Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hamas

Re: About That Gaza Humanitarian Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About That Gaza Humanitarian Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Will Hamas Relocate to Turkey?

Hamas is a terrorist group in search of a home. Uprooted by the Syrian civil war, and shaken by the Egyptian coup, the Hamas leadership has taken temporary shelter in Qatar, but that tiny emirate is showing every sign that they want the Islamist radicals to move on. So where would a radical Islamist terrorist group dedicated to the eradication of the State of Israel and whose charter endorses the crudest anti-Semitism turn? Perhaps to Turkey, America’s NATO ally and a country whose leader President Obama identified as one of his top personal foreign friends. According to Hürriyet Daily News:

The prime ministry in Ankara was the venue for a meeting between the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Khaled Mashaal, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan today. The meeting, which started at 7 p.m. and lasted for three hours, was closed to the press. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, National Intelligence Agency (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan, Deputy Undersecretary for the Prime Minister’s Office İbrahim Kalın and advisor Sefer Turan were also present at the meeting, Anadolu Agency reported. The meeting between Mashaal and Erdoğan came around four months after their latest meeting. It came at a time when rumors suggest that Mashaal, currently in exile in Qatar, is searching for another place to live.

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Hamas is a terrorist group in search of a home. Uprooted by the Syrian civil war, and shaken by the Egyptian coup, the Hamas leadership has taken temporary shelter in Qatar, but that tiny emirate is showing every sign that they want the Islamist radicals to move on. So where would a radical Islamist terrorist group dedicated to the eradication of the State of Israel and whose charter endorses the crudest anti-Semitism turn? Perhaps to Turkey, America’s NATO ally and a country whose leader President Obama identified as one of his top personal foreign friends. According to Hürriyet Daily News:

The prime ministry in Ankara was the venue for a meeting between the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Khaled Mashaal, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan today. The meeting, which started at 7 p.m. and lasted for three hours, was closed to the press. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, National Intelligence Agency (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan, Deputy Undersecretary for the Prime Minister’s Office İbrahim Kalın and advisor Sefer Turan were also present at the meeting, Anadolu Agency reported. The meeting between Mashaal and Erdoğan came around four months after their latest meeting. It came at a time when rumors suggest that Mashaal, currently in exile in Qatar, is searching for another place to live.

It will be interesting to see how many members of the “Caucus on U.S.-Turkey Relations” in the U.S. Congress may realize they will soon be shilling for a terror sponsor in all but formal designation.

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Discrediting the Muslim Brotherhood

Egypt is rarely just about Egypt. So a full conversation about whether to sustain American aid to the military government currently in power in Cairo has to include a widening of the scope to the broader Middle East. The Muslim Brotherhood, which the army deposed in a coup and the recent crackdown, is not just another domestic political party, so its defeat is not just a domestic concern. The Brotherhood represents the recent ascendancy of pan-Islamism that threatens to destabilize any non-Islamist government in the region.

A perfect example of that comes today from Reuters, which reports that Hamas, the Palestinian offshoot of the Brotherhood, is foundering now that its ally next door is out of power. Hamas’s relationship with its Iranian patron was strained by the civil war in Syria, which Iran and its proxies joined on the side of Bashar al-Assad, putting them at ideological odds with Hamas. The Gaza-based terrorist group therefore had arguably the most to lose with the Brotherhood’s exit from power in Egypt.

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Egypt is rarely just about Egypt. So a full conversation about whether to sustain American aid to the military government currently in power in Cairo has to include a widening of the scope to the broader Middle East. The Muslim Brotherhood, which the army deposed in a coup and the recent crackdown, is not just another domestic political party, so its defeat is not just a domestic concern. The Brotherhood represents the recent ascendancy of pan-Islamism that threatens to destabilize any non-Islamist government in the region.

A perfect example of that comes today from Reuters, which reports that Hamas, the Palestinian offshoot of the Brotherhood, is foundering now that its ally next door is out of power. Hamas’s relationship with its Iranian patron was strained by the civil war in Syria, which Iran and its proxies joined on the side of Bashar al-Assad, putting them at ideological odds with Hamas. The Gaza-based terrorist group therefore had arguably the most to lose with the Brotherhood’s exit from power in Egypt.

A weakened Brotherhood means a weakened Hamas, which means a slightly strengthened Fatah in the West Bank, which benefits the peace process and keeps American influence in the region active while Iran struggles to maintain its ability to make mischief in the Palestinian territories while simultaneously distracted in Syria. Additionally, the Reuters story notes that Hamas was relying on funding from the Qatari emir, but the emir’s heir does not seem to be nearly as interested in doling out cash to Hamas. The story also quotes an Israeli analyst arguing that Hamas will have to swallow some of its pride–and principles–to go crawling back to Iran:

Israeli analyst Yaari thought Iran would exact a price for welcoming Hamas back into the fold. “It will require them to stop opposing Assad and stop any criticism of Hezbollah’s intervention (in Syria) and Iranian support of Assad,” he said.

Even so, with the Brotherhood out of power in Egypt Hamas will have far more difficulty smuggling Iranian-funded weapons into the Gaza Strip. The next question, then, is: How much trouble is the Brotherhood in, at least in Egypt? The Washington Post argues today that it is facing “what many are describing as the worst crisis to confront Egypt’s 85-year-old Muslim Brotherhood.”

The primary reason seems to be that the Brotherhood cannot simply go back to its pre-Arab Spring role. Before the presidency of the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, the organization was an underground opposition network that offered a religious alternative to the Mubarak police state. But most importantly, it offered something to the non-Islamists as well. As the Post explains:

The Brotherhood is more than a political or religious group. It has been almost a shadow state in modern Egypt, winning over supporters over the decades with a vast network of charitable services, including dental clinics and thrift shops. It is the “mother of all Islamist movements,” in the words of Shadi Hamid, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Doha Center, having spawned dozens of related groups worldwide since its founding in 1928.

Throughout its history, the Brotherhood has repeatedly clashed with Egypt’s authoritarian governments, enduring arrests, torture and imprisonment. But what’s different now, analysts say, is that it’s battling not only a military-backed government but also the disdain of a broad swath of society. Many Egyptians are irate at Morsi for the country’s economic slide and the rise in crime during his one-year rule. Others complain that the Brotherhood tried to grab power by excluding minority political groups and trying to insulate its decisions from judicial review.

“It’s the first time to see the Muslim Brotherhood in conflict not only with the state — but with the whole of the state, [including] the bureaucracy, and the political elite, and an important part of society. It’s not a limited confrontation,” Rashwan said.

Gaining authority over the most significant and populous Arab country presented the Brotherhood with a classic high-risk, high-reward opportunity. The reward was obvious–power, influence, a certain degree of regional hegemony if not over neighboring governments then over their chief domestic opposition. The risk was that if it didn’t work out, it would not be so simple to go back to the way things were.

In Cairo, it did not work out. The Brotherhood in opposition was able to provide services to a public greatly in need of them, especially since Mubarak’s reign was marked by empty promises of economic reform. But then the Brotherhood came to power and turned its totalitarian oppression on the entire state.

If an Egyptian considered himself an atheist and a socialist, but only had access to dental care because of the Brotherhood, he was likely to still consider the Brotherhood an acceptable, and possibly preferable, alternative to the Egyptian state. That is no longer the case, and it explains why the Brotherhood, whose defeat would greatly benefit the West, is on the ropes.

