Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ehud Olmert

The Consequences of Clinton’s Expectations Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Juan Williams vs. Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Charles Krauthammer aptly summed up:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Charles Krauthammer aptly summed up:

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

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

Read Less

Still Ignoring the Obvious About Abbas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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70 Years Ago Today

On August 3, 1940, Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky — one of the towering figures in the history of Zionism — died in New York of a heart attack at age 59.

He had been in New York since March, pushing his plan for a Jewish army to fight Hitler, giving speeches that drew huge crowds at the Manhattan Center. On June 20 — under the headline “Jabotinsky Asks Jews for Army of 100,000 – Zionist Leader Calls for Men to Fight as a Unit — 4,000 Hear Plea” — the New York Times reported his words from the prior evening:

I challenge the Jews, wherever they are still free, to demand the right of fighting the giant rattlesnake, not just under British or French or Polish labels, but as a Jewish Army. Some shout that we only want others to fight, some whisper that a Jew only makes a good soldier when squeezed in between Gentile comrades. I challenge the Jewish youth to give them the lie.

The day before his death, he had contracted to publish his book on the Jews and the war. On August 3, he collapsed at an upstate New York training camp for the Zionist youth movement he created. His last words, reported in Shmuel Katz’s monumental biography, were “I am so tired.” Katz believed the real cause of death was “stress and overwork.”

More than 12,000 people stood on Second Avenue three days later outside his funeral services — conducted by three rabbis, with 200 cantors chanting and 750 people in attendance, including British, Polish, Czech, and other diplomats. As he had requested, there were no eulogies or speeches. The New York Times reported the next day that:

At the end of the chapel service, the coffin, draped with a Zionist flag, was carried from the funeral home, surrounded by an honor guard of 50 boys and girls. … Many men and women wept … a throng of 25,000 followed the cortege or lined the route. …

A motorcade of fifty cars and eight buses left for the New Montefiore Cemetery in Farmingdale, L.I., where a military service was held.

Jabotinsky’s 1935 will stipulated that he should be buried “wherever death finds me and my remains may not be brought to Palestine except by the order of that country’s eventual Jewish Government” — reflecting his faith in the eventual re-creation of the Jewish state. But it was not until 1964 that his body was transferred to Mount Herzl for burial.

It was a hero’s homecoming. In New York, the casket was carried through Manhattan to Kennedy airport in a hearse drawn by four white horses, with Times Square renamed “Jabotinsky Square” for the day; in Paris, the French government and Jewish community held a ceremony as the plane landed there on its way to Israel. In 2007, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recalled the reception in Israel:

I clearly remember the immense funeral procession in the streets of Tel Aviv, which was unparalleled; I remember the tremendous emotion, sometimes tearful, of students and admirers, headed by the Chairman of the Herut Movement, Menachem Begin, who accompanied the coffin. A huge audience … came to pay their respects to the great Zionist leader; a bit late but wholeheartedly.

In a 2009 Knesset speech, Benjamin Netanyahu recalled the 1964 homecoming, which “made a tremendous impact on me.” On this day, we too should remember: read Midge Decter’s 1996 article (“one of those remarkable Eastern European Jews on whose like the world will never look again”); Hillel Halkin’s 2005 review (“one of the most intelligent, talented, honest, and likeable of all twentieth-century politicians”); Anne Lieberman’s extraordinary 2009 essay (which virtually channels Jabotinsky); and the resources at Jewish Ideas Daily.

On August 18, 2010, at 7:30 p.m., Americans for a Safe Israel will hold a special memorial at Park East Synagogue, 163 East 67th Street, with Douglas Feith as the keynote speaker.

On August 3, 1940, Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky — one of the towering figures in the history of Zionism — died in New York of a heart attack at age 59.

He had been in New York since March, pushing his plan for a Jewish army to fight Hitler, giving speeches that drew huge crowds at the Manhattan Center. On June 20 — under the headline “Jabotinsky Asks Jews for Army of 100,000 – Zionist Leader Calls for Men to Fight as a Unit — 4,000 Hear Plea” — the New York Times reported his words from the prior evening:

I challenge the Jews, wherever they are still free, to demand the right of fighting the giant rattlesnake, not just under British or French or Polish labels, but as a Jewish Army. Some shout that we only want others to fight, some whisper that a Jew only makes a good soldier when squeezed in between Gentile comrades. I challenge the Jewish youth to give them the lie.

The day before his death, he had contracted to publish his book on the Jews and the war. On August 3, he collapsed at an upstate New York training camp for the Zionist youth movement he created. His last words, reported in Shmuel Katz’s monumental biography, were “I am so tired.” Katz believed the real cause of death was “stress and overwork.”

More than 12,000 people stood on Second Avenue three days later outside his funeral services — conducted by three rabbis, with 200 cantors chanting and 750 people in attendance, including British, Polish, Czech, and other diplomats. As he had requested, there were no eulogies or speeches. The New York Times reported the next day that:

At the end of the chapel service, the coffin, draped with a Zionist flag, was carried from the funeral home, surrounded by an honor guard of 50 boys and girls. … Many men and women wept … a throng of 25,000 followed the cortege or lined the route. …

A motorcade of fifty cars and eight buses left for the New Montefiore Cemetery in Farmingdale, L.I., where a military service was held.

Jabotinsky’s 1935 will stipulated that he should be buried “wherever death finds me and my remains may not be brought to Palestine except by the order of that country’s eventual Jewish Government” — reflecting his faith in the eventual re-creation of the Jewish state. But it was not until 1964 that his body was transferred to Mount Herzl for burial.

It was a hero’s homecoming. In New York, the casket was carried through Manhattan to Kennedy airport in a hearse drawn by four white horses, with Times Square renamed “Jabotinsky Square” for the day; in Paris, the French government and Jewish community held a ceremony as the plane landed there on its way to Israel. In 2007, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recalled the reception in Israel:

I clearly remember the immense funeral procession in the streets of Tel Aviv, which was unparalleled; I remember the tremendous emotion, sometimes tearful, of students and admirers, headed by the Chairman of the Herut Movement, Menachem Begin, who accompanied the coffin. A huge audience … came to pay their respects to the great Zionist leader; a bit late but wholeheartedly.

In a 2009 Knesset speech, Benjamin Netanyahu recalled the 1964 homecoming, which “made a tremendous impact on me.” On this day, we too should remember: read Midge Decter’s 1996 article (“one of those remarkable Eastern European Jews on whose like the world will never look again”); Hillel Halkin’s 2005 review (“one of the most intelligent, talented, honest, and likeable of all twentieth-century politicians”); Anne Lieberman’s extraordinary 2009 essay (which virtually channels Jabotinsky); and the resources at Jewish Ideas Daily.

On August 18, 2010, at 7:30 p.m., Americans for a Safe Israel will hold a special memorial at Park East Synagogue, 163 East 67th Street, with Douglas Feith as the keynote speaker.

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Abbas Stiffs Obama on Direct Talks … Again

Just days after the Obama administration threw a lollipop to the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, they are once again showing the Americans who’s the boss in the Middle East peace negotiations. Last week, the United States upgraded the diplomatic status of the PA’s American mission. From now on, the PA’s Washington office will have the status of a “general delegation” — the same it enjoys in the European Union. This is still a step below a full-fledged embassy, a status reserved for sovereign nations. But it does give the PA’s representatives full diplomatic immunity, a not-insignificant factor when you’re the envoy of a coalition of terrorist groups, such as the one that makes up Fatah, the dominant force within the PA. The move was made with the tacit approval of Israel and is intended to give Abbas a shot in the arm as he continues to struggle for legitimacy in the face of growing challenges from the rival Hamas faction, which has possession of Gaza.

But this move, like so many similar measures that have been put into effect over the years to boost the shaky credibility of the Palestinian Authority, is not enough to get Abbas to agree to the one thing President Obama wants from him: direct peace talks with Israel.

According to Reuters, Abbas will tell a meeting of the Arab League tomorrow that direct talks with Israel are still out of the question. The reason for this stand is no mystery. Abbas insists that he won’t sit down with the Israelis until the United States guarantees that the talks will be based on the idea that Israel must withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines and until a complete freeze on building Jewish homes in the territories is implemented. In other words, Abbas won’t talk until Israel has conceded in advance the substance of the talks! The Palestinian president doesn’t want to negotiate. He wants the Americans to hand him the Israelis on a silver platter even before negotiations commence. In spite of Obama’s preference for more pressure on Israel, that isn’t going to happen — which is just fine with Abbas.

That’s because the last thing the Palestinian leader wants is a viable peace process, a fact that the administration may finally be starting to understand. Had Abbas wanted to accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem, he could have accepted Ehud Olmert’s offer from 2008. He refused to even discuss that proposal because a peace deal would have forced him to accept not only peace but also the legitimacy of a Jewish state, even one inside truncated borders. Abbas knows that he cannot sign a peace agreement of any sort and survive, so he continues to prevaricate and seek excuses for not holding direct talks. The only question is how long it will take before Obama finally understands that although the Israelis have accepted the concept of a two-state solution, it is the Palestinians, who stand to benefit from such a scheme, who are incapable of accepting it. Until he does, the peace-process charade will continue.

Just days after the Obama administration threw a lollipop to the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, they are once again showing the Americans who’s the boss in the Middle East peace negotiations. Last week, the United States upgraded the diplomatic status of the PA’s American mission. From now on, the PA’s Washington office will have the status of a “general delegation” — the same it enjoys in the European Union. This is still a step below a full-fledged embassy, a status reserved for sovereign nations. But it does give the PA’s representatives full diplomatic immunity, a not-insignificant factor when you’re the envoy of a coalition of terrorist groups, such as the one that makes up Fatah, the dominant force within the PA. The move was made with the tacit approval of Israel and is intended to give Abbas a shot in the arm as he continues to struggle for legitimacy in the face of growing challenges from the rival Hamas faction, which has possession of Gaza.

