Commentary Magazine


Topic: George Mitchell

Hmm, Moratorium Ended. Non-Peace Talks Don’t.

The settlement moratorium ended today. For now, Bibi didn’t give away something for nothing. And for now, Abbas didn’t walk out. It seems that giving the Palestinians precisely what they want isn’t necessarily essential to Israel’s security. But for the sake of argument, let’s say Abbas stays in the room. What then? Is he ready to recognize the Jewish state as the Jewish state? We’ve seen no sign of it. And that is something that can’t be finessed.

It is interesting that the New York Times saw Bibi’s move in terms of its impact on Obama. (“For President Obama, who had publicly called on Israel to extend the freeze, the Israeli decision was another setback in what has been a tortuous effort to help resolve one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.”) And in a way, that is right. Bibi rebuffed Obama’s public pleas. Obama’s been trying to push a settlement freeze on Bibi from day one, and he’s having no luck. Still. Maybe Bibi has concluded there really is nothing to gain and much to lose from agreeing to the requests of Obama and George Mitchell.

For now, Abbas is stalling. (“Speaking in Paris during an official visit to France on Monday, Mr. Abbas said there would be no ‘quick decision’ on whether to withdraw from the peace talks, and he would consult with Arab leaders next Monday on how to proceed, according to The Associated Press. The announcement appeared designed to give American mediators time to continue diplomacy, but it remained unclear how Arab leaders would react.”) His bluff has been called. And he’s going to figure out some other gambit for getting out of doing what is required of him.

The settlement moratorium ended today. For now, Bibi didn’t give away something for nothing. And for now, Abbas didn’t walk out. It seems that giving the Palestinians precisely what they want isn’t necessarily essential to Israel’s security. But for the sake of argument, let’s say Abbas stays in the room. What then? Is he ready to recognize the Jewish state as the Jewish state? We’ve seen no sign of it. And that is something that can’t be finessed.

It is interesting that the New York Times saw Bibi’s move in terms of its impact on Obama. (“For President Obama, who had publicly called on Israel to extend the freeze, the Israeli decision was another setback in what has been a tortuous effort to help resolve one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.”) And in a way, that is right. Bibi rebuffed Obama’s public pleas. Obama’s been trying to push a settlement freeze on Bibi from day one, and he’s having no luck. Still. Maybe Bibi has concluded there really is nothing to gain and much to lose from agreeing to the requests of Obama and George Mitchell.

For now, Abbas is stalling. (“Speaking in Paris during an official visit to France on Monday, Mr. Abbas said there would be no ‘quick decision’ on whether to withdraw from the peace talks, and he would consult with Arab leaders next Monday on how to proceed, according to The Associated Press. The announcement appeared designed to give American mediators time to continue diplomacy, but it remained unclear how Arab leaders would react.”) His bluff has been called. And he’s going to figure out some other gambit for getting out of doing what is required of him.

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Obama Boxed In

Obama has been postponing the inevitable — the eventual realization that there is no Middle East peace agreement to be had at this stage (or any time soon). For reasons that not even the PA can fathom, the Obami chirped optimistically about the prospects for success. Somehow, the Obama team expected to keep everyone in the room to at least continue talking and mask the failure of his Middle East policy. Obama would publicly pressure Bibi on the settlement moratorium. He would plead with Abbas. And if the talks ended, the blame could be placed (after all, the groundwork has already been laid) on Bibi.

Unfortunately for Obama, Bibi and Israel’s supporters wised up this time around. As I noted yesterday, Bibi has already made clear that the basic issue is not settlements but Abbas’s refusal to recognize the Jewish state and give up the dream of a one-state solution. Bibi is laying some groundwork of his own, it seems. Read More

Obama has been postponing the inevitable — the eventual realization that there is no Middle East peace agreement to be had at this stage (or any time soon). For reasons that not even the PA can fathom, the Obami chirped optimistically about the prospects for success. Somehow, the Obama team expected to keep everyone in the room to at least continue talking and mask the failure of his Middle East policy. Obama would publicly pressure Bibi on the settlement moratorium. He would plead with Abbas. And if the talks ended, the blame could be placed (after all, the groundwork has already been laid) on Bibi.

Unfortunately for Obama, Bibi and Israel’s supporters wised up this time around. As I noted yesterday, Bibi has already made clear that the basic issue is not settlements but Abbas’s refusal to recognize the Jewish state and give up the dream of a one-state solution. Bibi is laying some groundwork of his own, it seems.

Deputy Prime Minister Danny Ayalon got into the act, too:

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad angrily left a UN Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee  meeting and canceled a scheduled subsequent press conference with Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon in New York on Tuesday, after Ayalon refused to approve a summary of the meeting which said “two states” but did not include the words “two states for two peoples.”

“What I say is that if the Palestinians are not willing to talk about two states for two peoples, let alone a Jewish state for Israel, then there’s nothing to talk about,” Ayalon told the Post in a telephone interview. “And also, I said if the Palestinians mean, at the end of the process, to have one Palestinian state and one bi-national state, this will not happen.”

But that wasn’t all. As this report makes clear, Israel’s American supporters have been busy — and clever:

A bipartisan group of senators are circulating a new letter urging President Obama to speak out publicly to pressure the Palestinian leadership not to abandon the Middle East peace talks.

The new initiative comes ahead of the Sept. 26 deadline expiration of Israel’s 10-month settlement construction moratorium, which presents the first obstacle to the direct peace talks being spearheaded by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly stated that he will withdraw from the negotiations if settlement construction resumes, but Israeli leaders have been equally adamant that they will not extend the moratorium.

President Obama has told Jewish leaders to ignore negative public statements by Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas, calling it all part of the diplomatic game. But the administration has publicly called on Israel to extend the freeze, at least in part.

Lawmakers, who have also bristled at the administration’s public pressure on Netanyahu, are now calling on Obama to make it clear to Abbas that even if the freeze isn’t extended, he should stay at the table.

It is a not-so-subtle message from lawmakers (Barbara Boxer, Robert Casey, Johnny Isakson, and Richard Burr are the initial sponsors, more signatories are expected) that there will be little patience with finger-pointing at Bibi should/when the talks collapse:

“Obviously this is a direct message to President Abbas, and President Obama, that many in Congress … want the Palestinian leadership to stop making what they see as threats and to put public pressure on the Palestinian Authority to move their position,” said one Capitol Hill insider who had seen the letter.

“Many Capitol Hill office see Abbas quitting the talks over the settlements as him using the same issue he was clinging to when trying to set preconditions for the talks in the first place.”

No, these letters don’t just appear on their own, so credit goes not only to the clear-minded senators but also to pro-Israel advocates who decided it would be much more productive to box in Obama than to gloss over his anti-Israel moves (e.g., opening the door to a UN investigation of the flotilla incident). This is, I would suggest, one more sign that Obama’s prestige and authority are slipping fast. Lawmakers and Jewish groups aren’t about to put up with Obama’s Israel-bashing any longer and have decided that they’ve carried enough water for him when it comes to the Middle East.

For more than 18 months, Obama and his hapless envoy, George Mitchell, have made zero progress in promoting peace in the Middle East. Rather, they have strained relations with Israel, raised and then dashed the Palestinians’ hopes, annoyed American Jews, and emphasized the growing alienation of Obama from his own party. If friends of Israel thought it would help, they might suggest that Mitchell join Larry Summers in the “retired in failure” club. But so long as Obama is in the Oval office, there is little possibility that our Middle East diplomacy will get any smarter. Let’s pray it doesn’t get worse.

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RE: It’s Not About Settlements

As Jennifer noted yesterday in her comments on Giora Eiland’s Ynet op-ed, Palestinian unwillingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is the make-or-break issue of the peace process. She’s also correct that the Obama administration shows no signs of recognizing this fact. But two recent developments make this blindness particularly puzzling.