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Why the Peace Talks Are Private

The resumption of the Middle East peace talks is a major victory for Secretary of State John Kerry, even if no one other than him thinks they have a chance of succeeding. But you may have noticed one curious element of this much-ballyhooed diplomatic event: it’s being conducted almost entirely in private. This might be explained by the need to keep the talks from being blown up by leaks from either the Israelis or the Palestinians that might be designed to embarrass the other side. But rather than the blackout being imposed by a State Department determined to push the uphill slog to peace without interruption from the press, the request for privacy came only from the Palestinians. The purpose of that desire for secrecy tells us a lot more about why the talks are fated not to succeed than they do about either side’s will to negotiate.

As Khaled Abu Toameh points out in an article written for the Gatestone Institute, the point of keeping the press away from the talks is not so that they can be conducted without interference so much as it is to save the negotiators–and the Palestinian Authority that sent them–from the outrage of a Palestinian public that wants no part of any measure that smacks of coexistence with the Jewish state. Whether or not PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his lead negotiator Saeb Erekat are sincere about wanting an agreement that will end the conflict, after two decades of efforts to demonize the Israelis and make cooperation impossible, they fear that any publicity about the talks will create a devastating backlash. Far from anti-peace sentiment being the work solely of their Hamas rivals, the PLO council dominated by Abbas’s Fatah Party is making it clear it will oppose any agreement.

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The resumption of the Middle East peace talks is a major victory for Secretary of State John Kerry, even if no one other than him thinks they have a chance of succeeding. But you may have noticed one curious element of this much-ballyhooed diplomatic event: it’s being conducted almost entirely in private. This might be explained by the need to keep the talks from being blown up by leaks from either the Israelis or the Palestinians that might be designed to embarrass the other side. But rather than the blackout being imposed by a State Department determined to push the uphill slog to peace without interruption from the press, the request for privacy came only from the Palestinians. The purpose of that desire for secrecy tells us a lot more about why the talks are fated not to succeed than they do about either side’s will to negotiate.

As Khaled Abu Toameh points out in an article written for the Gatestone Institute, the point of keeping the press away from the talks is not so that they can be conducted without interference so much as it is to save the negotiators–and the Palestinian Authority that sent them–from the outrage of a Palestinian public that wants no part of any measure that smacks of coexistence with the Jewish state. Whether or not PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his lead negotiator Saeb Erekat are sincere about wanting an agreement that will end the conflict, after two decades of efforts to demonize the Israelis and make cooperation impossible, they fear that any publicity about the talks will create a devastating backlash. Far from anti-peace sentiment being the work solely of their Hamas rivals, the PLO council dominated by Abbas’s Fatah Party is making it clear it will oppose any agreement.

The reason for the widespread Palestinian opposition to any accord is rooted in a definition of Palestinian nationalism that is incompatible with compromise with Zionism. Since the Palestinian movement grew up primarily by opposing the return of the Jews to the country, the notion of a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel is anathema under almost any conditions. Even if Israel’s maximum concessions increased to the point where they matched the Palestinians’ minimum terms for peace, that would still entail giving up the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees and grant legitimacy to a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. And that is something most Palestinians are still unwilling to do.

But more than that is the nature of the Palestinian political culture that has grown up in the wake of the 1993 Oslo Accords. As Abu Toameh rightly notes, most Palestinians are intolerant of any sort of cooperation with Israelis to the point where they oppose even competitions between youth soccer teams. Thus, the debate about the talks is not so much about the terms of peace as it is about the “crime” of talking with Israelis.

Unfortunately, even if the talks were to bring the two sides closer, this means that any tentative agreement is bound to be abandoned by the PA before it is brought before the people for the same reason that Yasir Arafat said no to a Palestinian state in 2000 and 2001 and Abbas fled the negotiations in 2008 when he was offered an even sweeter deal. Since not even a powerful leader like Arafat felt he could survive peace, there is no reason to think Abbas thinks differently and everything he has done in office confirms that supposition. Having not only failed to prepare the Palestinian people for peace but fomented more hatred for Jews and Israel, it is inconceivable that anything offered by the Netanyahu government would be enough to make Abbas think he could dare to sign on the dotted line.

Seen in this context the lack of cameras at the opening of the talks is not a sign of seriousness. It is an indication that the Palestinians are still not ready to make peace.

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Hamas Can’t Be Wished Away in Gaza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hamas Still Has Peace Veto

There has been a lot cheerleading in the media the last few days for Secretary of State John Kerry and the new Middle East peace negotiations he has sponsored. While expectations that the talks will lead to peace couldn’t be lower, the main narrative explaining that tends to stick with the notion that neither Israel nor the Palestinians really want peace. That piece of conventional wisdom is generally false since it is based on a false moral equivalence between the position of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu has been offering peace talks without preconditions for years and signed (and kept) peace agreements with Yasir Arafat during his first term in office. Abbas has already turned down a far more generous peace deal in 2008 than anybody can imagine him getting this time around.

But as wrongheaded as the attempts to preemptively blame Netanyahu for the inevitable failure of the talks are, the real mistake in most coverage of this event is the omission of the one factor that by definition makes an agreement impossible: Hamas. The problem with Abbas is not just that he isn’t really interested in genuine peace or that he is in the ninth year of the four-year presidential term for which he was elected. It’s that he and his Fatah Party-run PLO don’t speak for the 40 percent of Palestinians living in Gaza who are ruled by Hamas. While Politico deserves some credit for highlighting this crucial factor in an article today, it has been relegated to a footnote elsewhere. The problem is not just that Hamas doesn’t recognize Israel’s existence or its right to exist. It’s that Hamas is already running an independent Palestinian state in all but name right now and thus maintains a functional veto over anything that Abbas might sign, assuming, of course, that Abbas signs anything. While some may see this as a reason to lift the boycott of the terrorist movement, what it really means is that peace is simply impossible so long as Hamas is left in place.

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There has been a lot cheerleading in the media the last few days for Secretary of State John Kerry and the new Middle East peace negotiations he has sponsored. While expectations that the talks will lead to peace couldn’t be lower, the main narrative explaining that tends to stick with the notion that neither Israel nor the Palestinians really want peace. That piece of conventional wisdom is generally false since it is based on a false moral equivalence between the position of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu has been offering peace talks without preconditions for years and signed (and kept) peace agreements with Yasir Arafat during his first term in office. Abbas has already turned down a far more generous peace deal in 2008 than anybody can imagine him getting this time around.

But as wrongheaded as the attempts to preemptively blame Netanyahu for the inevitable failure of the talks are, the real mistake in most coverage of this event is the omission of the one factor that by definition makes an agreement impossible: Hamas. The problem with Abbas is not just that he isn’t really interested in genuine peace or that he is in the ninth year of the four-year presidential term for which he was elected. It’s that he and his Fatah Party-run PLO don’t speak for the 40 percent of Palestinians living in Gaza who are ruled by Hamas. While Politico deserves some credit for highlighting this crucial factor in an article today, it has been relegated to a footnote elsewhere. The problem is not just that Hamas doesn’t recognize Israel’s existence or its right to exist. It’s that Hamas is already running an independent Palestinian state in all but name right now and thus maintains a functional veto over anything that Abbas might sign, assuming, of course, that Abbas signs anything. While some may see this as a reason to lift the boycott of the terrorist movement, what it really means is that peace is simply impossible so long as Hamas is left in place.

