that Netanyahu would not ask his Cabinet to extend the settlement freeze. Yet not only did the White House reject this warning, the president repeated his call for a freeze. “Our position on this issue is well-known,” Obama told the U.N. General Assembly. “We believe that the moratorium should be extended.” Well, it wasn’t. …

The Obama approach to the Israeli-Palestinian problem has been counterproductive. Either the Palestinians have to back down from their — even more importantly, Obama’s — insistence that all settlements be frozen in place or Netanyahu has to back down from his pledge that any moratorium would be temporary. Either Abbas or Netanyahu has to lose credibility and neither man can afford to. They are not mere negotiators; they are heads of government.

Obama, too, has to husband his credibility. He foolishly demanded something Israel could not yet give.

It is not as if this is a new mistake — it is the same one Obama and his “smart” diplomats have made from the onset of his term. The fixation on settlements remains. “From the very start, the president has taken a very hard line against settlements, refusing to distinguish between an apartment in Jerusalem and a hilltop encampment deep in the West Bank. He also seems not to understand their religious, cultural or historical importance to some Jews.”

The pattern repeats itself – Obama beats up on Israel, fails to deliver concessions to the PA,  and then commences begging with the parties not to break off talks and embarrass the U.S. president. Granted, Abbas is no Anwar Sadat, but Obama has made both himself and the PA president look weak and ineffective.

And we shouldn’t forget that we are not remotely close to a peace deal. For the Obami, it is a Herculean task just to keep everyone in the room. It doesn’t fill you with confidence, does it?

Even Richard Cohen has figured out that it is not Bibi’s intransigence but Obama’s incompetence that is at the root of the non-peace-talks impasse. He writes:

Obama ought to confer with someone who knows the region — and listen to him or her. Trouble is, many experts have told him that his emphasis on settlements was the wrong way to go. As late as last week and the succession of meetings held at the United Nations, it was clear that Netanyahu would not ask his Cabinet to extend the settlement freeze. Yet not only did the White House reject this warning, the president repeated his call for a freeze. “Our position on this issue is well-known,” Obama told the U.N. General Assembly. “We believe that the moratorium should be extended.” Well, it wasn’t. …

The Obama approach to the Israeli-Palestinian problem has been counterproductive. Either the Palestinians have to back down from their — even more importantly, Obama’s — insistence that all settlements be frozen in place or Netanyahu has to back down from his pledge that any moratorium would be temporary. Either Abbas or Netanyahu has to lose credibility and neither man can afford to. They are not mere negotiators; they are heads of government.

Obama, too, has to husband his credibility. He foolishly demanded something Israel could not yet give.

It is not as if this is a new mistake — it is the same one Obama and his “smart” diplomats have made from the onset of his term. The fixation on settlements remains. “From the very start, the president has taken a very hard line against settlements, refusing to distinguish between an apartment in Jerusalem and a hilltop encampment deep in the West Bank. He also seems not to understand their religious, cultural or historical importance to some Jews.”

The pattern repeats itself – Obama beats up on Israel, fails to deliver concessions to the PA,  and then commences begging with the parties not to break off talks and embarrass the U.S. president. Granted, Abbas is no Anwar Sadat, but Obama has made both himself and the PA president look weak and ineffective.

And we shouldn’t forget that we are not remotely close to a peace deal. For the Obami, it is a Herculean task just to keep everyone in the room. It doesn’t fill you with confidence, does it?

Read Less

Speaking Truth to the “Life Lie”

Former Norwegian diplomat Sven Olaf Eid e-mailed a response to my April 20 post about Israel’s Independence Day (“There Could Have Been Two Independence Days”). The post quoted Abba Eban’s 1958 speech to the UN laying responsibility for the Arab refugees on the Arab leaders who had rejected the UN two-state solution in 1947 — and the five Arab countries that sent their armies to destroy the sliver of a Jewish state on the day it declared its independence in 1948.

