Commentary Magazine


Topic: envoy

The Real Danger Is that the Guardian’s Spin Could Mislead the West

The Guardian clearly has it in for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat. Not content with lambasting the concessions they actually made, it’s now accusing them of two concessions belied by the very “Palestine Papers” it cites as proof: recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and agreeing to resettle only 10,000 refugees in Israel.

The first assertion, as J.E. Dyer noted, relies on two Erekat quotes. In 2007, he told then-Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, “If you want to call your state the Jewish state of Israel you can call it what you want.” And in 2009, he said, “I dare the Israelis to write to the UN and change their name to the ‘Great Eternal Historic State of Israel’. This is their issue, not mine.”

Yet neither of these constitutes Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, which is what Israel demands. They merely reiterate what Palestinian leaders have repeatedly said in public (here and here, for instance): that they can’t stop Israel from calling itself a Jewish state, but under no circumstances will they recognize it as such.

The refugees assertion relies on minutes of Erekat’s June 2009 meeting with the PA’s Negotiations Support Unit. One participant asked whether any Israeli government had expressed different positions than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did in a speech earlier that month. Erekat replied by detailing former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s offer, which included accepting “1000 refugees annually for the next 10 years.”

Nowhere, however, does the document say the Palestinians agreed to this. On the contrary, they refused to sign Olmert’s proffered deal. So how does the Guardian construe Palestinian acquiescence out of this? By quoting something Erekat told U.S. envoy George Mitchell four months earlier, in February 2009: “On refugees, the deal is there.”

The paper doesn’t source this quote, nor does it explain why it thinks Erekat was signifying acceptance of Olmert’s offer. Certainly, Erekat doesn’t say so, and the timing actually makes this interpretation unlikely.

Mitchell’s February 2009 visit occurred after Israel’s election but before Netanyahu took office. Netanyahu was opposed to Mitchell’s “borders first” agenda for talks, arguing that upfront territorial concessions would deprive Israel of leverage in subsequent talks on issues like the refugees. The PA backed it for the very same reason, and thus sought to counter Netanyahu’s objection. So Erekat gave Mitchell a generic assurance that the refugees wouldn’t be a deal-breaker. But since he didn’t commit to any particular number, that assurance is meaningless.

Several CONTENTIONS contributors have noted that the publication of the Palestine Papers will make it harder for the PA to make concessions essential for a deal. But since the Guardian’s spin has been mindlessly repeated by media outlets worldwide (including in Israel), an equally worrying possibility is that Western leaders may falsely believe it already has offered the necessary concessions, and therefore ease their already minimal pressure on the Palestinians to do so.

And since the talks’ failure to date stems mainly from the PA’s refusal to make these concessions, that would make the prospects for a deal even dimmer than they are now.

The Guardian clearly has it in for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat. Not content with lambasting the concessions they actually made, it’s now accusing them of two concessions belied by the very “Palestine Papers” it cites as proof: recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and agreeing to resettle only 10,000 refugees in Israel.

The first assertion, as J.E. Dyer noted, relies on two Erekat quotes. In 2007, he told then-Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, “If you want to call your state the Jewish state of Israel you can call it what you want.” And in 2009, he said, “I dare the Israelis to write to the UN and change their name to the ‘Great Eternal Historic State of Israel’. This is their issue, not mine.”

Yet neither of these constitutes Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, which is what Israel demands. They merely reiterate what Palestinian leaders have repeatedly said in public (here and here, for instance): that they can’t stop Israel from calling itself a Jewish state, but under no circumstances will they recognize it as such.

The refugees assertion relies on minutes of Erekat’s June 2009 meeting with the PA’s Negotiations Support Unit. One participant asked whether any Israeli government had expressed different positions than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did in a speech earlier that month. Erekat replied by detailing former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s offer, which included accepting “1000 refugees annually for the next 10 years.”

Nowhere, however, does the document say the Palestinians agreed to this. On the contrary, they refused to sign Olmert’s proffered deal. So how does the Guardian construe Palestinian acquiescence out of this? By quoting something Erekat told U.S. envoy George Mitchell four months earlier, in February 2009: “On refugees, the deal is there.”

The paper doesn’t source this quote, nor does it explain why it thinks Erekat was signifying acceptance of Olmert’s offer. Certainly, Erekat doesn’t say so, and the timing actually makes this interpretation unlikely.

Mitchell’s February 2009 visit occurred after Israel’s election but before Netanyahu took office. Netanyahu was opposed to Mitchell’s “borders first” agenda for talks, arguing that upfront territorial concessions would deprive Israel of leverage in subsequent talks on issues like the refugees. The PA backed it for the very same reason, and thus sought to counter Netanyahu’s objection. So Erekat gave Mitchell a generic assurance that the refugees wouldn’t be a deal-breaker. But since he didn’t commit to any particular number, that assurance is meaningless.

Several CONTENTIONS contributors have noted that the publication of the Palestine Papers will make it harder for the PA to make concessions essential for a deal. But since the Guardian’s spin has been mindlessly repeated by media outlets worldwide (including in Israel), an equally worrying possibility is that Western leaders may falsely believe it already has offered the necessary concessions, and therefore ease their already minimal pressure on the Palestinians to do so.

And since the talks’ failure to date stems mainly from the PA’s refusal to make these concessions, that would make the prospects for a deal even dimmer than they are now.

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The Bracing Realism of Richard Holbrooke

Richard Holbrooke was, as the obits have it, a “giant of diplomacy.” Indeed, he has a claim to being one of the most influential diplomats in American history who never became secretary of state — a job he should have been given by President Clinton. He is edged out by George Kennan in the annals of American diplomatic history, but his achievement in hammering out the 1995 Dayton Accords ending the war in Bosnia is as impressive as any feat of negotiations in the post–World War II era.

He was much less successful in his latest job as the administration’s chief “AfPak” envoy. Why is that? Part of the reason was his mistake in alienating Hamid Karzai; an American envoy’s job is to talk tough behind the scenes but to preserve relations with an important allied head of state. Holbrooke, inexplicably, failed to do that. But most of the blame does not accrue to Holbrooke. The problem was that in Bosnia, the skillful use of force had set the conditions for diplomatic success — something that has not yet occurred in Afghanistan.

By the time Holbrooke was called upon to negotiate an end to the Bosnian fighting, the combatants had been exhausted and Serbian attempts at aggrandizement had been stymied, first by a Croatian offensive, then by NATO bombing. They were ready to cut a deal. Not so the Taliban and their sponsors in Islamabad. General David Petraeus has only now launched in earnest the military operations necessary to frustrate Taliban designs and compel elements of the group to negotiate or face annihilation. Without the effective use of force, not even a diplomat as supremely skilled as Holbrooke could achieve success.

A personal note: I knew Holbrooke slightly and liked him. I realize he had a reputation in Washington for being abrasive and egotistical; that reputation probably cost him the secretary of state job that he coveted and had earned. But effective diplomats can’t afford to be shrinking violets. Sure, Holbrooke had an outsize personality, but so did Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger, and other diplomatic superstars. Like them, Holbrooke also had enormous reservoirs of intelligence , savvy, and learning. And like them, he was a skilled writer; his memoir of the Dayton peace process was a classic. One of many regrets about his premature passing is that the world will be denied his memoirs.

He was a liberal but a tough-minded one — one of the last prominent hawks in the Democratic Party. He was, in short, a “neo-liberal,” which isn’t so far removed from a “neo-conservative,” a label that I teased him with and that he naturally resisted. The country as a whole will miss him, and so in particular will the Democratic Party, which could use more of his bracing realism in its counsels.

Richard Holbrooke was, as the obits have it, a “giant of diplomacy.” Indeed, he has a claim to being one of the most influential diplomats in American history who never became secretary of state — a job he should have been given by President Clinton. He is edged out by George Kennan in the annals of American diplomatic history, but his achievement in hammering out the 1995 Dayton Accords ending the war in Bosnia is as impressive as any feat of negotiations in the post–World War II era.

He was much less successful in his latest job as the administration’s chief “AfPak” envoy. Why is that? Part of the reason was his mistake in alienating Hamid Karzai; an American envoy’s job is to talk tough behind the scenes but to preserve relations with an important allied head of state. Holbrooke, inexplicably, failed to do that. But most of the blame does not accrue to Holbrooke. The problem was that in Bosnia, the skillful use of force had set the conditions for diplomatic success — something that has not yet occurred in Afghanistan.

By the time Holbrooke was called upon to negotiate an end to the Bosnian fighting, the combatants had been exhausted and Serbian attempts at aggrandizement had been stymied, first by a Croatian offensive, then by NATO bombing. They were ready to cut a deal. Not so the Taliban and their sponsors in Islamabad. General David Petraeus has only now launched in earnest the military operations necessary to frustrate Taliban designs and compel elements of the group to negotiate or face annihilation. Without the effective use of force, not even a diplomat as supremely skilled as Holbrooke could achieve success.

A personal note: I knew Holbrooke slightly and liked him. I realize he had a reputation in Washington for being abrasive and egotistical; that reputation probably cost him the secretary of state job that he coveted and had earned. But effective diplomats can’t afford to be shrinking violets. Sure, Holbrooke had an outsize personality, but so did Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger, and other diplomatic superstars. Like them, Holbrooke also had enormous reservoirs of intelligence , savvy, and learning. And like them, he was a skilled writer; his memoir of the Dayton peace process was a classic. One of many regrets about his premature passing is that the world will be denied his memoirs.

He was a liberal but a tough-minded one — one of the last prominent hawks in the Democratic Party. He was, in short, a “neo-liberal,” which isn’t so far removed from a “neo-conservative,” a label that I teased him with and that he naturally resisted. The country as a whole will miss him, and so in particular will the Democratic Party, which could use more of his bracing realism in its counsels.

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Middle East Chaos

It is not simply that Iran is moving steadily toward membership in the nuclear powers’ club. It is not only that the UN is plotting to carve up Israel. No, these are symptoms of an underlying problem: the U.S.’s retreat from the Middle East and the decline of American influence. There are other signs as well.

The administration has been demonstrating abject weakness with Syria. It mounted no meaningful response to violations of UN Resolution 1701. It has attempted to confirm and redeploy an ambassador to Damascus. Back in March, Elliott Abrams reeled off the list of “engagement” moves that bore an uncanny resemblance to appeasement:

* High level envoys have been sent to Damascus: Under Secretary of State William Burns visited Syria in mid-February, the highest ranking U.S. official to set foot there in more than five years, and Middle East envoy George Mitchell has visited three times. High-ranking Central Command officers have been sent to Damascus to discuss cooperation against terrorism.

