Commentary Magazine


Topic: George Mitchell

Can “Coordinated Unilateralism” Bring Mideast Peace?

In 2006, after Roger Clemens left the Yankees to join the Houston Astros only to miss the playoffs as the Yankees won their division, the satirical newspaper The Onion published a humorous fake story in which Clemens pretended he was still playing for the Yankees. Astros catcher Brad Ausmus says: “I want to break it to him that he’s not a Yankee, but I’m afraid that it’s the only thing that keeps him going at this point.”

I always think of this story when I read about former Senator George Mitchell’s time as President Obama’s envoy to the Middle East, charged with restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in 2009. Mitchell, who was involved with the negotiations that led to peace in Northern Ireland, attempted to simply copy and paste his experience there onto his new task in the Middle East. It was a monumental mistake, and led to certain failure and to the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl to beg Mitchell to please, for the love of all that is good and holy, stop comparing Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas to Gerry Adams and David Trimble.

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In 2006, after Roger Clemens left the Yankees to join the Houston Astros only to miss the playoffs as the Yankees won their division, the satirical newspaper The Onion published a humorous fake story in which Clemens pretended he was still playing for the Yankees. Astros catcher Brad Ausmus says: “I want to break it to him that he’s not a Yankee, but I’m afraid that it’s the only thing that keeps him going at this point.”

I always think of this story when I read about former Senator George Mitchell’s time as President Obama’s envoy to the Middle East, charged with restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in 2009. Mitchell, who was involved with the negotiations that led to peace in Northern Ireland, attempted to simply copy and paste his experience there onto his new task in the Middle East. It was a monumental mistake, and led to certain failure and to the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl to beg Mitchell to please, for the love of all that is good and holy, stop comparing Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas to Gerry Adams and David Trimble.

Last week, Diehl got his wish, as Mitchell appeared at an event organized by The Atlantic and the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. At one point in his speech, in the course of making a bizarre historical error, Mitchell actually raised a good point. He said:

Every sensible Arab leader today would gladly accept that 1948 plan if it were still available. But it is not still available, and never again will be. Since then, the plans offered to the Palestinians have been less attractive, and they have been rejected as well. I told both chairman Arafat and president Abbas directly that there is no evidence—none whatsoever–to suggest that the offers are going to get any better in the future. To the contrary, all of the evidence points in exactly the opposite direction. They have got to sit down and participate in direct negotiations and get the best deal they can even though it’s not 100 percent of what they want.

I’m not sure exactly when Mitchell told Yasser Arafat this, but presumably it was while the latter was still alive. Which means Mitchell turned out to be wrong. It’s true that the Palestinians will not be offered the 1948 plan again—nor is there convincing evidence they would accept that offer, though it’s surely plausible. But it is without question that the Israeli offers got better, not worse, over time. Arafat was offered all of Gaza, a capital in eastern Jerusalem, and 97 percent of the West Bank by Ehud Barak. About eight years later, Abbas admitted he was offered the same deal but with land equaling 100 percent of the West Bank.

Now, of course, Mitchell would be on more solid ground to make that promise, as it would be difficult for Israel to offer more than 100 percent. But if you were a Palestinian leader, and the offers just kept getting better and better with each time you rejected them, why would you take Mitchell’s advice? Mitchell’s premise is that the Palestinians have something to lose by continually rejecting compromise.

As it happens, Michael Zantovsky, the Czech ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, has an interesting article in the current issue of World Affairs that indirectly addresses this. Zantovsky thinks the two sides should engage in what he calls “coordinated unilateralism”—moves that each side implicitly accepts would be part of a final-status agreement, but since the two sides can’t seem to get to a negotiated settlement, should be taken with the other side’s tacit approval. Imagine, he explains, this sort of coordinated unilateralism was employed in the case of the Israeli withdrawal from all of Gaza and parts of the West Bank:

And imagine that Palestinians could have sought UN membership with the tacit understanding of Israel, in exchange for the international endorsement of the solution of the refugee problem based on the return of refugees to the Palestinian state combined with elements of material compensation. Further unilateral withdrawals of Israel from the West Bank could follow, combined with unilateral Palestinian restraint in building its own security forces. Israel could begin to unilaterally dismantle settlements inside the West Bank while the Palestinians could close their eyes to the continuing construction in, say, Ramat Eshkol. Neither side would be forced to withdraw from its own red lines, and yet with each coordinated unilateral move the conflict would be one step closer to a solution.

Zantovsky admits this is “hardly an ideal solution, but looking around us we can see a number of similar arrangements of frozen conflicts, in which people are allowed to live their lives and for the most part prosper.”

Both Mitchell and Zantovsky want to push the Palestinians closer to building their state, but it would also require the Palestinians to accept the existence of a Jewish state next door. Can the Palestinians and their supporters accept such parameters?

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Partial Freezes, Complete Freezes, and Eskimos

One of the most interesting “Palestine Papers” is the Minutes of a September 17, 2009, meeting between Saeb Erekat (SE), the chief Palestinian negotiator, and Dan Shapiro (DS) of the White House National Security Council, along with several high level State Department people and George Mitchell’s chief of staff.

The Americans urged the Palestinians to commence negotiations even though the U.S. had been able to obtain only a partial building freeze. The discussion in the Minutes represents, in my view, a microcosm of the 17-year peace process.

Erekat expressed his unwillingness to negotiate with Benjamin Netanyahu (BN), since Netanyahu had made his position clear, which was unacceptable to the Palestinians:

SE: … On substance, from day one BN said: Jerusalem the eternal undivided capital of Israel, demilitarized state without control over borders or airspace, no refugees. Once you agree to this we can negotiate a piece of paper and an anthem.

Erekat’s position was that “anything short of 2 states on the 1967 border is meaningless.” He explained his theory on Netanyahu’s strategy:

SE: When Bibi talks about excluding Jerusalem it is to make sure we can’t attend, because he doesn’t want to.

DS: So by not going aren’t you playing into his hand?

SE: You put me in this position! It’s like having a gun to my head — damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Netanyahu had set forth an adamant negotiating position, but also his willingness to negotiate without preconditions. The Palestinians responded with their own adamant position (nothing short of the indefensible 1967 lines) and their unwillingness to negotiate. If the Palestinians were correct about Netanyahu’s strategy, they were playing right into it — and blaming not themselves but the United States! Read More

One of the most interesting “Palestine Papers” is the Minutes of a September 17, 2009, meeting between Saeb Erekat (SE), the chief Palestinian negotiator, and Dan Shapiro (DS) of the White House National Security Council, along with several high level State Department people and George Mitchell’s chief of staff.

The Americans urged the Palestinians to commence negotiations even though the U.S. had been able to obtain only a partial building freeze. The discussion in the Minutes represents, in my view, a microcosm of the 17-year peace process.

Erekat expressed his unwillingness to negotiate with Benjamin Netanyahu (BN), since Netanyahu had made his position clear, which was unacceptable to the Palestinians:

SE: … On substance, from day one BN said: Jerusalem the eternal undivided capital of Israel, demilitarized state without control over borders or airspace, no refugees. Once you agree to this we can negotiate a piece of paper and an anthem.

Erekat’s position was that “anything short of 2 states on the 1967 border is meaningless.” He explained his theory on Netanyahu’s strategy:

SE: When Bibi talks about excluding Jerusalem it is to make sure we can’t attend, because he doesn’t want to.

DS: So by not going aren’t you playing into his hand?

SE: You put me in this position! It’s like having a gun to my head — damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Netanyahu had set forth an adamant negotiating position, but also his willingness to negotiate without preconditions. The Palestinians responded with their own adamant position (nothing short of the indefensible 1967 lines) and their unwillingness to negotiate. If the Palestinians were correct about Netanyahu’s strategy, they were playing right into it — and blaming not themselves but the United States!

Shapiro suggested that the Palestinians had a sympathetic U.S. president and should start negotiating, given his commitment to them:

DE: The President has demonstrated a personal and real commitment to you. What you are saying indicates that you tend to discount the President’s commitment. It strikes me that it doesn’t seem to be worth a lot to you.

SE: This is not about personalities or conscience. Bush did not wake up one day and his conscience told him “two state solution.” It’s about interests. We have waited a painful 17 years in this process, to take our fate in our own hands.

But quite a lot happened in those 17 years. They got three offers of a state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in Jerusalem — and turned all three down. They received all of Gaza and a chance to show they could build a state without threatening Israel — and demonstrated the opposite. They got a U.S. president personally committed to them, who undoubtedly would eventually push “bridging proposals” more to their liking than to Israel’s — and they refused to start negotiations without a complete freeze. A lot of opportunities came their way during those 17 years, while they were “waiting.”

