Commentary Magazine


Topic: Benjamin Netanyahu

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What I was fearful of doing was making proposals that would look outdated within months of my book’s publication, so I avoided any statements about borders or refugees or East Jerusalem.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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The Rawabi Model and Economic Peace

It’s quite an indictment of Western negotiators that good news for Palestinians is bad news for the peace process. Not bad news for peace, mind you: just bad news for the “peace process,” which is designed in such a way as to impede true peace. Nevertheless, Palestinians are at times able to overcome the obstacles to their economic development posed by Mahmoud Abbas, John Kerry, and the Eurocrats in Brussels. And there is no better example of that Palestinian potential than Rawabi.

As the Times of Israel reports, Palestinians are feeling encouraged by the looming completion of Rawabi, a planned Palestinian city north of Ramallah that is “the largest construction project in recorded Palestinian history.” A middle-class development for thousands of Palestinians, Rawabi is a cooperative project of a Palestinian company and Qatari developer that has been in the works for five years. It’s undoubtedly good news. So why is it such an indictment of the peace process?

Because it flies in the face of the principles on which the negotiations have long been based. First of all, the Western left and Palestinian leadership have remained vehemently opposed to what Benjamin Netanyahu refers to as economic peace. It’s the only tactic with a record of success in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so naturally Foggy Bottom hates it and the PA fears it. Economic peace is not intended as a replacement for the political process, but a parallel track that can help the Palestinians while their leadership, enabled by the West, insists on failing them year after year. As the Times of Israel explains:

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It’s quite an indictment of Western negotiators that good news for Palestinians is bad news for the peace process. Not bad news for peace, mind you: just bad news for the “peace process,” which is designed in such a way as to impede true peace. Nevertheless, Palestinians are at times able to overcome the obstacles to their economic development posed by Mahmoud Abbas, John Kerry, and the Eurocrats in Brussels. And there is no better example of that Palestinian potential than Rawabi.

As the Times of Israel reports, Palestinians are feeling encouraged by the looming completion of Rawabi, a planned Palestinian city north of Ramallah that is “the largest construction project in recorded Palestinian history.” A middle-class development for thousands of Palestinians, Rawabi is a cooperative project of a Palestinian company and Qatari developer that has been in the works for five years. It’s undoubtedly good news. So why is it such an indictment of the peace process?

Because it flies in the face of the principles on which the negotiations have long been based. First of all, the Western left and Palestinian leadership have remained vehemently opposed to what Benjamin Netanyahu refers to as economic peace. It’s the only tactic with a record of success in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so naturally Foggy Bottom hates it and the PA fears it. Economic peace is not intended as a replacement for the political process, but a parallel track that can help the Palestinians while their leadership, enabled by the West, insists on failing them year after year. As the Times of Israel explains:

Bashar Al-Masri, managing director of Rawabi, said that though no Israeli companies have been involved in constructing the city, hundreds of Israeli suppliers provide it with raw materials such as cement, sand, electric components and plumbing. He estimated that Israeli businesses benefit from the Rawabi project to the tune of tens of millions of dollars a month. The only political principle Rawabi holds with relation to Israel is no cooperation with businesses in the settlements.

“We buy from whoever gives us the lowest price,” Al-Masri said. “It makes no difference to us if the company is Israeli, Italian or German.”

“We have no choice but to cooperate with Israel and Israelis, but we also want to do so,” he added. “It is a mistake to separate our economy from Israel’s. Projects like this bring our peoples closer together: Israelis come to the site, they are exposed to Palestinians, and they realize there’s no risk in coming here. There is a sense of comfort.”

Related to this is the way Rawabi exposes the moral and logical bankruptcy of the boycott-Israel movement. Some believe BDS should be enforced against any and all Jews in the West Bank as a way to delegitimize the Jews they want evicted from their homes without condemning the Jews who live on what the Western left believes will be the “right” side of a yet-to-be-determined future border. That’s nonsense, of course, and Rawabi’s history demonstrates as much:

These positions have placed Masri — a native of Nablus who spent much of his adult life living in the US, the UK and Saudi Arabia — under fire in his own society. In 2012, the Palestinian National BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) Committee condemned him for normalization with Israel, accusing him of “advancing personal interests and profit making at the expense of Palestinian rights.”

The Palestinian BDSers don’t care about proposed boundaries or other distinctions. They resist any effort to recognize the existence of Jews. If they support boycotting Israeli settlements, it is because they are Israeli, not because they are settlements. And when they talk of “Palestinian rights,” they are, like Oxfam recently with regard to SodaStream, acting as proponents of keeping Palestinians in poverty and removing Palestinians’ free will:

But despite the BDS efforts, the ambitious project is already a huge blessing for the Palestinian economy. Providing 8,000-10,000 jobs in construction, Rawabi is by far the largest private employer in the West Bank. Once complete, the city is expected to employ 3,000-5,000 people in its commercial and cultural center, said Amir Dajani, the project’s deputy managing director.

Rawabi is also a refutation of the traditional peace process because it exposes the extent of the damage done by Palestinian official corruption. The peace process seeks to further enrich and empower the corrupt Palestinian leadership. But Rawabi shows just how much potential there is for Palestinian economic development if the billions in financial aid to the PA were put to good use. Instead of lining politicians’ pockets, they could build cities.

And while the peace process has been stuck in neutral for decades, Rawabi came together in just five years. That means the Palestinians have the talent and work ethic to build gleaming cities in the desert–just as the Jews did when their leaders set out to build a state instead of a kleptocracy. Rawabi encourages us to imagine what is possible if the Palestinians were allowed to reach their potential. The Israelis are cooperating on projects like Rawabi. Everyone else is standing in the Palestinians’ way.

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Netanyahu Still Betting on Palestinian “No”

Last night, Israel’s Channel Two reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to give his approval for continuing negotiations with the Palestinians along the lines of a framework presented by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. That framework reportedly will call for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the pre-June 1967 borders with land swaps that will enable 75-80 percent of Jews currently living in the West Bank to remain within the state of Israel. It will specifically call for the Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state while denying the “right of return” for the descendants of the Palestinian refuges of 1948 and providing international security guarantees for Israel. The future of Jerusalem is left undecided.

Israel does get some of what it has long sought in this framework. But the idea of placing most of the West Bank in the hands of a Palestinian Authority that remains bent on fomenting hatred of Israel and Jews, as well as so weak and corrupt that it is likely to be unable to create a stable, let alone peaceful neighbor for Israel seems a dangerous gamble for Netanyahu to take, both from the perspectives of his nation’s security and the ability of his center-right coalition to survive.

Why would Netanyahu agree to this framework?

There are two reasons. One is that its non-binding nature commits him only to more talks and not to its implementation, a point that should help him to persuade worried coalition partners like the Jewish Home Party’s Naftali Bennett to stay in the Cabinet. But the other reason explains more about Netanyahu’s strategy in dealing with Kerry’s obsessive pursuit of an agreement with the Palestinians: he believes that sooner or later the Palestinians will say no. In what has become the diplomatic version of playing chicken, the prime minister appears to be convinced that the PA will blink and abandon the talks long before Israel is forced to live with the real-life drawbacks of Kerry’s vision. And based on what the Palestinians are saying and what they have done in the past, there’s every reason to believe he’s right.

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Last night, Israel’s Channel Two reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to give his approval for continuing negotiations with the Palestinians along the lines of a framework presented by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. That framework reportedly will call for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the pre-June 1967 borders with land swaps that will enable 75-80 percent of Jews currently living in the West Bank to remain within the state of Israel. It will specifically call for the Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state while denying the “right of return” for the descendants of the Palestinian refuges of 1948 and providing international security guarantees for Israel. The future of Jerusalem is left undecided.

Israel does get some of what it has long sought in this framework. But the idea of placing most of the West Bank in the hands of a Palestinian Authority that remains bent on fomenting hatred of Israel and Jews, as well as so weak and corrupt that it is likely to be unable to create a stable, let alone peaceful neighbor for Israel seems a dangerous gamble for Netanyahu to take, both from the perspectives of his nation’s security and the ability of his center-right coalition to survive.

Why would Netanyahu agree to this framework?

There are two reasons. One is that its non-binding nature commits him only to more talks and not to its implementation, a point that should help him to persuade worried coalition partners like the Jewish Home Party’s Naftali Bennett to stay in the Cabinet. But the other reason explains more about Netanyahu’s strategy in dealing with Kerry’s obsessive pursuit of an agreement with the Palestinians: he believes that sooner or later the Palestinians will say no. In what has become the diplomatic version of playing chicken, the prime minister appears to be convinced that the PA will blink and abandon the talks long before Israel is forced to live with the real-life drawbacks of Kerry’s vision. And based on what the Palestinians are saying and what they have done in the past, there’s every reason to believe he’s right.

Like Netanyahu, the Palestinians also appear to be willing to agree to Kerry’s framework. That’s because the chief concern for both sides appears to avoid blame for the failure of Kerry’s diplomatic gambit. Since Kerry knows that there is no possibility of Israel and the Palestinians actually agreeing on a final-status treaty within the original nine-month time frame for the talks, the purpose of the framework is to extend the negotiations for at least another year. That gives both parties the ability to dodge the bullet of blame while enabling Kerry to keep shuttling to the Middle East and to pretend that he is about to cut the Gordian Knot of peace.

But even as the PA has agreed to continue talking, they again signaled that one of the key elements of the framework—recognition of the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn—is something they’ll never accept in a treaty. PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told the Munich Security Conference that Israel’s longstanding demand to be recognized as a Jewish state that had been incorporated by Kerry into the framework would require the Palestinian representative to “change my narrative” in which Jewish history is erased. Since Palestinian national identity is inextricably linked to the denial of the rights of Jews to any part of the country, they regard any peace as merely a truce rather than a conclusion to the conflict.

Why then would the Palestinians also accept the framework? Part of the reason stems from the dynamic that was on display in Munich at which Kerry openly speculated that if he failed, Israel would be subjected to economic boycotts. While the State Department later tried to rationalize if not walk back these comments by saying the secretary was merely commenting on a trend with which he didn’t agree rather than threatening the Jewish state, the Palestinians and their enablers in the European Union well understand that all the pressure in the talks is being directed at the Israelis, and not at them.

The history of the last 20 years of negotiations since the Oslo Accords were signed justifies that conclusion. No matter how much land the Jewish state has conceded since 1993, the onus has always been placed on Israel to sacrifice even more no matter what the Palestinians do or say to demonstrate their unwillingness to make peace or live by the terms of the agreements they’ve signed. But no matter how far Kerry tilts the diplomatic playing field against Israel, Netanyahu appears to be counting on the Palestinians inability to agree to Israel’s demand for recognition at the conclusion of Kerry’s talks.

Considering that Abbas’s predecessor Yasir Arafat turned down two such offers of statehood in 2000 and 2001 and the PA leader fled talks with the Israelis in 2008 so as to avoid being forced to do the same thing, Netanyahu has reason to think this negotiation will end in the same way. With Hamas still in control of Gaza and Abbas only holding onto power in the West Bank with the help of the Israelis, there’s no sign of a sea change in Palestinian public opinion that would enable him to survive signing a peace deal with Israel that would renounce the “right of return” and recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Netanyahu understands that additional negotiations based on Kerry’s framework will mean another year of intense U.S. pressure that will add to the increased European efforts to isolate Israel. Agreeing to the framework is a dangerous game that leaves him little room to maneuver to defend his country’s rights or its security, since he knows the arrangements for guaranteeing Israel’s safety in the document won’t be worth the paper they’re printed on once a deal is in place. But he appears confident that the political culture of the Palestinians will once again determine the outcome of these talks in the same manner that it has sealed the doom of every other negotiation dating back to the 1930s. Judging by the tone and the content of the non-stop incitement to hatred being conducted by the PA, it’s difficult to argue with his conclusion.

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Kerry’s Dance of the Deadlocked

Last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he could envision some Jewish settlements remaining in place inside a Palestinian state after a peace agreement. While many in Israel thought it was a ploy to embarrass the Palestinians (who want no Jews in their state), it could also have been interpreted as a sign that Netanyahu is edging closer to agreeing to a framework for peace in which a Palestinian state (with or without Jews within its borders) would become a reality.