First, the critical importance of recognition is not an obscure point that an honest broker could easily overlook; it has by now become glaringly obvious to an overwhelming majority of ordinary Americans.

In an Israel Project poll released this week, 63 percent of respondents said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “is mostly about religion and ideology,” so “the key to peace is each side acknowledging the other’s right to exist.” That is double the 32 percent who thought it’s “mostly about land,” so “the key to peace is figuring out how to divide the land they share, establish borders, and address Jerusalem.”

Nor did respondents have trouble identifying which party was actually unwilling to recognize the other: 61 percent said Israel was “more committed” to reaching a deal; only 11 percent chose the Palestinians.

But the administration’s inability to grasp what is obvious to most Americans is even more bewildering given that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has spared no effort recently to drive the point home.

Even at the talks’ gala Washington launch on September 2, when both sides were presumably at their most conciliatory, Abbas used the opening ceremony to announce that he would never recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

A few days later, he told the Al-Quds newspaper that he won’t even discuss recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. And if he’s pressured to make any concessions on this point, or on the refugees’ “right of return” — a euphemism for eradicating the Jewish state through demography — he will “pack his bags and leave.”

Other leading Palestinian officials, such as senior negotiator Nabil Shaath, have echoed this refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Yet Barack Obama and his team still insist, in the teeth of all this evidence, that the most critical issue is getting Israel to continue its moratorium on settlement construction. “I told [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu that ‘you’ve got to show president Abbas that you’re serious,’” he told reporters last week.

And this week, U.S. mediator George Mitchell once again touted his favorite idea (Hebrew only): that the talks for now should focus solely on borders, because once the border is finalized, settlement construction — which is clearly Washington’s primary concern — would cease to be an issue. But Netanyahu again rejected it, pointing out that in practice, this means Israel ceding land without the Palestinians’ having to address any of Israel’s main concerns, like recognition.

In last week’s interview, Obama also said that “the only way to succeed [in the talks] is to see the world through the other person’s eyes.” Perhaps he should take his own advice and look at the world through Israeli, or even ordinary American, eyes. For unless he grasps that the real issue is not settlements, but recognition, negotiations don’t have a prayer.

As Jennifer noted yesterday in her comments on Giora Eiland’s Ynet op-ed, Palestinian unwillingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is the make-or-break issue of the peace process. She’s also correct that the Obama administration shows no signs of recognizing this fact. But two recent developments make this blindness particularly puzzling.

First, the critical importance of recognition is not an obscure point that an honest broker could easily overlook; it has by now become glaringly obvious to an overwhelming majority of ordinary Americans.

In an Israel Project poll released this week, 63 percent of respondents said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “is mostly about religion and ideology,” so “the key to peace is each side acknowledging the other’s right to exist.” That is double the 32 percent who thought it’s “mostly about land,” so “the key to peace is figuring out how to divide the land they share, establish borders, and address Jerusalem.”

Nor did respondents have trouble identifying which party was actually unwilling to recognize the other: 61 percent said Israel was “more committed” to reaching a deal; only 11 percent chose the Palestinians.

But the administration’s inability to grasp what is obvious to most Americans is even more bewildering given that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has spared no effort recently to drive the point home.

Even at the talks’ gala Washington launch on September 2, when both sides were presumably at their most conciliatory, Abbas used the opening ceremony to announce that he would never recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

A few days later, he told the Al-Quds newspaper that he won’t even discuss recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. And if he’s pressured to make any concessions on this point, or on the refugees’ “right of return” — a euphemism for eradicating the Jewish state through demography — he will “pack his bags and leave.”

Other leading Palestinian officials, such as senior negotiator Nabil Shaath, have echoed this refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Yet Barack Obama and his team still insist, in the teeth of all this evidence, that the most critical issue is getting Israel to continue its moratorium on settlement construction. “I told [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu that ‘you’ve got to show president Abbas that you’re serious,’” he told reporters last week.

And this week, U.S. mediator George Mitchell once again touted his favorite idea (Hebrew only): that the talks for now should focus solely on borders, because once the border is finalized, settlement construction — which is clearly Washington’s primary concern — would cease to be an issue. But Netanyahu again rejected it, pointing out that in practice, this means Israel ceding land without the Palestinians’ having to address any of Israel’s main concerns, like recognition.

In last week’s interview, Obama also said that “the only way to succeed [in the talks] is to see the world through the other person’s eyes.” Perhaps he should take his own advice and look at the world through Israeli, or even ordinary American, eyes. For unless he grasps that the real issue is not settlements, but recognition, negotiations don’t have a prayer.

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Are We There Yet?

Shocking as it may seem to those who actually bought into George Mitchell’s, Hillary Clinton’s, and the president’s cheery pronouncements, it may be that the peace talks are essentially done. The Washington Post reports:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday wrapped up three days of intense Middle East diplomacy that produced good atmospherics but no sign that an impasse over Israeli settlement construction has been resolved.

“We all know that there is no alternative to peace other than negotiating peace so we have no alternative but to continue peace efforts,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said before meeting with the chief U.S. diplomat in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
But Abbas gave little indication that he was willing to keep talks going after a partial moratorium on Israeli settlement construction expires Sept. 30.

No one does double-talk like the PA, right?

In any case, it seems the expectations are low that we’re going to have more talks after this month:

On Wednesday evening, Netanyahu told Abbas during talks at his residence in Jerusalem that the moratorium would not be extended, Israeli media reported. The prime minister’s office repeated that position in a statement Thursday.

But Netanyahu has indicated that some restrictions on construction will be applied, and U.S. officials are hoping that the momentum of the past few days will convince the Palestinians to keep talking, even if the settlement freeze is not extended in full. …

But Mitchell refused to say whether the United States was confident the Palestinians would keep talking after the end of the month. “That subject was discussed this evening. We continue in our efforts to make progress in that regard and believe that we are doing so,” he said.

In a word: unlikely.

Will the Obami throw a hissy fit a month and a half before the midterm elections if Israel sticks to its position — i.e., offer some compromise but not an official extension of the settlement freeze? We’ll see. That might only serve to emphasize Obama’s impotence.

If we’re lucky, the talks will go on “hiatus” so “important work can be done at staff levels.” Let’s hope some face-saver like that can be worked out. The most likely alternative, however, is another intifada.

Shocking as it may seem to those who actually bought into George Mitchell’s, Hillary Clinton’s, and the president’s cheery pronouncements, it may be that the peace talks are essentially done. The Washington Post reports:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday wrapped up three days of intense Middle East diplomacy that produced good atmospherics but no sign that an impasse over Israeli settlement construction has been resolved.

“We all know that there is no alternative to peace other than negotiating peace so we have no alternative but to continue peace efforts,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said before meeting with the chief U.S. diplomat in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
But Abbas gave little indication that he was willing to keep talks going after a partial moratorium on Israeli settlement construction expires Sept. 30.

No one does double-talk like the PA, right?

In any case, it seems the expectations are low that we’re going to have more talks after this month:

On Wednesday evening, Netanyahu told Abbas during talks at his residence in Jerusalem that the moratorium would not be extended, Israeli media reported. The prime minister’s office repeated that position in a statement Thursday.

But Netanyahu has indicated that some restrictions on construction will be applied, and U.S. officials are hoping that the momentum of the past few days will convince the Palestinians to keep talking, even if the settlement freeze is not extended in full. …

But Mitchell refused to say whether the United States was confident the Palestinians would keep talking after the end of the month. “That subject was discussed this evening. We continue in our efforts to make progress in that regard and believe that we are doing so,” he said.

In a word: unlikely.

Will the Obami throw a hissy fit a month and a half before the midterm elections if Israel sticks to its position — i.e., offer some compromise but not an official extension of the settlement freeze? We’ll see. That might only serve to emphasize Obama’s impotence.

