Commentary Magazine


Topic: Camp David

RE: Egypt Needs Liberalism

There’s not much more to say in a general sense about Michael Totten’s badly needed reality check differentiating liberal democracies — roughly, those that have robust democratic institutions that insulate themselves — from mere democratic spectacles. But it’s worth noting, as a way of beginning to evaluate how the Cairo riots will affect Near East diplomacy, just how much this fundamental point has been neglected in the specific context of Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

For Israel, the cold peace with Egypt and the intermittent peace with the Palestinian Authority have always been conducted against the backdrop of a see-no-evil approach to incitement. As long as Cairo and Ramallah cooperated with Jerusalem on security issues, Israeli and Western diplomats looked the other way as those regimes violated their Camp David and Oslo pledges to undertake normalization.

Put more bluntly: as long as Egypt and the Palestinian Authority helped stymie the terrorists of today, Israel and the West were content to let them go on creating the terrorists of tomorrow. Because at least those regimes were stable!

Those terrorists of tomorrow were made possible through geography textbooks that erased Israel, and through television programs that vilified Jews, and through official government propaganda that scapegoated the Jewish state for every imaginable social ill. As of this morning, the Mubarak regime is parading “protesters” in front of state-TV cameras to explain how they were trained by the Mossad to bring down the regime.

The result is that Egyptian and Palestinian civil society is a feverish cesspool of anti-Semitic conspiracism — recall the minor hysteria a few weeks ago over Zionist attack sharks — while Egyptians and Palestinians continue to very publicly indulge in fantasies of eradicating Israel itself. Read More

There’s not much more to say in a general sense about Michael Totten’s badly needed reality check differentiating liberal democracies — roughly, those that have robust democratic institutions that insulate themselves — from mere democratic spectacles. But it’s worth noting, as a way of beginning to evaluate how the Cairo riots will affect Near East diplomacy, just how much this fundamental point has been neglected in the specific context of Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

For Israel, the cold peace with Egypt and the intermittent peace with the Palestinian Authority have always been conducted against the backdrop of a see-no-evil approach to incitement. As long as Cairo and Ramallah cooperated with Jerusalem on security issues, Israeli and Western diplomats looked the other way as those regimes violated their Camp David and Oslo pledges to undertake normalization.

Put more bluntly: as long as Egypt and the Palestinian Authority helped stymie the terrorists of today, Israel and the West were content to let them go on creating the terrorists of tomorrow. Because at least those regimes were stable!

Those terrorists of tomorrow were made possible through geography textbooks that erased Israel, and through television programs that vilified Jews, and through official government propaganda that scapegoated the Jewish state for every imaginable social ill. As of this morning, the Mubarak regime is parading “protesters” in front of state-TV cameras to explain how they were trained by the Mossad to bring down the regime.

The result is that Egyptian and Palestinian civil society is a feverish cesspool of anti-Semitic conspiracism — recall the minor hysteria a few weeks ago over Zionist attack sharks — while Egyptians and Palestinians continue to very publicly indulge in fantasies of eradicating Israel itself.

These are the wages of making peace with governments while allowing normalization between societies to atrophy. Israel let its partners in peace purchase domestic tranquility by demonizing the Jewish state in terms that often crossed the line into outright bigotry, and so now that its partners in peace are collapsing — Cairo, Palileaks, etc. — we’re in a situation where serious people are talking about a return to cyclical nation-state war-fighting.

If a defensible land-for-peace framework returns — and that’s a real question — normalization will have to become more than a pro forma addendum to treaties. Above and beyond normalization being good in itself, an end to incitement will force regimes to undertake badly needed liberal reforms. If they don’t have the Jewish state to demonize for their problems, they might need to address those problems, and something approaching liberal democracy might begin to take shape.

But instead, our best foreign-policy minds are engaged in white-washing the Muslim Brotherhood into an organization with which we can do business. That’s not true and it’s never been true, but let’s pretend it is.

In that case, it would still be a disastrous decision, since it repeats the same stability-oriented mistakes of the old see-no-evil approach. Under autocracies, anti-Israel incitement suffocated liberal institutions indirectly, by channeling dissent into hatred of Israelis and Jews. A Muslim Brotherhood government would suffocate liberal institutions more directly, insofar as the party would make good on its promises to exclude gender and religious minorities from the highest echelons of Egyptian life.

If the instability in Egypt shows us that there’s a difference between democratic niceties and actual liberal democracy — and it does — then the question becomes one of how to create the conditions for liberal democracy. Viewed through that lens, there’s no real difference between engaging Mubarak and engaging the Muslim Brotherhood. Both are out to undermine the institutions and practices that are preconditions for genuine peace in the Middle East.

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Obama and Egypt vs. Reagan and the Philippines

President Mubarak’s supporters have decided to instigate violence against the anti-government protesters. This ugly turn of events underscores why Mubarak must leave sooner rather than later. The longer he hangs on to power, weakened but not gone from the scene, the worse everything in Egypt will be. That is why the Washington Post is right in its editorial criticizing the president’s response last night to Mubarak’s statements as “ambiguous.”

“He said he had told the Egyptian president in a phone call that ‘an orderly transition must be meaningful, must be peaceful, and must begin now’ — but he did not object to the strongman’s plan to remain in office,” according to the Post. “Like Mr. Mubarak, Mr. Obama did not go far enough.”

It’s worth comparing what is happening in Egypt with what happened in the Philippines during the Reagan presidency.

In his book An American Life, Reagan writes about how Ferdinand Marco had stolen an election and that an uprising of Filipinos on behalf of Corazon Aquino, the legitimate winner, was inevitable.

On February 23, Reagan was at Camp David and told that Marcos and a loyal general, Fabian Ver, had amassed a force of tanks and troops to attack army units of two military leaders who had resigned from the Marcos government and given their support to Aquino. Ver’s tanks were turned back by hundreds of thousands of civilians — “but the next time,” Reagan wrote, “the result might be huge casualties.” Read More

President Mubarak’s supporters have decided to instigate violence against the anti-government protesters. This ugly turn of events underscores why Mubarak must leave sooner rather than later. The longer he hangs on to power, weakened but not gone from the scene, the worse everything in Egypt will be. That is why the Washington Post is right in its editorial criticizing the president’s response last night to Mubarak’s statements as “ambiguous.”

“He said he had told the Egyptian president in a phone call that ‘an orderly transition must be meaningful, must be peaceful, and must begin now’ — but he did not object to the strongman’s plan to remain in office,” according to the Post. “Like Mr. Mubarak, Mr. Obama did not go far enough.”

It’s worth comparing what is happening in Egypt with what happened in the Philippines during the Reagan presidency.

In his book An American Life, Reagan writes about how Ferdinand Marco had stolen an election and that an uprising of Filipinos on behalf of Corazon Aquino, the legitimate winner, was inevitable.

On February 23, Reagan was at Camp David and told that Marcos and a loyal general, Fabian Ver, had amassed a force of tanks and troops to attack army units of two military leaders who had resigned from the Marcos government and given their support to Aquino. Ver’s tanks were turned back by hundreds of thousands of civilians — “but the next time,” Reagan wrote, “the result might be huge casualties.”

Reagan drafted an appeal to Marcos not to use force and attended a meeting in the Situation Room on February 23, 1986. “We agreed that it was inevitable that Marcos would have to give up power,” Reagan wrote. “He no longer had the popular support to remain in office. … Everyone agreed that we had to do everything possible to avoid bloodshed in Manila; we didn’t want to see it come down to a civil war. I also wanted to be sure we did not treat Marcos as shabbily as our country had treated another former ally, the shah of Iran. At the same time, I knew it was important to start off with a good relationship with the new government of the Philippines.”

Reagan’s diary entries from the period are even more interesting. On February 23, the day of the Situation Room meeting, Reagan wrote, “It was a long meeting with no disagreement but lots of frustration. President Marcos is stubborn and refuses to admit he can no longer govern. I made the point that a message from me must appeal to him on the grounds that if there is violence I’ll be helpless to continue support for the Philippines.”

On February 24, Reagan’s diary reads: “The situation in the Philippines is deteriorating. … We’ve agreed that he [Marcos] should be told I’m recommending he step down and we’ll take the lead in negotiating his safety and offering him sanctuary in the US. He says he wants to live out his life in the Philippines. Well, we’ll try to negotiate that.”

On February 25, Reagan’s diary entry reads this way: “The call this morning was at 6:45. President Marcos and his family and close circle I was told are in our Clark Air Force Base.”

Now the situation in Egypt compared with that in the Philippines is different in important respects. Among other things, there was an obvious successor to Marcos, while there’s no obvious successor to Mubarak. And Reagan admitted that he didn’t want to push Marcos too hard. “We should lay down the facts and let [Marcos] make the decision we wanted him to make” is how Reagan put it.

The point is that, within 48 hours of Reagan’s laying down the facts, Marcos was gone. This development wasn’t the result of Reagan’s charm; it was the result of Reagan’s steel.

What happened to Marcos in the Philippines has to be to our goal with Mubarak in Egypt. Time is of the essence. The Egyptian dictator must leave. And it falls on President Obama to do what needs to be done to get him to exit, sooner rather than later, in a matter of hours or days rather than weeks or months. Otherwise Egypt might explode.

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Why Did Peace Talks Fail? Abbas Wouldn’t Take the Pen and Sign

The New York Times is reporting today that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s memoirs confirm what has long been known to be true: that in September 2008, Mahmoud Abbas walked away from a peace agreement that would have guaranteed a Palestinian state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem.

Excerpts from Olmert’s memoirs were published yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, and his recollections, along with the Palestinian documents released by Al Jazeera this week, provide a fairly comprehensive picture of what went on in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. This week we have been hearing a great deal about how accommodating Abbas was in “conceding” that Jews would be allowed to stay in their homes in Jerusalem and that Israel would not allow millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees to transform the Jewish state into one more Arab one. But the real concessions were, as has consistently been the case since the Oslo process began in 1993, made by Israel.

Olmert’s 2008 concessions were unprecedented. He not only was prepared to give the Palestinians their state; he also gave in on the question of an Israeli security presence along the Jordan River (that border would be patrolled by an international force with no Israelis present); he was prepared to allow Jerusalem’s holy places to be placed in the hands of a multinational committee; and he was even prepared to allow a symbolic number of refugees to settle in Israel while “generously compensating” all others who claimed that status. Read More

The New York Times is reporting today that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s memoirs confirm what has long been known to be true: that in September 2008, Mahmoud Abbas walked away from a peace agreement that would have guaranteed a Palestinian state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem.

Excerpts from Olmert’s memoirs were published yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, and his recollections, along with the Palestinian documents released by Al Jazeera this week, provide a fairly comprehensive picture of what went on in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. This week we have been hearing a great deal about how accommodating Abbas was in “conceding” that Jews would be allowed to stay in their homes in Jerusalem and that Israel would not allow millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees to transform the Jewish state into one more Arab one. But the real concessions were, as has consistently been the case since the Oslo process began in 1993, made by Israel.

Olmert’s 2008 concessions were unprecedented. He not only was prepared to give the Palestinians their state; he also gave in on the question of an Israeli security presence along the Jordan River (that border would be patrolled by an international force with no Israelis present); he was prepared to allow Jerusalem’s holy places to be placed in the hands of a multinational committee; and he was even prepared to allow a symbolic number of refugees to settle in Israel while “generously compensating” all others who claimed that status.

These concessions represented grave setbacks to Israeli security and Jewish rights. Israel’s past experience with international security forces along its borders are mixed, though the horrible record of United Nations forces in Lebanon — which allowed terrorists free access to the frontier — is a reminder of the cost of relying on foreign troops to guarantee Israeli security. Similarly, it should be noted that the only period during which Jews — and members of other faiths — have had full access to sacred spots has been since 1967. Prior to that, Jewish access to the holy places was virtually nonexistent. Olmert’s reliance on the goodwill of an international community that has never been particularly concerned with Jewish rights was extraordinary. And as for the refugees, his willingness to allow some back into Israel and to compensate the others completely ignores the fact that the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries who were forced out of their homes after 1948 seem to have been completely forgotten in his pact with Abbas.

Olmert would have had a difficult time selling such a terrible deal to Israelis, but the odds are they would have accepted it if it meant that the Palestinians were truly willing to end the conflict. But it never came to that. Why? It was simply because Abbas couldn’t bring himself to take yes for an answer. For all the chatter about how many concessions the Palestinians were willing to make, when it came to actually making peace and taking the best deal possible, Abbas was no different from his old boss Yasir Arafat, who turned down Bill Clinton and the Israelis at Camp David in 2000.

As Olmert tells it, on Sept. 16, 2008, in a meeting at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, the Israeli handed Abbas a map showing his Palestinian state including parts of Jerusalem.

“Abu Mazen [Abbas] said that he could not decide and that he needed time,” Mr. Olmert writes. “I told him that he was making an historic mistake.

“ ‘Give me the map so that I can consult with my colleagues,’ he said to me. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘Take the pen and sign now. You’ll never get an offer that is fairer or more just. Don’t hesitate. This is hard for me too, but we don’t have an option of not resolving this.’”

