Commentary Magazine


Topic: Benjamin Netanyahu

Abbas Fled Talks the First Chance He Got

Though nothing is permanent in the Middle East peace process, for the moment it appears that the Palestinians have finally found a way to scuttle the talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry. Though Kerry had brokered an unlikely last-minute compromise that would have ensured the release of another batch of terrorist murderers that the Palestinian Authority had demanded, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas wasn’t buying it. Today, he signed papers indicating the PA’s request to join 15 international agencies, a clear violation of their Oslo obligations and commitments made to the United States. This was a signal that Abbas wouldn’t keep negotiating in spite of Kerry’s efforts to give them what they wanted. As a result, Kerry has canceled his planned trip back to the region, leaving, at least for the moment, the impression that the talks are at an end.

If the Palestinians continue to refuse to keep talking, it will mean that the deal Kerry had cooked up to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s agreement to release one more batch of terrorists including Israeli citizens and then another larger group of prisoners not convicted of violent crimes, will have been for nothing. That deal would have been a poor bargain for Israel in that it would have meant making real concessions — releasing Israeli Arabs convicted of terrorist murders as well as a promise of a limited freeze on building in the West Bank — in exchange for a man who might well be free on parole in 2015 anyway. The irony of having someone like Pollard who, though his crime was grave and did real damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship, acted in what he thought was Israel’s interest, being traded for people with Jewish blood on their hands, was so great that reportedly even the spy opposed it.

But the main conclusion to draw from these events isn’t about the Israeli desire to see Pollard freed after 28 years in prison but about Abbas’ desire to evade the peace process. What has happened isn’t so much a negotiation that went wrong, as it is the PA leader seizing the first opportunity that came his way to flee peace negotiations that he never wanted to join in the first place.

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Though nothing is permanent in the Middle East peace process, for the moment it appears that the Palestinians have finally found a way to scuttle the talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry. Though Kerry had brokered an unlikely last-minute compromise that would have ensured the release of another batch of terrorist murderers that the Palestinian Authority had demanded, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas wasn’t buying it. Today, he signed papers indicating the PA’s request to join 15 international agencies, a clear violation of their Oslo obligations and commitments made to the United States. This was a signal that Abbas wouldn’t keep negotiating in spite of Kerry’s efforts to give them what they wanted. As a result, Kerry has canceled his planned trip back to the region, leaving, at least for the moment, the impression that the talks are at an end.

If the Palestinians continue to refuse to keep talking, it will mean that the deal Kerry had cooked up to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s agreement to release one more batch of terrorists including Israeli citizens and then another larger group of prisoners not convicted of violent crimes, will have been for nothing. That deal would have been a poor bargain for Israel in that it would have meant making real concessions — releasing Israeli Arabs convicted of terrorist murders as well as a promise of a limited freeze on building in the West Bank — in exchange for a man who might well be free on parole in 2015 anyway. The irony of having someone like Pollard who, though his crime was grave and did real damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship, acted in what he thought was Israel’s interest, being traded for people with Jewish blood on their hands, was so great that reportedly even the spy opposed it.

But the main conclusion to draw from these events isn’t about the Israeli desire to see Pollard freed after 28 years in prison but about Abbas’ desire to evade the peace process. What has happened isn’t so much a negotiation that went wrong, as it is the PA leader seizing the first opportunity that came his way to flee peace negotiations that he never wanted to join in the first place.

 It should be remembered that getting Abbas to rejoin peace talks after boycotting them for most of the last five years was no easy task. Rather than talk without preconditions, the Palestinians had to be bribed with the release of four batches of terrorist killers. Though, as it is now clear, he did little in the talks other than to continually say no to any measures that would indicate the Palestinians were finally willing to end the conflict with Israel, he was continually praised and petted by both Kerry and President Obama for his commitment to peace. While the two continued to berate Israel as the obstacle to peace, it was always Abbas who was proving those who said last year that the Palestinians weren’t ready for peace right He refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn even in exchange for statehood and independence. Nor would he budge on the “right of return” for the 1948 refugees and their descendants. Even when Netanyahu unhappily agreed to Kerry’s framework for future talks that was rooted in the 1967 borders, Abbas still said no.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that once the initial period of talks was about to expire, Abbas had no interest in continuing the negotiations even on terms that tilted the diplomatic playing field in his direction.

Why?

The answer is the same one that was apparent to just about everyone except Kerry last year before the process recommenced. With the Palestinians divided between Abbas’ fief in the West Bank and the Hamas-run independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza, Abbas had no room to maneuver to make peace even if he were truly willing to do so. Negotiating an agreement, even one that would give the Palestinians pretty much everything they want in terms of statehood in the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem, isn’t in his interest because signing such an agreement is far more dangerous than being blamed for scuttling the peace talks. The safer thing for Abbas is to seize any pretext to flee the talks and claim he’s seeking Palestinian independence via the UN, a futile gesture that will do nothing for his people.

While Abbas and his apologists claim he has done Kerry and Israel a big favor by sitting at the table with them the last several months and gotten nothing for it, the Palestinians have the most to gain from the process the secretary has promoted. Without it, there is no path to independence or economic stability for them. But since abandoning the talks allows Abbas to avoid having to sell a deal that ends the conflict to a Palestinian people that has been taught to view their national identity as inseparable from the struggle against Zionism, he prefers it to negotiations.

Were Abbas truly interested in peace, he could sit back and wait for Kerry to keep spinning deals that traded tangible Israeli concessions for continued talks. Instead, he has done what he did in 2008 when he fled the table to avoid having to say no to Ehud Olmert’s peace offer. While this isn’t the last chapter of Kerry’s efforts, those who are quick to blame Israel for everything should take note of Abbas’ behavior and draw the appropriate conclusions. 

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Another Netanyahu Rival Eliminated

Today brought another piece of bad news for Israelis and Americans who have been desperately searching for someone, anyone, to pose a credible challenge to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The plea bargain agreed to by a top aide to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert seems to put a bow on the case that state prosecutors have been trying to build against him for years. Shula Zaken, who ran Olmert’s office when he was mayor of Jerusalem as well as prime minister, has reportedly agreed to tell all about his corrupt dealings, both in the Holyland affair, which is currently being tried, and on other charges, including those on which the former PM had either drawn a slap on the wrist or been acquitted. Even worse than detailing the way he diverted money illegally into his own accounts, Zaken allegedly has a tape of Olmert pressuring her to clam up about his crimes in exchange for money that will undoubtedly lead to an obstruction of justice charge.

This is hardly good news for Israelis who have already seen a president sent to jail for rape (Moshe Katsav) and a leading candidate for that largely symbolic office (Silvan Shalom, a member of Netanyahu’s cabinet), disqualified by similar charges just this month. But aside from the dismal spectacle of someone who is protected by the Shin Bet much in the way former U.S. presidents are guarded by the Secret Service being hauled off to jail, Olmert’s fate also makes it just a little more difficult to imagine anyone mounting an effective challenge to Netanyahu in 2017 when he will be up for reelection.

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Today brought another piece of bad news for Israelis and Americans who have been desperately searching for someone, anyone, to pose a credible challenge to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The plea bargain agreed to by a top aide to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert seems to put a bow on the case that state prosecutors have been trying to build against him for years. Shula Zaken, who ran Olmert’s office when he was mayor of Jerusalem as well as prime minister, has reportedly agreed to tell all about his corrupt dealings, both in the Holyland affair, which is currently being tried, and on other charges, including those on which the former PM had either drawn a slap on the wrist or been acquitted. Even worse than detailing the way he diverted money illegally into his own accounts, Zaken allegedly has a tape of Olmert pressuring her to clam up about his crimes in exchange for money that will undoubtedly lead to an obstruction of justice charge.

This is hardly good news for Israelis who have already seen a president sent to jail for rape (Moshe Katsav) and a leading candidate for that largely symbolic office (Silvan Shalom, a member of Netanyahu’s cabinet), disqualified by similar charges just this month. But aside from the dismal spectacle of someone who is protected by the Shin Bet much in the way former U.S. presidents are guarded by the Secret Service being hauled off to jail, Olmert’s fate also makes it just a little more difficult to imagine anyone mounting an effective challenge to Netanyahu in 2017 when he will be up for reelection.

I have always been skeptical about the notion that Olmert had any chance to return to the prime minister’s office or even a leading role in the Knesset. Even if you assumed, as many Israelis did, that state prosecutors would never be able to secure a conviction on any of the many corruption charges lodged against Olmert, the main problem he faced was the public’s memory of his inglorious record as prime minister.

Like most of the leading opportunists of both the Likud and Labor who joined the late Ariel Sharon’s Kadima Party in 2005, Olmert thought it was a ticket to office. But few Israelis were thinking that the creation of the centrist group (formed to back Sharon’s disastrous Gaza withdrawal plan) would lead to Olmert’s becoming prime minister. But that’s what happened when Sharon was felled by a cerebral hemorrhage in January 2006. Olmert won the election that followed on the basis of Sharon’s memory. But within months the outbreak of a war with Hezbollah along Israel’s northern border exposed him as unready for power.

His weak leadership contributed to the disastrous outcome of that conflict as well as the worsening of the situation along the border with Gaza as Gilad Shalit’s kidnapping and the ceaseless bombardment of southern Israel by Hamas missiles showed. In the waning months of his three-year administration (he chose not to seek reelection because of the pending corruption cases against him) Olmert redeemed his reputation somewhat by ordering the Cast Lead offensive into Gaza to stop the rockets. He also gained applause in the U.S. and among Israeli left-wingers by making a peace offer to the Palestinians of independence and statehood that exceeded even the ones made by Ehud Barak to Yasir Arafat. But Mahmoud Abbas fled the negotiations rather than give him an answer.

Nevertheless, Olmert was deeply unpopular for almost his entire term in office. At one point his favorability ratings were actually in the single digits and overlapped with the pollsters’ margin of error, opening up the possibility that almost no one in the country approved of his job performance. Nevertheless, Olmert’s ability to escape punishment on the first charges on which he was tried led some to believe he could mount a comeback. With none of the heads of Israel’s various parties other than Netanyahu thought to be ready for the post of prime minister, Olmert’s experience made him a possibility to lead a center-left coalition against the Likud leader. Frequent speaking engagements where liberal American Jews applauded him for his criticisms of Netanyahu convinced some that he had a political future as a peace candidate.

That’s all over now. Left-wing critics of Netanyahu must hope that one of the PM’s rivals, such as Labor Party head Isaac Herzog, will emerge as a genuine competitor in the next three years. But whatever happens in the coming months and years—and Israeli politics will remain deeply influenced by the refusal of the Palestinians to make peace—Netanyahu needn’t worry about Olmert anymore.  

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Pollard for Murderers? A Bad Deal

Over the last 20 years, the name of Jonathan Pollard has hovered around the margins of the Middle East peace process. Almost every time the United States wanted to push the Israelis to make concessions that were unpalatable, some have suggested that the Jewish state might be enticed to swallow one bitter pill or another by the release of the former U.S. Navy analyst. Pollard, who has been imprisoned in the United States since 1985 for spying for the Jewish state, is a sore point for many Israelis as well as some Americans who believe, not incorrectly, that his sentence of life in prison was disproportionate to the crime and far more draconian than anyone else ever convicted of espionage for a U.S. ally. So it is hardly surprising that now that the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are imploding once again, talk of releasing Pollard has returned as well.

As it always does, the prospect of Pollard’s release will tempt the Israelis. Though what Pollard did was a crime and did great damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship and to American Jewry, Israelis rightly feel that he was sacrificed and left to rot in prison by their political leadership at the time of his actions (a troika that included the late Yitzhak Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir as well as Shimon Peres, who is currently serving as Israel’s president). But as much as Prime Minister Netanyahu may wish to secure Pollard’s release (something that he tried to do in negotiations with President Clinton in 1998), he shouldn’t take the bait. The odds are, Washington is bluffing about letting Pollard go. But even if President Obama is willing to take the heat from the U.S. security establishment and spring Pollard, Netanyahu should not trade the freedom of a score of Arab terrorist murderers (some of whom are Israeli citizens rather than residents of the West Bank) for Pollard.

The current impasse revolves around the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to agree to the framework for ongoing peace talks suggested by Secretary of State John Kerry because it mentions that peace means recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and would commit the Palestinians to ending the conflict. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas wants no part of such a deal and, as has clearly always been his intention, would prefer to end any talks that might put him in the position of refusing a two-state solution preferred by Israel but which he has neither the will nor the ability to get his people to accept. But with the PA walking out of talks, Netanyahu sees no reason to follow through on the last batch of Arab prisoners whose release was part of the ransom offered to Abbas last year as the price for returning to the peace table after years of boycotting them.

Abbas has already seen that his intransigence won’t cause either President Obama or much of the Western media to blame him for the collapse of the talks. He thinks he is in the catbird seat and can make further demands on the Israelis in the form of the release of Fatah’s Marwan Barghouti (serving five life sentences for murders of Israeli civilians during the second intifada) and a settlement freeze in order to keep talking secure in the knowledge that the West will blame Israel no matter what he does. So in order to get Netanyahu, who has reluctantly agreed to Kerry’s framework that Abbas rejected, to keep paying, the Americans will have to come up with some form of pressure or gimmick. Though I doubt that President Obama is prepared to do battle with the U.S. intelligence community (which has an irrational obsession with keeping Pollard in prison until he dies) to make good on such an offer, the mere suggestion of the idea may be enough to keep the Israelis from walking away in frustration from the process.

But this is a bad deal for Israel on many levels.

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Over the last 20 years, the name of Jonathan Pollard has hovered around the margins of the Middle East peace process. Almost every time the United States wanted to push the Israelis to make concessions that were unpalatable, some have suggested that the Jewish state might be enticed to swallow one bitter pill or another by the release of the former U.S. Navy analyst. Pollard, who has been imprisoned in the United States since 1985 for spying for the Jewish state, is a sore point for many Israelis as well as some Americans who believe, not incorrectly, that his sentence of life in prison was disproportionate to the crime and far more draconian than anyone else ever convicted of espionage for a U.S. ally. So it is hardly surprising that now that the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are imploding once again, talk of releasing Pollard has returned as well.

As it always does, the prospect of Pollard’s release will tempt the Israelis. Though what Pollard did was a crime and did great damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship and to American Jewry, Israelis rightly feel that he was sacrificed and left to rot in prison by their political leadership at the time of his actions (a troika that included the late Yitzhak Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir as well as Shimon Peres, who is currently serving as Israel’s president). But as much as Prime Minister Netanyahu may wish to secure Pollard’s release (something that he tried to do in negotiations with President Clinton in 1998), he shouldn’t take the bait. The odds are, Washington is bluffing about letting Pollard go. But even if President Obama is willing to take the heat from the U.S. security establishment and spring Pollard, Netanyahu should not trade the freedom of a score of Arab terrorist murderers (some of whom are Israeli citizens rather than residents of the West Bank) for Pollard.

The current impasse revolves around the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to agree to the framework for ongoing peace talks suggested by Secretary of State John Kerry because it mentions that peace means recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and would commit the Palestinians to ending the conflict. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas wants no part of such a deal and, as has clearly always been his intention, would prefer to end any talks that might put him in the position of refusing a two-state solution preferred by Israel but which he has neither the will nor the ability to get his people to accept. But with the PA walking out of talks, Netanyahu sees no reason to follow through on the last batch of Arab prisoners whose release was part of the ransom offered to Abbas last year as the price for returning to the peace table after years of boycotting them.

