Commentary Magazine


Topic: Camp David

Dennis Ross Joins the Obama Cult of Linkage

Prior to this administration, Dennis Ross was an experienced negotiator who tried valiantly to reach a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians at Camp David. Watching the Palestinians reject the offer of their own state and embark on the intifada impressed upon Ross, or so he wrote repeatedly, the need for Palestinians to develop institutions that would support a peace deal and to lay the groundwork with Arab states and the Palestinian public before future negotiations could succeed. He was also regarded as tough-minded on Iran, ready to impose tough sanctions and do what was necessary to prevent the regime from acquiring nuclear weapons.

He also wrote a book with David Makovsky entitled Myths, illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East, which came out in 2009:

Contrary to the position of the president and other advisers, Ross writes that efforts to advance dialogue with Iran should not be connected to the renewal of talks between Israel and the Palestinians. … In the second chapter, entitled “Linkage: The Mother of All Myths,” Ross writes: “Of all the policy myths that have kept us from making real progress in the Middle East, one stands out for its impact and longevity: the idea that if only the Palestinian conflict were solved, all other Middle East conflicts would melt away. This is the argument of ‘linkage.'”

Well, that’s old hat. He’s thrown in his lot with the Obama crew. Josh Rogin documents Ross’s ingestion of the Obama Kool Aid:

The National Security Council’s Dennis Ross is the latest U.S. official to link the Obama administration’s drive to secure peace between Israelis and Arabs to the overall goal of bringing greater stability to the region and combating the threat from Iran.

“In this region, pursuing peace is instrumental to shaping a new regional context,” Ross said in remarks Monday evening. “Pursuing peace is not a substitute for dealing with the other challenges. … It is also not a panacea. But especially as it relates to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, if one could do that, it would deny state and non-state actors a tool they use to exploit anger and grievances.” …

“Clearly one way that Iran is increasing its influence in the region is by exploiting the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians,” Ross said, echoing statements made by U.S. Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus in a report submitted to Congress back in March. …

But Ross, who is not often accused of being too hard on Israel, made similar comments Monday. “The continuation of the conflict strengthens Iran’s rejectionist partners and also Hezbollah. Iran deliberately uses the conflict to expose even the moderates in the region by stoking the fears of its populations and playing the worst most anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist prejudices,” he said.

Apparently, Ross has decided to jettison his previous views and join the Obama cult of linkage. What was in 2009 a “myth” is now gospel. You wonder how it is that someone convinces himself to cast off beliefs acquired and refined over a lifetime of government service just for the sake of maintaining a post (and an invisible one at that) in an administration that may go down in history as the most destructive and incompetent Middle East policymakers in history and the gang that allowed Iran to get the bomb.

Prior to this administration, Dennis Ross was an experienced negotiator who tried valiantly to reach a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians at Camp David. Watching the Palestinians reject the offer of their own state and embark on the intifada impressed upon Ross, or so he wrote repeatedly, the need for Palestinians to develop institutions that would support a peace deal and to lay the groundwork with Arab states and the Palestinian public before future negotiations could succeed. He was also regarded as tough-minded on Iran, ready to impose tough sanctions and do what was necessary to prevent the regime from acquiring nuclear weapons.

He also wrote a book with David Makovsky entitled Myths, illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East, which came out in 2009:

Contrary to the position of the president and other advisers, Ross writes that efforts to advance dialogue with Iran should not be connected to the renewal of talks between Israel and the Palestinians. … In the second chapter, entitled “Linkage: The Mother of All Myths,” Ross writes: “Of all the policy myths that have kept us from making real progress in the Middle East, one stands out for its impact and longevity: the idea that if only the Palestinian conflict were solved, all other Middle East conflicts would melt away. This is the argument of ‘linkage.'”

Well, that’s old hat. He’s thrown in his lot with the Obama crew. Josh Rogin documents Ross’s ingestion of the Obama Kool Aid:

The National Security Council’s Dennis Ross is the latest U.S. official to link the Obama administration’s drive to secure peace between Israelis and Arabs to the overall goal of bringing greater stability to the region and combating the threat from Iran.

“In this region, pursuing peace is instrumental to shaping a new regional context,” Ross said in remarks Monday evening. “Pursuing peace is not a substitute for dealing with the other challenges. … It is also not a panacea. But especially as it relates to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, if one could do that, it would deny state and non-state actors a tool they use to exploit anger and grievances.” …

“Clearly one way that Iran is increasing its influence in the region is by exploiting the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians,” Ross said, echoing statements made by U.S. Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus in a report submitted to Congress back in March. …

But Ross, who is not often accused of being too hard on Israel, made similar comments Monday. “The continuation of the conflict strengthens Iran’s rejectionist partners and also Hezbollah. Iran deliberately uses the conflict to expose even the moderates in the region by stoking the fears of its populations and playing the worst most anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist prejudices,” he said.

Apparently, Ross has decided to jettison his previous views and join the Obama cult of linkage. What was in 2009 a “myth” is now gospel. You wonder how it is that someone convinces himself to cast off beliefs acquired and refined over a lifetime of government service just for the sake of maintaining a post (and an invisible one at that) in an administration that may go down in history as the most destructive and incompetent Middle East policymakers in history and the gang that allowed Iran to get the bomb.

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Hillary Announces Proximity Talks

In remarks on Friday with the Kuwati Deputy Prime Minister, Hillary Clinton repeated her wishy-washy talking point on Iran:

I also updated the deputy prime minister on our ongoing efforts, along with our international partners, to secure a United Nations Security Council resolution on Iran. We discussed the importance of diplomatic efforts to encourage Iran to abide by its international nuclear obligations. On Monday, I will attend the conference in New York reviewing the Nonproliferation Treaty and we will be underscoring once again the importance of all nations upholding their responsibilities.

Good grief — could she sound any less serious about thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions? (Notice how nonproliferation meetings are used as camouflage to hide the utter lack of progress on the proliferation issue which is most urgent.) Later in the news conference, she adds: “We are working to isolate Iran through the United Nations. We’re in the midst of negotiations over a Security Council resolution that will impose consequences on Iran for its unwillingness to follow the IAEA or the United Nations Security Council requirements about its nuclear program. We are working to support the defense and territorial integrity of our partners and allies in the Gulf, and we consult closely.” You think that induces fear in Tehran? No, me neither.

Then she moves on to the “peace process” with her usual pablum. (“As I said last night at the American Jewish Committee, the Middle East will never realize its full potential, Israel will never be truly secure, the Palestinians will never have their legitimate aspiration for a state, unless we create the circumstances in which positive negotiations can occur.”) She announces that next week, after fifteen months, the Obami have been able to get the Palestinians to not talk directly to Israel. (Yes, this is a step backward from the Bush administration, which at least managed to force the parties into fruitless face-to-face talks.) She announces: “We will be starting with proximity talks next week. Senator Mitchell will be going back to the region. And we look forward to the meeting of the Arab follow-up committee in Cairo tomorrow night to support the commitment by President Abbas to move forward with these talks.”

Then, perhaps sensing this is indeed thin gruel and less than other administrations have achieved, she adds: “Ultimately, we want to see the parties in direct negotiations and working out all the difficult issues that they must – they’ve been close a few times before. I remember very well the Camp David experience, and I know that President Abbas negotiated with former Prime Minister Olmert. So we are looking to see the resumption of those discussions.” In other words: for all their smart diplomacy, the Obami have managed to set back the “peace process” by more than a decade.

In remarks on Friday with the Kuwati Deputy Prime Minister, Hillary Clinton repeated her wishy-washy talking point on Iran:

I also updated the deputy prime minister on our ongoing efforts, along with our international partners, to secure a United Nations Security Council resolution on Iran. We discussed the importance of diplomatic efforts to encourage Iran to abide by its international nuclear obligations. On Monday, I will attend the conference in New York reviewing the Nonproliferation Treaty and we will be underscoring once again the importance of all nations upholding their responsibilities.

Good grief — could she sound any less serious about thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions? (Notice how nonproliferation meetings are used as camouflage to hide the utter lack of progress on the proliferation issue which is most urgent.) Later in the news conference, she adds: “We are working to isolate Iran through the United Nations. We’re in the midst of negotiations over a Security Council resolution that will impose consequences on Iran for its unwillingness to follow the IAEA or the United Nations Security Council requirements about its nuclear program. We are working to support the defense and territorial integrity of our partners and allies in the Gulf, and we consult closely.” You think that induces fear in Tehran? No, me neither.

Then she moves on to the “peace process” with her usual pablum. (“As I said last night at the American Jewish Committee, the Middle East will never realize its full potential, Israel will never be truly secure, the Palestinians will never have their legitimate aspiration for a state, unless we create the circumstances in which positive negotiations can occur.”) She announces that next week, after fifteen months, the Obami have been able to get the Palestinians to not talk directly to Israel. (Yes, this is a step backward from the Bush administration, which at least managed to force the parties into fruitless face-to-face talks.) She announces: “We will be starting with proximity talks next week. Senator Mitchell will be going back to the region. And we look forward to the meeting of the Arab follow-up committee in Cairo tomorrow night to support the commitment by President Abbas to move forward with these talks.”

Then, perhaps sensing this is indeed thin gruel and less than other administrations have achieved, she adds: “Ultimately, we want to see the parties in direct negotiations and working out all the difficult issues that they must – they’ve been close a few times before. I remember very well the Camp David experience, and I know that President Abbas negotiated with former Prime Minister Olmert. So we are looking to see the resumption of those discussions.” In other words: for all their smart diplomacy, the Obami have managed to set back the “peace process” by more than a decade.

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No Human Rights Atrocity Too Awful for the Obami to Ignore

Fox News reports:

Seventeen members of Congress are pressing the State Department to act on the “grim reality” faced by Coptic Christian women in Egypt, who frequently are coerced into violent forced marriages that leave them victim to rape and captive slavery.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote on April 16 to Ambassador-at-Large Luis CdeBaca, who heads up American efforts to thwart human trafficking around the globe.

In their letter, they exhort the State Department to confront the “criminal phenomenon” of forced marriage they say is on the rise in Egypt, where the 7 million Coptic Christians often face criminal prosecution and civic violence for their rejection of Islam.

“I think it is about as bad as it can be” for Copts and other religious minorities in Egypt, said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who penned the letter. “It is very tough to be a Coptic Christian. … Keep in mind that we have given Egypt about $53 billion since Camp David” — the 1978 peace accords between Israel and Egypt that were arranged by the U.S. government — “so we’re actually funding them,” Wolf said.

We’ve come to expect very little from the Obami on human rights, and absolutely nothing when it comes to the protection of religious freedom. One suspects that slothful difference is at work here, as the Fox report explains:

The State Department’s 2009 report on trafficking singled out Egypt for its Level II Watchlist, noting that the government made only “minimal efforts to prevent trafficking in persons” last year.

But while it notes the plight of Sudanese women and others in bondage in Egypt, it does not mention Copts once — nor does the report mention Christians anywhere in its 324 pages.

A State Department spokesman said that violations of religious rights are covered in the annual reports of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. But the most recent report from the commission made no mention of forced marriages or forced conversions targeting Copts in Egypt.

Wolf is not optimistic that the Obami will leap into action. (“‘I expect the State Department to do nothing,’ he said, ‘because that’s the way the State Department has been responding.'”) Indeed, the Obama administration has been nothing if not consistent in its disdain for human rights and unwillingness to rattle the despotic regimes of the “Muslim World.” It remains unclear how it is that we’re going to win the hearts and minds of the people in those countries and wean them from the temptation of  Islamic fundamentalism when we are so reticent in the defense of our own values.

Fox News reports:

Seventeen members of Congress are pressing the State Department to act on the “grim reality” faced by Coptic Christian women in Egypt, who frequently are coerced into violent forced marriages that leave them victim to rape and captive slavery.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote on April 16 to Ambassador-at-Large Luis CdeBaca, who heads up American efforts to thwart human trafficking around the globe.

In their letter, they exhort the State Department to confront the “criminal phenomenon” of forced marriage they say is on the rise in Egypt, where the 7 million Coptic Christians often face criminal prosecution and civic violence for their rejection of Islam.

“I think it is about as bad as it can be” for Copts and other religious minorities in Egypt, said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who penned the letter. “It is very tough to be a Coptic Christian. … Keep in mind that we have given Egypt about $53 billion since Camp David” — the 1978 peace accords between Israel and Egypt that were arranged by the U.S. government — “so we’re actually funding them,” Wolf said.

We’ve come to expect very little from the Obami on human rights, and absolutely nothing when it comes to the protection of religious freedom. One suspects that slothful difference is at work here, as the Fox report explains:

The State Department’s 2009 report on trafficking singled out Egypt for its Level II Watchlist, noting that the government made only “minimal efforts to prevent trafficking in persons” last year.