Yesterday, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas responded by telling a conference in Israel (he spoke via a video hookup) that he could envision Israeli military forces remaining in the West Bank for up to three years after the signing of a peace agreement. While he added that he would dismiss any lengthier interim security force out of hand, like Netanyahu’s statement this, too, could be interpreted as a sign that in spite of formidable obstacles, Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative is actually succeeding.

With both Netanyahu and Abbas indicating acceptance of relatively minor final status details, it’s likely that some naifs in the State Department will attempt to persuade themselves and their media accomplices that this means that Kerry’s peace framework is a realistic one. If the two leaders are preparing their respective constituencies for some sacrifices—the implicit acceptance of withdrawal from the West Bank and a Palestinian state on Netanyahu’s part, and Abbas’s willingness to countenance limits on Palestinian sovereignty for a time—then it may be possible that Kerry believes he is closer to pulling off this gambit than anyone–other than himself, that is–ever thought possible.

But peace process enthusiasts need to calm down. Not only are both of these seeming concessions only a minuscule dose of an enormous number of bitter pills each side must swallow in the event of an accord, they may actually be more of an indication that this process is, in fact, hopelessly deadlocked. What we may well be witnessing with these statements is not so much signs that the two sides are edging closer to each other but a bizarre dance in which both seek to deflect blame for the inevitable failure.

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Last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he could envision some Jewish settlements remaining in place inside a Palestinian state after a peace agreement. While many in Israel thought it was a ploy to embarrass the Palestinians (who want no Jews in their state), it could also have been interpreted as a sign that Netanyahu is edging closer to agreeing to a framework for peace in which a Palestinian state (with or without Jews within its borders) would become a reality.

Yesterday, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas responded by telling a conference in Israel (he spoke via a video hookup) that he could envision Israeli military forces remaining in the West Bank for up to three years after the signing of a peace agreement. While he added that he would dismiss any lengthier interim security force out of hand, like Netanyahu’s statement this, too, could be interpreted as a sign that in spite of formidable obstacles, Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative is actually succeeding.

With both Netanyahu and Abbas indicating acceptance of relatively minor final status details, it’s likely that some naifs in the State Department will attempt to persuade themselves and their media accomplices that this means that Kerry’s peace framework is a realistic one. If the two leaders are preparing their respective constituencies for some sacrifices—the implicit acceptance of withdrawal from the West Bank and a Palestinian state on Netanyahu’s part, and Abbas’s willingness to countenance limits on Palestinian sovereignty for a time—then it may be possible that Kerry believes he is closer to pulling off this gambit than anyone–other than himself, that is–ever thought possible.

But peace process enthusiasts need to calm down. Not only are both of these seeming concessions only a minuscule dose of an enormous number of bitter pills each side must swallow in the event of an accord, they may actually be more of an indication that this process is, in fact, hopelessly deadlocked. What we may well be witnessing with these statements is not so much signs that the two sides are edging closer to each other but a bizarre dance in which both seek to deflect blame for the inevitable failure.

It should be remembered that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians sought Kerry’s intervention when he made a resumption of the long moribund peace process his top priority upon assuming his post. No one, other than Kerry himself, expressed the slightest optimism about his quest with even veteran peace process fans expressing skepticism.

With the Palestinians hopelessly divided between Abbas’s Fatah in the West Bank and the Hamas terrorists in Gaza, there seemed little indication that the PA could agree to a genuine peace agreement or implement it if such a treaty were ever signed. Nor was there any sign the Palestinians were prepared to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state (a requirement that President Obama reiterated last night during his State of the Union address) regardless of its borders. Moreover, any peace deal that renounced, as it must, the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees would place its Palestinian signatories in peril.

As for the Israelis, while Netanyahu has repeatedly endorsed the concept of a two-state solution, neither his coalition nor the majority of the Israeli people seem interested in a repeat of the late Ariel Sharon’s 2005 Gaza withdrawal with another such retreat in the West Bank where the creation of a new terror state would be an even greater danger to Israel than the Hamasistan that exists in Gaza.

Months of talks have produced no visible progress on the substantive issues of Jerusalem, borders, refugees or security. With time running out on the nine months allocated for negotiations, the main fear on both sides is not a failure to reach an agreement that always seemed impossible to the parties but the possibility that they will be blamed for Kerry’s own ignorant folly.

Thus, it is hardly surprising that both Netanyahu and Abbas are now making noises indicating their willingness to embrace a two-state solution even though neither of them believes for a second that a deal is a possibility.

Netanyahu’s statement earned him a vehement rebuke from his right-wing partner, Jewish Home Party leader Naftali Bennett. The prime minister’s office ruthlessly answered Bennett with a threat that he might be forced to resign from his Cabinet post if he failed to apologize. But the back-story reveals more to about Netanyahu’s annoyance at Bennett’s inability to realize that all the prime minister was doing was posturing.

Abbas, who is entering his 10th year of a four-year elected term as Palestinian president, isn’t worried about losing votes from his right wing but he is concerned about being outflanked by Hamas. Nevertheless, like Netanyahu, he is concerned about the consequences of being the one to say no to the United States even though, if push came to shove, he knows that is exactly what he will do. While the international community is more likely to blame Israel no matter how intransigent the Palestinians prove to be on final-status issues, Abbas understands that his predecessor Yasir Arafat paid a heavy price for torpedoing offers of statehood in 2000 and 2001 and that he also suffered for turning down Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2008.

Though this dance of the deadlocked may appear to Kerry and his posse like progress toward peace, it’s far more likely that all we are witnessing is a desperate effort to avoid responsibility for the failure of talks that never stood a chance of success in the first place.

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Bennett: Netanyahu’s Annoying Alter Ego

Amidst an escalating high-stakes war of words with one of his primary coalition partners, Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu finds himself occupying increasingly foreign and disorienting political territory. For most of his career, Benjamin Netanyahu has functioned as the champion, and indeed the darling, of the nationalist camp in Israel. An opponent of concessions to the Palestinians, Bibi was chief heckler to the Oslo accords, high-profile defector from Ariel Sharon’s government in the wake of the retreat from Gaza.

Now, however, thanks to the unloving embrace of the Obama administration, Netanyahu finds himself being forced to take on a host of positions that it is difficult to imagine are really his own. Worse still for him, while Bibi is being forced to play the part of reluctant and unconvincing centrist, all his best lines are going to some fresh faced young starlet: in this case Bennett. Speaking at the annual defense conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, Bennett lambasted the follies of past peace negotiations, and in so doing poured scorn on the current peace efforts of Netanyahu’s government. He pointed to the rise in terrorism against Israelis that has generally accompanied such talks with the Palestinians, dismissing the idea that any of these negotiations would bring about a peaceful two-state solution.

Conceivably, this is a view that Netanyahu himself shares. Yet, he cannot be seen to say such things publicly and so as a result he is unable to draw the political capital from his own base that would come from doing so. That capital is being claimed by Bennett instead.

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Amidst an escalating high-stakes war of words with one of his primary coalition partners, Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu finds himself occupying increasingly foreign and disorienting political territory. For most of his career, Benjamin Netanyahu has functioned as the champion, and indeed the darling, of the nationalist camp in Israel. An opponent of concessions to the Palestinians, Bibi was chief heckler to the Oslo accords, high-profile defector from Ariel Sharon’s government in the wake of the retreat from Gaza.

Now, however, thanks to the unloving embrace of the Obama administration, Netanyahu finds himself being forced to take on a host of positions that it is difficult to imagine are really his own. Worse still for him, while Bibi is being forced to play the part of reluctant and unconvincing centrist, all his best lines are going to some fresh faced young starlet: in this case Bennett. Speaking at the annual defense conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, Bennett lambasted the follies of past peace negotiations, and in so doing poured scorn on the current peace efforts of Netanyahu’s government. He pointed to the rise in terrorism against Israelis that has generally accompanied such talks with the Palestinians, dismissing the idea that any of these negotiations would bring about a peaceful two-state solution.

Conceivably, this is a view that Netanyahu himself shares. Yet, he cannot be seen to say such things publicly and so as a result he is unable to draw the political capital from his own base that would come from doing so. That capital is being claimed by Bennett instead.

The issue that has so far sparked the fiercest exchange between Bennett and Bibi has been the latter’s suggestion that Jewish Israelis living in the West Bank would be left behind as a religious minority in a future Palestinian state. It is highly doubtful that Netanyahu has any serious intention of doing any such thing. Rather, this suggestion was almost certainly put out there as a way of exposing the inherent hostility to Jews prevalent among the Palestinians. Bibi knew that his suggestion would be flatly rejected by the Palestinian Authority, thus clarifying their prejudice for all to see.

Yet, for Bennett, whose core constituency are the understandably alarmed Jewish settlers in question, this was a golden opportunity to rally to their defense and denounce Netanyahu’s suggestion. Given that these same people have in the past represented an important legion within Netanyahu’s own faction, with his Likud party list being strongly linked with the settlers and the nationalist camp, Bibi risks having his own people mobilized against him.

Bennett is increasingly looking and sounding more like Netanyahu than Netanyahu. As such, the message from Netanyahu’s office has been clear and uncompromising. Bennett is to apologize and retract his statements, or get out. Polls suggest that Netanyahu is doing exceptionally well with Israeli voters right now, some suggesting that if elections took place tomorrow his Likud-Beiteinu block would gain another fifteen seats in parliament. That said, it seems unlikely that Netanyahu will seek to go it alone and divorce his party from the national religious camp anytime soon. Judging by trends even within Bibi’s own party, the religious Zionist sentiment may well be the future of the Israeli right.

When talks with the Palestinians inevitably fail, with everything that could mean–from Palestinian terrorism to international condemnation–Bibi will want the smooth English-talking and public-relations savvy Bennett on his side. In the meantime, however, Netanyahu has to find a way to avoid becoming an ever more pale stand in for himself, while Bennett is looking more and more like Bibi with each passing day.         

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Why Can’t Jews Stay in a Palestinian State?

For 20 years Israeli governments of both the left and the right have agreed on one thing: Jews and Jewish settlements could not be left behind in any territory handed over to the Palestinians. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated that he is willing to change that policy and that seems to have upset almost as many Israelis as Palestinians. Netanyahu stated that even in the event of a peace agreement he had no intention of repeating the precedent established by Ariel Sharon in Gaza in which every single settlement, soldier, and individual Jew was uprooted. According to Netanyahu, if there is a peace treaty, there’s no reason that Jewish communities could not remain in part of the Palestinian state along with the Palestinian inhabitants, if they were willing to do so.

It was not surprising that the Palestinians would immediately and angrily reject the suggestion that Jews could live in their putative new state. Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas had already denounced the idea, but lest anyone be in doubt about the Palestinian position, PA negotiator Saeb Erekat sought to clarify the official view:

Anyone who says he wants to keep settlers in the Palestinian state is actually saying that he doesn’t want a Palestinian state. No settler will be allowed to stay in the Palestinian state, not even a single one, because settlements are illegal and the presence of the settlers on the occupied lands is illegal.

It was interesting to note that both right-wing and left-wing critics of Netanyahu as well as members of his own Cabinet were almost as angry as the Palestinians. The right is appalled at Netanyahu’s tacit willingness to accept a Palestinian state, and the left thinks the prime minister was just playing a cynical tactical game designed solely to embarrass the Palestinians. The concerns of both factions may well be justified. Netanyahu, however, was right to raise the issue and to provoke a debate about the nature of the Palestinian state that is, after all, one of the goals of the current peace talks. Regardless of his  motives, this is a topic that must be addressed if the negotiations are truly aimed at ending the conflict.

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For 20 years Israeli governments of both the left and the right have agreed on one thing: Jews and Jewish settlements could not be left behind in any territory handed over to the Palestinians. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated that he is willing to change that policy and that seems to have upset almost as many Israelis as Palestinians. Netanyahu stated that even in the event of a peace agreement he had no intention of repeating the precedent established by Ariel Sharon in Gaza in which every single settlement, soldier, and individual Jew was uprooted. According to Netanyahu, if there is a peace treaty, there’s no reason that Jewish communities could not remain in part of the Palestinian state along with the Palestinian inhabitants, if they were willing to do so.