If we’re lucky, the talks will go on “hiatus” so “important work can be done at staff levels.” Let’s hope some face-saver like that can be worked out. The most likely alternative, however, is another intifada.

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It’s Not About Settlements

Giora Eiland isn’t impressed with the happy talk coming from the Obama team. George Mitchell may coo all he wants about getting down to “substantive issues,” but the Palestinians show no sign they are willing to accept the most basic element of a peace deal: recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Eiland explains why this is an essential component of any accord:

The Palestinians make a distinction between recognizing the fact that the State of Israel exists and the recognition that it has the right to exist. The camp that supports Mahmoud Abbas has no qualms with the first definition: “Israel exists, and it’s apparently worthwhile to recognize it diplomatically; this is the way to guarantee for the Palestinians what only Israel can give. This agreement is fit for the present, but as to the future – who knows.” …

The entire concept of “Hudna” (long-term ceasefire) is based on an approach that espouses compromise in an effort to elicit what can be achieved now, without abandoning the intention to fight and get much more in the future. The way to curb future demands, especially in respect to the refugee issue, is to create a Palestinian obligation to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

The Obami, like the rest of the cottage industry of peace processors, operate on a myth: that both sides want peace and the issue is where to draw lines and how to halt and then uproot those darn settlements. It is as if the entire period between 1948 and 1967 never occurred. The Palestinians and their Arab enablers didn’t accept the Jewish state in 1949 (only an armistice was agreed to), didn’t accept the Jewish state in 1967, and still don’t. While Obama is quibbling about settlements in 2010, the Palestinians are still hung up on 1948.

Eiland points to another reason why recognition of the Jewish state is critical:

Should the future Palestinian state not recognize the State of Israel as the Jewish people’s nation-state, there is no chance that the Palestinians residing in Israel will accept it. If we fail to insist on this now, we may find ourselves within a generation or two in a situation where Arab Israelis demand (possibly through violence) equal national rights.

The Palestinian state would support this automatically, and may even view this issue as a reason to breach the peace treaty. The way to minimize this risk, or at least to create a situation where the states of the world support us, is to clearly define (in a manner agreed upon by all sides) the State of Israel as the Jewish people’s nation-state.

The Obami and much of the media fail or are unwilling to concede that what is standing between the parties and peace is more fundamental than a housing moratorium. In short, until the Palestinians cease regarding a “peace” deal as a brief interlude in the struggle to remove the Zionist undertaking from the region, there can never, by definition, be peace. Peace is not a cease-fire; it is an agreement to end hostilities permanently and completely. That the Palestinians won’t do.

Peculiar, isn’t it, that Hillary’s and Obama’s public comments don’t mention that. Well, not peculiar at all, for to concede there is such a fundamental barrier to peace would be to let on that Obama’s entire Middle East policy was misguided and naive. Can’t let that get around.

Giora Eiland isn’t impressed with the happy talk coming from the Obama team. George Mitchell may coo all he wants about getting down to “substantive issues,” but the Palestinians show no sign they are willing to accept the most basic element of a peace deal: recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Eiland explains why this is an essential component of any accord:

The Palestinians make a distinction between recognizing the fact that the State of Israel exists and the recognition that it has the right to exist. The camp that supports Mahmoud Abbas has no qualms with the first definition: “Israel exists, and it’s apparently worthwhile to recognize it diplomatically; this is the way to guarantee for the Palestinians what only Israel can give. This agreement is fit for the present, but as to the future – who knows.” …

The entire concept of “Hudna” (long-term ceasefire) is based on an approach that espouses compromise in an effort to elicit what can be achieved now, without abandoning the intention to fight and get much more in the future. The way to curb future demands, especially in respect to the refugee issue, is to create a Palestinian obligation to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

The Obami, like the rest of the cottage industry of peace processors, operate on a myth: that both sides want peace and the issue is where to draw lines and how to halt and then uproot those darn settlements. It is as if the entire period between 1948 and 1967 never occurred. The Palestinians and their Arab enablers didn’t accept the Jewish state in 1949 (only an armistice was agreed to), didn’t accept the Jewish state in 1967, and still don’t. While Obama is quibbling about settlements in 2010, the Palestinians are still hung up on 1948.

Eiland points to another reason why recognition of the Jewish state is critical:

Should the future Palestinian state not recognize the State of Israel as the Jewish people’s nation-state, there is no chance that the Palestinians residing in Israel will accept it. If we fail to insist on this now, we may find ourselves within a generation or two in a situation where Arab Israelis demand (possibly through violence) equal national rights.

The Palestinian state would support this automatically, and may even view this issue as a reason to breach the peace treaty. The way to minimize this risk, or at least to create a situation where the states of the world support us, is to clearly define (in a manner agreed upon by all sides) the State of Israel as the Jewish people’s nation-state.

The Obami and much of the media fail or are unwilling to concede that what is standing between the parties and peace is more fundamental than a housing moratorium. In short, until the Palestinians cease regarding a “peace” deal as a brief interlude in the struggle to remove the Zionist undertaking from the region, there can never, by definition, be peace. Peace is not a cease-fire; it is an agreement to end hostilities permanently and completely. That the Palestinians won’t do.

Peculiar, isn’t it, that Hillary’s and Obama’s public comments don’t mention that. Well, not peculiar at all, for to concede there is such a fundamental barrier to peace would be to let on that Obama’s entire Middle East policy was misguided and naive. Can’t let that get around.

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Death Talks

While Bibi and Mahmoud Abbas are chatting (primarily to George Mitchell), largely for the sake of Obama’s ego, Israelis are being killed and more will be, as this report makes clear:

Terrorist activity directed against Israel will likely increase as the peace process advances, Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin warned the cabinet . …

During his briefing, the head of the internal security service said terror activity initiated in Gaza by Hamas’ armed wing, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, is premised on people who have been released from Israeli prisons and are taking orders from jailed terrorists. …

The Shin Bet chief told the ministers that as long as the diplomatic process advances, attempts to carry out terror attacks will increase. According to Diskin, the past three years have seen a drop in terror-related incidents. However, he said, “It is estimated that this period (of relative calm) may be coming to an end due to the peace talks.”

A couple of points are worth noting. First, when Obama and others chide Israel for not appreciating the need to take “risks for peace,” they show both arrogance and ignorance. Israel pays a very heavy price for the microscopic chance of getting something out of the talks. I would submit that there is no other country on the planet that would make the same calculation as Israel.

Second, Jewish leaders have largely sat by passively as the Obami and the mainstream media have set up the narrative: “Will Israel doom talks by lifting the moratorium?” This is a grave strategic error by Israel’s supporters. Israel didn’t walk out of talks when Abbas proved himself unable to provide security in areas under his control. The murders of Israelis are deemed a “distraction.” But Israel, with no hope in sight of a deal, declines to perpetuate a noxious idea — that there are areas in which Jews should not be living — and faces the world’s wrath. Pro-Israel groups would do well to start re-framing the debate: Why isn’t Abbas living up to his obligations and taking risks for peace?

Time magazine proffered the obnoxious suggestion that Israel isn’t interested in peace. The real question is: If Palestinians are, why are they still killing Jews? And if the answer is “the other Palestinians” — Hamas — are doing the killing, then we should acknowledge that Abbas is unable or unwilling to make and enforce a peace deal. And speaking of Time, I eagerly await the cover story showing the economic miracle of the West Bank,  with all the new shops and modern buildings, questioning why Palestinians care more about money than about peace.

While Bibi and Mahmoud Abbas are chatting (primarily to George Mitchell), largely for the sake of Obama’s ego, Israelis are being killed and more will be, as this report makes clear:

Terrorist activity directed against Israel will likely increase as the peace process advances, Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin warned the cabinet . …

During his briefing, the head of the internal security service said terror activity initiated in Gaza by Hamas’ armed wing, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, is premised on people who have been released from Israeli prisons and are taking orders from jailed terrorists. …

The Shin Bet chief told the ministers that as long as the diplomatic process advances, attempts to carry out terror attacks will increase. According to Diskin, the past three years have seen a drop in terror-related incidents. However, he said, “It is estimated that this period (of relative calm) may be coming to an end due to the peace talks.”

