Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hussein

The Public Be Damned

Jonathan noted yesterday that foreign critics are outraged by Israel’s passage of a law this week mandating referenda on certain types of territorial concessions. But their outrage doesn’t hold a candle to that of Israel’s own left.

In today’s editorial, for instance, Haaretz complained bitterly that “the public is being given veto power over crucial decisions on foreign policy and security issues.” By “handcuffing the political leadership’s moves in the peace process,” it charged, Israel is spitting in the world’s face.

Labor Party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak similarly complained that “this is not a good law,” because the world will think “Israel is rejecting peace and is handcuffing itself to avoid progress in the diplomatic process.”

These arguments are mind-boggling. First, why should anyone in the democratic world object to giving the public a say in “crucial decisions on foreign policy and security”? Haaretz’s editors would evidently prefer a dictatorship of Plato’s philosopher-king, with themselves on the throne. But democracies are supposed to give the public a say in crucial decisions.

That’s why Britain, for instance, held a referendum on joining the European Economic Community, while France held one on leaving Algeria. In the U.S., this goal is achieved by requiring treaties to be ratified by a two-thirds Senate majority, which is unachievable without significant bipartisan consensus.

But the even more shocking assumption behind these plaints is that, given a choice, the public would reject any deal likely to be signed — yet the government should sign it anyway, and the public be damned.

Like Jonathan, I think Israelis would in fact support any reasonable agreement. But no reasonable agreement would ever be brought to a referendum, because the law requires a referendum only if an agreement doesn’t pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority. And any reasonable agreement would easily surpass this threshold.

The history of Israeli diplomatic agreements amply proves this point. The treaties with both Egypt and Jordan did pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority, and both, despite producing a colder peace than Israelis hoped, have stood the test of time. In contrast, not a single agreement with the Palestinians ever came close to achieving a two-thirds majority — and every single one has proved a bloody failure.

Nor is this mere coincidence. The Jordanian and Egyptian treaties won sweeping majorities because both countries’ leaders had proved their commitment to peace: Anwar Sadat by his dramatic visit to the Knesset, in defiance of the pan-Arab boycott on Israel, and Jordan’s King Hussein by decades of quiet security cooperation. And both treaties succeeded because these leaders truly wanted peace.

The Palestinian agreements won only narrow majorities because many Israelis weren’t convinced that the Palestinians wanted peace. And these agreements failed because this skepticism proved well-founded.

Thus the referendum law won’t prevent any deal actually worth signing. Nor will it prevent another bad deal on the West Bank, since it applies only to territory annexed by Israel. But it will at least prevent a bad deal over East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. And therefore, its passage is genuine cause for rejoicing.

Jonathan noted yesterday that foreign critics are outraged by Israel’s passage of a law this week mandating referenda on certain types of territorial concessions. But their outrage doesn’t hold a candle to that of Israel’s own left.

In today’s editorial, for instance, Haaretz complained bitterly that “the public is being given veto power over crucial decisions on foreign policy and security issues.” By “handcuffing the political leadership’s moves in the peace process,” it charged, Israel is spitting in the world’s face.

Labor Party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak similarly complained that “this is not a good law,” because the world will think “Israel is rejecting peace and is handcuffing itself to avoid progress in the diplomatic process.”

These arguments are mind-boggling. First, why should anyone in the democratic world object to giving the public a say in “crucial decisions on foreign policy and security”? Haaretz’s editors would evidently prefer a dictatorship of Plato’s philosopher-king, with themselves on the throne. But democracies are supposed to give the public a say in crucial decisions.

That’s why Britain, for instance, held a referendum on joining the European Economic Community, while France held one on leaving Algeria. In the U.S., this goal is achieved by requiring treaties to be ratified by a two-thirds Senate majority, which is unachievable without significant bipartisan consensus.

But the even more shocking assumption behind these plaints is that, given a choice, the public would reject any deal likely to be signed — yet the government should sign it anyway, and the public be damned.

Like Jonathan, I think Israelis would in fact support any reasonable agreement. But no reasonable agreement would ever be brought to a referendum, because the law requires a referendum only if an agreement doesn’t pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority. And any reasonable agreement would easily surpass this threshold.

The history of Israeli diplomatic agreements amply proves this point. The treaties with both Egypt and Jordan did pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority, and both, despite producing a colder peace than Israelis hoped, have stood the test of time. In contrast, not a single agreement with the Palestinians ever came close to achieving a two-thirds majority — and every single one has proved a bloody failure.

Nor is this mere coincidence. The Jordanian and Egyptian treaties won sweeping majorities because both countries’ leaders had proved their commitment to peace: Anwar Sadat by his dramatic visit to the Knesset, in defiance of the pan-Arab boycott on Israel, and Jordan’s King Hussein by decades of quiet security cooperation. And both treaties succeeded because these leaders truly wanted peace.

The Palestinian agreements won only narrow majorities because many Israelis weren’t convinced that the Palestinians wanted peace. And these agreements failed because this skepticism proved well-founded.

Thus the referendum law won’t prevent any deal actually worth signing. Nor will it prevent another bad deal on the West Bank, since it applies only to territory annexed by Israel. But it will at least prevent a bad deal over East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. And therefore, its passage is genuine cause for rejoicing.

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Thoroughly Modern Equestrian and Plural Royal Wife

Say what you will about the liberal bias and the lowered standards of the New York Times, but the Grey Lady can’t be topped for irony, especially when its editorial agenda collides with the lifestyles of the Arab world. A prime example was yesterday’s feature in the paper’s Sunday Sports section about the current head of the International Equestrian Federation, Princess Haya bint al-Hussein. Princess Haya is the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan and the wife of Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. Actually, make that, as the Times puts it, the Sheik’s “junior wife.”

The profile of the fair princess goes all out to portray her as a feminist heroine who rode in the Olympics and defied the conventions of her Islamic homeland by becoming the only woman in Jordan who is licensed to drive heavy trucks. Which is, no doubt, pretty impressive. However, in countries such as Jordan and Dubai, where the government is an extension of the monarch’s whims, the fact that the king lets his tomboy daughter drive trucks says nothing about the way the majority of women are treated.

Nevertheless, the Times was most interested in the princess’s battle for re-election as the head of the equestrian federation. Though this organization has always been led by royalty, such as the Britain’s Prince Phillip, apparently some of its members are now engaging in lèse-majesté, challenging the princess because of her support for legalizing the drugging of horses even though her husband and his son have both been suspended from equestrian competitions for drug violations.

But whatever your opinion might be about drugs and horses, the princess was perfect fodder for the Times’s politicized sports section because of her status as an Arab Muslim and a woman in charge of an international sport (whether rich people riding horses who jump over fences is really a competitive sport is another question). But though reporter Katie Thomas writes breathlessly about the princess’s couture, poise, and her common touch with all the little people she meets in her horsey world, she isn’t terribly curious about what is, to any reader not obsessed with horses or fashion, the most interesting thing about the princess: her polygamous marriage.

Though she notes that the Sheik — who, at 61, is 25 years older than the princess — has a “senior” wife who is the mother to Dubai’s Crown Prince and is “rarely seen,” the question of how you can be a thoroughly modern and seemingly emancipated woman while sharing a husband with another woman is never posed. Instead, we are just supposed to be impressed by the fact that Princess Haya uses a BlackBerry and an iPhone.

The disconnect between the princess’s emancipated life with the patriarchal nature of her marriage is, no doubt, a complicated subject. But this is the same newspaper that reports about American polygamy as a freak show fraught with abuse of both women and children. Yet when confronted with “Big Love” Arab potentates and their trophy second wives who engage in a practice that most Americans rightly consider odious, the Times is prepared to bow and scrape like any courtier.

Say what you will about the liberal bias and the lowered standards of the New York Times, but the Grey Lady can’t be topped for irony, especially when its editorial agenda collides with the lifestyles of the Arab world. A prime example was yesterday’s feature in the paper’s Sunday Sports section about the current head of the International Equestrian Federation, Princess Haya bint al-Hussein. Princess Haya is the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan and the wife of Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. Actually, make that, as the Times puts it, the Sheik’s “junior wife.”

The profile of the fair princess goes all out to portray her as a feminist heroine who rode in the Olympics and defied the conventions of her Islamic homeland by becoming the only woman in Jordan who is licensed to drive heavy trucks. Which is, no doubt, pretty impressive. However, in countries such as Jordan and Dubai, where the government is an extension of the monarch’s whims, the fact that the king lets his tomboy daughter drive trucks says nothing about the way the majority of women are treated.

