Commentary Magazine


Topic: Benjamin Netanyahu

Who Will Show Leadership on Iran?

One of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s goals in his speech today before the United Nations General Assembly was to put the debate about Iran’s nuclear program back on the international community’s front burner. But whether he succeeded or not—and given the hate for Israel that is integral to the culture of the UN it is unlikely that many nations will heed his warnings about the moral equivalence between ISIS and Hamas Iran—the real question that needs to be asked is why the Iranian threat has dropped off the radar screen here in the United States in the last year and whether anyone of stature in this country is willing to speak up consistently and forcefully on the issue.

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One of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s goals in his speech today before the United Nations General Assembly was to put the debate about Iran’s nuclear program back on the international community’s front burner. But whether he succeeded or not—and given the hate for Israel that is integral to the culture of the UN it is unlikely that many nations will heed his warnings about the moral equivalence between ISIS and Hamas Iran—the real question that needs to be asked is why the Iranian threat has dropped off the radar screen here in the United States in the last year and whether anyone of stature in this country is willing to speak up consistently and forcefully on the issue.

Shutting down the debate about Iran is one of President Obama’s few political triumphs during his second term. Though the president pledged to shut down Iran’s nuclear program during his campaigne for reelection, his main focus after his victory was on appeasing Tehran and enticing the Islamist regime to sign an interim nuclear deal that undermined economic sanctions while doing nothing to end the threat. Having squandered immense political, economic, and military leverage over Iran in order to secure that agreement, he then branded critics of this travesty as warmongers. With the help of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, he was able to squelch efforts to increase sanctions on Iran if negotiations failed despite the support of majorities in the both Houses of Congress for a measure that would have strengthened his hand in talks with the ayatollahs.

Since the collapse of that effort, the issue has remained largely dormant in the U.S. as diplomacy with Iran has remained largely under the radar. And while conservatives can generally be counted on to attack virtually any Obama initiative, let alone one as misguided as his attempt at engagement with Iran, many on the right have been far more interested in following Senator Rand Paul’s lead in criticizing the president’s misuse of executive authority rather than sounding the alarms about Iran. Even if, in the wake of the new concerns about the rise of the ISIS terrorist movement, it appears that the isolationist moment in American politics may be fading, the president is probably right if he thinks he still has plenty of room to maneuver in negotiating a new Iran deal that may be even more dangerous than last year’s accord.

Given the leaks about possible compromises—including the absurd one last week about an American proposal that Iran disconnect the pipes that link the centrifuges that enrich the uranium used for nuclear fuel—there is little doubt about the administration’s zeal for a deal. In response, Iran has stiffened its demands to the point where it is clear that any accord will leave their nuclear infrastructure in place and quickly eviscerate sanctions while making it impossible to re-impose them even if it quickly became clear that Tehran wasn’t keeping its promises.

But in the absence of serious debate about the issue or the willingness of GOP leaders to draw a line in the sand on the nuclear issue, it is possible to envisage a repeat of last year’s fiasco in which critics of Iran appeasement were routed by the administration.

That is why Senator Ted Cruz’s decision to stake out an extremely tough position on Iran is such an intriguing development.

Cruz has critics, including COMMENTARY bloggers, who rightly point out that his success in buffaloing congressional Republican leaders into supporting the confrontation that led to last year’s government shutdown was a huge mistake. So, too, is his continued unwillingness to concede that it was an error. But like it or not, the Texan has become an extremely influential figure in the GOP who is clearly interested in running for president in 2016. While Cruz goes into the next election cycle as a huge underdog who is probably not a viable Republican option to defeat Hillary Clinton, what is most interesting about his effort is the fact that this Tea Party hero seems to think foreign policy is where he can best differentiate himself from other conservatives or a libertarian like Rand Paul.

Where last year he rushed to the Senate floor to second Rand Paul’s dubious but wildly popular filibuster about the administration’s use of drones, in recent months he has been throwing down the gauntlet to the Kentucky senator. Though he claims he should not be confused with an all-out interventionist like John McCain, Cruz’s op-ed in Politico Magazine published yesterday seemed to indicate he is prepared to use opposition to the Obama drive for détente with Iran as a rallying point for his presidential hopes.

Cynics will say this is just about Cruz seeking an edge for 2016 and, as with his courageous stand against anti-Semitic critics of Israel among those protesting persecution of Christians in the Middle East, dismiss his statements as politics as usual rather than principle.

But at a time when the administration appears to be operating with a free hand on Iran, this is no time to questioning the bona fides of anyone on the national stage that is willing to prioritize this issue. Cruz’s insistence that justified concerns about ISIS should not allow the West to give Iran a pass on both its use of terrorism and its nuclear ambitions is exactly what we should be hearing from Republicans on Obama. But, for the most part, this point and others he made about Iran’s egregious human rights record haven’t been said loudly or often enough.

Even if we were willing to accept the premise that Cruz is doing this for political reasons—and his record on both Israel and Iran suggests that his foreign-policy views have been both consistent and sincere—that doesn’t change the fact that his effort to change the conversation about the issue is timely and much needed. If he steals a march on Paul or other 2016 contenders by pushing Republicans to speak up on Iran the way he did about the shutdown, then so much the better for him, his party, and the country.

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Some Terrorists More Equal Than Others

Last week, when President Obama denounced ISIS during his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations and called for a concerted effort by the international community to defeat the terrorist group, he received some well-deserved applause. But when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called for the same body to judge Hamas and Iran by the same standard they use for ISIS, he might as well have been talking to a wall. At the UN, some terrorists are more equal than others, a double standard that was also present when Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas spoke to the world body on Friday.

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Last week, when President Obama denounced ISIS during his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations and called for a concerted effort by the international community to defeat the terrorist group, he received some well-deserved applause. But when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called for the same body to judge Hamas and Iran by the same standard they use for ISIS, he might as well have been talking to a wall. At the UN, some terrorists are more equal than others, a double standard that was also present when Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas spoke to the world body on Friday.

That Netanyahu wouldn’t persuade a UN General Assembly that has repeatedly voted to demonize Israeli acts of self-defense against Palestinian terrorism was a given. But the real tragedy is not the indifference of a world body that is tainted by the same virus of anti-Semitism that is gaining strength around the world. It is that those who are supposed to represent the Palestinians are still so cowed by the Islamists that they refuse to understand that the Islamists are as much if not a greater threat to them than they are to Israel. Though much of the Arab and Muslim world is belatedly coming to grips with the fact that ISIS must be destroyed (a task they hope will be largely accomplished by the United States with minimal aid from local forces), if they are to avoid being swept away by a sea of murderous fanaticism, so-called moderate Palestinians must understand that Hamas poses the same threat to their survival.

Instead, when PA leader Abbas had his turn last week at the UN podium, he devoted his remarks to some of the usual calumnies against Israel. He spoke of “war criminals” and genocidal crimes against the Palestinian people having been committed during the 50-day war launched by Hamas this past summer. The problem with this speech wasn’t just that, in stark contrast to Netanyahu who spoke repeatedly of his desire for peace and willingness to compromise to attain an agreement, Abbas talked only about conflict.

More to the point, Abbas refused to point out that the only party that committed war crimes against the Palestinian people was Hamas, his erstwhile partner in the PA government following the signing of a unity pact last spring. It was Hamas, as Netanyahu rightly pointed out, which used Palestinian civilians as human shields behind which it launched thousands of rockets at Israeli cities. It was Hamas that sought to maximize Palestinian civilian casualties so as to create more anti-Israel talking points, not a Jewish state that was reluctantly dragged into the conflict and did its best to minimize the impact its counter-attack hand on the people of Gaza.

Abbas has repeatedly demonstrated that he is willing neither to make peace with Israel nor to confront Hamas. Instead, he wishes only to avoid an agreement while continuing to milk the international community for aid that keeps his corrupt government and the soulless oligarchy that runs it afloat. This is a tragedy for the Palestinians who have been abused by their leaders and so-called allies in the Arab and Muslim world for the past 70 years.

It is easy to understand why most of the world refuses to accept Netanyahu’s analogy between ISIS and Hamas. Though, as the prime minister pointed out, the two have common ultimate goals in terms of establishing Islamist rule over the region and the world as well as speaking a common language of terror and using many of the same tactics, the international community sees ISIS as threatening other Muslims and Westerners while clinging to the belief that all Hamas wants to do is to kill Jews. The former is rightly held to be unacceptable while the latter, when cloaked in the language of anti-Zionism, is somehow rendered palatable since denying Jews the same right to sovereignty, self-determination, and self-defense that others are routinely granted is considered debatable if not completely reasonable.

But the Palestinians are the big losers here. So long as Abbas won’t fight Hamas, the Palestinian people will not be forced to choose between peace and coexistence with their Jewish neighbors and a never-ending war that Hamas and much of his own Fatah Party desires. It is the people of Gaza who live under the despotic Islamist rule of Hamas and the people of the West Bank who may well do the same if Israel does not continue to protect Abbas from a coup who suffer most from the pass Hamas gets from the international community. The same is true of those who live under the thumb of the other Islamist terrorist regime that Netanyahu mentioned in his speech: the people of Iran.

UN delegates may mock Netanyahu and his use of audio-visual aids during his UN speech (this year’s device was an enlarged photo of Hamas using Palestinians as human shields) or the American pop culture references in his speech (this year’s favorite was his contention that pretending that Iran didn’t employ terrorism was as crazy as saying Derek Jeter didn’t play shortstop). But the people of Israel sent him to New York to tell the truth about the calumnies hurled at the Jewish state. It is the Palestinians who lack a leader who is similarly interested in telling the truth. Until they do, they will continue to wait for a solution to the conflict and be forced to live with the prospect of being ruled by their own Islamist killers.

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Bill Clinton: Bibi Derangement Syndrome’s Patient Zero

Ever since leaving office, Bill Clinton’s fabrications about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process have only become more fanciful and self-serving, the consistent element of which is his adamant refusal to tell the truth. But there’s another common thread to Clinton’s world of make believe: he is patient zero of the ensuing epidemic of Bibi Derangement Syndrome.

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Ever since leaving office, Bill Clinton’s fabrications about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process have only become more fanciful and self-serving, the consistent element of which is his adamant refusal to tell the truth. But there’s another common thread to Clinton’s world of make believe: he is patient zero of the ensuing epidemic of Bibi Derangement Syndrome.

The latest episode of Clinton’s condition took place at the Harkin Steak Fry in Iowa, when Clinton was goaded into defending his Middle East policy by a pro-Palestinian activist. Caleb Howe has the transcript of the video captured by C-Span cameras:

Activist: If we don’t force [Netanyahu] to make peace, we will not have peace.

Clinton: Wait, wait, wait. First of all, I agree with that. But in 2000, Ehud Barak, I got him to agree to something that I’m not sure I would have gotten Rabin to agree to, and Rabin was murdered for giving land to the Palestinians.

Activist: I agree. But Netanyahu is not the guy.

Clinton: So, they got … I agree with that, but we had, I had him a state, they would have gotten 96% of the West Bank, land swap in Gaza, appropriate water rights … and East Jerusalem! Something that hasn’t even been discussed since I left office.

And by the way, don’t forget, both Arafat and Abbas later said they would take it. They said, they said, ‘we changed our minds, we want it now’ and by then they had a government wouldn’t give it to them.