In an old joke, a man tells a bartender he lost his religion after his small plane crashed in frozen Alaskan tundra and he lay there for hours, crying for God to save him, and nothing happened. The bartender says, “wait — you’re here.” “Right,” says the man, “because finally a damned Eskimo came along.” Some day Saeb Erekat will explain to some bartender that he was a negotiator for 17 years but nothing happened, except for all the damned Eskimos who came along.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RE: Palestinians’ UN Gambit Puts Both Israel and Obama on the Spot

The Associated Press has published excerpts from the Palestinians’ draft resolution; it seeks a declaration that Israeli settlements are “illegal” and a “major obstacle” to peace, and demands that settlement activities cease “immediately and completely.” The gambit should put the Palestinians on the spot.

As Jonathan noted, the asserted illegality has no foundation in international law. Nor have settlements been a “major obstacle” to peace, since notwithstanding them, Israel has made repeated offers of a Palestinian state on substantially all the West Bank. In 2005, Israel removed every settlement from Gaza, only to have the Palestinian Authority turn it into Hamastan in one week. In 2009, Israel declared a 10-month West Bank construction moratorium (more than enough time to negotiate still another offer of a state, since Abbas asserted it would take only six months); George Mitchell repeatedly warned the Palestinians that the moratorium would not be extended, yet they had to be dragged to the table in the ninth month, and then left it at the end of the tenth.

The Gaza experience in 2005, the Palestinian rejection of Israel’s offer of a state on 100 percent of the West Bank (after land swaps) in 2008, the Palestinian refusal to negotiate during the 2009-10 moratorium, and now the attempted UN diversion all demonstrate that the problem is not the settlements but the Palestinians.

Settlements are a final-status issue under the Roadmap, to be negotiated in good faith. Asked yesterday about the potential Palestinian push for a UN resolution, the State Department spokesman said:

We believe, fundamentally, that direct negotiations are the only path through which the parties will ultimately reach the framework agreement that is our goal, our mutual goal. And final status issues can only be resolved through negotiations between the parties and not by recourse to the UN Security Council, so we’ve consistently opposed any attempt to take these kinds of issues to the Council. [emphasis added]

Asked yesterday if the U.S. would exercise its veto, the State Department spokesman said that “it’s a hypothetical at this point … but I think I made our position pretty clear.” If the Palestinians proceed with their end-run resolution, they will force the U.S. to make that position even clearer, assuming the italicized words matter.

The Associated Press has published excerpts from the Palestinians’ draft resolution; it seeks a declaration that Israeli settlements are “illegal” and a “major obstacle” to peace, and demands that settlement activities cease “immediately and completely.” The gambit should put the Palestinians on the spot.

As Jonathan noted, the asserted illegality has no foundation in international law. Nor have settlements been a “major obstacle” to peace, since notwithstanding them, Israel has made repeated offers of a Palestinian state on substantially all the West Bank. In 2005, Israel removed every settlement from Gaza, only to have the Palestinian Authority turn it into Hamastan in one week. In 2009, Israel declared a 10-month West Bank construction moratorium (more than enough time to negotiate still another offer of a state, since Abbas asserted it would take only six months); George Mitchell repeatedly warned the Palestinians that the moratorium would not be extended, yet they had to be dragged to the table in the ninth month, and then left it at the end of the tenth.

The Gaza experience in 2005, the Palestinian rejection of Israel’s offer of a state on 100 percent of the West Bank (after land swaps) in 2008, the Palestinian refusal to negotiate during the 2009-10 moratorium, and now the attempted UN diversion all demonstrate that the problem is not the settlements but the Palestinians.

Settlements are a final-status issue under the Roadmap, to be negotiated in good faith. Asked yesterday about the potential Palestinian push for a UN resolution, the State Department spokesman said:

We believe, fundamentally, that direct negotiations are the only path through which the parties will ultimately reach the framework agreement that is our goal, our mutual goal. And final status issues can only be resolved through negotiations between the parties and not by recourse to the UN Security Council, so we’ve consistently opposed any attempt to take these kinds of issues to the Council. [emphasis added]

Asked yesterday if the U.S. would exercise its veto, the State Department spokesman said that “it’s a hypothetical at this point … but I think I made our position pretty clear.” If the Palestinians proceed with their end-run resolution, they will force the U.S. to make that position even clearer, assuming the italicized words matter.

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Lessons of the Peace Process: The Missing Reflection

The final chapter of Dennis Ross’s 800-page book on the Oslo Process (The Missing Peace) is entitled “Learning the Lessons of the Past and Applying Them to the Future.” Among his lessons was a warning that the process can become “essentially an end in itself” — self-sustaining because there is never a right time to disrupt it. He concluded that less attention should have been paid to the negotiators and more to preparing their publics for compromise. With respect to the Palestinians, it is a lesson still unlearned.

The lessons the Bush administration drew from the Clinton experience were that Arafat was an obstacle to peace; the Palestinian Authority needed new leadership and democratic institutions; and peace could be achieved only in phases, not all at once. Bush endorsed a Palestinian state in 2002; arranged the three-phase Roadmap in 2003; assured Israel in 2004 of the U.S. commitment to defensible borders; facilitated the Gaza withdrawal in 2005; began moving the parties in 2006 to final status negotiations; and sponsored the Annapolis Process in 2007-08, which produced another Israeli offer of a state and another Palestinian rejection. In the meantime, the Palestinians elected Hamas — an inconvenient fact that peace processors simply ignore.

There were multiple lessons to be drawn from the successive failures of Clinton and Bush, but Obama did not pause to consider them. He appointed George Mitchell on his second day in office and sent him immediately to the Middle East on the first of an endless series of trips. He sought a total Israeli construction freeze and reciprocal Arab concessions — getting nothing from the Arabs but obtaining a one-time Israeli moratorium, which produced nothing. The administration has tried “proximity talks,” followed by “direct talks,” and now “parallel talks.”

The process has produced an endless supply of names for unproductive procedures, but not much else. It has become essentially an end in itself, and it is time, once again, to learn the lessons of the past so we can apply them to the future. Aaron David Miller and Jennifer Rubin have produced about seven between them.

But the most relevant lesson may be the one Obama disregarded when he rushed into his own peace process. In a December 2008 article, Obama’s erstwhile adviser Robert Malley urged him to slow down and reflect on “the reasons for recurring failures, the effectiveness of U.S. mediation, the wisdom and realism of seeking a comprehensive, across-the-board settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or even the centrality of that conflict to US interests.”

The Palestinian goal seems less to obtain a state (they have repeatedly rejected one) than to reverse history: a return to the 1967 lines would reverse the 1967 war; a “right of return” would reverse the 1948 one; and controlling the Old City (aka East Jerusalem) would reverse the history before that. At the end of his book, Ross describes the Oval Office meeting where Arafat rejected the Clinton Parameters, with Arafat denying that the Temple ever existed in Jerusalem. Ten years later, the PA denies any Jewish connection to the Western Wall. Not only has the PA taken no steps to prepare its public for peace; its maps and media presume Israel does not exist.

In thinking about the recurring failures of the peace process, it is time to reflect on that.

The final chapter of Dennis Ross’s 800-page book on the Oslo Process (The Missing Peace) is entitled “Learning the Lessons of the Past and Applying Them to the Future.” Among his lessons was a warning that the process can become “essentially an end in itself” — self-sustaining because there is never a right time to disrupt it. He concluded that less attention should have been paid to the negotiators and more to preparing their publics for compromise. With respect to the Palestinians, it is a lesson still unlearned.

The lessons the Bush administration drew from the Clinton experience were that Arafat was an obstacle to peace; the Palestinian Authority needed new leadership and democratic institutions; and peace could be achieved only in phases, not all at once. Bush endorsed a Palestinian state in 2002; arranged the three-phase Roadmap in 2003; assured Israel in 2004 of the U.S. commitment to defensible borders; facilitated the Gaza withdrawal in 2005; began moving the parties in 2006 to final status negotiations; and sponsored the Annapolis Process in 2007-08, which produced another Israeli offer of a state and another Palestinian rejection. In the meantime, the Palestinians elected Hamas — an inconvenient fact that peace processors simply ignore.

There were multiple lessons to be drawn from the successive failures of Clinton and Bush, but Obama did not pause to consider them. He appointed George Mitchell on his second day in office and sent him immediately to the Middle East on the first of an endless series of trips. He sought a total Israeli construction freeze and reciprocal Arab concessions — getting nothing from the Arabs but obtaining a one-time Israeli moratorium, which produced nothing. The administration has tried “proximity talks,” followed by “direct talks,” and now “parallel talks.”

