Commentary Magazine


Topic: Benjamin

Don’t Ignore the Politics of Mossad’s Iran Assessment

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is clearly doing her best to defuse the bombshell dropped last week by Israel’s outgoing Mossad chief, Meir Dagan. During a visit to the Gulf states yesterday, she stressed that Dagan’s assertion that Iran will not go nuclear before 2015 is no excuse for not keeping up the pressure on Tehran.

In their posts last week, Jonathan Tobin and J.E. Dyer both offered good reasons not to be reassured by Dagan’s prediction. But Clinton also alluded to a very different reason. “We don’t want anyone to be misled by anyone’s intelligence analysis,” she said.

That’s a diplomatic way of saying what two respected Israeli military analysts said openly that same day: Dagan’s public assessment must be evaluated in the light of its clear political purpose — to thwart any possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran, which he is known to oppose.

As Haaretz columnist Amir Oren put it, “Dagan didn’t provide a pure intelligence assessment, but rather a political statement designed to influence government policy.” And Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel, noting that Dagan avoided the media like the plague for the previous eight years of his tenure, termed the decision to go public with this assessment “a Bibi-bypass maneuver” — a way of constraining Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu by publicly asserting that military action against Iran is unnecessary.

Nobody is suggesting that Dagan deliberately falsified the evidence to reach this conclusion. But when intelligence is evaluated with a particular desired outcome in mind, it is human nature to magnify the importance of information that supports this outcome and downplay the importance of information that contradicts it.

That is precisely what happened with the now widely discredited 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. The professionals who prepared it certainly didn’t deliberately falsify information; but they did want a result that would make it impossible, from a public-opinion standpoint, for then-President George W. Bush to go to war against another Muslim country. As a result, the report downplayed all the indications that Iran was continuing its nuclear program in order to reach its now-infamous conclusion: that Iran had halted its drive to obtain a nuclear bomb in 2003 and had yet to restart it.

It’s also important to remember, as Oren noted, that “in a marketplace of opinions based on the same intelligence data, his [Dagan’s] opinion is not superior to a contrary one held by other senior officials.” Some intelligence professionals have already reached different conclusions; others, including military intelligence staffers and the incoming Mossad chief, will certainly be reviewing the data, and may do so as well.

Precisely because Dagan is known to have vehemently opposed military action against Iran, his confident assertion that Iran won’t have the bomb before 2015 should be taken with a large grain of salt. Dagan is both a dedicated patriot and a consummate professional, but even patriotic professionals are still human. And it is only human nature to read the tea leaves in a way that supports what you would most like to believe.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is clearly doing her best to defuse the bombshell dropped last week by Israel’s outgoing Mossad chief, Meir Dagan. During a visit to the Gulf states yesterday, she stressed that Dagan’s assertion that Iran will not go nuclear before 2015 is no excuse for not keeping up the pressure on Tehran.

In their posts last week, Jonathan Tobin and J.E. Dyer both offered good reasons not to be reassured by Dagan’s prediction. But Clinton also alluded to a very different reason. “We don’t want anyone to be misled by anyone’s intelligence analysis,” she said.

That’s a diplomatic way of saying what two respected Israeli military analysts said openly that same day: Dagan’s public assessment must be evaluated in the light of its clear political purpose — to thwart any possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran, which he is known to oppose.

As Haaretz columnist Amir Oren put it, “Dagan didn’t provide a pure intelligence assessment, but rather a political statement designed to influence government policy.” And Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel, noting that Dagan avoided the media like the plague for the previous eight years of his tenure, termed the decision to go public with this assessment “a Bibi-bypass maneuver” — a way of constraining Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu by publicly asserting that military action against Iran is unnecessary.

Nobody is suggesting that Dagan deliberately falsified the evidence to reach this conclusion. But when intelligence is evaluated with a particular desired outcome in mind, it is human nature to magnify the importance of information that supports this outcome and downplay the importance of information that contradicts it.

That is precisely what happened with the now widely discredited 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. The professionals who prepared it certainly didn’t deliberately falsify information; but they did want a result that would make it impossible, from a public-opinion standpoint, for then-President George W. Bush to go to war against another Muslim country. As a result, the report downplayed all the indications that Iran was continuing its nuclear program in order to reach its now-infamous conclusion: that Iran had halted its drive to obtain a nuclear bomb in 2003 and had yet to restart it.

