Commentary Magazine


Topic: Gaza

EU Report Demonizes Israel as Threatening Regional Security

The European Union has released a breathtaking and spurious report on the present situation in Gaza, one that is disproportionately malicious even by European standards. The report attempts to give the impression of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which it quite predictably blames on Israel, and claims that this crisis has implications for destabilizing the security of the entire region. Once again, Europeans are attempting to blame Jews and their state for the wider problems of the world. Perhaps most shocking of all are the numerous ways in which this report seeks to legitimate the Hamas narrative.

The underlying thesis appears to be that Israel is implementing a blockade on Gaza, which must be lifted, or else there will be terrible consequences for all of us. Even if Europe’s allegations about the blockade were accurate, which they are not, what is particularly noteworthy about the report is the shameless way it seeks to frame Israel as the guilty party. Apparently allotting little or no responsibility to Hamas–which only governs the place after all–the report accuses that, “Israel bears the prime responsibility for the situation in Gaza.” Yet this cannot possibly be the case. Gaza has a border with Egypt, one that the Egyptians have policed more stringently at some times than others, depending on who has been governing there. Even if the most severe siege was being inflicted against Gaza, it could not be maintained without the participation of both countries. One cannot be more to blame than the other. Yet, the European report tarnishes Israel nonetheless.

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The European Union has released a breathtaking and spurious report on the present situation in Gaza, one that is disproportionately malicious even by European standards. The report attempts to give the impression of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which it quite predictably blames on Israel, and claims that this crisis has implications for destabilizing the security of the entire region. Once again, Europeans are attempting to blame Jews and their state for the wider problems of the world. Perhaps most shocking of all are the numerous ways in which this report seeks to legitimate the Hamas narrative.

The underlying thesis appears to be that Israel is implementing a blockade on Gaza, which must be lifted, or else there will be terrible consequences for all of us. Even if Europe’s allegations about the blockade were accurate, which they are not, what is particularly noteworthy about the report is the shameless way it seeks to frame Israel as the guilty party. Apparently allotting little or no responsibility to Hamas–which only governs the place after all–the report accuses that, “Israel bears the prime responsibility for the situation in Gaza.” Yet this cannot possibly be the case. Gaza has a border with Egypt, one that the Egyptians have policed more stringently at some times than others, depending on who has been governing there. Even if the most severe siege was being inflicted against Gaza, it could not be maintained without the participation of both countries. One cannot be more to blame than the other. Yet, the European report tarnishes Israel nonetheless.

That said, the report does also seek to criticize Egypt, yet it does so on the most extraordinary account. In recent months Egyptian authorities have gone to great lengths to shut down vast networks of illegal smuggling tunnels that exist beneath the Rafah border. These are the tunnels used to bring lethal weapons into the Islamist-run enclave. The Iranian-supplied arms aboard the ship seized by Israel in recent days were intended to enter Gaza via these very tunnels. This report, however, alleges that these tunnels provided 80 percent of Gaza’s food and medical supplies. By presenting the closure of the terror tunnels as a lamentable move, the EU report seeks to legitimize the means by which terrorists arm themselves against Israeli civilians.

More to the point, the report’s underlying claim about the blockade of such essential items is simply untrue. Not only have the restrictions on goods allowed into Gaza been greatly relaxed in recent years, there was never any blockade on such humanitarian items as medical supplies in the first place. Even during the intensity of the fighting of the 2009 war in Gaza, Israel held daily ceasefires for bringing such supplies into Gaza.

When flowers and fruits grown in Gaza are on sale in Europe, it is the height of European hypocrisy to claim that there is a “pressing humanitarian situation” and “increased food insecurity” in the Gaza Strip. Goods and people are allowed to cross between Israel and Gaza all the time. Weapons are not permitted into Gaza, nor are dual-use items that could be used for military purposes, which includes certain building materials—although Israel does permit building materials for internationally approved projects. But with little else to focus on, the report makes misleading claims about fuel supplies and bemoans Gaza’s ailing construction industry.

Given that this report attempts to argue that Israel is instigating a crisis that could have dire consequences for the entire region, it seems to essentially be making the bizarre claim that if construction workers in Gaza remain idle much longer then there will be some kind of security catastrophe. As is so typical of European policy toward the region, the positions taken in this report are a moral and logical inversion. The report insists that if Israel does not ease it restrictions on the Gaza border still further then there could be serious consequences for stability and security. Quite the opposite is the case. Israel’s restrictions are entirely necessitated by security concerns; easing them or not cracking down on smuggling tunnels would allow for a flow of weapons and related materials to militants that would only facilitate more terrorist violence, more insecurity, and more instability.

Yet, the report also calls for reconciliation between the listed terrorist organization Hamas and the only marginally more moderate Fatah, which currently runs the Palestinian Authority and is engaged in U.S.-sponsored talks with Israel. If Hamas were to join the already intransigent Fatah, then what remains of the peace process would likely disintegrate altogether.   

This EU report attempts to cast Israel as irresponsibly enforcing a blockade that jeopardizes the security of the entire region. In fact, emboldening Islamists by legitimizing their demands and narrative, or challenging security arrangements that keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists, is what really threatens stability in the area. Yet, given the Europeans’ ever more warped view of Israel, we should have expected nothing less.  

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No Separating Iran’s Nukes From Terrorism

Yesterday, White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed the idea that there ought to be any connection between the interception of an Iranian arms shipment headed for Gaza and the United States pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran. Carney noted that U.S. and Israel had shared intelligence about the sailing of the Kos-C, which was filled with sophisticated and powerful M-302 missiles that had been shipped from Syria and also acknowledged that this provides more proof of Iran’s “bad behavior” as a state sponsor of international terrorism. But he insisted that American efforts to negotiate an agreement with Iran on its nuclear weapons program were a separate issue.

The administration position is that a tough stance on international terror is compatible with a more forthcoming diplomatic effort aimed at persuading Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambition. While this sounds like an effort to defend a stance in which one hand of U.S. security policy doesn’t know — or care — what the other is doing, it’s conceit is more sophisticated than that. The subtext of the push for engagement with Iran is that nuclear diplomacy is a wedge by which the U.S. can ease the Islamist regime back into the international mainstream and make it easier for it to start acting like a responsible nation.

That sounds logical but it is exactly the sort of reasoning that Iran is counting on as it pursues its own two-track policy toward the West. The fallacy here is the assumption that Iran’s participation in international terror can somehow be separated from the nuclear threat. In fact, these are two elements of a common strategy aimed at destabilizing the Middle East and increasing Iranian influence. Treating one as if it had nothing to do with the other enables the president to rationalize a diplomatic strategy in which he deeply believes. But diplomacy that is based on willful ignorance of the other side’s goals is one that is doomed to failure. Rather than dismissing the Iranian arms shipment as irrelevant to the nuclear question, the president must shake off his ideological blinders and try to understand that the seizure of the ship is a clear warning of what lies ahead if he continues to blindly pursue engagement with Iran.

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Yesterday, White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed the idea that there ought to be any connection between the interception of an Iranian arms shipment headed for Gaza and the United States pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran. Carney noted that U.S. and Israel had shared intelligence about the sailing of the Kos-C, which was filled with sophisticated and powerful M-302 missiles that had been shipped from Syria and also acknowledged that this provides more proof of Iran’s “bad behavior” as a state sponsor of international terrorism. But he insisted that American efforts to negotiate an agreement with Iran on its nuclear weapons program were a separate issue.

The administration position is that a tough stance on international terror is compatible with a more forthcoming diplomatic effort aimed at persuading Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambition. While this sounds like an effort to defend a stance in which one hand of U.S. security policy doesn’t know — or care — what the other is doing, it’s conceit is more sophisticated than that. The subtext of the push for engagement with Iran is that nuclear diplomacy is a wedge by which the U.S. can ease the Islamist regime back into the international mainstream and make it easier for it to start acting like a responsible nation.

That sounds logical but it is exactly the sort of reasoning that Iran is counting on as it pursues its own two-track policy toward the West. The fallacy here is the assumption that Iran’s participation in international terror can somehow be separated from the nuclear threat. In fact, these are two elements of a common strategy aimed at destabilizing the Middle East and increasing Iranian influence. Treating one as if it had nothing to do with the other enables the president to rationalize a diplomatic strategy in which he deeply believes. But diplomacy that is based on willful ignorance of the other side’s goals is one that is doomed to failure. Rather than dismissing the Iranian arms shipment as irrelevant to the nuclear question, the president must shake off his ideological blinders and try to understand that the seizure of the ship is a clear warning of what lies ahead if he continues to blindly pursue engagement with Iran.