But while it notes the plight of Sudanese women and others in bondage in Egypt, it does not mention Copts once — nor does the report mention Christians anywhere in its 324 pages.

A State Department spokesman said that violations of religious rights are covered in the annual reports of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. But the most recent report from the commission made no mention of forced marriages or forced conversions targeting Copts in Egypt.

Wolf is not optimistic that the Obami will leap into action. (“‘I expect the State Department to do nothing,’ he said, ‘because that’s the way the State Department has been responding.'”) Indeed, the Obama administration has been nothing if not consistent in its disdain for human rights and unwillingness to rattle the despotic regimes of the “Muslim World.” It remains unclear how it is that we’re going to win the hearts and minds of the people in those countries and wean them from the temptation of  Islamic fundamentalism when we are so reticent in the defense of our own values.

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Blaiming America First for No Middle East Peace

Foreign Policy has posted a forum online on why we have failed to achieve Middle East peace. It’s an odd question, which reveals the foreign policy establishment’s predilection to see this as something we control. The real answer is, obviously, because the Palestinians and their enablers don’t want peace. But that’s not the answer from many of the participants who say the problem is — I know you’ll be shocked! — the U.S. just isn’t trying hard enough or we haven’t browbeaten Israel sufficiently. Zbigniew Brezinski says the U.S. is at fault because we just haven’t gotten “seriously engaged” and haven’t come out with a plan to impose on the parties. Daniel Kurtzer echoes this claptrap: “When we are active diplomatically, Arab states are more willing to cooperate with us on other problems; when we are not active, our diplomatic options shrink.” Some willfully distort history, as Robert Malley does when he insists that “Americans, Palestinians, and Israelis were all to blame for the failure of the 2000 Camp David talks.” Hmm. I thought it was Yasir Arafat who walked away from the deal and started killing Jews instead of accepting a Palestinian state.

Now there are some voices of sanity. Gen. Anthony Zinni: “By now, we should realize what doesn’t work: summits, agreements in principle, special envoys, U.S.-proposed plans, and just about every other part of our approach has failed. So why do we keep repeating it?” (You can see why he didn’t get an administration job — too much realism.) And then Michael Oren rightly challenges the entire premise of the discussion:

Calling this an Arab-Israeli conflict today is largely a misnomer. We have two states that have peace treaties with Israel. The largest antagonist is Iran, which is not an Arab state. … I don’t think assigning blame is productive, but I think the main obstacle is getting the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table. It’s quite extraordinary: We now have a situation that existed before Oslo in ’93 and before Madrid in ’91 — we can’t get the Palestinians to sit down face to face with us and discuss the issues.

Well, you can see the divide between those who would willfully ignore the experience of the past 60 years and those who plead for the others to pay attention to it. The administration is in the first camp, which explains why the Obami are heightening tensions, unraveling the U.S.-Israel relationship, and making the Middle East a more dangerous place. They dare not acknowledge Oren’s point — that the threat to Middle East peace is not the Palestinian conflict but Iran — for that would require that they do something about it. And that’s not happening.

Foreign Policy has posted a forum online on why we have failed to achieve Middle East peace. It’s an odd question, which reveals the foreign policy establishment’s predilection to see this as something we control. The real answer is, obviously, because the Palestinians and their enablers don’t want peace. But that’s not the answer from many of the participants who say the problem is — I know you’ll be shocked! — the U.S. just isn’t trying hard enough or we haven’t browbeaten Israel sufficiently. Zbigniew Brezinski says the U.S. is at fault because we just haven’t gotten “seriously engaged” and haven’t come out with a plan to impose on the parties. Daniel Kurtzer echoes this claptrap: “When we are active diplomatically, Arab states are more willing to cooperate with us on other problems; when we are not active, our diplomatic options shrink.” Some willfully distort history, as Robert Malley does when he insists that “Americans, Palestinians, and Israelis were all to blame for the failure of the 2000 Camp David talks.” Hmm. I thought it was Yasir Arafat who walked away from the deal and started killing Jews instead of accepting a Palestinian state.

Now there are some voices of sanity. Gen. Anthony Zinni: “By now, we should realize what doesn’t work: summits, agreements in principle, special envoys, U.S.-proposed plans, and just about every other part of our approach has failed. So why do we keep repeating it?” (You can see why he didn’t get an administration job — too much realism.) And then Michael Oren rightly challenges the entire premise of the discussion:

Calling this an Arab-Israeli conflict today is largely a misnomer. We have two states that have peace treaties with Israel. The largest antagonist is Iran, which is not an Arab state. … I don’t think assigning blame is productive, but I think the main obstacle is getting the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table. It’s quite extraordinary: We now have a situation that existed before Oslo in ’93 and before Madrid in ’91 — we can’t get the Palestinians to sit down face to face with us and discuss the issues.

Well, you can see the divide between those who would willfully ignore the experience of the past 60 years and those who plead for the others to pay attention to it. The administration is in the first camp, which explains why the Obami are heightening tensions, unraveling the U.S.-Israel relationship, and making the Middle East a more dangerous place. They dare not acknowledge Oren’s point — that the threat to Middle East peace is not the Palestinian conflict but Iran — for that would require that they do something about it. And that’s not happening.

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Peace Plan No. 6

Asked about the Washington Post story in which it was reported that the administration is considering its own Middle East peace plan, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley issued a non-denial/denial yesterday, in which the operative words were “at this point”:

I would steer you away from the idea that we are — we’re going to try to, at this point, impose a particular view on the parties … our focus right now is getting them into the proximity talks, into negotiations, and then we’ll see what happens after that. [Emphasis added]

The “peace process” has not suffered from an insufficient number of plans. In the past decade, we have had five of them: (1) the Israeli two-state plan presented at Camp David in July 2000 — rejected by the Palestinians; (2) the Clinton Parameters presented in December 2000 — rejected by the Palestinians; (3) the 2003 Roadmap, calling for the dismantlement of Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups as Phase I — ignored by the Palestinians; (4) the 2005 Gaza disengagement, giving the Palestinians a Judenrein Gaza to start their state — which produced a rocket war on Israeli civilians; and (5) the 2007-08 Annapolis Process, a plan for year-long final-status negotiations resulting in still another Israeli offer of a state — rejected by the Palestinians.

Even a casual observer can spot the problem here, and it is not the absence of a plan.

The Gaza disengagement was the result of a deal in which Israel withdrew every soldier and settler from Gaza (and dismantled four settlements in the West Bank to demonstrate it would be Gaza first, not Gaza last) in exchange for explicit American promises about the future of the peace process. The first of those promises was that the U.S. would neither impose its own plan nor allow others to do so.

The U.S. letter memorializing the deal assured Israel that the U.S. would do its utmost to “prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan” than the Roadmap (emphasis added). Sharon was concerned that Israel might eventually be pressured to accept something like the Geneva Accord (then being touted by Jimmy Carter), pushing Israel back to the indefensible 1967 borders. The second promise was a reiteration of the “steadfast commitment” by the U.S. to “defensible borders” for Israel.

The coming U.S. plan will violate both of those promises, and the prospect of such a plan will eliminate any incentive for the Palestinians to do anything other than wait for it — secure in the knowledge that the current U.S. administration does not feel bound by any prior commitments to Israel.

Asked about the Washington Post story in which it was reported that the administration is considering its own Middle East peace plan, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley issued a non-denial/denial yesterday, in which the operative words were “at this point”:

I would steer you away from the idea that we are — we’re going to try to, at this point, impose a particular view on the parties … our focus right now is getting them into the proximity talks, into negotiations, and then we’ll see what happens after that. [Emphasis added]

The “peace process” has not suffered from an insufficient number of plans. In the past decade, we have had five of them: (1) the Israeli two-state plan presented at Camp David in July 2000 — rejected by the Palestinians; (2) the Clinton Parameters presented in December 2000 — rejected by the Palestinians; (3) the 2003 Roadmap, calling for the dismantlement of Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups as Phase I — ignored by the Palestinians; (4) the 2005 Gaza disengagement, giving the Palestinians a Judenrein Gaza to start their state — which produced a rocket war on Israeli civilians; and (5) the 2007-08 Annapolis Process, a plan for year-long final-status negotiations resulting in still another Israeli offer of a state — rejected by the Palestinians.

Even a casual observer can spot the problem here, and it is not the absence of a plan.

The Gaza disengagement was the result of a deal in which Israel withdrew every soldier and settler from Gaza (and dismantled four settlements in the West Bank to demonstrate it would be Gaza first, not Gaza last) in exchange for explicit American promises about the future of the peace process. The first of those promises was that the U.S. would neither impose its own plan nor allow others to do so.

The U.S. letter memorializing the deal assured Israel that the U.S. would do its utmost to “prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan” than the Roadmap (emphasis added). Sharon was concerned that Israel might eventually be pressured to accept something like the Geneva Accord (then being touted by Jimmy Carter), pushing Israel back to the indefensible 1967 borders. The second promise was a reiteration of the “steadfast commitment” by the U.S. to “defensible borders” for Israel.

The coming U.S. plan will violate both of those promises, and the prospect of such a plan will eliminate any incentive for the Palestinians to do anything other than wait for it — secure in the knowledge that the current U.S. administration does not feel bound by any prior commitments to Israel.

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Obama’s Diplomatic War on Israel Is Just Getting Started

Apparently, David Ignatius of the Washington Post isn’t the only recipient of White House leaks about an Obama peace plan. Helen Cooper of the New York Times chimed in with her own piece this afternoon about the president’s desire to jump into the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

According to Cooper, the trigger for this latest instance of administration hubris was a recent gathering of former national-security advisers including Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, Samuel Berger, and Colin Powell, who were called in to consult with the president and his adviser General James L. Jones. The consensus (only Powell seems to have dissented) was that Obama must put forward his own scheme that would state exactly what the parameters of a peace deal would be. The idea is that peace can only be obtained by the United States imposing it on the parties. The plan is, of course, along the lines of past Israeli peace offers rejected by the Palestinians, plus extra Israeli concessions. The Palestinians give up their “right of return,” and Israel “would return to its 1967 borders,” including the one that divided Jerusalem, with only “a few negotiated settlements” as an exception. The supposed sweetener for Israel is that the United States or NATO, whose troops would be stationed along the Jordan River, would guarantee Israeli security.

Cheering from the sidelines is former Clinton staffer Robert Malley, who advised Obama on Middle East issues during the 2008 campaign until he was put aside to reassure Jewish voters worried about the Democrats having a man on staff who had served as an apologist for Yasser Arafat in the aftermath of the 2000 Camp David talks. For Malley, the logic of an American diktat is simple: “It’s not rocket science. If the U.S. wants it done, it will have to do it.”

This fits in with the messianic self-confidence of the president, and with the vision of his presidency that his staffers exude. They are not interested in the fact that such attempts have always failed because of Palestinian intransigence, or that such attempts have ultimately led to more, not less, violence. It isn’t clear whether they truly believe that weak figures like Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad can sign any peace deal that recognizes Israel’s existence within any borders. But the administration’s simmering resentment against Israel seems to be driving this development more than anything else. Even if such a plan failed, as it surely would, the mere exercise of attempting to shove it down a reluctant Israel’s throat would appear to be deeply satisfying to figures like Brzezinski and Malley and perhaps Obama, whose predilection for trumped-up bitter disputes with the Jewish state and its leaders is now an established fact.

The effort to leak this story to multiple outlets appears to be a continuation of Obama’s feud with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Having failed to make Netanyahu bend to his will on the building of homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Obama is now raising the stakes by pointedly holding out the possibility that he will impose his own partition on Israel’s capital after the certain failure of the so-called “proximity talks” — so named because the Palestinians will not even sit in the same room to talk peace with Israelis.

It goes without saying that such a plan from Obama would, itself, constitute the baseline of future Arab demands on Israel because, as even Cooper points out, “once Mr. Obama puts American parameters on the table, the Palestinians will refuse to accept anything less.”

The prospect of an Obama dictat aimed at Israel again raises the question of what Jewish Democrats think about all this. Some may have thought that Obama’s rage at Netanyahu and the histrionics that the president and his staff have engaged in during the last month was just a passing phase, to be forgotten as the administration moved on to other issues. But apparently, Obama’s anger at Israel and his desire to bring down Bibi and to force the Jewish state to surrender on Jerusalem has not diminished. Obama’s diplomatic war on Israel seems to be just beginning.

Apparently, David Ignatius of the Washington Post isn’t the only recipient of White House leaks about an Obama peace plan. Helen Cooper of the New York Times chimed in with her own piece this afternoon about the president’s desire to jump into the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

According to Cooper, the trigger for this latest instance of administration hubris was a recent gathering of former national-security advisers including Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, Samuel Berger, and Colin Powell, who were called in to consult with the president and his adviser General James L. Jones. The consensus (only Powell seems to have dissented) was that Obama must put forward his own scheme that would state exactly what the parameters of a peace deal would be. The idea is that peace can only be obtained by the United States imposing it on the parties. The plan is, of course, along the lines of past Israeli peace offers rejected by the Palestinians, plus extra Israeli concessions. The Palestinians give up their “right of return,” and Israel “would return to its 1967 borders,” including the one that divided Jerusalem, with only “a few negotiated settlements” as an exception. The supposed sweetener for Israel is that the United States or NATO, whose troops would be stationed along the Jordan River, would guarantee Israeli security.