Peace process optimists acknowledge the absence of Hamas at the table but say it is irrelevant. Their argument claims that Hamas has already implicitly recognized Israel via indirect cease fire talks following bouts of fighting along the border, and that the Islamist group has effectively ceded responsibility for negotiating with the Jewish state to Abbas and Fatah. But these are merely tactical steps that do nothing to change Hamas’s worldview or its purpose.

Those who see the two movements as somehow complementing each other ignore the fact that Fatah and Hamas remain locked in a death struggle over control of Palestinian politics. The main currency in that competition remains violence against Israel and fidelity to the guiding principles of Palestinian nationalism, the chief of which is rejection of Israel’s legitimacy.

The dynamic of Israeli politics is such that the overwhelming majority of Israelis are likely to support any peace deal that promises an end to the conflict, as they did in 1993 when the Oslo Accords were signed. But if Abbas ever presents a deal to his people that will, as it must, preserve Israel’s existence as a Jewish state and put an end to the fantasy of a “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees, he will be handing his own head on a platter to Hamas. As has been pointed out numerous times over the last decade, Abbas is much weaker than Yasir Arafat. Yet even the old terrorist didn’t feel he could get away with signing a peace agreement that ended the conflict.

Nor will including Hamas in the talks or an American decision to embrace the Gaza government make it easier for Abbas to deal. Support for this idea is based on Western naïveté and ignorance about the basics of Palestinian politics. Their international legitimization will only strengthen the forces of intolerance and intransigence within Palestinian society that already make peace unlikely.

Twenty years ago, the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin believed that Oslo would empower Arafat and Fatah to take on Hamas and eliminate it, thereby clearing the way for peace. But instead of waging war on the Islamists, Fatah chose instead to continue its own terrorist offensive against Israel. A historic opportunity was lost and the current circumstances don’t appear to offer Abbas the same chance. Until the day comes when either Hamas abandons the Islamist philosophy it inherited from its Muslim Brotherhood mentors or the PA finds a leader with the will to fight Hamas, the chances for peace are minimal. It is this Hamas factor, and not Netanyahu’s toughness or even the chance that he will weaken, that remains the obstacle to peace for which Kerry has no solution.

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Obama and Egypt’s Hamas Connection

The Obama administration’s ambivalence about the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt has been obvious. This week, it tiptoed up to the brink of cutting off aid to the Egyptian military that had ousted President Mohammed Morsi but it stopped short of taking that drastic step. Rather than do something that would jeopardize the new government’s stability and send a message that Washington was determined to oust it, Obama and made do with a gesture that would satisfy its desire to express his indignation about the turn of events: the delay of the shipment of four F-16 fighter jets to Cairo. While the administration deserves some restrained applause for at least not doing something to worsen the already dangerous situation in Egypt, the latest developments show that even this slap on the wrist may have been a mistake.

With Brotherhood supporters continuing to take to the streets to demonstrate their anger as violence spread throughout the country, the conflict there has now been exposed as involving not just Egyptian factions but the Hamas terrorists that rule Gaza. And that’s something that Americans looking on from afar ought to be taking into account when they think about where America’s interests lie.

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The Obama administration’s ambivalence about the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt has been obvious. This week, it tiptoed up to the brink of cutting off aid to the Egyptian military that had ousted President Mohammed Morsi but it stopped short of taking that drastic step. Rather than do something that would jeopardize the new government’s stability and send a message that Washington was determined to oust it, Obama and made do with a gesture that would satisfy its desire to express his indignation about the turn of events: the delay of the shipment of four F-16 fighter jets to Cairo. While the administration deserves some restrained applause for at least not doing something to worsen the already dangerous situation in Egypt, the latest developments show that even this slap on the wrist may have been a mistake.

With Brotherhood supporters continuing to take to the streets to demonstrate their anger as violence spread throughout the country, the conflict there has now been exposed as involving not just Egyptian factions but the Hamas terrorists that rule Gaza. And that’s something that Americans looking on from afar ought to be taking into account when they think about where America’s interests lie.

Hamas had hoped to exploit the ascent of Morsi and the Brotherhood last year to expand its ties with Egypt and strengthen its strategic position. That didn’t work out quite as well as they had hoped as Morsi was not eager to further complicate his relationship with the Egyptian military by involving the country in any adventures against Israel. Nor was he eager to allow a free flow of arms into Gaza via the smuggling tunnels from Egypt. But the Brotherhood government still allowed the Sinai to devolve into a Wild West situation that was dangerous to both Israel and Egypt. Despite Morsi’s seeming ambivalence, Hamas was a major beneficiary of the fall of the Mubarak’s regime.

Since ousting Morsi, the military has made it clear that the relatively brief era during which it appeared the Islamist rulers have a friend in Cairo is over. They have shut down the tunnels and closed the border with Gaza. Just as important, the military, which has been holding Morsi under arrest since the coup earlier this month, have now charged him with conspiring with Hamas in “hostile acts” against Egypt, a reference to the belief that it was the Islamist terror group’s agents that helped spring him from prison during the last days of Mubarak’s rule while killing police officers and military personnel.

The point is, the new government in Cairo may well have come to power in a coup (though the U.S. is careful not to call it one since that would make it impossible to continue to keep aid flowing) and not be democratic. But it has saved the country from falling, perhaps irrevocably into the grip of an Islamist regime that would have transformed the nation in ways that would have created an era of oppression for liberal and secular Egyptians. Just as important, though there will be no thawing of the ice-cold peace with Israel, the new rulers have shut off Hamas from a source of aid and political influence. The coup not only has preserved peace with Israel but it will make it even harder for Hamas to destabilize the region.

Viewed from this context there is no good reason for the Obama administration to go on sulking about Morsi’s departure or exerting pressure on the Egyptian military to include the Brotherhood in a new government or free Morsi to plot new mayhem in Cairo. If Hamas knows which side it is on in the struggle over Egypt’s future, President Obama should realize there shouldn’t be any doubt about whom the U.S. should be backing.

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Guess Who’s Welcome in the White House?

In 2009, the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center named Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah as one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world. The cleric has also worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on what are said to be global health issues. So perhaps there is nothing wrong about him attending a meeting at the White House on June 13 to confer with Obama administration officials, including some of the members of the National Security Council. Or so the administration thought. As it turns out, Sheikh Bin Bayyah’s resume is a little longer than that short list of distinctions. As Steven Emerson and John Rossomando of The Investigative Project reported on Wednesday, as vice president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, he’s also a leading supporter of Hamas and endorsed Islamist terrorism against U.S. troops in Iraq. If that isn’t enough, he’s also a disciple of radical Egyptian cleric Yusuf Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who is banned from the U.S. as a result of his repeated calls for the murder of both Jews and Americans.

So what exactly was the Obama administration thinking when it not only granted him a visa to come to the United States but actually invited him to the White house to confer with administration officials to discuss what we are told are issues relating to poverty, global health and to encourage him to continue speaking ill of al-Qaeda? While that last point may make the decision to embrace Bin Bayyah seem defensible, how is it possible that a known supporter of a group the U.S. has itself labeled as a terrorist organization, and whose record includes a long list of statements about the need to oppose U.S. policies, would be considered a proper advisor to people at the highest level of the American security establishment?

Unfortunately, the answer to these questions makes no more sense than administration replies to queries about why they have embraced the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt and why President Obama treats Turkey’s Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as if he’s his best friend.

