Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel-Palestinian conflict

Israel’s Building No Obstacle to Peace

The reaction to Israel’s announcement on Friday that it had approved building plans in Jerusalem and its suburbs was nearly unanimous. Even those who disapproved of the vote by the General Assembly of the United Nations to upgrade the Palestinian Authority to a pseudo-state at the world body damned the housing as either a childish tantrum on the part of the Israeli government to demonstrate their anger or a genuine threat to peace. The argument is that by allowing building in the E1 development area that connects the Maale Adumim suburb to the city, Israel will be foreclosing the possibility of a two-state solution since this would effectively cut the West Bank in half and forestall its viability as an independent Palestinian state.

It sounds logical but it’s absolute nonsense. If the Palestinians did want a two-state solution, the new project as well as the other ones announced yesterday for more houses to be built in 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem wouldn’t stop it. That’s true even of those that say that the final borders of Israel and a putative state of Palestine must be based on the 1949 armistice lines with agreed-upon land swaps. Those swaps wouldn’t amount to more than a few percentage points of the total land area of the West Bank and probably preclude Israel keeping many far-flung settlements in the territory. But everyone knows that the swaps would have to account for the Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem, including Maale Adumim and the other towns in the vicinity that are already inside the security fence that does not protect most settlements. But the operative phrase here is “if” the Palestinians wanted such a solution. They have refused every offer of a state they’ve gotten and refused even to negotiate for four years, not to mention employing the UN gambit specifically in order to avoid talks. The notion that Israeli building in areas that everyone knows they would keep if there was a deal in place is stopping peace from breaking out is ludicrous.

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The reaction to Israel’s announcement on Friday that it had approved building plans in Jerusalem and its suburbs was nearly unanimous. Even those who disapproved of the vote by the General Assembly of the United Nations to upgrade the Palestinian Authority to a pseudo-state at the world body damned the housing as either a childish tantrum on the part of the Israeli government to demonstrate their anger or a genuine threat to peace. The argument is that by allowing building in the E1 development area that connects the Maale Adumim suburb to the city, Israel will be foreclosing the possibility of a two-state solution since this would effectively cut the West Bank in half and forestall its viability as an independent Palestinian state.

It sounds logical but it’s absolute nonsense. If the Palestinians did want a two-state solution, the new project as well as the other ones announced yesterday for more houses to be built in 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem wouldn’t stop it. That’s true even of those that say that the final borders of Israel and a putative state of Palestine must be based on the 1949 armistice lines with agreed-upon land swaps. Those swaps wouldn’t amount to more than a few percentage points of the total land area of the West Bank and probably preclude Israel keeping many far-flung settlements in the territory. But everyone knows that the swaps would have to account for the Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem, including Maale Adumim and the other towns in the vicinity that are already inside the security fence that does not protect most settlements. But the operative phrase here is “if” the Palestinians wanted such a solution. They have refused every offer of a state they’ve gotten and refused even to negotiate for four years, not to mention employing the UN gambit specifically in order to avoid talks. The notion that Israeli building in areas that everyone knows they would keep if there was a deal in place is stopping peace from breaking out is ludicrous.

Nor should the Israeli gesture be viewed as petulant. To the contrary, it is exactly what is needed to start changing the one-sided nature of the argument in international forums about the dispute over territory.

Though you wouldn’t know if from listening to the UN debate or even to most spokespersons for the Jewish state over the last forty years, the argument about the West Bank is not solely about pitting rights of Palestinians against Israel’s security needs. The West Bank is, after all, part of the area designated by the League of Nations for Jewish settlement under the Mandate of Palestine. It is also the heart of the ancient Jewish homeland to which Jews have historical, legal and religious ties that cannot be erased by a century of Arab hatred.

Some of Israel’s friends and all of its enemies claim that for Israel to speak of its rights to the West Bank is tantamount to saying that it doesn’t want peace. Not so. Just because it has rights there doesn’t mean that it must assert them under all circumstances, or that it wouldn’t, if convinced that peace was to be had, give up some or all of the territory in exchange for an end to the conflict. Indeed, throughout the last 20 years, Israel has been in engaged in peace talks or attempts to revive them, during the course of which it has made numerous concessions about territory to the Palestinians.

For its pains, Israel has been subjected to even greater vituperation and delegitimization during this period than before. So long as it does not speak of its rights, it will always be treated as a thief who must return stolen property rather than as a party to a conflict with its own justified claims.

Even if the E1 area is developed, there will be no obstacle to peace talks that could produce a Palestinian state in almost all of the West Bank except for the major settlement blocs that no one expects Israel to give up. Nor would the Palestinian state be blighted by this project since highways and tunnels could easily be constructed to allow access between Arab areas to the north and the south of Jerusalem. Indeed, Jewish housing in the disputed areas is no more of an obstacle to peace than the far greater Arab housing boom in other parts of Jerusalem.

If the Palestinians truly wanted to live in peace in their own independent state next to Israel they could go back to the negotiating table and get it. If they were ever to actually offer an end to the conflict in which they recognized the legitimacy and the security of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn, they would find the Israeli people would welcome their offer and no Israeli government could refuse. Instead, the so-called moderates among them — Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah-run PA — avoid talks and go to the UN where they seek an international fiat rather than an agreement. Meanwhile, the far more popular extremists of Hamas govern an independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza with an iron fist and use it as a terrorist launching pad rather than to help their people.

A few Jewish homes aren’t the obstacle to Palestinian statehood. Their existence would make no difference to a peace deal that spoke of the 1967 lines with swaps, if that was actually the Palestinian goal. The problem is that to the Palestinians and their terrorist leaders, the E1 area is no more or less a settlement than the rest of Israel. Until they can rid themselves of the rejectionist spirit of 1947 in which they rejected the first UN vote to give them a state, talk of peace is empty rhetoric.

