Commentary Magazine


Topic: Benjamin Netanyahu

Israel’s Critics and the Next Election

The drumbeat of incitement against Israel in Europe reached a fever pitch this past summer as the war in Gaza raged. But though the anti-Semitic tinged demonstrations in support of a “free Gaza” — albeit one that was ruled by Islamist terrorists raining down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities — have ceased, the incitement continues as does the diplomatic initiatives seeking to pressure Jerusalem to make concessions. But rather than aiding the tiny minority of Israelis who oppose the war, criticism from abroad has seemingly only solidified a national consensus that opposes further territorial withdrawals under the current circumstances. And that is something its foreign detractors as well as American Jews who are bitterly opposed to Israel’s government should try to understand.

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The drumbeat of incitement against Israel in Europe reached a fever pitch this past summer as the war in Gaza raged. But though the anti-Semitic tinged demonstrations in support of a “free Gaza” — albeit one that was ruled by Islamist terrorists raining down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities — have ceased, the incitement continues as does the diplomatic initiatives seeking to pressure Jerusalem to make concessions. But rather than aiding the tiny minority of Israelis who oppose the war, criticism from abroad has seemingly only solidified a national consensus that opposes further territorial withdrawals under the current circumstances. And that is something its foreign detractors as well as American Jews who are bitterly opposed to Israel’s government should try to understand.

Judging by developments in the last week, Israel is more isolated than ever. A new Swedish government announced that it would grant formal recognition to the Palestinian Authority as a state while the European Union made clear it planned to reevaluate bilateral ties with Israel unless it stopped building beyond the 1967 lines and failed to make progress in negotiations with the Palestinians. But rather than acting as a prod to Israel’s government or its people to rethink their stands on the dead-in-the-water peace process, there is no sign that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government is worried about its future or rethinking its actions. The events of the past summer have had the opposite effect on Israelis and that is reflected in the moves the prime minister is making toward moving up the dates of the next scheduled parliamentary election.

Having won a second consecutive term (and third overall) as prime minister in January 2013, no elections need be held in the country until at least 2017. But according to the Times of Israel, the prime minister’s decision to move up the date of his party’s primaries and to change procedures for selecting Knesset candidates all indicate that he intends to call for new elections sometime in the next year.

The reasons for this are obvious. In the wake of the war, what remains of Israel’s left-wing pro-peace camp is more discredited than ever. The centrist faction led by Finance Minister Yair Lapid that did so well in the last elections look to be badly beaten the next time voters have their say. Just as important is that Netanyahu is eager to shed what is left of the merger of his Likud Party with that of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael B’Aliya Party that has since been dissolved. Likud will win far more seats on its own next time out while its major right-wing partners Lieberman’s party and Economics Minister Naphtali Bennett’s Jewish Home Party will also likely be a big winner.

While a year is a lifetime in politics, there is little doubt the political landscape is shifting in favor of Netanyahu. While there is plenty of competition for the role of his eventual successor, no one, including Lapid, Lieberman, Bennett or Yitzhak Herzog, leader of the opposition Labor Party, seem to be credible alternatives to Netanyahu as prime minister. Which means that barring some unforeseen cataclysm, the prime minister and his party will be heavily favored to gain a third consecutive term that will place him in the same historic context as the nation’s founding father, David Ben Gurion.

In analyzing the reason for this it should be remembered that Netanyahu has never been personally popular and his party remains beset by what sometimes seem like more popular competitors for the votes of right-wingers.

But despite this, Netanyahu represents what is now a centrist consensus about the prospects of peace with the Palestinians. While a majority of Israelis still favor a two-state solution in theory and many would be happy to be rid of much of the West Bank, the Gaza war, they also recognize that in the absence of a sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians, such moves are impossible.

With the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas still unable and/or unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, few believe more talks with the PA will accomplish anything. Moreover the growing popularity of Hamas after its futile war reflects support for its desire to destroy Israel and to go on fighting until that goal is accomplished. Given that the Islamist movement leads Abbas in polls of West Bankers that ensures that the PA will not be holding another election anytime in the near future. But it also signals Israelis that any theoretical deal concluded with Abbas would be meaningless if he is succeeded, either by election or coup, by Hamas.

While Israelis are drawing appropriate conclusions from these events, many American Jews and other erstwhile supporters of Israel are not. They continue to attack Netanyahu and, like the left-wing J Street lobby, think that Israel should be saved from itself. But instead of carping about a government that looks to be in power for the foreseeable future, those who claim to be both pro-Israel and pro-peace should think about the need to respect the judgment of the people who were under fire last summer. Israelis don’t want peace any less than Americans but unlike some of their critics, they have been paying attention to what Palestinians say and do. The terror tunnels and the rockets and the support for those who shoot them, not to mention the Palestinian rejection of peace offers, have convinced them that they have no peace partner. In the absence of proof they are wrong, American critics of Israeli democracy should pipe down.