* President Obama has now nominated an ambassador to Damascus, the first since Margaret Scobey was withdrawn in 2005 after the murder of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Lebanon (which was widely blamed on the Assad regime).

* The president has also removed the American block to Syria’s attempt to join the World Trade Organization.

* The United States has eased some export licenses for Syria, mostly in the area of aircraft.

* Syria’s deputy foreign minister was invited to Washington in October, the first such visit in several years.

So how’s that working out? As we’ve seen, Bashar al-Assad has moved ever closer to Iran (the opposite reaction intended by the Obama team), even as he displays his contempt for the U.S.:

Syria’s president has accused the United States of sowing chaos overseas, snubbing Washington’s efforts to improve ties with Damascus. Syrian President Bashar Assad told Al-Hayat newspaper in an interview published Tuesday that the US “created chaos in every place it entered.” “Is Afghanistan stable? Is Somalia stable? Did they bring stability to Lebanon in 1983?” Assad asked, referring to US intervention in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

To this, the U.S. replied, “Are not.” In diplomatic terms: “Spokesman P.J. Crowley charged that Syria is destabilizing Lebanon by supplying arms to militants and issuing arrest warrants for Lebanese officials. ‘These activities by Syria directly undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty and directly undermine Syria’s stated commitments to Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence,’ Crowley said. ‘We believe we’re playing a constructive role in the region, and we believe that Syria is not.”’ This “tough retort,” according to the press account, is what passes for the administration’s Syria policy.

And speaking of Lebanon:

The Obama administration, already struggling to stave off a collapse of Middle East peace talks, is increasingly alarmed by unrest in Lebanon, whose own fragile peace is being threatened by militant opponents of a politically charged investigation into the killing in 2005 of a former Lebanese leader.

With an international tribunal expected to hand down indictments in the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in the coming months, the Hezbollah militia is maneuvering furiously to halt the investigation, or failing that, to unseat Lebanon’s government, which backs it.

The New York Times helpfully offers that the Obama team has, contrary to appearances, really (honestly!) not been obsessed with the failed Palestinian-Israeli non-peace talks. It has instead been focused on this looming crisis:

The administration’s worries go beyond Lebanon itself, and help explain why it, and not the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, has been the major preoccupation of American foreign policy officials for the last few weeks. The diplomatic activity follows a splashy tour of Lebanon by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who got an ecstatic reception from members of Hezbollah, the Shiite movement financed and equipped by Iran. American officials were particularly struck by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip to a small town a few miles north of the Israeli border, where he called for the “Zionists to be wiped out.”

With unintended comedic effect, the dispatched U.S. envoy, Jeffrey D. Feltman, proclaims: “You don’t want the perception of a vacuum. … You don’t want the perception that Ahmadinejad is the only game in town.” Umm, it’s a little late for that realization, isn’t it? And if that’s the problem, then throwing ourselves at the mullahs’ feet in order to restart the charade of nuclear talks is hardly going to improve matters.

It is not simply that Iran is moving steadily toward membership in the nuclear powers’ club. It is not only that the UN is plotting to carve up Israel. No, these are symptoms of an underlying problem: the U.S.’s retreat from the Middle East and the decline of American influence. There are other signs as well.

The administration has been demonstrating abject weakness with Syria. It mounted no meaningful response to violations of UN Resolution 1701. It has attempted to confirm and redeploy an ambassador to Damascus. Back in March, Elliott Abrams reeled off the list of “engagement” moves that bore an uncanny resemblance to appeasement:

* High level envoys have been sent to Damascus: Under Secretary of State William Burns visited Syria in mid-February, the highest ranking U.S. official to set foot there in more than five years, and Middle East envoy George Mitchell has visited three times. High-ranking Central Command officers have been sent to Damascus to discuss cooperation against terrorism.

* President Obama has now nominated an ambassador to Damascus, the first since Margaret Scobey was withdrawn in 2005 after the murder of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Lebanon (which was widely blamed on the Assad regime).

* The president has also removed the American block to Syria’s attempt to join the World Trade Organization.

* The United States has eased some export licenses for Syria, mostly in the area of aircraft.

* Syria’s deputy foreign minister was invited to Washington in October, the first such visit in several years.

So how’s that working out? As we’ve seen, Bashar al-Assad has moved ever closer to Iran (the opposite reaction intended by the Obama team), even as he displays his contempt for the U.S.:

Syria’s president has accused the United States of sowing chaos overseas, snubbing Washington’s efforts to improve ties with Damascus. Syrian President Bashar Assad told Al-Hayat newspaper in an interview published Tuesday that the US “created chaos in every place it entered.” “Is Afghanistan stable? Is Somalia stable? Did they bring stability to Lebanon in 1983?” Assad asked, referring to US intervention in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

To this, the U.S. replied, “Are not.” In diplomatic terms: “Spokesman P.J. Crowley charged that Syria is destabilizing Lebanon by supplying arms to militants and issuing arrest warrants for Lebanese officials. ‘These activities by Syria directly undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty and directly undermine Syria’s stated commitments to Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence,’ Crowley said. ‘We believe we’re playing a constructive role in the region, and we believe that Syria is not.”’ This “tough retort,” according to the press account, is what passes for the administration’s Syria policy.

And speaking of Lebanon:

The Obama administration, already struggling to stave off a collapse of Middle East peace talks, is increasingly alarmed by unrest in Lebanon, whose own fragile peace is being threatened by militant opponents of a politically charged investigation into the killing in 2005 of a former Lebanese leader.

With an international tribunal expected to hand down indictments in the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in the coming months, the Hezbollah militia is maneuvering furiously to halt the investigation, or failing that, to unseat Lebanon’s government, which backs it.

The New York Times helpfully offers that the Obama team has, contrary to appearances, really (honestly!) not been obsessed with the failed Palestinian-Israeli non-peace talks. It has instead been focused on this looming crisis:

The administration’s worries go beyond Lebanon itself, and help explain why it, and not the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, has been the major preoccupation of American foreign policy officials for the last few weeks. The diplomatic activity follows a splashy tour of Lebanon by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who got an ecstatic reception from members of Hezbollah, the Shiite movement financed and equipped by Iran. American officials were particularly struck by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip to a small town a few miles north of the Israeli border, where he called for the “Zionists to be wiped out.”

With unintended comedic effect, the dispatched U.S. envoy, Jeffrey D. Feltman, proclaims: “You don’t want the perception of a vacuum. … You don’t want the perception that Ahmadinejad is the only game in town.” Umm, it’s a little late for that realization, isn’t it? And if that’s the problem, then throwing ourselves at the mullahs’ feet in order to restart the charade of nuclear talks is hardly going to improve matters.

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Or He Could Hold His Breath Until He Faints

The Palestinian leadership in all its majesty:

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas informed U.S. envoy George Mitchell last week that the renewal of settlement construction will not only bring about the collapse of peace talks but it will also induce his resignation from the post of Palestinian Authority president.

According to Palestinian sources close to the PA leadership, Abbas told Mitchell of his plans during their last meeting together.

Abbas’s resignation means the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority, since it was agreed inside the government that no one from the leadership of Fatah will step up to replace Abbas as president, and no new elections will be held.

In a conversation he held last week in his plane with a reporter, Abbas said “this is the last time that you will fly with me while I am president of the PA.”

Goodness knows how Mitchell responded. But this sort of negotiation by temper tantrum places the entire “peace process” in perfect perspective. For 60 years the Palestinians have been playing the rejectionist, victim card. They figured they had the perfect “mark” in Obama and his hapless crew. In a sense, they were right; never have we had a president so susceptible to Palestinian bluster and so willing to heed their refrain of victimology. But those nettlesome Jews are having none of it. They’ve grown weary of the gamesmanship, have learned the futility of land for not-peace, and have figured out that Abbas not going to quit (And lose his invitations to European capitals? Perish the thought!), nor is he going to recognize the Jewish state.

So Abbas can return or not. Quit or not. I hope the Obami now fully appreciate the infantile leadership they have been coddling. And, by the way, why hasn’t George Mitchell threatened to quit?

The Palestinian leadership in all its majesty:

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas informed U.S. envoy George Mitchell last week that the renewal of settlement construction will not only bring about the collapse of peace talks but it will also induce his resignation from the post of Palestinian Authority president.

According to Palestinian sources close to the PA leadership, Abbas told Mitchell of his plans during their last meeting together.

Abbas’s resignation means the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority, since it was agreed inside the government that no one from the leadership of Fatah will step up to replace Abbas as president, and no new elections will be held.

In a conversation he held last week in his plane with a reporter, Abbas said “this is the last time that you will fly with me while I am president of the PA.”

Goodness knows how Mitchell responded. But this sort of negotiation by temper tantrum places the entire “peace process” in perfect perspective. For 60 years the Palestinians have been playing the rejectionist, victim card. They figured they had the perfect “mark” in Obama and his hapless crew. In a sense, they were right; never have we had a president so susceptible to Palestinian bluster and so willing to heed their refrain of victimology. But those nettlesome Jews are having none of it. They’ve grown weary of the gamesmanship, have learned the futility of land for not-peace, and have figured out that Abbas not going to quit (And lose his invitations to European capitals? Perish the thought!), nor is he going to recognize the Jewish state.

So Abbas can return or not. Quit or not. I hope the Obami now fully appreciate the infantile leadership they have been coddling. And, by the way, why hasn’t George Mitchell threatened to quit?

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Planting the Flag: Starting Gun in the Race to Jerusalem

If you need proof that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to plant the Revolutionary Iranian flag in Jerusalem, consider this. A replica of the Al-Aqsa mosque is being constructed by Iran in southern Lebanon as a prop for Ahmadinejad’s visit next week. The Iranian president will officially open the mosque for business and be photographed in front of it throwing stones toward Israel. And the mosque, according to Israeli reports, has the flag of Iran flying over it.

Hezbollah has flown Iranian flags in southern Lebanon for some time. The terrorists operate an Iran-sponsored fiefdom there; UNIFIL has been unable for months to conduct patrols in towns denied to it by Hezbollah, a pattern repeated this past weekend when the UN force sought to investigate a Hezbollah weapons cache in its patrol zone.