Nevertheless, the Times was most interested in the princess’s battle for re-election as the head of the equestrian federation. Though this organization has always been led by royalty, such as the Britain’s Prince Phillip, apparently some of its members are now engaging in lèse-majesté, challenging the princess because of her support for legalizing the drugging of horses even though her husband and his son have both been suspended from equestrian competitions for drug violations.

But whatever your opinion might be about drugs and horses, the princess was perfect fodder for the Times’s politicized sports section because of her status as an Arab Muslim and a woman in charge of an international sport (whether rich people riding horses who jump over fences is really a competitive sport is another question). But though reporter Katie Thomas writes breathlessly about the princess’s couture, poise, and her common touch with all the little people she meets in her horsey world, she isn’t terribly curious about what is, to any reader not obsessed with horses or fashion, the most interesting thing about the princess: her polygamous marriage.

Though she notes that the Sheik — who, at 61, is 25 years older than the princess — has a “senior” wife who is the mother to Dubai’s Crown Prince and is “rarely seen,” the question of how you can be a thoroughly modern and seemingly emancipated woman while sharing a husband with another woman is never posed. Instead, we are just supposed to be impressed by the fact that Princess Haya uses a BlackBerry and an iPhone.

The disconnect between the princess’s emancipated life with the patriarchal nature of her marriage is, no doubt, a complicated subject. But this is the same newspaper that reports about American polygamy as a freak show fraught with abuse of both women and children. Yet when confronted with “Big Love” Arab potentates and their trophy second wives who engage in a practice that most Americans rightly consider odious, the Times is prepared to bow and scrape like any courtier.

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Reaction to Murder of Israelis

The White House responds this way to the killing of Israelis on the eve of the “peace talks”:

The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attack today perpetrated by Hamas in which four Israelis were killed in the southern West Bank. We express our condolences to the victims’ families and call for the terrorists behind this horrific act to be brought to justice. We note that the Palestinian Authority has condemned this attack. On the eve of the re-launch of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, this brutal attack underscores how far the enemies of peace will go to try to block progress.  It is crucial that the parties persevere, keep moving forward even through difficult times, and continue working to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region that provides security for all peoples.

A few things of note. First, the woman was in fact pregnant, but the Obami — who value abortion-on-demand above all else — do not mention that death in any way. Second, this is the mindless infatuation with the peace process — all evidence that the Palestinian Authority lacks the ability and the will to enforce a peace deal (should it ever decide to make one) is discounted; in fact, every development becomes further justification for talks. This is how ideologues operate.

I asked an official with a pro-Israel organization about the incident. He, not unlike Judea Pearl, thinks it’s time for Muslims to step up to the plate:

Everyone is wondering if the peace talks will succeed, or, for that matter, if the imam of the 9/11 mosque is a moderate.

Well, here’s a ready test. Do they condemn this senseless violence? The murder of innocents? A pregnant woman? An unborn baby? Three other people?

Where is their voice now? They find it to lash out at Israel. Will they find it in compassion and condemnation of terrorism?  Or will they just cynically make false charges and claim they want peace but opt for something else, like every time before?

But as for the PA, “Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the attack, which was claimed by the armed wing of the Hamas Islamist movement which governs the Gaza Strip. ‘We condemn this operation, which goes against Palestinian interests,’ Fayyad said.” Well, that’s swell — and where was Abbas? And did they repeat it in Arabic to the Palestinian public? The official reminded us:

After Israel and Jordan made peace, a Jordanian soldier tragically opened fire on a field trip of children visiting the “border of peace,” killing several. King Hussein went to the homes of these children, got down on his knees and asked their forgiveness. That is peace. Show me that and I will show you the path to moderate Islam and peace.

Easy prediction: Ehud Barak will make good on his pledge to “exact a price” for the murders. And Muslim leaders will proclaim the action “disproportionate.” We’ve seen this all before. Which is why pursuing the “peace process” — which provokes an upsurge in Israeli deaths — is such a counterproductive exercise.

Oh, and J Street also condemned the attacks — and then ignored the implication of the murders: “It is unfortunately not a surprise that extremists would try to undermine the launch of direct talks. We urge all sides to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control and harming the prospects for peace.” Fellas, the whole thing is out of control, and Abbas can’t or won’t prevent “the situation” — the premeditated slaughter of Jewish innocents — from “harming the prospects for peace.” But come to think of it, there are no prospects.

The White House responds this way to the killing of Israelis on the eve of the “peace talks”:

The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attack today perpetrated by Hamas in which four Israelis were killed in the southern West Bank. We express our condolences to the victims’ families and call for the terrorists behind this horrific act to be brought to justice. We note that the Palestinian Authority has condemned this attack. On the eve of the re-launch of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, this brutal attack underscores how far the enemies of peace will go to try to block progress.  It is crucial that the parties persevere, keep moving forward even through difficult times, and continue working to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region that provides security for all peoples.

A few things of note. First, the woman was in fact pregnant, but the Obami — who value abortion-on-demand above all else — do not mention that death in any way. Second, this is the mindless infatuation with the peace process — all evidence that the Palestinian Authority lacks the ability and the will to enforce a peace deal (should it ever decide to make one) is discounted; in fact, every development becomes further justification for talks. This is how ideologues operate.

I asked an official with a pro-Israel organization about the incident. He, not unlike Judea Pearl, thinks it’s time for Muslims to step up to the plate:

Everyone is wondering if the peace talks will succeed, or, for that matter, if the imam of the 9/11 mosque is a moderate.

Well, here’s a ready test. Do they condemn this senseless violence? The murder of innocents? A pregnant woman? An unborn baby? Three other people?

Where is their voice now? They find it to lash out at Israel. Will they find it in compassion and condemnation of terrorism?  Or will they just cynically make false charges and claim they want peace but opt for something else, like every time before?

But as for the PA, “Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the attack, which was claimed by the armed wing of the Hamas Islamist movement which governs the Gaza Strip. ‘We condemn this operation, which goes against Palestinian interests,’ Fayyad said.” Well, that’s swell — and where was Abbas? And did they repeat it in Arabic to the Palestinian public? The official reminded us:

After Israel and Jordan made peace, a Jordanian soldier tragically opened fire on a field trip of children visiting the “border of peace,” killing several. King Hussein went to the homes of these children, got down on his knees and asked their forgiveness. That is peace. Show me that and I will show you the path to moderate Islam and peace.

Easy prediction: Ehud Barak will make good on his pledge to “exact a price” for the murders. And Muslim leaders will proclaim the action “disproportionate.” We’ve seen this all before. Which is why pursuing the “peace process” — which provokes an upsurge in Israeli deaths — is such a counterproductive exercise.

Oh, and J Street also condemned the attacks — and then ignored the implication of the murders: “It is unfortunately not a surprise that extremists would try to undermine the launch of direct talks. We urge all sides to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control and harming the prospects for peace.” Fellas, the whole thing is out of control, and Abbas can’t or won’t prevent “the situation” — the premeditated slaughter of Jewish innocents — from “harming the prospects for peace.” But come to think of it, there are no prospects.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Another culture — not American — is where you should look for evil, says one of the savviest conservative observers. Back with a bang, she takes issue with Brent Bozell’s invocation of “Satan” to describe American culture: “I, too, believe in evil, and I’d say Satan’s found a far more mellifluous laughing-ground among the Muslims, who please themselves to bury women up to their heads and stone them to death for ‘adultery,’ murder their own daughters for ‘mingling,’ and practice forms of human sacrifice—selling their sons to Pashtun pedophiles, for one, or celebrating their childrens’ deaths in suicide bombings, for another. To name just a few of the ways Islam holds the Satan laugh hand at the moment. So enough with the wah, wah, wah, Brent. Bad as it may be here at culture-rotten central (or not), it’s worse out there among the practitioners of the culture and religion of peace.”

Another terrible ambassador nominated, this time for Turkey. Elliott Abrams explains: “”Especially in 2005 and 2006, Secretary Rice and the Bush administration significantly increased American pressure for greater respect for human rights and progress toward democracy in Egypt. This of course meant pushing the Mubarak regime, arguing with it in private, and sometimes criticizing it in public. In all of this we in Washington found Ambassador [Francis] Ricciardone to be without enthusiasm or energy.” And he was publicly insubordinate.  Other than that, great pick — who can wait in line behind Robert Ford to be confirmed.