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Why Hamas is Still Bragging About Shalit

One year ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swallowed hard and made a decision that most Israelis understood was unpalatable but necessary: trading 1,027 imprisoned terrorists to Hamas in exchange for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. On the anniversary of the unsightly deal, Hamas is still bragging about the ransom it exacted from Israel and promising to kidnap more Jews. As Haaretz reports, Hamas is celebrating not just with its boasts and threats but also by releasing a video about Shalit’s capture and imprisonment. The Israel Defense Forces has been on its guard since Shalit’s capture in 2006 but each cross-border raid from Gaza as well as those that have come via Sinai in the last year have had as their goal the creation of more Gilad Shalit dilemmas for Netanyahu.

In some quarters, this might revive the debate about the wisdom of Netanyahu’s choice that, as his critics pointed out at the time, certainly enhanced the prestige of Hamas and strengthened their grip on Palestinian public opinion. Even if Netanyahu could never have willingly consigned a conscript like Shalit to unending imprisonment or death, those arguments were correct as far as they went. But the real reason to revisit the Shalit episode is not to second-guess the deal but to get a better understanding of Palestinian political culture and the slim chances for peace.

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One year ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swallowed hard and made a decision that most Israelis understood was unpalatable but necessary: trading 1,027 imprisoned terrorists to Hamas in exchange for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. On the anniversary of the unsightly deal, Hamas is still bragging about the ransom it exacted from Israel and promising to kidnap more Jews. As Haaretz reports, Hamas is celebrating not just with its boasts and threats but also by releasing a video about Shalit’s capture and imprisonment. The Israel Defense Forces has been on its guard since Shalit’s capture in 2006 but each cross-border raid from Gaza as well as those that have come via Sinai in the last year have had as their goal the creation of more Gilad Shalit dilemmas for Netanyahu.

In some quarters, this might revive the debate about the wisdom of Netanyahu’s choice that, as his critics pointed out at the time, certainly enhanced the prestige of Hamas and strengthened their grip on Palestinian public opinion. Even if Netanyahu could never have willingly consigned a conscript like Shalit to unending imprisonment or death, those arguments were correct as far as they went. But the real reason to revisit the Shalit episode is not to second-guess the deal but to get a better understanding of Palestinian political culture and the slim chances for peace.

The point of Hamas’s chest-thumping 12 months after the Shalit deal is not to twit Netanyahu. As much as many serious thinkers bewailed the ransom, bringing Shalit home to his family only enhanced his popularity. Any reminder of this tough decision actually helps the prime minister as he prepares for a re-election campaign in which the opposition has no credible opponent for the country’s leadership.

What Hamas is doing with its histrionics is to puff its own reputation on the Palestinian street. With the prestige of its Fatah rivals on the decline and the Palestinian Authority seen as a bankrupt and corrupt failed state in the making, Hamas looks to remind ordinary Palestinians that they have done what Mahmoud Abbas cannot do: humiliate Israel and inflict pain and suffering on the Jewish people. Indeed, with Hamas being challenged by even more radical Islamist groups such as Islamic Jihad and other splinter groups, Gaza’s rulers see their key to popularity in reinforcing their image as the tormenters of Israel.

This is important not just because it makes the reliance placed on Abbas and the PA by both Israel and the West look like a shaky proposition but also because it highlights what is still the key to winning the hearts and minds of the Palestinian street: anti-Jewish violence.

The competition between Hamas and Fatah is seen not just in their on-again, off-again attempts to form a unity government but in the way the two churn out anti-Semitic invective in their official media and broadcast outlets.

What friends of Israel ought to remember most about the Shalit deal was not so much the horror of murderers being released by Israel to the consternation of the families of terror victims but the joyous welcome that those who killed without mercy received when they returned to Gaza.

So long as Palestinian groups can only curry favor with their people by boasting of killing or kidnapping Jews rather than by trying to give them a better life (something a genuine moderate like PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad knows only too well), talk about peace between Israelis and Palestinians is futile. That is something the majority of Israelis have come to understand and is one of the reasons why Netanyahu is an overwhelming favorite for re-election. It is to be hoped that this is also a lesson that either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will take to heart if they are tempted next year to begin another campaign of pressure against Israel to make concessions to Palestinians who have no interest in peace.

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How Irrelevant Are the Palestinians? Very.

The key phrase in Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly today didn’t mention Israel. He had promised Jewish leaders he would recognize Jewish rights to the land that is disputed by Israelis and Palestinians. He moved a little closer to such recognition with his mention of the ties of the three monotheistic religions to the country and did say he didn’t want to delegitimize Israel–though much of his speech was clearly aiming at just such a goal. But the most important sentence was the one where he complained about the Palestinians being moved “to the bottom of the global agenda.” He then went on to claim that the PA alone was the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians and that there could not be two such bodies.

It was those sentences, in which he vainly banged his head against the wall of world indifference to his cause, that were telling. The fact is the Palestinians are at the bottom of the world agenda. That’s because, contrary to his boast, the PA is a corrupt, ineffective state which doesn’t control all of the territory it claims since Gaza is ruled by Hamas. Thus, while much of the world applauds Abbas’s imprecation of Israel as a racist, colonialist state and his outright lies about the fomenting of hatred that his government promotes, they have no interest in supporting him. It was for that reason that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu gave Abbas’s speech barely a mention as he went on to concentrate on his country’s real problem: a nuclear Iran.

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The key phrase in Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly today didn’t mention Israel. He had promised Jewish leaders he would recognize Jewish rights to the land that is disputed by Israelis and Palestinians. He moved a little closer to such recognition with his mention of the ties of the three monotheistic religions to the country and did say he didn’t want to delegitimize Israel–though much of his speech was clearly aiming at just such a goal. But the most important sentence was the one where he complained about the Palestinians being moved “to the bottom of the global agenda.” He then went on to claim that the PA alone was the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians and that there could not be two such bodies.

It was those sentences, in which he vainly banged his head against the wall of world indifference to his cause, that were telling. The fact is the Palestinians are at the bottom of the world agenda. That’s because, contrary to his boast, the PA is a corrupt, ineffective state which doesn’t control all of the territory it claims since Gaza is ruled by Hamas. Thus, while much of the world applauds Abbas’s imprecation of Israel as a racist, colonialist state and his outright lies about the fomenting of hatred that his government promotes, they have no interest in supporting him. It was for that reason that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu gave Abbas’s speech barely a mention as he went on to concentrate on his country’s real problem: a nuclear Iran.