But Iran and Hezbollah have chosen to take advantage until now of the minimal independent news coverage in southern Lebanon. Little gets into the Western press about the situation there, and when it does, it doesn’t come from Hezbollah or Iran. What Ahmadinejad plans to do next week, with media coverage and pointed images, marks a major “informational” break. It’s a plan to draw back the veil and clarify Hezbollah’s loyalties and Iran’s involvement. And the central theme is the Iranian flag symbolically aloft over Jerusalem.

This blatant signal is something Ahmadinejad should be prevented from sending. It will be as much a shot across Saudi Arabia’s bow as across Israel’s: a symbolic announcement that the “race to Jerusalem” is on. As discussed here, the Saudis — default leaders of the Arab world — already show signs of preparing to compete in that race.

Unfortunately, the fecklessness of the UN extends beyond an impotent UNIFIL. The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, British diplomat Michael Williams, met with an Iranian envoy last week to discuss the visit by Ahmadinejad and approved it as a “significant event.” He went on to hail “Tehran’s balanced approach and inclusive relations with all political and religious parties in [Lebanon].” The UN will not be a source of responsible diplomacy; neither will Russia, which is positioning itself to back the winner of the race to Jerusalem. The EU remains mired in domestic constituency tending, and therefore focused on the legal status of Gaza flotillas and the arguing of anti-Israel resolutions in Brussels.

Among the Middle East Quartet, only the U.S. retains such a posture as would make it possible to take action against the beginning of a “race to Jerusalem.” The pressure point is the government in Beirut, which, if it accepts Ahmadinejad’s visit, must exercise its formal sovereignty over the southern territory and ensure that no Iranian flags are flown over anything but Ahmadinejad’s official convoy. Israel is pressing the Lebanese to cancel the visit; if the U.S. cannot bring itself to do that, our diplomats should at least embolden the Lebanese to get the Iranian flags out of there. This is not meaningless symbolism. The fact that it’s Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah who feel emboldened at present is the most meaningful one of all.

If you need proof that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to plant the Revolutionary Iranian flag in Jerusalem, consider this. A replica of the Al-Aqsa mosque is being constructed by Iran in southern Lebanon as a prop for Ahmadinejad’s visit next week. The Iranian president will officially open the mosque for business and be photographed in front of it throwing stones toward Israel. And the mosque, according to Israeli reports, has the flag of Iran flying over it.

Hezbollah has flown Iranian flags in southern Lebanon for some time. The terrorists operate an Iran-sponsored fiefdom there; UNIFIL has been unable for months to conduct patrols in towns denied to it by Hezbollah, a pattern repeated this past weekend when the UN force sought to investigate a Hezbollah weapons cache in its patrol zone.

But Iran and Hezbollah have chosen to take advantage until now of the minimal independent news coverage in southern Lebanon. Little gets into the Western press about the situation there, and when it does, it doesn’t come from Hezbollah or Iran. What Ahmadinejad plans to do next week, with media coverage and pointed images, marks a major “informational” break. It’s a plan to draw back the veil and clarify Hezbollah’s loyalties and Iran’s involvement. And the central theme is the Iranian flag symbolically aloft over Jerusalem.

This blatant signal is something Ahmadinejad should be prevented from sending. It will be as much a shot across Saudi Arabia’s bow as across Israel’s: a symbolic announcement that the “race to Jerusalem” is on. As discussed here, the Saudis — default leaders of the Arab world — already show signs of preparing to compete in that race.

Unfortunately, the fecklessness of the UN extends beyond an impotent UNIFIL. The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, British diplomat Michael Williams, met with an Iranian envoy last week to discuss the visit by Ahmadinejad and approved it as a “significant event.” He went on to hail “Tehran’s balanced approach and inclusive relations with all political and religious parties in [Lebanon].” The UN will not be a source of responsible diplomacy; neither will Russia, which is positioning itself to back the winner of the race to Jerusalem. The EU remains mired in domestic constituency tending, and therefore focused on the legal status of Gaza flotillas and the arguing of anti-Israel resolutions in Brussels.

Among the Middle East Quartet, only the U.S. retains such a posture as would make it possible to take action against the beginning of a “race to Jerusalem.” The pressure point is the government in Beirut, which, if it accepts Ahmadinejad’s visit, must exercise its formal sovereignty over the southern territory and ensure that no Iranian flags are flown over anything but Ahmadinejad’s official convoy. Israel is pressing the Lebanese to cancel the visit; if the U.S. cannot bring itself to do that, our diplomats should at least embolden the Lebanese to get the Iranian flags out of there. This is not meaningless symbolism. The fact that it’s Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah who feel emboldened at present is the most meaningful one of all.

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Maybe the Peace Processors Just Don’t Have a Clue

Leslie Gelb fervently hopes that “the Obama administration did not shove Palestinians and Israelis into direct talks, for the first time in over two years, just to get them talking to each other.” Umm … but there really isn’t any evidence to the contrary, is there? No, sighs Gelb, there isn’t:

Many officials tell me that neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel nor President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority came close to giving Mr. Obama any specific indications of compromise in their White House meetings two weeks ago. In other words, neither offered any concrete basis for accommodation. They spoke only of being serious and bargaining in good faith, the usual stuff. Nor did either leader push Mr. Obama into these talks; Mr. Obama pushed them. Netanyahu wasn’t eager for talks at all, and Abbas favored them only with good and prior indications of success.

In fact, a PA official told the Jerusalem Post that “he had ‘no explanation’ for why some US government officials were sounding optimistic about the direct talks.” That may be the most honest statement ever uttered by a Palestinian spokesman in the past 60 years. Read More

Leslie Gelb fervently hopes that “the Obama administration did not shove Palestinians and Israelis into direct talks, for the first time in over two years, just to get them talking to each other.” Umm … but there really isn’t any evidence to the contrary, is there? No, sighs Gelb, there isn’t:

Many officials tell me that neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel nor President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority came close to giving Mr. Obama any specific indications of compromise in their White House meetings two weeks ago. In other words, neither offered any concrete basis for accommodation. They spoke only of being serious and bargaining in good faith, the usual stuff. Nor did either leader push Mr. Obama into these talks; Mr. Obama pushed them. Netanyahu wasn’t eager for talks at all, and Abbas favored them only with good and prior indications of success.

In fact, a PA official told the Jerusalem Post that “he had ‘no explanation’ for why some US government officials were sounding optimistic about the direct talks.” That may be the most honest statement ever uttered by a Palestinian spokesman in the past 60 years.

As many of us predicted, Obama, a peace-process worshiper of the first order, and his envoy, who is convinced that if he solved the Northern Ireland crisis he can bring peace to the Middle East, are now facing the collapse of their 18-month venture into Middle East policymaking. (By the way, given Mitchell’s performance in the Middle East, do you get the feeling that the settlement of the Northern Ireland conflict was coincidental to, not a result of, his presence?) Gelb, as many of us on the right have argued, explains why peace talks can be quite dangerous if you really don’t know what you’re doing:

The real danger between these two star-crossed inhabitants of the same Holy Land is not failure to negotiate; it’s the failure of the negotiations. Flashpoints in the Holy Land tend to burst after they sit down at the negotiating table, give their speeches, fail to agree, and watch the process collapse. That is when the explosions begin. That is when Palestinian terrorism reignites in Israel. People tend to resort to violence when their hopes and expectations are dashed formally and frontally, not when they are merely hoping.

Actually, in this case, “people” don’t — the Palestinians do. (There’s no Jewish intifada.) And the Palestinians also resorted to violence in anticipation of the talks. Really, any excuse will do.

The collapse of the talks would not merely raise the specter of another intifada; it would threaten to decimate what is left of the president’s prestige and credibility. Hence, Gelb sees reason for Bibi to spare Obama that humiliation:

The Israeli hawk understands full well, though he doesn’t like it, that he must burnish and safekeep ties with America. For the time being, that requires good ties with Mr. Obama, whom Netanyahu and his fellow hawks don’t like very much. To them, Mr. Obama sounded too pro-Arab in his first years in office, and they don’t have much trust in him. So, they have to get along with him well enough for at least another year – or until the American presidential election season erupts. At that point, these particular Israelis will pray for rain and a Republican president.

But, of course, both sides must stay in the room, and so far it seems that Abbas is itching to get out.

This brings us back to Gelb’s concern: maybe the Obami had not a clue what they were doing and now have a mess they are not equipped to clean up. And gosh, maybe the same is true of Iran. Perhaps they were silly to assume that engagement and Swiss-cheese sanctions were going to work to disarm the mullahs and now have no idea what to do. To be blunt, the president’s supporters and even some critics have both assumed that there is at work here a level of foreign policy competence and clearheadedness that may not, in fact, exist. Gelb hints that what we are dealing with are rank and arrogant amateurs. Yes, it’s scary.

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The Consequences of Clinton’s Expectations Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama’s Middle East Policy: Incompetence Continues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Krauthammer and Dean Agree: Obama Blew It

Charles Krauthammer, as he is wont to do, makes a salient observation. On Obama’s Iftar speech at the White House, which begat arguably the worst week of his presidency, he writes:

It takes no courage whatsoever to bask in the applause of a Muslim audience as you promise to stand stoutly for their right to build a mosque, giving the unmistakable impression that you endorse the idea. What takes courage is to then respectfully ask that audience to reflect upon the wisdom of the project and to consider whether the imam’s alleged goal of interfaith understanding might not be better achieved by accepting the New York governor’s offer to help find another site.

In his own way (with the required sneers at conservatives), Howard Dean, of all people, makes the same point:

This center may be intended as a bridge or a healing gesture but it will not be perceived that way unless a dialogue with a real attempt to understand each other happens. That means the builders have to be willing to go beyond what is their right and be willing to talk about feelings whether the feelings are “justified” or not. No doubt the Republic will survive if this center is built on its current site or not. But I think this is a missed opportunity to try to have an open discussion about why this is a big deal, because it is a big deal to a lot of Americans who are not just right-wing politicians pushing the hate button again. I think those people need to be heard respectfully, whether they are right or whether they are wrong.

But not Obama – the great healer, the no-Blue-America-no-Red-America politician. In reality, Obama is stymied when he can’t charm his opposition or shame them into accepting his position.