It was not surprising that the Palestinians would immediately and angrily reject the suggestion that Jews could live in their putative new state. Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas had already denounced the idea, but lest anyone be in doubt about the Palestinian position, PA negotiator Saeb Erekat sought to clarify the official view:

Anyone who says he wants to keep settlers in the Palestinian state is actually saying that he doesn’t want a Palestinian state. No settler will be allowed to stay in the Palestinian state, not even a single one, because settlements are illegal and the presence of the settlers on the occupied lands is illegal.

It was interesting to note that both right-wing and left-wing critics of Netanyahu as well as members of his own Cabinet were almost as angry as the Palestinians. The right is appalled at Netanyahu’s tacit willingness to accept a Palestinian state, and the left thinks the prime minister was just playing a cynical tactical game designed solely to embarrass the Palestinians. The concerns of both factions may well be justified. Netanyahu, however, was right to raise the issue and to provoke a debate about the nature of the Palestinian state that is, after all, one of the goals of the current peace talks. Regardless of his  motives, this is a topic that must be addressed if the negotiations are truly aimed at ending the conflict.

The reason that Israeli governments have always agreed with the Palestinians about the need to evacuate any Israelis living in what might become a Palestinian state is no secret. It’s not just that the Palestinians don’t want Jews in their state and the fact that the settlers don’t want there to be a Palestinian state. It’s that any Israelis who chose to remain in their homes wouldn’t last any longer than the greenhouses that wealthy Americans purchased from Gaza settlers who were uprooted from their homes in 2005. Within hours of the Israeli army pullout, every one of these valuable facilities that could have been used to help revive the strip’s moribund economy was burned to the ground. The same fate awaited every other building left by the Jews, including every synagogue.

Without the protection of the Israel Defense Forces, Jews in Arab territory haven’t a chance. That’s a basic fact of life in the country that predates Israel’s birth. Without self-defense forces, Jewish settlers in those lands inside the pre-June 1967 borders were exposed to relentless harassment, terrorism, and even pogroms. And there is no reason to believe the situation would be any different in a future West Bank state where the Palestinian population has been educated for decades to believe Jews have no right to live in any part of the country.

But, as Netanyahu rightly pointed out, a peace treaty that would actually end the conflict rather than merely pause it until the Palestinians felt strong enough to resume hostilities must entail an acceptance on both sides of the legitimacy of the rights of the other side. Just as Arabs are equal before the law in the State of Israel, have the right to vote, and serve in its Knesset, a democratic and peaceful Palestinian state must not exclude the possibility of allowing a Jewish minority within its borders. If that is something that the PA is unable to countenance, it proves once again that it isn’t interested in peace. A state where Jews are, as Erekat says, “illegal” is one that is committed to a permanent state of war against Israel.

Israeli right-wingers are angry at Netanyahu’s acceptance in principle of a Palestinian state. Without the threat of repeating the traumatic scenes that characterized the Gaza withdrawal, a division of the West Bank would, at least in theory, be more likely.

Yet the prime minister’s suggestion also angered supporters of a two-state solution. In particular, Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni, who as Tom Wilson wrote earlier today seems to understand that the talks have little chance of success, bitterly denounced Netanyahu’s statement as designed more to prove the Palestinians weren’t negotiating in good faith than achieving a deal.

Livni may well be correct about Netanyahu’s intentions. Goading the Palestinians into repeating their intolerant and anti-Semitic objections to Jews living within their borders undermines their cause. Like previous generations of negotiators, Livni seems to think peace can be achieved by ignoring the hatred on the other side. But merely drawing a line between Israel and the Palestinians and calling it a border won’t end a conflict that is rooted in the Arab and Muslim rejection of the idea of legitimacy for any Jewish state no matter how large or small it might be.

It has become a cliché of Middle East commentary to speak of the painful sacrifices that Israel must make if it is to have peace. That is true. But the path to peace is a two-way street. If the Palestinians want a state, it cannot be on genocidal terms that require the ethnic cleansing of Jews. Until they’re ready to live alongside Jews inside their state—and to guarantee their security—genuine peace is nowhere in sight.

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Obama Is Netanyahu’s Ace in the Hole

When Israelis went to the polls last year the big story was what wasn’t the focus of the campaign. The January 22, 2013 Knesset election was largely fought on domestic issues, with the biggest winner being the new Yesh Atid party led by former journalist Yair Lapid that won 19 seats to finish a surprising second to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu. Yesh Atid’s success came about because the Palestinian conflict had reached such a stalemate that many Israelis no longer considered the traditional right-left positions on territory and settlements to be issues that determined their votes. Lapid symbolized the hope that a new centrism would come to dominate Israeli politics and eventually eclipse parties rooted in Israel’s historic conflict with the Arab world. Though Netanyahu became the first prime minister to win two consecutive terms since Menachem Begin in a race where he was the only plausible candidate to lead the country, he lost considerable ground in the months leading up to the election in no small part because of this shift in opinion.

But one year later, it appears that the pendulum has swung back in favor of Netanyahu. A new Times of Israel poll shows that if elections were held now, Likud-Beytenu would not only finish first but would gain a whopping 15 Knesset seats, recouping its 2013 losses and adding five more. Meanwhile Lapid, who seemed destined a year ago to overtake Netanyahu, has lost considerable ground and it is the Labor Party and its new leader Isaac Herzog that seems to have attained the status of Likud’s main rival, albeit trailing by a huge 46-18 margin in Knesset seats in the poll.

What brought about this transformation? Some of it has to do with last year’s political stars, such as Lapid and the Jewish Home Party’s Naftali Bennett losing some of their independent luster while serving in Netanyahu’s Cabinet. But the drastic shift from the center to support for the right—indicating that the Israeli electorate is returning to its traditional preoccupation with security issues—and the lack of any noticeable change in Netanyahu’s personal favorability ratings makes it clear that the two individuals most responsible for the conspicuous change in Israeli public opinion are Barack Obama and John Kerry.

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When Israelis went to the polls last year the big story was what wasn’t the focus of the campaign. The January 22, 2013 Knesset election was largely fought on domestic issues, with the biggest winner being the new Yesh Atid party led by former journalist Yair Lapid that won 19 seats to finish a surprising second to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu. Yesh Atid’s success came about because the Palestinian conflict had reached such a stalemate that many Israelis no longer considered the traditional right-left positions on territory and settlements to be issues that determined their votes. Lapid symbolized the hope that a new centrism would come to dominate Israeli politics and eventually eclipse parties rooted in Israel’s historic conflict with the Arab world. Though Netanyahu became the first prime minister to win two consecutive terms since Menachem Begin in a race where he was the only plausible candidate to lead the country, he lost considerable ground in the months leading up to the election in no small part because of this shift in opinion.

But one year later, it appears that the pendulum has swung back in favor of Netanyahu. A new Times of Israel poll shows that if elections were held now, Likud-Beytenu would not only finish first but would gain a whopping 15 Knesset seats, recouping its 2013 losses and adding five more. Meanwhile Lapid, who seemed destined a year ago to overtake Netanyahu, has lost considerable ground and it is the Labor Party and its new leader Isaac Herzog that seems to have attained the status of Likud’s main rival, albeit trailing by a huge 46-18 margin in Knesset seats in the poll.

What brought about this transformation? Some of it has to do with last year’s political stars, such as Lapid and the Jewish Home Party’s Naftali Bennett losing some of their independent luster while serving in Netanyahu’s Cabinet. But the drastic shift from the center to support for the right—indicating that the Israeli electorate is returning to its traditional preoccupation with security issues—and the lack of any noticeable change in Netanyahu’s personal favorability ratings makes it clear that the two individuals most responsible for the conspicuous change in Israeli public opinion are Barack Obama and John Kerry.

In the year since Israelis went to the polls, domestic problems such as the high cost of living and secular-religious tensions have not been solved. What has changed dramatically, however, is that the Obama administration has, after a hiatus that coincided with the American presidential election cycle, returned to its feckless efforts to pressure Israel in order to revive the moribund peace process with the Palestinians. Kerry forced Netanyahu to agree to the release of more than 100 terrorist murderers who were greeted as heroes by Israel’s so-called partner in peace, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Though Netanyahu has agreed in principle to the creation of a Palestinian state—a stand that alienates much of his base—the PA still refuses to agree to positions that would signal its readiness to end the conflict. These include renouncing the “right” of return for the 1948 refugees and their descendants as well as recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

Since the overwhelming majority of Israelis regard Obama and Kerry’s push to force Israel to retreat to the 1967 borders as madness, support for Netanyahu’s position has increased. This means the Israeli public is back where it was during Obama’s first term when the president sought to undermine the prime minister but found that every fight he picked with Netanyahu only strengthened him at home.

The dispute between Israel and the U.S. over Iran policy is also a major factor in strengthening Netanyahu’s coalition. If there is any consensus issue in Israeli politics that unites the entire political spectrum it is the grave nature of the Iranian threat and opposition to any gesture, statement or action that smacks of appeasement of the ayatollahs. The U.S. decision to loosen sanctions on Iran in order to achieve a weak interim nuclear deal is widely seen by Israelis as a betrayal of the promises Obama has made never to allow Tehran to achieve its nuclear goal. That means the U.S. drift toward détente with Iran is yet another reminder to Israelis that security issues remain paramount. Since Israelis don’t trust Obama on Iran or the peace process, it’s little wonder that every time he pressures or criticizes Israel, support for he prime minister increases. Netanyahu’s ace in the hole remains the Israeli public’s justly negative feelings about Obama.

However, because of reforms enacted after last January’s vote, Netanyahu can’t call a snap election to take advantage of the surge to Likud. The next Knesset election won’t take place until November 2017. Although much can change between now and then, there is no indication that a viable alternative to Netanyahu will emerge in the next three years. Even worse for the prime minister, in 2017 he won’t be able to count on Israeli antipathy to the president of the United States. By then Barack Obama will have retired and will perhaps have been replaced by a president who may be more sensitive to the threats facing the Jewish state. It’s doubtful that the next president could be less so.

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Yaalon’s Unwelcome Peace Process Truths

Give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu some credit. In his first term as Israel’s leader in the 1990s, he might well have issued a statement like the one attributed to Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon yesterday in which the former general trashed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and damned the security plan that he presented to Israel this month as “not worth the paper it’s written on.” Since returning to the prime minister’s office in 2009 Netanyahu has done his best to keep the relationship with Washington from overheating. If there have been a series of scrapes with the Obama administration, that is largely the fault of the president’s desire to pick policy fights with him and the prime minister has done his best not to overreact. No matter how wrong Israel’s leaders may think their American counterparts are, little good comes from public spats. As Netanyahu knows, the only ones who benefit from exposing the daylight between the two countries’ positions are the Palestinians and other foes.

But apparently Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon hasn’t gotten the memo about not telling off the Americans. In an apparently unguarded moment, the former general spouted off about Kerry, the peace process, and the Palestinians yesterday, and the subsequent report in Yediot Ahronot published in English on their Ynetnews.com site brought down a firestorm on the Israeli government. Though Yaalon walked back his comments in a statement to the media, he did not deny the accuracy of the original Yediot story. This indiscretion won’t help Netanyahu in his dealings with either Obama or Kerry. It is especially foolish coming from a cabinet minister whose department has worked closely with the administration on security measures throughout the last five years to Israel’s benefit in spite of the political differences between the governments. But leaving aside the diplomatic harm he has done his country, honest observers must admit that what Yaalon said was true. The question facing both Israel and the United States is not so much what to do about Yaalon or other members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet who can’t keep their mouths shut, but at what point it will behoove the two governments to acknowledge the futility of Kerry’s endeavor.