The process has produced an endless supply of names for unproductive procedures, but not much else. It has become essentially an end in itself, and it is time, once again, to learn the lessons of the past so we can apply them to the future. Aaron David Miller and Jennifer Rubin have produced about seven between them.

But the most relevant lesson may be the one Obama disregarded when he rushed into his own peace process. In a December 2008 article, Obama’s erstwhile adviser Robert Malley urged him to slow down and reflect on “the reasons for recurring failures, the effectiveness of U.S. mediation, the wisdom and realism of seeking a comprehensive, across-the-board settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or even the centrality of that conflict to US interests.”

The Palestinian goal seems less to obtain a state (they have repeatedly rejected one) than to reverse history: a return to the 1967 lines would reverse the 1967 war; a “right of return” would reverse the 1948 one; and controlling the Old City (aka East Jerusalem) would reverse the history before that. At the end of his book, Ross describes the Oval Office meeting where Arafat rejected the Clinton Parameters, with Arafat denying that the Temple ever existed in Jerusalem. Ten years later, the PA denies any Jewish connection to the Western Wall. Not only has the PA taken no steps to prepare its public for peace; its maps and media presume Israel does not exist.

In thinking about the recurring failures of the peace process, it is time to reflect on that.

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Mitchell’s Back: The Fool Returns to His Errand

After two years of failure, George Mitchell is back in the Middle East to resume his fruitless negotiating between Israel and the Palestinians. In theory, Mitchell might have a better chance of achieving at least the semblance of progress now that the administration has dropped its obsession with forcing Israel to adopt a building freeze in the West Bank. Such a freeze was meaningless, since the question of where the borders would be in the event of a peace accord would not be affected by whether or not another Jewish home went up in the West Bank. As Israel showed in 2005 with its withdrawal from Gaza, the presence of settlements will not stop it from abandoning territory if a domestic consensus exists for such a policy.

But even without the burden of pushing Israel to freeze building before talks even begin, it’s not clear that there is any purpose to Mitchell’s visit other than a symbolic gesture of America’s continued interest in peace. Despite attempts by left-wing critics of Israel to demonize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partners, the blame for this impasse remains with the Palestinians, who have more than once refused Israel’s offer of a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. But it is useful to review the past two years of failed American diplomacy during which Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have done a great deal to make a bad situation worse.

In 2008, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was negotiating with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He refused to take yes for an answer, but the talks that were going on were direct and didn’t fail for lack of Israeli concessions. But when the Obama administration took up Middle East peace as its first foreign-policy priority in early 2009, it changed the dynamic of the situation, and not for the better. By asserting publicly that Israel had to freeze settlements first, and then insisting that such a freeze should include not only Jerusalem but also long-established Jewish neighborhoods in the Jewish state’s capital, the administration forced Abbas to harden his stand to avoid being seen as less hostile to Israel than the Americans were. Over the course of the last year and a half, as Mitchell and Clinton focused more on gaining new unilateral Israeli concessions as preconditions to talks, it was hardly surprising that the result was no serious negotiations as the Palestinians simply sat back and waited for the Americans to deliver for them.

While Mitchell loves to talk about his diplomatic success in Northern Ireland, where he helped bring the warring parties together for the first time, what has happened in the Middle East is just the opposite. When he arrived, direct talks were ongoing; now they are dead and there is little likelihood of a restart, since the administration has already tried and failed with its sole idea for promoting peace: pressure on Israel. While Israel’s critics and foes are urging Obama to double down on such pressure, it appears that even the president and the secretary of state are finally beginning to understand that there is little point to investing any energy in such a process when they know that even if they gain more concessions from the Israelis, the Palestinians will always say no in the end anyway.

The spectacle of Mitchell returning to a dumb show of diplomacy is a sorry indication of both the bankruptcy of the administration’s foreign policy as well as the ineptness of its principal player. Rather than the successful sequel to his Irish triumph that Mitchell keeps predicting, his latest mission resembles nothing so much as a fool’s errand.

After two years of failure, George Mitchell is back in the Middle East to resume his fruitless negotiating between Israel and the Palestinians. In theory, Mitchell might have a better chance of achieving at least the semblance of progress now that the administration has dropped its obsession with forcing Israel to adopt a building freeze in the West Bank. Such a freeze was meaningless, since the question of where the borders would be in the event of a peace accord would not be affected by whether or not another Jewish home went up in the West Bank. As Israel showed in 2005 with its withdrawal from Gaza, the presence of settlements will not stop it from abandoning territory if a domestic consensus exists for such a policy.

But even without the burden of pushing Israel to freeze building before talks even begin, it’s not clear that there is any purpose to Mitchell’s visit other than a symbolic gesture of America’s continued interest in peace. Despite attempts by left-wing critics of Israel to demonize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partners, the blame for this impasse remains with the Palestinians, who have more than once refused Israel’s offer of a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. But it is useful to review the past two years of failed American diplomacy during which Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have done a great deal to make a bad situation worse.

In 2008, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was negotiating with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He refused to take yes for an answer, but the talks that were going on were direct and didn’t fail for lack of Israeli concessions. But when the Obama administration took up Middle East peace as its first foreign-policy priority in early 2009, it changed the dynamic of the situation, and not for the better. By asserting publicly that Israel had to freeze settlements first, and then insisting that such a freeze should include not only Jerusalem but also long-established Jewish neighborhoods in the Jewish state’s capital, the administration forced Abbas to harden his stand to avoid being seen as less hostile to Israel than the Americans were. Over the course of the last year and a half, as Mitchell and Clinton focused more on gaining new unilateral Israeli concessions as preconditions to talks, it was hardly surprising that the result was no serious negotiations as the Palestinians simply sat back and waited for the Americans to deliver for them.

While Mitchell loves to talk about his diplomatic success in Northern Ireland, where he helped bring the warring parties together for the first time, what has happened in the Middle East is just the opposite. When he arrived, direct talks were ongoing; now they are dead and there is little likelihood of a restart, since the administration has already tried and failed with its sole idea for promoting peace: pressure on Israel. While Israel’s critics and foes are urging Obama to double down on such pressure, it appears that even the president and the secretary of state are finally beginning to understand that there is little point to investing any energy in such a process when they know that even if they gain more concessions from the Israelis, the Palestinians will always say no in the end anyway.

The spectacle of Mitchell returning to a dumb show of diplomacy is a sorry indication of both the bankruptcy of the administration’s foreign policy as well as the ineptness of its principal player. Rather than the successful sequel to his Irish triumph that Mitchell keeps predicting, his latest mission resembles nothing so much as a fool’s errand.

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A Plan in Search of an Avenue

Yesterday’s State Department press conference featured a lengthy discussion about next steps in the administration’s hapless peace process, now that the administration has dropped its attempt to renew for three months an Israeli moratorium that didn’t work when it was tried for 10, and which the administration concluded would not work now even if Israel agreed to it, which Israel wouldn’t do if the U.S. did not put its promises about it in writing, which the U.S. concluded wouldn’t be prudent, and which anyway were a little different than the oral ones, which — are you still with me?

Spokesman P.J. Crowley said that George Mitchell will be traveling to the region again next week (second prize was two trips) and that the U.S. will “engage with both sides on the core substantive issues.” In other words, unable to get the Palestinians to engage in direct negotiations without preconditions on core issues, the administration will nevertheless, in Crowley’s words, “begin to focus intensively on the core issues and see if we can make progress on the substance itself.” Someone has not completely thought this through.

Crowley himself was a little vague about where this is headed:

QUESTION: … you didn’t really say the direction you’re going.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. There’s a clear plan for this direction, Lach.

QUESTION: You have a plan?

MR. CROWLEY: No. I mean we think we have the right plan. We think we have the right strategy. We are just adapting the tactics in support of that strategy.

QUESTION: Sorry. What’s the plan again?

Crowley explained that the “moratorium avenue” had not borne fruit, so the administration was now “pursuing a different avenue, but the destination is still the same”:

QUESTION: Okay. What’s the avenue then? If we don’t ask about the plan, what about the avenue. What’s — I mean you seem to be leaving a gap here as to how you get from here to there.

MR. CROWLEY: That’s what we’re trying to figure out.

This seems a particularly inauspicious time to double down on a process that, after two years, is still at square one. Everyone knows the process is not going anywhere until the question of Iran, with its twin proxies on Israel’s northern and southern borders, is resolved. Until then, the idea of another withdrawal, exposing strategic land on Israel’s east to still another jihadist takeover — all in the hope of “peace” — borders on the ludicrous.

But that appears to be the administration’s “plan.” If only it had one for Iran – for when the sanctions-avenue has proved a dead end.