Abbas has already seen that his intransigence won’t cause either President Obama or much of the Western media to blame him for the collapse of the talks. He thinks he is in the catbird seat and can make further demands on the Israelis in the form of the release of Fatah’s Marwan Barghouti (serving five life sentences for murders of Israeli civilians during the second intifada) and a settlement freeze in order to keep talking secure in the knowledge that the West will blame Israel no matter what he does. So in order to get Netanyahu, who has reluctantly agreed to Kerry’s framework that Abbas rejected, to keep paying, the Americans will have to come up with some form of pressure or gimmick. Though I doubt that President Obama is prepared to do battle with the U.S. intelligence community (which has an irrational obsession with keeping Pollard in prison until he dies) to make good on such an offer, the mere suggestion of the idea may be enough to keep the Israelis from walking away in frustration from the process.

But this is a bad deal for Israel on many levels.

As I wrote on the 25th anniversary of his imprisonment, Pollard’s case is a mixed bag for supporters of Israel. As much as his sentence was an injustice, he is no hero and did grave harm. Moreover, the prospect that someone who committed espionage in the belief that he was helping Israel would gain his release in exchange for the freedom of those who indiscriminately shed Jewish blood is more than an irony; it’s an outrage that even the spy should reject.

Having already released scores of Arab murderers, who have been subsequently honored and embraced by Abbas, there is little incentive for Netanyahu to keep letting them out if the Palestinians are not going to commit to peace talks whose purpose is an end to the conflict. If he is going to be blamed for the collapse of Kerry’s initiative no matter what he does, it would be a mistake to start making further concessions that will come back to haunt him later. The problem with injecting Pollard into peace talks is that it is the sort of American concession for which Israel will pay a disproportionate price with little prospect of receiving what it wants. That’s what happened the last time he offered to make territorial concessions in exchange for Pollard’s freedom. In the end, the Palestinians got the land, and Israel got neither Pollard nor peace.

If the Palestinians want something from Israel they should be prepared to pay for it by demonstrating their willingness to end the conflict and accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. In essence a trade for Pollard now would be a substitute for getting the Palestinians to make those assurances. However much they may want Pollard, making such a swap would be against the long-term prospects of both Israel’s security and peace.

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Blaming Israel Despite the Facts

The facts are no obstacle for those who are determined to stick to their narrative about Israel not wanting peace. With Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace process on the brink of failure, the New Republic’s John Judis has trotted out the familiar themes about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu being the one to blame. Judis goes on at length about Netanyahu’s perfidy but toward the end of the piece, he is forced to let drop an important nugget of information. When asked by Kerry to keep negotiating on the basis of the framework he has crafted to try and give both sides something to work with, Abbas said no. As Judis writes:

Kerry proposed that the two sides agree to the framework with reservations—a tactic that had doomed the Quartet’s framework proposal—but Abbas was not ready to agree to the proposal even with reservations.

Let’s get this straight. Kerry has been lionized by the left for attempting to revive the talks in spite of the fact that the division among the Palestinians (Hamas in Gaza and Abbas’s Fatah in the West Bank) made it unlikely that Abbas could or would say yes to peace terms that he had turned down in 2008 and that his predecessor Yasir Arafat had rejected in 2000 and 2001. But when the secretary put forward a framework that was hardly to Netanyahu’s liking because of its reliance on the 1967 borders, he said yes and Abbas said no even with the proviso that an acceptance would not commit the Palestinian Authority to its terms. And yet even though Abbas’s decision makes a fourth historic no to peace terms from the Palestinians in the last 15 years, Judis still thinks the collapse of the talks is Israel’s fault.

How is that possible? Judis doesn’t even bother defending this preposterous proposition directly since his work is so lazy that he writes as if all his readers will naturally assume that nothing that actually happened leading up to Abbas’s no must as a matter of course be Israel’s fault. But the flimsy case he does build against Israel tells us more about his own well-documented prejudices about the key issue that led to Abbas’s decision—recognition of Israel as a Jewish state—than it does about Netanyahu.

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The facts are no obstacle for those who are determined to stick to their narrative about Israel not wanting peace. With Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace process on the brink of failure, the New Republic’s John Judis has trotted out the familiar themes about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu being the one to blame. Judis goes on at length about Netanyahu’s perfidy but toward the end of the piece, he is forced to let drop an important nugget of information. When asked by Kerry to keep negotiating on the basis of the framework he has crafted to try and give both sides something to work with, Abbas said no. As Judis writes:

Kerry proposed that the two sides agree to the framework with reservations—a tactic that had doomed the Quartet’s framework proposal—but Abbas was not ready to agree to the proposal even with reservations.

Let’s get this straight. Kerry has been lionized by the left for attempting to revive the talks in spite of the fact that the division among the Palestinians (Hamas in Gaza and Abbas’s Fatah in the West Bank) made it unlikely that Abbas could or would say yes to peace terms that he had turned down in 2008 and that his predecessor Yasir Arafat had rejected in 2000 and 2001. But when the secretary put forward a framework that was hardly to Netanyahu’s liking because of its reliance on the 1967 borders, he said yes and Abbas said no even with the proviso that an acceptance would not commit the Palestinian Authority to its terms. And yet even though Abbas’s decision makes a fourth historic no to peace terms from the Palestinians in the last 15 years, Judis still thinks the collapse of the talks is Israel’s fault.

How is that possible? Judis doesn’t even bother defending this preposterous proposition directly since his work is so lazy that he writes as if all his readers will naturally assume that nothing that actually happened leading up to Abbas’s no must as a matter of course be Israel’s fault. But the flimsy case he does build against Israel tells us more about his own well-documented prejudices about the key issue that led to Abbas’s decision—recognition of Israel as a Jewish state—than it does about Netanyahu.

This is, after all, the same author who wrote Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict, a book dedicated to the proposition that the problems of the Middle East stem from the decision to create a Jewish state in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine–putting himself on record as believing that Israel should never have been born and that American support for the concept was a mistake imposed upon the nation by Jewish lobbying and political considerations. You would think that someone who studied that period would understand the centrality of the concept of the Jewish state both to the inception and the theoretical conclusion of the conflict. But Judis sticks to the anti-Israel talking points of the day and says this demand—rightly accepted by the United States despite some of Kerry’s later comments—that the Palestinians accept that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people is designed to throw a monkey wrench into the talks.

As Rick Richman noted, Dennis Ross confirms that the Jewish state issue was part of the negotiations during the Clinton administration. How could it have been avoided since the whole point is that its acceptance signifies that the Palestinians are giving up their century-long struggle against Zionism? Judis also brings up settlement construction as a deal breaker but neglects to note that almost all the houses slated for construction are to be built in the settlement blocs and neighborhoods in Jerusalem that will be part of Israel in any agreement. Complaints about them are both disingenuous and distractions from the Palestinian refusal to accept terms that signify an end to the conflict. Abbas told President Obama on his visit to Washington earlier this month that he would not agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, give up the “right of return” for the 1948 refugees and their descendants, or accept that any agreement means the end of the conflict. What’s more, even though he won’t keep negotiating, he expects Israel to release more terrorist murderers from its jails (the ransom he exacted from Kerry and Netanyahu as the price for his return to the talks last year) and now also wants the release of Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah leader serving five life-in-prison sentences for murders of civilians carried out at his behest during the second intifada and a settlement freeze to keep him at the table.

And yet Judis still says, “blame should almost certainly be assigned to Netanyahu and the Israelis.” It’s illogical, but if you enter a discussion of this topic believing Israel has no right to exist in the first place, it’s easy to see why you would think there’s nothing wrong with Palestinian intransigence. The problem is not so much Judis’s specious arguments as the pretense that he actually cares about who is to blame for preventing an outcome—a two-state solution—that he disdains.

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Obama Needs Israel to Rattle Its Saber

The Obama administration may be acting as if its rift with Russia won’t affect the attempt to broker a nuclear deal with Iran. It can hope against hope that Russia will forget its quarrel with the Americans and maintain solidarity with the U.S. and the European Union in the Iran talks and continue as if nothing has changed. But there’s little doubt that the open hostility between Washington and Moscow has reduced the already slim chances for a satisfactory P5+1 agreement with Iran. Since the diplomatic option that the president has defended so vigorously in recent months depends entirely on Russian cooperation including the enforcement of sanctions that Putin never really supported, the aftermath of the Crimea conflict has left the administration with little diplomatic leverage.

If so, where does that leave Israel?

The obvious answer to that question is that it is left in a highly precarious situation. Even if one discounts the possibility that Iran would use a bomb to make good on its genocidal threats against the Jewish state, Tehran’s acquisition of a nuclear capability would transform the strategic balance in the region in a manner that would drastically affect Israel’s security. That means Israel must either learn to live with a nuclear Iran or ponder the possibility of striking the Islamist regime on its own. While it’s not clear whether Iran or anyone else takes this seriously, Jerusalem is nonetheless acting as if they should. So should President Obama.

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The Obama administration may be acting as if its rift with Russia won’t affect the attempt to broker a nuclear deal with Iran. It can hope against hope that Russia will forget its quarrel with the Americans and maintain solidarity with the U.S. and the European Union in the Iran talks and continue as if nothing has changed. But there’s little doubt that the open hostility between Washington and Moscow has reduced the already slim chances for a satisfactory P5+1 agreement with Iran. Since the diplomatic option that the president has defended so vigorously in recent months depends entirely on Russian cooperation including the enforcement of sanctions that Putin never really supported, the aftermath of the Crimea conflict has left the administration with little diplomatic leverage.

If so, where does that leave Israel?

The obvious answer to that question is that it is left in a highly precarious situation. Even if one discounts the possibility that Iran would use a bomb to make good on its genocidal threats against the Jewish state, Tehran’s acquisition of a nuclear capability would transform the strategic balance in the region in a manner that would drastically affect Israel’s security. That means Israel must either learn to live with a nuclear Iran or ponder the possibility of striking the Islamist regime on its own. While it’s not clear whether Iran or anyone else takes this seriously, Jerusalem is nonetheless acting as if they should. So should President Obama.

As Haaretz reported today,

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon have ordered the army to continue preparing for a possible military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities at a cost of at least 10 billion shekels ($2.89 billion) this year, despite the talks between Iran and the West, according to recent statements by senior military officers.

Three Knesset members who were present at Knesset joint committee hearings on Israel Defense Forces plans that were held in January and February say they learned during the hearings that 10 billion shekels to 12 billion shekels of the defense budget would be allocated this year for preparations for a strike on Iran, approximately the same amount that was allocated in 2013.

The leaking of this information this week makes it clear that Netanyahu would like both the Iranians and his American ally to think that he is still actively considering a unilateral strike on the Islamist regime’s nuclear facilities. The same interpretation might be put on statements from Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who boasted yesterday that the IDF has the ability to carry out military operations anywhere on the globe, including Iran.

Opposition to a solo Israeli attack on Iran has been stiff within the country’s military and security establishment. This reluctance has been rooted not so much in a belief that Israel was incapable of dealing Iran a devastating blow but that the blowback from such an operation might be almost as bad as the scenario that it would be intended to avert. Even assuming Israeli forces could make enough sorties into Iranian airspace to knock out Tehran’s nuclear facilities without unacceptable losses, it might set off a regional conflict. Iran’s Hezbollah allies on Israel’s northern border and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the south in Gaza might launch their own strikes at Israeli cities and embroil the country in a costly three-front war.

Just as important, many Israeli security officials have always felt that dealing with Iran was primarily America’s responsibility. If push came to shove, the far more numerous American air and naval forces in the region would also be in a much better position to do the job. Moreover, they also know that if it did act on its own, Israel risks deepening its diplomatic isolation and creating more problems with the Obama administration.

But if, thanks to Russia, America’s diplomatic option to stop Iran is no longer viable and few take seriously the notion that President Obama would use force against Tehran under any circumstances, that would put Netanyahu in a position where he might think the IDF was the last and perhaps only hope of preventing an Iranian bomb.

While Netanyahu has said he won’t be deterred from acting by American diplomacy, anyone who thinks he will order an attack on Iran while the P5+1 talks are ongoing is not thinking clearly. An Israeli attack under those circumstances would create a quarrel with Washington that the prime minister rightly wishes to avoid at all costs. Force only becomes a possibility once those talks are seen to have failed and even then both Obama and the Iranians may think the Israelis wouldn’t dare act on their own. Only time will tell if they are right.

Nevertheless, Obama should be encouraging Netanyahu to rattle his saber as loudly and as much as possible. With Russia determined to thwart any U.S. foreign-policy initiative, the only possible hope for a P5+1 deal is for Iran to believe that the alternative is an Israeli attack that, however costly, would inflict a decisive blow to their nuclear ambitions.

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Israel Can Make Ultimatums Too

As is his custom, Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas has been making declarations and ultimatums, issuing threats about what unilateral actions the PA will take should Palestinian demands not be met. With the time frame for the current round of U.S.-sponsored negotiations about to expire, it appears that Abbas is working hard to create a climate in which the Palestinians will be able to exit talks confident in the knowledge that Israel will be made to take the blame. With both the European Union and the Obama administration already pushing a version of events that sets Israel up as the fall guy in the event the Palestinians walk, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s main concern is fast becoming how best to deflect the accusations once they start raining down. But if the Israelis simply attempt to avoid being blamed, then they risk either being forced into making a never-ending series of concessions, or otherwise putting themselves in a position of weakness. If the Israelis cannot find a way to set the agenda surrounding these negotiations then they will lose, and then they’ll be blamed.

Returning from his visit to Washington, Abbas declared that he will not “capitulate.” Presumably this is a reference to the pressure he is under to say that he accepts Israel as a Jewish state–in line with Secretary Kerry’s overarching peace framework. Yet Abbas also said cryptically, “We carried the deposit, and we are guarding the deposit.” This perhaps refers to the make-or-break issues that the Palestinians are insisting they will not compromise on. This ought to be enough to convince anyone that chances for peace really rest on the attitude of the Palestinians. Yet, Abbas is also maneuvering matters so as to blame the Israelis when his side backs out of Kerry’s process. Most critical of all is the question of whether Israel will release more Palestinian terrorists and whether or not the Palestinians will continue to pursue statehood through international bodies.

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As is his custom, Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas has been making declarations and ultimatums, issuing threats about what unilateral actions the PA will take should Palestinian demands not be met. With the time frame for the current round of U.S.-sponsored negotiations about to expire, it appears that Abbas is working hard to create a climate in which the Palestinians will be able to exit talks confident in the knowledge that Israel will be made to take the blame. With both the European Union and the Obama administration already pushing a version of events that sets Israel up as the fall guy in the event the Palestinians walk, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s main concern is fast becoming how best to deflect the accusations once they start raining down. But if the Israelis simply attempt to avoid being blamed, then they risk either being forced into making a never-ending series of concessions, or otherwise putting themselves in a position of weakness. If the Israelis cannot find a way to set the agenda surrounding these negotiations then they will lose, and then they’ll be blamed.

Returning from his visit to Washington, Abbas declared that he will not “capitulate.” Presumably this is a reference to the pressure he is under to say that he accepts Israel as a Jewish state–in line with Secretary Kerry’s overarching peace framework. Yet Abbas also said cryptically, “We carried the deposit, and we are guarding the deposit.” This perhaps refers to the make-or-break issues that the Palestinians are insisting they will not compromise on. This ought to be enough to convince anyone that chances for peace really rest on the attitude of the Palestinians. Yet, Abbas is also maneuvering matters so as to blame the Israelis when his side backs out of Kerry’s process. Most critical of all is the question of whether Israel will release more Palestinian terrorists and whether or not the Palestinians will continue to pursue statehood through international bodies.