Mr. Eid wrote that he agreed with the post but wanted to add an important point made in his August 17, 2006, Wall Street Journal letter, which read as follows:

Based on my experience from service with the United Nations in Egypt, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon in the 1950s and ’60s, along with several later visits to the region and lifelong studies of its history, I present the following comments regarding [Lebanon’s] suffering.

The U.N.’s partition of Palestine in 1947 was the only possible, realistic situation. The partition would have come about anyhow due to the situation on the ground. But especially since the U.N. Relief and Works Agency took responsibility for the Arab refugee problem in 1949, the U.N. has represented a hindrance to the peaceful settlement of the partition conflict by taking the responsibility for the refugees from the responsible Arab countries: Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only one of many in the region, but it has since served as the bouc emissaire for all the religious and political problems in the Islamic world.

Much-greater human problems concerning territories and refugees were solved (without the U.N. of course) after World War II. The Arab states, helped by the U.N., are responsible for keeping the Israeli-Palestinian conflict alive and have used it cleverly to overshadow their lack of religious and political will and/or capacity to civilize their societies. The Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was an outstanding exception, and we know what happened to him. Another was King Hussein of Jordan. But apart from that, the absence of statesmen, intellectuals and journalists is remarkable.

The great dramatist Henrik Ibsen described a human phenomenon: livslognen or, here in Spain, la mentira vital. “The life lie”: this bigoted belief that all one’s problems are the fault of others. In my opinion, that very clearly characterizes the Arab world’s general politics since World War II.

Since the 1948 war they started, the Arab states have kept the resulting refugees (and generation after generation of their children) in squalid camps, lest their resettlement be deemed an acceptance of Israel. The refugees in Lebanon have not been given rights to hold property, obtain higher education, or work in numerous professions, much less the right of citizenship in the country in which they have lived all or most of their lives over six decades. Instead, they are kept in a culture of dependency served by UNRWA — a “temporary” UN agency formed in 1949, now a bloated bureaucracy in its seventh decade and funded primarily by the U.S. and other Western countries.

The refugee problem will not be solved by “negotiations” between Israel and Mahmoud Abbas. The solution will require a fundamental change in perspective — one that might begin if a U.S. president were ever to travel to Cairo and call for an end to UNRWA, in a speech that would term the treatment of Arab refugees by Arab countries an affront to human rights, and that would end by challenging the leaders of the Arab countries to “tear down those camps.”

Former Norwegian diplomat Sven Olaf Eid e-mailed a response to my April 20 post about Israel’s Independence Day (“There Could Have Been Two Independence Days”). The post quoted Abba Eban’s 1958 speech to the UN laying responsibility for the Arab refugees on the Arab leaders who had rejected the UN two-state solution in 1947 — and the five Arab countries that sent their armies to destroy the sliver of a Jewish state on the day it declared its independence in 1948.

Mr. Eid wrote that he agreed with the post but wanted to add an important point made in his August 17, 2006, Wall Street Journal letter, which read as follows:

Based on my experience from service with the United Nations in Egypt, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon in the 1950s and ’60s, along with several later visits to the region and lifelong studies of its history, I present the following comments regarding [Lebanon’s] suffering.

The U.N.’s partition of Palestine in 1947 was the only possible, realistic situation. The partition would have come about anyhow due to the situation on the ground. But especially since the U.N. Relief and Works Agency took responsibility for the Arab refugee problem in 1949, the U.N. has represented a hindrance to the peaceful settlement of the partition conflict by taking the responsibility for the refugees from the responsible Arab countries: Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only one of many in the region, but it has since served as the bouc emissaire for all the religious and political problems in the Islamic world.

Much-greater human problems concerning territories and refugees were solved (without the U.N. of course) after World War II. The Arab states, helped by the U.N., are responsible for keeping the Israeli-Palestinian conflict alive and have used it cleverly to overshadow their lack of religious and political will and/or capacity to civilize their societies. The Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was an outstanding exception, and we know what happened to him. Another was King Hussein of Jordan. But apart from that, the absence of statesmen, intellectuals and journalists is remarkable.