Yesterday’s State Department press conference featured a lengthy discussion about next steps in the administration’s hapless peace process, now that the administration has dropped its attempt to renew for three months an Israeli moratorium that didn’t work when it was tried for 10, and which the administration concluded would not work now even if Israel agreed to it, which Israel wouldn’t do if the U.S. did not put its promises about it in writing, which the U.S. concluded wouldn’t be prudent, and which anyway were a little different than the oral ones, which — are you still with me?

Spokesman P.J. Crowley said that George Mitchell will be traveling to the region again next week (second prize was two trips) and that the U.S. will “engage with both sides on the core substantive issues.” In other words, unable to get the Palestinians to engage in direct negotiations without preconditions on core issues, the administration will nevertheless, in Crowley’s words, “begin to focus intensively on the core issues and see if we can make progress on the substance itself.” Someone has not completely thought this through.

Crowley himself was a little vague about where this is headed:

QUESTION: … you didn’t really say the direction you’re going.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. There’s a clear plan for this direction, Lach.

QUESTION: You have a plan?

MR. CROWLEY: No. I mean we think we have the right plan. We think we have the right strategy. We are just adapting the tactics in support of that strategy.

QUESTION: Sorry. What’s the plan again?

Crowley explained that the “moratorium avenue” had not borne fruit, so the administration was now “pursuing a different avenue, but the destination is still the same”:

QUESTION: Okay. What’s the avenue then? If we don’t ask about the plan, what about the avenue. What’s — I mean you seem to be leaving a gap here as to how you get from here to there.

MR. CROWLEY: That’s what we’re trying to figure out.

This seems a particularly inauspicious time to double down on a process that, after two years, is still at square one. Everyone knows the process is not going anywhere until the question of Iran, with its twin proxies on Israel’s northern and southern borders, is resolved. Until then, the idea of another withdrawal, exposing strategic land on Israel’s east to still another jihadist takeover — all in the hope of “peace” — borders on the ludicrous.

But that appears to be the administration’s “plan.” If only it had one for Iran – for when the sanctions-avenue has proved a dead end.

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RE: So How’s the Bribe-a-thon Going?

Not all that well. For starters George Mitchell isn’t even in the region. I wondered why and e-mailed State Department spokesman PJ Crowley. He replied: “His deputy, David Hale, was in the region last week prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. We maintain continual contact with the parties and are prepared to send George or others to the region if and when needed. We have no announcements to make about travel at this moment.”

An experienced Israel hand translates: “He isn’t there this week because nothing’s happening, we’re stuck, there’s an impasse, and he doesn’t want yet again to travel and achieve nothing. So until there’s some breakthrough, he’s sitting it out.” You’d think this would be simple, no? Write up the bribe list settlement-freeze deal and hand it to Bibi to present to the cabinet. But wait, maybe asking for it in writing was the single most effective bit of diplomacy Bibi could muster. If the deal for the planes, for example, is conditioned or the administration really won’t exclude East Jerusalem from the freeze deal, then there is little chance the cabinet would approve it. And once again, the administration would be trapped by the gap between its private actions and its public comments. The administration is hemorrhaging credibility on multiple fronts. This won’t help. And as long as Mitchell stays home, you know the Obama team is “stuck.”

Not all that well. For starters George Mitchell isn’t even in the region. I wondered why and e-mailed State Department spokesman PJ Crowley. He replied: “His deputy, David Hale, was in the region last week prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. We maintain continual contact with the parties and are prepared to send George or others to the region if and when needed. We have no announcements to make about travel at this moment.”

An experienced Israel hand translates: “He isn’t there this week because nothing’s happening, we’re stuck, there’s an impasse, and he doesn’t want yet again to travel and achieve nothing. So until there’s some breakthrough, he’s sitting it out.” You’d think this would be simple, no? Write up the bribe list settlement-freeze deal and hand it to Bibi to present to the cabinet. But wait, maybe asking for it in writing was the single most effective bit of diplomacy Bibi could muster. If the deal for the planes, for example, is conditioned or the administration really won’t exclude East Jerusalem from the freeze deal, then there is little chance the cabinet would approve it. And once again, the administration would be trapped by the gap between its private actions and its public comments. The administration is hemorrhaging credibility on multiple fronts. This won’t help. And as long as Mitchell stays home, you know the Obama team is “stuck.”

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The Latest Trend in Delegitimizing Israel

The ongoing delegitimization campaign against Israel has recently started featuring a bizarre new argument: Israel isn’t really a democracy, because its Arab citizens lack basic civil rights. Good examples include last month’s New York Times column by Ahmad Tibi and today’s Jerusalem Post column by Ray Hanania.

Tibi urged the international community to demand that “in any political agreement, Israel would be required to grant full political and civil equality to Palestinian citizens of Israel. American mediators such as George Mitchell and Dennis Ross, rather than pushing the supremacist notion of a Jewish state, should be pressing Israel to provide equal rights and fair treatment to the Palestinian minority in its midst.” The obvious conclusion is that currently, Israeli Arabs lack civil rights.

That conclusion is somewhat marred by the final line: “Ahmad Tibi, an Arab Israeli, is deputy speaker of the Israeli Parliament.” Neither Tibi nor the Times bothers explaining how a country that denies its Arab citizens “political and civil equality” has an Arab as deputy speaker of its parliament — let alone one who uses this prestigious position mainly to slander his country.

But anyone who didn’t read this tagline, or missed its implications, would come away thinking that Israeli Arabs don’t enjoy “political and civil equality.”

Then there’s Hanania, a self-proclaimed “award-winning columnist,” peace activist, and Chicago radio talk-show host.

“Criticism is a hallmark of true democracies,” he proclaims. “The more Israel tries to silence Arab critics, the more it exposes the limits of its democracy.” Specifically, “the backlash against Arabs citizens challenging Israeli policies started with Azmi Bishara, a Knesset member who was very critical.” Now Israel is persecuting the equally critical MK Haneen Zoabi: “Jewish Knesset members have called for her to be prosecuted and stripped of the immunity that Knesset members enjoy … Zoabi symbolizes a crack that continues to grow in the wall of Israel’s claim to the ‘only democracy in the Middle East.’”

In reality, the “backlash” wasn’t against these MKs’ views but their actions. Bishara was indicted for passing information to Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War. Zoabi’s potential indictment (should Israel’s independent prosecution decide to file one) is for trying to run her own country’s blockade of an enemy with which it’s at war. In short, both allegedly tried to aid an enemy during wartime. That’s not voicing “criticism”; it’s a crime in every democracy on the planet.

Yet Hanania implies that Zoabi’s presence on May’s Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza was a mere peaceful protest, while the charges against Bishara were simply trumped up, a crude attempt to silence a critical voice. And uninformed readers might well believe him. They wouldn’t know, for instance, that Bishara himself was acquitted on unrelated charges just a year earlier — meaning he preferred flight and exile to standing trial, not because “critical” Arabs stand no chance in Israeli courts, but because this time the evidence against him was solid.

It’s hard to believe a slander as demonstrably false as that Israeli Arabs lack civil rights could gain traction. But clearly, it has. Otherwise, two such eminently mainstream newspapers wouldn’t have printed it.

The ongoing delegitimization campaign against Israel has recently started featuring a bizarre new argument: Israel isn’t really a democracy, because its Arab citizens lack basic civil rights. Good examples include last month’s New York Times column by Ahmad Tibi and today’s Jerusalem Post column by Ray Hanania.

Tibi urged the international community to demand that “in any political agreement, Israel would be required to grant full political and civil equality to Palestinian citizens of Israel. American mediators such as George Mitchell and Dennis Ross, rather than pushing the supremacist notion of a Jewish state, should be pressing Israel to provide equal rights and fair treatment to the Palestinian minority in its midst.” The obvious conclusion is that currently, Israeli Arabs lack civil rights.

That conclusion is somewhat marred by the final line: “Ahmad Tibi, an Arab Israeli, is deputy speaker of the Israeli Parliament.” Neither Tibi nor the Times bothers explaining how a country that denies its Arab citizens “political and civil equality” has an Arab as deputy speaker of its parliament — let alone one who uses this prestigious position mainly to slander his country.

But anyone who didn’t read this tagline, or missed its implications, would come away thinking that Israeli Arabs don’t enjoy “political and civil equality.”

Then there’s Hanania, a self-proclaimed “award-winning columnist,” peace activist, and Chicago radio talk-show host.

“Criticism is a hallmark of true democracies,” he proclaims. “The more Israel tries to silence Arab critics, the more it exposes the limits of its democracy.” Specifically, “the backlash against Arabs citizens challenging Israeli policies started with Azmi Bishara, a Knesset member who was very critical.” Now Israel is persecuting the equally critical MK Haneen Zoabi: “Jewish Knesset members have called for her to be prosecuted and stripped of the immunity that Knesset members enjoy … Zoabi symbolizes a crack that continues to grow in the wall of Israel’s claim to the ‘only democracy in the Middle East.’”

