Commentary Magazine


Topic: Gaza

Rockets, Hate and Kerry’s Fool’s Errand

Two weeks have passed since President Obama spoke to an audience of Israeli students and urged them to pressure their government to make peace with the Palestinians. To further that aim, Secretary of State John Kerry is expected back in the country this week to push for a renewal of peace talks. Kerry will busy himself with shuttling between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. But while Kerry talks, the deteriorating cease-fire between Israel and Hamas along the Gaza border is illustrating the futile nature of his mission.

Palestinians fired rockets again into southern Israel from Gaza this week, showing that the cease-fire Hamas agreed to after Israel’s November counter-offensive to stop such outrages may be collapsing. This shows that despite Washington’s focus on propping up Abbas as a credible partner for peace, the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza still has the ability to veto any hopes for an end to the conflict. But it also puts the entire enterprise of peacemaking in a different perspective. As much as the president seemed to place the onus for negotiating a deal on Israel, the armed terrorist camp in Gaza serves to not only maintain the level of violence on a low if persistent flame, but also keeps the pressure on Abbas to find more excuses to not talk to an Israeli government that has already said it will negotiate without preconditions. The reality of Palestinian politics has an unfortunate way of outstripping American diplomatic initiatives, something Obama should have taken into consideration before sending Kerry out on this latest fool’s errand.

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Two weeks have passed since President Obama spoke to an audience of Israeli students and urged them to pressure their government to make peace with the Palestinians. To further that aim, Secretary of State John Kerry is expected back in the country this week to push for a renewal of peace talks. Kerry will busy himself with shuttling between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. But while Kerry talks, the deteriorating cease-fire between Israel and Hamas along the Gaza border is illustrating the futile nature of his mission.

Palestinians fired rockets again into southern Israel from Gaza this week, showing that the cease-fire Hamas agreed to after Israel’s November counter-offensive to stop such outrages may be collapsing. This shows that despite Washington’s focus on propping up Abbas as a credible partner for peace, the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza still has the ability to veto any hopes for an end to the conflict. But it also puts the entire enterprise of peacemaking in a different perspective. As much as the president seemed to place the onus for negotiating a deal on Israel, the armed terrorist camp in Gaza serves to not only maintain the level of violence on a low if persistent flame, but also keeps the pressure on Abbas to find more excuses to not talk to an Israeli government that has already said it will negotiate without preconditions. The reality of Palestinian politics has an unfortunate way of outstripping American diplomatic initiatives, something Obama should have taken into consideration before sending Kerry out on this latest fool’s errand.

Abbas has already demonstrated repeatedly that he is in no position to seriously negotiate peace with Israel, let alone sign such an agreement. But that isn’t stopping Kerry from diving into a new round of shuttle diplomacy any more than the reality of Hamas’s hegemony in Gaza is causing him to ponder the fact that a divided Palestinian leadership makes a deal impossible.

According to numerous reports, the current sticking point for getting Abbas back to the negotiating table is his demand that Israel release long-term security prisoners as a “goodwill gesture,” an issue that’s been prioritized because of sympathy generated by the death of a 64-year-old Palestinian in Israeli custody. But this is just one more of a long list of excuses that Abbas has trumped up in order to avoid talks rather than a genuine obstacle to peace.

The issue of the prisoners is often represented in the international press as one of concern for the fate of Palestinian protesters who have been unjustly jailed by Israelis in order to suppress dissent. But the prisoner who just died is a perfect illustration of just how misleading that assumption can be. The late prisoner was incarcerated for his role in sending a suicide bomber to blow up an Israeli café, not for conducting a peaceful protest or even throwing a rock.

As Kerry ought to know, the real obstacle to peace isn’t Israeli settlements or building in Jerusalem. It is the hate for Jews and Israel that is fueling the rocket fire from Gaza. But instead of trying to mollify Abbas’s bogus concerns about prisoners, the secretary would probably do more to advance the cause of peace were he to address the ongoing fomenting of hatred by the official PA media.

As Palestinian Media Watch reports, this month a children’s program on official Palestinian Authority television showed a child reciting a poem that referred to both Zionists and the “sons of pigs”—a traditional Muslim reference for Jews. The poem, which was received with applause, spoke of Jews killing children, raping women in the streets and defiling the Koran and Jerusalem, while urging Muslims to rise up and defeat them. So long as such expressions are not only considered mainstream enough for general Palestinian discourse but are part of the PA’s education agenda, peace isn’t difficult; it’s impossible.

This shows once again that the gaps between the two sides in the Middle East conflict are not about borders but about a willingness to live in peace. PA propaganda isn’t just outrageous; it directly contradicts President Obama’s endorsement of the right of Jews to live in peace in their historic homeland. Until that changes, Kerry’s shuttle diplomacy will be just a waste of time.

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A Greeting from the Palestinian State

President Obama visited Ramallah today and held a joint news conference with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas during which he reiterated the U.S. stand in favor of the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. But just before that confab he received a greeting from the real Palestinian state in all but name, already in existence on Israel’s opposite border. Rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel with reports saying that two landed in Sderot and that others may have been fired elsewhere.

While none of the terror groups, including the Hamas rulers of Gaza, took responsibility for the attacks, the message was clear. While the president was engaging in an awkward dance with Abbas about the peace process, the result of the last major Israeli attempt to trade land for peace was illustrating not only that the PA didn’t control much of what would constitute that independent state but that those who did had no interest in a two-state solution.

The Obama-Abbas press conference struck a very different note from the friendly exchanges that marked the president’s appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. While the president was again stating his support for the idea of a Palestinian state and doing so in terms that ought to concern friends of Israel, he also pushed back a little bit on Abbas’s charade that Israeli settlements were preventing the outbreak of peace.

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President Obama visited Ramallah today and held a joint news conference with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas during which he reiterated the U.S. stand in favor of the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. But just before that confab he received a greeting from the real Palestinian state in all but name, already in existence on Israel’s opposite border. Rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel with reports saying that two landed in Sderot and that others may have been fired elsewhere.

While none of the terror groups, including the Hamas rulers of Gaza, took responsibility for the attacks, the message was clear. While the president was engaging in an awkward dance with Abbas about the peace process, the result of the last major Israeli attempt to trade land for peace was illustrating not only that the PA didn’t control much of what would constitute that independent state but that those who did had no interest in a two-state solution.

The Obama-Abbas press conference struck a very different note from the friendly exchanges that marked the president’s appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. While the president was again stating his support for the idea of a Palestinian state and doing so in terms that ought to concern friends of Israel, he also pushed back a little bit on Abbas’s charade that Israeli settlements were preventing the outbreak of peace.

Obama said he wanted an “independent, viable and contiguous” Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel, though he did not explain how that could be accomplished given the fact that Gaza and the West Bank are separated and cannot be connected except by rendering the Jewish state non-contiguous. He also returned to a theme familiar from his first term when he said Israeli settlements were “not constructive and appropriate.” He even said that building in the E-1 area in between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim cold not be squared with the creation of a Palestinian state, even though doing so would not prevent it from being viable or contiguous.

But Obama also said that settlements were not the core issue at the heart of the conflict and that if all the other factors dividing the two sides were resolved settlements would not prevent peace. Even more importantly, he emphasized that there ought to be no preconditions placed by either side before peace negotiations could be resumed. That’s a direct shot at Abbas who has refused to talk to the Israelis since 2008 and consistently set conditions for doing so that were merely a thinly veiled excuse for staying away from the table.

While signs of Obama’s own unhealthy obsessions with settlements were still apparent, this shows the president has learned a thing or two since he began his administration with a drive to force Israel to freeze building in the mistaken idea that this would make peace possible. Years of trying to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of Abbas have shown him that the Palestinian leader’s main priority has always been to find excuses not to negotiate, because doing so might place him in the position of having to actually sign an agreement. Though the president restated his positions on settlements and peace, he seemed to put the ball squarely in Abbas’s court when it came to negotiations. Though many observers thought the president would use his second term to resume a campaign of pressure on Israel to make concessions, even the Palestinian leg of his trip to the country shows that he may no longer be interested in investing scarce political capital in a fight with the Israelis when there is little chance the intended beneficiaries of his policy wish to take advantage of it.

Just as important, the rocket fire from Gaza was a reminder that Abbas, who recently began the ninth year of the four-year-term in office to which he was elected in 2005, is merely the sham leader of his people. Gaza, from which Israel withdrew every soldier and settler that same year, is, for all intents and purposes, the independent Palestinian state that Obama has been talking about. Rather than living in peace with Israel, it is nothing but a terrorist staging ground from which rockets continue to fly as testimony to the unshaken faith of its leaders in the unending war against the Zionism that Obama specifically endorsed yesterday upon his arrival in Israel.

It may well be that the president is hoping to persuade Israelis to trust him on both the peace process and the threat from Iran. That may be a prelude to future conflicts with Netanyahu. But his message to Palestinians seems to be more one of “get your act together” than one that offers them hope they can count on the president to hammer the Israelis on their behalf. While some supporters of Israel will grouse about what the president said today about settlements, what the Palestinians heard actually offered them very little comfort. The lack of a direct demand from Obama for a settlement freeze and the seeming endorsement of Israel’s call for resumption of negotiations without preconditions means the Palestinians have been put on notice that the president’s second term may not be squandered on further attempts to help a divided people that won’t help themselves.

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Don’t Let Facts Hinder Israel-Bashing

The human costs of last fall’s outbreak of fighting between Hamas and Israel was all too real on both sides of the border. Civilian casualties in war are inevitable, but should never be seen as anything but a tragedy that should be avoided if at all possible. But the willingness of the Jewish state’s critics in the media to embrace a Palestinian narrative of Israeli beastliness has led to a double standard that has distorted accounts of the conflict. Palestinian terror attacks that lead to Israeli counter-measures tend to be ignored unless they succeed in achieving their goal of mass slaughter. Israeli attacks on terrorists are depicted as disproportionate with little context to put them in perspective. And when Palestinian children are killed in a conflict in which Hamas uses civilians as human shields, the result is often an emotional account in which images of supposed Israeli atrocities substitute for a reasoned explanation of what has occurred.

