Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ehud Barak

Israel’s Opposition Leader Puts Politics Before Pollard

Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni hit a new low yesterday when she ordered her Knesset faction to vote against a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging President Barack Obama to pardon Jonathan Pollard — and then had the nerve to take the podium and declare: “I will not turn Pollard into a political issue. We will give our support to every effort to free him.”

Ever since Pollard’s 1985 arrest for spying on Israel’s behalf, successive Israeli governments have quietly sought a pardon for him. Never before, however, has Israel publicly appealed for his release.

But if there was ever any chance of Obama granting this request, Livni has just killed it by her disgraceful show of partisanship. After all, the Obama administration has made no secret of its preference for Livni over Netanyahu: see, for instance, Hillary Clinton’s ostentatious hour-long meeting with Livni at the State Department last month, even as she allotted only 30 minutes in a side room of the Saban Forum that same weekend to the government’s representative, Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Thus Obama is highly unlikely to do anything that could be perceived as a victory for Netanyahu over Livni.

Had Livni’s faction backed the letter in the vote that Kadima itself requested, this wouldn’t be an issue: it would be clear that Netanyahu’s request was backed by a wall-to-wall Israeli consensus. But now that claim is impossible. By its vote, Kadima has made it clear that it views freeing Pollard as a lower priority than scoring points off Netanyahu. Livni’s assertion of support for “every effort to free him” is worse than meaningless when her party has just torpedoed the one serious effort actually in train.

This isn’t the first time Livni has displayed gross irresponsibility as opposition leader. Her joint interview to ABC with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad last month, at which the two of them teamed up to blame Netanyahu for the lack of progress in the peace process, was also a new low. I can’t remember any previous Israeli opposition leader staging a joint press conference with an adversary in order to smear her own country to the American public — especially when said adversary, rather than her government, is the one who has actually been refusing to negotiate for the past two years.

But at least there she attacked Netanyahu over an issue on which they ostensibly disagreed. In the Pollard vote, Livni sabotaged him over an issue on which they ostensibly agreed.

The pity is that Livni actually began her stint as opposition leader by demonstrating impressive national responsibility. Unfortunately, the statesmanlike veneer didn’t last long.

Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni hit a new low yesterday when she ordered her Knesset faction to vote against a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging President Barack Obama to pardon Jonathan Pollard — and then had the nerve to take the podium and declare: “I will not turn Pollard into a political issue. We will give our support to every effort to free him.”

Ever since Pollard’s 1985 arrest for spying on Israel’s behalf, successive Israeli governments have quietly sought a pardon for him. Never before, however, has Israel publicly appealed for his release.

But if there was ever any chance of Obama granting this request, Livni has just killed it by her disgraceful show of partisanship. After all, the Obama administration has made no secret of its preference for Livni over Netanyahu: see, for instance, Hillary Clinton’s ostentatious hour-long meeting with Livni at the State Department last month, even as she allotted only 30 minutes in a side room of the Saban Forum that same weekend to the government’s representative, Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Thus Obama is highly unlikely to do anything that could be perceived as a victory for Netanyahu over Livni.

Had Livni’s faction backed the letter in the vote that Kadima itself requested, this wouldn’t be an issue: it would be clear that Netanyahu’s request was backed by a wall-to-wall Israeli consensus. But now that claim is impossible. By its vote, Kadima has made it clear that it views freeing Pollard as a lower priority than scoring points off Netanyahu. Livni’s assertion of support for “every effort to free him” is worse than meaningless when her party has just torpedoed the one serious effort actually in train.

This isn’t the first time Livni has displayed gross irresponsibility as opposition leader. Her joint interview to ABC with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad last month, at which the two of them teamed up to blame Netanyahu for the lack of progress in the peace process, was also a new low. I can’t remember any previous Israeli opposition leader staging a joint press conference with an adversary in order to smear her own country to the American public — especially when said adversary, rather than her government, is the one who has actually been refusing to negotiate for the past two years.

But at least there she attacked Netanyahu over an issue on which they ostensibly disagreed. In the Pollard vote, Livni sabotaged him over an issue on which they ostensibly agreed.

The pity is that Livni actually began her stint as opposition leader by demonstrating impressive national responsibility. Unfortunately, the statesmanlike veneer didn’t last long.

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Good Advice from Amos Oz and Sari Nusseibeh

I wouldn’t expect the Obama administration to take advice from ideological rivals on how to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks. But it’s puzzling that it remains equally deaf to advice from two prominent Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.

In a moderated conversation published this month, Amos Oz and Sari Nusseibeh were in complete accord:

OZ: … [T]he first issue we need to deal with is the refugee issue, because this one is really urgent. Jerusalem is not urgent, it can wait. It can go unresolved for another generation, it can be unresolved for three generations. The refugees are hundreds of thousands of people decomposing in dehumanizing conditions in refugee camps. Israel cannot take these refugees back or it would not be Israel. There would be two Palestinian states, and there would be no Israel. But Israel can do something, along with the Arab world, along with the entire world, to take those people out of the camps, into homes and jobs. Peace or no peace, as long as the refugees are rotting in the camps Israel will have no security.

NUSSEIBEH: I agree. Whether there is or isn’t a solution, the refugee problem is a human problem and it needs to be resolved. It cannot just be shelved day after day after day in the hope that something will happen. The human dimension is far more important in this whole conflict than the territorial.

Yet Obama’s team remains fixated on “borders first.” That’s ridiculous on several counts. First, since territory is all that Israel has to trade, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be foolish to make all his territorial concessions up front, leaving him without leverage to extract crucial Palestinian concessions on other issues, like the refugees.

Second, since two previous Israeli leaders, Ehud Barak (at Taba) and Ehud Olmert, were that foolish, the entire world ought to know by now that Israel twice offered the equivalent of 100 percent of the territories (with land swaps). Those offers went nowhere because the Palestinians refused to make reciprocal concessions on other issues — especially the refugees.

Specifically, the Palestinians insist that Israel absorb millions of refugees and their descendants under any deal, thereby eradicating the Jewish state by demography. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reiterated this in the Guardian just last week; the governing body of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s “moderate” Fatah party did so last month.

Until this changes, any territorial concessions Netanyahu offers will be meaningless, because no Israeli government will sign a deal that effectively spells the Jewish state’s death warrant. But if the refugee issue were resolved, Netanyahu would either make a generous territorial offer or face certain ouster in the next election. Thus, if Washington actually wants a deal, this is the place to start.

Finally, as Oz and Nusseibeh noted, this is a human tragedy that has already been left to fester far too long. That Palestinian leaders have held the refugees hostage to their maximalist demands for over six decades shows just how little they really care about their own people. And for all its fine talk of human rights, the “enlightened West” is evidently no better.

I wouldn’t expect the Obama administration to take advice from ideological rivals on how to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks. But it’s puzzling that it remains equally deaf to advice from two prominent Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.

In a moderated conversation published this month, Amos Oz and Sari Nusseibeh were in complete accord:

OZ: … [T]he first issue we need to deal with is the refugee issue, because this one is really urgent. Jerusalem is not urgent, it can wait. It can go unresolved for another generation, it can be unresolved for three generations. The refugees are hundreds of thousands of people decomposing in dehumanizing conditions in refugee camps. Israel cannot take these refugees back or it would not be Israel. There would be two Palestinian states, and there would be no Israel. But Israel can do something, along with the Arab world, along with the entire world, to take those people out of the camps, into homes and jobs. Peace or no peace, as long as the refugees are rotting in the camps Israel will have no security.

NUSSEIBEH: I agree. Whether there is or isn’t a solution, the refugee problem is a human problem and it needs to be resolved. It cannot just be shelved day after day after day in the hope that something will happen. The human dimension is far more important in this whole conflict than the territorial.

Yet Obama’s team remains fixated on “borders first.” That’s ridiculous on several counts. First, since territory is all that Israel has to trade, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be foolish to make all his territorial concessions up front, leaving him without leverage to extract crucial Palestinian concessions on other issues, like the refugees.

Second, since two previous Israeli leaders, Ehud Barak (at Taba) and Ehud Olmert, were that foolish, the entire world ought to know by now that Israel twice offered the equivalent of 100 percent of the territories (with land swaps). Those offers went nowhere because the Palestinians refused to make reciprocal concessions on other issues — especially the refugees.

Specifically, the Palestinians insist that Israel absorb millions of refugees and their descendants under any deal, thereby eradicating the Jewish state by demography. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reiterated this in the Guardian just last week; the governing body of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s “moderate” Fatah party did so last month.

Until this changes, any territorial concessions Netanyahu offers will be meaningless, because no Israeli government will sign a deal that effectively spells the Jewish state’s death warrant. But if the refugee issue were resolved, Netanyahu would either make a generous territorial offer or face certain ouster in the next election. Thus, if Washington actually wants a deal, this is the place to start.

Finally, as Oz and Nusseibeh noted, this is a human tragedy that has already been left to fester far too long. That Palestinian leaders have held the refugees hostage to their maximalist demands for over six decades shows just how little they really care about their own people. And for all its fine talk of human rights, the “enlightened West” is evidently no better.

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Evening Commentary

Secret recordings were released this week showing Nixon and Kissinger callously dismissing the plight of Soviet Jews. But Seth Lipsky argues that leaders should be judged by their actions — such as Nixon’s appointment of Jews to high-level posts in his administration and support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War — as opposed to their private prejudices: “Is it better to have a president who loves African Americans and Jews and disappoints them strategically? Or one who privately voices prejudice but defends their rights and supports them strategically?”

There was a time when Ehud Barak could have made this call. Bibi kindly points out that now is not that time.

Reports this week that 25 percent of Gitmo alums have already returned to the battlefield further highlight the necessity of keeping the detention center open: “Contrary to the Gitmo myth, innocent teenagers and wandering goat herders do not fill the base. Last May, an administration task force found that of the 240 detainees at Gitmo when Mr. Obama took office, almost all were leaders, fighters or organizers for al Qaeda, the Taliban or other jihadist groups. None was judged innocent,” write John Yoo and Robert Delahunty in the Wall Street Journal.

Mitch Daniels is known for his laser focus on the economic crisis, but values voters shouldn’t discount his solid track record on social issues, writes Mona Charen.

With Rahm Emanuel gone, Joe Biden will begin playing a much larger role in the Obama administration, reports the New York Times. (Could this translate into even more inside access for Bad Rachel?)

Even as the controversy over Juan Williams’s firing dies down, Republicans are still preparing to battle NPR over public funding next year, reports Politico.

Secret recordings were released this week showing Nixon and Kissinger callously dismissing the plight of Soviet Jews. But Seth Lipsky argues that leaders should be judged by their actions — such as Nixon’s appointment of Jews to high-level posts in his administration and support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War — as opposed to their private prejudices: “Is it better to have a president who loves African Americans and Jews and disappoints them strategically? Or one who privately voices prejudice but defends their rights and supports them strategically?”

There was a time when Ehud Barak could have made this call. Bibi kindly points out that now is not that time.