We have seen this consistently in his Middle East policy. In fact, it is his habitual mode of Muslim outreach — whether in his fawning engagement of Iran (which demanded neglect of the Green Movement), his failed attempt to dispatch an ambassador to Syria, his Cairo speechifying, or his appointing an envoy, who voiced suspicion of the prosecution of terrorists by his own government, to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Obama imagines that by simply telling Muslim leaders (certainly, not democracy advocates or human-rights protesters) what they want to hear, we will improve our image and cool their ire toward the U.S. But this is childlike and shortsighted.

If one is really going to advance our interests or mediate successfully between parties with conflicting interests and values, it won’t do to simply stamp your foot and simply insist everyone show empathy toward and defer to the Muslims’ point of view (or that of one segment of Muslims). It’s not going to win over the 68 percent of Americans. It’s not going to bring peace to the Middle East. It’s not going to make Obama an effective or popular president.

Of course I don’t believe Obama is a Muslim. But his excessive deference to Muslim states abroad and now to the American Muslim community has set many Americans’ teeth on edge and fueled conspiratorialists’ suspicions. There’s not much he should or can do about the latter. But the American people, not to mention our allies, sense that there is something very much amiss in all the genuflecting. That, in part, is why the mosque controversy has been so devastating for Obama.

Charles Krauthammer, as he is wont to do, makes a salient observation. On Obama’s Iftar speech at the White House, which begat arguably the worst week of his presidency, he writes:

It takes no courage whatsoever to bask in the applause of a Muslim audience as you promise to stand stoutly for their right to build a mosque, giving the unmistakable impression that you endorse the idea. What takes courage is to then respectfully ask that audience to reflect upon the wisdom of the project and to consider whether the imam’s alleged goal of interfaith understanding might not be better achieved by accepting the New York governor’s offer to help find another site.

In his own way (with the required sneers at conservatives), Howard Dean, of all people, makes the same point:

This center may be intended as a bridge or a healing gesture but it will not be perceived that way unless a dialogue with a real attempt to understand each other happens. That means the builders have to be willing to go beyond what is their right and be willing to talk about feelings whether the feelings are “justified” or not. No doubt the Republic will survive if this center is built on its current site or not. But I think this is a missed opportunity to try to have an open discussion about why this is a big deal, because it is a big deal to a lot of Americans who are not just right-wing politicians pushing the hate button again. I think those people need to be heard respectfully, whether they are right or whether they are wrong.

But not Obama – the great healer, the no-Blue-America-no-Red-America politician. In reality, Obama is stymied when he can’t charm his opposition or shame them into accepting his position.

We have seen this consistently in his Middle East policy. In fact, it is his habitual mode of Muslim outreach — whether in his fawning engagement of Iran (which demanded neglect of the Green Movement), his failed attempt to dispatch an ambassador to Syria, his Cairo speechifying, or his appointing an envoy, who voiced suspicion of the prosecution of terrorists by his own government, to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Obama imagines that by simply telling Muslim leaders (certainly, not democracy advocates or human-rights protesters) what they want to hear, we will improve our image and cool their ire toward the U.S. But this is childlike and shortsighted.

If one is really going to advance our interests or mediate successfully between parties with conflicting interests and values, it won’t do to simply stamp your foot and simply insist everyone show empathy toward and defer to the Muslims’ point of view (or that of one segment of Muslims). It’s not going to win over the 68 percent of Americans. It’s not going to bring peace to the Middle East. It’s not going to make Obama an effective or popular president.

Of course I don’t believe Obama is a Muslim. But his excessive deference to Muslim states abroad and now to the American Muslim community has set many Americans’ teeth on edge and fueled conspiratorialists’ suspicions. There’s not much he should or can do about the latter. But the American people, not to mention our allies, sense that there is something very much amiss in all the genuflecting. That, in part, is why the mosque controversy has been so devastating for Obama.

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Obama’s Ground Zero Hoorah Unmatched

Democrats and their media enablers have fallen into the habit of using George W. Bush (when not bashing him) as a shield to deflect Obama’s inanities. Sometimes the comparison is factually deficient (as with civilian trials for terrorists), but it’s a childish game that only succeeds if their rhetorical opponents insist on defending everything Bush ever said or did. Conservatives need not play that game.

Dear conservatives, here’s a demonstration of how one disarms those taunting the “Bush did it too! line”:

The practice of hosting an annual iftar was established by George W. Bush in November of 2001. It was an extremely ill-conceived effort to persuade the world in the period immediately following the Islamofascist slaughter of 3,000 Americans that we were not Islam-allergic, and it remains so today, almost a decade later. Islamofascists are still trying, and succeeding, to kill Americans, and no amount of genuflecting at White House dinners will make it otherwise.

The same, I would suggest, is true of the dopey idea of appointing an envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference. It was a bad idea for Bush to do it; it’s a disaster in an administration addicted to apologizing to and for the Muslim World.

And, as with so many other things, the Bush error with regard to Iftar is made much worse by Obama’s stomach-turning tendency to laddle out the obsequiousness on all matters Islam (“the Obamic endorsement of the Ground Zero Mosque project, an act of appeasement on the order of his Cairo speech and his flirtation with the despots of Iran”). Really, was it necessary for Obama to doff his cap to the Ground Zero mosque from the Iftar fest — as if to emphasize just how deep is his concern for the Muslim World and how critical it is to shield them from the whiff of criticism or scrutiny? And how brave the president was — you know, to put this out as the ultimate Friday news dump, after lawmakers and many pundits had scampered away for the weekend.

Then to top it off, when the howls of protest went up, Obama retreated (sort of) – no doubt, to the dismay of his comrades on the left — and claimed he really wasn’t offering anything but a legal analysis:

“I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there,” Obama continued. “I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about. And I think it’s very important as difficult as some of these issues are that we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about.”

But his comments Friday night were widely interpreted as an endorsement of plans to build a mosque a few blocks away from where nearly 3,000 Americans perished at the hands of Islamic terrorists on 9/11 – an interpretation the White House hadn’t disputed, up until Obama’s comments in Florida.

This is how one goes about alienating conservatives, liberals, and everyone in between.

All in all, this is as unseemly a performance (and there have been plenty) as this president has given. Well, maybe it’s a tie with his “condemnation” of Israel for — oh yes — building in the Jewish state’s own capital. Because while Obama believes that Muslims have “the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances,” regardless of who it annoys and offends, he considers it an unacceptable affront to him and his Palestinian clients for Jews to build apartments in their eternal capital. Funny, how that works out. (And notice how in consecutive paragraphs Obama goes from “hallowed ground” to “private property in Lower Manhattan.”)

Conservatives infuriated (but not surprised) by the president’s remarks might ponder three comforting thoughts. First, all the Democrats on the 2010 ballot — and maybe 2012 — will face the question as to whether they buy into Obama cheerleading for the Ground Zero mosque.

Second, in the speculation department, perhaps this shows just how indifferent Obama is to the notion that he, to earn a second term, will have to bridge the chasm between his core beliefs and those of the voters. (Could he have been serious when he said he wasn’t much concerned with a second term?)

And finally, if Obama tries an “oh never mind” defense (is he simply trying now to confuse everyone about what he thinks?), he’s going to manage to further depress and infuriate his own base, who understood him to be championing for the mosque builders but now see what a mess he’s made of the entire affair. (Former Democratic Rep. Martin Frost: “I would prefer the president be a little more of a politician and a little less of a college professor. … While a defensible position [which one of his positions is Frost referring to, I wonder], it will not play well in the parts of the country where Democrats need the most help.”)

In sum, this is the low point (so far!) of the Obama presidency, an embarrassment to his supporters (whatever their stance on the Ground Zero mosque) and another dollop of bad news for the Democrats. But, most important, it is a tragedy that we should have such a president at such a time. We will have to muddle through in spite of him.

Democrats and their media enablers have fallen into the habit of using George W. Bush (when not bashing him) as a shield to deflect Obama’s inanities. Sometimes the comparison is factually deficient (as with civilian trials for terrorists), but it’s a childish game that only succeeds if their rhetorical opponents insist on defending everything Bush ever said or did. Conservatives need not play that game.

Dear conservatives, here’s a demonstration of how one disarms those taunting the “Bush did it too! line”:

The practice of hosting an annual iftar was established by George W. Bush in November of 2001. It was an extremely ill-conceived effort to persuade the world in the period immediately following the Islamofascist slaughter of 3,000 Americans that we were not Islam-allergic, and it remains so today, almost a decade later. Islamofascists are still trying, and succeeding, to kill Americans, and no amount of genuflecting at White House dinners will make it otherwise.

The same, I would suggest, is true of the dopey idea of appointing an envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference. It was a bad idea for Bush to do it; it’s a disaster in an administration addicted to apologizing to and for the Muslim World.

And, as with so many other things, the Bush error with regard to Iftar is made much worse by Obama’s stomach-turning tendency to laddle out the obsequiousness on all matters Islam (“the Obamic endorsement of the Ground Zero Mosque project, an act of appeasement on the order of his Cairo speech and his flirtation with the despots of Iran”). Really, was it necessary for Obama to doff his cap to the Ground Zero mosque from the Iftar fest — as if to emphasize just how deep is his concern for the Muslim World and how critical it is to shield them from the whiff of criticism or scrutiny? And how brave the president was — you know, to put this out as the ultimate Friday news dump, after lawmakers and many pundits had scampered away for the weekend.

Then to top it off, when the howls of protest went up, Obama retreated (sort of) – no doubt, to the dismay of his comrades on the left — and claimed he really wasn’t offering anything but a legal analysis:

“I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there,” Obama continued. “I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about. And I think it’s very important as difficult as some of these issues are that we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about.”

But his comments Friday night were widely interpreted as an endorsement of plans to build a mosque a few blocks away from where nearly 3,000 Americans perished at the hands of Islamic terrorists on 9/11 – an interpretation the White House hadn’t disputed, up until Obama’s comments in Florida.

This is how one goes about alienating conservatives, liberals, and everyone in between.

All in all, this is as unseemly a performance (and there have been plenty) as this president has given. Well, maybe it’s a tie with his “condemnation” of Israel for — oh yes — building in the Jewish state’s own capital. Because while Obama believes that Muslims have “the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances,” regardless of who it annoys and offends, he considers it an unacceptable affront to him and his Palestinian clients for Jews to build apartments in their eternal capital. Funny, how that works out. (And notice how in consecutive paragraphs Obama goes from “hallowed ground” to “private property in Lower Manhattan.”)