To get the current round of negotiations going Israel was essentially forced into purchasing the Palestinian presence at the negotiating table by agreeing to release 104 convicted Palestinian terrorists. These releases were to be made in installments so as to ensure that the Palestinians didn’t simply take this costly concession and run. The final installment is due shortly. However, the Palestinians are now saying that if we get to April without a framework having been agreed upon, then they will discontinue their involvement in the talks anyway.

A growing number of Israelis, including Cabinet ministers, are asking why Israel should make this painful and dangerous concession if the Palestinians won’t even agree to continue with the very peace talks for which these releases are being made. In response to the suggestion that the prisoner release won’t be completed without further assurances that talks will carry on, Abbas is now threatening that if the prisoner release is not forthcoming then the PA will resume its efforts to achieve statehood unilaterally at the United Nations, in direct contravention of the Oslo peace agreements.

In all of this Abbas is essentially acting as a self-fulfilling prophet. He is constructing a series of trajectories all of which lead to the same outcome: pursuing statehood at the UN. The only thing that would prevent this would seem to be Abbas agreeing to extend the negotiation period, but he has already pledged he won’t do that. So whether Israel releases the prisoners or not, it seems clear that Abbas will not agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, meaning he won’t signup to the framework, meaning he won’t extend negotiations, meaning he will go to the UN. Given that the only person who has the final say in any of this is Abbas, it’s strange to think that Israel will likely take the blame.

Indeed, it increasingly appears that no matter what Israel does, much of the international community, and particularly the Obama administration, will castigate Israel. The EU ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen has made no secret of this and Brussels is only holding off on implementing a divestment policy for as long as negotiations continue. Secretary Kerry has made thinly veiled threats about the boycotts and isolation that await Israel should talks fail, implying that this is only to be expected if Israel won’t surrender to pressure.

In the now infamous Bloomberg interview from earlier this month, Obama painted Netanyahu as a hardened obstructionist, responsible for jeopardizing Israel’s entire future. Condescendingly Obama asked what alternative Netanyahu had to offer. Well, perhaps Israel should start reminding observers that it does have an alternative, and its not one that the Palestinians, Obama, or the Europeans are going to like very much.

In January, former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren wrote about reviving Ariel Sharon’s plan for unilateral withdrawal/unilateral annexation. Large and growing numbers of Israeli parliamentarians are advocating that if talks fail Israel should take the initiative and begin by applying full Israeli sovereignty to the strategically important West Bank settlement blocs.

Netanyahu need not embrace this policy himself. But it wouldn’t hurt to remind those it concerns that there are forces gathering in Israel that are prepared to do this. Obama implies the negotiations are some huge favor to Israel, Abbas acts as if being part of talks to create the Palestinians a state is some terrible sacrifice. Israel needs to avoid the kind of weakness that would make it possible for it to be blamed by projecting its strength. Warning Abbas and Obama about the prospect of Israeli ultimatums would be one way of doing this.     

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Why Is Yaalon Not Playing By the Rules?

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon is not playing by the rules. Members of the Israeli Cabinet are not supposed to be publicly telling the truth about American foreign-policy failures. But while it is to be expected that minor officials will mouth off on occasion about heavy-handed U.S. attempts to prop up the Palestinians or pressure the Jewish state into concessions, the man who is in charge of the Israeli defense establishment is supposed to understand that candor about the Obama administration interferes with his primary duties, which involve close security coordination with Washington.

Yaalon first pushed the envelope on U.S.-Israeli relations back in January when he had the bad manners to talk about Secretary of State John Kerry’s “messianic” obsession with Middle East peace that seemed divorced from the realities of the conflict with the Palestinians. But when he disparaged the U.S. as too “weak” to deal with Iran and that Israel was going to be forced to act on its own, that was too much for the Americans. A “senior American official” responded with what Haaretz termed a “blistering personal attack” in which Yaalon’s commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship was questioned.

What’s going on here? Why is Yaalon, previously known primarily as more of a defense intellectual than a firebrand, twisting the U.S. tiger’s tail in this manner? Is it part of a strategy cooked up by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu aimed at showing the Americans that Israel won’t be intimidated by pressure tactics? Or does it have to do with Yaalon’s political ambitions? And do Yaalon’s doubts about America’s trustworthiness reflect mainstream Israeli thinking on the subject?

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Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon is not playing by the rules. Members of the Israeli Cabinet are not supposed to be publicly telling the truth about American foreign-policy failures. But while it is to be expected that minor officials will mouth off on occasion about heavy-handed U.S. attempts to prop up the Palestinians or pressure the Jewish state into concessions, the man who is in charge of the Israeli defense establishment is supposed to understand that candor about the Obama administration interferes with his primary duties, which involve close security coordination with Washington.

Yaalon first pushed the envelope on U.S.-Israeli relations back in January when he had the bad manners to talk about Secretary of State John Kerry’s “messianic” obsession with Middle East peace that seemed divorced from the realities of the conflict with the Palestinians. But when he disparaged the U.S. as too “weak” to deal with Iran and that Israel was going to be forced to act on its own, that was too much for the Americans. A “senior American official” responded with what Haaretz termed a “blistering personal attack” in which Yaalon’s commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship was questioned.

What’s going on here? Why is Yaalon, previously known primarily as more of a defense intellectual than a firebrand, twisting the U.S. tiger’s tail in this manner? Is it part of a strategy cooked up by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu aimed at showing the Americans that Israel won’t be intimidated by pressure tactics? Or does it have to do with Yaalon’s political ambitions? And do Yaalon’s doubts about America’s trustworthiness reflect mainstream Israeli thinking on the subject?

Those who assume the defense minister’s impolitic comments are part of a clever coordinated strategy in which Yaalon is playing bad cop to Netanyahu’s good cop with the Americans are probably wrong. Israeli politics is rarely that neat and tidy. Netanyahu has rightly come to the conclusion that no good will come from publicly challenging the U.S. on the peace process at the moment. It’s even more far-fetched to think the prime minister would have approved of a senior colleague’s decision to dissect the disastrous mistakes the U.S. has made in other conflicts such as the current crisis over Russian aggression against Ukraine, especially coming from the man who must work closely with the U.S. defense establishment. Yaalon was forced to walk back his personal attack on Kerry in January. It’s likely that he will need to do the same with his even more pointed blast at the Americans.

But it would be a mistake to dismiss Yaalon’s views as extreme. The defense minister is not alone in thinking that the Obama administration’s retreats in the Middle East and weakness in dealing with Russia have undermined Israel’s security. American failures in Syria and Ukraine undermine faith in America’s ability to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat. The question is not whether Yaalon was right about doubts about the U.S. but whether this is something the defense minister should be saying in public rather than in private.

The answer to that question is obviously not. Though, as Yaalon rightly notes, U.S. security cooperation to Israel is mutually beneficial rather than a gift, it still ill behooves the top defense official of an American ally to behave in this manner.

This kind of display does strengthen Yaalon’s support among the Likud party faithful and other right-wing members of Netanyahu’s coalition. Were Netanyahu to step down or to decide not to run for reelection in 2017, it would make a lot of sense for Yaalon to be trying to shore up his right flank in a campaign for prime minister. But Yaalon is not likely to succeed Netanyahu. The prime minister is, after all, only one year older than his defense minister. Though Netanyahu is not that popular among a Likud membership that has grown even more right-wing in recent years, Yaalon is a typical former general whose political skills don’t match those of his boss. Nor is it likely that Netanyahu would split the party as Ariel Sharon did in 2005 leaving Yaalon with a chance to lead its rump.

Yaalon’s frustration with the U.S. is understandable. He may also be worried about whether the prime minister will buckle under American pressure. But he wouldn’t be the first former general to be outmaneuvered by Netanyahu. If he keeps popping off in this manner, he may discover that this kind of truth telling isn’t as politically useful as he thinks.

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Lying About Abbas Won’t Bring Peace

With Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas meeting today with President Obama, the focus on the Middle East peace process has shifted, at least for the moment, away from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his alleged shortcomings. But while Netanyahu’s most recent meeting with the president was preceded by an Obama interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg in which the Israeli was lambasted and Abbas praised, there was no such ambush for the Palestinian. Most everybody in Washington and a great many Israelis are at pains to paint Abbas in the best possible light. When Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon accurately described the Palestinian as someone who would never be a partner for a final peace agreement, Cabinet colleague Tzipi Livni and Israeli President Shimon Peres both spoke up in his defense.

Livni, who has at times criticized Abbas herself, did not specifically refute any of Yaalon’s points but preferred instead to say that his shortcomings and record were irrelevant to the task at hand and must be put aside. Peres spoke in the same vein saying that Abbas was a “good partner” and that the point of the talks was to move ahead toward peace regardless of the obstacle. That seems much in line with the American approach that is to never directly criticize Palestinian incitement and the refusal of Abbas and his fellow Fatah members to give up their hopes of flooding Israel with the descendants of the 1948 refugees.

In short, peace process advocates believe the only way to plow ahead to an agreement is to keep the pressure up on Netanyahu to give the maximum while treating Abbas with kid gloves, all the while fearing to offend him or to give his enemies within Fatah, not to mention Hamas and Islamic Jihad rivals, any ammunition with which to attack him as soft on the Israelis. Anything else, they tell us, risks blowing up the process leaving no hope for peace.

But the problem here isn’t so much the double standard for Netanyahu or even the blatant dishonesty involved in American and Israeli officials attesting to the sincerity and good intentions of the Palestinian leader. It’s that this theory of peace negotiating has already been tried and failed with disastrous results.

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With Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas meeting today with President Obama, the focus on the Middle East peace process has shifted, at least for the moment, away from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his alleged shortcomings. But while Netanyahu’s most recent meeting with the president was preceded by an Obama interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg in which the Israeli was lambasted and Abbas praised, there was no such ambush for the Palestinian. Most everybody in Washington and a great many Israelis are at pains to paint Abbas in the best possible light. When Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon accurately described the Palestinian as someone who would never be a partner for a final peace agreement, Cabinet colleague Tzipi Livni and Israeli President Shimon Peres both spoke up in his defense.

Livni, who has at times criticized Abbas herself, did not specifically refute any of Yaalon’s points but preferred instead to say that his shortcomings and record were irrelevant to the task at hand and must be put aside. Peres spoke in the same vein saying that Abbas was a “good partner” and that the point of the talks was to move ahead toward peace regardless of the obstacle. That seems much in line with the American approach that is to never directly criticize Palestinian incitement and the refusal of Abbas and his fellow Fatah members to give up their hopes of flooding Israel with the descendants of the 1948 refugees.

In short, peace process advocates believe the only way to plow ahead to an agreement is to keep the pressure up on Netanyahu to give the maximum while treating Abbas with kid gloves, all the while fearing to offend him or to give his enemies within Fatah, not to mention Hamas and Islamic Jihad rivals, any ammunition with which to attack him as soft on the Israelis. Anything else, they tell us, risks blowing up the process leaving no hope for peace.

But the problem here isn’t so much the double standard for Netanyahu or even the blatant dishonesty involved in American and Israeli officials attesting to the sincerity and good intentions of the Palestinian leader. It’s that this theory of peace negotiating has already been tried and failed with disastrous results.

I know it’s hard for many in the mainstream media to think back as far as last week or last month (ancient history in the news business), let alone 10, 15, or 20 years back. But the theory of negotiating with the Palestinians that is being employed by both the Obama administration and Israelis like Livni and Peres, was already tried in the 1990s.

Throughout that decade, critics of the Oslo process tried to point out that Abbas’s predecessor Yasir Arafat was using his new power at the Palestinian Authority to undermine any chances for peace. But Palestinian incitement, Arafat’s duplicitous statements about peace in which he appeared to back compromise when speaking to Israelis and Westerners while promising in Arabic to Palestinian audiences to continue the struggle for Israel’s destruction, and the connections between Fatah and terror were all ignored by the U.S. and many in Israel. Even when they were forced to concede that these things were true, merely to speak of them was regarded as proof of insufficient dedication to peace.

It was only in retrospect that some of the veterans of that unfortunate era realized they had made a terrible mistake. Rather than interpreting American and Israeli forbearance as a reason to do what was necessary to make peace, Arafat (with his top aide Abbas always nearby) saw it as a reason to dig his heels in even deeper and to continue playing a double game. When the peace process collapsed after Arafat refused Ehud Barak’s two offers of statehood including almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem and responded with a terror war of attrition, the illusion that peace could be bought by turning a blind eye to Palestinian misbehavior and intransigence was shown to be a myth. Some of those peace process advocates and negotiators, like Dennis Ross, subsequently admitted that they should have been tougher on Arafat. But those involved need to admit that the problem wasn’t so much the lack of pressure on Arafat but the reality of a Palestinian political culture that simply allowed no room for peace.

What is going now is nothing less than a repetition of the same dynamic. Abbas is a bit more presentable than Arafat and his pro-peace statements are more convincing than those of his old boss. But they are balanced by the double-dealing that Arafat turned into an art form. And he is drawing the same erroneous conclusions about how far he can go as Arafat did.

The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl points this out in an excellent column today in which he dares to tell the truth about Abbas:

The Palestinian president — who was elected to a four-year term in 2005 and has remained in office for five years after its expiration — turned down President George W. Bush’s request that he sign on to a similar framework in 2008. In 2010, after Obama strong-armed Netanyahu into declaring a moratorium on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank, Abbas refused to negotiate for nine of the designated 10 months, then broke off the talks after two meetings.

Diehl also understands how the refusal to judge Abbas by the same standards as Netanyahu is making peace impossible:

Why does Abbas dare to publicly campaign against the U.S. and Israeli position even before arriving in Washington? Simple: “Abbas believes he can say no to Obama because the U.S. administration will not take any retaliatory measures against the Palestinian Authority,” writes the veteran Israeli-Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh. Instead, Abbas expects to sit back if the talks fail, submit petitions to the United Nations and watch the anti-Israel boycotts mushroom, while paying no price of his own.

The point here is that we have already seen this movie and know the ending. If the president is sincere about wanting to broker peace, he needs to lay it on the line and make sure Abbas knows that the U.S. will blame him–and not an Israel that has already signaled that it will, albeit with misgivings, agree to Kerry’s framework–for the collapse of the talks. But if the president continues to double down on a policy of letting the Palestinians off the hook, it is laying the groundwork for a repeat of the same disaster that ended the Oslo process. The resulting bloodshed should be blamed primarily on Abbas. But Obama, and those Israelis who continue to lie about Abbas for what they believe is the sake of peace, will also bear some responsibility.

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The Question Obama Should Ask Abbas

Before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs yesterday, Secretary of State Kerry “put the kibosh on the demand which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made central to peace negotiations with the Palestinians,” according to the report in The Times of Israel:

“I think it’s a mistake for some people to be, you know, raising it [Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state] again and again and again as the critical decider of their attitude towards the possibility of a state and peace, and we’ve obviously made that clear,” Kerry said.

Kerry noted that the “Jewish state” issue was addressed by UN resolution 181 in 1947, which granted international recognition to the fledgling state of Israel. There are “more than 40 – 30 mentions of a “Jewish state” in the resolution, Kerry said, and added that the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat “confirmed that he agree it [Israel] would be a Jewish state” in 1988 and in 2004.