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In 2009, the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center named Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah as one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world. The cleric has also worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on what are said to be global health issues. So perhaps there is nothing wrong about him attending a meeting at the White House on June 13 to confer with Obama administration officials, including some of the members of the National Security Council. Or so the administration thought. As it turns out, Sheikh Bin Bayyah’s resume is a little longer than that short list of distinctions. As Steven Emerson and John Rossomando of The Investigative Project reported on Wednesday, as vice president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, he’s also a leading supporter of Hamas and endorsed Islamist terrorism against U.S. troops in Iraq. If that isn’t enough, he’s also a disciple of radical Egyptian cleric Yusuf Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who is banned from the U.S. as a result of his repeated calls for the murder of both Jews and Americans.

So what exactly was the Obama administration thinking when it not only granted him a visa to come to the United States but actually invited him to the White house to confer with administration officials to discuss what we are told are issues relating to poverty, global health and to encourage him to continue speaking ill of al-Qaeda? While that last point may make the decision to embrace Bin Bayyah seem defensible, how is it possible that a known supporter of a group the U.S. has itself labeled as a terrorist organization, and whose record includes a long list of statements about the need to oppose U.S. policies, would be considered a proper advisor to people at the highest level of the American security establishment?

Unfortunately, the answer to these questions makes no more sense than administration replies to queries about why they have embraced the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt and why President Obama treats Turkey’s Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as if he’s his best friend.

Lest there be any doubt about Bin Bayyah’s presence in the White House, a “senior Obama administration official confirmed to Fox News that the meeting took place. But the fact that Bin Bayyah had already posted a photo of the meeting on his Web site, there was no need for anybody to go digging through the log of visitors to the White House.

The Investigative Project details Bin Bayyah’s record at length, but suffice it to say that despite a recent willingness to oppose al-Qaeda, his record on terrorism and radical Islamism should have rendered him off limits for entry to the United States, let alone being allowed to waltz into the White House.

While the Obama administration has developed an altogether commendable record on killing terrorists in the field, its weakness for some radical clerics and Islamist political parties in the Middle East has compromised its ability to think clearly about Egypt and Turkey. If the likes of Bin Bayyah are welcome in the White House, it’s little wonder the president and his foreign policy team have been unable to put forward a coherent policy on dealing with the problems of the Middle East.

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Gaza Illustrates Palestinian Statehood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Newseum Backtracks on Hamas Honor

After first defending its decision to honor two members of the Hamas terrorist organization, the Newseum–a museum dedicated to the media, located in Washington D.C.–seems to have reversed course. On Friday, I wrote about the museum’s exhibit honoring journalists killed on the job, and the inclusion on that list of two Hamas members who did propaganda work for the terrorist group who were killed in Hamas’s latest round of fighting with Israel.

The Newseum’s first instinct was to try to justify including the Hamasniks in the memorial, telling the Washington Free Beacon that they had the letters “TV” on the car they were in. Therefore, they said, the two men were journalists. This was ridiculous, and apparently as soon as they said it they realized just how silly it was and began the process of reconsidering. They were also criticized by a range of organizations who opposed honoring terrorists posing as journalists. Now, reports the Free Beacon, the Newseum’s leadership has decided to drop the terrorists from the exhibit–probably:

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After first defending its decision to honor two members of the Hamas terrorist organization, the Newseum–a museum dedicated to the media, located in Washington D.C.–seems to have reversed course. On Friday, I wrote about the museum’s exhibit honoring journalists killed on the job, and the inclusion on that list of two Hamas members who did propaganda work for the terrorist group who were killed in Hamas’s latest round of fighting with Israel.

The Newseum’s first instinct was to try to justify including the Hamasniks in the memorial, telling the Washington Free Beacon that they had the letters “TV” on the car they were in. Therefore, they said, the two men were journalists. This was ridiculous, and apparently as soon as they said it they realized just how silly it was and began the process of reconsidering. They were also criticized by a range of organizations who opposed honoring terrorists posing as journalists. Now, reports the Free Beacon, the Newseum’s leadership has decided to drop the terrorists from the exhibit–probably:

Cathy Trost, the Newseum’s vice president of exhibits, programs, and media relations, told the Free Beacon that the two Hamas operatives in question could be included in the Journalist’s Memorial at a future ceremony.

“The process is that serious questions were raised and we’re going to look in to the nature of their work,” Trost told the Free Beacon following the ceremony. “Based on a pending investigation, yes,” the two could be included in the memorial.

“We’ll look into the nature of their work,” Trost said. “We’re reevaluating.”

Since “the nature of [Hamas’s propaganda] work” is really quite horrifying, it’s doubtful the Newseum will reverse its reversal. The Newseum is treating this as a bit of a teaching moment about the need to double-check first impressions in the fog of war, but not everyone was thrilled about the way that debate took shape. After Foundation for Defense of Democracies President Cliff May suggested FDD would move a conference planned for the Newseum to a new venue, the Washington Post’s Max Fisher tweeted:

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Fisher elaborated today in a blog post after the Newseum backed away from the Hamasniks, and raised the question of where the line should be drawn delineating who is a legitimate journalist and who isn’t. Journalists working for state-run media, Fisher noted, pose a challenge. But he suggested perhaps they should get the benefit of the doubt that, say, a Voice of America reporter gets, or even an NBC news anchor when there’s a possible conflict of interest with the station’s corporate owners:

But there are three important caveats to that case for including them in the Newseum honor. First, sometimes we do consider journalists with state-owned outlets to be serving the interests of their ownership over journalistic principle; for example, few would argue that the scribes at Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency are much more than propagandists (al-Aqsa is not KCNA, but neither is it the BBC). Second, journalists in the employ of combatants are sometimes considered components of that military force: this might include, as the writer Andrew Exum has argued, Serbian state media that helped incite ethnic violence in 1999; it might also include uniformed army soldiers who carry cameras, such as Goldberg’s hypothetical Israeli military cameraman. Third, though the Al-Aqsa cameraman were not uniformed, both Hamas and Al-Aqsa are classified by the U.S. government as terrorist organizations, so perhaps the line between journalist and combatant is easier to cross when you’re employed by such people.

That last detail is what makes the case of Hamas pretty clear cut. Hamas is a designated terrorist organization, and the members of Hamas who sometimes drove around in a car that said “TV” were terrorists. They were killed during their organization’s attempt to annihilate the Jewish state. Fisher may be a bit generous to BBC reporters when assuming their accuracy or integrity but for all the BBC’s failings, it is not a terrorist organization.

The question of whether a Hamas terrorist is a journalist is not an interesting one, but the question when applied more generally is interesting, and important. We do, after all, have “shield” laws which are meant to absolve a reporter, in most cases, from having to divulge a source even under legal pressure–a right not given to most citizens. So who gets that right? It’s a challenging question to answer, and can even undermine the shield laws themselves. For example, having spent part of my career as a newspaper reporter and editor, I am sympathetic to the journalistic value of being able to protect a source. But I’ve never been thrilled about the prospect of letting the government–which, after all, is generally the entity pressuring reporters to give up their sources or go to prison–choose who gets that designation.

The Newseum didn’t need to dive too deeply into the question because this was an open and shut case. Additionally, the Free Beacon’s report has the other way the Newseum could have figured out the answer to this one: the full-page advertisement it took out for the exhibit features the following text: “Some were targeted deliberately while others were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. All were working to expand the reach of a free press around the world.”

