Commentary Magazine


Topic: Haaretz

Rewriting the Rules of International Diplomacy

Palestinian preconditions for negotiations with Israel have been changing so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up. Yet they all have one thing in common: all seek to rewrite the accepted rules of international diplomacy.

The latest, unveiled this week, is that the Palestinians refuse to begin direct talks unless the U.S. guarantees that the final-status border will be based on the 1949 armistice lines, including in Jerusalem, and that an international force will replace Israel’s army completely, leaving Israel with no security presence on the West Bank.

In other words, the Palestinians won’t “negotiate” unless there’s nothing left to negotiate about, because the U.S. has already guaranteed that all their demands will be met. That would completely gut the usual principle of negotiations, which is that both sides make concessions to forge a mutually acceptable compromise.

It would also leave Israel with no reason even to begin the talks. Not only are these demands unacceptable to Jerusalem in themselves (as I’ve explained here, here, and here, for instance), but with the entirety of the territory and its military presence having already been conceded in advance, Israel would have no bargaining chips left with which to secure Palestinian concessions on other issues of importance to it, such as the refugees or recognition as a Jewish state.

Indeed, if this were to become the accepted model for diplomatic negotiations — one in which everything is decided in one party’s favor in advance — it would spell the death of international diplomacy, because the other party would always have the strongest possible incentive to avoid talks.

The same was true of the Palestinians’ last attempt to pose preconditions: their insistence that the starting point for talks be the proposals made by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, which they themselves rejected. If leaders knew that any proposal they made would be binding on them and their successors — but not their interlocutors — even if the other side rejected it, they would be reluctant to offer any proposals at all. That would effectively kill off any possibility of negotiations.

Washington, to its credit, rejected that precondition and is so far standing publicly firm on the demand for guarantees as well. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas complained to Fatah’s Revolutionary Council on Tuesday that President Barack Obama had been “vague” on the issues of borders and security, while State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters yesterday that “fundamental issues in the process, including borders … can only be resolved within the context of direct negotiations.”

Nevertheless, there has apparently been some waffling in private: an Israeli source told Haaretz this week that “Washington is giving serious consideration to issuing these guarantees in order to encourage the Palestinians to agree to direct talks.”

If the U.S. actually wants talks to occur, it must continue standing firm — not only for the sake of a time-honored principle of international diplomacy, but also because there is no chance of any deal emerging until the Palestinians are made to understand that they, too, will have to make concessions to achieve it.

Palestinian preconditions for negotiations with Israel have been changing so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up. Yet they all have one thing in common: all seek to rewrite the accepted rules of international diplomacy.

The latest, unveiled this week, is that the Palestinians refuse to begin direct talks unless the U.S. guarantees that the final-status border will be based on the 1949 armistice lines, including in Jerusalem, and that an international force will replace Israel’s army completely, leaving Israel with no security presence on the West Bank.

In other words, the Palestinians won’t “negotiate” unless there’s nothing left to negotiate about, because the U.S. has already guaranteed that all their demands will be met. That would completely gut the usual principle of negotiations, which is that both sides make concessions to forge a mutually acceptable compromise.

It would also leave Israel with no reason even to begin the talks. Not only are these demands unacceptable to Jerusalem in themselves (as I’ve explained here, here, and here, for instance), but with the entirety of the territory and its military presence having already been conceded in advance, Israel would have no bargaining chips left with which to secure Palestinian concessions on other issues of importance to it, such as the refugees or recognition as a Jewish state.

Indeed, if this were to become the accepted model for diplomatic negotiations — one in which everything is decided in one party’s favor in advance — it would spell the death of international diplomacy, because the other party would always have the strongest possible incentive to avoid talks.

The same was true of the Palestinians’ last attempt to pose preconditions: their insistence that the starting point for talks be the proposals made by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, which they themselves rejected. If leaders knew that any proposal they made would be binding on them and their successors — but not their interlocutors — even if the other side rejected it, they would be reluctant to offer any proposals at all. That would effectively kill off any possibility of negotiations.

Washington, to its credit, rejected that precondition and is so far standing publicly firm on the demand for guarantees as well. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas complained to Fatah’s Revolutionary Council on Tuesday that President Barack Obama had been “vague” on the issues of borders and security, while State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters yesterday that “fundamental issues in the process, including borders … can only be resolved within the context of direct negotiations.”

Nevertheless, there has apparently been some waffling in private: an Israeli source told Haaretz this week that “Washington is giving serious consideration to issuing these guarantees in order to encourage the Palestinians to agree to direct talks.”

If the U.S. actually wants talks to occur, it must continue standing firm — not only for the sake of a time-honored principle of international diplomacy, but also because there is no chance of any deal emerging until the Palestinians are made to understand that they, too, will have to make concessions to achieve it.

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Better for the Patient to Suffer than to Be Treated by Israelis?

Anyone who thinks the primary concern of human rights organizations is the welfare of the people they are trying to help should consider this report on Israel’s medical mission to Congo.

Last week, four Israeli burn specialists arrived in Congo to treat survivors of the fuel truck explosion that killed 235 people on July 2 — a mission organized and funded by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. They were not the first foreign doctors on the scene, but they were the first burn specialists, and the first to come with specialized equipment for treating burns. As such, they were enthusiastically welcomed by the Congolese; President Joseph Kabila even phoned to thank them personally.

One might have expected them to be equally welcomed by the doctors already on the scene, a team from Medicins Sans Frontieres. After all, the MSF doctors had traveled all the way to the remote town of Sange to help the victims; surely they would be glad to see specialists with specialized equipment, who could help their patients in ways they themselves could not.

So when Haaretz’s reporter heard from the Israeli team that the MSF doctors — whose organization has repeatedly accused Israel of “war crimes” against the Palestinians — “treated them coolly and suspiciously at first,” with a Belgian doctor even telling them “there are obvious political sensitivities” about working together, he naturally sought confirmation from the source. The Israelis could easily have been misinterpreting a naturally restrained European style as a cold shoulder or overreacting to a remark not intended to offend.

But when he tried to ask the MSF doctors, they informed him that they were forbidden to speak with him without permission from their head office. And when he then tried to contact the head office, it never responded to his request.

In other words, neither the MSF doctors on the scene nor the MSF head-office staff could bring themselves to say something as banal as “Yes, we’re glad to see our Congolese patients getting proper specialist care regardless of who the caregivers are.”

A social activist from that region of Congo, Jean-Michel Bolima, had no such problems. “Israel is always first to offer aid, and this is admirable,” he declared.

But MSF, it seems, would rather see its patients continue to suffer than deal with the cognitive dissonance of discovering that, far from fitting neatly into its designated pigeonhole as the world’s pariah, Israel, by the very standards MSF claims to uphold, can often be downright “admirable.”

Anyone who thinks the primary concern of human rights organizations is the welfare of the people they are trying to help should consider this report on Israel’s medical mission to Congo.

Last week, four Israeli burn specialists arrived in Congo to treat survivors of the fuel truck explosion that killed 235 people on July 2 — a mission organized and funded by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. They were not the first foreign doctors on the scene, but they were the first burn specialists, and the first to come with specialized equipment for treating burns. As such, they were enthusiastically welcomed by the Congolese; President Joseph Kabila even phoned to thank them personally.

One might have expected them to be equally welcomed by the doctors already on the scene, a team from Medicins Sans Frontieres. After all, the MSF doctors had traveled all the way to the remote town of Sange to help the victims; surely they would be glad to see specialists with specialized equipment, who could help their patients in ways they themselves could not.

So when Haaretz’s reporter heard from the Israeli team that the MSF doctors — whose organization has repeatedly accused Israel of “war crimes” against the Palestinians — “treated them coolly and suspiciously at first,” with a Belgian doctor even telling them “there are obvious political sensitivities” about working together, he naturally sought confirmation from the source. The Israelis could easily have been misinterpreting a naturally restrained European style as a cold shoulder or overreacting to a remark not intended to offend.

But when he tried to ask the MSF doctors, they informed him that they were forbidden to speak with him without permission from their head office. And when he then tried to contact the head office, it never responded to his request.

In other words, neither the MSF doctors on the scene nor the MSF head-office staff could bring themselves to say something as banal as “Yes, we’re glad to see our Congolese patients getting proper specialist care regardless of who the caregivers are.”

A social activist from that region of Congo, Jean-Michel Bolima, had no such problems. “Israel is always first to offer aid, and this is admirable,” he declared.

But MSF, it seems, would rather see its patients continue to suffer than deal with the cognitive dissonance of discovering that, far from fitting neatly into its designated pigeonhole as the world’s pariah, Israel, by the very standards MSF claims to uphold, can often be downright “admirable.”

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Haaretz Disses J Street

Sounds like a joke: J Street has become so transparently partisan and so sycophantic when it comes to Obama’s Middle East policy that even the left-leaning Haaretz runs a scathing review of the leftist group. But it’s no joke:

J Street, the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby, ran its first television commercial last week in the United States. Watching the ad online (it can be viewed via a link on my own organization’s website, www.rethinkme.org) confirmed my worst suspicions about this new organization, which likes to portray itself as the “real voice” of the mainstream American Jewish community. …

Photos of Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus also appear on-screen, accompanied by the words, “Say ‘yes’ to American leadership. Join the community of ‘yes.’” So “American leadership” in the Middle East is personified by the president, the secretary of state and the new commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. …

This commercial is a classic Democratic campaign ad, pitting the evil Republicans (“the chorus of ‘no’”) against the good guys, the Democrats (“the community of ‘yes’”). For the purposes of the ad, the general has been promoted to the rank of honorary Democrat, despite his reputed Republican voter registration.

As the columnist Michael Lame (founder of a nonpartisan group, Re-Think The Middle East) notes, there are lots of other leftist groups, but J Street is in a class by itself:

J Street is specifically an Obama support group, playing the part of a cheering section for the president to such an extent that the organization could be renamed “Jews for Obama.” It has consistently supported his approach to the Middle East even when most commentators who support a two-state solution have criticized his administration’s tactics and timing. Through the last year and a half of White House bumbling and fumbling over the settlement freeze, J Street never once criticized Obama, Mitchell, Clinton or the entire strategy of talking tough to Israel, coupled with toothless threats and inept performance.

It is not merely that, unlike AIPAC, “J Street will not defend Israel unconditionally” or even that “J Street will defend Obama unconditionally.” It is that J Street continually criticizes Israel on the same grounds as Israel’s international enemies do and often parrots their rhetoric, specifically the assertion that Israel is not equipped or entitled as other democratic states to manage and — if need be — investigate its own national-security operations. Indeed, J Street takes the position that it, and not the elected government of Israel, knows best what is “good” for Israel on everything — from settlements to the flotilla incident.

It is ironic that the left went bonkers when ECI appeared on the scene, accusing the pro-Israel group of “politicizing” Israel policy. That’s rich, given what J Street does:

The main problem here is that J Street tries to turn peace in the Middle East into a proprietary issue of the Democrats, while it vilifies the Republicans as the enemies of peace. … So what’s wrong with J Street? It mixes up its views on the issues with domestic party politics.

Precisely so.

Sounds like a joke: J Street has become so transparently partisan and so sycophantic when it comes to Obama’s Middle East policy that even the left-leaning Haaretz runs a scathing review of the leftist group. But it’s no joke:

J Street, the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby, ran its first television commercial last week in the United States. Watching the ad online (it can be viewed via a link on my own organization’s website, www.rethinkme.org) confirmed my worst suspicions about this new organization, which likes to portray itself as the “real voice” of the mainstream American Jewish community. …

Photos of Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus also appear on-screen, accompanied by the words, “Say ‘yes’ to American leadership. Join the community of ‘yes.’” So “American leadership” in the Middle East is personified by the president, the secretary of state and the new commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. …

This commercial is a classic Democratic campaign ad, pitting the evil Republicans (“the chorus of ‘no’”) against the good guys, the Democrats (“the community of ‘yes’”). For the purposes of the ad, the general has been promoted to the rank of honorary Democrat, despite his reputed Republican voter registration.

As the columnist Michael Lame (founder of a nonpartisan group, Re-Think The Middle East) notes, there are lots of other leftist groups, but J Street is in a class by itself:

J Street is specifically an Obama support group, playing the part of a cheering section for the president to such an extent that the organization could be renamed “Jews for Obama.” It has consistently supported his approach to the Middle East even when most commentators who support a two-state solution have criticized his administration’s tactics and timing. Through the last year and a half of White House bumbling and fumbling over the settlement freeze, J Street never once criticized Obama, Mitchell, Clinton or the entire strategy of talking tough to Israel, coupled with toothless threats and inept performance.

It is not merely that, unlike AIPAC, “J Street will not defend Israel unconditionally” or even that “J Street will defend Obama unconditionally.” It is that J Street continually criticizes Israel on the same grounds as Israel’s international enemies do and often parrots their rhetoric, specifically the assertion that Israel is not equipped or entitled as other democratic states to manage and — if need be — investigate its own national-security operations. Indeed, J Street takes the position that it, and not the elected government of Israel, knows best what is “good” for Israel on everything — from settlements to the flotilla incident.

It is ironic that the left went bonkers when ECI appeared on the scene, accusing the pro-Israel group of “politicizing” Israel policy. That’s rich, given what J Street does:

The main problem here is that J Street tries to turn peace in the Middle East into a proprietary issue of the Democrats, while it vilifies the Republicans as the enemies of peace. … So what’s wrong with J Street? It mixes up its views on the issues with domestic party politics.