Abbas’s unhappy acknowledgement of the world’s opinion of the PA summed up exactly why the “diplomatic tsunami” that was supposed to engulf Israel last fall never happened. The global community may not like Israel and is not enraged by the anti-Semitic incitement that the Palestinians routinely produce. But they know that Abbas can’t make peace with Israel and won’t negotiate with it to create a state that will, as Netanyahu said, recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state. They also know the PA is incapable of governing such a state and that Abbas, in the eighth year of his current four-year term as president, fears that Hamas will supplant him if given the chance.

The Palestinian issue is one that the world cares about. But it doesn’t care about the PA. That is why they are on the bottom of the global agenda and will stay there so long as they produce leaders such as Abbas.

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Peace Means Justice for Jewish Refugees

The tragic fate of Palestinian Arab refugees has always loomed over the Middle East conflict. The descendants of those who fled the territory of the newborn state of Israel in 1948 have been kept stateless and dependent on United Nations charity rather than being absorbed into other Arab countries so as to perpetuate the war to extinguish the Jewish state. The refugees and those who purport to advocate for their interests have consistently sought to veto any peace plans that might end the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians. They have refused to accept any outcome that did not involve their “return” to what is now Israel, an idea that is tantamount to the destruction of Israel. The Palestinians have gotten away with this irresponsible behavior because they retained the sympathy of a world that saw them as the sole victims of Israel’s War of Independence. But the historical truth is far more complex.

Far from 1948 being a case of a one-sided population flight in which Palestinians left what is now Israel (something that most did voluntarily as they sought to escape the war or because they feared what would happen to them in a Jewish majority state), what actually occurred was a population exchange. At the same time that hundreds of thousands of Arabs left the Palestine Mandate, hundreds of thousands of Jews living in the Arab and Muslim world began to be pushed out of their homes. The story of the Jewish refugees has rarely been told in international forums or the mainstream media but it got a boost today when the first United Nations Conference on Jews expelled from Arab Countries was held at the world body’s New York headquarters. While Palestinian refugees deserve sympathy and perhaps some compensation in any agreement that would finally end the conflict, so, too, do the descendants of the Jews who lost their homes. As Danny Ayalon, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister rightly said today:

We will not arrive at peace without solving the refugee problem – but that includes the Jewish refugees. Justice does not lie on just one side and equal measures must be applied to both.

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The tragic fate of Palestinian Arab refugees has always loomed over the Middle East conflict. The descendants of those who fled the territory of the newborn state of Israel in 1948 have been kept stateless and dependent on United Nations charity rather than being absorbed into other Arab countries so as to perpetuate the war to extinguish the Jewish state. The refugees and those who purport to advocate for their interests have consistently sought to veto any peace plans that might end the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians. They have refused to accept any outcome that did not involve their “return” to what is now Israel, an idea that is tantamount to the destruction of Israel. The Palestinians have gotten away with this irresponsible behavior because they retained the sympathy of a world that saw them as the sole victims of Israel’s War of Independence. But the historical truth is far more complex.

Far from 1948 being a case of a one-sided population flight in which Palestinians left what is now Israel (something that most did voluntarily as they sought to escape the war or because they feared what would happen to them in a Jewish majority state), what actually occurred was a population exchange. At the same time that hundreds of thousands of Arabs left the Palestine Mandate, hundreds of thousands of Jews living in the Arab and Muslim world began to be pushed out of their homes. The story of the Jewish refugees has rarely been told in international forums or the mainstream media but it got a boost today when the first United Nations Conference on Jews expelled from Arab Countries was held at the world body’s New York headquarters. While Palestinian refugees deserve sympathy and perhaps some compensation in any agreement that would finally end the conflict, so, too, do the descendants of the Jews who lost their homes. As Danny Ayalon, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister rightly said today:

We will not arrive at peace without solving the refugee problem – but that includes the Jewish refugees. Justice does not lie on just one side and equal measures must be applied to both.

It is true that the descendants of the Jewish refugees are not still living in camps waiting for new homes. Though the process was not without its problems, rather than abuse those Jews who were dispossessed and using them as political props as the Arabs did, refugees from the Arab world found homes and lives in Israel and the West with the help of their brethren. But that does not diminish their right to compensation or a fair hearing for their grievances.

The truth about the Jewish refugees is something that foreign cheerleaders for the Palestinians as well as the Arab nations who took part in the expulsion have never acknowledged, let alone refuted. As Ron Prosor, Israel’s UN ambassador, pointed out in his speech at the conference, what occurred after Israel’s birth was nothing less than a campaign aimed at eliminating ancient Jewish communities. Arab leaders “launched a war of terror, incitement, and expulsion to decimate and destroy their Jewish communities. Their effort was systematic. It was deliberate. It was planned.”

Indeed, not only did Jews lose billions of dollars in property but were deprived of property that amounts to a land mass that is five times the size of the state of Israel.

This is something that a lot of people, especially those to whom the peace process with the Palestinians has become an end unto itself don’t want to hear about. They believe that the putting forward of Jewish claims from 1948 is merely an obstacle to negotiations. But such arguments are absurd. Peace cannot be built merely by appeasing the Palestinian claim to sole victimhood. Just as the dispute over territory is one between two peoples with claims, so, too is the question of refugee compensation. Peace cannot be bought by pretending that only Palestinians suffered or that only Arabs have rights. Indeed, such a formulation is a guarantee that the struggle will continue indefinitely since the Palestinians are encouraged to think that they are the only ones with just claims.

For far too long the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has been cast as one pitting the security of the former against the rights of the latter. Framed this way, it is no surprise that the more emotional appeals of the Palestinians have often prevailed over the arguments of Israelis. Rather than asserting their historic rights, the Jews have often allowed themselves to be cast in the false role of colonial oppressor. The Palestinian pose as the only victims of the war enables them to evade their historic responsibility for both the creation of a refugee problem in 1948 as well as their refusal to accept Israeli peace offers.