How the Newseum could ever think to justify applying that description to Hamas propagandists, who are absolutely working against the establishment of a free press everywhere it can, we’ll never know. If they truly have dropped the Hamasniks from their exhibit, they made the right call. But by the Newseum’s own criteria, those two names should never have been on the list to begin with.

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Newseum Puts Journalists at Risk by Honoring Terrorists

There were many lessons about the double-standards to which the world subjects Israel that were illuminated by the reaction to the deaths of two Hamas members posing as journalists during November’s hostilities in Gaza. Alana Goodman had covered the controversy extensively for COMMENTARY, criticizing New York Times scribe David Carr for not only pushing the line that the men were merely journalists caught up in the line of fire but then, when corrected, refusing to retract the story. Instead, he defended himself by saying that other organizations also referred to the Hamas men as journalists.

I noted in a follow-up that one such organization, Reporters Without Borders, penalized Israel in its annual survey of media freedom for killing the Hamasniks. One lesson in all this was the bias and unconscionably low standards of both the press and activist organizations that cover Israel. But another–and very important–lesson was this: Allowing terrorists to masquerade as journalists and then celebrating their “work” in war zones will almost surely put all journalists at much greater risk by blurring the lines that should keep them safe and treating terrorists as media martyrs. And it would be difficult to argue with the use of the term “martyr” here after Daniel Halper’s scoop yesterday that the two Hamasniks are being honored as such–by the Newseum:

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There were many lessons about the double-standards to which the world subjects Israel that were illuminated by the reaction to the deaths of two Hamas members posing as journalists during November’s hostilities in Gaza. Alana Goodman had covered the controversy extensively for COMMENTARY, criticizing New York Times scribe David Carr for not only pushing the line that the men were merely journalists caught up in the line of fire but then, when corrected, refusing to retract the story. Instead, he defended himself by saying that other organizations also referred to the Hamas men as journalists.

I noted in a follow-up that one such organization, Reporters Without Borders, penalized Israel in its annual survey of media freedom for killing the Hamasniks. One lesson in all this was the bias and unconscionably low standards of both the press and activist organizations that cover Israel. But another–and very important–lesson was this: Allowing terrorists to masquerade as journalists and then celebrating their “work” in war zones will almost surely put all journalists at much greater risk by blurring the lines that should keep them safe and treating terrorists as media martyrs. And it would be difficult to argue with the use of the term “martyr” here after Daniel Halper’s scoop yesterday that the two Hamasniks are being honored as such–by the Newseum:

The Newseum, a museum in Washington, D.C. that chronicles the news industry, plans to add two dead terrorists to its “Journalists Memorial.”  The announcement to include these terrorists on the memorial, which “pays tribute to reporters, photographers and broadcasters who have died reporting the news,” was made on the Newseum’s website.

The terrorists the Newseum plans to honor are former members of the terrorist group Hamas, Mahmoud Al-Kumi and Hussam Salama.

This kind of event manages to be both appalling and unsurprising. Appalling, because the Newseum should not be in the habit of honoring terrorists, and doing so will only further encourage the Palestinian tradition of doing the same. Unsurprising, because the Newseum is, at its heart, a florid love letter from the media to itself; a towering monument built to house an ego that has already far outgrown it; an anachronistic altar to flatter, please and serve the god of self.

And most of all, the journalists of the Western world refuse to draw the line between partisan and press because they themselves crossed that line so long ago they wouldn’t know how to truly tell the difference. They may go into the war zone with a camera mounted on their shoulder instead of a rocket launcher, but they increasingly refuse to pretend their mission isn’t also the defeat of one side at the hands of the other.

All of which helps explain the Newseum’s reaction to the outrage engendered by their decision. Buzzfeed reported today that the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where I was a national security fellow in 2011, was strongly considering moving its annual conference, which had originally been planned for the Newseum, to another location. The framing of the story is just as interesting. Buzzfeed begins the piece: “A pro-Israel think tank in Washington is so concerned over the Newseum’s honoring of two slain Palestinian journalists with links to Hamas that they may consider pulling their annual policy summit from the venue.”

It’s telling that objecting to honoring terrorists makes one “pro-Israel”; I’m guessing outside of the media most Americans would consider that an American value statement as well. FDD President Cliff May explained this to Buzzfeed “in a follow-up email,” which suggests, amazingly, that it needed clearing up. In any event, the Newseum defended itself in a statement to the Free Beacon:

“Hussam Salama and Mahmoud Al-Kumi were cameramen in a car clearly marked ‘TV,’” Newseum spokesman Scott Williams told the Free Beacon via email. “The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers all consider these men journalists killed in the line duty.”

Got that? The letters “TV” appeared on the car, so they were clearly journalists. Let’s think through the implications. In 2006, during Israel’s counteroffensive against Hezbollah in South Lebanon, members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards used ambulances to smuggle weapons and fighters to Hezbollah to kill Israelis. Do we consider them civilian doctors?

The Newseum says that the men killed were identified by NGOs and the media as journalists. The truth, then, is based not on what is said but on who says it. Independent corroboration, fact-checking, diligent investigation–actions that were once considered basic journalism were found by the Western media to be harmful to their cause and discarded, replaced by an appeal to their own authority. And the increased danger this puts on journalists in war zones doesn’t appear to have crossed their minds.

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Morsi’s Egypt and the Lessons of History

As the Cold War began taking shape early in the Truman administration, famed containment advisor George Kennan argued for a middle way between the strident anti-Communism forming on the right and the strategy of appeasement advocated for by the American left. Kennan believed power and psychology, not ideology, were what motivated Soviet behavior, and this required patience from the U.S. “Since world hegemony was impossible in Kennan’s interpretation of history, so, too, was Communist hegemony after World War II,” explains Elizabeth Edwards Spalding.

Kennan had made two very significant mistakes here–mistakes that proved less costly thanks to Harry Truman’s better judgment. First, as we now know, ideology indeed played a major role in Stalin’s policymaking decisions. Second, and more seriously from a policy standpoint, allowing Communism to expand until it reached its own limits and discredited itself would have meant consigning millions of people worldwide to suffer under the experiment. We didn’t have to test Stalinism further to know whether it had to be opposed.

Although there are obviously major differences between the centralized Communist movement radiating out from an empire that covered one-sixth of the world’s land mass and today’s rising tide of Islamism, there are still relevant lessons in Kennan’s mistakes. Western leaders shouldn’t fool themselves about the political ideology of Islamism, and they shouldn’t preach patience to those living under tyranny. And the case of Egypt would be a good place to start learning and applying those lessons.

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As the Cold War began taking shape early in the Truman administration, famed containment advisor George Kennan argued for a middle way between the strident anti-Communism forming on the right and the strategy of appeasement advocated for by the American left. Kennan believed power and psychology, not ideology, were what motivated Soviet behavior, and this required patience from the U.S. “Since world hegemony was impossible in Kennan’s interpretation of history, so, too, was Communist hegemony after World War II,” explains Elizabeth Edwards Spalding.

Kennan had made two very significant mistakes here–mistakes that proved less costly thanks to Harry Truman’s better judgment. First, as we now know, ideology indeed played a major role in Stalin’s policymaking decisions. Second, and more seriously from a policy standpoint, allowing Communism to expand until it reached its own limits and discredited itself would have meant consigning millions of people worldwide to suffer under the experiment. We didn’t have to test Stalinism further to know whether it had to be opposed.