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Obama, Media Call for Segregation in Israel

The most concerning aspect to the periodic arguments between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is not that they fight, but what they fight about. No one expects a disagreement about how to approach the Iranian nuclear program not to raise the temperature a bit; it’s something many Israelis consider an existential threat and it would shift the balance of power in global politics further away from the West while isolating Israel even more. If the two are going to argue, in other words, argue over something important.

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The most concerning aspect to the periodic arguments between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is not that they fight, but what they fight about. No one expects a disagreement about how to approach the Iranian nuclear program not to raise the temperature a bit; it’s something many Israelis consider an existential threat and it would shift the balance of power in global politics further away from the West while isolating Israel even more. If the two are going to argue, in other words, argue over something important.

But you can tell the relationship is really on the rocks by the fights the Obama administration chooses to pick, most recently on two issues: Jewish construction in Givat Hamatos, a Jerusalem community just over the green line, and the private sale of existing homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan from Arabs to Jews. The case of Givat Hamatos is standard fare for fights over settlements: although the Obama administration is wrong here (as usual), it’s a petty but classic fight to pick for American officials looking to take potshots at Israel. (Though the optics of telling black Ethiopian immigrants they must live in substandard housing is not the Obama administration’s proudest moment, to be sure.)

The Givat Hamatos tiff, therefore, doesn’t speak well of Obama, but doesn’t really break any new ground. That’s not true of Silwan. Obama’s objection to a Jew legally buying a home from an Arab in Jerusalem is nothing less than ethnic segregationism, and press secretary Josh Earnest’s classification of such a home as an “occupation” is the kind of pro-Palestinian propaganda the parroting of which is, quite frankly, evidence of a level of surpassing ignorance shocking even for the Obama administration. (Discrimination which the New York Times endorsed as well.) On that note, this nugget from an earlier Times of Israel story about the controversy jumps out:

When asked about Netanyahu’s allegations that the US was telling Jews that they could not buy houses in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, which several Jewish families moved into earlier the week, Psaki did not clarify Washington’s position regarding the Ir David group’s independent purchase of Arab-owned houses there.

Instead, Psaki said that there were questions involving building permits and construction — an answer that seemed to address the municipality’s involvement in Givat Hamatos rather than the private initiative in Silwan.

It wasn’t clear that Jen Psaki even knew what she was being asked about. The degree to which this administration’s advisors and spokesmen are uninformed about issues on which they pronounce judgment is simply incredible.

It’s indefensible, so it’s strange for the Obama administration and its allies in the press to continue pushing the segregationist line. Netanyahu can’t quite believe it either, saying over the weekend that ethnic segregationism is “against the American values.” This is obviously true. But it caused a bit of a stir in part because of how news organizations chose to play the story. And here we have a great example of the split in Israel over journalistic ethics, between honest publications and publications like Haaretz. Both Haaretz and the Times of Israel ran the AP story on Netanyahu’s comments. Here’s the Times of Israel’s headline:

PM: US East Jerusalem critique is ‘against American values’

Accurate and precise. And here’s Haaretz’s headline:

Netanyahu: It’s un-American to rebuke Israel over Jewish homes in Jerusalem

Clearly false and intentionally provocative. Now, to be fair to Haaretz, they weren’t the only ones to run with a false headline. They appear to have run a modified version of the original headline but keeping the formulation. The Times of Israel chose to say something true instead. The Associated Press did not exactly cover itself in glory this weekend.

But Netanyahu’s comments were less an attempt to escalate a bizarre diplomatic incident and more a way of throwing up his hands, as if to say, “Mr. President, what do you honestly expect me to do about this?” Can the Israeli prime minister possibly–assuming he even wants to comply with the American president’s order–intervene to overturn a legal sale because it was made from an Arab to a Jew? What on earth could Obama be expecting here? That Israel be the one Western country to legally restrict Jewish property rights? In the year 2014? In Jerusalem? Does the president even understand what he’s asking here?

The safe bet is generally to answer such questions in the negative: no, Obama does not understand what he’s saying. That is usually the case, especially with regard to the Middle East, where his knowledge of history and politics has always been alarmingly limited. But at some point, ignorance ceases to be an excuse. These are important issues, and they have immediate ramifications not just for geopolitics but also for the safety of those involved, the Middle East being the tinderbox it is. It’s time for the president to swallow his pride, crack open a book and a map, and start making sense.