It’s also important to remember, as Oren noted, that “in a marketplace of opinions based on the same intelligence data, his [Dagan’s] opinion is not superior to a contrary one held by other senior officials.” Some intelligence professionals have already reached different conclusions; others, including military intelligence staffers and the incoming Mossad chief, will certainly be reviewing the data, and may do so as well.

Precisely because Dagan is known to have vehemently opposed military action against Iran, his confident assertion that Iran won’t have the bomb before 2015 should be taken with a large grain of salt. Dagan is both a dedicated patriot and a consummate professional, but even patriotic professionals are still human. And it is only human nature to read the tea leaves in a way that supports what you would most like to believe.

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RE: It’s Not About Settlements

As Jennifer noted yesterday in her comments on Giora Eiland’s Ynet op-ed, Palestinian unwillingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is the make-or-break issue of the peace process. She’s also correct that the Obama administration shows no signs of recognizing this fact. But two recent developments make this blindness particularly puzzling.

First, the critical importance of recognition is not an obscure point that an honest broker could easily overlook; it has by now become glaringly obvious to an overwhelming majority of ordinary Americans.

In an Israel Project poll released this week, 63 percent of respondents said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “is mostly about religion and ideology,” so “the key to peace is each side acknowledging the other’s right to exist.” That is double the 32 percent who thought it’s “mostly about land,” so “the key to peace is figuring out how to divide the land they share, establish borders, and address Jerusalem.”

Nor did respondents have trouble identifying which party was actually unwilling to recognize the other: 61 percent said Israel was “more committed” to reaching a deal; only 11 percent chose the Palestinians.

But the administration’s inability to grasp what is obvious to most Americans is even more bewildering given that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has spared no effort recently to drive the point home.

Even at the talks’ gala Washington launch on September 2, when both sides were presumably at their most conciliatory, Abbas used the opening ceremony to announce that he would never recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

A few days later, he told the Al-Quds newspaper that he won’t even discuss recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. And if he’s pressured to make any concessions on this point, or on the refugees’ “right of return” — a euphemism for eradicating the Jewish state through demography — he will “pack his bags and leave.”

Other leading Palestinian officials, such as senior negotiator Nabil Shaath, have echoed this refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Yet Barack Obama and his team still insist, in the teeth of all this evidence, that the most critical issue is getting Israel to continue its moratorium on settlement construction. “I told [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu that ‘you’ve got to show president Abbas that you’re serious,’” he told reporters last week.

And this week, U.S. mediator George Mitchell once again touted his favorite idea (Hebrew only): that the talks for now should focus solely on borders, because once the border is finalized, settlement construction — which is clearly Washington’s primary concern — would cease to be an issue. But Netanyahu again rejected it, pointing out that in practice, this means Israel ceding land without the Palestinians’ having to address any of Israel’s main concerns, like recognition.

In last week’s interview, Obama also said that “the only way to succeed [in the talks] is to see the world through the other person’s eyes.” Perhaps he should take his own advice and look at the world through Israeli, or even ordinary American, eyes. For unless he grasps that the real issue is not settlements, but recognition, negotiations don’t have a prayer.

As Jennifer noted yesterday in her comments on Giora Eiland’s Ynet op-ed, Palestinian unwillingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is the make-or-break issue of the peace process. She’s also correct that the Obama administration shows no signs of recognizing this fact. But two recent developments make this blindness particularly puzzling.

First, the critical importance of recognition is not an obscure point that an honest broker could easily overlook; it has by now become glaringly obvious to an overwhelming majority of ordinary Americans.

In an Israel Project poll released this week, 63 percent of respondents said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “is mostly about religion and ideology,” so “the key to peace is each side acknowledging the other’s right to exist.” That is double the 32 percent who thought it’s “mostly about land,” so “the key to peace is figuring out how to divide the land they share, establish borders, and address Jerusalem.”

Nor did respondents have trouble identifying which party was actually unwilling to recognize the other: 61 percent said Israel was “more committed” to reaching a deal; only 11 percent chose the Palestinians.

But the administration’s inability to grasp what is obvious to most Americans is even more bewildering given that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has spared no effort recently to drive the point home.

Even at the talks’ gala Washington launch on September 2, when both sides were presumably at their most conciliatory, Abbas used the opening ceremony to announce that he would never recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

A few days later, he told the Al-Quds newspaper that he won’t even discuss recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. And if he’s pressured to make any concessions on this point, or on the refugees’ “right of return” — a euphemism for eradicating the Jewish state through demography — he will “pack his bags and leave.”