Although there are obviously major differences between the centralized Communist movement radiating out from an empire that covered one-sixth of the world’s land mass and today’s rising tide of Islamism, there are still relevant lessons in Kennan’s mistakes. Western leaders shouldn’t fool themselves about the political ideology of Islamism, and they shouldn’t preach patience to those living under tyranny. And the case of Egypt would be a good place to start learning and applying those lessons.

There have been calls from both right and left to simply let tyrannical Islamist governments fail on their own, and thus naturally ebb away from the scene. The problem with this advice is that, as Iran and Hamas have shown, it’s actually quite difficult for those living under the thumb of Islamist tyranny to get rid of such governments once they have consolidated power whether they successfully govern their country or not. The case of Hamas is instructive since they are an offshoot of the same movement that now governs their Egyptian neighbors, and not only did Hamas end elections in Gaza after taking power but their strength has also been at the root of Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to hold elections in the West Bank. Tyranny can be contagious, even after its harmfulness is exposed.

We certainly have limited influence on such events, but there’s no reason not to use what influence we have here, especially with regard to foreign aid. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, already clear about his anti-Semitism and consolidation of power, is now jailing his critics. That’s why, as the Carnegie Endowment’s Thomas Carothers and Nathan Brown write today in the Washington Post, the U.S. policy of “respecting” Egypt’s new Islamist rulers has outlived any justification. It’s also, they note acidly, not actually respectful of Islamists:

Putting this message into practice will require much sharper, clearer public responses by the White House and State Department to violations of basic democratic and rule-of-law norms. It will mean an end to justifying the Brotherhood’s negative political steps. And the United States should indicate that the possibility of new aid is not isolated from domestic Egyptian political realities.

This tougher line should not be coupled with an embrace of the opposition. U.S. policy should be based on firm support of core democratic principles, not on playing favorites.

Recalibrating the current policy line will require careful nuance. It has to be clear that the United States is not turning against the Brotherhood but is siding more decisively with democracy. The Obama administration must also make it well known to all that it adamantly opposes any military intervention in Egypt’s politics. The United States is understandably sensitive about being accused of an anti-Islamist stance in an Arab world roiling with Islamist activism. Yet showing that Washington is serious about democratic standards with new Islamist actors in power is ultimately a greater sign of respect for them than excusing their shortcomings and lowering our expectations.

This is an argument that has been made repeatedly in the context of the left’s refusal to hold Palestinians accountable for building state institutions and renouncing terrorism, and it applies here as well. Treating the Abbas or Morsi governments as if they are incapable of upholding basic moral standards is supremely condescending, what is often referred to as the soft bigotry of low expectations.  

And even tacit approval of such behavior won’t exist in a vacuum. It will signal to aspiring dictators–whether Islamist or not–that it doesn’t matter how they seize power or wield it once in office. If the American government is too consumed by a fear of insulting the oppressors to stick up for the oppressed, the world will get more of both.

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What Netanyahu Understands About Qatar

The Washington Post has a story up today gently knocking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for being less than enthusiastic about the resurgence of the Arab Peace Initiative. The Arab plan is slightly improved from its past iterations, but to understand why Netanyahu is so cautious about embracing the plan as an outline for negotiations, the Post story should be read in tandem with Jeffrey Goldberg’s incisive and spot-on portrait of the Qatari government in his latest Bloomberg column.

The setting for the column is a Brookings Institution event to honor Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani. Brookings is, along with Hamas and other sordid outfits in whose company Brookings does not belong, funded by the Qatari government. Goldberg makes plain his discomfort with this. As I wrote in January, Qatar has been playing every side of the Middle East’s various conflicts, most often as a nuisance to American objectives. Goldberg’s whole column is worth reading, but this particular gem sticks out with regard to the Arab peace plan:

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The Washington Post has a story up today gently knocking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for being less than enthusiastic about the resurgence of the Arab Peace Initiative. The Arab plan is slightly improved from its past iterations, but to understand why Netanyahu is so cautious about embracing the plan as an outline for negotiations, the Post story should be read in tandem with Jeffrey Goldberg’s incisive and spot-on portrait of the Qatari government in his latest Bloomberg column.

The setting for the column is a Brookings Institution event to honor Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani. Brookings is, along with Hamas and other sordid outfits in whose company Brookings does not belong, funded by the Qatari government. Goldberg makes plain his discomfort with this. As I wrote in January, Qatar has been playing every side of the Middle East’s various conflicts, most often as a nuisance to American objectives. Goldberg’s whole column is worth reading, but this particular gem sticks out with regard to the Arab peace plan:

For a reality check, I spoke to two administration officials deeply engaged on the Syria question and on Qatar’s role in supporting the rebels. (They requested anonymity to speak freely.) They painted an unpretty picture. The officials were pleased by the role Qatar is playing in the Arab-Israeli peace process, but they were flummoxed by its support for Hamas — which directly undermines the possibility of achieving an equitable two-state solution (Hamas being, as it is, opposed to Israel’s existence). They were also concerned that Qatar may be supporting the most radical Syrian group, the Nusra Front, which is openly affiliated with al-Qaeda.

American officials who are “pleased by the role Qatar is playing in the Arab-Israeli peace process” while also acknowledging that Qatar funds Hamas–a terrorist government that has both the desire and ability to derail any progress on Arab-Israeli peace while constantly putting innocent lives in danger–are being scammed. And far too easily for people who work for the president of the United States.

Goldberg calls Qatar “an attention-starved teenager.” He puts the country’s foreign policy in context: Qatar supports Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and is believed to be funding the most radical Islamist groups in Syria; but Qatar also funds Brookings and hosts U.S. Central Command forward headquarters. Those are strategic calculations, and they are well-placed and well-played. On the diplomatic front, Qatar publicly claims to support Israeli-Palestinian peace while making certain to undermine it in every possible way.

But appearances–and money–are important, especially in a world with vanishing superpower influence. As Moises Naim notes in his new book, The End of Power:

One of the best examples of smaller countries that have used coalitions of the willing, economic diplomacy (i.e. a lot of money), and soft power to advance their interests must surely be Qatar. It led the way in toppling Libya’s Moammar Qaddafi by supplying rebels with money, training, and more than twenty thousand tons of weapons, and called early for the arming of rebels in Syria. It has attempted mediation in Yemen, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and Palestine and–importantly–in Lebanon. Through an $85 billion investment fund, Qatar has bought into businesses from Volkswagen to the Paris St. Germain Football Club. And it is not only behind what is perhaps the most influential new news organization, the network Al Jazeera, but has been building up its reputation as a cultural center with top-rated museums of Islamic and Middle Eastern art as well as high-profile purchases of pieces by the likes of Warhol, Rothko, Cezanne, Koons, and Lichtenstein.

Throwing that kind of money around the worlds of soccer, art, news media, and violent revolution is the mark of a serious player in world affairs. But that doesn’t mean the Qataris are serious about each of those issues, or that the issues themselves are serious. I don’t mean to knock soccer or Cezanne, but simultaneously funding a wave of revolutions and the media on the ground covering them is a far better compass to guide our interpretation of Qatar’s intentions than partying with Brookings or making canned pronouncements that amount to, essentially, “peace is good; the Arabs and Jews should have more of it.”