Abbas and Olmert never met again. Faced with an opportunity to end the conflict and create the Palestinian state that has supposedly been his movement’s goal, Abbas couldn’t take the pen and sign because he knew that the culture of Palestinian politics was such that he could not persuade his people to compromise. The essence of Palestinian nationalism has always been and remains the negation of both Zionism and the legitimacy of a Jewish state. Concede that and there is no Palestinian nationalism. So once again, the Palestinians walked away from peace.

Yesterday Abbas’s top negotiator, Saeb Erekat, claimed in an article in the Guardian that the Al Jazeera documents show that the Palestinians had no partner for peace. We will continue to hear more big lies from the Palestinians and their Western cheerleaders in the future. But the truth is, as Abbas’s refusal to take the pen proves, even the most moderate Palestinian leaders still can’t make peace.

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The Difference Between Public and Private Words

Robin Shepherd, Director — International Affairs at the Henry Jackson Society in London, notes that after the Palestinian leadership “accepts what any reasonable person has been able to accept for decades,” the Guardian “slams them as surrender monkeys” — since the paper is “more hardline against Israel than the Palestinian leadership itself”:

But it gets worse. The only conceivable way out of this for the anti-Israel community is to turn this all upside down and argue — as analysts, reporters (anyone they can get their hands on) have been doing on the BBC all day — that what this really shows is the extent of Israeli “intransigence”: the Palestinians offer all these concessions, and still the Israelis say no! …

Tragicomically, it just won’t wash. Privately and morally, senior Palestinians can see that there is nothing illegitimate or even especially problematic about most of the “settlements” (as reasonable observers of the MidEast have been saying for years). This we know from the leaks themselves. But publicly and politically they cannot sell such concessions to their own people. … because they educate their own people in an implacable rejectionism which extends to the “moderate” Palestinian authority glorifying suicide bombers and other terrorists by naming streets and squares after them.

The irony of the “concessions” reflected in the Palestine Papers is that they fell far below the minimum necessary to obtain a Palestinian state, but far beyond what Al Jazeera and Al Guardian would accept once they found out about them.

The Palestinian Authority “conceded” some Jewish areas of Jerusalem could stay Jewish … but not Har Homa, a community with nearly 10,000 people (more than the total number withdrawn from Gaza in 2005). They “conceded” some Jewish communities near the Green Line … but not Ma’ale Adumim, a city with 34,600 people located on strategic high ground right next to Jerusalem and directly connected to it, established 35 years ago. They “conceded” Israel could call itself whatever it wanted, but would not themselves recognize a Jewish state, much less one with defensible borders.

So, once again, as with Camp David in July 2000 and the Clinton Parameters in December 2000, the Palestinians declined an offer of a state on virtually all the West Bank and a capital in Jerusalem – and rejected George W. Bush’s proposal to “turn the private offer [made by Olmert] into a public agreement.” Having failed to educate his public for peace, Abbas knew what the reaction would be if he ever did anything in public other than glorify suicide bombers and name streets and squares after them.

Robin Shepherd, Director — International Affairs at the Henry Jackson Society in London, notes that after the Palestinian leadership “accepts what any reasonable person has been able to accept for decades,” the Guardian “slams them as surrender monkeys” — since the paper is “more hardline against Israel than the Palestinian leadership itself”:

But it gets worse. The only conceivable way out of this for the anti-Israel community is to turn this all upside down and argue — as analysts, reporters (anyone they can get their hands on) have been doing on the BBC all day — that what this really shows is the extent of Israeli “intransigence”: the Palestinians offer all these concessions, and still the Israelis say no! …

Tragicomically, it just won’t wash. Privately and morally, senior Palestinians can see that there is nothing illegitimate or even especially problematic about most of the “settlements” (as reasonable observers of the MidEast have been saying for years). This we know from the leaks themselves. But publicly and politically they cannot sell such concessions to their own people. … because they educate their own people in an implacable rejectionism which extends to the “moderate” Palestinian authority glorifying suicide bombers and other terrorists by naming streets and squares after them.

The irony of the “concessions” reflected in the Palestine Papers is that they fell far below the minimum necessary to obtain a Palestinian state, but far beyond what Al Jazeera and Al Guardian would accept once they found out about them.

The Palestinian Authority “conceded” some Jewish areas of Jerusalem could stay Jewish … but not Har Homa, a community with nearly 10,000 people (more than the total number withdrawn from Gaza in 2005). They “conceded” some Jewish communities near the Green Line … but not Ma’ale Adumim, a city with 34,600 people located on strategic high ground right next to Jerusalem and directly connected to it, established 35 years ago. They “conceded” Israel could call itself whatever it wanted, but would not themselves recognize a Jewish state, much less one with defensible borders.

So, once again, as with Camp David in July 2000 and the Clinton Parameters in December 2000, the Palestinians declined an offer of a state on virtually all the West Bank and a capital in Jerusalem – and rejected George W. Bush’s proposal to “turn the private offer [made by Olmert] into a public agreement.” Having failed to educate his public for peace, Abbas knew what the reaction would be if he ever did anything in public other than glorify suicide bombers and name streets and squares after them.

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Portraits of the Peace Process in Its 92nd Year

In the National Interest, Benny Morris succinctly summarizes the peace process, writing that there can be disagreement about tactical mistakes made over the years, but that:

[T]here can be no serious argument about what transpired in July and December 2000, when Arafat sequentially rejected comprehensive Israeli and Israeli-American proposals for a two-state solution which would have given the Palestinians (“the Clinton Parameters”) sovereignty and independence in 95% of the West Bank, all of the Gaza Strip, and half of Jerusalem (including half or three-quarters of the Old City).

And further that:

[T]here can be no serious argument either about Abbas’s rejection of the similar, perhaps even slightly better deal, offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008. (Indeed, these rejections of a two-state solution were already a tradition set in stone: The Palestinians’ leaders had rejected two-state compromises in 1937 (the Peel proposals), 1947 (the UN General Assembly partition resolution) and (implicitly) in 1978 (when Arafat rejected the Sadat-Begin Camp David agreement, which provided for “autonomy” in the Palestinan territories).

That is six Palestinian rejections of a Palestinian state: 1937, 1947, 1978, 2000 (twice), 2008.

Actually, the correct number is seven, since Morris omitted the first one: in 1919, Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization, and Emir Feisal Ibn al-Hussein al-Hashemi signed an agreement providing for Arab recognition of the Balfour Declaration, Arab retention of the Muslim holy sites, and WZO agreement to the establishment of an Arab state. Later that year, the Arabs repudiated the agreement.

We are now in the 92nd year of a peace process in which the Palestinians are the first people in history to be offered a state seven times, reject it seven times, and set preconditions for discussing an eighth offer.

In the February 10 issue of the New York Review of Books, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley also provide an interesting analysis of the peace process. They assert the Obama administration has badly damaged U.S. credibility:

[It] was repeatedly rebuffed—by Israel, from whom it had demanded a full halt in settlement construction; by Palestinians it pressed to engage in direct negotiations; by Arab states it hoped would take steps to normalize relations with Israel. An administration that never tires of saying it cannot want peace more than the parties routinely belies that claim by the desperation it exhibits in pursuing that goal. Today, there is little trust, no direct talks, no settlement freeze, and, one at times suspects, not much of a US policy.

Agha and Malley do not recommend a policy of their own. They suggest Mahmoud Abbas is the “last Palestinian” able to end the conflict, but it is an unconvincing conclusion. He has already missed multiple moments: in 2005, he received all of Gaza and presided over its conversion into Hamastan; in 2006, he could not win an election against a terrorist group; in 2007, he got thrown out of Gaza altogether; in 2008, he received the seventh offer of a state and turned it down; in 2009, he arrived in Washington D.C. and told the Washington Post he would do nothing but wait; in 2010, he is turning to the UN rather than negotiate. His term of office ended more than two years ago.

Rather than being the key to peace, he is a reflection of the fact that on the Palestinian side, in the 92nd year, there is no one there to make it.

In the National Interest, Benny Morris succinctly summarizes the peace process, writing that there can be disagreement about tactical mistakes made over the years, but that:

[T]here can be no serious argument about what transpired in July and December 2000, when Arafat sequentially rejected comprehensive Israeli and Israeli-American proposals for a two-state solution which would have given the Palestinians (“the Clinton Parameters”) sovereignty and independence in 95% of the West Bank, all of the Gaza Strip, and half of Jerusalem (including half or three-quarters of the Old City).

And further that:

[T]here can be no serious argument either about Abbas’s rejection of the similar, perhaps even slightly better deal, offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008. (Indeed, these rejections of a two-state solution were already a tradition set in stone: The Palestinians’ leaders had rejected two-state compromises in 1937 (the Peel proposals), 1947 (the UN General Assembly partition resolution) and (implicitly) in 1978 (when Arafat rejected the Sadat-Begin Camp David agreement, which provided for “autonomy” in the Palestinan territories).

That is six Palestinian rejections of a Palestinian state: 1937, 1947, 1978, 2000 (twice), 2008.

Actually, the correct number is seven, since Morris omitted the first one: in 1919, Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization, and Emir Feisal Ibn al-Hussein al-Hashemi signed an agreement providing for Arab recognition of the Balfour Declaration, Arab retention of the Muslim holy sites, and WZO agreement to the establishment of an Arab state. Later that year, the Arabs repudiated the agreement.

We are now in the 92nd year of a peace process in which the Palestinians are the first people in history to be offered a state seven times, reject it seven times, and set preconditions for discussing an eighth offer.

In the February 10 issue of the New York Review of Books, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley also provide an interesting analysis of the peace process. They assert the Obama administration has badly damaged U.S. credibility:

[It] was repeatedly rebuffed—by Israel, from whom it had demanded a full halt in settlement construction; by Palestinians it pressed to engage in direct negotiations; by Arab states it hoped would take steps to normalize relations with Israel. An administration that never tires of saying it cannot want peace more than the parties routinely belies that claim by the desperation it exhibits in pursuing that goal. Today, there is little trust, no direct talks, no settlement freeze, and, one at times suspects, not much of a US policy.

Agha and Malley do not recommend a policy of their own. They suggest Mahmoud Abbas is the “last Palestinian” able to end the conflict, but it is an unconvincing conclusion. He has already missed multiple moments: in 2005, he received all of Gaza and presided over its conversion into Hamastan; in 2006, he could not win an election against a terrorist group; in 2007, he got thrown out of Gaza altogether; in 2008, he received the seventh offer of a state and turned it down; in 2009, he arrived in Washington D.C. and told the Washington Post he would do nothing but wait; in 2010, he is turning to the UN rather than negotiate. His term of office ended more than two years ago.

Rather than being the key to peace, he is a reflection of the fact that on the Palestinian side, in the 92nd year, there is no one there to make it.

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The Five No’s

Jeffrey Goldberg writes wistfully about the “peace process”:

I wish the Israelis had taken serious steps to reverse the settlement process; and I wish that Hamas would go away; and I wish that the Palestinian Authority didn’t argue that the Jews have no connection to the Western Wall (talk about unhelpful!).

There is not much one can do about Goldberg’s latter two wishes. Hamas is not going to go away (even though the Palestinian Authority promised to dismantle it as part of Phase I of the Roadmap); Hamas controls half the putative Palestinian state – and the Palestinians elected it to control their legislature. Elections that might reverse that are not going to happen any time soon, if ever.

Nor is it possible to do anything about Goldberg’s third wish. The PA’s argument that Jews have no connection to the Western Wall is not a new one; it is the argument Yasir Arafat made directly to Bill Clinton in the Oval Office on January 2, 2001, while rejecting the Clinton Parameters. Ten years of unhelpful! The PA’s Ministry of Information “study” posted on its website this week announces that “no Muslim or Arab or Palestinian had the right to give up one stone” of the Wall. So this too is not going to change any time soon, if ever.

But at least Goldberg’s first wish came true: while Hamas was consolidating its power and the PA was asserting that there was no Jewish connection to the Western Wall, Israel took five serious steps to reverse the settlement process:

  1. At Camp David in July 2000, Israel offered the PA a state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza, which would have required the dismantlement of all settlements other than those adjacent to Jerusalem and/or necessary for defensible borders.
  2. In December 2000, Israel accepted the Clinton Parameters, which would have required the dismantlement of even more settlements.
  3. In 2005, Israel dismantled all 21 settlements in Gaza, giving the Palestinians the opportunity to “live side by side in peace and security”™ with Israel.
  4. In 2008, Israel made another offer of a state to the PA on all the West Bank (after land swaps) and Gaza, demonstrating again that it would dismantle settlements for peace.
  5. In 2009, Israel declared a 10-month moratorium on West Bank settlement-building to meet the Palestinian precondition to negotiations for still another offer of a state.

Five serious steps, five Palestinian rejections.

I would re-phrase Goldberg’s first wish as “I wish the PA had responded to Israel’s five serious steps regarding settlements.” But the PA is not going to respond any time soon, if ever. The problem is not the settlements, or the problem would have been solved long ago. What part of five no’s do those arguing for a sixth step not understand?

Jeffrey Goldberg writes wistfully about the “peace process”:

I wish the Israelis had taken serious steps to reverse the settlement process; and I wish that Hamas would go away; and I wish that the Palestinian Authority didn’t argue that the Jews have no connection to the Western Wall (talk about unhelpful!).