But this move, like so many similar measures that have been put into effect over the years to boost the shaky credibility of the Palestinian Authority, is not enough to get Abbas to agree to the one thing President Obama wants from him: direct peace talks with Israel.

According to Reuters, Abbas will tell a meeting of the Arab League tomorrow that direct talks with Israel are still out of the question. The reason for this stand is no mystery. Abbas insists that he won’t sit down with the Israelis until the United States guarantees that the talks will be based on the idea that Israel must withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines and until a complete freeze on building Jewish homes in the territories is implemented. In other words, Abbas won’t talk until Israel has conceded in advance the substance of the talks! The Palestinian president doesn’t want to negotiate. He wants the Americans to hand him the Israelis on a silver platter even before negotiations commence. In spite of Obama’s preference for more pressure on Israel, that isn’t going to happen — which is just fine with Abbas.

That’s because the last thing the Palestinian leader wants is a viable peace process, a fact that the administration may finally be starting to understand. Had Abbas wanted to accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem, he could have accepted Ehud Olmert’s offer from 2008. He refused to even discuss that proposal because a peace deal would have forced him to accept not only peace but also the legitimacy of a Jewish state, even one inside truncated borders. Abbas knows that he cannot sign a peace agreement of any sort and survive, so he continues to prevaricate and seek excuses for not holding direct talks. The only question is how long it will take before Obama finally understands that although the Israelis have accepted the concept of a two-state solution, it is the Palestinians, who stand to benefit from such a scheme, who are incapable of accepting it. Until he does, the peace-process charade will continue.

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Rewriting the Rules of International Diplomacy

Palestinian preconditions for negotiations with Israel have been changing so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up. Yet they all have one thing in common: all seek to rewrite the accepted rules of international diplomacy.

The latest, unveiled this week, is that the Palestinians refuse to begin direct talks unless the U.S. guarantees that the final-status border will be based on the 1949 armistice lines, including in Jerusalem, and that an international force will replace Israel’s army completely, leaving Israel with no security presence on the West Bank.

In other words, the Palestinians won’t “negotiate” unless there’s nothing left to negotiate about, because the U.S. has already guaranteed that all their demands will be met. That would completely gut the usual principle of negotiations, which is that both sides make concessions to forge a mutually acceptable compromise.

It would also leave Israel with no reason even to begin the talks. Not only are these demands unacceptable to Jerusalem in themselves (as I’ve explained here, here, and here, for instance), but with the entirety of the territory and its military presence having already been conceded in advance, Israel would have no bargaining chips left with which to secure Palestinian concessions on other issues of importance to it, such as the refugees or recognition as a Jewish state.

Indeed, if this were to become the accepted model for diplomatic negotiations — one in which everything is decided in one party’s favor in advance — it would spell the death of international diplomacy, because the other party would always have the strongest possible incentive to avoid talks.

The same was true of the Palestinians’ last attempt to pose preconditions: their insistence that the starting point for talks be the proposals made by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, which they themselves rejected. If leaders knew that any proposal they made would be binding on them and their successors — but not their interlocutors — even if the other side rejected it, they would be reluctant to offer any proposals at all. That would effectively kill off any possibility of negotiations.

Washington, to its credit, rejected that precondition and is so far standing publicly firm on the demand for guarantees as well. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas complained to Fatah’s Revolutionary Council on Tuesday that President Barack Obama had been “vague” on the issues of borders and security, while State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters yesterday that “fundamental issues in the process, including borders … can only be resolved within the context of direct negotiations.”

Nevertheless, there has apparently been some waffling in private: an Israeli source told Haaretz this week that “Washington is giving serious consideration to issuing these guarantees in order to encourage the Palestinians to agree to direct talks.”

If the U.S. actually wants talks to occur, it must continue standing firm — not only for the sake of a time-honored principle of international diplomacy, but also because there is no chance of any deal emerging until the Palestinians are made to understand that they, too, will have to make concessions to achieve it.

Palestinian preconditions for negotiations with Israel have been changing so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up. Yet they all have one thing in common: all seek to rewrite the accepted rules of international diplomacy.

The latest, unveiled this week, is that the Palestinians refuse to begin direct talks unless the U.S. guarantees that the final-status border will be based on the 1949 armistice lines, including in Jerusalem, and that an international force will replace Israel’s army completely, leaving Israel with no security presence on the West Bank.

In other words, the Palestinians won’t “negotiate” unless there’s nothing left to negotiate about, because the U.S. has already guaranteed that all their demands will be met. That would completely gut the usual principle of negotiations, which is that both sides make concessions to forge a mutually acceptable compromise.

It would also leave Israel with no reason even to begin the talks. Not only are these demands unacceptable to Jerusalem in themselves (as I’ve explained here, here, and here, for instance), but with the entirety of the territory and its military presence having already been conceded in advance, Israel would have no bargaining chips left with which to secure Palestinian concessions on other issues of importance to it, such as the refugees or recognition as a Jewish state.

Indeed, if this were to become the accepted model for diplomatic negotiations — one in which everything is decided in one party’s favor in advance — it would spell the death of international diplomacy, because the other party would always have the strongest possible incentive to avoid talks.

The same was true of the Palestinians’ last attempt to pose preconditions: their insistence that the starting point for talks be the proposals made by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, which they themselves rejected. If leaders knew that any proposal they made would be binding on them and their successors — but not their interlocutors — even if the other side rejected it, they would be reluctant to offer any proposals at all. That would effectively kill off any possibility of negotiations.

Washington, to its credit, rejected that precondition and is so far standing publicly firm on the demand for guarantees as well. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas complained to Fatah’s Revolutionary Council on Tuesday that President Barack Obama had been “vague” on the issues of borders and security, while State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters yesterday that “fundamental issues in the process, including borders … can only be resolved within the context of direct negotiations.”

Nevertheless, there has apparently been some waffling in private: an Israeli source told Haaretz this week that “Washington is giving serious consideration to issuing these guarantees in order to encourage the Palestinians to agree to direct talks.”

If the U.S. actually wants talks to occur, it must continue standing firm — not only for the sake of a time-honored principle of international diplomacy, but also because there is no chance of any deal emerging until the Palestinians are made to understand that they, too, will have to make concessions to achieve it.

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Palestinians Freak — No Direct Talks!

This makes it clear just how petrified by the prospect of direct negotiations the Palestinians are:

The Palestinian Authority has added new conditions for resuming direct talks with Israel, presenting new demands that in effect preclude negotiations.

The stipulations stated to the BBC by PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat reflect a previously stated strategy of waiting “a year or two” for the United Nations to recognize it as a new Arab country instead of trying to reach a compromise agreement with Israel. …

Erekat told the BBC that in order for direct talks to resume, Israel also must accept former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s proposal as a starting point. Olmert has said that the PA never replied to his offer, which accepted most of the PA’s demands on Jerusalem but did not satisfy its insistence that Israel allow the immigration of millions of foreign Arabs claiming ancestry in the country.

You almost get the idea that the PA has neither the will nor the ability to make a deal and has been banking on Obama to deliver Israel (or what would be left of it ) on a platter. If Obama had not carried water for the Palestinians for a year and a half, would they take a different position? Maybe. But if you are desperate to conceal that you have no authority to make a deal and no ability to curtail terrorism, you’ll always come up with some excuse to avoid showing up for serious negotiations. Rather than encourage this nonsense with “confidence building” measures, it would be a good idea for Bibi (especially now that Obama is in kiss-and-make-up mode) to end the proximity talks. If the Palestinians decide it’s time to make a deal, I’m sure Bibi will take their call.

This makes it clear just how petrified by the prospect of direct negotiations the Palestinians are:

The Palestinian Authority has added new conditions for resuming direct talks with Israel, presenting new demands that in effect preclude negotiations.

The stipulations stated to the BBC by PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat reflect a previously stated strategy of waiting “a year or two” for the United Nations to recognize it as a new Arab country instead of trying to reach a compromise agreement with Israel. …

Erekat told the BBC that in order for direct talks to resume, Israel also must accept former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s proposal as a starting point. Olmert has said that the PA never replied to his offer, which accepted most of the PA’s demands on Jerusalem but did not satisfy its insistence that Israel allow the immigration of millions of foreign Arabs claiming ancestry in the country.

You almost get the idea that the PA has neither the will nor the ability to make a deal and has been banking on Obama to deliver Israel (or what would be left of it ) on a platter. If Obama had not carried water for the Palestinians for a year and a half, would they take a different position? Maybe. But if you are desperate to conceal that you have no authority to make a deal and no ability to curtail terrorism, you’ll always come up with some excuse to avoid showing up for serious negotiations. Rather than encourage this nonsense with “confidence building” measures, it would be a good idea for Bibi (especially now that Obama is in kiss-and-make-up mode) to end the proximity talks. If the Palestinians decide it’s time to make a deal, I’m sure Bibi will take their call.

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It’s the Security Arrangements, Stupid

If U.S. envoy George Mitchell is truly “frustrated” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to give “clear answers on the borders of the future Palestinian state,” as Haaretz reported this week, then Washington needs a new envoy — because this one clearly doesn’t understand the most basic requirements of an Israeli-Palestinian deal.

Mitchell apparently views Netanyahu’s behavior as sheer obstructionism; Jennifer cited it as an encouraging sign of Netanyahu’s unwillingness to “knuckle under to Obama.” But the truth is that Netanyahu genuinely doesn’t know how much territory he might be willing to cede — and cannot know until he receives the answer to another critical question: what security arrangements will be put in place in the vacated territory? The more robust these arrangements are, the more territory Israel could concede without endangering itself.

That is precisely why Netanyahu urged that security arrangements be one of the first two items discussed in the indirect talks Mitchell is mediating (he proposed water as the other). Mitchell, however, wanted borders to come first, in the bizarre belief that borders should have nothing to do with security arrangements. In his view, the latter is a secondary issue that can be dealt with later.