In reality, the “backlash” wasn’t against these MKs’ views but their actions. Bishara was indicted for passing information to Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War. Zoabi’s potential indictment (should Israel’s independent prosecution decide to file one) is for trying to run her own country’s blockade of an enemy with which it’s at war. In short, both allegedly tried to aid an enemy during wartime. That’s not voicing “criticism”; it’s a crime in every democracy on the planet.

Yet Hanania implies that Zoabi’s presence on May’s Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza was a mere peaceful protest, while the charges against Bishara were simply trumped up, a crude attempt to silence a critical voice. And uninformed readers might well believe him. They wouldn’t know, for instance, that Bishara himself was acquitted on unrelated charges just a year earlier — meaning he preferred flight and exile to standing trial, not because “critical” Arabs stand no chance in Israeli courts, but because this time the evidence against him was solid.

It’s hard to believe a slander as demonstrably false as that Israeli Arabs lack civil rights could gain traction. But clearly, it has. Otherwise, two such eminently mainstream newspapers wouldn’t have printed it.

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Middle East Chaos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And speaking of Lebanon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And speaking of Lebanon:

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

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

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

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

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

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Thomas Friedman’s Additional Test

Thomas Friedman unloads on Israel, asserting that it is “behaving like a spoiled child” because Netanyahu will not agree to a new settlement-construction moratorium without additional assurances:

Just one time you would like Israel to say, “You know, Mr. President, we’re dubious that a continued settlement freeze will have an impact. But you think it will, so, let’s test it. This one’s for you.”

I think he means that just two times he would like Israel to say it.

Last year, Obama demanded a settlement freeze — after reneging on agreements about such a freeze that had governed the peace process for the prior six years and refusing to endorse the presidential letter given to Israel in exchange for the dismantlement of every settlement in Gaza. The proposed deal was a construction freeze in exchange for small steps toward normalization with Israel that the U.S. would obtain from Arab states. Obama failed to get anything from the Arab states, but Israel announced a 10-month moratorium anyway. It had no impact at all.

Friedman writes that he has “no idea whether the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has the will and the guts to make peace with Israel” but thinks Abbas should be tested with another moratorium. No idea?

He knows that Abbas’s term of office expired nearly two years ago and that Abbas is “President Abbas” only in the sense that George Mitchell is “Senator Mitchell.” He knows Abbas declined an offer of a state on 100 percent of the West Bank (after land swaps) with a shared Jerusalem. He knows Abbas has stated he will “never” recognize Israel as a Jewish state nor negotiate any land swap. He knows Abbas cannot make peace even with Hamas, which controls half the putative Palestinian state. He knows Abbas has repeatedly canceled elections and that the idea of the Palestinian Authority as a stable democratic entity is a joke. He knows Abbas has declared he will never waive the “right of return,” which makes a peace agreement impossible even if every other issue could be resolved. He knows Abbas has taken no steps to prepare his public for any of the compromises that would be necessary for a peace agreement. How many tests does Abbas have to fail before Thomas Friedman has an idea?

Would it be too much to ask that Abbas first give his Bir Zeit speech? Or that Obama commit to veto any Palestinian state that does not result from direct negotiations that provide Israel with defensible borders? Or would that be acting like a spoiled child?

Thomas Friedman unloads on Israel, asserting that it is “behaving like a spoiled child” because Netanyahu will not agree to a new settlement-construction moratorium without additional assurances:

Just one time you would like Israel to say, “You know, Mr. President, we’re dubious that a continued settlement freeze will have an impact. But you think it will, so, let’s test it. This one’s for you.”

I think he means that just two times he would like Israel to say it.

Last year, Obama demanded a settlement freeze — after reneging on agreements about such a freeze that had governed the peace process for the prior six years and refusing to endorse the presidential letter given to Israel in exchange for the dismantlement of every settlement in Gaza. The proposed deal was a construction freeze in exchange for small steps toward normalization with Israel that the U.S. would obtain from Arab states. Obama failed to get anything from the Arab states, but Israel announced a 10-month moratorium anyway. It had no impact at all.

Friedman writes that he has “no idea whether the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has the will and the guts to make peace with Israel” but thinks Abbas should be tested with another moratorium. No idea?

He knows that Abbas’s term of office expired nearly two years ago and that Abbas is “President Abbas” only in the sense that George Mitchell is “Senator Mitchell.” He knows Abbas declined an offer of a state on 100 percent of the West Bank (after land swaps) with a shared Jerusalem. He knows Abbas has stated he will “never” recognize Israel as a Jewish state nor negotiate any land swap. He knows Abbas cannot make peace even with Hamas, which controls half the putative Palestinian state. He knows Abbas has repeatedly canceled elections and that the idea of the Palestinian Authority as a stable democratic entity is a joke. He knows Abbas has declared he will never waive the “right of return,” which makes a peace agreement impossible even if every other issue could be resolved. He knows Abbas has taken no steps to prepare his public for any of the compromises that would be necessary for a peace agreement. How many tests does Abbas have to fail before Thomas Friedman has an idea?

Would it be too much to ask that Abbas first give his Bir Zeit speech? Or that Obama commit to veto any Palestinian state that does not result from direct negotiations that provide Israel with defensible borders? Or would that be acting like a spoiled child?

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The Least-Smart Diplomat of Them All

Jackson Diehl is the latest Middle East watcher to figure out what went wrong with the non-direct, non-peace talks:

For 15 years and more, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas conducted peace talks with Israel in the absence of a freeze on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Now, it appears as likely as not that his newborn negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu — and their goal of agreement on a Palestinian state within a year — will expire because of Abbas’s refusal to talk in the absence of such a freeze. …

So why does Abbas stubbornly persist in his self-defeating position? In an interview with Israeli television Sunday night, he offered a remarkably candid explanation: “When Obama came to power, he is the one who announced that settlement activity must be stopped,” he said. “If America says it and Europe says it and the whole world says it, you want me not to say it?”

Well, yes. Just as many conservative critics have been saying — the immediate problem is a self-created one (“the settlement impasse originated not with Netanyahu or Abbas, but with Obama — who by insisting on an Israeli freeze has created a near-insuperable obstacle to the peace process he is trying to promote”). The longer-term problem is that the PA is not ready and able to make an enforceable peace agreement that recognizes the Jewish state. That, too, Abbas has candidly admitted.

You say, but doesn’t Dennis Ross or George Mitchell or Hillary Clinton know better? Maybe not. But even if they do, Obama is running the show, and he plainly doesn’t. Obama and his political hacks David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel may have figured they could topple the Bibi government. But when that didn’t occur, what was the rationale for reintroducing the issue in September? The most generous explanation is that Obama is a novice and unteachable when it comes to the Middle East. A cynic would say that Obama knows very well that the PA can’t make a deal and would rather put the screws on Israel than figure out a way to keep the talks going.

Either way, Obama’s team has achieved some domestic bipartisan consensus here in the U.S.: his administration screwed this up, the PA is intransigent, and it is high time we stopped blaming Israel. For that, I suppose, we can be grateful.

Jackson Diehl is the latest Middle East watcher to figure out what went wrong with the non-direct, non-peace talks:

For 15 years and more, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas conducted peace talks with Israel in the absence of a freeze on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Now, it appears as likely as not that his newborn negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu — and their goal of agreement on a Palestinian state within a year — will expire because of Abbas’s refusal to talk in the absence of such a freeze. …

So why does Abbas stubbornly persist in his self-defeating position? In an interview with Israeli television Sunday night, he offered a remarkably candid explanation: “When Obama came to power, he is the one who announced that settlement activity must be stopped,” he said. “If America says it and Europe says it and the whole world says it, you want me not to say it?”

Well, yes. Just as many conservative critics have been saying — the immediate problem is a self-created one (“the settlement impasse originated not with Netanyahu or Abbas, but with Obama — who by insisting on an Israeli freeze has created a near-insuperable obstacle to the peace process he is trying to promote”). The longer-term problem is that the PA is not ready and able to make an enforceable peace agreement that recognizes the Jewish state. That, too, Abbas has candidly admitted.

You say, but doesn’t Dennis Ross or George Mitchell or Hillary Clinton know better? Maybe not. But even if they do, Obama is running the show, and he plainly doesn’t. Obama and his political hacks David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel may have figured they could topple the Bibi government. But when that didn’t occur, what was the rationale for reintroducing the issue in September? The most generous explanation is that Obama is a novice and unteachable when it comes to the Middle East. A cynic would say that Obama knows very well that the PA can’t make a deal and would rather put the screws on Israel than figure out a way to keep the talks going.

