Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel

Palestinians Need More Than Borders

Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas has said that he wants the next round of negotiations to focus on the borders of a Palestinian state. Of course, Israel always has to be concerned about maintaining defensible borders, but the precise geographical parameters of a Palestinian state must be of less concern to everyone than the matter of the internal nature of that state. Indeed, if we could all be confident that a future Palestinian state would have the national characteristics of, say, Switzerland, then the question of the defensibility of Israel’s borders might be somewhat less critical. But because there is good reason to suspect that a future Palestinian state in the West Bank, like the Palestinian polity in Gaza, would have more in common with Afghanistan, the exact positioning of its borders should hardly be our most pressing concern.

The unpalatable reality is that the Palestinian Authority’s “practice state” in the West Bank has been a disaster. This nascent country in waiting has been the model of what a failed state looks like and it only remains in existence today because of phenomenal levels of international aid coupled with the IDF presence throughout the West Bank. Were it not for the Israeli military, Abbas and his governing Fatah movement would likely have been swept away long ago, just as Fatah was in Gaza–indeed, just as despots throughout the Arab world have faced overthrow by Islamist opponents. Yet, even in the absence of a takeover by Islamic militants, life for Palestinians living under the PA is hardly pleasant. All those demanding the imminent creation of a Palestinian state, while also parading themselves as champions of Palestinian rights, should stop to ask themselves precisely what kind of state they would be helping to create.

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Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas has said that he wants the next round of negotiations to focus on the borders of a Palestinian state. Of course, Israel always has to be concerned about maintaining defensible borders, but the precise geographical parameters of a Palestinian state must be of less concern to everyone than the matter of the internal nature of that state. Indeed, if we could all be confident that a future Palestinian state would have the national characteristics of, say, Switzerland, then the question of the defensibility of Israel’s borders might be somewhat less critical. But because there is good reason to suspect that a future Palestinian state in the West Bank, like the Palestinian polity in Gaza, would have more in common with Afghanistan, the exact positioning of its borders should hardly be our most pressing concern.

The unpalatable reality is that the Palestinian Authority’s “practice state” in the West Bank has been a disaster. This nascent country in waiting has been the model of what a failed state looks like and it only remains in existence today because of phenomenal levels of international aid coupled with the IDF presence throughout the West Bank. Were it not for the Israeli military, Abbas and his governing Fatah movement would likely have been swept away long ago, just as Fatah was in Gaza–indeed, just as despots throughout the Arab world have faced overthrow by Islamist opponents. Yet, even in the absence of a takeover by Islamic militants, life for Palestinians living under the PA is hardly pleasant. All those demanding the imminent creation of a Palestinian state, while also parading themselves as champions of Palestinian rights, should stop to ask themselves precisely what kind of state they would be helping to create.

Since the retirement of Salam Fayyad as Palestinian prime minister, the Palestinians seem to have abandoned even trying to maintain the façade of reform. The corrupt Palestinian Authority finds itself beset by dire financial prospects and crippled by internal rivalry and mismanagement. In open breach of its obligations mandated under the very peace accords that not only brought the PA into existence but that trained and armed its fighting force, the Palestinian Authority has ceased to police many of the deprived neighborhoods that are now strongholds for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, while at the same time using funds from the U.S. and Europe to run a media and education system that incites its population against Jews and the Jewish state.

Even if one were to dismiss and explain away the Palestinian Authority’s blatant hostility to the state that it is supposed to be making peace with—as Western leaders routinely attempt to—there is no getting around the shambolic failure of the Palestinians to govern. The rioting that took place in Hebron today, and the terror attack perpetrated against a visiting Israeli family in that same city just before the Passover holiday, is just the latest and most visceral reminder of this refusal to run internal Palestinian affairs responsibly. Despite the unprecedented levels of international aid that is poured into the Palestinian areas, the PA’s spiraling debt is now so out of control that it no longer even seems able to pay the ballooning 850 million shekel electricity bill that it owes the Israelis, while at the same time the authority has been struggling to pay its employee’s wages. Yet somehow there is always enough money to make large payouts to Palestinian terrorists and their families.

Those such as president Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry who claim that the Palestinians are ready for statehood, or that we are on the verge of witnessing the emergence of a harmonious two-state arrangement, are living in fantasyland. Abbas is now so weak that under public pressure he has simply ceased to dispatch his forces to neutralize Hamas and Islamic Jihad opponents in places like Jenin and Nablus. This hasn’t always been the case; the PA has stacked up a shocking record of human rights abuses in the course of its crackdowns on Islamist rivals. No doubt Abbas would still wish to keep these militants at bay–and not for Israel’s sake but rather for the security of his own faction–but it seems the Palestinian public will no longer tolerate such actions. The constant fear of overthrow is real for Abbas and Fatah.