Let’s unpack this. First of all, Clinton agrees that Netanyahu must be forced by the U.S. to make peace. Presumably Clinton doesn’t agree with Samantha Power that the U.S. should invade Israel to force this peace, but he never says exactly which gun he’d prefer be held to Bibi’s head. (Perhaps holding up weapons resupply during wartime, as President Obama has done?)

He also agrees with the protester that Netanyahu is “not the guy” with whom such a peace agreement can be signed. This will likely not make Israelis too happy, because they know from experience that when Clinton doesn’t want an Israeli prime minister in office, he jumps right into the elections to try to arrange his preferred outcome.

In 1996, this meddling took the form of Clinton pretty much openly campaigning for Netanyahu’s opponent, Shimon Peres. In 1999, this meant Clinton’s advisors helping to run Ehud Barak’s campaign. The first time he was nearly successful–if memory serves, many Israelis went to sleep with Peres leading the election returns and woke to prime minister-elect Netanyahu. The second time he was successful.

But all along it was personal animus that guided Clinton–a deeply dangerous and thoroughly irresponsible way to conduct foreign policy, which helps explain why Clinton’s foreign policy was such a mess. Say what you will about George W. Bush’s case for regime change in Iraq, but it rested on more than “There’s something about this guy I just don’t like.” The same cannot be said for Clinton.

Indeed, it wasn’t as though Netanyahu was intransigent on matters of peace with the Palestinians. Once in office, Netanyahu too struck deals with Arafat. He agreed to the Wye River accords despite his belief that Clinton went back on a promise to free Pollard, and he agreed to redeploy troops from Hebron while continuing to implement Oslo.

Next, we have Clinton’s assertion that giving Palestinians sovereignty in East Jerusalem is “Something that hasn’t even been discussed since I left office.” This is obviously untrue. During the Bush presidency, Ehud Olmert made such an offer to Mahmoud Abbas, who walked away. Not only that, but even Netanyahu has hinted at a willingness to divide Jerusalem.

That also undercuts the latter part of that claim by Clinton, that Abbas regretted saying no but by the time he wanted such a deal it was off the table. It was not off the table; it was offered, again, to Abbas directly.

So is anything Clinton said true? Actually, there is a kernel of truth–no doubt purely accidental–in what he said about Barak and Rabin. But it further undermines his point. Rabin was far from the two-state-cheerleader the left makes him out to be. He was far more reluctant to consider dividing Jerusalem and establishing a fully independent Palestinian state than his later successors–including Benjamin Netanyahu. Bibi now is to the left of where Rabin was then on pretty much all the main issues.

So is Barak, of course, which was Clinton’s point. But the real story here is the fact that you can’t simply jump from Rabin to Barak: Netanyahu was in between, and he played a significant role by forcing the right to accept and implement Oslo in order to govern and by showing the Israeli right could be talked into withdrawing from territory, even places as holy and significant as Hebron. The rightist premiers that followed Barak continued withdrawing from territory and offering peace plans to the Palestinian leadership.

When it comes to Israel, liberal politicians tend to fall into one of two categories: either they’re ignorant of Israeli history and politics, or they assume their audience to be. For Clinton it’s almost surely the latter, which makes it all the more ignoble.

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Israeli Reality Check for Liberal Critics

Israel’s American critics viewed the latest conflict in Gaza as more evidence of how the Jewish state needs to be saved from itself. That is particularly true of Jewish groups like the left-wing lobby J Street whose attacks on the Netanyahu government and support for Obama administration pressure on Israel have continued even as anti-Zionist and pro-BDS (boycott, divest, and sanction) efforts have intensified. But the latest opinion poll from Israel illustrates yet again just how out of touch these liberal know-it-alls are with reality as seen by the majority of Israelis.

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Israel’s American critics viewed the latest conflict in Gaza as more evidence of how the Jewish state needs to be saved from itself. That is particularly true of Jewish groups like the left-wing lobby J Street whose attacks on the Netanyahu government and support for Obama administration pressure on Israel have continued even as anti-Zionist and pro-BDS (boycott, divest, and sanction) efforts have intensified. But the latest opinion poll from Israel illustrates yet again just how out of touch these liberal know-it-alls are with reality as seen by the majority of Israelis.

A new opinion poll from Israel’s Channel 10 provides sobering results for those who continue to hope that Israelis will listen to them and both push for a new prime minister and resolve to begin leaving the West Bank. While many, if not most Americans, actually believe the press when they call Netanyahu a “hard-liner,” the perception of his conduct at home is very different. Far from convincing Israel to start ceding more territory to the Palestinians, after their 50-day ordeal during the summer as thousands of rockets fell on their heads and a new threat of terror tunnels made them feel even less safe, more Israelis seem inclined to view Netanyahu as not tough enough.

Netanyahu’s personal approval ratings dropped once the fighting ended and many of his countrymen were disappointed with his failure to end the threat from Hamas-run Gaza once and for all. These latest numbers confirm that the big winner if elections were to be held today would be the prime minister’s most strident critic on the right. Even more discouraging for the “save it from itself” crowd is the fact that the right-wing parties as a whole are gaining strength while those on the left are dropping even lower in public esteem.

The Channel 10 poll shows that the public would give Netanyahu’s Likud Party 26 seats in a new Knesset. That’s less than the 31 it got when it ran on a joint ticket in 2013 with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytenu Party. But that right-wing rival would get 14, representing a gain of four for the two natural coalition partners. But the big winner would be Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home Party which has been highly critical of what it considers to be Netanyahu’s timid approach to Gaza and negotiations with the Palestinians. It would get 16 in a new election, an increase of four over their current total.

While these three men are more or less continually at each other’s throats, it must be understood that the combination of the three—which represent the core of any center-right government—would stand at 56, almost enough for them to govern on their own and reminiscent of the old days of Labor Party dominance when the left ruled the country for its first three decades. That would give Netanyahu the option of putting together a right-wing government with the religious parties that would, however fractious its character, dominate the Knesset.

At the same time, the biggest losers would be the parties that Israel’s critics are counting on to form the core of a new “pro-peace” Cabinet. The centrist Yesh Atid Party led by current Finance Minister Yair Lapid is the big loser in the poll, going down to only 8 seats from its current 19. That leaves any potential center-left coalition led by Labor, which went down to 13 from its current 15 seats, hopelessly short of any sort of majority. Even if you added in the seats that may be won by a new party focused on economics led by former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon to the total of all the left-wing, centrist, and Arab parties, it adds up to only 49. And that is an inconceivable coalition since in all likelihood Kahlon and his supporters would join any Cabinet led by Netanyahu.

What does this mean?

The first conclusion is that although anything can happen in the two or three years between now and the next election, barring some sort of spectacular and currently unforeseen collapse, Netanyahu will almost certainly lead the next Israeli government.

Second, Lapid’s party appears fated to follow that of every other centrist party in Israeli political history. Voters are always hungry for alternatives to the old left and right choices but even though circumstances occasionally thrust a centrist to the fore, they are inevitably, as Lapid has been, marginalized by the continued centrality of war and peace issues on which they cannot compete. Lapid also made the same mistake of all his predecessors (including his father) of joining a government and thus became both tarnished and diminished by the hard choices any Cabinet must make on economics or peace. These poll numbers also lessen Lapid’s leverage in the current budget dispute he’s been waging with Netanyahu.

Third, and most importantly, these numbers reflect the fact that, unlike most liberal Jews–or most Americans for that matter–Israelis have been paying attention to events in the region. They know the continued rule of Hamas over Gaza and the Islamists’ increased popularity among Palestinians at the expense of the supposedly more moderate Fatah and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas renders any idea of withdrawing from the West Bank, as was done in Gaza, an impossibility. No sane Israeli leader would risk turning that far larger and more strategic territory into another Gaza.

This will, no doubt, heighten the frustrations of American left-wingers about Israel. But their anger tells us more about them and their refusal to think seriously about what Palestinians have done and believe than it does about what Israel should do. Israelis want peace as much if not more than American liberals. But they understand that dreams of peace are meaningless to Hamas and Palestinian rejectionists. Those who claim to be pro-Israel as well as pro-peace need to come to terms with the fact that the people who understand their country’s dilemmas far better than they could are still firmly rejecting their advice.

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The Ignorance Driving Coverage of Israel and American Policy

I can’t quite decide if the headline and framing of this recent dispatch from the Washington Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief is further evidence of everything that is wrong about the media’s reporting on the conflict or if it’s a modest step in the right direction. The headline is: “Here’s what really happened in the Gaza war (according to the Israelis).”

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I can’t quite decide if the headline and framing of this recent dispatch from the Washington Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief is further evidence of everything that is wrong about the media’s reporting on the conflict or if it’s a modest step in the right direction. The headline is: “Here’s what really happened in the Gaza war (according to the Israelis).”

The point of the article is that a group of journalists met with an Israeli intelligence official to get Israel’s side of the story. On the one hand, I suppose the media can be commended for at least recognizing that there’s a side other than that churned out by Hamas flacks. On the other hand, the war is over. Perhaps, I don’t know, during the war would have been a good time to figure out that there are two sides to the story? Just a thought. Additionally, isn’t the fact that basic information about Hamas fighters and weaponry is considered a major scoop a massive indictment of the press?

Here’s another question: should the Jerusalem bureau chief of a major American newspaper show his surprise at finding out information he should have known long before? The tone of the report, then, doesn’t help either. For example:

The intelligence chief said it is not important how lethal the rockets were. He said the aim was to instill terror, to force a million Israelis to run into shelters.

So Hamas succeeded, in part.

Of the 4,500 rockets fired by Hamas and allies, 875 fell inside Gaza. Many were lobbed at Israeli soldiers during the ground offensive, but others were duds or misfires that landed short, meaning Hamas dropped explosives on its own people.

It is even possible, the intelligence chief said, that some of that fire was intentional.

Yes, some of the damage to Gaza was inflicted directly by Hamas. If you have the resources of the Washington Post behind you and you need this pointed out to you after the war, you might want to consider it not a revelation but a piece of constructive professional criticism.

What we discovered–or, rather, confirmed yet again–during this latest war was that the Palestinian leadership, and especially Hamas, relies on the ignorance of the Western press. The lack of knowledge about Palestinian politics is crucial to Hamas’s strategy and it should be a source of agitation for newspapers providing the resources to cover the conflict and getting this lump of coal in return.

But it’s not just ignorance of Palestinian politics; it’s ignorance of Israeli politics too–far less justifiable since English is so broadly spoken there and the country allows freedom of the press. And that ignorance is not just on the part of the press; it’s also from national governments, including the current occupants of the White House.

This was brought to light again by another excellent piece debunking settlement myths by Elliott Abrams and Uri Sadot, who have returned to this topic again to address the manifold falsities inspired by the recent land designation, which we covered on the blog here and here. Not only were the press and foreign leaders wrong about this particular land, but Abrams and Sadot also point out it’s part of a larger misunderstanding about Israel’s broader settlement policy under Benjamin Netanyahu.

The prime minister continues to rein in settlement growth. For that, he is denounced by the settler movement for restricting settlements and by Western governments for expanding settlements. Only one of those is right–and it’s not the Western governments:

It’s a lose-lose situation for Bibi, as nasty attacks from settler leaders coincide with those from prime ministers, foreign ministers, and presidents across the globe. The Israeli prime minister deserves credit, under these circumstances, for sticking to what he has said and appears to believe: Israel must build where it will stay, in Jerusalem and the major blocks, and it is foolish to waste resources in West Bank areas it will someday leave.