Cheering from the sidelines is former Clinton staffer Robert Malley, who advised Obama on Middle East issues during the 2008 campaign until he was put aside to reassure Jewish voters worried about the Democrats having a man on staff who had served as an apologist for Yasser Arafat in the aftermath of the 2000 Camp David talks. For Malley, the logic of an American diktat is simple: “It’s not rocket science. If the U.S. wants it done, it will have to do it.”

This fits in with the messianic self-confidence of the president, and with the vision of his presidency that his staffers exude. They are not interested in the fact that such attempts have always failed because of Palestinian intransigence, or that such attempts have ultimately led to more, not less, violence. It isn’t clear whether they truly believe that weak figures like Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad can sign any peace deal that recognizes Israel’s existence within any borders. But the administration’s simmering resentment against Israel seems to be driving this development more than anything else. Even if such a plan failed, as it surely would, the mere exercise of attempting to shove it down a reluctant Israel’s throat would appear to be deeply satisfying to figures like Brzezinski and Malley and perhaps Obama, whose predilection for trumped-up bitter disputes with the Jewish state and its leaders is now an established fact.

The effort to leak this story to multiple outlets appears to be a continuation of Obama’s feud with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Having failed to make Netanyahu bend to his will on the building of homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Obama is now raising the stakes by pointedly holding out the possibility that he will impose his own partition on Israel’s capital after the certain failure of the so-called “proximity talks” — so named because the Palestinians will not even sit in the same room to talk peace with Israelis.

It goes without saying that such a plan from Obama would, itself, constitute the baseline of future Arab demands on Israel because, as even Cooper points out, “once Mr. Obama puts American parameters on the table, the Palestinians will refuse to accept anything less.”

The prospect of an Obama dictat aimed at Israel again raises the question of what Jewish Democrats think about all this. Some may have thought that Obama’s rage at Netanyahu and the histrionics that the president and his staff have engaged in during the last month was just a passing phase, to be forgotten as the administration moved on to other issues. But apparently, Obama’s anger at Israel and his desire to bring down Bibi and to force the Jewish state to surrender on Jerusalem has not diminished. Obama’s diplomatic war on Israel seems to be just beginning.

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AIPAC: Tony Blair

Tony Blair, the former British prime minister and official envoy for the Quartet, looking a bit grayer and thinner than during his days in office, got an enthusiastic welcome. He began by attesting to his friendship with Israel and its credentials as a democracy. (“Citizens are governed by the rule of law. Men and women are equal before the law. In Israel you can worship your faith in the way you want; or not, as you choose.”) He declared, “In many respects, the Middle East region should regard Israel not as an enemy but as a model.”

He then made a pitch for the two-state solution (“the only path to lasting peace”). He acknowledged: “It isn’t that sensible, well-intentioned people could not sit down and negotiate their way through the issues of borders, refugees, even Jerusalem.” What is key, he says, is “what happens down in the street, in the daily experience of the people.” There can be no Palestinian state, “unless it is sure that state will be securely and properly governed.” Israelis may believe they lack a partner for peace, he explains, because there is doubt “not about whether Palestinian leaders want peace; but whether they can deliver peace.”

Then came the non sequitur — direct negotiations, he said must begin. But, but… yes, what about the inability of the Palestinians to “deliver peace”? Well, Blair has the candor to review recent history — the Palestinians’ rejection of peace at Camp David, the ensuing intifada, and the war that followed the withdrawal from Gaza. So then Blair detoured into a plea to build from the bottom-up the Palestinian institutions. “It can’t be done in a summit. It has to be done patiently, and over time on the ground. . . . It means building institutions of Palestinian government, not just well-equipped, loyal security forces, but civil police, courts, prisons, prosecutors, the whole infrastructure of the rule of law.” And he singled out Salam Fayyad as championing such an approach as well as Bibi for helping to facilitate the economic boom in the West Bank.

Of Israel he asked not to risk its security but “to know that in changing the lives of Palestinians who want peace,” it will enhance its own security. Of the Palestinians he demanded, “The mentality has to move from resistance to governance. There can be no ambiguity, no wavering, no half heart towards terrorism.” [Loud ovation.]

Moving on to Iran he declared, “Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear-weapons capability. They must know that we will do whatever it takes to stop them getting it. [Notice the contrast between his formulation and Hillary’s, which resisted the “do whatever it takes” or “all options” formulations.] The danger is if they suspect for a moment we might allow such a thing. We cannot and will not. This is not simply an issue of Israel’s security. This is a matter of global security, mine, yours, all of us.” [Loud ovation]

He summed up with another plea: “If one day Israel can be secure, recognized, understood and respected by the nations which surround it; if one day the Palestinian people can have their own state and can prosper in peace within it and beyond it, we will bring more than peace to people who have lived too long with conflict. We will lift the scourge of extremism and bring hope to the world.”

There is no doubt that Blair is an eloquent speaker and a thoughtful observer. But there was in his speech a central contradiction: if, in fact, a civil society and change of heart from the Palestinians are preconditions for peace, what then is the point of endless peace conferences and negotiations, especially considering the Palestinians’ lack of authority and of will to make any deal, let alone a comprehensive peace? And — indeed — one wonders whether in all the drama and the fights preceding those talks, the cause of building those institutions and the transition in Palestinian mindset is not set back, rather than advanced. What are we accomplishing, especially when the Palestinians are not even willing to meet face-to-face? Other than employing George Mitchell, keeping Hillary busy, and maintaining Obama’s image as a great “peace maker,” it is hard to fathom.

Tony Blair, the former British prime minister and official envoy for the Quartet, looking a bit grayer and thinner than during his days in office, got an enthusiastic welcome. He began by attesting to his friendship with Israel and its credentials as a democracy. (“Citizens are governed by the rule of law. Men and women are equal before the law. In Israel you can worship your faith in the way you want; or not, as you choose.”) He declared, “In many respects, the Middle East region should regard Israel not as an enemy but as a model.”

He then made a pitch for the two-state solution (“the only path to lasting peace”). He acknowledged: “It isn’t that sensible, well-intentioned people could not sit down and negotiate their way through the issues of borders, refugees, even Jerusalem.” What is key, he says, is “what happens down in the street, in the daily experience of the people.” There can be no Palestinian state, “unless it is sure that state will be securely and properly governed.” Israelis may believe they lack a partner for peace, he explains, because there is doubt “not about whether Palestinian leaders want peace; but whether they can deliver peace.”

Then came the non sequitur — direct negotiations, he said must begin. But, but… yes, what about the inability of the Palestinians to “deliver peace”? Well, Blair has the candor to review recent history — the Palestinians’ rejection of peace at Camp David, the ensuing intifada, and the war that followed the withdrawal from Gaza. So then Blair detoured into a plea to build from the bottom-up the Palestinian institutions. “It can’t be done in a summit. It has to be done patiently, and over time on the ground. . . . It means building institutions of Palestinian government, not just well-equipped, loyal security forces, but civil police, courts, prisons, prosecutors, the whole infrastructure of the rule of law.” And he singled out Salam Fayyad as championing such an approach as well as Bibi for helping to facilitate the economic boom in the West Bank.

Of Israel he asked not to risk its security but “to know that in changing the lives of Palestinians who want peace,” it will enhance its own security. Of the Palestinians he demanded, “The mentality has to move from resistance to governance. There can be no ambiguity, no wavering, no half heart towards terrorism.” [Loud ovation.]

Moving on to Iran he declared, “Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear-weapons capability. They must know that we will do whatever it takes to stop them getting it. [Notice the contrast between his formulation and Hillary’s, which resisted the “do whatever it takes” or “all options” formulations.] The danger is if they suspect for a moment we might allow such a thing. We cannot and will not. This is not simply an issue of Israel’s security. This is a matter of global security, mine, yours, all of us.” [Loud ovation]

He summed up with another plea: “If one day Israel can be secure, recognized, understood and respected by the nations which surround it; if one day the Palestinian people can have their own state and can prosper in peace within it and beyond it, we will bring more than peace to people who have lived too long with conflict. We will lift the scourge of extremism and bring hope to the world.”

There is no doubt that Blair is an eloquent speaker and a thoughtful observer. But there was in his speech a central contradiction: if, in fact, a civil society and change of heart from the Palestinians are preconditions for peace, what then is the point of endless peace conferences and negotiations, especially considering the Palestinians’ lack of authority and of will to make any deal, let alone a comprehensive peace? And — indeed — one wonders whether in all the drama and the fights preceding those talks, the cause of building those institutions and the transition in Palestinian mindset is not set back, rather than advanced. What are we accomplishing, especially when the Palestinians are not even willing to meet face-to-face? Other than employing George Mitchell, keeping Hillary busy, and maintaining Obama’s image as a great “peace maker,” it is hard to fathom.

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Hammering Israel

Noah, you note that Obama “is pushing forward with his failed strategy of a year ago, only this time with a bigger hammer.” It is worth reviewing specifically why that strategy failed a year ago — because the lesson is much different from Obama’s facile explanation (“This is just really hard … we [didn’t anticipate] some of these political problems on both sides.”)

Netanyahu met with Obama six weeks after taking office, bringing with him a straightforward proposal: commence immediate negotiations with the Palestinians with no preconditions. It was an extraordinary position: Israel had just completed a year of final-status negotiations with the Palestinians, offering them a state on all of Gaza and the West Bank (after land swaps), with an international solution for the Muslim religious sites in Jerusalem. The Palestinians had rejected the proposal out of hand, just as they had rejected Ehud Barak’s offer in July 2000 at Camp David and the Clinton Parameters in January 2001.

Netanyahu could have — and probably should have — taken the position that it was pointless to resume final-status negotiations while the Palestinians had a terrorist regime in Gaza and a Palestinian Authority in the West Bank unprepared to agree to a demilitarized state or to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Under those circumstances, a new “peace process” would simply create on Israel’s eastern side what 100 percent withdrawals had brought it in the north and south. There is no rule of international law that says the Palestinians, having rejected three offers of a state, were entitled to a fourth.

Instead of endorsing Netanyahu’s offer of negotiations without preconditions, Obama established a precondition that violated a longstanding oral understanding and the written assurances of the 2004 Bush letter. He demanded that Israel cease all settlement activity, even in settlements the U.S. had already conceded in that letter would be part of Israel in any final-status agreement — and that were necessary for the “defensible borders” promised both in that letter and one the Clinton administration had provided Israel. Moreover, the Bush letter was not simply the policy or promise of prior administrations: it reflected a deal. Obama was reneging on formal U.S. reassurances that if Israel took the “risk for peace” of withdrawing every soldier and settler from Gaza, the U.S. would not require a West Bank withdrawal to indefensible borders.

Things were not “really hard” — Netanyahu had made them relatively easy with his proposal for immediate negotiations. Nor were there political problems “on both sides” — Netanyahu had overcome the ones on his side and put forward a constructive way to proceed. But Arab expectations soared as they watched Obama renege on prior U.S. commitments, demand new concessions from Israel before negotiations could start, and obviate the need for the Palestinians to negotiate themselves.

A year later, Obama has made the same mistake again, choosing to escalate a low-level administrative approval of housing in a longstanding Jewish part of Jerusalem into a crisis with Israel. It is another display of Chicago-style diplomacy designed to demand concessions he knows Netanyahu cannot make, and that were not a condition of the prior negotiations that produced three Israeli offers of a state. Once again, Obama will send Arab expectations even higher, send Israeli trust in him even lower, and reduce the chances of success for any “proximity talks” from slim to none. Another triumph of smart diplomacy — complete with, as Noah notes, a denigration of the intelligence of Israel’s leader.

Noah, you note that Obama “is pushing forward with his failed strategy of a year ago, only this time with a bigger hammer.” It is worth reviewing specifically why that strategy failed a year ago — because the lesson is much different from Obama’s facile explanation (“This is just really hard … we [didn’t anticipate] some of these political problems on both sides.”)

Netanyahu met with Obama six weeks after taking office, bringing with him a straightforward proposal: commence immediate negotiations with the Palestinians with no preconditions. It was an extraordinary position: Israel had just completed a year of final-status negotiations with the Palestinians, offering them a state on all of Gaza and the West Bank (after land swaps), with an international solution for the Muslim religious sites in Jerusalem. The Palestinians had rejected the proposal out of hand, just as they had rejected Ehud Barak’s offer in July 2000 at Camp David and the Clinton Parameters in January 2001.