Another reason not to take the UN seriously: “When the results of the international investigation into the sinking of the South Korean ship the Cheonan were released in May, the U.S. State Department was adamant that it believed North Korea was responsible — and that the country would have to face some actual punishment for killing 46 innocent South Korea sailors. … Fast forward to today, when the United Nations released a presidential statement which not only does not specify any consequences for the Kim Jong Il regime, but doesn’t even conclude that North Korea was responsible for the attack in the first place.” But the UN is certain the flotilla incident is all Israel’s fault.

Another inconvenient truth for the left: “The Obama administration would quickly send home six Algerians held at the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but for one problem: The men don’t want to go. Given the choice between repatriation and incarceration, the men choose Gitmo, according to their lawyers.”

Another awkward moment for Jewish groups. Obama declares that Israelis don’t like him because of his middle name; American Jewish leaders are mute. But Rep. Peter King isn’t: “‘That’s a terrible cheap shot. … And if he wants to get cute about it, King Hussein of Jordan was one of the best allies Israel ever had.’ … But his middle name ‘has nothing to do with it,’ King said. ‘The fact is that his policies from day one have had an anti-Israel overtone. … He has no one to blame but himself. He should forget his name — that’s just a cheap game and he should knock it off.'”

Another reason to dump Michael Steele: Haley Barbour could take over and would do a boffo job.

Another “Huh?” Clinton moment: he is officiating at the wedding of New York Rep. Anthony Weiner and a Hillary aide. Is he really the guy you want to lead the recitation of your wedding vows?

Another sign of the inherent good sense of the American people: Mark Penn, on the result of a survey for the Aspen Festival of Ideas, writes: “The poll suggests that, while the public may be dissatisfied with recent administrations and the partisan political environment, they remain reasonably satisfied with the governmental framework set out in the Constitution. By 64 to 19 they endorse the system of checks and balances as necessary to prevent one branch from dominating the Government. Freedom of speech was seen as far and away the single most important right guaranteed by the Constitution, and, as a corollary, only 28 percent believe the press has too much freedom.” I guess they don’t buy the suggestion that we are “ungovernable.”

Another outburst – and a reminder that the idea of engaging Iran is ludicrous: “Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad questioned the historic dimensions of the Holocaust but rejected the label of an anti-Semite, the Fars news agency reported Friday. …  Ahmadinejad had earlier sparked international fury by calling for the eradication of Israel from the Middle East and its relocation to Europe or North America and by describing the murders of 6 million European Jews by Germany’s Nazi regime as a ‘fairy tale.’ He said Thursday that the Holocaust was an excuse for Israel and the West to take land away from millions of Palestinians and give it to Israel.” You know the last world leader to argue that the Holocaust was the rationale for creation of the Jewish state was… Barack Obama. Just saying.

Another reason to rethink lifetime Supreme Court appointments: at the Aspen Ideas Festival, “Justice Ginsburg said, ‘I am so glad that Elena is joining us.’ … Calling herself a ‘flaming feminist,’ Ginsburg said, ‘we will never go back’ to the days when abortion was illegal.” Since her mind is closed and her bias is evident, she should recuse herself from gender-discrimination and abortion cases.

Another culture — not American — is where you should look for evil, says one of the savviest conservative observers. Back with a bang, she takes issue with Brent Bozell’s invocation of “Satan” to describe American culture: “I, too, believe in evil, and I’d say Satan’s found a far more mellifluous laughing-ground among the Muslims, who please themselves to bury women up to their heads and stone them to death for ‘adultery,’ murder their own daughters for ‘mingling,’ and practice forms of human sacrifice—selling their sons to Pashtun pedophiles, for one, or celebrating their childrens’ deaths in suicide bombings, for another. To name just a few of the ways Islam holds the Satan laugh hand at the moment. So enough with the wah, wah, wah, Brent. Bad as it may be here at culture-rotten central (or not), it’s worse out there among the practitioners of the culture and religion of peace.”

Another terrible ambassador nominated, this time for Turkey. Elliott Abrams explains: “”Especially in 2005 and 2006, Secretary Rice and the Bush administration significantly increased American pressure for greater respect for human rights and progress toward democracy in Egypt. This of course meant pushing the Mubarak regime, arguing with it in private, and sometimes criticizing it in public. In all of this we in Washington found Ambassador [Francis] Ricciardone to be without enthusiasm or energy.” And he was publicly insubordinate.  Other than that, great pick — who can wait in line behind Robert Ford to be confirmed.

Another reason not to take the UN seriously: “When the results of the international investigation into the sinking of the South Korean ship the Cheonan were released in May, the U.S. State Department was adamant that it believed North Korea was responsible — and that the country would have to face some actual punishment for killing 46 innocent South Korea sailors. … Fast forward to today, when the United Nations released a presidential statement which not only does not specify any consequences for the Kim Jong Il regime, but doesn’t even conclude that North Korea was responsible for the attack in the first place.” But the UN is certain the flotilla incident is all Israel’s fault.

Another inconvenient truth for the left: “The Obama administration would quickly send home six Algerians held at the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but for one problem: The men don’t want to go. Given the choice between repatriation and incarceration, the men choose Gitmo, according to their lawyers.”

Another awkward moment for Jewish groups. Obama declares that Israelis don’t like him because of his middle name; American Jewish leaders are mute. But Rep. Peter King isn’t: “‘That’s a terrible cheap shot. … And if he wants to get cute about it, King Hussein of Jordan was one of the best allies Israel ever had.’ … But his middle name ‘has nothing to do with it,’ King said. ‘The fact is that his policies from day one have had an anti-Israel overtone. … He has no one to blame but himself. He should forget his name — that’s just a cheap game and he should knock it off.'”

Another reason to dump Michael Steele: Haley Barbour could take over and would do a boffo job.

Another “Huh?” Clinton moment: he is officiating at the wedding of New York Rep. Anthony Weiner and a Hillary aide. Is he really the guy you want to lead the recitation of your wedding vows?

Another sign of the inherent good sense of the American people: Mark Penn, on the result of a survey for the Aspen Festival of Ideas, writes: “The poll suggests that, while the public may be dissatisfied with recent administrations and the partisan political environment, they remain reasonably satisfied with the governmental framework set out in the Constitution. By 64 to 19 they endorse the system of checks and balances as necessary to prevent one branch from dominating the Government. Freedom of speech was seen as far and away the single most important right guaranteed by the Constitution, and, as a corollary, only 28 percent believe the press has too much freedom.” I guess they don’t buy the suggestion that we are “ungovernable.”

Another outburst – and a reminder that the idea of engaging Iran is ludicrous: “Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad questioned the historic dimensions of the Holocaust but rejected the label of an anti-Semite, the Fars news agency reported Friday. …  Ahmadinejad had earlier sparked international fury by calling for the eradication of Israel from the Middle East and its relocation to Europe or North America and by describing the murders of 6 million European Jews by Germany’s Nazi regime as a ‘fairy tale.’ He said Thursday that the Holocaust was an excuse for Israel and the West to take land away from millions of Palestinians and give it to Israel.” You know the last world leader to argue that the Holocaust was the rationale for creation of the Jewish state was… Barack Obama. Just saying.

Another reason to rethink lifetime Supreme Court appointments: at the Aspen Ideas Festival, “Justice Ginsburg said, ‘I am so glad that Elena is joining us.’ … Calling herself a ‘flaming feminist,’ Ginsburg said, ‘we will never go back’ to the days when abortion was illegal.” Since her mind is closed and her bias is evident, she should recuse herself from gender-discrimination and abortion cases.

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Speaking Truth to the “Life Lie”

Former Norwegian diplomat Sven Olaf Eid e-mailed a response to my April 20 post about Israel’s Independence Day (“There Could Have Been Two Independence Days”). The post quoted Abba Eban’s 1958 speech to the UN laying responsibility for the Arab refugees on the Arab leaders who had rejected the UN two-state solution in 1947 — and the five Arab countries that sent their armies to destroy the sliver of a Jewish state on the day it declared its independence in 1948.

Mr. Eid wrote that he agreed with the post but wanted to add an important point made in his August 17, 2006, Wall Street Journal letter, which read as follows:

Based on my experience from service with the United Nations in Egypt, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon in the 1950s and ’60s, along with several later visits to the region and lifelong studies of its history, I present the following comments regarding [Lebanon’s] suffering.

The U.N.’s partition of Palestine in 1947 was the only possible, realistic situation. The partition would have come about anyhow due to the situation on the ground. But especially since the U.N. Relief and Works Agency took responsibility for the Arab refugee problem in 1949, the U.N. has represented a hindrance to the peaceful settlement of the partition conflict by taking the responsibility for the refugees from the responsible Arab countries: Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only one of many in the region, but it has since served as the bouc emissaire for all the religious and political problems in the Islamic world.