At this point, the mindless refrain on settlement construction seems to have assumed a life of its own. But anyone who’s serious about addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should ignore the speeches and the rote condemnations, and study the numbers. The vast expansion of Israeli settlements in the future Palestinian state is simply not happening.

Newspapers may have resources, but nobody has the resources of the American government. And yet, the Obama administration’s pronouncements on Israeli politics and policy reveal a stunning, all-encompassing ignorance. Even worse, that ignorance is voluntary: it is very easy to get the real story. The president and his Cabinet don’t seem to want the real story. It’s no wonder their policies toward the conflict are so destructive and their diplomacy so thoughtlessly harmful.

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What the Syria Fiasco Means for Iran, Gaza

To say President Obama badly needed a foreign-policy win is an understatement. And there were decent odds he’d eventually get one: as sports fans tend to say about a batter in a terrible slump, “he’s due.” The plan to remove Syria’s chemical weapons was supposed to be that victory. But now administration officials don’t seem to even believe it themselves.

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To say President Obama badly needed a foreign-policy win is an understatement. And there were decent odds he’d eventually get one: as sports fans tend to say about a batter in a terrible slump, “he’s due.” The plan to remove Syria’s chemical weapons was supposed to be that victory. But now administration officials don’t seem to even believe it themselves.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, who rose to prominence accusing lots of American officials of inexcusable inaction while mass slaughter occurred on their watch and then joined the Obama Cabinet where she has practiced inexcusable inaction while mass slaughter occurred on her watch, says Assad may still have chemical weapons. And he has a record of using them. Oh, and the brutal butchers of ISIS may get their hands on them too. So the administration’s one success in the Middle East was less “mission accomplished” and more “hey, we gave it a shot.”

There is much to be concerned about in this report, but even the minor details are problematic:

Samantha Power spoke to reporters after the Security Council received a briefing from Sigrid Kaag, who heads the international effort to rid Syria of its chemical weapons.

The joint mission of the United Nations and the Organization for the prohibition of Chemical Weapons will end at the end of the month after destroying nearly all of Syria’s declared stockpile. But Kaag said the OPCW is still working with Syria to resolve discrepancies in its declaration, which she said range from outdated records to discrepancies on the volume of materials.

Power said the U.S. is concerned not only that President Bashar Assad’s regime still has chemical weapons but that any stockpiles left behind could end up in the hands of the Islamic State group, which has seized large swaths of Syria and Iraq.

“Certainly if there are chemical weapons left in Syria, there will be a risk that those weapons fall into ISIL’s hands. And we can only imagine what a group like that would do if in possession of such a weapon,” Power said, referring to the militant group by one of its known acronyms.

The Easter egg of disaster buried in that excerpt was the following sentence, if you missed it: “The joint mission of the United Nations and the Organization for the prohibition of Chemical Weapons will end at the end of the month after destroying nearly all of Syria’s declared stockpile.” It’s actually quite amazing. The job isn’t finished, and they know it’s not, but they’re ending the crux of the mission anyway because … well they just are.

So what are the lessons from yet another Obama team failure? Firstly, we knew this was a failure even before the mission came to an end, because the list of banned chemicals was not exhaustive and Assad’s regime was still using other chemical weapons during this process.

But more importantly, it continues to hammer away at whatever is left of Obama’s credibility. Ending the mission to follow through on the chemical-weapons deal before it’s done tells us much about why the world would be foolish to trust Obama on any Iran deal. Deadlines get extended, but at some point they don’t even do that anymore; the administration just gives up and pivots to trying to contain the damage from their failure.

In Syria, that damage means the possibility that not one but two actors in the conflict will use chemical weapons: the original offender, Assad, and the murderous Islamists of ISIS. In Iran, the damage from such a failure would be orders of magnitude worse, because it would mean nuclear weapons in the hands of a terroristic state actor and possibly murderous Islamist groups as well. It could be Syria, in other words, minus the state failure but plus nukes.

And it’s not just Iran, of course. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suggested that in order to preserve a cessation of hostilities emanating from Gaza, the Hamas-run enclave should be demilitarized with Obama’s Syria disarmament in mind. As the Jerusalem Post reported during the recent war:

The idea of demilitarizing Gaza has its roots in the Syrian precedent, and the fact that the US and Russia managed to successfully dismantle Syria of the vast majority of its chemical weapons stockpile.

Netanyahu likes that model, and has repeatedly praised US President Barack Obama for it.

Indeed, he has called for the same paradigm to be used with Iran: dismantling their nuclear infrastructure.

That may have once sounded like a recipe for progress. It’s now clearly a recipe for disaster. The Obama administration has taken to making promises in lieu of action. The Syrian precedent suggests those promises are, as always, just words.

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Defining Settlements Down: the False “Appropriation” Hysteria

Israel’s declaration of certain open, uncultivated areas near the 1949 Armistice Line as “state land” has been widely mischaracterized as an “appropriation” of private Palestinian land, and a promotion of settlement activity. It is neither.

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Israel’s declaration of certain open, uncultivated areas near the 1949 Armistice Line as “state land” has been widely mischaracterized as an “appropriation” of private Palestinian land, and a promotion of settlement activity. It is neither.

A determination that land is “state land” is a factual, administrative finding that does not change the ownership of land. In the West Bank–like in the American West–massive amounts of land have no private owners. There is nothing unusual about this; indeed, it is even truer inside the Green Line. Moreover, if Israel is indeed an occupying power, it has a duty to administer and maintain the rule of law, and oversee public resources, both of which require the authorities to know what land has private owners and what does not.

An “appropriation” involves taking something that is someone’s. A designation of land as “state land” requires a determination, based on extensive investigation, that it does not have a private owner. The determination can be challenged administratively and judicially, as Palestinian claimants often do, and sometimes prevail.

In other words, nothing has been taken from anyone, or given to anyone. Thus a “state land” determination does not create any new facts or change ownership.

Moreover, designating an area state land does not mean that a Jewish community can be built on it. Both illegal Jewish and Arab building on state land is often demolished. Authorizing a new residential community would require a vast number of additional administrative and political permissions, none of which appear to be remotely forthcoming. Indeed, those who object to Israel’s recent action also object Jews living or even studying on undisputedly private Jewish-owned land in the West Bank.

The hysteria over this announcement illustrates several points. First, it reflects how detached discussions of “illegal settlements” are from international law. The entire legal argument against settlements rests on one sentence of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an “occupying power” to “deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population” into the territory it occupies.

Assume the treaty even applies to this situation–and there is good reason to think it does not. Further assume that Israelis moving across the Green Line can be considered a “deportation or transfer” committed by the Israeli government, though it does not appear the government is moving anyone. None of that has anything to do with the occupying power determining the ownership status of the land, an action which does not transfer or help transfer, and indeed, has nothing to do with the movement of people.

On the other hand, Israel also announced this week the construction of thousands of housing units in eastern Jerusalem for Arab Israelis. If the Geneva Convention indeed forbids building apartments in occupied territory for one’s nationals, it does so without any ethnic discrimination. The question would not be whether the “settlers” are Jews or Arabs, but whether they are part of Israel’s “civilian population.” Yet on this action, the international community was entirely silent.

The outrage over Israel’s “settlement” actions has no basis in law. Moving people is settlement activity, but only when done by Jews. Not moving people is also settlement activity. “Settlement activity” has just become a term of opprobrium with legal pretensions.

Second, the outrage over Israel’s “state land” declaration must be seen on the background of the six-month moratorium on new settlement construction that the Netanyahu government has been quietly implementing. Indeed, even a plan to allow for some building in blocs in response to the murder of the boys was scrapped.

Bibi has quietly done exactly what all his critics in the peace camp have long demanded. But instead of bringing Abbas to the table, it has sent him on unilateral attacks at the UN and ICC.

So instead of giving Netanyahu credit for his silent freeze–credit which would raise serious questions about Abbas’s sincerity–Peace Now and the international community simply define settlements down.

In short, Netanyahu’s moratorium has only encouraged more extreme international attacks on any Jewish presence in the territories.

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Israel’s Long War Requires Patience

Israelis are still smarting from the less than satisfactory outcome of this summer’s fighting between Israel and Hamas that left the terror group still ruling Gaza and capable of firing rockets on the Jewish state whenever they choose. The discontent about who won the war and, as Prime Minister Netanyahu pointed out yesterday, Israel’s limited ability to win any such conflict in such a way to conclude it, is to be expected. But it also misses the point about what Israel’s primary objective is in the now century-long war being waged to extinguish the Zionist project.

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Israelis are still smarting from the less than satisfactory outcome of this summer’s fighting between Israel and Hamas that left the terror group still ruling Gaza and capable of firing rockets on the Jewish state whenever they choose. The discontent about who won the war and, as Prime Minister Netanyahu pointed out yesterday, Israel’s limited ability to win any such conflict in such a way to conclude it, is to be expected. But it also misses the point about what Israel’s primary objective is in the now century-long war being waged to extinguish the Zionist project.

In his insightful take on the just concluded round of fighting, author Yossi Klein Halevi writes in the New Republic that the Palestinian talking point that the conflict was caused by Israel’s siege of the Islamist-run enclave in Gaza has it backwards. It wasn’t the siege that caused the war between Israelis and Palestinians; it’s the war Hamas—and other Palestinian groups—have been waging to destroy Israel that caused the siege. In other words, rather than focus so much on the lack of a war-winning strategy that would finish Hamas, it is necessary for both disgruntled Israelis and those seeking to either console or to lecture them about their predicament to place these events in a historical perspective that is inevitably lacking in any debate about a specific battle.

This is difficult thing to ask of people who spent 50 days going back and forth to bomb shelters as Hamas rained down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities, towns, and villages and were threatened with murder via terror tunnels that were being prepared for future mayhem. Netanyahu was right to assert that Hamas had been defeated on the battlefield as its rocket offensive did relatively little damage and its tunnel project was destroyed. But the prime minister was also forced to admit that despite the severe losses suffered by the terrorist group and the Palestinian population it used as human shields, he could not say for certain that he had obtained the quiet along the border that was one of the country’s objectives in the conflict.

As David Horowitz writes in the Times of Israel, that disappoints the overwhelming majority of Israelis who supported the war effort. Many think Netanyahu was wrong to stop short of a full-scale invasion of Gaza that would eliminate Hamas once and for all. Though it’s not likely that the country would have tolerated the enormous losses that choice would entail for both Israel and the Palestinians or be happy about governing Gaza again, this complaint is logical. So long as Hamas is still in possession of the strip, any cease-fire will be only temporary and a two-state solution to the conflict between the two peoples is impossible.

But the point here isn’t whether Netanyahu, whose cautious conduct of the recent fighting may be better appreciated in the long run that it is today, made the right decision about pursuing what may well be an illusory chance for military victory. It’s that this particular war is merely another short chapter in a very long war for Israel’s existence whose end is nowhere in sight. Going into Gaza further might satisfy a current need but in the long term, Israel’s defense and its political position might be better served by waiting until a future round to settle with the Islamists.