Netanyahu could have — and probably should have — taken the position that it was pointless to resume final-status negotiations while the Palestinians had a terrorist regime in Gaza and a Palestinian Authority in the West Bank unprepared to agree to a demilitarized state or to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Under those circumstances, a new “peace process” would simply create on Israel’s eastern side what 100 percent withdrawals had brought it in the north and south. There is no rule of international law that says the Palestinians, having rejected three offers of a state, were entitled to a fourth.

Instead of endorsing Netanyahu’s offer of negotiations without preconditions, Obama established a precondition that violated a longstanding oral understanding and the written assurances of the 2004 Bush letter. He demanded that Israel cease all settlement activity, even in settlements the U.S. had already conceded in that letter would be part of Israel in any final-status agreement — and that were necessary for the “defensible borders” promised both in that letter and one the Clinton administration had provided Israel. Moreover, the Bush letter was not simply the policy or promise of prior administrations: it reflected a deal. Obama was reneging on formal U.S. reassurances that if Israel took the “risk for peace” of withdrawing every soldier and settler from Gaza, the U.S. would not require a West Bank withdrawal to indefensible borders.

Things were not “really hard” — Netanyahu had made them relatively easy with his proposal for immediate negotiations. Nor were there political problems “on both sides” — Netanyahu had overcome the ones on his side and put forward a constructive way to proceed. But Arab expectations soared as they watched Obama renege on prior U.S. commitments, demand new concessions from Israel before negotiations could start, and obviate the need for the Palestinians to negotiate themselves.

A year later, Obama has made the same mistake again, choosing to escalate a low-level administrative approval of housing in a longstanding Jewish part of Jerusalem into a crisis with Israel. It is another display of Chicago-style diplomacy designed to demand concessions he knows Netanyahu cannot make, and that were not a condition of the prior negotiations that produced three Israeli offers of a state. Once again, Obama will send Arab expectations even higher, send Israeli trust in him even lower, and reduce the chances of success for any “proximity talks” from slim to none. Another triumph of smart diplomacy — complete with, as Noah notes, a denigration of the intelligence of Israel’s leader.

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Peace Plans and Palestinian Politics

Writing in the widely circulated Israeli newspaper Yisrael Hayom (“Israel Today”), Israeli journalist Dan Margalit reviews the prospects for the new peace process. The article is in Hebrew, but is summarized by the Israel Foreign Ministry:

The author recalls that in 2000, at Camp David, “Ehud Barak agreed to discuss the division of Jerusalem and the Palestinians fled the negotiations,” and adds that “In 2009, Ehud Olmert even offered to soften on the principle against ‘the right of return’ and again they fled.” The paper speculates that “In the current round, Israel is in a more complex position. Benjamin Netanyahu cannot offer Abu Mazen what came up in Ehud Olmert’s plan and if Ramallah rejected the previous move, what will it accept now?” The author notes that the Palestinians will, apparently, proffer a plan of their own in the hope that an Israeli rejection will draw the Obama administration to their side.

Presenting a plan they know Israel will not accept — to generate a condemnation of Israel for not accepting it – would be, in the weird world of the peace process, a step forward: at least the Palestinians would be proffering a plan. The last three times Israel offered the Palestinians a state – at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and in the Olmert offer – the Palestinians rejected the offer without making a counterproposal.

If the process plays out as Margalit predicts, here is one way to determine the seriousness of the Palestinians’ plan: will they release it to their public before July 17? July 17 is the date set for local elections in the West Bank – coincidentally (or maybe not) a week after the four-month period the Palestinians have set for the new indirect talks. In an analysis for Ynet News, Alex Fishman discusses how that election relates to the peace process:

Abbas and Fayyad are aspiring to win at least 50% of the vote this time around. With such support, they would be able to move on to negotiations with Israel with the legitimacy of the Palestinian public, and not only with the backwind provided by moderate members of the Arab League. This would be a real source of power, not a bogus one. Hamas has already announced that it will not take part in the elections. The PA will go to elections even without it.

It will be a real source of power, however, and not a bogus one, only if the Palestinian public knows what it is voting for — and only if the plan, itself, addresses the criteria set forth in the 2004 Bush letter to Israel: a Jewish state with defensible borders encompassing the major Jewish population centers in the West Bank (which are necessary for such borders). But the chances of Abbas and Fayyad proposing such a plan in the indirect talks, or discussing it with the Palestinian public before an election, are slight. In Fishman’s words:

[T]he PA cannot show up at the July 17 elections with a record of concessions on the national front. The opposite is true. It has a clear interest in creating a crisis in order to prompt a warm public embrace and reach the elections with an image of national strength, clear of any indication of “collaboration.”

After the death of Yasser Arafat, it was thought that Palestinian democracy would lead to peace. But the 2006 election resulted in a victory for Hamas; the PA president’s term expired more than a year ago with no new presidential election in sight; PA leaders are afraid to make concessions in the peace process lest they lose even uncontested local elections. The tragedy of Palestinian politics is that the Palestinian electorate will not vote for anyone willing to make the concessions necessary to get them a state — in part because they lack leaders who will tell their public that painful compromises are necessary to achieve one.

Writing in the widely circulated Israeli newspaper Yisrael Hayom (“Israel Today”), Israeli journalist Dan Margalit reviews the prospects for the new peace process. The article is in Hebrew, but is summarized by the Israel Foreign Ministry:

The author recalls that in 2000, at Camp David, “Ehud Barak agreed to discuss the division of Jerusalem and the Palestinians fled the negotiations,” and adds that “In 2009, Ehud Olmert even offered to soften on the principle against ‘the right of return’ and again they fled.” The paper speculates that “In the current round, Israel is in a more complex position. Benjamin Netanyahu cannot offer Abu Mazen what came up in Ehud Olmert’s plan and if Ramallah rejected the previous move, what will it accept now?” The author notes that the Palestinians will, apparently, proffer a plan of their own in the hope that an Israeli rejection will draw the Obama administration to their side.

Presenting a plan they know Israel will not accept — to generate a condemnation of Israel for not accepting it – would be, in the weird world of the peace process, a step forward: at least the Palestinians would be proffering a plan. The last three times Israel offered the Palestinians a state – at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and in the Olmert offer – the Palestinians rejected the offer without making a counterproposal.

If the process plays out as Margalit predicts, here is one way to determine the seriousness of the Palestinians’ plan: will they release it to their public before July 17? July 17 is the date set for local elections in the West Bank – coincidentally (or maybe not) a week after the four-month period the Palestinians have set for the new indirect talks. In an analysis for Ynet News, Alex Fishman discusses how that election relates to the peace process:

Abbas and Fayyad are aspiring to win at least 50% of the vote this time around. With such support, they would be able to move on to negotiations with Israel with the legitimacy of the Palestinian public, and not only with the backwind provided by moderate members of the Arab League. This would be a real source of power, not a bogus one. Hamas has already announced that it will not take part in the elections. The PA will go to elections even without it.

It will be a real source of power, however, and not a bogus one, only if the Palestinian public knows what it is voting for — and only if the plan, itself, addresses the criteria set forth in the 2004 Bush letter to Israel: a Jewish state with defensible borders encompassing the major Jewish population centers in the West Bank (which are necessary for such borders). But the chances of Abbas and Fayyad proposing such a plan in the indirect talks, or discussing it with the Palestinian public before an election, are slight. In Fishman’s words:

[T]he PA cannot show up at the July 17 elections with a record of concessions on the national front. The opposite is true. It has a clear interest in creating a crisis in order to prompt a warm public embrace and reach the elections with an image of national strength, clear of any indication of “collaboration.”

After the death of Yasser Arafat, it was thought that Palestinian democracy would lead to peace. But the 2006 election resulted in a victory for Hamas; the PA president’s term expired more than a year ago with no new presidential election in sight; PA leaders are afraid to make concessions in the peace process lest they lose even uncontested local elections. The tragedy of Palestinian politics is that the Palestinian electorate will not vote for anyone willing to make the concessions necessary to get them a state — in part because they lack leaders who will tell their public that painful compromises are necessary to achieve one.

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Here We Go Again

As the Obama administration is poised to proceed with “indirect” talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the chances for success in the foreseeable future are virtually nil. The PA president (a) is in the 62nd month of his 48-month term, unable to hold (and in any event unwilling to risk) new elections; (b) heads a party still corroded by corruption; (c) governs only half the putative Palestinian state; and (d) is unable to dismantle the Iranian proxy that rules Gaza. Even if an agreement could be reached on any “core” issues, the PA would be in no position to carry it out.

As Robert Malley noted in useful testimony last week in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing:

Mahmoud Abbas is President, though his term has expired; he heads the PLO, though the Organization’s authority has long waned. Salam Fayyad, the effective and resourceful Prime Minister, cannot govern in Gaza and, in the West Bank, must govern over much of Fatah’s objection. Hamas has grown into a national and regional phenomenon, and it now has Gaza solidly in its hands. But the Islamist movement itself is at an impasse — besieged in Gaza, suppressed in the West Bank, at odds with most Arab states, with little prospect for Palestinian reconciliation. …

All of which leaves room for doubt whether the Palestinian national movement, as it currently stands, can confidently and effectively conduct negotiations for a final peace agreement, sell a putative agreement to its people, and, if popularly endorsed, make it stick.

Malley’s testimony also noted that Benjamin Netanyahu’s positions reflect a broad Israeli consensus — one that emerged after withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza resulted in new wars and after the Palestinian Authority in 2008 rejected (yet again) an offer of a state on virtually all the West Bank after land swaps. Israel’s rejection in the new negotiations of the indefensible 1967 borders and a “right of return” will be positions that extend far beyond the Israeli right wing:

Netanyahu’s insistence on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state as much as his demands for far more stringent security — and thus, territorial — arrangements — are not mere pretexts to avoid a deal and are far more than the expressions of a passing political mood. They reflect deep-seated popular sentiment regarding the yearning for true Arab recognition and acceptance and fear of novel, unconventional security threats. New coalition partners or new elections might change the atmosphere. They are not about to change the underlying frame of mind.

In the past 10 years, the PA received three formal offers of a state — at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and in the Olmert offer — and rejected them all. The Fayyad plan to build the institutions of a Palestinian state over the next two years is an implicit admission that the three offers of a state were made to an entity that did not have the basic institutions necessary for one — and does not have them now. The Malley testimony makes it clear that the entity also does not have the ability or authority to negotiate a peace agreement, much less implement one.

As the Obama administration is poised to proceed with “indirect” talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the chances for success in the foreseeable future are virtually nil. The PA president (a) is in the 62nd month of his 48-month term, unable to hold (and in any event unwilling to risk) new elections; (b) heads a party still corroded by corruption; (c) governs only half the putative Palestinian state; and (d) is unable to dismantle the Iranian proxy that rules Gaza. Even if an agreement could be reached on any “core” issues, the PA would be in no position to carry it out.

As Robert Malley noted in useful testimony last week in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing:

Mahmoud Abbas is President, though his term has expired; he heads the PLO, though the Organization’s authority has long waned. Salam Fayyad, the effective and resourceful Prime Minister, cannot govern in Gaza and, in the West Bank, must govern over much of Fatah’s objection. Hamas has grown into a national and regional phenomenon, and it now has Gaza solidly in its hands. But the Islamist movement itself is at an impasse — besieged in Gaza, suppressed in the West Bank, at odds with most Arab states, with little prospect for Palestinian reconciliation. …

All of which leaves room for doubt whether the Palestinian national movement, as it currently stands, can confidently and effectively conduct negotiations for a final peace agreement, sell a putative agreement to its people, and, if popularly endorsed, make it stick.

Malley’s testimony also noted that Benjamin Netanyahu’s positions reflect a broad Israeli consensus — one that emerged after withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza resulted in new wars and after the Palestinian Authority in 2008 rejected (yet again) an offer of a state on virtually all the West Bank after land swaps. Israel’s rejection in the new negotiations of the indefensible 1967 borders and a “right of return” will be positions that extend far beyond the Israeli right wing:

Netanyahu’s insistence on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state as much as his demands for far more stringent security — and thus, territorial — arrangements — are not mere pretexts to avoid a deal and are far more than the expressions of a passing political mood. They reflect deep-seated popular sentiment regarding the yearning for true Arab recognition and acceptance and fear of novel, unconventional security threats. New coalition partners or new elections might change the atmosphere. They are not about to change the underlying frame of mind.

In the past 10 years, the PA received three formal offers of a state — at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and in the Olmert offer — and rejected them all. The Fayyad plan to build the institutions of a Palestinian state over the next two years is an implicit admission that the three offers of a state were made to an entity that did not have the basic institutions necessary for one — and does not have them now. The Malley testimony makes it clear that the entity also does not have the ability or authority to negotiate a peace agreement, much less implement one.