Let’s hope today’s conference is the beginning of a serious debate about the issue as well as a turning point in discussions about Middle East peace. Peace requires respect for the rights of Jewish refugees as well as those of the Palestinians.

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Dividing Jerusalem Is Physically Impossible

In honor of Jerusalem Day, which was celebrated yesterday, anyone who hasn’t yet done so should read Michael Totten’s 2011 City Journal article on why dividing the city that was reunited 45 years ago is not merely foolish, but impossible. There are many good arguments against dividing Jerusalem, and they have been made many times before. What makes Totten’s article unique is that he physically walked the route along which the border would lie under the solution “everyone knows” any Israeli-Palestinian deal must include – a division in which the city’s Arab neighborhoods become part of Palestine while Jewish neighborhoods remain Israeli. For the purpose, he used the Geneva Initiative’s map. Here are some of the absurdities he found:

On a street near the Armenian Quarter, a house that the Geneva Initiative has slated for Israel is wedged between two houses that would go to a Palestinian state. Houses in the Old City are ancient. They lean on one another. It is physically impossible to weave a border between them … Things are even stranger where the Muslim Quarter abuts the Jewish Quarter. Arabs own shops at street level, while Jews own apartments upstairs. According to the Geneva Initiative, the ground floor on that street would be Palestinian and the second floor Israeli.

Even in neighborhoods where Palestinian and Jewish houses aren’t intertwined the way they are in the Old City, the map was utterly impractical:

Take the neighborhood of Abu Tor, on a hill just south of the Old City. The eastern side is Arab, and the western side is Jewish. The Green Line runs through its center. It would be easy enough, theoretically, to make the Green Line the border between Israel and a Palestinian state.

But that border would go right down the middle of a street where Jews live on one side and Arabs live on the other. If a wall or a fence were erected on that border, residents wouldn’t be able to drive down their own street. And if there were no wall or a fence, anyone could cross the border without passing through customs or security: tourists, spies, job-seekers, and suicide bombers. A Palestinian could throw a hand grenade into Israel from inside his living room, and vice versa.

As Totten noted, such a map would be possible only if Israel and Palestine had a completely open border, European Union-style, in which citizens of both nations could freely enter the other with no border checks whatsoever. That is indeed the fantasy envisioned by proponents of dividing the city. But in the real world, it’s completely impossible.

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In honor of Jerusalem Day, which was celebrated yesterday, anyone who hasn’t yet done so should read Michael Totten’s 2011 City Journal article on why dividing the city that was reunited 45 years ago is not merely foolish, but impossible. There are many good arguments against dividing Jerusalem, and they have been made many times before. What makes Totten’s article unique is that he physically walked the route along which the border would lie under the solution “everyone knows” any Israeli-Palestinian deal must include – a division in which the city’s Arab neighborhoods become part of Palestine while Jewish neighborhoods remain Israeli. For the purpose, he used the Geneva Initiative’s map. Here are some of the absurdities he found:

On a street near the Armenian Quarter, a house that the Geneva Initiative has slated for Israel is wedged between two houses that would go to a Palestinian state. Houses in the Old City are ancient. They lean on one another. It is physically impossible to weave a border between them … Things are even stranger where the Muslim Quarter abuts the Jewish Quarter. Arabs own shops at street level, while Jews own apartments upstairs. According to the Geneva Initiative, the ground floor on that street would be Palestinian and the second floor Israeli.

Even in neighborhoods where Palestinian and Jewish houses aren’t intertwined the way they are in the Old City, the map was utterly impractical:

Take the neighborhood of Abu Tor, on a hill just south of the Old City. The eastern side is Arab, and the western side is Jewish. The Green Line runs through its center. It would be easy enough, theoretically, to make the Green Line the border between Israel and a Palestinian state.

But that border would go right down the middle of a street where Jews live on one side and Arabs live on the other. If a wall or a fence were erected on that border, residents wouldn’t be able to drive down their own street. And if there were no wall or a fence, anyone could cross the border without passing through customs or security: tourists, spies, job-seekers, and suicide bombers. A Palestinian could throw a hand grenade into Israel from inside his living room, and vice versa.

As Totten noted, such a map would be possible only if Israel and Palestine had a completely open border, European Union-style, in which citizens of both nations could freely enter the other with no border checks whatsoever. That is indeed the fantasy envisioned by proponents of dividing the city. But in the real world, it’s completely impossible.

First, Israelis wouldn’t accept a border wide open to Palestinian terrorists. An individual Israeli prime minister certainly might; both Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak reportedly did. But by law, ceding territory Israel has annexed requires the approval of either two-thirds of Knesset members or a majority of the public in a referendum. And given the escalation in terror produced by every previous Israeli-Palestinian agreement, a deal that left Israel’s security totally dependent on Palestinian goodwill would never win the requisite support.

But an open border is also an economic non-starter. Israel’s economy is a powerhouse compared not only to the Palestinian Authority, but to all its Arab neighbors. Hence with an open border, it would be flooded with economic migrants – primarily Palestinians, but also other Arab nationals, who could enter Palestine legally and then cross the borderless border into Israel. Even now, thousands of Palestinians risk imprisonment or even death every day trying to cross the security fence to work in Israel. If the passage were risk-free, the number would skyrocket.

In short, dividing Jerusalem isn’t physically possible. Thus, until the fantasy of division is abandoned, no Israeli-Palestinian deal will be possible, either.

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The Principles of Benzion Netanyahu

The death of the father of Israel’s prime minister will likely set off a wave of comment focusing on the influence that Benzion Netanyahu  had on his son Benjamin and whether his passing will make the prime minister more amenable to pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians. But this popular interpretation of the relationship between the two men, which the prime minister rightly dismissed as “psychobabble,” misses the point both about the Netanyahus and the principles they embraced.

Benzion Netanyahu, who died in Israel today at the age of 102, was an important figure in Zionist activism and Jewish history in his own right. Benzion was a follower of Zeev Jabotinsky, one of the great figures in the history of Zionism whose Revisionist movement is the ancestor of the modern Likud. Many contemporary pundits saw him as a representative of a bygone era whose belief in the rigid ideology of that movement served as a human obstacle to peace, because they claimed his son would never embrace a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict as long as the father lived. This was false. Netanyahu signed peace agreements with Yasir Arafat during his first term in office in the 1990s and embraced the concept of a Palestinian state during his second. But the values and lessons his father did teach him will stay with the prime minister. The shame is that more Jews don’t understand them.