That’s a bitter pill for the people of southern Israel, especially those who live in kibbutzim and towns adjacent to Gaza, to swallow. Many wonder whether it is wise for them to stay in places that are essentially battlefields. They know that the calm that prevails there today will, sooner or later, return to the perilous situation of the previous weeks. They are blaming Netanyahu for that since they had hoped that he would use the rockets and the tunnels as a reason to reverse Israel’s 2005 decision to withdraw every last soldier, settlement, and settler from Gaza. While even today most Israelis wouldn’t be happy about resuming the occupation of the strip, there’s no doubt that Ariel Sharon’s decision was a disaster of monumental proportions that has cost Israel dearly.

But what Israelis and those who care about it must acknowledge is that no matter what Netanyahu chose to do, no action, including a re-occupation of Gaza, would have ended the long war in which they are engaged for the Jewish state’s survival.

This is frequently forgotten, especially by those who accept the false premise that the “occupation” or the plight of Gaza is the reason the conflict continues. Unfortunately, as the frequent rejection of peace offers that would have given the Palestinians a state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and even a share of Jerusalem has proved, the conflict remains an existential one, not one about borders or settlements. Hamas’s goal remains the elimination of the Jewish state and the eviction of its population not to change Israel’s borders to accommodate limited Palestinian ambitions. Even if the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas claim to be willing to end the conflict, it, too, has consistently balked at every opportunity to do so since such an agreement would be considered a betrayal of a Palestinian sense of identity that is inextricably tied to opposition to Zionism and little else.

As Halevi points out, the Hamas offensive was designed as much to demoralize Israelis as to kill them. For them, this round was just one more step toward weakening the Jewish state until the day when Israelis are too tired or isolated to resist them.

Yet for all the characteristic pessimism and political venom that is currently pulsing through the Israeli body politic this week, those who believe that time is on the side of the Palestinians and that the Jews must act quickly to save their country from imminent peril, either through military action or more foolish diplomatic initiatives, are wrong.

If there is anything that we should have learned from all these decades of conflict, it is that despite the constant predictions of Israel’s doom, it has only gotten stronger with each passing year both from a military and economic point of view. Though the conflict continues and will persist until the day when a sea change in Arab and Muslim opinion will allow the emergence of a Palestinian peace movement that is truly committed to two states for two peoples, Israel can afford to wait until that happens.

It is instructive to note, as Halevi does, that despite the constant talk of demoralization and of the country losing its soul, its response to the Hamas assault was remarkably strong. Neither the trauma of war nor the rising tide of international anti-Semitism in response to the insistence of the Israelis on defending themselves weakened the nation’s resolve or the readiness of its people to do what was necessary to ensure their country’s survival. Despite their grousing, they appear ready to answer the same call when it inevitably goes out again. Persisting in a war of generations rather than days and weeks isn’t easy for any democracy, as America’s recent experience in the Middle East proved. But as difficult as it is for Israelis to accept Netanyahu’s caution this week, his position may reflect the patience needed to win a long war better than his more strident critics.

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Bibi, Guerrilla Warfare, and Public Opinion

The Israeli public appears to be unhappy with the ceasefire agreement that Prime Minister Netanyahu has reached with Hamas. According to one poll, his public backing for the handling of the Gaza crisis has dropped from 82 percent at the height of the fighting to just 38 percent today. Meanwhile support for more hardline members of the cabinet such as Economy Minister Naftali Bennett has surged. The common cry of critics of the ceasefire is that Netanyahu is making a big mistake by not seeking “victory,” defined as the eradication of Hamas.

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The Israeli public appears to be unhappy with the ceasefire agreement that Prime Minister Netanyahu has reached with Hamas. According to one poll, his public backing for the handling of the Gaza crisis has dropped from 82 percent at the height of the fighting to just 38 percent today. Meanwhile support for more hardline members of the cabinet such as Economy Minister Naftali Bennett has surged. The common cry of critics of the ceasefire is that Netanyahu is making a big mistake by not seeking “victory,” defined as the eradication of Hamas.

But as Jonathan Tobin and other realists have pointed out, the cost of seeking victory is simply too high for the Israeli public to stomach. Sure, Israelis may want to wipe out Hamas; who doesn’t? But once they saw what it actually took to accomplish that objective, they would likely turn against the military operation just as they previously turned against the 1982 invasion of Lebanon which was designed to eradicate the PLO. Or as the American public turned against wars in Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan.

As Haviv Rettig Gur argues in the Times of Israel, part of the problem is a mismatch between general Western, including Israeli, conceptions of what war should be like and what war is actually like most of the time. Quoting the great military historian Victor Davis Hanson, Gur notes “that for 2,500 years, democracies have held to a particular view of wars as brief, decisive, winner-takes-all confrontations between like-minded opponents.” Yet the IDF has been denied such a decisive battle with a regular enemy force since the end of the Yom Kippur War. “Defeated on those decisive battlefields,” Gur notes, “Arab opponents of Israel have turned to new arenas, to the very terror, guerrilla and irregular tactics that Israelis consider immoral and cowardly.”

Yet whatever the morality of guerrilla tactics, as a practical matter they are much harder to defeat than a conventional attack–as the U.S. discovered in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq and as Israel has learned in Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip, and as both the governments of Iraq and Syria are now learning. While it’s easy to say that the IDF should “defeat” or “destroy ” Hamas, actually accomplishing this task would involve a painful and protracted occupation of the Gaza Strip that few Israelis want to undertake. Gur writes: “The IDF believes it could take years to ‘pacify’ such a crowded, politically hostile territory, at the cost of hundreds of IDF dead and untold thousands of Palestinian dead, massive international opprobrium, and vast drains on the IDF’s manpower and financial resources that could limit its operational flexibility on other dangerous fronts, especially Syria-Lebanon and Iran.”

As a practical matter, moreover, Israel would be hard-pressed to wage such a conflict over the opposition of President Obama who would surely try to punish Israel by denying its request for more armaments and possibly by refusing to veto anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations.

Such a war might still be well-advised if Hamas were an existential threat, but it’s not. Despite all of the rockets it rained on Israel, Hamas thankfully managed to kill few Israelis.

Netanyahu’s judgment clearly is that a ceasefire which restores the status quo ante bellum is the best Israel can do right now, and he is surely right. That is not satisfying for those who hunger for an idyllic version of war in which the bad guys surrender after being bombed for a few days, but it is line with the complex reality of irregular war as it has been waged over the centuries.

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Unsatisfactory Cease-Fire Won’t Doom Bibi

Even before his acceptance of cease-fire terms that brought down criticism him on his head from across Israel’s political spectrum, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s popularity had dropped precipitately from the across-the-board backing he received at the height of the fighting in Gaza. But those thinking that dissatisfaction with his acceptance of what amounts to a draw with Hamas will hasten the end of the current government or cut short his time in office are mistaken. The choices facing Netanyahu’s critics are as constrained as those that were facing the prime minister when he swallowed hard and allowed Hamas to issue bogus boasts of victory today.

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Even before his acceptance of cease-fire terms that brought down criticism him on his head from across Israel’s political spectrum, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s popularity had dropped precipitately from the across-the-board backing he received at the height of the fighting in Gaza. But those thinking that dissatisfaction with his acceptance of what amounts to a draw with Hamas will hasten the end of the current government or cut short his time in office are mistaken. The choices facing Netanyahu’s critics are as constrained as those that were facing the prime minister when he swallowed hard and allowed Hamas to issue bogus boasts of victory today.

The big drop in Netanyahu’s popularity in a poll published yesterday indicated unhappiness with the reality that Israel faced in Gaza. Netanyahu’s decision to scale back offensive operations against Hamas weeks ago after the Israel Defense Forces destroyed the tunnels it had found was not rewarded with an end to the fighting. The massive missile barrage from Hamas in the last week that caused two civilian deaths was seen as a setback for Netanyahu’s policy of restraint.

Though international public opinion blasted Israel for hitting Hamas targets hard and causing civilian casualties in Gaza, Netanyahu’s public understood that his attempts to avoid a massive escalation in the fighting until he was dragged into it by Hamas attacks was the result of his trademark cautious behavior. But taking out the tunnels didn’t end the rocket attacks or undermine Hamas’s hold on Gaza. With his right-wing coalition allies calling for a re-occupation of Gaza in order to enforce the demilitarization of the strip that Israel needs to really ensure calm, Netanyahu finds himself branded as a right-winger abroad but also denounced as a centrist temporizer at home by many of his erstwhile allies.

The unhappy truth about the conflict is that nothing short of an all-out war to eliminate Hamas will guarantee that Israel won’t face another round of fighting anytime the Islamists choose to up the ante in the conflict. It’s also true that so long as Hamas is still left in charge there, any talk of a two-state solution in the West Bank is also effectively shelved. Despite his threats of going back to the United Nations to force Israel to withdraw from the West Bank without a peace treaty, the fighting demonstrated anew the irrelevance of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Even if Israelis were willing to believe Abbas is a credible peace partner—a dubious assumption even in the best of times—no Israeli government of any political stripe would ever give up that more strategic territory so long as there was a chance that it would mean another, larger and more dangerous Hamasistan on the country’s doorstep.

Abbas survives in the West Bank solely due to Israeli security protections for him. The notion that the PA can parachute into Gaza and ensure that construction materials aren’t used to build Hamas tunnels or to prevent it from bringing in more arms is ludicrous. Notwithstanding the promises of the United States and other sponsors of the cease-fire, the only thing it guarantees is that Israel will soon be facing another conflict with Hamas under perhaps less favorable circumstances than those that exist today.

But those who are blasting Netanyahu for his cowardice today must also realize that a decision to deal with Hamas once and for a while would incur a higher price than most Israelis are currently willing to pay, including many of those grumbling today about the prime minister’s choice. Taking down the Islamists would certainly cost the IDF hundreds of lives and result in thousands more Palestinian casualties, not to mention increasing Israel’s diplomatic isolation and worsening the already tense relations with the Obama administration. And that’s not even considering the cost of being forced to reassume the administration of Gaza and dealing with what would almost certainly be an ongoing terror campaign by Hamas and other Islamist groups.

Would it have been worth it? It’s easy to answer that question in the abstract since answering yes provides the only logical path to a better chance of calm as well as to a two-state solution. But Netanyahu can hardly be blamed for hesitating to pay such an egregious price in blood and treasure.

Nor should anyone imagine that this dismal result will — poll numbers withstanding — result in the collapse of Netanyahu’s government or a new election in the short term that might produce a new prime minister. There is no reason to believe that Netanyahu’s rivals on the right will be so foolish as to leave the Cabinet since that will leave the path open for the prime minister to assemble a new, more centrist government. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett will continue sniping at Netanyahu and will score points with their own followers as well as Likud voters who are disappointed that the prime minister won’t follow his own arguments about Hamas to their logical conclusion. But beyond venting their spleen at him, the PM’s right-wing critics have few options.

Just as important, nothing that has happened this summer altered the basic equation of Israeli politics of the last few years. For all of the grousing thrown in his direction, which is in part the function of dissatisfaction with the choices facing the country and the prime minister’s personal unpopularity, Netanyahu’s positions represent a clear consensus of Israeli public opinion. As much as most Israelis would be happy to be rid of most of the West Bank, few believe it makes sense to leave it in the absence of a Palestinian decision to end the conflict that Hamas’s survival makes impossible.