Seth Mandel and Tom Wilson have each addressed this issue in excellent posts. If it’s been internationally recognized since 1947, and if Arafat “confirmed” it in 1988 and 2004, what is the problem with confirming it again? Kerry’s argument reminds one of the reply that Talleyrand once made to a diplomat who proffered the “goes-without-saying” argument to him: “if it goes without saying, it will go still better by being said.”

This past Monday, the State Department tried to walk back comments from the prior week that indicated the U.S. was about to bail on any requirement that the Palestinians recognize a Jewish state. Spokesperson Jen Psaki had the following colloquy with reporters:

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Before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs yesterday, Secretary of State Kerry “put the kibosh on the demand which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made central to peace negotiations with the Palestinians,” according to the report in The Times of Israel:

“I think it’s a mistake for some people to be, you know, raising it [Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state] again and again and again as the critical decider of their attitude towards the possibility of a state and peace, and we’ve obviously made that clear,” Kerry said.

Kerry noted that the “Jewish state” issue was addressed by UN resolution 181 in 1947, which granted international recognition to the fledgling state of Israel. There are “more than 40 – 30 mentions of a “Jewish state” in the resolution, Kerry said, and added that the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat “confirmed that he agree it [Israel] would be a Jewish state” in 1988 and in 2004.

Seth Mandel and Tom Wilson have each addressed this issue in excellent posts. If it’s been internationally recognized since 1947, and if Arafat “confirmed” it in 1988 and 2004, what is the problem with confirming it again? Kerry’s argument reminds one of the reply that Talleyrand once made to a diplomat who proffered the “goes-without-saying” argument to him: “if it goes without saying, it will go still better by being said.”

This past Monday, the State Department tried to walk back comments from the prior week that indicated the U.S. was about to bail on any requirement that the Palestinians recognize a Jewish state. Spokesperson Jen Psaki had the following colloquy with reporters:

QUESTION: There seems to be some confusion over some comments that you made on Friday about the whole recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. I’m wondering if you can address those. Has the Administration changed its position on this?

MS. PSAKI: We have not. Our position has been for quite some time that Israel is a Jewish state.

Then Psaki said the issue was something to be determined in negotiations and that she wasn’t going to say what should or should not be in a framework agreement. Now the secretary of state says it’s a “mistake” to raise the issue. With this administration, one can never rely on its “positions.” They are always subject to revision when the going gets tough. The red line turns out not to be red. The position stated with “Period!” at the end turns out to have a hidden asterisk. The position held “for quite some time” turns out to have no operational significance. It’s just a “position.”

In his March 4, 2014 address to AIPAC, after his meeting the day before with President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu emphasized the importance of the issue to Israel:

Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — (applause) — where the civil rights of all citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike, are guaranteed. The land of Israel is the place where the identity of the Jewish people was forged. It was in Hebron that Abraham bought the cave of the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs. It was in Bethel that Jacob dreamed his dreams. It was in Jerusalem that David ruled his kingdom. We never forget that, but it’s time the Palestinians stopped denying history. (Applause.) Just as Israel is prepared to recognize a Palestinian state, the Palestinians must be prepared to recognize a Jewish state. (Applause.)

President Abbas, recognize the Jewish state, and in doing so, you would be telling your people, the Palestinians, that while we might have a territorial dispute, the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own is beyond dispute. (Applause.) You would be telling Palestinians to abandon the fantasy of flooding Israel with refugees, or amputating parts of the Negev and the Galilee. In recognizing the Jewish state, you would finally making clear that you are truly prepared to end the conflict.

So recognize the Jewish state. No excuses, no delays, it’s time. (Applause.)

Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state has been one of Israel’s central demands in the “peace process” long before Netanyahu brought the issue into its current focus. It is the critical indicator of whether the Palestinians are engaged in a search for a two-state solution or a two-stage plan. So perhaps President Obama will use his meeting Monday with President for Life Abbas to address this issue. He can ask him the same question he used in another connection in his recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg: “If not now, when?”

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The “Roadblocks” to Peace Haven’t Budged

Today’s international edition of the New York Times carries an op-ed on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by Ephraim Sneh, the former IDF general and well-known figure in the defense establishment. Sneh wants to solve the four “insurmountable stumbling blocks: Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, the ‘right of return,’ Jerusalem and security arrangements.” And he offers his plan to remove what the headline calls the “roadblocks” to peace. Unfortunately, Sneh’s good-faith effort to move the negotiations forward reminds the reader just why those four roadblocks are so difficult to dislodge.

On security arrangements, Sneh follows the logic that the Palestinians, Israelis, and Jordanians all have a shared interest in preventing the rise of Islamist rebel factions with the ability to cross borders between the three. That’s true, but the logic goes both ways: it may be rational for Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling party to oppose and marginalize Islamist extremists, but it’s also rational for him to believe–especially in the age of the Arab Spring–that he can’t prevent the organic gravitational pull of homegrown (or foreign-funded) extremists to disaffected Palestinians living under his corrupt authoritarianism. In such a case, logic suggests capitulation and cooptation, not a high-minded show of backbone by standing with Israel.

Sneh proposes a division of East Jerusalem instead of a division of Jerusalem. Permit Israel to keep its Jewish neighborhoods–including those built after 1967–Sneh argues, and give the Palestinian state the rest. It’s not clear if either side would agree to this, though given Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements over the last few years, Israel seems far more likely to accept these parameters than would the Palestinians, to say nothing of the logistical nightmare of actually dividing the city. But the centerpiece of Sneh’s Jerusalem proposal would be “a Vatican-like status” for the city’s holy sites. We don’t get the details from Sneh for how a tri-faith version of the Vatican would work exactly, probably because it would do nothing to dissolve conflict over the area but would erode some degree of Jewish sovereignty over its holiest site.

On the Palestinian “right of return,” Sneh proposes that Secretary of State John Kerry put together a framework that excludes the word “right.” The Palestinian legislature can pass their own right of return laws the way Israel has, but using terms like “rights,” according to Sneh, is a surefire way to get the Palestinians to loudly embrace their victimology and walk away. Thus they should simply talk about a “return,” and a symbolic one at that. It’s difficult to imagine this idea getting off the ground with the Palestinians, but it won’t get pushback from Israel.

On the remaining issue, the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Sneh writes:

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Today’s international edition of the New York Times carries an op-ed on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by Ephraim Sneh, the former IDF general and well-known figure in the defense establishment. Sneh wants to solve the four “insurmountable stumbling blocks: Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, the ‘right of return,’ Jerusalem and security arrangements.” And he offers his plan to remove what the headline calls the “roadblocks” to peace. Unfortunately, Sneh’s good-faith effort to move the negotiations forward reminds the reader just why those four roadblocks are so difficult to dislodge.

On security arrangements, Sneh follows the logic that the Palestinians, Israelis, and Jordanians all have a shared interest in preventing the rise of Islamist rebel factions with the ability to cross borders between the three. That’s true, but the logic goes both ways: it may be rational for Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling party to oppose and marginalize Islamist extremists, but it’s also rational for him to believe–especially in the age of the Arab Spring–that he can’t prevent the organic gravitational pull of homegrown (or foreign-funded) extremists to disaffected Palestinians living under his corrupt authoritarianism. In such a case, logic suggests capitulation and cooptation, not a high-minded show of backbone by standing with Israel.

Sneh proposes a division of East Jerusalem instead of a division of Jerusalem. Permit Israel to keep its Jewish neighborhoods–including those built after 1967–Sneh argues, and give the Palestinian state the rest. It’s not clear if either side would agree to this, though given Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements over the last few years, Israel seems far more likely to accept these parameters than would the Palestinians, to say nothing of the logistical nightmare of actually dividing the city. But the centerpiece of Sneh’s Jerusalem proposal would be “a Vatican-like status” for the city’s holy sites. We don’t get the details from Sneh for how a tri-faith version of the Vatican would work exactly, probably because it would do nothing to dissolve conflict over the area but would erode some degree of Jewish sovereignty over its holiest site.

On the Palestinian “right of return,” Sneh proposes that Secretary of State John Kerry put together a framework that excludes the word “right.” The Palestinian legislature can pass their own right of return laws the way Israel has, but using terms like “rights,” according to Sneh, is a surefire way to get the Palestinians to loudly embrace their victimology and walk away. Thus they should simply talk about a “return,” and a symbolic one at that. It’s difficult to imagine this idea getting off the ground with the Palestinians, but it won’t get pushback from Israel.

On the remaining issue, the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Sneh writes:

A demand to officially recognize Israel as the Jewish state has never been submitted to any Arab counterpart: not Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, Jordan’s King Hussein or Syria’s Hafez al-Assad. Yet Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, keeps raising such a declaration as a condition because there is no Israeli — certainly not me — who would not sympathize with it and because he believes that President Abbas cannot provide it, knowing that it could drive a wedge between Mr. Abbas and the Arab citizens of Israel.

However, the Palestine National Council, in its Declaration of Independence of Nov. 15, 1988, already acknowledged the definition of Israel as the Jewish state when it referred to the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947, saying it had partitioned Palestine into two states, Arab and Jewish. In fact, Yasir Arafat reiterated this recognition. The Palestinian leadership just needs to declare that the recognition Mr. Netanyahu is demanding is implicit in that 25-year-old document.

I’m afraid this appears to miss the point on such recognition. An “implicit” recognition in a pre-Oslo document that the current Palestinian leadership refuses to repeat (even “implicitly”) is not what’s being asked. And there’s a good reason for that. Saying someone else kinda sorta implied recognition removes such recognition from the intent of the man actually signing the agreement, if there is one.

Israel wants recognition from its “peace partner,” not a ghost. They want this because they believe–with much justification–that such recognition is the difference between a peace agreement and actual peace. The stated purpose of the two-state solution is to resolve the conflict. Palestinian statehood that merely strengthens their hand in an ongoing war to annihilate their Jewish neighbors is not something Israelis have much interest in, nor should they.

It’s Sneh’s conclusion, however, that goes off the rails:

In Israel, there cannot be such an agreement without a political crisis. In the Knesset, 42 of the 68 members of Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition are beholden to the settlers who fiercely oppose any agreement with the Palestinians. Mr. Netanyahu therefore will be compelled to change his coalition partners, make way for another prime minister or call elections so that a government that is not dependent on settlers’ support can take power. But a transient political crisis is better for Israel than the horrible repercussions of a failure of Mr. Kerry’s efforts.

Netanyahu presides over this governing coalition because the Israeli voters chose these parties to represent them in the government. Why should Netanyahu be compelled to call elections? The last elections were only a year ago, and this is the government the people chose. What kind of banana republic would call elections repeatedly and unceasingly until the people capitulated to the American secretary of state?

And what in modern Israeli history suggests this is the road to success anyway? Sneh isn’t unaware that left-leaning Israeli leaders already tried, more than once, to strike such an agreement. Labor took two bites at that apple, Kadima one. This is precisely the pattern of failure Israelis are trying not to replicate. Sneh’s frustration is understandable and widely shared, and his column is an expression of an admirable Israeli desire for peace. But it’s also quite wide of the mark.

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The Danger of Ignoring Iran’s Threats

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed some understandable frustration yesterday about the international press’ lack of interest in last week’s capture of the Iranian arms ship Klos-C. As the Times of Israel reported:

He termed the prevailing lack of interest in Israel’s arms catch, a stark departure from the impact of the seizure of the PLO’s Karine-A in January 2002, “an additional testament to the age of hypocrisy in which we live.” Netanyahu, speaking in English to several dozen rather incredulous foreign reporters, called the international condemnations “feeble” and “few and far between.”

Netanyahu may have thought this tangible proof of not only Iran’s support for terrorism but also its active plotting to thwart peace negotiations would have an impact on the debate about the nuclear talks with Tehran. But anyone who thought this would cause the West to think seriously about the wisdom of a diplomatic process whose premise is a belief in the Islamist regime’s willingness to change or to moderate its policies was mistaken. The commitment of the Obama administration and its European allies to talks that seem at times to be more about an attempt to create a new détente with Iran than preventing them from obtaining nuclear capability is no longer in question. No matter how many missiles Iran ships to Gaza, there doesn’t seem to be any chance that the U.S. will be distracted from this purpose. And if the Klos-C didn’t change any minds about Iran, no one in Israel should be under any illusions about the latest comments from the head of Iran’s Revolutionary guard about Israel doing it either. As Iran’s English language FARS news agency reported today in a story headlined: “IRGC Commander: Iran’s Finger on Trigger to Destroy Zionist Regime:”

Lieutenant Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Brigadier General Hossein Salami underlined that Iranian military commanders are prepared to attack and destroy the Zionist regime of Israel as soon as they receive such an order.

“Today, we can destroy every spot which is under the Zionist regime’s control with any volume of fire power (that we want) right from here,” Salami said, addressing a conference in Tehran on Tuesday dubbed ‘the Islamic World’s Role in the Geometry of the World Power’.

“Islam has given us this wish, capacity and power to destroy the Zionist regime so that our hands will remain on the trigger from 1,400km away for the day when such an incident (confrontation with Israel) takes place,” he added.

Salami reminded that Iran is not the only country that enjoys such a capability, as even the artilleries of a number of other (Muslim) countries can also target and attack the Zionist regime today.

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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed some understandable frustration yesterday about the international press’ lack of interest in last week’s capture of the Iranian arms ship Klos-C. As the Times of Israel reported:

He termed the prevailing lack of interest in Israel’s arms catch, a stark departure from the impact of the seizure of the PLO’s Karine-A in January 2002, “an additional testament to the age of hypocrisy in which we live.” Netanyahu, speaking in English to several dozen rather incredulous foreign reporters, called the international condemnations “feeble” and “few and far between.”

Netanyahu may have thought this tangible proof of not only Iran’s support for terrorism but also its active plotting to thwart peace negotiations would have an impact on the debate about the nuclear talks with Tehran. But anyone who thought this would cause the West to think seriously about the wisdom of a diplomatic process whose premise is a belief in the Islamist regime’s willingness to change or to moderate its policies was mistaken. The commitment of the Obama administration and its European allies to talks that seem at times to be more about an attempt to create a new détente with Iran than preventing them from obtaining nuclear capability is no longer in question. No matter how many missiles Iran ships to Gaza, there doesn’t seem to be any chance that the U.S. will be distracted from this purpose. And if the Klos-C didn’t change any minds about Iran, no one in Israel should be under any illusions about the latest comments from the head of Iran’s Revolutionary guard about Israel doing it either. As Iran’s English language FARS news agency reported today in a story headlined: “IRGC Commander: Iran’s Finger on Trigger to Destroy Zionist Regime:”

Lieutenant Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Brigadier General Hossein Salami underlined that Iranian military commanders are prepared to attack and destroy the Zionist regime of Israel as soon as they receive such an order.

“Today, we can destroy every spot which is under the Zionist regime’s control with any volume of fire power (that we want) right from here,” Salami said, addressing a conference in Tehran on Tuesday dubbed ‘the Islamic World’s Role in the Geometry of the World Power’.

“Islam has given us this wish, capacity and power to destroy the Zionist regime so that our hands will remain on the trigger from 1,400km away for the day when such an incident (confrontation with Israel) takes place,” he added.

Salami reminded that Iran is not the only country that enjoys such a capability, as even the artilleries of a number of other (Muslim) countries can also target and attack the Zionist regime today.

While this statement, like many other similar threats issued by Iranian leaders will be ignored or rationalized by those who are uninterested in the truth about the intentions of the Islamist regime, Salami’s comments tell us a lot about the thinking in Tehran.