Either way, Obama’s team has achieved some domestic bipartisan consensus here in the U.S.: his administration screwed this up, the PA is intransigent, and it is high time we stopped blaming Israel. For that, I suppose, we can be grateful.

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Pulling Teeth at the State Department

Having kept a running count of the number of times the Obama administration has refused to answer if it is bound by the 2004 Bush letter (22 times so far), it is a pleasure to report that it took only six attempts yesterday to get the State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, to answer whether the U.S. recognizes Israel as a Jewish state.

Crowley’s first response tried to throw reporters off the track with the tantalizing suggestion that George Mitchell just might go — it would be logical — back to the region at some point. Asked a second time, Crowley responded that we “recognize [Israel’s] aspiration.” On the reporters’ third through fifth tries, Crowley proved hard of hearing. On the sixth attempt, after a 14-word preface, he finally responded: “yes.”

QUESTION: P.J., do you recognize Israel as a Jewish state and will you try to convince the Palestinians to recognize it?

MR. CROWLEY: We will continue our discussions with the parties. I would expect, following up on the Arab League meetings of late last week that George Mitchell will go to the region at some point. I’m not announcing anything, but I — it would be logical for us to follow up directly with the parties, see where they are. [Blah, blah, blah.] Read More

Having kept a running count of the number of times the Obama administration has refused to answer if it is bound by the 2004 Bush letter (22 times so far), it is a pleasure to report that it took only six attempts yesterday to get the State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, to answer whether the U.S. recognizes Israel as a Jewish state.

Crowley’s first response tried to throw reporters off the track with the tantalizing suggestion that George Mitchell just might go — it would be logical — back to the region at some point. Asked a second time, Crowley responded that we “recognize [Israel’s] aspiration.” On the reporters’ third through fifth tries, Crowley proved hard of hearing. On the sixth attempt, after a 14-word preface, he finally responded: “yes.”

QUESTION: P.J., do you recognize Israel as a Jewish state and will you try to convince the Palestinians to recognize it?

MR. CROWLEY: We will continue our discussions with the parties. I would expect, following up on the Arab League meetings of late last week that George Mitchell will go to the region at some point. I’m not announcing anything, but I — it would be logical for us to follow up directly with the parties, see where they are. [Blah, blah, blah.]

QUESTION: And do you recognize Israel as a Jewish state?

MR. CROWLEY: We recognize the aspiration of the people of Israel. It has — it’s a democracy. In that democracy, there’s a guarantee of freedom and liberties to all of its citizens. But as the Secretary has said, we understand that — the special character of the state of Israel.

QUESTION: Is that a yes or no?

QUESTION: P.J., it’s — do you want to answer his question or –

QUESTION: Did you say yes or no to that question from Michel?

MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?

QUESTION: Michel’s question was a yes or no sort of question. I was wondering whether that was a yes or no.

MR. CROWLEY: We recognize that Israel is a – as it says itself, is a Jewish state, yes.

The original question had a second part to it: “ … and will you try to convince the Palestinians to recognize it?” After a reporter repeated the question, it took Crowley 162 halting words to respond:

QUESTION: … Does the U.S. want the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state?

MR. CROWLEY: Look, I will be happy to go back over and offer some — I’m trying — I’m not making any news here. We have recognized the special nature of the Israeli state. It is a state for the Jewish people. It is a state for other citizens of other faiths as well. But this is the aspiration of the — what Prime Minister Netanyahu said yesterday is, in essence, the — a core demand of the Israeli Government, which we support, is a recognition that Israel is a part of the region, acceptance by the region of the existence of the state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people and that is what they want to see through this negotiation. We understand this aspiration and the prime minister was talking yesterday about the fact that just as they aspire to a state for the Jewish people in the Middle East, they understand the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own.

Why is it so hard to get the Obama administration to reiterate basic commitments the U.S. has made — in writing — to Israel? The Bush letter stated that the U.S. is “strongly committed to … [Israel] as a Jewish state.” This administration has to be prodded six times to answer whether it recognizes Israel as a Jewish state and — after an affirmative response is extracted — cannot give a one-word answer on whether it wants the Palestinians to recognize one as well.

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Or He Could Hold His Breath Until He Faints

The Palestinian leadership in all its majesty:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Palestinian leadership in all its majesty:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cleaning Up After Mitchell and Obama

The Washington Post tells us that Dennis Ross is cultivating a “back channel” to Israeli officials to minimize the damage done by George Mitchell, the decidedly Israel-hostile State Department, and the president. Now the Post doesn’t put it quite that bluntly. But it comes close:

Ross’s role, described by officials and other sources close to the process, is highly sensitive because it might be seen as undercutting the mission of George J. Mitchell, President Obama’s special envoy for Middle East peace. Virtually no one interviewed would agree to be quoted by name because of such concerns. …

Sources in both the United States and Israel said that Ross has provided an element that had been missing from the bilateral relationship, which has been rocky since Obama took office.

But of course, if Obama really enjoyed a warm relationship with, or was even respected and trusted by, the Israeli government, no alternative channel would be needed, nor would the administration need to recite its bribes … er, promises … in writing to prevent the direct negotiations from unraveling.

But is Ross accomplishing anything? It doesn’t appear so. To be fair, he’s handicapped by the flawed approach that the president has clung stubbornly to, namely, the fixation on a settlement moratorium and a willful disregard of the PA’s inability and unwillingness to take the essential steps needed (e.g., recognition of the Jewish state) to reach a meaningful peace deal.

Ross may have convinced himself that things would be much worse were it not for his soothing presence, an unprovable hypothesis that one suspects is nevertheless necessary if one is to justify serving in an administration such as this. But frankly, all this remains a dangerous sideshow. As Abbas waits for instructions from his overseers at the Arab League, and Obama’s promises must be documented (we hope a notary is not required as well), those centrifuges keep spinning in Iran. No back channel to repair that debacle-in-the-making.

The Washington Post tells us that Dennis Ross is cultivating a “back channel” to Israeli officials to minimize the damage done by George Mitchell, the decidedly Israel-hostile State Department, and the president. Now the Post doesn’t put it quite that bluntly. But it comes close:

Ross’s role, described by officials and other sources close to the process, is highly sensitive because it might be seen as undercutting the mission of George J. Mitchell, President Obama’s special envoy for Middle East peace. Virtually no one interviewed would agree to be quoted by name because of such concerns. …

Sources in both the United States and Israel said that Ross has provided an element that had been missing from the bilateral relationship, which has been rocky since Obama took office.

But of course, if Obama really enjoyed a warm relationship with, or was even respected and trusted by, the Israeli government, no alternative channel would be needed, nor would the administration need to recite its bribes … er, promises … in writing to prevent the direct negotiations from unraveling.

But is Ross accomplishing anything? It doesn’t appear so. To be fair, he’s handicapped by the flawed approach that the president has clung stubbornly to, namely, the fixation on a settlement moratorium and a willful disregard of the PA’s inability and unwillingness to take the essential steps needed (e.g., recognition of the Jewish state) to reach a meaningful peace deal.

Ross may have convinced himself that things would be much worse were it not for his soothing presence, an unprovable hypothesis that one suspects is nevertheless necessary if one is to justify serving in an administration such as this. But frankly, all this remains a dangerous sideshow. As Abbas waits for instructions from his overseers at the Arab League, and Obama’s promises must be documented (we hope a notary is not required as well), those centrifuges keep spinning in Iran. No back channel to repair that debacle-in-the-making.

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Empty Promises to Bibi

Josh Rogin reports on the non-progress in restoring the non-peace talks:

Special Envoy George Mitchell is back in the U.S. after a tour through the Middle East that included stop in Qatar, Egypt and Jordan. No progress reported on saving the peace talks and the key meeting of the Arab League where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will speak has been postponed until Friday. Clinton phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend.

[State Department spokesman P.J.] Crowley couldn’t and therefore didn’t answer persistent questions coming from one press corps member seeking to know when was the last time the U.S. failed to back up Israel at the U.N. The questioner was ostensibly referencing reports that the administration was trying to convince the Israelis to extend the settlement freeze by promising to veto any future attacks on Israel in international fora. “I’m not sure that is a question that can possibly be answered,” Crowley said.

Actually, reports during the Obami’s temper tantrum over housing permits in Jerusalem suggested that the administration was threatening not to veto such resolutions in the future. So we actually did have such a situation in March. But the Obami said they were “confused” and couldn’t  manage to veto a statement singling out Israel that surely would have been vetoed under the Bush and Clinton administrations.

