Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bar-Ilan University

Not Getting Anywhere

The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations joins other prominent Jewish organizations in blasting the administration, declaring in a lengthy statement that, “the unusually harsh comments made since then by members of the Administration have resulted in increased tensions. The interests of all concerned would best be served by a prompt commencement of the proximity talks that had been previously agreed to by all parties, and all parties should act in a manner that does not undercut such talks.” But it is the Presidents’ remarks on the Obami’s cough-up-more-concessions gambit that are most noteworthy in that they directly confront the premise of the Obami’s tactics:

Israel has consistently stated that it is prepared to return to direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority without preconditions, and recently has agreed to enter into proximity talks that would lead to face-to-face discussions. The Palestinians also had agreed to such proximity talks. Notwithstanding that apparent sign of progress, the Palestinians and their supporters in the Arab League have repeatedly looked for ways to avoid discussions that might lead to a peace agreement and have imposed conditions never demanded of previous Israeli governments. Despite this, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government have declared an unprecedented settlement freeze in the West Bank and have taken important steps to remove roadblocks and to otherwise promote conditions to improve life in the Palestinian territories. This conduct by Israel, supported by the United States, together with action undertaken by the Palestinian Authority, has resulted in tangible improvement for those living under the control of the Palestinian Authority. The United States of America should capitalize on these improved conditions and insist that the Palestinians operate in good faith and live up to their commitment to begin new talks.

The recent disclosure by Israel of its intention to build additional housing units in eastern Jerusalem at a future date does not contradict its announced commitment to freeze settlement building for a limited period, and a cessation to building in Jerusalem was never a condition of the proximity talks. Israel has always claimed a right to build in its capital city. The apparent refusal by the Palestinian Authority to avoid discussions now until the plans regarding the 1600 future units are withdrawn is yet another instance of the Palestinians missing an opportunity to move toward a resolution of the conflict. The true test of peaceful intentions is the willingness to engage in negotiations.

Israel’s commitment to participate in proximity talks is in sharp distinction to the continued incitement by the Palestinian Authority and its public relations organs which have consistently acted in violation of its agreements with Israel. Only last week, coincident with the visit of Vice President Biden to the region, the Palestinians went ahead with the dedication of a public square in honor of  Dalal Mughrabi, a terrorist who was responsible for the massacre of 37 Israelis and American photographer Gail Rubin in 1978. It is such conduct which merits the attention and condemnation of those who seek to achieve peace.

It took a while, but Jewish organizations — the ADL, AIPAC, AJC, and now the Conference — have recoiled against Obama’s notion that the problem in the “peace process” is Israel and that the solution is to extract more concessions to toss to the Palestinians. The Obami’s take on the situation is not grounded in fact. (Which party has been making steps toward peace and which has been naming squares after terrorists?) As we’ve seen for over a year, it is also bad bargaining. Now we see it’s bad politics.

And the Israeli government? For now, Bibi Netanyahu is thanking Hillary Clinton for her last round of platitudinous comments. (“The State of Israel appreciates and respects the warm words said by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding the deep bond between the U.S. and Israel, and on the U.S.’ commitment to Israel’s security.” But how bonded and  committed is the administration to pick a fight, risk emboldening Palestinians bent on terror, and signal to the region that Obama is not on the same page with the Israeli government?) However, on the substance of the Obami’s demands, Netanyahu isn’t buying the Obama narrative either:

“With regard to commitments to peace, the government of Israel has proven over the last year that it is commitment to peace, both in words and actions,” said the statement. …

The statement cited as examples Netanyahu’s inaugural foreign policy speech made at Bar Ilan University, the removal of hundreds of roadblocks across the West Bank, and its decision to freeze temporarily construction in West Bank settlements. The latter, said the statement, was even called by Clinton an “unprecedented” move.

The Israeli government reiterated its call for the Palestinians “to enter the tent of peace without preconditions, because that is the only way to reach a settlement that will ensure peace, security and prosperity for both nations.”

So let’s take stock: no mainstream Jewish organization supports the Obami’s gambit, neither does any elected official who has publicly spoken up. The Israeli government is not persuaded to make any more moves. The Palestinians are calling for “rage” over the restoration of a synagogue in Jerusalem. In short, Obama’s Middle East policy is a complete flop, both domestically and internationally. Whoever thought up this latest move — Axelrod? Emanuel? — might want to consider going back to making hash out of health care.