Reports this week that 25 percent of Gitmo alums have already returned to the battlefield further highlight the necessity of keeping the detention center open: “Contrary to the Gitmo myth, innocent teenagers and wandering goat herders do not fill the base. Last May, an administration task force found that of the 240 detainees at Gitmo when Mr. Obama took office, almost all were leaders, fighters or organizers for al Qaeda, the Taliban or other jihadist groups. None was judged innocent,” write John Yoo and Robert Delahunty in the Wall Street Journal.

Mitch Daniels is known for his laser focus on the economic crisis, but values voters shouldn’t discount his solid track record on social issues, writes Mona Charen.

With Rahm Emanuel gone, Joe Biden will begin playing a much larger role in the Obama administration, reports the New York Times. (Could this translate into even more inside access for Bad Rachel?)

Even as the controversy over Juan Williams’s firing dies down, Republicans are still preparing to battle NPR over public funding next year, reports Politico.

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The Public Be Damned

Jonathan noted yesterday that foreign critics are outraged by Israel’s passage of a law this week mandating referenda on certain types of territorial concessions. But their outrage doesn’t hold a candle to that of Israel’s own left.

In today’s editorial, for instance, Haaretz complained bitterly that “the public is being given veto power over crucial decisions on foreign policy and security issues.” By “handcuffing the political leadership’s moves in the peace process,” it charged, Israel is spitting in the world’s face.

Labor Party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak similarly complained that “this is not a good law,” because the world will think “Israel is rejecting peace and is handcuffing itself to avoid progress in the diplomatic process.”

These arguments are mind-boggling. First, why should anyone in the democratic world object to giving the public a say in “crucial decisions on foreign policy and security”? Haaretz’s editors would evidently prefer a dictatorship of Plato’s philosopher-king, with themselves on the throne. But democracies are supposed to give the public a say in crucial decisions.

That’s why Britain, for instance, held a referendum on joining the European Economic Community, while France held one on leaving Algeria. In the U.S., this goal is achieved by requiring treaties to be ratified by a two-thirds Senate majority, which is unachievable without significant bipartisan consensus.

But the even more shocking assumption behind these plaints is that, given a choice, the public would reject any deal likely to be signed — yet the government should sign it anyway, and the public be damned.

Like Jonathan, I think Israelis would in fact support any reasonable agreement. But no reasonable agreement would ever be brought to a referendum, because the law requires a referendum only if an agreement doesn’t pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority. And any reasonable agreement would easily surpass this threshold.

The history of Israeli diplomatic agreements amply proves this point. The treaties with both Egypt and Jordan did pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority, and both, despite producing a colder peace than Israelis hoped, have stood the test of time. In contrast, not a single agreement with the Palestinians ever came close to achieving a two-thirds majority — and every single one has proved a bloody failure.

Nor is this mere coincidence. The Jordanian and Egyptian treaties won sweeping majorities because both countries’ leaders had proved their commitment to peace: Anwar Sadat by his dramatic visit to the Knesset, in defiance of the pan-Arab boycott on Israel, and Jordan’s King Hussein by decades of quiet security cooperation. And both treaties succeeded because these leaders truly wanted peace.

The Palestinian agreements won only narrow majorities because many Israelis weren’t convinced that the Palestinians wanted peace. And these agreements failed because this skepticism proved well-founded.

Thus the referendum law won’t prevent any deal actually worth signing. Nor will it prevent another bad deal on the West Bank, since it applies only to territory annexed by Israel. But it will at least prevent a bad deal over East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. And therefore, its passage is genuine cause for rejoicing.

Jonathan noted yesterday that foreign critics are outraged by Israel’s passage of a law this week mandating referenda on certain types of territorial concessions. But their outrage doesn’t hold a candle to that of Israel’s own left.

In today’s editorial, for instance, Haaretz complained bitterly that “the public is being given veto power over crucial decisions on foreign policy and security issues.” By “handcuffing the political leadership’s moves in the peace process,” it charged, Israel is spitting in the world’s face.

Labor Party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak similarly complained that “this is not a good law,” because the world will think “Israel is rejecting peace and is handcuffing itself to avoid progress in the diplomatic process.”

These arguments are mind-boggling. First, why should anyone in the democratic world object to giving the public a say in “crucial decisions on foreign policy and security”? Haaretz’s editors would evidently prefer a dictatorship of Plato’s philosopher-king, with themselves on the throne. But democracies are supposed to give the public a say in crucial decisions.

That’s why Britain, for instance, held a referendum on joining the European Economic Community, while France held one on leaving Algeria. In the U.S., this goal is achieved by requiring treaties to be ratified by a two-thirds Senate majority, which is unachievable without significant bipartisan consensus.

But the even more shocking assumption behind these plaints is that, given a choice, the public would reject any deal likely to be signed — yet the government should sign it anyway, and the public be damned.

Like Jonathan, I think Israelis would in fact support any reasonable agreement. But no reasonable agreement would ever be brought to a referendum, because the law requires a referendum only if an agreement doesn’t pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority. And any reasonable agreement would easily surpass this threshold.

The history of Israeli diplomatic agreements amply proves this point. The treaties with both Egypt and Jordan did pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority, and both, despite producing a colder peace than Israelis hoped, have stood the test of time. In contrast, not a single agreement with the Palestinians ever came close to achieving a two-thirds majority — and every single one has proved a bloody failure.

Nor is this mere coincidence. The Jordanian and Egyptian treaties won sweeping majorities because both countries’ leaders had proved their commitment to peace: Anwar Sadat by his dramatic visit to the Knesset, in defiance of the pan-Arab boycott on Israel, and Jordan’s King Hussein by decades of quiet security cooperation. And both treaties succeeded because these leaders truly wanted peace.

The Palestinian agreements won only narrow majorities because many Israelis weren’t convinced that the Palestinians wanted peace. And these agreements failed because this skepticism proved well-founded.

Thus the referendum law won’t prevent any deal actually worth signing. Nor will it prevent another bad deal on the West Bank, since it applies only to territory annexed by Israel. But it will at least prevent a bad deal over East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. And therefore, its passage is genuine cause for rejoicing.

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Liberal Jews for New START

The Obama administration’s struggle to push forward on ratification of New START is becoming more wacky by the day. Now it has roused Jewish groups with a bizarre linkage argument:

While the White House continues to negotiate with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) in an attempt to convince him to allow a vote on the New START treaty this year, it is also undertaking a massive effort behind the scenes to rally foreign governments and non-governmental organizations to support the treaty’s ratification and put public pressure on Republicans to yield.

As part of that effort, the White House has been in contact with pro-Israel and pro-Jewish organizations, encouraging them to be vocal about their support for the New START treaty, and warning them that the failure of the treaty could have negative implications for the drive to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

This would make more sense, I suppose, if we hadn’t “paid” for reset in so many other ways (e.g., silence on human rights abuses) or if Russia had been more helpful on Iran (refraining from helping to build and activate the Bushehr plant). But the ever-gullible liberal Jewish groups are more than happy to accommodate: “Over the last three days, three major pro-Israel organizations issued strong statements of support for New START: the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and the American Council for World Jewry (ACWJ).”

Who’s missing from this? AIPAC, the largest and most prominent Jewish group when it comes to influencing Congress. AIPAC has wisely decided not to fritter away its credibility on an issue that has nothing to do with Israel. Nor is the Israeli government, already risking its credibility with the planes-for-a-freeze gambit, about to facilitate this maneuver:

“We have no position on the treaty. We are staying above the political discussion in Washington,” one Israeli official told The Cable. The official could not confirm rumors we’ve heard that the administration asked Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren to speak out, but that Oren declined. Recently, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has been strengthening ties with Russia, even saying in September, “Our views on many challenges of today are close or identical.”

Playing the Jewish card tells us two things. First, most liberal Jews and the organizations that reflect their views are a long way from breaking the “sick addiction” to this president and to the Democratic Party more generally. And second, the Obama administration is frantic to pass the treaty and pass it now. The more it tries, the more the GOP senators with real concerns may wonder: why the rush? Why shouldn’t the new senators get a chance to weigh in?

The Obama administration’s struggle to push forward on ratification of New START is becoming more wacky by the day. Now it has roused Jewish groups with a bizarre linkage argument:

While the White House continues to negotiate with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) in an attempt to convince him to allow a vote on the New START treaty this year, it is also undertaking a massive effort behind the scenes to rally foreign governments and non-governmental organizations to support the treaty’s ratification and put public pressure on Republicans to yield.

As part of that effort, the White House has been in contact with pro-Israel and pro-Jewish organizations, encouraging them to be vocal about their support for the New START treaty, and warning them that the failure of the treaty could have negative implications for the drive to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

This would make more sense, I suppose, if we hadn’t “paid” for reset in so many other ways (e.g., silence on human rights abuses) or if Russia had been more helpful on Iran (refraining from helping to build and activate the Bushehr plant). But the ever-gullible liberal Jewish groups are more than happy to accommodate: “Over the last three days, three major pro-Israel organizations issued strong statements of support for New START: the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and the American Council for World Jewry (ACWJ).”

Who’s missing from this? AIPAC, the largest and most prominent Jewish group when it comes to influencing Congress. AIPAC has wisely decided not to fritter away its credibility on an issue that has nothing to do with Israel. Nor is the Israeli government, already risking its credibility with the planes-for-a-freeze gambit, about to facilitate this maneuver:

“We have no position on the treaty. We are staying above the political discussion in Washington,” one Israeli official told The Cable. The official could not confirm rumors we’ve heard that the administration asked Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren to speak out, but that Oren declined. Recently, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has been strengthening ties with Russia, even saying in September, “Our views on many challenges of today are close or identical.”

Playing the Jewish card tells us two things. First, most liberal Jews and the organizations that reflect their views are a long way from breaking the “sick addiction” to this president and to the Democratic Party more generally. And second, the Obama administration is frantic to pass the treaty and pass it now. The more it tries, the more the GOP senators with real concerns may wonder: why the rush? Why shouldn’t the new senators get a chance to weigh in?

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A Settlement Freeze Makes Serious Talks Less Likely

Jennifer listed several good reasons to dislike Barack Obama’s latest proposal for a settlement freeze. Here’s one more: it makes serious final-status negotiations even less likely.

To see why, consider last week’s astonishing editorial in the Kuwaiti daily Arab Times. In it, editor-in-chief Ahmed Al-Jarallah urged Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to imitate Egyptian President Anwar Sadat “and start unconditional negotiations” with Israel.

It’s a remarkable piece in many respects: its clear-eyed recognition that the Arab world exploits the Palestinians rather than helping them (“the slogan traders in Iran, Lebanon and Syria … [are] using these poor people as fighting tools”); its candid acknowledgement that Palestinians have blown previous opportunities, like the autonomy plan mandated by the 1978 peace treaty with Egypt (“they should have taken this opportunity and built on it”); and its call for unconditional negotiations, defying the Arab consensus, to avoid missing another opportunity (Sadat, he noted, regained his land by so doing, while if talks fail, that would at least “cause international embarrassment for Israel”). No Western leader has said anything half so honest or courageous.

But the minute Al-Jarallah explains why he deems this necessary, it’s obvious why neither Abbas nor the West discerns the same necessity: Palestinians, he said, must act, because Israeli settlement construction means “the longer the waiting period, the lesser the space” for the Palestinian state-to-be.