So to put this in context, the administration is trying to lure Bibi into extending a freeze with the promise not to do (refrain from anti-Israel vetoes) what previously would never have been done — and therefore would never have been considered a bargaining chip. You can understand why Bibi is not jumping at the offer.

Josh Rogin reports on the non-progress in restoring the non-peace talks:

Special Envoy George Mitchell is back in the U.S. after a tour through the Middle East that included stop in Qatar, Egypt and Jordan. No progress reported on saving the peace talks and the key meeting of the Arab League where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will speak has been postponed until Friday. Clinton phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend.

[State Department spokesman P.J.] Crowley couldn’t and therefore didn’t answer persistent questions coming from one press corps member seeking to know when was the last time the U.S. failed to back up Israel at the U.N. The questioner was ostensibly referencing reports that the administration was trying to convince the Israelis to extend the settlement freeze by promising to veto any future attacks on Israel in international fora. “I’m not sure that is a question that can possibly be answered,” Crowley said.

Actually, reports during the Obami’s temper tantrum over housing permits in Jerusalem suggested that the administration was threatening not to veto such resolutions in the future. So we actually did have such a situation in March. But the Obami said they were “confused” and couldn’t  manage to veto a statement singling out Israel that surely would have been vetoed under the Bush and Clinton administrations.

So to put this in context, the administration is trying to lure Bibi into extending a freeze with the promise not to do (refrain from anti-Israel vetoes) what previously would never have been done — and therefore would never have been considered a bargaining chip. You can understand why Bibi is not jumping at the offer.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A sharp observer has figured out how to cut through the Palestinian-Israel impasse.

Someone else has figured out that George Mitchell was fibbing when he extolled all that progress in the non-peace talks. “What was your reaction last month when you heard how well the talks had gone between Israel and the ‘Palestinians’? Did you flinch? Did you snicker? Did you doubt the reports? Whatever your reaction was, I have what should be unsurprising news for you. The talks did not go well. … Five Israeli and foreign diplomats, who were briefed about the Netanyahu-Abbas meetings by one of the parties or by senior American officials, said prospects for progress in the talks remained gloomy, even if the construction crisis were solved.”

The AP has figured out that ObamaCare is a bust. “It’s a centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s health care remake, a lifeline available right now to vulnerable people whose medical problems have made them uninsurable. But the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan started this summer isn’t living up to expectations. Enrollment lags in many parts of the country. People who could benefit may not be able to afford the premiums. Some state officials who run their own “high-risk pools” have pointed out potential problems.”

The Democrats have figured out that the Senate seats in North Dakota, Indiana, and Arkansas are lost.

Mara Liasson has figured out that it is a “bad, bad landscape” for the Democrats.

I don’t suppose the Democrats have figured out that Robert Gibbs’s sneering demeanor and contempt for ordinary Americans are unattractive. They now want to make him the face of the Democratic Party. In a way, it’s appropriate.

David Aaron Miller has figured out that direct negotiations aren’t the key to peace in the Middle East, settlements aren’t the stumbling block to a peace deal, and pressuring Israel isn’t the way to get one either. What’s more, he says: “Arab-Israeli peace will not stabilize Afghanistan or facilitate an extrication of U.S. forces from there. It will not create a viable political contract among Iraq’s Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. It will not stop Iran from acquiring enough fissile material to make a nuclear weapon. It will not force Arab states to respect human rights.” With apologies to the late and great Irving Kristol, I suppose a neocon is a peace processor who’s been mugged by reality.

By now, you’d think that ABC execs would have figured out what an unmitigated disaster Christiane Amanpour is as host of This Week.

Yuval Levin explains that once younger voters have fully figured out Obamanomics, they won’t be just apathetic; they’ll be angry. “[I]t is precisely younger Americans who should be most distressed by Obama’s agenda and governing choices as president: Their future is at stake, and they are on the losing end of his key policies. … The fact is that the implicit ideal of the left—the European-style social-democratic welfare state—is hostile to the young and to future generations. It prioritizes present benefits over future growth, present retirees over productive workers, and the present generation over those to come. No society can remain wealthy and strong with such distorted priorities.”

A sharp observer has figured out how to cut through the Palestinian-Israel impasse.

Someone else has figured out that George Mitchell was fibbing when he extolled all that progress in the non-peace talks. “What was your reaction last month when you heard how well the talks had gone between Israel and the ‘Palestinians’? Did you flinch? Did you snicker? Did you doubt the reports? Whatever your reaction was, I have what should be unsurprising news for you. The talks did not go well. … Five Israeli and foreign diplomats, who were briefed about the Netanyahu-Abbas meetings by one of the parties or by senior American officials, said prospects for progress in the talks remained gloomy, even if the construction crisis were solved.”

The AP has figured out that ObamaCare is a bust. “It’s a centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s health care remake, a lifeline available right now to vulnerable people whose medical problems have made them uninsurable. But the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan started this summer isn’t living up to expectations. Enrollment lags in many parts of the country. People who could benefit may not be able to afford the premiums. Some state officials who run their own “high-risk pools” have pointed out potential problems.”

The Democrats have figured out that the Senate seats in North Dakota, Indiana, and Arkansas are lost.

Mara Liasson has figured out that it is a “bad, bad landscape” for the Democrats.

I don’t suppose the Democrats have figured out that Robert Gibbs’s sneering demeanor and contempt for ordinary Americans are unattractive. They now want to make him the face of the Democratic Party. In a way, it’s appropriate.

David Aaron Miller has figured out that direct negotiations aren’t the key to peace in the Middle East, settlements aren’t the stumbling block to a peace deal, and pressuring Israel isn’t the way to get one either. What’s more, he says: “Arab-Israeli peace will not stabilize Afghanistan or facilitate an extrication of U.S. forces from there. It will not create a viable political contract among Iraq’s Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. It will not stop Iran from acquiring enough fissile material to make a nuclear weapon. It will not force Arab states to respect human rights.” With apologies to the late and great Irving Kristol, I suppose a neocon is a peace processor who’s been mugged by reality.

By now, you’d think that ABC execs would have figured out what an unmitigated disaster Christiane Amanpour is as host of This Week.

Yuval Levin explains that once younger voters have fully figured out Obamanomics, they won’t be just apathetic; they’ll be angry. “[I]t is precisely younger Americans who should be most distressed by Obama’s agenda and governing choices as president: Their future is at stake, and they are on the losing end of his key policies. … The fact is that the implicit ideal of the left—the European-style social-democratic welfare state—is hostile to the young and to future generations. It prioritizes present benefits over future growth, present retirees over productive workers, and the present generation over those to come. No society can remain wealthy and strong with such distorted priorities.”

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It Has Come to This

George Mitchell is still obsessing about the settlement moratorium. Bibi says he wants to continue direct talks. And the voice of sanity — get this — comes from Egypt:

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Aboul Gheit criticized the Palestinian Authority for its “insistence” on a moratorium on building in the settlements.

In an interview with London-based newspaper Al-Hayat, Aboul Gheit said waiting for a renewed freeze will only complicate peace talks, and that the most important issue is borders. Aboul Gheit also hinted that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas does not think a settlement freeze is essential.

Mitchell and his boss are clearly the least savvy operators in the Middle East. Maybe the best thing for the peace “process” — aside from calling an end to it — would be for the Obama administration to get out of the picture. Before the Obami came along, settlements were not a make-or-break issue, talks without preconditions were continuing, economic and security progress were evident in the West Bank, and our relations with Israel actually were “rock-solid,” to borrow Hillary Clinton’s disingenuous description of her administration’s relationship with Israel. I suspect if Mitchell packed up and left, and if Obama focused less on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and more on Iran, all the players in the Middle East would be a lot better off.

George Mitchell is still obsessing about the settlement moratorium. Bibi says he wants to continue direct talks. And the voice of sanity — get this — comes from Egypt:

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Aboul Gheit criticized the Palestinian Authority for its “insistence” on a moratorium on building in the settlements.

In an interview with London-based newspaper Al-Hayat, Aboul Gheit said waiting for a renewed freeze will only complicate peace talks, and that the most important issue is borders. Aboul Gheit also hinted that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas does not think a settlement freeze is essential.

Mitchell and his boss are clearly the least savvy operators in the Middle East. Maybe the best thing for the peace “process” — aside from calling an end to it — would be for the Obama administration to get out of the picture. Before the Obami came along, settlements were not a make-or-break issue, talks without preconditions were continuing, economic and security progress were evident in the West Bank, and our relations with Israel actually were “rock-solid,” to borrow Hillary Clinton’s disingenuous description of her administration’s relationship with Israel. I suspect if Mitchell packed up and left, and if Obama focused less on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and more on Iran, all the players in the Middle East would be a lot better off.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The Democrats are in trouble: “If voters think the economy’s gotten worse under a Democratic President they’re going to vote Republican. Add in the Democrats’ enthusiasm issues and you have the formula for the big GOP victory that’s likely on the way.”