Even more to the point, no one either in the government or outside it emerged this summer as a credible alternative to Netanyahu. He remains the only possible choice for prime minister even if few people like him and even fewer are happy with the alternatives he must choose between.

Those who would like Israel to have easy answers to an ongoing security threat—whether by accepting more concessions or by taking out Hamas—are dissatisfied with Netanyahu. That’s a group that includes most Israelis. But at the same time most Israelis also understand that his answers are probably the lesser of a number of possible evils.

Even if Hamas really does observe this cease-fire, the coming months will be rough for the prime minister. But talk about re-occupying Gaza or a bold stroke that will make peace possible is just that: talk. The reality of the Middle East is such that Netanyahu’s unsavory choices are the only viable ones for a nation whose only real option remains doing what it must to ensure its survival until the day when its enemies are prepared to make peace. As such, the unheroic and cautious Netanyahu is still the only realistic choice to go on leading Israel for the foreseeable future.

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A Draw Can’t Be Called a Hamas Defeat

Viewed objectively, the celebratory gunfire and ritualistic declarations of victory emanating from Hamas today after it accepted a cease-fire with Israel are pure bunk. Hamas’s decision to launch a new round of fighting in Gaza turned out to be a disaster from a military perspective as well as from the point of view of the suffering Palestinians who paid the price for this folly in blood and destruction of their homes. But their boasts are not entirely foolish.

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Viewed objectively, the celebratory gunfire and ritualistic declarations of victory emanating from Hamas today after it accepted a cease-fire with Israel are pure bunk. Hamas’s decision to launch a new round of fighting in Gaza turned out to be a disaster from a military perspective as well as from the point of view of the suffering Palestinians who paid the price for this folly in blood and destruction of their homes. But their boasts are not entirely foolish.

Though Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu may have had little real choice but to go along with the formal end of hostilities, by emerging from 50 days of battle with its hold on Gaza intact, Hamas has ensured that its misrule over the strip and permanent block of any hopes of peace will continue.

Netanyahu’s decision to accept the cease-fire will be bitterly debated in Israel, but even his angriest critics will have to admit that the concessions given Hamas are minimal. The terms, which allow a slight increase in humanitarian aid and material into Gaza and an expansion of the zone allowed Gaza fishermen from three to six miles are more or less a rehash of the 2012 agreement that ended a previous round of fighting. The blockade of Gaza has not been lifted. Nor has Israel promised to allow the Palestinians to build an airport or seaport. Those requests will be discussed in negotiations that are supposed to take place next month in Cairo and will be placed alongside the Israeli demand for the demilitarization of Gaza. That means neither side will get what it wants, making the war, for all of Israel’s military achievements and the catastrophic impact on Gaza’s population, largely a draw.

That’s nothing for Hamas to brag about. It started the hostilities when its members kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers and then fired over 4,000 missiles at Israel during the past 50 days with little to show for the expenditure of much of its carefully assembled arsenal. While much of Israel’s population had to spend much of the last few weeks scurrying back and forth to shelters, Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system effectively neutralized the rocket threat. Hamas also lost the complex network of tunnels along the border on which it had expended so much of the money that poured into the strip from foreign donors. Instead of being able to use the tunnels to pull off a mass atrocity inside Israel as they had hoped, they wound up being destroyed when Israeli forces invaded the strip.

But any Israeli claims of victory are just as hollow as those of Hamas.

Even a slight loosening of the blockade will inevitably mean that Hamas will be able to replenish some if not all of its supply of rockets and other armaments. Nor can anyone in the international community, let alone in Israel, have the slightest confidence that any safeguards put in place will prevent the construction materials that will be allowed into Gaza for rebuilding homes, schools, and other civilian structures won’t instead be used to restore Hamas’s military infrastructure, including command center bunkers, rocket storage facilities, and the infamous tunnels.

All of which means that the next time Hamas decides that the time is right for more fighting, Israel will be right back where it was two months ago. Even if the Israel Defense Forces improves its ability to detect tunnels and Hamas doesn’t figure out a way to defeat the Iron Dome, that is hardly an encouraging prospect for an Israeli people drained from a summer of conflict. A draw isn’t a victory for either side, but any result that leaves Hamas standing and ready to start fighting again when it chooses can hardly be called a defeat for the terrorists.

In my next post, I’ll discuss the implications of this result for both Netanyahu and the future of the conflict.

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What Message Is Obama Sending to Israel?

Last week, the Wall Street Journal dropped a bombshell by reporting that the U.S. had withheld a shipment of Hellfire missiles from Israel during wartime and that the Obama administration “tightened its control on arms transfers to Israel.” In response, I wrote that the administration could no longer resort to its favorite defense on Israel: that no matter how poorly President Obama and his appointees treated Israel in the diplomatic arena, at least he had Israel’s back on security.

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Last week, the Wall Street Journal dropped a bombshell by reporting that the U.S. had withheld a shipment of Hellfire missiles from Israel during wartime and that the Obama administration “tightened its control on arms transfers to Israel.” In response, I wrote that the administration could no longer resort to its favorite defense on Israel: that no matter how poorly President Obama and his appointees treated Israel in the diplomatic arena, at least he had Israel’s back on security.

Yesterday Shmuel Rosner wrote a very smart response. He disagrees with me on how much of a lesson we can draw from this one incident, but has his own incisive take on it. I think it’s worth clarifying part of my original point and also drawing attention to Rosner’s own analysis of the dustup, which has important implications.

I wrote that “now we know that the president is not fully committed to Israel’s security.” Rosner quotes that line and then writes: “a halt of one, or even five, shipments of arms, when Israel can clearly do without them for now, is not yet a clear statement of carelessness regarding Israel’s security.”

That’s true, but I didn’t write that the president cares nothing for Israel’s security; I wrote that he’s “not fully committed to Israel’s security.” I think that’s an important distinction. And the reason I wrote that is not just about stopping one (“or even five”) arms shipments, but the key point that the resupply process has generally been on autopilot and takes place below Obama’s pay grade.

It’s not as though Obama were transferring all that weaponry to Israel and then decided to hold one shipment to apply pressure to Prime Minister Netanyahu. It’s that, if the Journal story has it right, Obama was unaware of the arms transfers in that program, and when he became aware he put a stop to one shipment and the fast-track process and took a key component of U.S.-Israel mutual defense off of autopilot. While Israel was at war, no less.

In other words, Obama deserves less credit than he’s received for supporting Israel’s security over the last six years, not that Obama has suddenly changed course (though that’s true in a way too).

But Rosner’s conclusion is worth contemplating as well. He writes:

But I do see something else that is quite disturbing: Obama no longer cares if people say that he doesn’t care about Israel’s security.

Let me explain: for six years it was important for the administration to separate “security relations” from “diplomatic relations”, because the separation enabled it to keep wrapping itself in a ‘supportive of Israel’ garment even as it was having bitter fights with the Israeli government. When relations were very tense, the pretense of them being still very strong was important for the Obama administration to maintain. Of course, part of it is because it is true: the relations are still strong. The US and Israel have ties strong enough to sustain a period of tension between the two governments. But there were also other reasons for the Obama team to insist on the viability of the “security” relations. Possibly, some of this was for political reasons – Obama did not wish to pick a fight with political supporters over Israel. And some of it probably had psychological motivations – it enabled people within the administration that are basically supportive of Israel to compartmentalize their own feelings about the policies of the administration in which they serve.

Enter the latest report, which ruins it for Obama, or at least significantly damages it. Suddenly, the Obama administration decided to send a blow in the one area that was supposedly a no-entry-zone.

If Obama no longer cares to be seen as supportive of Israel, Rosner writes, then that would be “a change that is much more significant than one shipment of Hellfire missiles.”

There have been a lot of jokes about the president already enjoying his retirement, but the kernel of truth at the center of them has been his disregard for pretending he cares about any number of issues. He’s disengaged and, frankly, appears overwhelmed by the task at hand.

But he’s still president, and he’s still the most visible representative of his party. The Democrats already have an “Israel problem,” in that the base of the party continues their own reassessment of the special relationship. Obama only reinforces that at a time when Israeli civilians are being forced into bomb shelters.

And it matters for another reason, and this is a point on which Rosner and I agree. American diplomatic support for Israel cannot so easily be separated from support for Israel’s security. Diplomatic pressure from the U.S. can attempt to force Israel’s government to take positions that weaken its security, regardless of its supply of arms and ammunition.

Israel’s enemies react according to its perceived strength, and that in turn relies on the fairly significant factor of whether the Jewish state has the world’s only superpower standing behind it. Obama is quite aware of the impression he’s giving, and it will almost certainly have real-world consequences.

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Israel Should Ignore Obama’s Tantrum

Last month as the fighting raged in Gaza, news about the United States resupplying the ammunition stocks of the Israel Defense Forces balanced other, more troubling stories about arguments between the two countries over diplomacy. But it turns out the arguments between the Obama administration and the Israelis were even angrier than we thought. As the Wall Street Journal reports today, the White House has been having a full-fledged temper tantrum over Israel’s unwillingness to take orders from Washington and doesn’t care who knows it. But the best advice friends of Israel can give Prime Minister Netanyahu is to stick to his positions despite the insults being flung in his direction.

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Last month as the fighting raged in Gaza, news about the United States resupplying the ammunition stocks of the Israel Defense Forces balanced other, more troubling stories about arguments between the two countries over diplomacy. But it turns out the arguments between the Obama administration and the Israelis were even angrier than we thought. As the Wall Street Journal reports today, the White House has been having a full-fledged temper tantrum over Israel’s unwillingness to take orders from Washington and doesn’t care who knows it. But the best advice friends of Israel can give Prime Minister Netanyahu is to stick to his positions despite the insults being flung in his direction.

The article, which appears to be based on leaks from high-ranking U.S. officials, revolves around the notion that the administration is furious with Israel. The anger emanating from the White House is, at its core, the function of policy differences about the peace process. It also revolves around Israel’s decision to attempt to reduce Hamas’s arsenal rather than merely shoot down the rockets aimed at its cities. But what really seems to have gotten the president’s goat is the ease with which Jerusalem has been able to circumvent his desire to pressure it to make concessions via the strong support of Congress and the close ties that have been established between Israel’s defense establishment and the Pentagon.

As Seth noted earlier, rather than speeding the necessary ammunition supplies to the IDF, the administration was doing the opposite. But the ammunition transfers were just the last straw for a White House that regards Israel’s government and the wall-to-wall bipartisan pro-Israel consensus that backs it up as a source of unending frustration.

It bears remembering that this administration came into office in January 2009 determined to create more daylight between the positions of the two countries, and that’s exactly what it did. Obama picked pointless fights with Netanyahu over settlements and Jerusalem throughout his first term, culminating in a calculated ambush of the prime minister on a trip to Washington in May 2011 when the president sought to impose the 1967 lines as the starting point for future peace talks. But Netanyahu, who had sought to downplay differences until that point, was having none of it and made clear his resistance. Instead of humiliating the Israeli, Obama was forced to watch as Netanyahu was endlessly cheered before a joint meeting of Congress as if he was Winston Churchill visiting the U.S. during World War Two.

That might have led to a further escalation of the fight between the two governments, but the president’s looming reelection campaign intervened. What followed instead was an administration charm offensive aimed at pro-Israel voters in which all was seemingly forgotten and forgiven even if anger still lingered beneath the surface.