Conservatives infuriated (but not surprised) by the president’s remarks might ponder three comforting thoughts. First, all the Democrats on the 2010 ballot — and maybe 2012 — will face the question as to whether they buy into Obama cheerleading for the Ground Zero mosque.

Second, in the speculation department, perhaps this shows just how indifferent Obama is to the notion that he, to earn a second term, will have to bridge the chasm between his core beliefs and those of the voters. (Could he have been serious when he said he wasn’t much concerned with a second term?)

And finally, if Obama tries an “oh never mind” defense (is he simply trying now to confuse everyone about what he thinks?), he’s going to manage to further depress and infuriate his own base, who understood him to be championing for the mosque builders but now see what a mess he’s made of the entire affair. (Former Democratic Rep. Martin Frost: “I would prefer the president be a little more of a politician and a little less of a college professor. … While a defensible position [which one of his positions is Frost referring to, I wonder], it will not play well in the parts of the country where Democrats need the most help.”)

In sum, this is the low point (so far!) of the Obama presidency, an embarrassment to his supporters (whatever their stance on the Ground Zero mosque) and another dollop of bad news for the Democrats. But, most important, it is a tragedy that we should have such a president at such a time. We will have to muddle through in spite of him.

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RE: The Farce Ends

Jen, the farce has been exposed, but it is not likely to end.

Nearly 15 months ago, weeks after forming a coalition government with parties to both his left and right, Benjamin Netanyahu came to the White House and announced he was ready for immediate negotiations without preconditions. A week later, Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Washington and announced his strategy to the Washington Post:

Mahmoud Abbas says there is nothing for him to do. … On Wednesday afternoon, as he prepared for the White House meeting in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, Abbas insisted that his only role was to wait. He will wait … for the Obama administration to force a recalcitrant Netanyahu to freeze Israeli settlement construction and publicly accept the two-state formula.

Until Israel meets his demands, the Palestinian president says, he will refuse to begin negotiations. He won’t even agree to help Obama’s envoy, George J. Mitchell, persuade Arab states to take small confidence-building measures.

The following month, Netanyahu publicly endorsed the two-state formula; after that, he produced a 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction. Obama proved unable to persuade any Arab state to take any confidence-building measure, despite a personal visit (and bow) to the King of Saudi Arabia and what is surely the most pathetic public plea in the history of American diplomacy: Hillary Clinton’s speech to the Council on Foreign Relations begging Arab states to take some steps, “however modest,” toward normalization with Israel.

In December 2009, Abbas told the Israeli press that final-status negotiations could be completed in six months if Israel would just completely halt construction for six months. In George Mitchell’s January 2010 interview with Charlie Rose, Rose noted the moratorium was for 10 months and then had this colloquy with Mitchell:

CHARLIE ROSE:  That gives you an incentive to say to the parties, what? … if settlements are important to you or the absence of settlements are important to you, you better get something done before the moratorium ends because I don’t think we can get it again.

GEORGE MITCHELL:  Charlie, will you come with me on my next visit and make that spiel, because it might sound better coming from you.  I’ve made it several times.

Since then, Abbas has increased his pre-negotiation demands: not only a complete construction halt but also acceptance of: (1) the indefensible 1967 borders as the basis of negotiation; and (2) limitation of security arrangements to foreign peacekeepers. These conditions are designed to insure that negotiations cannot start.

But the reason the now-obvious farce will not end is that the real deadline for this exercise in smart diplomacy is September, when three events coalesce: (1) the end of the four-month period for “proximity” talks; (2) the end of the 10-month settlement moratorium; and (3) the meeting of the UN General Assembly, where the Obama administration hopes to announce the “success” of its year-and-a-half efforts to produce… drum roll… direct talks! Until then, the show must go on.

Jen, the farce has been exposed, but it is not likely to end.

Nearly 15 months ago, weeks after forming a coalition government with parties to both his left and right, Benjamin Netanyahu came to the White House and announced he was ready for immediate negotiations without preconditions. A week later, Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Washington and announced his strategy to the Washington Post:

Mahmoud Abbas says there is nothing for him to do. … On Wednesday afternoon, as he prepared for the White House meeting in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, Abbas insisted that his only role was to wait. He will wait … for the Obama administration to force a recalcitrant Netanyahu to freeze Israeli settlement construction and publicly accept the two-state formula.

Until Israel meets his demands, the Palestinian president says, he will refuse to begin negotiations. He won’t even agree to help Obama’s envoy, George J. Mitchell, persuade Arab states to take small confidence-building measures.

The following month, Netanyahu publicly endorsed the two-state formula; after that, he produced a 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction. Obama proved unable to persuade any Arab state to take any confidence-building measure, despite a personal visit (and bow) to the King of Saudi Arabia and what is surely the most pathetic public plea in the history of American diplomacy: Hillary Clinton’s speech to the Council on Foreign Relations begging Arab states to take some steps, “however modest,” toward normalization with Israel.

In December 2009, Abbas told the Israeli press that final-status negotiations could be completed in six months if Israel would just completely halt construction for six months. In George Mitchell’s January 2010 interview with Charlie Rose, Rose noted the moratorium was for 10 months and then had this colloquy with Mitchell:

CHARLIE ROSE:  That gives you an incentive to say to the parties, what? … if settlements are important to you or the absence of settlements are important to you, you better get something done before the moratorium ends because I don’t think we can get it again.

GEORGE MITCHELL:  Charlie, will you come with me on my next visit and make that spiel, because it might sound better coming from you.  I’ve made it several times.

Since then, Abbas has increased his pre-negotiation demands: not only a complete construction halt but also acceptance of: (1) the indefensible 1967 borders as the basis of negotiation; and (2) limitation of security arrangements to foreign peacekeepers. These conditions are designed to insure that negotiations cannot start.

But the reason the now-obvious farce will not end is that the real deadline for this exercise in smart diplomacy is September, when three events coalesce: (1) the end of the four-month period for “proximity” talks; (2) the end of the 10-month settlement moratorium; and (3) the meeting of the UN General Assembly, where the Obama administration hopes to announce the “success” of its year-and-a-half efforts to produce… drum roll… direct talks! Until then, the show must go on.

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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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Flotsam and Jetsam

Israel can bank on the Tea Partiers (but the “pro-Israel left” – an oxymoron if there ever was one – not at all): “Now that the congressional supporters of the Tea Party movement have formed their own caucus, their policy positions are becoming easier to track. Expanding their foray into foreign policy, 21 members of the new caucus have now come out explicitly endorsing Israel’s right to strike Iran’s nuclear program.”

You can’t take any “facts” in an E.J. Dionne column to the bank. Quin Hillyer reads (and demolishes) Dionne’s latest so you don’t have to.

You can bank on Sen. Joe Lieberman to see through the hysteria on the Afghanistan war-documents leak: “The disclosure of tens of thousands of classified documents on the Afghanistan war is profoundly irresponsible and harmful to our national security. The Obama administration is absolutely right to condemn these leaks. ‘Most of these documents add nothing to the public understanding of the war in Afghanistan. The materials –which cover the period from 2004 to 2009 — reflect the reality, recognized by everyone, that the insurgency was gaining momentum during these years while our coalition was losing ground.’”

I guess the Palestinians can’t bank on Obama to deliver up Israel on a platter: “A senior U.S. envoy warned the Palestinian president that he must move quickly to direct talks with Israel if he wants President Barack Obama’s help in setting up a Palestinian state, according to an internal Palestinian document obtained by The Associated Press on Monday.”

Democrats banking on Obama or the capping of the BP oil leak to lift their poll numbers are going to be disappointed: “Republican candidates now hold a 10-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, July 25, the widest gap between the two parties in several weeks.”

You can’t bank on the liberal media even to advertise their own leaks accurately these days. Peter Feaver: “Another week, and another Big Bombshell Story in the national security press, this time a series of stories based on the leak by Wikileaks of over 90,000 classified cables and reports from the Afghan theater. (A sidebar: The word “leak” just doesn’t seem adequate for a data dump and security breach of this magnitude. This is not so much a leak as a gusher.) … There does not appear to be any bombshell revelation here. Perhaps the more interesting and damning revelations are to come, but presumably the newspapers led with their best stuff.”

The Obama-Reid-Pelosi troika can’t even bank on a First Amendment–stomping win on campaign-finance “reform”: “Despite some last-minute prodding from President Barack Obama on Monday, Senate Democrats still are scrambling to find the remaining few votes needed to overcome a filibuster of a campaign finance bill that appears destined to fail Tuesday.”

Child rapists? Anti-Semites? You can always bank on Hollywood to support their own.

Israel can bank on the Tea Partiers (but the “pro-Israel left” – an oxymoron if there ever was one – not at all): “Now that the congressional supporters of the Tea Party movement have formed their own caucus, their policy positions are becoming easier to track. Expanding their foray into foreign policy, 21 members of the new caucus have now come out explicitly endorsing Israel’s right to strike Iran’s nuclear program.”

You can’t take any “facts” in an E.J. Dionne column to the bank. Quin Hillyer reads (and demolishes) Dionne’s latest so you don’t have to.

You can bank on Sen. Joe Lieberman to see through the hysteria on the Afghanistan war-documents leak: “The disclosure of tens of thousands of classified documents on the Afghanistan war is profoundly irresponsible and harmful to our national security. The Obama administration is absolutely right to condemn these leaks. ‘Most of these documents add nothing to the public understanding of the war in Afghanistan. The materials –which cover the period from 2004 to 2009 — reflect the reality, recognized by everyone, that the insurgency was gaining momentum during these years while our coalition was losing ground.’”

I guess the Palestinians can’t bank on Obama to deliver up Israel on a platter: “A senior U.S. envoy warned the Palestinian president that he must move quickly to direct talks with Israel if he wants President Barack Obama’s help in setting up a Palestinian state, according to an internal Palestinian document obtained by The Associated Press on Monday.”

Democrats banking on Obama or the capping of the BP oil leak to lift their poll numbers are going to be disappointed: “Republican candidates now hold a 10-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, July 25, the widest gap between the two parties in several weeks.”

You can’t bank on the liberal media even to advertise their own leaks accurately these days. Peter Feaver: “Another week, and another Big Bombshell Story in the national security press, this time a series of stories based on the leak by Wikileaks of over 90,000 classified cables and reports from the Afghan theater. (A sidebar: The word “leak” just doesn’t seem adequate for a data dump and security breach of this magnitude. This is not so much a leak as a gusher.) … There does not appear to be any bombshell revelation here. Perhaps the more interesting and damning revelations are to come, but presumably the newspapers led with their best stuff.”