But having seen what happened when his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, did exactly that, Netanyahu is rightly wary of falling into this trap. Olmert, trusting in his strong relationship with former president George W. Bush, made generous territorial concessions up front, offering the Palestinians some 93 percent of the territories with 1:1 swaps to compensate for the rest. But when he then presented the extensive security arrangements that he deemed necessary to mitigate the risks of these concessions, he discovered that not only did the Palestinians reject them but so did Washington. And the Obama administration is not likely to be more supportive of Israel’s security concerns than Bush was.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair, currently the Quartet’s special envoy to the Middle East, hit the nail on the head in an interview with the Jerusalem Post last week, in which he explained his response to people who ask whether Netanyahu is “prepared for a Palestinian state.”

“I say, ‘yes, in the right circumstances.’ And they say, ‘Well, you’re qualifying it.’ And I say, ‘You’ve got to qualify it.’

The truth is that if the circumstances are right – and those circumstances, from the point of view of Israel, are about their long-term security – then yes, I think people are prepared to recognize that a Palestinian state is the right solution.

But if you can’t deal with the security issue, the circumstances aren’t right.”

Mitchell, however, has evidently not grasped this salient fact. It’s not clear whether he actually thinks there’s no need to take Israel’s security concerns into account or whether, despite the rampant terror that every previous Israeli withdrawal has spawned, he still hasn’t realized that withdrawals entail real risks and that therefore Israel must know what security arrangements will be put in place before it can decide how much additional territory to vacate. Either way, he is clearly unfit for his job.

If U.S. envoy George Mitchell is truly “frustrated” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to give “clear answers on the borders of the future Palestinian state,” as Haaretz reported this week, then Washington needs a new envoy — because this one clearly doesn’t understand the most basic requirements of an Israeli-Palestinian deal.

Mitchell apparently views Netanyahu’s behavior as sheer obstructionism; Jennifer cited it as an encouraging sign of Netanyahu’s unwillingness to “knuckle under to Obama.” But the truth is that Netanyahu genuinely doesn’t know how much territory he might be willing to cede — and cannot know until he receives the answer to another critical question: what security arrangements will be put in place in the vacated territory? The more robust these arrangements are, the more territory Israel could concede without endangering itself.

That is precisely why Netanyahu urged that security arrangements be one of the first two items discussed in the indirect talks Mitchell is mediating (he proposed water as the other). Mitchell, however, wanted borders to come first, in the bizarre belief that borders should have nothing to do with security arrangements. In his view, the latter is a secondary issue that can be dealt with later.

But having seen what happened when his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, did exactly that, Netanyahu is rightly wary of falling into this trap. Olmert, trusting in his strong relationship with former president George W. Bush, made generous territorial concessions up front, offering the Palestinians some 93 percent of the territories with 1:1 swaps to compensate for the rest. But when he then presented the extensive security arrangements that he deemed necessary to mitigate the risks of these concessions, he discovered that not only did the Palestinians reject them but so did Washington. And the Obama administration is not likely to be more supportive of Israel’s security concerns than Bush was.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair, currently the Quartet’s special envoy to the Middle East, hit the nail on the head in an interview with the Jerusalem Post last week, in which he explained his response to people who ask whether Netanyahu is “prepared for a Palestinian state.”

“I say, ‘yes, in the right circumstances.’ And they say, ‘Well, you’re qualifying it.’ And I say, ‘You’ve got to qualify it.’

The truth is that if the circumstances are right – and those circumstances, from the point of view of Israel, are about their long-term security – then yes, I think people are prepared to recognize that a Palestinian state is the right solution.

But if you can’t deal with the security issue, the circumstances aren’t right.”

Mitchell, however, has evidently not grasped this salient fact. It’s not clear whether he actually thinks there’s no need to take Israel’s security concerns into account or whether, despite the rampant terror that every previous Israeli withdrawal has spawned, he still hasn’t realized that withdrawals entail real risks and that therefore Israel must know what security arrangements will be put in place before it can decide how much additional territory to vacate. Either way, he is clearly unfit for his job.

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No Shortage of ‘Barbarians’ to Oppose Peace

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman closes his column today by quoting Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar, who believes Israel’s right-wingers hold on to the “no’s” of their Arab antagonists for dear life. To bolster this argument, Eldar quotes Greek-Egyptian poet Constantine Cavafy’s poem “Waiting for the Barbarians,” in which a Byzantine narrator asks, “What’s going to happen to us without barbarians?”

While Friedman devotes his space on the op-ed page to a 700-word mash note to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the Eldar column he quotes is devoted to resurrecting one of Friedman’s own publicity stunts — the so-called Saudi peace proposal of 2002 — and representing it as an example of how Israel has turned down a chance to end the conflict. That bit of nonsense, which was first broached in a Friedman column, supposedly offered Israel the recognition of the entire Arab world as long as it surrendered every inch of land it won in the 1967 Six-Day War. That this so-called peace proposal also included the demand that Israel allow millions of the descendants of Palestinian Arab refugees to “return” — which would mean an end to the Jewish state — is a mere detail that can be ignored as far as Eldar is concerned. In other words, rather than a peace proposal, it was merely a demand for a unilateral Israeli surrender.

Even Friedman doesn’t talk much about the Saudi initiative anymore, but that doesn’t stop Eldar from pretending that it was a genuine opportunity for peace.

As for Friedman, his enthusiasm for Fayyad and his new Palestinian bureaucracy and security force is unbridled. But contrary to the implication of his column, Israel is not only willing to talk to Fayyad; it is his greatest booster, as the “hard-line” Netanyahu government has closed checkpoints and done all in its power to keep the PA government going.

But the problem for Fayyad as well as for Israel is those barbarians who Eldar pretends don’t exist anymore. The Islamist terrorists of Hamas hold Gaza in a totalitarian grip that has been strengthened by international support for lifting the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the region. And Fayyad and his boss, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, remain on their perches in the West Bank largely due to the protection and patronage of Israel’s security forces, which keep Abbas’s own Fatah terrorists and the threat of Hamas at bay.

If the terrorists of Hamas and Fatah were tiny and relatively harmless factions without a following in Palestinian society, Eldar and Friedman might well be right to deride Israel for fearing a barbarian threat from extremists. But as both of them well know, it is Fayyad and the fraction of the Palestinian public that supports “Fayyadism” — as Friedman likes to call it — that is the minority phenomenon and the supporters of violence and rejection of Israel’s legitimacy that are the overwhelming majority. That’s why Abbas and Fayyad (who has lately tried to burnish his image in the Palestinian street by staging public burnings of Israeli goods he wants his people to boycott) won’t negotiate directly with Israel and actually turned down the offer of a state that included the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as well as Gaza and the West Bank from Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert only two years ago. They know that if they ever accepted an Israeli peace offer, their future in Palestinian politics, not to mention their lives, would be in great danger.

Far from fearing a barbarian threat that no longer exists, the real barbarians are still very much at Israel’s gate and have their hands around the throats of Palestinian moderates. Until that changes, far from being the truth-telling realists they claim to be, Friedman and Eldar remain mere fantasists with an ideological axe to grind against Netanyahu.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman closes his column today by quoting Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar, who believes Israel’s right-wingers hold on to the “no’s” of their Arab antagonists for dear life. To bolster this argument, Eldar quotes Greek-Egyptian poet Constantine Cavafy’s poem “Waiting for the Barbarians,” in which a Byzantine narrator asks, “What’s going to happen to us without barbarians?”

While Friedman devotes his space on the op-ed page to a 700-word mash note to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the Eldar column he quotes is devoted to resurrecting one of Friedman’s own publicity stunts — the so-called Saudi peace proposal of 2002 — and representing it as an example of how Israel has turned down a chance to end the conflict. That bit of nonsense, which was first broached in a Friedman column, supposedly offered Israel the recognition of the entire Arab world as long as it surrendered every inch of land it won in the 1967 Six-Day War. That this so-called peace proposal also included the demand that Israel allow millions of the descendants of Palestinian Arab refugees to “return” — which would mean an end to the Jewish state — is a mere detail that can be ignored as far as Eldar is concerned. In other words, rather than a peace proposal, it was merely a demand for a unilateral Israeli surrender.

Even Friedman doesn’t talk much about the Saudi initiative anymore, but that doesn’t stop Eldar from pretending that it was a genuine opportunity for peace.

As for Friedman, his enthusiasm for Fayyad and his new Palestinian bureaucracy and security force is unbridled. But contrary to the implication of his column, Israel is not only willing to talk to Fayyad; it is his greatest booster, as the “hard-line” Netanyahu government has closed checkpoints and done all in its power to keep the PA government going.

But the problem for Fayyad as well as for Israel is those barbarians who Eldar pretends don’t exist anymore. The Islamist terrorists of Hamas hold Gaza in a totalitarian grip that has been strengthened by international support for lifting the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the region. And Fayyad and his boss, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, remain on their perches in the West Bank largely due to the protection and patronage of Israel’s security forces, which keep Abbas’s own Fatah terrorists and the threat of Hamas at bay.

If the terrorists of Hamas and Fatah were tiny and relatively harmless factions without a following in Palestinian society, Eldar and Friedman might well be right to deride Israel for fearing a barbarian threat from extremists. But as both of them well know, it is Fayyad and the fraction of the Palestinian public that supports “Fayyadism” — as Friedman likes to call it — that is the minority phenomenon and the supporters of violence and rejection of Israel’s legitimacy that are the overwhelming majority. That’s why Abbas and Fayyad (who has lately tried to burnish his image in the Palestinian street by staging public burnings of Israeli goods he wants his people to boycott) won’t negotiate directly with Israel and actually turned down the offer of a state that included the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as well as Gaza and the West Bank from Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert only two years ago. They know that if they ever accepted an Israeli peace offer, their future in Palestinian politics, not to mention their lives, would be in great danger.

Far from fearing a barbarian threat that no longer exists, the real barbarians are still very much at Israel’s gate and have their hands around the throats of Palestinian moderates. Until that changes, far from being the truth-telling realists they claim to be, Friedman and Eldar remain mere fantasists with an ideological axe to grind against Netanyahu.