Anyone wishing to concur with Abbas that now is the time to be discussing the borders of Palestinian state is willfully ignoring the reality on the ground. The Palestinian Authority’s dress rehearsal for statehood has demonstrated what a Palestinian state would look like. Granted, Abbas may not have plunged Palestinian society into the abyss of intifada like Arafat did, yet despite Salam Fayyad’s better efforts, Abbas has succeeded in creating a failed state; this even without the responsibilities of full statehood. As things stand, wherever the borders of a Palestinian state were drawn would present Israel with a strategic nightmare.  

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Patrick Seale in Israel

Patrick Seale, journalist and author, best known for his reportage on Syria and his mediation between Hafez Asad and the West, has passed away at the age of 83, after a battle with brain cancer. Here are a few impressions of my few encounters with him, from an Israeli point of view.

In the world of Israeli Middle East expertise, Seale’s 1965 book The Struggle for Syria had an almost iconic status. When it first appeared, there weren’t a lot of books on contemporary Syria, and Israeli analysts parsed every word. Seale didn’t just rely on published sources, he interviewed all the actors, and he became renowned for his access to otherwise taciturn Arab politicians. Ma’arachot, the publishing house of the Israel Defense Forces, published a Hebrew translation of the book in 1968, and it quickly found its way to every relevant shelf.

In 1988, he published a biography of Syria’s ruler, under the title Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East. There was that word “struggle” again, although this time his book had the flavor of a semi-official enterprise. Indeed, Seale ended it with this sentence: “When asked how he would wish this chronicle to be concluded, Asad replied: ‘Say simply that the struggle continues.’” Footnoted: “Interview with President Asad, Damascus, 18 March 1988.” Of course, this only enhanced the aura surrounding Seale in Israeli eyes, and the biography immediately appeared in Hebrew translation. (In contrast, the book’s distribution was banned in Syria. Seale’s account was fine for Westerners, but some passages weren’t sufficiently obsequious for consumption in Damascus.)

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Patrick Seale, journalist and author, best known for his reportage on Syria and his mediation between Hafez Asad and the West, has passed away at the age of 83, after a battle with brain cancer. Here are a few impressions of my few encounters with him, from an Israeli point of view.

In the world of Israeli Middle East expertise, Seale’s 1965 book The Struggle for Syria had an almost iconic status. When it first appeared, there weren’t a lot of books on contemporary Syria, and Israeli analysts parsed every word. Seale didn’t just rely on published sources, he interviewed all the actors, and he became renowned for his access to otherwise taciturn Arab politicians. Ma’arachot, the publishing house of the Israel Defense Forces, published a Hebrew translation of the book in 1968, and it quickly found its way to every relevant shelf.

In 1988, he published a biography of Syria’s ruler, under the title Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East. There was that word “struggle” again, although this time his book had the flavor of a semi-official enterprise. Indeed, Seale ended it with this sentence: “When asked how he would wish this chronicle to be concluded, Asad replied: ‘Say simply that the struggle continues.’” Footnoted: “Interview with President Asad, Damascus, 18 March 1988.” Of course, this only enhanced the aura surrounding Seale in Israeli eyes, and the biography immediately appeared in Hebrew translation. (In contrast, the book’s distribution was banned in Syria. Seale’s account was fine for Westerners, but some passages weren’t sufficiently obsequious for consumption in Damascus.)

But when I first met Seale, it wasn’t in connection with his Syria work. The date was February 5, 1992, and the place, the Chicago studio of Milt Rosenberg’s highly regarded talk show, “Extension 720.” I was a visiting professor at the University of Chicago, and Seale was passing through town to promote a new book, Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire. It was a wretched piece of conspiracy mongering (the Economist called it “ludicrous”), claiming that the Mossad was behind the Palestinian terrorist Sabri al-Banna (Abu Nidal). Seale didn’t bring a single shred of evidence. I read and notated the book, and came to the studio loaded for bear. In the waiting room, where we met, Seale seemed almost apologetic: “I’ve written something of a potboiler.” In the on-air exchange, I quoted his claims line by line, pressing him to produce even a scintilla of evidence, of which there was none. At one point, I told Seale that I respected his Struggle for Syria, but each of his subsequent efforts was less rigorous than its predecessor, and with Abu Nidal he’d scraped bottom. Maybe one day I’ll put the exchange online (I have the tape). I remember thinking it was a nice evening’s work; it certainly wasn’t the beginning of a friendship.

I didn’t expect to encounter Seale again, but later events in the 1990s set in motion Israel-Syria feelers and intermittent peace talks, and when the Labor party prevailed in the May 1999 elections, prime minister-elect Ehud Barak indicated that he wanted to relaunch negotiations. It was Barak who asked my colleague Itamar Rabinovich, Israel’s preeminent Syria hand, to invite Seale to Israel to speak publicly. (Seale knew and respected Rabinovich, although the tie had been severed for a few years, after Rabinovich disparaged Seale’s Assad biography in a review.) I headed the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University at that time, and that’s how I came to co-sponsor and co-chair Patrick Seale’s first and only public address in Israel. The date: June 9, 1999.

