Commentary Magazine


Topic: Avigdor Lieberman

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.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A good question. “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday slammed the world’s response to North Korea’s attack on its southern neighbor, saying the international community was showing weakness in the face of aggression. … ‘How will the world be able to stop Iran if it can’t stop North Korea,’ Lieberman said.”

A good example of the power of the Tea Party. “In one of the biggest election surprises of the year, Ann Marie Buerkle is officially the winner in New York’s 25th congressional district. Ms. Buerkle was ahead by some 800 votes on Election Day, and after several thousand absentee ballots were finally counted her lead held up. Ms. Buerkle is a nurse and mother of six who had never sought political office. She knocked off Dan Maffei, a life long politician and a protégé of scandal-plagued Charlie Rangel.”

A good bit of advice. “The incoming class of House Republicans is being urged to re-read the Constitution, carefully deal with the press and become very familiar with congressional ethics rules.”

A “good grief” report: “Fed lowers economic expectations for 2011.” They could be lower?

A good reminder that our awful policy toward North Korea is a bipartisan undertaking. Charles Krauthammer on the revelations of an advanced nuclear plan in North Korea: “The farce began 16 years ago when the Clinton administration concluded what was called the framework agreement in which the deal was they would freeze and then dismantle their plutonium program in return for all kinds of goodies, including two nuclear reactors that we would construct, and a lot of, a lot of economic support.”

A good reason not to send your kid to NYU. “A New York University arts professor might not have eyes on the back of his head, but he’s coming pretty close. Wafaa Bilal, a visual artist widely recognized for his interactive and performance pieces, had a small digital camera implanted in the back of his head — all in the name of art.”

Not a good thing for Mitt Romney’s outreach to the Tea Party crowd. President “Read My Lips,” George H.W. Bush, endorsed him for president.

A good question. “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday slammed the world’s response to North Korea’s attack on its southern neighbor, saying the international community was showing weakness in the face of aggression. … ‘How will the world be able to stop Iran if it can’t stop North Korea,’ Lieberman said.”

A good example of the power of the Tea Party. “In one of the biggest election surprises of the year, Ann Marie Buerkle is officially the winner in New York’s 25th congressional district. Ms. Buerkle was ahead by some 800 votes on Election Day, and after several thousand absentee ballots were finally counted her lead held up. Ms. Buerkle is a nurse and mother of six who had never sought political office. She knocked off Dan Maffei, a life long politician and a protégé of scandal-plagued Charlie Rangel.”

A good bit of advice. “The incoming class of House Republicans is being urged to re-read the Constitution, carefully deal with the press and become very familiar with congressional ethics rules.”

A “good grief” report: “Fed lowers economic expectations for 2011.” They could be lower?

A good reminder that our awful policy toward North Korea is a bipartisan undertaking. Charles Krauthammer on the revelations of an advanced nuclear plan in North Korea: “The farce began 16 years ago when the Clinton administration concluded what was called the framework agreement in which the deal was they would freeze and then dismantle their plutonium program in return for all kinds of goodies, including two nuclear reactors that we would construct, and a lot of, a lot of economic support.”

A good reason not to send your kid to NYU. “A New York University arts professor might not have eyes on the back of his head, but he’s coming pretty close. Wafaa Bilal, a visual artist widely recognized for his interactive and performance pieces, had a small digital camera implanted in the back of his head — all in the name of art.”

Not a good thing for Mitt Romney’s outreach to the Tea Party crowd. President “Read My Lips,” George H.W. Bush, endorsed him for president.

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The Israel Obsession Claims Another Victim: Europe’s Global Status

In his usual undiplomatic fashion, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told his French and Spanish counterparts yesterday that they should solve Europe’s own problems — like Kosovo and Cyprus — before trying to tell Israel how to solve its problems. That predictably infuriated his guests. Yet in this instance, Lieberman was largely echoing the advice of one of the European Union’s own members — and not one known for pro-Israel sentiment.

Last month, Finnish Foreign Minister Alex Stubb presented the results of research he conducted into what EU foreign ministers do and don’t discuss during their monthly meetings. The results were astounding.

For instance, he found that over the past four years, the ministers had held exactly one discussion on the role of China as a foreign policy power. Yet given China’s growing assertiveness on the world stage, that would surely rank at the top of just about anyone’s list of major foreign policy issues.

So what were EU foreign ministers devoting their time to instead? To quote the New York Times’ summary,

Mr. Stubb’s research shows how foreign ministers tend to devote their discussions to crises, and to issues where Europe has limited influence.

For example, in 2009 and 2010, European foreign ministers discussed the Middle East peace process 12 times.

In other words, the ministers devoted more than half of their monthly meetings during this period (since 2010 isn’t a full year) to the Middle East peace process — an issue on which, by their own admission, they have little influence. Indeed, the main purpose of this week’s Israel visit was “to raise European involvement in the current diplomatic process, at a time when the EU’s role has proven very minimal.”

As a result, they have been neglecting issues of far more importance, like how to deal with a rising China. And the result is that Europe is rapidly losing its global power and influence. As Stubb said earlier last month, “Arguably, today Turkey is more influential in the world than any of our member states together or separately” — an embarrassing admission from a bloc that has repeatedly spurned this unwanted applicant for membership from Europe’s eastern flank.

Stubb’s conclusion from his research was that “for too long we have been preaching, paternalizing the rest of the world,” and now “we need to pick our fights better.”

That’s good general advice, but his own findings indicate that the problem is a good deal more specific: it’s the EU’s obsession with Israel in particular that has served as the main distraction. This obsession has prevented it from devoting time and attention to more important issues, like China, and to issues on which the EU could have a greater impact. And consequently, it has contributed significantly to the EU’s waning global status.

I’ve written repeatedly about the price the global obsession with Israel exacts worldwide, from victims of human rights abuses whose plights are ignored owing to this obsession, to Western democracy itself. But it seems that the Israel obsession can now chalk up one more victim: European power.

In his usual undiplomatic fashion, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told his French and Spanish counterparts yesterday that they should solve Europe’s own problems — like Kosovo and Cyprus — before trying to tell Israel how to solve its problems. That predictably infuriated his guests. Yet in this instance, Lieberman was largely echoing the advice of one of the European Union’s own members — and not one known for pro-Israel sentiment.

Last month, Finnish Foreign Minister Alex Stubb presented the results of research he conducted into what EU foreign ministers do and don’t discuss during their monthly meetings. The results were astounding.

For instance, he found that over the past four years, the ministers had held exactly one discussion on the role of China as a foreign policy power. Yet given China’s growing assertiveness on the world stage, that would surely rank at the top of just about anyone’s list of major foreign policy issues.

So what were EU foreign ministers devoting their time to instead? To quote the New York Times’ summary,

Mr. Stubb’s research shows how foreign ministers tend to devote their discussions to crises, and to issues where Europe has limited influence.

For example, in 2009 and 2010, European foreign ministers discussed the Middle East peace process 12 times.

In other words, the ministers devoted more than half of their monthly meetings during this period (since 2010 isn’t a full year) to the Middle East peace process — an issue on which, by their own admission, they have little influence. Indeed, the main purpose of this week’s Israel visit was “to raise European involvement in the current diplomatic process, at a time when the EU’s role has proven very minimal.”

As a result, they have been neglecting issues of far more importance, like how to deal with a rising China. And the result is that Europe is rapidly losing its global power and influence. As Stubb said earlier last month, “Arguably, today Turkey is more influential in the world than any of our member states together or separately” — an embarrassing admission from a bloc that has repeatedly spurned this unwanted applicant for membership from Europe’s eastern flank.

Stubb’s conclusion from his research was that “for too long we have been preaching, paternalizing the rest of the world,” and now “we need to pick our fights better.”

That’s good general advice, but his own findings indicate that the problem is a good deal more specific: it’s the EU’s obsession with Israel in particular that has served as the main distraction. This obsession has prevented it from devoting time and attention to more important issues, like China, and to issues on which the EU could have a greater impact. And consequently, it has contributed significantly to the EU’s waning global status.

I’ve written repeatedly about the price the global obsession with Israel exacts worldwide, from victims of human rights abuses whose plights are ignored owing to this obsession, to Western democracy itself. But it seems that the Israel obsession can now chalk up one more victim: European power.

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Netanyahu’s Lieberman-Livni Trap

In an ideal world, a foreign minister who publicly repudiated his prime minister’s positions on a key foreign-policy issue from the podium of the UN General Assembly would be fired instantly. So why didn’t Benjamin Netanyahu fire Avigdor Lieberman when the latter repudiated his boss’s Palestinian policy in his UN address yesterday? There’s a two-word answer: Tzipi Livni.

Firing Lieberman would push his 15-man faction out of the coalition, leaving Netanyahu with a minority government. Even if such a government survived, it couldn’t accomplish anything. And it certainly wouldn’t have either the moral authority to conduct delicate and controversial negotiations or the political power to sell any deal to the public.

But the only possible replacement for Lieberman’s party is Kadima: the other non-coalition parties are five splinter factions, one far-left, one far-right, and three Arab. And Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni’s conditions for joining are so outrageous that even public humiliation by Lieberman is preferable.

When Netanyahu was elected last year, Kadima was actually his preferred coalition partner, because its views on many domestic issues resemble his. Since the “peace process” seemed to be going nowhere, he hoped Kadima would ally with his Likud to address crucial domestic problems that had been neglected for years as successive governments devoted themselves either to fruitless peace talks or to coping with the terror they inevitably spawned.