There is not much one can do about Goldberg’s latter two wishes. Hamas is not going to go away (even though the Palestinian Authority promised to dismantle it as part of Phase I of the Roadmap); Hamas controls half the putative Palestinian state – and the Palestinians elected it to control their legislature. Elections that might reverse that are not going to happen any time soon, if ever.

Nor is it possible to do anything about Goldberg’s third wish. The PA’s argument that Jews have no connection to the Western Wall is not a new one; it is the argument Yasir Arafat made directly to Bill Clinton in the Oval Office on January 2, 2001, while rejecting the Clinton Parameters. Ten years of unhelpful! The PA’s Ministry of Information “study” posted on its website this week announces that “no Muslim or Arab or Palestinian had the right to give up one stone” of the Wall. So this too is not going to change any time soon, if ever.

But at least Goldberg’s first wish came true: while Hamas was consolidating its power and the PA was asserting that there was no Jewish connection to the Western Wall, Israel took five serious steps to reverse the settlement process:

  1. At Camp David in July 2000, Israel offered the PA a state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza, which would have required the dismantlement of all settlements other than those adjacent to Jerusalem and/or necessary for defensible borders.
  2. In December 2000, Israel accepted the Clinton Parameters, which would have required the dismantlement of even more settlements.
  3. In 2005, Israel dismantled all 21 settlements in Gaza, giving the Palestinians the opportunity to “live side by side in peace and security”™ with Israel.
  4. In 2008, Israel made another offer of a state to the PA on all the West Bank (after land swaps) and Gaza, demonstrating again that it would dismantle settlements for peace.
  5. In 2009, Israel declared a 10-month moratorium on West Bank settlement-building to meet the Palestinian precondition to negotiations for still another offer of a state.

Five serious steps, five Palestinian rejections.

I would re-phrase Goldberg’s first wish as “I wish the PA had responded to Israel’s five serious steps regarding settlements.” But the PA is not going to respond any time soon, if ever. The problem is not the settlements, or the problem would have been solved long ago. What part of five no’s do those arguing for a sixth step not understand?

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An Idea for Bibi: Never Mind

Jeffrey Goldberg has revised his position not only on Soros Street but also on settlements. On September 27, in “An Idea for Bibi,” he offered a “modest suggestion” for Benjamin Netanyahu:

Why not risk your governing coalition and impose a total freeze on settlement growth outside of the greater Jerusalem area? This way, you’ll show the world, and the Palestinians — who are governed, on the West Bank, at least, by a group of true moderates, who have done a great deal for your security over the past year – that you are serious about grappling with the challenges before you. …

It was not a very good suggestion: (1) Netanyahu’s center-right coalition is the only one with sufficient credibility to persuade a skeptical Israeli public to accept a peace agreement, assuming there is ever a peace agreement; (2) the prospects for such an agreement do not likely depend on Bibi showing he is “serious about grappling with the challenges” — not after he agreed to new negotiations without preconditions, publicly endorsed a two-state solution as demanded by Obama, implemented an unprecedented ten-month moratorium, and received nothing in return from Arab states or the PA; and (3) the “true moderates” have yet to make any concessions of their own, continually telling their public that they will make none about borders or the right of return.

Goldberg’s post resulted in dissent from Robert Satloff, who argued that while there might come a time for Bibi to break his coalition to approve a “real, lasting, and secure” peace agreement (whatever that means), it is “probably not wise to do it to satisfy a shortsighted fixation by the Obama administration to be the first in history to have made the pursuit of peace contingent on a settlement freeze”:

The Palestinians’ Woody Allen argument that they should be compensated just for showing up for negotiations that are designed, in the end, to provide them with major territorial concessions, the end of Israeli occupation and the creation of an independent state is, on the face of it, more than a bit odd.

In a post this afternoon, Goldberg effectively withdrew his modest suggestion:

On certain days of the week, and in certain moods, I used to think that the U.S. could pressure Israel out of the settlements. … But it doesn’t work. Israel wants the settlements to be a subject of negotiation with the Palestinians, along with everything else — and not the subject of a preemptive concession – and it seems that it is during negotiations (as President Clinton showed during Camp David) that the U.S. could best make the case against settlements, just as it is during negotiations that the U.S. could move the Palestinians away from their position on the so-called right-of-return.

In other words, what Netanyahu has been arguing every day of the week, in every mood, for a year and a half — that all issues need to be negotiated without preconditions, and without demanding concessions from only one side, particularly prior to negotiations — has been right.

Jeffrey Goldberg has revised his position not only on Soros Street but also on settlements. On September 27, in “An Idea for Bibi,” he offered a “modest suggestion” for Benjamin Netanyahu:

Why not risk your governing coalition and impose a total freeze on settlement growth outside of the greater Jerusalem area? This way, you’ll show the world, and the Palestinians — who are governed, on the West Bank, at least, by a group of true moderates, who have done a great deal for your security over the past year – that you are serious about grappling with the challenges before you. …

It was not a very good suggestion: (1) Netanyahu’s center-right coalition is the only one with sufficient credibility to persuade a skeptical Israeli public to accept a peace agreement, assuming there is ever a peace agreement; (2) the prospects for such an agreement do not likely depend on Bibi showing he is “serious about grappling with the challenges” — not after he agreed to new negotiations without preconditions, publicly endorsed a two-state solution as demanded by Obama, implemented an unprecedented ten-month moratorium, and received nothing in return from Arab states or the PA; and (3) the “true moderates” have yet to make any concessions of their own, continually telling their public that they will make none about borders or the right of return.

Goldberg’s post resulted in dissent from Robert Satloff, who argued that while there might come a time for Bibi to break his coalition to approve a “real, lasting, and secure” peace agreement (whatever that means), it is “probably not wise to do it to satisfy a shortsighted fixation by the Obama administration to be the first in history to have made the pursuit of peace contingent on a settlement freeze”:

The Palestinians’ Woody Allen argument that they should be compensated just for showing up for negotiations that are designed, in the end, to provide them with major territorial concessions, the end of Israeli occupation and the creation of an independent state is, on the face of it, more than a bit odd.

In a post this afternoon, Goldberg effectively withdrew his modest suggestion:

On certain days of the week, and in certain moods, I used to think that the U.S. could pressure Israel out of the settlements. … But it doesn’t work. Israel wants the settlements to be a subject of negotiation with the Palestinians, along with everything else — and not the subject of a preemptive concession – and it seems that it is during negotiations (as President Clinton showed during Camp David) that the U.S. could best make the case against settlements, just as it is during negotiations that the U.S. could move the Palestinians away from their position on the so-called right-of-return.

In other words, what Netanyahu has been arguing every day of the week, in every mood, for a year and a half — that all issues need to be negotiated without preconditions, and without demanding concessions from only one side, particularly prior to negotiations — has been right.

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The Dark Side of Peace Fantasies

Why do so many American liberals prefer to think ill of Israel and accept libelous accusations such as Time magazine’s infamous August cover story that proclaimed “Why Israelis Don’t Care About Peace”? The answer is that, unlike the majority of Israelis, they’ve decided to ignore the results of nearly two decades of failed peace-processing. A prime example of this foolishness is provided today by the New York Times, where online columnist Robert Wright urges Palestinians to give Israelis who are indifferent to peace a good scare. What would scare them? His answer is a Palestinian peace movement based on civil disobedience that would advocate for votes in a binational state where a presumed Arab majority would soon take over the country.

Wright’s determination to divide Israelis between indifferent moderates and bad settlers whose political strength exercises a veto over peace is absurd. Israeli moderates aren’t indifferent to peace; they just understand that concessions that created the Palestinian Authority and a Hamas state in Gaza brought more terror, not peace. That’s why the Israeli left has more or less disintegrated as a political force. But should the Palestinians ever accept one of Israel’s peace offers, the right would be powerless to stop such a deal from being signed.

As for the Palestinians, there’s a good reason why they’ve never taken the advice of foreign well-wishers and gone Gandhi on the Israelis. The Palestinian national movement has always been based on violence. The credibility of Palestinian political parties stems from their involvement in terror, not nation-building, which is why Hamas has a mass following and pragmatic Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad is virtually a man without a party. Palestinians don’t have to be persuaded to embrace a “one-state” solution, because they have never supported one that would envision two states for two peoples, since acceptance of a Jewish state is still anathema to Palestinian nationalism.

Indeed, far from Israelis needing to be convinced of the utility of a two-state solution, it is the Palestinians who must be persuaded to do so. They turned such a deal down in 2000, when Yasir Arafat said no to one at Camp David and again at Taba the next year. Current Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas did the same in 2008. But all this is of no interest to authors such as Wright who still prefer to blame the continued standoff on the Israelis.

But the most compelling passage in Wright’s article is when he claims that a nonviolent Palestinian movement would enable American Israel-haters to create successful campaigns to isolate Israel without fear of being called anti-Semites, as was the fate of Harvard students who advocated for disinvestment in 2002.

The determination of Wright and his fellow left-wingers to ignore the same recent history that has caused so many Israeli leftists to abandon their cause is curious. It is hard to avoid wondering whether Wright’s longing for a more presentable Palestinian movement has more to do with his hope that it would make the work of American anti-Zionists easier than any chances that it would actually lead to peace. Perhaps without intending to do so, what Wright has done in this piece is to give us a look at the dark side of left-wing fantasies about the Middle East in which advocacy for an end to the Jewish state will be granted a legitimacy that it has hitherto lacked.

Why do so many American liberals prefer to think ill of Israel and accept libelous accusations such as Time magazine’s infamous August cover story that proclaimed “Why Israelis Don’t Care About Peace”? The answer is that, unlike the majority of Israelis, they’ve decided to ignore the results of nearly two decades of failed peace-processing. A prime example of this foolishness is provided today by the New York Times, where online columnist Robert Wright urges Palestinians to give Israelis who are indifferent to peace a good scare. What would scare them? His answer is a Palestinian peace movement based on civil disobedience that would advocate for votes in a binational state where a presumed Arab majority would soon take over the country.

Wright’s determination to divide Israelis between indifferent moderates and bad settlers whose political strength exercises a veto over peace is absurd. Israeli moderates aren’t indifferent to peace; they just understand that concessions that created the Palestinian Authority and a Hamas state in Gaza brought more terror, not peace. That’s why the Israeli left has more or less disintegrated as a political force. But should the Palestinians ever accept one of Israel’s peace offers, the right would be powerless to stop such a deal from being signed.

As for the Palestinians, there’s a good reason why they’ve never taken the advice of foreign well-wishers and gone Gandhi on the Israelis. The Palestinian national movement has always been based on violence. The credibility of Palestinian political parties stems from their involvement in terror, not nation-building, which is why Hamas has a mass following and pragmatic Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad is virtually a man without a party. Palestinians don’t have to be persuaded to embrace a “one-state” solution, because they have never supported one that would envision two states for two peoples, since acceptance of a Jewish state is still anathema to Palestinian nationalism.

Indeed, far from Israelis needing to be convinced of the utility of a two-state solution, it is the Palestinians who must be persuaded to do so. They turned such a deal down in 2000, when Yasir Arafat said no to one at Camp David and again at Taba the next year. Current Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas did the same in 2008. But all this is of no interest to authors such as Wright who still prefer to blame the continued standoff on the Israelis.

But the most compelling passage in Wright’s article is when he claims that a nonviolent Palestinian movement would enable American Israel-haters to create successful campaigns to isolate Israel without fear of being called anti-Semites, as was the fate of Harvard students who advocated for disinvestment in 2002.

The determination of Wright and his fellow left-wingers to ignore the same recent history that has caused so many Israeli leftists to abandon their cause is curious. It is hard to avoid wondering whether Wright’s longing for a more presentable Palestinian movement has more to do with his hope that it would make the work of American anti-Zionists easier than any chances that it would actually lead to peace. Perhaps without intending to do so, what Wright has done in this piece is to give us a look at the dark side of left-wing fantasies about the Middle East in which advocacy for an end to the Jewish state will be granted a legitimacy that it has hitherto lacked.

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Bill Clinton: Giving Carter a Run for His Money

Bill Clinton’s noxious comments, complaining that Russian immigrants to Israel pose an obstacle to peace, sounded like the utterances of xenophobes in America who lament that our country is being “overrun” by outsiders. Clinton’s comments were cringe-inducing:

“An increasing number of the young people in the IDF are the children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land. This presents a staggering problem,” Clinton said. “It’s a different Israel. 16 percent of Israelis speak Russian.”

And then to prove that decency and discretion were never Clinton’s strong suits, he cited a conversation between him and Natan Sharansky:

“I said, ‘Natan, what is the deal [about not supporting the peace deal],’” Clinton recalled. “He said, ‘I can’t vote for this, I’m Russian… I come from one of the biggest countries in the world to one of the smallest. You want me to cut it in half. No, thank you.’”

Clinton responded, “Don’t give me this, you came here from a jail cell. It’s a lot bigger than your jail cell.”

Classy, Bill. Maybe next he’ll go after Elie Wiesel.

As you can imagine, Israelis were not too pleased. Bibi, demonstrating the art of understatement which has marked his political maturation, had this to say:

As a friend of Israel, Clinton should know that the immigrants from the former Soviet Union have contributed and are making a great contribution to the advancement, development and strengthening of the IDF and the State of Israel. Only a strong Israel can establish solid and safe peace.