But occasionally, facts have a way of outstripping even the formidable Palestinian propaganda machine. An example of this came this month when, as the New York Times explains, a report from–of all sources–the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, had the audacity to point out that a highly publicized case in which the death of an Arab infant in Gaza was blamed on Israel was actually the fault of the Palestinians.

One may say that when a death such as this happens the identity of the person or force that pulled the trigger is almost beside the point. The child is just as dead no matter who did it. But in this case, the revelation that 11-month-old Omar al-Masharawi’s death was the result of a Palestinian rocket aimed at Israel that fell short of its target rather than of an Israeli army missile deliberately fired at his home goes straight to the heart of the slanted accounts of the conflict that are commonplace.

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The human costs of last fall’s outbreak of fighting between Hamas and Israel was all too real on both sides of the border. Civilian casualties in war are inevitable, but should never be seen as anything but a tragedy that should be avoided if at all possible. But the willingness of the Jewish state’s critics in the media to embrace a Palestinian narrative of Israeli beastliness has led to a double standard that has distorted accounts of the conflict. Palestinian terror attacks that lead to Israeli counter-measures tend to be ignored unless they succeed in achieving their goal of mass slaughter. Israeli attacks on terrorists are depicted as disproportionate with little context to put them in perspective. And when Palestinian children are killed in a conflict in which Hamas uses civilians as human shields, the result is often an emotional account in which images of supposed Israeli atrocities substitute for a reasoned explanation of what has occurred.

But occasionally, facts have a way of outstripping even the formidable Palestinian propaganda machine. An example of this came this month when, as the New York Times explains, a report from–of all sources–the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, had the audacity to point out that a highly publicized case in which the death of an Arab infant in Gaza was blamed on Israel was actually the fault of the Palestinians.

One may say that when a death such as this happens the identity of the person or force that pulled the trigger is almost beside the point. The child is just as dead no matter who did it. But in this case, the revelation that 11-month-old Omar al-Masharawi’s death was the result of a Palestinian rocket aimed at Israel that fell short of its target rather than of an Israeli army missile deliberately fired at his home goes straight to the heart of the slanted accounts of the conflict that are commonplace.

This particular child’s death was made a cause célèbre because his father, Jihad al-Masharawi is an employee of the BBC. In a graphic account broadcast on the network, al-Masharawi, who is a picture editor, claimed “shrapnel” from Israeli artillery hit his son and another relative. In the video, al-Masharawi tearfully demanded to know “what did my son do to die like this?” The response from many who viewed it was to damn the Israelis as heartless murderers. Those who cited the child as proof of the injustice of Israeli actions in the Gaza fighting now ring hollow.

The point here is not just to illustrate that many of those Palestinians who have died in the fighting with Israel were the victims of “friendly fire” from their own side. In a very real sense, Omar al-Masharawi’s death was not a mistake. It was just one more example of a deliberate policy of sacrificing Palestinian children on the altar of unending war against Israel. When terrorists launch missiles from Gaza at Israeli civilian targets, the creation of a fresh batch of Palestinian martyrs is more important to them than even the shedding of Jewish blood.

This is a terrible tragedy that has all too often been aided and abetted by an international media eager to use shocking pictures and videos meant to depict Israeli atrocities to put forward a skewed version of what has happened in Gaza.

In this case, just as with the celebrated case of Mohammed al-Durrah–the picture of whose death in his father’s arms after supposedly being shot by Israelis at the beginning of the second intifada became a rallying point for Palestinians–the fictional narrative of Palestinian victimhood trumped the facts. Even after the story was conclusively debunked, the image of the dying child remains an icon of the campaign to defame Israel.

Some of those who were killed last fall did die from Israeli fire (though the overwhelming majority of casualties were Hamas fighters not civilians) as its army sought to take out the terrorists who rained missiles down on targets in southern and central Israel. But the ultimate responsibility for the deaths of all civilians in Gaza falls on the shoulders of Hamas leaders who continue to pursue Israel’s destruction and don’t care how many of their own people must die to keep that vile dream alive. Most of those who wish to delegitimize both Israel and its right to self-defense will ignore the UN report. But the al-Masharawi case, in which a terrorist missile landed in Gaza rather than Israel, should make this truth a bit more understandable even to those accustomed to accepting whatever lies emanate from Hamas and its enablers. 

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Welcome to Iran on the Mediterranean

While anti-Zionist activists around the globe and in United Nations agencies continue to portray even the most passive forms of Israeli self-defense—such as the construction of a fence to prevent suicide bombers from infiltrating the country—as war crimes, the question of human rights in territory under Palestinian control continues to be treated as a matter of little interest to much of the world. The latest indicator of what life is like in the independent Palestinian state in all but name that exists in Gaza came today when the United Nations Relief and Works Agency canceled its annual marathon. The purpose of the race is to raise money for UNRWA’s summer programs for children, but they were forced to give it up when the Hamas government of Gaza banned women from participating.

While the world blames Israel for all of Gaza’s problems, its greatest problem has always been the refusal of Palestinian groups to prioritize development over waging war on the Jewish state. That has only grown worse in the past six years since Hamas took over control of the area from the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority. Israel’s complete withdrawal from the strip has given us a look at what an independent Palestinian state actually looks like. It isn’t a pretty sight.

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While anti-Zionist activists around the globe and in United Nations agencies continue to portray even the most passive forms of Israeli self-defense—such as the construction of a fence to prevent suicide bombers from infiltrating the country—as war crimes, the question of human rights in territory under Palestinian control continues to be treated as a matter of little interest to much of the world. The latest indicator of what life is like in the independent Palestinian state in all but name that exists in Gaza came today when the United Nations Relief and Works Agency canceled its annual marathon. The purpose of the race is to raise money for UNRWA’s summer programs for children, but they were forced to give it up when the Hamas government of Gaza banned women from participating.

While the world blames Israel for all of Gaza’s problems, its greatest problem has always been the refusal of Palestinian groups to prioritize development over waging war on the Jewish state. That has only grown worse in the past six years since Hamas took over control of the area from the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority. Israel’s complete withdrawal from the strip has given us a look at what an independent Palestinian state actually looks like. It isn’t a pretty sight.

That UNRWA, of all agencies, should be calling out Hamas for its oppressive attitudes is an irony of no small dimension. The UN has two groups to deal with refugees around the globe: one to deal with the Palestinians and one for everyone else. UNRWA is responsible for the care and feeding of hundreds of thousands of the descendants of the original Arabs who fled from areas that were governed by the newborn Jewish state. It has assisted in the Arab and Muslim world’s efforts to keep the Palestinians homeless rather than resettling them and therefore helping to end the conflict. It has also been heavily infiltrated by Hamas and allowed its facilities to be used as shelters for terrorists. Its schools and camps have also helped indoctrinate young Palestinians in an ideology of hatred for Jews and Israel.

But the UN, for all of its faults, is legally obligated to respect women’s rights, meaning that it cannot be an enabler of this particular form of Hamas oppression.

Contrary to Arab propaganda, there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, as the supply of food and medicine and other commodities from Israel has not been stopped even when Hamas and other terrorist groups launch missiles over the border. But the Islamist rulers of the strip have imposed their own distorted values on the people of the area. That means the creation of a totalitarian state apparatus that has made Gaza a little piece of Iran on the Mediterranean.

Should Israel ever fully withdraw from the West Bank as it did from Gaza in 2005, there is every chance that Hamas will win control of that area too, whether by coup or elections. At that point, Israel could find itself under siege from terrorists in charge of areas adjacent to its population centers creating a security crisis that will lead inevitably to more violence. But the other part of this equation will mean that the oppression of Palestinians by their own people will be complete rather than partial. That is something those who are eager to open up trade with Gaza or to further empower its rulers should consider.

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Israel Punished in Survey of Press Freedom for Targeting Hamas

In November, New York Times media reporter David Carr wrote about the deaths of three alleged “journalists” in Gaza during Israel’s counteroffensive there. Alana Goodman pointed out here that two of the three were “cameramen” working for a television station owned by Hamas. Both Hamas and the television station itself are designated terrorist organizations. Alana then pointed to stories identifying one of the men as a Hamas military commander and another as an officer in Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Blogger Elder of Ziyon wrote that the whole episode was “not just an indictment of Carr. This is a systemic problem in the entire profession. The smugness that they are infallible, and the groupthink that they can rely on others’ work without double-checking it, all indicate that there is some significant daylight between how many journalists do their work and what the truth really is.” Carr had defended himself by saying other organizations referred to those killed as journalists. One of the organizations Carr mentioned was Reporters Without Borders, which, having duped Carr into treating terrorists as journalists has just released its rankings of press freedom worldwide–and it has dropped Israel 20 places for killing those terrorists that the organization convinced news outlets to treat as innocent journalists:

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In November, New York Times media reporter David Carr wrote about the deaths of three alleged “journalists” in Gaza during Israel’s counteroffensive there. Alana Goodman pointed out here that two of the three were “cameramen” working for a television station owned by Hamas. Both Hamas and the television station itself are designated terrorist organizations. Alana then pointed to stories identifying one of the men as a Hamas military commander and another as an officer in Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Blogger Elder of Ziyon wrote that the whole episode was “not just an indictment of Carr. This is a systemic problem in the entire profession. The smugness that they are infallible, and the groupthink that they can rely on others’ work without double-checking it, all indicate that there is some significant daylight between how many journalists do their work and what the truth really is.” Carr had defended himself by saying other organizations referred to those killed as journalists. One of the organizations Carr mentioned was Reporters Without Borders, which, having duped Carr into treating terrorists as journalists has just released its rankings of press freedom worldwide–and it has dropped Israel 20 places for killing those terrorists that the organization convinced news outlets to treat as innocent journalists:

Journalists in Israel (112th, -20) enjoy real freedom of expression despite the existence of military censorship but the country fell in the index because of the Israeli military’s targeting of journalists in the Palestinian Territories.