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Flotilla Incident — Constructive Criticism

When Israel is attacked — physically or rhetorically — the impulse of all friends of Israel (myself included) is to jump immediately and totally to its defense. That is a commendable impulse; certainly far preferable to the knee-jerk anti-Israel animus displayed by much of the world. But unflinching support for Israel’s right to defend itself should not preclude occasional criticism of the manner in which it exercises that right — just as being a supporter of the United States and its armed forces in general should not preclude one from criticizing specific operations, for instance the way in which the Iraq war was conducted from 2003 to 2007. Indeed, one can argue that those of us who were critical of the Bush administration’s conduct of the war ultimately helped to make possible the turnaround that occurred when President Bush jettisoned his senior war managers (Rumsfeld, Abizaid, Casey) and implemented the surge — a policy they had stubbornly and foolishly opposed.

So Israel is now going through a period of reflection and self-criticism similar to that which occurred after the troubled 2006 campaign against Hezbollah. That resulted in a more successful operation against Hamas (Operation Cast Lead in December 2008-January 2009). I hope that the constructive criticisms that I — and other pro-Israel commentators — have lodged of the manner in which the Gaza flotilla was handled will lead Israeli policymakers to be more adept in dealing with similar challenges in the future. My critique (I wrote that the operation was morally and legally justified but handed a public-relations victory to Israel’s enemies) was actually mild compared with many of those heard in Israel itself. For instance, Ari Shavit — a respected Haaretz columnist who is a hawkish liberal – wrote:

During the 2006 war in Lebanon I concluded that my 15-year-old daughter could have conducted it more wisely than the Olmert-Peretz government. We’ve progressed. Today it’s clear to me that my 6-year-old son could do much better than our current government.

As another example, there is this comment made to Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg, who is in Israel right now:

I happen to be around a lot of Israeli generals lately, and one I bumped into today said something very smart and self-aware: “Does everybody in the world think we’re bananas?” He did not let me respond before he said, “Wait, I know the answer: The whole world thinks we’re bananas.” I asked this general if this was a good thing or a bad thing. After all, Nixon seemed bananas and he achieved great things internationally. So did Menachem Begin. This is what the general said, however: “It’s one thing for people to think that you’re crazy, but it’s bad when they think you’re incompetent and crazy, and that’s the way we look.”

Unfortunately — and it pains me to say so because I want only the best for Israel — I think that unnamed general is right.

Those who continue to defend the handling of the Gaza flotilla make essentially three points: (a) there was no credible alternative; (b) Israel would get criticized no matter what it did; and (c) Israel cannot give the “international community” a veto over its right of self-defense.

Start with the first point. Knowledgeable Israeli commentators agree with me that there likely were alternative courses of action to stop the flotilla without sending a small group of naval commandos into the middle of a melee — a situation for which they were unprepared. The Jerusalem Post writes:

One question that needs to be asked is why the government approved the IDF’s plan to put troops on the ship via helicopter instead of perhaps sabotaging or diverting them. Flotilla 13, the naval commando unit that raided the ships, is expert in sabotage.

According to one former top navy officer, one option was to use tugboats to push the ships off course. Another option was to damage the ships’ propellers, prevent them from sailing into Gaza and forcing them to be towed to Ashdod.

A third option was to board the ships quietly and not by helicopter.

“There were several options that the IDF had before sending troops onto the ship,” the former senior officer explained, “It is not clear that those options were completely exhausted.”

In the Wall Street Journal today, Israeli security analyst Ronen Bergman (who, like I do, describes the operation as a “fiasco”) reminds us that such alternatives have been employed before:

In 1988, 131 members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) who had been deported from the Palestinian Territories following the outbreak of the first intifada intended to set sail to Gaza from Limassol, Cyprus. Their boat, called Al Awda or the Ship of the Return, was accompanied by 200 journalists. ….

On Feb. 15, hours before it was due to set sail, the empty ship was blown up in Limassol harbor by a team of Mossad agents and frogmen from Flotilla 13 (the Israeli equivalent of Navy Seals). The team was led by Yoav Galant, then a young officer and today a major general in the IDF. The operation was a success. There were no casualties on either side and the PLO gave up on the idea of sailing to Gaza.

What about the argument that Israel would get criticized no matter what it did? That even if its agents sabotaged or disabled the pro-Hamas vessels without risking an open confrontation, it would still be pilloried? There is some truth to this, but there is criticism and then there is criticism. It would get a lot less blowback for such a low-profile operation than for a shoot-out on the high seas that left nine “peace activists” (actually pro-Hamas activists) dead.

Israel should be willing to risk international opprobrium when it faces a true existential threat. It needs, for example, to retaliate for Hamas rocket strikes, as it did with Operation Cast Lead. No state can allow its territory to be attacked with impunity. Israel also needs to seriously consider the possibility of bombing Iranian nuclear facilities no matter the denunciations that such an operation would inevitably bring; the potential payoff is worth the public-relations cost. But the Mavi Marmara was not an existential threat; it was not loaded with missiles or other weapons. It was a provocation, an act of political theater — and Israel should have been smart enough to avoid playing the part scripted by its enemies. Even letting the ship dock in Gaza would have done less damage to Israel than the manner in which it was stopped.

The justification for the boarding was that Israel couldn’t allow the Gaza blockade to be broken. I’m sympathetic to the need to maintain the blockade (which Israel has every right to do), but as Ronen Bergman points out, Israel has let other ships breach the blockade before without catastrophic consequences:

In August 2006 two ships carrying peace activists and food aid set out to Gaza, again from Cyprus. Under instructions from then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the vessels were boarded at sea without resistance. After a search uncovered no weapons, the ships were permitted to continue on toward the Strip. The Israeli naval forces went home, Hamas declared victory, and that was that.

The ultimate irony here is that the Israeli boarding was meant to prevent a recurrence of such Hamas aid convoys. Yet the shooting aboard the Mavi Marama has had the opposite effect — by handing an unearned propaganda victory to Israel’s enemies, it is encouraging them to repeat the same tactics. Three more ships are being readied for another Gaza flotilla. If and when they do sail, I trust that the Israeli government will learn from experience and not walk into another trap set by its enemies.

When Israel is attacked — physically or rhetorically — the impulse of all friends of Israel (myself included) is to jump immediately and totally to its defense. That is a commendable impulse; certainly far preferable to the knee-jerk anti-Israel animus displayed by much of the world. But unflinching support for Israel’s right to defend itself should not preclude occasional criticism of the manner in which it exercises that right — just as being a supporter of the United States and its armed forces in general should not preclude one from criticizing specific operations, for instance the way in which the Iraq war was conducted from 2003 to 2007. Indeed, one can argue that those of us who were critical of the Bush administration’s conduct of the war ultimately helped to make possible the turnaround that occurred when President Bush jettisoned his senior war managers (Rumsfeld, Abizaid, Casey) and implemented the surge — a policy they had stubbornly and foolishly opposed.

So Israel is now going through a period of reflection and self-criticism similar to that which occurred after the troubled 2006 campaign against Hezbollah. That resulted in a more successful operation against Hamas (Operation Cast Lead in December 2008-January 2009). I hope that the constructive criticisms that I — and other pro-Israel commentators — have lodged of the manner in which the Gaza flotilla was handled will lead Israeli policymakers to be more adept in dealing with similar challenges in the future. My critique (I wrote that the operation was morally and legally justified but handed a public-relations victory to Israel’s enemies) was actually mild compared with many of those heard in Israel itself. For instance, Ari Shavit — a respected Haaretz columnist who is a hawkish liberal – wrote:

During the 2006 war in Lebanon I concluded that my 15-year-old daughter could have conducted it more wisely than the Olmert-Peretz government. We’ve progressed. Today it’s clear to me that my 6-year-old son could do much better than our current government.

As another example, there is this comment made to Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg, who is in Israel right now:

I happen to be around a lot of Israeli generals lately, and one I bumped into today said something very smart and self-aware: “Does everybody in the world think we’re bananas?” He did not let me respond before he said, “Wait, I know the answer: The whole world thinks we’re bananas.” I asked this general if this was a good thing or a bad thing. After all, Nixon seemed bananas and he achieved great things internationally. So did Menachem Begin. This is what the general said, however: “It’s one thing for people to think that you’re crazy, but it’s bad when they think you’re incompetent and crazy, and that’s the way we look.”

Unfortunately — and it pains me to say so because I want only the best for Israel — I think that unnamed general is right.

Those who continue to defend the handling of the Gaza flotilla make essentially three points: (a) there was no credible alternative; (b) Israel would get criticized no matter what it did; and (c) Israel cannot give the “international community” a veto over its right of self-defense.

Start with the first point. Knowledgeable Israeli commentators agree with me that there likely were alternative courses of action to stop the flotilla without sending a small group of naval commandos into the middle of a melee — a situation for which they were unprepared. The Jerusalem Post writes:

One question that needs to be asked is why the government approved the IDF’s plan to put troops on the ship via helicopter instead of perhaps sabotaging or diverting them. Flotilla 13, the naval commando unit that raided the ships, is expert in sabotage.

According to one former top navy officer, one option was to use tugboats to push the ships off course. Another option was to damage the ships’ propellers, prevent them from sailing into Gaza and forcing them to be towed to Ashdod.

A third option was to board the ships quietly and not by helicopter.

“There were several options that the IDF had before sending troops onto the ship,” the former senior officer explained, “It is not clear that those options were completely exhausted.”

In the Wall Street Journal today, Israeli security analyst Ronen Bergman (who, like I do, describes the operation as a “fiasco”) reminds us that such alternatives have been employed before:

In 1988, 131 members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) who had been deported from the Palestinian Territories following the outbreak of the first intifada intended to set sail to Gaza from Limassol, Cyprus. Their boat, called Al Awda or the Ship of the Return, was accompanied by 200 journalists. ….