But in the ensuing coalition talks, Livni posed two unacceptable demands.

One was that she and Netanyahu should rotate the prime minister’s job, with each serving part of the term. Israel has had rotation governments before, when neither major party could form a coalition on its own. But in this case, the center-right bloc led by Netanyahu trounced Livni’s leftist bloc, 65 seats to 44. Thus Livni was essentially demanding that Netanyahu throw away his victory, overturn the will of the voters, and crown her prime minister instead — something no self-respecting politician could do.

Her second condition, however, was even worse: she demanded that during Netanyahu’s stint as prime minister, she, as foreign minister, should have sole and exclusive authority over Israeli-Palestinian talks. In other words, she wanted the elected prime minister to abdicate control over one of the most important issues in the government’s portfolio: negotiations that will determine Israel’s border, the status of its capital, security arrangements, and more.

That, too, is something to which no prime minister could consent — especially when Kadima’s views on the peace process are so radically opposed to Likud’s: The last Kadima-led government, in which Livni served as foreign minister, even offered to cede the Western Wall!

And if these were Livni’s demands when she knew Netanyahu had a viable alternative (the government he eventually formed), one can only imagine what her demands would be should Netanyahu oust Lieberman, leaving himself utterly dependent on her.

It’s a pity that Israel’s opposition leader is too egomaniacal, even by political standards, to be a viable partner. But in a reality where his only alternative is Livni’s exorbitant and dangerous substantive demands, Netanyahu has no choice but to swallow Lieberman’s insults and try to contain the diplomatic fallout.

In an ideal world, a foreign minister who publicly repudiated his prime minister’s positions on a key foreign-policy issue from the podium of the UN General Assembly would be fired instantly. So why didn’t Benjamin Netanyahu fire Avigdor Lieberman when the latter repudiated his boss’s Palestinian policy in his UN address yesterday? There’s a two-word answer: Tzipi Livni.

Firing Lieberman would push his 15-man faction out of the coalition, leaving Netanyahu with a minority government. Even if such a government survived, it couldn’t accomplish anything. And it certainly wouldn’t have either the moral authority to conduct delicate and controversial negotiations or the political power to sell any deal to the public.

But the only possible replacement for Lieberman’s party is Kadima: the other non-coalition parties are five splinter factions, one far-left, one far-right, and three Arab. And Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni’s conditions for joining are so outrageous that even public humiliation by Lieberman is preferable.

When Netanyahu was elected last year, Kadima was actually his preferred coalition partner, because its views on many domestic issues resemble his. Since the “peace process” seemed to be going nowhere, he hoped Kadima would ally with his Likud to address crucial domestic problems that had been neglected for years as successive governments devoted themselves either to fruitless peace talks or to coping with the terror they inevitably spawned.

But in the ensuing coalition talks, Livni posed two unacceptable demands.

One was that she and Netanyahu should rotate the prime minister’s job, with each serving part of the term. Israel has had rotation governments before, when neither major party could form a coalition on its own. But in this case, the center-right bloc led by Netanyahu trounced Livni’s leftist bloc, 65 seats to 44. Thus Livni was essentially demanding that Netanyahu throw away his victory, overturn the will of the voters, and crown her prime minister instead — something no self-respecting politician could do.

Her second condition, however, was even worse: she demanded that during Netanyahu’s stint as prime minister, she, as foreign minister, should have sole and exclusive authority over Israeli-Palestinian talks. In other words, she wanted the elected prime minister to abdicate control over one of the most important issues in the government’s portfolio: negotiations that will determine Israel’s border, the status of its capital, security arrangements, and more.

That, too, is something to which no prime minister could consent — especially when Kadima’s views on the peace process are so radically opposed to Likud’s: The last Kadima-led government, in which Livni served as foreign minister, even offered to cede the Western Wall!

And if these were Livni’s demands when she knew Netanyahu had a viable alternative (the government he eventually formed), one can only imagine what her demands would be should Netanyahu oust Lieberman, leaving himself utterly dependent on her.

It’s a pity that Israel’s opposition leader is too egomaniacal, even by political standards, to be a viable partner. But in a reality where his only alternative is Livni’s exorbitant and dangerous substantive demands, Netanyahu has no choice but to swallow Lieberman’s insults and try to contain the diplomatic fallout.

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Why Mahmoud Abbas Cannot Make Peace

Once in a while, I “meet” someone online, on blogs and in comment sections, who thinks the current round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks might end the conflict, but I don’t think I know anyone in person who lives in the Middle East who believes this. Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh summed up the consensus view a few days ago. “The peace process is going nowhere,” he wrote, “and everyone is just pretending.”

Nations make peace with their enemies, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — also known as Abu Mazen — is not really Israel’s enemy. He’s hardly a friend or an ally, but the Israeli army and Abbas’s security forces have a better and more professional working relationship with each other right now than they ever have. Even Israel’s hard-line foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, doesn’t think of Abbas as the leader of the enemy camp. “I repeat,” he said a few weeks ago, “Abu Mazen will not fight us.”

Israel’s enemy is the Resistance Bloc consisting of Syria, Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah. No one from that bloc is participating in peace talks. Even if Abbas signed a treaty with Israel — a most unlikely event while Hamas holds a gun to his head and even he refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state — it would only mean the war between Israel and Abbas was over. But that war is effectively, though perhaps just temporarily, over already. Not much would actually change. The Arab-Israeli conflict would rage on, as would the Islamist-Israeli conflict. Not even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would end if Abbas signed a treaty. He couldn’t enforce it.

“By being forced out of the Gaza Strip,” Toameh wrote, “Abbas lost direct control over some 1.5 million Palestinians, roughly half the Palestinians living in the Palestinian territories. … So if Abbas cannot go to the Gaza Strip and has limited control over the West Bank, where is he supposed to implement a peace agreement? In downtown Ramallah? In Tel Aviv?”

The only reason he retains even limited authority is because he extended his expired term in office and is propped up by Israel. He has no authority whatsoever in Gaza and lacks even influence in Lebanon, Syria, and Iran.

If the Iran-led Resistance Bloc was wounded or crumbling, if it was under irresistible pressure from within and without to reform or die, a deal might be possible and would be worth exploring. But that’s not what’s happening. None of the bloc’s leaders will even start peace talks, let alone finish them, while they’re rising in power and have no need to change.

Just a few years ago, Hamas was but one force among several in Gaza, but today it rules with a totalitarian fist. Syria and Hezbollah have seized de facto control over Lebanon, despite Hezbollah’s poor performance in the recent election, while Iran is nearing the threshold of becoming a nuclear-armed regional superpower.

If Abbas had the authority of the Jordanian and Egyptian governments, he might be able to force a cold peace on his people, but he doesn’t. The Resistance Bloc has successfully embedded itself in the Palestinian population and rules roughly half of it. Hamas would simply ignore any treaty Abbas might sign and continue its war against Israel, just as Hezbollah does whatever it wants up north in Lebanon. Abbas can’t put a stop even to his own part of this region-wide conflict any more than Saad Hariri in Beirut can end his.

Once in a while, I “meet” someone online, on blogs and in comment sections, who thinks the current round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks might end the conflict, but I don’t think I know anyone in person who lives in the Middle East who believes this. Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh summed up the consensus view a few days ago. “The peace process is going nowhere,” he wrote, “and everyone is just pretending.”

Nations make peace with their enemies, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — also known as Abu Mazen — is not really Israel’s enemy. He’s hardly a friend or an ally, but the Israeli army and Abbas’s security forces have a better and more professional working relationship with each other right now than they ever have. Even Israel’s hard-line foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, doesn’t think of Abbas as the leader of the enemy camp. “I repeat,” he said a few weeks ago, “Abu Mazen will not fight us.”

Israel’s enemy is the Resistance Bloc consisting of Syria, Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah. No one from that bloc is participating in peace talks. Even if Abbas signed a treaty with Israel — a most unlikely event while Hamas holds a gun to his head and even he refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state — it would only mean the war between Israel and Abbas was over. But that war is effectively, though perhaps just temporarily, over already. Not much would actually change. The Arab-Israeli conflict would rage on, as would the Islamist-Israeli conflict. Not even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would end if Abbas signed a treaty. He couldn’t enforce it.

“By being forced out of the Gaza Strip,” Toameh wrote, “Abbas lost direct control over some 1.5 million Palestinians, roughly half the Palestinians living in the Palestinian territories. … So if Abbas cannot go to the Gaza Strip and has limited control over the West Bank, where is he supposed to implement a peace agreement? In downtown Ramallah? In Tel Aviv?”

The only reason he retains even limited authority is because he extended his expired term in office and is propped up by Israel. He has no authority whatsoever in Gaza and lacks even influence in Lebanon, Syria, and Iran.

If the Iran-led Resistance Bloc was wounded or crumbling, if it was under irresistible pressure from within and without to reform or die, a deal might be possible and would be worth exploring. But that’s not what’s happening. None of the bloc’s leaders will even start peace talks, let alone finish them, while they’re rising in power and have no need to change.

Just a few years ago, Hamas was but one force among several in Gaza, but today it rules with a totalitarian fist. Syria and Hezbollah have seized de facto control over Lebanon, despite Hezbollah’s poor performance in the recent election, while Iran is nearing the threshold of becoming a nuclear-armed regional superpower.