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First, Do No Harm

After Israeli media reported yesterday that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had threatened to curtail U.S. involvement in Israeli-Palestinian talks, the White House rushed to deny it. That’s a pity — because curtailing U.S. involvement would be far more helpful than what special envoy George Mitchell is actually doing.

Interviewed by PBS yesterday, Mitchell (as Jennifer noted) declared: “We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years … Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

That, frankly, is ridiculous. In 16 years of talks, the parties have yet to resolve a single final-status issue. Just 15 months ago, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected an Israeli offer of 94 percent of the West Bank, territorial exchanges for the remainder, and international Muslim control over the Temple Mount. Current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will certainly offer no more, and probably not as much. So what does Mitchell think will happen in the next two years to suddenly make Abbas abandon positions he has stuck to for the last 16 — or else make Israel agree to suicide by, for instance, accepting Abbas’ demand that it absorb 4.7 million Palestinian “refugees”?

Nor need one be “anti-peace” to recognize this. Here’s the first sentence of a column published in the left-wing Israeli paper Haaretz yesterday by its leftist, pro-peace diplomatic correspondent, Aluf Benn: “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is right: During the next two years Israel will not reach a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians.”

While arguing that Israel must make concessions anyway to placate world opinion, Benn articulates an important truth: “The establishment of new states arouses multigenerational conflicts” that rarely end quickly. The India-Pakistan and Cyprus conflicts, which also date back to the British Empire’s mid-20th century breakup, are still unresolved, he notes, and the Israeli-Arab conflict is no less intractable.

But were Mitchell just spouting nonsense, nobody would care. The problem is that such nonsense does active harm by raising expectations that cannot be met — then provoking a backlash of disappointment.

First, Palestinians and other Arabs routinely interpret such statements by U.S. officials as pledges to make Israel kowtow to Palestinian demands. When that doesn’t happen, it increases anti-American sentiment, entrenches disbelief in the possibility of peace (thus strengthening extremists like Hamas), and can even spark renewed anti-Israel terror, as the Camp David summit in 2000 showed.

Second, it further entrenches Israeli skepticism about peace.

Third, it will almost certainly increase anti-Israel hysteria in Europe. Unlike Israelis and Palestinians, Europeans largely share Mitchell’s conviction that peace is imminently achievable. Hence every time it fails to materialize, they seek a scapegoat. And so far, that scapegoat has always been Israel: while demanding ever more Israeli concessions, the EU has yet to publicly demand any Palestinian concessions.

There are things America could do to further peace — like finally telling the Palestinians that they, too, must compromise. But doing nothing would be better than doing active harm. And that’s what Washington is doing now.

After Israeli media reported yesterday that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had threatened to curtail U.S. involvement in Israeli-Palestinian talks, the White House rushed to deny it. That’s a pity — because curtailing U.S. involvement would be far more helpful than what special envoy George Mitchell is actually doing.

Interviewed by PBS yesterday, Mitchell (as Jennifer noted) declared: “We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years … Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

That, frankly, is ridiculous. In 16 years of talks, the parties have yet to resolve a single final-status issue. Just 15 months ago, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected an Israeli offer of 94 percent of the West Bank, territorial exchanges for the remainder, and international Muslim control over the Temple Mount. Current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will certainly offer no more, and probably not as much. So what does Mitchell think will happen in the next two years to suddenly make Abbas abandon positions he has stuck to for the last 16 — or else make Israel agree to suicide by, for instance, accepting Abbas’ demand that it absorb 4.7 million Palestinian “refugees”?

Nor need one be “anti-peace” to recognize this. Here’s the first sentence of a column published in the left-wing Israeli paper Haaretz yesterday by its leftist, pro-peace diplomatic correspondent, Aluf Benn: “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is right: During the next two years Israel will not reach a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians.”

While arguing that Israel must make concessions anyway to placate world opinion, Benn articulates an important truth: “The establishment of new states arouses multigenerational conflicts” that rarely end quickly. The India-Pakistan and Cyprus conflicts, which also date back to the British Empire’s mid-20th century breakup, are still unresolved, he notes, and the Israeli-Arab conflict is no less intractable.

But were Mitchell just spouting nonsense, nobody would care. The problem is that such nonsense does active harm by raising expectations that cannot be met — then provoking a backlash of disappointment.

First, Palestinians and other Arabs routinely interpret such statements by U.S. officials as pledges to make Israel kowtow to Palestinian demands. When that doesn’t happen, it increases anti-American sentiment, entrenches disbelief in the possibility of peace (thus strengthening extremists like Hamas), and can even spark renewed anti-Israel terror, as the Camp David summit in 2000 showed.

Second, it further entrenches Israeli skepticism about peace.

Third, it will almost certainly increase anti-Israel hysteria in Europe. Unlike Israelis and Palestinians, Europeans largely share Mitchell’s conviction that peace is imminently achievable. Hence every time it fails to materialize, they seek a scapegoat. And so far, that scapegoat has always been Israel: while demanding ever more Israeli concessions, the EU has yet to publicly demand any Palestinian concessions.

There are things America could do to further peace — like finally telling the Palestinians that they, too, must compromise. But doing nothing would be better than doing active harm. And that’s what Washington is doing now.

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Another Year, Another Peace Process

Carl in Jerusalem has a perceptive analysis of Secretary Clinton’s statement on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, addressing some of the concerns in my post about the omitted phrase “defensible borders” — a diplomatic term of art that has been dropped without explanation from the lexicon of the Obama administration.

Carl notes another significant omission, this time on the Palestinian side: Clinton referred to the goal of an “independent and viable” Palestinian state but omitted a word that has been insisted upon by the Palestinians:

There’s a key word missing here: contiguous. I have argued many times on this blog that if a ‘Palestinian’ state is contiguous, then by definition the Jewish state would be neither contiguous nor secure. Thus Clinton’s omission of the word contiguous from her formulation, if tracked in the [potential] letter to the “Palestinians,” is significant.

There may be a connection here. If a “contiguous” Palestinian state is not consistent with an Israeli one with “defensible” borders — and vice versa — Clinton may have simply ducked the issue by leaving both words out of her statement.

As the year ends, it is time for a broader look at the peace process, which has to date produced three Israeli withdrawals (from Lebanon, Gaza, and part of the West Bank); three Israeli offers of a Palestinian state (at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and during the Annapolis Process); three Palestinian rejections; and three wars – one from each area of the withdrawal. The enterprise is apparently too big to fail, even though it repeatedly does.

The Obama administration thought it would try its own unique approach – creating daylight between the U.S. and Israel, reneging on longstanding understandings about settlements, demanding pre-negotiation concessions, disregarding the 2004 Bush letter – but has not yet been able to get even new negotiations started. So we end the year just as it began, with a no-state solution that may be the best option under the circumstances.

As we now proceed to the 17th year of the peace process, it is worth re-reading Maj. Gen (Ret.) Giora Eiland’s valuable 2008 monograph for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “Rethinking the Two-State Solution,” as well as two other paradigm-changing analyses from 2008: Caroline Glick’s “Israel and the Palestinians: Ending the Stalemate,” and former IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Moshe Yaalon’s “Israel and the Palestinians: A New Strategy.” Taken together, they provide the outline of a more reliable roadmap. Giora, in particular, argues persuasively that the current two-state paradigm is a zero-sum game that will not work even if a comprehensive peace agreement is achieved — and even if it were actually implemented:

Even in such a case, there is no chance that a Clinton [Parameter]-style solution would be stable or sustainable, for at least two reasons: the Palestinian state would not be viable, and Israel’s borders would not be defensible. The combination of these two problems would inevitably catapult the two sides back into a cycle of violence.

A strategy of artful formulations, such as Secretary Clinton’s confident statement about negotiations resolving the goals of both sides – while failing to list the conflicting ones of defensible borders and the demand for a contiguous state — is not likely to be successful. Meanwhile, the sponsor of Hamas and Hezbollah marches toward weapons of mass destruction, unimpeded by an unperturbed Barack Obama.

Carl in Jerusalem has a perceptive analysis of Secretary Clinton’s statement on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, addressing some of the concerns in my post about the omitted phrase “defensible borders” — a diplomatic term of art that has been dropped without explanation from the lexicon of the Obama administration.

Carl notes another significant omission, this time on the Palestinian side: Clinton referred to the goal of an “independent and viable” Palestinian state but omitted a word that has been insisted upon by the Palestinians:

There’s a key word missing here: contiguous. I have argued many times on this blog that if a ‘Palestinian’ state is contiguous, then by definition the Jewish state would be neither contiguous nor secure. Thus Clinton’s omission of the word contiguous from her formulation, if tracked in the [potential] letter to the “Palestinians,” is significant.

There may be a connection here. If a “contiguous” Palestinian state is not consistent with an Israeli one with “defensible” borders — and vice versa — Clinton may have simply ducked the issue by leaving both words out of her statement.

As the year ends, it is time for a broader look at the peace process, which has to date produced three Israeli withdrawals (from Lebanon, Gaza, and part of the West Bank); three Israeli offers of a Palestinian state (at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and during the Annapolis Process); three Palestinian rejections; and three wars – one from each area of the withdrawal. The enterprise is apparently too big to fail, even though it repeatedly does.

The Obama administration thought it would try its own unique approach – creating daylight between the U.S. and Israel, reneging on longstanding understandings about settlements, demanding pre-negotiation concessions, disregarding the 2004 Bush letter – but has not yet been able to get even new negotiations started. So we end the year just as it began, with a no-state solution that may be the best option under the circumstances.

As we now proceed to the 17th year of the peace process, it is worth re-reading Maj. Gen (Ret.) Giora Eiland’s valuable 2008 monograph for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “Rethinking the Two-State Solution,” as well as two other paradigm-changing analyses from 2008: Caroline Glick’s “Israel and the Palestinians: Ending the Stalemate,” and former IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Moshe Yaalon’s “Israel and the Palestinians: A New Strategy.” Taken together, they provide the outline of a more reliable roadmap. Giora, in particular, argues persuasively that the current two-state paradigm is a zero-sum game that will not work even if a comprehensive peace agreement is achieved — and even if it were actually implemented:

Even in such a case, there is no chance that a Clinton [Parameter]-style solution would be stable or sustainable, for at least two reasons: the Palestinian state would not be viable, and Israel’s borders would not be defensible. The combination of these two problems would inevitably catapult the two sides back into a cycle of violence.

A strategy of artful formulations, such as Secretary Clinton’s confident statement about negotiations resolving the goals of both sides – while failing to list the conflicting ones of defensible borders and the demand for a contiguous state — is not likely to be successful. Meanwhile, the sponsor of Hamas and Hezbollah marches toward weapons of mass destruction, unimpeded by an unperturbed Barack Obama.

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What Happened to “Defensible Borders”?

The Jerusalem Post reports that George Mitchell will return to the Middle East in early January and quotes an Arab diplomat saying that Mitchell will present “two draft letters of guarantee, one for Israel and one to the Palestinian Authority” as a basis for renewing negotiations. The Post reports that a senior Israeli diplomatic source said “the terms of reference Mitchell is reportedly bringing would probably closely resemble [Hillary Clinton’s] statement” last month, which read as follows:

We believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.

Letters of assurance have previously played an important part in the peace process. In 1997, Secretary of State Christopher wrote to Israel to assure it that the U.S. supported “defensible borders” for Israel as the conclusion of the peace process. In 2004, President Bush reassured Israel of the “steadfast commitment” of the U.S. to defensible borders. In his “Let Me Be Clear” address to AIPAC in 2008, Barack Obama stated that “any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders,” reflecting the longstanding U.S. commitment.

The absence of any reference to “defensible borders” in Secretary Clinton’s statement is thus both conspicuous and troubling, particularly because the administration has repeatedly refused this year to answer whether it considers itself bound by the Bush letter. Even the reference to “secure and recognized” borders is expressed in Clinton’s statement simply as an Israeli “goal” rather than as a U.S. commitment.

There is a significant difference between the prior letters given to Israel and the new “letter of guarantees” that may be given to the Palestinians. The letters to Israel were provided in exchange for tangible concessions: withdrawals from significant territories in Hebron and Gaza. They were parts of negotiated deals; they were not mere statements of policy subject to change. The possible “letter of guarantee” for the Palestinians, on the other hand, is simply for an agreement to resume negotiations, with no Palestinian concession on any issue – and on a basis that omits any reference to defensible borders.

Some have argued that (a) borders are secure only if they are recognized; (b) the Palestinians will recognize only the 1967 lines with minor adjustments; and (c) Israel can thus only have secure and recognized borders if it acquiesces in the Palestinian demand for indefensible ones — and relies for peace on the resulting peace agreement (perhaps with a “binding” UN resolution and blue helmets on the borders). The Palestinians have already rejected offers of a state (after land swaps) on 92 percent of the West Bank (at Camp David), 97 percent (in the Clinton Parameters), and 100 percent (in Olmert’s Annapolis Process offer). The borders they have in mind are not defensible ones, and the Obama administration appears to have deleted “defensible borders” as one of the guarantees of the process — unless there is some other explanation for the obvious reluctance of the administration to use the term, much less commit itself to the concept.