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Give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu some credit. In his first term as Israel’s leader in the 1990s, he might well have issued a statement like the one attributed to Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon yesterday in which the former general trashed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and damned the security plan that he presented to Israel this month as “not worth the paper it’s written on.” Since returning to the prime minister’s office in 2009 Netanyahu has done his best to keep the relationship with Washington from overheating. If there have been a series of scrapes with the Obama administration, that is largely the fault of the president’s desire to pick policy fights with him and the prime minister has done his best not to overreact. No matter how wrong Israel’s leaders may think their American counterparts are, little good comes from public spats. As Netanyahu knows, the only ones who benefit from exposing the daylight between the two countries’ positions are the Palestinians and other foes.

But apparently Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon hasn’t gotten the memo about not telling off the Americans. In an apparently unguarded moment, the former general spouted off about Kerry, the peace process, and the Palestinians yesterday, and the subsequent report in Yediot Ahronot published in English on their Ynetnews.com site brought down a firestorm on the Israeli government. Though Yaalon walked back his comments in a statement to the media, he did not deny the accuracy of the original Yediot story. This indiscretion won’t help Netanyahu in his dealings with either Obama or Kerry. It is especially foolish coming from a cabinet minister whose department has worked closely with the administration on security measures throughout the last five years to Israel’s benefit in spite of the political differences between the governments. But leaving aside the diplomatic harm he has done his country, honest observers must admit that what Yaalon said was true. The question facing both Israel and the United States is not so much what to do about Yaalon or other members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet who can’t keep their mouths shut, but at what point it will behoove the two governments to acknowledge the futility of Kerry’s endeavor.

Having already conceded that Yaalon was stupid to say such things within earshot of a reporter, the defense minister gets no sympathy here for the abuse he is taking today in Israel’s press as well as from parliamentary allies and foes. The Israeli government has to be frustrated with Kerry’s persistence in pushing for concessions from them, especially when they see no sign of moderation on the part of their Palestinian peace partners who will not accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn nor renounce the right of return for the descendants of the 1948 refugees. But as damaging as pressure on Israel to accept the 1967 borders and the division of Jerusalem may be, so long as Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas is prevented by the reality of his people’s political culture and the threat from Hamas and other opposition groups from ever signing a deal that would end the conflict, Netanyahu knows that the best policy is to avoid an overt conflict with the U.S.

That said, Yaalon’s reminder of the absurdity of Kerry’s quest does help clarify the situation for those naïve enough to believe the talks have some chance of success.

Yaalon’s assertion that the negotiations are not between Israel and the Palestinians but between the Jewish state and the U.S. is self-evident. The PA has repeatedly demonstrated that it won’t budge from uncompromising positions against realistic territorial swaps or security guarantees, much less the existential questions of refugees and two states for two peoples. All that has happened in the past year is that Israel has been prevailed upon to bribe the PA by releasing terrorist murderers for the privilege of sitting at a table again with Abbas.

Nor can there be any real argument with Yaalon’s assessment of Kerry’s behavior when he described the secretary’s crusade as “inexplicably obsessive and messianic.” Few in either Israel or the United States, even those who are most in favor of his efforts, thought he had much of a chance to start with and there’s been no evidence that the odds have improved. His crack that “all that can save us is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace” makes no sense since the only way the secretary will get such an honor is if Abbas signs on the dotted line. But it probably also reflects what Abbas is thinking since his goal is to prevent an agreement without actually having to turn one down publicly.

Yaalon is also right to dismiss the security guarantees Kerry has offered Israel in exchange for a withdrawal from the West Bank. The example of the Gaza withdrawal—which Yaalon opposed when he was chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, a stand that led to his term being cut short by former prime minister Ariel Sharon—as well as the situation along the border with Lebanon illustrates what happens when Israel tries to entrust its security either to Palestinian good will or third parties.

But perhaps the most incisive of Yaalon’s controversial comments was his assertion that Abbas’s future was dependent on Israel’s remaining in the West Bank, not on its departure from the territories:

Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) is alive and well thanks to us. The moment we leave Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) he is finished.

Without an Israeli security umbrella, Hamas or more radical Fatah factions would have deposed Abbas a long time ago. His administration over most of the West Bank is simply impossible without Israeli help. Pretending that this isn’t the case is one of the key fictions that form the foundation of Kerry’s conceit about giving Abbas sovereignty over the area and why such a deal or a unilateral Israeli retreat, as some are now suggesting, would repeat the Gaza fiasco.

Most Israelis would applaud any effort to separate the two peoples and desperately want an agreement that would end the conflict for all time rather than merely to pause it in order for the Palestinians to resume it later when they are in a more advantageous position. Though the minister shouldn’t have criticized Kerry publicly, until the secretary and those who are supporting his pressure on Israel and not on the Palestinians can answer Yaalon’s politically incorrect comments, the peace process is doomed. 

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What Ariel Sharon Knew

The grudging respect that Ariel Sharon garnered from the Western press after the Gaza disengagement was misleading. They still reviled the Israeli military might he represented and the ideas he never let go of. Consequently, Sharon inspired the kind of praise that was both insincere and couched in so many weaselly qualifications as to make it twice as insulting as the condemnations he was used to. At least the condemnations were honest. His newfound, reluctant admirers couldn’t even look him in the eye. And boy, did Arik detest cowards.

If the Newseum in Washington ever puts together an exhibit of such media behavior, they will surely center it on this masterpiece of the genre, from the Economist. It was published after the Gaza withdrawal was underway, but before Sharon was chased from the Likud Party for it. Lamenting that “the chances of a Labour victory are, alas, fairly negligible,” the magazine focused on Benjamin Netanyahu’s intention to vie for the Likud leadership against Sharon, and weighed in on which one was preferable. One imagines the psychological torment the editors withstood in order to choose between Bibi and Arik.

When it came time to hand down its verdict, the Economist offered a pox on both their houses, but slightly less of one on the House of Arik:

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The grudging respect that Ariel Sharon garnered from the Western press after the Gaza disengagement was misleading. They still reviled the Israeli military might he represented and the ideas he never let go of. Consequently, Sharon inspired the kind of praise that was both insincere and couched in so many weaselly qualifications as to make it twice as insulting as the condemnations he was used to. At least the condemnations were honest. His newfound, reluctant admirers couldn’t even look him in the eye. And boy, did Arik detest cowards.

If the Newseum in Washington ever puts together an exhibit of such media behavior, they will surely center it on this masterpiece of the genre, from the Economist. It was published after the Gaza withdrawal was underway, but before Sharon was chased from the Likud Party for it. Lamenting that “the chances of a Labour victory are, alas, fairly negligible,” the magazine focused on Benjamin Netanyahu’s intention to vie for the Likud leadership against Sharon, and weighed in on which one was preferable. One imagines the psychological torment the editors withstood in order to choose between Bibi and Arik.

When it came time to hand down its verdict, the Economist offered a pox on both their houses, but slightly less of one on the House of Arik:

This is not because of some fundamental difference of vision or character between the two men. It is because of where each has chosen to take his stand in this contest.

To unseat the prime minister, Bibi has thrown in his lot with the least flexible elements of Likud—the bitter-enders who cling to the nonsensical idea that Israel can remain a Jewish democracy while ruling over millions of Palestinians. If he wins power with their support, he will find it extremely difficult to change position afterwards. Mr Sharon, in contrast, has just shown most dramatically in Gaza that he has the temerity to challenge and defeat this bunch, even if it means betraying those who previously lionised him. If the first Israeli leader to take such a risk is rewarded with the boot, peace with the Palestinians will remain as elusive as ever.

Those last two sentences are ever so revealing. Asks the Economist: Who is courageous? Answer: He who rises up against the Likud. And look how carefully constructed that last sentence is–so hedged and watered down as to be meaningless. And what happened? Arik was not “rewarded with the boot” by the voters (though he had to disengage from Likud). He won the following election by the sheer force of his own name and personality.

He left the most talented Likudniks behind when he formed Kadima. It showed–he was succeeded by Ehud Olmert, who was succeeded in Kadima by Tzipi Livni. Choose Arik over Bibi, the Economist advised, in the name of peace. In other words, the world assured the Israelis, this time is different. This time the disengagement, the withdrawal, will lead to … what exactly? Well the Economist isn’t so bold as to say, because one suspects that deep down the editors, and the highly refined opinion of the international community they represented, knew the truth. And boy, did Arik detest cowards.

The truth was that it would not lead to a change in Palestinian behavior. Israel unilaterally leaving all of Gaza and parts of the West Bank was supposed to be John Cusack holding the boombox blaring In Your Eyes outside the Palestinians’ window. But the Palestinians weren’t interested in Ariel Sharon’s gestures–which Sharon didn’t think of as gestures so much as essential actions that would secure the safety of the state he spent his life defending on the battlefield. And how much less interested must they be in lesser gestures, like settlement freezes or White House invites?

Obituaries and reminiscences of Sharon’s life are not lacking for lessons. But surely one lesson of Sharon’s life is this: the gesture politics that are a mark of the Western left’s decadent narcissism and intellectual boredom are useless in the very conflict they are applied most often. Worse than useless, perhaps–dangerous. John Kerry’s shawarma diplomacy is aimed at getting a piece of paper signed so he can pretend peace is at hand. Sharon never had the luxury of pretending.

And Sharon never needed a piece of paper. He left Gaza without a formal agreement because he understood the difference between peace agreements and peace. The two often have nothing to do with each other. When he felt he needed to do something for Israel’s security–withdrawal, security fence–he did it, because without security there is no peace. (People often think it’s the other way around, but history says otherwise.)

Sharon made mistakes. His judgment was not infallible. What was seemingly infallible was his iron will, for good and for ill. Because Sharon believed in reality. The politicians and journalists hectoring and heckling him from thousands of miles away were living in a fantasy world. They hated him, because he wouldn’t join them there. And he wouldn’t join them there because he believed it was cowardly for a man responsible for the survival of his people to play make-believe when lives were on the line.

And boy, did Arik detest cowards.

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The Jewish State and the Story the Palestinians Hold Dear

In her “Memo from Jerusalem” in the New York Times, Jodi Rudoren asserts that “in recent weeks,” Benjamin Netanyahu has “catapulted to the fore” an issue “even more intractable than old ones like security and settlements: a demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” She reported it is now a “core issue” in the current negotiations and that “critics” say Netanyahu raised it as a poison pill:

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has repeatedly said that the Palestinians will never agree to it, most recently in a letter to President Obama last month. The Palestinians … contend that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would disenfranchise its 1.6 million Arab citizens, undercut the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees and, most important, require a psychological rewriting of the story they hold dear about their longtime presence in the land.

The issue, however, was not recently “catapulted to the fore” by Netanyahu; it is an issue that long pre-dates him; and it goes to the heart of whether the “peace process” is about peace. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, picking up the story with the internal 2007 Palestinian memorandum entitled “Strategy and Talking Points for Responding to the Precondition of Recognizing Israel as a ‘Jewish State’,” leaked in the “Palestine Papers.” The memo contained the following instruction for Palestinian negotiators:

We recommend that the Palestinian negotiators maintain their position not to recognize or otherwise characterize the state of Israel as “Jewish”. Any recognition of Israel within a treaty or agreement should be limited to recognizing it as a sovereign state. It should not recognize Israel as a “Jewish state”, “state for the Jewish people”, “homeland for the Jewish people” or any similar characterization.

The reasons in the memo did not include “the story [the Palestinians] hold dear about their longtime presence in the land.” Rather, the memo warned that “[r]ecognizing the Jewish state implies recognition of a Jewish people and recognition of its right to self-determination.” The Palestinians did not want to recognize a Jewish people, a Jewish state, a Jewish homeland, Jewish self-determination, or any Jewish demographic considerations.

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In her “Memo from Jerusalem” in the New York Times, Jodi Rudoren asserts that “in recent weeks,” Benjamin Netanyahu has “catapulted to the fore” an issue “even more intractable than old ones like security and settlements: a demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” She reported it is now a “core issue” in the current negotiations and that “critics” say Netanyahu raised it as a poison pill:

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has repeatedly said that the Palestinians will never agree to it, most recently in a letter to President Obama last month. The Palestinians … contend that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would disenfranchise its 1.6 million Arab citizens, undercut the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees and, most important, require a psychological rewriting of the story they hold dear about their longtime presence in the land.