Israel was of course not targeting journalists; Israel was targeting terrorists aided by gullible and biased journalists. But since Hamas started the fighting with rocket attacks, fired at Israeli residential areas, and dressed up terrorists as journalists to attract Israeli fire, surely the Palestinian territories were punished by Reporters Without Borders as well? Nope: the Palestinians’ ranking  jumps ahead seven spots.

On Monday, Michael Rubin noted that human rights organizations often act against their stated cause by doing things that could make war more deadly. The stunt pulled by Reporters Without Borders with collusion from the Times and other outlets quite obviously makes war more dangerous for actual journalists (war is already dangerous for Hamasniks, though the international community is working on a way to fix that too). But the report makes something else clear: those who expose the fact that Israel was targeting terrorists instead of journalists are wasting their breath on groups like Reporters Without Borders. The organization acknowledges that it docked Israel points for going after Hamas:

The 20-place fall of Israel (112nd) is due to the actions of the Israel Defence Forces in the Palestinian Territories – actions that used to be given a separate ranking in the index under the label of “Israel extraterritorial”. During Operation “Pillar of Defence” in November 2012, IDF deliberately targeted journalists and buildings housing media that are affiliated to Hamas or support it. And the arbitrary arrest and detention of Palestinian journalists is still commonplace. Israeli journalists meanwhile enjoy real freedom of expression but military censorship continues to be a structural problem.

The entry on the Palestinian territories does not even mention Hamasniks posing as journalists. Compared to last year, according to Reporters Without Borders, it’s all good news:

An improvement in relations between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas has had a positive impact on freedom of information and the working environment for journalists.

Neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas is known for having a “positive impact” on freedom of the press, but Hamas is worse than its rivals. I predict disappointment in Reporters Without Borders’s future if Hamas gains in influence within the PA structure in the West Bank. Meanwhile, the campaign to delegitimize Israel among NGOs continues apace without fairness, accuracy, shame, or, indeed, borders.

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How the World Enabled 25 Years of Palestinian Decline

One of the saddest comments I’ve ever heard was Gaza resident Ziad Ashour’s statement to the New York Times last week. Ever since the first intifada erupted in 1987, the 43-year-old butcher said, “things have steadily declined in Gaza.”

Think about that for a moment: After 25 years of fighting Israel in every possible way–“popular resistance,” suicide bombings, rockets, diplomatic warfare, boycott/divestment/sanctions efforts–all the Palestinians have to show for it is 25 years of steady decline. Indeed, the facts bear out Ashour’s assessment: Despite massive international aid, Gaza’s per capita GDP has remained virtually flat, totaling $817 in 1987 and $876 in 2010. Unemployment, which was generally under 5 percent in the 1980s, had soared to 45 percent by the end of 2010. And to add insult to injury, neither the terror nor the diplomatic warfare succeeded in preventing Israel from flourishing over those 25 years.

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One of the saddest comments I’ve ever heard was Gaza resident Ziad Ashour’s statement to the New York Times last week. Ever since the first intifada erupted in 1987, the 43-year-old butcher said, “things have steadily declined in Gaza.”

Think about that for a moment: After 25 years of fighting Israel in every possible way–“popular resistance,” suicide bombings, rockets, diplomatic warfare, boycott/divestment/sanctions efforts–all the Palestinians have to show for it is 25 years of steady decline. Indeed, the facts bear out Ashour’s assessment: Despite massive international aid, Gaza’s per capita GDP has remained virtually flat, totaling $817 in 1987 and $876 in 2010. Unemployment, which was generally under 5 percent in the 1980s, had soared to 45 percent by the end of 2010. And to add insult to injury, neither the terror nor the diplomatic warfare succeeded in preventing Israel from flourishing over those 25 years.

But the sadder part of the story is that none of this has managed to persuade the Palestinians that such tactics are self-defeating. As Steven Erlanger’s report shows, Hamas is riding high in Gaza; even a desperately poor woman who describes her life as one of “depression and deprivation” proclaims pride in Hamas’s ability to launch rockets at Israel. And Gazan political science professor Mkhaimar Abusada tells Erlanger this is a never-ending story:

He remembered a similar burst of Hamas popularity in October 2011, after the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, whom Hamas held for five years and exchanged for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. “But a month later the Palestinians woke up to the same problems: poverty, mismanagement, siege, unemployment, little freedom of movement,” Mr. Abusada said.

Yet if Palestinians are primarily to blame for their addiction to such counterproductive tactics, the international community has played a crucial role as enabler. First of all, the massive international aid–more than four times as much per capita as any other nation receives–has cushioned them from the consequences of their bad decisions. Gaza’s situation may not be rosy, but it’s better than that of many other countries: As Michael Rubin noted, Gaza outranks more than 110 countries worldwide in terms of both life expectancy and infant mortality. And as long as international aid is keeping them relatively comfortable, Palestinians feel little incentive to change their tactics.

Far worse, however, is that by offering the Palestinians almost unstinting diplomatic support while relentlessly criticizing Israel, the world feeds Palestinian fantasies that these tactics will someday succeed–that eventually, the world will force Israel to its knees. The recent farce at the UN was a classic example: 138 countries voted to recognize “Palestine” as a state in gross violation of the Palestinians’ own signed commitments, even though it meets none of the criteria for statehood. But the world then went into a frenzy of condemnation when Israel responded by advancing planning processes–not even actual construction–in an area that every peace plan ever proposed has assigned to Israel in any case. So why would Palestinians conclude that they are the ones who need to change their behavior?

A few sober-minded Palestinians do know better. “Gaining the support of the Israeli authorities in West Jerusalem for a Palestinian state is more important than the support of 138 countries that voted for Palestine at the UN,” Ibrahim Inbawi, a Fatah activist from East Jerusalem, told the Jerusalem Report last week.

Unfortunately, the world seems unwilling to tell his countrymen the same thing. For all its vaunted concern for the Palestinians, it seems the international community would rather let them suffer another 25 years of steady decline than try to wean them from their failed strategies.

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Oren: Media Bias Helps Terrorists

In response to the Washington Post ombudsman’s comparison of Hamas missiles to “bee stings” the other day, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren took the media to task in WaPo’s opinion section this morning. Oren doesn’t single out ombud Patrick Pexton directly, but it’s clearly implied

Media naturally gravitate toward dramatic and highly visual stories. Reports of 5.5 million Israelis gathered nightly in bomb shelters scarcely compete with the Palestinian father interviewed after losing his son. Both are, of course, newsworthy, but the first tells a more complete story while the second stirs emotions.

This is precisely what Hamas wants. It seeks to instill a visceral disgust for any Israeli act of self-defense, even one taken after years of unprovoked aggression.

Hamas strives to replace the tens of thousands of phone calls and text messages Israel sent to Palestinian civilians, warning them to leave combat zones, with lurid images of Palestinian suffering. If Hamas cannot win the war, it wants to win the story of the war. …

Like Americans, we cherish a free press, but unlike the terrorists, we are not looking for headlines. Our hope is that media resist the temptation to give them what they want.

As Oren writes, this is exactly the kind of coverage that benefits Hamas, and the frustrating part is many journalists don’t seem to have a problem with it. Israel has the right to use force to defend its own people from attacks, but media figures like Pexton act as if any response is out-of-bounds simply because Israel has a strong military.

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In response to the Washington Post ombudsman’s comparison of Hamas missiles to “bee stings” the other day, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren took the media to task in WaPo’s opinion section this morning. Oren doesn’t single out ombud Patrick Pexton directly, but it’s clearly implied

Media naturally gravitate toward dramatic and highly visual stories. Reports of 5.5 million Israelis gathered nightly in bomb shelters scarcely compete with the Palestinian father interviewed after losing his son. Both are, of course, newsworthy, but the first tells a more complete story while the second stirs emotions.

This is precisely what Hamas wants. It seeks to instill a visceral disgust for any Israeli act of self-defense, even one taken after years of unprovoked aggression.

Hamas strives to replace the tens of thousands of phone calls and text messages Israel sent to Palestinian civilians, warning them to leave combat zones, with lurid images of Palestinian suffering. If Hamas cannot win the war, it wants to win the story of the war. …

Like Americans, we cherish a free press, but unlike the terrorists, we are not looking for headlines. Our hope is that media resist the temptation to give them what they want.

As Oren writes, this is exactly the kind of coverage that benefits Hamas, and the frustrating part is many journalists don’t seem to have a problem with it. Israel has the right to use force to defend its own people from attacks, but media figures like Pexton act as if any response is out-of-bounds simply because Israel has a strong military.

To give an analogy, there are no reliable estimates of Taliban and insurgent casualties in Afghanistan, but the numbers are obviously much larger than the number of fallen NATO forces. Add in the number of Afghan civilian casualties (the majority of them killed by the Taliban and its allies) and that would greatly outweigh the number of NATO fatalities. The Taliban also fights with unsophisticated weapons, improvised explosive devices and Soviet-era rifles, and limited training. Often the Taliban blows up its own fighters while setting up IEDs; in some cases they fail to go off or are detected. Meanwhile, the U.S. has the greatest military the world has ever seen. Not only do NATO troops have access to far superior weapons and training, but billions are spent on counter-IED efforts and protective gear.

Yet serious journalists don’t contrast the number of NATO fatalities with the number of insurgency fatalities (or lump in Afghan civilian deaths with Taliban deaths) without putting it in proper context. They don’t compare the Taliban’s IEDs and small-arms attacks — which have caused horrific NATO casualties — to “bee stings on a bear’s behind.” They don’t describe U.S. defense against insurgency attacks as “disproportionate,” or set it up as a David v. Goliath scenario. 