A couple of points are worth noting. First, when Obama and others chide Israel for not appreciating the need to take “risks for peace,” they show both arrogance and ignorance. Israel pays a very heavy price for the microscopic chance of getting something out of the talks. I would submit that there is no other country on the planet that would make the same calculation as Israel.

Second, Jewish leaders have largely sat by passively as the Obami and the mainstream media have set up the narrative: “Will Israel doom talks by lifting the moratorium?” This is a grave strategic error by Israel’s supporters. Israel didn’t walk out of talks when Abbas proved himself unable to provide security in areas under his control. The murders of Israelis are deemed a “distraction.” But Israel, with no hope in sight of a deal, declines to perpetuate a noxious idea — that there are areas in which Jews should not be living — and faces the world’s wrath. Pro-Israel groups would do well to start re-framing the debate: Why isn’t Abbas living up to his obligations and taking risks for peace?

Time magazine proffered the obnoxious suggestion that Israel isn’t interested in peace. The real question is: If Palestinians are, why are they still killing Jews? And if the answer is “the other Palestinians” — Hamas — are doing the killing, then we should acknowledge that Abbas is unable or unwilling to make and enforce a peace deal. And speaking of Time, I eagerly await the cover story showing the economic miracle of the West Bank,  with all the new shops and modern buildings, questioning why Palestinians care more about money than about peace.

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Not So “Direct” After All

If you had any doubt about the efficacy of the “peace talks,” this should remind you that precious little is being accomplished:

[T]he “direct talks” between Israel and the Palestinians are taking more the form of negotiations between each side and the Americans, with both the Palestinians and Israel trying to convince the US of the reasonableness of their respective positions.

This is something that became evident looking at the slate of meetings held in Sharm on Tuesday. …

What was sorely absent from that rich menu of talks was a private meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu. That meeting might take place Wednesday in Jerusalem, but then again it might not.

As Elliott Abrams explained recently, the “mistake is to intrude too deeply and too often in what must be a bilateral negotiation.” So long as the parties are talking mostly to George Mitchell, nothing productive is being accomplished:

As Nahum Barnea wrote in the widest-circulation Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronoth … “In all the talks that Israeli governments held in the past, with the Arab states and with the Palestinians, the Americans only got into the thick of the talks at the last stage. The talks were direct and bilateral. … Not this time. This time the Americans intend to sit at the negotiating table and to stay there. The talks will be direct, but trilateral.”

Not only will there be no progress in the talks, but, in proceeding this way, we’ll merely emphasize that the collapse of the talks is a failure of the Obama team. While predictable, there is no reason to welcome the Obami’s humiliation. After all, we need some veneer of credibility and the appearance of effectiveness if we are to continue to maintain alliances and confront the real national security crises we face.

If you had any doubt about the efficacy of the “peace talks,” this should remind you that precious little is being accomplished:

[T]he “direct talks” between Israel and the Palestinians are taking more the form of negotiations between each side and the Americans, with both the Palestinians and Israel trying to convince the US of the reasonableness of their respective positions.

This is something that became evident looking at the slate of meetings held in Sharm on Tuesday. …

What was sorely absent from that rich menu of talks was a private meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu. That meeting might take place Wednesday in Jerusalem, but then again it might not.

As Elliott Abrams explained recently, the “mistake is to intrude too deeply and too often in what must be a bilateral negotiation.” So long as the parties are talking mostly to George Mitchell, nothing productive is being accomplished:

As Nahum Barnea wrote in the widest-circulation Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronoth … “In all the talks that Israeli governments held in the past, with the Arab states and with the Palestinians, the Americans only got into the thick of the talks at the last stage. The talks were direct and bilateral. … Not this time. This time the Americans intend to sit at the negotiating table and to stay there. The talks will be direct, but trilateral.”

Not only will there be no progress in the talks, but, in proceeding this way, we’ll merely emphasize that the collapse of the talks is a failure of the Obama team. While predictable, there is no reason to welcome the Obami’s humiliation. After all, we need some veneer of credibility and the appearance of effectiveness if we are to continue to maintain alliances and confront the real national security crises we face.

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The Consequences of Clinton’s Expectations Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama’s Middle East Policy: Incompetence Continues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peace

Well, that was something. Netanyahu and Abbas met today for a while, and then agreed to meet in a couple of weeks for a while. We’ll have to wait for leaks and the like to know what happened at the meeting and what the dynamics were and whether each side came with something that will give sub-negotiators something to chew over and wrestle with in the weeks to come, but I’ll hazard a guess here: What happened was nothing. Obama wanted a meeting. Bibi wanted to keep Obama happy. Abbas had nothing to do anyway and maybe by hugging the Americans he can hang onto power by his toenails even though his elected term ended more than a year and a half ago. So they said they would discuss peace and they used the word peace and they got their pretty peaceful photographs and Obama talked about peace and Hillary talked about peace and George Mitchell got himself a little bone of peace and…

I mean, come on.

Well, that was something. Netanyahu and Abbas met today for a while, and then agreed to meet in a couple of weeks for a while. We’ll have to wait for leaks and the like to know what happened at the meeting and what the dynamics were and whether each side came with something that will give sub-negotiators something to chew over and wrestle with in the weeks to come, but I’ll hazard a guess here: What happened was nothing. Obama wanted a meeting. Bibi wanted to keep Obama happy. Abbas had nothing to do anyway and maybe by hugging the Americans he can hang onto power by his toenails even though his elected term ended more than a year and a half ago. So they said they would discuss peace and they used the word peace and they got their pretty peaceful photographs and Obama talked about peace and Hillary talked about peace and George Mitchell got himself a little bone of peace and…

I mean, come on.

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Moment of Opportunity?

One of the many disagreeable aspects of the “peace process” is that people say very silly things. A case in point:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “are two leaders who I believe want peace,” Obama said in the Rose Garden Wednesday evening, flanked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell. “As I told them today, this moment of opportunity may not soon come again. They cannot afford to let it slip away.”

Well this moment won’t come again, by definition. (He’s very big on “this” moments — he used it a lot in his campaign speech in Berlin. It didn’t make any more sense then.) But what opportunity? Is there some hint that this moment of opportunity is any different from past moments of opportunity? And who is to say that there won’t be better prospects in the future — when, for example, the West Bank’s economic gains mount and its civil institutions mature. Maybe if Iran is toppled, externally or internally, and support dries up for Hamas and Hezbollah, the moment will be ripe.

But not now. By investing such expectations in this “moment” and suggesting that this is an especially opportune time to reach an agreement, when the opposite is likely the case, Obama risks — again — losing credibility.

Meanwhile, the real moment of opportunity is with Iran — before it gets the bomb. If only the administration had an appropriate sense of urgency for the right things.

One of the many disagreeable aspects of the “peace process” is that people say very silly things. A case in point:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “are two leaders who I believe want peace,” Obama said in the Rose Garden Wednesday evening, flanked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell. “As I told them today, this moment of opportunity may not soon come again. They cannot afford to let it slip away.”

Well this moment won’t come again, by definition. (He’s very big on “this” moments — he used it a lot in his campaign speech in Berlin. It didn’t make any more sense then.) But what opportunity? Is there some hint that this moment of opportunity is any different from past moments of opportunity? And who is to say that there won’t be better prospects in the future — when, for example, the West Bank’s economic gains mount and its civil institutions mature. Maybe if Iran is toppled, externally or internally, and support dries up for Hamas and Hezbollah, the moment will be ripe.