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The death of the father of Israel’s prime minister will likely set off a wave of comment focusing on the influence that Benzion Netanyahu  had on his son Benjamin and whether his passing will make the prime minister more amenable to pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians. But this popular interpretation of the relationship between the two men, which the prime minister rightly dismissed as “psychobabble,” misses the point both about the Netanyahus and the principles they embraced.

Benzion Netanyahu, who died in Israel today at the age of 102, was an important figure in Zionist activism and Jewish history in his own right. Benzion was a follower of Zeev Jabotinsky, one of the great figures in the history of Zionism whose Revisionist movement is the ancestor of the modern Likud. Many contemporary pundits saw him as a representative of a bygone era whose belief in the rigid ideology of that movement served as a human obstacle to peace, because they claimed his son would never embrace a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict as long as the father lived. This was false. Netanyahu signed peace agreements with Yasir Arafat during his first term in office in the 1990s and embraced the concept of a Palestinian state during his second. But the values and lessons his father did teach him will stay with the prime minister. The shame is that more Jews don’t understand them.

As with other veterans of the pre-state Zionist movement, Benzion Netanyahu deserves the gratitude of the Jewish people for his labors. As the representative of Jabotinsky’s movement in the United States during World War Two, the Polish native who had moved to Palestine during his youth is credited with helping to persuade the Republican Party to adopt in 1944 an unprecedented pro-Zionist platform plank that caused the Democrats to follow suit. But he deserves just as much, if not more credit for his work as a scholar of Jewish history. And it is here, as much as in his embrace of Jabotinsky’s vision of a secure, liberal and democratic Jewish state in all of historic Palestine that his influence is felt.

In his seminal work, The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain, Benzion Netanyahu exploded myths about the persecution of Jews in Spain that saw most of those who converted to Christianity as a result of persecution as secretly practicing their old faith. Contrary to the long-held belief that the victims of the Inquisition were secret Jews or Marranos, Netanyahu proved that most were not. They were attacked by the Christian establishment not because of their religion but because Jews were seen as inherently evil. As with the Nazis who followed centuries later, the attack on the former Jews was the result of racism, not religious extremism.

While many Jews persist in believing that anti-Semitism as well as ant-Zionism is all a terrible misunderstanding, Benzion Netanyahu understood that hatred and intolerance lay at the roots of the difficulties of the Jews then as now. As his son noted at his funeral today , the challenge is to “face reality head on” and “draw the necessary conclusions.”

Doing so does not make one insensitive to the need for peace or to the legitimate desire of other peoples to live in peace. But it does force one to strip away illusions about the world and force us to come to grips with the modern versions of the ancient hatred that consumed the Jews of past eras. Peace with Palestinians who have not yet abandoned a belief that the Jews have no right to be in the country cannot be bought with good intentions. Until the day comes when the Palestinians are willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, the people of Israel must shield themselves behind the “iron wall” that Jabotinsky envisioned and leaders like David Ben-Gurion built and now Benjamin Netanyahu must preserve.

The principles of a belief in the right of the Jews to their homeland and the need to defend them against the unreasoning hatred of their enemies will not die with Benzion Netanyahu. Nor should his son or any person of good will forget them.

May his memory be for a blessing.

 

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Final Blow to Anti-Israel Linkage Myths?

Of the two pivots in debates about Middle East geopolitics – which side is responsible for continued Israeli-Palestinian hostilities, and in which direction does the “linkage” between those hostilities and Iranian-driven instability run – the Obama administration entered office taking an anti-Israel position on both.

The White House immediately identified the Israelis as the intransigent party. The president put the onus for new concessions on Jerusalem, established “daylight” between the U.S. and the Jewish State, and demanded that Israel implement a full construction freeze beyond the Green Line. Built as it was on shrill ideology rather than sober analysis, that diplomatic offensive failed to the tune of detonating the peace process. The White House eventually grudgingly reversed course.

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Of the two pivots in debates about Middle East geopolitics – which side is responsible for continued Israeli-Palestinian hostilities, and in which direction does the “linkage” between those hostilities and Iranian-driven instability run – the Obama administration entered office taking an anti-Israel position on both.

The White House immediately identified the Israelis as the intransigent party. The president put the onus for new concessions on Jerusalem, established “daylight” between the U.S. and the Jewish State, and demanded that Israel implement a full construction freeze beyond the Green Line. Built as it was on shrill ideology rather than sober analysis, that diplomatic offensive failed to the tune of detonating the peace process. The White House eventually grudgingly reversed course.

“Linkage” is an analytic disagreement over direction and a pragmatic question of sequencing. Meeting with Obama in 2009, Netanyahu insisted no progress could be made on Israeli-Palestinian peace as long as Iran had a free hand regionally, since the mullahs would always use their Hamas and Hezbollah proxies to spoil negotiations. Obama answered by explicitly declaring “if there is a linkage… it actually runs the other way,” and that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations built on Israeli concessions were necessary for mobilizing a regional coalition against Iran.

It used to be that these competing theories were up for debate, with at least coherent arguments on both sides and insufficient evidence to choose one over the other. Not so much any more.

We’ve known since WikiLeaks the Obama administration and its water carriers were more or less lying about Sunni unwillingness to endorse anti-Iran efforts in the absence of Israeli concessions (or at least administration officials were more or less lying; foreign policy experts in think tanks and media outlets may just have been casually inventing anti-Israel and pro-Iran pseudo-sophistication out of habit). Saudi officials were in fact aghast at the president’s naive confidence in Iranian engagement and his languid approach to Iranian nuclearization, seeing him as a blustering amateur stumbling into one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.