Now with Bill Clinton — it’s always a safe bet that he’s making stuff up. Sharansky’s associates hinted as much. (“Sharansky’s associates were surprised by Clinton’s remarks. The Jewish Agency chairman said, ‘I wasn’t even at Camp David. Clinton may have gotten confused with our conversations three years earlier, when I expressed my doubts over the dictatorial nature of the Palestinian Authority regime.’”)

But, as a colleague observed, the best retort was this:

Coalition Chairman Zeev Elkin said he felt “great pride” following Clinton’s remarks. Elkin, who a Russian immigrant himself, told Ynet, “I am proud of former President Clinton’s distinctions. He made the right distinction that the Russian speakers and settlers have been carrying the Zionism banner in the State of Israel in recent years. “We see this in the number of people graduating from IDF officer courses, and unfortunately, in the Second Lebanon War obituaries. We also see it in the struggle for our right to settle in all of the Land of Israel.”

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Another, as detailed in Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, is that Russians have provided much of the brainpower and entrepreneurial risk-taking that has fueled Israel’s technology boom, transforming Israel’s economy from a socialist basket-case to a vibrant, modern economy.

Why does Clinton say these things? Who knows — maybe he’s tired of Jimmy Carter and his wife getting all the headlines. Or maybe he’s just an undisciplined egomaniac who says whatever pops into his head.

Bill Clinton’s noxious comments, complaining that Russian immigrants to Israel pose an obstacle to peace, sounded like the utterances of xenophobes in America who lament that our country is being “overrun” by outsiders. Clinton’s comments were cringe-inducing:

“An increasing number of the young people in the IDF are the children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land. This presents a staggering problem,” Clinton said. “It’s a different Israel. 16 percent of Israelis speak Russian.”

And then to prove that decency and discretion were never Clinton’s strong suits, he cited a conversation between him and Natan Sharansky:

“I said, ‘Natan, what is the deal [about not supporting the peace deal],’” Clinton recalled. “He said, ‘I can’t vote for this, I’m Russian… I come from one of the biggest countries in the world to one of the smallest. You want me to cut it in half. No, thank you.’”

Clinton responded, “Don’t give me this, you came here from a jail cell. It’s a lot bigger than your jail cell.”

Classy, Bill. Maybe next he’ll go after Elie Wiesel.

As you can imagine, Israelis were not too pleased. Bibi, demonstrating the art of understatement which has marked his political maturation, had this to say:

As a friend of Israel, Clinton should know that the immigrants from the former Soviet Union have contributed and are making a great contribution to the advancement, development and strengthening of the IDF and the State of Israel. Only a strong Israel can establish solid and safe peace.

Now with Bill Clinton — it’s always a safe bet that he’s making stuff up. Sharansky’s associates hinted as much. (“Sharansky’s associates were surprised by Clinton’s remarks. The Jewish Agency chairman said, ‘I wasn’t even at Camp David. Clinton may have gotten confused with our conversations three years earlier, when I expressed my doubts over the dictatorial nature of the Palestinian Authority regime.’”)

But, as a colleague observed, the best retort was this:

Coalition Chairman Zeev Elkin said he felt “great pride” following Clinton’s remarks. Elkin, who a Russian immigrant himself, told Ynet, “I am proud of former President Clinton’s distinctions. He made the right distinction that the Russian speakers and settlers have been carrying the Zionism banner in the State of Israel in recent years. “We see this in the number of people graduating from IDF officer courses, and unfortunately, in the Second Lebanon War obituaries. We also see it in the struggle for our right to settle in all of the Land of Israel.”

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Another, as detailed in Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, is that Russians have provided much of the brainpower and entrepreneurial risk-taking that has fueled Israel’s technology boom, transforming Israel’s economy from a socialist basket-case to a vibrant, modern economy.

Why does Clinton say these things? Who knows — maybe he’s tired of Jimmy Carter and his wife getting all the headlines. Or maybe he’s just an undisciplined egomaniac who says whatever pops into his head.

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Mideast Game of Chicken Continues

The news today out of Ramallah is that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is saying that he will continue to participate in the peace talks that have been orchestrated by the Obama administration. Though the Palestinians have been threatening to walk out if Israel doesn’t extend a freeze on all settlement-building in the West Bank, it appears that the parties are trying to weasel their way out of this impasse.

While the continued talking will, no doubt, be heralded by the Americans as proof that the talks have a good chance of succeeding and that their goal of a Palestinian state and genuine peace within a year will be achieved, realists know that it means nothing of the kind. All that the continued talking means is that the game of chicken being played by Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t over.

Like the daredevil teenagers in Rebel Without a Cause, the two leaders are competing to see which one of them will jump out of their cars first before their vehicles fly off the cliff. Both know there isn’t much hope for actual peace. Netanyahu is aware of the fact that if the Palestinians ever actually accepted a state in almost all the West Bank with a share of Jerusalem in exchange for a complete end to the conflict with no right of return for refugees, the Israeli people would almost certainly demand that this offer — whether it was wise policy or not — be accepted. But he also knows that Abbas cannot possibly accept this deal, for the same reasons he rejected such an offer in 2008, when Ehud Olmert put it on the table in the wake of the 2007 Annapolis Summit, not to mention Yasir Arafat’s similar refusal of such a deal at Camp David in 2000: the rejectionist culture of Palestinian politics and Hamas won’t allow it.

But since he doesn’t want to say no to Barack Obama, Netanyahu must play along and try to avoid being put in the position of spiking the talks when he knows that, sooner or later, Abbas will have to bail out to save his skin. Similarly, Abbas — who is dependent on support from the West as well as Israel for his survival — is hoping that Netanyahu can be maneuvered into a position of blame for the failure to make “progress” rather than have his own impotence highlighted.

The peculiar thing about this game of chicken is that each leader’s domestic opposition is acting as if the official optimism about the possibility of peace emanating from the two camps is proof that a deal is about to be signed. Yet the majority of Palestinians and Israelis seem to be taking all this in their stride, and their indifference demonstrates that they understand that what is going on is an elaborate farce being staged for the benefit of Obama and Hillary Clinton rather constituting a genuine chance for peace. But both Hamas and Israeli right-wingers, who are respectively fulminating against Abbas and Netanyahu, as if the two were on the verge of a pact, are, along with the White House, the State Department, and most of the mainstream media, the only ones who don’t get it.

The news today out of Ramallah is that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is saying that he will continue to participate in the peace talks that have been orchestrated by the Obama administration. Though the Palestinians have been threatening to walk out if Israel doesn’t extend a freeze on all settlement-building in the West Bank, it appears that the parties are trying to weasel their way out of this impasse.

While the continued talking will, no doubt, be heralded by the Americans as proof that the talks have a good chance of succeeding and that their goal of a Palestinian state and genuine peace within a year will be achieved, realists know that it means nothing of the kind. All that the continued talking means is that the game of chicken being played by Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t over.

Like the daredevil teenagers in Rebel Without a Cause, the two leaders are competing to see which one of them will jump out of their cars first before their vehicles fly off the cliff. Both know there isn’t much hope for actual peace. Netanyahu is aware of the fact that if the Palestinians ever actually accepted a state in almost all the West Bank with a share of Jerusalem in exchange for a complete end to the conflict with no right of return for refugees, the Israeli people would almost certainly demand that this offer — whether it was wise policy or not — be accepted. But he also knows that Abbas cannot possibly accept this deal, for the same reasons he rejected such an offer in 2008, when Ehud Olmert put it on the table in the wake of the 2007 Annapolis Summit, not to mention Yasir Arafat’s similar refusal of such a deal at Camp David in 2000: the rejectionist culture of Palestinian politics and Hamas won’t allow it.

But since he doesn’t want to say no to Barack Obama, Netanyahu must play along and try to avoid being put in the position of spiking the talks when he knows that, sooner or later, Abbas will have to bail out to save his skin. Similarly, Abbas — who is dependent on support from the West as well as Israel for his survival — is hoping that Netanyahu can be maneuvered into a position of blame for the failure to make “progress” rather than have his own impotence highlighted.

The peculiar thing about this game of chicken is that each leader’s domestic opposition is acting as if the official optimism about the possibility of peace emanating from the two camps is proof that a deal is about to be signed. Yet the majority of Palestinians and Israelis seem to be taking all this in their stride, and their indifference demonstrates that they understand that what is going on is an elaborate farce being staged for the benefit of Obama and Hillary Clinton rather constituting a genuine chance for peace. But both Hamas and Israeli right-wingers, who are respectively fulminating against Abbas and Netanyahu, as if the two were on the verge of a pact, are, along with the White House, the State Department, and most of the mainstream media, the only ones who don’t get it.

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The Consequences of Clinton’s Expectations Game

Hillary Clinton’s happy talk about Middle East peace has become part of the soundtrack of the peace talks the administration has orchestrated. Both before and during her drop-in at Sharm el-Sheik, the secretary of state has exuded optimism about the American push for a renewal of a Jewish settlement freeze and the continuance of the negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The rhetoric from the Americans has been largely devoted, as Jennifer noted, to direct pressure on the Israelis to make concessions, while demands on the Palestinians remain amorphous. But this imbalance in pressure is just part of the problem. The raising of expectations about peace arriving within another year (as Obama’s envoy George Mitchell keeps telling the press) may have negative consequences that neither Obama nor Clinton is prepared to face.

Given the realities of Palestinian politics, both parties to the talks know very well that the chances of an agreement on final-status issues are slim and none. With his Hamas rivals in control of Gaza and threatening him in the West Bank (where he maintains control only with the help of Israel), Abbas is in no position to make any move to advance peace. Meanwhile Netanyahu is getting beat up by the Israeli right for being weak in the face of American pressure. He may not wish to make concessions on settlements or borders that will compromise his country’s security and be considered irretrievably ceded to the Arabs no matter the outcome of the talks if there is little likelihood that the Palestinians will declare a complete end to their 62-year-old war to destroy Israel. But he also doesn’t want to be blamed for the collapse of the talks when he knows that sooner or later Abbas will bolt.

However long Clinton and Mitchell force Abbas and Netanyahu to dance with each other, at some point the music is going to stop, and when it does, the Americans will have little to show for this latest attempt to persuade Abbas to do what he knows he cannot do. (It was, after all, Abbas who turned down a Palestinian state only two years ago, when Ehud Olmert offered him the same deal Obama is talking about now.) At that point, the pressure on PA president to initiate a campaign of terror against the Israelis in an effort to compete with Hamas for Palestinian popularity may be irresistible. By building up hopes for peace when the foundation for a lasting agreement doesn’t exist, what Obama and Clinton may be generating is a repeat of the aftermath of Camp David 2000, when Israel said yes and Yasir Arafat said no to a deal very much along the lines that the peace processors claim they want now. Anyone who thinks another intifada is out of the question need only read the statements emanating from Hamas this week. As the New York Times reported this afternoon:

The commander of the military wing of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that rules Gaza, issued a harsh statement against the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, saying that Hamas remained committed to “liberating” Palestine from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, meaning both Israel itself and the West Bank it occupies. In a letter marking the end of the month of Ramadan, the Hamas military commander, Ahmad Al-Jaabari, said the path of jihad and resistance is the only way forward “until victory or martyrdom.” He criticized the Palestinian Authority under Mr. Abbas for negotiating “with the Zionist enemy.”

While the Americans may pretend that just a few more concessions from Netanyahu will do the trick, the specter of Hamas and a renewal of Palestinian violence remains the real obstacle to peace. Clinton’s sparkling optimism about the magic of diplomacy may be setting the stage for yet more bloodshed.

Hillary Clinton’s happy talk about Middle East peace has become part of the soundtrack of the peace talks the administration has orchestrated. Both before and during her drop-in at Sharm el-Sheik, the secretary of state has exuded optimism about the American push for a renewal of a Jewish settlement freeze and the continuance of the negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The rhetoric from the Americans has been largely devoted, as Jennifer noted, to direct pressure on the Israelis to make concessions, while demands on the Palestinians remain amorphous. But this imbalance in pressure is just part of the problem. The raising of expectations about peace arriving within another year (as Obama’s envoy George Mitchell keeps telling the press) may have negative consequences that neither Obama nor Clinton is prepared to face.

Given the realities of Palestinian politics, both parties to the talks know very well that the chances of an agreement on final-status issues are slim and none. With his Hamas rivals in control of Gaza and threatening him in the West Bank (where he maintains control only with the help of Israel), Abbas is in no position to make any move to advance peace. Meanwhile Netanyahu is getting beat up by the Israeli right for being weak in the face of American pressure. He may not wish to make concessions on settlements or borders that will compromise his country’s security and be considered irretrievably ceded to the Arabs no matter the outcome of the talks if there is little likelihood that the Palestinians will declare a complete end to their 62-year-old war to destroy Israel. But he also doesn’t want to be blamed for the collapse of the talks when he knows that sooner or later Abbas will bolt.