On Feb. 15, hours before it was due to set sail, the empty ship was blown up in Limassol harbor by a team of Mossad agents and frogmen from Flotilla 13 (the Israeli equivalent of Navy Seals). The team was led by Yoav Galant, then a young officer and today a major general in the IDF. The operation was a success. There were no casualties on either side and the PLO gave up on the idea of sailing to Gaza.

What about the argument that Israel would get criticized no matter what it did? That even if its agents sabotaged or disabled the pro-Hamas vessels without risking an open confrontation, it would still be pilloried? There is some truth to this, but there is criticism and then there is criticism. It would get a lot less blowback for such a low-profile operation than for a shoot-out on the high seas that left nine “peace activists” (actually pro-Hamas activists) dead.

Israel should be willing to risk international opprobrium when it faces a true existential threat. It needs, for example, to retaliate for Hamas rocket strikes, as it did with Operation Cast Lead. No state can allow its territory to be attacked with impunity. Israel also needs to seriously consider the possibility of bombing Iranian nuclear facilities no matter the denunciations that such an operation would inevitably bring; the potential payoff is worth the public-relations cost. But the Mavi Marmara was not an existential threat; it was not loaded with missiles or other weapons. It was a provocation, an act of political theater — and Israel should have been smart enough to avoid playing the part scripted by its enemies. Even letting the ship dock in Gaza would have done less damage to Israel than the manner in which it was stopped.

The justification for the boarding was that Israel couldn’t allow the Gaza blockade to be broken. I’m sympathetic to the need to maintain the blockade (which Israel has every right to do), but as Ronen Bergman points out, Israel has let other ships breach the blockade before without catastrophic consequences:

In August 2006 two ships carrying peace activists and food aid set out to Gaza, again from Cyprus. Under instructions from then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the vessels were boarded at sea without resistance. After a search uncovered no weapons, the ships were permitted to continue on toward the Strip. The Israeli naval forces went home, Hamas declared victory, and that was that.

The ultimate irony here is that the Israeli boarding was meant to prevent a recurrence of such Hamas aid convoys. Yet the shooting aboard the Mavi Marama has had the opposite effect — by handing an unearned propaganda victory to Israel’s enemies, it is encouraging them to repeat the same tactics. Three more ships are being readied for another Gaza flotilla. If and when they do sail, I trust that the Israeli government will learn from experience and not walk into another trap set by its enemies.

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RE: RE: Peter Beinart and the Destruction of Liberal Zionism

Let me second Ted Bromund’s praise for Noah Pollak’s extraordinary essay on the liberal desertion of Israel — and offer a comment on Ted’s suggestion that the retreat dates from the 1967 war rather than the failure of the 1993 Oslo peace process.

In 1992, Ruth Wisse published a landmark book, entitled If I Am Not for Myself … The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews, in which she argued that the attempt by Jews to prove themselves moral behind the banner of liberalism could not succeed but that liberalism itself would “assuredly be judged by whether it can protect the Jews.” A year later, the peace process began with the famous White House handshake between Israel’s prime minister and the head of a terrorist group.

It was a liberal dream come true – the “peace of the brave,” as future Nobel Peace Prize winner Yasir Arafat would repeatedly call it, requiring only sufficient courage by Israel to take the risks necessary to produce it. To those skeptical about turning over land to an organization devoted to Israel’s destruction, Amos Oz observed that one made peace with one’s enemies, not with one’s friends. It was considered a brilliant response.

Seven years later, Arafat was offered a Palestinian state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in Jerusalem — and turned it down in favor of a new terror war. Reflecting later on the Oslo accords, Professor Wisse observed that they had “made Israel the first sovereign nation in memory to arm its declared enemy with the expectation of gaining security.” Five years later, Israel would do it all over again, turning over Gaza to its enemies after removing every settler and soldier, in the expectation of gaining (in Ehud Olmert’s words) “more security … [and] a new pattern of relations.” The result was a new rocket war.

The fundamental liberal premise — that human beings are essentially all alike, wanting simply to (as the slogan of the peace process continually put it) “live side by side in peace and security” — had produced not peace but successive wars. As Israel became reluctant to take any further disaster-producing risks, or suffer rockets without a response, an increasing number of liberals believed themselves forced to choose between Israel and liberalism, and an increasing number chose the latter. Peter Beinart is only the latest to do so, trying to jump on an already-crowded train.

Liberals tend to stand by Israel as long as it adheres to the Torah of Liberalism, but they are less supportive when Israel takes seriously some of the promises in that other Torah, which is not a book about human beings perfectible by reason. The issues involved in Noah’s essay are part of a story that goes back much further than 1993 or 1967; it would take a book to explain it.

Let me second Ted Bromund’s praise for Noah Pollak’s extraordinary essay on the liberal desertion of Israel — and offer a comment on Ted’s suggestion that the retreat dates from the 1967 war rather than the failure of the 1993 Oslo peace process.

In 1992, Ruth Wisse published a landmark book, entitled If I Am Not for Myself … The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews, in which she argued that the attempt by Jews to prove themselves moral behind the banner of liberalism could not succeed but that liberalism itself would “assuredly be judged by whether it can protect the Jews.” A year later, the peace process began with the famous White House handshake between Israel’s prime minister and the head of a terrorist group.

It was a liberal dream come true – the “peace of the brave,” as future Nobel Peace Prize winner Yasir Arafat would repeatedly call it, requiring only sufficient courage by Israel to take the risks necessary to produce it. To those skeptical about turning over land to an organization devoted to Israel’s destruction, Amos Oz observed that one made peace with one’s enemies, not with one’s friends. It was considered a brilliant response.

Seven years later, Arafat was offered a Palestinian state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in Jerusalem — and turned it down in favor of a new terror war. Reflecting later on the Oslo accords, Professor Wisse observed that they had “made Israel the first sovereign nation in memory to arm its declared enemy with the expectation of gaining security.” Five years later, Israel would do it all over again, turning over Gaza to its enemies after removing every settler and soldier, in the expectation of gaining (in Ehud Olmert’s words) “more security … [and] a new pattern of relations.” The result was a new rocket war.

The fundamental liberal premise — that human beings are essentially all alike, wanting simply to (as the slogan of the peace process continually put it) “live side by side in peace and security” — had produced not peace but successive wars. As Israel became reluctant to take any further disaster-producing risks, or suffer rockets without a response, an increasing number of liberals believed themselves forced to choose between Israel and liberalism, and an increasing number chose the latter. Peter Beinart is only the latest to do so, trying to jump on an already-crowded train.

Liberals tend to stand by Israel as long as it adheres to the Torah of Liberalism, but they are less supportive when Israel takes seriously some of the promises in that other Torah, which is not a book about human beings perfectible by reason. The issues involved in Noah’s essay are part of a story that goes back much further than 1993 or 1967; it would take a book to explain it.

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How Western Engagement Thwarts Israeli-Syrian Peace

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s candid interview this week with Lebanon’s As-Safir paper ought to be studied by anyone who still believes in either the possibility of Israeli-Syrian peace or the utility of Western engagement with Syria.

According to both the Jerusalem Post and Ynet (the website of Israel’s largest daily, Yedioth Ahronoth), Assad told As-Safir that Israeli President Shimon Peres sent a message via Russia offering him the entire Golan Heights if Syria would sever ties with Iran and with terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. But Assad said he wasn’t interested: He refuses to abandon the option of “resistance.”

Whether or not Peres actually made this offer (which his office vehemently denies) is irrelevant. The point is that Assad claims it was made. Yet his response was not to pursue it via direct or even indirect talks with Israel. It was to assert that Syria will never pressure Hamas and co. to disarm; that Israel doesn’t want peace anyway, so there’s no point in talking; and that it would be a “mistake” to “erase the resistance option,” thereby “becoming hostage to the peace option.”

This response has three noteworthy aspects. First, Israeli advocates of peace with Syria all claim that previous talks collapsed over one single issue: Jerusalem insisted that the border be the recognized international border, while Damascus demanded the pre-1967 border, which includes Israeli territory that Syria illegally occupied in 1948. Therefore, they argue, if Israel would just stop fussing over that sliver of land and cede it all, a deal would swiftly be signed.

Second, these advocates always said peace would bring one major benefit: Syria’s removal from the Iran-Hezbollah-Hamas axis.

Yet now, Assad claims that Peres offered precisely what Israeli peace advocates always wanted: the whole Golan. And he contemptuously refused to pay the desired quid pro quo.

Most noteworthy of all, however, was his reason: Abandoning “resistance” would be foolish, because it works. And as evidence, he cited Syria’s renewed ties with the West, especially Washington. In short, he views the Obama administration’s engagement drive as proof that supporting terror pays.

Moreover, when asked to identify Syria’s key regional interests, peace with Israel didn’t make the list — but “dialogue with the U.S.” did. Thus peace with Israel no longer offers any compensation that would justify abandoning “resistance”: The one benefit it was traditionally thought to offer — an opening to Washington — has now been achieved by “resistance” instead.

This also explains why Assad eagerly engaged in indirect talks with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert just two years ago, but scorns the idea today. Then, he was being boycotted by the West, and especially by former President George W. Bush, so talks with Israel were needed to end the boycott. Today, he is courted by Europe and Washington alike. So who needs peace with Israel?

The conclusion is clear: As long as Assad can get everything he wants from the West without a peace deal, Israeli-Syrian peace will be unattainable. Only when the West starts punishing “resistance” rather than rewarding it will Assad’s strategic calculation change.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s candid interview this week with Lebanon’s As-Safir paper ought to be studied by anyone who still believes in either the possibility of Israeli-Syrian peace or the utility of Western engagement with Syria.

According to both the Jerusalem Post and Ynet (the website of Israel’s largest daily, Yedioth Ahronoth), Assad told As-Safir that Israeli President Shimon Peres sent a message via Russia offering him the entire Golan Heights if Syria would sever ties with Iran and with terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. But Assad said he wasn’t interested: He refuses to abandon the option of “resistance.”