The issue, however, was not recently “catapulted to the fore” by Netanyahu; it is an issue that long pre-dates him; and it goes to the heart of whether the “peace process” is about peace. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, picking up the story with the internal 2007 Palestinian memorandum entitled “Strategy and Talking Points for Responding to the Precondition of Recognizing Israel as a ‘Jewish State’,” leaked in the “Palestine Papers.” The memo contained the following instruction for Palestinian negotiators:

We recommend that the Palestinian negotiators maintain their position not to recognize or otherwise characterize the state of Israel as “Jewish”. Any recognition of Israel within a treaty or agreement should be limited to recognizing it as a sovereign state. It should not recognize Israel as a “Jewish state”, “state for the Jewish people”, “homeland for the Jewish people” or any similar characterization.

The reasons in the memo did not include “the story [the Palestinians] hold dear about their longtime presence in the land.” Rather, the memo warned that “[r]ecognizing the Jewish state implies recognition of a Jewish people and recognition of its right to self-determination.” The Palestinians did not want to recognize a Jewish people, a Jewish state, a Jewish homeland, Jewish self-determination, or any Jewish demographic considerations.

Netanyahu assumed office on March 31, 2009 and began preparations for his May meeting with President Obama. On May 3, 2009, Netanyahu’s senior advisor, Ron Dermer (currently Israel’s U.S. ambassador), spoke at the AIPAC Policy Conference, setting forth Israel’s position (see the videos here and here). He identified the “core issue” preventing peace:   

The half of the Palestinian polity that is not openly dedicated to Israel’s destruction [as Hamas is] are unwilling to recognize Israel as the Jewish state. … For those of you think that this has anything to do with the refugee issue — you’re wrong. In 1947, there wasn’t a single refugee, and the Palestinian and the Arab world was not willing to recognize a nation state for the Jewish people. That is a core issue, the core issue …

In their May 18, 2009 press conference, Obama and Netanyahu both referenced Israel as a Jewish state. Obama affirmed “[i]t is in U.S. national security interests to assure that Israel’s security as an independent Jewish state is maintained.” Netanyahu said that for there really to be an “end to the conflict,” the Palestinians “will have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” He explained why in his June 14, 2009 Bar-Ilan speech:

Many good people have told us that withdrawal from territories is the key to peace with the Palestinians. Well, we withdrew. But the fact is that every withdrawal was met with massive waves of terror, by suicide bombers and thousands of missiles. … [T]o our regret, Palestinian moderates are not yet ready to say the simple words: Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and it will stay that way. … Therefore, a fundamental prerequisite for ending the conflict is a public, binding and unequivocal Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.

In his 2010 appearance before the Council on Foreign Relations, Netanyahu called on Abbas to give a Bir Zeit speech, to affirm the Palestinians would recognize a Jewish state if Israel recognized a Palestinian one: 

They have to openly say it, not for our sake but for the sake of actually persuading their people to make the great psychological change for peace. I’ve said it. I’ve stood before my people and before my constituency and I said what my vision of peace includes, and I did that not without some consequence … But this is what leaders have to do. They have to educate their people.

In 2011, Tal Becker, a lead Israeli negotiator in the year-long Annapolis Process in 2007-08, published “The Claim for Recognition of Israel as a Jewish State,” under the auspices of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, explaining that recognition of a Jewish state is the natural counterpart to recognition of a Palestinian one:

This is not a new demand. It is a reaction to the sense that what was once largely self-evident is now under threat. Israel’s leaders increasingly view the erosion of Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish nation-state as a challenge not just to national identity, but to national security. … [T]he physical threat posed by Israel’s regional enemies has been compounded by an assault on its raison d’etre as a Jewish homeland … In this context, [demanding recognition of] the Jewish people’s right to self-determination has acquired significance within Israel … as a component of the national defense.

The premise of the “two-state solution” is “two states for two peoples” (another phrase no Palestinian leader will utter). But if the Palestinians won’t recognize a Jewish state, what they have in mind is not a solution but a two-stage plan, in which the Palestinians first gain a sovereign state and then prosecute their “right of return” to the other one–the one whose status as a Jewish state they never conceded. They seek not an end of the conflict, but a chess move in a bigger game.

A “psychological rewriting”–to use Rudoren’s quaint phrase–is precisely what peace requires, but it has nothing to do with “the story [the Palestinians] hold dear.” It has to do with their longstanding objective since 1947. They want a state, but not if it requires that they recognize a Jewish one. In today’s Jerusalem Post, Khaled Abu Toameh reports that Palestinian sources have told the Palestinian daily Al-Quds that the “most dangerous” part of Secretary of State Kerry’s proposed “framework” is Israel’s demand that the Palestinians recognize it as a Jewish state. One can see why: if the Palestinians accepted it, they would have to end the conflict.

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Sharon and the Great Leader Peace Myth

After almost eight years in a vegetative state it appears that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s long struggle for life may be at its end. According to Tel Hashomer Hospital’s spokesman, Sharon’s condition has deteriorated and sources are telling the Israeli press that his organs are failing, leaving little doubt about the ultimate outcome. When the end comes it is to be expected that most of the international press will center their obituaries on the more controversial aspects of his public career. As a military officer, a Cabinet minister, and then prime minister, Sharon was often viewed as a “bulldozer” with few fans outside of those who care about Israel’s security and many detractors, both at home an abroad. They will focus on the debate about the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon and the building of Israel’s security fence in the wake of the Palestinian terror offensive known as the Second Intifada so as to besmirch his reputation as well as that of the Jewish state that he spent his life defending.

But as much as Sharon was the bête noire of the Israeli left as well as Israel-bashers in general, he will also be spoken of as an example of a leader who had the credibility and the guts to try to end the conflict with the Palestinians. Sharon’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza will be cited repeatedly by Middle East experts like Aaron David Miller not so much for his failure to devise a unilateral solution to the conflict but because it provides a contrast with what Miller and other members of the foreign-policy establishment consider Benjamin Netanyahu’s lackluster leadership. Having exited the scene years ago Sharon has now been elevated in the eyes of many of his country’s friends and critics (such as the National Interest’s Jacob Heilbrunn) if only because it allows them the opportunity to bash the man who occupies the office he once held. Though they will be right to say that no one on the current Israeli political scene has the mythic status that Sharon attained, the idea that peace might be possible if Sharon or someone like him were in the prime minister’s office is a fallacy.

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After almost eight years in a vegetative state it appears that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s long struggle for life may be at its end. According to Tel Hashomer Hospital’s spokesman, Sharon’s condition has deteriorated and sources are telling the Israeli press that his organs are failing, leaving little doubt about the ultimate outcome. When the end comes it is to be expected that most of the international press will center their obituaries on the more controversial aspects of his public career. As a military officer, a Cabinet minister, and then prime minister, Sharon was often viewed as a “bulldozer” with few fans outside of those who care about Israel’s security and many detractors, both at home an abroad. They will focus on the debate about the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon and the building of Israel’s security fence in the wake of the Palestinian terror offensive known as the Second Intifada so as to besmirch his reputation as well as that of the Jewish state that he spent his life defending.

But as much as Sharon was the bête noire of the Israeli left as well as Israel-bashers in general, he will also be spoken of as an example of a leader who had the credibility and the guts to try to end the conflict with the Palestinians. Sharon’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza will be cited repeatedly by Middle East experts like Aaron David Miller not so much for his failure to devise a unilateral solution to the conflict but because it provides a contrast with what Miller and other members of the foreign-policy establishment consider Benjamin Netanyahu’s lackluster leadership. Having exited the scene years ago Sharon has now been elevated in the eyes of many of his country’s friends and critics (such as the National Interest’s Jacob Heilbrunn) if only because it allows them the opportunity to bash the man who occupies the office he once held. Though they will be right to say that no one on the current Israeli political scene has the mythic status that Sharon attained, the idea that peace might be possible if Sharon or someone like him were in the prime minister’s office is a fallacy.

It is true that only someone with the security credentials that Sharon, who was a hero of several Israeli wars, possessed could have pulled off the Gaza withdrawal. Having been reelected in 1983 by running on a platform skewering Labor candidate Amram Mitzna’s proposal for abandoning Gaza, Sharon blew up the Likud Party and rammed the same proposal through the Knesset and implemented it despite the opposition of most of those who had supported him. That took not only guts but also the kind of self-confidence that perhaps only war heroes who have won landslide election victories possess.

Perhaps the aftermath of the Gaza withdrawal would have gone better or at least differently had Sharon not fallen ill. Like those who fantasize that the Oslo peace process might not have been such a failure if only Yitzhak Rabin had lived and forced the Palestinians to abide by the accords and rallied Israelis behind the deal, some will spin similarly unlikely, counter-factual scenarios about Sharon. Perhaps he would not have tolerated the Hamas coup in Gaza or not responded to the rain of missile fire that emanated from the Strip after the withdrawal with the same passivity that his successor Ehud Olmert displayed for almost three years before authorizing a counter-attack. But it is just as likely, if not more so, that Sharon would have been boxed in by the same unfortunate circumstances as Olmert. After all, Hamas had been shooting rockets at Israeli settlements in Gaza as well as southern Israel for years before the withdrawal without provoking a significant military response from Sharon’s government.

However, the real lesson to be drawn from this chapter of history is that the lack of great men with the vision to try something new is not what is preventing peace. From 2001 to 2005, Israelis and Palestinians were both governed by larger-than-life figures. Though it is unfair to compare Sharon, an honorable soldier and a veteran of democratic politics, to a terrorist murderer like Yasir Arafat, one must concede that if any leaders had the standing to sell peace to their respective constituencies, it was those two. What was lacking was not someone with the ability to convince Israelis to take risks but a Palestinian partner and a Palestinian people ready to accept the notion of recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. If Israelis are skeptical about Secretary of State John Kerry’s current campaign to get them to again contemplate withdrawing from territory it is not because they lack leaders, a desire for peace, or are devoted to the cause of keeping settlements but because they think repeating Sharon’s Gaza fiasco in the far more strategic West Bank would be madness.

Netanyahu may seem like a small man when compared to Sharon just as Mahmoud Abbas may strike Palestinians as a pygmy when contrasted to Arafat. But what are needed in the Middle East are not great men so much as a sea change in Palestinian culture that will make peace possible. Until that happens, waiting for another Sharon or even another Arafat won’t hasten the end of the conflict.

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The EU Offers Israel a Raw Deal

“The European Union gave a push to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on Monday,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “pledging unprecedented aid to the two sides if they reach agreement on their final status.” The phrase “unprecedented aid” sounds like a great deal for both sides. Israel has repeatedly tried to strike a final-status agreement with the Palestinians at great cost and sacrifice, only to be rebuffed or met with violence every single time. Since Israel obviously already wants peace, this “aid” just sweetens the pot.

The Palestinians, too, might be tempted, since they depend so much on foreign aid. And for the EU as well it appears to have mostly upside: if there’s no deal, they don’t have to spend a dime of the promised aid, and if there is a deal, it would be well worth the cost. So: three (or even two) cheers for the EU? Not exactly. Widening the scope a bit reveals this to be something much closer to what the Journal reported around the Black Friday shopping rush: the deal is much less a bargain than the price tag would have shoppers believe. The Journal noted that companies long ago figured out that if they overinflated the initial price offering they could better lure bargain hunters amid all the competition. As a result:

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“The European Union gave a push to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on Monday,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “pledging unprecedented aid to the two sides if they reach agreement on their final status.” The phrase “unprecedented aid” sounds like a great deal for both sides. Israel has repeatedly tried to strike a final-status agreement with the Palestinians at great cost and sacrifice, only to be rebuffed or met with violence every single time. Since Israel obviously already wants peace, this “aid” just sweetens the pot.