In reality, as both Abbas and Western leaders know, refusing to make a deal has proven a surefire way for Palestinians to increase the amount of land on offer. Four decades ago, Israel’s left proposed the Allon Plan, under which Israel would cede 70 percent of the territories. By 2000, Ehud Barak was offering 88 percent. The Clinton plan upped the figure to about 94 percent, and in 2008, Ehud Olmert offered almost 100 percent (after territorial swaps). Each time the Palestinians refused an offer, either Jerusalem or Washington sweetened the deal in the hopes of finally getting them to say yes.

There aren’t many territorial sweeteners left to add, but plenty of concessions remain available on other issues. And there’s no risk of losing the territorial gains because no offer, once made, has ever been taken off the table: Olmert’s offer, for instance, is now viewed by the West as the starting point for new talks, and Israel faces enormous pressure to accept that dictate.

Abbas thus has every incentive to keep saying no: he won’t lose any concession already pocketed, and he’ll probably gain new ones.

Therefore, if the West really wants a deal, it must ensure that saying no does have consequences: that far from netting the Palestinians additional gains, it will endanger those already achieved. In other words, it needs to make them think time is running out for a viable deal. And there’s only one way to do that — by settlement construction massive enough to threaten to make additional settlements too big to be evacuated.

By instead demanding a settlement freeze, Obama ensures the Palestinians can drag their feet with no negative consequences because nothing will change on the ground. So nobody should be surprised if that’s exactly what they do.

Jennifer listed several good reasons to dislike Barack Obama’s latest proposal for a settlement freeze. Here’s one more: it makes serious final-status negotiations even less likely.

To see why, consider last week’s astonishing editorial in the Kuwaiti daily Arab Times. In it, editor-in-chief Ahmed Al-Jarallah urged Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to imitate Egyptian President Anwar Sadat “and start unconditional negotiations” with Israel.

It’s a remarkable piece in many respects: its clear-eyed recognition that the Arab world exploits the Palestinians rather than helping them (“the slogan traders in Iran, Lebanon and Syria … [are] using these poor people as fighting tools”); its candid acknowledgement that Palestinians have blown previous opportunities, like the autonomy plan mandated by the 1978 peace treaty with Egypt (“they should have taken this opportunity and built on it”); and its call for unconditional negotiations, defying the Arab consensus, to avoid missing another opportunity (Sadat, he noted, regained his land by so doing, while if talks fail, that would at least “cause international embarrassment for Israel”). No Western leader has said anything half so honest or courageous.

But the minute Al-Jarallah explains why he deems this necessary, it’s obvious why neither Abbas nor the West discerns the same necessity: Palestinians, he said, must act, because Israeli settlement construction means “the longer the waiting period, the lesser the space” for the Palestinian state-to-be.

In reality, as both Abbas and Western leaders know, refusing to make a deal has proven a surefire way for Palestinians to increase the amount of land on offer. Four decades ago, Israel’s left proposed the Allon Plan, under which Israel would cede 70 percent of the territories. By 2000, Ehud Barak was offering 88 percent. The Clinton plan upped the figure to about 94 percent, and in 2008, Ehud Olmert offered almost 100 percent (after territorial swaps). Each time the Palestinians refused an offer, either Jerusalem or Washington sweetened the deal in the hopes of finally getting them to say yes.

There aren’t many territorial sweeteners left to add, but plenty of concessions remain available on other issues. And there’s no risk of losing the territorial gains because no offer, once made, has ever been taken off the table: Olmert’s offer, for instance, is now viewed by the West as the starting point for new talks, and Israel faces enormous pressure to accept that dictate.

Abbas thus has every incentive to keep saying no: he won’t lose any concession already pocketed, and he’ll probably gain new ones.

Therefore, if the West really wants a deal, it must ensure that saying no does have consequences: that far from netting the Palestinians additional gains, it will endanger those already achieved. In other words, it needs to make them think time is running out for a viable deal. And there’s only one way to do that — by settlement construction massive enough to threaten to make additional settlements too big to be evacuated.

By instead demanding a settlement freeze, Obama ensures the Palestinians can drag their feet with no negative consequences because nothing will change on the ground. So nobody should be surprised if that’s exactly what they do.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

I’m sure it is going to be blamed on the Chamber of Commerce: “Gallup finds 21% of Americans satisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time. If that figure does not improve considerably in the next two weeks, it would be the lowest level of U.S. satisfaction Gallup has measured at the time of a midterm election in more than 30 years of tracking this measure.”

If Jimmy Carter is talking about Israel, it’s going to be slanderous: “Former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday that Palestinians are ‘living in a cage’ in Gaza and that the militant group Hamas must be included in all major efforts for peace.” Oh, and Obama’s Medal of Freedom winner Mary Robinson was along for the trip.

Now that the PA has bugged out of direct non-peace talks, Israeli leaders are right to be concerned that the next step is going to be an attempt to impose a peace deal. Ambassador Michael Oren is having none of it: “Like Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu will not allow the United Nations, or any other organization, to dictate our borders. They will be determined through negotiations.”

If he’s not taking responsibility for the economy or his party’s train wreck now, there’s no way he’s going to be sticking around to explain the election results: “President Obama is giving Republicans a 10-day window to set the agenda for a lame-duck session and the new legislative year by leaving the country right after the midterm elections.” In short, run away!

Jack Conway is going to be the winner of one contest, according to Jason Zengerle: “There are still two weeks left until the midterm elections, but it’s not too early to declare a winner in the contest for the most despicable political ad of this campaign season. … When the debate was over, Paul refused to shake Conway’s hand. Frankly, I don’t blame him. First, no candidate over the age of, say, 30 should be held politically accountable for anything he or she did in college—short of gross academic misconduct or committing a felony. Second, and more importantly, a politician’s religious faith should simply be off-limits.”

Matt Continetti explains that it’s not going to be easy for Sarah Palin to get the GOP nod: “Palin needs to run a campaign in which she demonstrates the ability to stay on message, raise significant sums of money from a broad group of donors, demonstrate familiarity with the intricacies of domestic and foreign policy, and present a unifying theme of American strength, at home and abroad. It’s a tall order, I know. But the next Republican president will do all these things.” At least she’ll have the argument that an Ivy League degree is irrelevant to the presidency.

It’s going to be a long two years: “[T]he Obama administration is still absorbing the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to date rejected a proposed American compromise package that would have offered various security and other assurances to Israel in exchange for a 60-day renewal of a partial West Bank settlement freeze that expired last month. The American team is said to be frustrated and upset at Netanyahu’s dismissal to date of the package, which was drafted by the NSC’s Dennis Ross in close consultation with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molho.” They didn’t see this coming? Now that is scary.

I’m sure it is going to be blamed on the Chamber of Commerce: “Gallup finds 21% of Americans satisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time. If that figure does not improve considerably in the next two weeks, it would be the lowest level of U.S. satisfaction Gallup has measured at the time of a midterm election in more than 30 years of tracking this measure.”

If Jimmy Carter is talking about Israel, it’s going to be slanderous: “Former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday that Palestinians are ‘living in a cage’ in Gaza and that the militant group Hamas must be included in all major efforts for peace.” Oh, and Obama’s Medal of Freedom winner Mary Robinson was along for the trip.

Now that the PA has bugged out of direct non-peace talks, Israeli leaders are right to be concerned that the next step is going to be an attempt to impose a peace deal. Ambassador Michael Oren is having none of it: “Like Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu will not allow the United Nations, or any other organization, to dictate our borders. They will be determined through negotiations.”

If he’s not taking responsibility for the economy or his party’s train wreck now, there’s no way he’s going to be sticking around to explain the election results: “President Obama is giving Republicans a 10-day window to set the agenda for a lame-duck session and the new legislative year by leaving the country right after the midterm elections.” In short, run away!

Jack Conway is going to be the winner of one contest, according to Jason Zengerle: “There are still two weeks left until the midterm elections, but it’s not too early to declare a winner in the contest for the most despicable political ad of this campaign season. … When the debate was over, Paul refused to shake Conway’s hand. Frankly, I don’t blame him. First, no candidate over the age of, say, 30 should be held politically accountable for anything he or she did in college—short of gross academic misconduct or committing a felony. Second, and more importantly, a politician’s religious faith should simply be off-limits.”

Matt Continetti explains that it’s not going to be easy for Sarah Palin to get the GOP nod: “Palin needs to run a campaign in which she demonstrates the ability to stay on message, raise significant sums of money from a broad group of donors, demonstrate familiarity with the intricacies of domestic and foreign policy, and present a unifying theme of American strength, at home and abroad. It’s a tall order, I know. But the next Republican president will do all these things.” At least she’ll have the argument that an Ivy League degree is irrelevant to the presidency.

It’s going to be a long two years: “[T]he Obama administration is still absorbing the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to date rejected a proposed American compromise package that would have offered various security and other assurances to Israel in exchange for a 60-day renewal of a partial West Bank settlement freeze that expired last month. The American team is said to be frustrated and upset at Netanyahu’s dismissal to date of the package, which was drafted by the NSC’s Dennis Ross in close consultation with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molho.” They didn’t see this coming? Now that is scary.

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Blocking Ricciardone

So the Wall Street Journal editorial page thinks Senator Brownback is wrong to put a hold on the nomination of Frank Ricciardone as ambassador to Turkey, issuing an editorial averring that while “the Senator is free to criticize and oppose this nomination … Mr. Ricciardone deserves an up-or-down vote on the floor.” The editorial goes on to claim that Mr. Brownback’s hold on Mr. Ricciardone may “make Mr. Brownback feel good, but it undermines the executive’s ability to function and American foreign policy.”

Well, in this fight, sign me up with Senator Brownback. To begin with, the idea that American foreign policy is somehow undermined by the lack of an ambassador in Ankara is quaint. If America needs to communicate with the Turks, there are plenty of avenues, from phone calls to e-mail to the dozens of other American government officials based in Turkey.

But beyond that, if Mr. Ricciardone isn’t a nominee worth using every parliamentary procedure available under the rules to block, who is? This blog understands this perhaps better than any other forum; it was at CONTENTIONS that Joshua Muravchik posted, back in May 2007, a report of Mr. Ricciardone’s preposterous claim, as American ambassador in Cairo, that “[h]ere in Egypt as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech.”

That post prompted a memorable New York Sun editorial headlined “Recall Ricciardone,” reporting:

In the same television interview, Mr. Ricciardone was asked how he could watch the execution of Saddam Hussein. He replied, “Personally, I’m against execution in principle. My personal reaction is that it is abominable.” It was a strange reply, since the ambassador hadn’t been asked for his personal views of the death penalty.

The interviewer also asked whether the ambassador had heard the Egyptian song “I hate Israel,” whose lyric include “I love Yasser Arafat” and “I hate Ehud Barak.” The ambassador’s response, according to the transcript on the embassy’s Web site, was “Yes. I also watched his latest movie on a web site.” He went on to say, according to the transcript, “It is sort of interesting. I enjoyed it.”

An earlier Sun editorial, in 2004, “Ricciardone’s Return,” described the diplomat’s clumsy and counterproductive performance on the Iraq front.

Anyway, I share the concern of the folks at the Journal about undermining American foreign policy. I just think that confirming Mr. Ricciardone is way more likely to undermine American foreign policy than Mr. Brownback’s hold on him will.