Precisely so.

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The Trouble with International Forces

The latest argument by Palestinian flacks like Haaretz reporter Akiva Eldar is that with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas having agreed to host an international force such as “UNIFIL or NATO” in the West Bank following an Israeli withdrawal, Israel has no more security worries and therefore no excuse for any delays in reaching an agreement on such a withdrawal.

But anyone who actually believes that Israel can or should rely on “an international force to defend Israel’s well-being” should consider the latest news on UNIFIL’s mission in south Lebanon.

As defined by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, this mission is, inter alia, to “assist the Lebanese armed forces” in making the south of the Litani River “an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL.”

But a few weeks ago, something dreadful happened: a French contingent of UNIFIL actually tried to carry out this mission. It began using sniffer dogs to detect illegal weapons and explosives and insisted on searching homes and yards where it had reason to believe Hezbollah was stockpiling such arms.

The immediate result was a series of clashes apparently either staged or encouraged by Hezbollah between Lebanese villagers and UNIFIL troops. In the most serious incident, villagers hurled stones at the peacekeepers, seized their weapons, and vandalized their vehicle.

The second result was that, at the end of last week, UNIFIL agreed to stop using sniffer dogs and refrain from entering homes and yards – or, in other words, to stop carrying out its mission of detecting illegal Hezbollah weapons. Its commander, Maj. Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas, followed that up with a fawning apology for the “mistakes,” published in the Lebanese press as an open letter to the Lebanese people.

In fairness, you can’t really blame UNIFIL. Soldiers are expected to risk their lives to defend their own countries and their own people, but it’s quite understandable that they are less enthusiastic about risking their lives to defend someone else’s country and someone else’s people unless their own country sees a vital national interest in so doing (as the U.S. does in Afghanistan). And the risks are real: in 2007, for instance, six Spanish UNIFIL members whom Israel considered particularly effective were killed by a roadside bomb in what appeared to be a clear message from Hezbollah.

But that understandable reluctance to die for someone else’s country has made peacekeepers consistently ineffective at stopping active fighting. Examples abound, from Dutch peacekeepers’ failure to prevent the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 to the UN peacekeepers’ obedient withdrawal from Sinai in 1967 when Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser wanted a path cleared for his troops to invade Israel.

In other words, an international force would be useless at preventing anti-Israel terror if Palestinians wanted to perpetrate such attacks — and completely unnecessary if they did not.

Unfortunately, experience has taught most Israelis to consider the former possibility more likely. And until that changes, they will view any substitute for their own army in the West Bank as a nonstarter.

The latest argument by Palestinian flacks like Haaretz reporter Akiva Eldar is that with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas having agreed to host an international force such as “UNIFIL or NATO” in the West Bank following an Israeli withdrawal, Israel has no more security worries and therefore no excuse for any delays in reaching an agreement on such a withdrawal.

But anyone who actually believes that Israel can or should rely on “an international force to defend Israel’s well-being” should consider the latest news on UNIFIL’s mission in south Lebanon.

As defined by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, this mission is, inter alia, to “assist the Lebanese armed forces” in making the south of the Litani River “an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL.”

But a few weeks ago, something dreadful happened: a French contingent of UNIFIL actually tried to carry out this mission. It began using sniffer dogs to detect illegal weapons and explosives and insisted on searching homes and yards where it had reason to believe Hezbollah was stockpiling such arms.

The immediate result was a series of clashes apparently either staged or encouraged by Hezbollah between Lebanese villagers and UNIFIL troops. In the most serious incident, villagers hurled stones at the peacekeepers, seized their weapons, and vandalized their vehicle.

The second result was that, at the end of last week, UNIFIL agreed to stop using sniffer dogs and refrain from entering homes and yards – or, in other words, to stop carrying out its mission of detecting illegal Hezbollah weapons. Its commander, Maj. Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas, followed that up with a fawning apology for the “mistakes,” published in the Lebanese press as an open letter to the Lebanese people.

In fairness, you can’t really blame UNIFIL. Soldiers are expected to risk their lives to defend their own countries and their own people, but it’s quite understandable that they are less enthusiastic about risking their lives to defend someone else’s country and someone else’s people unless their own country sees a vital national interest in so doing (as the U.S. does in Afghanistan). And the risks are real: in 2007, for instance, six Spanish UNIFIL members whom Israel considered particularly effective were killed by a roadside bomb in what appeared to be a clear message from Hezbollah.

But that understandable reluctance to die for someone else’s country has made peacekeepers consistently ineffective at stopping active fighting. Examples abound, from Dutch peacekeepers’ failure to prevent the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 to the UN peacekeepers’ obedient withdrawal from Sinai in 1967 when Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser wanted a path cleared for his troops to invade Israel.

In other words, an international force would be useless at preventing anti-Israel terror if Palestinians wanted to perpetrate such attacks — and completely unnecessary if they did not.

Unfortunately, experience has taught most Israelis to consider the former possibility more likely. And until that changes, they will view any substitute for their own army in the West Bank as a nonstarter.

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RE: Israelis Are Racists, and Besides, Some of My Best Political Hacks Are Jews

Jen, I wanted to weigh in on the story in Haaretz as well, the one that reports:

During the interview Wednesday, when confronted with the anxiety that some Israelis feel toward him, Obama said that “some of it may just be the fact that my middle name is Hussein, and that creates suspicion.”

“Ironically, I’ve got a Chief of Staff named Rahm Israel Emmanuel. My top political advisor is somebody who is a descendent of Holocaust survivors. My closeness to the Jewish American community was probably what propelled me to the U.S. Senate,” Obama said.

“I think that sometimes, particularly in the Middle East, there’s the feeling of the friend of my enemy must be my enemy, and the truth of the matter is that my outreach to the Muslim community is designed precisely to reduce the antagonism and the dangers posed by a hostile Muslim world to Israel and to the West,” Obama went on to say.

These statements combine some of Obama’s worst traits: arrogance, condescension, and detachment from reality.

Obama regards himself much like a teacher who oversees a classroom of sometimes unruly, sometimes dim-witted children. His magnificence is sometimes hidden from them. And so it is left for America’s philosopher-king to explain — in simply, easy-to-understand words — why things are the way they are.

In this instance, the anxiety Israel feels toward for Obama is not rooted in his unwise policies or his disgraceful past treatment of the Israeli prime minister. No, the cause is Obama’s middle name.

In addition, Israelis are a bit too dull to see the miracles that have resulted from Barack the Great’s outreach to the “Muslim world.”

The truth is that whatever Obama’s outreach to the Muslim community is designed to do, it has — as Jen points out — been a complete failure. Israel’s wariness toward Obama is rooted in his pursuit of an agenda that is as harmful to Israel. But all of this is beyond the realm of comprehension for Obama. For him, it all comes down to his middle name. We have rarely, if ever, seen self-delusion on a scale quite like this.

Jen, I wanted to weigh in on the story in Haaretz as well, the one that reports:

During the interview Wednesday, when confronted with the anxiety that some Israelis feel toward him, Obama said that “some of it may just be the fact that my middle name is Hussein, and that creates suspicion.”

“Ironically, I’ve got a Chief of Staff named Rahm Israel Emmanuel. My top political advisor is somebody who is a descendent of Holocaust survivors. My closeness to the Jewish American community was probably what propelled me to the U.S. Senate,” Obama said.

“I think that sometimes, particularly in the Middle East, there’s the feeling of the friend of my enemy must be my enemy, and the truth of the matter is that my outreach to the Muslim community is designed precisely to reduce the antagonism and the dangers posed by a hostile Muslim world to Israel and to the West,” Obama went on to say.

These statements combine some of Obama’s worst traits: arrogance, condescension, and detachment from reality.

Obama regards himself much like a teacher who oversees a classroom of sometimes unruly, sometimes dim-witted children. His magnificence is sometimes hidden from them. And so it is left for America’s philosopher-king to explain — in simply, easy-to-understand words — why things are the way they are.

In this instance, the anxiety Israel feels toward for Obama is not rooted in his unwise policies or his disgraceful past treatment of the Israeli prime minister. No, the cause is Obama’s middle name.

In addition, Israelis are a bit too dull to see the miracles that have resulted from Barack the Great’s outreach to the “Muslim world.”

The truth is that whatever Obama’s outreach to the Muslim community is designed to do, it has — as Jen points out — been a complete failure. Israel’s wariness toward Obama is rooted in his pursuit of an agenda that is as harmful to Israel. But all of this is beyond the realm of comprehension for Obama. For him, it all comes down to his middle name. We have rarely, if ever, seen self-delusion on a scale quite like this.

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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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No Shortage of ‘Barbarians’ to Oppose Peace

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman closes his column today by quoting Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar, who believes Israel’s right-wingers hold on to the “no’s” of their Arab antagonists for dear life. To bolster this argument, Eldar quotes Greek-Egyptian poet Constantine Cavafy’s poem “Waiting for the Barbarians,” in which a Byzantine narrator asks, “What’s going to happen to us without barbarians?”

While Friedman devotes his space on the op-ed page to a 700-word mash note to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the Eldar column he quotes is devoted to resurrecting one of Friedman’s own publicity stunts — the so-called Saudi peace proposal of 2002 — and representing it as an example of how Israel has turned down a chance to end the conflict. That bit of nonsense, which was first broached in a Friedman column, supposedly offered Israel the recognition of the entire Arab world as long as it surrendered every inch of land it won in the 1967 Six-Day War. That this so-called peace proposal also included the demand that Israel allow millions of the descendants of Palestinian Arab refugees to “return” — which would mean an end to the Jewish state — is a mere detail that can be ignored as far as Eldar is concerned. In other words, rather than a peace proposal, it was merely a demand for a unilateral Israeli surrender.

Even Friedman doesn’t talk much about the Saudi initiative anymore, but that doesn’t stop Eldar from pretending that it was a genuine opportunity for peace.

As for Friedman, his enthusiasm for Fayyad and his new Palestinian bureaucracy and security force is unbridled. But contrary to the implication of his column, Israel is not only willing to talk to Fayyad; it is his greatest booster, as the “hard-line” Netanyahu government has closed checkpoints and done all in its power to keep the PA government going.

But the problem for Fayyad as well as for Israel is those barbarians who Eldar pretends don’t exist anymore. The Islamist terrorists of Hamas hold Gaza in a totalitarian grip that has been strengthened by international support for lifting the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the region. And Fayyad and his boss, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, remain on their perches in the West Bank largely due to the protection and patronage of Israel’s security forces, which keep Abbas’s own Fatah terrorists and the threat of Hamas at bay.

If the terrorists of Hamas and Fatah were tiny and relatively harmless factions without a following in Palestinian society, Eldar and Friedman might well be right to deride Israel for fearing a barbarian threat from extremists. But as both of them well know, it is Fayyad and the fraction of the Palestinian public that supports “Fayyadism” — as Friedman likes to call it — that is the minority phenomenon and the supporters of violence and rejection of Israel’s legitimacy that are the overwhelming majority. That’s why Abbas and Fayyad (who has lately tried to burnish his image in the Palestinian street by staging public burnings of Israeli goods he wants his people to boycott) won’t negotiate directly with Israel and actually turned down the offer of a state that included the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as well as Gaza and the West Bank from Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert only two years ago. They know that if they ever accepted an Israeli peace offer, their future in Palestinian politics, not to mention their lives, would be in great danger.

Far from fearing a barbarian threat that no longer exists, the real barbarians are still very much at Israel’s gate and have their hands around the throats of Palestinian moderates. Until that changes, far from being the truth-telling realists they claim to be, Friedman and Eldar remain mere fantasists with an ideological axe to grind against Netanyahu.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman closes his column today by quoting Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar, who believes Israel’s right-wingers hold on to the “no’s” of their Arab antagonists for dear life. To bolster this argument, Eldar quotes Greek-Egyptian poet Constantine Cavafy’s poem “Waiting for the Barbarians,” in which a Byzantine narrator asks, “What’s going to happen to us without barbarians?”

While Friedman devotes his space on the op-ed page to a 700-word mash note to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the Eldar column he quotes is devoted to resurrecting one of Friedman’s own publicity stunts — the so-called Saudi peace proposal of 2002 — and representing it as an example of how Israel has turned down a chance to end the conflict. That bit of nonsense, which was first broached in a Friedman column, supposedly offered Israel the recognition of the entire Arab world as long as it surrendered every inch of land it won in the 1967 Six-Day War. That this so-called peace proposal also included the demand that Israel allow millions of the descendants of Palestinian Arab refugees to “return” — which would mean an end to the Jewish state — is a mere detail that can be ignored as far as Eldar is concerned. In other words, rather than a peace proposal, it was merely a demand for a unilateral Israeli surrender.

Even Friedman doesn’t talk much about the Saudi initiative anymore, but that doesn’t stop Eldar from pretending that it was a genuine opportunity for peace.

As for Friedman, his enthusiasm for Fayyad and his new Palestinian bureaucracy and security force is unbridled. But contrary to the implication of his column, Israel is not only willing to talk to Fayyad; it is his greatest booster, as the “hard-line” Netanyahu government has closed checkpoints and done all in its power to keep the PA government going.

But the problem for Fayyad as well as for Israel is those barbarians who Eldar pretends don’t exist anymore. The Islamist terrorists of Hamas hold Gaza in a totalitarian grip that has been strengthened by international support for lifting the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the region. And Fayyad and his boss, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, remain on their perches in the West Bank largely due to the protection and patronage of Israel’s security forces, which keep Abbas’s own Fatah terrorists and the threat of Hamas at bay.