I’ll not forget the Seale-fest that ensued in the lead-up and sequel to his appearance. Everyone wanted to know Asad’s real redlines, and everyone assumed Seale was on a quasi-official mission to relay a message from Damascus. The media besieged us with requests to interview him. When he came to the university to speak, more than five hundred people packed the hall. He had audiences with Barak (a “red-carpet reception,” said one source), President Ezer Weizman (who gave Seale a Golan-must-go interview), and former prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres. Uri Saguy, a former head of military intelligence and Barak’s expected point man on Syria, took Seale to the Golan, where Saguy told Israeli settlers, with tears in his eyes, that “hard decisions may be coming.”

Rabinovich was the go-to for these meetings, but I also found myself consumed with the management of Patrick Seale, media star, for the better part of a week. He was charming, diplomatic, and precise in his formulations, and he clearly enjoyed the limelight. Seale genuinely yearned to facilitate a breakthrough—on Asad’s terms, of course. Later that month, Seale published side-by-side interviews with Barak and Asad, in which they signaled hope for this and that. Seale denied being a go-between, but that’s exactly how Israelis regarded him.

It turned out to be a bridge too far, for reasons that will keep historians busy for years to come. When Asad died a year later and his son Bashar took over, Israelis concluded that Seale didn’t have the same access in Damascus that he’d had under the old man. Failure at Camp David, Intifada II, Barak’s departure, Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush, 9/11, and the Iraq war all pushed Syrian-Israel peace off the agenda, and put Syria on the defensive. Seale slipped into Israel-bashing on a scale unprecedented even for him. Read the columns yourself.

And that’s where my Seale story ends, but there’s a footnote. Whenever Seale came up in Israeli discussions, there usually would be a fair bit of winking and nodding about his ancestry. His father, a Russian Jew born (I think) in Jerusalem under the name of Ephraim Sigel, converted to Christianity, changed his name to Morris Seale, studied theology in Belfast (where Patrick was born), and became an ordained minister of the Irish Presbyterian Church. Sigel-Seale then went out as a missionary to Damascus, where Patrick spent his childhood. Nothing more excites speculation among Israelis than the discovery that a foreign friend or foe is a blood member of the tribe. (Albright, Kerry… it happens all the time.) Did Hafez Asad and his cronies know that their Patrick wasn’t purely Irish? Did it matter? How could it not? Etcetera—for what it’s worth. (Not much, I think.)

Seale has left a world in which even the idea of Syria is in peril, as nearly every achievement of Hafez Asad unravels. In the preface to a 1986 reedition of The Struggle for Syria, Seale wrote that Hafez Asad

seeks to discipline Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinians, preventing them from entering into any relationship with Israel without his consent, trying to turn the Arab Levant into a bastion against Israeli expansion… But just as Asad needs to unite the Levant in order to recover the occupied territories, Israel needs to divide it in order to keep them… “Greater Syria” is a sort of mirror-image of “Greater Israel” and its inevitable opponent. Both cannot win.

It might not be as black-and-white as all that, but if Seale was right, there can be no doubt today who the winner is. Syria is prostrate, an arena for the meddling of others, while the Arab Levant continues to divide and subdivide into its smallest parts. As the old man told Seale back in 1988, “the struggle continues,” but it’s not the one he or Seale envisioned. Theirs will be a sad reunion.

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Why Smear Israel and Whitewash Iran?

The decision of the Obama administration to take a firm stand on Iran’s decision to send one of the participants in the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran to serve as its ambassador to the United Nations may have surprised the Islamist regime. A year of diplomacy aimed at appeasing the Iranians and allowing them to keep their nuclear infrastructure must have convinced Tehran that there was almost nothing it could do to get a rise out of Washington. By denying the terrorist turned diplomat a visa, the president indicated that he understood there are limits to how far he can go toward accommodating the ayatollahs in an effort to get out of having to keep his campaign pledges on the nuclear issue. The dismay among some of the foreign-policy establishment about the latent hostility toward Iran that was illustrated by the anger over the appointment was palpable.