So the Wall Street Journal editorial page thinks Senator Brownback is wrong to put a hold on the nomination of Frank Ricciardone as ambassador to Turkey, issuing an editorial averring that while “the Senator is free to criticize and oppose this nomination … Mr. Ricciardone deserves an up-or-down vote on the floor.” The editorial goes on to claim that Mr. Brownback’s hold on Mr. Ricciardone may “make Mr. Brownback feel good, but it undermines the executive’s ability to function and American foreign policy.”

Well, in this fight, sign me up with Senator Brownback. To begin with, the idea that American foreign policy is somehow undermined by the lack of an ambassador in Ankara is quaint. If America needs to communicate with the Turks, there are plenty of avenues, from phone calls to e-mail to the dozens of other American government officials based in Turkey.

But beyond that, if Mr. Ricciardone isn’t a nominee worth using every parliamentary procedure available under the rules to block, who is? This blog understands this perhaps better than any other forum; it was at CONTENTIONS that Joshua Muravchik posted, back in May 2007, a report of Mr. Ricciardone’s preposterous claim, as American ambassador in Cairo, that “[h]ere in Egypt as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech.”

That post prompted a memorable New York Sun editorial headlined “Recall Ricciardone,” reporting:

In the same television interview, Mr. Ricciardone was asked how he could watch the execution of Saddam Hussein. He replied, “Personally, I’m against execution in principle. My personal reaction is that it is abominable.” It was a strange reply, since the ambassador hadn’t been asked for his personal views of the death penalty.

The interviewer also asked whether the ambassador had heard the Egyptian song “I hate Israel,” whose lyric include “I love Yasser Arafat” and “I hate Ehud Barak.” The ambassador’s response, according to the transcript on the embassy’s Web site, was “Yes. I also watched his latest movie on a web site.” He went on to say, according to the transcript, “It is sort of interesting. I enjoyed it.”

An earlier Sun editorial, in 2004, “Ricciardone’s Return,” described the diplomat’s clumsy and counterproductive performance on the Iraq front.

Anyway, I share the concern of the folks at the Journal about undermining American foreign policy. I just think that confirming Mr. Ricciardone is way more likely to undermine American foreign policy than Mr. Brownback’s hold on him will.

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Reaction to Murder of Israelis

The White House responds this way to the killing of Israelis on the eve of the “peace talks”:

The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attack today perpetrated by Hamas in which four Israelis were killed in the southern West Bank. We express our condolences to the victims’ families and call for the terrorists behind this horrific act to be brought to justice. We note that the Palestinian Authority has condemned this attack. On the eve of the re-launch of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, this brutal attack underscores how far the enemies of peace will go to try to block progress.  It is crucial that the parties persevere, keep moving forward even through difficult times, and continue working to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region that provides security for all peoples.

A few things of note. First, the woman was in fact pregnant, but the Obami — who value abortion-on-demand above all else — do not mention that death in any way. Second, this is the mindless infatuation with the peace process — all evidence that the Palestinian Authority lacks the ability and the will to enforce a peace deal (should it ever decide to make one) is discounted; in fact, every development becomes further justification for talks. This is how ideologues operate.

I asked an official with a pro-Israel organization about the incident. He, not unlike Judea Pearl, thinks it’s time for Muslims to step up to the plate:

Everyone is wondering if the peace talks will succeed, or, for that matter, if the imam of the 9/11 mosque is a moderate.

Well, here’s a ready test. Do they condemn this senseless violence? The murder of innocents? A pregnant woman? An unborn baby? Three other people?

Where is their voice now? They find it to lash out at Israel. Will they find it in compassion and condemnation of terrorism?  Or will they just cynically make false charges and claim they want peace but opt for something else, like every time before?

But as for the PA, “Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the attack, which was claimed by the armed wing of the Hamas Islamist movement which governs the Gaza Strip. ‘We condemn this operation, which goes against Palestinian interests,’ Fayyad said.” Well, that’s swell — and where was Abbas? And did they repeat it in Arabic to the Palestinian public? The official reminded us:

After Israel and Jordan made peace, a Jordanian soldier tragically opened fire on a field trip of children visiting the “border of peace,” killing several. King Hussein went to the homes of these children, got down on his knees and asked their forgiveness. That is peace. Show me that and I will show you the path to moderate Islam and peace.

Easy prediction: Ehud Barak will make good on his pledge to “exact a price” for the murders. And Muslim leaders will proclaim the action “disproportionate.” We’ve seen this all before. Which is why pursuing the “peace process” — which provokes an upsurge in Israeli deaths — is such a counterproductive exercise.

Oh, and J Street also condemned the attacks — and then ignored the implication of the murders: “It is unfortunately not a surprise that extremists would try to undermine the launch of direct talks. We urge all sides to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control and harming the prospects for peace.” Fellas, the whole thing is out of control, and Abbas can’t or won’t prevent “the situation” — the premeditated slaughter of Jewish innocents — from “harming the prospects for peace.” But come to think of it, there are no prospects.

The White House responds this way to the killing of Israelis on the eve of the “peace talks”:

The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attack today perpetrated by Hamas in which four Israelis were killed in the southern West Bank. We express our condolences to the victims’ families and call for the terrorists behind this horrific act to be brought to justice. We note that the Palestinian Authority has condemned this attack. On the eve of the re-launch of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, this brutal attack underscores how far the enemies of peace will go to try to block progress.  It is crucial that the parties persevere, keep moving forward even through difficult times, and continue working to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region that provides security for all peoples.

A few things of note. First, the woman was in fact pregnant, but the Obami — who value abortion-on-demand above all else — do not mention that death in any way. Second, this is the mindless infatuation with the peace process — all evidence that the Palestinian Authority lacks the ability and the will to enforce a peace deal (should it ever decide to make one) is discounted; in fact, every development becomes further justification for talks. This is how ideologues operate.

I asked an official with a pro-Israel organization about the incident. He, not unlike Judea Pearl, thinks it’s time for Muslims to step up to the plate:

Everyone is wondering if the peace talks will succeed, or, for that matter, if the imam of the 9/11 mosque is a moderate.

Well, here’s a ready test. Do they condemn this senseless violence? The murder of innocents? A pregnant woman? An unborn baby? Three other people?

Where is their voice now? They find it to lash out at Israel. Will they find it in compassion and condemnation of terrorism?  Or will they just cynically make false charges and claim they want peace but opt for something else, like every time before?

But as for the PA, “Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the attack, which was claimed by the armed wing of the Hamas Islamist movement which governs the Gaza Strip. ‘We condemn this operation, which goes against Palestinian interests,’ Fayyad said.” Well, that’s swell — and where was Abbas? And did they repeat it in Arabic to the Palestinian public? The official reminded us:

After Israel and Jordan made peace, a Jordanian soldier tragically opened fire on a field trip of children visiting the “border of peace,” killing several. King Hussein went to the homes of these children, got down on his knees and asked their forgiveness. That is peace. Show me that and I will show you the path to moderate Islam and peace.

Easy prediction: Ehud Barak will make good on his pledge to “exact a price” for the murders. And Muslim leaders will proclaim the action “disproportionate.” We’ve seen this all before. Which is why pursuing the “peace process” — which provokes an upsurge in Israeli deaths — is such a counterproductive exercise.

Oh, and J Street also condemned the attacks — and then ignored the implication of the murders: “It is unfortunately not a surprise that extremists would try to undermine the launch of direct talks. We urge all sides to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control and harming the prospects for peace.” Fellas, the whole thing is out of control, and Abbas can’t or won’t prevent “the situation” — the premeditated slaughter of Jewish innocents — from “harming the prospects for peace.” But come to think of it, there are no prospects.

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The F-35 and the Israel-Obama Relationship

Commenting on Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision last week to buy 20 American-made F-35 fighter jets, Elliot Jager of Jewish Ideas Daily said it “illuminates Israel’s continuing, vital, and enduring — albeit dependent — relationship with the United States.” That is undoubtedly true: Washington has been Israel’s principal arms supplier for over four decades, and those arms are crucial for the country’s defense.

Ironically, however, the purchase also illuminates the nadir to which the relationship has fallen under the current administration. Barack Obama’s aides have tried to divert attention from their boss’s efforts to put “daylight” between America and Israel by insisting that on the all-important issue of security, “President Obama has taken what was already a strong U.S.-Israel defense relationship, and broadened and deepened it across the board,” as Dan Shapiro of the National Security Council told the Anti-Defamation League in May.

But in reality, Washington has attached unprecedented restrictions to the F-35 sale — restrictions so severe that Israel’s defense establishment agonized for months over whether to sign the deal, and ultimately opted to buy only 20 planes instead of the 75 the Israel Air Force originally sought.

First, as Haaretz reported last month, the U.S. refused to supply a test aircraft as part of the deal for the first time in 40 years. From the Phantom in 1969 through the F-16I six years ago, every previous American sale of fighters to Israel has included an experimental aircraft that Israel can use to test new systems or weapons it is considering installing in order to upgrade the planes or adapt them to particular missions. Effectively, the paper said, this refusal means “upgrades will not be implemented during the plane’s service in the IAF.”

Second, Washington initially refused to let any Israeli systems be installed in the plane, and finally reluctantly agreed to what various Israeli reports described as “minor changes” or “a few” systems (though holding out the carrot that more might be allowed if Israel ultimately commissions more planes). This, too, is unprecedented. Previous deals have given Israel great latitude to have its own systems installed on American-made aircraft, and have also allowed other countries to install Israeli systems — with the result that “between 10 percent and 15 percent of every new F-16 made in America, for instance, consists of Israeli systems.”

The restrictions so incensed Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz that he has appealed the purchase to the cabinet. His ministry says they would deal “a major blow to Israel’s defense industry” and particularly “hurt development of new Israeli missile systems.” On an issue as militarily important as purchasing new fighters, Steinitz has no chance of prevailing against Barak. But for a senior minister to publicly challenge such a deal is itself unusual.

It’s a testament to the depth of Israel’s support both in Congress and among the American people that even a hostile president only dares impair the security relationship at the margins, where he can hope it won’t be noticed. But precisely because the F-35 restrictions will fly below most Americans’ radars, they’re a telling indication of where Obama’s heart really lies.

Commenting on Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision last week to buy 20 American-made F-35 fighter jets, Elliot Jager of Jewish Ideas Daily said it “illuminates Israel’s continuing, vital, and enduring — albeit dependent — relationship with the United States.” That is undoubtedly true: Washington has been Israel’s principal arms supplier for over four decades, and those arms are crucial for the country’s defense.

Ironically, however, the purchase also illuminates the nadir to which the relationship has fallen under the current administration. Barack Obama’s aides have tried to divert attention from their boss’s efforts to put “daylight” between America and Israel by insisting that on the all-important issue of security, “President Obama has taken what was already a strong U.S.-Israel defense relationship, and broadened and deepened it across the board,” as Dan Shapiro of the National Security Council told the Anti-Defamation League in May.

But in reality, Washington has attached unprecedented restrictions to the F-35 sale — restrictions so severe that Israel’s defense establishment agonized for months over whether to sign the deal, and ultimately opted to buy only 20 planes instead of the 75 the Israel Air Force originally sought.