Thus with regard to the Arab Peace Initiative, Qatar is attempting to play everyone for fools. Netanyahu recognizes this, because he is not a fool. His reaction, then, was to subtly shift attention from what Qatar claims to support–peace–to what it undeniably does support–anti-Semitic terrorist groups and their unending war against Israel, as well as anything that weakens Western influence in the region that creates a vacuum into which Qatar can step. Neither the Obama administration nor the Netanyahu government is put in an easy position by this, but it will not be made any easier by denying the obvious.

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Hamas Schools Teaching Children How to Kill Israelis–with Real Guns

Having complained frequently about the media’s failure to report anything that might detract from their preferred narrative of Israel-as-villain, I’m delighted to discover that one British paper is bucking this trend. The Telegraph ran two articles this week describing the miserable situation in Hamas-run Gaza. And as reporter Phoebe Greenwood makes clear, the culprit isn’t Israel, but the elected Hamas government.

The first describes how Hamas has introduced military training into the curriculum of Gaza high schools–after having previously excised sports from said curriculum on the grounds that there wasn’t time for it. The mandatory weekly classes include learning how to shoot a Kalashnikov rifle; students who so choose can learn more advanced skills, like throwing grenades, at optional two-week camps. The article also includes video footage of Hamas militants demonstrating their skills for the students on a school playground: They carry out a mock raid on an Israel Defense Forces outpost, killing one soldier and capturing another, then demolish the outpost with a rocket-propelled grenade.

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Having complained frequently about the media’s failure to report anything that might detract from their preferred narrative of Israel-as-villain, I’m delighted to discover that one British paper is bucking this trend. The Telegraph ran two articles this week describing the miserable situation in Hamas-run Gaza. And as reporter Phoebe Greenwood makes clear, the culprit isn’t Israel, but the elected Hamas government.

The first describes how Hamas has introduced military training into the curriculum of Gaza high schools–after having previously excised sports from said curriculum on the grounds that there wasn’t time for it. The mandatory weekly classes include learning how to shoot a Kalashnikov rifle; students who so choose can learn more advanced skills, like throwing grenades, at optional two-week camps. The article also includes video footage of Hamas militants demonstrating their skills for the students on a school playground: They carry out a mock raid on an Israel Defense Forces outpost, killing one soldier and capturing another, then demolish the outpost with a rocket-propelled grenade.

Needless to say, educating schoolchildren to view Israelis solely through the sights of a rifle doesn’t contribute to peaceful coexistence. And as Samar Zakout of the Gaza-based human rights groups Al Mezan noted, it also willfully endangers the students: If Hamas is using schools as military training bases, they could become targets for Israeli airstrikes in a future conflict.

But Hamas also engages in more direct forms of abuse, as Greenwood’s second article makes clear. It describes the victims of Hamas’s modesty patrols. In April alone, police arrested “at least 41 men” for crimes such as wearing low-slung pants or putting gel in their hair. Most were brutally beaten; they also had their heads forcibly shaved. One victim described being dragged into a police station and seeing “a mountain of hair, it looked like it had been shaved from 300 heads.” Another described being beaten on the soles of his feet with a plastic rod “for at least five minutes. I was crying and screaming with agony. It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt.”

Yet Greenwood’s articles, unsparing though they are, still leave out one crucial point: The situation isn’t much better in the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank. There, too, Palestinians are subject to arbitrary arrest for such crimes as insulting PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Facebook. There, too, Palestinian schoolchildren are taught to view all of Israel, even in the pre-1967 lines, as “stolen” Palestinian land that must be reclaimed someday. There, too, murderers of Israelis, like the one who killed a father of five this week, are glorified as “heroes”; the PA even gave the honor of launching its UN statehood campaign to the proud mother of four sons who are serving a combined 18 life sentences for murdering Israelis. It’s no wonder that, according to a new Pew poll, Palestinians are the biggest supporters of suicide bombings in the Islamic world.

This is the reality journalists and diplomats consistently ignore, because it disrupts their comfortable theory that Israeli-Palestinian peace could be made tomorrow if Israel would just cede a little more territory. But the truth is that Israeli-Palestinian peace will never be made until Palestinian leaders do two things: stop teaching their children that killing Israelis is life’s greatest glory, and start providing their people with a decent life instead.

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Rockets, Hate and Kerry’s Fool’s Errand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Slice of Gazan Life: Baker Bombers

In recent weeks, the New York Times has been working hard to paint those bent on using violence against Israel in the most attractive light as possible. It memorably used the cover story of its Sunday magazine on March 18 to allow a dedicated opponent of Zionism to falsely portray the architects of the next intifada as civil rights advocates. That polemic eclipses their most recent attempt to humanize terrorists, in terms of the story’s political intent. But today’s feature on the latest pastry craze in Gaza is in its own way just as outrageous.

The piece, slugged under the category of “Gaza Journal” with the headline “Ex-Prisoners Bring Taste of West Bank to Gaza,” concerns the activities of two Palestinians who were released from Israeli jails as part of the ransom deal in which kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit was freed. The pair opened a beachfront shop in which they sell a particular dessert that is associated with the West Bank city of Nablus, from which they have been exiled. The Times portrays the two as a couple of Horatio Alger-style strivers who are not only working hard but whose efforts illustrate the fact that Gazans no longer have easy access to the cuisine of Nablus because of Israeli restrictions. But anyone seeking to use this as either an illustration of Israeli perfidy or the pluck of the Palestinians needs to sift through most of the Times pastry puffery to the bottom of the piece to see why Nadu Abu Turki and Hamouda Sala were the guests of the Israeli prison service until their Hamas overlords sprung them: they were both convicted of planting bombs and conspiring to commit murder as members of Hamas terror cells.

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In recent weeks, the New York Times has been working hard to paint those bent on using violence against Israel in the most attractive light as possible. It memorably used the cover story of its Sunday magazine on March 18 to allow a dedicated opponent of Zionism to falsely portray the architects of the next intifada as civil rights advocates. That polemic eclipses their most recent attempt to humanize terrorists, in terms of the story’s political intent. But today’s feature on the latest pastry craze in Gaza is in its own way just as outrageous.

The piece, slugged under the category of “Gaza Journal” with the headline “Ex-Prisoners Bring Taste of West Bank to Gaza,” concerns the activities of two Palestinians who were released from Israeli jails as part of the ransom deal in which kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit was freed. The pair opened a beachfront shop in which they sell a particular dessert that is associated with the West Bank city of Nablus, from which they have been exiled. The Times portrays the two as a couple of Horatio Alger-style strivers who are not only working hard but whose efforts illustrate the fact that Gazans no longer have easy access to the cuisine of Nablus because of Israeli restrictions. But anyone seeking to use this as either an illustration of Israeli perfidy or the pluck of the Palestinians needs to sift through most of the Times pastry puffery to the bottom of the piece to see why Nadu Abu Turki and Hamouda Sala were the guests of the Israeli prison service until their Hamas overlords sprung them: they were both convicted of planting bombs and conspiring to commit murder as members of Hamas terror cells.

The conceit of the piece is to show how plucky Palestinians have adapted to onerous Israeli measures that have prevented people in Gaza from consuming nabulsia, a variant of the kenafeh dessert popular in Nablus. This is a special hardship for those West Bankers whose terrorist activities have led to actions that stranded them in Gaza. So for the apparently not inconsiderable number of homesick bomb builders and snipers stuck in the strip, the two ex-prisoners’ bakery is a godsend.