But not now. By investing such expectations in this “moment” and suggesting that this is an especially opportune time to reach an agreement, when the opposite is likely the case, Obama risks — again — losing credibility.

Meanwhile, the real moment of opportunity is with Iran — before it gets the bomb. If only the administration had an appropriate sense of urgency for the right things.

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What Happens When the Talks Fail?

It is a measure of how badly the Obami’s approach to the Middle East has failed and how little the Israelis trust Obama when, as Josh Rogin reports, the Israelis make it crystal clear how little they regard the president’s positions:

“We are coming to the table with no preconditions on any issue,” embassy spokesman Jonathan Peled said on a conference call Tuesday. “We are certain that the issue of settlements, of this moratorium, will be on the table and discussed between the two leaders … with the hope that a solution, an exit, a formula can be found that will satisfy both sides, but only after it is brought to the table between them.”

So much for the settlement-freeze gambit. And there’s more:

“The latest moratorium that this government took about 10 months ago was a one-time gesture with the aim of jumpstarting the process,” Peled said.

He also said that he was not aware of any ideas that the United States was bringing to the table to bridge gaps between the two sides and added that it was not the Obama administration’s place to interject its own ideas into the process.

Well, that’s some helpful candor. The Bush administration to my knowledge avoided bridging proposals. These merely encourage intransigence and gamesmanship. “Well, if the U.S. is going to split the difference, let’s ask for the moon and the stars.” It is antithetical to the notion that the parties must control their own destiny and that Israel, in particular, must be allowed to define for itself its own security needs. And one might also interpret the Israelis’ forcefulness as a preemptive strike against an imposed peace deal, which many are concerned is not entirely off the table.

And George Mitchell also appears to have his tail between his legs:

Although Mitchell has often compared Middle East negotiations to the struggle for peace in Northern Ireland, he said Tuesday that the comparison is not strictly accurate, even though military groups in Northern Ireland eventually did join talks.

“So, first, let me say they’re very different. It’s not useful to try to make direct comparisons because the participants, the circumstances, the situation, the timing are all very different,” he said.

The negotiations hang by a thread, which could easily break at any moment. (“If there’s one word to describe the feelings about the talks throughout Washington, that word is skepticism. Experts across the political spectrum see the idea of a breakthrough as a long shot at best.”) It would seem prudent then to have a backup plan in mind should talks fail. What if a third intifada breaks out? I certainly hope someone is thinking about that. Of all the possible outcomes, that, sadly, seems the most likely.

It is a measure of how badly the Obami’s approach to the Middle East has failed and how little the Israelis trust Obama when, as Josh Rogin reports, the Israelis make it crystal clear how little they regard the president’s positions:

“We are coming to the table with no preconditions on any issue,” embassy spokesman Jonathan Peled said on a conference call Tuesday. “We are certain that the issue of settlements, of this moratorium, will be on the table and discussed between the two leaders … with the hope that a solution, an exit, a formula can be found that will satisfy both sides, but only after it is brought to the table between them.”

So much for the settlement-freeze gambit. And there’s more:

“The latest moratorium that this government took about 10 months ago was a one-time gesture with the aim of jumpstarting the process,” Peled said.

He also said that he was not aware of any ideas that the United States was bringing to the table to bridge gaps between the two sides and added that it was not the Obama administration’s place to interject its own ideas into the process.

Well, that’s some helpful candor. The Bush administration to my knowledge avoided bridging proposals. These merely encourage intransigence and gamesmanship. “Well, if the U.S. is going to split the difference, let’s ask for the moon and the stars.” It is antithetical to the notion that the parties must control their own destiny and that Israel, in particular, must be allowed to define for itself its own security needs. And one might also interpret the Israelis’ forcefulness as a preemptive strike against an imposed peace deal, which many are concerned is not entirely off the table.

And George Mitchell also appears to have his tail between his legs:

Although Mitchell has often compared Middle East negotiations to the struggle for peace in Northern Ireland, he said Tuesday that the comparison is not strictly accurate, even though military groups in Northern Ireland eventually did join talks.

“So, first, let me say they’re very different. It’s not useful to try to make direct comparisons because the participants, the circumstances, the situation, the timing are all very different,” he said.

The negotiations hang by a thread, which could easily break at any moment. (“If there’s one word to describe the feelings about the talks throughout Washington, that word is skepticism. Experts across the political spectrum see the idea of a breakthrough as a long shot at best.”) It would seem prudent then to have a backup plan in mind should talks fail. What if a third intifada breaks out? I certainly hope someone is thinking about that. Of all the possible outcomes, that, sadly, seems the most likely.

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What Washington’s Lame Response to Terror Says About the Peace Talks

If more reasons were needed for concluding that the current Israeli-Palestinian talks won’t produce a deal, here’s another: the designated mediator — i.e., the Obama administration — has just proved itself incapable of providing what even Israeli leftists deem an essential condition for peace.

Tuesday night, Palestinian terrorists murdered four Israeli civilians — two men and two women — by shooting them at close range. Yet as even Haaretz, normally the administration’s reliable flack, noted, “State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley didn’t seem to be in a rush to condemn the attack.” In fact, he didn’t condemn it at all: he merely declared it “a tragedy.”

“Any time one human being takes out a weapon and fires and kills other human beings, it’s a tragedy,” Crowley said. “We just don’t know the circumstances under which this occurred. … We are cognizant that there could be external events that can have an impact on the environment.”

The White House finally issued an unequivocal condemnation only hours later, once “the circumstances” had become clear: namely, that it could condemn the attack safely, because the Palestinian Authority wasn’t involved. Until then, Crowley had hedged his bets, hinting at extenuating circumstances that “we just don’t know,” “external events” that could affect “the environment” — any straw he could grasp to excuse the PA if that proved necessary.

What does this have to do with peace talks? To understand that, it’s worth reading Gershon Baskin’s column in the Jerusalem Post this week. Baskin aptly titled it “The indefatigable peacemaker’s advice,” because he is indeed an indefatigable peace activist. He is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, has been personally involved in many previous rounds of negotiations (both official and unofficial), and continues to believe that “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolvable” right now — a position shared by few other Israelis.

Yet even this indefatigable optimist noted that peace will not be possible if certain conditions aren’t met. For instance, he dismissed the “borders first” idea once touted by U.S. mediator George Mitchell, correctly noting that “the agreement will be a package deal in which there are trade-offs,” and therefore, the various final-status issues “cannot be negotiated separately.” Additionally, he warned, Israel must be convinced that any deal will end with the Palestinians’ recognizing it as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” (to bridge the gap between the PA’s unwillingness to concede this upfront and Israel’s need to know it will happen eventually, he proposed having the Palestinians give such a pledge to Washington as a “deposit”).

But here’s the clincher: “All of Israel’s security concerns must be addressed by the Palestinians (and the American team) with the utmost sincerity. There will be no agreement unless Israel feels its security needs will be met.”

That, however, is precisely what team Obama has just shown itself incapable of doing. Because if you want to convince Israelis that their security concerns will be addressed, offering lame excuses for anti-Israel terror rather than forthrightly condemning it isn’t a good way to start.

If more reasons were needed for concluding that the current Israeli-Palestinian talks won’t produce a deal, here’s another: the designated mediator — i.e., the Obama administration — has just proved itself incapable of providing what even Israeli leftists deem an essential condition for peace.

Tuesday night, Palestinian terrorists murdered four Israeli civilians — two men and two women — by shooting them at close range. Yet as even Haaretz, normally the administration’s reliable flack, noted, “State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley didn’t seem to be in a rush to condemn the attack.” In fact, he didn’t condemn it at all: he merely declared it “a tragedy.”

“Any time one human being takes out a weapon and fires and kills other human beings, it’s a tragedy,” Crowley said. “We just don’t know the circumstances under which this occurred. … We are cognizant that there could be external events that can have an impact on the environment.”