The great dramatist Henrik Ibsen described a human phenomenon: livslognen or, here in Spain, la mentira vital. “The life lie”: this bigoted belief that all one’s problems are the fault of others. In my opinion, that very clearly characterizes the Arab world’s general politics since World War II.

Since the 1948 war they started, the Arab states have kept the resulting refugees (and generation after generation of their children) in squalid camps, lest their resettlement be deemed an acceptance of Israel. The refugees in Lebanon have not been given rights to hold property, obtain higher education, or work in numerous professions, much less the right of citizenship in the country in which they have lived all or most of their lives over six decades. Instead, they are kept in a culture of dependency served by UNRWA — a “temporary” UN agency formed in 1949, now a bloated bureaucracy in its seventh decade and funded primarily by the U.S. and other Western countries.

The refugee problem will not be solved by “negotiations” between Israel and Mahmoud Abbas. The solution will require a fundamental change in perspective — one that might begin if a U.S. president were ever to travel to Cairo and call for an end to UNRWA, in a speech that would term the treatment of Arab refugees by Arab countries an affront to human rights, and that would end by challenging the leaders of the Arab countries to “tear down those camps.”

Read Less

A Bill to Foster True Peace

Israel took a step this week toward improving its long-term prospects for peace and security, when the Knesset voted by a large majority (68-22) to advance a bill creating a ratification procedure for ceding sovereign Israeli territory.

Incredibly, Israeli law currently requires no ratification process — even a Knesset vote — for most territorial concessions. In practice, governments have always sought Knesset approval, but legally, cabinet approval is enough. And because no law requires otherwise, even the slimmest Knesset majority is deemed sufficient: the Oslo 2 agreement, for instance, passed 61-59.

The current bill would require approval by either a two-thirds Knesset majority (80 MKs) or a simple majority in a national referendum. It has therefore sparked howls of outrage from the Left, which charges that this requirement would preclude any agreement with either the Palestinians or Syria.

That is obvious nonsense: more than 80 MKs supported the peace treaties with both Egypt and Jordan, so the hurdle clearly isn’t insurmountable.

Nevertheless, several withdrawals have failed to muster that level of Knesset support, including the first and second Oslo accords (1993 and 1995) and the 2005 disengagement from Gaza (whether they would have passed a referendum is unknowable). And that is precisely the point: because only agreements with clear benefits and demonstrable chances of success would be able to pass, a stringent ratification procedure could save Israel from disastrous deals.

The Egyptian and Jordanian treaties, which did pass the proposed hurdle, have in fact proved beneficial. Both countries maintain a cold peace and often work against Israel in international forums, but nevertheless, both have given Israelis what they most wanted: no more war, and no more cross-border terror.

The Oslo accords and the disengagement, in contrast, were security disasters. In the first 30 months after Oslo 1, Palestinians killed more Israelis than in the entire preceding decade. In the second intifada, Palestinian terror claimed more Israeli victims than it had in the preceding 53 years. And since the disengagement, southern Israel has endured almost 6,000 rocket and mortar strikes.

Nor are these results coincidental. The Egyptian and Jordanian accords received such widespread support precisely because there was strong evidence that they would succeed: Anwar Sadat’s dramatic visit to Jerusalem demonstrated a real desire for peace; Jordan had proved the same via a decades-long cease-fire. In contrast, there was very little evidence of a true Palestinian desire for peace. And while the plea to “give peace a chance” evidently suffices to muster a simple Knesset majority for just about anything, a two-thirds majority is hard to secure without evidence that peace is, in fact, likely to result.

Regrettably, the current bill would have prevented neither Oslo nor the disengagement: it applies only to territory that Israel has formally annexed (the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem), whereas it ought to cover all territorial concessions. But even in its current form, it would help prevent similarly disastrous final-status deals with either the Palestinians or Syria. Its enactment would therefore be an important step toward achieving real peace and security for Israel.

Israel took a step this week toward improving its long-term prospects for peace and security, when the Knesset voted by a large majority (68-22) to advance a bill creating a ratification procedure for ceding sovereign Israeli territory.