And now we know that, for their part, the Israelis were right about the role that Iran plays as a spoiler:

Iran paid the Islamist group Hamas to block a deal with the rival Fatah movement that would have ended a five-year rift between the two main Palestinian factions, a Fatah spokesman said on Tuesday… “We have information that Iran paid tens of millions of dollars to Zahar and Haniyeh in their visits to Iran,” said Ahmed Assaf, referring to Hamas leaders Mahmoud al-Zahar who visited Tehran last week and Ismail Haniyeh who was there in February.

Ironically, even if the president was right at the outset, his public linkage declaration guaranteed he would become wrong (a neat little example of Heisenbergian dynamics in international diplomacy: leaders aren’t free to analyze global affairs without changing them). By signaling that Israeli-Palestinian progress was a prerequisite to regional action against Iran, he incentivized Tehran to either begin or continue interfering in the peace process. Under the oft-repeated assumption the president is a Spock-like Grandmaster playing 3-Dimensional Geopolitical Chess while the rest of us struggle to follow along, he must have known as much. Maybe he just couldn’t help himself.

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The Israeli Leftist Diplomats Should Read

If there’s one article I’d like every international diplomat to read today, it’s Carlo Strenger’s post on the Haaretz website. Strenger, a professor of psychology, is a lifelong leftist and dedicated advocate of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But unlike many of his fellows, he refuses to shut his eyes to reality. Here’s his comment on the latest violence out of Gaza:

Most commentators assume that neither Hamas nor Israel is interested in further escalation of the hostilities that have been initiated by Islamic Jihad this time, ostensibly to jockey for position vis-à-vis Hamas … [But] Israelis, for very understandable reasons no longer care who is responsible for the violence. All they know is that, in the end, there will always be a Palestinian group that will initiate violence. As a result they say “why should we take the risk of retreating to the 1967 borders? Why should we rely on Palestinians to keep the peace? All we’ll get is rockets on Tel Aviv, Raanana and Kfar Saba. So the world won’t like us for the occupation; we can live with that, but not with rockets on our population centers.”

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If there’s one article I’d like every international diplomat to read today, it’s Carlo Strenger’s post on the Haaretz website. Strenger, a professor of psychology, is a lifelong leftist and dedicated advocate of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But unlike many of his fellows, he refuses to shut his eyes to reality. Here’s his comment on the latest violence out of Gaza:

Most commentators assume that neither Hamas nor Israel is interested in further escalation of the hostilities that have been initiated by Islamic Jihad this time, ostensibly to jockey for position vis-à-vis Hamas … [But] Israelis, for very understandable reasons no longer care who is responsible for the violence. All they know is that, in the end, there will always be a Palestinian group that will initiate violence. As a result they say “why should we take the risk of retreating to the 1967 borders? Why should we rely on Palestinians to keep the peace? All we’ll get is rockets on Tel Aviv, Raanana and Kfar Saba. So the world won’t like us for the occupation; we can live with that, but not with rockets on our population centers.”

Strenger’s conclusion is that however sincerely committed to peace Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas may be (and he credits Abbas with far more sincerity than most Israelis do), Israel won’t sign any agreement as long as major Palestinian players remain committed to violence: The risk of a pro-violence faction gaining control of the Palestinian state, whether through elections or by force, is too high. And he’s smart enough to realize that the kind of dodges now being mooted by parts of the Israeli left and the international community – like a Palestinian unity government in which Hamas authorizes Abbas to continue negotiating but refuses to recognize Israel itself, or Hamas’s offer of a “long-term truce” rather than full peace – won’t do:

Israelis will not move towards peace as long as Hamas, a central player and crucial part of Palestinian society will not endorse peace explicitly. No amount of playing games will do; nothing less than full recognition of Israel’s right to exist in safety and abolishing the [Hamas] Charter and excising its anti-Semitism as it stands completely; nothing less will do.

Strenger is certainly right as far as he goes, and anyone who supports a two-state solution should take his words to heart.

Nevertheless, he doesn’t go far enough. For as he himself wrote, even when Hamas isn’t interested in escalation, there’s always some “Palestinian group that will initiate violence” instead. And that means reforming Hamas, while necessary, isn’t sufficient: Pro-violence Palestinians will simply migrate to other groups, like Islamic Jihad.

What is needed, therefore, is a change in attitude among the Palestinian public. And that will never happen as long as even the “pro-peace” camp, aka Abbas and the PA, engages in relentless, vicious incitement against Israel: denying historic Jewish ties to Jerusalem; teaching  children that pre-1967 Israel was “stolen” from the Palestinians, who will someday get it back; consistently promoting a vision of a world without Israel; and lionizing murderers.

Combatting Palestinian incitement and educating for peace is slow, unglamorous work; international peace conferences are much more exciting. But as Strenger noted, peace isn’t possible as long as “there will always be a Palestinian group that will initiate violence.” And only a fundamental change in Palestinian culture can change that.

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Facts About the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict You Won’t Read in Your Local Paper

Here’s a fact about the latest Israeli-Palestinian flare-up you probably won’t read in your local paper, as it contradicts the preferred narrative about the conflict: Even as every school in southern Israel was closed for four days, keeping tens of thousands of students home, children in the Gaza Strip continued going to school as usual.

The preferred narrative, of course, is that Israel uses “indiscriminate and excessive force” against Palestinian civilians. But it turns out real live Palestinians know better: They know Israel actually makes great efforts to avoid hitting civilian targets, and therefore, it’s perfectly safe to send their children to school. In contrast, Israelis can’t safely send their children to school, because Palestinian terrorists really do use indiscriminate force, making a school full of children an invitation to a mass-casualty incident. Indeed, a rocket hit an (empty) school in Beersheba on Sunday, and rockets have also struck (empty) schools during previous rounds.

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Here’s a fact about the latest Israeli-Palestinian flare-up you probably won’t read in your local paper, as it contradicts the preferred narrative about the conflict: Even as every school in southern Israel was closed for four days, keeping tens of thousands of students home, children in the Gaza Strip continued going to school as usual.

The preferred narrative, of course, is that Israel uses “indiscriminate and excessive force” against Palestinian civilians. But it turns out real live Palestinians know better: They know Israel actually makes great efforts to avoid hitting civilian targets, and therefore, it’s perfectly safe to send their children to school. In contrast, Israelis can’t safely send their children to school, because Palestinian terrorists really do use indiscriminate force, making a school full of children an invitation to a mass-casualty incident. Indeed, a rocket hit an (empty) school in Beersheba on Sunday, and rockets have also struck (empty) schools during previous rounds.