Other leading Palestinian officials, such as senior negotiator Nabil Shaath, have echoed this refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Yet Barack Obama and his team still insist, in the teeth of all this evidence, that the most critical issue is getting Israel to continue its moratorium on settlement construction. “I told [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu that ‘you’ve got to show president Abbas that you’re serious,’” he told reporters last week.

And this week, U.S. mediator George Mitchell once again touted his favorite idea (Hebrew only): that the talks for now should focus solely on borders, because once the border is finalized, settlement construction — which is clearly Washington’s primary concern — would cease to be an issue. But Netanyahu again rejected it, pointing out that in practice, this means Israel ceding land without the Palestinians’ having to address any of Israel’s main concerns, like recognition.

In last week’s interview, Obama also said that “the only way to succeed [in the talks] is to see the world through the other person’s eyes.” Perhaps he should take his own advice and look at the world through Israeli, or even ordinary American, eyes. For unless he grasps that the real issue is not settlements, but recognition, negotiations don’t have a prayer.

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Bibi Responds

Bibi Netanyahu’s speech to AIPAC last night was in a very real way a refutation of the Obama policies and rhetoric. While thanking the Obama administration for its aid and opposition to the Goldstone Report and reaffirming the bonds and common foes of the two nations, Netanyahu’s messages were unmistakable: take care of Iran or Israel will act, and we are not to be bullied on Jerusalem. But he said it much more elegantly than that.

On Iran, he reminded the audience (as he often does) that the Jewish people know a thing or two about genocide. He declared:

The greatest threat to any living organism or nation is not to recognize danger in time. Seventy-five years ago, the leading powers in the world put their heads in the sand. Untold millions died in the war that followed. Ultimately, two of history’s greatest leaders helped turn the tide. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill helped save the world. But they were too late to save six million of my own people. The future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.

Today, an unprecedented threat to humanity looms large. A radical Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons could bring an end to the era of nuclear peace the world has enjoyed for the last 65 years. Such a regime could provide nuclear weapons to terrorists and might even be tempted to use them itself. Our world would never be the same. Iran’s brazen bid to develop nuclear weapons is first and foremost a threat to Israel, but it is also a grave threat to the region and to the world. Israel expects the international community to act swiftly and decisively to thwart this danger. But we will always reserve the right to defend ourselves. [long ovation]

To the Obami, then, the message is — engage or sanction Iran, but in the end Israel will do what it has to. Now let’s not kid ourselves. There are multiple reasons why it is preferable and right for the U.S. to act militarily if it comes to that, but Netanyahu is laying down the marker. The U.S. has said it’s unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons? It had better mean it.

As for Jerusalem, first he asserted that the effort to characterize “the Jews as foreign colonialists in their own homeland is one of the great lies of modern times.” So he played the archaeology card:

In my office, I have on display a signet ring that was loaned to me by Israel’s Department of Antiquities. The ring was found next to the Western wall, but it dates back some 2,800 years ago, two hundred years after Kind David turned Jerusalem into our capital city. The ring is a seal of a Jewish official, and inscribed on it in Hebrew is his name: Netanyahu. His name was Netanyahu Ben-Yoash. My first name, Benjamin, dates back 1,000 years earlier to Benjamin, the son of Jacob. One of Benjamin’s brothers was named Shimon, which also happens to be the first name of my good friend, Shimon Peres, the President of Israel. Nearly 4,000 years ago, Benjamin, Shimon and their ten brothers roamed the hills of Judea.

So much for the Obama Cairo version of history, which premises, as the Palestinians are also wont to do, Israel’s legitimacy on the Holocaust. And what does this mean for Israel’s bargaining position and current conduct?

The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel cannot be denied. The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital. [longest applause of the speech] In Jerusalem [interrupted by applause], my government has maintained the policies of all Israeli governments since 1967, including those led by Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin. Today, nearly a quarter of a million Jews, almost half the city’s Jewish population, live in neighborhoods that are just beyond the 1949 armistice lines. All these neighborhoods are within a five-minute drive from the Knesset. They are an integral and inextricable part of modern Jerusalem. Everyone knows [departing from the prepared text and for emphasis he adds -- the Europeans, the Americans, the Palestinians and certainly the Israelis all know] that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. Therefore, building them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.

That’s the response to the Obama assault on the Jerusalem housing project and the answer to Clinton’s pernicious suggestion yesterday that building in the eternal capital prejudices the “peace process.”