Much-greater human problems concerning territories and refugees were solved (without the U.N. of course) after World War II. The Arab states, helped by the U.N., are responsible for keeping the Israeli-Palestinian conflict alive and have used it cleverly to overshadow their lack of religious and political will and/or capacity to civilize their societies. The Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was an outstanding exception, and we know what happened to him. Another was King Hussein of Jordan. But apart from that, the absence of statesmen, intellectuals and journalists is remarkable.

The great dramatist Henrik Ibsen described a human phenomenon: livslognen or, here in Spain, la mentira vital. “The life lie”: this bigoted belief that all one’s problems are the fault of others. In my opinion, that very clearly characterizes the Arab world’s general politics since World War II.

Since the 1948 war they started, the Arab states have kept the resulting refugees (and generation after generation of their children) in squalid camps, lest their resettlement be deemed an acceptance of Israel. The refugees in Lebanon have not been given rights to hold property, obtain higher education, or work in numerous professions, much less the right of citizenship in the country in which they have lived all or most of their lives over six decades. Instead, they are kept in a culture of dependency served by UNRWA — a “temporary” UN agency formed in 1949, now a bloated bureaucracy in its seventh decade and funded primarily by the U.S. and other Western countries.

The refugee problem will not be solved by “negotiations” between Israel and Mahmoud Abbas. The solution will require a fundamental change in perspective — one that might begin if a U.S. president were ever to travel to Cairo and call for an end to UNRWA, in a speech that would term the treatment of Arab refugees by Arab countries an affront to human rights, and that would end by challenging the leaders of the Arab countries to “tear down those camps.”

Former Norwegian diplomat Sven Olaf Eid e-mailed a response to my April 20 post about Israel’s Independence Day (“There Could Have Been Two Independence Days”). The post quoted Abba Eban’s 1958 speech to the UN laying responsibility for the Arab refugees on the Arab leaders who had rejected the UN two-state solution in 1947 — and the five Arab countries that sent their armies to destroy the sliver of a Jewish state on the day it declared its independence in 1948.

Mr. Eid wrote that he agreed with the post but wanted to add an important point made in his August 17, 2006, Wall Street Journal letter, which read as follows:

Based on my experience from service with the United Nations in Egypt, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon in the 1950s and ’60s, along with several later visits to the region and lifelong studies of its history, I present the following comments regarding [Lebanon’s] suffering.

The U.N.’s partition of Palestine in 1947 was the only possible, realistic situation. The partition would have come about anyhow due to the situation on the ground. But especially since the U.N. Relief and Works Agency took responsibility for the Arab refugee problem in 1949, the U.N. has represented a hindrance to the peaceful settlement of the partition conflict by taking the responsibility for the refugees from the responsible Arab countries: Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only one of many in the region, but it has since served as the bouc emissaire for all the religious and political problems in the Islamic world.

Much-greater human problems concerning territories and refugees were solved (without the U.N. of course) after World War II. The Arab states, helped by the U.N., are responsible for keeping the Israeli-Palestinian conflict alive and have used it cleverly to overshadow their lack of religious and political will and/or capacity to civilize their societies. The Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was an outstanding exception, and we know what happened to him. Another was King Hussein of Jordan. But apart from that, the absence of statesmen, intellectuals and journalists is remarkable.

The great dramatist Henrik Ibsen described a human phenomenon: livslognen or, here in Spain, la mentira vital. “The life lie”: this bigoted belief that all one’s problems are the fault of others. In my opinion, that very clearly characterizes the Arab world’s general politics since World War II.

Since the 1948 war they started, the Arab states have kept the resulting refugees (and generation after generation of their children) in squalid camps, lest their resettlement be deemed an acceptance of Israel. The refugees in Lebanon have not been given rights to hold property, obtain higher education, or work in numerous professions, much less the right of citizenship in the country in which they have lived all or most of their lives over six decades. Instead, they are kept in a culture of dependency served by UNRWA — a “temporary” UN agency formed in 1949, now a bloated bureaucracy in its seventh decade and funded primarily by the U.S. and other Western countries.

The refugee problem will not be solved by “negotiations” between Israel and Mahmoud Abbas. The solution will require a fundamental change in perspective — one that might begin if a U.S. president were ever to travel to Cairo and call for an end to UNRWA, in a speech that would term the treatment of Arab refugees by Arab countries an affront to human rights, and that would end by challenging the leaders of the Arab countries to “tear down those camps.”

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Re: A Dubai Victory

I’m with Noah Pollak. I fail to see how the rub-out of Hamas leader Muhammad al-Mabhouh in Dubai was a debacle and embarrassment for Israel, as so widely proclaimed. That is the premise of this Wall Street Journal article by Israeli analyst Ronen Bergman. He calls the mission “a diplomatic nightmare for Israel”: “The sovereignty of Dubai was violated, and the passports of four European countries were used for the purpose of committing a crime. Several rows Israel can ill-afford are currently brewing with England, Germany and France.” True, but those rows will blow over. There is a certain ritualistic, not to say hypocritical, aspect to these controversies — since there is little doubt that intelligence operatives of all the countries involved use false passports on occasion. Sometimes even — gasp – they use false passports purportedly issued by other countries. Were Mossad agents supposed to show up in Dubai using Israeli passports?

The bigger point is that Israeli operatives succeeded in killing a dangerous foe and made a clean getaway. Even their identities remain unknown, despite the posting of surveillance video. In short, this was nothing like the attempted assassination of Hamas leader Khalid Mishal in 1997. Now that was a truly bungled operation. Two Mossad agents in Amman injected Mishal with a lethal nerve toxin but they were chased down and caught by his bodyguards. King Hussein of Jordan then forced Israel to provide the antidote; the agents were later released in return for the Israeli release of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas’s founder. Yassin, in turn, was killed by a Hellfire missile fired by an Israeli helicopter in 2004.

Funny how no one seriously objects when U.S. Predators carry out similar hits on al-Qaeda operatives but the whole world is in uproar when the Israelis target members of Hamas — an organization that is morally indistinguishable from al-Qaeda. The Dubai uproar only highlights once again the double standard to which Israel is constantly subjected. But Israel cannot and should not use that double standard as an excuse to avoid taking vital action in its self-defense. The leaders of terrorist organizations are legitimate military targets, and Israel should spare itself the agonizing and hand-wringing over this targeted killing.

I’m with Noah Pollak. I fail to see how the rub-out of Hamas leader Muhammad al-Mabhouh in Dubai was a debacle and embarrassment for Israel, as so widely proclaimed. That is the premise of this Wall Street Journal article by Israeli analyst Ronen Bergman. He calls the mission “a diplomatic nightmare for Israel”: “The sovereignty of Dubai was violated, and the passports of four European countries were used for the purpose of committing a crime. Several rows Israel can ill-afford are currently brewing with England, Germany and France.” True, but those rows will blow over. There is a certain ritualistic, not to say hypocritical, aspect to these controversies — since there is little doubt that intelligence operatives of all the countries involved use false passports on occasion. Sometimes even — gasp – they use false passports purportedly issued by other countries. Were Mossad agents supposed to show up in Dubai using Israeli passports?

The bigger point is that Israeli operatives succeeded in killing a dangerous foe and made a clean getaway. Even their identities remain unknown, despite the posting of surveillance video. In short, this was nothing like the attempted assassination of Hamas leader Khalid Mishal in 1997. Now that was a truly bungled operation. Two Mossad agents in Amman injected Mishal with a lethal nerve toxin but they were chased down and caught by his bodyguards. King Hussein of Jordan then forced Israel to provide the antidote; the agents were later released in return for the Israeli release of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas’s founder. Yassin, in turn, was killed by a Hellfire missile fired by an Israeli helicopter in 2004.

Funny how no one seriously objects when U.S. Predators carry out similar hits on al-Qaeda operatives but the whole world is in uproar when the Israelis target members of Hamas — an organization that is morally indistinguishable from al-Qaeda. The Dubai uproar only highlights once again the double standard to which Israel is constantly subjected. But Israel cannot and should not use that double standard as an excuse to avoid taking vital action in its self-defense. The leaders of terrorist organizations are legitimate military targets, and Israel should spare itself the agonizing and hand-wringing over this targeted killing.