However long Clinton and Mitchell force Abbas and Netanyahu to dance with each other, at some point the music is going to stop, and when it does, the Americans will have little to show for this latest attempt to persuade Abbas to do what he knows he cannot do. (It was, after all, Abbas who turned down a Palestinian state only two years ago, when Ehud Olmert offered him the same deal Obama is talking about now.) At that point, the pressure on PA president to initiate a campaign of terror against the Israelis in an effort to compete with Hamas for Palestinian popularity may be irresistible. By building up hopes for peace when the foundation for a lasting agreement doesn’t exist, what Obama and Clinton may be generating is a repeat of the aftermath of Camp David 2000, when Israel said yes and Yasir Arafat said no to a deal very much along the lines that the peace processors claim they want now. Anyone who thinks another intifada is out of the question need only read the statements emanating from Hamas this week. As the New York Times reported this afternoon:

The commander of the military wing of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that rules Gaza, issued a harsh statement against the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, saying that Hamas remained committed to “liberating” Palestine from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, meaning both Israel itself and the West Bank it occupies. In a letter marking the end of the month of Ramadan, the Hamas military commander, Ahmad Al-Jaabari, said the path of jihad and resistance is the only way forward “until victory or martyrdom.” He criticized the Palestinian Authority under Mr. Abbas for negotiating “with the Zionist enemy.”

While the Americans may pretend that just a few more concessions from Netanyahu will do the trick, the specter of Hamas and a renewal of Palestinian violence remains the real obstacle to peace. Clinton’s sparkling optimism about the magic of diplomacy may be setting the stage for yet more bloodshed.

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Obama’s Middle East Policy: Incompetence Continues

The Obami have, on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at virtually every turn, made the wrong decision and then botched the execution of that decision. Beginning with the decision to focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict rather than the Iranian nuclear threat and continuing through to the public bullying of Israel and the NPT declaration (and its walk-back), all followed by the charm campaign (when all that preceded it proved a bust and domestically harmful to boot), the Obami have made matters worse not better.

Now that they have struggled to pick up where the Bush team left off two years ago — direct talks – they are making new errors. Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security adviser who helped devise and maintain productive and warm U.S.-Israeli relations for eight years, tries to help the Obami avoid more missteps. (He is too polite to mention his own handiwork, but the administration might start with recognizing and confirming the agreement that Bush and Sharon reached in 2004 on settlements.)

Abrams warns the Obami team that in direct talks between the parties, it is best not to “intrude too deeply and too often.” This is good advice even for an administration that is respected and trusted by the parties. (“The Israelis and Palestinians do not negotiate seriously when U.S. officials are in the room; instead, they take positions designed to elicit American approval.”) George Mitchell has not yet figured this out, however.

Abrams also warns (as Tony Blair did at the March AIPAC conference, in very similar language) that what really matters is what is going on in the West Bank. He explains, “A Palestinian state will be built not at Camp David or Sharm el-Sheikh but in the West Bank, which is where our greatest efforts should be focused.” Again, Mitchell has not yet grasped this essential truth.

But Abrams’s most important piece of advice is this: the decision to work on a framework agreement is wrong. He quotes Mitchell’s explanation of such an agreement: “It’s more detailed than a declaration of principles, but is less than a full-fledged treaty. Its purpose is to establish the fundamental compromises necessary to enable the parties to then flesh out and complete a comprehensive agreement that will end the conflict and establish a lasting peace.” Abrams writes:

The difficult compromises necessary for a final-status agreement that resolves all the core issues will be made at the very end. The only way Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can defend such compromises is by delivering to Palestinians their own state; the only way Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can do so is by saying Israel will now get peace, not only with Palestinians but with all Arab states.

All this cannot possibly happen until a final-status agreement is signed and implemented. Asking the parties to announce their “fundamental compromises” on the core issues when a final-status agreement is years away is asking them to commit political suicide.

In other words, whatever slim chance there might be for a peace deal (I personally think it’s close to zero) is reduced, once again, by an incompetent (is there any other adjective to describe him?) envoy and a flawed negotiating strategy. The most, I think, we can hope for is that the end of the talks don’t trigger another intifada, that the progress on the ground in the West Bank continues, and that sooner rather than later, a U.S. negotiating team will emerge that knows what it is doing.

The Obami have, on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at virtually every turn, made the wrong decision and then botched the execution of that decision. Beginning with the decision to focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict rather than the Iranian nuclear threat and continuing through to the public bullying of Israel and the NPT declaration (and its walk-back), all followed by the charm campaign (when all that preceded it proved a bust and domestically harmful to boot), the Obami have made matters worse not better.

Now that they have struggled to pick up where the Bush team left off two years ago — direct talks – they are making new errors. Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security adviser who helped devise and maintain productive and warm U.S.-Israeli relations for eight years, tries to help the Obami avoid more missteps. (He is too polite to mention his own handiwork, but the administration might start with recognizing and confirming the agreement that Bush and Sharon reached in 2004 on settlements.)

Abrams warns the Obami team that in direct talks between the parties, it is best not to “intrude too deeply and too often.” This is good advice even for an administration that is respected and trusted by the parties. (“The Israelis and Palestinians do not negotiate seriously when U.S. officials are in the room; instead, they take positions designed to elicit American approval.”) George Mitchell has not yet figured this out, however.

Abrams also warns (as Tony Blair did at the March AIPAC conference, in very similar language) that what really matters is what is going on in the West Bank. He explains, “A Palestinian state will be built not at Camp David or Sharm el-Sheikh but in the West Bank, which is where our greatest efforts should be focused.” Again, Mitchell has not yet grasped this essential truth.

But Abrams’s most important piece of advice is this: the decision to work on a framework agreement is wrong. He quotes Mitchell’s explanation of such an agreement: “It’s more detailed than a declaration of principles, but is less than a full-fledged treaty. Its purpose is to establish the fundamental compromises necessary to enable the parties to then flesh out and complete a comprehensive agreement that will end the conflict and establish a lasting peace.” Abrams writes:

The difficult compromises necessary for a final-status agreement that resolves all the core issues will be made at the very end. The only way Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can defend such compromises is by delivering to Palestinians their own state; the only way Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can do so is by saying Israel will now get peace, not only with Palestinians but with all Arab states.

All this cannot possibly happen until a final-status agreement is signed and implemented. Asking the parties to announce their “fundamental compromises” on the core issues when a final-status agreement is years away is asking them to commit political suicide.

In other words, whatever slim chance there might be for a peace deal (I personally think it’s close to zero) is reduced, once again, by an incompetent (is there any other adjective to describe him?) envoy and a flawed negotiating strategy. The most, I think, we can hope for is that the end of the talks don’t trigger another intifada, that the progress on the ground in the West Bank continues, and that sooner rather than later, a U.S. negotiating team will emerge that knows what it is doing.

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Juan Williams vs. Israel

On Fox News Sunday, Juan Williams had this to say about the upcoming talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel:

Well, the question is about settlements. I mean, you know, what you hear from Abbas is if they go back into the settlements that he cuts off the talk.

Last time the reason the talks got cut off was because Israel launched an offensive in Gaza. So now we have a break. The question is can Netanyahu hold together as — his forces in Israel in terms of Israeli politics to say, “You know what? We are best served by some sort of peace, despite the pressures,” and I think there are tremendous pressures on Israel, that there has to be a sense that we are about peace first and foremost.

And I think for the — for the last few times that negotiations have taken place, the emphasis has been on asserting that Israel has been victimized by terrorist activities, by Hamas, by the failure of the Palestinians to govern themselves.

This perfectly expresses the views of the left on Israel — and is perfectly wrong. If it were all about the settlements, the Palestinians would have their own state several times over — at Camp David, and on silver platter from former prime minister Ehud Olmert, most recently. We have had an extended “break” not because of Gaza but because Obama spent 18 months dangling the prospect of a settlement freeze before Abbas’s eyes and leading him to believe the Palestinians could get everything their hearts desired from the U.S. administration.

Next up in the misinformation and outright distortion parade: Bibi is somehow out of step with Israeli public opinion. Yes, the majority of Israelis want talks and a two-state solution, but the infatuation with “land for peace” has dulled considerably in the wake of land-for-war episodes (Lebanon and then Gaza). And Bibi is quite popular. Does Williams expect that some other government could forge a consensus for a peace deal? (Perhaps the 10 percent of Israelis who like Obama would.)

The last is the doozy, and it unfortunately represents the left’s growing indifference to Israel’s security. You see, Williams lectures, we’ve spent altogether too much time talking about terrorism and the Palestinians’ utter failure at self-government. After all, who wants to talk about the refusal of the PA to condemn terrorism? Why do we need to focus on the Palestinians’ ongoing violence and continual calls for incitement (in Arabic) while they talk peace (in English)? And really, what do viable civil institutions — that can enforce the rule of law and a peace deal and develop a productive relationship with Israel — have to do with peace talks?

It is all perfectly foolish and, unfortunately, one suspects, representative of the Obami’s thinking. You can hear the teeth-grinding inside the White House, the impatience with all this concern about defensible borders and an enforceable peace. This is the mindset of the gang that is “affronted” when Israel builds in its own capital and treats the Israeli prime minister as if he were a fly to be swatted away.

As Charles Krauthammer aptly summed up:

The world is tired of these troublesome Jews, 6 million — that number again — hard by the Mediterranean, refusing every invitation to national suicide. For which they are relentlessly demonized, ghettoized and constrained from defending themselves, even as the more committed anti-Zionists — Iranian in particular — openly prepare a more final solution.

The only good news on the horizon is that with Obama’s plummeting popularity and evident nervousness about American Jewish support (otherwise why the charm offensive?), Israel has good reason to wait him out. Go ahead, talk — every two weeks. When the Palestinians are ready to renounce violence and give up the dream of a one-state solution (200 meetings from now? a thousand?), Israel will be waiting.

On Fox News Sunday, Juan Williams had this to say about the upcoming talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel:

Well, the question is about settlements. I mean, you know, what you hear from Abbas is if they go back into the settlements that he cuts off the talk.

Last time the reason the talks got cut off was because Israel launched an offensive in Gaza. So now we have a break. The question is can Netanyahu hold together as — his forces in Israel in terms of Israeli politics to say, “You know what? We are best served by some sort of peace, despite the pressures,” and I think there are tremendous pressures on Israel, that there has to be a sense that we are about peace first and foremost.

And I think for the — for the last few times that negotiations have taken place, the emphasis has been on asserting that Israel has been victimized by terrorist activities, by Hamas, by the failure of the Palestinians to govern themselves.

This perfectly expresses the views of the left on Israel — and is perfectly wrong. If it were all about the settlements, the Palestinians would have their own state several times over — at Camp David, and on silver platter from former prime minister Ehud Olmert, most recently. We have had an extended “break” not because of Gaza but because Obama spent 18 months dangling the prospect of a settlement freeze before Abbas’s eyes and leading him to believe the Palestinians could get everything their hearts desired from the U.S. administration.

Next up in the misinformation and outright distortion parade: Bibi is somehow out of step with Israeli public opinion. Yes, the majority of Israelis want talks and a two-state solution, but the infatuation with “land for peace” has dulled considerably in the wake of land-for-war episodes (Lebanon and then Gaza). And Bibi is quite popular. Does Williams expect that some other government could forge a consensus for a peace deal? (Perhaps the 10 percent of Israelis who like Obama would.)

The last is the doozy, and it unfortunately represents the left’s growing indifference to Israel’s security. You see, Williams lectures, we’ve spent altogether too much time talking about terrorism and the Palestinians’ utter failure at self-government. After all, who wants to talk about the refusal of the PA to condemn terrorism? Why do we need to focus on the Palestinians’ ongoing violence and continual calls for incitement (in Arabic) while they talk peace (in English)? And really, what do viable civil institutions — that can enforce the rule of law and a peace deal and develop a productive relationship with Israel — have to do with peace talks?

It is all perfectly foolish and, unfortunately, one suspects, representative of the Obami’s thinking. You can hear the teeth-grinding inside the White House, the impatience with all this concern about defensible borders and an enforceable peace. This is the mindset of the gang that is “affronted” when Israel builds in its own capital and treats the Israeli prime minister as if he were a fly to be swatted away.

As Charles Krauthammer aptly summed up:

The world is tired of these troublesome Jews, 6 million — that number again — hard by the Mediterranean, refusing every invitation to national suicide. For which they are relentlessly demonized, ghettoized and constrained from defending themselves, even as the more committed anti-Zionists — Iranian in particular — openly prepare a more final solution.

The only good news on the horizon is that with Obama’s plummeting popularity and evident nervousness about American Jewish support (otherwise why the charm offensive?), Israel has good reason to wait him out. Go ahead, talk — every two weeks. When the Palestinians are ready to renounce violence and give up the dream of a one-state solution (200 meetings from now? a thousand?), Israel will be waiting.

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Peace Through Self-Defenestration

In a New York Times op-ed entitled “For Once, Hope in the Middle East,” Martin Indyk argues that while “the commentariat is already dismissing [Obama’s] chances of reaching a peace agreement,” the “negotiating environment is better suited to peacemaking today than it has been at any point in the last decade.” Take security for example – no problem:

Security arrangements were all but settled in 2000 at Camp David before the talks collapsed. The increased threat of rocket attacks since then, among other developments, require the two sides to agree on stricter border controls and a robust third-party force in the Jordan Valley. But one year is ample time to resolve this.

The “increased threat of rocket attacks… among other developments” is Indyk’s diplomatic way of describing the two rocket wars waged on Israel from Lebanon and Gaza after it withdrew every soldier and settler from those areas. The all-but-settled arrangements in 2000 would not have worked, as Indyk implicitly acknowledges with his admission that arrangements would have to be “stricter” today.