And here’s something else you probably won’t read in your local paper: Palestinian terrorists take cynical advantage of Israel’s efforts to avoid hitting civilians by launching their rockets from heavily populated civilian areas. For them, it’s a win-win situation: If Israel refrains from shooting back for fear of hitting civilians, they live to launch again another day, and if Israel does shoot back, it risks civilian casualties that provide the terrorists with wonderful propaganda. After all, they know neither the international media nor the “human-rights organizations” will bother asking why terrorists were launching rockets from civilian areas to begin with.

But don’t take my word for this: Just read what a genuine human rights activist from Gaza, Mahmoud Abu Rahma, wrote in an article posted on two Palestinian websites in December. After describing various incidents in which Palestinian civilians were killed or wounded in Israeli counterstrikes on terrorists who had ignored the civilians’ pleas not to fire rockets near their homes, he demanded: “Who will protect the citizen from the harm caused to him by the government or the muqawama [armed resistance]?”

“There are many instances of citizens falling victim to the muqawama‘s lack of consideration for them and their lives,” Abu Rahma continued. “And what’s more, there is nobody who is accountable for the muqawama‘s intolerable activities.”

Abu Rahma suffered the predictable penalty for his truth-telling: He was viciously attacked by masked men who stabbed him repeatedly. But don’t expect to see international journalists or human rights activists lining up to join his crusade against the muqawama: They prefer the old familiar narrative that it’s all Israel’s fault.

And of course, the muqawama has plenty of fans in Gaza. Asked why Palestinians support the rocket fire despite knowing Israel will retaliate, a Palestinian “friend” told Haaretz reporter Amira Hass: “The mission of the rockets is not to liberate Palestine or win the battle, but to hurt, to cause the Israelis suffering.”

Causing Israelis suffering, it seems, is a goal worth any number of Palestinian casualties. But don’t expect to read that in your local paper, either: It might spoil the narrative of innocent, peace-seeking Palestinians being wantonly attacked by Israel.

 

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J Street in Trouble for Smearing Israel

Last time Israel launched a defensive war in Gaza, J Street called for superpower intervention to restrain the IDF. The position put the ostensibly “pro-Israel” organization firmly on the other side of the Israeli government and three-fourths of the Israeli public, and at least in tension with the Palestinian Authority’s “it’s Hamas’s fault” position. But they’re still “pro-Israel” because their parents told them they could be anything they want when they grow up.

This time around, J Street partisans have settled on a less robust advocacy, mostly contenting themselves with catechisms about how “the majority of… Palestinians recognize that a two-state solution is the only means to achieve true peace and security.”

Still, two problems.

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Last time Israel launched a defensive war in Gaza, J Street called for superpower intervention to restrain the IDF. The position put the ostensibly “pro-Israel” organization firmly on the other side of the Israeli government and three-fourths of the Israeli public, and at least in tension with the Palestinian Authority’s “it’s Hamas’s fault” position. But they’re still “pro-Israel” because their parents told them they could be anything they want when they grow up.

This time around, J Street partisans have settled on a less robust advocacy, mostly contenting themselves with catechisms about how “the majority of… Palestinians recognize that a two-state solution is the only means to achieve true peace and security.”

Still, two problems.

First, multiple different polls with multiple different questions have confirmed that of course it’s not the case  the majority of Palestinians embrace a two-state solution. Wishing doesn’t make it so. Second, J Street tried to stack even their minimal advocacy with an outrageous lie about anti-Palestinian Israeli atrocities. Via blogger Challah Hu Akbar, who caught the smear almost immediately:

J Street has released a statement on the recent rocket attacks against Israel’s southern communities and the IDF response. In this statement, J Street says… “Israel Defense Forces… have killed over a dozen Palestinian civilians.” This is an utter lie. Prior to Sunday, Israel had successfully killed 16 terrorists, who were either active in the Popular Resistance Committees or Islamic Jihad, and no civilians. Unfortunately, two civilians were killed on Sunday.

Challah then went on to list each and every terrorist who had been killed, complete with pictures and links to most of their online martyr bios. Martyr bios. While genocidal Palestinian groups were glorifying their cretins’ battlefield demise, J Street was calling those terrorists civilians. Apparently, they’re so incompetent they can’t even toe the Palestinian line correctly.

In fairness, J Street later deleted their false smear. But that hasn’t stopped Israeli outlets from painstakingly cataloging how everyone except the organization seemed to know the dead terrorists were in fact dead terrorists (the notable exception being EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, who also seemingly didn’t know). And it hasn’t stopped Israeli MK Otniel Schneller from blasting the group:

“At a time when a million Israeli citizens have been living in bomb shelters for four days and four nights, have not gone to school or work and anxiously await the next siren, the terrorists firing on them are getting encouragement and support, not just from Iran and Hezbollah, but also from the left-wing Jewish American organization J Street,” Schneller said in the Knesset plenum on Tuesday. “The anti-Israel and anti-ethical statement of J Street should serve as a warning for Israeli politicians and left-wing activists, including members of my party, against supporting and identifying with J Street, as they have done in the past,” he added.

Schneller, by the by, turns out to be a Kadima MK. The forecast for former PM Ehud Olmert’s keynote at J Street’s upcoming conference is getting awfully frosty.

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Obama’s Telling Silence

The Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish State – reiterated last month by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – is the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Huge majorities of Palestinians refuse to accept “Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people,” instead keeping alive the dream of demographically overrunning Israel and restoring the land to some kind of pre-1948 utopia with bucolic post-Ottoman architecture and no running water. The erstwhile Palestinian negotiating position – “recognize Israel, but not as a Jewish State, in exchange for maximum territorial concessions” – very deliberately preserves the ideological basis for future war against the Jewish State. That’s why recognition of Israel’s Jewish character has been a central Israeli demand since at least the Olmert government.