First, as Haaretz reported last month, the U.S. refused to supply a test aircraft as part of the deal for the first time in 40 years. From the Phantom in 1969 through the F-16I six years ago, every previous American sale of fighters to Israel has included an experimental aircraft that Israel can use to test new systems or weapons it is considering installing in order to upgrade the planes or adapt them to particular missions. Effectively, the paper said, this refusal means “upgrades will not be implemented during the plane’s service in the IAF.”

Second, Washington initially refused to let any Israeli systems be installed in the plane, and finally reluctantly agreed to what various Israeli reports described as “minor changes” or “a few” systems (though holding out the carrot that more might be allowed if Israel ultimately commissions more planes). This, too, is unprecedented. Previous deals have given Israel great latitude to have its own systems installed on American-made aircraft, and have also allowed other countries to install Israeli systems — with the result that “between 10 percent and 15 percent of every new F-16 made in America, for instance, consists of Israeli systems.”

The restrictions so incensed Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz that he has appealed the purchase to the cabinet. His ministry says they would deal “a major blow to Israel’s defense industry” and particularly “hurt development of new Israeli missile systems.” On an issue as militarily important as purchasing new fighters, Steinitz has no chance of prevailing against Barak. But for a senior minister to publicly challenge such a deal is itself unusual.

It’s a testament to the depth of Israel’s support both in Congress and among the American people that even a hostile president only dares impair the security relationship at the margins, where he can hope it won’t be noticed. But precisely because the F-35 restrictions will fly below most Americans’ radars, they’re a telling indication of where Obama’s heart really lies.

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Israel Needs to Face Facts About Turkey

Israel’s effort to adjust to the new reality of a hostile Islamist Turkey often seems like “one step forward, two steps back.” This week was a giant step back. Yet even so, progress has been made.

This week’s setback was Israel’s decision to participate in a UN probe of May’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza. Several leading Israeli ministers said the decision was made partly “to restore ties with Turkey.” As one senior official put it, “Hopefully the combination of lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip and establishing an international investigation will meet the Turkish demands and lead to a restoration of ties.”

This is appeasement of the worst kind. In order to “restore ties” with a government that has made its hostility crystal-clear, Israel for the first time gave its imprimatur to an investigation by one of the world’s most anti-Israel bodies, which has never sought to probe similar incidents in other countries. That sets a dangerous precedent.

Even worse, this decision comes just days after Defense Minister Ehud Barak voiced concern over the new Turkish intelligence chief’s close ties with Iran. Noting that years of military cooperation had left many Israeli secrets in Turkish hands, he worried that Hakan Fidan might pass them to Tehran. What normal country seeks a closer relationship with a government it suspects of sharing its secrets with its worst enemy?

Yet in its soberer moments, the government has, with considerable success, begun reaching out to some of Turkey’s traditional opponents. Last month, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou paid an official visit to Israel, becoming the first Greek leader to do so in over 30 years. And in May, the Greek and Israeli air forces conducted joint exercises over the Aegean Sea. Turkey used to be a major venue for such exercises, but lately, it has canceled them repeatedly. And these exercises are vital because they enable pilots to train over longer distances and different terrain than Israel offers.

Ties with Cyprus have also warmed. In May, for instance, Cyprus said it would stop letting Gaza-bound flotillas use its ports, and in June, the Free Gaza movement, which has organized several such flotillas, said this decision had forced it to relocate its headquarters from the island.

But Israel’s schizophrenic behavior is damaging — something even Foreign Ministry professionals, trained to favor diplomacy above all, have recognized. When Industry Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer met Turkey’s foreign minister in June in a bid to mend ties, one senior Foreign Ministry professional told Haaretz (Hebrew only):

The American government is giving Turkey the cold shoulder, Jewish organizations are boycotting it and the whole world is uncomfortable with Turkey’s behavior. Amid all this, we’re the ones who want to embrace them. So how will we be able to object to the world [doing the same] afterward?

This week’s decision shows the damage is only getting worse. It’s time for Jerusalem to face facts: as long as Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in power, Turkey will never again be an ally. Better to cut its losses and focus on building other more fruitful relationships.

Israel’s effort to adjust to the new reality of a hostile Islamist Turkey often seems like “one step forward, two steps back.” This week was a giant step back. Yet even so, progress has been made.

This week’s setback was Israel’s decision to participate in a UN probe of May’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza. Several leading Israeli ministers said the decision was made partly “to restore ties with Turkey.” As one senior official put it, “Hopefully the combination of lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip and establishing an international investigation will meet the Turkish demands and lead to a restoration of ties.”

This is appeasement of the worst kind. In order to “restore ties” with a government that has made its hostility crystal-clear, Israel for the first time gave its imprimatur to an investigation by one of the world’s most anti-Israel bodies, which has never sought to probe similar incidents in other countries. That sets a dangerous precedent.

Even worse, this decision comes just days after Defense Minister Ehud Barak voiced concern over the new Turkish intelligence chief’s close ties with Iran. Noting that years of military cooperation had left many Israeli secrets in Turkish hands, he worried that Hakan Fidan might pass them to Tehran. What normal country seeks a closer relationship with a government it suspects of sharing its secrets with its worst enemy?

Yet in its soberer moments, the government has, with considerable success, begun reaching out to some of Turkey’s traditional opponents. Last month, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou paid an official visit to Israel, becoming the first Greek leader to do so in over 30 years. And in May, the Greek and Israeli air forces conducted joint exercises over the Aegean Sea. Turkey used to be a major venue for such exercises, but lately, it has canceled them repeatedly. And these exercises are vital because they enable pilots to train over longer distances and different terrain than Israel offers.

Ties with Cyprus have also warmed. In May, for instance, Cyprus said it would stop letting Gaza-bound flotillas use its ports, and in June, the Free Gaza movement, which has organized several such flotillas, said this decision had forced it to relocate its headquarters from the island.

But Israel’s schizophrenic behavior is damaging — something even Foreign Ministry professionals, trained to favor diplomacy above all, have recognized. When Industry Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer met Turkey’s foreign minister in June in a bid to mend ties, one senior Foreign Ministry professional told Haaretz (Hebrew only):

The American government is giving Turkey the cold shoulder, Jewish organizations are boycotting it and the whole world is uncomfortable with Turkey’s behavior. Amid all this, we’re the ones who want to embrace them. So how will we be able to object to the world [doing the same] afterward?

This week’s decision shows the damage is only getting worse. It’s time for Jerusalem to face facts: as long as Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in power, Turkey will never again be an ally. Better to cut its losses and focus on building other more fruitful relationships.

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Terrorists’ Goal Is Not “Foiling Peace Process”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Susan Rice Is Doing Something at the UN: Targeting Israel

It turns out Susan Rice is doing something as America’s UN ambassador after all. As Jennifer noted on Friday, she isn’t attending vital negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program or protesting bizarre appointments, like Libya’s to the Human Rights Council and Iran’s to the Commission on the Status of Women.

But Haaretz reported yesterday that she has found time to do one crucial thing: lobby Barack Obama to put heavy pressure on Israel to agree to a UN probe of its May raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla. And today the Jerusalem Post reported that Israel has indeed capitulated: Defense Minister Ehud Barak informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week that “in principle,” it’s willing to participate in the probe he is organizing.

One can only hope the Post is wrong, because this would be an atrocious precedent. As Haaretz noted, it would be the first time Israel has ever agreed to a UN probe of an Israel Defense Forces operation. As such, it would legitimize the UN’s insane obsession with Israel.

After all, I haven’t noticed Ban suggesting UN probes of any other country’s military operations — say, Turkish operations against the Kurds, Iran’s attacks on its own citizens, coalition operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, or African Union forces in Somalia, to name just a few of the dozens of armies engaged in combat worldwide every single day. Many of these operations result in far more civilian casualties than Israel’s flotilla raid did — even if you deny the evidence provided by video footage of the raid and assume these casualties actually were civilians rather than combatants.

But aside from setting a terrible precedent, this probe clearly has one, and only one, purpose: to excoriate Israel. Ban’s proposed format is one representative each from Israel and Turkey, one from a traditional Israeli ally (the U.S.), and one from a country traditionally hostile to Israel (New Zealand), plus one UN representative. Since the UN representative will certainly be in the anti-Israel camp, Israel would be outnumbered even if the U.S. representative took its side.

But in reality, the U.S. representative will almost certainly join the anti-Israel camp — because Rice’s view, as reported by the unnamed senior diplomats Haaretz cited, is that facilitating Ban’s probe is “critical to U.S. interests at the UN.”

Granted, it’s hard to imagine what U.S. interest such a probe could possibly serve (Rice couldn’t protest Iran’s inclusion on the women’s commission without it?). But whatever this alleged interest is, if furthering it requires investigating Israel alone, of all the countries engaged in military activity worldwide, it clearly also requires the probe to conclude that Israel was guilty of some heinous crime. Any goal that requires singling Israel out as uniquely suspect clearly can’t be served by ultimately acquitting it.

This is first and foremost Israel’s problem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to develop a spine. But American supporters of Israel have a role to play as well. They must make it clear to Obama that putting Israel in the UN dock is a red line.

It turns out Susan Rice is doing something as America’s UN ambassador after all. As Jennifer noted on Friday, she isn’t attending vital negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program or protesting bizarre appointments, like Libya’s to the Human Rights Council and Iran’s to the Commission on the Status of Women.

But Haaretz reported yesterday that she has found time to do one crucial thing: lobby Barack Obama to put heavy pressure on Israel to agree to a UN probe of its May raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla. And today the Jerusalem Post reported that Israel has indeed capitulated: Defense Minister Ehud Barak informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week that “in principle,” it’s willing to participate in the probe he is organizing.

One can only hope the Post is wrong, because this would be an atrocious precedent. As Haaretz noted, it would be the first time Israel has ever agreed to a UN probe of an Israel Defense Forces operation. As such, it would legitimize the UN’s insane obsession with Israel.

After all, I haven’t noticed Ban suggesting UN probes of any other country’s military operations — say, Turkish operations against the Kurds, Iran’s attacks on its own citizens, coalition operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, or African Union forces in Somalia, to name just a few of the dozens of armies engaged in combat worldwide every single day. Many of these operations result in far more civilian casualties than Israel’s flotilla raid did — even if you deny the evidence provided by video footage of the raid and assume these casualties actually were civilians rather than combatants.

But aside from setting a terrible precedent, this probe clearly has one, and only one, purpose: to excoriate Israel. Ban’s proposed format is one representative each from Israel and Turkey, one from a traditional Israeli ally (the U.S.), and one from a country traditionally hostile to Israel (New Zealand), plus one UN representative. Since the UN representative will certainly be in the anti-Israel camp, Israel would be outnumbered even if the U.S. representative took its side.

But in reality, the U.S. representative will almost certainly join the anti-Israel camp — because Rice’s view, as reported by the unnamed senior diplomats Haaretz cited, is that facilitating Ban’s probe is “critical to U.S. interests at the UN.”