Hamas is as much a terrorist group as the Taliban, but they are not treated that way by a large portion of the media. As Oren argues, this type of coverage will only encourage more violence from Hamas, not less.

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What Ehud Barak Taught the Middle East

Today’s announcement that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak will not compete in the country’s upcoming election in January can’t be considered much of a surprise. Barak, who broke away from the Labor Party in 2011, knows that the odds are against his small Independence Party gaining enough votes to send him back to the Knesset. Thus, his statement that he is stepping down from electoral politics is more of a concession to reality than anything else. But this doesn’t mean he won’t continue in his current job.

Since the law allows the prime minister to appoint individuals who are not members of the Knesset to cabinet posts, it is more than likely that Barak will still be giving the orders at the Kirya in Tel Aviv next year. Yet, as Aluf Benn notes in Haaretz, even if Prime Minister Netanyahu does bring him back, his influence in the next government will be diminished since, unlike cabinet colleagues like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, he will have no political constituency at his back. This means that although the 70-year-old former prime minister and chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces is probably not actually retiring from public life, it is an appropriate moment to ponder the significance of his career.

Barak is one of the most decorated soldiers in Israel’s history and his legacy as chief of staff and then later as defense minister is one that has generated wide and deserved praise. But he has also been the author of some of the biggest blunders in the country’s history without which his political failures would not have been explicable. While Barak will hope to be remembered chiefly for his exploits as a commando and then for successful military operations like the recently completed Operation Pillar of Defense, his role in ordering the IDF’s precipitate retreat from Lebanon and the diplomatic fiasco at Camp David in 2000 that led to the second intifada continue to loom large in his biography. Those who lament the demise of the peace process need look no further than Barak’s experiences as prime minister to understand why the country has rejected the policies of the left.

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Today’s announcement that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak will not compete in the country’s upcoming election in January can’t be considered much of a surprise. Barak, who broke away from the Labor Party in 2011, knows that the odds are against his small Independence Party gaining enough votes to send him back to the Knesset. Thus, his statement that he is stepping down from electoral politics is more of a concession to reality than anything else. But this doesn’t mean he won’t continue in his current job.

Since the law allows the prime minister to appoint individuals who are not members of the Knesset to cabinet posts, it is more than likely that Barak will still be giving the orders at the Kirya in Tel Aviv next year. Yet, as Aluf Benn notes in Haaretz, even if Prime Minister Netanyahu does bring him back, his influence in the next government will be diminished since, unlike cabinet colleagues like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, he will have no political constituency at his back. This means that although the 70-year-old former prime minister and chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces is probably not actually retiring from public life, it is an appropriate moment to ponder the significance of his career.

Barak is one of the most decorated soldiers in Israel’s history and his legacy as chief of staff and then later as defense minister is one that has generated wide and deserved praise. But he has also been the author of some of the biggest blunders in the country’s history without which his political failures would not have been explicable. While Barak will hope to be remembered chiefly for his exploits as a commando and then for successful military operations like the recently completed Operation Pillar of Defense, his role in ordering the IDF’s precipitate retreat from Lebanon and the diplomatic fiasco at Camp David in 2000 that led to the second intifada continue to loom large in his biography. Those who lament the demise of the peace process need look no further than Barak’s experiences as prime minister to understand why the country has rejected the policies of the left.

Barak is likely to be asked to stay on at the Defense Ministry next year for two reasons.

One is that his competence in military affairs stands head and shoulders above any of the politicians who would like to add the crucial post to their resumes. The example of Amir Peretz, a union hack whom Ehud Olmert appointed to the position in 2006, and whose incompetence materially contributed to the disasters of the second Lebanon War that year, means that no Israeli prime minister is likely to ever again treat the job as just a patronage plum.

The second is that Barak’s presence in the cabinet gives Netanyahu political cover. Barak makes the government, which is otherwise dominated by figures from Netanyahu’s Likud and other factions in the country’s national camp, appear more centrist. It also allows Netanyahu to fend off any initiatives from Lieberman or other right-wingers by letting Barak oppose them. Though Barak has at times been critical of the government’s stands on the Palestinians and has been notable for his friendly relationship with the Obama administration (especially when compared to the prime minister), he has been a good partner for Netanyahu and has generally acted in concert on the big issues. Without Barak, it is impossible to imagine that the prime minister would even contemplate a strike on Iran or other controversial military moves.

However, if we are to understand why Barak, who was once Netanyahu’s immediate commander in the army when they were both young men, wound up his subordinate in politics, we have to go back to his brief tenure as prime minister. In 1999, Barak routed Netanyahu in a direct election for prime minister. Netanyahu’s first term was not without its successes, but by the time he was defeated for re-election he had worn out his welcome. Barak was seen as a technocrat rather than a Labor Party ideologue and therefore better qualified to lead the country. But in just 20 short months (the shortest tenure of any prime minister in the country’s history), Barak conclusively proved that skeptics about the peace process were right.

Barak was applauded for bringing to an abrupt end Israel’s 18-year-old military presence in southern Lebanon in 2000. Israelis were as sick of the quagmire there as the Lebanese were. But by bugging out in a fashion that allowed Hezbollah to represent the move as a defeat for Israel and a victory for terrorism, Barak laid the foundation for future disasters such as the even more spectacularly disastrous pullout from Gaza that Ariel Sharon orchestrated in 2005.

However, Barak’s decision to try and end the conflict with the Palestinians in one stroke at the Camp David conference in July 2000 was even more problematic. Barak offered Yasir Arafat an independent state in Gaza, almost all of the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem, terms that most Israelis thought too generous. When Arafat rejected the offer, Barak sweetened it the following January in Taba only to get the same response. By then, Arafat had answered what he and the Palestinians thought was Barak’s weakness by launching a terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada.

Though 12 years later many American Jews and most of the Washington foreign policy establishment still haven’t absorbed the lessons of this debacle, the overwhelming majority of Israelis drew conclusions about the Palestinians from these events that continue to shape Israel’s political future.

Barak taught the Palestinians to think that terrorism will cause Israel to back down and retreat, leading them to think that more violence and intransigence rather than moderation and negotiation will get them what they want. At the same time, he taught Israelis that retreats like his Lebanon bug-out and the Gaza withdrawal it inspired, as well as the concessions that he made at Camp David, only lead to more sorrow for the country. Almost single-handedly (though it must be conceded that he couldn’t have done it without Arafat and his successor Mahmoud Abbas), Barak inculcated in the Israeli public the understanding that they have no partner for peace and that the intractable conflict can only be managed rather than solved.

Though Barak is rightly seen as being as much a failure as a politician as he was a success as a soldier, his mishaps in office have probably done more to influence the country’s politics than anything any other Israeli has done. While he may continue at the Defense Ministry for years to come, it is these lessons that he taught both Israelis and the Palestinians that may be his most lasting legacy.

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Obama and the Morsi Dictatorship

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has had quite a week. He helped broker a cease-fire between his Hamas ally and Israel to the acclaim of the international community as well as the United States and his new friend President Obama. He followed that triumph up by issuing new decrees that effectively give him dictatorial powers over Egypt. In less than year in office, Morsi has amassed as much power as Hosni Mubarak had in his time in office as the country’s strongman and he has done it while getting closer to the United States rather than having his Islamist regime being condemned or isolated by Washington.

The full implications of Morsi’s ascendency are not yet apparent. But we can draw a few rather obvious conclusions from these events. The first is this makes the region a much more dangerous place and peace even more unlikely. the second is that the much ballyhooed Arab Spring turned out to be an Islamist triumph, not an opening for democracy. And third, and perhaps most disconcerting for Americans, it looks like the Obama administration has shown itself again to be a band of hopeless amateurs when it comes to the Middle East. While President Obama shouldn’t be blamed for toppling Mubarak, this episode is more proof of the gap between his foreign policy instincts and a rational defense of American interests.

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Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has had quite a week. He helped broker a cease-fire between his Hamas ally and Israel to the acclaim of the international community as well as the United States and his new friend President Obama. He followed that triumph up by issuing new decrees that effectively give him dictatorial powers over Egypt. In less than year in office, Morsi has amassed as much power as Hosni Mubarak had in his time in office as the country’s strongman and he has done it while getting closer to the United States rather than having his Islamist regime being condemned or isolated by Washington.

The full implications of Morsi’s ascendency are not yet apparent. But we can draw a few rather obvious conclusions from these events. The first is this makes the region a much more dangerous place and peace even more unlikely. the second is that the much ballyhooed Arab Spring turned out to be an Islamist triumph, not an opening for democracy. And third, and perhaps most disconcerting for Americans, it looks like the Obama administration has shown itself again to be a band of hopeless amateurs when it comes to the Middle East. While President Obama shouldn’t be blamed for toppling Mubarak, this episode is more proof of the gap between his foreign policy instincts and a rational defense of American interests.

The first point to be made about the cheering for Morsi’s role in brokering the cease-fire is misplaced. It cannot be emphasized too much that the reason why Hamas felt so confident about picking a fight with Israel that it could not possibly win militarily is the fact that Egypt and fellow regional power Turkey were treating it as an ally rather than as terrorist regime that needed to be isolated and controlled. While Morsi has sought to exercise some influence over Gaza by keeping the border crossings to Sinai closed (more as a result of concern over the violence spilling over into Egyptian territory than a desire to restrain terrorism), the support for the legitimacy of the illegal Hamas regime on the part of the Muslim Brotherhood government has been a game changer.