Now, the speech was more than a response to the Obami’s dawdling on Iran or its hissy fit over Ramat Shlomo. Netanyahu also reminded the crowd of the peril to both Israel’s legitimacy and security:

If you want to understand Israel’s security predicament, imagine the entire United States compressed to the size of New Jersey. Next, put on New Jersey’s northern border an Iranian terror proxy called Hezbollah which fires 6,000 rockets into that small state. Then imagine that this terror proxy has amassed 60,000 more missiles to fire at you. Now imagine on New Jersey’s southern border another Iranian terror proxy called Hamas. It too fires 6,000 rockets into your territory while smuggling ever more lethal weapons into its territory. Do you think you would feel a little bit vulnerable? Do you think you would expect some understanding from the international community when you defend yourselves?

And he reiterated that Israel, but not the Palestinians, has taken risks for peace and is willing to engage in direct talks. He certainly made the convincing case that his government — in its West Bank settlement freeze, lifting of blockades, and invitation for direct negotiations — has done much, while the Palestinians have offered nothing in return. (“It cannot be a one-way street in which only Israel makes concessions.”)

But the speech, I think, will be most remembered for the bold refutation of what has passed as the Obami Middle East policy. One question remains: how will the U.S.-Israel relationship weather the Obama administration, given the differences in outlook and approach? That’s far from clear.

Bibi Netanyahu’s speech to AIPAC last night was in a very real way a refutation of the Obama policies and rhetoric. While thanking the Obama administration for its aid and opposition to the Goldstone Report and reaffirming the bonds and common foes of the two nations, Netanyahu’s messages were unmistakable: take care of Iran or Israel will act, and we are not to be bullied on Jerusalem. But he said it much more elegantly than that.

On Iran, he reminded the audience (as he often does) that the Jewish people know a thing or two about genocide. He declared:

The greatest threat to any living organism or nation is not to recognize danger in time. Seventy-five years ago, the leading powers in the world put their heads in the sand. Untold millions died in the war that followed. Ultimately, two of history’s greatest leaders helped turn the tide. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill helped save the world. But they were too late to save six million of my own people. The future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.

Today, an unprecedented threat to humanity looms large. A radical Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons could bring an end to the era of nuclear peace the world has enjoyed for the last 65 years. Such a regime could provide nuclear weapons to terrorists and might even be tempted to use them itself. Our world would never be the same. Iran’s brazen bid to develop nuclear weapons is first and foremost a threat to Israel, but it is also a grave threat to the region and to the world. Israel expects the international community to act swiftly and decisively to thwart this danger. But we will always reserve the right to defend ourselves. [long ovation]

To the Obami, then, the message is — engage or sanction Iran, but in the end Israel will do what it has to. Now let’s not kid ourselves. There are multiple reasons why it is preferable and right for the U.S. to act militarily if it comes to that, but Netanyahu is laying down the marker. The U.S. has said it’s unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons? It had better mean it.

As for Jerusalem, first he asserted that the effort to characterize “the Jews as foreign colonialists in their own homeland is one of the great lies of modern times.” So he played the archaeology card:

In my office, I have on display a signet ring that was loaned to me by Israel’s Department of Antiquities. The ring was found next to the Western wall, but it dates back some 2,800 years ago, two hundred years after Kind David turned Jerusalem into our capital city. The ring is a seal of a Jewish official, and inscribed on it in Hebrew is his name: Netanyahu. His name was Netanyahu Ben-Yoash. My first name, Benjamin, dates back 1,000 years earlier to Benjamin, the son of Jacob. One of Benjamin’s brothers was named Shimon, which also happens to be the first name of my good friend, Shimon Peres, the President of Israel. Nearly 4,000 years ago, Benjamin, Shimon and their ten brothers roamed the hills of Judea.

So much for the Obama Cairo version of history, which premises, as the Palestinians are also wont to do, Israel’s legitimacy on the Holocaust. And what does this mean for Israel’s bargaining position and current conduct?

The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel cannot be denied. The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital. [longest applause of the speech] In Jerusalem [interrupted by applause], my government has maintained the policies of all Israeli governments since 1967, including those led by Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin. Today, nearly a quarter of a million Jews, almost half the city’s Jewish population, live in neighborhoods that are just beyond the 1949 armistice lines. All these neighborhoods are within a five-minute drive from the Knesset. They are an integral and inextricable part of modern Jerusalem. Everyone knows [departing from the prepared text and for emphasis he adds -- the Europeans, the Americans, the Palestinians and certainly the Israelis all know] that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. Therefore, building them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.