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The Iranian Regime’s Battle of Karbala

The Iranian citizens’ uprising against their government has been sustained for six months now, and it took an interesting turn over the weekend. Security forces reportedly opened fire against demonstrators and even killed the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi – and they did it during Ashura. There are few things “supreme guide” Ali Khamenei could have done to enrage religious conservatives and harden them against his regime more than this. As one demonstrator put it, “killing Muslims on Ashura is like crucifying Christians on Christmas.”

“The clock began to tick for Ayatollah Khamenei’s fall from today,” said one of Iran’s few former female members of parliament Fatemeh Haghighatjou. “Killing people on Ashura shows how far Mr. Khamenei is willing to go to suppress the protests. People are comparing him more with Yazid because they consider him responsible for the order to use violence against people.”

Ashura is a Shia religious holiday, and it is not joyous. It is a day of lamentation that marks the date when the forces of the Umayyad caliph Yazid killed Hussein, son of Ali and grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, during the Battle of Karbala in the year 680. It’s one of the most infamous episodes in the struggle for power that permanently ruptured the house of Islam into its warring Sunni and Shia halves. The Shia – the partisans of Ali and his lineage – have been at war with the Sunnis – those who took the side of Yazid – for thirteen centuries. That Khamenei’s security people would murder unarmed demonstrators on this day of all days, and that his opponents now denounce him as the Yazid of Iran, may very well set most of the religious conservatives against him for as long as he and his government live.

Haghighatjou isn’t the only one using this kind of language. You’ll find regular citizens comparing Khamenei to Yazid and Tehran to Karbala with even a cursory scan of Iranian Internet commentary during the last couple of days.

The Iranian government knows very well what a devastating accusation this is. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini compared the tyrannical Shah Reza Pahlavi to Yazid during the revolution he led in 1979, and his successor Khamenei tries to pass himself off as a modern Ali even now. More recently, the regime’s Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders used this charge against Israel in 1982 to ignite a decades-long insurgency in South Lebanon.

When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 to demolish the Palestinian state-within-a-state that Yasser Arafat had built there, the Shia of the south hailed the Israeli soldiers as liberators. Hezbollah may wish this inconvenient fact was forgotten, but it’s true. That’s what happened. That’s how the Shia of Lebanon felt. Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization was a foreign Sunni militia that pushed the Shia around at gunpoint and turned their previously quiet part of the world into a war zone.

Iran’s Khomeinist regime redeployed Revolutionary Guard Corps units from battlefields in the Iran-Iraq war to Lebanon to foment a Shia insurgency there against the Israelis, but most people weren’t interested. Not at first, anyway. Everything changed the following year, in 1983, when IDF patrol trucks made a wrong turn and ended up in the middle of an Ashura procession in Nabatieh. The drivers tried to barge their way through a crowd. Some of the mourners threw rocks, and Israeli soldiers shot them.

Israel unwittingly cast itself in the role of a modern Yazid 26 years ago, and most of the Shia of Lebanon have been in a state of war with their former allies ever since. The Israeli soldiers in that fateful incident didn’t realize what they were doing, but Khamenei of all people should have known to back off during Ashura. The pious Shia who live in Iran won’t easily forget that he didn’t.

The Iranian citizens’ uprising against their government has been sustained for six months now, and it took an interesting turn over the weekend. Security forces reportedly opened fire against demonstrators and even killed the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi – and they did it during Ashura. There are few things “supreme guide” Ali Khamenei could have done to enrage religious conservatives and harden them against his regime more than this. As one demonstrator put it, “killing Muslims on Ashura is like crucifying Christians on Christmas.”

“The clock began to tick for Ayatollah Khamenei’s fall from today,” said one of Iran’s few former female members of parliament Fatemeh Haghighatjou. “Killing people on Ashura shows how far Mr. Khamenei is willing to go to suppress the protests. People are comparing him more with Yazid because they consider him responsible for the order to use violence against people.”

Ashura is a Shia religious holiday, and it is not joyous. It is a day of lamentation that marks the date when the forces of the Umayyad caliph Yazid killed Hussein, son of Ali and grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, during the Battle of Karbala in the year 680. It’s one of the most infamous episodes in the struggle for power that permanently ruptured the house of Islam into its warring Sunni and Shia halves. The Shia – the partisans of Ali and his lineage – have been at war with the Sunnis – those who took the side of Yazid – for thirteen centuries. That Khamenei’s security people would murder unarmed demonstrators on this day of all days, and that his opponents now denounce him as the Yazid of Iran, may very well set most of the religious conservatives against him for as long as he and his government live.

Haghighatjou isn’t the only one using this kind of language. You’ll find regular citizens comparing Khamenei to Yazid and Tehran to Karbala with even a cursory scan of Iranian Internet commentary during the last couple of days.

The Iranian government knows very well what a devastating accusation this is. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini compared the tyrannical Shah Reza Pahlavi to Yazid during the revolution he led in 1979, and his successor Khamenei tries to pass himself off as a modern Ali even now. More recently, the regime’s Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders used this charge against Israel in 1982 to ignite a decades-long insurgency in South Lebanon.

When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 to demolish the Palestinian state-within-a-state that Yasser Arafat had built there, the Shia of the south hailed the Israeli soldiers as liberators. Hezbollah may wish this inconvenient fact was forgotten, but it’s true. That’s what happened. That’s how the Shia of Lebanon felt. Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization was a foreign Sunni militia that pushed the Shia around at gunpoint and turned their previously quiet part of the world into a war zone.

Iran’s Khomeinist regime redeployed Revolutionary Guard Corps units from battlefields in the Iran-Iraq war to Lebanon to foment a Shia insurgency there against the Israelis, but most people weren’t interested. Not at first, anyway. Everything changed the following year, in 1983, when IDF patrol trucks made a wrong turn and ended up in the middle of an Ashura procession in Nabatieh. The drivers tried to barge their way through a crowd. Some of the mourners threw rocks, and Israeli soldiers shot them.

Israel unwittingly cast itself in the role of a modern Yazid 26 years ago, and most of the Shia of Lebanon have been in a state of war with their former allies ever since. The Israeli soldiers in that fateful incident didn’t realize what they were doing, but Khamenei of all people should have known to back off during Ashura. The pious Shia who live in Iran won’t easily forget that he didn’t.

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Cheney and the Road Map

I have to disagree with you, Eric. Cheney’s visit was interesting. As far as I can tell, the vice president, bless him, threw down a subtle but unmistakable rebuke to his frequent-flier colleague. At the opening Olmert-Cheney press conference, Cheney said this:

America’s commitment to Israel’s security is enduring and unshakeable, as is our commitment to Israel’s right to defend itself always against terrorism, rocket attacks and other threats from forces dedicated to Israel’s destruction. The United States will never pressure Israel to take steps that threaten its security. . . .

History has clearly shown that when encountered by Arab partners like Anwar Sadat and the late King Hussein of Jordan, who accepted Israel’s permanence and are willing and capable of delivering on their commitments, Israelis are prepared to make wrenching national sacrifices on behalf of peace. I have no doubt this is equally the case with Palestinians. [Emphasis mine.]

This seems to me a very sly variation of damning with faint praise — in this case, damning the Palestinians with as yet unjustified praise, to highlight the difference between their record and examples of actual Arab peacemaking.

Anyway, after a later meeting with Olmert, Cheney said about Gaza and the smuggling tunnels:

All of that obviously has resulted in the ongoing activity of launching rockets into Israel and threatening the lives of Israelis and obviously making it difficult for there to be the kind of progress that I think we would all like to see.

Recall one of Condi Rice’s great Annapolis feats, the destruction of the “sequentiality” of the 2003 Road Map, which insisted that an internal Palestinian war on terrorism must be the central prerequisite of the peace process. In the midst of the intifada, the idea was that it would be pointless to attempt to pursue a peace process when suicide bombings and jihad constituted the primary form of statecraft of the Palestinian Authority. Early this year, after Annapolis, Condi Rice surveyed the post-Road Map era and told reporters that

[T]he reason that we haven’t really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is that we were stuck in the sequentiality of the road map. So you had to do the first phase of the road map before you moved on to the third phase of the road map, which was the actual negotiations of final status.

What Annapolis did was to break that tight sequentiality and to say, you can do these in parallel — you can do road map obligations and negotiation for the final status in parallel.