Iran’s purpose in shipping missiles to Gaza is no secret. By reviving its alliance with the Hamas terrorists who rule the strip, Tehran is not only hoping to acquire the ability to veto any chance of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It must be seen in the context of a regional struggle for hegemony in which Iran can add Gaza to Syria and Lebanon as strategic outposts from which it can exert influence as well as inflict pain on Israel and the West. Even an Obama administration that is disinclined to think the worst of Iran or to engage in disputes with its leaders can grasp the danger that comes from Tehran moving its chess pieces around the international board in this manner. The regime’s Revolutionary Guard’s transfer of Syrian missiles to Gaza is not only a sign that it may believe the war it has waged along with Hezbollah (with Russian aid) to keep Iranian ally Bashar Assad is largely won but that it also wishes to open up a new front against the West in Gaza.

But to pretend that this threat can somehow be separated from the nuclear issue is testimony to the administration’s myopia about Iran than anything else. The point of Iran’s nuclear program is not just to create a weapon that would enhance the prestige of the Islamist government and secure its long-term survival despite the unhappiness of the Iranian people. It is also a means to extend and reinforce its effort to dominate the region via auxiliaries and allies. An Iran nuke does constitute an existential threat to Israel that has been repeatedly threatened with annihilation by the theocrats of Tehran. But even if that genocidal intent is never acted upon, a bomb gives the ayatollahs a way of creating a nuclear umbrella over Syria, Lebanon and perhaps Gaza and the West Bank (if Hamas ever succeeds in toppling the Palestinian Authority). That changes the balance of power in such a way as to threaten moderate Arab states as well as Israel. The missiles Iran sends to its terrorist allies may be not as frightening as its uranium enrichment program or heavy water plant but these are differences in scale not in purpose.

That’s why the arms shipment must be understood as more than a sideshow to the main event of nuclear diplomacy. The basis of hope for nuclear diplomacy is that Iran’s government is moderating and wishes to rejoin the family of nations. But what is really going on is a two-track policy in which Iran engages in off-and-on diplomatic activity designed to deceive Western leaders and undermine sanctions on the regime while at the same time actively building a weapon and seeking to dominate the region via terrorism and strategic alliances.

The seizure of the weapons ship ought to serve as a wake-up call to the West that nothing has changed in Iran. More to the point, even if they insist on pursuing the P5+1 diplomatic process, it must be done without any illusions about Iranian moderation or a desire for détente with the West. Iran’s deadly deception has been exposed. If the administration’s willful blindness about this prevails over common sense, it won’t make it any more likely that Iran will surrender its nuclear option. To the contrary, keeping the nuclear issue separate from that of the country’s sponsorship of international terror will only confirm the Islamist regime’s belief that it is succeeding in fooling the West.

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Iran Vindicates Israel’s Gaza Blockade

As COMMENTARY noted yesterday, the Israeli Navy seized a general cargo vessel carrying missiles apparently to the Gaza Strip. The weapons are Syrian, allegedly shipped to Hamas by Iran. However, the vessel itself is a Panamanian-flagged ship run by a Marshall Islands shipping company.

Yet so far, no one appears to have accused Israel of violating international law by interdicting the vessel in international waters. This is odd because stopping neutral vessels on the high seas violates fundamental principals of international law, with some narrow exceptions for piracy and the like not relevant here. The United States and a few other countries have tried to carve out a further exception for WMD proliferation through by spearheading the Proliferation Security Initiative — but to the extent that targets WMDs and their delivery systems, it is not obviously relevant here.

Of course, there is another situation in which non-hostile vessels can be stopped on the high seas — blockade running. Israel maintains a naval blockade of the strip. Under international law (as articulated in the the London Declaration Concerning the Laws of Naval War and the San Remo Principles) neutral vessels attempting to run such blockades can, be seized or even sunk on the high seas, or even in foreign waters. 

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As COMMENTARY noted yesterday, the Israeli Navy seized a general cargo vessel carrying missiles apparently to the Gaza Strip. The weapons are Syrian, allegedly shipped to Hamas by Iran. However, the vessel itself is a Panamanian-flagged ship run by a Marshall Islands shipping company.

Yet so far, no one appears to have accused Israel of violating international law by interdicting the vessel in international waters. This is odd because stopping neutral vessels on the high seas violates fundamental principals of international law, with some narrow exceptions for piracy and the like not relevant here. The United States and a few other countries have tried to carve out a further exception for WMD proliferation through by spearheading the Proliferation Security Initiative — but to the extent that targets WMDs and their delivery systems, it is not obviously relevant here.

Of course, there is another situation in which non-hostile vessels can be stopped on the high seas — blockade running. Israel maintains a naval blockade of the strip. Under international law (as articulated in the the London Declaration Concerning the Laws of Naval War and the San Remo Principles) neutral vessels attempting to run such blockades can, be seized or even sunk on the high seas, or even in foreign waters. 

Aside from the U.S., I am not sure any nation has endorsed Israel’s seizure. But given Israel’s armed activities certainly do not enjoy a presumption of legality from the international community, this silence comes quite close to an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the blockade.

Of course, much of the controversy over the “flotilla” incident of 2010 was premised on a denial of the validity of Israel’s blockade.  Current events illustrate how Israel’s position has become increasingly accepted. It also shows how the earlier flap with Turkey was merely contrived.

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Iran’s Gaza Arms Shipment and Obama’s Middle East Diplomacy

The news that Israel has intercepted an Iranian shipment of arms headed for Gaza has been overshadowed, along with just about every other foreign policy story, by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. But this is more than just a routine terror bulletin that will be noted, filed and then forgotten. The decision by Iran to ship missiles from Syria to the Hamas-run strip raises serious questions about a number of Obama administration assumptions about both Iran and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

If, as now appears to be the case, Iran is back in the business of arming Hamas, then that does more than undermine the administration’s narrative about President Hassan Rouhani’s government being more moderate than his predecessors. It demonstrates that Iran is, as it always has been, up to its neck in the business of arming and funding international terrorism. That should make President Obama think twice about his belief that the regime can be trusted to abide by any nuclear accord. Just as important is the very real possibility that the captured arms were part of a rapprochement between Iran and its former close ally Hamas. If Iran is now seeking to strengthen the Islamist terrorist group’s ability to wage war on Israel, that could mean it is using the Gaza enclave as leverage against the possibility of an Israeli or Western attack on its nuclear facilities. But it is also possible that the attempt to create a Gaza arms buildup is aimed at reminding the Palestinian Authority that Hamas and other Islamist forces retain a veto over any peace deal with Israel. The seized arms are a signal to the U.S. and Israel not only of the essentially violent character of Iran but of its ability to create havoc throughout the region to serve its own interests.

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The news that Israel has intercepted an Iranian shipment of arms headed for Gaza has been overshadowed, along with just about every other foreign policy story, by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. But this is more than just a routine terror bulletin that will be noted, filed and then forgotten. The decision by Iran to ship missiles from Syria to the Hamas-run strip raises serious questions about a number of Obama administration assumptions about both Iran and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

If, as now appears to be the case, Iran is back in the business of arming Hamas, then that does more than undermine the administration’s narrative about President Hassan Rouhani’s government being more moderate than his predecessors. It demonstrates that Iran is, as it always has been, up to its neck in the business of arming and funding international terrorism. That should make President Obama think twice about his belief that the regime can be trusted to abide by any nuclear accord. Just as important is the very real possibility that the captured arms were part of a rapprochement between Iran and its former close ally Hamas. If Iran is now seeking to strengthen the Islamist terrorist group’s ability to wage war on Israel, that could mean it is using the Gaza enclave as leverage against the possibility of an Israeli or Western attack on its nuclear facilities. But it is also possible that the attempt to create a Gaza arms buildup is aimed at reminding the Palestinian Authority that Hamas and other Islamist forces retain a veto over any peace deal with Israel. The seized arms are a signal to the U.S. and Israel not only of the essentially violent character of Iran but of its ability to create havoc throughout the region to serve its own interests.