That’s the response to the Obama assault on the Jerusalem housing project and the answer to Clinton’s pernicious suggestion yesterday that building in the eternal capital prejudices the “peace process.”

Now, the speech was more than a response to the Obami’s dawdling on Iran or its hissy fit over Ramat Shlomo. Netanyahu also reminded the crowd of the peril to both Israel’s legitimacy and security:

If you want to understand Israel’s security predicament, imagine the entire United States compressed to the size of New Jersey. Next, put on New Jersey’s northern border an Iranian terror proxy called Hezbollah which fires 6,000 rockets into that small state. Then imagine that this terror proxy has amassed 60,000 more missiles to fire at you. Now imagine on New Jersey’s southern border another Iranian terror proxy called Hamas. It too fires 6,000 rockets into your territory while smuggling ever more lethal weapons into its territory. Do you think you would feel a little bit vulnerable? Do you think you would expect some understanding from the international community when you defend yourselves?

And he reiterated that Israel, but not the Palestinians, has taken risks for peace and is willing to engage in direct talks. He certainly made the convincing case that his government — in its West Bank settlement freeze, lifting of blockades, and invitation for direct negotiations — has done much, while the Palestinians have offered nothing in return. (“It cannot be a one-way street in which only Israel makes concessions.”)

But the speech, I think, will be most remembered for the bold refutation of what has passed as the Obami Middle East policy. One question remains: how will the U.S.-Israel relationship weather the Obama administration, given the differences in outlook and approach? That’s far from clear.

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The Fallout

The Republican Jewish Coalition, not unexpectedly, issued a lengthy statement blasting  the administration’s handling of the Jerusalem housing situation. It takes the Obami to task for “harsh and intentionally undiplomatic language to exacerbate tensions with our ally Israel in the wake of Vice President Biden’s visit there. The strident and unwarranted escalation of tension, which has turned a minor diplomatic embarrassment into a major international incident, has raised serious concerns about the administration’s Israel policy from a variety of mainstream voices.”

The more interesting question is where the president’s political allies will be on this. The National Democratic Jewish Council has been mute. (Recall that in the 1991, when George H.W. Bush cut off loan guarantees, prominent Republicans voiced opposition and introduced legislation to continue the guarantees.) Rep. Shelley Berkley has issued a robust condemnation. And over the weekend, independent Sen. Joe Lieberman had this to say at an appearance in Palm Beach:

“In every administration,” said Lieberman, “there are times when the US-Israeli relationship is not what it should be. But the guarantor of that relationship is the bipartisan, pro-Israel majority in Congress.

“It was a dust-up, a misunderstanding. (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu has apologized, and the timing was unfortunate. But the second round of criticism is unproductive. I make one appeal – sometimes silence really is golden.

“Our enemies are common; let’s not let a mistake grow into a divisive dispute between members of the same family.”

In a brief private interview earlier, Lieberman expanded on his let-bygones-be-bygones point of view, saying, “Nothing good is going to happen in the Mideast without both the United States and Israel working together. That’s what we need to do, and the sooner the better.”

It will be interesting to see which, if any, Democrats put principle above party loyalty on this one. It would be better for all concerned if the administration retreated from its frenzied offensive, resumed the normal dialogue one has with a valued ally, and did not put further strain on its Democratic allies here at home, who, as John pointed out, have enough troubles this election year. That might be further evidence of just how harebrained was the gambit to begin with. But the first rule of politics is that when you’ve dug a hole, stop digging. The administration would be wise to listen to AIPAC, Lieberman, and Berkley, not to mention Republican critics, and figure out how to repair the damage wrought over the last few days.

UPDATE: Two other prominent Republicans have weighed in, both emphasizing the administration’s skewed priorities. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released a statement:

Israel is an indispensable ally and friend of the United States. U.S. condemnations of Israel and threats regarding our bilateral relationship undermine both our allies and the peace process, while encouraging the enemies of America and Israel alike. I am also deeply concerned about the Administration’s softer approaches towards the Palestinian Authority, Syria, and Iran, which are being carried out in conjunction with hard-line tactics against our key democratic ally, Israel. Our nation’s security cannot afford a foreign policy which isolates our allies and moves towards appeasing enemies of the U.S.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., added this:

It’s hard to see how spending a weekend condemning Israel for a zoning decision in its capital city amounts to a positive step towards peace. Rather than launching verbal attacks on our staunch ally and friend, it would be far more worthwhile for this Administration to expend the effort planning for the transfer of our embassy to Jerusalem and tackling the growing Iranian nuclear threat.