If the terrorists of Hamas and Fatah were tiny and relatively harmless factions without a following in Palestinian society, Eldar and Friedman might well be right to deride Israel for fearing a barbarian threat from extremists. But as both of them well know, it is Fayyad and the fraction of the Palestinian public that supports “Fayyadism” — as Friedman likes to call it — that is the minority phenomenon and the supporters of violence and rejection of Israel’s legitimacy that are the overwhelming majority. That’s why Abbas and Fayyad (who has lately tried to burnish his image in the Palestinian street by staging public burnings of Israeli goods he wants his people to boycott) won’t negotiate directly with Israel and actually turned down the offer of a state that included the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as well as Gaza and the West Bank from Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert only two years ago. They know that if they ever accepted an Israeli peace offer, their future in Palestinian politics, not to mention their lives, would be in great danger.

Far from fearing a barbarian threat that no longer exists, the real barbarians are still very much at Israel’s gate and have their hands around the throats of Palestinian moderates. Until that changes, far from being the truth-telling realists they claim to be, Friedman and Eldar remain mere fantasists with an ideological axe to grind against Netanyahu.

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RE: Oren Spills the Beans

Michael Oren is learning the hard way that Israeli politics isn’t beanbag. Over the weekend his remarks to foreign ministry officials were leaked to Haaretz. The report suggested that Oren was candidly critical of Obama. Now Oren is scrambling to deny the remarks and erase the impression — which just about everyone knows to be true — that the Israelis have never faced an American president quite so antagonistic toward the Jewish state. His explanation isn’t all that compelling:

In an interview, Oren said that he had spoken of a “tectonic shift in American foreign and domestic policies” under President Obama and that “Israel has to adjust to that.” But he suggested that his description was much more benign than that reported by anonymous sources who heard his briefing, explaining that he was merely emphasizing that Obama is an ambitious change agent not satisfied with the status quo.

Oren said the briefing, given in Hebrew at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, was no different from what he often says to various groups. “I said shift, not rift, but that may be a subtlety that escaped the Israeli ear,” he said.

Shift, rift — is it all that different? One also wonders how the jibe at his countrymen (“a subtlety that escaped the Israeli ear”) is received. (Had the American ambassador to Israel said that, an apology would be in order.) Oren denied much of the rest of the story:

Oren on Sunday emphatically denied as “a lie” a report that he had suggested in the briefing that Obama operated out of cold calculation, not emotional attachment to Israel. But he confirmed that he did say Obama runs a very tight ship, with key decision-making done at the White House, not the State Department or other agencies.

These are trying times for Israel, and the most seasoned officials find it difficult to both preserve their credibility and avert a blow-up with the Obama administration. Oren is plainly striving to walk a very fine line and navigate through the thicket of domestic critics and rivals. He certainly has his work cut out for him, as does the entire Israeli government, which must figure out how (quite literally) the Jewish state is to survive the Obama presidency.

Michael Oren is learning the hard way that Israeli politics isn’t beanbag. Over the weekend his remarks to foreign ministry officials were leaked to Haaretz. The report suggested that Oren was candidly critical of Obama. Now Oren is scrambling to deny the remarks and erase the impression — which just about everyone knows to be true — that the Israelis have never faced an American president quite so antagonistic toward the Jewish state. His explanation isn’t all that compelling:

In an interview, Oren said that he had spoken of a “tectonic shift in American foreign and domestic policies” under President Obama and that “Israel has to adjust to that.” But he suggested that his description was much more benign than that reported by anonymous sources who heard his briefing, explaining that he was merely emphasizing that Obama is an ambitious change agent not satisfied with the status quo.

Oren said the briefing, given in Hebrew at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, was no different from what he often says to various groups. “I said shift, not rift, but that may be a subtlety that escaped the Israeli ear,” he said.

Shift, rift — is it all that different? One also wonders how the jibe at his countrymen (“a subtlety that escaped the Israeli ear”) is received. (Had the American ambassador to Israel said that, an apology would be in order.) Oren denied much of the rest of the story:

Oren on Sunday emphatically denied as “a lie” a report that he had suggested in the briefing that Obama operated out of cold calculation, not emotional attachment to Israel. But he confirmed that he did say Obama runs a very tight ship, with key decision-making done at the White House, not the State Department or other agencies.

These are trying times for Israel, and the most seasoned officials find it difficult to both preserve their credibility and avert a blow-up with the Obama administration. Oren is plainly striving to walk a very fine line and navigate through the thicket of domestic critics and rivals. He certainly has his work cut out for him, as does the entire Israeli government, which must figure out how (quite literally) the Jewish state is to survive the Obama presidency.

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Oren Spills the Beans

When last we heard from Michael Oren, he was giving an odd interview — suggesting that everything was just swell between the U.S. and Israel and decrying the “partisan” Republicans, who have stuck by the Jewish state while Democratic support has nosedived. Now, word comes that he was far more candid in private. Haaretz reports:

Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, painted a dark picture of U.S.-Israeli relations during a briefing at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem last week. Israeli diplomats say Oren described the current situation as a “tectonic rift” in which Israel and the United States are like continents drifting apart. … Five Israeli diplomats, some of whom took part in the briefing or were informed about the details, said Oren described relations between the two countries in bleak terms. Oren, however, has denied making such statements. …

Oren noted that contrary to Obama’s predecessors – George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — the current president is not motivated by historical-ideological sentiments toward Israel but by cold interests and considerations. He added that his access as Israel’s ambassador to senior administration officials and close advisers of the president is good. But Obama has very tight control over his immediate environment, and it is hard to influence him.

“This is a one-man show,” Oren is quoted as saying.

While certainly less “diplomatic,” these remarks have the benefit of candor and accuracy. As for the flotilla incident, Oren reportedly said: “Even our close friends came out against us. … Only after some time, when video from the ship arrived and was aired by the American media, did public opinion begin to shift in Israel’s favor.”

One can sympathize with Oren. His job is to try, under the most difficult circumstances with a president more hostile to Israel than any other since the 1948, to keep the relationship between the two countries from rupturing. And yet, he is neither deluded nor dishonest, so he concedes — he thought, privately — that Obama is pulling the relationship apart, replacing a robust alliance based on shared values, interests, and, yes, affection with an arms-length, if not antagonistic, one, in which Israel is treated as an encumbrance to Obama’s foreign-policy objectives.

There is a weird bit of play acting going on. The Israeli government, the Obama team, and the American Jewish groups publicly declare that things are “much improved” between the two countries and that Obama is really, honestly, a stalwart defender of the Jewish state. But, in fact, none of them believe this to be so. Bibi’s government walks a tightrope, attempting to defend its country’s interests but wary of enraging the American president, who is all too eager to look for excuses to demonstrate to the “Muslim World” that he’s not four-square behind Israel. The Obama team thinks that a “charm” offensive will be sufficient, and looks to do the least possible in defense of Israel without provoking American Jewry. And Jewish leaders privately grumble and rage over Obama’s assaults on Israel, but dare not make their fury public — for they might lose access to the White House, as well as their liberal members.

The Kabuki dance, however, matters less than reality. Israel’s foes see the separation between the U.S. and the Jewish state. Iran sees Obama’s unwillingness to consider military force to thwart its nuclear ambitions. The Arab nations see that America is an unreliable ally, and consider lining up with the Iran-Syria axis, which is growing in prestige as ours diminishes. In sum, Israel’s foes and ours are not fooled; they understand all too well the “tectonic rift” between the U.S. and Israel. Perhaps, it is time, at least in the U.S., for Israel’s friends to be candid about the depth of the problem and to devise a strategy for challenging the president, whose foreign policy is so antithetical to Israel’s interests that its ambassador can only reveal his true sentiments in private.

When last we heard from Michael Oren, he was giving an odd interview — suggesting that everything was just swell between the U.S. and Israel and decrying the “partisan” Republicans, who have stuck by the Jewish state while Democratic support has nosedived. Now, word comes that he was far more candid in private. Haaretz reports:

Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, painted a dark picture of U.S.-Israeli relations during a briefing at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem last week. Israeli diplomats say Oren described the current situation as a “tectonic rift” in which Israel and the United States are like continents drifting apart. … Five Israeli diplomats, some of whom took part in the briefing or were informed about the details, said Oren described relations between the two countries in bleak terms. Oren, however, has denied making such statements. …

Oren noted that contrary to Obama’s predecessors – George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — the current president is not motivated by historical-ideological sentiments toward Israel but by cold interests and considerations. He added that his access as Israel’s ambassador to senior administration officials and close advisers of the president is good. But Obama has very tight control over his immediate environment, and it is hard to influence him.

“This is a one-man show,” Oren is quoted as saying.

While certainly less “diplomatic,” these remarks have the benefit of candor and accuracy. As for the flotilla incident, Oren reportedly said: “Even our close friends came out against us. … Only after some time, when video from the ship arrived and was aired by the American media, did public opinion begin to shift in Israel’s favor.”

One can sympathize with Oren. His job is to try, under the most difficult circumstances with a president more hostile to Israel than any other since the 1948, to keep the relationship between the two countries from rupturing. And yet, he is neither deluded nor dishonest, so he concedes — he thought, privately — that Obama is pulling the relationship apart, replacing a robust alliance based on shared values, interests, and, yes, affection with an arms-length, if not antagonistic, one, in which Israel is treated as an encumbrance to Obama’s foreign-policy objectives.

There is a weird bit of play acting going on. The Israeli government, the Obama team, and the American Jewish groups publicly declare that things are “much improved” between the two countries and that Obama is really, honestly, a stalwart defender of the Jewish state. But, in fact, none of them believe this to be so. Bibi’s government walks a tightrope, attempting to defend its country’s interests but wary of enraging the American president, who is all too eager to look for excuses to demonstrate to the “Muslim World” that he’s not four-square behind Israel. The Obama team thinks that a “charm” offensive will be sufficient, and looks to do the least possible in defense of Israel without provoking American Jewry. And Jewish leaders privately grumble and rage over Obama’s assaults on Israel, but dare not make their fury public — for they might lose access to the White House, as well as their liberal members.

The Kabuki dance, however, matters less than reality. Israel’s foes see the separation between the U.S. and the Jewish state. Iran sees Obama’s unwillingness to consider military force to thwart its nuclear ambitions. The Arab nations see that America is an unreliable ally, and consider lining up with the Iran-Syria axis, which is growing in prestige as ours diminishes. In sum, Israel’s foes and ours are not fooled; they understand all too well the “tectonic rift” between the U.S. and Israel. Perhaps, it is time, at least in the U.S., for Israel’s friends to be candid about the depth of the problem and to devise a strategy for challenging the president, whose foreign policy is so antithetical to Israel’s interests that its ambassador can only reveal his true sentiments in private.

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How the Media Colluded with Hamas

I have read few things more disturbing than this week’s media reports from Gaza describing full supermarket shelves offering a wide variety of choices. For if this is true, there is only one way to interpret all the previous years’ reports: as intentional collusion with Hamas on an anti-Israel smear campaign.

For years, the media bombarded us with reports on the grave humanitarian crisis in Gaza: people going hungry, children deprived of toys and schoolbooks, a population denied all the good things of life due to Israel’s cruel blockade.

But suddenly, now that Israel has agreed to end the blockade on most civilian products, we get reports like this one from the New York Times: “The store shelves were filled on Monday in Rafah and in Deir al Balah and Gaza City, the shops stocked with all kinds of supplies, stoves, refrigerators, fans, generators — most smuggled through tunnels dug deep beneath the border with Egypt.” People “said they were not starving” and that easing the blockade would improve their lives only “at the margins”: they would be able to buy soda in cans “that were not covered in sand,” or Israeli appliances instead of “low-quality Chinese goods.”

Or this report, from Haaretz: “The market is still full of items brought through the tunnels and it is possible that merchants will not immediately order ‘permitted’ items from Israel — because there are similar items from Egypt,” said economist Muhammed Skaik of the Gaza branch of Paltrade. And anyway, he added, “ketchup, snacks and mayonnaise, for example … are not essential items that will genuinely change the situation.” True, but isn’t that exactly what Israel claimed for years — to universal derision?

Indeed, the situation is so far from desperate that Hamas has announced it will bar many of the newly permitted products from entering Gaza altogether — such as Israeli cookies, juices, soft drinks, and salads. But has anyone noticed any media outcry lately against Hamas for depriving Gazans of the same products Israel was excoriated for withholding?

And then there is this interesting statistic: “An infant in Gaza has a life expectancy a year and a half longer than his Turkish cousin — 73.5 as compared to 72.” Anyone care to explain how, despite having been brutally starved by Israel for years, Gazans still manage to outlive residents of wealthy, peace-loving, democratic Turkey?

In reality, of course, none of this is new; reporters could have gone to Gaza anytime over the past few years and described the same full supermarket shelves and the same wide variety of products. But instead, they preferred to collude with Hamas in accusing Israel of causing widespread hunger and deprivation.

And the only reason they have changed their tune now is that Israel’s decision to end the civilian blockade makes it vital to update the smear campaign: to explain that Gaza is still a place of “limited options and few hopes for a better life” (to quote the Times), that easing the blockade will do nothing to change this, and that the misery is still, somehow, all Israel’s fault.

I have read few things more disturbing than this week’s media reports from Gaza describing full supermarket shelves offering a wide variety of choices. For if this is true, there is only one way to interpret all the previous years’ reports: as intentional collusion with Hamas on an anti-Israel smear campaign.