Incredibly, Israeli law currently requires no ratification process — even a Knesset vote — for most territorial concessions. In practice, governments have always sought Knesset approval, but legally, cabinet approval is enough. And because no law requires otherwise, even the slimmest Knesset majority is deemed sufficient: the Oslo 2 agreement, for instance, passed 61-59.

The current bill would require approval by either a two-thirds Knesset majority (80 MKs) or a simple majority in a national referendum. It has therefore sparked howls of outrage from the Left, which charges that this requirement would preclude any agreement with either the Palestinians or Syria.

That is obvious nonsense: more than 80 MKs supported the peace treaties with both Egypt and Jordan, so the hurdle clearly isn’t insurmountable.

Nevertheless, several withdrawals have failed to muster that level of Knesset support, including the first and second Oslo accords (1993 and 1995) and the 2005 disengagement from Gaza (whether they would have passed a referendum is unknowable). And that is precisely the point: because only agreements with clear benefits and demonstrable chances of success would be able to pass, a stringent ratification procedure could save Israel from disastrous deals.

The Egyptian and Jordanian treaties, which did pass the proposed hurdle, have in fact proved beneficial. Both countries maintain a cold peace and often work against Israel in international forums, but nevertheless, both have given Israelis what they most wanted: no more war, and no more cross-border terror.

The Oslo accords and the disengagement, in contrast, were security disasters. In the first 30 months after Oslo 1, Palestinians killed more Israelis than in the entire preceding decade. In the second intifada, Palestinian terror claimed more Israeli victims than it had in the preceding 53 years. And since the disengagement, southern Israel has endured almost 6,000 rocket and mortar strikes.

Nor are these results coincidental. The Egyptian and Jordanian accords received such widespread support precisely because there was strong evidence that they would succeed: Anwar Sadat’s dramatic visit to Jerusalem demonstrated a real desire for peace; Jordan had proved the same via a decades-long cease-fire. In contrast, there was very little evidence of a true Palestinian desire for peace. And while the plea to “give peace a chance” evidently suffices to muster a simple Knesset majority for just about anything, a two-thirds majority is hard to secure without evidence that peace is, in fact, likely to result.

Regrettably, the current bill would have prevented neither Oslo nor the disengagement: it applies only to territory that Israel has formally annexed (the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem), whereas it ought to cover all territorial concessions. But even in its current form, it would help prevent similarly disastrous final-status deals with either the Palestinians or Syria. Its enactment would therefore be an important step toward achieving real peace and security for Israel.

Read Less

Cheney and the Road Map

I have to disagree with you, Eric. Cheney’s visit was interesting. As far as I can tell, the vice president, bless him, threw down a subtle but unmistakable rebuke to his frequent-flier colleague. At the opening Olmert-Cheney press conference, Cheney said this:

America’s commitment to Israel’s security is enduring and unshakeable, as is our commitment to Israel’s right to defend itself always against terrorism, rocket attacks and other threats from forces dedicated to Israel’s destruction. The United States will never pressure Israel to take steps that threaten its security. . . .

History has clearly shown that when encountered by Arab partners like Anwar Sadat and the late King Hussein of Jordan, who accepted Israel’s permanence and are willing and capable of delivering on their commitments, Israelis are prepared to make wrenching national sacrifices on behalf of peace. I have no doubt this is equally the case with Palestinians. [Emphasis mine.]

This seems to me a very sly variation of damning with faint praise — in this case, damning the Palestinians with as yet unjustified praise, to highlight the difference between their record and examples of actual Arab peacemaking.

Anyway, after a later meeting with Olmert, Cheney said about Gaza and the smuggling tunnels:

All of that obviously has resulted in the ongoing activity of launching rockets into Israel and threatening the lives of Israelis and obviously making it difficult for there to be the kind of progress that I think we would all like to see.