The Republican Jewish Coalition, not unexpectedly, issued a lengthy statement blasting  the administration’s handling of the Jerusalem housing situation. It takes the Obami to task for “harsh and intentionally undiplomatic language to exacerbate tensions with our ally Israel in the wake of Vice President Biden’s visit there. The strident and unwarranted escalation of tension, which has turned a minor diplomatic embarrassment into a major international incident, has raised serious concerns about the administration’s Israel policy from a variety of mainstream voices.”

The more interesting question is where the president’s political allies will be on this. The National Democratic Jewish Council has been mute. (Recall that in the 1991, when George H.W. Bush cut off loan guarantees, prominent Republicans voiced opposition and introduced legislation to continue the guarantees.) Rep. Shelley Berkley has issued a robust condemnation. And over the weekend, independent Sen. Joe Lieberman had this to say at an appearance in Palm Beach:

“In every administration,” said Lieberman, “there are times when the US-Israeli relationship is not what it should be. But the guarantor of that relationship is the bipartisan, pro-Israel majority in Congress.

“It was a dust-up, a misunderstanding. (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu has apologized, and the timing was unfortunate. But the second round of criticism is unproductive. I make one appeal – sometimes silence really is golden.

“Our enemies are common; let’s not let a mistake grow into a divisive dispute between members of the same family.”

In a brief private interview earlier, Lieberman expanded on his let-bygones-be-bygones point of view, saying, “Nothing good is going to happen in the Mideast without both the United States and Israel working together. That’s what we need to do, and the sooner the better.”

It will be interesting to see which, if any, Democrats put principle above party loyalty on this one. It would be better for all concerned if the administration retreated from its frenzied offensive, resumed the normal dialogue one has with a valued ally, and did not put further strain on its Democratic allies here at home, who, as John pointed out, have enough troubles this election year. That might be further evidence of just how harebrained was the gambit to begin with. But the first rule of politics is that when you’ve dug a hole, stop digging. The administration would be wise to listen to AIPAC, Lieberman, and Berkley, not to mention Republican critics, and figure out how to repair the damage wrought over the last few days.

UPDATE: Two other prominent Republicans have weighed in, both emphasizing the administration’s skewed priorities. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released a statement:

Israel is an indispensable ally and friend of the United States. U.S. condemnations of Israel and threats regarding our bilateral relationship undermine both our allies and the peace process, while encouraging the enemies of America and Israel alike. I am also deeply concerned about the Administration’s softer approaches towards the Palestinian Authority, Syria, and Iran, which are being carried out in conjunction with hard-line tactics against our key democratic ally, Israel. Our nation’s security cannot afford a foreign policy which isolates our allies and moves towards appeasing enemies of the U.S.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., added this:

It’s hard to see how spending a weekend condemning Israel for a zoning decision in its capital city amounts to a positive step towards peace. Rather than launching verbal attacks on our staunch ally and friend, it would be far more worthwhile for this Administration to expend the effort planning for the transfer of our embassy to Jerusalem and tackling the growing Iranian nuclear threat.

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Palestinians See Netanyahu as a “Man of His Word”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is trying hard to blame Israel for the absence of peace talks, with predictable support from Europe: addressing the European Parliament last week, brand-new EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton parroted PA criticisms of Israel wholesale, not even hinting at any Palestinian responsibility for the impasse. But Washington has yet to weigh in. Before doing so, it should consider the following astounding report:

“This is the place to note that, surprisingly, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is widely perceived in the West Bank as a man of his word,” Haaretz’s Palestinian affairs reporter wrote, commenting on Abbas supporters’ claim that Netanyahu’s actions are mere “maneuvers” aimed at avoiding final-status talks. “In the period of [his predecessors] Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and [Ehud] Barak there may have been peace talks, but the number of checkpoints reached a new high every week and chaos reigned in the West Bank.”

Netanyahu, in contrast, has kept his promise to remove checkpoints and otherwise facilitate Palestinian economic development — and it’s working. As the Jerusalem Post noted yesterday:

Only 14 major IDF security checkpoints remain inside the West Bank, easing the commute between Palestinian population centers. Unemployment is down to 18 percent (compared to over 40% in Gaza). The local stock market is on an upswing; likewise foreign investment.