If Abbas had the authority of the Jordanian and Egyptian governments, he might be able to force a cold peace on his people, but he doesn’t. The Resistance Bloc has successfully embedded itself in the Palestinian population and rules roughly half of it. Hamas would simply ignore any treaty Abbas might sign and continue its war against Israel, just as Hezbollah does whatever it wants up north in Lebanon. Abbas can’t put a stop even to his own part of this region-wide conflict any more than Saad Hariri in Beirut can end his.

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Bibi Is More Than Holding His Own

The challenge for the Israeli prime minister in managing the U.S.-Israeli relationship is immense. A complete rupture with the U.S. is fraught with peril, but quiet acquiescence to Obama’s assault on the Jewish state is untenable as well. It is indicative of how well Bibi has done in navigating through the Obama presidency that, in many respects, Obama is now in retreat. He has essentially repudiated his own NPT statement. He’s now publicly pressing for direct peace process talks, to the chagrin of the Palestinians, who were looking for a gift-wrapped state from Obama with no need for them to ever get in a room with the Israeli prime minister.

On Fox News Sunday, Bibi gave a strong performance and displayed how the balance has shifted in the “peace process”:

NETANYAHU: I don’t think we can make peace with an organization that seeks our destruction. That’s Hamas. But I think we can make peace with the Palestinian Authority. It requires a lot of courage from our side, from me. And it also requires courage from President Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.

It’s going to be a very tough negotiation, but one that I think our peoples are ripe for. Is Hamas going to be a part of it? No. As long as it wants to destroy Israel, it’s not going to be a part of it.

Now, at this point, I could tell you we’ll never negotiate with the Palestinian Authority as long as Hamas is in Gaza. That’s not my position. I think we should get on with it and seek to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We’ll have to deal with Hamas later.

WALLACE: But your foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, says he sees, quote, “no chance” — no chance — of a Palestinian state by 2012.

NETANYAHU: Well, you know, there are different views. There are people who have different ideas. We’re a democracy. We’re a parliamentary democracy. So people are entitled to have different views. They express them.

But I think that there is no substitute for getting into direct talks right now and seeking to break this logger jam, to actually go ahead and try to negotiate a final peace settlement.

WALLACE: Do you believe there can be a Palestinian state by 2012?

NETANYAHU: I think there can be a solution. It may be implemented over time, because time is an important factor of getting the solution, both in terms of security arrangements and other things that would be difficult if they’re not allowed to take place over time.

So I think the — can we have a negotiated peace? Yes. Can it be implemented by 2012? I think it’s going to take longer than that.

WALLACE: You say it will take courage on your part. Are you willing to put East Jerusalem as a possible capital of the Palestinian state on the table?

NETANYAHU: Well, we have differences of views with the Palestinians. We want a united city. They have their own views. We can — this is one of the issues that will have to be negotiated. But I think the main point is to get on with it.

In short, Bibi is doing everything possible to call the Palestinians’ — and Obama’s — bluff. You want a peace process? Let’s talk!

And on the settlement freeze, Bibi is also holding his ground — at least for now:

WALLACE: Have you and the president resolved the issue of whether you are willing to extend the moratorium on construction of settlements as part of the Palestinians engaging in direct talks?

NETANYAHU: The settlements are an issue that have to be engaged in the final status peace negotiations. That’s always been agreed on, along with other issues.

I made the exceptional, really extraordinary, move of making a freeze on new construction for 10 months — I did that seven months ago — in order to help the Palestinians get in the talks. They haven’t gotten into the talks right now.

Now we’re asked to make an extension of this. Look, I think this is — this is the wrong approach. I think we should eliminate all these preconditions and all these excuses and all those demands for entering into direct talks. We should just get into them.

Again, the message is  — if you want your own state, get in the room. For now it appears that Bibi is in no mood for more concessions. The Palestinians are frantic to find excuses and to avoid pulling back the curtain on the underlying truth that has animated the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for 60 years: the Palestinians lack the will and ability to make peace.

Finally, Bibi was also rather bold on Iran. Here, too, he skillfully threw the Obami’s own words back at them — and made clear that there is not much more time for Israel to wait patiently as the mullahs inch ever closer to membership in the nuclear club:

WALLACE: During your meeting with President Obama, you praised the recent round of sanctions, not just the U.N., but also the additional sanctions that President Obama signed, that the U.S. Congress passed, on Iran.

But recently, the CIA director, Leon Panetta, said this, “Will it deter them” — speaking of the Iranians — “from their ambitions with regards to a nuclear capability? Probably not.” Is Panetta right?

NETANYAHU: Probably. He’s probably right. I can tell you one thing, Iran is closer to developing nuclear weapons today than it was a week ago, or a month ago or a year ago. It’s just moving on with its efforts. And I think there is a great danger to the world, not only to my country but to the United States, to the Middle East, to peace, to all of humanity, from the prospect that such a regime that brutalizes its own people, that sponsors terrorism more than any other regime in the world — that this regime acquires atomic bombs is very, very dangerous.

WALLACE: U.S. officials estimate that Iran perhaps within two years will have a nuclear warhead it can put on a ballistic missile that can strike Israel, Europe, much of the world. Do you have a deadline in your own mind for how long you’re willing to let diplomacy play out?

NETANYAHU: There’s only been one time that Iran actually stopped the program, and that was when it feared U.S. military action. So the — when the president says that he’s determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and that all options are on the table, I think that’s the right statement of policy.

You ask what is our policy. Our policy is very simple. The Jewish state was set up to defend Jewish lives, and we always reserve the right to defend ourselves.

WALLACE: Do you have a deadline in your mind for how long you’re willing to let diplomacy play out?

NETANYAHU: Well, I think that we always reserve the right to defend ourselves.

WALLACE: Do you believe a nuclear Iran — a nuclear Iran — can be contained?

NETANYAHU: No. No, I don’t. I think that’s a mistake, and I think people fall into a misconception.

I don’t think you can rely on Iran. I don’t think you can rely on other radicals like the Taliban. They dispatched Al Qaida to bomb New York and Washington. What were they thinking? Were they that stupid? They weren’t stupid. There is an irrationality there, and there is madness in this method. … And we should not allow irrational regimes like Iran to have nuclear weapons. It’s the ultimate terrorist threat today.

WALLACE: But I want to follow your argument. You say that Panetta is probably right that sanctions won’t work. You say flatly that containing a nuclear Iran is impossible. Have you and the president ever discussed the possibility of a military strike?

NETANYAHU: I’m not going to get into the confidential discussions, and I’m not confirming anything of the sort. But I am saying that the president’s position that all options are on the table might actually have the only real effect on Iran if they — if they think it’s true.

Yes, Mr. President, if you could be a wee bit more credible on the use of military force (by the way, how long ago was it that Obama made any reference to the potential use of force? Was it the campaign?) it would — maybe — give the Iranians pause. But if not, Bibi will do what he must do.

The challenge for the Israeli prime minister in managing the U.S.-Israeli relationship is immense. A complete rupture with the U.S. is fraught with peril, but quiet acquiescence to Obama’s assault on the Jewish state is untenable as well. It is indicative of how well Bibi has done in navigating through the Obama presidency that, in many respects, Obama is now in retreat. He has essentially repudiated his own NPT statement. He’s now publicly pressing for direct peace process talks, to the chagrin of the Palestinians, who were looking for a gift-wrapped state from Obama with no need for them to ever get in a room with the Israeli prime minister.

On Fox News Sunday, Bibi gave a strong performance and displayed how the balance has shifted in the “peace process”:

NETANYAHU: I don’t think we can make peace with an organization that seeks our destruction. That’s Hamas. But I think we can make peace with the Palestinian Authority. It requires a lot of courage from our side, from me. And it also requires courage from President Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.

It’s going to be a very tough negotiation, but one that I think our peoples are ripe for. Is Hamas going to be a part of it? No. As long as it wants to destroy Israel, it’s not going to be a part of it.

Now, at this point, I could tell you we’ll never negotiate with the Palestinian Authority as long as Hamas is in Gaza. That’s not my position. I think we should get on with it and seek to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We’ll have to deal with Hamas later.

WALLACE: But your foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, says he sees, quote, “no chance” — no chance — of a Palestinian state by 2012.

NETANYAHU: Well, you know, there are different views. There are people who have different ideas. We’re a democracy. We’re a parliamentary democracy. So people are entitled to have different views. They express them.

But I think that there is no substitute for getting into direct talks right now and seeking to break this logger jam, to actually go ahead and try to negotiate a final peace settlement.

WALLACE: Do you believe there can be a Palestinian state by 2012?

NETANYAHU: I think there can be a solution. It may be implemented over time, because time is an important factor of getting the solution, both in terms of security arrangements and other things that would be difficult if they’re not allowed to take place over time.

So I think the — can we have a negotiated peace? Yes. Can it be implemented by 2012? I think it’s going to take longer than that.

WALLACE: You say it will take courage on your part. Are you willing to put East Jerusalem as a possible capital of the Palestinian state on the table?

NETANYAHU: Well, we have differences of views with the Palestinians. We want a united city. They have their own views. We can — this is one of the issues that will have to be negotiated. But I think the main point is to get on with it.

In short, Bibi is doing everything possible to call the Palestinians’ — and Obama’s — bluff. You want a peace process? Let’s talk!