But the key word in Indyk’s sunny description is his proposal for a “robust” third-party force. The word “robust” is a familiar term in Middle East diplomacy. It is the adjective commonly used to give meaning to an otherwise unimpressive noun. One might be skeptical of a third-party force, but a robust third-party force – that would be effective virtually by definition.

The most recent experience with a “robust” third-party force, however, might give one pause. In July 2006, 10 days into the Second Lebanon War, Condoleezza Rice told reporters she wanted a “robust” international military force to replace Hezbollah’s forces because a “cease-fire would be a false promise if it just returns us to the status quo.” On Aug. 11, 2006, as the UN Security Council prepared to vote on Resolution 1701, she told Wolf Blitzer the force would have an “absolutely robust mandate.” In an Aug. 16 interview with Susan Page, who congratulated her on passage of the UN resolution, Rice noted the force’s “quite robust mandate, which is a really very robust mandate.”

We now know that the “robust” force turned into 15,000 de facto human shields for Hezbollah, which today has at least twice the number of rockets trained on Israel as before the insertion of the “robust” force.

Indyk ends his piece by quoting Shimon Peres that “history is like a horse that gallops past your window and the true test of statesmanship is to jump from that window onto the horse.” Indyk suggests it is time for Abbas and Netanyahu to take that “politically perilous leap.” Trying to leap out your window onto a galloping horse seems an apt metaphor for Indyk’s solution of a “robust” third-party force — particularly if you remember the last time Israel was persuaded to jump out the window.

In a New York Times op-ed entitled “For Once, Hope in the Middle East,” Martin Indyk argues that while “the commentariat is already dismissing [Obama’s] chances of reaching a peace agreement,” the “negotiating environment is better suited to peacemaking today than it has been at any point in the last decade.” Take security for example – no problem:

Security arrangements were all but settled in 2000 at Camp David before the talks collapsed. The increased threat of rocket attacks since then, among other developments, require the two sides to agree on stricter border controls and a robust third-party force in the Jordan Valley. But one year is ample time to resolve this.

The “increased threat of rocket attacks… among other developments” is Indyk’s diplomatic way of describing the two rocket wars waged on Israel from Lebanon and Gaza after it withdrew every soldier and settler from those areas. The all-but-settled arrangements in 2000 would not have worked, as Indyk implicitly acknowledges with his admission that arrangements would have to be “stricter” today.

But the key word in Indyk’s sunny description is his proposal for a “robust” third-party force. The word “robust” is a familiar term in Middle East diplomacy. It is the adjective commonly used to give meaning to an otherwise unimpressive noun. One might be skeptical of a third-party force, but a robust third-party force – that would be effective virtually by definition.

The most recent experience with a “robust” third-party force, however, might give one pause. In July 2006, 10 days into the Second Lebanon War, Condoleezza Rice told reporters she wanted a “robust” international military force to replace Hezbollah’s forces because a “cease-fire would be a false promise if it just returns us to the status quo.” On Aug. 11, 2006, as the UN Security Council prepared to vote on Resolution 1701, she told Wolf Blitzer the force would have an “absolutely robust mandate.” In an Aug. 16 interview with Susan Page, who congratulated her on passage of the UN resolution, Rice noted the force’s “quite robust mandate, which is a really very robust mandate.”

We now know that the “robust” force turned into 15,000 de facto human shields for Hezbollah, which today has at least twice the number of rockets trained on Israel as before the insertion of the “robust” force.

Indyk ends his piece by quoting Shimon Peres that “history is like a horse that gallops past your window and the true test of statesmanship is to jump from that window onto the horse.” Indyk suggests it is time for Abbas and Netanyahu to take that “politically perilous leap.” Trying to leap out your window onto a galloping horse seems an apt metaphor for Indyk’s solution of a “robust” third-party force — particularly if you remember the last time Israel was persuaded to jump out the window.

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Still Ignoring the Obvious About Abbas

It’s got to be a tough job writing New York Times editorials about the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Because according to the party line at the Gray Lady, peace between Israel and the Palestinians is merely a matter of American pressure on the Jewish state to force it to make the concessions that will magically end the conflict, any discussion of Abbas’s intentions and actions is bound to undermine its thesis. But, undaunted by the challenge, the author of today’s editorial in the Times forges ahead, trying to ignore the obvious.

But the interesting thing about this latest Times peace-process encyclical is that even the geniuses there have noticed that it is no longer enough to merely blame everything on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom they nevertheless abuse by calling a “master manipulator.” So long as Abbas refuses to engage in direct peace negotiations with Israel, those who think the solution to everything that’s wrong with the Middle East is putting the screws to the Israelis find their arguments fatally undermined.

In response, the Times tries to cajole “President Abbas” (that this president’s term expired long ago without even a hint of another election, in which his extremist electorate might vote him out, goes unmentioned in the piece) into direct talks by showing how much they sympathize with his fears of being bested by the wily Netanyahu. The Times agrees that it is too bad that the Israelis won’t concede every point to be negotiated in advance of the talks and that the White House has come to understand that efforts to hammer Israel in the past year and a half have been both diplomatically unproductive and politically disastrous. But the editorial warns Abbas that no matter how justified his fears may be, he’s wrong if the thinks time is on his side. It points out that even a president as unfriendly to Israel and Netanyahu as Obama is “losing patience” with Abbas because he won’t negotiate.

But the obvious fact that the Times and much of the Obama administration still don’t seem willing to acknowledge is that it is not Netanyahu who would be “put to the test” in direct talks. As anyone who has paid any attention to the Palestinian leadership in the last decade knows, Abbas’s greatest fear is getting into real peace negotiations, on which there would be an actual chance of agreement. Because if that happens, he would be forced to do as Yasir Arafat did at Camp David in July 2000 and in Taba in January 2001: say no to peace. Abbas knows he can’t make peace with Israel, no matter what the terms of the agreement or where the final borders might be drawn. Ehud Olmert offered him an even sweeter deal in 2008 than the ones offered to Arafat, and he wouldn’t even talk about it.

The Times still thinks that Abbas can deliver a two-state solution while his Hamas rivals cannot. What the Times fails to understand is that it is precisely because of the power of Hamas and the weakness of Abbas, who passes for a moderate among Palestinians and rightly understands that the dynamics of Palestinian politics forbid any agreement that would recognize the legitimacy of Israel, there is no chance that the PA leader will ever accede to their wishes.

It’s got to be a tough job writing New York Times editorials about the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Because according to the party line at the Gray Lady, peace between Israel and the Palestinians is merely a matter of American pressure on the Jewish state to force it to make the concessions that will magically end the conflict, any discussion of Abbas’s intentions and actions is bound to undermine its thesis. But, undaunted by the challenge, the author of today’s editorial in the Times forges ahead, trying to ignore the obvious.

But the interesting thing about this latest Times peace-process encyclical is that even the geniuses there have noticed that it is no longer enough to merely blame everything on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom they nevertheless abuse by calling a “master manipulator.” So long as Abbas refuses to engage in direct peace negotiations with Israel, those who think the solution to everything that’s wrong with the Middle East is putting the screws to the Israelis find their arguments fatally undermined.

In response, the Times tries to cajole “President Abbas” (that this president’s term expired long ago without even a hint of another election, in which his extremist electorate might vote him out, goes unmentioned in the piece) into direct talks by showing how much they sympathize with his fears of being bested by the wily Netanyahu. The Times agrees that it is too bad that the Israelis won’t concede every point to be negotiated in advance of the talks and that the White House has come to understand that efforts to hammer Israel in the past year and a half have been both diplomatically unproductive and politically disastrous. But the editorial warns Abbas that no matter how justified his fears may be, he’s wrong if the thinks time is on his side. It points out that even a president as unfriendly to Israel and Netanyahu as Obama is “losing patience” with Abbas because he won’t negotiate.

But the obvious fact that the Times and much of the Obama administration still don’t seem willing to acknowledge is that it is not Netanyahu who would be “put to the test” in direct talks. As anyone who has paid any attention to the Palestinian leadership in the last decade knows, Abbas’s greatest fear is getting into real peace negotiations, on which there would be an actual chance of agreement. Because if that happens, he would be forced to do as Yasir Arafat did at Camp David in July 2000 and in Taba in January 2001: say no to peace. Abbas knows he can’t make peace with Israel, no matter what the terms of the agreement or where the final borders might be drawn. Ehud Olmert offered him an even sweeter deal in 2008 than the ones offered to Arafat, and he wouldn’t even talk about it.

The Times still thinks that Abbas can deliver a two-state solution while his Hamas rivals cannot. What the Times fails to understand is that it is precisely because of the power of Hamas and the weakness of Abbas, who passes for a moderate among Palestinians and rightly understands that the dynamics of Palestinian politics forbid any agreement that would recognize the legitimacy of Israel, there is no chance that the PA leader will ever accede to their wishes.

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Terrorists’ Goal Is Not “Foiling Peace Process”

After Monday’s rocket attack on Eilat and Aqaba, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mouthed the de riguer platitude: the attack was perpetrated “by terrorist groups who want to foil the peace process.” Eliot Jager of Jewish Ideas Daily echoed this yesterday. Yet the sequence of events that Jager himself described — and of which Netanyahu is surely aware — strongly suggests the opposite: that the recent spate of attacks on Israel’s south are meant not to keep Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “from pursuing genuine give-and-take bargaining with Israel,” as Jager put it, but to help him in wringing concessions from Israel.

That Abbas has no interest in direct talks with Israel is impossible to miss. He himself has said so repeatedly, as have other senior PA officials: he begged the Arab League (unsuccessfully) to back him in refusing direct talks just last week, and PA officials have complained bitterly of the pressure they are under to begin the talks. So if Hamas’s recent escalation — and whether or not the Eilat/Aqaba strike came from Hamas-controlled Gaza, as Egypt claims, the weekend’s Grad and Qassam rocket strikes on southern Israel definitely did — provoked an Israeli retaliation that Abbas could paint as an “atrocity” and use as an excuse for nixing talks, nobody would be happier than Abbas.

But why would Hamas, which is embroiled in vicious rivalry with Abbas’s Fatah faction, want to cooperate with him? Because despite their mutual loathing, they have a common interest in wresting more concessions from Israel. Hamas has proved this over and over.

For instance, it clamped down on rocket and mortar attacks on Israel in August 2005 — a 75 percent drop from the previous month — to avoid disrupting the month’s scheduled unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Then, after the pullout, the rocket fire gradually escalated again.

Similarly, the year after May 1999, when Ehud Barak became prime minister on a platform of signing a final-status deal with the PA, was the first since the Oslo Accords were signed without a single suicide bombing inside Israel. Hamas wanted to see what Barak might give. But after Hamas and Fatah both deemed Barak’s offer at the July 2000 Camp David summit insufficient, they collaborated in launching a new terror war (the second intifada) to pressure Israel for more concessions. And it worked: in 2005, Israel uprooted 25 settlements and withdrew its army from Gaza without the Palestinians giving anything in exchange.

The problem with resuming direct talks now, from the standpoint of both Fatah and Hamas, is that Israel has made no new upfront concessions. Yet Abbas can no longer refuse without incurring blame.

The solution is obvious: shift the blame to Israel by provoking a military retaliation that Abbas could use as an excuse. Then the world would instead pressure Israel to offer new concessions to get him to the table.

It’s a scheme that has worked well many times before. And it will continue working until the world grasps that terrorists’ primary goal is not “foiling peace processes” but defeating their enemies piecemeal by wresting ever more concessions from them.

After Monday’s rocket attack on Eilat and Aqaba, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mouthed the de riguer platitude: the attack was perpetrated “by terrorist groups who want to foil the peace process.” Eliot Jager of Jewish Ideas Daily echoed this yesterday. Yet the sequence of events that Jager himself described — and of which Netanyahu is surely aware — strongly suggests the opposite: that the recent spate of attacks on Israel’s south are meant not to keep Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “from pursuing genuine give-and-take bargaining with Israel,” as Jager put it, but to help him in wringing concessions from Israel.

That Abbas has no interest in direct talks with Israel is impossible to miss. He himself has said so repeatedly, as have other senior PA officials: he begged the Arab League (unsuccessfully) to back him in refusing direct talks just last week, and PA officials have complained bitterly of the pressure they are under to begin the talks. So if Hamas’s recent escalation — and whether or not the Eilat/Aqaba strike came from Hamas-controlled Gaza, as Egypt claims, the weekend’s Grad and Qassam rocket strikes on southern Israel definitely did — provoked an Israeli retaliation that Abbas could paint as an “atrocity” and use as an excuse for nixing talks, nobody would be happier than Abbas.

But why would Hamas, which is embroiled in vicious rivalry with Abbas’s Fatah faction, want to cooperate with him? Because despite their mutual loathing, they have a common interest in wresting more concessions from Israel. Hamas has proved this over and over.

For instance, it clamped down on rocket and mortar attacks on Israel in August 2005 — a 75 percent drop from the previous month — to avoid disrupting the month’s scheduled unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Then, after the pullout, the rocket fire gradually escalated again.