For years, the media bombarded us with reports on the grave humanitarian crisis in Gaza: people going hungry, children deprived of toys and schoolbooks, a population denied all the good things of life due to Israel’s cruel blockade.

But suddenly, now that Israel has agreed to end the blockade on most civilian products, we get reports like this one from the New York Times: “The store shelves were filled on Monday in Rafah and in Deir al Balah and Gaza City, the shops stocked with all kinds of supplies, stoves, refrigerators, fans, generators — most smuggled through tunnels dug deep beneath the border with Egypt.” People “said they were not starving” and that easing the blockade would improve their lives only “at the margins”: they would be able to buy soda in cans “that were not covered in sand,” or Israeli appliances instead of “low-quality Chinese goods.”

Or this report, from Haaretz: “The market is still full of items brought through the tunnels and it is possible that merchants will not immediately order ‘permitted’ items from Israel — because there are similar items from Egypt,” said economist Muhammed Skaik of the Gaza branch of Paltrade. And anyway, he added, “ketchup, snacks and mayonnaise, for example … are not essential items that will genuinely change the situation.” True, but isn’t that exactly what Israel claimed for years — to universal derision?

Indeed, the situation is so far from desperate that Hamas has announced it will bar many of the newly permitted products from entering Gaza altogether — such as Israeli cookies, juices, soft drinks, and salads. But has anyone noticed any media outcry lately against Hamas for depriving Gazans of the same products Israel was excoriated for withholding?

And then there is this interesting statistic: “An infant in Gaza has a life expectancy a year and a half longer than his Turkish cousin — 73.5 as compared to 72.” Anyone care to explain how, despite having been brutally starved by Israel for years, Gazans still manage to outlive residents of wealthy, peace-loving, democratic Turkey?

In reality, of course, none of this is new; reporters could have gone to Gaza anytime over the past few years and described the same full supermarket shelves and the same wide variety of products. But instead, they preferred to collude with Hamas in accusing Israel of causing widespread hunger and deprivation.

And the only reason they have changed their tune now is that Israel’s decision to end the civilian blockade makes it vital to update the smear campaign: to explain that Gaza is still a place of “limited options and few hopes for a better life” (to quote the Times), that easing the blockade will do nothing to change this, and that the misery is still, somehow, all Israel’s fault.

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Forget Obama: Israel Needs Congress — and American Jews

Jennifer rightly decries Barack Obama’s lack of leadership in stymieing a UN effort to set up an “international inquiry” into Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla. But Congress need not wait for him to act; it could pressure the UN to desist all by itself, via its power of the purse.

The salient precedent occurred in 1974, when “UNESCO voted to exclude Israel from one of its regional working groups because Israel supposedly altered ‘the historical features of Jerusalem’ during archeological excavations and ‘brainwashed’ Arabs in the occupied territories,” as Front Page magazine recalled in a 2003 essay. Congress retaliated by suspending funding for the organization. UNESCO eventually gave in and readmitted Israel.

The U.S. provides 22 percent of the UN’s budget, so Congress has plenty of leverage. Nor need it threaten to pull the plug on the entire UN: it could deprive some specific UN agency of that 22 percent, as it did with UNESCO in 1974. And because Congress is far more pro-Israel than Obama, trying to work through Congress makes sense.

Even Congress, however, wouldn’t take such a step without strong pressure from American Jews. Jennifer has repeatedly (and rightly) bemoaned this community’s unwillingness to confront Obama, but another issue is at play here, too: American Jews, being overwhelmingly liberal, are reluctant to support an Israeli government that many deem “right-wing” or “hard-line” (to quote the mainstream media’s favorite terms).

What they fail to realize, however, is that even Israel’s left considers a UN inquiry utterly unacceptable. Here, for instance, is what Ze’ev Segal, legal commentator for the far-left daily Haaretz, said on June 4: “Recent experience — both the Goldstone Committee’s report on last year’s war in Gaza and the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion on the separation fence – shows that international probes related to Israel are irredeemably politically biased, due to the political composition of international bodies like the UN.” And again, two days later: “Israel cannot agree to an international investigation, which would be political and biased.”

Thus, by backing Israel on this issue, American Jews would be supporting not just the government they hate but also the left-wing opposition they adore.

And while American Jews sometimes wonder how much clout they really have under a Democratic administration, the consensus seems to be “plenty.” Consider, for instance, this New York Times piece on Turkey’s radicalization, which quoted unnamed “analysts” as saying that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s behavior toward Israel “boxes in the Obama administration, forcing it into a choice between allies that the Turks are sure to lose.”

Bizarrely, the Web version offers no explanation of this assertion. But in the print version of the Times’ overseas edition, the International Herald Tribune, the next paragraph does: “‘If Obama is faced with the choice of the American Jewish community or Turkey, he’s not going to choose Turkey,’ said a former American diplomat.”

The same would undoubtedly be true were Obama faced with a choice between American Jews and a UN flotilla inquiry. Unfortunately, American Jews have yet to present him with such a choice.

Jennifer rightly decries Barack Obama’s lack of leadership in stymieing a UN effort to set up an “international inquiry” into Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla. But Congress need not wait for him to act; it could pressure the UN to desist all by itself, via its power of the purse.

The salient precedent occurred in 1974, when “UNESCO voted to exclude Israel from one of its regional working groups because Israel supposedly altered ‘the historical features of Jerusalem’ during archeological excavations and ‘brainwashed’ Arabs in the occupied territories,” as Front Page magazine recalled in a 2003 essay. Congress retaliated by suspending funding for the organization. UNESCO eventually gave in and readmitted Israel.

The U.S. provides 22 percent of the UN’s budget, so Congress has plenty of leverage. Nor need it threaten to pull the plug on the entire UN: it could deprive some specific UN agency of that 22 percent, as it did with UNESCO in 1974. And because Congress is far more pro-Israel than Obama, trying to work through Congress makes sense.

Even Congress, however, wouldn’t take such a step without strong pressure from American Jews. Jennifer has repeatedly (and rightly) bemoaned this community’s unwillingness to confront Obama, but another issue is at play here, too: American Jews, being overwhelmingly liberal, are reluctant to support an Israeli government that many deem “right-wing” or “hard-line” (to quote the mainstream media’s favorite terms).

What they fail to realize, however, is that even Israel’s left considers a UN inquiry utterly unacceptable. Here, for instance, is what Ze’ev Segal, legal commentator for the far-left daily Haaretz, said on June 4: “Recent experience — both the Goldstone Committee’s report on last year’s war in Gaza and the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion on the separation fence – shows that international probes related to Israel are irredeemably politically biased, due to the political composition of international bodies like the UN.” And again, two days later: “Israel cannot agree to an international investigation, which would be political and biased.”

Thus, by backing Israel on this issue, American Jews would be supporting not just the government they hate but also the left-wing opposition they adore.

And while American Jews sometimes wonder how much clout they really have under a Democratic administration, the consensus seems to be “plenty.” Consider, for instance, this New York Times piece on Turkey’s radicalization, which quoted unnamed “analysts” as saying that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s behavior toward Israel “boxes in the Obama administration, forcing it into a choice between allies that the Turks are sure to lose.”

Bizarrely, the Web version offers no explanation of this assertion. But in the print version of the Times’ overseas edition, the International Herald Tribune, the next paragraph does: “‘If Obama is faced with the choice of the American Jewish community or Turkey, he’s not going to choose Turkey,’ said a former American diplomat.”

The same would undoubtedly be true were Obama faced with a choice between American Jews and a UN flotilla inquiry. Unfortunately, American Jews have yet to present him with such a choice.

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A New Abbas?

Mahmoud Abbas, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority and presumptive world representative of the Palestinian cause, has been making life difficult for those who make attacking Israel an axiom for their activism. The Jerusalem Post reported that, at a luncheon at Washington’s Brookings Institution last week, Abbas crossed a number of rhetorical red lines that have become the foundations of the anti-Israel narrative.

One: “Nobody denies the Jewish history in the Middle East. A third of our holy Koran talks about the Jews in the Middle East, in this area. Nobody from our side at least denies that the Jews were in Palestine.” Nobody, of course, except for Helen Thomas, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, and countless activists who speak of the entire state of Israel, not just the post-1967 territories, as an “occupation.”

Two: he recognizes “West Jerusalem” as the “capital of Israel.” This is rather bold, considering that even the U.S. State Department doesn’t recognize Western Jerusalem as a part of Israel at all, much less its capital.

Three: Abbas stated that the goal of negotiations would be an absolute end to the conflict, so that there would be “no more demands” — something that sounds obvious but has forever eluded the public Palestinian discourse, keeping Israeli suspicions high that the Palestinians are not remotely interested in ending the conflict.

Four: he conceded that there is anti-Israel incitement on the Palestinian side and that such could be resolved through an agreed-upon monitoring committee.

Five: he allowed for the possibility of an agreed solution that included an international force, even NATO, occupying the Palestinian territories, at least for a few years — opening the door, perhaps, for meeting Israel’s demand that the Palestinian state be demilitarized.

Yet the biggest zinger from Abbas appears in today’s Haaretz. According to the report, he told President Barack Obama that he opposes lifting Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip — a position shared with the Egyptian government, as well. This, of course, not only justifies Israel’s enforcement of the blockade during the flotilla mess (regardless of whether the tactics were prudent) but it also implies that the blockade itself is precisely right. This is truly remarkable, for it drastically undermines the justification for the entire flotilla and puts Turkey and other supporters in the awkward position of having to explain why, exactly, they have been so excited about it in the first place. (It would have been nice if Abbas had said so before the boats launched, but I suppose you can’t have everything.)

Certainly many people will dismiss his comments as the sudden spin of a politician worried about losing his place in the international arena. And obviously his concessions here, assuming he holds on to them, do not mean an immediate breakthrough to peace: you still have the massive problem of dismantling the Hamas government in Gaza (without which there cannot be peace) and coming to agreements on the refugees and Jerusalem. Yet one wonders why these statements have largely been ignored by the major Western media. Is it because, perhaps, that it doesn’t fit well with the current climate of radically de-legitimizing the Jewish state and its right to defend itself?

Mahmoud Abbas, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority and presumptive world representative of the Palestinian cause, has been making life difficult for those who make attacking Israel an axiom for their activism. The Jerusalem Post reported that, at a luncheon at Washington’s Brookings Institution last week, Abbas crossed a number of rhetorical red lines that have become the foundations of the anti-Israel narrative.

One: “Nobody denies the Jewish history in the Middle East. A third of our holy Koran talks about the Jews in the Middle East, in this area. Nobody from our side at least denies that the Jews were in Palestine.” Nobody, of course, except for Helen Thomas, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, and countless activists who speak of the entire state of Israel, not just the post-1967 territories, as an “occupation.”

Two: he recognizes “West Jerusalem” as the “capital of Israel.” This is rather bold, considering that even the U.S. State Department doesn’t recognize Western Jerusalem as a part of Israel at all, much less its capital.

Three: Abbas stated that the goal of negotiations would be an absolute end to the conflict, so that there would be “no more demands” — something that sounds obvious but has forever eluded the public Palestinian discourse, keeping Israeli suspicions high that the Palestinians are not remotely interested in ending the conflict.

Four: he conceded that there is anti-Israel incitement on the Palestinian side and that such could be resolved through an agreed-upon monitoring committee.

Five: he allowed for the possibility of an agreed solution that included an international force, even NATO, occupying the Palestinian territories, at least for a few years — opening the door, perhaps, for meeting Israel’s demand that the Palestinian state be demilitarized.

Yet the biggest zinger from Abbas appears in today’s Haaretz. According to the report, he told President Barack Obama that he opposes lifting Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip — a position shared with the Egyptian government, as well. This, of course, not only justifies Israel’s enforcement of the blockade during the flotilla mess (regardless of whether the tactics were prudent) but it also implies that the blockade itself is precisely right. This is truly remarkable, for it drastically undermines the justification for the entire flotilla and puts Turkey and other supporters in the awkward position of having to explain why, exactly, they have been so excited about it in the first place. (It would have been nice if Abbas had said so before the boats launched, but I suppose you can’t have everything.)

Certainly many people will dismiss his comments as the sudden spin of a politician worried about losing his place in the international arena. And obviously his concessions here, assuming he holds on to them, do not mean an immediate breakthrough to peace: you still have the massive problem of dismantling the Hamas government in Gaza (without which there cannot be peace) and coming to agreements on the refugees and Jerusalem. Yet one wonders why these statements have largely been ignored by the major Western media. Is it because, perhaps, that it doesn’t fit well with the current climate of radically de-legitimizing the Jewish state and its right to defend itself?

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Israel Needs PR Help from Overseas Jews

The flotilla crisis once again highlighted Israel’s public-relations failings. It’s mind-boggling, for instance, that only two days after the crisis broke did the government finally realize that it needs a permanent “virtual situation room” where people overseas can get up-to-date information about any breaking crisis. Yet while drastically improving Israel’s own efforts is essential, it’s not sufficient. Israel also needs more help from American and European Jewish organizations.

Many such organizations already do yeoman work, but more can and should be done. In an interview with Haaretz last month, for instance, Judea Pearl, who teaches at UCLA, noted that the anti-Israel movement on U.S. campuses is “nationally orchestrated.” Its leaders “act quickly and uniformly all over the campuses” and train “new cadres every year.” Hillel, in contrast, “thinks it can act locally, so they don’t have a national program to train people, send them to campuses and teach them how to respond.” He said he occasionally gets e-mails asking him to speak out on Israel issues, but only from small organizations — never from Hillel or any other “major Jewish organization.” That is a travesty.