Granted, it’s hard to imagine what U.S. interest such a probe could possibly serve (Rice couldn’t protest Iran’s inclusion on the women’s commission without it?). But whatever this alleged interest is, if furthering it requires investigating Israel alone, of all the countries engaged in military activity worldwide, it clearly also requires the probe to conclude that Israel was guilty of some heinous crime. Any goal that requires singling Israel out as uniquely suspect clearly can’t be served by ultimately acquitting it.

This is first and foremost Israel’s problem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to develop a spine. But American supporters of Israel have a role to play as well. They must make it clear to Obama that putting Israel in the UN dock is a red line.

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But Obama Won’t Say It

Sens. John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham met with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak:

The U.S. will address the Iranian threat “through diplomatic efforts and economic sanctions if we can, but through military action if we must,” said Lieberman. Although U.S. officials often say no option should be taken off the table in relation to Iran’s nuclear program, this is one of the few times an official of Lieberman’s standing has explicitly used the term “military action” while in Israel.

Well, yes, that’s because this isn’t the policy — at least from everything stated publicly — of the Obama administration. On the contrary, the administration has gone to great lengths to fog up the consequences of Iran’s failure to dismantle its nuclear program. As a result, no one — including the Iranians — is convinced that a military option is still on the table. The president — and only the president — can remedy that.

Rather than fixating on a peace process that is going nowhere, Jewish groups and pro-Israel members of Congress should focus on getting a public commitment from Obama to use force and to defend Israel unconditionally. Sanctions, as even the CIA director and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff concede, are unlikely to do the trick. So the question must be answered: what then?

Sens. John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham met with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak:

The U.S. will address the Iranian threat “through diplomatic efforts and economic sanctions if we can, but through military action if we must,” said Lieberman. Although U.S. officials often say no option should be taken off the table in relation to Iran’s nuclear program, this is one of the few times an official of Lieberman’s standing has explicitly used the term “military action” while in Israel.

Well, yes, that’s because this isn’t the policy — at least from everything stated publicly — of the Obama administration. On the contrary, the administration has gone to great lengths to fog up the consequences of Iran’s failure to dismantle its nuclear program. As a result, no one — including the Iranians — is convinced that a military option is still on the table. The president — and only the president — can remedy that.

Rather than fixating on a peace process that is going nowhere, Jewish groups and pro-Israel members of Congress should focus on getting a public commitment from Obama to use force and to defend Israel unconditionally. Sanctions, as even the CIA director and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff concede, are unlikely to do the trick. So the question must be answered: what then?

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Iran’s Hezbollah Allies Getting Ready for War

Haaretz is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that Iran is trying to provoke a war between Israel and Syria. The Obama administration has at times pushed hard for Israel to reach out to Syria in the mistaken belief that the Assad regime is interested in breaking free from its alliance with Iran and would actually make peace with Israel if given the chance. But rumblings along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon are making Israelis nervous as they view Hezbollah’s continuing military buildup.

That impression is confirmed in a Time magazine feature, published yesterday, about the terrorist group backed by both Syria and Iran. The piece describes in detail not only the vast expansion of the group’s arms cache but also its readiness to unleash destruction on Israel. In the past few years, its apologists in the Western media have claimed that Hezbollah has morphed into a group whose aims are primarily political, as it has gained a foothold in the Lebanese government. But as Time reports, its members seem a lot less interested in governance than in jihad and in fighting the next round of their long battle against the Jewish state.

Meanwhile Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick reminds us that Hezbollah’s ability to threaten Israel can be traced back to Ehud Barak’s decision 10 years ago this month to precipitously retreat from southern Lebanon. While, as with the withdrawal from Gaza, few Israelis regret the fact that their army no longer is forced to control a dangerous buffer zone in Lebanon, Barak’s disgraceful skedaddle was not only a betrayal of Israel’s allies in that country but also an event that set the stage for a series of further setbacks. By handing Hezbollah an unprecedented and unearned victory over the IDF, Barak not only raised its prestige but also activated the forces that would shower destruction on northern Israel in the summer of 2006. Even worse, the example of a terrorist group forcing an Israeli retreat encouraged Yasir Arafat to believe that he could achieve the same in the West Bank. Instead of accepting Barak’s offer of a Palestinian state in 2000, Arafat answered with a terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada, which cost the lives of more than a thousand Israelis and many more Palestinians.

This left Israel with a determined enemy on its border who appears willing to do the bidding for the Iranians as they continue to seek to destabilize the region. Hezbollah’s missiles — newly reinforced from its Iranian supplier — are Tehran’s trump card to be played against possible Western pressure aimed at stopping their nuclear program. Moreover, those who continue to advocate cut-and-run policies for the United States — whether they be in the West Bank or Israel or Iraq or Afghanistan — need to heed the lessons of Barak’s Lebanese disaster.

Haaretz is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that Iran is trying to provoke a war between Israel and Syria. The Obama administration has at times pushed hard for Israel to reach out to Syria in the mistaken belief that the Assad regime is interested in breaking free from its alliance with Iran and would actually make peace with Israel if given the chance. But rumblings along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon are making Israelis nervous as they view Hezbollah’s continuing military buildup.

That impression is confirmed in a Time magazine feature, published yesterday, about the terrorist group backed by both Syria and Iran. The piece describes in detail not only the vast expansion of the group’s arms cache but also its readiness to unleash destruction on Israel. In the past few years, its apologists in the Western media have claimed that Hezbollah has morphed into a group whose aims are primarily political, as it has gained a foothold in the Lebanese government. But as Time reports, its members seem a lot less interested in governance than in jihad and in fighting the next round of their long battle against the Jewish state.

Meanwhile Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick reminds us that Hezbollah’s ability to threaten Israel can be traced back to Ehud Barak’s decision 10 years ago this month to precipitously retreat from southern Lebanon. While, as with the withdrawal from Gaza, few Israelis regret the fact that their army no longer is forced to control a dangerous buffer zone in Lebanon, Barak’s disgraceful skedaddle was not only a betrayal of Israel’s allies in that country but also an event that set the stage for a series of further setbacks. By handing Hezbollah an unprecedented and unearned victory over the IDF, Barak not only raised its prestige but also activated the forces that would shower destruction on northern Israel in the summer of 2006. Even worse, the example of a terrorist group forcing an Israeli retreat encouraged Yasir Arafat to believe that he could achieve the same in the West Bank. Instead of accepting Barak’s offer of a Palestinian state in 2000, Arafat answered with a terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada, which cost the lives of more than a thousand Israelis and many more Palestinians.

This left Israel with a determined enemy on its border who appears willing to do the bidding for the Iranians as they continue to seek to destabilize the region. Hezbollah’s missiles — newly reinforced from its Iranian supplier — are Tehran’s trump card to be played against possible Western pressure aimed at stopping their nuclear program. Moreover, those who continue to advocate cut-and-run policies for the United States — whether they be in the West Bank or Israel or Iraq or Afghanistan — need to heed the lessons of Barak’s Lebanese disaster.

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Middle East Peace Talks: What Changed in the Last Two Years?

The announcement that the so-called “proximity” talks started up today is, as Noah wrote earlier today, a “victory” of some sort for President Obama because the existence of such talks allows the president to pretend that he is advancing the cause of peace.

However, American friends of Israel might well note the difference between the current negotiations and the last round of (unsuccessful) talks held between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. Like the current talks, those negotiations were also strongly backed by the United States, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seemed to sincerely believe that the process started in Annapolis in the fall of 2007 had a reasonable chance of success. The Palestinians proved her wrong. At that time, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered the PA a state in Gaza, the West Bank, and part of Jerusalem and even agreed, to the dismay of most Israelis, to take back some Palestinian refugees into Israel as well as to share sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem. But the answer from the moderate Mahmoud Abbas and his likeable Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was no different from that given to Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton by Yasser Arafat when they offered a similar package in 2000 and 2001: no!

But then, at least, the parties were speaking directly to each other. Not passing messages to each other via intermediaries as bored middle-school students do. And as much as the United States made it very clear to the Israelis that America wanted them to make even more concessions to the Arabs than ever before (a wish that was readily granted by Olmert), the United States did not offer the Palestinians a veto over the existence of the talks. Neither did it take a stand on a critical final-status issue that prejudiced Israel’s negotiating position in such a way as to render any discussions on the matter largely moot.

But that’s exactly what the United States has done by allowing the Palestinians to avoid talks until a building freeze was put into place on Jewish housing in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. By treating these neighborhoods, most of which are nearly 40 years old, as indistinguishable from “settlements” in outlying areas of the West Bank, the Obama administration has signaled that it views the more than 200,000 Jews who live in those neighborhoods with the same contempt as it views the settlers in the West Bank. By making an issue out of building in these areas, Obama has made it impossible for the Palestinians to concede them to Israel even in a theoretical final-status agreement. Thus any house, even privately built in one of those neighborhoods, now becomes a U.S.-endorsed rationale for the Palestinians to pull out of talks that they had no interest in to begin with.

The ultimate fate of these negotiations is no mystery. Just as was the case in 2008, even if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conceded everything that his American and domestic critics demand, there is virtually no chance that Abbas will sign any paper that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state. In that sense, the 2010 talks are no different from the 2008 version. But the administration’s undermining of Israel’s position will make it easier for the Palestinians to blame their refusal to make peace on the Israelis. And for that, they have Barack Obama to thank.

The announcement that the so-called “proximity” talks started up today is, as Noah wrote earlier today, a “victory” of some sort for President Obama because the existence of such talks allows the president to pretend that he is advancing the cause of peace.

However, American friends of Israel might well note the difference between the current negotiations and the last round of (unsuccessful) talks held between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. Like the current talks, those negotiations were also strongly backed by the United States, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seemed to sincerely believe that the process started in Annapolis in the fall of 2007 had a reasonable chance of success. The Palestinians proved her wrong. At that time, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered the PA a state in Gaza, the West Bank, and part of Jerusalem and even agreed, to the dismay of most Israelis, to take back some Palestinian refugees into Israel as well as to share sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem. But the answer from the moderate Mahmoud Abbas and his likeable Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was no different from that given to Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton by Yasser Arafat when they offered a similar package in 2000 and 2001: no!

But then, at least, the parties were speaking directly to each other. Not passing messages to each other via intermediaries as bored middle-school students do. And as much as the United States made it very clear to the Israelis that America wanted them to make even more concessions to the Arabs than ever before (a wish that was readily granted by Olmert), the United States did not offer the Palestinians a veto over the existence of the talks. Neither did it take a stand on a critical final-status issue that prejudiced Israel’s negotiating position in such a way as to render any discussions on the matter largely moot.

But that’s exactly what the United States has done by allowing the Palestinians to avoid talks until a building freeze was put into place on Jewish housing in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. By treating these neighborhoods, most of which are nearly 40 years old, as indistinguishable from “settlements” in outlying areas of the West Bank, the Obama administration has signaled that it views the more than 200,000 Jews who live in those neighborhoods with the same contempt as it views the settlers in the West Bank. By making an issue out of building in these areas, Obama has made it impossible for the Palestinians to concede them to Israel even in a theoretical final-status agreement. Thus any house, even privately built in one of those neighborhoods, now becomes a U.S.-endorsed rationale for the Palestinians to pull out of talks that they had no interest in to begin with.