Recall one of Condi Rice’s great Annapolis feats, the destruction of the “sequentiality” of the 2003 Road Map, which insisted that an internal Palestinian war on terrorism must be the central prerequisite of the peace process. In the midst of the intifada, the idea was that it would be pointless to attempt to pursue a peace process when suicide bombings and jihad constituted the primary form of statecraft of the Palestinian Authority. Early this year, after Annapolis, Condi Rice surveyed the post-Road Map era and told reporters that

[T]he reason that we haven’t really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is that we were stuck in the sequentiality of the road map. So you had to do the first phase of the road map before you moved on to the third phase of the road map, which was the actual negotiations of final status.

What Annapolis did was to break that tight sequentiality and to say, you can do these in parallel — you can do road map obligations and negotiation for the final status in parallel.

A more honest statement would have been something like: “The reason that we haven’t really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is because the Palestinian Authority has not only failed to demonstrate even the slightest interest in confronting Palestinian terrorism, the PA itself has been deeply implicated in terrorism. So we’re jettisoning the requirements of the Road Map because of both the insurmountability of the Palestinian terrorism problem and our own desire to cultivate an image of Bush administration-led progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Obviously, there’s not the slightest chance that Rice (or any Secretary of State) would ever say such a thing; but it’s what she meant. And I also suspect that the real thrust of Cheney’s public statements during his visit was: Condi, get real. I furthermore suspect that Cheney resents having to participate in the peace process charade in the first place. But there was no elegant way he could have made those points.

I have to disagree with you, Eric. Cheney’s visit was interesting. As far as I can tell, the vice president, bless him, threw down a subtle but unmistakable rebuke to his frequent-flier colleague. At the opening Olmert-Cheney press conference, Cheney said this:

America’s commitment to Israel’s security is enduring and unshakeable, as is our commitment to Israel’s right to defend itself always against terrorism, rocket attacks and other threats from forces dedicated to Israel’s destruction. The United States will never pressure Israel to take steps that threaten its security. . . .

History has clearly shown that when encountered by Arab partners like Anwar Sadat and the late King Hussein of Jordan, who accepted Israel’s permanence and are willing and capable of delivering on their commitments, Israelis are prepared to make wrenching national sacrifices on behalf of peace. I have no doubt this is equally the case with Palestinians. [Emphasis mine.]

This seems to me a very sly variation of damning with faint praise — in this case, damning the Palestinians with as yet unjustified praise, to highlight the difference between their record and examples of actual Arab peacemaking.

Anyway, after a later meeting with Olmert, Cheney said about Gaza and the smuggling tunnels:

All of that obviously has resulted in the ongoing activity of launching rockets into Israel and threatening the lives of Israelis and obviously making it difficult for there to be the kind of progress that I think we would all like to see.

Recall one of Condi Rice’s great Annapolis feats, the destruction of the “sequentiality” of the 2003 Road Map, which insisted that an internal Palestinian war on terrorism must be the central prerequisite of the peace process. In the midst of the intifada, the idea was that it would be pointless to attempt to pursue a peace process when suicide bombings and jihad constituted the primary form of statecraft of the Palestinian Authority. Early this year, after Annapolis, Condi Rice surveyed the post-Road Map era and told reporters that

[T]he reason that we haven’t really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is that we were stuck in the sequentiality of the road map. So you had to do the first phase of the road map before you moved on to the third phase of the road map, which was the actual negotiations of final status.

What Annapolis did was to break that tight sequentiality and to say, you can do these in parallel — you can do road map obligations and negotiation for the final status in parallel.

A more honest statement would have been something like: “The reason that we haven’t really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is because the Palestinian Authority has not only failed to demonstrate even the slightest interest in confronting Palestinian terrorism, the PA itself has been deeply implicated in terrorism. So we’re jettisoning the requirements of the Road Map because of both the insurmountability of the Palestinian terrorism problem and our own desire to cultivate an image of Bush administration-led progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Obviously, there’s not the slightest chance that Rice (or any Secretary of State) would ever say such a thing; but it’s what she meant. And I also suspect that the real thrust of Cheney’s public statements during his visit was: Condi, get real. I furthermore suspect that Cheney resents having to participate in the peace process charade in the first place. But there was no elegant way he could have made those points.