Similarly, the year after May 1999, when Ehud Barak became prime minister on a platform of signing a final-status deal with the PA, was the first since the Oslo Accords were signed without a single suicide bombing inside Israel. Hamas wanted to see what Barak might give. But after Hamas and Fatah both deemed Barak’s offer at the July 2000 Camp David summit insufficient, they collaborated in launching a new terror war (the second intifada) to pressure Israel for more concessions. And it worked: in 2005, Israel uprooted 25 settlements and withdrew its army from Gaza without the Palestinians giving anything in exchange.

The problem with resuming direct talks now, from the standpoint of both Fatah and Hamas, is that Israel has made no new upfront concessions. Yet Abbas can no longer refuse without incurring blame.

The solution is obvious: shift the blame to Israel by provoking a military retaliation that Abbas could use as an excuse. Then the world would instead pressure Israel to offer new concessions to get him to the table.

It’s a scheme that has worked well many times before. And it will continue working until the world grasps that terrorists’ primary goal is not “foiling peace processes” but defeating their enemies piecemeal by wresting ever more concessions from them.

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Why the “Peace Process” Is a Farce

Elliott Abrams succinctly explains why there is no hope in sight for a Middle East peace deal. In short, one side doesn’t want peace. He writes:

“I say in front of you, Mr. President, that we have nothing to do with incitement against Israel, and we’re not doing that,” claimed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during his visit to the White House in June.

It is unfortunate for the prospects of Middle East peace that this denial by Abbas (who is also head of the PLO and Fatah) was just plain untrue. In fact, this two-faced stance of Abbas and his cronies — proclaiming peaceful intentions to the international community while inciting their population to hatred of Israel — is one of the primary impediments to any sort of solution to the longstanding crisis.

Abrams notes the many examples of Palestinian duplicity. (“This very month, for example, Abbas publicly mourned the death of Mohammed Oudeh, mastermind of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre: ‘The deceased was one of the prominent leaders of the Fatah movement and lived a life filled with the struggle, devoted effort, and the enormous sacrifice of the deceased for the sake of the legitimate problem of his people.’”) And what is Obama’s reaction to all this? Well, he’s now up to having a stern talk with Abbas rather than pretending the incitement doesn’t exist.

Swell, but that doesn’t really get at the root of the problem: Obama’s entire peace-process gambit is hopelessly flawed, indeed farcical, because it assumes if we just find the right maps (listen, Bill Clinton had them memorized, and it helped not at all at Camp David), we’d have a peace deal. This is the fallacy that underlies the post-Oslo peace-processing and the reason why, as Abrams argues, we’d do better to focus on “the character of that state, and of Palestinian society” than on the fine points of a deal to which one side is unable and unwilling to agree.

There is one more noteworthy item. Abrams provides a candid account of a dinner with Abbas in June:

At a dinner for Abbas during his Washington visit, I confronted him with several recent examples of incitement, as well as the denial that he made to the President. His reply was that of a bureaucrat, not a peacemaker: He did not deny the allegations, but said that if true they should be raised at a tripartite committee (the United States, the Palestinian Authority and Israel) that had been established by the Oslo Accords.

Funny, in all the happy-talk reports from Jewish leaders and ex-government officials attending the dinner, they never mentioned this revealing episode. This is one more infuriating instance in which establishment Jewish leaders have placed comity ahead of honesty. It has seemed very important to them, at a cost to their own intellectual credibility, to sustain the illusion that the peace process is more than a futile exercise.

It would be helpful if both the administration and Jewish groups were frank about the central reason why the Palestinians have no state: they don’t want to give up killing Jews. But then they’d have to admit that their infatuation with the peace process and their hopes for a two-state solution are based on willful ignorance.

Elliott Abrams succinctly explains why there is no hope in sight for a Middle East peace deal. In short, one side doesn’t want peace. He writes:

“I say in front of you, Mr. President, that we have nothing to do with incitement against Israel, and we’re not doing that,” claimed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during his visit to the White House in June.

It is unfortunate for the prospects of Middle East peace that this denial by Abbas (who is also head of the PLO and Fatah) was just plain untrue. In fact, this two-faced stance of Abbas and his cronies — proclaiming peaceful intentions to the international community while inciting their population to hatred of Israel — is one of the primary impediments to any sort of solution to the longstanding crisis.

Abrams notes the many examples of Palestinian duplicity. (“This very month, for example, Abbas publicly mourned the death of Mohammed Oudeh, mastermind of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre: ‘The deceased was one of the prominent leaders of the Fatah movement and lived a life filled with the struggle, devoted effort, and the enormous sacrifice of the deceased for the sake of the legitimate problem of his people.’”) And what is Obama’s reaction to all this? Well, he’s now up to having a stern talk with Abbas rather than pretending the incitement doesn’t exist.

Swell, but that doesn’t really get at the root of the problem: Obama’s entire peace-process gambit is hopelessly flawed, indeed farcical, because it assumes if we just find the right maps (listen, Bill Clinton had them memorized, and it helped not at all at Camp David), we’d have a peace deal. This is the fallacy that underlies the post-Oslo peace-processing and the reason why, as Abrams argues, we’d do better to focus on “the character of that state, and of Palestinian society” than on the fine points of a deal to which one side is unable and unwilling to agree.

There is one more noteworthy item. Abrams provides a candid account of a dinner with Abbas in June:

At a dinner for Abbas during his Washington visit, I confronted him with several recent examples of incitement, as well as the denial that he made to the President. His reply was that of a bureaucrat, not a peacemaker: He did not deny the allegations, but said that if true they should be raised at a tripartite committee (the United States, the Palestinian Authority and Israel) that had been established by the Oslo Accords.

Funny, in all the happy-talk reports from Jewish leaders and ex-government officials attending the dinner, they never mentioned this revealing episode. This is one more infuriating instance in which establishment Jewish leaders have placed comity ahead of honesty. It has seemed very important to them, at a cost to their own intellectual credibility, to sustain the illusion that the peace process is more than a futile exercise.

It would be helpful if both the administration and Jewish groups were frank about the central reason why the Palestinians have no state: they don’t want to give up killing Jews. But then they’d have to admit that their infatuation with the peace process and their hopes for a two-state solution are based on willful ignorance.

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Tony Judt’s Specious Clichés About Israel

Once again today the New York Times devoted the largest share of its op-ed page to an attack on Israel, as author and academic Tony Judt attempted to set the paper’s readers straight on what he considers the tired clichés of the Middle East. But as was the case with previous occupiers of this space, such as Michael Chabon, Judt flies under false colors. He affects a pose of Olympian detachment while treating both anti-Israel and pro-Israel arguments with equal disdain. This “plague on both your houses” approach seems reasonable on its face but it is utterly disingenuous.

That’s because of Judt’s own views on Israel and Zionism, about which he is less than candid in this article. Judt has written at length in the New York Review of Books, his usual literary home, about his opposition to Zionism. He is entitled to this belief, however hateful it might be, but such a stance ought to disqualify him from writing pieces in a mainstream newspaper that purport to take an objective stance on the subject.

As for his six clichés, they are all specious points of discussion and contain numerous false arguments. Here are a few:

* The anti-Israel arguments that he dismisses as merely absurd and worthy of being ignored are, while specious, widely disseminated around the world by a rising tide of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic incitement. But Judt, as do other critics of Israel, asserts that friends of Israel treat all criticisms of the state as being intended to delegitimize it. True. But it is a fact that all too many of these critics actually do intend to do just that. To point this out is not “self-defeating” on Israel’s part. To ignore the widespread attacks on Zionism that are now commonplace in Europe and on American college campuses would be to abandon the field to Israel’s foes.

* He acknowledges that Israel is a working democracy but then claims “the expression of strong dissent from official policy is increasingly discouraged,” as if those who oppose the Netanyahu government must only do so in private. This is absurd as not only is there an open season on Netanyahu in the Israeli media but also Arabs openly disparage Zionism on the floor of the Knesset. Even worse, Judt goes on to claim that Hamas’s regime in Gaza is a democracy too. It is true that Hamas won an election in 2006 — but it seized total power there in a bloody coup. Not only is there no hope of another election in which Gazans might hold Hamas accountable for its misrule — a typical example of Third World Democracy, which means “one man, one vote, one time” — but the result of that coup has been the imposition of Islamist practices on secular Palestinians and a tyrannical suppression of all opposing views. If that is Judt’s idea of democracy, it is no wonder he doesn’t value the concept very highly.

* He disparages the idea that not Israel and the Palestinians are to blame. He simply dismisses “the failure of negotiations in 2000” as having reinforced the Israeli belief that “there is no one to talk to.” But Camp David in 2000 didn’t prove that Israelis couldn’t talk to Palestinians. They can, even to Hamas. But it did prove — as did Mahmoud Abbas’s similar refusal in 2008 of an offer of a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem — that the Palestinians aren’t interested in or capable of making peace under any circumstances. The Palestinians may be weak but they could be living in their own state with a signed peace treaty guaranteeing their independence if their political culture didn’t prohibit them from acknowledging the legitimacy of a Jewish state within any borders.

* His inclusion of a cliché about an “Israel lobby,” which is “disproportionately influential,” is a tip-off of his bias. The “Israel lobby” has influence in this country not because the people at AIPAC are geniuses but because the vast majority of Americans support Israel.

* Last, and perhaps most important, he claims that the debate about the link between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism is a cliché. But his attempt to dismiss anti-Semitic attacks on Israel depends on the reader being ignorant of the nature of most such attacks in international forums these days. The fact that for anti-Zionists the only alleged injustices in the world worth protesting are those committed by the one Jewish state in the world — the only country the legitimacy of whose existence is a matter of debate — betrays the prejudice behind such sentiments. Judt’s claim that one can “acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and still be an anti-Zionist” is a contradiction in terms but I suppose that’s how he rationalizes his own beliefs. The idea that you can be a foe of a besieged country’s founding ideology and basis of legitimacy yet avoid being branded as someone who would like to see it destroyed is mere sophistry. But when you are an American Jewish academic who despises Israel but doesn’t wish to be associated with the vulgar Jew-haters who act on their beliefs, I suppose that’s the only stance you can take when you write in the New York Times.

Once again today the New York Times devoted the largest share of its op-ed page to an attack on Israel, as author and academic Tony Judt attempted to set the paper’s readers straight on what he considers the tired clichés of the Middle East. But as was the case with previous occupiers of this space, such as Michael Chabon, Judt flies under false colors. He affects a pose of Olympian detachment while treating both anti-Israel and pro-Israel arguments with equal disdain. This “plague on both your houses” approach seems reasonable on its face but it is utterly disingenuous.

That’s because of Judt’s own views on Israel and Zionism, about which he is less than candid in this article. Judt has written at length in the New York Review of Books, his usual literary home, about his opposition to Zionism. He is entitled to this belief, however hateful it might be, but such a stance ought to disqualify him from writing pieces in a mainstream newspaper that purport to take an objective stance on the subject.

As for his six clichés, they are all specious points of discussion and contain numerous false arguments. Here are a few:

* The anti-Israel arguments that he dismisses as merely absurd and worthy of being ignored are, while specious, widely disseminated around the world by a rising tide of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic incitement. But Judt, as do other critics of Israel, asserts that friends of Israel treat all criticisms of the state as being intended to delegitimize it. True. But it is a fact that all too many of these critics actually do intend to do just that. To point this out is not “self-defeating” on Israel’s part. To ignore the widespread attacks on Zionism that are now commonplace in Europe and on American college campuses would be to abandon the field to Israel’s foes.

* He acknowledges that Israel is a working democracy but then claims “the expression of strong dissent from official policy is increasingly discouraged,” as if those who oppose the Netanyahu government must only do so in private. This is absurd as not only is there an open season on Netanyahu in the Israeli media but also Arabs openly disparage Zionism on the floor of the Knesset. Even worse, Judt goes on to claim that Hamas’s regime in Gaza is a democracy too. It is true that Hamas won an election in 2006 — but it seized total power there in a bloody coup. Not only is there no hope of another election in which Gazans might hold Hamas accountable for its misrule — a typical example of Third World Democracy, which means “one man, one vote, one time” — but the result of that coup has been the imposition of Islamist practices on secular Palestinians and a tyrannical suppression of all opposing views. If that is Judt’s idea of democracy, it is no wonder he doesn’t value the concept very highly.

* He disparages the idea that not Israel and the Palestinians are to blame. He simply dismisses “the failure of negotiations in 2000” as having reinforced the Israeli belief that “there is no one to talk to.” But Camp David in 2000 didn’t prove that Israelis couldn’t talk to Palestinians. They can, even to Hamas. But it did prove — as did Mahmoud Abbas’s similar refusal in 2008 of an offer of a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem — that the Palestinians aren’t interested in or capable of making peace under any circumstances. The Palestinians may be weak but they could be living in their own state with a signed peace treaty guaranteeing their independence if their political culture didn’t prohibit them from acknowledging the legitimacy of a Jewish state within any borders.

* His inclusion of a cliché about an “Israel lobby,” which is “disproportionately influential,” is a tip-off of his bias. The “Israel lobby” has influence in this country not because the people at AIPAC are geniuses but because the vast majority of Americans support Israel.