The ultimate fate of these negotiations is no mystery. Just as was the case in 2008, even if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conceded everything that his American and domestic critics demand, there is virtually no chance that Abbas will sign any paper that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state. In that sense, the 2010 talks are no different from the 2008 version. But the administration’s undermining of Israel’s position will make it easier for the Palestinians to blame their refusal to make peace on the Israelis. And for that, they have Barack Obama to thank.

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Throwing Jerusalem’s Barkat Under the Bus

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is no extreme right-wing extremist. A generally non-ideological and secular Jew who served in the paratroopers, he was a successful high-tech venture capitalist before entering politics. Barkat’s career has, to date, been solely centered on the city of Jerusalem. He was elected mayor of the city only days after Barack Obama was elected president of the United States in November 2008. The important fact about Barkat’s win was that he beat an ultra-Orthodox candidate, a symbolic as well as a tangible victory for those who hope to keep Israel’s capital from becoming a Haredi shtetl.

In his years on the city council and now as mayor, Barkat’s focus has been on development and improved services but he also understands that the city’s future depends on it remaining united. If it is once again divided, as it was during Jordan’s illegal occupation of half of it from 1948 to 1967, the city will be an embattled and ghetto-ized backwater with no hope of attracting investment. Thus, he is adamantly opposed to those who want to make Arab neighborhoods into a capital of a putative Palestinian state, despite the fact that even the “moderate” Palestinian leadership won’t sign a deal that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. Dividing the city is, he says, like putting a “Trojan Horse” within Israel. He is also appalled, as are most Israelis, at the idea of treating the post-67 Jewish neighborhoods, where over 200,000 Jews live, as illegal settlements by an Obama administration that is demanding a building freeze in Jerusalem. He rightly sees Israeli acquiescence to this unreasonable demand as a blow to Israel’s sovereignty over its capital as well as a threat to the Jews of Jerusalem.

These are points that Barkat has been making to the press and the public during a visit this week to Washington. The reaction from the Obama administration has been chilly but perhaps not as chilly as that of the Israeli Embassy. The New York Times, which contrasted the chummy reception that Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak got here this week from the Obami with that given to Barkat, noted that a spokesman from the Israeli embassy was at pains to distance the embassy from Barkat.

“For us, it’s lousy timing,” said a spokesman for the embassy, Jonathan Peled. He tried to put things in perspective, comparing Mr. Barkat to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty of Washington. “He’s not going to be the one negotiating peace with the Palestinians, in the same way that Fenty is not going to be the one negotiating the Start agreement with Russia,” Mr. Peled said.”

It’s true that Barkat is not a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government — or even of one of the parties that forms his coalition — and is not bound to follow its lead nor empowered to represent it. But neither is he an insignificant or powerless functionary who deserves to be ignored or mocked. Moreover, his position opposing both Jerusalem’s partition and a Jewish building freeze (while Arab building continues at a higher rate and without protest from anyone) happens to be identical to that of Netanyahu.

It’s easy to understand the embassy’s desire to downplay any differences between Israel and the administration during such a tense time. Moreover, if Netanyahu has actually caved in to Obama and promised to put in place some sort of unannounced freeze in Jerusalem, he’s got to be unhappy about Barkat either opposing such a change or making it clear that development in the city will continue regardless of what Obama wants.

But people who, like Peled, are tasked with the difficult job of selling Israel’s position on its capital to both the administration and to the American public, should be wary of making it appear as though they are throwing Barkat under the proverbial bus. Disavowing a respected mayor who is also an articulate advocate for the same position as the Netanyahu government on Jerusalem may make it a little easier to deal with the White House this week but in the long run it can have a deleterious effect on Israel’s efforts to defend its capital in Washington and at home.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is no extreme right-wing extremist. A generally non-ideological and secular Jew who served in the paratroopers, he was a successful high-tech venture capitalist before entering politics. Barkat’s career has, to date, been solely centered on the city of Jerusalem. He was elected mayor of the city only days after Barack Obama was elected president of the United States in November 2008. The important fact about Barkat’s win was that he beat an ultra-Orthodox candidate, a symbolic as well as a tangible victory for those who hope to keep Israel’s capital from becoming a Haredi shtetl.

In his years on the city council and now as mayor, Barkat’s focus has been on development and improved services but he also understands that the city’s future depends on it remaining united. If it is once again divided, as it was during Jordan’s illegal occupation of half of it from 1948 to 1967, the city will be an embattled and ghetto-ized backwater with no hope of attracting investment. Thus, he is adamantly opposed to those who want to make Arab neighborhoods into a capital of a putative Palestinian state, despite the fact that even the “moderate” Palestinian leadership won’t sign a deal that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. Dividing the city is, he says, like putting a “Trojan Horse” within Israel. He is also appalled, as are most Israelis, at the idea of treating the post-67 Jewish neighborhoods, where over 200,000 Jews live, as illegal settlements by an Obama administration that is demanding a building freeze in Jerusalem. He rightly sees Israeli acquiescence to this unreasonable demand as a blow to Israel’s sovereignty over its capital as well as a threat to the Jews of Jerusalem.

These are points that Barkat has been making to the press and the public during a visit this week to Washington. The reaction from the Obama administration has been chilly but perhaps not as chilly as that of the Israeli Embassy. The New York Times, which contrasted the chummy reception that Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak got here this week from the Obami with that given to Barkat, noted that a spokesman from the Israeli embassy was at pains to distance the embassy from Barkat.

“For us, it’s lousy timing,” said a spokesman for the embassy, Jonathan Peled. He tried to put things in perspective, comparing Mr. Barkat to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty of Washington. “He’s not going to be the one negotiating peace with the Palestinians, in the same way that Fenty is not going to be the one negotiating the Start agreement with Russia,” Mr. Peled said.”

It’s true that Barkat is not a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government — or even of one of the parties that forms his coalition — and is not bound to follow its lead nor empowered to represent it. But neither is he an insignificant or powerless functionary who deserves to be ignored or mocked. Moreover, his position opposing both Jerusalem’s partition and a Jewish building freeze (while Arab building continues at a higher rate and without protest from anyone) happens to be identical to that of Netanyahu.

It’s easy to understand the embassy’s desire to downplay any differences between Israel and the administration during such a tense time. Moreover, if Netanyahu has actually caved in to Obama and promised to put in place some sort of unannounced freeze in Jerusalem, he’s got to be unhappy about Barkat either opposing such a change or making it clear that development in the city will continue regardless of what Obama wants.

But people who, like Peled, are tasked with the difficult job of selling Israel’s position on its capital to both the administration and to the American public, should be wary of making it appear as though they are throwing Barkat under the proverbial bus. Disavowing a respected mayor who is also an articulate advocate for the same position as the Netanyahu government on Jerusalem may make it a little easier to deal with the White House this week but in the long run it can have a deleterious effect on Israel’s efforts to defend its capital in Washington and at home.

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Israel’s Right Discovers Political Sanity

Anyone familiar with Israeli politics knows that the Israeli right’s worst enemy is itself. Small right-of-center factions toppled both Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud-led government in 1992 and Benjamin Netanyahu’s first government in 1999; those decisions led, respectively, to Yitzhak Rabin’s election and the Oslo Accords, and to Ehud Barak’s election and the second intifada.

Moreover, it was rightist voters who ensured Rabin’s victory by wasting thousands of votes on splinter parties that failed to enter the Knesset. Had all those votes gone to the main center-right party, Likud, Shamir would have formed the next government and not Rabin. Yet instead of learning the lesson, rightists continued wasting thousands of votes on unelectable splinter parties in subsequent elections.

So it was encouraging to read the following notice in a local newsletter (Hebrew only) published by the West Bank settlement of Eli: “After much thought, it has been decided by the [Givat Hayovel neighborhood] committee, the town council and rabbis, with backing from senior officials involved in the matter, to register people for Likud. Likud is the ruling party, and that is where we need to have an influence. … Joining Likud is the most effective way of influencing ministers and Knesset members to work with us on both the court case and other matters of importance to the town.”

Granted, Eli is only one settlement, and its decision stems from a very specific problem: the aforementioned court case, in which Peace Now is seeking a court order to raze Givat Hayovel on the grounds that it was built illegally. Eli contends that the neighborhood, built with massive government support, was always slated for legalization and needs only the final government permits — hence its quest for lobbying clout.

Nevertheless, this is a revolution. During Likud’s last membership drive, in 2008, a party activist who canvassed Eli and other settlements using this very same argument told me despairingly that most people didn’t get it. Now it is being promoted by the town’s entire political and religious leadership.

Moreover, many other settlements face similar problems with permits. So if Eli has reached this conclusion, it’s likely that other settlements are or will be doing the same.

This still doesn’t solve the problem of splinter voting, since joining Likud doesn’t oblige one to vote for it. Yet large-scale party membership carries its own dynamic: if those rightists who previously shunned Likud instead start working from within it, the party will presumably become more responsive to their needs, thus encouraging more of them to vote for it.

That in turn could promote more effective government. Israel’s current governing coalition comprises six different parties, with Likud commanding barely a third of its seats, and these parties’ disagreements have led to paralysis on many issues. A government composed of a larger Likud with fewer coalition partners would presumably find it easier to push through vital domestic initiatives.

That still remains a distant dream. But the first step is for rightists to understand that they need to work from within Likud rather than outside it. And it seems that is finally starting to happen.

Anyone familiar with Israeli politics knows that the Israeli right’s worst enemy is itself. Small right-of-center factions toppled both Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud-led government in 1992 and Benjamin Netanyahu’s first government in 1999; those decisions led, respectively, to Yitzhak Rabin’s election and the Oslo Accords, and to Ehud Barak’s election and the second intifada.

Moreover, it was rightist voters who ensured Rabin’s victory by wasting thousands of votes on splinter parties that failed to enter the Knesset. Had all those votes gone to the main center-right party, Likud, Shamir would have formed the next government and not Rabin. Yet instead of learning the lesson, rightists continued wasting thousands of votes on unelectable splinter parties in subsequent elections.

So it was encouraging to read the following notice in a local newsletter (Hebrew only) published by the West Bank settlement of Eli: “After much thought, it has been decided by the [Givat Hayovel neighborhood] committee, the town council and rabbis, with backing from senior officials involved in the matter, to register people for Likud. Likud is the ruling party, and that is where we need to have an influence. … Joining Likud is the most effective way of influencing ministers and Knesset members to work with us on both the court case and other matters of importance to the town.”

Granted, Eli is only one settlement, and its decision stems from a very specific problem: the aforementioned court case, in which Peace Now is seeking a court order to raze Givat Hayovel on the grounds that it was built illegally. Eli contends that the neighborhood, built with massive government support, was always slated for legalization and needs only the final government permits — hence its quest for lobbying clout.

Nevertheless, this is a revolution. During Likud’s last membership drive, in 2008, a party activist who canvassed Eli and other settlements using this very same argument told me despairingly that most people didn’t get it. Now it is being promoted by the town’s entire political and religious leadership.

Moreover, many other settlements face similar problems with permits. So if Eli has reached this conclusion, it’s likely that other settlements are or will be doing the same.

This still doesn’t solve the problem of splinter voting, since joining Likud doesn’t oblige one to vote for it. Yet large-scale party membership carries its own dynamic: if those rightists who previously shunned Likud instead start working from within it, the party will presumably become more responsive to their needs, thus encouraging more of them to vote for it.