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Jew-Free Jerusalem Neighborhoods Won’t Bring Peace

At first it seemed as if Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu escaped his meeting in the White House with President Obama yesterday without a renewal of their long running feud. But before the day was over, it was clear that the administration’s predilection for picking pointless fights with the Israelis hasn’t faded away even as the president appears to be more interested in fighting ISIS than in brokering Middle East peace. By focusing once again on Jewish building in Jerusalem and representing Israel’s actions as an obstacle, the U.S. was not only allowing itself to be distracted from the real problems in the Middle East. By reaffirming its opposition to Jews living in part of their capital, the Americans are also adopting a standard that will make real peace impossible.

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At first it seemed as if Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu escaped his meeting in the White House with President Obama yesterday without a renewal of their long running feud. But before the day was over, it was clear that the administration’s predilection for picking pointless fights with the Israelis hasn’t faded away even as the president appears to be more interested in fighting ISIS than in brokering Middle East peace. By focusing once again on Jewish building in Jerusalem and representing Israel’s actions as an obstacle, the U.S. was not only allowing itself to be distracted from the real problems in the Middle East. By reaffirming its opposition to Jews living in part of their capital, the Americans are also adopting a standard that will make real peace impossible.

As Eugene Kontorovich wrote earlier today, the willingness of the Obama administration to use the essentially deceptive terminology of marginal Israeli left-wing groups about settlements distorts the discussion. If you count every apartment built as a “new settlement” you get the impression that Israel is building hundreds, if not thousands of new neighborhoods and towns every year. In fact all they are doing is building homes in existing Jewish communities, the vast majority of which are located in areas that would, even under the parameters that have been suggested by the Obama administration, remain inside Israel even in the event of a peace treaty with the Palestinians.

But the arguments raised yesterday by the administration about new Jewish homes in Jerusalem—which echoed widespread condemnation of these projects by most of the international community—is troubling for more than just the usual reasons. If President Obama and his State Department truly believe that the presence of Jews in some neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem is an obstacle to peace that must be removed in order for an accord to be reached, then what they are doing is tacitly endorsing an Arab demand for Jew-free zones in the ancient capital as well as a Judenrein Palestine.

As Netanyahu pointed out, the notion that it is immoral for Jews to buy property or build homes in parts of the city but that there is nothing wrong with Arabs doing the same in neighborhoods that are predominantly Jewish is inherently prejudicial. The double standard here is appalling. Arabs build (often illegally) throughout the Arab majority neighborhoods of the city and no one thinks twice about it even though, if we were to use the same standard by which Israel is judged, that, too, could be construed as an obstacle to peace.

But the real problem is that treating Jewish building in the territories and especially in Jerusalem as offensive almost by definition confirms the Arab belief that there is something inherently illegitimate about the Jewish presence in the country. It is that concept and not Israeli actions that still constitutes the primary obstacle to peace.

After all, if the Palestinians’ main priority was in establishing an independent state alongside Israel they could have accepted peace offers from Israel that would have given them almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a large share of Jerusalem. But they turned those offers down in 2000, 2001, and 2008 and refused to negotiate seriously with Israel again this year even though Netanyahu had already signaled a willingness to compromise on territory. It wasn’t settlements that stopped them from grabbing independence but the fact that recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish no matter where its borders are drawn was still anathema in their political culture. Indeed, when Hamas, which commands the support of the majority of Palestinians and far more than the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas, speaks of the “occupation,” they are not referring to the West Bank but to all of pre-1967 Israel.

While the majority of Israelis have drawn the appropriate conclusions from Palestinian rejectionism and understand that peace is nowhere in sight, most still hope that someday this will change. But there is no chance that the political culture of the Palestinians will one day make it possible for compromise over the land until the West stops giving moral support to demands for Jew-free zones.

Netanyahu does well to ignore these latest complaints just as he has done in the past, to the applause of the vast majority of Israelis, when the U.S. attacked the right of Jews to live in Jerusalem. If the Palestinians someday make peace and Jerusalem is split, does President Obama really think it can be done on the basis that both Jews and Arabs would populate the Israeli parts but that the Palestinian areas will be ethnically cleansed of all Jews? If so, then their bitter criticism of Jews moving into Silwan or the mixed neighborhood of Givat Hamatos makes sense. But if the goal is to have an open city in which coexistence prevails, then these arguments are counter-productive.

There are reasons why Israelis are wary about the idea of leaving behind Jews in areas that will, at least in theory, become a Palestinian state. Most revolve around the fact that such holdouts will become immediate targets for terrorist murderers. But if the Palestinians are told by the United States that it is perfectly OK for them to demand that no Jew is allowed to live in areas that they might control, including in Jerusalem, then there is no incentive for them to make peace on any terms.