Read Less

Now Playing: Egypt and Iran

It seems as though Iran is making new inroads with key Arab states almost every few days. Three weeks ago, I wrote that Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie had called for a regional security pact that would include Iran, while I noted on Monday that Libya—which is slowly achieving normalization with western states—had signed ten agreements with Iran and supported the Iranian nuclear position. But Iran’s ever-expanding role in the Middle East got a major boost yesterday, when Ali Larijani, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, was welcomed in Egypt. Fully normalized Egyptian-Iranian relations—nonexistent since Cairo signed peace with Israel in 1979—appear imminent.

To some extent, revamped Iranian-Egyptian relations have been expected for some time. In 2004, Iran renamed a street in Tehran that it had previously dedicated to Anwar Sadat assassin Khaled Islambouli—a glorified “martyr” in Iran—thus dropping a critical sticking point between the two states. But yesterday’s meeting went well beyond typical diplomatic pleasantries: Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit announced his support for Iran’s nuclear activities and called for continued Egyptian-Iranian dialogue on regional issues, including Iraq and Lebanon.

Read More

It seems as though Iran is making new inroads with key Arab states almost every few days. Three weeks ago, I wrote that Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie had called for a regional security pact that would include Iran, while I noted on Monday that Libya—which is slowly achieving normalization with western states—had signed ten agreements with Iran and supported the Iranian nuclear position. But Iran’s ever-expanding role in the Middle East got a major boost yesterday, when Ali Larijani, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, was welcomed in Egypt. Fully normalized Egyptian-Iranian relations—nonexistent since Cairo signed peace with Israel in 1979—appear imminent.

To some extent, revamped Iranian-Egyptian relations have been expected for some time. In 2004, Iran renamed a street in Tehran that it had previously dedicated to Anwar Sadat assassin Khaled Islambouli—a glorified “martyr” in Iran—thus dropping a critical sticking point between the two states. But yesterday’s meeting went well beyond typical diplomatic pleasantries: Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit announced his support for Iran’s nuclear activities and called for continued Egyptian-Iranian dialogue on regional issues, including Iraq and Lebanon.

For Egypt, these statements represent a stunning change of tune. In recent years, Egypt has been a key Arab opponent of regional Iranian ascendancy, lambasting Iranian-backed Hizballah for its actions during the 2006 Lebanon war, and supporting the Annapolis conference as an antidote to Iranian hegemony. Yet within Iran’s sphere of influence, Abul-Gheit’s comments were true crowd-pleasers, with Hizballah leader Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah gleefully declaring that improved Iranian-Egyptian relations “would help protect Muslim countries against major threats,” including those emanating from “the U.S. and the Zionist regime.” Meanwhile, Iran offered to help Egypt develop nuclear technology, crossing a major red line as far as U.S.-Egyptian relations are concerned.

The key footnote to this sudden Iranian-Egyptian engagement is the recent souring of Israeli-Egyptian relations. Last month, Israel showed U.S. officials a tape of Egyptian police officers aiding weapons smugglers crossing into Gaza, and Congress immediately threatened to withhold Egyptian military aid. Abul-Gheit first blamed the pro-Israel lobby for the impasse, then threatened “diplomatic retaliation” if Israel pursued Egypt’s alleged role in weapons smuggling further.

Of course, with President Bush set to touch down in Israel and the Palestinian territories next week, mending Israeli-Egyptian relations is the last thing with which the administration hoped to be dealing. Yet much of what Bush hopes to accomplish in the Middle East before leaving office—particularly Israeli-Palestinian peace and Iranian isolation—depends on keeping this relationship stable. The good news is that Bush will also visit Cairo. Asking the Mubarak regime to explain its recent tryst with Iran should top that agenda.

Read Less

The Yom Kippur War—for Kids!