The Obama-Reid-Pelosi troika can’t even bank on a First Amendment–stomping win on campaign-finance “reform”: “Despite some last-minute prodding from President Barack Obama on Monday, Senate Democrats still are scrambling to find the remaining few votes needed to overcome a filibuster of a campaign finance bill that appears destined to fail Tuesday.”

Child rapists? Anti-Semites? You can always bank on Hollywood to support their own.

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Newsflash: Israelis Don’t Trust Obama

The Israeli Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University have a new survey out. The results are not surprising:

Nearly three-quarters of the Israeli Jewish public supports holding talks with the Palestinians, but only 32.4 percent believe they will lead to peace. High support for talks along with pessimism about their outcome has characterized public opinion since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993. Most Israelis – 62% – support direct dialogue, with only 14% supporting proximity talks mediated by US envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell.

Could it be that the Israeli Jewish public doesn’t trust the Obami? Sure looks that way: “Most Israelis think that Obama favors the Palestinians, and 42.5% view Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s policies towards the Palestinians as balanced.” How’s the Obama plan for staring down Bibi on a settlement freeze working out? Not so great:

Over half of the Israeli public favors renewed construction in the West Bank after the settlement freeze ends in September, claiming that “continuing the freeze means capitulation to the Americans and the Palestinians.” Conversely, 41.5% say the freeze should continue, in order to “help advance the negotiations with the Palestinians and improve Israel’s image in the international community.”

The J Street crowd and the so-called liberal Zionists (mostly liberal, not so Zionist) like to characterize their positions as merely in conflict with the “right-wing” Netanyahu government. But their outlook is in conflict with the Israeli people. And the American left’s support for Obama’s Israel policy (well, what used to be his policy before he tried making up with Bibi) has been overwhelmingly rejected by Israelis. The left likes to warn (threaten?) Israel that it can’t be a democracy unless it disgorges itself of the Palestinian population. But the central feature of a democracy is that voters elect their government and ultimately determine the course of their public policy. That is simply not acceptable to Jewish leftists, who, it seems, want neither a secure Israel nor a democratic one.

The Israeli Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University have a new survey out. The results are not surprising:

Nearly three-quarters of the Israeli Jewish public supports holding talks with the Palestinians, but only 32.4 percent believe they will lead to peace. High support for talks along with pessimism about their outcome has characterized public opinion since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993. Most Israelis – 62% – support direct dialogue, with only 14% supporting proximity talks mediated by US envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell.

Could it be that the Israeli Jewish public doesn’t trust the Obami? Sure looks that way: “Most Israelis think that Obama favors the Palestinians, and 42.5% view Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s policies towards the Palestinians as balanced.” How’s the Obama plan for staring down Bibi on a settlement freeze working out? Not so great:

Over half of the Israeli public favors renewed construction in the West Bank after the settlement freeze ends in September, claiming that “continuing the freeze means capitulation to the Americans and the Palestinians.” Conversely, 41.5% say the freeze should continue, in order to “help advance the negotiations with the Palestinians and improve Israel’s image in the international community.”

The J Street crowd and the so-called liberal Zionists (mostly liberal, not so Zionist) like to characterize their positions as merely in conflict with the “right-wing” Netanyahu government. But their outlook is in conflict with the Israeli people. And the American left’s support for Obama’s Israel policy (well, what used to be his policy before he tried making up with Bibi) has been overwhelmingly rejected by Israelis. The left likes to warn (threaten?) Israel that it can’t be a democracy unless it disgorges itself of the Palestinian population. But the central feature of a democracy is that voters elect their government and ultimately determine the course of their public policy. That is simply not acceptable to Jewish leftists, who, it seems, want neither a secure Israel nor a democratic one.

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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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Flotsam and Jetsam

The markets don’t have faith in Obama’s economic policies: “Stocks fell sharply Tuesday as a steep decline in consumer confidence aggravated growing concern about the global economy and sent the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index to a new low for the year. Stocks fell from the start, continuing a trend that had begun overnight in Asia and spread to Europe, driving major indexes in the United States down about 3 percent.”

Allan Meltzer doesn’t think the markets are behaving irrationally to Obamanomics: “Two overarching reasons explain the failure of Obamanomics. First, administration economists and their outside supporters neglected the longer-term costs and consequences of their actions. Second, the administration and Congress have through their deeds and words heightened uncertainty about the economic future. High uncertainty is the enemy of investment and growth.”

Bill Clinton doesn’t follow Obama’s political judgment: “Former President Bill Clinton broke with the White House Tuesday and endorsed Sen. Michael Bennet’s (D-Colo.) primary challenger.”

Democratic Rep. Gene Taylor doesn’t pull any punches on Obama’s response to the BP oil spill. He says, “I haven’t seen this much incompetence since Michael Brown was running FEMA.’

The voters don’t like Obama’s Guantanamo decision: “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 36% of voters agree with the president’s decision to close the Guantanamo facility, Obama’s first major act upon taking office. Fifty-four percent (54%) disagree with that decision.”

Israel doesn’t want to knuckle under to Obama on a  Middle East peace deal: “U.S. envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell is frustrated by the conduct of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the proximity talks with the Palestinians. … A senior Israeli source updated on some of the content of the proximity talks said that the American frustration stems from the fact that Netanyahu has so far not given any clear answers on the borders of the future Palestinian state.”

Turkey doesn’t  appear impressed with Obama’s straddling on the flotilla incident: “Israel must apologize for its blockade of the Gaza Strip, as well as compensate the people of Gaza, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an interview to American television Monday, adding that such an apology would be a condition to continued Turkish mediation in any future peace talks between Israel and Syria.” Yes, the Turks want Israel to capitulate, and Obama’s half-measures have only whetted their appetite for more Israel-bashing.

Californians don’t like the Obama economy: “Californians’ concerns about their state economy mirrors similar worries in other states. ‘There’s a high level of discontentment,’ said poll analyst [Clifford] Young. ‘They’re mad. However, in California is not clear who they’re going to be mad at. It will be incumbent upon the different candidates to frame that to their advantage.’” Right now, they are mad at Barbara Boxer, who is under 50 percent in the poll — a bad sign for an incumbent.

Liberals don’t like Obama at all, says Fareed Zakaria: “Liberals are dismayed. They’re angry. They’re abandoning him.”

The markets don’t have faith in Obama’s economic policies: “Stocks fell sharply Tuesday as a steep decline in consumer confidence aggravated growing concern about the global economy and sent the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index to a new low for the year. Stocks fell from the start, continuing a trend that had begun overnight in Asia and spread to Europe, driving major indexes in the United States down about 3 percent.”

Allan Meltzer doesn’t think the markets are behaving irrationally to Obamanomics: “Two overarching reasons explain the failure of Obamanomics. First, administration economists and their outside supporters neglected the longer-term costs and consequences of their actions. Second, the administration and Congress have through their deeds and words heightened uncertainty about the economic future. High uncertainty is the enemy of investment and growth.”

Bill Clinton doesn’t follow Obama’s political judgment: “Former President Bill Clinton broke with the White House Tuesday and endorsed Sen. Michael Bennet’s (D-Colo.) primary challenger.”

Democratic Rep. Gene Taylor doesn’t pull any punches on Obama’s response to the BP oil spill. He says, “I haven’t seen this much incompetence since Michael Brown was running FEMA.’

The voters don’t like Obama’s Guantanamo decision: “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 36% of voters agree with the president’s decision to close the Guantanamo facility, Obama’s first major act upon taking office. Fifty-four percent (54%) disagree with that decision.”

Israel doesn’t want to knuckle under to Obama on a  Middle East peace deal: “U.S. envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell is frustrated by the conduct of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the proximity talks with the Palestinians. … A senior Israeli source updated on some of the content of the proximity talks said that the American frustration stems from the fact that Netanyahu has so far not given any clear answers on the borders of the future Palestinian state.”

Turkey doesn’t  appear impressed with Obama’s straddling on the flotilla incident: “Israel must apologize for its blockade of the Gaza Strip, as well as compensate the people of Gaza, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an interview to American television Monday, adding that such an apology would be a condition to continued Turkish mediation in any future peace talks between Israel and Syria.” Yes, the Turks want Israel to capitulate, and Obama’s half-measures have only whetted their appetite for more Israel-bashing.

Californians don’t like the Obama economy: “Californians’ concerns about their state economy mirrors similar worries in other states. ‘There’s a high level of discontentment,’ said poll analyst [Clifford] Young. ‘They’re mad. However, in California is not clear who they’re going to be mad at. It will be incumbent upon the different candidates to frame that to their advantage.’” Right now, they are mad at Barbara Boxer, who is under 50 percent in the poll — a bad sign for an incumbent.

Liberals don’t like Obama at all, says Fareed Zakaria: “Liberals are dismayed. They’re angry. They’re abandoning him.”

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Obama’s Human Rights Problem

Human rights activists here and abroad had high expectations for President Barack Obama. They took his “hope and change” as more than a campaign slogan, imagining that he might use his celebrity status to promote democracy, religious freedom, and human rights. They envisioned him shining a bright light on oppressors and utilizing the array of tools at his disposal to aid, encourage, and protect the oppressed. It has not come to pass; instead, it is the oppressors who have much to celebrate — for they operate with impunity. They have learned that they can not only escape condemnation but also receive new respect from a president who seems indifferent if not hostile to the dissidents and human rights advocates.

Obama has responded to Hosni Mubarak’s crackdown on political dissidents and extension of the “emergency” laws not with condemnation but with billions in new aid. The president responded to the stolen Iranian election and brutal repression with silence, and subsequently cut aid to groups documenting human rights abuse. He has offered to engage Burma despite its atrocious human rights record but failed to take any significant step after another phony election. Aung San Suu Kyi remains imprisoned, and Burma is now pursuing its own nuclear program. His envoy to Sudan is widely ridiculed by Darfur activists, who are dismayed that he has not carried forth on campaign promises to crack down on the genocidal regime. And so it has been since Obama took office.