The White House finally issued an unequivocal condemnation only hours later, once “the circumstances” had become clear: namely, that it could condemn the attack safely, because the Palestinian Authority wasn’t involved. Until then, Crowley had hedged his bets, hinting at extenuating circumstances that “we just don’t know,” “external events” that could affect “the environment” — any straw he could grasp to excuse the PA if that proved necessary.

What does this have to do with peace talks? To understand that, it’s worth reading Gershon Baskin’s column in the Jerusalem Post this week. Baskin aptly titled it “The indefatigable peacemaker’s advice,” because he is indeed an indefatigable peace activist. He is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, has been personally involved in many previous rounds of negotiations (both official and unofficial), and continues to believe that “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolvable” right now — a position shared by few other Israelis.

Yet even this indefatigable optimist noted that peace will not be possible if certain conditions aren’t met. For instance, he dismissed the “borders first” idea once touted by U.S. mediator George Mitchell, correctly noting that “the agreement will be a package deal in which there are trade-offs,” and therefore, the various final-status issues “cannot be negotiated separately.” Additionally, he warned, Israel must be convinced that any deal will end with the Palestinians’ recognizing it as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” (to bridge the gap between the PA’s unwillingness to concede this upfront and Israel’s need to know it will happen eventually, he proposed having the Palestinians give such a pledge to Washington as a “deposit”).

But here’s the clincher: “All of Israel’s security concerns must be addressed by the Palestinians (and the American team) with the utmost sincerity. There will be no agreement unless Israel feels its security needs will be met.”

That, however, is precisely what team Obama has just shown itself incapable of doing. Because if you want to convince Israelis that their security concerns will be addressed, offering lame excuses for anti-Israel terror rather than forthrightly condemning it isn’t a good way to start.

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Talking Peace, Injuring Infants

Mahmoud Abbas wants to talk about a settlement freeze at the peace talks. But the settlement freeze isn’t happening. And there can’t be peace, no matter how many times George Mitchell shuffles between the parties and no matter what ludicrous deadline he sets so long as this goes on:

An Israeli infant was injured when Palestinians hurled rocks at a car traveling in the West Bank. The baby was treated at the scene of Tuesday afternoon’s attack near Karne Zur, south of Hebron, and then taken to a hospital in Jerusalem. Later Tuesday another car was damaged in the same area by rocks thrown by Palestinians, according to the IDF. Also Tuesday afternoon, Palestinians threw a firebomb at an Israeli car traveling near Maale Shomron in the northern West Bank.

Obama keeps saying he’s very concerned about Palestinian incitement, very much determined to have Abbas prove his mettle. So how about it — why doesn’t Abbas get on Arab media and condemn these acts? Instead of a settlement freeze, how about a rock-throwing freeze? A maiming-children freeze? (Hey, if this goes well, we could work up to an honor-killing freeze.) Oh, you say, Abbas couldn’t ensure that even if he wanted to. I see. Then can we stop talking about peace?

Change minds and change behavior. Then and only then is there something to discuss.

Mahmoud Abbas wants to talk about a settlement freeze at the peace talks. But the settlement freeze isn’t happening. And there can’t be peace, no matter how many times George Mitchell shuffles between the parties and no matter what ludicrous deadline he sets so long as this goes on:

An Israeli infant was injured when Palestinians hurled rocks at a car traveling in the West Bank. The baby was treated at the scene of Tuesday afternoon’s attack near Karne Zur, south of Hebron, and then taken to a hospital in Jerusalem. Later Tuesday another car was damaged in the same area by rocks thrown by Palestinians, according to the IDF. Also Tuesday afternoon, Palestinians threw a firebomb at an Israeli car traveling near Maale Shomron in the northern West Bank.

Obama keeps saying he’s very concerned about Palestinian incitement, very much determined to have Abbas prove his mettle. So how about it — why doesn’t Abbas get on Arab media and condemn these acts? Instead of a settlement freeze, how about a rock-throwing freeze? A maiming-children freeze? (Hey, if this goes well, we could work up to an honor-killing freeze.) Oh, you say, Abbas couldn’t ensure that even if he wanted to. I see. Then can we stop talking about peace?

Change minds and change behavior. Then and only then is there something to discuss.

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Like Deja Vu All Over Again

Today the resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was announced. After 18 months of bullying Israel, the Obami’s tone was markedly different. As this report explained:

But Mrs. Clinton pointedly did not mention using Israel’s pre-1967 borders as the basis for territorial negotiations — a basic plank of previous talks — or set any other basic terms for the negotiations. Nor did she press the Israeli government to extend a moratorium on the construction of Jewish settlements, which would remove a potential hurdle to a deal.

In 18 months, the Obami managed to climb back to where the Bush administration had been — direct talks with no preconditions. An experienced Israel hand notes that there had been four years of direct talks until George Mitchell “destroyed them with his demands about settlements.” He continues: “The one-year timetable is the — who knows — fifth or tenth or twentieth deadline, and will have no different fate. The Roadmap gave it three years — and that was not enough. So that is plain silly. But above all, they begin with NO common understanding.”

This was made clear by the administration’s readout of a briefing given to American Jewish leaders:

U.S. officials told Jewish community leaders on a private conference call this afternoon that they believe Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is on the verge of joining Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in accepting an invitation to resume peace talks.But he acknowledged that details of the talks have yet to be finalized, plans for a presidential visit to the region remain unclear, and hopes of drawing other Arab leaders and Hamas into the process ride on the momentum of the talks themselves.

Well there is certainly less here than even the initial Obama spin would have had us believe. It seems to be that only an initial dinner is set. (“The United States will put its imprimatur on the talks in an orchestrated series of meetings that begin with a White House dinner Sept. 1 hosted by Mr. Obama.”) Beyond that? “Within the negotiations we’ve obviously had a lot of preparatory discussions with the parties on how to structure them,and we’ll need to finalize those, so we’re not in a position now to really talk about that.” Good grief. This has all the makings of a rushed announcement to try to put a horrid week for the White House behind them.”

It is interesting that Obama’s role is not yet finalized either. In fact, as my Israel expert points out, the death knell of the talks may be Obama’s own presence. After all, the Israelis have learned the hard way not to trust him, so it’s difficult to see how his presence could be a help. The telltale sign of the level of animosity between Obama and the Jewish state – he doesn’t yet have the nerve to visit Israel, where he could very likely face angry crowds. (“‘He looks forward to an opportunity to visit Israel,’ [Dan Shapiro] said of Obama, adding that such a visit would likely include a stop in the Palestinian Territories. The visit ‘could be very valuable and very meaningful at the right time.’”) Translation: he’s not going anytime soon.

The statements by others released on Friday were indicative of the low expectations that these talks engender among knowledgeable observers. AIPAC, which is obliged to cheer each step in the fruitless “peace process,” declares that it  “welcomes the renewal of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), as announced Friday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and expresses its appreciation to the Obama administration for its efforts in making this goal a reality.” But even its usually bubbly tone was replaced by sober and somewhat skeptical caveats:

For talks to succeed the PA must match Israel’s commitment to conducting peace talks without preconditions or excuses, abandon its longstanding attempts to avoid making difficult choices at the negotiating table and cease incitement against Israel at home and abroad.  Likewise, Arab states must heed the calls by the Obama Administration and Congress to take immediate and meaningful steps toward normalization with Israel, and they must provide the political support for the Palestinians to make the kind of significant and difficult choices that will be required.

An even more candid statement came from Senate candidate Pat Toomey, who said he was hopeful but also “wary”:

Too often such talks produce little substance, and devolve into casting unfair blame at Israel for its legitimate efforts to guard its own security, while ignoring the unending violence that is openly encouraged by Palestinian leaders. That is especially the case with negotiations that involve the United Nations, the Russians, and the Europeans. I encourage President Obama to work against that tendency, and to set the tone in these talks by stressing the very real national security concerns Israel is dealing with.