And on the settlement freeze, Bibi is also holding his ground — at least for now:

WALLACE: Have you and the president resolved the issue of whether you are willing to extend the moratorium on construction of settlements as part of the Palestinians engaging in direct talks?

NETANYAHU: The settlements are an issue that have to be engaged in the final status peace negotiations. That’s always been agreed on, along with other issues.

I made the exceptional, really extraordinary, move of making a freeze on new construction for 10 months — I did that seven months ago — in order to help the Palestinians get in the talks. They haven’t gotten into the talks right now.

Now we’re asked to make an extension of this. Look, I think this is — this is the wrong approach. I think we should eliminate all these preconditions and all these excuses and all those demands for entering into direct talks. We should just get into them.

Again, the message is  — if you want your own state, get in the room. For now it appears that Bibi is in no mood for more concessions. The Palestinians are frantic to find excuses and to avoid pulling back the curtain on the underlying truth that has animated the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for 60 years: the Palestinians lack the will and ability to make peace.

Finally, Bibi was also rather bold on Iran. Here, too, he skillfully threw the Obami’s own words back at them — and made clear that there is not much more time for Israel to wait patiently as the mullahs inch ever closer to membership in the nuclear club:

WALLACE: During your meeting with President Obama, you praised the recent round of sanctions, not just the U.N., but also the additional sanctions that President Obama signed, that the U.S. Congress passed, on Iran.

But recently, the CIA director, Leon Panetta, said this, “Will it deter them” — speaking of the Iranians — “from their ambitions with regards to a nuclear capability? Probably not.” Is Panetta right?

NETANYAHU: Probably. He’s probably right. I can tell you one thing, Iran is closer to developing nuclear weapons today than it was a week ago, or a month ago or a year ago. It’s just moving on with its efforts. And I think there is a great danger to the world, not only to my country but to the United States, to the Middle East, to peace, to all of humanity, from the prospect that such a regime that brutalizes its own people, that sponsors terrorism more than any other regime in the world — that this regime acquires atomic bombs is very, very dangerous.

WALLACE: U.S. officials estimate that Iran perhaps within two years will have a nuclear warhead it can put on a ballistic missile that can strike Israel, Europe, much of the world. Do you have a deadline in your own mind for how long you’re willing to let diplomacy play out?

NETANYAHU: There’s only been one time that Iran actually stopped the program, and that was when it feared U.S. military action. So the — when the president says that he’s determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and that all options are on the table, I think that’s the right statement of policy.

You ask what is our policy. Our policy is very simple. The Jewish state was set up to defend Jewish lives, and we always reserve the right to defend ourselves.

WALLACE: Do you have a deadline in your mind for how long you’re willing to let diplomacy play out?

NETANYAHU: Well, I think that we always reserve the right to defend ourselves.

WALLACE: Do you believe a nuclear Iran — a nuclear Iran — can be contained?

NETANYAHU: No. No, I don’t. I think that’s a mistake, and I think people fall into a misconception.

I don’t think you can rely on Iran. I don’t think you can rely on other radicals like the Taliban. They dispatched Al Qaida to bomb New York and Washington. What were they thinking? Were they that stupid? They weren’t stupid. There is an irrationality there, and there is madness in this method. … And we should not allow irrational regimes like Iran to have nuclear weapons. It’s the ultimate terrorist threat today.

WALLACE: But I want to follow your argument. You say that Panetta is probably right that sanctions won’t work. You say flatly that containing a nuclear Iran is impossible. Have you and the president ever discussed the possibility of a military strike?

NETANYAHU: I’m not going to get into the confidential discussions, and I’m not confirming anything of the sort. But I am saying that the president’s position that all options are on the table might actually have the only real effect on Iran if they — if they think it’s true.

Yes, Mr. President, if you could be a wee bit more credible on the use of military force (by the way, how long ago was it that Obama made any reference to the potential use of force? Was it the campaign?) it would — maybe — give the Iranians pause. But if not, Bibi will do what he must do.

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Lieberman’s Truthful Indiscretion

Avigdor Lieberman is in trouble again. The Israeli foreign minister was quoted at a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, as saying that he thought there was “absolutely no chance of reaching a Palestinian state by 2012.” Those words were enough to inspire the New York Times to predict that Lieberman’s remarks could “further strain peace efforts.” As the Times helpfully pointed out, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has said his goal is to be ready to set up a functioning state by the start of 2012. PA President Mahmoud Abbas tried to win Brownie points with Washington (which has been trying to convene peace talks) by countering that, unlike Lieberman, he still believed in the peace process.

Lieberman is well known for what critics have always considered a thuggish personality and the fact that his boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has insulated the Yisrael Beiteinu Party head from all important foreign-policy decisions, especially anything having to do with the United States. There is little doubt that Lieberman is as undiplomatic a foreign-policy spokesman as any country could have. But he was speaking the unvarnished truth when he scoffed at the notion that peace and a Palestinian state would arrive by 2012.

But contrary to the assumptions of Israel’s critics, the reason for this has nothing to do with the “hard-line” nature of the government in which Netanyahu and Lieberman serve. Both have expressed their willingness to accept a two-state solution. The problem is that Abbas and Fayyad, those alleged peace optimists, have no intention of signing a peace deal with Israel no matter how many concessions on land or any other issue Netanyahu and Lieberman are prepared to make.

The extent of the disingenuousness of this discussion, in which Israel is blamed for the dim prospects for peace, cannot be overestimated. Had the PA’s goal been simply to have a state alongside Israel, there would have been no need to wait for 2012. Unmentioned in the account of Lieberman’s gaffe is the fact that in 2008, Abbas and Fayyad rejected Israel’s offer of a Palestinian state that would have included virtually all the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem. Their predecessor Yasir Arafat rejected similar offers in 2000 and 2001. These refusals made it clear that the dynamic of Palestinian political culture made any peace agreement, no matter where the borders were drawn, impossible as long as it required the Palestinians to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state.

The current situation finds Abbas and Fayyad afraid to anger the Palestinian street by making such a pledge and unwilling even to negotiate directly with Israel. At the same time, the Islamists of Hamas are not only still firmly in control of Gaza but the international isolation of their terror regime is also breaking down in the wake of the aid flotilla incident, a development that weakens Abbas. Under these circumstances, it is hard to see how any serious person could possibly believe that peace efforts have any sort of chance no matter what concessions might be dragged out of the Israelis by the Obama administration. But rather than face these unpleasant facts, it’s much easier to blame it all on Lieberman and Israel.

Avigdor Lieberman is in trouble again. The Israeli foreign minister was quoted at a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, as saying that he thought there was “absolutely no chance of reaching a Palestinian state by 2012.” Those words were enough to inspire the New York Times to predict that Lieberman’s remarks could “further strain peace efforts.” As the Times helpfully pointed out, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has said his goal is to be ready to set up a functioning state by the start of 2012. PA President Mahmoud Abbas tried to win Brownie points with Washington (which has been trying to convene peace talks) by countering that, unlike Lieberman, he still believed in the peace process.

Lieberman is well known for what critics have always considered a thuggish personality and the fact that his boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has insulated the Yisrael Beiteinu Party head from all important foreign-policy decisions, especially anything having to do with the United States. There is little doubt that Lieberman is as undiplomatic a foreign-policy spokesman as any country could have. But he was speaking the unvarnished truth when he scoffed at the notion that peace and a Palestinian state would arrive by 2012.

But contrary to the assumptions of Israel’s critics, the reason for this has nothing to do with the “hard-line” nature of the government in which Netanyahu and Lieberman serve. Both have expressed their willingness to accept a two-state solution. The problem is that Abbas and Fayyad, those alleged peace optimists, have no intention of signing a peace deal with Israel no matter how many concessions on land or any other issue Netanyahu and Lieberman are prepared to make.

The extent of the disingenuousness of this discussion, in which Israel is blamed for the dim prospects for peace, cannot be overestimated. Had the PA’s goal been simply to have a state alongside Israel, there would have been no need to wait for 2012. Unmentioned in the account of Lieberman’s gaffe is the fact that in 2008, Abbas and Fayyad rejected Israel’s offer of a Palestinian state that would have included virtually all the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem. Their predecessor Yasir Arafat rejected similar offers in 2000 and 2001. These refusals made it clear that the dynamic of Palestinian political culture made any peace agreement, no matter where the borders were drawn, impossible as long as it required the Palestinians to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state.

The current situation finds Abbas and Fayyad afraid to anger the Palestinian street by making such a pledge and unwilling even to negotiate directly with Israel. At the same time, the Islamists of Hamas are not only still firmly in control of Gaza but the international isolation of their terror regime is also breaking down in the wake of the aid flotilla incident, a development that weakens Abbas. Under these circumstances, it is hard to see how any serious person could possibly believe that peace efforts have any sort of chance no matter what concessions might be dragged out of the Israelis by the Obama administration. But rather than face these unpleasant facts, it’s much easier to blame it all on Lieberman and Israel.