Since 2011 Hamas and Iran have been at odds, as they have backed different sides in the Syrian civil war. In addition to pouring arms, money and some of its own forces into Damascus, Iran has deployed its Hezbollah terrorist proxies to back up the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. But Hamas sided with Islamist rebels and broke with Tehran over the dispute. But prior to that Hamas looked to Iran as its principal supplier of arms and cash during the second intifada fighting with Israel. Though Hamas is Sunni and Iran is Shi’ite, the two bonded over their mutual hatred for Israel and Jews.

Proof of the sophisticated nature of the arms pipeline between Tehran and Gaza came in 2002 when the Israeli Navy seized the Karine A, a ship that was loaded with Iranian missiles and various other types of military hardware intended for use by Hamas. Iran’s intentions were clear. They were prepared to back any force willing to fight Israel and to kill Jews in any manner possible.

The breakup of that alliance demonstrated Hamas’ belief that they no longer needed Iran’s assistance. But things have changed since the start of the Arab Spring when the Islamist group thought it could count on support from Egypt and Turkey to make up for the money and arms it got from Iran. The ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo and its replacement by a military regime that seems determined to shut down the smuggling tunnels into Gaza has placed Hamas under tremendous financial pressure. It has also been disappointed by Turkey whose Islamist government talked big about backing Hamas but now seems too preoccupied with its own domestic troubles to do much to prop up Gaza. That leaves Iran, which seems to have prevailed in Syria and is ready and willing to step back into its old role as Hamas’ funder and arms supplier as well as being the chief instigator of mayhem along Israel’s southern border.

Iran’s re-entry into the Israel-Palestinian conflict is just one more reason why Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative is bound to fail. He and President Obama continue to act as if Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas not only is ready to make peace but has the ability to withstand pressure from Hamas and the rejectionists in his own Fatah to make a deal stick. This is clearly untrue. But now that Hamas has Iran in its corner again, Abbas must understand that any hopes that his rivals in Gaza will collapse are mere pipe dreams. Iran’s backing for Hamas not only makes Kerry’s peace talks look like a fool’s errand, their money and munitions may also be a down payment on the launch of a third intifada.

The standard refrain of Israel-bashers is that more violence will be the fault of the Jewish state’s alleged intransigence. But the real reason for another intifada may have more to do with Iran’s geo-strategic ambitions than West Bank settlements. With Syria and Lebanon still firmly in Tehran’s grasp, adding Hamas to the list of its allies gives the ayatollahs one more weapon to wield in its quest for regional hegemony. Stopping the already remote chances of peace between Israel and the Palestinians is one of their goals. But Iran also sees this as a chance to further complicate Western efforts to exert pressure on their nuclear program.

President Obama may believe he is embarked on a diplomatic quest with Iran that will result in a new détente that will lessen the chances of conflict and allow the United States to ease out of a strategic role in which it stands beside both Israel and moderate Arab states. But Iran has very different goals. The seizure of the arms shipment is a wake-up call for Washington. But it is an open question as to whether President Obama and Secretary Kerry are too besotted with their hopes for détente with Iran to listen to reason.

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Answering Casual Anti-Israel Libels

Amid the avalanche of anti-Israel incitement from European sources on a daily basis, Martin Schulz’s comments about Israeli water usage and Gaza might not have drawn much attention if he had not uttered them in German when speaking before a session of the Knesset. Schulz, the president of the European Union parliament, was in Israel for a goodwill visit and most of his address to Israel’s lawmakers yesterday was fairly innocuous. He praised Israel’s democracy, decried terrorism, opposed Iran’s attempt to gain nuclear weapons and called for a two-state solution that would end the conflict with the Palestinians. So far, so good. But then, almost as a throwaway line, the German politician, who is a candidate for president of the far more powerful European Commission that runs the EU, claimed that Israel was not only stealing Palestinian water but restricting the supply used by Arabs. He also lamented what he said was Israel’s “blockade” of Gaza, an implicit accusation that it was causing a humanitarian crisis there.

As it turns out, Schultz’s accusation that Israelis use 70 liters of water a day and the Palestinians only 17 was not fact-checked before he uttered it. While there are various estimates of water use, even the lowest figures for the Palestinians are more than four times that number and others as high as six times. Talk about a blockade of Gaza, which is supplied with electricity by Israel as well as daily shipments of food and medicine, is similarly misleading. Why would a high-ranking EU official casually toss of such phrases and then express surprise and anger when some of the Knesset members present responded by angrily walking out? The answer goes deeper than a discussion of the admittedly difficult subject of water allocation or the facts about Gaza. What Schulz’s speech shows is how pervasive anti-Israel invective has become. If even a politician looking to mend fences thinks there’s nothing offensive about saying such things, this should serve as a wake-up call to Israel’s friends that they must redouble their efforts to tell the truth about the Jewish state and the Middle East conflict.

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Amid the avalanche of anti-Israel incitement from European sources on a daily basis, Martin Schulz’s comments about Israeli water usage and Gaza might not have drawn much attention if he had not uttered them in German when speaking before a session of the Knesset. Schulz, the president of the European Union parliament, was in Israel for a goodwill visit and most of his address to Israel’s lawmakers yesterday was fairly innocuous. He praised Israel’s democracy, decried terrorism, opposed Iran’s attempt to gain nuclear weapons and called for a two-state solution that would end the conflict with the Palestinians. So far, so good. But then, almost as a throwaway line, the German politician, who is a candidate for president of the far more powerful European Commission that runs the EU, claimed that Israel was not only stealing Palestinian water but restricting the supply used by Arabs. He also lamented what he said was Israel’s “blockade” of Gaza, an implicit accusation that it was causing a humanitarian crisis there.

As it turns out, Schultz’s accusation that Israelis use 70 liters of water a day and the Palestinians only 17 was not fact-checked before he uttered it. While there are various estimates of water use, even the lowest figures for the Palestinians are more than four times that number and others as high as six times. Talk about a blockade of Gaza, which is supplied with electricity by Israel as well as daily shipments of food and medicine, is similarly misleading. Why would a high-ranking EU official casually toss of such phrases and then express surprise and anger when some of the Knesset members present responded by angrily walking out? The answer goes deeper than a discussion of the admittedly difficult subject of water allocation or the facts about Gaza. What Schulz’s speech shows is how pervasive anti-Israel invective has become. If even a politician looking to mend fences thinks there’s nothing offensive about saying such things, this should serve as a wake-up call to Israel’s friends that they must redouble their efforts to tell the truth about the Jewish state and the Middle East conflict.

As the Times of Israel reported today, Schulz’s comments about water allocation were completely false. While Palestinians have access to far more water than he claimed, it’s true that Israeli consumers are served better because of the country’s vast desalinization efforts. Palestinians are also handicapped by the corruption and incompetence of governments in the West Bank and Gaza that prize confrontation with Israel over development. The situation would be rectified by peace, but this aspect of life in the region, like so many others, has been held hostage by Palestinian intransigence that makes a solution to the conflict impossible.

Nevertheless, many Israelis were embarrassed by the Knesset walkout as well as by the intemperate response of Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who didn’t hesitate to invoke Germany’s past when be blasted Schulz:

I will not accept a false moralizing narrative against Israel in our parliament, in our Knesset. Certainly not in German.

Bennett’s words probably didn’t win the Jewish state any new friends in Germany. But rather than focus on his lack of diplomatic finesse, the lesson here has to do with a failure of information rather than of good manners.

Many Israelis and their friends abroad have focused in recent years on efforts to “rebrand” their country as an attractive tourist destination or a source of high-tech innovation. Others have insisted that Israel’s image will never be improved until peace with the Palestinians has been reached. These strategies have helped instill a certain degree of complacency, if not apathy in a pro-Israel community that has come to accept slanders and false information about the Jewish state as something that is bad but about which nothing can be done.

It is true that much of the anti-Israeli invective coming out of Europe has its roots in anti-Semitism, whether imported from the Middle East by immigrants or the product of anti-Zionist incitement from intellectual and academic elites. But the offhand nature of Schulz’s utterances should tell us that there is no substitute for an energetic effort on the part of Israelis and their foreign friends to answer any and all such libels. By assuming that intelligent people won’t believe slanders, they let lies like the water statistics become a form of conventional wisdom that is difficult to correct once accepted by the public.

It is not enough to get mad about speeches such as the one given by Schulz. The lies must be actively refuted. That won’t stop the deluge of hate speech directed at the Jewish state but it will make it harder for politicians like Schulz to create diplomatic incidents by passing along widely-held beliefs that are not true. 