More than ever before, Hamas now has the whip hand over the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority. That makes the already nearly non-existent chances of peace between Palestinians and Israelis even smaller. Though it can be argued that the ability of Hamas to preserve its rule over Gaza following the last bout of fighting with Israel in January 2009 already made it clear that it was a force to be reckoned with, the backing of Egypt and Turkey and the tacit approval of the United States in the cease-fire means there can be no doubt that Hamas truly is the face of Palestinian nationalism these days as well as the owners of an independent Palestinian state in all but name. With Cairo and Ankara backing them up and Iranian missiles in their arsenal, Hamas’s strength makes the standard liberal talking point about it being necessary for Israel to make more concessions to Fatah even more absurd than ever.

If the blockade of Gaza is now to be weakened even further to allow “construction materials” as well as the food and medicine that has never ceased flowing into the area from Israel, then it must be acknowledged that Hamas is more powerful than ever and well placed to make mischief in the region whenever it likes. Rather than applauding Morsi’s role in the cease-fire, Americans should be asking why the administration has acquiesced to having one of their nation’s primary aid recipients being an ally of Hamas. They should also be wondering about what exactly it is that passed between Obama and Morsi during their phone conversations and what promises, if any, were made by the United States about future pressure on Israel.

Morsi’s consolidation of dictatorial power also should not have taken Washington by surprise, as it seems to have done. For several months, the State Department has been acting as if it bought the argument that the Muslim Brotherhood government was basically moderate in nature and more interested in economic development than pursuing ideological goals. But Morsi’s actions, in which he has sidelined every competing power base that might have acted as a check on his ambitions, makes it apparent that his real purpose is to make his movement’s control of the country permanent. Any hope that democracy was coming to Egypt or the rest of the Arab and Muslim world was misplaced. And any idea that the United States can bribe Morsi or any other Islamist into playing ball is sheer folly.

That leads us to the final point about the administration’s utter lack of skill in dealing with the realities of the Middle East.

Even if we were to concede that the president’s motives were pure and that he wanted nothing more than to bring peace to the region and democracy to Arab nations that have never known it, virtually everything that the administration has done has made the achievement of these goals even less likely than before.

The president isn’t personally responsible for the collapse of an unsustainable Mubarak dictatorship. But he did nothing to aid the cause of the few Egyptian liberals who actually want democracy. Worse than that, he undercut the efforts of the Egyptian military to act as a brake on the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. Instead of seeking to use the billions that Egypt gets from the U.S. as a lever with which he could restrain Cairo from backing Hamas and the Brotherhood from seizing more power, Washington has embraced Morsi. That emboldened Hamas and led to the recent fighting. Though the president said all the right things about backing Israel’s right to self-defense, his diplomatic maneuvering not only helped set the stage for more violence but made it more difficult for Israel to exercise that right.

A president who says he wants peace and democracy in the Middle East is now acting as if the Islamists that run Turkey and Egypt are his new best friends while continuing to treat the head of the only democracy in the region as a nuisance. In doing so, President Obama has helped make the world a lot more dangerous than it might otherwise have been.

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Has the West Given Up on Isolating Hamas?

Last month, I wrote about the danger Hamas poses to peace in the Middle East on a second, and relatively new, front: its newfound diplomatic clout in the region. Saudi Arabia first began dumping cash into Gaza, and was soon followed by Qatar doing the same—between them the countries just pledged nearly $1 billion in investment in the Strip. And Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has figured out that he wields more influence with the West as a mediator between Hamas and the Western world.

Always clearly, though quietly, opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state, the Arab world is no longer hiding it, choosing instead to garishly empower and enrich the entity that will make peace impossible. And so, as Egypt mediated an Israel-Hamas cease-fire this week, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal also received a prime interview slot on CNN at the tail end of Operation Pillar of Defense. Did he use this time to feign moderation? On the contrary, Meshaal reads the support he’s getting from around the world as a signal that he need not moderate, nor claim to. Here is Christiane Amanpour asking Meshaal about a two-state solution and renouncing terrorism:

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Last month, I wrote about the danger Hamas poses to peace in the Middle East on a second, and relatively new, front: its newfound diplomatic clout in the region. Saudi Arabia first began dumping cash into Gaza, and was soon followed by Qatar doing the same—between them the countries just pledged nearly $1 billion in investment in the Strip. And Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has figured out that he wields more influence with the West as a mediator between Hamas and the Western world.

Always clearly, though quietly, opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state, the Arab world is no longer hiding it, choosing instead to garishly empower and enrich the entity that will make peace impossible. And so, as Egypt mediated an Israel-Hamas cease-fire this week, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal also received a prime interview slot on CNN at the tail end of Operation Pillar of Defense. Did he use this time to feign moderation? On the contrary, Meshaal reads the support he’s getting from around the world as a signal that he need not moderate, nor claim to. Here is Christiane Amanpour asking Meshaal about a two-state solution and renouncing terrorism:

AMANPOUR: You say you would prefer the route that did not cause so much violence, so much death.

And yet, you say that you would accept a two-state solution, but that you will not recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Is that still the case?

MESHAAL (through translator): First of all, the offer must come from the attacker, from Israel, which has the arsenal, not from the victim. Second, I say to you from 20 years ago and more, the Palestinians and Arabs are offering peace. But peace is destroying peace through aggression and war and killing.

This idea (ph), this touch failed experiences, we have two options. No other. Either there’s an international will, led by the U.S. and Europe and the international community and force Israel to go through the way of peace and a Palestinian state, according to the border of 1967 with the right to return. And this is something we have agreed upon as Palestinians, as a common program.

But if Israel can continue to refuse this, either the — either we force them or resist to — resort to resistance. I accept a state of the 1967. How can I accept Israel? They have occupied my land. I need recognition, not the Israelis. This is a reversed question.

The Palestinian right of return Meshaal talks about is obviously the end of the state of Israel. And if Israel won’t agree to let the Palestinians control the land from the river to the sea, “we force them or… resort to resistance.”

Later, Amanpour asks Meshaal if the conflict in Syria and Bashar al-Assad’s support from Iran has caused Hamas to distance itself from Iran. Meshaal answers frankly: “No. You see, the relationship with Iran is present.” And not just Iran, and not just the Arab world, either. Meshaal adds: “Everyone giving us support, whether it’s from Iran or Europe.”

When George Mitchell stepped down as White House envoy to the Middle East in 2011, Walter Russell Mead wrote an essay about the failure to make any headway during Mitchell’s tenure. Mitchell famously tried to apply his experience as a negotiator in Northern Ireland to the Middle East, and Mead gave several reasons this was doomed from the start. But there were, as Mead noted, lessons to be learned from the situation in Northern Ireland. Among them:

The Irish weren’t secretly funding radical and rejectionist nationalist terror groups.  Iceland and Denmark weren’t funding Irish terrorists to advance their own agendas.  France wasn’t encouraging the IRA to fight on as a way of containing Britain.  Catholics around the world weren’t demonstrating and raising money for Irish annexation of Ulster; the Pope wasn’t issuing encyclicals affirming the religious duty of Catholics to fight to kick the heretics out.  (A few grizzled US-based Irish emigrants raised money for the IRA, but this is nothing compared to what groups like Hamas get from abroad.)  The European Union wasn’t condemning British war crimes in Ulster and passing resolutions in favor of Irish grievances.

The EU, the US, Ireland, the Vatican and Britain all wanted the troubles to stop.  None of them were willing to help troublemakers.  All of them were willing to crack down on terrorist groups.

The international community wanted peace and the end of terrorism. But watching Meshaal preen on CNN, promising an unending war of terror against Israeli civilians while at the same time and in practically the same breath boasting of the support Hamas receives from around the world, it’s clear there is no such dedication this time around. Hamas’s isolation was always a key to bringing some measure of peace to the region. There is no isolation, and Hamas is promising that there will be no peace.

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The Complicated Politics of the Israel-Hamas Cease-Fire

At the beginning of this year, as speculation over whether Israel was preparing to strike Iran’s nuclear program reached something of a crescendo, one of Israel’s most respected journalists sat down with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The journalist, Ronen Bergman, asked Barak about the former political and military figures who had begun to publicly argue against a strike. Barak responded with a reminder about the burden of responsibility he carries along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“It’s good to have diversity in thinking and for people to voice their opinions,” Barak said. “But at the end of the day, when the military command looks up, it sees us — the minister of defense and the prime minister. When we look up, we see nothing but the sky above us.” Barak wasn’t trying to be dramatic; rather, he was making make a point about the historical weight that rests on nearly every major decision made by the Israeli leadership. Many in the press took this as a declaration by Barak that he would always err on the side of the hawks—why take any chances? But in reality, as we saw this week with Operation Pillar of Defense, it can often mean just the opposite. Barak Ravid reports:

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At the beginning of this year, as speculation over whether Israel was preparing to strike Iran’s nuclear program reached something of a crescendo, one of Israel’s most respected journalists sat down with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The journalist, Ronen Bergman, asked Barak about the former political and military figures who had begun to publicly argue against a strike. Barak responded with a reminder about the burden of responsibility he carries along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“It’s good to have diversity in thinking and for people to voice their opinions,” Barak said. “But at the end of the day, when the military command looks up, it sees us — the minister of defense and the prime minister. When we look up, we see nothing but the sky above us.” Barak wasn’t trying to be dramatic; rather, he was making make a point about the historical weight that rests on nearly every major decision made by the Israeli leadership. Many in the press took this as a declaration by Barak that he would always err on the side of the hawks—why take any chances? But in reality, as we saw this week with Operation Pillar of Defense, it can often mean just the opposite. Barak Ravid reports:

At Tuesday’s meeting, just before U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived, it became clear to Israel that the principles for a cease-fire being proposed by Egypt were much closer to Hamas’ positions than to its own. The assumption voiced by intelligence officials at the triumvirate meeting was that, contrary to the situation during Mubarak’s era, the Egyptians are aligning with Hamas and trying to provide it with achievements.

This triggered an acerbic dispute between Barak and Lieberman. The defense minister, opposed to an expansion of the operation, thought Israel should respond positively to Egypt’s proposal for a cease-fire and end the operation. Barak said at the meeting that the precise wording of the Egyptian draft is not important since the end of fighting and Israel’s power of deterrence would be tested by the reality on the ground.