First of all, Salami’s remarks should refocus the P5+1 negotiators on the threat that an Iran with nuclear capability poses not just to Israel but also to moderate Arab nations and the West. While Iran’s apologists keep reminding us about how rational its theocratic leaders are and how even a nuclear weapon would not be used for genocidal purposes, the regime’s ambition to destroy the Jewish state is not a secret. It’s been a constant theme in Iranian rhetoric and is so entrenched as a staple of their political culture that it is impossible to seriously argue that they don’t mean what they say.

Nor can Iran’s threats be dismissed as empty braggadocio or as defensive in nature. As their arms smuggling venture proved, they are not waiting for the day when their nuclear project reaches its goal to utilize their considerable military resources to threaten Israel. The point of the missiles that were headed to Gaza wasn’t to serve as an annoyance like the small-scale weapons that were shipped to Hamas during the second intifada. Rather, they were intended to give Islamists in Gaza a strategic threat against Israeli cities in the center of the country. Combined with the formidable weaponry they have given their Hezbollah auxiliaries in Lebanon as well as the still-intact Assad government in Syria that owes its existence to Tehran, Iran’s bid for regional hegemony poses a direct threat to the peace of the world.

But when presented with proof of Iran’s malevolent intentions and behavior, all the international press can muster is a yawn or cynical and misleading remarks comparing Israel’s display of the captured arms to George W. Bush’s “mission accomplished” moment. Few seemed to grasp that Iran’s attempt to put advanced missiles in Gaza should be connected to the issue of Tehran’s ballistic missile program and nuclear military research that Western negotiators have done nothing to halt. Though the White House insists it can negotiate a satisfactory nuclear deal with Iran even as it condemns its support for terrorism, these two issues are connected.

Even more important, every time Iran issues a statement like the one from IRGC commander or gets caught shipping arms to Gaza, the lack of Western outrage can only serve to convince the ayatollahs that they have nothing to fear from President Obama or the West. That will make it less likely that they will ever agree to give up their nuclear ambition or their drive to control the region. And that should make Israelis as well as everyone else in Iran’s cross hairs very afraid.

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The Futile Search for Middle East Solutions

In today’s Mosaic Magazine, author Hillel Halkin provides yet another entry in the growing list of proposed “solutions” to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Put forward as a response to Yoav Sorek’s Mosaic essay in which that writer essentially called upon Israel to annul the Oslo peace process and establish what might be termed a one-state proposal. Unlike most such ideas put forward by Israel’s enemies which amount to nothing more than replacing the one Jewish state with one more Arab one, Sorek’s idea — which was endorsed here by Tom Wilson — is rooted in extending Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank but within a context in which it is understood that the country will remain a Jewish state.

Both Sorek’s proposal and that put forward by Caroline Glick in her new book (which was given a persuasive endorsement by Seth Lipsky in the New York Sun) take it as a given that the two-state solution that has been sought in vain during the 20 years since the Oslo Accords were signed will never succeed. Halkin doesn’t disagree on that point but is less sanguine than either Sorek or Glick about Israel’s ability to incorporate the large Arab population of the West Bank into Israel. In response he offers a compromise that is neither a pure one- or two-solution. He calls it “two-state minus” in which a Jewish state would co-exist alongside a Palestinian one in the territory that is now controlled by Israel. The majority status of the two peoples in their enclaves would be protected but both Jews and Arabs living in the two states would be free to choose either nationality no matter where they lived as well as to travel and work in either sector. He likens it to the way the nation states of the European Union retain their individual sovereignty while having that power restrained by their mutual obligations.

But while it sounds nice it is no more realistic than any other “solution” out on the market. Like the advocates of the other two state concepts, Halkin’s idea rests on the assumption that the Palestinians will be satisfied with anything less than the end of Jewish sovereignty in any form over any part of the country. Until the Palestinians embrace the reality of Israel’s permanence and renounce their century-old war on Zionism, the only viable scenario is one that manages the conflict rather than solving it.

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In today’s Mosaic Magazine, author Hillel Halkin provides yet another entry in the growing list of proposed “solutions” to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Put forward as a response to Yoav Sorek’s Mosaic essay in which that writer essentially called upon Israel to annul the Oslo peace process and establish what might be termed a one-state proposal. Unlike most such ideas put forward by Israel’s enemies which amount to nothing more than replacing the one Jewish state with one more Arab one, Sorek’s idea — which was endorsed here by Tom Wilson — is rooted in extending Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank but within a context in which it is understood that the country will remain a Jewish state.

Both Sorek’s proposal and that put forward by Caroline Glick in her new book (which was given a persuasive endorsement by Seth Lipsky in the New York Sun) take it as a given that the two-state solution that has been sought in vain during the 20 years since the Oslo Accords were signed will never succeed. Halkin doesn’t disagree on that point but is less sanguine than either Sorek or Glick about Israel’s ability to incorporate the large Arab population of the West Bank into Israel. In response he offers a compromise that is neither a pure one- or two-solution. He calls it “two-state minus” in which a Jewish state would co-exist alongside a Palestinian one in the territory that is now controlled by Israel. The majority status of the two peoples in their enclaves would be protected but both Jews and Arabs living in the two states would be free to choose either nationality no matter where they lived as well as to travel and work in either sector. He likens it to the way the nation states of the European Union retain their individual sovereignty while having that power restrained by their mutual obligations.

But while it sounds nice it is no more realistic than any other “solution” out on the market. Like the advocates of the other two state concepts, Halkin’s idea rests on the assumption that the Palestinians will be satisfied with anything less than the end of Jewish sovereignty in any form over any part of the country. Until the Palestinians embrace the reality of Israel’s permanence and renounce their century-old war on Zionism, the only viable scenario is one that manages the conflict rather than solving it.

Sorek and especially Glick, who writes with her characteristic clarity about the fatal mistakes of Israel’s leaders, perform a valuable service in debunking many of the false assumptions about the conflict that are the foundation of the two-state idea. Both rightly point out that Arab rejectionism is not based on anger about Israel’s occupation of territory in June 1967 but on their belief that Zionism is illegitimate. As Sorek writes about the Israeli embrace of Oslo, “In embracing the Palestinian national movement as its partner, Israel pretended not to see that, absent its fundamental objection to the existence of the Jewish state, there was no Palestinian national movement.” The reckless pursuit of peace on these false terms led to the abandonment of Israel’s claim to its own rights in the dispute, a form of unilateral moral disarmament that has helped legitimize the arguments of anti-Zionists, which have grown louder and more vituperative despite the Jewish state’s sacrifices at Oslo and in the Gaza withdrawal. They also call into question the conventional wisdom that the growth rates of the two peoples will inevitably lead to an Arab majority West of the Jordan, based as it is on unreliable population data and projections that may not be accurate.

But it is hard to argue with Halkin’s dismissal of their assumptions that, with patience and creative energy, the population of the West Bank can be integrated into a democratic Israel without fatally undermining the democratic and Jewish nature of the state. Indeed, the same factors that render the two-state solution a forlorn hope for peace also undermine the notion that the Palestinian Arabs will ever accept permanent minority status in a Jewish state even if they were never able to out reproduce the Jews. Some form of separation is inevitable.

Even more to the point, those who imagine that the Oslo genie can be put back into the bottle at this late point are mistaken. Israel’s predicament is that it can’t go back to the situation that preceded Oslo or that of the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War when it might have been theoretically possible (if still unlikely) for Israel to annex the West Bank in some manner or to give somehow give some of it back to Jordan. By bringing back Yasir Arafat to the country and giving his Fatah movement control over the Palestinian Authority, Israel’s leaders implicitly recognized the right of the Palestinians to self governance in some part of the country and made it only a matter of time until some sort of Palestinian state was going to be created. Though the reality of the PA under the reign of Yasir Arafat and then Mahmoud Abbas and his Hamas rivals makes that acceptance look like a self-destructive delusional nightmare, it can’t be walked back. The U.S. and Europe may vainly rail at Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in contravention to international law, an Israeli annexation of the West Bank (which, in contrast to Russia’s aggression, Israel could, contrary to conventional wisdom, make a reasonable case for under international law) would never be accepted by the rest of the world, including Israel’s vital American ally. Israel hasn’t the strength to resist the rest of the world in that matter. Nor, it should be pointed, do most Israelis have much appetite for such an idea. In spite of the fact that Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza was a disaster, only a minority of Israelis would favor a plan to reassert their control’s permanent control of the area.

Sorek and Glick are right about the dangers of the two-state solution under the current circumstances and Halkin is right that a one-state solution in which the one state is a Jewish state of Israel is a fantasy. Other one-state proposals are merely thinly veiled programs for the eradication of the Jewish homeland and/or genocide of its population.

So where does that leave Israel and its government? In a difficult position where it stands to be criticized from the left for doing too little to achieve peace and to be blasted by the right for both countenancing a retreat from the country’s vital interests and the rights of the Jewish people. While the former critics are mistaken and the latter have a point, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu hasn’t the luxury of pontificating from the sidelines. Instead he is left to try and do the only thing any Israeli government can do: manage the conflict until the other side comes to its senses and is willing to make a permanent peace on reasonable terms.

In the absence of that sea change in Palestinian public opinion that will make it possible for Abbas or one of his successors to recognize Israel as a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and to give up the hope of a “right of return” on the part of the 1948 refugees, talk of a solution of any kind is a waste of time. And though Israel has been told for the past 46 years that the status quo isn’t viable, that has proven to be equally mistaken. As unsatisfying as merely preserving the current unsatisfactory arrangement may be for both sides, doing so in a manner which limits the bloodshed and the involvement of the two peoples in each other’s lives is undoubtedly preferable to giving in to the temptation to replicate Gaza in the West Bank or to imagine that Israel can annex the territories without a terrible cost.

That is not the sort of thing most people want to hear since they prefer to believe that all problems are soluble, especially those related to life and death. But it is nonetheless true. 

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Netanyahu’s European Border Fantasy

While Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have often taken on the air of farce, in recent days they appeared to cross over into the realm of the truly bizarre. Over the weekend it was announced that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has tasked his cabinet secretary with researching the complex border arrangements that exist between Belgian Baarle-Hertog and Dutch Baarle-Nassau. Naturally, this is not some purely academic exercise concerning the eccentric cartography of the Low Countries. Rather, it seems that Israel’s prime minister is entertaining the disturbing notion that that the Jewish state might seek to emulate these border arrangements as a way of surmounting the problem of what to do about the Jewish communities in the West Bank, if a Palestinian state were to be established.

Belgium and Holland have what has been described as one of the most complex border arrangements in the world. Under these arrangements enclaves of each country sit within the territory of the other, with 24 separate and mostly non-contiguous fragments of land existing as minute islands within the greater territory of the two states. With the Palestinians having made clear that they want to join with the other countries of the region in enjoying the luxury of a Jew-free state, Netanyahu’s earlier suggestion that Israeli civilians would stay behind after an Israeli withdrawal has been rendered null and void. Yet while many were skeptical about whether Netanyahu had ever really been serious about that first proposal, it would seem that he is far more serious about his pledge not to forcibly evacuate any Israelis from their homes. 

Since the Palestinians are insisting that they won’t share a future state with Jews and with Israel’s prime minister saying he won’t make the Jews of the West Bank leave, it seems that the Baarle-Nassau plan has arisen as a farfetched attempt to bridge a clear impasse in negotiations. When President Obama attempts to set up Netanyahu as intransigent in the peace process, as he did in his recent interview in Bloomberg, proposals such as this one demonstrate the fantastical, and indeed ridiculous, lengths that Netanyahu is apparently willing to go to so as to assist Kerry’s plan. One can only imagine what kind of things the Obama administration might be threatening Israel with behind closed doors.

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While Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have often taken on the air of farce, in recent days they appeared to cross over into the realm of the truly bizarre. Over the weekend it was announced that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has tasked his cabinet secretary with researching the complex border arrangements that exist between Belgian Baarle-Hertog and Dutch Baarle-Nassau. Naturally, this is not some purely academic exercise concerning the eccentric cartography of the Low Countries. Rather, it seems that Israel’s prime minister is entertaining the disturbing notion that that the Jewish state might seek to emulate these border arrangements as a way of surmounting the problem of what to do about the Jewish communities in the West Bank, if a Palestinian state were to be established.

Belgium and Holland have what has been described as one of the most complex border arrangements in the world. Under these arrangements enclaves of each country sit within the territory of the other, with 24 separate and mostly non-contiguous fragments of land existing as minute islands within the greater territory of the two states. With the Palestinians having made clear that they want to join with the other countries of the region in enjoying the luxury of a Jew-free state, Netanyahu’s earlier suggestion that Israeli civilians would stay behind after an Israeli withdrawal has been rendered null and void. Yet while many were skeptical about whether Netanyahu had ever really been serious about that first proposal, it would seem that he is far more serious about his pledge not to forcibly evacuate any Israelis from their homes. 

Since the Palestinians are insisting that they won’t share a future state with Jews and with Israel’s prime minister saying he won’t make the Jews of the West Bank leave, it seems that the Baarle-Nassau plan has arisen as a farfetched attempt to bridge a clear impasse in negotiations. When President Obama attempts to set up Netanyahu as intransigent in the peace process, as he did in his recent interview in Bloomberg, proposals such as this one demonstrate the fantastical, and indeed ridiculous, lengths that Netanyahu is apparently willing to go to so as to assist Kerry’s plan. One can only imagine what kind of things the Obama administration might be threatening Israel with behind closed doors.

After all, Netanyahu is astute enough to know whom he is dealing with when negotiating about the contours of a future Palestinian state. That is why the Israeli government is insisting that Israel maintain defensible borders by holding onto the Jordan Valley. They make this demand precisely because they know that a future Palestinian state would be neither Belgium nor Holland. Indeed, the Dutch-Belgium border has been pretty quiet for several centuries now; the Dutch have not been embroiled in a generations-long conflict to extinguish the Kingdom of Belgium; one doesn’t generally hear statements from Brussels about how they will never recognize the Netherlands as a Dutch state.

That said, even in these two countries, supposedly at the heart of the project for a post-national European federation, neither exactly known for being rocked by fierce inter-ethnic strife, there is still constantly talk of Belgium being partitioned between the Flemish and the Walloons. Brussels might well become the divided capital of two states while Jerusalem remains the united capital of just one. Even for Europeans it turns out national identity cannot be made to vanish so easily.

Yet, where as in sleepy Baarle-Nassau the international border between Holland and Belgium passes between sidewalk cafes, with residents strolling casually between the two states without noticing, can anyone in their right mind imagine that the same jovial atmosphere would be repeated along an Israeli-Palestinian border? It was not so long ago that Palestinians were venturing to Israeli pavement cafes simply for the purpose of blowing them up. Experience should have taught Israel by now that it can vacate the West bank if it so chooses, but that the only prudent thing to do would be to prepare for that territory to become yet another terror state too.

Even if a Palestinian state in the West Bank managed to somehow resist becoming a second Gaza, it is still quite plausible that relations between the two states might often be strained. What then would become of the Jews clinging on in these many isolated and perhaps stranded communities? Think blockaded West Berlin during the Cold War, only instead of half a city, just a small Jewish village perched precariously on a hilltop, surrounded on all sides. Those who could massacre the Fogel family in their sleep, who could jubilantly hold up their blood stained hands to a cheering mob after murdering two IDF reservists in the Ramallah police station they stormed, might find such vulnerable outposts all too tempting.