That in turn could promote more effective government. Israel’s current governing coalition comprises six different parties, with Likud commanding barely a third of its seats, and these parties’ disagreements have led to paralysis on many issues. A government composed of a larger Likud with fewer coalition partners would presumably find it easier to push through vital domestic initiatives.

That still remains a distant dream. But the first step is for rightists to understand that they need to work from within Likud rather than outside it. And it seems that is finally starting to happen.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Harry Reid has even managed to stiffen Olympia Snowe’s spine: “For a second day in row, Democrats failed to open debate on a Wall Street reform bill after Senate Republicans held ranks to block it. The vote was 57 to 41, with all Republicans who were present voting no. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) was the lone Democrat to vote no on Monday, and he voted no again. … In fact, some of the moderates who might be most likely to vote yes — such as Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe — have expressed displeasure that Reid is forcing the votes even as bipartisan negotiations on the bill go forward.”

Tom Goldstein thinks Obama will pick Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court. Among his smart observations: “Elena Kagan has significant demonstrated success in working with conservatives at Harvard Law School, which is an exceptionally challenging environment, and has parallels to the relationships at the Court. But she has never been a judge, and would as a consequence presumably take longer than the others to adapt to the new role.”

Israel isn’t going to buy into “containment” if that’s where Obama is heading with Iran: “Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the world cannot afford to wait too long to see if Iran backs down on its nuclear program while in Washington on Tuesday. In a news conference with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Barak said he supports the US focus on tougher economic sanctions against Teheran, but he added that only time will tell to what extent sanctions are effective in persuading Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. Barak says that if the international community waits too long, Iran could acquire a nuclear weapon that he says would ‘change the landscape,’ and not just of the Middle East.”

According to Robert Gates, “Syria and Iran are providing Hezbollah with so many rockets that they are at a point where they have more missiles than most governments in the world.” So what are we going to do about it?

Not remotely the most transparent administration in history: “The Obama administration has only partially complied with congressional subpoenas for information on the deadly November shootings at Fort Hood, Texas. The failure by the Defense and Justice departments to turn over all the requested documentation — which they say they do not intend to do — is not likely to ease the growing tension between some key senators and the Obama administration over the incident at the Army base on Nov. 5, 2009.”

Jeb Bush speaks out against Arizona’s immigration law. “I think it creates unintended consequences. … It’s difficult for me to imagine how you’re going to enforce this law. It places a significant burden on local law enforcement and you have civil liberties issues that are significant as well.”

Michael Gerson: “American states have broad powers. But they are not permitted their own foreign or immigration policy. One reason is that immigration law concerns not only the treatment of illegal immigrants but also the proper treatment of American citizens. And here the Arizona law fails badly. … Americans are not accustomed to the command ‘Your papers, please,’ however politely delivered. The distinctly American response to such a request would be ‘Go to hell,’ and then ‘See you in court.'”

The Obami’s multilaterialism fetish continues: “Step by tentative step, the Obama Administration is getting closer to embracing the International Criminal Court. The White House won’t join the Hague-based body soon, but that’s its logical endpoint. Answerable to virtually no one, the ICC was created by the 1998 United Nations’s Rome Statute to prosecute war and other ‘serious’ crimes.”

Harry Reid has even managed to stiffen Olympia Snowe’s spine: “For a second day in row, Democrats failed to open debate on a Wall Street reform bill after Senate Republicans held ranks to block it. The vote was 57 to 41, with all Republicans who were present voting no. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) was the lone Democrat to vote no on Monday, and he voted no again. … In fact, some of the moderates who might be most likely to vote yes — such as Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe — have expressed displeasure that Reid is forcing the votes even as bipartisan negotiations on the bill go forward.”

Tom Goldstein thinks Obama will pick Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court. Among his smart observations: “Elena Kagan has significant demonstrated success in working with conservatives at Harvard Law School, which is an exceptionally challenging environment, and has parallels to the relationships at the Court. But she has never been a judge, and would as a consequence presumably take longer than the others to adapt to the new role.”

Israel isn’t going to buy into “containment” if that’s where Obama is heading with Iran: “Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the world cannot afford to wait too long to see if Iran backs down on its nuclear program while in Washington on Tuesday. In a news conference with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Barak said he supports the US focus on tougher economic sanctions against Teheran, but he added that only time will tell to what extent sanctions are effective in persuading Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. Barak says that if the international community waits too long, Iran could acquire a nuclear weapon that he says would ‘change the landscape,’ and not just of the Middle East.”

According to Robert Gates, “Syria and Iran are providing Hezbollah with so many rockets that they are at a point where they have more missiles than most governments in the world.” So what are we going to do about it?

Not remotely the most transparent administration in history: “The Obama administration has only partially complied with congressional subpoenas for information on the deadly November shootings at Fort Hood, Texas. The failure by the Defense and Justice departments to turn over all the requested documentation — which they say they do not intend to do — is not likely to ease the growing tension between some key senators and the Obama administration over the incident at the Army base on Nov. 5, 2009.”

Jeb Bush speaks out against Arizona’s immigration law. “I think it creates unintended consequences. … It’s difficult for me to imagine how you’re going to enforce this law. It places a significant burden on local law enforcement and you have civil liberties issues that are significant as well.”

Michael Gerson: “American states have broad powers. But they are not permitted their own foreign or immigration policy. One reason is that immigration law concerns not only the treatment of illegal immigrants but also the proper treatment of American citizens. And here the Arizona law fails badly. … Americans are not accustomed to the command ‘Your papers, please,’ however politely delivered. The distinctly American response to such a request would be ‘Go to hell,’ and then ‘See you in court.'”

The Obami’s multilaterialism fetish continues: “Step by tentative step, the Obama Administration is getting closer to embracing the International Criminal Court. The White House won’t join the Hague-based body soon, but that’s its logical endpoint. Answerable to virtually no one, the ICC was created by the 1998 United Nations’s Rome Statute to prosecute war and other ‘serious’ crimes.”

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The Real Demographic Threat

As Israel celebrates its 62nd Independence Day this evening, is the country actually independent? Judging by the remarks of some of its leading politicians, one would have to conclude that the answer is no.

Speaking at a Memorial Day ceremony yesterday, for instance, Defense Minister and Labor-party chairman Ehud Barak declared that only by signing a peace agreement with the Palestinians could Israel preserve its Jewish majority. Ehud Olmert made this claim even more bluntly in 2007, when he was prime minister, declaring that if “the two-state solution collapses … the State of Israel is finished.” Olmert’s successor as head of the Kadima party, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, has made similar remarks.

In other words, Israel has no control over its own fate; its continued existence depends entirely on the goodwill of a nation that would like nothing better than to see it disappear. Moreover, all the Palestinians have to do to secure this outcome is to continue doing exactly what they have done for the past 17 years: say “no” to every peace offer Israel makes. If that is true, Israel really is finished.

In reality, of course, the Barak-Olmert-Livni conclusion is ridiculous even if one believes the demographic doomsayers (there are grounds for skepticism, but that’s another story). Should Israel someday decide the status quo is untenable, it doesn’t need a peace agreement to leave; it can always quit the West Bank unilaterally, just as it did Gaza. After decades of condemning Israel’s “illegal occupation” and demanding its end, the world could hardly object if Israel complied.

Unfortunately, “ridiculous” is not the same as “harmless.” This credo is actually deadly dangerous, on at least four levels.

First, it encourages Palestinian intransigence: if Palestinians can destroy the Jewish state just by saying no, they have no incentive to ever say yes.

Second, it could lead Israeli leaders to make concessions that truly do endanger the state’s survival.

Third, it encourages world leaders to pressure Israel into such concessions, by enabling them to claim they’re really doing it for Israel’s own good. After all, if Israel’s own leaders say the state can’t survive without a peace deal, isn’t any concession that might appease the Palestinians, however dangerous, better than the alternative of certain death?

Finally, it demoralizes Israel’s own citizens, most of whom know perfectly well that no peace agreement is attainable in the foreseeable future. If Israel’s continued existence really depends on an unachievable peace, then Israelis have no reason to remain here and no reason to continue sending their sons to fight and die in the state’s defense. And should enough Israelis reach that conclusion, the state really will collapse.

Thus if Israel is to survive another 62 years, it desperately needs its leaders to relearn the wisdom that guided its founders in 1948, when the demographic situation was much worse: that the purpose of independence is precisely to enable the Jewish people to shape Israel’s fate, rather than being the helpless hostages of a hostile nation. The “demographic threat” cannot destroy Israel. But its leaders’ own folly can.

As Israel celebrates its 62nd Independence Day this evening, is the country actually independent? Judging by the remarks of some of its leading politicians, one would have to conclude that the answer is no.

Speaking at a Memorial Day ceremony yesterday, for instance, Defense Minister and Labor-party chairman Ehud Barak declared that only by signing a peace agreement with the Palestinians could Israel preserve its Jewish majority. Ehud Olmert made this claim even more bluntly in 2007, when he was prime minister, declaring that if “the two-state solution collapses … the State of Israel is finished.” Olmert’s successor as head of the Kadima party, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, has made similar remarks.

In other words, Israel has no control over its own fate; its continued existence depends entirely on the goodwill of a nation that would like nothing better than to see it disappear. Moreover, all the Palestinians have to do to secure this outcome is to continue doing exactly what they have done for the past 17 years: say “no” to every peace offer Israel makes. If that is true, Israel really is finished.

In reality, of course, the Barak-Olmert-Livni conclusion is ridiculous even if one believes the demographic doomsayers (there are grounds for skepticism, but that’s another story). Should Israel someday decide the status quo is untenable, it doesn’t need a peace agreement to leave; it can always quit the West Bank unilaterally, just as it did Gaza. After decades of condemning Israel’s “illegal occupation” and demanding its end, the world could hardly object if Israel complied.

Unfortunately, “ridiculous” is not the same as “harmless.” This credo is actually deadly dangerous, on at least four levels.

First, it encourages Palestinian intransigence: if Palestinians can destroy the Jewish state just by saying no, they have no incentive to ever say yes.

Second, it could lead Israeli leaders to make concessions that truly do endanger the state’s survival.

Third, it encourages world leaders to pressure Israel into such concessions, by enabling them to claim they’re really doing it for Israel’s own good. After all, if Israel’s own leaders say the state can’t survive without a peace deal, isn’t any concession that might appease the Palestinians, however dangerous, better than the alternative of certain death?

Finally, it demoralizes Israel’s own citizens, most of whom know perfectly well that no peace agreement is attainable in the foreseeable future. If Israel’s continued existence really depends on an unachievable peace, then Israelis have no reason to remain here and no reason to continue sending their sons to fight and die in the state’s defense. And should enough Israelis reach that conclusion, the state really will collapse.

Thus if Israel is to survive another 62 years, it desperately needs its leaders to relearn the wisdom that guided its founders in 1948, when the demographic situation was much worse: that the purpose of independence is precisely to enable the Jewish people to shape Israel’s fate, rather than being the helpless hostages of a hostile nation. The “demographic threat” cannot destroy Israel. But its leaders’ own folly can.

Read Less




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