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Still Vouching for Obama and Trashing Bibi

Back in 2008, when Barack Obama was doing his best to reassure Jewish voters and contributors that despite a flimsy record and troubling associations with anti-Israel extremists like his pastor, he could be trusted to be a friend to Israel, Chicago Jews who were looking to get in on the ground floor of the candidate’s presidential boomlet were quick to come forward with testimonials. Two years later, after President Obama has demonstrated, again, his desire to distance himself from Israel, such tributes ring false. Yet despite the absurdity of using these statements as proof of Obama’s goodwill toward the Jewish state, they have been resurrected in, all of places, the New Yorker, a magazine that once prided itself on being on the cutting edge of thought, not the recycler of discarded political talking points. But that’s exactly what David Remnick does in a piece in which he joins the administration’s mugging of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The conceit of the article is that the fight Obama picked earlier this month over the timing of the announcement of a Jerusalem housing project was all the fault of Netanyahu and his bumbling, bigoted government. But Remnick, who likes to put himself forward as being knowledgeable about Israel, betrays his own lack of sophistication. He claims that Netanyahu’s coalition suffers “from a troubling degree of instability.” But as anyone who’s actually been paying attention to Israel knows, that isn’t true. Bibi’s cabinet is as stable as any multi-party coalition can hope to be. It has its outliers, such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, but the parties that came together to form the government have good reasons to hang together, and there has been no serious threat to break it up. Indeed, far from being hostage to the far Right, there was hardly a peep from Netanyahu’s pro-settler allies when he agreed to a building freeze in the West Bank last fall, something that was especially surprising — and disappointing — to the Obama White House, since it has been trying to knock the Israeli leader out of office ever since he was elected a few weeks after Obama was sworn in as president.

But in an attempt to pretend that the blatant change in atmosphere toward Israel isn’t happening, all Remnick can do is recycle the same lame propaganda that the Democrats shoveled to the press in 2008: Obama’s Jewish neighbors — and contributors — all thought he was great, with one even gushing that Obama would be “the first Jewish president.”

Remnick’s misreading of the spirit of the current White House, which he insists against all evidence is still a stalwart friend of Israel, is matched by his lack of understanding of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. He claims the question now is whether Netanyahu is “the arrogant rejectionist that he was in the nineteen-nineties.” The characterization of Netanyahu’s first term as prime minster as “rejectionist” is absurd. In his three years in office, he signed both the Hebron pact and the Wye Plantation Agreement, which both mandated Israeli territorial withdrawals in exchange for the usual (unfulfilled) Palestinian promises. And since coming back to power, Netanyahu has already formally accepted a two-state solution and agreed to freeze building in the West Bank. Just as absurd is Remnick’s claim that the Palestinian Authority leadership is “moderate and constructive.” Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad may mean well, but these two are the same Palestinians who adamantly rejected an offer of a state in the West Bank and Gaza and part of Jerusalem less than two years ago. Indeed, they would not even discuss such a plan and today won’t sit down and negotiate directly with Israel. They and their Hamas rivals who rule Gaza are the rejectionists, not Netanyahu.

Remnick says that an Israeli devotion to the status quo will eventually sour a friendly Obama on Israel. But the truth is that the status quo cannot be altered unilaterally by Israel without a sea change in Palestinian thinking. Far from Netanyahu needing to do a “Nixon goes to China” transformation, it is still the Palestinians who must learn to take “yes” for an answer. The obsession with forcing Israel to make concessions to revive a peace process that the Palestinians don’t care about speaks volumes about Obama and his supporters.

Back in 2008, when Barack Obama was doing his best to reassure Jewish voters and contributors that despite a flimsy record and troubling associations with anti-Israel extremists like his pastor, he could be trusted to be a friend to Israel, Chicago Jews who were looking to get in on the ground floor of the candidate’s presidential boomlet were quick to come forward with testimonials. Two years later, after President Obama has demonstrated, again, his desire to distance himself from Israel, such tributes ring false. Yet despite the absurdity of using these statements as proof of Obama’s goodwill toward the Jewish state, they have been resurrected in, all of places, the New Yorker, a magazine that once prided itself on being on the cutting edge of thought, not the recycler of discarded political talking points. But that’s exactly what David Remnick does in a piece in which he joins the administration’s mugging of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The conceit of the article is that the fight Obama picked earlier this month over the timing of the announcement of a Jerusalem housing project was all the fault of Netanyahu and his bumbling, bigoted government. But Remnick, who likes to put himself forward as being knowledgeable about Israel, betrays his own lack of sophistication. He claims that Netanyahu’s coalition suffers “from a troubling degree of instability.” But as anyone who’s actually been paying attention to Israel knows, that isn’t true. Bibi’s cabinet is as stable as any multi-party coalition can hope to be. It has its outliers, such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, but the parties that came together to form the government have good reasons to hang together, and there has been no serious threat to break it up. Indeed, far from being hostage to the far Right, there was hardly a peep from Netanyahu’s pro-settler allies when he agreed to a building freeze in the West Bank last fall, something that was especially surprising — and disappointing — to the Obama White House, since it has been trying to knock the Israeli leader out of office ever since he was elected a few weeks after Obama was sworn in as president.

But in an attempt to pretend that the blatant change in atmosphere toward Israel isn’t happening, all Remnick can do is recycle the same lame propaganda that the Democrats shoveled to the press in 2008: Obama’s Jewish neighbors — and contributors — all thought he was great, with one even gushing that Obama would be “the first Jewish president.”

Remnick’s misreading of the spirit of the current White House, which he insists against all evidence is still a stalwart friend of Israel, is matched by his lack of understanding of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. He claims the question now is whether Netanyahu is “the arrogant rejectionist that he was in the nineteen-nineties.” The characterization of Netanyahu’s first term as prime minster as “rejectionist” is absurd. In his three years in office, he signed both the Hebron pact and the Wye Plantation Agreement, which both mandated Israeli territorial withdrawals in exchange for the usual (unfulfilled) Palestinian promises. And since coming back to power, Netanyahu has already formally accepted a two-state solution and agreed to freeze building in the West Bank. Just as absurd is Remnick’s claim that the Palestinian Authority leadership is “moderate and constructive.” Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad may mean well, but these two are the same Palestinians who adamantly rejected an offer of a state in the West Bank and Gaza and part of Jerusalem less than two years ago. Indeed, they would not even discuss such a plan and today won’t sit down and negotiate directly with Israel. They and their Hamas rivals who rule Gaza are the rejectionists, not Netanyahu.

Remnick says that an Israeli devotion to the status quo will eventually sour a friendly Obama on Israel. But the truth is that the status quo cannot be altered unilaterally by Israel without a sea change in Palestinian thinking. Far from Netanyahu needing to do a “Nixon goes to China” transformation, it is still the Palestinians who must learn to take “yes” for an answer. The obsession with forcing Israel to make concessions to revive a peace process that the Palestinians don’t care about speaks volumes about Obama and his supporters.

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Israel Derangement Syndrome in the British Press

At this point, the most interesting thing about the Dubai assassination isn’t what happened in that hotel room; it is a hysteria about the story in the British press that is bordering on mob lunacy.

Few new details are emerging, so the press is engaged in an increasingly unconvincing attempt at propelling the story along by self-generated outrage. Here is a perfect example from the UK Times. It begins ominously:

David Miliband will press his Israeli counterpart today to explain what his Government knows about the use of stolen British identities in the Mahmoud al-Mabhouh killing.

Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli Foreign Minister, will meet separately with his British, French and Irish counterparts in Brussels, in a diplomatic showdown over Mossad’s use of fraudulent European passports.

The Israelis are in big trouble! Well, maybe not. Down at the very bottom we read:

Mr Lieberman’s meetings in Brussels with the British, French and Irish foreign ministers have been long planned.

The writer of this piece, someone named Catherine Philip, actually has no idea whether there will be a “diplomatic showdown” in Brussels. There will probably be pro forma words exchanged about the passport issue, and the Europeans will grumble and complain, as they do on an almost daily basis these days about Israel. The piece is littered with other unproven claims, all written in the passive voice: “There is speculation that” the Israelis are in deepening trouble, and something else “has raised the possibility” of the trouble getting even deeper, all written in the smarmy tone of someone with serious unspoken resentments. Does Israel’s willingness to take risks and act boldly on behalf of its own security shame British elites, who show no such courage today?

Philip’s contribution to the larger campaign of speculation and innuendo is no worse than most of the others. What a spectacle Britain is making of itself these days.

At this point, the most interesting thing about the Dubai assassination isn’t what happened in that hotel room; it is a hysteria about the story in the British press that is bordering on mob lunacy.

Few new details are emerging, so the press is engaged in an increasingly unconvincing attempt at propelling the story along by self-generated outrage. Here is a perfect example from the UK Times. It begins ominously:

David Miliband will press his Israeli counterpart today to explain what his Government knows about the use of stolen British identities in the Mahmoud al-Mabhouh killing.

Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli Foreign Minister, will meet separately with his British, French and Irish counterparts in Brussels, in a diplomatic showdown over Mossad’s use of fraudulent European passports.

The Israelis are in big trouble! Well, maybe not. Down at the very bottom we read:

Mr Lieberman’s meetings in Brussels with the British, French and Irish foreign ministers have been long planned.

The writer of this piece, someone named Catherine Philip, actually has no idea whether there will be a “diplomatic showdown” in Brussels. There will probably be pro forma words exchanged about the passport issue, and the Europeans will grumble and complain, as they do on an almost daily basis these days about Israel. The piece is littered with other unproven claims, all written in the passive voice: “There is speculation that” the Israelis are in deepening trouble, and something else “has raised the possibility” of the trouble getting even deeper, all written in the smarmy tone of someone with serious unspoken resentments. Does Israel’s willingness to take risks and act boldly on behalf of its own security shame British elites, who show no such courage today?