The Palestinians, too, might be tempted, since they depend so much on foreign aid. And for the EU as well it appears to have mostly upside: if there’s no deal, they don’t have to spend a dime of the promised aid, and if there is a deal, it would be well worth the cost. So: three (or even two) cheers for the EU? Not exactly. Widening the scope a bit reveals this to be something much closer to what the Journal reported around the Black Friday shopping rush: the deal is much less a bargain than the price tag would have shoppers believe. The Journal noted that companies long ago figured out that if they overinflated the initial price offering they could better lure bargain hunters amid all the competition. As a result:

In a 2012 presentation, Mr. Johnson, then still Penney’s CEO, said the company was selling fewer than one out of every 500 items at full price. Customers were receiving an average discount of 60%, up from 38% a decade earlier. The twist is they weren’t saving more. In fact, the average price paid by customers stayed about the same over that period. What changed was the initial price, which increased by 33%.

And so it is with the EU’s latest fit of magnanimity, at least with regard to Israel. That’s because the EU has been slowly, but unmistakably, seeking to punish Israel financially for the EU’s policy disagreements with the Israeli government. I wrote about this over the summer, when the EU released new guidelines intended to restrict grant access to Jews who lived in the West Bank or a large part of Jerusalem, the Jews’ eternal capital. The EU had not instituted a full-fledged trade boycott, to be sure. But it’s not clear if that was because EU officials oppose such a morally repugnant policy or because the denial of grants was a way to hurt Jewish Israelis without also damaging European economies. It was no less discriminatory, in other words; just unprincipled.

The EU’s behavior also gives tacit approval to more bigoted forms of boycotts on a continent with rising anti-Semitism. So when the EU says it can offer a major infusion of financial aid to Israel if it signs on the dotted line, it is not only proclaiming its belief that Israel can be bought but also to some degree offsetting the damage it is already trying to do to Israel’s economy. Perhaps in Brussels an offer of unprecedented financial aid is indistinguishable from a shakedown, but Israeli officials can tell the difference.

With regard to aid to the Palestinians, it might end up being more expensive for the EU than officials expect. The Oslo era saw Yitzhak Rabin sign a deal with Yasser Arafat, followed by Benjamin Netanyahu doing the same, followed by Ehud Barak making a generous offer to Arafat, followed by Ariel Sharon unilaterally disengaging from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, followed by Ehud Olmert offering Mahmoud Abbas the store, followed by Netanyahu accepting in principle the two-state solution and suggesting even that dividing Jerusalem would be on the table, and then willing to release terrorist murderers just to begin negotiations.

In other words, if you want a peace deal, talk to Ramallah; Jerusalem’s door is always open. So financial aid to the Palestinian Authority is a start–or, rather, a continuation, since they already receive such aid (which Israel fully supports). But all those years of rejection and/or violence in return for Israeli offers of peace should tell the Eurocrats something about the ability to induce the Palestinians to make peace. Each Palestinian rejection was followed by an eventual Israeli offer more generous than the last. The Palestinians have learned that all they have to do is keep saying no and eventually they’ll get whatever they want.

So the EU can offer generous financial aid. The Palestinians in all likelihood will reject the terms, but they won’t forget the EU offered them in the first place. The next time the EU wants to get involved, the offer will be sweeter, and after the Palestinians reject that one the next offer will be sweeter still. By that time, the EU’s financial action against Israel will have increased as well. The EU has begun rolling a snowball downhill. Good luck stopping it.

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Barack and Bibi Can’t Do It Alone

It’s not every day that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman agrees, even in part, with something I’ve written. On Monday, I wrote that if President Obama was actually serious about negotiating a deal with Iran that will end the threat from that country, he should be encouraging Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to be as vocal as possible with his complaints about any deal that would leave the Islamist regime leeway to achieve their nuclear ambition. If there is any hope the ayatollahs will think that they have to negotiate in good faith rather than cheat, it will only happen if they are convinced that Israel can and will act unilaterally to avert the danger of a nuclear Iran. Friedman seems to be saying something of the same thing when he points out in a column published today that ensuring that the chances that Iran doesn’t get a bomb will be enhanced, “if Bibi is occasionally Bibi and serves as our loaded pistol on the negotiating table.”

But Friedman doesn’t stop there and that’s where he predictably veers off course. He extrapolates from that kernel of truth to imagine all the great things “Barack and Bibi” can accomplish together if all they are willing to cooperate. He thinks the combination of Obama’s “cool” with Netanyahu’s “crazy” is the formula to not only deal with Iran but to make peace with the Palestinians as well. An Israel that accommodated the Palestinians would, he says, be more likely to garner support from Europe to stop Iran as well as to transform its functional alliance with Saudi Arabia on the nuclear issue into a genuine relationship with “trade and open relations.” Sounds nice. But the problem with this thesis is that it focuses only on one side of the negotiations with Iran and the Palestinians. Even if Obama and Netanyahu had common goals—and the president has given us every reason to think that he is not genuinely interested in ensuring Israel’s security on either front—all the Barack “cool” and Bibi “crazy” in the world can’t convince Iran to give up nukes or the Palestinians to make peace if they don’t want to. Like most liberal critiques of Israeli policy and Netanyahu, it makes the mistake of pretending that all that is needed to transform the Middle East is a willingness on the part of Israel or the U.S. to make nice.

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It’s not every day that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman agrees, even in part, with something I’ve written. On Monday, I wrote that if President Obama was actually serious about negotiating a deal with Iran that will end the threat from that country, he should be encouraging Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to be as vocal as possible with his complaints about any deal that would leave the Islamist regime leeway to achieve their nuclear ambition. If there is any hope the ayatollahs will think that they have to negotiate in good faith rather than cheat, it will only happen if they are convinced that Israel can and will act unilaterally to avert the danger of a nuclear Iran. Friedman seems to be saying something of the same thing when he points out in a column published today that ensuring that the chances that Iran doesn’t get a bomb will be enhanced, “if Bibi is occasionally Bibi and serves as our loaded pistol on the negotiating table.”

But Friedman doesn’t stop there and that’s where he predictably veers off course. He extrapolates from that kernel of truth to imagine all the great things “Barack and Bibi” can accomplish together if all they are willing to cooperate. He thinks the combination of Obama’s “cool” with Netanyahu’s “crazy” is the formula to not only deal with Iran but to make peace with the Palestinians as well. An Israel that accommodated the Palestinians would, he says, be more likely to garner support from Europe to stop Iran as well as to transform its functional alliance with Saudi Arabia on the nuclear issue into a genuine relationship with “trade and open relations.” Sounds nice. But the problem with this thesis is that it focuses only on one side of the negotiations with Iran and the Palestinians. Even if Obama and Netanyahu had common goals—and the president has given us every reason to think that he is not genuinely interested in ensuring Israel’s security on either front—all the Barack “cool” and Bibi “crazy” in the world can’t convince Iran to give up nukes or the Palestinians to make peace if they don’t want to. Like most liberal critiques of Israeli policy and Netanyahu, it makes the mistake of pretending that all that is needed to transform the Middle East is a willingness on the part of Israel or the U.S. to make nice.

On Iran, Friedman is right to note that Iran would never have even bothered to come to the negotiating table had not Israel posed a credible threat of force. Even more to the point, the U.S. and the Europeans would never have imposed tough sanctions on Iran had they not needed to create a viable diplomatic alternative to the prospect of an Israeli strike on the Islamist regime’s nuclear facilities. However, the problem with the cool/crazy negotiating theory is that if President Obama is actually more interested in détente with Iran than in ending the nuclear threat and pushing back against the ayatollahs’ sponsorship of international terrorism, then the whole idea amounts to nothing. Iran has good reason to think that Obama’s zeal for a deal at almost any price is what is driving Western diplomacy. They’ve shown repeatedly that they discount Western threats and think Obama is a paper tiger. Attaining nuclear capability has become integral to the regime’s identity, which is why they’ve successfully insisted on protecting their “right” to enrich uranium even though the West had all the leverage in the talks.

As for the Palestinians, Friedman’s argument is familiar but has been repeatedly discredited. Had the Palestinians genuinely wanted peace they would have accepted any of the past deals of statehood offered by the Israelis. But they haven’t and even the so-called “moderates” of the Palestinian Authority have shown no willingness to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. If the latest round of talks with the Palestinians promoted by the administration is stuck in neutral it is not because of Israel’s positions on settlements or Jerusalem but because, as most serious observers have long understood, for a variety of reasons (including the fact that Hamas rules Gaza) the PA leadership is simply incapable of making peace.

Similarly, the notion that Israel’s functional alliance with Saudi Arabia against Iran can somehow morph into friendly relations involving trade is another example of how a supposed realist like Friedman is prone to engage in magical thinking. Though the two countries have a common foe, the Wahabi ideology of the Saudi monarchy makes any open relations with Israel impossible in the foreseeable future. As with Iran and the Palestinians, all the imagination and openness that Obama and Netanyahu can conjure up can’t transform the other side of the equation. Contrary to Friedman, Israel’s presence in the West Bank has little to do with the problems of the Middle East. As Jeffrey Goldberg rightly noted on Monday, the crises in Syria, Egypt, and the Iranian nuclear threat would exist no matter where Israel’s borders were placed.

Like most liberal thinkers on foreign policy, Friedman tends to overvalue the impact of technology and economics and undervalue the hold of religious fanaticism and cultural obstacles to peace. By focusing almost exclusively on the decisions that Israel or the West might make, they strip the Arab and Muslim worlds of any agency in their own fate or in their decisions on the conflicts they continue to pursue. Though the main irritant in the U.S.-Israel relationship comes from President Obama’s embrace of a policy of feckless appeasement, Friedman is right that the two nations can still work toward a common goal. But even if that happened, analysts who refuse to think seriously about the hold of ideology on the positions and goals of Iran and the Palestinians don’t have much that is of value to offer the discussion. 

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Ambassador Is Proxy Target for Israel’s Foes

Ron Dermer hasn’t yet even been formally credentialed in Washington, but the criticisms of him are already starting. As a feature in Politico Magazine published today noted, many on the Hill and in the White House, as well as Israel’s open foes, consider it to be open season on the new Israeli ambassador to the United States. In the piece written by JTA’s Ron Kampeas, it was made clear that the administration and some Democrats are unhappy about Dermer’s appointment since they are angry about the possibility that he will lobby Congress to undermine the White House position on nuclear negotiations with Iran or see him as a natural ally of President Obama’s Republican foes.

But complaints about Dermer have little to do with unfair accusations that he will behave inappropriately. As Kampeas illustrated in his account of some of the meetings the new ambassador has already held with members of Congress, Dermer is not looking to get involved in partisan battles that would pit Republicans against Democrats. If Dermer worries some people in Washington, it is because, like his boss Prime Minister Netanyahu, he understands American politics and will be a skilled advocate for his nation rather than a cipher that can be ignored.

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Ron Dermer hasn’t yet even been formally credentialed in Washington, but the criticisms of him are already starting. As a feature in Politico Magazine published today noted, many on the Hill and in the White House, as well as Israel’s open foes, consider it to be open season on the new Israeli ambassador to the United States. In the piece written by JTA’s Ron Kampeas, it was made clear that the administration and some Democrats are unhappy about Dermer’s appointment since they are angry about the possibility that he will lobby Congress to undermine the White House position on nuclear negotiations with Iran or see him as a natural ally of President Obama’s Republican foes.

But complaints about Dermer have little to do with unfair accusations that he will behave inappropriately. As Kampeas illustrated in his account of some of the meetings the new ambassador has already held with members of Congress, Dermer is not looking to get involved in partisan battles that would pit Republicans against Democrats. If Dermer worries some people in Washington, it is because, like his boss Prime Minister Netanyahu, he understands American politics and will be a skilled advocate for his nation rather than a cipher that can be ignored.

Dermer has more than the usual diplomatic battles to fight in Washington. Along with the usual cast of Israel-haters who seek to undermine the alliance between the U.S. and the Jewish state, there are many in the administration who regard Dermer with suspicion because of his personal ties to Republicans. Dermer is a former American who is the son and brother of Democratic mayors of Miami Beach. But his first job was in the office of Republican consultant Frank Luntz and the book he co-wrote about democracy with another former boss, Natan Sharansky, was embraced by George W. Bush, who said the work exemplified his own freedom agenda.