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Obama’s Conflict with Israel Is Sidelined, Not Resolved

President Obama gritted his teeth yesterday and sat down for a meeting in the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Even at the best of times, the president isn’t good at faking bonhomie and there was little evidence of the usual pretense of good fellowship during the media portion of the session. He doesn’t like Netanyahu, but given his current emphasis on the war against ISIS and the utter collapse of the peace process with the Palestinians, Obama had little choice but to try and downplay his difference with the prime minister. Yet as a scathing State Department statement about Jerusalem issued later in the day revealed, the administration’s conflict with Israel has been sidelined but is far from finished.

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President Obama gritted his teeth yesterday and sat down for a meeting in the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Even at the best of times, the president isn’t good at faking bonhomie and there was little evidence of the usual pretense of good fellowship during the media portion of the session. He doesn’t like Netanyahu, but given his current emphasis on the war against ISIS and the utter collapse of the peace process with the Palestinians, Obama had little choice but to try and downplay his difference with the prime minister. Yet as a scathing State Department statement about Jerusalem issued later in the day revealed, the administration’s conflict with Israel has been sidelined but is far from finished.

As always, Netanyahu’s statement was a bit closer to reality than that of the president. He highlighted, as he did in his United Nations speech earlier this week, the prospect that the path to peace might come through the good offices of moderate Arab nations in the region rather than relying solely on direct talks with a reluctant Palestinian Authority. Obama pointedly ignored this possibility even though Secretary of State John Kerry is reportedly trying to revive his failed peace initiative using this very same strategy.

This ought to have been a moment for some reconciliation between the two feuding leaders. After nearly six years of non-stop bickering, the president had at least one moment of clarity last week when he told the UN General Assembly that the rise of ISIS and the conflicts in Iraq and Syria proved that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict wasn’t the cause of all the trouble in the region. That’s a basic truth that it took him years to learn since he has acted and spoken for most of his time in the White House as if Israeli-Palestinian peace would magically transform the Middle East despite the myriad conflicts between Arabs and Muslims that would go on even if Israel disappeared.

The collapse of Kerry’s peace initiative after Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas signed a unity pact with Hamas rather than a deal with Israel also should have signaled a course change for the administration. The 50-day war between Israel and Hamas illustrated both Abbas’s irrelevance and his inability to make peace even if he wanted to do it. Hamas’s increased popularity and its determination to use any territory under its control as a terror base also renders the U.S. pressure on Israel to surrender the West Bank, which might well become after such a move another stronghold of radical Islamists like Gaza, a mad scheme that is neither in the interests of the Jewish state or its superpower ally. Whatever the differences between the two governments, this was a good moment for stepping back and emphasizing their shared agenda against Islamist terror.

But this president can’t let go of his obsessions and no one in the Israeli government, least of all its leader, should be under the impression that the changed circumstances that forced Obama to alter his approach will mean smooth sailing until January 2017.

The chief source of tension is obviously Iran. Though Netanyahu tried to make the analogy between the threat from ISIS and that of the Islamist regime and Hamas, the U.S. is not buying it. Both Obama and Kerry are determined to make some sort of nuclear deal with Tehran. If the interim accord they signed last year is any indication, if they get their wish it will be a weak and unenforceable agreement that will do little to stop the Iranians from realizing their ambition. Nor is there any U.S. inducement that can or should cause the Israelis to cease to worry that such a strategy puts them and the West in mortal peril.

As for the Palestinians, though Obama will have his own reasons for thwarting any end run around the peace process by Abbas to get the UN to enact new anti-Israel measures, the administration looks as if it is determined to resume hounding Israel on settlements even though the Hamas war demonstrated anew that the Palestinian impulse to conflict has nothing to do with the location of a future border or the presence of Jews in any particular place. Moreover, even if talks with the Arab states do proceed, it should be clear even to the dullest staffer in the West Wing or Foggy Bottom that moderate Arab states want Israel’s help in fighting Islamists and have little interest in risking their own popularity trying to broker a deal that the Palestinians don’t want no matter how much the Israelis are prepared to give.

If there is anything we have learned about Barack Obama in the last six years it is that he is not a man prepared to admit mistakes (just ask Jim Clapper). For relations between Israel and the United States to really improve—as opposed to the arguments just cooling down every now and then—it will require the president to admit that his idée fixe about settlements won’t bring peace or help the U.S. rally allies in the fight against genuine threats to American security. He will also need to realize that his never-flagging desire for engagement with Iran is bringing the world closer to the nuclear brink, not averting that danger.

For now, Obama’s feud with Netanyahu is on his back burner as he tries to avoid disaster in Iraq and Syria and his party is poised to be beaten in the midterm elections. But it will be back soon. Israelis should be prepared for being back in his cross hairs sooner rather than later.

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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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