The Jerusalem Post reports that George Mitchell will return to the Middle East in early January and quotes an Arab diplomat saying that Mitchell will present “two draft letters of guarantee, one for Israel and one to the Palestinian Authority” as a basis for renewing negotiations. The Post reports that a senior Israeli diplomatic source said “the terms of reference Mitchell is reportedly bringing would probably closely resemble [Hillary Clinton’s] statement” last month, which read as follows:

We believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.

Letters of assurance have previously played an important part in the peace process. In 1997, Secretary of State Christopher wrote to Israel to assure it that the U.S. supported “defensible borders” for Israel as the conclusion of the peace process. In 2004, President Bush reassured Israel of the “steadfast commitment” of the U.S. to defensible borders. In his “Let Me Be Clear” address to AIPAC in 2008, Barack Obama stated that “any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders,” reflecting the longstanding U.S. commitment.

The absence of any reference to “defensible borders” in Secretary Clinton’s statement is thus both conspicuous and troubling, particularly because the administration has repeatedly refused this year to answer whether it considers itself bound by the Bush letter. Even the reference to “secure and recognized” borders is expressed in Clinton’s statement simply as an Israeli “goal” rather than as a U.S. commitment.

There is a significant difference between the prior letters given to Israel and the new “letter of guarantees” that may be given to the Palestinians. The letters to Israel were provided in exchange for tangible concessions: withdrawals from significant territories in Hebron and Gaza. They were parts of negotiated deals; they were not mere statements of policy subject to change. The possible “letter of guarantee” for the Palestinians, on the other hand, is simply for an agreement to resume negotiations, with no Palestinian concession on any issue – and on a basis that omits any reference to defensible borders.

Some have argued that (a) borders are secure only if they are recognized; (b) the Palestinians will recognize only the 1967 lines with minor adjustments; and (c) Israel can thus only have secure and recognized borders if it acquiesces in the Palestinian demand for indefensible ones — and relies for peace on the resulting peace agreement (perhaps with a “binding” UN resolution and blue helmets on the borders). The Palestinians have already rejected offers of a state (after land swaps) on 92 percent of the West Bank (at Camp David), 97 percent (in the Clinton Parameters), and 100 percent (in Olmert’s Annapolis Process offer). The borders they have in mind are not defensible ones, and the Obama administration appears to have deleted “defensible borders” as one of the guarantees of the process — unless there is some other explanation for the obvious reluctance of the administration to use the term, much less commit itself to the concept.

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Another Peace Process in Our Time

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — currently in the 60th month of his 48-month term, a declared non-candidate for re-election (in the event there is ever another Palestinian election), presently governing only half of the putative Palestinian state — has told Haaretz that a peace agreement could be reached within six months if Israel will make more pre-negotiation concessions.

Peace could be reached not only in our time but with four full months left over to complete Netanyahu’s 10-month settlement freeze. Abbas will hold the football himself.

Not even those on the Left in Israel believe in this process any more. Ari Shavit, writing in today’s Haaretz, notes that:

There’s one small problem: Similar things were said to us when the Beilin-Abbas agreement was formulated in 1995. Similar things were said to us on the eve of Camp David 2000. Similar things were promised us when the Geneva Initiative was signed in 2003. Similar things were promised us when Israel went to Annapolis in 2007.

Six months is in fact exactly what Abbas promised at the beginning of the Annapolis Process in 2007, only to reject still another Israeli offer of a state 12 months later.

Shavit encapsulates in a single paragraph the reason there is currently no prospect of peace, with or without additional Israeli concessions, made before or after negotiations begin:

With Hamas controlling the Gaza Strip, arming itself to the teeth and enjoying the support of about one-third of the Palestinians, it has the right to veto any diplomatic progress. With Fatah unwilling to recognize the Jewish nation-state and objecting to a demilitarized Palestinian state, there is no chance for a peace treaty.

Perhaps one day there will be another Palestinian presidential election, with a candidate campaigning on a platform calling for recognition of a Jewish state and acceptance of a demilitarized Palestinian one. Perhaps one day the Palestinians will elect such a person. But today there is no such candidate, nor even another scheduled election. The Palestinian peace movement consists of recycled interviews with Haaretz.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — currently in the 60th month of his 48-month term, a declared non-candidate for re-election (in the event there is ever another Palestinian election), presently governing only half of the putative Palestinian state — has told Haaretz that a peace agreement could be reached within six months if Israel will make more pre-negotiation concessions.

Peace could be reached not only in our time but with four full months left over to complete Netanyahu’s 10-month settlement freeze. Abbas will hold the football himself.

Not even those on the Left in Israel believe in this process any more. Ari Shavit, writing in today’s Haaretz, notes that:

There’s one small problem: Similar things were said to us when the Beilin-Abbas agreement was formulated in 1995. Similar things were said to us on the eve of Camp David 2000. Similar things were promised us when the Geneva Initiative was signed in 2003. Similar things were promised us when Israel went to Annapolis in 2007.

Six months is in fact exactly what Abbas promised at the beginning of the Annapolis Process in 2007, only to reject still another Israeli offer of a state 12 months later.

Shavit encapsulates in a single paragraph the reason there is currently no prospect of peace, with or without additional Israeli concessions, made before or after negotiations begin:

With Hamas controlling the Gaza Strip, arming itself to the teeth and enjoying the support of about one-third of the Palestinians, it has the right to veto any diplomatic progress. With Fatah unwilling to recognize the Jewish nation-state and objecting to a demilitarized Palestinian state, there is no chance for a peace treaty.

Perhaps one day there will be another Palestinian presidential election, with a candidate campaigning on a platform calling for recognition of a Jewish state and acceptance of a demilitarized Palestinian one. Perhaps one day the Palestinians will elect such a person. But today there is no such candidate, nor even another scheduled election. The Palestinian peace movement consists of recycled interviews with Haaretz.

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RE: Abbas Still Says No

The new preconditions for negotiations that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas posed this week are, as Jonathan noted, equivalent to refusing to negotiate until there’s nothing left to negotiate about. If talks cannot even start until the PA is granted every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, that doesn’t leave much to discuss. I also agree that Abbas’s reluctance to talk stems partly from the knowledge that his own public would reject any deal Israel could actually sign.

However, another factor is at play here: refusing to talk has consistently proved a very successful Palestinian tactic. As chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Al-Dustour in June: “At first they told us we would run hospitals and schools, later they were willing to give us 66 percent, at Camp David they reached 90 percent and today they have reached 100 percent. Why then should we hurry?”

Erekat is correct: the offer Ehud Olmert made Abbas last year — to which Abbas never even responded until after Olmert left office, then finally rejected via the media — indeed gave the PA the territorial equivalent of 100 percent (with swaps).

What is noteworthy, however, is that these ever growing Israeli concessions occurred without a single parallel Palestinian concession. In 16 years, Palestinian positions haven’t budged. The PA still insists on resettling 4.7 million descendants of refugees in Israel; it still won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state; it even rejects a 6 percent territorial swap for the settlement blocs.

In short, these concessions were not obtained through the normal give-and-take of negotiations, in which the parties inch closer by trading concessions. It has been a one-way street.

So how have Palestinians achieved these gains? By refusing to negotiate. Whenever Israel makes an offer, the PA just says “no,” with no counteroffer. Then it waits for the world to pressure Israel into offering something more to “restart the talks.” And Israel complies.

At Camp David in July 2000, for instance, mediator Bill Clinton lambasted Yasir Arafat for refusing to make Ehud Barak a counteroffer. But rather than press him to do so, Clinton proposed his own, far more generous deal in December 2000, offering the Palestinians 94 percent of the territory (compared with Barak’s 88 percent), plus the Temple Mount. Barak, pressured by Washington, agreed; Arafat again said no. Barak then sweetened the offer again at Taba in January 2001.

Abbas’s current tactic is identical: having rejected Olmert’s offer without even a counterproposal, he now seeks to pocket Olmert’s concessions, plus a few more (like eliminating the territorial swaps), and make them the starting point for the next round of non-negotiations.

You can’t blame the Palestinians: any negotiator would rather get something for nothing. As long as they can do so, that’s clearly their best strategy.

But you can blame the U.S. and Europe for letting them get away with it. Until the West stops demanding ever more Israeli concessions to “jump-start talks” and instead starts demanding that the Palestinians give something in exchange, no peace agreement will ever materialize.

The new preconditions for negotiations that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas posed this week are, as Jonathan noted, equivalent to refusing to negotiate until there’s nothing left to negotiate about. If talks cannot even start until the PA is granted every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, that doesn’t leave much to discuss. I also agree that Abbas’s reluctance to talk stems partly from the knowledge that his own public would reject any deal Israel could actually sign.

However, another factor is at play here: refusing to talk has consistently proved a very successful Palestinian tactic. As chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Al-Dustour in June: “At first they told us we would run hospitals and schools, later they were willing to give us 66 percent, at Camp David they reached 90 percent and today they have reached 100 percent. Why then should we hurry?”

Erekat is correct: the offer Ehud Olmert made Abbas last year — to which Abbas never even responded until after Olmert left office, then finally rejected via the media — indeed gave the PA the territorial equivalent of 100 percent (with swaps).

What is noteworthy, however, is that these ever growing Israeli concessions occurred without a single parallel Palestinian concession. In 16 years, Palestinian positions haven’t budged. The PA still insists on resettling 4.7 million descendants of refugees in Israel; it still won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state; it even rejects a 6 percent territorial swap for the settlement blocs.

In short, these concessions were not obtained through the normal give-and-take of negotiations, in which the parties inch closer by trading concessions. It has been a one-way street.

So how have Palestinians achieved these gains? By refusing to negotiate. Whenever Israel makes an offer, the PA just says “no,” with no counteroffer. Then it waits for the world to pressure Israel into offering something more to “restart the talks.” And Israel complies.

At Camp David in July 2000, for instance, mediator Bill Clinton lambasted Yasir Arafat for refusing to make Ehud Barak a counteroffer. But rather than press him to do so, Clinton proposed his own, far more generous deal in December 2000, offering the Palestinians 94 percent of the territory (compared with Barak’s 88 percent), plus the Temple Mount. Barak, pressured by Washington, agreed; Arafat again said no. Barak then sweetened the offer again at Taba in January 2001.

Abbas’s current tactic is identical: having rejected Olmert’s offer without even a counterproposal, he now seeks to pocket Olmert’s concessions, plus a few more (like eliminating the territorial swaps), and make them the starting point for the next round of non-negotiations.

You can’t blame the Palestinians: any negotiator would rather get something for nothing. As long as they can do so, that’s clearly their best strategy.

But you can blame the U.S. and Europe for letting them get away with it. Until the West stops demanding ever more Israeli concessions to “jump-start talks” and instead starts demanding that the Palestinians give something in exchange, no peace agreement will ever materialize.

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What the Peace-Partner Palestinians Really Want

In Haaretz yesterday, Ari Shavit detailed the results of Netanyahu’s serial efforts to commence negotiations with the Palestinians:

He accepts the principle of two states, and receives no response. He suspends construction in the settlements, and is rejected. He courts Mahmoud Abbas, and is disparaged. The son of Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s personal secretary wants a historic reconciliation with the Palestinians, and the Palestinians are slamming the door. He is offering the Palestinian national movement negotiations over the establishment of a Palestinian nation-state, and has found that there’s no one to talk to and nothing to talk about. Zilch. A brick wall.

Sometimes you get the impression that the Palestinian Arabs do not really want a Palestinian state. They could have had one in 1919 (the Weizmann-Feisel Agreement), 1937 (the Peel Commission), 1947 (UN Resolution 181), 2000 (the Camp David proposal), 2001 (the Clinton Parameters), or 2008 (the Annapolis Process offer). Six formal offers — each accepted by the Jews and rejected by the Arabs.

The peace-partner Palestinians do not really have a negotiating position — only a set of demands to reverse history. They demand that Israel withdraw to the 1967 lines to reverse the Six-Day War (a war the Arabs caused). They demand a “right of return” to reverse the 1948 war (a war the Arabs started). They demand all of East Jerusalem — not simply the Arab neighborhoods and Muslim religious sites — to control the historic portion of the city; they concede no Jewish connection to the Temple Mount or the Western Wall.

Evelyn argued persuasively today that the goal of Hamas in its negotiations for the release of nearly a thousand Palestinian prisoners — in exchange for one Israeli soldier — is not really the release of the prisoners. A similar insight explains the absence of a Palestinian state despite 90 years of two-state offers, increasing Israeli concessions throughout the Oslo and Annapolis “peace processes,” and Netanyahu’s unsuccessful efforts to commence negotiations once again. A second state is not really what the Palestinians want — not if the cost is recognition of a Jewish one in defensible borders. What they really want is something else.