Overseas Jewish groups are vital to the information effort because even people who genuinely care about Israel often lack the time and energy to amass relevant information. Two examples illustrate the problem. Sometime after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, I mentioned to my mother that ever since the withdrawal, Israel had suffered daily rocket strikes from Gaza. Having a daughter there, she clearly cares greatly about Israel. Yet she was shocked. “I had no idea,” she said. “That’s never reported in the American media.” And indeed, it wasn’t.

Example two: a European diplomat accredited to the Palestinian Authority once asked me why, when the anti-terror Mahmoud Abbas replaced the pro-terror Yasir Arafat as PA leader, Israel had not seized the opportunity to make peace. As part of my response, I e-mailed him a list of every Palestinian terror attack committed during Abbas’s year in sole control of the PA, before Hamas’s electoral victory in 2006. He was shocked; he hadn’t realized that terror continued under Abbas. Yet as a diplomat, he certainly knew more than most Europeans and certainly cared more; most Europeans don’t correspond with right-of-center Israeli journalists in an effort to obtain maximum information from multiple viewpoints.

In both cases, anyone who regularly read an Israeli paper online would have known the relevant facts. But most people don’t, and won’t. And that’s where Jewish organizations come in: by amassing and distributing information — to community rabbis, student organizations, and many others to whom they have far better access than Israel’s government — they could serve as vital intermediaries.

Information matters. The excellent information AIPAC gives Congress, for instance, undoubtedly contributes to Israel’s strong bipartisan support there. Better information also explains why many European leaders are far less anti-Israel than their publics. But Israel, though it needs to do much more, can’t do it alone. Faced with a massive worldwide delegitimization campaign, it desperately needs overseas Jewish groups to do more as well.

The flotilla crisis once again highlighted Israel’s public-relations failings. It’s mind-boggling, for instance, that only two days after the crisis broke did the government finally realize that it needs a permanent “virtual situation room” where people overseas can get up-to-date information about any breaking crisis. Yet while drastically improving Israel’s own efforts is essential, it’s not sufficient. Israel also needs more help from American and European Jewish organizations.

Many such organizations already do yeoman work, but more can and should be done. In an interview with Haaretz last month, for instance, Judea Pearl, who teaches at UCLA, noted that the anti-Israel movement on U.S. campuses is “nationally orchestrated.” Its leaders “act quickly and uniformly all over the campuses” and train “new cadres every year.” Hillel, in contrast, “thinks it can act locally, so they don’t have a national program to train people, send them to campuses and teach them how to respond.” He said he occasionally gets e-mails asking him to speak out on Israel issues, but only from small organizations — never from Hillel or any other “major Jewish organization.” That is a travesty.

Overseas Jewish groups are vital to the information effort because even people who genuinely care about Israel often lack the time and energy to amass relevant information. Two examples illustrate the problem. Sometime after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, I mentioned to my mother that ever since the withdrawal, Israel had suffered daily rocket strikes from Gaza. Having a daughter there, she clearly cares greatly about Israel. Yet she was shocked. “I had no idea,” she said. “That’s never reported in the American media.” And indeed, it wasn’t.

Example two: a European diplomat accredited to the Palestinian Authority once asked me why, when the anti-terror Mahmoud Abbas replaced the pro-terror Yasir Arafat as PA leader, Israel had not seized the opportunity to make peace. As part of my response, I e-mailed him a list of every Palestinian terror attack committed during Abbas’s year in sole control of the PA, before Hamas’s electoral victory in 2006. He was shocked; he hadn’t realized that terror continued under Abbas. Yet as a diplomat, he certainly knew more than most Europeans and certainly cared more; most Europeans don’t correspond with right-of-center Israeli journalists in an effort to obtain maximum information from multiple viewpoints.

In both cases, anyone who regularly read an Israeli paper online would have known the relevant facts. But most people don’t, and won’t. And that’s where Jewish organizations come in: by amassing and distributing information — to community rabbis, student organizations, and many others to whom they have far better access than Israel’s government — they could serve as vital intermediaries.

Information matters. The excellent information AIPAC gives Congress, for instance, undoubtedly contributes to Israel’s strong bipartisan support there. Better information also explains why many European leaders are far less anti-Israel than their publics. But Israel, though it needs to do much more, can’t do it alone. Faced with a massive worldwide delegitimization campaign, it desperately needs overseas Jewish groups to do more as well.

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Turkish Flags

Turkey’s sharp turn against Israel under Islamist Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has been much noted in the last couple of weeks. But a just-released report from Israeli analysts clarifies how close the flotilla confrontation of May 31 came to being a Turkish incitement to armed conflict.

The report was issued by Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, or Malam, a private contractor that works with government intelligence agencies and is sometimes used to make disclosures to the public. Based on the material gathered in the flotilla incident by the IDF and other government agencies, Malam concluded that the Turkish government knew in advance of the Turkish Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH) activists’ intention to fight the Israeli navy.

The IHH group of 40 boarded M/V Mavi Marmara in Istanbul without being subjected to the security checks all other participants went through. The group was equipped with communications gear, gas masks, and security vests decorated with Turkish flags. IHH operatives used the ship’s upper deck as a headquarters, prohibiting other passengers from visiting it. Once onboard, the IHH group began pillaging the ship for the makeshift weapons with which its members attacked the Israeli commandos during the May 31 boarding. According to the Malam report:

Bülent Yıldırım, the leader of the IHH … was on the Mavi Marmara and briefed group members about two hours before the Israeli Navy intercepted the ship. Their main objective was to hold back soldiers by any means, and to push them back into the sea.

The Haaretz summary continues:

Files found on laptops owned by the IHH members pointed at strong ties between the movement and Turkey’s prime minister. Some of the activists even said that Erdogan was personally involved in the flotilla’s preparations.

The more we know, the less sudden or unexpected appears Erdogan’s latest threat to bring a Turkish naval escort to Gaza. In retrospect, the situation looks more like one engineered by Erdogan to justify a confrontation with Israel than mere opportunism. Erdogan’s profile as a moderate statesman has been eroding for some time, of course, as exemplified in his performance during the March 2010 Arab League Summit and his growing ties to Iran. But in light of his most recent actions, a little-remarked passage in a Muslim Brotherhood conference in January becomes freshly informative.

The conference in question took place in Beirut and was the seventh of the al-Quds (Jerusalem) conferences sponsored by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition to concluding with the usual screed against Israel, the conferees addressed “special thanks” to Tayyip Erdogan and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, whose Perdana Global Peace Organization went on to sponsor three of the nine vessels in the recent Gaza flotilla, including M/V Rachel Corrie. Qaradawi is the founder of the Union of Good, the umbrella Islamist funding organization of which IHH is a member, and which Israel banned in 2002 due to its ties to terrorism.

Now Erdogan’s threat to bring a naval escort to Gaza coincides with the Union of Good’s announcement that it will send a convoy to Gaza through the Rafah crossing, recently opened by Egypt. Erdogan’s posture has gone well beyond rhetorical radicalism. Defense Secretary Gates’s comment yesterday — “Turkey … was pushed … by some in Europe refusing to give Turkey the … organic link to the west that Turkey sought” — seems particularly ill-formulated in light of Erdogan’s purposeful and unmistakable posture. Even if Gates’s analysis were more accurate, it’s not relevant. The time for recrimination is past. Reacting to current reality is all that matters.

Turkey’s major opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has voiced strong criticism of Erdogan’s actions; the prime minister’s policies that undermine secularism and suppress political dissent are coming under increasing fire at home. The next national election is not until mid-2011, however. There’s a lot of time left for Erdogan to sponsor flotillas. According to an IHH “journalist” quoted by Haaretz, the recent flotilla is just the first of many.

Turkey’s sharp turn against Israel under Islamist Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has been much noted in the last couple of weeks. But a just-released report from Israeli analysts clarifies how close the flotilla confrontation of May 31 came to being a Turkish incitement to armed conflict.

The report was issued by Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, or Malam, a private contractor that works with government intelligence agencies and is sometimes used to make disclosures to the public. Based on the material gathered in the flotilla incident by the IDF and other government agencies, Malam concluded that the Turkish government knew in advance of the Turkish Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH) activists’ intention to fight the Israeli navy.

The IHH group of 40 boarded M/V Mavi Marmara in Istanbul without being subjected to the security checks all other participants went through. The group was equipped with communications gear, gas masks, and security vests decorated with Turkish flags. IHH operatives used the ship’s upper deck as a headquarters, prohibiting other passengers from visiting it. Once onboard, the IHH group began pillaging the ship for the makeshift weapons with which its members attacked the Israeli commandos during the May 31 boarding. According to the Malam report:

Bülent Yıldırım, the leader of the IHH … was on the Mavi Marmara and briefed group members about two hours before the Israeli Navy intercepted the ship. Their main objective was to hold back soldiers by any means, and to push them back into the sea.

The Haaretz summary continues:

Files found on laptops owned by the IHH members pointed at strong ties between the movement and Turkey’s prime minister. Some of the activists even said that Erdogan was personally involved in the flotilla’s preparations.

The more we know, the less sudden or unexpected appears Erdogan’s latest threat to bring a Turkish naval escort to Gaza. In retrospect, the situation looks more like one engineered by Erdogan to justify a confrontation with Israel than mere opportunism. Erdogan’s profile as a moderate statesman has been eroding for some time, of course, as exemplified in his performance during the March 2010 Arab League Summit and his growing ties to Iran. But in light of his most recent actions, a little-remarked passage in a Muslim Brotherhood conference in January becomes freshly informative.

The conference in question took place in Beirut and was the seventh of the al-Quds (Jerusalem) conferences sponsored by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition to concluding with the usual screed against Israel, the conferees addressed “special thanks” to Tayyip Erdogan and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, whose Perdana Global Peace Organization went on to sponsor three of the nine vessels in the recent Gaza flotilla, including M/V Rachel Corrie. Qaradawi is the founder of the Union of Good, the umbrella Islamist funding organization of which IHH is a member, and which Israel banned in 2002 due to its ties to terrorism.

Now Erdogan’s threat to bring a naval escort to Gaza coincides with the Union of Good’s announcement that it will send a convoy to Gaza through the Rafah crossing, recently opened by Egypt. Erdogan’s posture has gone well beyond rhetorical radicalism. Defense Secretary Gates’s comment yesterday — “Turkey … was pushed … by some in Europe refusing to give Turkey the … organic link to the west that Turkey sought” — seems particularly ill-formulated in light of Erdogan’s purposeful and unmistakable posture. Even if Gates’s analysis were more accurate, it’s not relevant. The time for recrimination is past. Reacting to current reality is all that matters.

Turkey’s major opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has voiced strong criticism of Erdogan’s actions; the prime minister’s policies that undermine secularism and suppress political dissent are coming under increasing fire at home. The next national election is not until mid-2011, however. There’s a lot of time left for Erdogan to sponsor flotillas. According to an IHH “journalist” quoted by Haaretz, the recent flotilla is just the first of many.

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Flotilla Incident — Constructive Criticism

When Israel is attacked — physically or rhetorically — the impulse of all friends of Israel (myself included) is to jump immediately and totally to its defense. That is a commendable impulse; certainly far preferable to the knee-jerk anti-Israel animus displayed by much of the world. But unflinching support for Israel’s right to defend itself should not preclude occasional criticism of the manner in which it exercises that right — just as being a supporter of the United States and its armed forces in general should not preclude one from criticizing specific operations, for instance the way in which the Iraq war was conducted from 2003 to 2007. Indeed, one can argue that those of us who were critical of the Bush administration’s conduct of the war ultimately helped to make possible the turnaround that occurred when President Bush jettisoned his senior war managers (Rumsfeld, Abizaid, Casey) and implemented the surge — a policy they had stubbornly and foolishly opposed.

So Israel is now going through a period of reflection and self-criticism similar to that which occurred after the troubled 2006 campaign against Hezbollah. That resulted in a more successful operation against Hamas (Operation Cast Lead in December 2008-January 2009). I hope that the constructive criticisms that I — and other pro-Israel commentators — have lodged of the manner in which the Gaza flotilla was handled will lead Israeli policymakers to be more adept in dealing with similar challenges in the future. My critique (I wrote that the operation was morally and legally justified but handed a public-relations victory to Israel’s enemies) was actually mild compared with many of those heard in Israel itself. For instance, Ari Shavit — a respected Haaretz columnist who is a hawkish liberal – wrote:

During the 2006 war in Lebanon I concluded that my 15-year-old daughter could have conducted it more wisely than the Olmert-Peretz government. We’ve progressed. Today it’s clear to me that my 6-year-old son could do much better than our current government.

As another example, there is this comment made to Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg, who is in Israel right now:

I happen to be around a lot of Israeli generals lately, and one I bumped into today said something very smart and self-aware: “Does everybody in the world think we’re bananas?” He did not let me respond before he said, “Wait, I know the answer: The whole world thinks we’re bananas.” I asked this general if this was a good thing or a bad thing. After all, Nixon seemed bananas and he achieved great things internationally. So did Menachem Begin. This is what the general said, however: “It’s one thing for people to think that you’re crazy, but it’s bad when they think you’re incompetent and crazy, and that’s the way we look.”