Video games loosely based on historic wars are nothing new. But the recently released “October War,” which invites children to “fight the Israeli Air Force starting from Swais [sic] til Barliv [sic] Line,” offers a new twist to the genre: it is available exclusively on the Anwar Sadat website’s “Kids Corner,” thus making it the first war-themed video game to be released on the official website of a former head-of-state. Indeed, dedicated gamers will be disappointed to find that the Harry S. Truman Library’s kids page lacks similarly inappropriate atomic bomb video games, while other typically dry former head-of-state websites won’t even arouse their curiosity.

Compared to far bloodier video games, “October War” might seem harmless. In the two-dimensional game, players command a tank across various swaths of the Sinai Desert, shooting at an assortment of Israeli bombers, helicopters, trucks, and warships. The game seems deliberately unrealistic: the Egyptian tank is able to arm itself with nuclear weapons and laser beams, while a Star-of-David-clad, King Kong-like gorilla confronts players at the end of the fifth level. (On the other hand, just like in 1973, the Egyptian tank is severely overpowered and destined to lose.) Were it not for the Israeli insignias prominently displayed on every enemy vehicle, “October War” would seem like a more colorful version of Space Invaders.

Read More

Video games loosely based on historic wars are nothing new. But the recently released “October War,” which invites children to “fight the Israeli Air Force starting from Swais [sic] til Barliv [sic] Line,” offers a new twist to the genre: it is available exclusively on the Anwar Sadat website’s “Kids Corner,” thus making it the first war-themed video game to be released on the official website of a former head-of-state. Indeed, dedicated gamers will be disappointed to find that the Harry S. Truman Library’s kids page lacks similarly inappropriate atomic bomb video games, while other typically dry former head-of-state websites won’t even arouse their curiosity.

Compared to far bloodier video games, “October War” might seem harmless. In the two-dimensional game, players command a tank across various swaths of the Sinai Desert, shooting at an assortment of Israeli bombers, helicopters, trucks, and warships. The game seems deliberately unrealistic: the Egyptian tank is able to arm itself with nuclear weapons and laser beams, while a Star-of-David-clad, King Kong-like gorilla confronts players at the end of the fifth level. (On the other hand, just like in 1973, the Egyptian tank is severely overpowered and destined to lose.) Were it not for the Israeli insignias prominently displayed on every enemy vehicle, “October War” would seem like a more colorful version of Space Invaders.

But as “October War” represents an attempt to introduce children to the legacy of Anwar Sadat, it is a deeply pernicious game. By using the video game to emphasize Sadat’s surprise attack on Israel over his subsequent Nobel Prize-winning peace overture, the site’s webmasters are imbuing Egyptian children with disturbing nostalgia for Arab-Israeli war. Of course, “October War” merely reinforces the sentimentality for wars with Israel that Egyptian children would have been taught long before they got hooked on “October War.” Such sentiment can be found in textbooks and commemorative war murals plastered along Egyptian highways. Egyptian students enjoy October 6 holiday weekends and participate in school trips to the North Korean-funded October War Panorama (where visitors are told that Egypt defeated Israel).

This vitriol for Israel—even in a country enjoying nearly thirty years of peace with the Jewish State—is, pathetically, par for the course in the Arab world. One hopes, however, that young “October War” players will see the game—and persistent hatred for Israel more generally—for what it is: a distraction from their homework and, ultimately, a gross waste of time.

Read Less

The Zbig Lie

On Wednesday, the Obama campaign received an important new endorsement: Zbigniew Brzezinski, best known for having been Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, introduced Obama on the occasion of his Iraq speech in Iowa. Expect to hear a great deal from Brzezinski about his triumphs of Middle East diplomacy, which he—not to mention Jimmy Carter—is quite fond of recounting. “The fact of the matter is that I’m part of the only administration that brought about peace between Israel and its neighbors,” Brzezinski told NBC News on the day Obama delivered his Iraq policy speech. “And so I’m proud of my record in the Middle East.”