There is no more eloquent description of Obama’s sorry record than this:

It’s been a rough seventeen months for Americans whose calling is to fight for the rights of people who’ve been stripped of them by force—young men and women beaten to death in full view of the world by the agents of their oppressors for daring to demand that their votes be counted; others hacked to death with the complicity of the autocrats in power over them for having been born the wrong color or to the wrong tribe; girls subjected to the lash, or, worse, murdered by their own mothers, fathers, or brothers for appearing in public in the wrong company; believers imprisoned for professing faith in the wrong god or the wrong political system; non-believers sentenced to death for “wronging” a wrathful, vengeful religion.

And it is also worth considering why Obama and his secretary of state, when they do muster some concern for human rights, focus not on the world’s worst offenders but on their own countrymen, whose shortcomings on race, inequality, and the like never escape their exacting eyes.

It is not simply a case of misplaced priorities or even moral obtuseness. Hillary Clinton at times can wax poetic on human rights, proving once again that hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue. The problem stems from Obama’s conviction that the U.S. and the West more generally are the world’s problem children and that it is our arrogance, ignorance, and track record of interference in other countries’ affairs that are the source of the world’s ills. The apology tour (which covered everything from dropping the atomic bomb to our supposed lack of simpatico with the “Muslim World”) was perhaps the most heartfelt expression of Obama’s worldview and explains his cockeyed human rights record.

Because the U.S. is so flawed, so guilty of serial misdeeds, we are in Obama’s eyes (and the left-wing academic mindset from which he derives his views) disqualified from pronouncing on others’ behavior and obligated to let them pronounce on ours and our allies. Hence, we bear witness to (and do not challenge) the Human Right Council thugocracies as they condemn countries with infinitely better human rights records (especially Israel). But we temper our words and offer our hand in conciliation (and in some cases open our wallets) to the human rights oppressors. We allow Iran to join the UN Commission on the Status of Women to opine on others’ gender discrimination but avert our eyes from the brutality endured by Muslim women and girls.

There is, of course, a practical, albeit misguided, reason for Obama’s human rights record. He imagines he will incur the goodwill of the world’s despots by soft-peddling criticism of their treatment of their own people. But it is no longer possible to ignore the more fundamental problem: Obama believes his mission is to atone for America’s sins, not set the example for the world as the leader of that “shining city on the hill.” If one doubts the essential goodness of America and is unwilling to hold others to a standard of conduct that reflects our own values, you will wind up with a human rights policy that looks like Obama’s.

Human rights activists here and abroad had high expectations for President Barack Obama. They took his “hope and change” as more than a campaign slogan, imagining that he might use his celebrity status to promote democracy, religious freedom, and human rights. They envisioned him shining a bright light on oppressors and utilizing the array of tools at his disposal to aid, encourage, and protect the oppressed. It has not come to pass; instead, it is the oppressors who have much to celebrate — for they operate with impunity. They have learned that they can not only escape condemnation but also receive new respect from a president who seems indifferent if not hostile to the dissidents and human rights advocates.

Obama has responded to Hosni Mubarak’s crackdown on political dissidents and extension of the “emergency” laws not with condemnation but with billions in new aid. The president responded to the stolen Iranian election and brutal repression with silence, and subsequently cut aid to groups documenting human rights abuse. He has offered to engage Burma despite its atrocious human rights record but failed to take any significant step after another phony election. Aung San Suu Kyi remains imprisoned, and Burma is now pursuing its own nuclear program. His envoy to Sudan is widely ridiculed by Darfur activists, who are dismayed that he has not carried forth on campaign promises to crack down on the genocidal regime. And so it has been since Obama took office.

There is no more eloquent description of Obama’s sorry record than this:

It’s been a rough seventeen months for Americans whose calling is to fight for the rights of people who’ve been stripped of them by force—young men and women beaten to death in full view of the world by the agents of their oppressors for daring to demand that their votes be counted; others hacked to death with the complicity of the autocrats in power over them for having been born the wrong color or to the wrong tribe; girls subjected to the lash, or, worse, murdered by their own mothers, fathers, or brothers for appearing in public in the wrong company; believers imprisoned for professing faith in the wrong god or the wrong political system; non-believers sentenced to death for “wronging” a wrathful, vengeful religion.

And it is also worth considering why Obama and his secretary of state, when they do muster some concern for human rights, focus not on the world’s worst offenders but on their own countrymen, whose shortcomings on race, inequality, and the like never escape their exacting eyes.

It is not simply a case of misplaced priorities or even moral obtuseness. Hillary Clinton at times can wax poetic on human rights, proving once again that hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue. The problem stems from Obama’s conviction that the U.S. and the West more generally are the world’s problem children and that it is our arrogance, ignorance, and track record of interference in other countries’ affairs that are the source of the world’s ills. The apology tour (which covered everything from dropping the atomic bomb to our supposed lack of simpatico with the “Muslim World”) was perhaps the most heartfelt expression of Obama’s worldview and explains his cockeyed human rights record.

Because the U.S. is so flawed, so guilty of serial misdeeds, we are in Obama’s eyes (and the left-wing academic mindset from which he derives his views) disqualified from pronouncing on others’ behavior and obligated to let them pronounce on ours and our allies. Hence, we bear witness to (and do not challenge) the Human Right Council thugocracies as they condemn countries with infinitely better human rights records (especially Israel). But we temper our words and offer our hand in conciliation (and in some cases open our wallets) to the human rights oppressors. We allow Iran to join the UN Commission on the Status of Women to opine on others’ gender discrimination but avert our eyes from the brutality endured by Muslim women and girls.

There is, of course, a practical, albeit misguided, reason for Obama’s human rights record. He imagines he will incur the goodwill of the world’s despots by soft-peddling criticism of their treatment of their own people. But it is no longer possible to ignore the more fundamental problem: Obama believes his mission is to atone for America’s sins, not set the example for the world as the leader of that “shining city on the hill.” If one doubts the essential goodness of America and is unwilling to hold others to a standard of conduct that reflects our own values, you will wind up with a human rights policy that looks like Obama’s.

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Say It in Arabic

David wondered yesterday why revolutionary statements by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had been largely ignored by the mainstream media, and suggested that perhaps it’s because “it doesn’t fit well with the current climate of radically de-legitimizing the Jewish state.” But there could be a far less sinister reason: The smarter Middle East hands have figured out by now that what Arab leaders say in English to American audiences is meaningless; what matters is what they are willing to say in Arabic to their own people. And so far, Abbas shows no sign of being willing to say the same in Arabic.

Granted, the statements represent progress: Even in English, I can’t recall Abbas ever before so openly acknowledging Jewish historical ties to the Middle East or Israel’s claim to (part of) Jerusalem. But in Arabic, the standard narrative continues to be that Jews are colonial interlopers with no claim whatsoever to the land. And as Max Singer of the Begin-Sadat Center perceptively noted, until this changes, peace will be impossible: Palestinians will not make peace unless they believe they can do so honorably, and this “depends on whether the Jews are colonial thieves stealing land solely on the basis of force, or whether they are a people that also historically lived in the land.”

It would be nice to think that Abbas’s statements last week were a dry run for the more difficult job of telling his countrymen the same things in Arabic. Far more likely, however, is that his goal was simply to woo liberal American Jews, who are presumably close to the Democratic administration, in the hope that they will in turn use their influence with the administration to help him secure his real goal — which is not a deal with Israel, but a deal with Barack Obama.

And that is not mere cynical speculation. It is, almost word for word, what a close associate quoted Abbas as saying less than three weeks ago.

According to the Jerusalem Post’s invaluable Khaled Abu Toameh, Abbas Zaki, who sits on the central committee of Abbas’s Fatah party, told the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi paper in May that at a recent meeting with U.S. envoy George Mitchell, “President Abbas told Mitchell that the Israelis are no longer peace partners as much as the Americans are,” and therefore urged the U.S. to present its own peace proposals instead of waiting for an Israeli proposal.

“The Palestinian Authority is negotiating with Washington and not with Tel Aviv,” he added, lest anyone miss the message.

That interview, incidentally, occurred several days before Israel’s botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla. Numerous Western commentators have since blamed that raid for thwarting peace efforts. But as long as Abbas remains determined to negotiate with America rather than Israel, there can be no serious peace effort to thwart.

David wondered yesterday why revolutionary statements by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had been largely ignored by the mainstream media, and suggested that perhaps it’s because “it doesn’t fit well with the current climate of radically de-legitimizing the Jewish state.” But there could be a far less sinister reason: The smarter Middle East hands have figured out by now that what Arab leaders say in English to American audiences is meaningless; what matters is what they are willing to say in Arabic to their own people. And so far, Abbas shows no sign of being willing to say the same in Arabic.

Granted, the statements represent progress: Even in English, I can’t recall Abbas ever before so openly acknowledging Jewish historical ties to the Middle East or Israel’s claim to (part of) Jerusalem. But in Arabic, the standard narrative continues to be that Jews are colonial interlopers with no claim whatsoever to the land. And as Max Singer of the Begin-Sadat Center perceptively noted, until this changes, peace will be impossible: Palestinians will not make peace unless they believe they can do so honorably, and this “depends on whether the Jews are colonial thieves stealing land solely on the basis of force, or whether they are a people that also historically lived in the land.”

It would be nice to think that Abbas’s statements last week were a dry run for the more difficult job of telling his countrymen the same things in Arabic. Far more likely, however, is that his goal was simply to woo liberal American Jews, who are presumably close to the Democratic administration, in the hope that they will in turn use their influence with the administration to help him secure his real goal — which is not a deal with Israel, but a deal with Barack Obama.

And that is not mere cynical speculation. It is, almost word for word, what a close associate quoted Abbas as saying less than three weeks ago.

According to the Jerusalem Post’s invaluable Khaled Abu Toameh, Abbas Zaki, who sits on the central committee of Abbas’s Fatah party, told the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi paper in May that at a recent meeting with U.S. envoy George Mitchell, “President Abbas told Mitchell that the Israelis are no longer peace partners as much as the Americans are,” and therefore urged the U.S. to present its own peace proposals instead of waiting for an Israeli proposal.

“The Palestinian Authority is negotiating with Washington and not with Tel Aviv,” he added, lest anyone miss the message.

That interview, incidentally, occurred several days before Israel’s botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla. Numerous Western commentators have since blamed that raid for thwarting peace efforts. But as long as Abbas remains determined to negotiate with America rather than Israel, there can be no serious peace effort to thwart.

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GOP Says “No” to Syrian Engagement

Josh Rogin reports:

Twelve Republican senators wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Friday to let her know they intend to block the nomination of Robert Ford, whom President Obama has named to become the first U.S. ambassador to Syria in five years.