Despite a clear lack of trust in their Egyptian counterparts, Barak argued for, and Netanyahu accepted, the merits of ending the conflict without a ground incursion into Gaza. Netanyahu, as we’ve written here before, bears almost no relation to the caricature painted of him in the Western press. The journalists who have spent the last year or two republishing rumors of an imminent Israeli attack on Iran that never materialized too often believed their own spin. Netanyahu, they said, was a warmonger who would order risky comprehensive military operations over the objections of the Israeli public. But in fact, as we learned this week, the Israeli public opposed the cease-fire that brought an end to Operation Pillar of Defense—by a wide margin.

They tended to agree with Avigdor Lieberman, that Israel’s deterrence had not yet been restored. And this wasn’t coming from the peanut gallery sitting on the sidelines. As the Times of Israel reports, there was noticeable and vocal dissent within the military—soldiers who were called up just in case and expressed vehement disappointment that they were never ordered into Gaza.

Netanyahu’s acceptance of the cease-fire is certainly popular outside Israel, especially among his fellow diplomats and heads of state. But there is some risk here too; Netanyahu’s counterparts abroad don’t care what the terms of the deal are, and they don’t much care for Israel’s deterrent capability. They want, more than anything, for Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to look like a pragmatic dealmaker, to assuage Western fears that a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt will side with Hamas, which has its roots in the Brotherhood as well, rather than with Western interests.

And any goodwill Netanyahu earns will dissipate almost immediately; “Bibi the Peacemaker” runs counter to the narrative the media constructed and from which they seem constitutionally incapable of deviating. They told us Netanyahu was launching this conflict to shore up his reelection prospects. That it seems to have done the reverse—he is still favored, but looks to be somewhat weakened by the cease-fire—is an example of the difficult position in which Israel finds itself. Israelis prove time and again that their state can uphold both democracy and national security—two things increasingly unimportant to the Jewish state’s critics abroad.

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The Limits of Empathy

Despite having opposed Israel’s pullout from Gaza from the very beginning, I cheered when I read Jonathan’s post on why he supported it. I, too, think Israel’s overseas supporters–on both sides of the political spectrum–ought to accord more respect to Israelis’ democratic decisions than they sometimes do. But this isn’t only because, as he rightly said, Israelis are the ones who ultimately bear the consequences of those decisions. It’s because in making those decisions, Israelis often have knowledge that even the most supportive and best-informed non-Israelis lack.

By this, I don’t just mean knowledge of the facts, though that’s also an issue. During the “quiet” years following Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas in Gaza, for instance, people overseas were often shocked when I mentioned that rockets still fell regularly on southern Israel; that’s information even regular visitors to Israeli news sites could easily have missed. Yet it obviously affected Israelis’ views on territorial withdrawals.

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Despite having opposed Israel’s pullout from Gaza from the very beginning, I cheered when I read Jonathan’s post on why he supported it. I, too, think Israel’s overseas supporters–on both sides of the political spectrum–ought to accord more respect to Israelis’ democratic decisions than they sometimes do. But this isn’t only because, as he rightly said, Israelis are the ones who ultimately bear the consequences of those decisions. It’s because in making those decisions, Israelis often have knowledge that even the most supportive and best-informed non-Israelis lack.

By this, I don’t just mean knowledge of the facts, though that’s also an issue. During the “quiet” years following Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas in Gaza, for instance, people overseas were often shocked when I mentioned that rockets still fell regularly on southern Israel; that’s information even regular visitors to Israeli news sites could easily have missed. Yet it obviously affected Israelis’ views on territorial withdrawals.

Far more important, however, is the knowledge of what it actually means to live with such consequences. Many Westerners, because they have been raised on the value of empathy and genuinely try to practice it, truly believe they have succeeded; as an Israeli, I can’t count how many times I’ve been told, “I understand, I really do.” But the only honest answer is, “No, you don’t.”

If you’ve never lain awake night after night, unable to sleep, because you’re tensely awaiting the siren that tells you a rocket has been launched and you have only seconds to take shelter, you do not understand the physical, mental and emotional devastation of living under constant rocket fire–even if (thanks in part to such precautions) it mercifully causes few casualties. If you’ve never woken up, morning after morning, dreading the moment when you have to turn on the radio and hear how many people have been killed overnight, all while praying nobody you know will be on the list, you don’t how emotionally devastating a suicide bombing campaign can be even to those whose loved ones are mercifully spared. If you’ve never paid a shiva (condolence) call on a family that has been shattered by the loss of their bright, beautiful daughter in a terror attack, or of their soldier son in combat, you don’t know what it’s like to live constantly in the shadow of terror and war.

Reasonable people can obviously draw different conclusions from this knowledge: Author David Grossman still advocates territorial withdrawals even though his soldier son was killed in the war Hezbollah launched from Lebanon six years after Israel withdrew; columnist Rabbi Stewart Weiss opposes territorial withdrawals even though his soldier son was killed serving in the “occupied territories.” But whatever decision an Israeli reaches on these issues, he or she has made it with a bone-deep understanding of the price they will pay if the choice goes sour.

That’s an understanding non-Israelis lack, even when they’re perfectly aware of all the pros and cons on paper. And because of it, they often end up assigning different weight to the variables than Israelis do.

I don’t expect American Jews to agree with every Israeli choice. But I would like them to understand that the choices they disagree with may be driven by knowledge they lack. For without that understanding, bridging the gap between the two communities’ very different experiences will only keep getting harder.

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Cease-Fire Agreement Reached

Hillary Clinton announced the deal at a Cairo press conference this afternoon. Reports haven’t included all the details of the agreement just yet, but it’s supposed to take effect shortly:

Nov 21 (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday the ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza had come at a crucial time for countries of the Middle East.

“This is a critical moment for the region. Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone for regional stability and peace,” she said at a joint news conference with her Egyptian counterpart, Mohamed Kamel Amr.

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Hillary Clinton announced the deal at a Cairo press conference this afternoon. Reports haven’t included all the details of the agreement just yet, but it’s supposed to take effect shortly:

Nov 21 (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday the ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza had come at a crucial time for countries of the Middle East.

“This is a critical moment for the region. Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone for regional stability and peace,” she said at a joint news conference with her Egyptian counterpart, Mohamed Kamel Amr.

We’ll see what both sides get out of this, if anything but a return to the status quo. Hamas was demanding the lifting of Israel’s blockade. If that’s in the actual agreement — Reuters says it is not — Israel would have traded temporary peace for even bigger problems later on.

There’s also the question of how long this lasts. Israel has successfully destroyed almost all of the missile stockpiles and launching sites it was aware of, so the length of the cease-fire may just depend on how long it takes Hamas to replenish its supplies.

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Why Turkey’s Influence Is Fading Fast

Though most of the news out of Turkey in recent years has been dispiriting, the once-secular nation finally seems to be paying a price for its Islamist turn. As the New York Times reports today, Turkey is learning an age-old lesson about power politics in the Middle East: in alienating Israel in a bid to win the trust of the region’s Arab population, it has marginalized itself:

After prayers last Friday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stepped outside a mosque on the banks of the Bosphorous here and dismissed a suggestion that Turkey should talk directly with its onetime ally, Israel, to attempt to resolve the crisis unfolding in Gaza.

“We do not have any connections in terms of dialogue with Israel,” he said.

But by Tuesday, Turkey seemed to indicate that while its strident anti-Israel posture has been popular among Arabs, it has been at its own expense, undermining its ability to play the role of regional power broker by leaving it with little leverage to intercede in the Gaza conflict. As he headed to Gaza with an Arab League delegation on Tuesday, Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, suggested to reporters that back-channel discussions had been opened with Israeli authorities.

The article contrasts Turkey’s standing in the current conflict with that of Egypt. Since both Egypt’s government and the Hamas rulers of Gaza spring from the Muslim Brotherhood, and since Egypt and Gaza share a border (though not in the ignorant minds of the “flotilla” activists), Egypt has a natural advantage over Turkey as a power broker in this case. Egypt also has history on its side, and in the Middle East, history counts for a lot. So this puts Turkey at a disadvantage to begin with, which it only compounded by making a series of unforced errors.

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Though most of the news out of Turkey in recent years has been dispiriting, the once-secular nation finally seems to be paying a price for its Islamist turn. As the New York Times reports today, Turkey is learning an age-old lesson about power politics in the Middle East: in alienating Israel in a bid to win the trust of the region’s Arab population, it has marginalized itself:

After prayers last Friday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stepped outside a mosque on the banks of the Bosphorous here and dismissed a suggestion that Turkey should talk directly with its onetime ally, Israel, to attempt to resolve the crisis unfolding in Gaza.

“We do not have any connections in terms of dialogue with Israel,” he said.

But by Tuesday, Turkey seemed to indicate that while its strident anti-Israel posture has been popular among Arabs, it has been at its own expense, undermining its ability to play the role of regional power broker by leaving it with little leverage to intercede in the Gaza conflict. As he headed to Gaza with an Arab League delegation on Tuesday, Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, suggested to reporters that back-channel discussions had been opened with Israeli authorities.

The article contrasts Turkey’s standing in the current conflict with that of Egypt. Since both Egypt’s government and the Hamas rulers of Gaza spring from the Muslim Brotherhood, and since Egypt and Gaza share a border (though not in the ignorant minds of the “flotilla” activists), Egypt has a natural advantage over Turkey as a power broker in this case. Egypt also has history on its side, and in the Middle East, history counts for a lot. So this puts Turkey at a disadvantage to begin with, which it only compounded by making a series of unforced errors.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan keeps trying to close this credibility gap by aiming such venom at the Jewish state that even the Times calls him “anti-Israel.” Part of the problem for Erdogan is that he seems to believe the tales he tells himself. The Times notes that “Turkey’s stature in the Middle East has soared in recent years as it became a vocal defender of Palestinian rights and an outspoken critic of Israel.”