A more honest statement would have been something like: “The reason that we haven’t really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is because the Palestinian Authority has not only failed to demonstrate even the slightest interest in confronting Palestinian terrorism, the PA itself has been deeply implicated in terrorism. So we’re jettisoning the requirements of the Road Map because of both the insurmountability of the Palestinian terrorism problem and our own desire to cultivate an image of Bush administration-led progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Obviously, there’s not the slightest chance that Rice (or any Secretary of State) would ever say such a thing; but it’s what she meant. And I also suspect that the real thrust of Cheney’s public statements during his visit was: Condi, get real. I furthermore suspect that Cheney resents having to participate in the peace process charade in the first place. But there was no elegant way he could have made those points.

I have to disagree with you, Eric. Cheney’s visit was interesting. As far as I can tell, the vice president, bless him, threw down a subtle but unmistakable rebuke to his frequent-flier colleague. At the opening Olmert-Cheney press conference, Cheney said this:

America’s commitment to Israel’s security is enduring and unshakeable, as is our commitment to Israel’s right to defend itself always against terrorism, rocket attacks and other threats from forces dedicated to Israel’s destruction. The United States will never pressure Israel to take steps that threaten its security. . . .

History has clearly shown that when encountered by Arab partners like Anwar Sadat and the late King Hussein of Jordan, who accepted Israel’s permanence and are willing and capable of delivering on their commitments, Israelis are prepared to make wrenching national sacrifices on behalf of peace. I have no doubt this is equally the case with Palestinians. [Emphasis mine.]

This seems to me a very sly variation of damning with faint praise — in this case, damning the Palestinians with as yet unjustified praise, to highlight the difference between their record and examples of actual Arab peacemaking.

Anyway, after a later meeting with Olmert, Cheney said about Gaza and the smuggling tunnels:

All of that obviously has resulted in the ongoing activity of launching rockets into Israel and threatening the lives of Israelis and obviously making it difficult for there to be the kind of progress that I think we would all like to see.

Recall one of Condi Rice’s great Annapolis feats, the destruction of the “sequentiality” of the 2003 Road Map, which insisted that an internal Palestinian war on terrorism must be the central prerequisite of the peace process. In the midst of the intifada, the idea was that it would be pointless to attempt to pursue a peace process when suicide bombings and jihad constituted the primary form of statecraft of the Palestinian Authority. Early this year, after Annapolis, Condi Rice surveyed the post-Road Map era and told reporters that

[T]he reason that we haven’t really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is that we were stuck in the sequentiality of the road map. So you had to do the first phase of the road map before you moved on to the third phase of the road map, which was the actual negotiations of final status.

What Annapolis did was to break that tight sequentiality and to say, you can do these in parallel — you can do road map obligations and negotiation for the final status in parallel.

A more honest statement would have been something like: “The reason that we haven’t really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is because the Palestinian Authority has not only failed to demonstrate even the slightest interest in confronting Palestinian terrorism, the PA itself has been deeply implicated in terrorism. So we’re jettisoning the requirements of the Road Map because of both the insurmountability of the Palestinian terrorism problem and our own desire to cultivate an image of Bush administration-led progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Obviously, there’s not the slightest chance that Rice (or any Secretary of State) would ever say such a thing; but it’s what she meant. And I also suspect that the real thrust of Cheney’s public statements during his visit was: Condi, get real. I furthermore suspect that Cheney resents having to participate in the peace process charade in the first place. But there was no elegant way he could have made those points.

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Palestine, Jordan, and the Hijacking of History

Thirty years ago this month, the journalist Sidney Zion wrote an article for New York magazine titled “The Palestine Problem: It’s All in A Name,” which he would update in 2003 for The Jewish Press. Zion essentially supported the right-wing Zionist argument against the historicity of the Kingdom of Jordan, while upending the right-wing Zionist argument against the historicity of a Palestinian people.

Not that the latter was necessarily an exclusively right-wing conceit — Labor party icon Golda Meir, for example, insisted publicly on more than one occasion that “There are no Palestinians, there are only Jordanians.”

“Of course,” wrote Zion, “she was wrong. In fact, there are no Jordanians, only Palestinians.”

Zion’s contention was that by pushing the idea that there was no such thing as a Palestinian Arab and acquiescing in the myth that Jordan is “an immutable entity, as distinct from Palestine as are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq,” Israeli leaders had helped obscure the empirical truths that Jordan was the artificial nation and “Jordanian” the artificial nationality. And their doing so lent important credence to the misperception, by now almost universally accepted, that Israel sits on the entirety of what was once Palestine.

The reality, Zion noted, was that “what began in 1920 as a mandate to turn Palestine into a Jewish homeland turned into a reverse Balfour Declaration, creating an Arab nation in four-fifths of Palestine and leaving the Jews to fight for statehood against the Arabs on the West Bank.”

Writing about Jordan in a 1981 New York Times op-ed column, Zion encapsulated in one paragraph the real history of Jordan and the repercussions of that history having disappeared down the memory hole:

I know people who think it’s two thousand years old. But Jordan was only the name of a river until 1922, when Winston Churchill, then colonial secretary, turned its East Bank into the Emirate of Transjordan – created an emirate out of the British Mandate territory of Palestine. Transjordan was 80 percent of the land mass of Palestine. Transjordan is Palestine. In 1946, by British fiat, [then-King] Hussein’s grandfather, Abdullah, became King of Transjordan. In 1948, Abdullah changed the name of his country to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Presto! The Ancient Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. So what? So everything. What was in every respect Palestine became a refugee camp for Palestinian Arabs, a host country for those “driven out” by the Jews. And so it is viewed today. The Hussein family, brought out of Arabia by Churchill, are the only true non-Palestinians living in Jordan today. Yet the world sees Palestine as wherever the Jews live.

Would history have turned out differently had Israel and its supporters, loudly and consistently, focused on the fact that the real “theft of Palestine” had been pulled off by the British for the sake of an Arab client and that almost without exception “Jordanians” are in fact Palestinians?

In his 1978 New York article, Zion felt that it indeed would make at least some difference “if the world were to understand that Israel now occupies only 20 percent of Palestine” and that “if it becomes clear that the Arab refugees and their children who crossed over to Jordan in 1948 did not enter a ‘host country’ but rather the Arab part of their own country . . . ”

Zion may have had some basis for hope 30 years ago, when Israel was but three decades old and not quite yet the international outcast it has since become. But now that Israel is twice as old as it was in 1978 and the world – including an appreciable number of Jews – has largely come to view the Arab-Israeli conflict through the prism of Israel’s enemies, such conjecture seems like nothing more than a sad joke.

It’s a story of missed opportunities, and of how a people lauded for their smarts permitted their history and patrimony to be hijacked while barely putting up a fight.

Thirty years ago this month, the journalist Sidney Zion wrote an article for New York magazine titled “The Palestine Problem: It’s All in A Name,” which he would update in 2003 for The Jewish Press. Zion essentially supported the right-wing Zionist argument against the historicity of the Kingdom of Jordan, while upending the right-wing Zionist argument against the historicity of a Palestinian people.

Not that the latter was necessarily an exclusively right-wing conceit — Labor party icon Golda Meir, for example, insisted publicly on more than one occasion that “There are no Palestinians, there are only Jordanians.”

“Of course,” wrote Zion, “she was wrong. In fact, there are no Jordanians, only Palestinians.”

Zion’s contention was that by pushing the idea that there was no such thing as a Palestinian Arab and acquiescing in the myth that Jordan is “an immutable entity, as distinct from Palestine as are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq,” Israeli leaders had helped obscure the empirical truths that Jordan was the artificial nation and “Jordanian” the artificial nationality. And their doing so lent important credence to the misperception, by now almost universally accepted, that Israel sits on the entirety of what was once Palestine.

The reality, Zion noted, was that “what began in 1920 as a mandate to turn Palestine into a Jewish homeland turned into a reverse Balfour Declaration, creating an Arab nation in four-fifths of Palestine and leaving the Jews to fight for statehood against the Arabs on the West Bank.”

Writing about Jordan in a 1981 New York Times op-ed column, Zion encapsulated in one paragraph the real history of Jordan and the repercussions of that history having disappeared down the memory hole:

I know people who think it’s two thousand years old. But Jordan was only the name of a river until 1922, when Winston Churchill, then colonial secretary, turned its East Bank into the Emirate of Transjordan – created an emirate out of the British Mandate territory of Palestine. Transjordan was 80 percent of the land mass of Palestine. Transjordan is Palestine. In 1946, by British fiat, [then-King] Hussein’s grandfather, Abdullah, became King of Transjordan. In 1948, Abdullah changed the name of his country to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Presto! The Ancient Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. So what? So everything. What was in every respect Palestine became a refugee camp for Palestinian Arabs, a host country for those “driven out” by the Jews. And so it is viewed today. The Hussein family, brought out of Arabia by Churchill, are the only true non-Palestinians living in Jordan today. Yet the world sees Palestine as wherever the Jews live.