A new mall has opened in Nablus. The cornerstone of a new neighborhood in Jenin was laid by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Plans for a new suburb in the hills of Ramallah for middle-class Palestinians are advancing. A Bethlehem industrial zone is in the works. …

People are buying more cars. Bethlehem alone hosted a million tourists last year. West Bank imports and exports have exceeded $4.3 billion this year.

Indeed, the Haaretz report quoted a Palestinian journalist who termed the situation in the West Bank “not only better than in the past, but ‘terrific.’ ”

Netanyahu seems equally determined to keep his word on the settlement freeze, judging by a document leaked by an Israeli army source to settlers, and thence to Haaretz. The army has clearly been ordered to treat the freeze like a military operation.

For instance, the document states, “all agencies will be used” to detect violations of the freeze, “including the intelligence branch of the [Central] Command, the Shin Bet [intelligence agency] and regular troops.” And any illegal construction will be destroyed in blitzkrieg operations in which “tactical surprise” will be achieved “by blocking off the area with large forces so as to paralyze” resistance.

One might question the wisdom of a full-throttle military operation against one’s own citizens, but it certainly indicates determination on Netanyahu’s part to keep his word.

So might Netanyahu be equally sincere in claiming that he truly wants to reach an agreement with Abbas? If “agreement” is defined as complete capitulation to Abbas’s demands, no. But a deal produced by genuine negotiations, in which both sides make concessions? There’s only one way to find out. And it isn’t by letting Abbas demand ever more upfront concessions just to get him to the table.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is trying hard to blame Israel for the absence of peace talks, with predictable support from Europe: addressing the European Parliament last week, brand-new EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton parroted PA criticisms of Israel wholesale, not even hinting at any Palestinian responsibility for the impasse. But Washington has yet to weigh in. Before doing so, it should consider the following astounding report:

“This is the place to note that, surprisingly, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is widely perceived in the West Bank as a man of his word,” Haaretz’s Palestinian affairs reporter wrote, commenting on Abbas supporters’ claim that Netanyahu’s actions are mere “maneuvers” aimed at avoiding final-status talks. “In the period of [his predecessors] Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and [Ehud] Barak there may have been peace talks, but the number of checkpoints reached a new high every week and chaos reigned in the West Bank.”

Netanyahu, in contrast, has kept his promise to remove checkpoints and otherwise facilitate Palestinian economic development — and it’s working. As the Jerusalem Post noted yesterday:

Only 14 major IDF security checkpoints remain inside the West Bank, easing the commute between Palestinian population centers. Unemployment is down to 18 percent (compared to over 40% in Gaza). The local stock market is on an upswing; likewise foreign investment.

A new mall has opened in Nablus. The cornerstone of a new neighborhood in Jenin was laid by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Plans for a new suburb in the hills of Ramallah for middle-class Palestinians are advancing. A Bethlehem industrial zone is in the works. …

People are buying more cars. Bethlehem alone hosted a million tourists last year. West Bank imports and exports have exceeded $4.3 billion this year.

Indeed, the Haaretz report quoted a Palestinian journalist who termed the situation in the West Bank “not only better than in the past, but ‘terrific.’ ”

Netanyahu seems equally determined to keep his word on the settlement freeze, judging by a document leaked by an Israeli army source to settlers, and thence to Haaretz. The army has clearly been ordered to treat the freeze like a military operation.

For instance, the document states, “all agencies will be used” to detect violations of the freeze, “including the intelligence branch of the [Central] Command, the Shin Bet [intelligence agency] and regular troops.” And any illegal construction will be destroyed in blitzkrieg operations in which “tactical surprise” will be achieved “by blocking off the area with large forces so as to paralyze” resistance.

One might question the wisdom of a full-throttle military operation against one’s own citizens, but it certainly indicates determination on Netanyahu’s part to keep his word.

So might Netanyahu be equally sincere in claiming that he truly wants to reach an agreement with Abbas? If “agreement” is defined as complete capitulation to Abbas’s demands, no. But a deal produced by genuine negotiations, in which both sides make concessions? There’s only one way to find out. And it isn’t by letting Abbas demand ever more upfront concessions just to get him to the table.