The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations joins other prominent Jewish organizations in blasting the administration, declaring in a lengthy statement that, “the unusually harsh comments made since then by members of the Administration have resulted in increased tensions. The interests of all concerned would best be served by a prompt commencement of the proximity talks that had been previously agreed to by all parties, and all parties should act in a manner that does not undercut such talks.” But it is the Presidents’ remarks on the Obami’s cough-up-more-concessions gambit that are most noteworthy in that they directly confront the premise of the Obami’s tactics:

Israel has consistently stated that it is prepared to return to direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority without preconditions, and recently has agreed to enter into proximity talks that would lead to face-to-face discussions. The Palestinians also had agreed to such proximity talks. Notwithstanding that apparent sign of progress, the Palestinians and their supporters in the Arab League have repeatedly looked for ways to avoid discussions that might lead to a peace agreement and have imposed conditions never demanded of previous Israeli governments. Despite this, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government have declared an unprecedented settlement freeze in the West Bank and have taken important steps to remove roadblocks and to otherwise promote conditions to improve life in the Palestinian territories. This conduct by Israel, supported by the United States, together with action undertaken by the Palestinian Authority, has resulted in tangible improvement for those living under the control of the Palestinian Authority. The United States of America should capitalize on these improved conditions and insist that the Palestinians operate in good faith and live up to their commitment to begin new talks.

The recent disclosure by Israel of its intention to build additional housing units in eastern Jerusalem at a future date does not contradict its announced commitment to freeze settlement building for a limited period, and a cessation to building in Jerusalem was never a condition of the proximity talks. Israel has always claimed a right to build in its capital city. The apparent refusal by the Palestinian Authority to avoid discussions now until the plans regarding the 1600 future units are withdrawn is yet another instance of the Palestinians missing an opportunity to move toward a resolution of the conflict. The true test of peaceful intentions is the willingness to engage in negotiations.

Israel’s commitment to participate in proximity talks is in sharp distinction to the continued incitement by the Palestinian Authority and its public relations organs which have consistently acted in violation of its agreements with Israel. Only last week, coincident with the visit of Vice President Biden to the region, the Palestinians went ahead with the dedication of a public square in honor of  Dalal Mughrabi, a terrorist who was responsible for the massacre of 37 Israelis and American photographer Gail Rubin in 1978. It is such conduct which merits the attention and condemnation of those who seek to achieve peace.

It took a while, but Jewish organizations — the ADL, AIPAC, AJC, and now the Conference — have recoiled against Obama’s notion that the problem in the “peace process” is Israel and that the solution is to extract more concessions to toss to the Palestinians. The Obami’s take on the situation is not grounded in fact. (Which party has been making steps toward peace and which has been naming squares after terrorists?) As we’ve seen for over a year, it is also bad bargaining. Now we see it’s bad politics.

And the Israeli government? For now, Bibi Netanyahu is thanking Hillary Clinton for her last round of platitudinous comments. (“The State of Israel appreciates and respects the warm words said by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding the deep bond between the U.S. and Israel, and on the U.S.’ commitment to Israel’s security.” But how bonded and  committed is the administration to pick a fight, risk emboldening Palestinians bent on terror, and signal to the region that Obama is not on the same page with the Israeli government?) However, on the substance of the Obami’s demands, Netanyahu isn’t buying the Obama narrative either:

“With regard to commitments to peace, the government of Israel has proven over the last year that it is commitment to peace, both in words and actions,” said the statement. …

The statement cited as examples Netanyahu’s inaugural foreign policy speech made at Bar Ilan University, the removal of hundreds of roadblocks across the West Bank, and its decision to freeze temporarily construction in West Bank settlements. The latter, said the statement, was even called by Clinton an “unprecedented” move.

The Israeli government reiterated its call for the Palestinians “to enter the tent of peace without preconditions, because that is the only way to reach a settlement that will ensure peace, security and prosperity for both nations.”

So let’s take stock: no mainstream Jewish organization supports the Obami’s gambit, neither does any elected official who has publicly spoken up. The Israeli government is not persuaded to make any more moves. The Palestinians are calling for “rage” over the restoration of a synagogue in Jerusalem. In short, Obama’s Middle East policy is a complete flop, both domestically and internationally. Whoever thought up this latest move — Axelrod? Emanuel? — might want to consider going back to making hash out of health care.