Those tensions have now resurfaced in Obama’s second term. The trigger for much of it was Secretary of State John Kerry’s decision to waste much of the last year on an effort to revive peace talks with the Palestinians that no one with any sense thought had a chance of success. Predictably, his failure (which was unfairly blamed by both the secretary and the president on Israel rather than on a Palestinian Authority that remains unable and/or unwilling to make peace) exacerbated the situation and led, albeit indirectly, to this summer’s fighting. Yet rather than learn from this mistake, the administration’s reaction to Gaza has been mostly motivated by pique against the Israelis and an incoherent impulse to frustrate Netanyahu.

But now that the dust appears to have settled in Gaza at least for the moment, where does that leave U.S.-Israel relations? It is true, as John noted earlier, that the alliance seems to have sunk to a point that is roughly comparable to that experienced during the administration of the elder George Bush. Administration officials are openly saying that Netanyahu doesn’t know his place and making implicit threats of retaliation.

But, as was the case in 2011, it’s not clear that Obama and his minions in the West Wing can do anything but complain about Netanyahu to their friends in the press. But the Journal story highlights an important fact. No matter how angry Obama may be about Netanyahu’s refusal to do his bidding and make concessions that make even less sense today than they did a few years ago, there are limits as to how far he can go and what he may do to take revenge for this.

The thing that is driving Obama crazy is not so much Netanyahu’s willingness to say no to him but the fact that Congress and most Americans seem to think there is nothing wrong with it. The president may be, as Aaron David Miller famously said, someone who is “not in love with the idea of Israel” as his recent predecessors have been. But the alliance he inherited from George W. Bush and Bill Clinton is one that is so strong and so deeply entrenched within the U.S. political and defense establishments that there isn’t all that much he can’t do about it.

Try as he might, Obama can’t persuade any Israeli government to endanger its people by repeating the Gaza experiment in the West Bank. Nor will he persuade them to refrain from hitting Hamas hard and opposing negotiations that further empower it. Netanyahu has a relatively united Israeli nation behind him that rightly distrusts Obama. He also can count on the support of a bipartisan consensus in Congress that sees no reason to back an increasingly unpopular and ineffective lame duck president against the country’s only democratic ally in the Middle East.

This administration can still undermine the alliance and America’s own interests by perpetuating this personal feud with the prime minister and exacerbating it by further appeasement of Iran in the nuclear talks. But if Obama couldn’t break Netanyahu in his first term, he won’t do so now. As difficult as it may be to ignore the brickbats flying from Washington, the Israelis can stand their ground against this president sure in the knowledge that most Americans back them and that the next occupant of the Oval Office, whether a Democrat or a Republican, is likely to be far more supportive of this special alliance that Obama disdains.

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The Last, Desperate Defense of Obama on Israel Just Evaporated

There is much to say about the latest Wall Street Journal report, noted earlier by our John Podhoretz, on the further deterioration of U.S.-Israel relations under President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu–and it’s worth noting that the Journal has really been owning this ongoing story lately. But there’s one aspect in particular that stands out. And that is the fact that if the basic structure of arms transfers from the U.S. to Israel is described accurately in the story–and it appears it is–the last refuge of Barack Obama’s defenders on his attitude toward Israel has evaporated.

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There is much to say about the latest Wall Street Journal report, noted earlier by our John Podhoretz, on the further deterioration of U.S.-Israel relations under President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu–and it’s worth noting that the Journal has really been owning this ongoing story lately. But there’s one aspect in particular that stands out. And that is the fact that if the basic structure of arms transfers from the U.S. to Israel is described accurately in the story–and it appears it is–the last refuge of Barack Obama’s defenders on his attitude toward Israel has evaporated.

Obama never hid his contempt for the Israeli government, its political class, or the majority of Israel’s voters. Even as a candidate in 2008 he let loose, ranting about Likud in a way that showed his lack of understanding of the basics of Israeli political life as well as his desire to push back on Israel’s supporters in the U.S. When he became president, only the most dedicated leftists were surprised when he, in entirely predictable fashion, picked silly fights with Israel and tried to collapse its elected governing coalition. (Though it can also be argued that those leftists were cheered by this course of action.)

There was always, however, one defense Obama’s fanboys in the media would fall back on: at least he is dedicated to ensuring Israel has what it needs to defend itself. This was generally thought to be a fair point, though never as compelling as they hoped it would be. After all, “Obama hasn’t abandoned Israel to a bloody genocide at the hands of its neighbors” is quite a low bar to clear. But the Journal story takes apart the idea that Obama has always had Israel’s back when the chips were down:

White House and State Department officials who were leading U.S. efforts to rein in Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip were caught off guard last month when they learned that the Israeli military had been quietly securing supplies of ammunition from the Pentagon without their approval.

Since then the Obama administration has tightened its control on arms transfers to Israel. But Israeli and U.S. officials say that the adroit bureaucratic maneuvering made it plain how little influence the White House and State Department have with the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu —and that both sides know it.

The munitions surprise and previously unreported U.S. response added to a string of slights and arguments that have bubbled behind the scenes during the Gaza conflict, according to events related by senior American, Palestinian and Israeli officials involved.

So the essential resupply was not approved by Obama, because it didn’t have to be. It’s simply the default setting: the two countries’ defense departments have military cooperation on autopilot. But when Obama found out, he put a stop to the automatic resupply. In other words, Obama sought to downgrade the U.S.-Israel military relationship.

A general defense of Obama on Israel’s security goes something like this, from Obama’s dedicated press ally Jeffrey Goldberg: “On matters of genuine security, Obama has been a reliable ally, encouraging close military cooperation, helping maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge over its regional rivals and, most important, promising that he won’t allow Iran to cross the nuclear-weapons threshold.”

You tend to hear some variation on that theme from time to time, usually when Obama is busy picking fights with Israeli leaders. Diplomatically, he may be consistently harsh on Israel, so the thinking goes, but at least he’s absolutely committed to Israel’s security. (The Iran part of that Goldberg quote, by the way, is also up in the air, considering the president’s consistent attempts to water down or derail sanctions on Iran and his desperation for a deal that lets Iran drag out the process.)

But even that case has imploded. As the Journal explains:

On July 20, Israel’s defense ministry asked the U.S. military for a range of munitions, including 120-mm mortar shells and 40-mm illuminating rounds, which were already kept stored at a pre-positioned weapons stockpile in Israel.

The request was approved through military channels three days later but not made public. Under the terms of the deal, the Israelis used U.S. financing to pay for $3 million in tank rounds. No presidential approval or signoff by the secretary of state was required or sought, according to officials.

A U.S. defense official said the standard review process was properly followed.

Now, if that were all there was to the story, it would only partially demolish the flimsy case for Obama’s supposed dedication to Israel’s security. After all, just because Obama wasn’t involved in the resupply doesn’t mean he opposed it.

But then we come back around to the Journal story’s larger revelation, in which Obama sought to put the brakes on the process. Obama’s defenders have always had an uphill climb because the president’s diplomatic hostility is not unconnected to Israel’s security. But now we know that the president is not fully committed to Israel’s security–and, since the general process of how Israel procures ammunition goes around the president, the public is left to wonder if he ever was.

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Reagan and Israel: the Real Story

Any time tensions rise between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, the two leaders are treated to a two-step process: headlines proclaiming the U.S.-Israel relationship at a low ebb followed by commentators pointing out that it has been far worse in the past, and to please have some perspective. That is true, and exaggeration should always be avoided. But it’s also important to understand the U.S.-Israel relationship through the years in the proper context.

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Any time tensions rise between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, the two leaders are treated to a two-step process: headlines proclaiming the U.S.-Israel relationship at a low ebb followed by commentators pointing out that it has been far worse in the past, and to please have some perspective. That is true, and exaggeration should always be avoided. But it’s also important to understand the U.S.-Israel relationship through the years in the proper context.

Because Republicans today are more supportive of Israel than Democrats, someone usually pops up to say that Obama and Bibi may not like each other very much, but even Ronald Reagan–this is meant to underscore conservatives’ supposed lack of perspective–treated his Israeli counterpart worse than this. A favorite column for these writers is Chemi Shalev’s 2011 Haaretz piece titled “If Obama treated Israel like Reagan did, he’d be impeached.”

During the current conflict in Gaza the column has been surfaced as usual, recently by Gene Healy in the Washington Examiner. Today in Haaretz, Gershom Gorenberg doesn’t cite Shalev but does take a walk down memory lane to point out many of the times the U.S.-Israel relationship has been in far worse shape, taking a shot at Reagan and his admirers along the way.

So what are all these writers overlooking? Put simply, it’s context. There’s no question Reagan had his fights with then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin. But the question isn’t whether Obama would be “impeached” for treating Israel the way Reagan did. It’s why Obama, or any modern president, gets such pushback anytime the rhetoric approaches that of decades past. It’s not because of the “Israel Lobby.” It’s largely because of the way the U.S.-Israel relationship improved under Reagan and became what it is today.

In 2011, I contributed a post to National Review Online’s “Reagan at 100” series of remembrances NR was running on its Corner blog in honor of Reagan’s centennial. I wrote about Reagan and Begin. Here is part of my post:

Israel’s counteroffensive against the PLO in South Lebanon strained the relationship. But here, too, Reagan proved he could be open-minded about Israel’s predicament. When Reagan lectured Begin on the reports of civilian casualties, Begin painstakingly explained how the media reports not only weren’t true, but could not possibly be true. In a meeting that was supposed to be a dressing-down, Reagan became convinced the Israelis were getting a bad rap in the press. He brought Begin in to meet with his cabinet and told Begin to repeat to them what he had just told the president. Begin obliged, and left feeling a bit better about the trust between the two men.

Another test came with the killings at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon. The Israelis were blamed for supposedly allowing the massacre of Palestinians by Lebanese Christian militias. The accusation was outrageous, but it wounded Begin. Here again, however, Reagan stood out. [Yehuda] Avner was able to report to his boss that “there are people in the [Reagan] administration who are angry, but not the president.”

The point is that the Begin premiership was a series of challenges for Israel, its allies, and the Jewish diaspora. When Likud won national elections for the first time in 1977, the Columbia Journalism Review noted in a piece two years ago, “[Abba] Eban and others would continue to lunch with their friends at the Times in New York, where they regularly predicted the imminent collapse of the Begin government.” This cohort “spoke frequently to their friends in the media, telling them that the new crowd was a disaster, ‘that Begin was an extreme nationalist, a war-monger.’”

So Begin came into office with Israeli figures already trying to convince Americans they shouldn’t get used to dealing with Begin. Then came Israel’s raid on the Iraqi reactor at Osirak, which Reagan thought he’d been excluded from by Begin when in fact Jimmy Carter had been in consultation with Israel about the threat from the reactor; it was Carter who left Reagan out of the loop. The former American president was poisoning the well of the American government against Begin and Likud.

He didn’t have a ton of poisoning to do with some of Reagan’s advisors. In discussing the Begin inner circle (of which he was a part) and its impression of Caspar Weinberger, Yehuda Avner repeats the wonderful, though likely apocryphal, anecdote that Weinberger, in explaining why he lost his bid for California attorney general, said “Because the Jews knew I wasn’t Jewish and the Gentiles thought I was.” Whatever the actual reasons for their distrust of Begin’s team, which included Ariel Sharon, the relationship between the two Cabinets was icy.