Philip’s contribution to the larger campaign of speculation and innuendo is no worse than most of the others. What a spectacle Britain is making of itself these days.

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Israel Threatens Assad with Regime Change

The Israeli government may be moving beyond its fear and loathing of a Syria governed by somebody other than Bashar Assad. For years, Jerusalem has been careful to avoid doing anything or even saying anything that might destabilize Damascus. But after Syria’s foreign minister, Walid Moallem, threatened Israel this week with a war that would be fought “inside your cities,” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman snapped. “Not only will you lose the war,” he said to Assad, “you and your family will no longer be in power.”

There are good reasons to feel squeamish about the aftermath of regime change, whether it comes at the hands of Israelis or not. The same sectarian monster that stalks Lebanon and Iraq lives just under the floorboards in Syria. The majority of Syria’s people are Sunni Arabs, but 30 percent or so are Christians, Druze, Alawites, or Kurds. Assad himself is an Alawite, as are most of the elite in the ruling Baath Party, the secret police, and the military. Their very survival depends on keeping Syria’s sectarianism suppressed. The country could easily come apart without Assad’s government enforcing domestic peace at the point of a gun. This is a serious problem. It’s not Israel’s problem, but it’s a problem.

The Israelis have been worried about something else: that after Assad, Syria might be governed by the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood organization or something that looks a lot like it. There’s no guarantee, though, that the Muslim Brothers would take over. They aren’t in power anywhere else in the Arab world. Even if they do succeed Assad, they couldn’t ramp up the hostility much. Assad’s is already the most hostile Arab government in the world. A replacement regime, especially one dominated by Sunnis rather than by minorities who lack legitimacy and feel they have something to prove, would likely gravitate toward the regional mainstream.

Millions of Syrians sympathize with the Muslim Brotherhood. They’re tired of being lorded over by secularists from a faith they consider heretical. Still, fundamentalist Sunni Arabs who try to impose some kind of theocracy will meet automatic resistance from the country’s Christians, Alawites, Druze, Kurds, and secular and moderate Sunnis. Theocracy is hardly the norm in the Middle East anyway. Not a single Arab country — unless you consider Gaza a country — is governed by a religious regime like the one in Iran.

No dictatorship rules forever. The Alawite regime in Damascus will eventually be replaced, one way or another. Syria will have to reckon with its own demons sooner or later, and it will either hold together and muddle through, or it won’t. Just as every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, unstable countries fall apart in their own way. Only a fool would dismiss as irrelevant the sectarian bloodletting Iraq has suffered during the last several years, but Syria’s problems are its own, and a few critical ingredients that made Iraq into a perfect storm are missing.

Assad’s own foreign policy was — and, to an extent, still is — a big part of Iraq’s problem. He made Syria a transit hub for radical Sunnis from all over the Arab world who volunteered to martyr themselves fighting American soldiers, Shia civilians, and the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad. That won’t be a problem once Assad is out of the picture.

Freelance jihadists won’t be interested in fighting the next Syrian government anyway if the Alawites are stripped of their power. Sunnis will dominate the government again, as they should because they’re the majority. Sunni Arabs all over the Middle East are still unhappy that Iraq is mostly governed by Shias, but they’ll be at peace with a Sunni-led Syria.

I’d love to see Assad get his just desserts after what he’s done to his neighbors and his countrymen. It will be terrific if his Arab Socialist Baath Party regime is replaced with something more moderate and civilized. The odds of a smooth transition and a happy ending, though, are not great. Syria has no grassroots movement demanding democratic change right now as Iran does. The Israelis are right to be cautious.

But they’re also right to threaten to pull Assad’s plug if he doesn’t back off. He’s a lot less likely even to start the next war if he knows he’ll be held accountable. The fact that he can suppress sectarian violence at home isn’t worth much if he won’t stop exporting it everywhere else.

The Israeli government may be moving beyond its fear and loathing of a Syria governed by somebody other than Bashar Assad. For years, Jerusalem has been careful to avoid doing anything or even saying anything that might destabilize Damascus. But after Syria’s foreign minister, Walid Moallem, threatened Israel this week with a war that would be fought “inside your cities,” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman snapped. “Not only will you lose the war,” he said to Assad, “you and your family will no longer be in power.”

There are good reasons to feel squeamish about the aftermath of regime change, whether it comes at the hands of Israelis or not. The same sectarian monster that stalks Lebanon and Iraq lives just under the floorboards in Syria. The majority of Syria’s people are Sunni Arabs, but 30 percent or so are Christians, Druze, Alawites, or Kurds. Assad himself is an Alawite, as are most of the elite in the ruling Baath Party, the secret police, and the military. Their very survival depends on keeping Syria’s sectarianism suppressed. The country could easily come apart without Assad’s government enforcing domestic peace at the point of a gun. This is a serious problem. It’s not Israel’s problem, but it’s a problem.

The Israelis have been worried about something else: that after Assad, Syria might be governed by the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood organization or something that looks a lot like it. There’s no guarantee, though, that the Muslim Brothers would take over. They aren’t in power anywhere else in the Arab world. Even if they do succeed Assad, they couldn’t ramp up the hostility much. Assad’s is already the most hostile Arab government in the world. A replacement regime, especially one dominated by Sunnis rather than by minorities who lack legitimacy and feel they have something to prove, would likely gravitate toward the regional mainstream.

Millions of Syrians sympathize with the Muslim Brotherhood. They’re tired of being lorded over by secularists from a faith they consider heretical. Still, fundamentalist Sunni Arabs who try to impose some kind of theocracy will meet automatic resistance from the country’s Christians, Alawites, Druze, Kurds, and secular and moderate Sunnis. Theocracy is hardly the norm in the Middle East anyway. Not a single Arab country — unless you consider Gaza a country — is governed by a religious regime like the one in Iran.

No dictatorship rules forever. The Alawite regime in Damascus will eventually be replaced, one way or another. Syria will have to reckon with its own demons sooner or later, and it will either hold together and muddle through, or it won’t. Just as every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, unstable countries fall apart in their own way. Only a fool would dismiss as irrelevant the sectarian bloodletting Iraq has suffered during the last several years, but Syria’s problems are its own, and a few critical ingredients that made Iraq into a perfect storm are missing.

Assad’s own foreign policy was — and, to an extent, still is — a big part of Iraq’s problem. He made Syria a transit hub for radical Sunnis from all over the Arab world who volunteered to martyr themselves fighting American soldiers, Shia civilians, and the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad. That won’t be a problem once Assad is out of the picture.

Freelance jihadists won’t be interested in fighting the next Syrian government anyway if the Alawites are stripped of their power. Sunnis will dominate the government again, as they should because they’re the majority. Sunni Arabs all over the Middle East are still unhappy that Iraq is mostly governed by Shias, but they’ll be at peace with a Sunni-led Syria.

I’d love to see Assad get his just desserts after what he’s done to his neighbors and his countrymen. It will be terrific if his Arab Socialist Baath Party regime is replaced with something more moderate and civilized. The odds of a smooth transition and a happy ending, though, are not great. Syria has no grassroots movement demanding democratic change right now as Iran does. The Israelis are right to be cautious.

But they’re also right to threaten to pull Assad’s plug if he doesn’t back off. He’s a lot less likely even to start the next war if he knows he’ll be held accountable. The fact that he can suppress sectarian violence at home isn’t worth much if he won’t stop exporting it everywhere else.

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Something’s Rotten in the State of Israel’s Legal System

Something is deeply wrong with a justice system when mainstream journalists and politicians take it for granted that a suspect’s political views will affect the legal proceedings against him.

Consider the following sentence from a column that appeared Monday in Israel’s left-wing daily Haaretz: “If the attorney general decides to bring charges against Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister may decide that, in his bid to reach a plea bargain that will keep him out of prison, he is better off bringing down the government, and possibly even the Knesset, and disguising himself as a moderate in a government that has Kadima and Labor [two left-of-center parties] at its center.”

The author, Amir Oren, is no right-wing conspiracy theorist; he’s a veteran, left-of-center journalist and star columnist for a respected highbrow daily. And he considers it patently obvious that if Lieberman wants prosecutors to treat him leniently, he would be wise to swerve Left.

Nor is Oren alone in this belief. In 2007, after then prime minister Ehud Olmert appointed Daniel Friedmann, a well-known critic of the Supreme Court’s judicial activism, as justice minister, Yossi Verter wrote in Haaretz: “The justice system … has two alternatives for coping with this blow: hunkering down in its bunker and waiting for the government to change, or speeding up criminal proceedings against Olmert and working with greater vigor to topple him, which would also bring about Friedmann’s departure.”

Like Oren, Verter is a veteran left-of-center journalist and a star Haaretz columnist. And like Oren, he considers it self-evident that legal officials could and would use their prosecutorial powers to oust a politician whose policies they oppose.

And here’s another star Haaretz columnist and veteran left-of-center journalist, Ari Shavit, writing after the 2006 indictment of then Justice Minister Haim Ramon for sexual harassment:

Twelve hours before kissing the soldier identified as H, Haim Ramon sat at a private dinner and joked that he had to be careful, because something was liable to happen to him. Because something has happened to every justice minister who intended to shake up the judicial system the way he did, something that prevented the minister from ultimately filling the post. …

[Another] senior minister, whose lifelong dream has been to serve as minister of justice, decided at the beginning of the week to concede the coveted position because he was convinced that if he didn’t do so, he would shortly find himself questioned under caution in a police investigation. The senior minister … determined that there was no chance that a person known as a critic of the rule of law would be able to serve as justice minister without the rule of law finding a way to distance him from the public arena on some criminal pretext or another.