This is a deceptive attempt at rewriting history, one that Brzezinski and his gang have been pursuing for years in an effort to manufacture retroactively a success story for the Carter administration. The administration didn’t “bring about” peace between Israel and Egypt so much as hold a summit at Camp David to work out the details after Israel and Egypt had already committed themselves, independently and entirely in pursuit of their own interests, to a peace treaty. From the outset of the Carter administration, the American commitment had been not to a deal between Israel and Egypt, but to a comprehensive resolution of the Palestinian question, and it was during the administration’s busy pursuit of a renewed Geneva Conference, inclusive of the Soviet Union, Israel, and the PLO, that the Israel-Egypt deal essentially fell into Carter’s lap.

Read More

On Wednesday, the Obama campaign received an important new endorsement: Zbigniew Brzezinski, best known for having been Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, introduced Obama on the occasion of his Iraq speech in Iowa. Expect to hear a great deal from Brzezinski about his triumphs of Middle East diplomacy, which he—not to mention Jimmy Carter—is quite fond of recounting. “The fact of the matter is that I’m part of the only administration that brought about peace between Israel and its neighbors,” Brzezinski told NBC News on the day Obama delivered his Iraq policy speech. “And so I’m proud of my record in the Middle East.”

This is a deceptive attempt at rewriting history, one that Brzezinski and his gang have been pursuing for years in an effort to manufacture retroactively a success story for the Carter administration. The administration didn’t “bring about” peace between Israel and Egypt so much as hold a summit at Camp David to work out the details after Israel and Egypt had already committed themselves, independently and entirely in pursuit of their own interests, to a peace treaty. From the outset of the Carter administration, the American commitment had been not to a deal between Israel and Egypt, but to a comprehensive resolution of the Palestinian question, and it was during the administration’s busy pursuit of a renewed Geneva Conference, inclusive of the Soviet Union, Israel, and the PLO, that the Israel-Egypt deal essentially fell into Carter’s lap.

In the mid-1970′s, Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian dictator, was in a bad position: The war he launched in 1973 to wrest the Sinai back from Israel had been a humiliating catastrophe, and he was under growing internal pressure to do something—anything—to salvage Egypt’s honor and retrieve its lost territory. Sidelined by the Carter administration’s focus on the Palestinians, Sadat’s only option was to pursue the Sinai through peaceful means, by directly engaging Israel. A series of monumental and previously unthinkable events took place: In November 1977, Sadat announced to the Egyptian parliament that “Israel will be astonished to hear me say now, before you, that I am prepared to go to their own house, to the Knesset itself, to talk to them.” Four days later Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin formally invited Sadat to Jerusalem, and a week later Sadat’s plane touched down at Ben Gurion airport. Sadat visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, and then addressed the Knesset, declaring that “we accept living with you in peace and justice.” All of this happened entirely independent of—and actually in defiance of—the Carter administration, whose agenda in the region was entirely focused on laying the groundwork for the hoped-for Geneva Conference (which never ended up happening).

The Carter administration was caught completely off guard by this sudden rapprochement, and had no option but to try to include itself as much as possible in the dealmaking. By the time the Camp David summit was convened in September 1978, the only thorny issue left to resolve was the question of whether there would be any Israeli presence left in the Sinai as part of a peace treaty; Begin was initially intransigent on the question, but eventually conceded to a complete withdrawal. Peace between Israel and Egypt was born.

And so today, when Brzezinski brags to the press about how his dedication to diplomacy got results—as opposed, he intones, to the senseless warmongering of the Bush administration—we are witnessing a self-aggrandizing swindle, an attempt not only at enhancing the legacy of the Carter administration but of advancing the proposition that in the Middle East, peace is always possible with the right amount of skilled and dedicated American diplomacy.

The true lesson of the Egypt-Israel rapprochement is actually the opposite of what people like Brzezinski would like it to be: It is a lesson in the sometimes irrelevance of American diplomacy in forging peace between nations, and more importantly it is an example of the reality that peace between implacable foes is usually only possible when one has so thoroughly beaten the other on the battlefield that the defeated party is left with only one option, to sue for peace. People like Brzezinski would like us to believe that heroic diplomacy in 1978 midwifed a peace treaty. Candidate Obama will be ill-served listening to this nonsense.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.