Obama is in trouble when his base-rousing appeals are annoying the base. “‘I think it is a remarkably condescending message,’ said Darcy Burner, the executive director of ProgressCongress.org and the Progressive Congress Action Fund. Progressives, she said, continue to be deeply involved in policy and in politics and are not at all lethargic or disengaged. ‘The fact that they are frustrated and discouraged has as much to do with the rhetoric coming out of the White House as anything else,’ she said. ‘And this is the latest example of that.’” When Burner and Rubin agree, it’s not a good sign for Dems.

The non-peace talks are hanging by a thread, and their collapse would mean trouble for Obama and his “smart” diplomacy: “Special Envoy George Mitchell, his deputy David Hale, and the NSC’s Dan Shapiro left Monday for the Middle East to try to hold together the direct peace talks. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas won’t say whether he will leave the talks until next week, following the end of the Israeli settlement moratorium. The U.S. was ‘disappointed’ in the Israeli decision, Crowley said.” You get the feeling its panic time at Foggy Bottom and in the White House.

The Rahm Emanuel brand is in trouble if he can’t get his own tenant to let him back in his Chicago house. Not even to live in the basement. Live in the basement?!

Obama must be in more trouble than we thought if his disapproval rating is 55 percent in the state that launched his presidential run.

The blame-Bush gambit is in trouble: “Portman, budget director and U.S. trade representative in Bush’s administration, leads Democrat Lee Fisher 50 percent to 37 percent barely more than one month before the November 2 congressional election. … The poll found a majority of Ohio voters brushed aside Democratic charges that Portman would represent a return to the failed economic policies of Bush, with 60 percent saying his work with Bush made no difference in their vote.”

No wonder the Obami are in such trouble. Emanuel was apparently under the belief that “the White House must govern principally through the [New York] Times.” OK, that’s scary.

Hotline: “Democrats See Old Bulls in Trouble.”

The economy is still in trouble: “September consumer confidence sagged to its lowest levels since February, driven by deteriorating labor market and business conditions, according to a private report released Tuesday. The Conference Board, an industry group, said its index of consumer attitudes fell to 48.5 in September from a revised 53.2 in August. ‘September’s pull-back in confidence was due to less favorable business and labor market conditions, coupled with a more pessimistic short-term outlook, ‘said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center. …  ‘Overall, consumers’ confidence in the state of the economy remains quite grim,’ Franco said.”

The Democrats are in trouble: “If voters think the economy’s gotten worse under a Democratic President they’re going to vote Republican. Add in the Democrats’ enthusiasm issues and you have the formula for the big GOP victory that’s likely on the way.”

Obama is in trouble when his base-rousing appeals are annoying the base. “‘I think it is a remarkably condescending message,’ said Darcy Burner, the executive director of ProgressCongress.org and the Progressive Congress Action Fund. Progressives, she said, continue to be deeply involved in policy and in politics and are not at all lethargic or disengaged. ‘The fact that they are frustrated and discouraged has as much to do with the rhetoric coming out of the White House as anything else,’ she said. ‘And this is the latest example of that.’” When Burner and Rubin agree, it’s not a good sign for Dems.

The non-peace talks are hanging by a thread, and their collapse would mean trouble for Obama and his “smart” diplomacy: “Special Envoy George Mitchell, his deputy David Hale, and the NSC’s Dan Shapiro left Monday for the Middle East to try to hold together the direct peace talks. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas won’t say whether he will leave the talks until next week, following the end of the Israeli settlement moratorium. The U.S. was ‘disappointed’ in the Israeli decision, Crowley said.” You get the feeling its panic time at Foggy Bottom and in the White House.

The Rahm Emanuel brand is in trouble if he can’t get his own tenant to let him back in his Chicago house. Not even to live in the basement. Live in the basement?!

Obama must be in more trouble than we thought if his disapproval rating is 55 percent in the state that launched his presidential run.

The blame-Bush gambit is in trouble: “Portman, budget director and U.S. trade representative in Bush’s administration, leads Democrat Lee Fisher 50 percent to 37 percent barely more than one month before the November 2 congressional election. … The poll found a majority of Ohio voters brushed aside Democratic charges that Portman would represent a return to the failed economic policies of Bush, with 60 percent saying his work with Bush made no difference in their vote.”

No wonder the Obami are in such trouble. Emanuel was apparently under the belief that “the White House must govern principally through the [New York] Times.” OK, that’s scary.

Hotline: “Democrats See Old Bulls in Trouble.”

The economy is still in trouble: “September consumer confidence sagged to its lowest levels since February, driven by deteriorating labor market and business conditions, according to a private report released Tuesday. The Conference Board, an industry group, said its index of consumer attitudes fell to 48.5 in September from a revised 53.2 in August. ‘September’s pull-back in confidence was due to less favorable business and labor market conditions, coupled with a more pessimistic short-term outlook, ‘said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center. …  ‘Overall, consumers’ confidence in the state of the economy remains quite grim,’ Franco said.”

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RE: The Same Mistake

It is not simply that Obama keeps making the same mistake — public demands on Israel for pre-negotiation concessions that no Israeli prime minister would accept, nor could accept once the demands were made public — but that Obama made an even more fundamental error from the very beginning: redefining a realistic “settlement freeze” into an unrealistic “construction freeze.”

During the Bush administration, there was an informal understanding that a “settlement freeze” meant no new settlements and no expansion of the boundaries of existing ones. Such a definition permitted normal construction within existing areas without reducing the area that might eventually be transferred to a future Palestinian state. It enabled Israel to accept the Roadmap and then to engage in the Annapolis Process — which produced still another offer of a Palestinian state on nearly the entire West Bank — and thus demonstrated that settlements were not an obstacle to the peace process. On the contrary, the major settlement blocs were either adjacent to the Green Line or located in strategically important areas that — as the 2004 Bush letter formally recognized — were going to be retained by Israel in any foreseeable peace agreement.

Obama decided to renege on that understanding, declined to endorse the Bush letter itself, and proceeded to embark on successive attempts to stop all settlement building — resulting in the ludicrous situation of George Mitchell suggesting that a freeze in “natural growth” meant a restriction on the number of births within the settlements. Obama then created a major diplomatic crisis out of an administrative announcement of future construction in a Jewish area of Jerusalem. This month, he publicly castigated the settlements in a formal speech at the UN, seemingly oblivious to the effect his words have on the Palestinian insistence that Israel concede a fundamental issue before negotiations have begun.

There is a logical way out of this morass — simply revert to the definition of a “settlement freeze” that previously governed the peace process and that permitted it to proceed without concessions on the issue by either side. But this would require Obama to acknowledge that he inherited a solution from George W. Bush and substituted a mess.

It is not simply that Obama keeps making the same mistake — public demands on Israel for pre-negotiation concessions that no Israeli prime minister would accept, nor could accept once the demands were made public — but that Obama made an even more fundamental error from the very beginning: redefining a realistic “settlement freeze” into an unrealistic “construction freeze.”

During the Bush administration, there was an informal understanding that a “settlement freeze” meant no new settlements and no expansion of the boundaries of existing ones. Such a definition permitted normal construction within existing areas without reducing the area that might eventually be transferred to a future Palestinian state. It enabled Israel to accept the Roadmap and then to engage in the Annapolis Process — which produced still another offer of a Palestinian state on nearly the entire West Bank — and thus demonstrated that settlements were not an obstacle to the peace process. On the contrary, the major settlement blocs were either adjacent to the Green Line or located in strategically important areas that — as the 2004 Bush letter formally recognized — were going to be retained by Israel in any foreseeable peace agreement.

Obama decided to renege on that understanding, declined to endorse the Bush letter itself, and proceeded to embark on successive attempts to stop all settlement building — resulting in the ludicrous situation of George Mitchell suggesting that a freeze in “natural growth” meant a restriction on the number of births within the settlements. Obama then created a major diplomatic crisis out of an administrative announcement of future construction in a Jewish area of Jerusalem. This month, he publicly castigated the settlements in a formal speech at the UN, seemingly oblivious to the effect his words have on the Palestinian insistence that Israel concede a fundamental issue before negotiations have begun.

There is a logical way out of this morass — simply revert to the definition of a “settlement freeze” that previously governed the peace process and that permitted it to proceed without concessions on the issue by either side. But this would require Obama to acknowledge that he inherited a solution from George W. Bush and substituted a mess.

Read Less




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