* Last, and perhaps most important, he claims that the debate about the link between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism is a cliché. But his attempt to dismiss anti-Semitic attacks on Israel depends on the reader being ignorant of the nature of most such attacks in international forums these days. The fact that for anti-Zionists the only alleged injustices in the world worth protesting are those committed by the one Jewish state in the world — the only country the legitimacy of whose existence is a matter of debate — betrays the prejudice behind such sentiments. Judt’s claim that one can “acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and still be an anti-Zionist” is a contradiction in terms but I suppose that’s how he rationalizes his own beliefs. The idea that you can be a foe of a besieged country’s founding ideology and basis of legitimacy yet avoid being branded as someone who would like to see it destroyed is mere sophistry. But when you are an American Jewish academic who despises Israel but doesn’t wish to be associated with the vulgar Jew-haters who act on their beliefs, I suppose that’s the only stance you can take when you write in the New York Times.

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What Obama Has Done Wrong in the Middle East

In a fascinating interview, former Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, who oversaw George W. Bush’s Israel policy (remember — when we treated our ally with affection and respect?), details Obama’s errors regarding Israel (yes, it’s a lengthy interview), gives some insight into the Bush administration, and offers some predictions and suggestions. The program should be watched in full or the transcript read, but there are certain sections that are especially noteworthy.

Topping the list of Obama’s errors, Abrams explains, is the peace-process fixation:

First, I guess, and — and — most significant. They seem to think that peace between Israel and the Palestinians comes top-down. It is created someplace at a conference table in — in Taba or Camp David or Annapolis or Geneva. And that’s wrong. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians will be created between them, on the ground, in the real world. And it will depend on essentially what happens on the West Bank, on creating the institutions of Palestinian — self-government. And the fight against terrorism, I guess — critical things on the Palestinian side. So — concentrating on diplomacy, concentrating on the settlements is just wrong. That’s not what’s critical. What’s critical is what happens in the so — in the West Bank.

This leads to a glimpse inside the Bush White House:

I thought Annapolis was a mistake because — obviously, President Bush didn’t agree with me. I thought they were not going to reach an agreement. It seemed to me that — that if you look at the terms that were out there, neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders were ready to accept those terms. I thought we were putting the emphasis in the wrong place, again, on conferences and conference tables and flying flags and all, rather than on the pretty — undramatic but critically important work of building institutions on the ground.

(In a prior interview with the Jerusalem Post, Abrams made clear that Condoleezza Rice pushed for the peace process, failing to provide the president with a full array of options.) It is a candid admission that presidents of both parties have fallen prey to peace-process-itis – the ailment characterized by a deep aversion to candidly assessing reality. But unlike the current president, Bush, to his credit, did not make a settlement freeze the cornerstone of his policy or escalate the issue of Jerusalem:

Since 1967, Israel has been building in — the West Bank, at one point in Gaza. Of course, that’s over now. And in Jerusalem, which is under Israeli law, the capital of Israel. It’s not occupied territory. In the Bush Administration, we reached a kind of agreement with Israel, under which they would build up and in but not out in the settlements.

In other words, no more land would be taken. The idea was, let’s not disadvantage the Palestinians by taking — an olive grove or a road.  And let’s not create a new issue for final settle — status talks someday.  If you want to build for more people to live in the middle of a settlement, fine. That doesn’t hurt Palestinians. I thought the Obama administration would accept that deal.

But Bush’s successor trashed that agreement and embarked on a new tactic: bullying Israel and trying to topple Bibi. (Abrams speculates: “It’s a reasonable theory that he thought, ‘We’ll continue to escalate the tension. Sooner or later, this coalition in Israel will crack.’”)

Abrams also takes a look at Iran, assessing the chance of an Israeli military action at “above 50-50. I think they really mean it when they say an Iranian nuclear weapon is unacceptable. Britain, France, England, Germany, the US, China, Russia, everybody says unacceptable. I don’t think we really mean unacceptable. I think we really mean not good. I think the Israelis mean unacceptable.” The interview took place before the UN sanctions deal, and Abrams correctly predicted that we would not obtain the kind of sanctions needed to deter the mullahs from pursuing their nuclear plans.

What impact on the U.S. would result from the failure to prevent Iran from going nuclear? “[I]t is a threat to the American position in the entire Middle East and therefore in the entire world. American’s strategic credibility is deeply damaged, I think, if after all these speeches we’ve given, we let them get a nuclear weapon.”

Since Obama is plainly not getting those crippling sanctions. what would Abrams advise? In addition to an all-out effort to bolster the Green Movement, he invokes John McCain’s 2008 campaign line:

“The only thing worse than bombing Iran is an Iranian bomb.” I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon. I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon.

In private, many self-proclaimed defenders of the Jewish state voice the same views as those of Abrams. When will they pipe up?

In a fascinating interview, former Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, who oversaw George W. Bush’s Israel policy (remember — when we treated our ally with affection and respect?), details Obama’s errors regarding Israel (yes, it’s a lengthy interview), gives some insight into the Bush administration, and offers some predictions and suggestions. The program should be watched in full or the transcript read, but there are certain sections that are especially noteworthy.

Topping the list of Obama’s errors, Abrams explains, is the peace-process fixation:

First, I guess, and — and — most significant. They seem to think that peace between Israel and the Palestinians comes top-down. It is created someplace at a conference table in — in Taba or Camp David or Annapolis or Geneva. And that’s wrong. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians will be created between them, on the ground, in the real world. And it will depend on essentially what happens on the West Bank, on creating the institutions of Palestinian — self-government. And the fight against terrorism, I guess — critical things on the Palestinian side. So — concentrating on diplomacy, concentrating on the settlements is just wrong. That’s not what’s critical. What’s critical is what happens in the so — in the West Bank.

This leads to a glimpse inside the Bush White House:

I thought Annapolis was a mistake because — obviously, President Bush didn’t agree with me. I thought they were not going to reach an agreement. It seemed to me that — that if you look at the terms that were out there, neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders were ready to accept those terms. I thought we were putting the emphasis in the wrong place, again, on conferences and conference tables and flying flags and all, rather than on the pretty — undramatic but critically important work of building institutions on the ground.

(In a prior interview with the Jerusalem Post, Abrams made clear that Condoleezza Rice pushed for the peace process, failing to provide the president with a full array of options.) It is a candid admission that presidents of both parties have fallen prey to peace-process-itis – the ailment characterized by a deep aversion to candidly assessing reality. But unlike the current president, Bush, to his credit, did not make a settlement freeze the cornerstone of his policy or escalate the issue of Jerusalem:

Since 1967, Israel has been building in — the West Bank, at one point in Gaza. Of course, that’s over now. And in Jerusalem, which is under Israeli law, the capital of Israel. It’s not occupied territory. In the Bush Administration, we reached a kind of agreement with Israel, under which they would build up and in but not out in the settlements.

In other words, no more land would be taken. The idea was, let’s not disadvantage the Palestinians by taking — an olive grove or a road.  And let’s not create a new issue for final settle — status talks someday.  If you want to build for more people to live in the middle of a settlement, fine. That doesn’t hurt Palestinians. I thought the Obama administration would accept that deal.

But Bush’s successor trashed that agreement and embarked on a new tactic: bullying Israel and trying to topple Bibi. (Abrams speculates: “It’s a reasonable theory that he thought, ‘We’ll continue to escalate the tension. Sooner or later, this coalition in Israel will crack.’”)

Abrams also takes a look at Iran, assessing the chance of an Israeli military action at “above 50-50. I think they really mean it when they say an Iranian nuclear weapon is unacceptable. Britain, France, England, Germany, the US, China, Russia, everybody says unacceptable. I don’t think we really mean unacceptable. I think we really mean not good. I think the Israelis mean unacceptable.” The interview took place before the UN sanctions deal, and Abrams correctly predicted that we would not obtain the kind of sanctions needed to deter the mullahs from pursuing their nuclear plans.

What impact on the U.S. would result from the failure to prevent Iran from going nuclear? “[I]t is a threat to the American position in the entire Middle East and therefore in the entire world. American’s strategic credibility is deeply damaged, I think, if after all these speeches we’ve given, we let them get a nuclear weapon.”

Since Obama is plainly not getting those crippling sanctions. what would Abrams advise? In addition to an all-out effort to bolster the Green Movement, he invokes John McCain’s 2008 campaign line:

“The only thing worse than bombing Iran is an Iranian bomb.” I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon. I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon.

In private, many self-proclaimed defenders of the Jewish state voice the same views as those of Abrams. When will they pipe up?

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Aaron David Miller: Obama Is the Biggest Concern in the Middle East

In an interview with JTA, Aaron David Miller recaps and puts an exclamation point on his important piece calling for an end to the “religion” of the peace process — that is, the reality-free belief in the centrality of the Palestinian conflict to all Middle East issues and the equally fantastical conviction that an agreement is possible in the first place. He says:

“What I find difficult to reconcile is how you’re going to get to a conflict-ending agreement which addresses the four core issues that have driven the Israelis and the Palestinians and brought each issue to a finality of claims. … I just do not see how to do that given the gaps that exist and the inherent constraints on the leaders in the absence also of a real sense of urgency.”

He reminds us that the Oslo paradigm is now badly outdated:

Miller describes how the situation has worsened since the last major effort at a resolution, the Camp David-Taba talks of 2000-01: The status of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been wounded profoundly by the ouster of his moderate party, Fatah, from Gaza at the gunpoint of Hamas; Netanyahu is bound by a right-wing coalition (of his choosing) that is not ready to countenance a full-fledged settlement freeze, never mind compromise on Jerusalem; and Obama has had 15 months, distracted by the economy and health care, to match Clinton’s six full years focused on the issue.

Then there’s the region: “Hezbollah and Hamas,” Miller says referring to the terrorist groups in Lebanon and Gaza, respectively. “You have two non-state actors, two non-state environments who are not proxies of Iran and or Syria but who clearly reflect their capacity to want to influence events — and then you have Iran” and its potential nuclear threat.

What concerns him most? Not another failed round of peace-processing. Not the continued Palestinian radicalization. No, it’s Obama that has him most nervous:

The prospect that Miller says unnerves him most is that the Obama administration says it will step in with a conflict-ending agreement if the current proximity talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians go nowhere.

“I’m very uneasy because at the end of the day, I don’t see what the game is, I don’t see what the strategy is,” he said. “Even if it’s an initiative, what’s the objective, what’s the strategy?”

Interestingly and predictably, Jeremy Ben-Ami lets it be know that he doesn’t care much for reality: “We don’t have the luxury of time; the tensions on the ground are too high. … That’s the difference between being an analyst and actually trying to assess outcomes.” What? Even for him, that’s incoherent.

But it’s a helpful reminder that the people who favor Obama’s obsession with the peace process are the same who demand that Israel make all sorts of unilateral concessions, oppose sanctions against Iran, and are content to carve up the Jewish state into a shrunken carcass of its former self. They couldn’t be happier with Obama — enabled by the no-longer-reality-based Dennis Ross — who’s just the one to jam a deal, or try to, down Israel’s throat.

In an interview with JTA, Aaron David Miller recaps and puts an exclamation point on his important piece calling for an end to the “religion” of the peace process — that is, the reality-free belief in the centrality of the Palestinian conflict to all Middle East issues and the equally fantastical conviction that an agreement is possible in the first place. He says:

“What I find difficult to reconcile is how you’re going to get to a conflict-ending agreement which addresses the four core issues that have driven the Israelis and the Palestinians and brought each issue to a finality of claims. … I just do not see how to do that given the gaps that exist and the inherent constraints on the leaders in the absence also of a real sense of urgency.”

He reminds us that the Oslo paradigm is now badly outdated:

Miller describes how the situation has worsened since the last major effort at a resolution, the Camp David-Taba talks of 2000-01: The status of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been wounded profoundly by the ouster of his moderate party, Fatah, from Gaza at the gunpoint of Hamas; Netanyahu is bound by a right-wing coalition (of his choosing) that is not ready to countenance a full-fledged settlement freeze, never mind compromise on Jerusalem; and Obama has had 15 months, distracted by the economy and health care, to match Clinton’s six full years focused on the issue.

Then there’s the region: “Hezbollah and Hamas,” Miller says referring to the terrorist groups in Lebanon and Gaza, respectively. “You have two non-state actors, two non-state environments who are not proxies of Iran and or Syria but who clearly reflect their capacity to want to influence events — and then you have Iran” and its potential nuclear threat.

What concerns him most? Not another failed round of peace-processing. Not the continued Palestinian radicalization. No, it’s Obama that has him most nervous:

The prospect that Miller says unnerves him most is that the Obama administration says it will step in with a conflict-ending agreement if the current proximity talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians go nowhere.

“I’m very uneasy because at the end of the day, I don’t see what the game is, I don’t see what the strategy is,” he said. “Even if it’s an initiative, what’s the objective, what’s the strategy?”

Interestingly and predictably, Jeremy Ben-Ami lets it be know that he doesn’t care much for reality: “We don’t have the luxury of time; the tensions on the ground are too high. … That’s the difference between being an analyst and actually trying to assess outcomes.” What? Even for him, that’s incoherent.

But it’s a helpful reminder that the people who favor Obama’s obsession with the peace process are the same who demand that Israel make all sorts of unilateral concessions, oppose sanctions against Iran, and are content to carve up the Jewish state into a shrunken carcass of its former self. They couldn’t be happier with Obama — enabled by the no-longer-reality-based Dennis Ross — who’s just the one to jam a deal, or try to, down Israel’s throat.

Read Less




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