In the letter, 12 Republican senators, any one of whom could hold up the Ford nomination, said they weren’t satisfied with the State Department’s latest attempt to alleviate their concerns about sending an envoy to Damascus amid allegations that the Syrian government may have sent Scud missiles to the terrorist group Hezbollah.

The senators aren’t buying State’s argument that sending an ambassador to Syria is not a reward, but rather a smart way to engage and perhaps even persuade Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop taking provocative actions.

“If engagement precludes prompt punitive action in response to egregious behavior, such as the transfer of long range missiles to a terrorist group, then it is not only a concession but also a reward for such behavior,” the letter reads.

A few points are noteworthy. First, is every single Democrat going along with the Ford nomination? Apparently, when the White House barks, they all jump.

Second, it appears Hillary Clinton didn’t bother to respond to an earlier inquiry: “Indicating some pique that Clinton didn’t respond to their last letter on this subject, they write tersely, ‘We would appreciate a response from you personally.’” Maybe it did not make her to-do list.

And finally, 12 is more than enough for a filibuster, so the choice for Obama now is whether to pull the nomination or suffer an embarrassing defeat. I suspect the vote won’t be scheduled anytime soon. If that proves to be the case, then this is an important watershed — the Republican senators have risen up to block a disastrous foreign-policy move. We can only hope that this is the beginning of a trend.

Josh Rogin reports:

Twelve Republican senators wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Friday to let her know they intend to block the nomination of Robert Ford, whom President Obama has named to become the first U.S. ambassador to Syria in five years.

In the letter, 12 Republican senators, any one of whom could hold up the Ford nomination, said they weren’t satisfied with the State Department’s latest attempt to alleviate their concerns about sending an envoy to Damascus amid allegations that the Syrian government may have sent Scud missiles to the terrorist group Hezbollah.

The senators aren’t buying State’s argument that sending an ambassador to Syria is not a reward, but rather a smart way to engage and perhaps even persuade Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop taking provocative actions.

“If engagement precludes prompt punitive action in response to egregious behavior, such as the transfer of long range missiles to a terrorist group, then it is not only a concession but also a reward for such behavior,” the letter reads.

A few points are noteworthy. First, is every single Democrat going along with the Ford nomination? Apparently, when the White House barks, they all jump.

Second, it appears Hillary Clinton didn’t bother to respond to an earlier inquiry: “Indicating some pique that Clinton didn’t respond to their last letter on this subject, they write tersely, ‘We would appreciate a response from you personally.’” Maybe it did not make her to-do list.

And finally, 12 is more than enough for a filibuster, so the choice for Obama now is whether to pull the nomination or suffer an embarrassing defeat. I suspect the vote won’t be scheduled anytime soon. If that proves to be the case, then this is an important watershed — the Republican senators have risen up to block a disastrous foreign-policy move. We can only hope that this is the beginning of a trend.

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RE: The Shocking Rashad Hussain Interview

No doubt alarmed by the Rashad Hussain interview, the State Department has provided a transcript and an audio recording of the interview that departs in significant respects from the interview that was printed at the Asharq Al-Awsat website. As a preliminary matter, one has to wonder whether there is utility in speaking to such publications if the words of our special envoy are simply converted to anti-American and pro-Palestinian talking points. It is not clear whether the State Department will be requesting a retraction/correction.

What is different? Most clearly Hussain does not bash the Bush administration. In fact, when asked about overcoming hostility caused by the Bush administration, he says:

What we are really concerned about and moving forward on is implementing new areas of cooperation. Just to give you an example, to be fair to the previous administration, the envoy to the OIC was something that President Bush announced towards the end of his administration, so we are looking to go forward and really build on that and to make sure that the cooperation between the envoy and Muslim communities around the world is based on a whole range of issues, and some of those I’ve discussed with you.

However, as I indicated in my earlier post, the premise of the question — that the U.S. is responsible for hostility — is nowhere rebutted by Hussain, who is supposed to be representing the U.S., after all.

The Palestinian-Israeli question, however, is still the focus of Hussain’s pitch in the State Department version of the transcript. When asked what can be done about criticism of the U.S. “for its standing by Israel,” Hussain does not assert that Israel is an ally nor suggest that there is any other cause of hostility. (Iran perhaps? Syria?) He praises George Mitchell and coos about the two-state solution. His answer as to how to “renew the Islamic world’s confidence in the USA” is a bit strange:

The main thing which is going to improve relations between the United States and Muslims around the world is first of all when we make it clear that we have created a framework of cooperation and that our cooperation will not simply be based on one or two issues such as violent extremism, and that the United States makes it clear that we recognize that this is an issue where Muslims reject violent extremism and terrorism. That is the first step. But another step will be to really show results in a number of areas and those include working towards solving the political conflicts. The United States is working to get out of Iraq and the same thing we can say about Afghanistan. The United States is working tirelessly on a solution with the parties involved on the Middle East issue, but we’ve also implemented programs in the area of education where we’ve increased exchanges, in the area of health, we’re working on polio eradication, we’ve cooperated before Hajj on H1N1.  The President just held an entrepreneurship summit as you know, and we have many forums for interfaith dialogue. So we think that as we continue to develop these areas and Muslims and all people around the world see progress, then we’ll have a good basis for restoring positive relations.

Do all Muslims really reject “violent extremism and terrorism”? Why isn’t Hussain making a pitch to defend Muslims, who are the primary victims of Islamic terror? And is the message for Afghanistan — recall that we are now in the business of reassuring President Karzai — really like the one for  Iraq, i.e., that we are “getting out”?

But it is his answer on Sami Al-Arian that remains the most questionable:

You know in that case that I said very clearly on the panel that I wasn’t commenting on any of the specific allegations on him but I was making a comment about the process that was used in that case. And I think that in many of the cases which I’ve talked about, for example Chaplain Yee, the case of Brandon Mayfield, that the outcomes that have resulted in the United States, for example in both of those cases resulting in the two that were accused of being freed for example, that the justice system has fairly resolved the outcome in those cases. And I think that in America we have one of the most — we have the most just and process-oriented legal systems in the world, and I am very confident that we’ll continue in this way and we’ll continue to produce just outcomes.

This version is arguably worse than the original one. Here he seems to be reiterating that the prosecution was tainted in some respect. What is he saying about “the process used in that case”? Again, he doesn’t deny that such an allegation is shameful.

It is fair to exonerate Hussain of Bush-bashing. But this version remains problematic for the reasons stated earlier. Hussain seems to that think his job is to conceal the relationship with Israel, downplay our war in Afghanistan, minimize the focus on terrorism, and be utterly silent on Iran. This is the message we are transmitting to the “Muslim World.”

No doubt alarmed by the Rashad Hussain interview, the State Department has provided a transcript and an audio recording of the interview that departs in significant respects from the interview that was printed at the Asharq Al-Awsat website. As a preliminary matter, one has to wonder whether there is utility in speaking to such publications if the words of our special envoy are simply converted to anti-American and pro-Palestinian talking points. It is not clear whether the State Department will be requesting a retraction/correction.

What is different? Most clearly Hussain does not bash the Bush administration. In fact, when asked about overcoming hostility caused by the Bush administration, he says:

What we are really concerned about and moving forward on is implementing new areas of cooperation. Just to give you an example, to be fair to the previous administration, the envoy to the OIC was something that President Bush announced towards the end of his administration, so we are looking to go forward and really build on that and to make sure that the cooperation between the envoy and Muslim communities around the world is based on a whole range of issues, and some of those I’ve discussed with you.

However, as I indicated in my earlier post, the premise of the question — that the U.S. is responsible for hostility — is nowhere rebutted by Hussain, who is supposed to be representing the U.S., after all.

The Palestinian-Israeli question, however, is still the focus of Hussain’s pitch in the State Department version of the transcript. When asked what can be done about criticism of the U.S. “for its standing by Israel,” Hussain does not assert that Israel is an ally nor suggest that there is any other cause of hostility. (Iran perhaps? Syria?) He praises George Mitchell and coos about the two-state solution. His answer as to how to “renew the Islamic world’s confidence in the USA” is a bit strange:

The main thing which is going to improve relations between the United States and Muslims around the world is first of all when we make it clear that we have created a framework of cooperation and that our cooperation will not simply be based on one or two issues such as violent extremism, and that the United States makes it clear that we recognize that this is an issue where Muslims reject violent extremism and terrorism. That is the first step. But another step will be to really show results in a number of areas and those include working towards solving the political conflicts. The United States is working to get out of Iraq and the same thing we can say about Afghanistan. The United States is working tirelessly on a solution with the parties involved on the Middle East issue, but we’ve also implemented programs in the area of education where we’ve increased exchanges, in the area of health, we’re working on polio eradication, we’ve cooperated before Hajj on H1N1.  The President just held an entrepreneurship summit as you know, and we have many forums for interfaith dialogue. So we think that as we continue to develop these areas and Muslims and all people around the world see progress, then we’ll have a good basis for restoring positive relations.

Do all Muslims really reject “violent extremism and terrorism”? Why isn’t Hussain making a pitch to defend Muslims, who are the primary victims of Islamic terror? And is the message for Afghanistan — recall that we are now in the business of reassuring President Karzai — really like the one for  Iraq, i.e., that we are “getting out”?

But it is his answer on Sami Al-Arian that remains the most questionable:

You know in that case that I said very clearly on the panel that I wasn’t commenting on any of the specific allegations on him but I was making a comment about the process that was used in that case. And I think that in many of the cases which I’ve talked about, for example Chaplain Yee, the case of Brandon Mayfield, that the outcomes that have resulted in the United States, for example in both of those cases resulting in the two that were accused of being freed for example, that the justice system has fairly resolved the outcome in those cases. And I think that in America we have one of the most — we have the most just and process-oriented legal systems in the world, and I am very confident that we’ll continue in this way and we’ll continue to produce just outcomes.

This version is arguably worse than the original one. Here he seems to be reiterating that the prosecution was tainted in some respect. What is he saying about “the process used in that case”? Again, he doesn’t deny that such an allegation is shameful.

It is fair to exonerate Hussain of Bush-bashing. But this version remains problematic for the reasons stated earlier. Hussain seems to that think his job is to conceal the relationship with Israel, downplay our war in Afghanistan, minimize the focus on terrorism, and be utterly silent on Iran. This is the message we are transmitting to the “Muslim World.”

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