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Palestinian Incitement and the Endless War

Last week, the Israeli government sought to focus the world’s attention on one of the chief obstacles to peace in the Middle East: Palestinian incitement aimed at fomenting hatred of the Jewish state and the Jewish people. The report detailed the way the Palestinian Authority uses its official media, school textbooks, as well as the influence of many of its leaders to reinforce the notion that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state irrespective of its borders. The hate that is routinely broadcast on Palestinian television, published in its newspapers, or taught in schools seeks to demonize Jews and inculcate the notion that they are evil and have no rights to any part of the country. In doing so, the PA—which is supposed to be Israel’s partner for peace—doesn’t merely exacerbate an already tense situation but also sows the seeds of future conflict by teaching new generations to hate their Jewish neighbors.

Unfortunately, the reaction from the United States and much of the international media to this information was apathetic if not one of complete indifference. While some try to draw a false moral equivalence between official Palestinian government hate speech and honors for terrorist murderers on the one hand and stray comments by a tiny minority of Israelis who express hate for Arabs on the other, American officials and media pundits determined to place the blame for the lack of peace on the Jewish state simply ignore the subject. As was the case in the 1990s when both the United States and the Israeli government turned a blind eye to the incitement carried out by the newly empowered PA in the wake of the Oslo Accords, most peace processers treat talk about Palestinian incitement as a distraction from the real issues. Anything that diverts attention from attempts to pressure Israel into making concessions to the Palestinians is seen as off the point, if not a destructive effort to derail peace.

But the issue of incitement isn’t limited to hate speech on Palestinian TV or in textbooks. As today’s New York Times reports, the PA’s rivals in Gaza have managed to put their even more extreme program of hate into action. The Hamas government there used the winter break for its schools to enroll more than 13,000 youngsters at terrorist training mini-camps throughout the Gaza Strip. The recruitment of school-age children in this manner is child abuse on a massive scale as well as a potential war crime. But just as important, it is a sign that the issue of incitement isn’t so much a theoretical problem as a literal guarantee of endless war.

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Last week, the Israeli government sought to focus the world’s attention on one of the chief obstacles to peace in the Middle East: Palestinian incitement aimed at fomenting hatred of the Jewish state and the Jewish people. The report detailed the way the Palestinian Authority uses its official media, school textbooks, as well as the influence of many of its leaders to reinforce the notion that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state irrespective of its borders. The hate that is routinely broadcast on Palestinian television, published in its newspapers, or taught in schools seeks to demonize Jews and inculcate the notion that they are evil and have no rights to any part of the country. In doing so, the PA—which is supposed to be Israel’s partner for peace—doesn’t merely exacerbate an already tense situation but also sows the seeds of future conflict by teaching new generations to hate their Jewish neighbors.

Unfortunately, the reaction from the United States and much of the international media to this information was apathetic if not one of complete indifference. While some try to draw a false moral equivalence between official Palestinian government hate speech and honors for terrorist murderers on the one hand and stray comments by a tiny minority of Israelis who express hate for Arabs on the other, American officials and media pundits determined to place the blame for the lack of peace on the Jewish state simply ignore the subject. As was the case in the 1990s when both the United States and the Israeli government turned a blind eye to the incitement carried out by the newly empowered PA in the wake of the Oslo Accords, most peace processers treat talk about Palestinian incitement as a distraction from the real issues. Anything that diverts attention from attempts to pressure Israel into making concessions to the Palestinians is seen as off the point, if not a destructive effort to derail peace.

But the issue of incitement isn’t limited to hate speech on Palestinian TV or in textbooks. As today’s New York Times reports, the PA’s rivals in Gaza have managed to put their even more extreme program of hate into action. The Hamas government there used the winter break for its schools to enroll more than 13,000 youngsters at terrorist training mini-camps throughout the Gaza Strip. The recruitment of school-age children in this manner is child abuse on a massive scale as well as a potential war crime. But just as important, it is a sign that the issue of incitement isn’t so much a theoretical problem as a literal guarantee of endless war.

The Futwaa program is funded by the Hamas Education Ministry and focuses on teaching boys and young teenagers the finer points about the use of weapons, street fighting (in which civilians are used as human shields), and ferreting out Palestinians who might give information to Israel. This massive effort not only prepares children for future service in the so-called military wing of Hamas, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, which supervises the Futwaa camps, but also enables them to intensify the hate education about Israel and Jews that is already integral to public education in Gaza. As the Times notes, Hamas officials are pleased with the results and are thinking about expanding their program:

Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister of Gaza, told Futwaa participants at a graduation ceremony on Tuesday in Gaza City that theirs was “the generation that will achieve the liberation and independence” of Palestine. Suggesting that the program would soon be provided for girls as well, Mr. Haniya predicted that Israel would face “a Palestinian generation that weakness knows no way into their hearts.”

One participant, Osama Shehada, 15, said he wanted to study physical engineering to learn how to make bombs and explosives to target Israel.

Lest there be any confusion about what this indoctrination consists of, by “liberation and independence” of Palestine, Hamas isn’t referring to a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem that is supposed to be the solution to the conflict. When they say “liberation” that means “liberating” all of Israel, including those areas inside the June 1967 lines, from its Jewish population–which is to say exterminating the Jews. That the Times article refers to Hamas using bases evacuated by Israel in 2005 in an effort to separate the two peoples and therefore achieve peace for these camps is a cruel but telling irony.

Instead of ignoring Israeli efforts to focus on incitement, Secretary of State John Kerry should be paying close attention to the issue. While a solution that would create two states for two peoples regardless of the borders would be something an overwhelming majority of Israelis would happily accept, Palestinian educators, both in the West Bank governed by PA “moderates” and in Hamas-run Gaza, have ensured that most Palestinians would reject any such deal. Until a sea change in Palestinian culture occurs that would allow their leaders to make peace, all efforts to craft a compromise to resolve the conflict are doomed to fail.

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Hamas Asks You to Buy a Dam in the Negev

One of the prime obstacles to the peace talks being sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is the fact that much of the territory of the putative Palestinian state is not under the control of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party. The independent state in all but name that exists in Gaza is run by Hamas, which imposes its tyrannical Islamist rule and eyes both Israel and the West Bank warily. Periodically, we hear of efforts to unify the two areas and today another rumor surfaced of a possible deal to bring Hamas and Fatah together in one government.

If it ever happened that would, at least in theory, make Abbas’s life a little easier. But it would also give Hamas a veto over peace talks and integrate these rejectionists into the PA government that Kerry continues to extol as a moderate force. But Israelis and those Americans who pay attention to Palestinian culture were given another taste of exactly what that would mean this past weekend, when Hamas-controlled media sought to blame Israel for some of the flooding in Gaza that resulted from the once-in-a-century winter storm that blanketed the region. As the Times of Israel reports:

Hamas’s Disaster Response Committee chairman Yasser Shanti told journalists on Friday that Israel opened dams just east of the Gaza Strip, causing a flood in the area of Moghraqa near the town of Deir El-Balah.

A variation on that claim was made by Civil Defense spokesman Muhammad Al-Maidana, who told the Palestinian daily Al-Quds that Israel had opened sewage canals east of the Gaza Strip, “exacerbating the crisis and raising the water level, causing homes to be submerged.”

Al-Majd, a Palestinian security-oriented website, went so far as to claim that Israel opened the dams in order to expose Hamas tunnels leading into Israel and impose an unbearable financial burden on Gaza’s government. “For Gaza to drown is an old Zionist dream,” the site wrote in a report.

There is only problem with these claims. While Israelis have made the southern portion of their country bloom via ingenuity and clever irrigation schemes, dams are a scarce commodity in a desert region without rivers or lakes. In fact there are no dams in the region bordering Gaza. Of course, Arab and Muslim media and international bloggers who are quick to seize upon any charge, no matter how ridiculous, as more proof of Zionist perfidy have dismissed Israel’s indignant denials of the charge. Looked at one way, it’s hard not to laugh off this latest variation of the old blood libel against the Jews. By speaking of dams in the desert, Hamas is making an invitation to buy a bridge in Brooklyn look like a reasonable investment. But this silly story actually tells us more about what’s wrong with the Middle East and why the peace Kerry seeks is nowhere in sight than one might think.