That mainstream politicians and journalists believe the legal system biased in this fashion is worrying even if they’re wrong. That so many probably wouldn’t believe it were there not some truth to it is even worse. But perhaps most disturbing of all is the lack of concern: it’s just a fact of life, to be noted casually in a column.

Something is deeply wrong with a justice system when mainstream journalists and politicians take it for granted that a suspect’s political views will affect the legal proceedings against him.

Consider the following sentence from a column that appeared Monday in Israel’s left-wing daily Haaretz: “If the attorney general decides to bring charges against Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister may decide that, in his bid to reach a plea bargain that will keep him out of prison, he is better off bringing down the government, and possibly even the Knesset, and disguising himself as a moderate in a government that has Kadima and Labor [two left-of-center parties] at its center.”

The author, Amir Oren, is no right-wing conspiracy theorist; he’s a veteran, left-of-center journalist and star columnist for a respected highbrow daily. And he considers it patently obvious that if Lieberman wants prosecutors to treat him leniently, he would be wise to swerve Left.

Nor is Oren alone in this belief. In 2007, after then prime minister Ehud Olmert appointed Daniel Friedmann, a well-known critic of the Supreme Court’s judicial activism, as justice minister, Yossi Verter wrote in Haaretz: “The justice system … has two alternatives for coping with this blow: hunkering down in its bunker and waiting for the government to change, or speeding up criminal proceedings against Olmert and working with greater vigor to topple him, which would also bring about Friedmann’s departure.”

Like Oren, Verter is a veteran left-of-center journalist and a star Haaretz columnist. And like Oren, he considers it self-evident that legal officials could and would use their prosecutorial powers to oust a politician whose policies they oppose.

And here’s another star Haaretz columnist and veteran left-of-center journalist, Ari Shavit, writing after the 2006 indictment of then Justice Minister Haim Ramon for sexual harassment:

Twelve hours before kissing the soldier identified as H, Haim Ramon sat at a private dinner and joked that he had to be careful, because something was liable to happen to him. Because something has happened to every justice minister who intended to shake up the judicial system the way he did, something that prevented the minister from ultimately filling the post. …

[Another] senior minister, whose lifelong dream has been to serve as minister of justice, decided at the beginning of the week to concede the coveted position because he was convinced that if he didn’t do so, he would shortly find himself questioned under caution in a police investigation. The senior minister … determined that there was no chance that a person known as a critic of the rule of law would be able to serve as justice minister without the rule of law finding a way to distance him from the public arena on some criminal pretext or another.

That mainstream politicians and journalists believe the legal system biased in this fashion is worrying even if they’re wrong. That so many probably wouldn’t believe it were there not some truth to it is even worse. But perhaps most disturbing of all is the lack of concern: it’s just a fact of life, to be noted casually in a column.

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First, Do No Harm

After Israeli media reported yesterday that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had threatened to curtail U.S. involvement in Israeli-Palestinian talks, the White House rushed to deny it. That’s a pity — because curtailing U.S. involvement would be far more helpful than what special envoy George Mitchell is actually doing.

Interviewed by PBS yesterday, Mitchell (as Jennifer noted) declared: “We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years … Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

That, frankly, is ridiculous. In 16 years of talks, the parties have yet to resolve a single final-status issue. Just 15 months ago, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected an Israeli offer of 94 percent of the West Bank, territorial exchanges for the remainder, and international Muslim control over the Temple Mount. Current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will certainly offer no more, and probably not as much. So what does Mitchell think will happen in the next two years to suddenly make Abbas abandon positions he has stuck to for the last 16 — or else make Israel agree to suicide by, for instance, accepting Abbas’ demand that it absorb 4.7 million Palestinian “refugees”?

Nor need one be “anti-peace” to recognize this. Here’s the first sentence of a column published in the left-wing Israeli paper Haaretz yesterday by its leftist, pro-peace diplomatic correspondent, Aluf Benn: “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is right: During the next two years Israel will not reach a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians.”

While arguing that Israel must make concessions anyway to placate world opinion, Benn articulates an important truth: “The establishment of new states arouses multigenerational conflicts” that rarely end quickly. The India-Pakistan and Cyprus conflicts, which also date back to the British Empire’s mid-20th century breakup, are still unresolved, he notes, and the Israeli-Arab conflict is no less intractable.

But were Mitchell just spouting nonsense, nobody would care. The problem is that such nonsense does active harm by raising expectations that cannot be met — then provoking a backlash of disappointment.

First, Palestinians and other Arabs routinely interpret such statements by U.S. officials as pledges to make Israel kowtow to Palestinian demands. When that doesn’t happen, it increases anti-American sentiment, entrenches disbelief in the possibility of peace (thus strengthening extremists like Hamas), and can even spark renewed anti-Israel terror, as the Camp David summit in 2000 showed.

Second, it further entrenches Israeli skepticism about peace.

Third, it will almost certainly increase anti-Israel hysteria in Europe. Unlike Israelis and Palestinians, Europeans largely share Mitchell’s conviction that peace is imminently achievable. Hence every time it fails to materialize, they seek a scapegoat. And so far, that scapegoat has always been Israel: while demanding ever more Israeli concessions, the EU has yet to publicly demand any Palestinian concessions.

There are things America could do to further peace — like finally telling the Palestinians that they, too, must compromise. But doing nothing would be better than doing active harm. And that’s what Washington is doing now.

After Israeli media reported yesterday that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had threatened to curtail U.S. involvement in Israeli-Palestinian talks, the White House rushed to deny it. That’s a pity — because curtailing U.S. involvement would be far more helpful than what special envoy George Mitchell is actually doing.

Interviewed by PBS yesterday, Mitchell (as Jennifer noted) declared: “We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years … Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

That, frankly, is ridiculous. In 16 years of talks, the parties have yet to resolve a single final-status issue. Just 15 months ago, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected an Israeli offer of 94 percent of the West Bank, territorial exchanges for the remainder, and international Muslim control over the Temple Mount. Current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will certainly offer no more, and probably not as much. So what does Mitchell think will happen in the next two years to suddenly make Abbas abandon positions he has stuck to for the last 16 — or else make Israel agree to suicide by, for instance, accepting Abbas’ demand that it absorb 4.7 million Palestinian “refugees”?

Nor need one be “anti-peace” to recognize this. Here’s the first sentence of a column published in the left-wing Israeli paper Haaretz yesterday by its leftist, pro-peace diplomatic correspondent, Aluf Benn: “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is right: During the next two years Israel will not reach a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians.”

While arguing that Israel must make concessions anyway to placate world opinion, Benn articulates an important truth: “The establishment of new states arouses multigenerational conflicts” that rarely end quickly. The India-Pakistan and Cyprus conflicts, which also date back to the British Empire’s mid-20th century breakup, are still unresolved, he notes, and the Israeli-Arab conflict is no less intractable.

But were Mitchell just spouting nonsense, nobody would care. The problem is that such nonsense does active harm by raising expectations that cannot be met — then provoking a backlash of disappointment.

First, Palestinians and other Arabs routinely interpret such statements by U.S. officials as pledges to make Israel kowtow to Palestinian demands. When that doesn’t happen, it increases anti-American sentiment, entrenches disbelief in the possibility of peace (thus strengthening extremists like Hamas), and can even spark renewed anti-Israel terror, as the Camp David summit in 2000 showed.

Second, it further entrenches Israeli skepticism about peace.

Third, it will almost certainly increase anti-Israel hysteria in Europe. Unlike Israelis and Palestinians, Europeans largely share Mitchell’s conviction that peace is imminently achievable. Hence every time it fails to materialize, they seek a scapegoat. And so far, that scapegoat has always been Israel: while demanding ever more Israeli concessions, the EU has yet to publicly demand any Palestinian concessions.

There are things America could do to further peace — like finally telling the Palestinians that they, too, must compromise. But doing nothing would be better than doing active harm. And that’s what Washington is doing now.

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A Conference That Only Makes Sense

The blogosphere is in an uproar over this week’s unprecedented conference for all of Israel’s “heads of mission” – ambassadors and consuls – in Jerusalem. The Foreign Ministry’s news release acknowledges that this is the first such meeting ever convened for all Israeli heads of mission at one time. It makes a reasonable case that the conference is a policy-improvement measure of a kind common in other nations; but the conspiracy-minded see this simultaneous recall of all Israel’s diplomats as a sign that the bombing of Iran will commence shortly.

That is unlikely. The potential for an attack on Iran is undoubtedly a key topic at the conference, but as one agenda item rather than the primary purpose. Foreign policy in general is, in fact, enough of a pretext for the kind of conference going on this week. There are good reasons to believe Netanyahu perceives the U.S.-led world order to be in flux to the extent that Israeli foreign-policy thinking needs a larger scope. The assumption that Israel’s security conditions will be managed in a Washington-centered world order may soon become dangerously obsolete.

Clues that Netanyahu is seeking a broader footing for Israeli security ties have included the parade of Israeli officials to Russia in 2009 and Israel’s first high-level visits in decades to Latin America.  Bibi has always had strong links with the U.S., but Avigdor Lieberman’s links to Russia give him a special and valuable access to the alternative geopolitical thinking in Moscow. And there is definitely alternative thinking in Moscow, whether on Iran, the fierce intra-Asian competition for the natural gas trade, or the future security of Europe.