And what happens when the talks go nowhere? Will we face yet another intifada? Will the bridging proposals morph into a imposed peace plan? Who knows — not even Day 2 is set yet.  The administration has imbibed the peace process Kool-Aid, but there is little evidence that it promotes peace or that the Obami are competent to oversee negotiations. And meanwhile the real Middle East crisis — the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon looms on the horizon. In a real sense, the “peace process” is nothing more than a dangerous distraction.

Today the resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was announced. After 18 months of bullying Israel, the Obami’s tone was markedly different. As this report explained:

But Mrs. Clinton pointedly did not mention using Israel’s pre-1967 borders as the basis for territorial negotiations — a basic plank of previous talks — or set any other basic terms for the negotiations. Nor did she press the Israeli government to extend a moratorium on the construction of Jewish settlements, which would remove a potential hurdle to a deal.

In 18 months, the Obami managed to climb back to where the Bush administration had been — direct talks with no preconditions. An experienced Israel hand notes that there had been four years of direct talks until George Mitchell “destroyed them with his demands about settlements.” He continues: “The one-year timetable is the — who knows — fifth or tenth or twentieth deadline, and will have no different fate. The Roadmap gave it three years — and that was not enough. So that is plain silly. But above all, they begin with NO common understanding.”

This was made clear by the administration’s readout of a briefing given to American Jewish leaders:

U.S. officials told Jewish community leaders on a private conference call this afternoon that they believe Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is on the verge of joining Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in accepting an invitation to resume peace talks.But he acknowledged that details of the talks have yet to be finalized, plans for a presidential visit to the region remain unclear, and hopes of drawing other Arab leaders and Hamas into the process ride on the momentum of the talks themselves.

Well there is certainly less here than even the initial Obama spin would have had us believe. It seems to be that only an initial dinner is set. (“The United States will put its imprimatur on the talks in an orchestrated series of meetings that begin with a White House dinner Sept. 1 hosted by Mr. Obama.”) Beyond that? “Within the negotiations we’ve obviously had a lot of preparatory discussions with the parties on how to structure them,and we’ll need to finalize those, so we’re not in a position now to really talk about that.” Good grief. This has all the makings of a rushed announcement to try to put a horrid week for the White House behind them.”

It is interesting that Obama’s role is not yet finalized either. In fact, as my Israel expert points out, the death knell of the talks may be Obama’s own presence. After all, the Israelis have learned the hard way not to trust him, so it’s difficult to see how his presence could be a help. The telltale sign of the level of animosity between Obama and the Jewish state – he doesn’t yet have the nerve to visit Israel, where he could very likely face angry crowds. (“‘He looks forward to an opportunity to visit Israel,’ [Dan Shapiro] said of Obama, adding that such a visit would likely include a stop in the Palestinian Territories. The visit ‘could be very valuable and very meaningful at the right time.’”) Translation: he’s not going anytime soon.

The statements by others released on Friday were indicative of the low expectations that these talks engender among knowledgeable observers. AIPAC, which is obliged to cheer each step in the fruitless “peace process,” declares that it  “welcomes the renewal of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), as announced Friday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and expresses its appreciation to the Obama administration for its efforts in making this goal a reality.” But even its usually bubbly tone was replaced by sober and somewhat skeptical caveats:

For talks to succeed the PA must match Israel’s commitment to conducting peace talks without preconditions or excuses, abandon its longstanding attempts to avoid making difficult choices at the negotiating table and cease incitement against Israel at home and abroad.  Likewise, Arab states must heed the calls by the Obama Administration and Congress to take immediate and meaningful steps toward normalization with Israel, and they must provide the political support for the Palestinians to make the kind of significant and difficult choices that will be required.

An even more candid statement came from Senate candidate Pat Toomey, who said he was hopeful but also “wary”:

Too often such talks produce little substance, and devolve into casting unfair blame at Israel for its legitimate efforts to guard its own security, while ignoring the unending violence that is openly encouraged by Palestinian leaders. That is especially the case with negotiations that involve the United Nations, the Russians, and the Europeans. I encourage President Obama to work against that tendency, and to set the tone in these talks by stressing the very real national security concerns Israel is dealing with.

And what happens when the talks go nowhere? Will we face yet another intifada? Will the bridging proposals morph into a imposed peace plan? Who knows — not even Day 2 is set yet.  The administration has imbibed the peace process Kool-Aid, but there is little evidence that it promotes peace or that the Obami are competent to oversee negotiations. And meanwhile the real Middle East crisis — the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon looms on the horizon. In a real sense, the “peace process” is nothing more than a dangerous distraction.

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More Constructive than George Mitchell and J Street

Yes, that’s a low bar to hop over when it comes to the Middle East. But if the constructive force is none other than Libya, specifically  the son of  Muammar and president of the Gaddafi Foundation, that is reason to take note.

We learn that he’s urging that the Palestinians and their violence-inciting allies cut out the blockade-running and off-load humanitarian aid through approved crossings. Gaddafi the Younger’s advice includes such pearls of wisdom as this: “There are conflicts between them taking place at the expense of ordinary Palestinians; everybody wants to see a show or spectacle or confrontation, rather than help … they all want to kill the vineyard guard at the expense of getting the grapes.”

Isn’t this the craziest thing? I mean, he’s more constructive than J Street, which wants Jewish charitable donors investigated ( they might be supporting settlements on the West Bank) and Israel bashed. His advice is certainly more helpful than another round of useless proximity talks. And it’s hard to quibble with the following:

Interesting point that, about the exploitation by “Palestinian” parties of the suffering of their own people to serve their own political agendas. Of course one has heard such stuff before, most notably and often from members of the great neocon-Zionist conspiracy—but from the lips of an Arab actually in a position to do something to help? In public? Rarely, if ever at all. As for help, $50 million is a nice little tip—Mr. Gaddafi says it’s just a start—out of the abundant Muammarian coffers, but what of the riyals and dinars and dirhams in the hoards of the oil-drenched Saudi “king,” the gassy al-Thanis of Qatar, and the rest of the members of the Arab League who routinely shed crocodile tears over the fate of those same suffering people?

Maybe the Obami could take a break from the fruitless peace process and figure out how to spread Gaddafi’s message throughout the “Muslim World.” For all his “engagement” efforts, Obama has spent precious little time saying anything as insightful as Gaddafi. He seems rather to be fixated on telling his Muslim audience what they want to hear.

And if the Obama team breaks free of the peace-process vortex, it might discuss the most important national security issue of our time with Israel’s neighbors – and it’s not the faux Gaza humanitarian issue (take a look here at the newest Gaza mall). It’s allowing an Islamic fundamentalist state to get the bomb.

Yes, that’s a low bar to hop over when it comes to the Middle East. But if the constructive force is none other than Libya, specifically  the son of  Muammar and president of the Gaddafi Foundation, that is reason to take note.

We learn that he’s urging that the Palestinians and their violence-inciting allies cut out the blockade-running and off-load humanitarian aid through approved crossings. Gaddafi the Younger’s advice includes such pearls of wisdom as this: “There are conflicts between them taking place at the expense of ordinary Palestinians; everybody wants to see a show or spectacle or confrontation, rather than help … they all want to kill the vineyard guard at the expense of getting the grapes.”

Isn’t this the craziest thing? I mean, he’s more constructive than J Street, which wants Jewish charitable donors investigated ( they might be supporting settlements on the West Bank) and Israel bashed. His advice is certainly more helpful than another round of useless proximity talks. And it’s hard to quibble with the following:

Interesting point that, about the exploitation by “Palestinian” parties of the suffering of their own people to serve their own political agendas. Of course one has heard such stuff before, most notably and often from members of the great neocon-Zionist conspiracy—but from the lips of an Arab actually in a position to do something to help? In public? Rarely, if ever at all. As for help, $50 million is a nice little tip—Mr. Gaddafi says it’s just a start—out of the abundant Muammarian coffers, but what of the riyals and dinars and dirhams in the hoards of the oil-drenched Saudi “king,” the gassy al-Thanis of Qatar, and the rest of the members of the Arab League who routinely shed crocodile tears over the fate of those same suffering people?