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One of the prime obstacles to the peace talks being sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is the fact that much of the territory of the putative Palestinian state is not under the control of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party. The independent state in all but name that exists in Gaza is run by Hamas, which imposes its tyrannical Islamist rule and eyes both Israel and the West Bank warily. Periodically, we hear of efforts to unify the two areas and today another rumor surfaced of a possible deal to bring Hamas and Fatah together in one government.

If it ever happened that would, at least in theory, make Abbas’s life a little easier. But it would also give Hamas a veto over peace talks and integrate these rejectionists into the PA government that Kerry continues to extol as a moderate force. But Israelis and those Americans who pay attention to Palestinian culture were given another taste of exactly what that would mean this past weekend, when Hamas-controlled media sought to blame Israel for some of the flooding in Gaza that resulted from the once-in-a-century winter storm that blanketed the region. As the Times of Israel reports:

Hamas’s Disaster Response Committee chairman Yasser Shanti told journalists on Friday that Israel opened dams just east of the Gaza Strip, causing a flood in the area of Moghraqa near the town of Deir El-Balah.

A variation on that claim was made by Civil Defense spokesman Muhammad Al-Maidana, who told the Palestinian daily Al-Quds that Israel had opened sewage canals east of the Gaza Strip, “exacerbating the crisis and raising the water level, causing homes to be submerged.”

Al-Majd, a Palestinian security-oriented website, went so far as to claim that Israel opened the dams in order to expose Hamas tunnels leading into Israel and impose an unbearable financial burden on Gaza’s government. “For Gaza to drown is an old Zionist dream,” the site wrote in a report.

There is only problem with these claims. While Israelis have made the southern portion of their country bloom via ingenuity and clever irrigation schemes, dams are a scarce commodity in a desert region without rivers or lakes. In fact there are no dams in the region bordering Gaza. Of course, Arab and Muslim media and international bloggers who are quick to seize upon any charge, no matter how ridiculous, as more proof of Zionist perfidy have dismissed Israel’s indignant denials of the charge. Looked at one way, it’s hard not to laugh off this latest variation of the old blood libel against the Jews. By speaking of dams in the desert, Hamas is making an invitation to buy a bridge in Brooklyn look like a reasonable investment. But this silly story actually tells us more about what’s wrong with the Middle East and why the peace Kerry seeks is nowhere in sight than one might think.

It should first be noted that the original sources for the claim that Israel opens dams to flood Gaza come from Iran’s Press TV. That font of journalistic integrity floated stories in 2010 and 2012 that spoke of Israeli authorities flooding Gaza by opening dams that supposedly exist to the east of the Gaza strip. But these stories provide no maps showing the site of the dams or documentation about them. Neither that shortcoming nor even a basic knowledge of the geography of the area has stopped Israel-bashers from continuing to blog or tweet links to these fallacious reports.

It should also be noted that Israel, which had its hands full dealing with the impact of the freak storm on its own territory, responded to the distress in Gaza by sending the area–which is, it should be remembered, governed by a group that doesn’t recognize the existence of the Jewish state–pumps to deal with the flash floods in coastal areas caused by unusually heavy rains that pelted the area. But that truth is no match for the willingness of so many to believe the worst about Israel.

In the case of the Palestinians, this is more than just rumor mongering. Hamas blames Israel for suffering in Gaza because that is the only way it can deflect responsibility from itself for the incompetent manner with which it rules the strip. More to the point, these recycled Iranian lies feed into the prejudices of Palestinian political culture that not only rejects Israel but views the Jews as the font of all evil and the source of all Palestinian suffering. Iran’s propaganda machines like its Press TV feed this paranoia in order to fuel hatred of Israel. Palestinians buy it because it allows them to avoid taking responsibility for their own fate and for making peace.

Thus, rather than dismiss this story or laugh it off, serious observers of the Middle East ought to be paying more attention to it. Until Palestinian factions stop blaming Israel for the weather, purveyors of Jew hatred will continue to dominate their politics and keep alive false hope about Israel’s eventual destruction. Rather than worry about enticing Abbas back to the negotiating table where he will continue to prevaricate and try to avoid making a decision about ending the conflict or Fatah-Hamas unity, Kerry should realize that an Arab and Muslim world that is willing to believe such hateful nonsense is not likely to accept a Jewish state in their midst no matter where its borders are drawn.

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The Problem with Turkey’s “Zero-Problem” Foreign Policy

With the Iranian nuclear deal dominating news from the Middle East last week, another significant development got less attention than it deserved: the expulsion of Turkey’s ambassador from Egypt. For a country that once boasted of “zero problems with its neighbors,” losing ambassadors in three Mideast countries–Israel, Syria, and Egypt–in roughly two years is no mean feat. To grasp how extraordinary this latest downgrade is, consider the fact that Cairo has never expelled Israel’s ambassador, even during high-tension periods like the second intifada.

This, of course, shows once again that Arab leaders care much less about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than their rhetoric might imply. But beyond that, it points to a serious problem with Turkey’s foreign policy that ought to prompt some rethinking in Washington–not only about its reliance on Turkey hitherto as its key Mideast partner, but also about its burgeoning romance with Iran.

Ostensibly, Turkey’s breaks with Israel, Syria, and Egypt are completely unrelated: They were prompted, respectively, by Israel’s 2010 raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza, the Syrian uprising, and Egypt’s military coup against the Muslim Brotherhood government. In fact, however, all stem from a common cause: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist worldview and policies.

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With the Iranian nuclear deal dominating news from the Middle East last week, another significant development got less attention than it deserved: the expulsion of Turkey’s ambassador from Egypt. For a country that once boasted of “zero problems with its neighbors,” losing ambassadors in three Mideast countries–Israel, Syria, and Egypt–in roughly two years is no mean feat. To grasp how extraordinary this latest downgrade is, consider the fact that Cairo has never expelled Israel’s ambassador, even during high-tension periods like the second intifada.

This, of course, shows once again that Arab leaders care much less about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than their rhetoric might imply. But beyond that, it points to a serious problem with Turkey’s foreign policy that ought to prompt some rethinking in Washington–not only about its reliance on Turkey hitherto as its key Mideast partner, but also about its burgeoning romance with Iran.

Ostensibly, Turkey’s breaks with Israel, Syria, and Egypt are completely unrelated: They were prompted, respectively, by Israel’s 2010 raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza, the Syrian uprising, and Egypt’s military coup against the Muslim Brotherhood government. In fact, however, all stem from a common cause: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist worldview and policies.

This worldview is what led him to actively support the flotilla, sponsored by a terror-affiliated Islamist organization, despite knowing violence might ensue; downgrade ties with Israel in a fit of pique after a UN investigation of the incident upheld the legality of Israel’s naval blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza; and refuse to restore them even after President Obama personally brokered a reconciliation deal, since the deal didn’t include ending the blockade. Supporting his fellow Islamists in Hamas trumped realpolitik and his country’s interests.

This is also what led him to actively support the Sunni rebels–and particularly the most radical Islamists among them–against Syria’s Alawite regime, and why he’s never stopped denouncing the Egyptian coup, even as the rest of the world has long since accepted that it’s not only a fait accompli, but enjoys broad popular support. In these cases, too, loyalty to his fellow Islamists trumped realpolitik and his country’s interests.

Such a principled foreign policy might be admirable if it weren’t for one problem: The principle Erdogan is supporting–Islamism–happens to be a destabilizing one. Inter alia, the Islamist governments and movements he’s supported have produced nonstop rocket fire on Israel from Gaza, a brutal civil war in Syria, and governmental abuses and incompetence in Egypt on a scale that generated massive support for the coup. Hence Erdogan’s commitment to his Islamist foreign policy has only further destabilized an unstable region.

Iran, of course, is also committed to Islamism, albeit the Shi’ite rather than the Sunni variety. Indeed, its foreign policy has been even more aggressive and destabilizing than Turkey’s: Witness its support for the Assad regime’s brutality in Syria and for Hezbollah’s virtual takeover of Lebanon. And since Islamism is the Iranian regime’s raison d’etre, no deal with Washington is going to end its commitment to an Islamist foreign policy.   

The lesson for America ought to be that Islamists–even “moderate” ones, to quote the Washington elite’s favorite adjective for both Erdogan and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani–don’t make good foreign-policy partners. Unless, that is, one thinks even more instability in a volatile region is a good idea.