But what makes him a target for many in the capital and the media is that he is a confidante of Netanyahu and, like the prime minister, knows his way around American culture and politics. Though like his able predecessor Michael Oren Dermer will be careful about never crossing the line between advocacy and lobbying, the administration would probably prefer someone at the Israeli Embassy who couldn’t speak to Congress as well as the American people with the same sort of fluency as Dermer will be able to do.

Moreover, most of the brickbats being tossed in Dermer’s direction are not only really aimed at Netanyahu and/or the Jewish state. They are also based on a false reading of the disputes that have roiled the U.S.-Israel alliance in the past five years. Contrary to the conventional wisdom of the mainstream press, it has not been the statements and actions of Netanyahu and his “brain” Dermer that have caused rifts in the relationship. Rather, it has been the president’s picking of fights with Israel and policy shifts such as his pursuit of détente with Iran that ignored the Jewish state’s concerns about a weak nuclear deal. Accusations about Netanyahu trying to undermine Obama are really complaints about Israel not knuckling under to U.S. pressure, not evidence of bad behavior on the part of the prime minister or his envoys. Israeli diplomats who aren’t strong advocates tend to get better press than those who aren’t shy about setting Israel’s critics straight.

Those expecting him to diverge from Oren’s oft-repeated theme about the importance and enduring value of the U.S.-Israel alliance are wrong. But neither will he desist from explaining Israel’s concerns to the media and Congress. Moreover, the administration should be glad that in Dermer they have someone with a direct line to the prime minister. If there are further misunderstandings between the two countries, it will clearly be due to the White House’s decision to ignore the Israelis rather than any miscommunications. Though Israel’s critics would prefer to have someone in Dermer’s place who would soft-pedal the country’s valid positions on life and death issues, the idea that the ambassador is disqualified because of his American connections says more about a desire to silence or marginalize him than it does about his suitability for the job.

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Obama Should Hope Israel Keeps Complaining

In the wake of the Obama administration’s embrace of a nuclear deal with Iran, Washington’s message to Israel has been crystal clear: shut up. The Washington Post reported that President Obama told Prime Minister Netanyahu that he’d like him to tone down the strident criticism of an agreement that he has rightly characterized as a “historic mistake” that legitimizes Iran’s nuclear program and may well bring it closer to a bomb rather than preventing it from accomplishing that goal. But the messages from other sources have been a good deal less polite. Anonymous “senior administration officials” told Israeli reporters that the White House considers the Israeli government’s outrage at having its concerns ignored to be “weak” and dismissed the possibility that Congress would attempt to restrain the president’s rush toward a détente with Iran out of concern for the Jewish state’s safety. The administration’s cheering section in the press has been no less blunt about its disdain for Israel’s fear that a fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy is being attempted.

Part of this stems from Obama’s hubris. He has always believed in the magic of his personality and appeal and from the start of his first term signaled that he wanted to improve relations with Iran while also demonstrating his belief that the U.S. and Israel had become too close under his predecessor. The impatience he is showing about Israel’s complaints is rooted in anger over the fact that Netanyahu apparently does not trust him, something he appears to consider an act of lèse-majesté. Whether or not the reports out of Kuwait today about the president hoping to visit Iran in 2014 are true, the White House considers Israeli doubts about the president’s vision of a new Middle East to be something of a personal slight.

But if Obama is genuinely interested in making his deal with Iran work rather than it being just one more example of how the ayatollahs have hoodwinked the West, he shouldn’t be discouraging Netanyahu from speaking up. If there is any real hope that this deal that tacitly recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium and leaves in place the infrastructure for making a bomb will actually succeed, it will stem from an Iranian belief that Israel’s rhetoric about using force are credible rather than empty threats. Having demonstrated that he has little interest in putting Tehran’s feet to the fire, there is nothing preventing Iran from reneging on even this weak deal other than the notion that if Obama is not proved right, Israel will strike.

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In the wake of the Obama administration’s embrace of a nuclear deal with Iran, Washington’s message to Israel has been crystal clear: shut up. The Washington Post reported that President Obama told Prime Minister Netanyahu that he’d like him to tone down the strident criticism of an agreement that he has rightly characterized as a “historic mistake” that legitimizes Iran’s nuclear program and may well bring it closer to a bomb rather than preventing it from accomplishing that goal. But the messages from other sources have been a good deal less polite. Anonymous “senior administration officials” told Israeli reporters that the White House considers the Israeli government’s outrage at having its concerns ignored to be “weak” and dismissed the possibility that Congress would attempt to restrain the president’s rush toward a détente with Iran out of concern for the Jewish state’s safety. The administration’s cheering section in the press has been no less blunt about its disdain for Israel’s fear that a fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy is being attempted.

Part of this stems from Obama’s hubris. He has always believed in the magic of his personality and appeal and from the start of his first term signaled that he wanted to improve relations with Iran while also demonstrating his belief that the U.S. and Israel had become too close under his predecessor. The impatience he is showing about Israel’s complaints is rooted in anger over the fact that Netanyahu apparently does not trust him, something he appears to consider an act of lèse-majesté. Whether or not the reports out of Kuwait today about the president hoping to visit Iran in 2014 are true, the White House considers Israeli doubts about the president’s vision of a new Middle East to be something of a personal slight.

But if Obama is genuinely interested in making his deal with Iran work rather than it being just one more example of how the ayatollahs have hoodwinked the West, he shouldn’t be discouraging Netanyahu from speaking up. If there is any real hope that this deal that tacitly recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium and leaves in place the infrastructure for making a bomb will actually succeed, it will stem from an Iranian belief that Israel’s rhetoric about using force are credible rather than empty threats. Having demonstrated that he has little interest in putting Tehran’s feet to the fire, there is nothing preventing Iran from reneging on even this weak deal other than the notion that if Obama is not proved right, Israel will strike.

The problem with the current deal is not just that it does nothing to roll back all the progress Iran has made toward a bomb in Obama’s five years in office and that it lengthens the all-important breakout time for them to convert their stockpile of fuel to weapons-grade material by only a few weeks at best. The real flaw here is that by beginning the process of unraveling the sanctions that the administration belatedly and reluctantly imposed on Iran the president may have sent a signal to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that he needn’t worry any more about the United States. The eagerness with which Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have bought into the dubious notion that Iran is entering into a period of genuine reform even while the regime continues to fund terrorism, make mischief in Syria, and spew anti-Semitism may have convinced the Islamist regime that they are home free. Their record of contempt for the West and deceptive diplomacy lengthens the already long odds that Obama’s deal is merely another delaying action on the regime’s part.

But so long as Israel and Saudi Arabia are demonstrating that they are not cowed by Obama’s dictates, Khamenei and his underlings must consider the possibility that their prevarications will backfire. Barack Obama and John Kerry may seem easy marks for the ayatollahs, but while the Israelis and their unlikely Arab allies are still able to strike, Khamenei has to consider that not everyone is deceived by his latest gambit.

Of course, Israel is doing more than merely playing the bad cop to Obama’s foolish cop. Netanyahu is right to assert that Israel can and must defend its own security and that it won’t be placed in peril merely to assuage Obama’s delusions of diplomatic grandeur. But so long as he is not silent, the Iranians must know there might be a terrible price to pay for their lies. Rather than trying to shut the Israeli up, the president and his various minions should be praying that Netanyahu’s warnings are being heard loud and clear in Tehran.

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Obama, Iran, and Israel

British member of the European Parliament Daniel Hannan, in speaking about President Obama, told Jamie Weinstein of The Daily Caller, “I’m not sure there has ever been a president who cares less about the U.S.’s relations with her traditional friends.” 

That point was underscored and demonstrated again this weekend, with the interim agreement focused on Iran’s nuclear program that the Obama administration agreed to. Jonathan did an excellent job outlining the weaknesses of the deal; so have others (see here and here).

I do find it remarkable that the president, even this president, would put forward a deal that is so manifestly in the interest of Iran and so obviously harmful to both America and Israel. On the latter, I concur with what former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton wrote:

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British member of the European Parliament Daniel Hannan, in speaking about President Obama, told Jamie Weinstein of The Daily Caller, “I’m not sure there has ever been a president who cares less about the U.S.’s relations with her traditional friends.” 

That point was underscored and demonstrated again this weekend, with the interim agreement focused on Iran’s nuclear program that the Obama administration agreed to. Jonathan did an excellent job outlining the weaknesses of the deal; so have others (see here and here).

I do find it remarkable that the president, even this president, would put forward a deal that is so manifestly in the interest of Iran and so obviously harmful to both America and Israel. On the latter, I concur with what former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton wrote:

Buying time for its own sake makes sense in some negotiating contexts, but the sub silentio objective here was to jerry-rig yet another argument to wield against Israel and its fateful decision whether or not to strike Iran. Obama, fearing that strike more than an Iranian nuclear weapon, clearly needed greater international pressure on Jerusalem. And Jerusalem fully understands that Israel was the real target of the Geneva negotiations.  

This posture makes sense when you keep in mind that Barack Obama has never been particularly well disposed toward Israel and at times has treated its leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, with contempt. But the agreement on Iran’s nuclear program goes beyond not standing with Israel against an existential threat. The president has now entered into a deal that has made Iran’s life much easier and Israel’s life much more difficult and dangerous. We’re witnessing an astonishing moral inversion. 

That there are people who do such things is nothing new; but that such a person would become president of the United States is.

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What the U.S.-Israel Dispute Is Really About

Usually when the source of U.S.-Israel tensions is revealed to be a simple misunderstanding, the two sides can again breathe easy. But this week’s argument over Iran sanctions relief may have the opposite effect. Commentators on both sides appear to be missing the real significance of the tiff over the dollar value of the sanctions relief sought by President Obama. In yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, a story on sanctions relief contained this:

For his part, Mr. Kerry has questioned publicly whether Mr. Netanyahu is aware of all the details in the agreement. And in some cases, Israeli officials appear to have distorted what Iran would get in return.

At a briefing with international journalists on Wednesday, Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, said the deal would directly erase $15 billion to $20 billion of what he estimated was the $100 billion the current sanctions are costing Iran annually, and lead to relief of up to $40 billion because of indirect effects. The State Department immediately debunked those numbers, noting the sanctions relief would be for only six months, not a year. And the Americans put the figure at under $10 billion. But Israeli leaders have continued to cite the higher estimates.

The media watchdog CAMERA called attention to the editorialized nature of the reporting–accusations that Israelis “appear to have distorted” the deal instead of simply disagreeing with the estimates. They also note that the reporters say the State Department “debunked” Israel’s numbers, which is manifestly untrue. The State Department denied the Israelis were correct, but Steinitz simply appears to be correctly calculating the sanctions relief were it to be extended to a year, instead of the six months the Obama administration claims. And that’s why this disagreement is more than just a math problem.

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Usually when the source of U.S.-Israel tensions is revealed to be a simple misunderstanding, the two sides can again breathe easy. But this week’s argument over Iran sanctions relief may have the opposite effect. Commentators on both sides appear to be missing the real significance of the tiff over the dollar value of the sanctions relief sought by President Obama. In yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, a story on sanctions relief contained this:

For his part, Mr. Kerry has questioned publicly whether Mr. Netanyahu is aware of all the details in the agreement. And in some cases, Israeli officials appear to have distorted what Iran would get in return.

At a briefing with international journalists on Wednesday, Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, said the deal would directly erase $15 billion to $20 billion of what he estimated was the $100 billion the current sanctions are costing Iran annually, and lead to relief of up to $40 billion because of indirect effects. The State Department immediately debunked those numbers, noting the sanctions relief would be for only six months, not a year. And the Americans put the figure at under $10 billion. But Israeli leaders have continued to cite the higher estimates.

The media watchdog CAMERA called attention to the editorialized nature of the reporting–accusations that Israelis “appear to have distorted” the deal instead of simply disagreeing with the estimates. They also note that the reporters say the State Department “debunked” Israel’s numbers, which is manifestly untrue. The State Department denied the Israelis were correct, but Steinitz simply appears to be correctly calculating the sanctions relief were it to be extended to a year, instead of the six months the Obama administration claims. And that’s why this disagreement is more than just a math problem.