Would history have turned out differently had Israel and its supporters, loudly and consistently, focused on the fact that the real “theft of Palestine” had been pulled off by the British for the sake of an Arab client and that almost without exception “Jordanians” are in fact Palestinians?

In his 1978 New York article, Zion felt that it indeed would make at least some difference “if the world were to understand that Israel now occupies only 20 percent of Palestine” and that “if it becomes clear that the Arab refugees and their children who crossed over to Jordan in 1948 did not enter a ‘host country’ but rather the Arab part of their own country . . . ”

Zion may have had some basis for hope 30 years ago, when Israel was but three decades old and not quite yet the international outcast it has since become. But now that Israel is twice as old as it was in 1978 and the world – including an appreciable number of Jews – has largely come to view the Arab-Israeli conflict through the prism of Israel’s enemies, such conjecture seems like nothing more than a sad joke.

It’s a story of missed opportunities, and of how a people lauded for their smarts permitted their history and patrimony to be hijacked while barely putting up a fight.

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The Middle East Money Shot

Last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that she had “better things to do than invite people to Annapolis for a photo op.” What she meant, of course, was that she had better things to do than invite people to Annapolis exclusively for a photo op. So have no fear, jpeg collectors: from the moment Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas arrived at the White House on Monday, the cameras were rolling.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the photos that each Annapolis participant chooses to publicize are highly significant. Given that it had the most invested in the conference’s success, the White House naturally led the Annapolis photo race, offering a full slideshow of the opening state dinner, and as many photos as possible depicting Bush as the matchmaker behind an Olmert-Abbas courtship. The Israelis were not far behind, with photos suggesting that the courtship had progressed to the point that Abbas and Olmert even sat around a table with each other’s families. The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also made an impressive contribution to the Most Hopeful-Looking Photo Contest, depicting Bush forming the human chain with his counterparts.

Perhaps the real photo story emerging from Annapolis, however, was Bush’s relentless pursuit of the hallowed Middle East Money Shot, which typically features the sitting American president dramatically guiding an Arab-Israeli handshake. Jimmy Carter was the original choreographer of this image, while Bill Clinton was fortunate to enjoy the famous pose twice: at the signing of the Oslo Accords and the forging of Jordanian-Israeli peace. (Clinton narrowly missed out on a third Money Shot at the signing of the Wye River Memorandum, where he was boxed out by an ailing King Hussein.)

Prior to Annapolis, Bush had posed for the Money Shot only once—at the inconclusive 2003 Red Sea Summit on the “Road Map,” where Abbas, then Yasser Arafat’s impotent prime minister, locked hands with Ariel Sharon. But during the one-day Annapolis Conference, Bush went on a tear, managing no less than three different shots of himself standing amidst new best friends Olmert and Abbas.

Of course, the Money Shot is not as meaningful as it once was: it no longer signifies the signing of a treaty and, as Rice demonstrated in February, even a secretary of state can pose for one. But the optimism it symbolizes was apparently too seductive for the American and Israeli presses to pass up: The New York Times, MSNBC, FoxNews, Ma’ariv, and Ha’aretz all featured the Money Shot prominently in their Annapolis coverage.

Yet, in the absence of concrete steps taken to further peace, the pessimism of Arab photojournalism seems more apt. Arab press coverage of Annapolis naturally depicts Bush meeting with Abbas, but domestic Palestinian opposition to peace talks that challenge their viability is also a major theme. Moreover, Olmert is rarely displayed alongside Abbas, and the two are never seen shaking hands—with one key exception: Hezbollah’s al-Manar station, predictably misusing the symbols of Arab-Israeli peace, proudly features the Money Shot.

Last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that she had “better things to do than invite people to Annapolis for a photo op.” What she meant, of course, was that she had better things to do than invite people to Annapolis exclusively for a photo op. So have no fear, jpeg collectors: from the moment Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas arrived at the White House on Monday, the cameras were rolling.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the photos that each Annapolis participant chooses to publicize are highly significant. Given that it had the most invested in the conference’s success, the White House naturally led the Annapolis photo race, offering a full slideshow of the opening state dinner, and as many photos as possible depicting Bush as the matchmaker behind an Olmert-Abbas courtship. The Israelis were not far behind, with photos suggesting that the courtship had progressed to the point that Abbas and Olmert even sat around a table with each other’s families. The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also made an impressive contribution to the Most Hopeful-Looking Photo Contest, depicting Bush forming the human chain with his counterparts.

Perhaps the real photo story emerging from Annapolis, however, was Bush’s relentless pursuit of the hallowed Middle East Money Shot, which typically features the sitting American president dramatically guiding an Arab-Israeli handshake. Jimmy Carter was the original choreographer of this image, while Bill Clinton was fortunate to enjoy the famous pose twice: at the signing of the Oslo Accords and the forging of Jordanian-Israeli peace. (Clinton narrowly missed out on a third Money Shot at the signing of the Wye River Memorandum, where he was boxed out by an ailing King Hussein.)

Prior to Annapolis, Bush had posed for the Money Shot only once—at the inconclusive 2003 Red Sea Summit on the “Road Map,” where Abbas, then Yasser Arafat’s impotent prime minister, locked hands with Ariel Sharon. But during the one-day Annapolis Conference, Bush went on a tear, managing no less than three different shots of himself standing amidst new best friends Olmert and Abbas.

Of course, the Money Shot is not as meaningful as it once was: it no longer signifies the signing of a treaty and, as Rice demonstrated in February, even a secretary of state can pose for one. But the optimism it symbolizes was apparently too seductive for the American and Israeli presses to pass up: The New York Times, MSNBC, FoxNews, Ma’ariv, and Ha’aretz all featured the Money Shot prominently in their Annapolis coverage.

Yet, in the absence of concrete steps taken to further peace, the pessimism of Arab photojournalism seems more apt. Arab press coverage of Annapolis naturally depicts Bush meeting with Abbas, but domestic Palestinian opposition to peace talks that challenge their viability is also a major theme. Moreover, Olmert is rarely displayed alongside Abbas, and the two are never seen shaking hands—with one key exception: Hezbollah’s al-Manar station, predictably misusing the symbols of Arab-Israeli peace, proudly features the Money Shot.

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Past and Present in Gaza

What happened in June in the Gaza Strip was not only a Hamas “coup” against Fatah. Hamas managed to overrun the coastal area thanks to the backing of a majority of the Gaza Strip’s 1.3 million residents. Otherwise, how can one explain the fact that fewer than 15,000 Hamas militiamen succeeded in defeating the more than 50,000 gunmen and policemen belonging to Fatah?

That Hamas managed this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Fatah has a long history of alienating its natural bases of support through incompetence, greed, and brutality, beginning in Jordan more than 40 years ago. The late King Hussein made the mistake of allowing Fatah chieftain Yasir Arafat to establish what was more or less a Palestinian state inside the Hashemite Kingdom more. Then, Arafat established several armed militias in Jordan and consistently sought to undermine King Hussein’s regime. Fed up with the increasing state of anarchy and lawlessness, the king finally ordered his troops to eliminate Arafat’s multiple militias. The result was a bloodbath that claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinians in what has become known in Palestinian history as Black September. Arafat eventually managed to escape Jordan disguised as a woman.
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What happened in June in the Gaza Strip was not only a Hamas “coup” against Fatah. Hamas managed to overrun the coastal area thanks to the backing of a majority of the Gaza Strip’s 1.3 million residents. Otherwise, how can one explain the fact that fewer than 15,000 Hamas militiamen succeeded in defeating the more than 50,000 gunmen and policemen belonging to Fatah?

That Hamas managed this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Fatah has a long history of alienating its natural bases of support through incompetence, greed, and brutality, beginning in Jordan more than 40 years ago. The late King Hussein made the mistake of allowing Fatah chieftain Yasir Arafat to establish what was more or less a Palestinian state inside the Hashemite Kingdom more. Then, Arafat established several armed militias in Jordan and consistently sought to undermine King Hussein’s regime. Fed up with the increasing state of anarchy and lawlessness, the king finally ordered his troops to eliminate Arafat’s multiple militias. The result was a bloodbath that claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinians in what has become known in Palestinian history as Black September. Arafat eventually managed to escape Jordan disguised as a woman.
Arafat and the remaining PLO forces then moved to Lebanon, a quiet and peaceful country, famous for its beautiful beaches and nightlife. The Lebanese hosts soon discovered that they too had committed a fatal mistake—one that would claim the lives of more than 100,000 people in a civil war that lasted for fiteen years. The PLO, which had established a state-within-a-state in Lebanon, was largely responsible for the outbreak of violence. (Many Lebanese I have met say that if they had the opportunity, they would set up a statue of Ariel Sharon in downtown Beirut to honor the man who expelled the PLO from their country in 1982.)