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Re: About That Gaza Humanitarian Crisis

As Jonathan noted Sunday, many diplomats, journalists and human rights organizations spent years loudly condemning Israel for a “humanitarian crisis in Gaza” that never existed. The truly remarkable thing, however, is how silent all these parties have fallen over the last few months, when Gaza has been suffering far worse than it ever did back when its “humanitarian crisis” was a cause célèbre. The reason, of course, is that there’s no possible way to blame the current crisis on Israel: The culprits are Egypt and the Palestinians’ own rival governments; Israel, in contrast, has been trying to alleviate the distress. And it turns out that if Palestinian distress can’t be used as a stick to bludgeon Israel, Gaza’s erstwhile champions have no interest in it whatsoever.

Ever since the Egyptian military overthrew the elected Muslim Brotherhood government this summer, it has cracked down ruthlessly on Gaza, accusing that territory’s Hamas government of complicity in jihadist terror in Sinai and of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to attack police stations and prisons. As journalist Khaled Abu Toameh wrote recently, this crackdown is hurting Hamas far worse than Israel’s military offensives in Gaza ever did. Here are just a few of the steps Egypt has taken:

  • It has destroyed an estimated 90% of the tunnels from Sinai into Gaza. This move is entirely Hamas’s own fault: Its purpose is to stop is the extensive two-way traffic in arms and terrorists that Hamas presided over for years, and which has fueled much of the terror in Sinai. But since the tunnels were also a source of cheap Egyptian goods, their demolition has caused real hardship for impoverished Gazans.

To compensate, Israel has increased its own shipments of food and other supplies to Gaza, but Israeli goods are more expensive than their heavily subsidized Egyptian counterparts. Moreover, Hamas rejected an Israeli-Egyptian offer to send one particularly critical product previously brought in through the tunnels – cheap Egyptian fuel – via Israel instead, leading to serious shortages.

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As Jonathan noted Sunday, many diplomats, journalists and human rights organizations spent years loudly condemning Israel for a “humanitarian crisis in Gaza” that never existed. The truly remarkable thing, however, is how silent all these parties have fallen over the last few months, when Gaza has been suffering far worse than it ever did back when its “humanitarian crisis” was a cause célèbre. The reason, of course, is that there’s no possible way to blame the current crisis on Israel: The culprits are Egypt and the Palestinians’ own rival governments; Israel, in contrast, has been trying to alleviate the distress. And it turns out that if Palestinian distress can’t be used as a stick to bludgeon Israel, Gaza’s erstwhile champions have no interest in it whatsoever.

Ever since the Egyptian military overthrew the elected Muslim Brotherhood government this summer, it has cracked down ruthlessly on Gaza, accusing that territory’s Hamas government of complicity in jihadist terror in Sinai and of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to attack police stations and prisons. As journalist Khaled Abu Toameh wrote recently, this crackdown is hurting Hamas far worse than Israel’s military offensives in Gaza ever did. Here are just a few of the steps Egypt has taken:

  • It has destroyed an estimated 90% of the tunnels from Sinai into Gaza. This move is entirely Hamas’s own fault: Its purpose is to stop is the extensive two-way traffic in arms and terrorists that Hamas presided over for years, and which has fueled much of the terror in Sinai. But since the tunnels were also a source of cheap Egyptian goods, their demolition has caused real hardship for impoverished Gazans.

To compensate, Israel has increased its own shipments of food and other supplies to Gaza, but Israeli goods are more expensive than their heavily subsidized Egyptian counterparts. Moreover, Hamas rejected an Israeli-Egyptian offer to send one particularly critical product previously brought in through the tunnels – cheap Egyptian fuel – via Israel instead, leading to serious shortages.

  • Egypt has shut down the Rafah border crossing almost entirely, turning Gaza, for the first time, into the open-air prison its erstwhile champions used to falsely proclaim it. As long as Rafah was open, Palestinians were never imprisoned; they could travel to and from Gaza via Egypt. Now, however, they truly lack any way to enter and leave.

But here’s the kicker: Sympathetic to their distress, Israel offered to reopen its own crossing with Gaza, on condition that the Palestinian Authority handle security on the Palestinian side. That would solve the problem that originally led to the crossing’s closure: Since Hamas refuses to recognize Israel, security can’t be coordinated with it. But Hamas rejected this offer – and if it hadn’t, the PA almost certainly would have, given its rejection of a similar Egyptian proposal to enable the reopening of Rafah.

  • Egypt has razed houses along the Gaza border to create a buffer zone and shot at Palestinian fishing boats seeking to evade Israel’s naval blockade of the Hamas-run government. Needless to say, both are steps the world denounced when Israel took them in the past.

These and other measures have produced a crisis of unprecedented severity in Gaza. But since there’s no way to blame Israel for it, Gaza’s erstwhile champions have gone AWOL. One can only pity any Palestinians naive enough to have thought the world actually cared about their suffering.

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About That Gaza Humanitarian Crisis

Though it has long been debunked as outrageous propaganda, much of the international community still tends to speak of the “humanitarian crisis” Gaza. Even when its southern communities were being battered on a daily basis by terrorist missiles, Israel never cut off the flow of food or medicine to the Hamas-ruled enclave. But it did seek to enforce the blockade of the terror statelet in order to prevent the import of construction materials that could be used for military purposes. Due to international pressure, Israel relaxed that blockade to allow concrete into the strip that we were told was necessary for the rebuilding of structures destroyed during the fighting with Hamas. Like many other Israeli stands on security issues, most media outlets treated their complaints about letting supplies into Gaza as merely mean-spirited rather than rooted in a genuine peril.

But those who assumed that the concrete was being used to help the people of Gaza got a wakeup call today when the Israelis revealed the discovery of a tunnel they had discovered that Hamas digging under the border with the Jewish state. The structure was 18 meters deep and 1,700 meters long (including 300 that were underneath Israeli territory. Built with 500 tons of cement that had been allowed into Gaza for civilian uses, the purpose of the tunnel was clear: provide easy access into Israeli territory for terrorists to kill and/or kidnap Israelis. So will everyone who opposed Israel’s blockade of Gaza now realize they were wrong? Don’t bet on it.

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Though it has long been debunked as outrageous propaganda, much of the international community still tends to speak of the “humanitarian crisis” Gaza. Even when its southern communities were being battered on a daily basis by terrorist missiles, Israel never cut off the flow of food or medicine to the Hamas-ruled enclave. But it did seek to enforce the blockade of the terror statelet in order to prevent the import of construction materials that could be used for military purposes. Due to international pressure, Israel relaxed that blockade to allow concrete into the strip that we were told was necessary for the rebuilding of structures destroyed during the fighting with Hamas. Like many other Israeli stands on security issues, most media outlets treated their complaints about letting supplies into Gaza as merely mean-spirited rather than rooted in a genuine peril.

But those who assumed that the concrete was being used to help the people of Gaza got a wakeup call today when the Israelis revealed the discovery of a tunnel they had discovered that Hamas digging under the border with the Jewish state. The structure was 18 meters deep and 1,700 meters long (including 300 that were underneath Israeli territory. Built with 500 tons of cement that had been allowed into Gaza for civilian uses, the purpose of the tunnel was clear: provide easy access into Israeli territory for terrorists to kill and/or kidnap Israelis. So will everyone who opposed Israel’s blockade of Gaza now realize they were wrong? Don’t bet on it.

Tunnel building is a big business in Gaza and most of the coverage of the topic centers on the way they are used to bring in consumer goods and other items in from Egypt, a practice that the military government in Cairo has made more difficult. But the main point that has been obscured by the often disingenuous attempt to hype concern for the people of Gaza is that the area is ruled by a terrorist group that seized power by violence and holds onto that control by the same means.

As the New York Times points out, the new terror tunnel is not far from the site of similar one that was used by Hamas in 2006 to infiltrate killers into Israel who proceeded to murder two Israeli soldiers and kidnap a third, Gilad Shalit. Shalit was helped prisoner in Gaza for five years before being ransomed in exchange for Israel’s release of over 1,000 jailed terrorists.

If Hamas is hoping to repeat that crime it is because it is under pressure from a number of sources. A split with its former Iranian patrons over the war in Syria resulted in a drop in aid to the terror government from Tehran that has not been fully replaced by its Turkish allies. The coup that toppled the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt is also a problem for Hamas even though the Morsi regime was not as supportive as they hoped. Just as important, their need to observe a cease-fire with Israel rather than face another Israel Defense Forces counter-offensive has lowered their standing in the eyes of Palestinians who see terrorism as a source of prestige.