And under such an arrangement, would there be Palestinian enclaves in Israeli territory? Through land swap deals, might Arab border towns go to the Palestinian side? After the Netanyahu government has insisted it must hold the Jordan Valley, it makes a mockery to talk of the need for defensible borders in one place while proposing such impossible borders elsewhere. The only comfort here is the thought that the Palestinians’ compulsive tendency for fleeing peace agreements means this kind of derangement will likely never come to fruition.       

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Will Obama Blame Israel for Abbas’ ‘No?’

According to today’s New York Times, the conceit behind President Obama’s recent attacks on Israel was to redress what he felt was an imbalanced approach to American diplomacy. Apparently the president thinks Secretary of State John Kerry has been too nice to the Israelis during the course of his effort to revive peace talks with the Palestinians. Thus, the president has decided to play “bad cop,” to Kerry’s “good cop” in dealings with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. While the president’s assumption of the role of the bully in his Bloomberg interview with Jeffrey Goldberg was entirely convincing, the Israelis may be forgiven for wondering when the good cop will start making nice with them. This is, after all, the same secretary that has threatened Israel with boycotts and even a third intifada if they were not sufficiently forthcoming in the negotiations, leaving the impression that the American tandem was conducting a coordinated campaign of pressure rather than a more nuanced effort to convince Jerusalem to make concessions.

Having paid for Palestinian participation in the talks with the release over 100 terrorist murderers and reportedly already conceded a withdrawal from at least 90 percent of the West Bank once the talks began, the Israelis had good reason to be surprised by Obama’s decision to pile. But while Washington has been obsessively focused on forcing the Israelis to accept a two-state solution and a framework for negotiations that they have already agreed to, the administration seems equally determined to ignore what the Palestinians are doing. Thus the statements from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who received fulsome praise from the president for his commitment to peace, that he will never agree to a key element of Kerry’s framework is being ignored by the White House.

In a statement released by the official PA press agency WAFA, Abbas reiterated what he has been saying for months. He will not sign on to any framework, let alone a peace treaty that recognizes Israel as a Jewish state. In Abbas’ words, “There is no way. We will not accept.” The question now is what are Obama and Kerry going to do about it? Their answer will speak volumes not only about the future of Kerry’s talks but their commitment to a genuine peace that will ensure rather than endanger Israel’s survival.

Abbas’ latest “no” leaves President Obama and Kerry with a crucial choice.

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According to today’s New York Times, the conceit behind President Obama’s recent attacks on Israel was to redress what he felt was an imbalanced approach to American diplomacy. Apparently the president thinks Secretary of State John Kerry has been too nice to the Israelis during the course of his effort to revive peace talks with the Palestinians. Thus, the president has decided to play “bad cop,” to Kerry’s “good cop” in dealings with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. While the president’s assumption of the role of the bully in his Bloomberg interview with Jeffrey Goldberg was entirely convincing, the Israelis may be forgiven for wondering when the good cop will start making nice with them. This is, after all, the same secretary that has threatened Israel with boycotts and even a third intifada if they were not sufficiently forthcoming in the negotiations, leaving the impression that the American tandem was conducting a coordinated campaign of pressure rather than a more nuanced effort to convince Jerusalem to make concessions.

Having paid for Palestinian participation in the talks with the release over 100 terrorist murderers and reportedly already conceded a withdrawal from at least 90 percent of the West Bank once the talks began, the Israelis had good reason to be surprised by Obama’s decision to pile. But while Washington has been obsessively focused on forcing the Israelis to accept a two-state solution and a framework for negotiations that they have already agreed to, the administration seems equally determined to ignore what the Palestinians are doing. Thus the statements from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who received fulsome praise from the president for his commitment to peace, that he will never agree to a key element of Kerry’s framework is being ignored by the White House.

In a statement released by the official PA press agency WAFA, Abbas reiterated what he has been saying for months. He will not sign on to any framework, let alone a peace treaty that recognizes Israel as a Jewish state. In Abbas’ words, “There is no way. We will not accept.” The question now is what are Obama and Kerry going to do about it? Their answer will speak volumes not only about the future of Kerry’s talks but their commitment to a genuine peace that will ensure rather than endanger Israel’s survival.

Abbas’ latest “no” leaves President Obama and Kerry with a crucial choice.

They can insist that Abbas budge on the Jewish state issue because they know that without it the Palestinians are not conceding the end of the conflict. Unless Abbas says those two little words it will be obvious that despite Obama’s praise for him, he is just as committed to a vision of Palestinian nationalism that is inextricably tied to a war on Zionism as was his predecessor Yasir Arafat. By walking away from the talks over this point, Abbas will be delivering the fourth Palestinian no to an Israeli offer of statehood after previous rejections in 2000, 2001 and 2008.

If so, Obama will be placed in a position where he would be obligated to place the blame for Kerry’s failure just as President Bill Clinton had to blame Arafat for the collapse of the 2000 Camp David Summit as well as the subsequent Taba Conference. But given his antipathy for Netanyahu, the Israelis have to be wondering whether the president will find some reason to let Abbas off the hook.

Even worse is the possibility that they will cave in to Abbas’ demands rather than sticking to their commitment to Israel on the Jewish state issue.

While the Palestinians’ unwillingness to give up their hope of swamping Israel with refugees via a “right of return” and the pressure exerted on the PA from Hamas and Islamic Jihad has always made Kerry’s effort seem like a fool’s errand, he has conducted himself as if the chances for success were good. That’s why he readily accepted the notion that the Palestinians would acknowledge Israel as the Jewish state because in exchange for such a statement they would be rewarded with the territory and sovereignty they say they want.

In other words, while Kerry has always been prepared to give the Palestinians a peace deal that was more favorable to their ambitions than to Israel’s rights, he was still insisting that the end result must be genuine peace rather than a pause in the conflict. If his framework is altered to allow Abbas to avoid saying those two words, Kerry is aware that Israel can have no confidence that it will get peace no matter how much land they give up.

Obama and Kerry believed their bad cop/bad copy routine would be enough to bludgeon the Israelis into giving away the West Bank and perhaps even a share of Jerusalem and they appear to be right about that assumption. But, like all other would-be Middle East peacemakers they forgot or ignored the need to get the Palestinians to agree to peace.

If the administration allows Abbas to escape accountability on this crucial point it will expose their peace efforts as worse than a sham.  As I wrote yesterday, the Jewish state is not a contrived controversy but a concept that lies at the heart of the conflict. Israelis have repeatedly shown their willingness to take risks for peace but the Palestinians are still stuck with a historical narrative that won’t allow them to give up their dream of Israel’s extinction.

Abbas has no intention of ever signing a peace treaty with Israel or granting it legitimacy as a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn or how much of Jerusalem they obtain. But if the United States can’t be honest about this even when Abbas gives them a flat no to one of the basic principles of peace, then it is clear that the purpose of the negotiations isn’t a resolution of the conflict but another excuse to bash Israel. If, after Kerry’s mission fails or even if it continues on terms that are incompatible with peace, Israelis should expect to be blamed no matter what they have conceded or how many times Abbas has said no. But so long as Abbas refuses to say two words, those charges will be lies.

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An Alternative to the Two-State Solution

Talk of managing, as opposed to solving, the Israel-Palestinian dispute has become increasingly fashionable in these years of a faltering, and at times failed, peace process. For many commentators it had become a case of Israel having to decide not to decide, for now at least. However, with the onset of Secretary of State Kerry’s most recent round of negotiations, we have seen a concerted effort to revive hopes for an imminent resolution of the conflict around a two-state proposal. President Obama’s recent interview in Bloomberg has already drawn much comment. Friends of Israel have expressed fully warranted dismay at the president’s disingenuous attempts to frame Prime Minister Netanyahu as some kind of hardened rejectionist of the peace process as the president willfully ignored the many concessions for peace already sacrificed by Netanyahu. He spoke as if the settlement freezes, prisoner releases and countless hours of negotiating had never happened.

Of course, Netanyahu already embraced the concept of two states as soon as he took office, as outlined in his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech. However, Israel’s prime minister has also made quite clear that any genuine peace will have to rest on full Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. This has been responded to with skepticism from much of the international community, particularly on the part of the Europeans. The Zionist left (or at least what remains of it) has also proven pretty cold to this demand, with even moderates from this camp such as Shlomo Avineri appearing unenthusiastic about the Jewish state demand.

However, in this month’s featured essay for Mosaic Yoav Sorek not only proposes an alternative strategy, and indeed attitude, for Israel, but a strategy that places at its core the assertion of the Jewish state and its most fundamental rights. In his essay Israel’s Big Mistake Sorek argues that the path of concession and accommodation pursued by Israel since the early 1990s has been a disastrous one, only weakening it and emboldening the demands of Israel’s enemies. Sorek makes a strong case for the acknowledgement of the fact that since the conflict has not ever been about territory, but rather about ending Israel’s existence, nothing short of a total acceptance of a Jewish state in the Middle East will be able to deliver real peace.

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Talk of managing, as opposed to solving, the Israel-Palestinian dispute has become increasingly fashionable in these years of a faltering, and at times failed, peace process. For many commentators it had become a case of Israel having to decide not to decide, for now at least. However, with the onset of Secretary of State Kerry’s most recent round of negotiations, we have seen a concerted effort to revive hopes for an imminent resolution of the conflict around a two-state proposal. President Obama’s recent interview in Bloomberg has already drawn much comment. Friends of Israel have expressed fully warranted dismay at the president’s disingenuous attempts to frame Prime Minister Netanyahu as some kind of hardened rejectionist of the peace process as the president willfully ignored the many concessions for peace already sacrificed by Netanyahu. He spoke as if the settlement freezes, prisoner releases and countless hours of negotiating had never happened.

Of course, Netanyahu already embraced the concept of two states as soon as he took office, as outlined in his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech. However, Israel’s prime minister has also made quite clear that any genuine peace will have to rest on full Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. This has been responded to with skepticism from much of the international community, particularly on the part of the Europeans. The Zionist left (or at least what remains of it) has also proven pretty cold to this demand, with even moderates from this camp such as Shlomo Avineri appearing unenthusiastic about the Jewish state demand.

However, in this month’s featured essay for Mosaic Yoav Sorek not only proposes an alternative strategy, and indeed attitude, for Israel, but a strategy that places at its core the assertion of the Jewish state and its most fundamental rights. In his essay Israel’s Big Mistake Sorek argues that the path of concession and accommodation pursued by Israel since the early 1990s has been a disastrous one, only weakening it and emboldening the demands of Israel’s enemies. Sorek makes a strong case for the acknowledgement of the fact that since the conflict has not ever been about territory, but rather about ending Israel’s existence, nothing short of a total acceptance of a Jewish state in the Middle East will be able to deliver real peace.

Israel’s mistake has been to buy into the notion that it can purchase from the Arab world its right to exist by trading territory. It has pursued the land for peace equation on the belief that if it shrinks its territory and weakens itself strategically it can placate it enemies’ hostility. But as Sorek points out, logically the opposite is true. It is only by maintaining its strength, asserting its presence, and demanding to be recognized that Israel can have any chance of eventually compelling its neighbors to accept the reality of its existence, and in doing so fulfill the foundational vision of Zionism.

As far as concluding the long running dispute with the Palestinians is concerned, Sorek proposes that Israel might start by not seeking to appease and legitimize the most hard-line elements among the Palestinians. It was the great mistake of the Rabin government, the author argues, to recognize and elevate the PLO instead of continuing the policy of working to defeat Arafat’s terror organization. Instead, Sorek suggests that Israel should essentially take the initiative and simply assert its rights and authority over the entire territory in its control. Whether or not Israel is to find a way to simply fully integrate the Arab communities living throughout its territories, or whether they will ultimately see their future in reclaiming their former Jordanian citizenship, Sorek makes the claim that none of this will prove as difficult as the 20-year long shambles of attempting to establish a Palestinian state.

Obama makes the dishonest claim that he would like to be presented with some alternative to the two-state proposal. But that request is doubly disingenuous, because not only does the president clearly have no desire for an alternative plan, but he also knows full well that Netanyahu is cooperating in efforts to establish a Palestinian state. Yet, Netanyahu is also pursuing somewhat of a synthesis approach by insisting that territorial compromise by Israel must be matched by real Palestinian acceptance of the Jewish state.

Israel’s prime minister may demand this acceptance, but it is a sign of how doubtful the Israelis are that it will come from the region as a whole that they continue to insist that they hold such strategically significant areas as the Jordan valley. As Sorek observes in his essay, Israelis have given up on the hope of ever being embraced by the wider Arab-Islamic world. TS Eliot once wrote of those dreaming up systems so utopian that no one in them would ever need be good. In this way talk of sophisticated early warning systems in the Jordan valley, symbolic deals on token numbers of refugees, land swaps and more, are all part of misguided efforts to negotiate a final status arrangement so watertight that it won’t matter if the Jewish state is still reviled by Palestinians and the wider region.

As Yoav Sorek argues, nothing short of full acceptance of the Jewish state will bring peace to Israel and end the conflict, pursuing that acceptance is the only viable way to bring about a real and lasting peace.

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Netanyahu Doesn’t Take Obama’s Bait

The last time President Obama ambushed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Israeli gave as good as he got. This time he turned the other cheek. The reason for this turnabout by the normally combative prime minister tells us everything we need to know about the relative strength of the positions of these two leaders.

While the assumption on the part of most pundits was that Obama has Netanyahu in a corner, the latter’s reaction to the assault the president launched at him in an interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg this past weekend shows us this isn’t true. Though Netanyahu had to be infuriated by the president’s single-minded determination to blame Israel for the lack of peace as well as his obtuse praise for Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, he felt no need to publicly respond to it. Far from feeling threatened by Obama’s tirade, Netanyahu’s decision to ignore the president’s attack shows that he understands the dynamics of both the peace process and U.S. foreign policy actually give him the upper hand over the weak and increasingly out-of-touch lame duck in the White House.

Obama’s decision to give his faithful admirer Goldberg an interview in which he blasted Israel was odd since it came at a time when the Israelis have shown their willingness to accept Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework for Middle East peace negotiations and the Palestinians have publicly declared the same document to be unacceptable. More than that, the fact that he chose this particular moment to get in another shot at his least favorite foreign leader just when the world was focused on Russia’s seizure of the Crimea and awaiting an American response to this aggression can only be considered bizarre. Not only did this make his attack on Netanyahu seem both petty and personal, it also guaranteed that the international media that might have otherwise have jumped on the story was distracted elsewhere and diminished its impact. But Netanyahu’s seeming dismissal of this broadside shows that Obama is not in as strong a position vis-à-vis Netanyahu as he thinks.

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The last time President Obama ambushed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Israeli gave as good as he got. This time he turned the other cheek. The reason for this turnabout by the normally combative prime minister tells us everything we need to know about the relative strength of the positions of these two leaders.

While the assumption on the part of most pundits was that Obama has Netanyahu in a corner, the latter’s reaction to the assault the president launched at him in an interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg this past weekend shows us this isn’t true. Though Netanyahu had to be infuriated by the president’s single-minded determination to blame Israel for the lack of peace as well as his obtuse praise for Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, he felt no need to publicly respond to it. Far from feeling threatened by Obama’s tirade, Netanyahu’s decision to ignore the president’s attack shows that he understands the dynamics of both the peace process and U.S. foreign policy actually give him the upper hand over the weak and increasingly out-of-touch lame duck in the White House.