That only increased with the war in Lebanon, Sabra and Shatila, Reagan’s rejected peace plan, etc. But there was one exception: Reagan. He made sure to treat Begin with a legitimacy that was lacking in everyone else’s approach to him. By the end of Reagan’s first term, Begin grew accustomed to being treated with respect by Reagan and being given the benefit of the doubt.

Had Carter still been in office, any one of those challenges might have seriously derailed the relationship at a time (the first Lebanon war) when Israel’s international isolation seemed assured. Reagan may have offered tough love, but it was love nonetheless. And the U.S.-Israel special relationship never looked back. For all the Reagan-Begin disagreements, the U.S.-Israel relationship came out stronger than it was when their respective terms in office began. That’s a tougher standard to meet, which is why the current president’s defenders resort to hyperbole and cherry-picked history that obscure the full picture.

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The Gaza War Has Changed the Way the World Talks About Hamas

Amid all the metrics commentators propose to determine “who won” Operation Protective Edge, one is staring everyone in the face: the international community’s attitude toward a postwar (if and when the war is over) Gaza. And on that score, Israel seems to have won a convincing victory. The Gaza war has changed the way the world is talking about Hamas and the Gaza Strip–and, despite all their tut-tutting at Jerusalem, they sound quite a bit like Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Amid all the metrics commentators propose to determine “who won” Operation Protective Edge, one is staring everyone in the face: the international community’s attitude toward a postwar (if and when the war is over) Gaza. And on that score, Israel seems to have won a convincing victory. The Gaza war has changed the way the world is talking about Hamas and the Gaza Strip–and, despite all their tut-tutting at Jerusalem, they sound quite a bit like Benjamin Netanyahu.

I wrote last week of the Netanyahu government’s informal proposal for a sort of “economic peace” for Gaza in return for its demilitarization. Despite its record of success, economic peace has never really been embraced by the international community–and when Netanyahu proposes it, it’s usually met with anger and derision. But not this time. This time Hamas seems to have overplayed its hand.

It’s possible that this is Hamas being a victim of its own morbid “success” with regard to the propaganda war. That is, maybe the international community is so torn up by the violence in Gaza that they want more than ever to prevent its recurrence. And no matter how often they try to blame Israel, they seem to understand that there’s only one way to prevent future bloodshed: demilitarize, at least to a significant degree, the Gaza Strip.

Take, for example, the Obama administration. While President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and their staffers and advisors have been intent on criticizing Israel in public and in harsh terms, the president’s loyal defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, reportedly spoke as though he took the need to disarm Hamas for granted last week. And it’s even more significant to hear of European leaders joining that bandwagon. As Foreign Policy reported last night:

Major European powers have outlined a detailed plan for a European-backed U.N. mission to monitor the lifting of an Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip and the dismantling of Hamas’s military tunnel network and rocket arsenals, according to a copy of the plan obtained by Foreign Policy.

The European initiative aims to reinforce wide-ranging cease-fire talks underway in Cairo. The Europeans are hoping to take advantage of this week’s 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire to cobble a more durable plan addressing underlying issues that could reignite violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

It remains unclear whether the European plan has the support of Hamas, Israel, or the United States. It does, however, include several elements the Obama administration believes are essential, including the need to ease Gazans’ plight, strengthen the role of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and ensure the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip.

The plan — described in a so-called non-paper titled “Gaza: Supporting a Sustainable Ceasefire” — envisions the creation of a U.N.-mandated “monitoring and verification” mission, possibly drawing peacekeepers from the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), which has monitored a series of Israeli-Arab truces in the region since the late 1940s. The mission “should cover military and security aspects, such as the dismantling of tunnels between Gaza and Israel, and the lifting of restrictions on movement and access,” according to the document. “It could have a role in monitoring imports of construction and dual use materials allowed in the Gaza Strip, and the re-introduction of the Palestinian Authority.”

The plan’s existence is in many ways more important than its details, for it shows Europe to be embracing Netanyahu’s idea for an economic peace for Gaza. Removing the import and export restrictions (or most of them) in return for real demilitarization would be an obvious win for everyone–except Hamas. In fact, it would give a major boost to the peace process overall, because it would discredit armed “resistance” as an effective method to win Palestinians their autonomy.

It would be quite a turnaround if Gaza somehow became the prime example of peaceful state building with the international community’s help. It’s also not an easy task, to say the least. But the fact that even Europe is on board, and expects to get the UN to agree to such a plan, shows that the principle of disarming Hamas and demilitarizing the Gaza Strip has gone mainstream.

Whether it happens is another question, of course, and no one should get their hopes up, especially while Hamas is breaking even temporary ceasefires. Additionally, the UN’s record in policing such zones of conflict, especially in the Middle East, is not cause for optimism. But talk of Hamas “winning” this war is made all the more ridiculous when the topic of conversation in the capitals of the Middle East and throughout the West is how to permanently disarm Hamas and dismantle any infrastructure they can use against Israel.

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Obama’s Love–Hate Relationship with Retrenchment

Does the Obama administration actually want to step back from world affairs, or does it want to control them more than ever but through obedient proxies? Until recently, the answer seemed to be closer to the former. Obama himself is noticeably uncomfortable on foreign affairs, often displaying his lack of interest in filling the gaps in his knowledge. But perhaps there’s a degree of control the president is unwilling to give up after all.

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Does the Obama administration actually want to step back from world affairs, or does it want to control them more than ever but through obedient proxies? Until recently, the answer seemed to be closer to the former. Obama himself is noticeably uncomfortable on foreign affairs, often displaying his lack of interest in filling the gaps in his knowledge. But perhaps there’s a degree of control the president is unwilling to give up after all.

Israel has always been the exception to Obama’s approach to the world. He has long denounced American meddling, though he tried in his first term (rather transparently) to collapse Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition and force a change in Jerusalem. When it comes to American retrenchment, then, Israel seems to be an exception to the rule yet again.

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the development of the Israel-Egypt relationship since the coup that replaced the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi with General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Here is some key background:

At first, Israeli intelligence officials said they didn’t know what to make of Mr. Sisi, a devout Muslim who in previous posts treated his Israeli counterparts coldly, a senior Israeli official said. As Mr. Sisi moved to take control of the government, Israeli intelligence analysts pored over his public statements, writings and private musings, Israeli and U.S. officials said.

The Israeli intelligence community’s conclusion: Mr. Sisi genuinely believed that he was on a “mission from God” to save the Egyptian state, the senior Israeli official said.

Moreover, as an Egyptian nationalist, he saw Mr. Morsi’s Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and its Palestinian offshoot, Hamas, as threats to the state that needed to be suppressed with a heavy hand, the Israeli official said.

Israeli intelligence analysts interpreted Mr. Sisi’s comments about keeping the peace with Israel and ridding Egypt of Islamists as a “personal realization that we—Israel—were on his side,” the Israeli official said.

Here’s how Hamas in Gaza viewed the change:

Under the protective umbrella of Mr. Morsi’s Islamist-led government, Hamas had imported large quantities of arms from Libya and Sudan, as well as money to pay the salaries of government officials and members of their armed wing, Israeli and U.S. officials said. His successor abruptly changed that.

“One day we had been sitting having great conversations with Morsi and his government and then suddenly, the door was shut,” Ghazi Hamad, Hamas’s deputy foreign minister, said in an interview last month.

And here’s the most important point of all, on the war in Gaza:

U.S. officials, who tried to intervene in the initial days after the conflict broke out on July 8 to try to find a negotiated solution, soon realized that Mr. Netanyahu’s office wanted to run the show with Egypt and to keep the Americans at a distance, according to U.S., European and Israeli officials.

The Americans, in turn, felt betrayed by what they saw as a series of “mean spirited” leaks, which they interpreted as a message from Mr. Netanyahu that U.S. involvement was neither welcomed nor needed.

Reflecting Egypt’s importance, Mr. Gilad and other officials took Mr. Sisi’s “temperature” every day during the war to make sure he was comfortable with the military operation as it intensified. Israeli officials knew television pictures of dead Palestinians would at some point bring Cairo to urge Israel to stop.

The Americans felt betrayed, and were clearly frustrated–as other accounts have explained in detail–by their lack of control. Walter Russell Mead calls it an “irony” that the administration wanted to have some way to step back from the world, especially the Middle East, without having it all go to hell, and yet when that opportunity arose they didn’t know what to make of it.

I think Mead is being overly generous. Obama and is advisers were more than surprised; they were resentful to such a degree that it was reflected in their public statements. But they can’t have it both ways. Obama can’t pull back from the world and put more of the burden on our allies to pick up the slack and then complain when those allies think for themselves instead of applying Obama’s magical thinking to serious conflicts.

The real irony is that all this brought Israel and the Arab states much closer together–a perennial goal of American foreign policy–only to make Obama complain they were ganging up on him. It was the one possible success in Obama’s rebalancing efforts, yet it’s the one that really bothers him.

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The Hamas Kidnapping and the Liberal Echo Chamber

Israel’s recent counteroffensive in Gaza against Hamas provided a steady stream of uninformed commentary from the left. But the development in the case of the three kidnapped and murdered Israeli teens a couple of months ago provides a perfect case study in how the left’s echo chamber can amplify an anti-Israel smear with alarming speed.

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Israel’s recent counteroffensive in Gaza against Hamas provided a steady stream of uninformed commentary from the left. But the development in the case of the three kidnapped and murdered Israeli teens a couple of months ago provides a perfect case study in how the left’s echo chamber can amplify an anti-Israel smear with alarming speed.

In June, Gil-ad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach, and Naftali Fraenkel were abducted and murdered by Hamas-affiliated terrorists in the West Bank. The Israeli government identified the suspects as such, but wouldn’t release more information until the investigation proceeded. Now they have reportedly confirmed Hamas’s role in the murders.

Yet back in June, almost immediately there were attempts to absolve the Hamas organization of responsibility by claiming the murderers acted on their own. Because Israel was restricted from releasing all the information it had, it opened space for anti-Israel activists and bloggers to try to push a false narrative that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had deceived the public as a pretext for invading Gaza.

This was an obviously obtuse thing to say (the abduction was not what spurred Israel’s actions in Gaza no matter who was responsible for the kidnapping), but the left operates in its own echo chamber, so it made the rounds. And in the process, it opened a window into how the left constructs an alternate reality about Israel and then, seemingly, convinces itself that it’s true.

On July 25, New York magazine offered, in a blog post shared over 280,000 times on social media, words that should have stopped the conspiracy theorists in their tracks: “BuzzFeed reporter Sheera Frenkel was among the first to suggest that it was unlikely that Hamas was behind the deaths of Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrach.” Indeed, Frenkel has been among the least reliable reporters covering the conflict, in part because sources in the region seemed to have identified her early on as an easy mark. The Middle East is a complex place, and it takes a certain skepticism and political savvy to navigate the degree to which sources attempt to spin the media. Frenkel’s sources picked her out as someone who didn’t possess those qualities, and she rewarded their assumptions with her reporting.