All this has put Hamas in a corner but they hope to profit from the inevitable breakup of the current round of peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority. The new terror tunnel must be seen in the context of a recent upsurge in anti-Jewish violence in the West Bank. As much as Hamas has been weakened by events in Cairo and elsewhere, so long as the Palestinians honor those who attack Jews, it should be assumed that Hamas would seek to shed more blood.

Israel has sensibly re-imposed the ban on allowing concrete into the Strip after this incident but the discovery of the tunnel should be a moment for the international community and the media to reassess the way they think about Gaza. Rather than a place where wicked Israelis are oppressing trapped Palestinians, Gaza is a terrorist enclave whose only export is violence. That it is an independent Palestinian state in all but name is a reminder of what Israel can expect should it ever withdraw all of its forces from the West Bank as it did from Gaza in 2005. The rest of the world needs to draw similar conclusions.

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Hamas Can’t Be Wished Away in Gaza

Even optimists about the new round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks acknowledge that the Hamas problem makes it difficult to imagine an actual agreement coming out of the negotiations. So long as Gaza is ruled by Hamas and Hamas is unwilling to recognize Israel’s existence, let alone its legitimacy, how could any accord survive? But some are seeking to downplay this all-too-obvious flaw in Secretary of State John Kerry’s reasoning in making his diplomatic push by arguing that the Islamist rulers of Gaza (which contains 40 percent of the Arab population of the disputed territories) are either weak or about to fall.

The glass-half-full peace process scenario seems to rest on the assumption that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas will get a major boost in popularity if he is able to win, with the help of American pressure, an Israeli withdrawal and an independent state. The hope is that this will render Hamas’s opposition ineffective. An even more wildly optimistic scenario goes so far as to envisage Hamas falling from power or becoming so weak that talk of a merger with Fatah becomes a reality, thus ending the Palestinian schism and easing the way to peace.

Unfortunately, this sort of optimism tells us more about the desire on the part of some in both the United States and Israel to ignore the reality of Palestinian politics than it does about the possibility of regime change in Gaza. For example, even if we take all the assertions in veteran Israeli journalist and author Ehud Yaari’s analysis of the situation in Gaza in the New Republic at face value, there is very little reason to believe that the downturn in Hamas’s fortunes will be translated into it being more amenable to peace or a genuine chance that it will loosen its hold on power.

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Even optimists about the new round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks acknowledge that the Hamas problem makes it difficult to imagine an actual agreement coming out of the negotiations. So long as Gaza is ruled by Hamas and Hamas is unwilling to recognize Israel’s existence, let alone its legitimacy, how could any accord survive? But some are seeking to downplay this all-too-obvious flaw in Secretary of State John Kerry’s reasoning in making his diplomatic push by arguing that the Islamist rulers of Gaza (which contains 40 percent of the Arab population of the disputed territories) are either weak or about to fall.

The glass-half-full peace process scenario seems to rest on the assumption that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas will get a major boost in popularity if he is able to win, with the help of American pressure, an Israeli withdrawal and an independent state. The hope is that this will render Hamas’s opposition ineffective. An even more wildly optimistic scenario goes so far as to envisage Hamas falling from power or becoming so weak that talk of a merger with Fatah becomes a reality, thus ending the Palestinian schism and easing the way to peace.

Unfortunately, this sort of optimism tells us more about the desire on the part of some in both the United States and Israel to ignore the reality of Palestinian politics than it does about the possibility of regime change in Gaza. For example, even if we take all the assertions in veteran Israeli journalist and author Ehud Yaari’s analysis of the situation in Gaza in the New Republic at face value, there is very little reason to believe that the downturn in Hamas’s fortunes will be translated into it being more amenable to peace or a genuine chance that it will loosen its hold on power.

Yaari is right when he asserts this isn’t the best of times for the Hamas regime. The fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt is a body blow to the Palestinian group that traces its own origins back to that organization. Though relations with the recently toppled Morsi government were not always smooth, his military successors are openly hostile to Hamas. They have not only shut down the border with Gaza and closed many smuggling tunnels, they have publicly charged Hamas with providing assistance to Brotherhood efforts to subvert the new regime as well as implicating it in violence and murders associated with Morsi’s escape from a Mubarak regime jail in 2011. This has not only deepened its isolation but shut down a vital source of funds.

While significant in and of itself, the loss of Egypt is all the more devastating to Hamas because of its decision to part ways with Iran in the last year. Siding with the Syrian rebels and discarding its formerly close ties with Tehran may have made sense in 2012 for a Hamas that thought it could count on both Egypt and Turkey. Iran was once Hamas’s primary source of both funding and weapons, but the Islamists thought they were better off sticking with the Sunnis against the Shiites. But the ability of the Assad regime to hold onto power in Damascus with the aid of Iran and Hezbollah is making it look as if they backed the wrong horse. With the Turks and the Gulf states that have pledged money to keep Hamas afloat primarily interested in the Syrian struggle these days, Gaza now finds itself more isolated than ever. That has also accentuated the split in the Hamas high command that has always existed between the Gaza leadership and its political bureau abroad.

All this has also strengthened the heretofore-marginal Islamic Jihad terror group that now represents itself as the true face of Palestinian resistance instead of a Hamas that is seen by some radicals as at fault for seeking to preserve the current cease-fire with Israel. As the New York Times reports today, Iran’s increased funding of the group in the wake of its dispute with Hamas over Syria has raised its profile and its ability to compete with the bigger terror group for popularity in Gaza.

But however serious these problems may be, they do not at present constitute anything that comes even close to a mortal threat to Hamas. The group’s iron grip on Gazan society remains undiminished. Though it is broke, even in times of plenty it has always depended on UNRWA, the United Nations agency devoted to aiding and perpetuating the Palestinian refugee problem, to take care of the strip’s poor.

Moreover, Hamas officials are as capable of seeing which way the wind is blowing in the Middle East as anyone else and have launched diplomatic initiatives to get back into Tehran’s good graces. Though these efforts have, as yet, yielded no concrete results, should they deem it necessary, there is little doubt that Hamas will bend to Iran’s will in order to keep themselves afloat.

Moreover, the expectation that the peace talks will sink Hamas’s standing among Palestinians has it backwards. Should the negotiations succeed, Hamas will be well placed to blast Abbas for betraying the refugees and Palestinian hopes of destroying Israel. Should they fail, they will assail him for groveling to the Jews and America. Either way, they are set up to make political hay and mayhem from Kerry’s folly.

The fantasy of Hamas fading away is just that. In spite of its serious problems, the Islamist group is in no imminent danger. The same can’t be said of its Palestinian rivals and no amount of optimism about the talks can change that.

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Gaza Illustrates Palestinian Statehood

Secretary of State John Kerry is about to head to the Middle East again to restart the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. His goal remains a deal to create an independent Palestinian state and thereby end the conflict for all time. But as much as Israelis crave peace, along with the rest of the world they are getting another good look today at what happens in an independent Palestinian state and the result is far from pretty. That’s the only rational way to process what happened earlier today as the Islamic Jihad group fired half a dozen rockets at southern Israel from Gaza. Israel responded with air strikes on the terrorists and the upshot was that for the first time in six months the fragile cease-fire between the Hamas rulers of the strip and Israel seemed in danger. But as the Times of Israel pointed out, the rockets were not so much aimed at Israelis (though if some Jews had been killed that would have been considered a welcome bonus by the shooters) as they were at Hamas.

That sounds confusing, but it actually makes perfect sense. Hamas and Islamic Jihad share a commitment to violence against Israel and imposing Islamist law on Palestinians. But the two have different patrons. Islamic Jihad is now backed by Iran, which used to supply Hamas with weapons, while Hamas now is tight with Turkey, which is opposing the Iranians in Syria. But with Hamas worried about starting another round of fighting with Israel just at the time when it wants to keep pressure up on its real rival—Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank—support for Islamic Jihad is apparently starting to grow. That has led to a crackdown of sorts by Hamas on Islamic Jihad. Hence, the rockets fly as the Palestinians maneuver against each other by shooting at Jews.

While the fight between two factions of extremist terrorists may not seem particularly relevant to Americans, Washington should be paying close attention to this battle since it is a preview of what may happen in the even more strategic West Bank in the unlikely event that Kerry gets his way and Israel is forced to abandon not just settlements but the military presence that keeps a lid on terrorism. With all the talk about the need to create a Palestinian state for the sake of justice or even to assure that Israel remains a Jewish state, Gaza provides a daily clinic on the consequences of more Israeli territorial withdrawals.