As the Times notes, American officials are alarmed by the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “has often raised the specter of an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities even if a deal is signed,” yet they fail to make the connection. American officials are pushing back because they think Israel is moving up the date at which a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be prudent. The Israelis are wary of this deal because they think it does the exact same thing. That is, the Israelis aren’t seeking to move up the timing of a strike; they worry that the Americans are in the process of doing that.

The Times mentions the divergence of opinion between the U.S. and Israel on what would constitute Iran crossing a red line. (Though, it must be said, Obama has squandered any credibility on “red lines” anyway.) Neither side appears to believe Iran is at that point right now, so the American side is wondering what’s wrong with this proposed nuclear deal. Later in the article, we get something of an answer:

The reason appears to be that Iran would agree to convert some of its medium-enriched uranium — fuel enriched to 20 percent purity, or near bomb grade — into an oxide form that is on the way to becoming reactor fuel. But that process can be easily reversed, notes Olli Heinonen, the former chief inspector of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Mr. Netanyahu’s camp and some Israeli analysts say the Israeli leader’s unstinting opposition is both substantive and political. He truly believes that a deal lifting sanctions without fully halting enrichment and dismantling centrifuges is a terrible mistake. But he has also staked his premiership on fighting the Iranian nuclear threat, and the change in approach by his closest allies leaves him a bit rudderless.

If the process can be “easily reversed,” then the deal would enable Iran to play for time while enjoying the billions of dollars in sanctions relief they would get for something they want anyway: diplomatic delay. So the deal would need real teeth, which it doesn’t appear to have. What’s more, Steinitz’s estimates show the credibility gap the Obama administration is dealing with after its Syria fiasco.

As Jonathan wrote two weeks ago, Iran sanctions don’t have a simple power switch. It takes time to get sanctions in place, often over the opposition of our European allies and usually over the objections of President Obama himself. Obama, in fact, has been a consistent obstacle to sanctions during his presidency. It is reasonable to doubt not only that Obama could crank the sanctions back to where they need to be after a six-month interlude, but that he would even want to. Ramping sanctions back up would also mean the deal failed; it’s reasonable to doubt, as well, that Obama would ever admit it.

So Steinitz’s gripe is not with the dollar figures, but the overall process. It’s an indication that the Israelis don’t believe the Obama administration would hold Iran to account if they didn’t abide by the terms of the deal. That, in turn, would make this the beginning of the end of the non-military effort to stop Iran from getting the bomb. Whether Steinitz is right about that remains to be seen, but those who focus on whether he’s right about the exact dollar figure are missing the point.

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The Media Struggles to Explain Netanyahu

At the height of anti-Bush hysteria, the president’s most vociferous critics were afflicted with a fair degree of cognitive dissonance: to them George W. Bush was somehow both a doltish junior partner to his vice president and a diabolical mastermind whose assault on the nation’s conscience could not be stopped. There are moments when the news coverage of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu evokes similar confusion.

Today, for example, if Netanyahu were to check in with the East Coast commentariat he would learn that the press has come to some very different conclusions about what drives him. Over at Foreign Policy, Dan Drezner says Netanyahu is “wigging out.” It’s a highly sophisticated term, but hey–Netanyahu went to MIT, so he’s probably familiar with such hefty terminology. Drezner’s post paints Netanyahu as an unruly ward of the West, who is acting out in lieu of being able to exercise real control over the Iranian nuclear negotiations, and doing so against his country’s interests.

But Netanyahu doesn’t have to accept this harsh judgment. Like the old joke about the Jewish man who reads the Soviet newspapers because they are filled only with good news–no pogroms, just exciting declarations of Jewish global influence–the prime minister can head over to National Journal, where he can read the ego-boosting revelation that he tells the president of the United States, the leader of the free world, what to do.

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At the height of anti-Bush hysteria, the president’s most vociferous critics were afflicted with a fair degree of cognitive dissonance: to them George W. Bush was somehow both a doltish junior partner to his vice president and a diabolical mastermind whose assault on the nation’s conscience could not be stopped. There are moments when the news coverage of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu evokes similar confusion.

Today, for example, if Netanyahu were to check in with the East Coast commentariat he would learn that the press has come to some very different conclusions about what drives him. Over at Foreign Policy, Dan Drezner says Netanyahu is “wigging out.” It’s a highly sophisticated term, but hey–Netanyahu went to MIT, so he’s probably familiar with such hefty terminology. Drezner’s post paints Netanyahu as an unruly ward of the West, who is acting out in lieu of being able to exercise real control over the Iranian nuclear negotiations, and doing so against his country’s interests.

But Netanyahu doesn’t have to accept this harsh judgment. Like the old joke about the Jewish man who reads the Soviet newspapers because they are filled only with good news–no pogroms, just exciting declarations of Jewish global influence–the prime minister can head over to National Journal, where he can read the ego-boosting revelation that he tells the president of the United States, the leader of the free world, what to do.

That’s the assessment of the situation from the paper’s Michael Hirsh, who claims Netanyahu has offered President Obama something of a diplomatic Sophie’s choice: “It’s either an Iranian deal or a Palestinian deal, he seems to be telling the president, but not both.”

It should be noted, in fairness to Drezner, that his post has a good handle on the facts from which his conclusion, however flawed, is drawn. Hirsh’s piece, on the other hand, appears to be describing an alternate universe with marginal resemblance to reality. But it’s to Planet Hirsh we go, because his thesis is constructed on some false conventional wisdom that helps explain why the media gets its coverage of the Middle East so wrong.

Hirsh writes that the fact that Netanyahu and Obama don’t trust each other “explains the Israeli prime minister’s fulminations last week in blasting, from afar, a temporary deal being negotiated in Geneva that would have frozen Iran’s uranium-enrichment program,” before constructing a sentence that really deserves to be set apart from the usual nonsense: “But if Netanyahu exacts revenge, it may not be on the Iranians. It may well be on the Palestinians.”

That is a museum-worthy relic of leftist Beltway opinionating. It’s not that the Israeli prime minister may feel cornered by the events that put his nation in danger, according to Hirsh; it’s that Netanyahu will simply take “revenge” on someone–Hirsh isn’t exactly sure who the victim will be–because the Americans signed a deal he didn’t like. Just before the brave Michael Hirsh takes a shot at Netanyahu’s recently-deceased father, he explains:

Ever since he first met then-candidate Obama in mid-2008, Netanyahu has lumped the Iran and Palestinian issues together and insisted they be solved sequentially—Iran first, peace and statehood second. “If Iran became nuclear it would mean the victory of the militants in Hamas and Hezbollah and undercut the moderates,” Uzi Arad, Netanyahu’s then-national security adviser, explained in an interview at the time. So now Netanyahu, in his umbrage, has an excuse to put off the issue of Palestinian statehood yet again—and, frankly, the Israeli-Palestinian talks are going so poorly that not too many Israelis would blame him.

The Netanyahu administration is not opposed to “solving” the Palestinian statehood issue; it is skeptical toward the prospects for peace with the Palestinians while the Iranian threat looms because of Iran’s ability to disrupt the negotiations, preventing the conflict from being solved all the while distracting the West from its nuclear program. Netanyahu is, of course, undeniably correct.

But if you’re an American commentator and you want to use Netanyahu’s opposition to the Iranian deal as proof of nefarious intent and not rational thinking, you have a problem: the deal was scuttled by the French, not the Israelis. But here too Hirsh is ready for you:

Paris gets piqued when it’s not fully consulted on major Middle East issues, especially since it has taken a muscular lead in addressing recent flash points from Libya to Mali. And French President François Hollande is still fuming over the way Obama suddenly spurned military action against Syria a day after Hollande endorsed it, making the latter look a little foolish at a time when he is already deeply unpopular at home. Gallic pride is sorely in need of a patch-up.

This sort of technique is very useful for the left, because they never have to actually tangle with the arguments of their opponents. But the fact of the matter remains that, like it or not, the Palestinian quest for statehood is not being thwarted by Netanyahu’s veto. The Palestinians have been offered a state several times, and they keep walking away completely. Secretary of State John Kerry’s major diplomatic breakthrough thus far was getting an agreement from the Palestinians–not to end negotiations, but to begin them.

They are now, quite predictably and having pocketed the twisted concessions they received, attempting to find an excuse to walk away from the talks yet again. If President Obama wants a deal with Iran, Netanyahu can’t stand in his way–though that doesn’t mean he’ll give up trying to prevent an Iranian bomb. And if Obama wants a deal on Palestinian statehood, he knows exactly who he has to convince: the Palestinian leadership.

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The Crucial Question for John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry is currently in the Mideast to try to rescue faltering Israeli-Palestinian talks. But he would do better to take a break from his shuttle diplomacy and ponder the question Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posed in a television interview this week: If the Palestinians “can’t even stand behind the agreements that we had, that we release prisoners but we continue building, then how can I see that they will actually stand by the larger issues that will require them far greater confrontation with received opinion and fixed positions in their society?”

Earlier this week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas threatened that unless Israel halts construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, it “is likely to bring about the termination of the talks, without results” and “the situation is likely to explode.” The PA also threatened to seek action against Israel in international forums on account of this construction. But as Netanyahu correctly pointed out, Israel never promised a construction freeze as part of the deal Kerry brokered to relaunch the talks–something Kerry himself has confirmed. What Israel did promise was to free 104 Palestinian murderers in four installments, which have so far occurred on schedule.

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Secretary of State John Kerry is currently in the Mideast to try to rescue faltering Israeli-Palestinian talks. But he would do better to take a break from his shuttle diplomacy and ponder the question Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posed in a television interview this week: If the Palestinians “can’t even stand behind the agreements that we had, that we release prisoners but we continue building, then how can I see that they will actually stand by the larger issues that will require them far greater confrontation with received opinion and fixed positions in their society?”

Earlier this week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas threatened that unless Israel halts construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, it “is likely to bring about the termination of the talks, without results” and “the situation is likely to explode.” The PA also threatened to seek action against Israel in international forums on account of this construction. But as Netanyahu correctly pointed out, Israel never promised a construction freeze as part of the deal Kerry brokered to relaunch the talks–something Kerry himself has confirmed. What Israel did promise was to free 104 Palestinian murderers in four installments, which have so far occurred on schedule.

Yet now, having pocketed that concession, the Palestinians are threatening to renege on their part of the deal–nine months of talks, plus refraining from action against Israel in international forums–on account of Israeli actions that the deal itself allowed. So what confidence can Israel have that the same wouldn’t happen with a full-fledged peace deal? What confidence can it have that after it withdraws from additional territory, the Palestinians will honor their commitments to fight terrorism, end their international sanctions campaign against Israel, stop agitating for a “right of return,” combat anti-Israel incitement, and so forth? And why should Israel take the risk of territorial withdrawals if it can’t be reasonably confident of this?

The question is doubly important because of the Palestinians’ consistent track record of not honoring previous deals. For instance, they pledged to fight terror in no fewer than five signed agreements (1993, 1994, 1995, 1997, and 1999). Yet instead, these deals resulted in terror of unprecedented dimensions: Over the past 20 years, Palestinian terrorists have killed some 1,200 Israelis, roughly double the figure in the 45 years before the 1993 Oslo Accord.

Moreover, these agreements explicitly state that “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” Yet that didn’t stop Abbas from unilaterally seeking UN recognition of these territories as a Palestinian state last year.

But rather than address this problem, Kerry has been actively encouraging the Palestinians’ bad faith. On his current trip, for instance, he publicly and repeatedly denounced Israeli construction as “illegitimate” and “disturbing,” even though it doesn’t violate any Israeli commitments–including those five signed agreements, not one of which mandated a construction freeze. Yet he hasn’t said a word about PA actions that explicitly violate previous commitments, such as its ongoing campaign of incitement (barred by all its signed agreements) and push for international boycotts and sanctions against Israel. And Europe, needless to say, has been even worse.

The result is that Palestinians have concluded they can violate any agreement with impunity. And Israelis wonder why, in that case, they should ever bother signing one.

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