In Haaretz yesterday, Ari Shavit detailed the results of Netanyahu’s serial efforts to commence negotiations with the Palestinians:

He accepts the principle of two states, and receives no response. He suspends construction in the settlements, and is rejected. He courts Mahmoud Abbas, and is disparaged. The son of Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s personal secretary wants a historic reconciliation with the Palestinians, and the Palestinians are slamming the door. He is offering the Palestinian national movement negotiations over the establishment of a Palestinian nation-state, and has found that there’s no one to talk to and nothing to talk about. Zilch. A brick wall.

Sometimes you get the impression that the Palestinian Arabs do not really want a Palestinian state. They could have had one in 1919 (the Weizmann-Feisel Agreement), 1937 (the Peel Commission), 1947 (UN Resolution 181), 2000 (the Camp David proposal), 2001 (the Clinton Parameters), or 2008 (the Annapolis Process offer). Six formal offers — each accepted by the Jews and rejected by the Arabs.

The peace-partner Palestinians do not really have a negotiating position — only a set of demands to reverse history. They demand that Israel withdraw to the 1967 lines to reverse the Six-Day War (a war the Arabs caused). They demand a “right of return” to reverse the 1948 war (a war the Arabs started). They demand all of East Jerusalem — not simply the Arab neighborhoods and Muslim religious sites — to control the historic portion of the city; they concede no Jewish connection to the Temple Mount or the Western Wall.

Evelyn argued persuasively today that the goal of Hamas in its negotiations for the release of nearly a thousand Palestinian prisoners — in exchange for one Israeli soldier — is not really the release of the prisoners. A similar insight explains the absence of a Palestinian state despite 90 years of two-state offers, increasing Israeli concessions throughout the Oslo and Annapolis “peace processes,” and Netanyahu’s unsuccessful efforts to commence negotiations once again. A second state is not really what the Palestinians want — not if the cost is recognition of a Jewish one in defensible borders. What they really want is something else.

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Building Peace by Ending Endism

In the past four years, there have been two experiments in peace-processing. The first was to dismantle every Israeli settlement, withdraw every Israeli settler, and turn over the entire area to the Palestinian Authority. The result of that experiment was a terrorist mini-state in Gaza — one that used the land to launch rockets at its neighbor and eventually caused a war, and that is today preparing for yet another one.

The second experiment is what Benjamin Netanyahu has referred to as the establishment of an “economic peace.” Tom Gross, a Middle East analyst and former Jerusalem correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph, provides a glimpse of what is happening with that approach, reporting on a day spent in Nablus, the largest city on the West Bank — a city bustling “in a way I have not previously seen in many years of covering the region”:

Wandering around downtown Nablus the shops and restaurants I saw were full. There were plenty of expensive cars on the streets. Indeed I counted considerably more BMWs and Mercedes than I’ve seen, for example, in downtown Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.

And perhaps most importantly of all, we had driven from Jerusalem to Nablus without going through any Israeli checkpoints. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu has removed them all since the Israeli security services (with the encouragement and support of President George W. Bush) were allowed, over recent years, to crush the intifada, restore security to the West Bank and set up the conditions for the economic boom that is now occurring.

And it’s not just Nablus:

Life is even better in Ramallah, where it is difficult to get a table in a good restaurant. New apartment buildings, banks, brokerage firms, luxury car dealerships and health clubs are to be seen. In Qalqilya, another West Bank city that was previously a hotbed of terrorists and bomb-makers, the first ever strawberry crop is being harvested in time to cash in on the lucrative Christmas markets in Europe. Local Palestinian farmers have been trained by Israeli agriculture experts and Israel supplied them with irrigation equipment and pesticides.

A year ago, Uzi Arad, a prominent Israeli foreign-policy academic, suggested that the way forward in the “peace process” is to put an end to “endism” — the belief that “we are within reach of resolving everything in one fell swoop.” Endism is what marked the two-week final-status negotiations at Camp David; the subsequent four-month process, culminating in the unsuccessful Clinton Parameters; and the failed one-year Annapolis Process under President Bush. Against advice from both the Left and Right, President Obama tried his own hand at endism, and his efforts cratered in less than a year.

Netanyahu has endorsed a two-state solution, as long as the Palestinians recognize one of them as Jewish and demilitarize the other so it cannot threaten Israel. Both conditions have been rejected even by the peace-partner Palestinians, not to mention those in control of the land handed over to them in 2005. Thus another attempt at endism is proving to be futile– and four times is enough in any event. Endism needs to be ended, not mended.

It is time, as the title of Gross’s article suggests, for “Building Peace Without Obama’s Interference” — and long past the time for Obama to turn his full attention, as Arad suggested a year ago, to Iran.

In the past four years, there have been two experiments in peace-processing. The first was to dismantle every Israeli settlement, withdraw every Israeli settler, and turn over the entire area to the Palestinian Authority. The result of that experiment was a terrorist mini-state in Gaza — one that used the land to launch rockets at its neighbor and eventually caused a war, and that is today preparing for yet another one.

The second experiment is what Benjamin Netanyahu has referred to as the establishment of an “economic peace.” Tom Gross, a Middle East analyst and former Jerusalem correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph, provides a glimpse of what is happening with that approach, reporting on a day spent in Nablus, the largest city on the West Bank — a city bustling “in a way I have not previously seen in many years of covering the region”:

Wandering around downtown Nablus the shops and restaurants I saw were full. There were plenty of expensive cars on the streets. Indeed I counted considerably more BMWs and Mercedes than I’ve seen, for example, in downtown Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.

And perhaps most importantly of all, we had driven from Jerusalem to Nablus without going through any Israeli checkpoints. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu has removed them all since the Israeli security services (with the encouragement and support of President George W. Bush) were allowed, over recent years, to crush the intifada, restore security to the West Bank and set up the conditions for the economic boom that is now occurring.

And it’s not just Nablus:

Life is even better in Ramallah, where it is difficult to get a table in a good restaurant. New apartment buildings, banks, brokerage firms, luxury car dealerships and health clubs are to be seen. In Qalqilya, another West Bank city that was previously a hotbed of terrorists and bomb-makers, the first ever strawberry crop is being harvested in time to cash in on the lucrative Christmas markets in Europe. Local Palestinian farmers have been trained by Israeli agriculture experts and Israel supplied them with irrigation equipment and pesticides.

A year ago, Uzi Arad, a prominent Israeli foreign-policy academic, suggested that the way forward in the “peace process” is to put an end to “endism” — the belief that “we are within reach of resolving everything in one fell swoop.” Endism is what marked the two-week final-status negotiations at Camp David; the subsequent four-month process, culminating in the unsuccessful Clinton Parameters; and the failed one-year Annapolis Process under President Bush. Against advice from both the Left and Right, President Obama tried his own hand at endism, and his efforts cratered in less than a year.

Netanyahu has endorsed a two-state solution, as long as the Palestinians recognize one of them as Jewish and demilitarize the other so it cannot threaten Israel. Both conditions have been rejected even by the peace-partner Palestinians, not to mention those in control of the land handed over to them in 2005. Thus another attempt at endism is proving to be futile– and four times is enough in any event. Endism needs to be ended, not mended.

It is time, as the title of Gross’s article suggests, for “Building Peace Without Obama’s Interference” — and long past the time for Obama to turn his full attention, as Arad suggested a year ago, to Iran.

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Mind of the Peanut

I couldn’t decide whether to call this Mind of the Peanut or the Devil is In the Details. Either way, here’s an interesting glimpse of the cranial gears of our worst ex-President: George C. Edwards III, “Exclusive Interview: President Jimmy Carter,” Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 38, no. 1.GE:…You are known for your mastery of complex policy, and you are interested in the details of policy as a good policy analyst.  Other presidents have been less interested in details.  So let me ask you into how much detail should a president delve in making a decision?…

PRESIDENT CARTER:  …Regarding the details, I am still an engineer by thought.  You know, when I run my farm or when I run the Carter Center, I want to know what is going on.  When I took on the personal responsibility, say for the Mideast peace process, I really believed that when we went to Camp David I knew more about the details than anybody there.  I had mastered the psychological and historical analysis of Begin and Sadat.  I knew everything they had done since they were born that was recorded, how they had reacted to crisis, how they dealt with pressure, who their allies were, and what their obligations were.  So when we got to Camp David, I knew them, and I knew the map of the West Bank and Gaza.

…I did basically the same thing with the Alaska Lands bill.  I knew the map of Alaska in great detail.

I read a lot.  I would say I read an average of 300 pages a day.  That is just something that I quantified years ago, so I am just not talking casually.  I took a speed-reading course.  I did, and about fifty other people did, from Evelyn Wood in the Cabinet Room within the first two months of my term.  So I could read a lot….

GE:  Another aspect of decision making, and another challenge for a president, is to get his advisors to tell him what he needs to hear as opposed to what they think he wants to hear. …How did you make sure that you heard the full range of options?…

PRESIDENT CARTER:   …we had regular cabinet meetings…. We would go around the entire table, and I would encourage each secretary to tell me the most important things that affected their departments that we needed to discuss. …If the issue was complex and they required more than two or three minutes of exposition, I encouraged them to put it in writing and submit it to me.  Those papers always came to me, and I relished the concise nature of their presentation.  It required them to get their thoughts in order, and I was very much a stickler for not splitting infinitives and so forth.

And all those papers are in the presidential library now.  I think the scholars that have been over to the presidential library to look at my notes have been impressed, I started to say overwhelmed, with the meticulous detail with which I would answer sometimes each paragraph in a complex proposal — I approve this, I do not approve this, see me about this, or explain this, and so forth.

I couldn’t decide whether to call this Mind of the Peanut or the Devil is In the Details. Either way, here’s an interesting glimpse of the cranial gears of our worst ex-President: George C. Edwards III, “Exclusive Interview: President Jimmy Carter,” Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 38, no. 1.GE:…You are known for your mastery of complex policy, and you are interested in the details of policy as a good policy analyst.  Other presidents have been less interested in details.  So let me ask you into how much detail should a president delve in making a decision?…

PRESIDENT CARTER:  …Regarding the details, I am still an engineer by thought.  You know, when I run my farm or when I run the Carter Center, I want to know what is going on.  When I took on the personal responsibility, say for the Mideast peace process, I really believed that when we went to Camp David I knew more about the details than anybody there.  I had mastered the psychological and historical analysis of Begin and Sadat.  I knew everything they had done since they were born that was recorded, how they had reacted to crisis, how they dealt with pressure, who their allies were, and what their obligations were.  So when we got to Camp David, I knew them, and I knew the map of the West Bank and Gaza.

…I did basically the same thing with the Alaska Lands bill.  I knew the map of Alaska in great detail.

I read a lot.  I would say I read an average of 300 pages a day.  That is just something that I quantified years ago, so I am just not talking casually.  I took a speed-reading course.  I did, and about fifty other people did, from Evelyn Wood in the Cabinet Room within the first two months of my term.  So I could read a lot….

GE:  Another aspect of decision making, and another challenge for a president, is to get his advisors to tell him what he needs to hear as opposed to what they think he wants to hear. …How did you make sure that you heard the full range of options?…

PRESIDENT CARTER:   …we had regular cabinet meetings…. We would go around the entire table, and I would encourage each secretary to tell me the most important things that affected their departments that we needed to discuss. …If the issue was complex and they required more than two or three minutes of exposition, I encouraged them to put it in writing and submit it to me.  Those papers always came to me, and I relished the concise nature of their presentation.  It required them to get their thoughts in order, and I was very much a stickler for not splitting infinitives and so forth.

And all those papers are in the presidential library now.  I think the scholars that have been over to the presidential library to look at my notes have been impressed, I started to say overwhelmed, with the meticulous detail with which I would answer sometimes each paragraph in a complex proposal — I approve this, I do not approve this, see me about this, or explain this, and so forth.

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More On Goldberg

Sort of like the Israelis and Palestinians, Jeff Goldberg and I seem to be talking past one another. On Sunday he published a New York Times op-ed in which he said that it was imperative for America’s president to pressure Israel to dismantle its West Bank settlements–and the reason the president isn’t doing so is because major American Jewish organizations are in favor of the settlements. I argued on CONTENTIONS that the reason Israelis aren’t dismantling the settlements (and that President Bush isn’t pressing them to do so) has nothing to do with the views of American Jewish groups and everything to do with the dismal record of recent Israeli concessions in southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. In both cases (as well as at the Camp David negotiations in 2000) Israelis thought that territorial concessions would lead to peace. Instead they led to the empowerment of terrorists. It’s an obvious point, and one I’m sure he’s familiar with, but one that Jeff never mentioned in his article.