What happened in this case was that BBC reporter Jon Donnison misreported his conversation with Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. Frenkel saw this as confirmation of her theory, and ran with it. As Tablet reported, “It appears the entire episode is the result of an unfortunate game of internet telephone. In her tweet, which was picked up by New York, Frenkel placed Donnison’s words ‘lone cell’ in quotation marks, inadvertently making it seem like Donnison’s language was actually Rosenfeld’s. But it wasn’t, and the implications that have been drawn by New York, and now spread by Andrew Sullivan, are not justified.”

New York’s initial headline on the piece was “It Turns Out Hamas Didn’t Kidnap and Kill the 3 Israeli Teens After All.” The headline was not even close to being accurate, and the site belatedly changed the headline after the story had taken off. And no story on a ridiculous anti-Israel rumor would be complete without being given the full “explainer” treatment by Vox.

Vox has developed a reputation for not coming within a country mile of getting the story right when covering Israel. Vox’s mistakes range from the absolutely adorable–Zack Beauchamp’s claim that there’s a bridge connecting the West Bank and Gaza–to the aggressively ignorant–virtually anything Max Fisher writes. Vox’s template is supposed to be explanatory journalism, so the tone in each piece is one of intellectual authority. Thus, for the gullible leftists seeking to confirm their worldview, Vox is a perfect go-to site.

Fisher offered a typical post on the doubt that confused and biased reporters had tried to cast on the kidnapping. Fisher was, it should be noted, more careful about outright accusing Netanyahu of lying. After trying and failing to get a handle on what was going on, Fisher threw up his hands:

If you want to get angry about something, get angry about this: Israel has for years refused to change its strategy toward Gaza and the larger Israel-Palestine conflict, even though that strategy shows zero indication of yielding sustainable peace and leads Israel to occasionally invade Gaza to weaken anti-Israel groups there.

Therefore, he wrote, “in a much larger sense, in the view from 50,000 feet above the conflict, what may have mattered even more is that the conflict is structured in such a way that another war was likely going to happen whether Netanyahu blamed Hamas or not.”

It’s Israel’s fault, even if Hamas terrorism touches off an escalation of the conflict, in this view. And so we went from revelations that Hamas kidnapped and killed three Israeli teens to accusations that Israel lied about Hamas’s role to declarations that whatever actually happened, Israel is to blame for the cycle of violence. It’s a good example of how the left starts out with a fact, concocts a story that contradicts that fact but conforms to their worldview, and then changes the subject to Israel’s eternal guilt as soon as their deceptions are questioned. Waiting for the facts might be too much to ask of them, but as this week’s revelations show, the truth is worth the wait.

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Bibi and Barack After Gaza

As Operation Protective Edge wound down in Gaza, talk in the media turned to the U.S.-Israel relationship. It has been an unusually tense few months for Washington and Jerusalem.

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As Operation Protective Edge wound down in Gaza, talk in the media turned to the U.S.-Israel relationship. It has been an unusually tense few months for Washington and Jerusalem.

What’s puzzling is not President Obama’s desire for peace. It is always admirable to want wars to go on for no longer than they must. But in this case, once Israel discovered the terror tunnels, the state had to act in its own defense. The New York Times has a story today on the administration’s frustration with its lack of control over another sovereign state’s actions, but the entire piece can be boiled down to the following paragraph, appearing early on in the story:

With public opinion in both Israel and the United States solidly behind the Israeli military’s campaign against Hamas, no outcry from Israel’s Arab neighbors, and unstinting support for Israel on Capitol Hill, President Obama has had few obvious levers to force Mr. Netanyahu to stop pounding targets in Gaza until he was ready to do it.

Well that pretty much explains it, doesn’t it? Not only did Israel have public support in the U.S., but its actions were backed by its Arab neighbors and the U.S. Congress. Obama was the odd man out–or one of the few, anyway. There was a rare consensus in Israel’s part of the Middle East that included Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Everyone was on the same page both with Israel and the U.S. for once. It was an easy diplomatic call for Obama, but he still made the wrong one.

Additionally, the efficacy of American pressure on Israel depends to a large extent on the Israeli public. In this particular case, Hamas had constructed an underground city with tunnels that led into Israeli territory. Of course the Israeli public wanted those tunnels gone. And the threat from the rockets flying from Gaza, often derided by the world as glorified firecrackers, had increased as well. The rockets practically shut down Ben-Gurion Airport, Israel’s gateway to the outside world, which had the effect of temporarily isolating a Jewish polity that, for clear and rational reasons, is a bit sensitive to their enemies’ attempts to ghettoize them.

As Ruthie Blum writes today in Israel Hayom:

One could argue that the reason public support for Operation Protective Edge reached a ‎whopping 95 percent was the utter justice of its cause; that the incessant rocket-‎fire from Gaza, now hitting the center of country, was too much even for the peace ‎utopians to bear. ‎

One could assume that no matter what an Israeli’s personal political leanings, he would ‎see the virtue in defeating an enemy that glorifies death; uses children as canon fodder; ‎abuses women; tortures homosexuals and the disabled; and vows to annihilate the world’s ‎Jews while converting or slaughtering its Christians. ‎

Nevertheless, it is usually impossible to get even those Israelis with similar outlooks to ‎agree on anything, including where to hang a communal clothesline, for more than five ‎minutes. Hence the quip, “Two Jews, three opinions.”‎

Blum also mentions the surprising fact that this unity occurred under the premiership of Benjamin Netanyahu, whose essential pragmatism tends to leave Israelis wary of his intentions. Netanyahu doesn’t really have a political base in the traditional sense, since the right wing doesn’t trust him. Yet in this current conflict, virtually the entire country was his base.

Such unity of spirit and support for Israel in the Arab world should have been inspiring. To Obama, it was a source of aggravation. As the Times notes:

The blunt, unsparing language — among the toughest diplomats recall ever being aimed at Israel — lays bare a frustrating reality for the Obama administration: the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has largely dismissed diplomatic efforts by the United States to end the violence in Gaza, leaving American officials to seethe on the sidelines about what they regard as disrespectful treatment.

Obama has always been more receptive to the angst of the Democratic Party’s base than other elected Democrats who didn’t, after all, become the most powerful person in the world by riding a wave of feverish antiwar anger. And the Democratic Party’s base is the one sector of American politics whose open hostility to Israel is not only growing stronger by the day but also seeping into the rest of the party from the margins.

Obama has often left commentators perplexed by the battles he chooses and the fights he picks, since they’re so often with steadfast allies. And it should be noted that he hasn’t abandoned Israel in the military realm–far from it. But the diplomatic aggression toward Israel is far from meaningless. The Times explains that “a senior American official predicted that the tough State Department statement would ‘box [Israel] in internationally.’”

Despite having the Arab world on their side in this fight, not to mention the U.S. Congress and the public they represent, the Obama administration is trying to rally international–European, presumably–opinion against Israel. It’s strategically foolish and diplomatically illogical. Perhaps the end of Operation Protective Edge, then–if indeed this is the end–will serve to protect the Obama administration from itself by preventing further self-inflicted wounds, or at least remove Gaza as their source.

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An “Economic Peace” for Gaza?

One of the themes we return to time and again on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that the international community’s Oslo vision of the peace process requires the rejection of the only tactics and strategies that have proved successful. The momentum for a two-state solution outran the establishment of the conditions in the Palestinian territories that would foster and support what is otherwise a worthy goal.

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One of the themes we return to time and again on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that the international community’s Oslo vision of the peace process requires the rejection of the only tactics and strategies that have proved successful. The momentum for a two-state solution outran the establishment of the conditions in the Palestinian territories that would foster and support what is otherwise a worthy goal.

At the top of this list is what’s referred to as “economic peace,” the attempts led by Benjamin Netanyahu to increase economic cooperation with and development in the West Bank to improve the lives of Palestinians until a final-status agreement can be reached. As I’ve pointed out here before, economic peace actually has a track record of success, unlike most of the West’s meddling in the peace process.

Opponents of economic peace–including American officials current and former–have tended to argue that it’s a scam, a way for Netanyahu to forestall the two-state solution without publicly saying so. They’re wrong, of course: anything that replaces desperation with economic growth helps the Palestinian moderates and shows the value of cooperating with Israel. There’s also been another element to economic peace: demonstrate that the Hamas way is a dead end. And now Netanyahu is taking that argument to the next step, the New York Times reports:

After years in which Israel’s prevailing approach to the Gaza Strip was a simple “quiet for quiet” demand, there is growing momentum around a new formula, “reconstruction for demilitarization.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is only the latest in a string of Israeli leaders who saw Gaza mainly as an irritant to be controlled with periodic crackdowns and as a roadblock to resolving the nation’s broader conflict with the Palestinians. But as Israel’s latest military bout with the Islamist Hamas faction, which dominates Gaza, has proved tougher than previous rounds, even Mr. Netanyahu has begun talking about Gaza’s need for “social and economic relief” from decade-old Israeli restrictions on trade and travel.

This is basically economic peace for Gaza. And its purpose is twofold. The first is to buy time: Israel is essentially negotiating with the international community at this point, repeatedly justifying its legitimate right of self-defense. The international community very quickly gets tired of seeing the images of war, and calls for an end to the fighting regardless of the military objectives accomplished or the near-certainty that the cease-fire would allow Hamas to rearm and restock for the next war.

The international community has not been persuaded by Israel’s clear military objectives, because they could not care less about the repercussions of leaving the task undone. Anyone who decries the imbalance of fatalities by pointing to how few Jews have been killed so far is not going to be moved by the possibility of terrorism against Israel. Even Human Rights Watch’s director Ken Roth got in on the action, unilaterally rewriting the laws of conflict to wave away the rights of Israeli soldiers on Israeli territory. So Netanyahu understands that while he’s quite obviously right–Israel cannot pretend those tunnels aren’t there–the world’s indifference to Israel’s fate means being right isn’t enough.

An economic peace for Gaza asks the world to envision a demilitarized Gaza’s potential for peace and economic success, and to have the patience to see that vision through. And it also has one other purpose: it gives Palestinians, and their international backers, a choice. Do they prefer Gaza to be controlled by a weaponized terrorist machinery, or do they prefer a much-improved standard of living and engagement with the outside world?

For this argument, Netanyahu at least has the wind at his back. After all, the current war in Gaza has demolished any and all arguments in favor of lifting the siege without demilitarization. Nothing illustrates this better than the terror tunnels. Hundreds of thousands of tons of cement and other supplies to build an underground city to which only terrorists have access while Palestinians above suffer: it’s irrefutable proof lifting import restrictions would only help Hamas at the expense of the Palestinian civilians.

And in doing so, it would lay the groundwork for the next war, in which the Palestinians would be used by Hamas as human shields and we’d be having this discussion all over again. When people decry the “cycle of violence,” they usually mean the Israelis and Palestinians are equally culpable. But though that particular definition of the phrase is ignorant and morally objectionable, they are onto something. There is a cycle of violence, and it goes like this: Hamas terrorists attack Israel, step up rocket attacks while Israel shows restraint, and eventually provoke an Israeli counteroffensive in self-defense.

Netanyahu is proposing to break the cycle. Demilitarize Gaza, he argues, and the restrictions on trade would lose their primary justification. Demilitarizing Gaza would force Israel’s hand with regard to the siege. He is, in effect, calling the bluff of those who claim to care more about Palestinian life than Israeli death. The international community’s response will tell us much about which of those two they see as the greater priority.

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