Obama’s decision to give his faithful admirer Goldberg an interview in which he blasted Israel was odd since it came at a time when the Israelis have shown their willingness to accept Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework for Middle East peace negotiations and the Palestinians have publicly declared the same document to be unacceptable. More than that, the fact that he chose this particular moment to get in another shot at his least favorite foreign leader just when the world was focused on Russia’s seizure of the Crimea and awaiting an American response to this aggression can only be considered bizarre. Not only did this make his attack on Netanyahu seem both petty and personal, it also guaranteed that the international media that might have otherwise have jumped on the story was distracted elsewhere and diminished its impact. But Netanyahu’s seeming dismissal of this broadside shows that Obama is not in as strong a position vis-à-vis Netanyahu as he thinks.

Back in May 2011, Obama chose to give a speech attacking Israel’s stand on the peace process and demanding that it accept the 1967 borders as the starting point for negotiations just as before Netanyahu arrived in Washington. Obama had picked fights with Israel in 2009 and 2010 over Jerusalem and settlements but this was a direct attack on the prime minister. Netanyahu’s response was just as direct. When he met with Obama in the White House, he launched into a lengthy lecture to the president about Israeli security that made it clear to the president that he would not take the insult lying down. Netanyahu doubled down on that the next day when he received more cheers while addressing a joint meeting of Congress than the president had ever gotten.

But this time, Netanyahu chose to ignore the president’s slights. There were no public or even off-the-record remarks from his party expressing anger. And in his speech to AIPAC today, Netanyahu barely mentioned the president.

Though Israel has been squabbling with the U.S. over the direction of the Iran nuclear talks, Netanyahu broke no new ground on the issue in his speech. He restated his concerns about Tehran continuing uranium enrichment during the nuclear talks. But he did not allude to the fact that the U.S. was letting this happen. While he repeated his vow to do anything necessary to defend Israeli security — a veiled threat to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities — he kept his disagreements to a minimum and emphasized the joint concerns of the U.S. and Israel.

With regard to the topic on which Obama had been most critical — the peace process with the Palestinians — there was also no allusion to disagreement with Washington. To the contrary, Netanyahu spoke more about his desire for peace; his willingness to continue engaging in talks with the Palestinians and the advantages that peace would bring to Israel and the entire Middle East. Far from harping on the points where he and Obama disagree about the terms of a theoretical agreement, Netanyahu emphasized a key point where the U.S. had accepted Israel’s position: the need for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, thus signaling their willingness to end the conflict rather than merely pausing it.

While Netanyahu went on to denounce the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement against as both immoral and anti-Semitic, the key here was a disinclination to use his speech to engage in a tit-for-tat battle with the administration. Why was that?

Some Obama loyalists may claim that this shows that Netanyahu got the message from the president. It’s likely that Israel’s future participation in Kerry’s talks will be cited by some in this group as evidence that Obama’s spanking of the prime minister worked. But this is nonsense. Given that Israel had already signaled that it will accept Kerry’s framework for more talks, that explanation won’t hold water.

A better reason for Netanyahu’s decision to turn the other cheek is that, unlike the president, the prime minister has been paying attention to the currents currently roiling Palestinian politics and knows that Abbas’ inability to rally his people behind a peace agreement renders any potential U.S.-Israeli arguments moot.

It should be remembered that the net results of the 2011 dustup between the two men was pointless. Despite Obama’s best efforts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians, Abbas still wouldn’t budge enough to even negotiate, let alone agree to peace terms. The same dynamic is unfolding today with Israel reportedly offering massive territorial withdrawals of up to 90 percent of the West Bank in the secret talks with the PA while the Palestinians are still tying themselves up in knots explaining why they can’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state or give up the right of return.

Far from needing to defend himself on the American stage as he felt it important to do in 2011, Netanyahu now understands that forbearance is the best way to respond to Obama’s provocations. Try as he might to put the onus for the lack of peace on the Jewish state, Netanyahu knows it will always be the Palestinians who say “no” to peace, not the Israelis.

Similarly, as much as he must have been itching to directly take on Obama’s appeasement of Tehran, Netanyahu realizes that it is Iran’s lust for a nuclear weapon that will do more to undermine the administration’s negotiating tactics than anything he can say.

By eschewing any desire to pressure the Palestinians to make peace, the president more or less guaranteed that Kerry must ultimately fail. And by knuckling under the Iranians in the interim agreement signed by Kerry last November, President Obama has also embarked on a path that cannot lead him to the achievement of his stated goals in the current round of talks.

Though Obama’s attacks did real damage to Israel’s position, the prime minister is right to refuse to take the bait. Netanyahu cannot have failed to see that, far from offering him the opportunity to effectively pressure the Israelis, the president is floundering in his second term especially on foreign policy. The most effective answer to Obama’s taunts is patience since events will soon overtake the president’s positions on both the Palestinian and Iranian fronts, as well as in other debacles around the globe that have popped up because of Obama’s weak leadership. Though the disparity in the relative power of their positions inevitably means Netanyahu must worry about Obama’s barbs, the bottom line here is that it is the president and not the prime minister who is in big trouble.

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Surprise: Obama Kills the Peace Process

President Obama may have thought he was being very clever ambushing Prime Minister Netanyahu with scathing comments about Israeli policies that would be published just before he arrived in the United States for a meeting at the White House and to speak at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). By slamming Netanyahu’s policies as the primary, if not the sole obstacle to peace in the Middle East, in the now infamous interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg, the president put the Israeli on the defensive and undermined his attempts to rally support for his positions with both AIPAC members and Congress. That should also have made it more difficult for Netanyahu to resist American pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians in order to help the negotiations sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry succeed. But the president’s move had to leave those who have actually been following the talks with the Palestinians scratching their heads.

Kerry’s current objective is to get both parties to agree to a framework for continued talks. As has been widely reported, Netanyahu has already signaled his consent to the framework even though he and his Cabinet have grave misgivings about where the talks may eventually lead. By contrast, the Palestinians have repeatedly and publicly rejected the framework. The Palestinians have angrily rejected the framework’s requirement that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state, which is to say they agree to end the conflict rather than merely pause it. They also reject the West Bank security guarantees included in the framework even though it also contains their basic demands about a Palestinian state whose borders will be based on the 1967 borders while leaving open the possibility of territorial swaps. In other words, the Israelis have already given Kerry what he wanted while the Palestinians have done the opposite. Yet Obama still treats Israel as the truant and lauds Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as a trustworthy warrior for peace even though his government is a font of incitement for hatred against Jews and Israelis and he has repeatedly rejected every previous offer of statehood because he and his people remain unable or unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

By speaking in this manner about Israel, Obama has pleased the Palestinians, Netanyahu’s Jewish critics and Israel-bashers everywhere. But it will also do something else that perhaps the president never intended. He has killed any chance that Kerry’s peace talks could possibly succeed.

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President Obama may have thought he was being very clever ambushing Prime Minister Netanyahu with scathing comments about Israeli policies that would be published just before he arrived in the United States for a meeting at the White House and to speak at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). By slamming Netanyahu’s policies as the primary, if not the sole obstacle to peace in the Middle East, in the now infamous interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg, the president put the Israeli on the defensive and undermined his attempts to rally support for his positions with both AIPAC members and Congress. That should also have made it more difficult for Netanyahu to resist American pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians in order to help the negotiations sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry succeed. But the president’s move had to leave those who have actually been following the talks with the Palestinians scratching their heads.

Kerry’s current objective is to get both parties to agree to a framework for continued talks. As has been widely reported, Netanyahu has already signaled his consent to the framework even though he and his Cabinet have grave misgivings about where the talks may eventually lead. By contrast, the Palestinians have repeatedly and publicly rejected the framework. The Palestinians have angrily rejected the framework’s requirement that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state, which is to say they agree to end the conflict rather than merely pause it. They also reject the West Bank security guarantees included in the framework even though it also contains their basic demands about a Palestinian state whose borders will be based on the 1967 borders while leaving open the possibility of territorial swaps. In other words, the Israelis have already given Kerry what he wanted while the Palestinians have done the opposite. Yet Obama still treats Israel as the truant and lauds Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as a trustworthy warrior for peace even though his government is a font of incitement for hatred against Jews and Israelis and he has repeatedly rejected every previous offer of statehood because he and his people remain unable or unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

By speaking in this manner about Israel, Obama has pleased the Palestinians, Netanyahu’s Jewish critics and Israel-bashers everywhere. But it will also do something else that perhaps the president never intended. He has killed any chance that Kerry’s peace talks could possibly succeed.

By abusing Netanyahu even though he knows the Israelis have agreed to the peace framework, Obama vented his spleen at what is obviously his least favorite foreign leader. But rather than cheering his scolding of Netanyahu those who claim to be “pro-peace and pro-Israel” ought to be gravely concerned.

Unfortunately, the audience for the Goldberg interview was wider than the membership of AIPAC or the Israeli Cabinet. The Palestinians were also listening and what they heard will constitute a far greater impediment to peace than settlements or the Israeli prime minister.

By speaking in this manner at this particular time, the president made it clear that his administration doesn’t care what the Israelis or the Palestinians actually do in the talks. He will take sides against Netanyahu and for Abbas no matter what the Israelis say or how the Palestinians continue to obstruct the process. It tells the Palestinians they need not fear American pressure either at this stage of the talks or if they ever get close to final status discussions.

 That’s a catastrophe for the peace processers because they know that the real pressure for peace on Netanyahu doesn’t come from the White House. It stems from the desire of his people for an end to the conflict. Should there ever be a credible peace offer from the Palestinians that pledges them to recognize Israel’s legitimacy and respects Israeli security and sovereignty, Netanyahu knows that no government could turn it down.

But in contrast to the Israelis, there is no Palestinian peace camp or faction within either Abbas’ Fatah or his Hamas rivals that will push for peace even if it doesn’t grant their maximal demands. The only possible source of pressure on Abbas to do make peace must come from the U.S., Europe and the Arab States. But if President Obama is not willing to hold Abbas accountable for his behavior, then no one will. In the absence of an American determination to hold Abbas’ feet to the fire in spite of the enormous Palestinian constituency that will always oppose even the most generous Israeli offer, the already slim prospects for peace are altogether extinguished.

By attacking Netanyahu and lauding Abbas, the president has accomplished something that no Israeli right-winger could possibly accomplish: kill the peace process. Without American insisting that Abbas change his ways, there is no possible way for him to withstand the far greater pressure he gets from the descendants of the 1948 refugees — who still dream of flooding Israel and turning it into another Arab state — or his Islamist rivals.

Though the president warned Netanyahu that he wouldn’t be able to protect Israel if peace talks falter, his interview with Goldberg guaranteed that this is exactly what will happen. From here on in, everything else he says about the topic is moot.

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AIPAC Will Survive While Obama Fails

With over 10,000 pro-Israel activists in Washington this week for the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and members of both parties lining up as usual to demonstrate their support for the organization and its cause it may seem odd that so many pundits are prepared to bury the group. But given the Obama administration’s recent successful effort to derail Congressional action on Iran sanctions and the president’s own extraordinary attack on the government of the Jewish state this weekend in an interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg, these are hard times for supporters of the umbrella pro-Israel lobby. Indeed, the collapse of the sanctions campaign combined with what our John Podhoretz correctly described as Obama’s threats against the Jewish state delivered in a pre-AIPAC ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu—who was on his way to Washington to meet with the president and speak at the conference—the power of the lobby seems to have been revealed to be a myth.

As Lee Smith writes today in Tablet magazine, AIPAC’s reliance on the bipartisan coalition it has forged in support of the U.S.-Israel alliance has rendered it unable to punish those who cross it. Smith writes persuasively that President Obama has effectively checkmated AIPAC with a series of moves that demonstrated he couldn’t be constrained by its stands on either the Israel-Palestinian conflict or the Iran nuclear threat. Judged by that standard, he’s right to claim the group “flopped” on Iran sanctions this year. Given that the prospects of AIPAC mobilizing sufficient Democratic support in the Senate for a revived effort to pass a new sanctions bill in the face of Obama’s veto threats are poor, it’s hard to argue with Smith’s belief that the group has been isolated and its power exposed as more a figment of the overheated imaginations of anti-Semitic conspiracy mongers than reality.

But before we join Smith’s musings about AIPAC having to do “some hard thinking about its survival,” some perspective is needed. As bad as things look for the pro-Israel community today, the lobby’s business is in taking the long view of both Washington politics and the Middle East. President Obama may have gotten the upper hand over both AIPAC and Netanyahu in recent months, but any assumption that this situation is permanent rests on the idea that the administration’s diplomatic efforts on both the Palestinian and Iranian fronts will not falter or that these failures can be blamed on Israel and its supporters. As with the fights Obama has picked with Israel earlier in his administration, events have a way of eclipsing his temper tantrums. While it may be entirely in character for the president to choose the weekend when AIPAC is convening and Russia is invading the Ukraine to be issuing ultimatums to Israel, the collapse of U.S. influence abroad due to Obama’s weakness and delusions will make his victory over the lobby a short-lived triumph.

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With over 10,000 pro-Israel activists in Washington this week for the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and members of both parties lining up as usual to demonstrate their support for the organization and its cause it may seem odd that so many pundits are prepared to bury the group. But given the Obama administration’s recent successful effort to derail Congressional action on Iran sanctions and the president’s own extraordinary attack on the government of the Jewish state this weekend in an interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg, these are hard times for supporters of the umbrella pro-Israel lobby. Indeed, the collapse of the sanctions campaign combined with what our John Podhoretz correctly described as Obama’s threats against the Jewish state delivered in a pre-AIPAC ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu—who was on his way to Washington to meet with the president and speak at the conference—the power of the lobby seems to have been revealed to be a myth.

As Lee Smith writes today in Tablet magazine, AIPAC’s reliance on the bipartisan coalition it has forged in support of the U.S.-Israel alliance has rendered it unable to punish those who cross it. Smith writes persuasively that President Obama has effectively checkmated AIPAC with a series of moves that demonstrated he couldn’t be constrained by its stands on either the Israel-Palestinian conflict or the Iran nuclear threat. Judged by that standard, he’s right to claim the group “flopped” on Iran sanctions this year. Given that the prospects of AIPAC mobilizing sufficient Democratic support in the Senate for a revived effort to pass a new sanctions bill in the face of Obama’s veto threats are poor, it’s hard to argue with Smith’s belief that the group has been isolated and its power exposed as more a figment of the overheated imaginations of anti-Semitic conspiracy mongers than reality.

But before we join Smith’s musings about AIPAC having to do “some hard thinking about its survival,” some perspective is needed. As bad as things look for the pro-Israel community today, the lobby’s business is in taking the long view of both Washington politics and the Middle East. President Obama may have gotten the upper hand over both AIPAC and Netanyahu in recent months, but any assumption that this situation is permanent rests on the idea that the administration’s diplomatic efforts on both the Palestinian and Iranian fronts will not falter or that these failures can be blamed on Israel and its supporters. As with the fights Obama has picked with Israel earlier in his administration, events have a way of eclipsing his temper tantrums. While it may be entirely in character for the president to choose the weekend when AIPAC is convening and Russia is invading the Ukraine to be issuing ultimatums to Israel, the collapse of U.S. influence abroad due to Obama’s weakness and delusions will make his victory over the lobby a short-lived triumph.

Smith is right to claim that AIPAC was thoroughly outmaneuvered by the administration in the last year. The group’s failure to oppose the nomination of Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense was seen as a sign of weakness by the re-elected president. Smith believes AIPAC was set up by the administration when it agreed to lobby on behalf of the president’s efforts to get Congress to authorize the use of force in Syria. The writer believes Obama was never serious about striking the Assad regime in defense of the “red line” he enunciated about the use of chemical weapons and that the administration’s humiliating retreat from those threats was designed to strengthen its ties with Assad’s Iranian ally and to make AIPAC look foolish. That may be giving the president a little too much credit since Obama’s humiliation at the hands of the Russians and Congressional critics was far greater than any experienced by AIPAC. But Smith is correct that the episode damaged the lobby.