Read Less

Promoting Israel’s Image Means Answering the Libels

New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ethan Bronner writes today about the effort by Israel’s Information and Diaspora Affairs Ministry to get Israelis to promote a positive image of their country. The idea is to coach those traveling abroad on how to improve their nation’s faltering international image.

The effort gets mixed reviews. Some, like leftist political scientist Shlomo Avineri, think it is representative of a “Bolshevik mentality” that seeks to mobilize the people to serve their government. More to the point, he doesn’t like the information the campaign is peddling because it defends the Jewish state against false charges that Israeli policies are obstacles to peace with the Palestinians.

More trenchant criticism came from Eytan Gilboa of Bar-Ilan University. He had no problem with the information intended to help people defend Israel. But he did think the effort was far too focused on disabusing the world of the idea that Israel was a primitive or violent country rather than the high-tech, fun, and attractive place that it really is. “This country’s main challenges are the false comparison people make with an apartheid state and the questioning of its right to exist,” Mr. Gilboa said. “And the pamphlets don’t deal with those.”

Gilboa is right. As I wrote about the “Israel Branding” project promoted by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the October issue of COMMENTARY, the country’s “immediate need is to not let the libels spread against it go unanswered. Unless Israel is viewed as being in the right in its struggle to defend its existence the brand-evaluator ratings it gets will be pointless.”

New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ethan Bronner writes today about the effort by Israel’s Information and Diaspora Affairs Ministry to get Israelis to promote a positive image of their country. The idea is to coach those traveling abroad on how to improve their nation’s faltering international image.

The effort gets mixed reviews. Some, like leftist political scientist Shlomo Avineri, think it is representative of a “Bolshevik mentality” that seeks to mobilize the people to serve their government. More to the point, he doesn’t like the information the campaign is peddling because it defends the Jewish state against false charges that Israeli policies are obstacles to peace with the Palestinians.

More trenchant criticism came from Eytan Gilboa of Bar-Ilan University. He had no problem with the information intended to help people defend Israel. But he did think the effort was far too focused on disabusing the world of the idea that Israel was a primitive or violent country rather than the high-tech, fun, and attractive place that it really is. “This country’s main challenges are the false comparison people make with an apartheid state and the questioning of its right to exist,” Mr. Gilboa said. “And the pamphlets don’t deal with those.”

Gilboa is right. As I wrote about the “Israel Branding” project promoted by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the October issue of COMMENTARY, the country’s “immediate need is to not let the libels spread against it go unanswered. Unless Israel is viewed as being in the right in its struggle to defend its existence the brand-evaluator ratings it gets will be pointless.”

Read Less

Avigdor Lieberman Makes News

Capping off a few days of harsh verbal exchanges with Syria, the Israeli foreign minister let fly with a big one:

Speaking at an event at Bar-Ilan University, Lieberman warned Assad that in an event of war with Israel, “not only will you lose the war, you and your family will no longer be in power.”

I’m not sure whether this idea is good or bad. If Israel wants to simply deter Syria and create pressure against adventurism from Hezbollah, it is probably a good idea. But if Israel indeed wishes to rid the region of Bashar and his terrorist regime, Lieberman probably shouldn’t have said anything, because Bashar seems convinced that the IDF will not hold him accountable in another war with Hezbollah. Now he doesn’t have that kind of confidence.

My guess is that Lieberman tipped his hand to the fact that the Israelis have made a strategic decision that another 2006-style conflagration will not leave Damascus, or the Assad regime, untouched. Making this fact known to the Syrians — despite the appearance of belligerence — will actually make another round of war less likely.

Capping off a few days of harsh verbal exchanges with Syria, the Israeli foreign minister let fly with a big one:

Speaking at an event at Bar-Ilan University, Lieberman warned Assad that in an event of war with Israel, “not only will you lose the war, you and your family will no longer be in power.”

I’m not sure whether this idea is good or bad. If Israel wants to simply deter Syria and create pressure against adventurism from Hezbollah, it is probably a good idea. But if Israel indeed wishes to rid the region of Bashar and his terrorist regime, Lieberman probably shouldn’t have said anything, because Bashar seems convinced that the IDF will not hold him accountable in another war with Hezbollah. Now he doesn’t have that kind of confidence.

My guess is that Lieberman tipped his hand to the fact that the Israelis have made a strategic decision that another 2006-style conflagration will not leave Damascus, or the Assad regime, untouched. Making this fact known to the Syrians — despite the appearance of belligerence — will actually make another round of war less likely.

Read Less




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