Now, on his blog, Jeff objects only to one part of my critique, namely this sentence: “Although he goes on to criticize the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis that this nefarious “Lobby” holds hostage American policy toward Israel, Goldberg concedes most of their substantive case.” He tries to argue that it ain’t so, because he says he disagrees with their principal arguments. And what are their principal arguments? According to Jeff:

Max, as you well know, “The Israel Lobby” makes three principal arguments: The first is that American support for Israel – which is engineered solely by the Jewish community, the authors erroneously claim – hurts America. The second is that the organized American Jewish community, by advocating for policies that are not in America’s best interests, caused the Iraq war and is partially to blame for the attacks of 9/11. The third is that Israel’s behavior is so outrageous as to make it undeserving of American support, on moral grounds.

I think Jeff is being a bit too clever here. It’s true that these are three of the arguments that Mearsheimer and Walt make. But there is an even more basic argument that underlies everything else (as Jeff mentions in passing): that American policy toward Israel is determined not by a rational calculation of our priorities but by the political influence of “The Lobby.” “The reason why American politicians are so deferential [to Israel] is the political power of the Israel lobby,” Mearsheimer-Walt write on page 5 of their tract.

They even cite, among others, the same example of the Lobby’s power that Jeff uses: America’s unwillingness to force Israel to dismantle its settlements. On page 9 they write:

Israel’s situation would be better today if the United States had long ago used its financial and diplomatic leverage to convince Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and instead helped Israel create a viable Palestinian state on those lands. Washington did not so, however, largely because it would have been politically costly for any president to attempt it.

Compare this with the argument that Jeff makes in his Times article:

So why won’t American leaders push Israel publicly? Or, more to the point, why do presidential candidates dance so delicately around this question? The answer is obvious: The leadership of the organized American Jewish community has allowed the partisans of settlement to conflate support for the colonization of the West Bank with support for Israel itself.

Maybe Jeff can explain the substantive differences between those passages, because I don’t see any.

I don’t take any joy from pointing out the resemblances. As I mentioned, I’ve long been an admirer of Goldberg, and one of his articles that I have particularly enjoyed was the masterly takedown of Mearsheimer-Walt that he did in the New Republic. I also agree with him that, in the long run, most of the West Bank settlements are not viable. (I do, however, think that those settlements located in the immediate suburbs of Jerusalem will have to remain within Israel, with the borders being drawn to offer the Palestinians land elsewhere as compensation. There have been several plans put forward that would achieve this.)

Moreover, I am glad to see in his Atlantic post that he makes a distinction that he didn’t make in the Times: “I don’t advocate a unilateral end to the occupation, just to the settlement project. An end to the occupation has to come about through negotiations with a viable Palestinian partner. A partner, by the way, who might be strengthened by a reversal of settlement program.” I take this to mean that he favors continued IDF action in the West Bank even after the settlers are gone. That makes sense, even if it would likely negate the suppose political benefits of a pull-out: Palestinians would still be steamed about seeing an Israeli military presence even if they don’t see any settlers.

That’s an issue to ponder for the future. At the moment, any large-scale removal of settlements is unwise. It would be seen as a reward not to “moderates,” but to the extremists of Hamas who continue to rain rockets down on Israel notwithstanding the previous withdrawal of all settlements from the Gaza Strip. The determination of if and when to pull out of the settlements should be made by Israel’s democratically elected leaders. It shouldn’t be forced down their throats by Washington policymakers.

But leave aside the merits of dismantling settlements. In his Times op-ed, Jeff wasn’t just arguing that this is a good idea but that this is a good idea thwarted by the pro-Israel lobby. The former proposition is certainly debatable. But the latter proposition is demonstrably false–whether it comes from a well-respected pro-Israel journalist or from a couple of pseudo-academic, anti-Israeli cranks.

Sort of like the Israelis and Palestinians, Jeff Goldberg and I seem to be talking past one another. On Sunday he published a New York Times op-ed in which he said that it was imperative for America’s president to pressure Israel to dismantle its West Bank settlements–and the reason the president isn’t doing so is because major American Jewish organizations are in favor of the settlements. I argued on CONTENTIONS that the reason Israelis aren’t dismantling the settlements (and that President Bush isn’t pressing them to do so) has nothing to do with the views of American Jewish groups and everything to do with the dismal record of recent Israeli concessions in southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. In both cases (as well as at the Camp David negotiations in 2000) Israelis thought that territorial concessions would lead to peace. Instead they led to the empowerment of terrorists. It’s an obvious point, and one I’m sure he’s familiar with, but one that Jeff never mentioned in his article.

Now, on his blog, Jeff objects only to one part of my critique, namely this sentence: “Although he goes on to criticize the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis that this nefarious “Lobby” holds hostage American policy toward Israel, Goldberg concedes most of their substantive case.” He tries to argue that it ain’t so, because he says he disagrees with their principal arguments. And what are their principal arguments? According to Jeff:

Max, as you well know, “The Israel Lobby” makes three principal arguments: The first is that American support for Israel – which is engineered solely by the Jewish community, the authors erroneously claim – hurts America. The second is that the organized American Jewish community, by advocating for policies that are not in America’s best interests, caused the Iraq war and is partially to blame for the attacks of 9/11. The third is that Israel’s behavior is so outrageous as to make it undeserving of American support, on moral grounds.

I think Jeff is being a bit too clever here. It’s true that these are three of the arguments that Mearsheimer and Walt make. But there is an even more basic argument that underlies everything else (as Jeff mentions in passing): that American policy toward Israel is determined not by a rational calculation of our priorities but by the political influence of “The Lobby.” “The reason why American politicians are so deferential [to Israel] is the political power of the Israel lobby,” Mearsheimer-Walt write on page 5 of their tract.

They even cite, among others, the same example of the Lobby’s power that Jeff uses: America’s unwillingness to force Israel to dismantle its settlements. On page 9 they write:

Israel’s situation would be better today if the United States had long ago used its financial and diplomatic leverage to convince Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and instead helped Israel create a viable Palestinian state on those lands. Washington did not so, however, largely because it would have been politically costly for any president to attempt it.

Compare this with the argument that Jeff makes in his Times article:

So why won’t American leaders push Israel publicly? Or, more to the point, why do presidential candidates dance so delicately around this question? The answer is obvious: The leadership of the organized American Jewish community has allowed the partisans of settlement to conflate support for the colonization of the West Bank with support for Israel itself.

Maybe Jeff can explain the substantive differences between those passages, because I don’t see any.

I don’t take any joy from pointing out the resemblances. As I mentioned, I’ve long been an admirer of Goldberg, and one of his articles that I have particularly enjoyed was the masterly takedown of Mearsheimer-Walt that he did in the New Republic. I also agree with him that, in the long run, most of the West Bank settlements are not viable. (I do, however, think that those settlements located in the immediate suburbs of Jerusalem will have to remain within Israel, with the borders being drawn to offer the Palestinians land elsewhere as compensation. There have been several plans put forward that would achieve this.)

Moreover, I am glad to see in his Atlantic post that he makes a distinction that he didn’t make in the Times: “I don’t advocate a unilateral end to the occupation, just to the settlement project. An end to the occupation has to come about through negotiations with a viable Palestinian partner. A partner, by the way, who might be strengthened by a reversal of settlement program.” I take this to mean that he favors continued IDF action in the West Bank even after the settlers are gone. That makes sense, even if it would likely negate the suppose political benefits of a pull-out: Palestinians would still be steamed about seeing an Israeli military presence even if they don’t see any settlers.

That’s an issue to ponder for the future. At the moment, any large-scale removal of settlements is unwise. It would be seen as a reward not to “moderates,” but to the extremists of Hamas who continue to rain rockets down on Israel notwithstanding the previous withdrawal of all settlements from the Gaza Strip. The determination of if and when to pull out of the settlements should be made by Israel’s democratically elected leaders. It shouldn’t be forced down their throats by Washington policymakers.

But leave aside the merits of dismantling settlements. In his Times op-ed, Jeff wasn’t just arguing that this is a good idea but that this is a good idea thwarted by the pro-Israel lobby. The former proposition is certainly debatable. But the latter proposition is demonstrably false–whether it comes from a well-respected pro-Israel journalist or from a couple of pseudo-academic, anti-Israeli cranks.

Read Less

Take Your Time, North Korea

Yesterday, President Bush told critics of his North Korean policies to pipe down and be patient. “Somehow people are precluding–you know, jumping ahead of the game,” he said as he appeared with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Myung-bak, at Camp David. Referring to the North Koreans’ February 2007 promise to disclose their nuclear programs, Bush said this: “They have yet to make a full declaration. Why don’t we just wait and see what they say before people go out there and start giving their opinions about whether or not this is a good deal or a bad deal?”

First of all, nobody is rushing to judgment, Mr. President. The North Koreans in October had promised to make the all-important declaration by the end of last year. It is now a matter of historical fact that they are more than three months late.

Moreover, the North Koreans rarely fail to miss an opportunity to tell an untruth, especially when it comes to their nuclear weapons. Incredibly, they have stated they already delivered a declaration. According to them, they possess only 30 kilograms of plutonium instead of the 50 kilograms that almost everyone believes they hold. Perhaps more important, the North Koreans stated they never had any nuclear weapons program based on uranium and have not proliferated anything to anybody, including the Syrians.

Lies, lies, lies! And what does the American president say in light of North Korea’s obvious fabrications? “He’s testing the relationship,” Bush noted yesterday in a reference to Kim Jong Il. “He’s wondering whether or not the five of us will stay unified, and the only thing I know to do is to continue pressing forward within the six-party framework.”

There are so many things wrong with this statement, it’s hard to find the place to begin. Yet let me note three points. First, if this is a North Korean test of American will, the last thing to do is to let Mr. Kim get his way. That, as they say in the geopolitics biz, is a sign of weakness. Pyongyang’s leader is not waiting for the Bush administration to end, as many pundits believe; he apparently sees no need to disarm in view of general American helplessness. Second, I cannot believe that the President, by publicly saying that he knows no alternative to the six-party talks, has just admitted that he has run out of ideas. Even proponents of engaging the North Koreans have become skeptics of the negotiating process that started in the middle of 2003. Third, the five other parties are not unified. Apart from pious statements from China, for instance, there is little evidence that Beijing shares Washington’s goal of disarming North Korea.

If Kim wanted to give up his weapons, he would be doing so at this moment. It’s time for the Bush administration to recognize that its plan has failed and to move on. We need less patience because we need to know where we stand.

And, yes, it’s true that President Bush’s term is nearing its end. Yet he still has an obligation to defend America and its allies. And that means, among other things, that he should stop issuing inane statements and making us look helpless.

Yesterday, President Bush told critics of his North Korean policies to pipe down and be patient. “Somehow people are precluding–you know, jumping ahead of the game,” he said as he appeared with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Myung-bak, at Camp David. Referring to the North Koreans’ February 2007 promise to disclose their nuclear programs, Bush said this: “They have yet to make a full declaration. Why don’t we just wait and see what they say before people go out there and start giving their opinions about whether or not this is a good deal or a bad deal?”

First of all, nobody is rushing to judgment, Mr. President. The North Koreans in October had promised to make the all-important declaration by the end of last year. It is now a matter of historical fact that they are more than three months late.

Moreover, the North Koreans rarely fail to miss an opportunity to tell an untruth, especially when it comes to their nuclear weapons. Incredibly, they have stated they already delivered a declaration. According to them, they possess only 30 kilograms of plutonium instead of the 50 kilograms that almost everyone believes they hold. Perhaps more important, the North Koreans stated they never had any nuclear weapons program based on uranium and have not proliferated anything to anybody, including the Syrians.

Lies, lies, lies! And what does the American president say in light of North Korea’s obvious fabrications? “He’s testing the relationship,” Bush noted yesterday in a reference to Kim Jong Il. “He’s wondering whether or not the five of us will stay unified, and the only thing I know to do is to continue pressing forward within the six-party framework.”

There are so many things wrong with this statement, it’s hard to find the place to begin. Yet let me note three points. First, if this is a North Korean test of American will, the last thing to do is to let Mr. Kim get his way. That, as they say in the geopolitics biz, is a sign of weakness. Pyongyang’s leader is not waiting for the Bush administration to end, as many pundits believe; he apparently sees no need to disarm in view of general American helplessness. Second, I cannot believe that the President, by publicly saying that he knows no alternative to the six-party talks, has just admitted that he has run out of ideas. Even proponents of engaging the North Koreans have become skeptics of the negotiating process that started in the middle of 2003. Third, the five other parties are not unified. Apart from pious statements from China, for instance, there is little evidence that Beijing shares Washington’s goal of disarming North Korea.

If Kim wanted to give up his weapons, he would be doing so at this moment. It’s time for the Bush administration to recognize that its plan has failed and to move on. We need less patience because we need to know where we stand.

And, yes, it’s true that President Bush’s term is nearing its end. Yet he still has an obligation to defend America and its allies. And that means, among other things, that he should stop issuing inane statements and making us look helpless.

Read Less




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