Netanyahu will not, of course, distance Israel from the U.S. He is seeking to supplement old ties, not supplant them. Like Japan, Brazil, India, and Turkey, which are all engaged in exactly such preparations, Israel will need a broader set of security links if the power shifts expected by many nations do, in fact, emerge from the rivalry of Russia and China.

President Obama could have taken the path of strengthening links that have gradually weakened in the U.S.-led global order since the end of the Cold War. But he has chosen instead to deliberately undermine some especially crucial ones: America’s commitment to missile defense as a non-negotiable security principle; and our posture as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. Our reliability as a regional actor in Middle Eastern security matters is more questionable than at any time since the Carter administration.

Israel must perceive, as other nations do, that any new global patterns set in motion during Obama’s tenure might not be easily reversed by a successor. A nuclear-armed Iran is only one aspect of the changed world Israel can expect in the coming years. It would actually be more surprising to not see this week’s conference than it is to see Netanyahu’s foreign-policy team gathered to consider the watershed in Israel’s national life that is probably coming in 2010.

The blogosphere is in an uproar over this week’s unprecedented conference for all of Israel’s “heads of mission” – ambassadors and consuls – in Jerusalem. The Foreign Ministry’s news release acknowledges that this is the first such meeting ever convened for all Israeli heads of mission at one time. It makes a reasonable case that the conference is a policy-improvement measure of a kind common in other nations; but the conspiracy-minded see this simultaneous recall of all Israel’s diplomats as a sign that the bombing of Iran will commence shortly.

That is unlikely. The potential for an attack on Iran is undoubtedly a key topic at the conference, but as one agenda item rather than the primary purpose. Foreign policy in general is, in fact, enough of a pretext for the kind of conference going on this week. There are good reasons to believe Netanyahu perceives the U.S.-led world order to be in flux to the extent that Israeli foreign-policy thinking needs a larger scope. The assumption that Israel’s security conditions will be managed in a Washington-centered world order may soon become dangerously obsolete.

Clues that Netanyahu is seeking a broader footing for Israeli security ties have included the parade of Israeli officials to Russia in 2009 and Israel’s first high-level visits in decades to Latin America.  Bibi has always had strong links with the U.S., but Avigdor Lieberman’s links to Russia give him a special and valuable access to the alternative geopolitical thinking in Moscow. And there is definitely alternative thinking in Moscow, whether on Iran, the fierce intra-Asian competition for the natural gas trade, or the future security of Europe.

Netanyahu will not, of course, distance Israel from the U.S. He is seeking to supplement old ties, not supplant them. Like Japan, Brazil, India, and Turkey, which are all engaged in exactly such preparations, Israel will need a broader set of security links if the power shifts expected by many nations do, in fact, emerge from the rivalry of Russia and China.

President Obama could have taken the path of strengthening links that have gradually weakened in the U.S.-led global order since the end of the Cold War. But he has chosen instead to deliberately undermine some especially crucial ones: America’s commitment to missile defense as a non-negotiable security principle; and our posture as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. Our reliability as a regional actor in Middle Eastern security matters is more questionable than at any time since the Carter administration.

Israel must perceive, as other nations do, that any new global patterns set in motion during Obama’s tenure might not be easily reversed by a successor. A nuclear-armed Iran is only one aspect of the changed world Israel can expect in the coming years. It would actually be more surprising to not see this week’s conference than it is to see Netanyahu’s foreign-policy team gathered to consider the watershed in Israel’s national life that is probably coming in 2010.

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The Panama Precedent

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has made several welcome changes to his ministry’s priority list, with perhaps the most noteworthy being the section on bilateral relationships. Strengthening ties with Arab states, which was at the top of that section under his predecessor, Tzipi Livni, is now at the bottom. Instead, Lieberman assigned priority to strengthening ties with the hitherto neglected regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

From a cost-benefit standpoint, this is a smart move. No Arab state is going to be anything but hostile in the foreseeable future. And while it is obviously preferable for states like Saudi Arabia to remain at their present hostility level rather than to escalate to Iran’s level, any investment beyond the minimum needed to ensure this much is just wasted time and effort.

In contrast, few non-Muslim states in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are inherently hostile to Israel; hence an investment of time and effort might well improve relations. And while most of these countries have little clout, they could nevertheless do much to boost Israel’s global image.

To understand why, consider this month’s UN General Assembly vote endorsing the Goldstone Report. The resolution passed 118-18-44, with another 16 countries not voting. That is a lopsided condemnation of Israel.

But of the 16 countries that skipped the vote, all were from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Of the 44 abstainers, 18 were from these regions (most were European). And of the 118 who voted in favor, almost half belong to the Organization of the Islamic Conference; most of the rest were non-Muslim states from Africa, Asia, and Latin America (plus five European states). Thus the vote could clearly have been made much less lopsided by flipping some of these states from “yes” to “abstention” and others from “abstention” or “not voting” to “no.”

Why does this matter? Because the fact that resolutions condemning Israel consistently pass by such lopsided margins contributes greatly to Israel’s pariah image, portraying it as a country with scarcely a friend in the world. If, instead, such condemnations passed only narrowly, this would portray it as a country that, despite many enemies, also has many friends. And countries with many friends are by definition not pariahs.

Could an investment of diplomatic effort flip some of these countries? It’s hard to know, given that Israel has never tried; for decades, its diplomacy has focused almost exclusively on the West and the Middle East. Nevertheless, another datum from the Goldstone vote is suggestive: the only Latin American country that did vote “no” on Goldstone — Panama — did so two weeks after its president met personally with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

And that’s the point: Most of these countries know little about Israel, and therefore care little. But if Israel made an effort to fill the knowledge gap, the caring gap might shrink, too. At the very least, it’s worth a try — especially when the alternative is for Israeli diplomats to waste their time battering their heads against a hostile Arab wall.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has made several welcome changes to his ministry’s priority list, with perhaps the most noteworthy being the section on bilateral relationships. Strengthening ties with Arab states, which was at the top of that section under his predecessor, Tzipi Livni, is now at the bottom. Instead, Lieberman assigned priority to strengthening ties with the hitherto neglected regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

From a cost-benefit standpoint, this is a smart move. No Arab state is going to be anything but hostile in the foreseeable future. And while it is obviously preferable for states like Saudi Arabia to remain at their present hostility level rather than to escalate to Iran’s level, any investment beyond the minimum needed to ensure this much is just wasted time and effort.

In contrast, few non-Muslim states in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are inherently hostile to Israel; hence an investment of time and effort might well improve relations. And while most of these countries have little clout, they could nevertheless do much to boost Israel’s global image.

To understand why, consider this month’s UN General Assembly vote endorsing the Goldstone Report. The resolution passed 118-18-44, with another 16 countries not voting. That is a lopsided condemnation of Israel.

But of the 16 countries that skipped the vote, all were from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Of the 44 abstainers, 18 were from these regions (most were European). And of the 118 who voted in favor, almost half belong to the Organization of the Islamic Conference; most of the rest were non-Muslim states from Africa, Asia, and Latin America (plus five European states). Thus the vote could clearly have been made much less lopsided by flipping some of these states from “yes” to “abstention” and others from “abstention” or “not voting” to “no.”

Why does this matter? Because the fact that resolutions condemning Israel consistently pass by such lopsided margins contributes greatly to Israel’s pariah image, portraying it as a country with scarcely a friend in the world. If, instead, such condemnations passed only narrowly, this would portray it as a country that, despite many enemies, also has many friends. And countries with many friends are by definition not pariahs.

Could an investment of diplomatic effort flip some of these countries? It’s hard to know, given that Israel has never tried; for decades, its diplomacy has focused almost exclusively on the West and the Middle East. Nevertheless, another datum from the Goldstone vote is suggestive: the only Latin American country that did vote “no” on Goldstone — Panama — did so two weeks after its president met personally with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

And that’s the point: Most of these countries know little about Israel, and therefore care little. But if Israel made an effort to fill the knowledge gap, the caring gap might shrink, too. At the very least, it’s worth a try — especially when the alternative is for Israeli diplomats to waste their time battering their heads against a hostile Arab wall.

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ANNAPOLIS: “A fantastic photo-op”

That’s what Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman thinks Annapolis will be. (That and “a terrific cocktail party.”) Judging by the way Olmert, after Bush’s opening remarks, hustled Bush and Abbas out from behind the podium to display their interlocked hands (you can hear Olmert saying “Mr. President, we should move from the podium so they will see us shaking hands” at 4:41 in the video), Lieberman may be right.

Lieberman also expressed relief at reports that Olmert will naysay the creation of a Palestinian state until Abbas has wrested full control of Gaza from Hamas, calling this the “biggest headline” that can emerge from the conference. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

That’s what Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman thinks Annapolis will be. (That and “a terrific cocktail party.”) Judging by the way Olmert, after Bush’s opening remarks, hustled Bush and Abbas out from behind the podium to display their interlocked hands (you can hear Olmert saying “Mr. President, we should move from the podium so they will see us shaking hands” at 4:41 in the video), Lieberman may be right.

Lieberman also expressed relief at reports that Olmert will naysay the creation of a Palestinian state until Abbas has wrested full control of Gaza from Hamas, calling this the “biggest headline” that can emerge from the conference. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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