Maybe the Obami could take a break from the fruitless peace process and figure out how to spread Gaddafi’s message throughout the “Muslim World.” For all his “engagement” efforts, Obama has spent precious little time saying anything as insightful as Gaddafi. He seems rather to be fixated on telling his Muslim audience what they want to hear.

And if the Obama team breaks free of the peace-process vortex, it might discuss the most important national security issue of our time with Israel’s neighbors – and it’s not the faux Gaza humanitarian issue (take a look here at the newest Gaza mall). It’s allowing an Islamic fundamentalist state to get the bomb.

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RE: Why the Peace Process Is a Farce

A longtime COMMENTARY reader and keen observer of Mideast politics e-mails in response to my observation that “it would be helpful if both the administration and Jewish groups were frank about the central reason why the Palestinians have no state: they don’t want to give up killing Jews.” She writes: “It’s not that they don’t want to give up killing Jews — or not that they JUST don’t want to give up killing Jews — it’s that they refuse to give up their dream of a ‘Palestinian state’ stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, from Rosh HaNikrah to Eilat, with Jerusalem as the Muslim-only capital.” Exactly true.

So every part of  “the peace process culminating in a two-state solution” mantra is nonsense. As for the “peace,” the Palestinians are not renouncing violence; they are inciting it. The “process” consists of George Mitchell shuttling back and forth between a democratic government and a Palestinian negotiation team that lacks the will or authority to make a binding peace deal. And the two-state solution is no solution at all. From the Palestinian perspective, the conflict will not end with a return to defensible borders for Israel or to the 1967 boundaries or to any other contrived demarcation, but only when the uber-Palestinian state is a reality.

A scholar from a D.C. think tank specializing in Palestinian politics spoke at my shul last week. He summed up the situation: “There is no top-down solution or bottom-up solution in sight.” That’s right. The bottom up — the only viable approach — is going to take a very long time. The sooner we stop the counterproductive top-down approach, the better. The Palestinians have years of work ahead of them.

A longtime COMMENTARY reader and keen observer of Mideast politics e-mails in response to my observation that “it would be helpful if both the administration and Jewish groups were frank about the central reason why the Palestinians have no state: they don’t want to give up killing Jews.” She writes: “It’s not that they don’t want to give up killing Jews — or not that they JUST don’t want to give up killing Jews — it’s that they refuse to give up their dream of a ‘Palestinian state’ stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, from Rosh HaNikrah to Eilat, with Jerusalem as the Muslim-only capital.” Exactly true.

So every part of  “the peace process culminating in a two-state solution” mantra is nonsense. As for the “peace,” the Palestinians are not renouncing violence; they are inciting it. The “process” consists of George Mitchell shuttling back and forth between a democratic government and a Palestinian negotiation team that lacks the will or authority to make a binding peace deal. And the two-state solution is no solution at all. From the Palestinian perspective, the conflict will not end with a return to defensible borders for Israel or to the 1967 boundaries or to any other contrived demarcation, but only when the uber-Palestinian state is a reality.

A scholar from a D.C. think tank specializing in Palestinian politics spoke at my shul last week. He summed up the situation: “There is no top-down solution or bottom-up solution in sight.” That’s right. The bottom up — the only viable approach — is going to take a very long time. The sooner we stop the counterproductive top-down approach, the better. The Palestinians have years of work ahead of them.

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It’s the Security Arrangements, Stupid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eons Away from Peace in the Middle East

This report, from the BBC no less (the giveaway is that “terrorist” isn’t used), gives you an idea of how divorced from reality is the “peace process”:

Masked gunmen in the Gaza Strip have set fire to a United Nations-run summer camp for children. This follows a similar attack in May on another UN-run summer camp. Some militants view the UN as a symbol of the West and claim that the summer camps allow boys and girls to mix freely – something that the UN denies. The attackers tied up the guard at the camp in central Gaza before setting fire to chairs, tables, easels and other equipment. The UN says about 25 armed men attacked the beach camp in the middle of Sunday night. … Nobody was hurt, and nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack. But in a similar incident last month a previously unknown Islamist group said its had attacked a UN summer camp in Gaza city. The head in Gaza of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees condemned the attack as “cowardly and despicable.”

But Israel is the subject of the ire of the “international community” and is chastised for being too exacting in its list of blockaded goods. Well, when everything is a weapon — rope, matches, etc. — it gets hard to decide what should be excluded.

The most chilling part of the report is this: “Hamas also runs rival summer camps.” One can only imagine what their activities must be like and how many young minds are being corralled into the cult of death. Imagine, too, the mothers who choose to send their children to such places, and who pine for their flesh and blood to be martyred.

Meanwhile, there is this report:

The continued power struggle between Hamas and Fatah has left tens of thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in the dark following the closure of the area’s main power plant. The power plant, which supplies 25% of electricity to the Gaza Strip, was shut down on Friday night because of a dispute between the rival Palestinian parties over payment for fuel that is needed to keep it running. Hamas and Fatah traded allegations over the power outage, with each party blaming the other for the crisis.

Only by turning a blind eye to these and the hundreds of other indications that Israel’s foes remain dedicated to the Jewish state’s destruction does the Obama team imagine that George Mitchell is going to bring “peace” to Israel and the Palestinians. It is hard to make the case that “peace” in our time will come about by his shuffling between the two sides, one of which has not the authority or the will to make a deal and no means of ensuring that summer camps, schools, and hospitals do not remain targets of those who don’t share the vision of a two-state solution.

This report, from the BBC no less (the giveaway is that “terrorist” isn’t used), gives you an idea of how divorced from reality is the “peace process”:

Masked gunmen in the Gaza Strip have set fire to a United Nations-run summer camp for children. This follows a similar attack in May on another UN-run summer camp. Some militants view the UN as a symbol of the West and claim that the summer camps allow boys and girls to mix freely – something that the UN denies. The attackers tied up the guard at the camp in central Gaza before setting fire to chairs, tables, easels and other equipment. The UN says about 25 armed men attacked the beach camp in the middle of Sunday night. … Nobody was hurt, and nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack. But in a similar incident last month a previously unknown Islamist group said its had attacked a UN summer camp in Gaza city. The head in Gaza of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees condemned the attack as “cowardly and despicable.”

But Israel is the subject of the ire of the “international community” and is chastised for being too exacting in its list of blockaded goods. Well, when everything is a weapon — rope, matches, etc. — it gets hard to decide what should be excluded.

The most chilling part of the report is this: “Hamas also runs rival summer camps.” One can only imagine what their activities must be like and how many young minds are being corralled into the cult of death. Imagine, too, the mothers who choose to send their children to such places, and who pine for their flesh and blood to be martyred.

Meanwhile, there is this report:

The continued power struggle between Hamas and Fatah has left tens of thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in the dark following the closure of the area’s main power plant. The power plant, which supplies 25% of electricity to the Gaza Strip, was shut down on Friday night because of a dispute between the rival Palestinian parties over payment for fuel that is needed to keep it running. Hamas and Fatah traded allegations over the power outage, with each party blaming the other for the crisis.

Only by turning a blind eye to these and the hundreds of other indications that Israel’s foes remain dedicated to the Jewish state’s destruction does the Obama team imagine that George Mitchell is going to bring “peace” to Israel and the Palestinians. It is hard to make the case that “peace” in our time will come about by his shuffling between the two sides, one of which has not the authority or the will to make a deal and no means of ensuring that summer camps, schools, and hospitals do not remain targets of those who don’t share the vision of a two-state solution.

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Say It in Arabic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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