Unfortunately — and it pains me to say so because I want only the best for Israel — I think that unnamed general is right.

Those who continue to defend the handling of the Gaza flotilla make essentially three points: (a) there was no credible alternative; (b) Israel would get criticized no matter what it did; and (c) Israel cannot give the “international community” a veto over its right of self-defense.

Start with the first point. Knowledgeable Israeli commentators agree with me that there likely were alternative courses of action to stop the flotilla without sending a small group of naval commandos into the middle of a melee — a situation for which they were unprepared. The Jerusalem Post writes:

One question that needs to be asked is why the government approved the IDF’s plan to put troops on the ship via helicopter instead of perhaps sabotaging or diverting them. Flotilla 13, the naval commando unit that raided the ships, is expert in sabotage.

According to one former top navy officer, one option was to use tugboats to push the ships off course. Another option was to damage the ships’ propellers, prevent them from sailing into Gaza and forcing them to be towed to Ashdod.

A third option was to board the ships quietly and not by helicopter.

“There were several options that the IDF had before sending troops onto the ship,” the former senior officer explained, “It is not clear that those options were completely exhausted.”

In the Wall Street Journal today, Israeli security analyst Ronen Bergman (who, like I do, describes the operation as a “fiasco”) reminds us that such alternatives have been employed before:

In 1988, 131 members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) who had been deported from the Palestinian Territories following the outbreak of the first intifada intended to set sail to Gaza from Limassol, Cyprus. Their boat, called Al Awda or the Ship of the Return, was accompanied by 200 journalists. ….

On Feb. 15, hours before it was due to set sail, the empty ship was blown up in Limassol harbor by a team of Mossad agents and frogmen from Flotilla 13 (the Israeli equivalent of Navy Seals). The team was led by Yoav Galant, then a young officer and today a major general in the IDF. The operation was a success. There were no casualties on either side and the PLO gave up on the idea of sailing to Gaza.

What about the argument that Israel would get criticized no matter what it did? That even if its agents sabotaged or disabled the pro-Hamas vessels without risking an open confrontation, it would still be pilloried? There is some truth to this, but there is criticism and then there is criticism. It would get a lot less blowback for such a low-profile operation than for a shoot-out on the high seas that left nine “peace activists” (actually pro-Hamas activists) dead.

Israel should be willing to risk international opprobrium when it faces a true existential threat. It needs, for example, to retaliate for Hamas rocket strikes, as it did with Operation Cast Lead. No state can allow its territory to be attacked with impunity. Israel also needs to seriously consider the possibility of bombing Iranian nuclear facilities no matter the denunciations that such an operation would inevitably bring; the potential payoff is worth the public-relations cost. But the Mavi Marmara was not an existential threat; it was not loaded with missiles or other weapons. It was a provocation, an act of political theater — and Israel should have been smart enough to avoid playing the part scripted by its enemies. Even letting the ship dock in Gaza would have done less damage to Israel than the manner in which it was stopped.

The justification for the boarding was that Israel couldn’t allow the Gaza blockade to be broken. I’m sympathetic to the need to maintain the blockade (which Israel has every right to do), but as Ronen Bergman points out, Israel has let other ships breach the blockade before without catastrophic consequences:

In August 2006 two ships carrying peace activists and food aid set out to Gaza, again from Cyprus. Under instructions from then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the vessels were boarded at sea without resistance. After a search uncovered no weapons, the ships were permitted to continue on toward the Strip. The Israeli naval forces went home, Hamas declared victory, and that was that.

The ultimate irony here is that the Israeli boarding was meant to prevent a recurrence of such Hamas aid convoys. Yet the shooting aboard the Mavi Marama has had the opposite effect — by handing an unearned propaganda victory to Israel’s enemies, it is encouraging them to repeat the same tactics. Three more ships are being readied for another Gaza flotilla. If and when they do sail, I trust that the Israeli government will learn from experience and not walk into another trap set by its enemies.

When Israel is attacked — physically or rhetorically — the impulse of all friends of Israel (myself included) is to jump immediately and totally to its defense. That is a commendable impulse; certainly far preferable to the knee-jerk anti-Israel animus displayed by much of the world. But unflinching support for Israel’s right to defend itself should not preclude occasional criticism of the manner in which it exercises that right — just as being a supporter of the United States and its armed forces in general should not preclude one from criticizing specific operations, for instance the way in which the Iraq war was conducted from 2003 to 2007. Indeed, one can argue that those of us who were critical of the Bush administration’s conduct of the war ultimately helped to make possible the turnaround that occurred when President Bush jettisoned his senior war managers (Rumsfeld, Abizaid, Casey) and implemented the surge — a policy they had stubbornly and foolishly opposed.

So Israel is now going through a period of reflection and self-criticism similar to that which occurred after the troubled 2006 campaign against Hezbollah. That resulted in a more successful operation against Hamas (Operation Cast Lead in December 2008-January 2009). I hope that the constructive criticisms that I — and other pro-Israel commentators — have lodged of the manner in which the Gaza flotilla was handled will lead Israeli policymakers to be more adept in dealing with similar challenges in the future. My critique (I wrote that the operation was morally and legally justified but handed a public-relations victory to Israel’s enemies) was actually mild compared with many of those heard in Israel itself. For instance, Ari Shavit — a respected Haaretz columnist who is a hawkish liberal – wrote:

During the 2006 war in Lebanon I concluded that my 15-year-old daughter could have conducted it more wisely than the Olmert-Peretz government. We’ve progressed. Today it’s clear to me that my 6-year-old son could do much better than our current government.

As another example, there is this comment made to Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg, who is in Israel right now:

I happen to be around a lot of Israeli generals lately, and one I bumped into today said something very smart and self-aware: “Does everybody in the world think we’re bananas?” He did not let me respond before he said, “Wait, I know the answer: The whole world thinks we’re bananas.” I asked this general if this was a good thing or a bad thing. After all, Nixon seemed bananas and he achieved great things internationally. So did Menachem Begin. This is what the general said, however: “It’s one thing for people to think that you’re crazy, but it’s bad when they think you’re incompetent and crazy, and that’s the way we look.”

Unfortunately — and it pains me to say so because I want only the best for Israel — I think that unnamed general is right.

Those who continue to defend the handling of the Gaza flotilla make essentially three points: (a) there was no credible alternative; (b) Israel would get criticized no matter what it did; and (c) Israel cannot give the “international community” a veto over its right of self-defense.

Start with the first point. Knowledgeable Israeli commentators agree with me that there likely were alternative courses of action to stop the flotilla without sending a small group of naval commandos into the middle of a melee — a situation for which they were unprepared. The Jerusalem Post writes:

One question that needs to be asked is why the government approved the IDF’s plan to put troops on the ship via helicopter instead of perhaps sabotaging or diverting them. Flotilla 13, the naval commando unit that raided the ships, is expert in sabotage.

According to one former top navy officer, one option was to use tugboats to push the ships off course. Another option was to damage the ships’ propellers, prevent them from sailing into Gaza and forcing them to be towed to Ashdod.

A third option was to board the ships quietly and not by helicopter.

“There were several options that the IDF had before sending troops onto the ship,” the former senior officer explained, “It is not clear that those options were completely exhausted.”

In the Wall Street Journal today, Israeli security analyst Ronen Bergman (who, like I do, describes the operation as a “fiasco”) reminds us that such alternatives have been employed before:

In 1988, 131 members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) who had been deported from the Palestinian Territories following the outbreak of the first intifada intended to set sail to Gaza from Limassol, Cyprus. Their boat, called Al Awda or the Ship of the Return, was accompanied by 200 journalists. ….

On Feb. 15, hours before it was due to set sail, the empty ship was blown up in Limassol harbor by a team of Mossad agents and frogmen from Flotilla 13 (the Israeli equivalent of Navy Seals). The team was led by Yoav Galant, then a young officer and today a major general in the IDF. The operation was a success. There were no casualties on either side and the PLO gave up on the idea of sailing to Gaza.

What about the argument that Israel would get criticized no matter what it did? That even if its agents sabotaged or disabled the pro-Hamas vessels without risking an open confrontation, it would still be pilloried? There is some truth to this, but there is criticism and then there is criticism. It would get a lot less blowback for such a low-profile operation than for a shoot-out on the high seas that left nine “peace activists” (actually pro-Hamas activists) dead.

Israel should be willing to risk international opprobrium when it faces a true existential threat. It needs, for example, to retaliate for Hamas rocket strikes, as it did with Operation Cast Lead. No state can allow its territory to be attacked with impunity. Israel also needs to seriously consider the possibility of bombing Iranian nuclear facilities no matter the denunciations that such an operation would inevitably bring; the potential payoff is worth the public-relations cost. But the Mavi Marmara was not an existential threat; it was not loaded with missiles or other weapons. It was a provocation, an act of political theater — and Israel should have been smart enough to avoid playing the part scripted by its enemies. Even letting the ship dock in Gaza would have done less damage to Israel than the manner in which it was stopped.

The justification for the boarding was that Israel couldn’t allow the Gaza blockade to be broken. I’m sympathetic to the need to maintain the blockade (which Israel has every right to do), but as Ronen Bergman points out, Israel has let other ships breach the blockade before without catastrophic consequences:

In August 2006 two ships carrying peace activists and food aid set out to Gaza, again from Cyprus. Under instructions from then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the vessels were boarded at sea without resistance. After a search uncovered no weapons, the ships were permitted to continue on toward the Strip. The Israeli naval forces went home, Hamas declared victory, and that was that.

The ultimate irony here is that the Israeli boarding was meant to prevent a recurrence of such Hamas aid convoys. Yet the shooting aboard the Mavi Marama has had the opposite effect — by handing an unearned propaganda victory to Israel’s enemies, it is encouraging them to repeat the same tactics. Three more ships are being readied for another Gaza flotilla. If and when they do sail, I trust that the Israeli government will learn from experience and not walk into another trap set by its enemies.

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The Lessons of Hanin Zuabi’s Big Lie

Yesterday’s press conference by Hanin Zuabi, an Israeli Arab Knesset member who was on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara when Israeli commandos boarded it on Monday, should be studied by every journalist or human-rights activist who ever believed a Palestinian atrocity tale. Here is Haaretz’s report of it:

According to Zuabi, when the flotilla was 130 miles from shore, 14 naval ships approached and opened fire without warning. Only journalists, nurses and a doctor were on deck; none of them carried weapons. All the other passengers were either in their rooms or fled there as soon as the shooting began. …

Over and over, she insisted that the passengers engaged in no violence, that the soldiers had come with intent to kill and intimidate, that it was all planned in advance.

When reporters confronted her with the video footage released by the army and the soldiers’ testimony, and with the fact that several soldiers were wounded, Zuabi first evaded the questions, then finally insisted, “This is what I saw.”

This is a classic example of the Big Lie: even faced with incontrovertible evidence of her story’s falsity — the video footage of those peace-loving “journalists” and “nurses” attacking the soldiers, the seven hospitalized commandos — Zuabi stuck to it. And without this evidence, most of the world would surely have believed her. As David Horowitz noted in analyzing the army’s scandalous decision to withhold the footage for 12 hours, the claim that civilians overpowered highly trained commandos is not instantly plausible.

The first lesson is that the army must film every encounter with Palestinians or their supporters and make the footage readily available. It should have started doing so long ago; perhaps the success of the Marmara footage — which Haaretz said was the second-most-watched clip on YouTube yesterday, beating the third-place clip, Al-Jazeera’s version of the incident, by 150,000 hits — will finally persuade it.

The second lesson, as Noah correctly argued, is that Israel must start playing PR offense, not just defense: it can’t win if it spends all its time refuting Zuabi-style Big Lies, especially since proof won’t always be available. In June 2008, for instance, Hamas accused Israel of bombing a house in Gaza and killing seven civilians; it later emerged that the house blew up because Hamas operatives were making a bomb for use against Israel, which exploded prematurely. But since Israel wasn’t involved, there could have been no exculpatory Israeli footage even if a “film-everything” policy existed.

Noah outlined a case against Turkey, but top priority must be the case against the Palestinians. That requires a PR offensive covering everything from Palestinian hate education to Hamas’s abuse of its own people to Israel’s own legal claim to the territories.

Israelis often assume that what’s obvious to them is also obvious to the rest of the world, and therefore doesn’t need saying. That is partly why the army felt no need to immediately release the Marmara footage: Israelis already knew “their boys” weren’t wanton murderers. But most people don’t know what Israelis know. And they never will unless Israel tells them.

Yesterday’s press conference by Hanin Zuabi, an Israeli Arab Knesset member who was on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara when Israeli commandos boarded it on Monday, should be studied by every journalist or human-rights activist who ever believed a Palestinian atrocity tale. Here is Haaretz’s report of it:

According to Zuabi, when the flotilla was 130 miles from shore, 14 naval ships approached and opened fire without warning. Only journalists, nurses and a doctor were on deck; none of them carried weapons. All the other passengers were either in their rooms or fled there as soon as the shooting began. …

Over and over, she insisted that the passengers engaged in no violence, that the soldiers had come with intent to kill and intimidate, that it was all planned in advance.

When reporters confronted her with the video footage released by the army and the soldiers’ testimony, and with the fact that several soldiers were wounded, Zuabi first evaded the questions, then finally insisted, “This is what I saw.”