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Secretary of State John Kerry is about to head to the Middle East again to restart the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. His goal remains a deal to create an independent Palestinian state and thereby end the conflict for all time. But as much as Israelis crave peace, along with the rest of the world they are getting another good look today at what happens in an independent Palestinian state and the result is far from pretty. That’s the only rational way to process what happened earlier today as the Islamic Jihad group fired half a dozen rockets at southern Israel from Gaza. Israel responded with air strikes on the terrorists and the upshot was that for the first time in six months the fragile cease-fire between the Hamas rulers of the strip and Israel seemed in danger. But as the Times of Israel pointed out, the rockets were not so much aimed at Israelis (though if some Jews had been killed that would have been considered a welcome bonus by the shooters) as they were at Hamas.

That sounds confusing, but it actually makes perfect sense. Hamas and Islamic Jihad share a commitment to violence against Israel and imposing Islamist law on Palestinians. But the two have different patrons. Islamic Jihad is now backed by Iran, which used to supply Hamas with weapons, while Hamas now is tight with Turkey, which is opposing the Iranians in Syria. But with Hamas worried about starting another round of fighting with Israel just at the time when it wants to keep pressure up on its real rival—Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank—support for Islamic Jihad is apparently starting to grow. That has led to a crackdown of sorts by Hamas on Islamic Jihad. Hence, the rockets fly as the Palestinians maneuver against each other by shooting at Jews.

While the fight between two factions of extremist terrorists may not seem particularly relevant to Americans, Washington should be paying close attention to this battle since it is a preview of what may happen in the even more strategic West Bank in the unlikely event that Kerry gets his way and Israel is forced to abandon not just settlements but the military presence that keeps a lid on terrorism. With all the talk about the need to create a Palestinian state for the sake of justice or even to assure that Israel remains a Jewish state, Gaza provides a daily clinic on the consequences of more Israeli territorial withdrawals.

Hard as it is for some people to remember, when Israel withdrew every last soldier or settler from Gaza in 2005, it was not assumed that the strip would become a terrorist base. Rather, there was hope that it would provide a chance for the Palestinians to show that they truly could govern themselves. But from the first day after the withdrawal—when mobs burned abandoned synagogues and tore down the greenhouses that had been purchased from their owners to give to the Palestinians to use—what has happened in Gaza is a walking, talking illustration of what the world could expect if the independent Palestinian state that we are endlessly told is the only solution to the conflict ever actually comes to pass.

Of course, as I’ve pointed out repeatedly, Gaza is for all intents and purposes already an independent Palestinian state in all but name. Though some claim that the fact that it doesn’t have complete control over its borders means it is still “occupied,” that is nonsense. It is true that both Israel and Egypt have sought to isolate the Hamas regime, but the Islamist group exercises effective sovereignty over the area. Moreover, if that is the measure of independence, do advocates of complete Palestinian independence over the West Bank expect Israel to accept a militarized West Bank or one that is free to allow the entry of foreign weapon supplies or even armed forces? If so, then the danger that such a state would pose to Israel is even greater than some have thought.

The point here is not so much to dismiss all the arguments that have been assembled on behalf of the creation of a Palestinian state by both Americans and Israelis out of hand. Most Israelis would like to be separated from the Palestinians of the West Bank. Indeed, after the terrorism of the second intifada, most want nothing to do with them and reject the idea that there can be any ultimate solution to the conflict that does not involve two states that would allow the two peoples to exercise their right of self-determination alongside each other. So long as violent groups dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state dominate the political culture of the Palestinians, the prospect of the West Bank becoming another Gaza makes the high-flown rhetoric about the two-state solution look naive at best.

The main obstacle to peace remains the inability of Fatah to do what Hamas and Islamic Jihad will not consider: recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and to renounce the so-called right of return that would swamp Israel with the descendants of the 1948 Arab refugees. If they were ever able to do that and to convincingly promise that this ended the conflict rather than just pausing it, they’d find Israel ready to deal. After all, Israel has already offered the Palestinians a state three times only to find each one rejected. But so long as Palestinian independence is synonymous with terror groups and their infighting, Kerry will find few serious observers heeding his calls. Anyone who wants to know why Israelis are skeptical about a Palestinian state in the West Bank need only look at Gaza.

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Turks Show Kerry Who’s the Boss

President Obama’s brokering of what we were told was a rapprochement between his friend Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was considered a great diplomatic achievement. But even though the United States continues to act as if that phone call actually did change something, virtually everything Turkey has done in the weeks since that conversation has served to expose this claim as a fraud. The latest instance of the Turks throwing cold water on these expectations came yesterday when the Erdoğan government rebuked Secretary of State John Kerry for having the nerve to ask that the Turkish leader forebear from undertaking a state visit to Gaza.

The Turkish insistence on going ahead with a gesture designed to prop up the Islamist dictators of Gaza shows that the entire premise of Kerry’s plan for a new bout of Middle East peace negotiations is based on false hopes and misperceptions. While Kerry already seemed to be setting himself up for failure with the Palestinians, the umbrage expressed by Ankara seems to indicate that more is wrong here than the new secretary’s faith in shuttle diplomacy. It’s not only that the administration seems blind to the realities of the Middle East. The former senator, who thinks of himself as a skilled and sophisticated envoy to the world, is handicapped by his blind faith in diplomacy and determination to ignore the power of Islamist ideology. And as this latest spat with Turkey illustrates, that failure may lead to Kerry making a bad situation even worse.

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President Obama’s brokering of what we were told was a rapprochement between his friend Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was considered a great diplomatic achievement. But even though the United States continues to act as if that phone call actually did change something, virtually everything Turkey has done in the weeks since that conversation has served to expose this claim as a fraud. The latest instance of the Turks throwing cold water on these expectations came yesterday when the Erdoğan government rebuked Secretary of State John Kerry for having the nerve to ask that the Turkish leader forebear from undertaking a state visit to Gaza.

The Turkish insistence on going ahead with a gesture designed to prop up the Islamist dictators of Gaza shows that the entire premise of Kerry’s plan for a new bout of Middle East peace negotiations is based on false hopes and misperceptions. While Kerry already seemed to be setting himself up for failure with the Palestinians, the umbrage expressed by Ankara seems to indicate that more is wrong here than the new secretary’s faith in shuttle diplomacy. It’s not only that the administration seems blind to the realities of the Middle East. The former senator, who thinks of himself as a skilled and sophisticated envoy to the world, is handicapped by his blind faith in diplomacy and determination to ignore the power of Islamist ideology. And as this latest spat with Turkey illustrates, that failure may lead to Kerry making a bad situation even worse.

The question of Erdoğan’s proposed visit to Gaza is no minor point. Erdoğan’s pose as the savior of the Palestinians is rooted in Turkish ambitions to expand their influence and once again become the fulcrum of the Muslim political world. But that effort will require keeping the fires of conflict burning bright between Israel and the Palestinians. Kerry’s hopes of restarting peace negotiations was probably doomed anyway, but the Turkish effort to strengthen Hamas vis-à-vis the corrupt and faltering Fatah leadership of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank will make it impossible for the latter to even think about taking steps to make peace possible. So long as Hamas can count on Turkish backing, there will be no hope of productive negotiations, let alone peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Kerry did the right thing by publicly trying to restrain the Turks from involving themselves in Palestinian politics. But he did so while laboring under the false assumption that the friendship between the American president and the Turkish prime minister was so strong that Erdoğan’s freelancing in the region was an aberration rather than a fundamental principle of Ankara’s policy. The blunder here was not in what he said. But by journeying to Turkey to make the request without any real idea that it would be respected he demonstrated to everyone in the region that he was not a force to be reckoned with. Having told Kerry that Erdoğan’s travel plans are none of his business, any hope of persuading the Turks to avoid inflaming the situation has been effectively spiked.

The point here isn’t that Kerry created a dangerous problem. That was Erdoğan’s fault. But by blundering about the region and allowing himself to be first stiffed and then publicly spanked in this manner, the secretary has diminished his influence as well as that of the United States.

This is an administration that once turned a minor housing start announcement in Jerusalem during a visit by Vice President Biden into a major diplomatic contretemps in which it claimed Netanyahu had insulted it. But it is now finding out what it really means to be insulted by a nation that calls itself an American ally, and the result is far from pretty.

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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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