There’s also no arguing with the verdict that AIPAC was undone in the campaign for new Iran sanctions by its reliance on support from both sides of the aisle. There was never any chance that the group would be able to muscle sanctions through a Democratic-controlled Senate once the president issued a veto threat and falsely framed the debate as one between supporters of diplomacy and those who want war.  Nor can AIPAC seek to punish Democrats who have cowardly retreated in the face of pressure from the White House. Combined with the president’s bizarre attack on Israel and his almost total mischaracterization of the Palestinian position on the peace talks, there’s no disputing that this administration has defied supporters of Israel on their two most important issues and there’s nothing they can do about it at the moment.

But that doesn’t mean that AIPAC has failed or that the president now has carte blanche to force Israel to give in to his demands or to negotiate a deal with Iran that falls short of his promises to halt their nuclear drive.

The problem for this administration today when dealing with Israel and AIPAC is the same as it was in the president’s first term. He can engage in spats with Israel and its supporters as often as he likes and even sometimes gain a tactical advantage over them. But the bottom line in these disputes remains the unwillingness of either the Palestinians or the Iranians to behave in a manner that is compatible with Obama’s delusional view of the world.

Just as Obama’s attacks on Netanyahu on settlements, Jerusalem and the 1967 borders were rendered meaningless by the Palestinians refusal to negotiate, his latest tirade at the prime minister’s expense will also be overshadowed by Mahmoud Abbas’s inability to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or to sign a deal that will give up the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees. Israel will, as Netanyahu and his predecessors have proved, take risks for peace but the Palestinians will always say no because they remain mired in a culture of rejectionism that is at the core of their national identity.

Similarly, the president’s ability to hold off sanctions won’t mean much if the Iranians don’t do his biding in the P5+1 talks. The idea that he can go on negotiating and keep Congress from passing new sanctions indefinitely while the Iranians continue pushing towards a bomb is a misreading of the situation.

The bottom line is that 12 months from now, the president’s threats to Israel will be mere footnotes in the history of Kerry’s failed initiative and not even Obama will be able to persuade Congress or the American people that this entirely predictable result and any resulting violence in its aftermath was the fault of Israel rather than his hubristic secretary of state and Abbas. Nor will be able to pretend that his “moderate” Iranian interlocutors wish to embrace engagement after they spend the next year playing their usual delaying game that will bring them that much closer to their nuclear ambition that imperils both the U.S. and Israel.

But a year from now AIPAC will still be a strong voice in Washington for the U.S.-Israel alliance and it will have retained allies in the Democratic Party that will enable it to push for sanctions once the Iranians finish duping Obama. That is cold comfort for those who rightly worry about the damage the president is doing to U.S. interests now. But by playing the long game, AIPAC will survive to live to fight and win another day. Rather than worrying about the lobby’s survival, analysts would do better to ponder whether the president’s string of foreign policy disasters is hastening the moment when his lame duck status will make any further insults hurled by him at Israel and AIPAC pointless.

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Reading John B. Judis Very Closely

In a New Republic article entitled “Conservative Critics Say My New Israel Book Is Anti-Semitic. They Must Not Have Read It Very Closely,” John B. Judis challenges the “condemnatory reviews” of his book by Ron Radosh, Jordan Chandler Hirsch, and “Robert Richman in Commentary.” I’m pretty sure he means me, although I am not sure he read my review very closely, since he mangles the reviewer’s name and quotes only from the conclusion, without addressing any points in between. He writes that his “usual policy” with critical reviews is to ignore them, since “any publicity is good publicity as long as the reviewers spell my name correctly.”

His New Republic response denies that he wants to “abolish or delegitimize” Israel–but he is unable to support that claim by citing anything he actually wrote in his book. He suggests instead that reviewers should have read what he, as the author, did not write in the book, but which he thinks should be inferred from his encouraging words elsewhere for Barack Obama and John Kerry:

Radosh talks about delegitimization. Richman hints at darker designs. He accuses me of having “written a book that insists the source of the conflict was the Jewish desire for a state… Judis’s policy preference is entirely clear to those with eyes to see. Judis suggests he is bringing a moral vision to Americans who lack a historical perspective, but he lacks the courage to spell out his obvious conclusion.” Richman seems to think I support the replacement of Israel with an Arab-majority state, but that I was fearful of expressing this proposal in my book.

What I was fearful of doing was making proposals that would look outdated within months of my book’s publication, so I avoided any statements about borders or refugees or East Jerusalem. But you’d not have to graduate from a fancy law school to understand that I thought Barack Obama’s initial proposals in September 2009 and John Kerry’s in 2013 for a two-state solution were attempts to resolve rather than exacerbate the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. If Kerry succeeds, I conclude, “the time for an end to the irrepressible conflict could finally come.”

If Radosh or Richman had any doubts about my views, they could have consulted my articles that over the years supporting the attempt to achieve a two-state solution.

Here’s precisely why I accused Judis of having “written a book that insists the source of the conflict was the Jewish desire for a state.”

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In a New Republic article entitled “Conservative Critics Say My New Israel Book Is Anti-Semitic. They Must Not Have Read It Very Closely,” John B. Judis challenges the “condemnatory reviews” of his book by Ron Radosh, Jordan Chandler Hirsch, and “Robert Richman in Commentary.” I’m pretty sure he means me, although I am not sure he read my review very closely, since he mangles the reviewer’s name and quotes only from the conclusion, without addressing any points in between. He writes that his “usual policy” with critical reviews is to ignore them, since “any publicity is good publicity as long as the reviewers spell my name correctly.”

His New Republic response denies that he wants to “abolish or delegitimize” Israel–but he is unable to support that claim by citing anything he actually wrote in his book. He suggests instead that reviewers should have read what he, as the author, did not write in the book, but which he thinks should be inferred from his encouraging words elsewhere for Barack Obama and John Kerry:

Radosh talks about delegitimization. Richman hints at darker designs. He accuses me of having “written a book that insists the source of the conflict was the Jewish desire for a state… Judis’s policy preference is entirely clear to those with eyes to see. Judis suggests he is bringing a moral vision to Americans who lack a historical perspective, but he lacks the courage to spell out his obvious conclusion.” Richman seems to think I support the replacement of Israel with an Arab-majority state, but that I was fearful of expressing this proposal in my book.

What I was fearful of doing was making proposals that would look outdated within months of my book’s publication, so I avoided any statements about borders or refugees or East Jerusalem. But you’d not have to graduate from a fancy law school to understand that I thought Barack Obama’s initial proposals in September 2009 and John Kerry’s in 2013 for a two-state solution were attempts to resolve rather than exacerbate the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. If Kerry succeeds, I conclude, “the time for an end to the irrepressible conflict could finally come.”

If Radosh or Richman had any doubts about my views, they could have consulted my articles that over the years supporting the attempt to achieve a two-state solution.

Here’s precisely why I accused Judis of having “written a book that insists the source of the conflict was the Jewish desire for a state.”

He asserts the “darker side of Zionism” was “the attempt to impose a Jewish state on a people who had lived in Palestine for 1,300 years” (page 133). He argues that there was a “moral contradiction” in political Zionism: “by attempting to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, Zionists would be ‘encroaching upon the native population’” (page 170). He repeats the point 14 pages later, writing that there were “moral contradictions that afflicted political Zionism” (page 184). He declares it “correct” that the “Balfour Declaration was itself to blame” for the problem of Palestine (page 251). He asserts that Zionists “conspired” with the British “to screw the Arabs out of a country that by the prevailing standards of self-determination would have been theirs” (page 251). He asserts “Israel today has become one of the world’s last colonial powers” (page 356).

And lest any reader miss what he really thinks is the true source of the conflict, here is what Judis wrote on pages 351-352 as “the main lesson” of his entire book:

[T]he Zionists who came to Palestine to establish a state trampled on the rights of the Arabs who already lived there. That wrong has never been adequately addressed or redressed, and for there to be peace of any kind between the Israelis and Arabs, it must be.

You don’t have to be a graduate of a fancy law school–you just have to be able to read–to understand that Judis portrays political Zionism as infected by a dark side, premised on a fundamental moral defect, imposing a state on a native people who were “screwed” out of the state that in his view should have been theirs; that the Balfour Declaration supporting a Jewish national home in Palestine was “itself to blame”; that Israel is “one of the world’s last colonial powers”; and that the “trampling” on the rights of the Arabs by the “Zionists who came to establish a state” not only needs to be addressed but–even more seriously–“redressed.” That’s why I wrote that Judis “insists the source of the conflict was the Jewish desire for a state.” He spends the first 128 pages of his book arguing that position.

As for his refusal in his book to state his policy preference (thus leaving it to the imagination or inference of readers to divine what policy would follow from delegitimizing Zionism), Judis now alleges in the New Republic that he was “fearful” of making policy proposals because they might “look outdated” within a few months after his book’s publication. That, however, is not what he wrote in his book.

What he wrote in his book was that he did not specify his preferred policy because he was supposedly not “thoroughly acquainted with the current actors” (page 8). He thought he knew them well enough, however, to criticize Prime Minister Netanyahu, “who was nothing if not clever,” for setting conditions for a Palestinian state “that Palestinians had already rejected,” such as Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state (page 366). But that recognition has always been the core issue, long before Netanyahu raised it; it goes to the heart of whether the “peace process” is about peace, or about creating a state that retains a specious but relentlessly asserted “right of return” to “redress” what Judis spends 400 pages describing as a great historical screwing and trampling by what he deems an immoral movement, political Zionism.

It is nice that Judis wishes John Kerry well in ending what Judis calls an “irrepressible conflict.” But Judis’s book will be used to prop up those who object to any Jewish state, who think Israel is the sole cause of the conflict, who believe the philosophy that created Israel is fundamentally immoral, and who assert that Israel is a colonialist state. His faux-scholarly book will be used, in sum, not to end the conflict, but to continue it–by delegitimizing Israel, giving a tool to those whose ultimate goal is to abolish it completely.

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The Myth of Israel’s Refusal to Make “Tough Decisions” for Peace

On the eve of the German government’s arrival in Israel, Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has called on Israel to make the “difficult but necessary decisions” for the peace process to succeed. There is of course nothing particularly remarkable or unprecedented about Germany’s foreign minister having made these statements. Such phrases just so easily roll off of the tongues of statesmen trying to find something constructive sounding to say about a process that has proven to be anything but. However, these unthinking assertions are problematic, because they display an utter refusal to take account of the reality of the peace process as it actually exists.

Such vague talk of “difficult decisions” is easy, but precisely what tough decisions is it that Israel could make that these diplomats can honestly say would make an iota of difference to the current Palestinian attitude? This talk simply neglects to account for the present, and indeed longstanding, attitude of the Palestinian leadership. Last week Palestinian Authority head Abbas told Kerry formerly that he rejects Kerry’s current peace framework, while also having said that if no framework is agreed upon by the end of April, then the Palestinian side will exit negotiations. It should further be recalled that the only reason that the Palestinians are even at the negotiating table is because of the Obama administration’s bribery. In return for Abbas going through the motions of peace talks the U.S. government released large amounts of funding to the PA, held up on account of the Palestinians’ unilateral activities at the UN, while Israel was pressured into releasing several rounds of convicted terrorists for the pleasure of the Palestinians’ company at the negotiating table.

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On the eve of the German government’s arrival in Israel, Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has called on Israel to make the “difficult but necessary decisions” for the peace process to succeed. There is of course nothing particularly remarkable or unprecedented about Germany’s foreign minister having made these statements. Such phrases just so easily roll off of the tongues of statesmen trying to find something constructive sounding to say about a process that has proven to be anything but. However, these unthinking assertions are problematic, because they display an utter refusal to take account of the reality of the peace process as it actually exists.

Such vague talk of “difficult decisions” is easy, but precisely what tough decisions is it that Israel could make that these diplomats can honestly say would make an iota of difference to the current Palestinian attitude? This talk simply neglects to account for the present, and indeed longstanding, attitude of the Palestinian leadership. Last week Palestinian Authority head Abbas told Kerry formerly that he rejects Kerry’s current peace framework, while also having said that if no framework is agreed upon by the end of April, then the Palestinian side will exit negotiations. It should further be recalled that the only reason that the Palestinians are even at the negotiating table is because of the Obama administration’s bribery. In return for Abbas going through the motions of peace talks the U.S. government released large amounts of funding to the PA, held up on account of the Palestinians’ unilateral activities at the UN, while Israel was pressured into releasing several rounds of convicted terrorists for the pleasure of the Palestinians’ company at the negotiating table.

Then there is the matter of Abbas’s ever-changing and fluid list of demands, red lines, and negotiating positions, with the goal posts continuously on the move. Yet, as much as it is possible to pin down precisely what the Palestinian position is, it appears to be completely at odds with what any reasonable person would expect a final agreement to look like. The Palestinians have refused to even consider recognizing the Jewish state, demanded the release of all Palestinian prisoners in a final deal, and Abbas has additionally said he will not give up the claims of the descendants of Palestinian refugees to move to the Jewish state rather than the Palestinian one. And such positions also have to be considered alongside the PA’s continuous use of its media network and school system to stir up incitement against Jews and the very existence of Israel. 

There is also Abbas’s rediscovered aversion to mutually agreed-upon land swaps. In previous talks it appeared to be accepted that Israel would annex the major Israeli population centers in the West Bank, but that the Palestinians would be fully compensated with an equal amount of Israeli territory in return. Now, in response to Kerry’s framework, noises have once again resumed from the Palestinian Authority suggesting that it would only be willing to accept land swaps on a far more limited basis than previously understood. In this way the PA is now blocking what had appeared to be one of the primary avenues for overcoming a major impasse within negotiations.    

The relentless calls for Israel to take difficult decisions for peace not only neglect to account for the attitude of the Palestinian side but also of the extensive concessions already offered by the Israelis. Both under Ehud Barak during the Camp David talks in 2000 and certainly under Ehud Olmert in 2008, Israel’s offers for peace went just about as far as possible without Israel either ceasing to exist as a Jewish state or rendering its remaining territory indefensible. Similarly, the current Israeli negotiating position does not appear to be measurably different from that of Barak or Olmert’s. Certainly, if Prime Minister Netanyahu’s negotiating stance was falling significantly short of previous offers then his dovish chief negotiator, Tzipi Livni, who served in the Olmert government and remains a political rival to Netanyahu, would doubtless call him out on this. Israel is once again offering as much as it can without ceasing to survive as Israel. But then this is the crux of the matter. It really looks as if it may just be the case that no offer that leaves the Jewish state in existence will be acceptable to Palestinians.

As ever, Israelis still have no shortage of difficult decisions to make. Yet with no serious partner for peace and with unilateral withdrawal in Gaza and Lebanon having proved strategically disastrous, Israel’s most pressing decisions do not currently concern the Palestinians. Foremost among Israel’s concerns right now must be the unparalleled threat of the Iranian nuclear program.

In her weekly video address German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that she would be pressing Netanyahu on the peace process. One wonders what she will find to press him on; that he give up on the demand for defensible borders? Give up on the demand not to be ended as a Jewish state by a flood of Palestinians claiming refugee status? Give up on the demand that the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state as part of concluding their conflict? There’s nothing left for Israel to concede on. The game is up for Western leaders who only wish to talk of Israel’s “difficult decisions for peace.”

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