Were the point of the article to show us how these terrorists have changed their ways and traded murder for pastry, it might have been a tale of redemption. But there is nothing of the sort in the piece. Instead, we are left with the impression that the two dessert-makers are merely biding their time selling nabulsia simply because their main occupation—trying to kill Jews—has been taken away from them by being deposited in Gaza.

As the Times notes toward the bottom of the piece:

For Mr. Abu Turki and Mr. Salah, the kenafeh business represents a kind of re-entry into normal society.

Mr. Abu Turki was convicted by Israel and sentenced to 15 years for conspiracy to murder, stone-throwing, planting a bomb and membership in an illegal organization — the military wing of Hamas — according to an Israel Prison Service list of those released under the Shalit deal.

Mr. Salah, another Hamas member, was sentenced to 22 years for conspiracy to murder, planting a bomb and shooting at people. They were among about 160 released prisoners to be exiled to Gaza.

But nowhere in the piece is there any sign of remorse about their murderous activities or a decision to try something else. The only line in the piece that alludes to their current politics is the comment of one that Gaza is “an open air prison.”

But if those living there resent the fact that they no longer have free access to jobs in Israel or travel to the West Bank, they can thank Abu Turki, Salah and their Hamas overlords for that. The border is closed except for humanitarian cases that receive medical care in Israeli hospitals specifically because Hamas has waged war on the Jewish state, launching terror attacks intended to kidnap, kill and maim people. Also unmentioned in the article is the fact that the Islamist tyranny there has continued to use the strip as a launching pad for rocket fire at Israeli towns and villages.

Peace will be possible when Palestinians give up their dream of destroying Israel—a goal that is integral to Hamas ideology—and concentrate on more productive activities. But so long as Hamas rules Gaza—and seeks to extend their hold to the West Bank—that won’t be possible. Hope will come the day we read stories like this in the Times in which ex-terrorists renounce their past rather than merely grouse about its consequences. The taste of nabulsia can’t wipe away Hamas’s record of terror or the consciences of two bakers with blood on their hands. 

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A Greeting from the Palestinian State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Don’t Let Facts Hinder Israel-Bashing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Misplaced Faith in Abbas

Ben Birnbaum’s thoughtful, well-reported piece on the Israeli peace process is one of those articles that can easily be interpreted as in accordance with anyone’s preexisting worldview: it’s a Rorschach. If you think Mahmoud Abbas is primarily responsible for the lack of peace, that will be confirmed by the description of Ehud Olmert practically begging him to take an incredibly generous deal and Abbas walking away. If you think Olmert is to blame for offering a peace plan on which he could not follow through simply to save his reputation as he prepared to leave office under a cloud of scandal and an approval rating close to zero, you will shake your head at the desperation he showed.

If you think Olmert and Abbas were peacemakers surrounded by petty schemers, you will not be convinced otherwise as you read of Tzipi Livni’s advisors telling Abbas not to take the deal so she could swoop in and claim the glory for herself, or by the same old mindless and manipulative game being played by “advisors” and “negotiators” on the Palestinian side who have been there forever and a day. (The Israeli names change over time, but the Palestinian names are always Mahmoud Abbas, Saeb Erekat, and Hanan Ashrawi.) So that’s the politicians; what about the people? In Israel, the people support peace, Birnbaum reports. The Palestinian people, however–that’s another story. Birnbaum chooses a delicate framing when he references a recent poll that “showed Palestinians preferred Hamas’s approach to ending the Israeli occupation over that of Abbas by a two-to-one margin.” I’m sure everyone can imagine what “Hamas’s approach” would mean, but for the record here’s the actual question from that poll (results, from left to right, are: total, in the West Bank, and in Gaza):

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Ben Birnbaum’s thoughtful, well-reported piece on the Israeli peace process is one of those articles that can easily be interpreted as in accordance with anyone’s preexisting worldview: it’s a Rorschach. If you think Mahmoud Abbas is primarily responsible for the lack of peace, that will be confirmed by the description of Ehud Olmert practically begging him to take an incredibly generous deal and Abbas walking away. If you think Olmert is to blame for offering a peace plan on which he could not follow through simply to save his reputation as he prepared to leave office under a cloud of scandal and an approval rating close to zero, you will shake your head at the desperation he showed.

If you think Olmert and Abbas were peacemakers surrounded by petty schemers, you will not be convinced otherwise as you read of Tzipi Livni’s advisors telling Abbas not to take the deal so she could swoop in and claim the glory for herself, or by the same old mindless and manipulative game being played by “advisors” and “negotiators” on the Palestinian side who have been there forever and a day. (The Israeli names change over time, but the Palestinian names are always Mahmoud Abbas, Saeb Erekat, and Hanan Ashrawi.) So that’s the politicians; what about the people? In Israel, the people support peace, Birnbaum reports. The Palestinian people, however–that’s another story. Birnbaum chooses a delicate framing when he references a recent poll that “showed Palestinians preferred Hamas’s approach to ending the Israeli occupation over that of Abbas by a two-to-one margin.” I’m sure everyone can imagine what “Hamas’s approach” would mean, but for the record here’s the actual question from that poll (results, from left to right, are: total, in the West Bank, and in Gaza):

birnbaum

Given the success of Israel’s military counteroffensives against Hamas in Gaza, this is not simply a vote of no confidence. No confidence would be eight or nine steps up from where Abbas and negotiations currently rank among the Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza.

Though the article lays out the case that Abbas is the last chance for peace between the two peoples, it really ends up making a slightly different point: Arafat ruined his would-be country; Abbas is finishing it off for good. That’s because, as Jonathan Schanzer has reported and Birnbaum echoes here, Abbas has no successor. Hamas is waiting in the wings, which is why it may not even matter. Birnbaum went to Gaza, he said, to find the elusive moderate Hamasnik. Here is a quote from the single most moderate Hamas person he spoke to, Ahmed Yousef, when Birnbaum raised the issue of the Jews needing and deserving a safe haven:

“Go to Germany,” he replied curtly. “All the Jews of Europe should go back to their countries. Jews of the Arab world should go back to their towns and cities in the Arab world. We are ready to help them even, to prepare ships.”

Keep that in mind as we are told again and again that there are moderate, pragmatic Hamasniks who understand political reality and need only be given the chance to participate in the process. “Go to Germany” is the nicest thing Hamas has to say.

Abbas’s health is failing, Birnbaum reports, though it’s unclear how quickly. And Fatah is a mess. And Hamas is willing to let the Jews live on the condition they go back to Germany. And yet it is unclear why this is such a compelling case to sign a deal with Abbas. He appears to represent virtually no one, which means there is no one to uphold any deal after Abbas. What could such an agreement be worth, even if miraculously signed?

In fact, for those who said Olmert couldn’t possibly muster the political capital to follow through on his deal–and rightly so–what’s the argument that Abbas could follow through on his end? Sharon at least had Olmert, who tried to keep making concessions. And Olmert had Livni, who tried foolishly to oust Olmert when his back was turned but at least was willing to pick up the peacemaking mantle she attempted to pry from his hands.

Arafat could enforce an agreement, though he’d never sign one. Abbas can’t do either. Birnbaum’s piece makes clear Abbas is avoiding negotiations with Netanyahu, who American advisors told Birnbaum is much more willing to make peace than his critics say. But we already knew that. Abbas has no desire for a true, lasting peace. But we already knew that too.

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