Erdogan is most certainly not a defender of Palestinian rights; he is a defender of Hamas, terrorist entity that executes Palestinians in the streets and pursues a brutish totalitarianism that continues to strangle the life–literally and figuratively–out of the Palestinians it governs.

Erdogan’s marginalization is a positive development, but it also highlights the need to marginalize and disempower the extremists like Hamas with whom Erdogan chooses to ally his country. The “forces of moderation” may be a relative term in the Middle East, but it doesn’t include Hamas, nor, any longer, Turkey.

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Gaza Celebrates Bus Bombing in Tel Aviv

The terrorist bombing of a Tel Aviv bus wounded 23 this morning. The last time there was an attack like this in Tel Aviv was 2006, and it raises the obvious questions about the danger of this conflict taking repeated aim at the bustling population center. This wasn’t a suicide bombing, and the two suspects are reportedly on the run.

Also, in case there was any doubt this would hinder a potential cease-fire deal, the Jerusalem Post reports that Hamas has already started celebrating in Gaza:

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The terrorist bombing of a Tel Aviv bus wounded 23 this morning. The last time there was an attack like this in Tel Aviv was 2006, and it raises the obvious questions about the danger of this conflict taking repeated aim at the bustling population center. This wasn’t a suicide bombing, and the two suspects are reportedly on the run.

Also, in case there was any doubt this would hinder a potential cease-fire deal, the Jerusalem Post reports that Hamas has already started celebrating in Gaza:

Hamas praised the terrorist bombing of a bus in Tel Aviv Wednesday afternoon, but stopped short of claiming responsibility.

“Hamas blesses the attack in Tel Aviv and sees it as a natural response to the Israeli massacres…in Gaza,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters. “Palestinian factions will resort to all means in order to protect our Palestinian civilians in the absence of a world effort to stop the Israeli aggression.”

On Twitter, Hamas’s armed wing posted: “We told you #IDF that our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are, ‘You opened the Gates of Hell on Yourselves.’”

Sweet cakes were handed out in celebration in Gaza’s main hospital, which has been inundated with wounded from IAF strikes as part of Operation Pillar of Defense. Celebratory gunfire reportedly rang out as news of the attack spread throughout the Strip.

The White House and Hillary Clinton, who had just arrived in Cairo to help broker a cease-fire, released the following statements:

The White House denounced the attack, saying “these attacks against innocent Israeli civilians are outrageous.”

“The United States will stand with our Israeli allies, and provide whatever assistance is necessary to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of this attack,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. 

“The United States strongly condemns this terrorist attack and our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the people of Israel.” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday.

“As I arrive in Cairo, I am closely monitoring reports from Tel Aviv, and we will stay in close contact with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s team. The United States stands ready to provide any assistance that Israel requires,” she added.

Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade has claimed responsibility for the attack, but JPost says police haven’t confirmed.

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Hamas’s Triple War Crimes

Standing beside the UN secretary general yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted again that every rocket from Gaza is a double war crime, since each reflects: (1) an intentional indiscriminate attack on civilians, while (2) hiding behind a civilian population for protection.

It is actually a triple war crime, because the use of civilians as shields is intended not simply for protection of the terrorists, but to ensure that Palestinian civilians are killed — to produce the response from the UN, the New York Times, and others in the “international community” necessary to win the media war that is conducted alongside the military one. In a phone call late last night in Israel, a noted Israeli commentator described the situation that Israel faces as Kafkaesque: 

“The most bizarre part is that Israel is in the position of protecting the Gaza public from its own leadership that is trying to get them killed in order to win points with the New York Times.” 

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Standing beside the UN secretary general yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted again that every rocket from Gaza is a double war crime, since each reflects: (1) an intentional indiscriminate attack on civilians, while (2) hiding behind a civilian population for protection.

It is actually a triple war crime, because the use of civilians as shields is intended not simply for protection of the terrorists, but to ensure that Palestinian civilians are killed — to produce the response from the UN, the New York Times, and others in the “international community” necessary to win the media war that is conducted alongside the military one. In a phone call late last night in Israel, a noted Israeli commentator described the situation that Israel faces as Kafkaesque: 

“The most bizarre part is that Israel is in the position of protecting the Gaza public from its own leadership that is trying to get them killed in order to win points with the New York Times.” 

In another call yesterday, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren said that Israel has so far used more than 10,000 phone calls, text messages, pamphlets, and other public announcements to warn Palestinian civilians of areas to avoid, and inform them of areas where they can safely take shelter. Pamphlets have been dropped from the sky providing directions — complete with roads to use. 

As Netanyahu told the UN head yesterday: “I’m not sure that there is another military on earth that goes to such great lengths to keep innocents out of harm’s way.” It is an extraordinary accomplishment, given the fact that Israel is facing an enemy that uses triple war crimes as the heart of its military/media strategy.

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Jerusalem Bomb Sirens Scatter Pro-Palestinian Rally

IsraellyCool reports on a video of pro-Palestinian activists protesting Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense at Hebrew University in Jerusalem today. The denunciations of the Zionist war machine seemed to be going smoothly–until Jerusalem’s air raid sirens were triggered by an incoming Hamas rocket. You can probably guess what happened next:

Aussie Dave writes at the link above: “I guess they won’t be boycotting Israeli bomb shelters any time soon.”

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IsraellyCool reports on a video of pro-Palestinian activists protesting Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense at Hebrew University in Jerusalem today. The denunciations of the Zionist war machine seemed to be going smoothly–until Jerusalem’s air raid sirens were triggered by an incoming Hamas rocket. You can probably guess what happened next:

Aussie Dave writes at the link above: “I guess they won’t be boycotting Israeli bomb shelters any time soon.”

Friday was the first time a rocket fired from Gaza managed to reach the outskirts of Jerusalem. The rocket that set off the sirens today was aimed at Jerusalem, and hit the West Bank. Needless to say, it is easier to object to Israel’s efforts to destroy Hamas’s weapons stockpile when you aren’t living under siege from hundreds of these missiles on a daily basis, as Israelis closer to the Gaza border are. If these protesters have any capacity for self-reflection, maybe they can take a lesson from that.

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Report: Russia Pushes UN Gaza Resolution

The U.S. blocked a one-sided UN Security Council statement today that called for an Israeli cease-fire but ignored rocket attacks from Hamas. In response, Russia will reportedly propose a similar resolution to the entire council body — which needs nine votes to pass, but can be vetoed by the U.S. — later today:

Russia said on Monday that if the 15-member council could not agree on a statement then it would put a resolution – a stronger move by the council than a statement – to a vote later on Tuesday to call for an end to the violence and show support for regional and international efforts to broker peace.

A resolution is passed when it receives nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the five permanent council members – Russia, China, Britain, the United States and France. Some diplomats said a vote on the Russian resolution would likely be tight and could force a veto by the United States.

The Security Council is generally deadlocked on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which U.N. diplomats say is due to U.S. determination to protect its close ally Israel. The council held an emergency meeting last Wednesday to discuss the Israeli strikes on Gaza but took no action.

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The U.S. blocked a one-sided UN Security Council statement today that called for an Israeli cease-fire but ignored rocket attacks from Hamas. In response, Russia will reportedly propose a similar resolution to the entire council body — which needs nine votes to pass, but can be vetoed by the U.S. — later today:

Russia said on Monday that if the 15-member council could not agree on a statement then it would put a resolution – a stronger move by the council than a statement – to a vote later on Tuesday to call for an end to the violence and show support for regional and international efforts to broker peace.

A resolution is passed when it receives nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the five permanent council members – Russia, China, Britain, the United States and France. Some diplomats said a vote on the Russian resolution would likely be tight and could force a veto by the United States.

The Security Council is generally deadlocked on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which U.N. diplomats say is due to U.S. determination to protect its close ally Israel. The council held an emergency meeting last Wednesday to discuss the Israeli strikes on Gaza but took no action.

The U.S. will veto, but if it gets enough votes it will still be a diplomatic blow to Israel. Russia, China, Pakistan, Morocco and Azerbaijan are pretty much givens, and even if they can’t get to nine, the vote would be close. Of course, if the rumored cease-fire takes hold, the resolution threat will disappear. That’s probably yet another reason why the U.S. is hoping for an early agreement today from Israel. 

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What Price Will Obama Make Israel Pay?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is heading to the Middle East. The outgoing chief diplomat arrives just as a cease-fire may be about to take hold, even though rockets continued to hit Israeli cities today. But whether she seeks to take credit for the halt to the fighting or not, her arrival is bound to set off a wave of speculation about what price the Obama administration is about to try to exact from Israel for its diplomatic support in the past week.

The administration has been steadfast in its rhetorical backing of Israel’s right to self-defense against the storm of Hamas rockets that have been aimed at the country’s cities, towns and villages. But right now what may count most will be what President Obama and Secretary Clinton have been saying to the leaders of Egypt and Turkey as they sought to get Hamas’s allies to persuade the Islamist rulers of Gaza to stop firing rockets at Israel. If the U.S. has privately signaled support for concessions to Hamas or even hinted at eventual recognition of the Gaza regime, that could be the opening for another bout of administration pressure on Israel in Obama’s second term. If so, then the president’s kind words about Israel in the past few days will have come at a high price indeed.

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is heading to the Middle East. The outgoing chief diplomat arrives just as a cease-fire may be about to take hold, even though rockets continued to hit Israeli cities today. But whether she seeks to take credit for the halt to the fighting or not, her arrival is bound to set off a wave of speculation about what price the Obama administration is about to try to exact from Israel for its diplomatic support in the past week.