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The Man Who Gave the Qur’an to the West

So much controversy now surrounds the interpretation of the Qur’an that it is perhaps worth recalling the man who gave us the first reliable translation into any language: George Sale. So little regarded were Oriental scholars in his day that we do not even know his date of birth, but we know that when he died in 1736 he was not quite forty. Sale was praised for the accuracy of his scholarship by Voltaire and Gibbon, but the former mistakenly claimed that Sale had spent 25 years living in the Middle East, while Gibbon mischievously suggested that the work of translation had left Sale “half a Mussulman.” Deists such as Voltaire and Gibbon admired Islam more than Christianity, but the suggestion that Sale placed the two religions on an equal footing was scandalous to most of his countrymen.

In reality, Sale not only did not travel in the Ottoman lands: he never even left England. He learned Arabic from the small community of Arabs living in London, and accumulated a small but valuable collection of manuscripts, which are now in Oxford University’s Bodleian Library. Sale remained a Christian, but he conceded that Mohammed “gave his Arabs the best religion he could, preferable, at least, to those of the ancient pagan lawgivers.” He appended to his translation, which first appeared in 1734, a “Preliminary Discourse” of more than a hundred pages, which gives a remarkably fair account of Islamic history and theology.

Sale made his living as an attorney, and he dedicated his translation to Lord Carteret, which suggests that he had at least one patron. Yet he is reported by Isaac Disraeli (father of Benjamin) to have “pursued his studies through a life of want.” In his Calamities of Authors, Disraeli asserts that “this great Orientalist . . . when he quitted his studies, all too often wanted a change of linen, and often wandered in the streets in search of some compassionate friend who would supply him with the meal of the day.” The Dictionary of National Biography rejects this claim on the grounds that Sale possessed a library, but it seems to me quite possible that the great scholar preferred to go hungry and unwashed rather than to part with his books and manuscripts.

The central defect of Sale’s version is that he translates the Qur’an as prose rather than poetry, ignoring the division of the text into verses—though by turning it into a continuous narrative, he certainly renders the Qur’an more readable. His language is simple yet elevated; it recalls not only the King James Bible but also his contemporaries: John Locke, Jonathan Swift, and David Hume. The most sensitive passages, on issues such as jihad and the treatment of infidels, are clear and unambiguous. There may be more modern translations of the Qur’an—but Sale’s still remains the best prose.

So much controversy now surrounds the interpretation of the Qur’an that it is perhaps worth recalling the man who gave us the first reliable translation into any language: George Sale. So little regarded were Oriental scholars in his day that we do not even know his date of birth, but we know that when he died in 1736 he was not quite forty. Sale was praised for the accuracy of his scholarship by Voltaire and Gibbon, but the former mistakenly claimed that Sale had spent 25 years living in the Middle East, while Gibbon mischievously suggested that the work of translation had left Sale “half a Mussulman.” Deists such as Voltaire and Gibbon admired Islam more than Christianity, but the suggestion that Sale placed the two religions on an equal footing was scandalous to most of his countrymen.

In reality, Sale not only did not travel in the Ottoman lands: he never even left England. He learned Arabic from the small community of Arabs living in London, and accumulated a small but valuable collection of manuscripts, which are now in Oxford University’s Bodleian Library. Sale remained a Christian, but he conceded that Mohammed “gave his Arabs the best religion he could, preferable, at least, to those of the ancient pagan lawgivers.” He appended to his translation, which first appeared in 1734, a “Preliminary Discourse” of more than a hundred pages, which gives a remarkably fair account of Islamic history and theology.

Sale made his living as an attorney, and he dedicated his translation to Lord Carteret, which suggests that he had at least one patron. Yet he is reported by Isaac Disraeli (father of Benjamin) to have “pursued his studies through a life of want.” In his Calamities of Authors, Disraeli asserts that “this great Orientalist . . . when he quitted his studies, all too often wanted a change of linen, and often wandered in the streets in search of some compassionate friend who would supply him with the meal of the day.” The Dictionary of National Biography rejects this claim on the grounds that Sale possessed a library, but it seems to me quite possible that the great scholar preferred to go hungry and unwashed rather than to part with his books and manuscripts.

The central defect of Sale’s version is that he translates the Qur’an as prose rather than poetry, ignoring the division of the text into verses—though by turning it into a continuous narrative, he certainly renders the Qur’an more readable. His language is simple yet elevated; it recalls not only the King James Bible but also his contemporaries: John Locke, Jonathan Swift, and David Hume. The most sensitive passages, on issues such as jihad and the treatment of infidels, are clear and unambiguous. There may be more modern translations of the Qur’an—but Sale’s still remains the best prose.

Read Less




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