Whether or not Peres actually made this offer (which his office vehemently denies) is irrelevant. The point is that Assad claims it was made. Yet his response was not to pursue it via direct or even indirect talks with Israel. It was to assert that Syria will never pressure Hamas and co. to disarm; that Israel doesn’t want peace anyway, so there’s no point in talking; and that it would be a “mistake” to “erase the resistance option,” thereby “becoming hostage to the peace option.”

This response has three noteworthy aspects. First, Israeli advocates of peace with Syria all claim that previous talks collapsed over one single issue: Jerusalem insisted that the border be the recognized international border, while Damascus demanded the pre-1967 border, which includes Israeli territory that Syria illegally occupied in 1948. Therefore, they argue, if Israel would just stop fussing over that sliver of land and cede it all, a deal would swiftly be signed.

Second, these advocates always said peace would bring one major benefit: Syria’s removal from the Iran-Hezbollah-Hamas axis.

Yet now, Assad claims that Peres offered precisely what Israeli peace advocates always wanted: the whole Golan. And he contemptuously refused to pay the desired quid pro quo.

Most noteworthy of all, however, was his reason: Abandoning “resistance” would be foolish, because it works. And as evidence, he cited Syria’s renewed ties with the West, especially Washington. In short, he views the Obama administration’s engagement drive as proof that supporting terror pays.

Moreover, when asked to identify Syria’s key regional interests, peace with Israel didn’t make the list — but “dialogue with the U.S.” did. Thus peace with Israel no longer offers any compensation that would justify abandoning “resistance”: The one benefit it was traditionally thought to offer — an opening to Washington — has now been achieved by “resistance” instead.

This also explains why Assad eagerly engaged in indirect talks with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert just two years ago, but scorns the idea today. Then, he was being boycotted by the West, and especially by former President George W. Bush, so talks with Israel were needed to end the boycott. Today, he is courted by Europe and Washington alike. So who needs peace with Israel?

The conclusion is clear: As long as Assad can get everything he wants from the West without a peace deal, Israeli-Syrian peace will be unattainable. Only when the West starts punishing “resistance” rather than rewarding it will Assad’s strategic calculation change.

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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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Ya’alon Unloads on Obami

The entire interview with Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon should be read in full here. But a few of the Q&As are certainly of particular note. On the American administration’s amnesia:

Does the US not see in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to accept Ehud Olmert’s generous offer in 2008 as a lack of willingness on the Palestinian side to come to an agreement?

Apparently not. From the dawn of Zionism there has not been a Palestinian leadership willing to recognize Israel’s right to exist as the national home of the Jewish people. This is the source of the problem, and not what is called the occupied territories since ’67. The opposition to Zionism began before we liberated Judea, Samaria and Gaza; before we established a state.

On the issue of settlements:

Israel’s critics say enlarging settlements helps Palestinian extremists and ruins any efforts to get the Palestinians to recognize our right to be here.

The prime minister said before the elections he was willing to accept the commitments of the previous government, among them the understanding between [George] Bush and [Ariel] Sharon, that no new settlements would be built in Judea and Samaria, and that construction in the settlements would be allowed [to enable] normal life, not exactly natural growth. That was the understanding, and construction continued through the Olmert and Sharon governments.

More than that, [Netanyahu] said we accept our commitment regarding dismantling 23 outposts that were defined by the Sharon government as illegal. He accepted that, until it became clear that the US administration does not accept the commitments of the previous administration.

Secondly, we completely reject the argument that the settlements are the reason there is no peace. I think Arafat was willing to go to Oslo because of the settlements. When he saw the [massive Russian] aliya, and the settlements, he thought he was going to lose everything.

But if we are talking about coexistence and peace, why the insistence that the territory they receive be ethnically cleansed of Jews? Why do those areas have to be Judenrein? Don’t Arabs live here, in the Negev and Galilee? Why isn’t that part of our public discussion? Why doesn’t that scream to the heavens?

In order for there to a proper prognosis, you need a proper diagnosis. We are arguing, and not only with them, but with the Israeli Left, about what is the root of the problem. Part of the issue, which influences the US and European positions, is our internal confusion.

I also used to think the solution was land for peace, until I became the head of military intelligence, saw things from up close and my thinking underwent an evolution.

And on the American role in thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions:

Which leaders today are the most determined regarding Iran?

We see France today demonstrating the right policies, and Britain. They understand the enormity of the challenge.

Does Obama?

Something has happened here that we haven’t seen in the past. Previously the US led the aggressive line. Today, as I said, the president of France and prime minister of Britain are leading a more aggressive line than the president of the US. And then you have Germany and Italy, who join up with the American position.

I don’t think there is an actor in the world who wants to see a nuclear Iran.

There is much more of interest, including his take on the potential for an  imposed settlement. (“If someone really thinks they can impose peace just like that, then they are detached from reality.”) What is most noteworthy is the candor with which the disdain for the American administration comes through. It seems the Israelis have at least adopted one of Obama’s suggestions — be more “honest” in public and in private.

It’s incumbent on the American Jewish community now to do likewise. It is a time to make clear whether it intends to shuffle along, meekly accepting the administration’s inertness on Iran and its ferocity toward our democratic ally.

The entire interview with Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon should be read in full here. But a few of the Q&As are certainly of particular note. On the American administration’s amnesia:

Does the US not see in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to accept Ehud Olmert’s generous offer in 2008 as a lack of willingness on the Palestinian side to come to an agreement?

Apparently not. From the dawn of Zionism there has not been a Palestinian leadership willing to recognize Israel’s right to exist as the national home of the Jewish people. This is the source of the problem, and not what is called the occupied territories since ’67. The opposition to Zionism began before we liberated Judea, Samaria and Gaza; before we established a state.

On the issue of settlements:

Israel’s critics say enlarging settlements helps Palestinian extremists and ruins any efforts to get the Palestinians to recognize our right to be here.

The prime minister said before the elections he was willing to accept the commitments of the previous government, among them the understanding between [George] Bush and [Ariel] Sharon, that no new settlements would be built in Judea and Samaria, and that construction in the settlements would be allowed [to enable] normal life, not exactly natural growth. That was the understanding, and construction continued through the Olmert and Sharon governments.

More than that, [Netanyahu] said we accept our commitment regarding dismantling 23 outposts that were defined by the Sharon government as illegal. He accepted that, until it became clear that the US administration does not accept the commitments of the previous administration.

Secondly, we completely reject the argument that the settlements are the reason there is no peace. I think Arafat was willing to go to Oslo because of the settlements. When he saw the [massive Russian] aliya, and the settlements, he thought he was going to lose everything.

But if we are talking about coexistence and peace, why the insistence that the territory they receive be ethnically cleansed of Jews? Why do those areas have to be Judenrein? Don’t Arabs live here, in the Negev and Galilee? Why isn’t that part of our public discussion? Why doesn’t that scream to the heavens?

In order for there to a proper prognosis, you need a proper diagnosis. We are arguing, and not only with them, but with the Israeli Left, about what is the root of the problem. Part of the issue, which influences the US and European positions, is our internal confusion.

I also used to think the solution was land for peace, until I became the head of military intelligence, saw things from up close and my thinking underwent an evolution.

And on the American role in thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions:

Which leaders today are the most determined regarding Iran?

We see France today demonstrating the right policies, and Britain. They understand the enormity of the challenge.

Does Obama?

Something has happened here that we haven’t seen in the past. Previously the US led the aggressive line. Today, as I said, the president of France and prime minister of Britain are leading a more aggressive line than the president of the US. And then you have Germany and Italy, who join up with the American position.

I don’t think there is an actor in the world who wants to see a nuclear Iran.

There is much more of interest, including his take on the potential for an  imposed settlement. (“If someone really thinks they can impose peace just like that, then they are detached from reality.”) What is most noteworthy is the candor with which the disdain for the American administration comes through. It seems the Israelis have at least adopted one of Obama’s suggestions — be more “honest” in public and in private.

It’s incumbent on the American Jewish community now to do likewise. It is a time to make clear whether it intends to shuffle along, meekly accepting the administration’s inertness on Iran and its ferocity toward our democratic ally.

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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.

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Palestinians Beat Their Swords into Rocks

While marketing gurus in Israel and the United States ponder the proper methodology for “rebranding” the Jewish State to make people think better of it, the Palestinians continue to eschew ad agencies and rely on The New York Times. That’s the only way to explain the Gray Lady’s curious dispatch today, which claims that the Palestinians have put away their decades-long predilection for violence and become disciples of Mahatma Gandhi.

According to the Times’s Ethan Bronner, “Senior Palestinian leaders — men who once commanded militias — are joining unarmed protest marches against Israeli policies and are being arrested.” How inspiring! It would seem that finally the Palestinians have decided to beat their swords into plowshares and find a way to live with Israel. “It is all about self-empowerment,” said Hasan Abu-Libdeh, the Palestinian economy minister. “We want ordinary people to feel like stockholders in the process of building a state.”

But rather than Fatah focusing on improving life in its putative state or encouraging peaceful people-to-people exchanges with their Jewish neighbors, the whole point of this allegedly non-violent action is to merely carry on their struggle against Israel without all the bad press associated with suicide bombings. Hence, the “self-empowerment” that Minister Abu-Libdeh is referring to is a campaign to boycott the goods produced by Jews who live in the territories and for the tens of thousands of Palestinians who work in and around the settlements to give up their jobs. As for the non-violent “protest marches,” they are directed at Israel’s security fence and consist of throwing stones at any Jews present and attempts to damage or destroy the barrier that was erected to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from crossing into Israel and committing mass murder. How any of that empowers ordinary Palestinians in any way is left unexplained.

If there is any change of tactics on the part of Fatah, it is only because Israeli military actions in the West Bank and the erection of the fence have effectively taken the terrorist card out of the P.A.’s hand. Take down that fence and terrorism becomes an attractive option again for a movement that continues to vie with Hamas for popularity in a political culture that continues to value the shedding of Jewish blood over the building of an economy.