The administration has been steadfast in its rhetorical backing of Israel’s right to self-defense against the storm of Hamas rockets that have been aimed at the country’s cities, towns and villages. But right now what may count most will be what President Obama and Secretary Clinton have been saying to the leaders of Egypt and Turkey as they sought to get Hamas’s allies to persuade the Islamist rulers of Gaza to stop firing rockets at Israel. If the U.S. has privately signaled support for concessions to Hamas or even hinted at eventual recognition of the Gaza regime, that could be the opening for another bout of administration pressure on Israel in Obama’s second term. If so, then the president’s kind words about Israel in the past few days will have come at a high price indeed.

Though Egypt and Turkey are attempting to position themselves as sponsors of any new peace on the ground in Gaza, their role in helping to foment the violence is clear. It is doubtful that without the strong diplomatic support they have gotten from the Islamist governments of both countries Hamas would have chosen to pick a fight with Israel at this time. Throughout the fighting, Egypt and Turkey have done their best to demonize Israel. Though Israel is the victim here, those two countries have treated the Israelis as the aggressors and egged on the true aggressor: Hamas. However, if the Obama administration has gotten Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi or the president’s good friend Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to persuade Hamas to stand down, it is reasonable to suppose that they have gotten something in exchange from Washington.

It is equally reasonable to speculate that what they got was a promise that Obama would return to the policy of pressure on Israel that he employed throughout most of his first term until he was forced to terminate it amid his election-year Jewish charm offensive.

This is exactly what many of Israel’s liberal critics have been clamoring for as the missiles rained down on Israeli cities this past week. Far from being conducive to reviving interest in a two-state solution, any concessions to Hamas, Turkey or Egypt will do exactly the opposite. If that is indeed what is in the president’s mind, he is taking American foreign policy down a dead end that will only lead to more bloodshed in the future.

Hamas went to war in no small measure to bolster their standing among Palestinians at the expense of the Palestinian Authority and its Fatah leadership. With Arabs in the West Bank now publicly clamoring for their own Hamas missile launching teams, they have achieved that objective. The notion that Hamas can be co-opted into supporting a new round of peace talks is completely divorced from reality. Hamas has no interest in peace and its ideology is unalterably opposed to any two-state solution, no matter where Israel’s borders would be drawn in such a scheme. The PA and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, are paralyzed and unable to even negotiate, let alone sign such an agreement as they have proved these last four years since the last Israeli offer of a state was rejected. The reason for this is that they know that any deviation from a position demanding the “right of return” or other positions that are synonymous with the end of Israel as a Jewish state will mean even more Palestinians will ditch them for Hamas. The fact that the PA never took advantage of any of Obama’s diplomatic gifts to them in the last four years should have clued the president in on their lack of interest in a deal.

Most Israelis, even those who would happily give up the settlements, understand this and realize any further concessions on territory will bring more terror, not peace. Though the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system has done well in the last week, it would be rapidly overwhelmed were the shooting coming from the West Bank rather than the remote Gaza strip. Until there is a sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians that will mean that a group loses rather than gains popularity by trying to kill Jews, peace just isn’t in the offing–no matter what the Israelis put on the table.

More pressure on Israel to give up territory won’t bring about a two-state solution, but it will encourage the Islamists who already run an independent Palestinian state in all but name to dig in their heels and try new provocations. That will mean more dead Israelis and Palestinians, not the progress toward peace that the U.S. says it wants.

Nor should Israel be influenced by an Obama promise related to the Iranian nuclear threat. Though it often is made to seem as if it is only an Israeli issue, a nuclear Iran is just as much of a threat to American influence in the region as it is to Israeli security. If President Obama is to keep his promise never to allow Iran to get such a weapon, it should not be bought again by Israeli concessions.

The United States is right to push for a cease-fire in Gaza. But they should not try to extract a price for it from Israel that will set the stage for another round of fighting when Hamas decides that it is again in their interests to turn up the heat. The president should have learned from his first-term mistakes that pressure on Israel only encourages Palestinian violence, not peace.

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Turkey’s Dangerous Game in Gaza

There was a fiery exchange at yesterday’s State Department briefing between the department’s spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, and AP reporter Matthew Lee, over Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s latest verbal assault upon Israel. Here’s the key part of their back-and-forth:

LEE: You’re not telling us anything about… when the Turks come out, when the leaders of Turkey come out and say that Israel is engaged in acts of terrorism and you refuse to say that you don’t agree with that… maybe you do agree with that, that’s being silent.

NULAND: Matt, we have made a decision that we need to engage in our diplomatic work diplomatically, we have been very clear on where we stand on this. Which is that we don’t practice diplomacy from the podium. We have been very clear that Israel has the right of self-defense. Very clear that rockets continue to be fired and land on Israel. We’ve been very clear that we are working to get this conflict de-escalated. We have been very clear about our concern for the civilians and innocents on both sides who are getting caught in this…

LEE: And yet you won’t stick up for your ally Israel when the Turks, another one of your allies, say that they are engaged in terrorism in Gaza.

NULAND: We have been extremely clear about our concern for Israel security and the fact that Israel has the right to self-defense but I am not going to go further than that. 

LEE: Why can’t you say that you don’t agree with the Turks?

NULAND: Because I am not going to get into a public spitting match with allies on either side. We’re just not going to do that, okay?

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There was a fiery exchange at yesterday’s State Department briefing between the department’s spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, and AP reporter Matthew Lee, over Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s latest verbal assault upon Israel. Here’s the key part of their back-and-forth:

LEE: You’re not telling us anything about… when the Turks come out, when the leaders of Turkey come out and say that Israel is engaged in acts of terrorism and you refuse to say that you don’t agree with that… maybe you do agree with that, that’s being silent.

NULAND: Matt, we have made a decision that we need to engage in our diplomatic work diplomatically, we have been very clear on where we stand on this. Which is that we don’t practice diplomacy from the podium. We have been very clear that Israel has the right of self-defense. Very clear that rockets continue to be fired and land on Israel. We’ve been very clear that we are working to get this conflict de-escalated. We have been very clear about our concern for the civilians and innocents on both sides who are getting caught in this…

LEE: And yet you won’t stick up for your ally Israel when the Turks, another one of your allies, say that they are engaged in terrorism in Gaza.

NULAND: We have been extremely clear about our concern for Israel security and the fact that Israel has the right to self-defense but I am not going to go further than that. 

LEE: Why can’t you say that you don’t agree with the Turks?

NULAND: Because I am not going to get into a public spitting match with allies on either side. We’re just not going to do that, okay?

In the end, irritated by Lee’s persistence, Nuland conceded as follows: “We of course agree that rhetorical attacks against Israel are not helpful at this moment.”

When the Syrian government last week condemned “the heinous atrocities committed by the enemy Israeli army against the Arab Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip,” there were howls of grim laughter. But when Erdogan says much the same, there is an embarrassed silence. “If we ignore what Erdogan says about Israel,” the logic here suggests, “perhaps we can persuade ourselves that he didn’t actually say anything at all.”

What Erdogan said, in fact, sounded suspiciously like a call for jihad against Israel. Addressing an Islamic conference in Istanbul, he labeled Israel as a “terrorist” state. He continued: “Israel is committing ethnic cleansing by ignoring peace in this region and violating international law. It is occupying the Palestinian territory step by step.” And then came the kicker: “Sooner or later, Israel will answer for the blood it has shed so far.”

Why, then, is Turkey being treated differently? In large part, it’s because Western policymakers have a habit of ignoring inflammatory rhetoric when it comes from states that are regarded as allies. Turkey is a member of NATO; it continues to seek full membership of the European Union; and for the last century or so, its government has been informed by an uncompromisingly secular set of values. One speech doesn’t change any of that.

Except, of course, that it’s not just one speech. Under Erdogan’s rule, the long-established alliance between Turkey and Israel has crumbled. It was the Turkish Islamist Foundation, the IHH, that organized the flotilla to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza in May 2010, during which Israeli naval commandoes attempting a peaceful landing on one of the ships were set upon with iron bars and knives. Earlier this month, a Turkish court began the trial, in absentia, of four senior IDF officers–Generals Gabi Ashkenazi, Amos Yadlin and Avishai Lev, and Admiral Eliezer Marom–for, among other indictments, “inciting murder through cruelty or torture.”

In that same period, Turkey has arguably become Hamas’s most important ally, insofar as few other Muslim states enjoy as much political clout in the west. In September 2011, as Erdogan embarked on a tour of Arab countries, his portrait hung alongside hundreds of Turkish flags deployed throughout the Gaza Strip. And this week, Erdogan announced that he plans to send his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, to Gaza. As one Turkish outlet reported, this decision followed Erdogan’s public criticism of the Arab League “for not taking effective steps in the face of the Israeli aggression against Palestinians.”

There are those who argue that Turkey’s hostile stance toward Israel, far from boosting its leadership ambitions in the Islamic world, marginalizes it instead. Writing in the Turkish daily Hurriyet, the Israel academic Ehud Toledano observed:

Beyond statements of harsh condemnation against Israel and enthusiastic support for Hamas, Erdogan and Davutoglu can do practically nothing…Without the diplomatic capability to talk to Jerusalem, and having lost all trust within Israeli political circles, the Turkish prime minister can only sit in Cairo and watch how President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt mediates a cease-fire and negotiates a long-term arrangement between Israel and Hamas, with Egyptian guarantees, to boot. You need to talk to both sides if you want to be able to do that – Morsi, a president from the Muslim Brotherhood no less, can; Erdogan, prime minister of Turkey, cannot.

There is another interpretation, however. Firstly, that Turkey now believes that leading political and diplomatic resistance to Israel is a better fit for its neo-Ottoman foreign policy. Secondly, that Turkish leaders have been persuaded that combative rhetoric will fuel Western anxieties about the country’s radicalization, and that consequently the Americans and the Europeans will become more amenable toward Ankara than they already are.

If that is indeed Turkey’s game, we should not be playing along. Reporters attending Nuland’s next State Department briefing might, therefore, want to seek additional clarification.

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