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The Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish State – reiterated last month by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – is the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Huge majorities of Palestinians refuse to accept “Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people,” instead keeping alive the dream of demographically overrunning Israel and restoring the land to some kind of pre-1948 utopia with bucolic post-Ottoman architecture and no running water. The erstwhile Palestinian negotiating position – “recognize Israel, but not as a Jewish State, in exchange for maximum territorial concessions” – very deliberately preserves the ideological basis for future war against the Jewish State. That’s why recognition of Israel’s Jewish character has been a central Israeli demand since at least the Olmert government.

The French long ago came around to Israel’s position on recognition, with Foreign Minister Alain Juppe establishing it in a speech and then circulating the text for emphasis. President Obama, in his AIPAC speech today, pointedly did not. From the prepared text:

That’s why – just as we encourage Israel to be resolute in the pursuit of peace – we have continued to insist that any Palestinian partner must recognize Israel’s right to exist, reject violence, and adhere to existing agreements. And that is why my administration has consistently rejected any efforts to short-cut negotiations or impose an agreement on the parties.

The omission wasn’t an accident. The Palestinians’ refusal to recognize Israel’s Jewish character came up last time Prime Minister Netanyahu was in town as well. And if I heard Obama correctly, the line was even more awkward as delivered. It came out something like: “… must recognize Israel [clumsy, halting full stop].” I may be misremembering though, simply because it sounded so stilted to have the usual phrase – “recognize Israel, as a Jewish State” – just hanging there, half-delivered.

This issue matters. If it was a minor rhetorical matter – as Palestinian apologists blandly insist – then the Palestinians would accept the Israeli position and reap the subsequent propaganda windfall. Instead, they’ve outright ruled out recognizing Israel as a Jewish State again and again. The terms under which they want peace are ones that leave available the central pretext for war.

Just to be clear: the president certainly recognizes Israel as a Jewish State. He just doesn’t seem to think the Palestinians should have to. That’s a recipe for continued distrust between America and the Jewish State – the Israelis will find themselves unable to rely on American backing on even the most basic issues – which in turn will ensure that the peace process remains moribund.

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Non-Violent Protests No Substitute for Palestinian Will to Make Peace

On today’s New York Times op-ed page, Palestinian parliamentarian Mustafa Barghouti makes the argument that what his people need to do is to eschew terrorism and to concentrate their efforts on promoting peaceful protests against Israel. Barghouti believes the limited success of a hunger strike by a Palestinian imprisoned by Israel ought to show the way for an escalation of non-violent demonstrations that will embarrass the Jewish state and pave the way for statehood for his people.

This is something supporters of the Palestinians have long wished for because the obsession with violence that has characterized the Arab national movement’s politics has been difficult to defend. Israelis would also cheer an abandonment of terrorism even if it would boost the international standing of the Palestinians. But the notion that a new round of peaceful protests against Israel has anything to do with the promotion of peace or the creation of an independent Palestinian state is pure fiction. That’s because the Palestinians need not resort to terror or to non-violent demonstrations or protests of any kind in order to achieve those goals. All they have to do is have their leaders negotiate with Israel and to be willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn. Unfortunately, that is the one thing no Palestinian leader or activist such as Barghouti appears willing to do.

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On today’s New York Times op-ed page, Palestinian parliamentarian Mustafa Barghouti makes the argument that what his people need to do is to eschew terrorism and to concentrate their efforts on promoting peaceful protests against Israel. Barghouti believes the limited success of a hunger strike by a Palestinian imprisoned by Israel ought to show the way for an escalation of non-violent demonstrations that will embarrass the Jewish state and pave the way for statehood for his people.

This is something supporters of the Palestinians have long wished for because the obsession with violence that has characterized the Arab national movement’s politics has been difficult to defend. Israelis would also cheer an abandonment of terrorism even if it would boost the international standing of the Palestinians. But the notion that a new round of peaceful protests against Israel has anything to do with the promotion of peace or the creation of an independent Palestinian state is pure fiction. That’s because the Palestinians need not resort to terror or to non-violent demonstrations or protests of any kind in order to achieve those goals. All they have to do is have their leaders negotiate with Israel and to be willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn. Unfortunately, that is the one thing no Palestinian leader or activist such as Barghouti appears willing to do.

What makes Barghouti’s appeal so disingenuous is that it ignores the fact that the Palestinians have repeatedly turned down Israel’s offers of peace and statehood. Whereas once it could have been argued that the Jewish state had to be persuaded to contemplate a two-state solution, in the wake of the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to accept independence in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001 and 2008, it is impossible to claim the obstacle to statehood is anything other than a Palestinian political culture that cannot accept peace with Israel.

Barghouti’s piece draws comparisons between the situation of the Palestinians and the Arab Spring revolts against autocracies throughout the Middle East. He also cites the philosophy of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., as inspirations for the Palestinians and throws in the tactics of Irish Republican Army terrorists for good measure. Yet the only thing Mubarak’s Egypt, Northern Ireland, British-ruled India and the segregation-era American South have in common is that none of these examples are remotely analogous to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

If, as their repeated refusal to contemplate a peace that includes their recognition of Israel’s legitimacy makes clear, the Palestinians’ ultimate goal is the Jewish state’s destruction, the debate about the use of violence or non-violence merely becomes one of which tactic is more useful to obtain that end. That is an interesting discussion, but it is one that has little to do with peace.

Indeed, rather than focus their non-violent protests against an Israel that is willing to compromise on territory (though perhaps not quite so much as the Palestinians may wish) to obtain peace, what Barghouti and other like-minded Palestinians should do is to conduct a civil disobedience program whose purpose will be to persuade PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his new Hamas allies to go back to the negotiating table and sign a peace that will end the conflict.

Considering the nature of a Palestinian political culture that has always glorified violence and treated the murder of Jews as a source of prestige and legitimacy, such a campaign would be an uphill struggle. And given the ruthlessness with which Abbas and Hamas have always stamped out any dissent from their rule, Barghouti’s reluctance to try their patience with a Gandhi-like campaign is understandable. But anyone who thinks non-violent protest against Israel will help bring peace or Palestinian independence is ignoring the reality of the conflict.

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