Thus it is hard to escape the conclusion that even the most attractive manifestation of Palestinian nationalism is still obsessed with expunging any manifestation of Jewish life around them. Far from a “third way,” as Bronner claims it to be for Palestinians who are frustrated with the “failure” of either terrorism or diplomacy to achieve their goals, the new tactic seems to be merely a way of creating pressure on Israel to lower its guard and make terrorism a bit easier. And if their goal was merely to declare a Palestinian state (as Bronner says Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad wants to do in 2011) what is the point of the ongoing obsession with eradicating the scattered Jewish towns and villages in the West Bank as a precondition for statehood? Apparently, the notion of sovereignty is only meaningful for them if every Jew has been thrown out of the territory.

More to the point, diplomacy hasn’t failed the Palestinians. Rather, it is the Palestinians who have failed to embrace the diplomatic option as 17 years of peace talks have proved that their leadership isn’t interested in taking yes for an answer since they have repeatedly refused Israel’s offers of a state in the West Bank and Gaza, including a share of Jerusalem. The last refusal came in 2008 when the same PA that now claims to be pursuing non-violence turned down Ehud Olmert. Thus, the attempt to convince the world that this is an argument about settlements or the fence (which, as Bronner notes, has made of the village of Bilin an international tourist attraction for celebrities, such as Rajmohan Gandhi or Martin Luther King III, who want to get a little attention for bashing Israel) rather than an ongoing existential struggle against any manifestation of Zionism, is absurd.

While marketing gurus in Israel and the United States ponder the proper methodology for “rebranding” the Jewish State to make people think better of it, the Palestinians continue to eschew ad agencies and rely on The New York Times. That’s the only way to explain the Gray Lady’s curious dispatch today, which claims that the Palestinians have put away their decades-long predilection for violence and become disciples of Mahatma Gandhi.

According to the Times’s Ethan Bronner, “Senior Palestinian leaders — men who once commanded militias — are joining unarmed protest marches against Israeli policies and are being arrested.” How inspiring! It would seem that finally the Palestinians have decided to beat their swords into plowshares and find a way to live with Israel. “It is all about self-empowerment,” said Hasan Abu-Libdeh, the Palestinian economy minister. “We want ordinary people to feel like stockholders in the process of building a state.”

But rather than Fatah focusing on improving life in its putative state or encouraging peaceful people-to-people exchanges with their Jewish neighbors, the whole point of this allegedly non-violent action is to merely carry on their struggle against Israel without all the bad press associated with suicide bombings. Hence, the “self-empowerment” that Minister Abu-Libdeh is referring to is a campaign to boycott the goods produced by Jews who live in the territories and for the tens of thousands of Palestinians who work in and around the settlements to give up their jobs. As for the non-violent “protest marches,” they are directed at Israel’s security fence and consist of throwing stones at any Jews present and attempts to damage or destroy the barrier that was erected to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from crossing into Israel and committing mass murder. How any of that empowers ordinary Palestinians in any way is left unexplained.

If there is any change of tactics on the part of Fatah, it is only because Israeli military actions in the West Bank and the erection of the fence have effectively taken the terrorist card out of the P.A.’s hand. Take down that fence and terrorism becomes an attractive option again for a movement that continues to vie with Hamas for popularity in a political culture that continues to value the shedding of Jewish blood over the building of an economy.

Thus it is hard to escape the conclusion that even the most attractive manifestation of Palestinian nationalism is still obsessed with expunging any manifestation of Jewish life around them. Far from a “third way,” as Bronner claims it to be for Palestinians who are frustrated with the “failure” of either terrorism or diplomacy to achieve their goals, the new tactic seems to be merely a way of creating pressure on Israel to lower its guard and make terrorism a bit easier. And if their goal was merely to declare a Palestinian state (as Bronner says Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad wants to do in 2011) what is the point of the ongoing obsession with eradicating the scattered Jewish towns and villages in the West Bank as a precondition for statehood? Apparently, the notion of sovereignty is only meaningful for them if every Jew has been thrown out of the territory.

More to the point, diplomacy hasn’t failed the Palestinians. Rather, it is the Palestinians who have failed to embrace the diplomatic option as 17 years of peace talks have proved that their leadership isn’t interested in taking yes for an answer since they have repeatedly refused Israel’s offers of a state in the West Bank and Gaza, including a share of Jerusalem. The last refusal came in 2008 when the same PA that now claims to be pursuing non-violence turned down Ehud Olmert. Thus, the attempt to convince the world that this is an argument about settlements or the fence (which, as Bronner notes, has made of the village of Bilin an international tourist attraction for celebrities, such as Rajmohan Gandhi or Martin Luther King III, who want to get a little attention for bashing Israel) rather than an ongoing existential struggle against any manifestation of Zionism, is absurd.

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The Trouble with Fayyadism

Regular readers of Thomas Friedman were hardly surprised when he used the controversy over an ill-timed announcement of a housing project in Jerusalem to write about the need for America to save Israel from itself this past weekend. The piece, titled “Driving Drunk in Jerusalem,” was a long-discredited argument pulled from Friedman’s file and dusted off for the umpteenth time.

Nevertheless, with some sense did he note that “only a right-wing prime minister, like Netanyahu, can make a deal over the West Bank; Netanyahu’s actual policies on the ground there have helped Palestinians grow their economy.” That’s true. If the Palestinians ever actually wanted to make peace, Netanyahu would be the one who could sell such a deal to his country. But although it is also true that, as Friedman wrote, “Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad are as genuine and serious about working toward a solution as any Israel can hope to find,” that doesn’t mean there is any hope that Abbas and Fayyad have the will or the power to accept such a solution.

Friedman further develops this theme in today’s column, which celebrates “Fayyadism” — the idea that creating a viable, independent Palestinian state can define the future of the Middle East. Many serious people both here and in Israel think Fayyad is sincere about his desire to replace the empty Palestinian political culture, based on hatred for Israel, with a productive nationalism devoted to improving the lives of ordinary Arabs in the West Bank. But the Times columnist believes Netanyahu’s coalition partners are preventing the prime minister from fully embracing Fayyad and making peace. So he agrees with President Obama’s attempt to break up Netanyahu’s government and replace it with a more left-leaning one.

Yet like almost all of Friedman’s bright ideas for bettering our not-so-flat world, there is a fatal flaw to this theory. Fayyad may be a genuine moderate, but he lacks a constituency. Palestinians still prefer the guys with the guns who will never recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where the borders are placed or how much of Jerusalem is rendered Jew-free. If “Fayyadism” had any sort of a following, then Fayyad’s boss might have accepted Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a Palestinian state in just about all of the West Bank and part of Jerusalem. Both Fayyad and Abbas still know that if they sign any peace agreement, that will be the end of Fatah, no matter how many concessions Obama forces upon Israel. The threat of Hamas and its Iranian patron hang over Palestinian moderates, and no amount of fantasizing by Friedman or Obama — or unilateral pressure on Israel — can wish that away.  The lack of Palestinian support for Fayyad’s vision of peace destroyed the previous government of Israel, which was more to the liking of Friedman and Obama. But as Obama’s American fans like to say, elections have consequences.

Rather than pressuring Israelis to adopt self-destructive policies they’ve already rejected at the ballot box, those trying to save Israel from itself should focus their attention on the gap between Fayyad and the rest of the Palestinians. Indeed, the effort to stop Jews from building in existing Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem — the focal point of the current dustup — encourages the Palestinian forces that are antithetical to “Fayyadism.” So long as Arabs think that outside parties can hammer Israel into submission and force the Jews to abandon their own land, it remains an upstream swim for those seeking to convince the Palestinians to abandon their belief in Israel’s destruction. Rather than aiding Fayyad, Obama’s attack on Jewish Jerusalem confirms once again that moderates have no chance to change a destructive and violent Palestinian political culture.

Regular readers of Thomas Friedman were hardly surprised when he used the controversy over an ill-timed announcement of a housing project in Jerusalem to write about the need for America to save Israel from itself this past weekend. The piece, titled “Driving Drunk in Jerusalem,” was a long-discredited argument pulled from Friedman’s file and dusted off for the umpteenth time.

Nevertheless, with some sense did he note that “only a right-wing prime minister, like Netanyahu, can make a deal over the West Bank; Netanyahu’s actual policies on the ground there have helped Palestinians grow their economy.” That’s true. If the Palestinians ever actually wanted to make peace, Netanyahu would be the one who could sell such a deal to his country. But although it is also true that, as Friedman wrote, “Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad are as genuine and serious about working toward a solution as any Israel can hope to find,” that doesn’t mean there is any hope that Abbas and Fayyad have the will or the power to accept such a solution.

Friedman further develops this theme in today’s column, which celebrates “Fayyadism” — the idea that creating a viable, independent Palestinian state can define the future of the Middle East. Many serious people both here and in Israel think Fayyad is sincere about his desire to replace the empty Palestinian political culture, based on hatred for Israel, with a productive nationalism devoted to improving the lives of ordinary Arabs in the West Bank. But the Times columnist believes Netanyahu’s coalition partners are preventing the prime minister from fully embracing Fayyad and making peace. So he agrees with President Obama’s attempt to break up Netanyahu’s government and replace it with a more left-leaning one.

Yet like almost all of Friedman’s bright ideas for bettering our not-so-flat world, there is a fatal flaw to this theory. Fayyad may be a genuine moderate, but he lacks a constituency. Palestinians still prefer the guys with the guns who will never recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where the borders are placed or how much of Jerusalem is rendered Jew-free. If “Fayyadism” had any sort of a following, then Fayyad’s boss might have accepted Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a Palestinian state in just about all of the West Bank and part of Jerusalem. Both Fayyad and Abbas still know that if they sign any peace agreement, that will be the end of Fatah, no matter how many concessions Obama forces upon Israel. The threat of Hamas and its Iranian patron hang over Palestinian moderates, and no amount of fantasizing by Friedman or Obama — or unilateral pressure on Israel — can wish that away.  The lack of Palestinian support for Fayyad’s vision of peace destroyed the previous government of Israel, which was more to the liking of Friedman and Obama. But as Obama’s American fans like to say, elections have consequences.