This is a classic example of the Big Lie: even faced with incontrovertible evidence of her story’s falsity — the video footage of those peace-loving “journalists” and “nurses” attacking the soldiers, the seven hospitalized commandos — Zuabi stuck to it. And without this evidence, most of the world would surely have believed her. As David Horowitz noted in analyzing the army’s scandalous decision to withhold the footage for 12 hours, the claim that civilians overpowered highly trained commandos is not instantly plausible.

The first lesson is that the army must film every encounter with Palestinians or their supporters and make the footage readily available. It should have started doing so long ago; perhaps the success of the Marmara footage — which Haaretz said was the second-most-watched clip on YouTube yesterday, beating the third-place clip, Al-Jazeera’s version of the incident, by 150,000 hits — will finally persuade it.

The second lesson, as Noah correctly argued, is that Israel must start playing PR offense, not just defense: it can’t win if it spends all its time refuting Zuabi-style Big Lies, especially since proof won’t always be available. In June 2008, for instance, Hamas accused Israel of bombing a house in Gaza and killing seven civilians; it later emerged that the house blew up because Hamas operatives were making a bomb for use against Israel, which exploded prematurely. But since Israel wasn’t involved, there could have been no exculpatory Israeli footage even if a “film-everything” policy existed.

Noah outlined a case against Turkey, but top priority must be the case against the Palestinians. That requires a PR offensive covering everything from Palestinian hate education to Hamas’s abuse of its own people to Israel’s own legal claim to the territories.

Israelis often assume that what’s obvious to them is also obvious to the rest of the world, and therefore doesn’t need saying. That is partly why the army felt no need to immediately release the Marmara footage: Israelis already knew “their boys” weren’t wanton murderers. But most people don’t know what Israelis know. And they never will unless Israel tells them.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

It took Barack Obama to turn an ex-president into a sleazy “bag man.”

What will it take for the left to break with the anti-Semites, racists, and Israel-bashers? “Democracy for America, the progressive group that grew out of Howard Dean’s campaign for president, is standing by its support for a House candidate who backs a radical single-state solution in the Middle East and suggested in an interview that Jewish Reps. Jane Harman and Henry Waxman should ‘pledge allegiance to this country as the country they represent.”

Will Obama take this opportunity to dump the witch hunt against CIA interrogators? Stephen Hayes recommends that he should: “The repercussions have been severe. CIA operators, already risk averse, are today far less willing to take risks in the field out of fear that a wrong decision, even a legal one that produced crucial intelligence, could send them to jail. Obama should also insist that the Justice Department aggressively investigate the alleged exposure of CIA officials by lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees. Photographs of officials were discovered in the cell of Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi and were reportedly provided by investigators working for the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. John Rizzo, former CIA general counsel and a 30-year intelligence veteran, said that the breach was far graver than the leak of Valerie Plame’s name.”

It took a few weeks of criticism to reveal Peter Beinart’s vile attitudes toward his fellow Jews: Nathan Diament on Beinart’s latest outburst in the Israel-hating the New York Review of Books: “Peter goes way beyond debating substance and drifts into stereotyping and calumny, saying: ‘the same sort of settler fanatics who burn Palestinian olive groves also assassinated an Israeli prime minister. The same ultra-Orthodox hooligans who burn Christian holy books also attack Jewish women trying to pray at the Western Wall.’ He also slams Rav Ovadia Yosef and, apparently, anyone else in Israel who, we suppose, doesn’t agree with his view — or that of the editorial board of Ha’aretz — as to precisely what ought to happen.”

It took a year and a half of Obama’s presidency to ruin Blanche Lincoln’s career: “[Arkansas's] larger bloc of conservative Democrats and independents upset over the perception that the incumbent is overly cozy with the unpopular President Obama, the Agriculture Committee chair and Delta farmer’s daughter finds her 18-year congressional career in grave jeopardy.”

It took a determined Jewish mom from Los Angeles to figure out it only took a $15 dollar solar cooker (made of cardboard and aluminum) to help protect “female [Darfur] refugees who were being ruthlessly subjected to physical and sexual brutality when they left the relative safety of their refugee camps.” She’s done more for human rights in Darfur — much more — than Obama and his embarrassingly ineffective special envoy have.

Have you noticed that Democrats aren’t so willing to take unpopular stands for this president on national security? “The Senate Armed Services Committee dealt a big setback to President Obama’s plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay when lawmakers stripped funding for a new prison in Illinois to hold the detainees. Committee Chairman Carl Levin on Friday told reporters the committee, in a voice vote, stripped $245 million that would have gone to buy and retrofit the Thomson prison in Illinois.”

Charles Hurt catches Obama taking responsibility for “zilch” at his BP oil-spill press conference: “It was yet another performance of the ‘full responsibility’ flimflam. … President Obama repeatedly took ‘full responsibility’ for the blundering efforts to clog up the geyser of crude oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico coating everything in sight. At the same time, Obama repeatedly denied that his administration was complicit in allowing the catastrophe to happen in the first place, slow to realize the devastating nature of it, or ham-handed in the five-week effort to try to stem the toxic tide. In other words, Obama — as he often does — took ‘full responsibility’ for being awesome.”

It took Barack Obama to turn an ex-president into a sleazy “bag man.”

What will it take for the left to break with the anti-Semites, racists, and Israel-bashers? “Democracy for America, the progressive group that grew out of Howard Dean’s campaign for president, is standing by its support for a House candidate who backs a radical single-state solution in the Middle East and suggested in an interview that Jewish Reps. Jane Harman and Henry Waxman should ‘pledge allegiance to this country as the country they represent.”

Will Obama take this opportunity to dump the witch hunt against CIA interrogators? Stephen Hayes recommends that he should: “The repercussions have been severe. CIA operators, already risk averse, are today far less willing to take risks in the field out of fear that a wrong decision, even a legal one that produced crucial intelligence, could send them to jail. Obama should also insist that the Justice Department aggressively investigate the alleged exposure of CIA officials by lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees. Photographs of officials were discovered in the cell of Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi and were reportedly provided by investigators working for the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. John Rizzo, former CIA general counsel and a 30-year intelligence veteran, said that the breach was far graver than the leak of Valerie Plame’s name.”

It took a few weeks of criticism to reveal Peter Beinart’s vile attitudes toward his fellow Jews: Nathan Diament on Beinart’s latest outburst in the Israel-hating the New York Review of Books: “Peter goes way beyond debating substance and drifts into stereotyping and calumny, saying: ‘the same sort of settler fanatics who burn Palestinian olive groves also assassinated an Israeli prime minister. The same ultra-Orthodox hooligans who burn Christian holy books also attack Jewish women trying to pray at the Western Wall.’ He also slams Rav Ovadia Yosef and, apparently, anyone else in Israel who, we suppose, doesn’t agree with his view — or that of the editorial board of Ha’aretz — as to precisely what ought to happen.”

It took a year and a half of Obama’s presidency to ruin Blanche Lincoln’s career: “[Arkansas's] larger bloc of conservative Democrats and independents upset over the perception that the incumbent is overly cozy with the unpopular President Obama, the Agriculture Committee chair and Delta farmer’s daughter finds her 18-year congressional career in grave jeopardy.”

It took a determined Jewish mom from Los Angeles to figure out it only took a $15 dollar solar cooker (made of cardboard and aluminum) to help protect “female [Darfur] refugees who were being ruthlessly subjected to physical and sexual brutality when they left the relative safety of their refugee camps.” She’s done more for human rights in Darfur — much more — than Obama and his embarrassingly ineffective special envoy have.

Have you noticed that Democrats aren’t so willing to take unpopular stands for this president on national security? “The Senate Armed Services Committee dealt a big setback to President Obama’s plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay when lawmakers stripped funding for a new prison in Illinois to hold the detainees. Committee Chairman Carl Levin on Friday told reporters the committee, in a voice vote, stripped $245 million that would have gone to buy and retrofit the Thomson prison in Illinois.”

Charles Hurt catches Obama taking responsibility for “zilch” at his BP oil-spill press conference: “It was yet another performance of the ‘full responsibility’ flimflam. … President Obama repeatedly took ‘full responsibility’ for the blundering efforts to clog up the geyser of crude oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico coating everything in sight. At the same time, Obama repeatedly denied that his administration was complicit in allowing the catastrophe to happen in the first place, slow to realize the devastating nature of it, or ham-handed in the five-week effort to try to stem the toxic tide. In other words, Obama — as he often does — took ‘full responsibility’ for being awesome.”

Read Less

The Consequences of Judicial Activism

Israel’s Supreme Court lambasted the government this week for disobeying a temporary injunction to stop work on a West Bank road. This isn’t the first time the court has complained of governmental noncompliance with its orders; as various commentators have noted (here and here, for instance), noncompliance is rapidly becoming routine. Yet both court and commentators tend to overlook the court’s own responsibility for this problem.

In March, Haaretz published a list (Hebrew only) of nine court orders the government had yet to obey. They included orders to build 245 new classrooms in East Jerusalem, to reinforce every school within rocket range of Gaza against rockets, to build a high school in an Arab village, to relocate the security fence near the West Bank village of Bili’in, and to do the same near the village of Azzoun.

These rulings have one thing in common: each would cost hundreds of millions of shekels to implement; collectively, they would cost billions. Thus to obey them, the government would have to slash billions of shekels from other parts of the budget. And while I favor budget-cutting, most quick and easy big cuts would have disastrous consequences: slashing welfare, say, or canceling all army training exercises. Productive cuts, such as eliminating unnecessary layers of civil-service bureaucracy, are neither quick nor easy, as they would entail major fights with powerful government unions. Thus in the real world, there is no practical way to promptly obey all the court’s rulings.

But aside from the practical problem, these rulings embody a more fundamental problem: the judicial usurpation of government prerogatives. Clearly, such rulings reduce the government’s ability to set its own budgetary priorities, but the problem goes way beyond budgets.

Take the ruling on reinforcing schools against rockets. Governments certainly should protect their citizens, but how best to do so is a judgment call, of precisely the sort citizens elect their governments to make. There is no legal basis for the court to require the government to protect its citizens via one particular method, by reinforcing schools, rather than, for instance, by military action against Hamas (which, when Israel finally tried it 17 months ago, proved quite effective).

Similarly, while the government is legally obligated to provide schooling, there is no legal basis for requiring it to build a high school in one particular village rather than, say, busing students to school in a neighboring town.

The practical impossibility of implementing some of the court’s orders, combined with increasing resentment of the court’s usurpation of governmental prerogatives, has generated a response of passive resistance — i.e., noncompliance. But once governments get in the habit of ignoring court orders, it quickly spreads even to orders that there are no grounds for disobeying, like this week’s injunction. And the result is anarchy.

The only way to stop this dangerous trend is by prompt legislative action to restrain the court’s growing reach. But unfortunately, no government has yet had the stomach for the public battle this would entail. It’s much easier to just keep quietly disobeying court orders.

Israel’s Supreme Court lambasted the government this week for disobeying a temporary injunction to stop work on a West Bank road. This isn’t the first time the court has complained of governmental noncompliance with its orders; as various commentators have noted (here and here, for instance), noncompliance is rapidly becoming routine. Yet both court and commentators tend to overlook the court’s own responsibility for this problem.

In March, Haaretz published a list (Hebrew only) of nine court orders the government had yet to obey. They included orders to build 245 new classrooms in East Jerusalem, to reinforce every school within rocket range of Gaza against rockets, to build a high school in an Arab village, to relocate the security fence near the West Bank village of Bili’in, and to do the same near the village of Azzoun.

These rulings have one thing in common: each would cost hundreds of millions of shekels to implement; collectively, they would cost billions. Thus to obey them, the government would have to slash billions of shekels from other parts of the budget. And while I favor budget-cutting, most quick and easy big cuts would have disastrous consequences: slashing welfare, say, or canceling all army training exercises. Productive cuts, such as eliminating unnecessary layers of civil-service bureaucracy, are neither quick nor easy, as they would entail major fights with powerful government unions. Thus in the real world, there is no practical way to promptly obey all the court’s rulings.

But aside from the practical problem, these rulings embody a more fundamental problem: the judicial usurpation of government prerogatives. Clearly, such rulings reduce the government’s ability to set its own budgetary priorities, but the problem goes way beyond budgets.

Take the ruling on reinforcing schools against rockets. Governments certainly should protect their citizens, but how best to do so is a judgment call, of precisely the sort citizens elect their governments to make. There is no legal basis for the court to require the government to protect its citizens via one particular method, by reinforcing schools, rather than, for instance, by military action against Hamas (which, when Israel finally tried it 17 months ago, proved quite effective).

Similarly, while the government is legally obligated to provide schooling, there is no legal basis for requiring it to build a high school in one particular village rather than, say, busing students to school in a neighboring town.

The practical impossibility of implementing some of the court’s orders, combined with increasing resentment of the court’s usurpation of governmental prerogatives, has generated a response of passive resistance — i.e., noncompliance. But once governments get in the habit of ignoring court orders, it quickly spreads even to orders that there are no grounds for disobeying, like this week’s injunction. And the result is anarchy.

The only way to stop this dangerous trend is by prompt legislative action to restrain the court’s growing reach. But unfortunately, no government has yet had the stomach for the public battle this would entail. It’s much easier to just keep quietly disobeying court orders.