When Israel, with the backing of the U.S. and EU, allowed the PLO into the West Bank and Gaza Strip after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, many Arabs knew that the Israelis would pay a heavy price. But now the Palestinians are also paying a heavy price for pinning their hopes on Arafat and Fatah, something perhaps not foreseen so clearly.

Instead of investing the billions of dollars that the international community poured on him for the welfare of his people, Arafat built a casino, paid for his wife’s shopping sprees in Paris, and bribed his aides with Mercedes cars and villas. Arafat’s corruption drove many Palestinians into the opens arms of Hamas, which finally won a majority in the January 2006 parliamentary election.

Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, hasn’t been any better. He, too, failed to deliver—first to his own people, and second to the Americans and Europeans, who were betting on him to remove Hamas from power. For the past eighteen months Abbas received tens of millions of dollars to “boost” his security forces ahead of a possible confrontation with Hamas. He also received thousands of rifles, large amounts of ammunition, and armored vehicles.

Abbas’s warlords and security commanders were the first to flee the Gaza Strip (with the help of Israel) when Hamas launched its offensive in June. They left behind weapons and thousands of disgruntled soldiers. The Palestinian public did not come out to defend Abbas and his security forces. On the contrary, hundreds of Palestinians joined Hamas in attacking and looting the large villas of Abbas, Arafat, Fatah warlord Muhammad Dahlan, and other top officials.

Now that Abbas’s authority has been restricted to the West Bank (some argue he’s in control of only some parts there), the Americans and Europeans are saying, essentially: “Let’s give Abbas and his PLO even more money and weapons.”

Logic says that when you deal with someone and you discover that he’s not honest and can’t deliver, you either demand that he change or you stop doing business with him. Abbas and the PLO haven’t changed.
It’s enough to take a quick tour of some West Bank cities to see that armed Fatah thugs are continuing to roam the streets, despite Abbas’s announcement that he has banned them from operating in public. Many Palestinians in the West Bank who are now on the payroll of the Americans and Europeans would tell you that they will vote for Hamas in protest against the ongoing corruption in Fatah and the state of anarchy and lawlessness. Unless the international community insists on reforms and good governance (something that is highly unlikely to happen under the current PLO leadership), it’s only a matter of time before the PLO is ousted from the West Bank, as well.

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Carter’s Lies

“This is the first time I’ve ever been called a liar,” said former President Jimmy Carter during his much-ballyhooed foray into the lion’s den of Brandeis University this week.

This, of course, is a lie.

The most talked-about article to appear during the 1976 presidential campaign was “Jimmy Carter’s Pathetic Lies.” Appearing in Harper’s, it contained Steven Brill’s account of several days spent accompanying Carter on the campaign trail, in the course of which Brill discovered that most of what Carter told audiences about himself was simply false.

Invariably Carter introduced himself as a “nuclear physicist and a peanut farmer.” He was neither: he held only a bachelor’s degree, and he owned a peanut warehouse. He invited listeners to write to him. “Just put ‘Jimmy Carter, Plains, Georgia’ on the envelope, and I’ll get it. I open every letter myself and read them all.” But Carter’s press secretary admitted to Brill that all mail so addressed was forwarded to the campaign staff in Atlanta. Carter boasted that at the completion of his term as governor he had left Georgia with a budget surplus of $200 million, but Brill discovered that the true amount was $43 million, which was all that remained of a $91 million surplus Carter had inherited when he took office. Carter described an innovative program he had pioneered, employing welfare mothers to care for the mentally handicapped. “You should see them bathing and feeding the retarded children. They’re the best workers we have in the state government,” he enthused to audiences. But there was no way to see them–they did not, in fact, exist, as Brill learned from state officials. “I guess he was mistaken,” conceded Carter’s press secretary. Brill’s piece contained much more in this vein.

In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, his recent book on the Middle East, Carter repeats the egregious lie that he set out twenty-odd years ago in his previous book on the subject–namely, that in the 1967 war Israel preemptively attacked Jordan. This is no small matter: it was from Jordan that Israel took the West Bank, the focus of most of today’s controversy. But the record is abundantly clear that while preemptively attacking Egypt and Syria, Israel pleaded with Jordan (through American intermediaries) to stay out of the fray. King Hussein felt he could not do that, so he ordered his forces to attack Israel, and the Israelis fought back. Both Carter’s old book and the new one are replete with countless other outright lies as well as less outright ones (as others have pointed out).

Whatever the subject, Carter makes a specialty of exploiting grammatical ambiguities to leave listeners or readers with the impression that he has said one thing, while a precise examination of his words shows them to mean something else. In a 2003 op-ed in USA Today on the North Korean nuclear crisis, he wrote: “There must be verifiable assurances that prevent North Korea from becoming a threatening nuclear power.” The average reader might think that the word “threatening” is merely descriptive. But, in fact, Carter had fought to allow Pyongyang to have some nuclear weapons, because he believed that was the price of an agreement. The word “threatening,” as Carter used it, actually meant that North Korea could have some nuclear weapons–but not so many as to be “threatening.”

This raises an obvious question: how many nukes, exactly, would that be? Carter hasn’t told us yet, but if he ever does, make sure to read his words carefully.

“This is the first time I’ve ever been called a liar,” said former President Jimmy Carter during his much-ballyhooed foray into the lion’s den of Brandeis University this week.

This, of course, is a lie.

The most talked-about article to appear during the 1976 presidential campaign was “Jimmy Carter’s Pathetic Lies.” Appearing in Harper’s, it contained Steven Brill’s account of several days spent accompanying Carter on the campaign trail, in the course of which Brill discovered that most of what Carter told audiences about himself was simply false.

Invariably Carter introduced himself as a “nuclear physicist and a peanut farmer.” He was neither: he held only a bachelor’s degree, and he owned a peanut warehouse. He invited listeners to write to him. “Just put ‘Jimmy Carter, Plains, Georgia’ on the envelope, and I’ll get it. I open every letter myself and read them all.” But Carter’s press secretary admitted to Brill that all mail so addressed was forwarded to the campaign staff in Atlanta. Carter boasted that at the completion of his term as governor he had left Georgia with a budget surplus of $200 million, but Brill discovered that the true amount was $43 million, which was all that remained of a $91 million surplus Carter had inherited when he took office. Carter described an innovative program he had pioneered, employing welfare mothers to care for the mentally handicapped. “You should see them bathing and feeding the retarded children. They’re the best workers we have in the state government,” he enthused to audiences. But there was no way to see them–they did not, in fact, exist, as Brill learned from state officials. “I guess he was mistaken,” conceded Carter’s press secretary. Brill’s piece contained much more in this vein.

In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, his recent book on the Middle East, Carter repeats the egregious lie that he set out twenty-odd years ago in his previous book on the subject–namely, that in the 1967 war Israel preemptively attacked Jordan. This is no small matter: it was from Jordan that Israel took the West Bank, the focus of most of today’s controversy. But the record is abundantly clear that while preemptively attacking Egypt and Syria, Israel pleaded with Jordan (through American intermediaries) to stay out of the fray. King Hussein felt he could not do that, so he ordered his forces to attack Israel, and the Israelis fought back. Both Carter’s old book and the new one are replete with countless other outright lies as well as less outright ones (as others have pointed out).

Whatever the subject, Carter makes a specialty of exploiting grammatical ambiguities to leave listeners or readers with the impression that he has said one thing, while a precise examination of his words shows them to mean something else. In a 2003 op-ed in USA Today on the North Korean nuclear crisis, he wrote: “There must be verifiable assurances that prevent North Korea from becoming a threatening nuclear power.” The average reader might think that the word “threatening” is merely descriptive. But, in fact, Carter had fought to allow Pyongyang to have some nuclear weapons, because he believed that was the price of an agreement. The word “threatening,” as Carter used it, actually meant that North Korea could have some nuclear weapons–but not so many as to be “threatening.”

This raises an obvious question: how many nukes, exactly, would that be? Carter hasn’t told us yet, but if he ever does, make sure to read his words carefully.

Read Less




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