Rather than pressuring Israelis to adopt self-destructive policies they’ve already rejected at the ballot box, those trying to save Israel from itself should focus their attention on the gap between Fayyad and the rest of the Palestinians. Indeed, the effort to stop Jews from building in existing Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem — the focal point of the current dustup — encourages the Palestinian forces that are antithetical to “Fayyadism.” So long as Arabs think that outside parties can hammer Israel into submission and force the Jews to abandon their own land, it remains an upstream swim for those seeking to convince the Palestinians to abandon their belief in Israel’s destruction. Rather than aiding Fayyad, Obama’s attack on Jewish Jerusalem confirms once again that moderates have no chance to change a destructive and violent Palestinian political culture.

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They Didn’t Think It Through

However it is that the Obami extract themselves from the current tempest with Israel, a bad taste will be left in the mouths of the administrations’ supporters, the American Jewish community, and Israel. The Obami have revealed themselves to be seriously lacking in both sensibility and understanding when it comes to the U.S.-Israel relationship, and to be in thrall to the Palestinian narrative. Bret Stephens explains the fallacy they’ve embraced:

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t territorial. It’s existential. Israelis are now broadly prepared to live with a Palestinian state along their borders. Palestinians are not yet willing to live with a Jewish state along theirs.

That should help explain why it is that in the past decade, two Israeli prime ministers—Ehud Barak in 2000 and Ehud Olmert in 2008—have put forward comprehensive peace offers to the Palestinians, and have twice been rebuffed. In both cases, the offers included the division of Jerusalem; in the latter case, it also included international jurisdiction over Jerusalem’s holy places and concessions on the subject of Palestinian refugees. Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also offered direct peace talks. The Palestinians have countered by withdrawing to “proximity talks” mediated by the U.S.

And of course if it were about “settlements,” peace would have broken out before 1967. Moreover, as Stephens notes, if this were a land issue, the withdrawal from Gaza would have brought a cessation of hostilities, not an escalation. Dismissing the assurances given Israel by the Bush administration with regard to settlement activities, the Obami started a diplomatic war over an existing site within Jerusalem — one that would in any future deal remain in the Jewish state. The “affront” is an artificial one, a pretext for impressing the Obami’s audience in the “Muslim World.”

The lesson to be drawn by the Israelis is that the Obami don’t share a common understanding of the nature of the Palestinian conflict and are unpredictable partners, prone to fly off the handle when it suits their purposes. How in such a scenario does the Israeli government take “risks for peace”? And more to the point, why would the Israeli government rely on the U.S. when it comes to protecting the Jewish state against an existential threat from Iran? Once an ally proves unreliable, it’s every man for himself. That was precisely the opposite message the White House bullies no doubt intended to convey. But like so much else, they really didn’t think this through.

However it is that the Obami extract themselves from the current tempest with Israel, a bad taste will be left in the mouths of the administrations’ supporters, the American Jewish community, and Israel. The Obami have revealed themselves to be seriously lacking in both sensibility and understanding when it comes to the U.S.-Israel relationship, and to be in thrall to the Palestinian narrative. Bret Stephens explains the fallacy they’ve embraced:

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t territorial. It’s existential. Israelis are now broadly prepared to live with a Palestinian state along their borders. Palestinians are not yet willing to live with a Jewish state along theirs.

That should help explain why it is that in the past decade, two Israeli prime ministers—Ehud Barak in 2000 and Ehud Olmert in 2008—have put forward comprehensive peace offers to the Palestinians, and have twice been rebuffed. In both cases, the offers included the division of Jerusalem; in the latter case, it also included international jurisdiction over Jerusalem’s holy places and concessions on the subject of Palestinian refugees. Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also offered direct peace talks. The Palestinians have countered by withdrawing to “proximity talks” mediated by the U.S.

And of course if it were about “settlements,” peace would have broken out before 1967. Moreover, as Stephens notes, if this were a land issue, the withdrawal from Gaza would have brought a cessation of hostilities, not an escalation. Dismissing the assurances given Israel by the Bush administration with regard to settlement activities, the Obami started a diplomatic war over an existing site within Jerusalem — one that would in any future deal remain in the Jewish state. The “affront” is an artificial one, a pretext for impressing the Obami’s audience in the “Muslim World.”

The lesson to be drawn by the Israelis is that the Obami don’t share a common understanding of the nature of the Palestinian conflict and are unpredictable partners, prone to fly off the handle when it suits their purposes. How in such a scenario does the Israeli government take “risks for peace”? And more to the point, why would the Israeli government rely on the U.S. when it comes to protecting the Jewish state against an existential threat from Iran? Once an ally proves unreliable, it’s every man for himself. That was precisely the opposite message the White House bullies no doubt intended to convey. But like so much else, they really didn’t think this through.

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They Haven’t Learned the Lesson

Last week, I wrote that American, European, and Arab success in pressuring the Palestinians to resume negotiations could prove a turnabout in the peace process, if the world learned the lesson and began pressing the Palestinians for necessary concessions on substantive issues. But based on its response to last week’s announcement of new construction in Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, the world clearly hasn’t learned the lesson.

All the parties concerned were understandably upset by the announcement’s timing: just as proximity talks were about to begin, and while Vice President Joe Biden was in the region. But substantively, the new construction makes absolutely no difference to the prospects of an agreement — because any agreement would unquestionably leave this neighborhood in Israel’s hands.

Ramat Shlomo already has more than 20,000 residents — far too big to be uprooted even without the planned 1,600 new houses. It is also, as Rick noted, of considerable strategic importance, dominating all of Jerusalem’s major roads; thus Israel would insist on retaining it, even if not a single Jew lived there. Finally, its location in no way precludes the division of Jerusalem, which is what both Washington and Europe claim to want: situated in the corner formed by two other huge Jewish neighborhoods to its west and south, it does not block a single Arab neighborhood from contiguity with a future Palestinian state.

Thus if Washington and Europe were serious about wanting an agreement, they would essentially tell the Palestinians: “Grow up. You can’t turn the clock back 43 years, so not everything that was Jordanian-occupied territory in May 1967 will eventually become Palestinian. Some of it will remain Israeli — and that includes Ramat Shlomo. Don’t waste time and energy fighting Israeli construction in areas that will never be part of Palestine; focus on fighting construction in areas that realistically could be Palestinian under any agreement.”

Instead, by their over-the-top condemnations, America and Europe have fed the Palestinians’ fantasy that they can turn the clock back — because the only way this new construction could be the enormous obstacle to an agreement that the world has labeled it is if Ramat Shlomo actually could and should become Palestinian.

Every serious negotiator for the last 17 years has recognized that any agreement will have to take account of developments since 1967. That’s why every serious peace proposal, from the Clinton plan in 2000 to Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2008, has involved Israel keeping about 6 percent of the West Bank (with or without territorial swaps). But the Palestinians still refuse to accept this fact: they continue to insist on swaps comprising at most 2 to 3 percent of the West Bank. That would force Israel to evict hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes, which is both politically and economically unfeasible.

For any agreement to be possible, the world must finally make the Palestinians recognize that the clock cannot be turned back. By instead doing the opposite over Ramat Shlomo, Washington and Europe are undermining their own stated goal of achieving a peace deal.

Last week, I wrote that American, European, and Arab success in pressuring the Palestinians to resume negotiations could prove a turnabout in the peace process, if the world learned the lesson and began pressing the Palestinians for necessary concessions on substantive issues. But based on its response to last week’s announcement of new construction in Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, the world clearly hasn’t learned the lesson.

All the parties concerned were understandably upset by the announcement’s timing: just as proximity talks were about to begin, and while Vice President Joe Biden was in the region. But substantively, the new construction makes absolutely no difference to the prospects of an agreement — because any agreement would unquestionably leave this neighborhood in Israel’s hands.

Ramat Shlomo already has more than 20,000 residents — far too big to be uprooted even without the planned 1,600 new houses. It is also, as Rick noted, of considerable strategic importance, dominating all of Jerusalem’s major roads; thus Israel would insist on retaining it, even if not a single Jew lived there. Finally, its location in no way precludes the division of Jerusalem, which is what both Washington and Europe claim to want: situated in the corner formed by two other huge Jewish neighborhoods to its west and south, it does not block a single Arab neighborhood from contiguity with a future Palestinian state.

Thus if Washington and Europe were serious about wanting an agreement, they would essentially tell the Palestinians: “Grow up. You can’t turn the clock back 43 years, so not everything that was Jordanian-occupied territory in May 1967 will eventually become Palestinian. Some of it will remain Israeli — and that includes Ramat Shlomo. Don’t waste time and energy fighting Israeli construction in areas that will never be part of Palestine; focus on fighting construction in areas that realistically could be Palestinian under any agreement.”

Instead, by their over-the-top condemnations, America and Europe have fed the Palestinians’ fantasy that they can turn the clock back — because the only way this new construction could be the enormous obstacle to an agreement that the world has labeled it is if Ramat Shlomo actually could and should become Palestinian.

Every serious negotiator for the last 17 years has recognized that any agreement will have to take account of developments since 1967. That’s why every serious peace proposal, from the Clinton plan in 2000 to Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2008, has involved Israel keeping about 6 percent of the West Bank (with or without territorial swaps). But the Palestinians still refuse to accept this fact: they continue to insist on swaps comprising at most 2 to 3 percent of the West Bank. That would force Israel to evict hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes, which is both politically and economically unfeasible.

For any agreement to be possible, the world must finally make the Palestinians recognize that the clock cannot be turned back. By instead doing the opposite over Ramat Shlomo, Washington and Europe are undermining their own stated goal of achieving a peace deal.

Read Less

Peace Plans and Palestinian Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less




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