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Another Hand-Wringing Jew

It’s getting to be a trend: Jews publicly expressing their antipathy or outright disdain for Israel. The latest comes from Emily Schaeffer, a 31-year-old lawyer who has come to despise the Jewish state. Perhaps it was her abominable Jewish education, a not uncommon malady:

Schaeffer attended public school, but always felt at home when she took part in activities of the Reform movement. “My parents sent me there when I was five. I went once a week after school, and later twice a week. In the movement we had lessons about Judaism and about Israel, in a very lighthearted way. Once we made a map of Israel out of ice cream and marked the cities with colorful M&M candies. It was Zionism-lite. At that time I also went to synagogue.”

Very lite, it seems. And one suspects she heard from the bima much more about minimum wage and global warming than about Zionism. From there it was on to Reform-movement activities, where she had a grand time and that “altered the course of her life.” She eventually went to live in Israel and, as the lefty Haaretz puts it, became “an Israeli devoid of nationalistic sentiment and full of human compassion.”

Thereafter she fled Israel with a bad case of cognitive dissonance during the second intifada:

“The intifada caused me a profound crisis. I was very disappointed with both sides. I lived on Mahaneh Yehuda street then. Within a day, all the Arab workers, Palestinians from the territories, some of whom I was really friendly with, disappeared. They just disappeared. It was the first time I experienced a war situation. I knew there had been terror attacks in the market and I was tense all the time. I was afraid to be outside too long, I wanted to listen to the news all the time. I was going crazy.”

This caused her not to rethink her chumminess with those killing Jews but rather to return to the U.S. (an option not available to most Israelis), where again she sought out the Israel-haters: “She joined the dialogue group and the Jews Against the Occupation organization in New York. And she once again immersed herself in the bloody conflict that she had abandoned.”

Of course, her “human compassion” does not extend to the Jews attempting to survive in a hostile neighborhood but rather to the killers of Jews:

In Jerusalem she discovered the hidden world, for her at least, of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In those days, before the second intifada, she found a common language with Meretz activists on the Mount Scopus campus. “I met my first Palestinian friend then, Sari Abu-Ziad, the oldest son of Ziad Abu-Ziad, who was a minister in the Palestinian government then. He told me about his childhood, what a checkpoint was, what it meant to feel like you’re living in a prison, what it’s like to be an Arabic-speaker in Israel, how frightened he was. He studied at the Hebrew University. This was before the 1999 election. We gave out stickers that said ‘With Barak There’s Hope.’ We believed that things could change. That year I plunged deep into the conflict, and it broke my heart.”

She really wanted to love Israel, but it wasn’t easy for her. “I grew up with the belief that Jews are moral people, that our job is to help the weak. It might sound naive now, but the contradiction between the essence of the Jewish state and what I saw really upset me. It was hard for my mother to accept the questions and doubts I felt. She said: ‘We were refugees, we suffered, we finally got a state, and Israel has to be a good country.’ I told her it was hard for me to see that my people were capable of doing such terrible things, that the country I dreamed about was occupying another people. That’s still something that’s very hard for me to deal with.”

She now has a spiffy career suing Israel on behalf of the Palestinians, trying to halt construction and alter the course of the “wall,” which has saved countless lives from butchers and pizza bombers. And now she’s suing Canada because two Canadian construction companies operate in what she refers to as the “occupied territories.”

In her counter-reality, Israel was the aggressor and the war criminal in Gaza:

“People think of themselves as moral, and what happened there, the number of children that were killed, the strikes on population centers, raised tough questions. It was hard for Israelis to accept the unnecessary death there. On the other hand, most of the country shifted in the other direction and wholeheartedly supported violence against civilians, and even more have become convinced that there will never be peace, and that the Palestinians, even if they are children, are the enemy.”

Any mention of the Herculean efforts to avoid civilian casualties or of Hamas terrorists who hide behind old women and infants? Oh, no. She’s got “compassion,” you see. And then there was the thrill of meeting with the Elders group — a fine bunch of Israel-haters that includes Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, and Mary Robinson. Her great joy was receiving a picture of herself with Carter.

Other than signing her up for a lifetime membership in J Street, what is to be done? American Jewry might begin by providing an Israel-strong rather than an Israel-lite education. The Palestinians have done a fine job snaring ill-educated, largely secularized Jews who are steeped in leftism and predisposed to accept the Third World liberation claptrap of the Palestinians. Unless American Jewry does an equally good job restating the case for Israel, explaining Israel’s democratic system (which affords Emily a courtroom to vilify and hamstring the Jewish state), and publicizing the efforts of Israel to grant Palestinians their own state even as the Palestinians continue to reject it and return again and again to violence, there will be many more Emilys. And it wouldn’t hurt if the editors of Haaretz didn’t lionize a woman whose career is based on endangering their lives.

It’s getting to be a trend: Jews publicly expressing their antipathy or outright disdain for Israel. The latest comes from Emily Schaeffer, a 31-year-old lawyer who has come to despise the Jewish state. Perhaps it was her abominable Jewish education, a not uncommon malady:

Schaeffer attended public school, but always felt at home when she took part in activities of the Reform movement. “My parents sent me there when I was five. I went once a week after school, and later twice a week. In the movement we had lessons about Judaism and about Israel, in a very lighthearted way. Once we made a map of Israel out of ice cream and marked the cities with colorful M&M candies. It was Zionism-lite. At that time I also went to synagogue.”

Very lite, it seems. And one suspects she heard from the bima much more about minimum wage and global warming than about Zionism. From there it was on to Reform-movement activities, where she had a grand time and that “altered the course of her life.” She eventually went to live in Israel and, as the lefty Haaretz puts it, became “an Israeli devoid of nationalistic sentiment and full of human compassion.”

Thereafter she fled Israel with a bad case of cognitive dissonance during the second intifada:

“The intifada caused me a profound crisis. I was very disappointed with both sides. I lived on Mahaneh Yehuda street then. Within a day, all the Arab workers, Palestinians from the territories, some of whom I was really friendly with, disappeared. They just disappeared. It was the first time I experienced a war situation. I knew there had been terror attacks in the market and I was tense all the time. I was afraid to be outside too long, I wanted to listen to the news all the time. I was going crazy.”

This caused her not to rethink her chumminess with those killing Jews but rather to return to the U.S. (an option not available to most Israelis), where again she sought out the Israel-haters: “She joined the dialogue group and the Jews Against the Occupation organization in New York. And she once again immersed herself in the bloody conflict that she had abandoned.”

Of course, her “human compassion” does not extend to the Jews attempting to survive in a hostile neighborhood but rather to the killers of Jews:

In Jerusalem she discovered the hidden world, for her at least, of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In those days, before the second intifada, she found a common language with Meretz activists on the Mount Scopus campus. “I met my first Palestinian friend then, Sari Abu-Ziad, the oldest son of Ziad Abu-Ziad, who was a minister in the Palestinian government then. He told me about his childhood, what a checkpoint was, what it meant to feel like you’re living in a prison, what it’s like to be an Arabic-speaker in Israel, how frightened he was. He studied at the Hebrew University. This was before the 1999 election. We gave out stickers that said ‘With Barak There’s Hope.’ We believed that things could change. That year I plunged deep into the conflict, and it broke my heart.”

She really wanted to love Israel, but it wasn’t easy for her. “I grew up with the belief that Jews are moral people, that our job is to help the weak. It might sound naive now, but the contradiction between the essence of the Jewish state and what I saw really upset me. It was hard for my mother to accept the questions and doubts I felt. She said: ‘We were refugees, we suffered, we finally got a state, and Israel has to be a good country.’ I told her it was hard for me to see that my people were capable of doing such terrible things, that the country I dreamed about was occupying another people. That’s still something that’s very hard for me to deal with.”

She now has a spiffy career suing Israel on behalf of the Palestinians, trying to halt construction and alter the course of the “wall,” which has saved countless lives from butchers and pizza bombers. And now she’s suing Canada because two Canadian construction companies operate in what she refers to as the “occupied territories.”

In her counter-reality, Israel was the aggressor and the war criminal in Gaza:

“People think of themselves as moral, and what happened there, the number of children that were killed, the strikes on population centers, raised tough questions. It was hard for Israelis to accept the unnecessary death there. On the other hand, most of the country shifted in the other direction and wholeheartedly supported violence against civilians, and even more have become convinced that there will never be peace, and that the Palestinians, even if they are children, are the enemy.”

Any mention of the Herculean efforts to avoid civilian casualties or of Hamas terrorists who hide behind old women and infants? Oh, no. She’s got “compassion,” you see. And then there was the thrill of meeting with the Elders group — a fine bunch of Israel-haters that includes Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, and Mary Robinson. Her great joy was receiving a picture of herself with Carter.

Other than signing her up for a lifetime membership in J Street, what is to be done? American Jewry might begin by providing an Israel-strong rather than an Israel-lite education. The Palestinians have done a fine job snaring ill-educated, largely secularized Jews who are steeped in leftism and predisposed to accept the Third World liberation claptrap of the Palestinians. Unless American Jewry does an equally good job restating the case for Israel, explaining Israel’s democratic system (which affords Emily a courtroom to vilify and hamstring the Jewish state), and publicizing the efforts of Israel to grant Palestinians their own state even as the Palestinians continue to reject it and return again and again to violence, there will be many more Emilys. And it wouldn’t hurt if the editors of Haaretz didn’t lionize a woman whose career is based on endangering their lives.

Read Less

Hezbollah’s Maritime Threat

As Hezbollah’s Nasrallah issues new threats to commercial shipping in the Levant, it’s worth recalling the events of July 2006. During the conflict that summer with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel’s INS Hanit, a Saar-V class corvette, was hit by an anti-ship missile launched by Hezbollah from the Lebanese coast. Haaretz reported that a Cambodian-flagged freighter was hit by another missile in the same July 14 attack. The freighter sank afterward; its Egyptian crewmen were rescued from the Mediterranean, but four Israelis were killed in the attack on Hanit.

Austin Bay, who writes frequently on defense matters, posted this excellent analysis of the shipping attacks at his blog. The missiles Hezbollah used were a Chinese-designed C802 cruise missile, which Iran has produced for a number of years as the “Noor” missile, and the Iranian “Kosar” version of the Chinese C701 missile.

No question remains as to whether Iran has supplied anti-ship missiles to Hezbollah. The only question is whether Hezbollah is now being supplied with Iran’s newer anti-ship missiles. China and Iran launched a production facility in March 2010 for the “Nasr” missile, Iran’s version of the Chinese C704, a newer cruise missile with a passive homing capability. Iran’s navy fired the Nasr missile in its Persian Gulf exercise in April, a move similar to the introduction of the Kosar missile in the major naval exercise in April of 2006. Three months after that 2006 exercise, Hezbollah used the Kosar off the coast of Lebanon.

Israeli warships can defend themselves against Hezbollah’s cruise missiles. Hanit’s failure to do so was attributed to the constraints of an Israeli forces operating policy, which had been put in place to prevent unintentional firing on friendly aircraft.

But merchantmen have no defense against such weapons. Nasrallah’s threat is far from empty, as Hezbollah has already proved. The coastal region off Lebanon and Israel, through which ships approach the Suez Canal, is one of the busiest in the world. The likelihood is very real that the U.S. will find it necessary to take action if Hezbollah starts launching missiles at commercial ships. It bears noting that whether that task is approached passively (e.g., with defensive escort) or through active counterattack on Hezbollah’s positions ashore, the weapon systems suitable for the problem are the Aegis warships and aircraft carriers Defense Secretary Gates wants fewer of. No less-capable platform can handle the mission.

As Hezbollah’s Nasrallah issues new threats to commercial shipping in the Levant, it’s worth recalling the events of July 2006. During the conflict that summer with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel’s INS Hanit, a Saar-V class corvette, was hit by an anti-ship missile launched by Hezbollah from the Lebanese coast. Haaretz reported that a Cambodian-flagged freighter was hit by another missile in the same July 14 attack. The freighter sank afterward; its Egyptian crewmen were rescued from the Mediterranean, but four Israelis were killed in the attack on Hanit.

Austin Bay, who writes frequently on defense matters, posted this excellent analysis of the shipping attacks at his blog. The missiles Hezbollah used were a Chinese-designed C802 cruise missile, which Iran has produced for a number of years as the “Noor” missile, and the Iranian “Kosar” version of the Chinese C701 missile.

No question remains as to whether Iran has supplied anti-ship missiles to Hezbollah. The only question is whether Hezbollah is now being supplied with Iran’s newer anti-ship missiles. China and Iran launched a production facility in March 2010 for the “Nasr” missile, Iran’s version of the Chinese C704, a newer cruise missile with a passive homing capability. Iran’s navy fired the Nasr missile in its Persian Gulf exercise in April, a move similar to the introduction of the Kosar missile in the major naval exercise in April of 2006. Three months after that 2006 exercise, Hezbollah used the Kosar off the coast of Lebanon.

Israeli warships can defend themselves against Hezbollah’s cruise missiles. Hanit’s failure to do so was attributed to the constraints of an Israeli forces operating policy, which had been put in place to prevent unintentional firing on friendly aircraft.

But merchantmen have no defense against such weapons. Nasrallah’s threat is far from empty, as Hezbollah has already proved. The coastal region off Lebanon and Israel, through which ships approach the Suez Canal, is one of the busiest in the world. The likelihood is very real that the U.S. will find it necessary to take action if Hezbollah starts launching missiles at commercial ships. It bears noting that whether that task is approached passively (e.g., with defensive escort) or through active counterattack on Hezbollah’s positions ashore, the weapon systems suitable for the problem are the Aegis warships and aircraft carriers Defense Secretary Gates wants fewer of. No less-capable platform can handle the mission.

Read Less




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