But those determined to push the dubious theory that the election of Hassan Rouhani in Iran’s faux presidential election last year indicates a shift to moderation are undaunted. The New York Times has been a notable advocate for this position on both its editorial and news pages, but it surpassed itself today with the publication of a remarkable piece by two scholars alleging that not only is the Islamist regime changing but that Iran and Israel are like two ships passing in the night as the Jewish state becomes an extremist theocracy. That its thesis is an absurd libel of Israel and a whitewash of Iran is so obvious it is barely worth the effort to refute it. In short, Israel is a pluralist democracy where the rule of law prevails despite the ongoing war being waged against its existence by most of the Arab and Muslim world. Iran is a theocratic tyranny where free expression and freedom of religion are forbidden and women, gays, and minorities are brutally oppressed. Iran is also the world’s leading state sponsor of terror and its foreign policy is aimed at propping up one of the world’s worst tyrants in Syria’s Bashar Assad as well as Hezbollah and other terrorists seeking to destabilize the Middle East.

So while the argument that the Times featured today is so risible as to merit satire rather than a lengthy response, it is worth asking why the newspaper gives space to such laughable arguments. The answer is both simple and not particularly funny. Some portions of the foreign-policy establishment in this country—of which the Times remains a leading outlet—are deeply unhappy about the resilience of the U.S.-Israel alliance even after more than five years of Obama administration efforts to downgrade these ties and desirous of détente with Iran. Such articles say more about confidence in the success of the slow-motion betrayal of President Obama’s promise to stop Iran’s nuclear program than they do about either Israel or Iran.

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The decision of the Obama administration to take a firm stand on Iran’s decision to send one of the participants in the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran to serve as its ambassador to the United Nations may have surprised the Islamist regime. A year of diplomacy aimed at appeasing the Iranians and allowing them to keep their nuclear infrastructure must have convinced Tehran that there was almost nothing it could do to get a rise out of Washington. By denying the terrorist turned diplomat a visa, the president indicated that he understood there are limits to how far he can go toward accommodating the ayatollahs in an effort to get out of having to keep his campaign pledges on the nuclear issue. The dismay among some of the foreign-policy establishment about the latent hostility toward Iran that was illustrated by the anger over the appointment was palpable.

But those determined to push the dubious theory that the election of Hassan Rouhani in Iran’s faux presidential election last year indicates a shift to moderation are undaunted. The New York Times has been a notable advocate for this position on both its editorial and news pages, but it surpassed itself today with the publication of a remarkable piece by two scholars alleging that not only is the Islamist regime changing but that Iran and Israel are like two ships passing in the night as the Jewish state becomes an extremist theocracy. That its thesis is an absurd libel of Israel and a whitewash of Iran is so obvious it is barely worth the effort to refute it. In short, Israel is a pluralist democracy where the rule of law prevails despite the ongoing war being waged against its existence by most of the Arab and Muslim world. Iran is a theocratic tyranny where free expression and freedom of religion are forbidden and women, gays, and minorities are brutally oppressed. Iran is also the world’s leading state sponsor of terror and its foreign policy is aimed at propping up one of the world’s worst tyrants in Syria’s Bashar Assad as well as Hezbollah and other terrorists seeking to destabilize the Middle East.

So while the argument that the Times featured today is so risible as to merit satire rather than a lengthy response, it is worth asking why the newspaper gives space to such laughable arguments. The answer is both simple and not particularly funny. Some portions of the foreign-policy establishment in this country—of which the Times remains a leading outlet—are deeply unhappy about the resilience of the U.S.-Israel alliance even after more than five years of Obama administration efforts to downgrade these ties and desirous of détente with Iran. Such articles say more about confidence in the success of the slow-motion betrayal of President Obama’s promise to stop Iran’s nuclear program than they do about either Israel or Iran.

As for the notion that Israel is becoming more extremist and Iran more moderate, only by cherry-picking scattered facts about either nation can one possibly justify such an absurd pair of arguments. Suffice it to say that while Israel’s Orthodox population is growing and the conflict between some elements of the Haredi community and the rest of the country is troubling, there is simply no coherent analogy to be drawn between even the ultra-Orthodox parties and the Islamist leadership in Iran. While the Haredi leadership deserves criticism for the way it has discredited Judaism in the eyes of Israel’s secular majority as well its stances on education and universal military service, it is not guilty of terrorism. Moreover, despite the assumption that Israel is becoming more extreme, it must be pointed out that the political influence of the Haredim is at its lowest point in the country’s recent history as their parties have, for the first time in decades, been excluded from the government, even one led from the right by Benjamin Netanyahu. The authors assume that criticism from that government of U.S. pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians is a sign of extremism. But such sentiments merely represent realism on the part of an Israeli public—both secular and religious—that understands that the Palestinians aren’t interested in peace. Far from Israels government and people abandoning democracy as the authors charge, it is those Israelis who rationalize the anti-Semitic boycotts of the state who are seeking to overturn the verdicts of the ballot box by foreign pressure and economic warfare.

As for Iran, the authors can cite no real evidence that Rouhani’s election has changed the country. That’s because there is none. It remains a vicious tyranny and the clerics and their military followers show no sign of loosening the grip on power as the reaction to the 2009 Tehran protests illustrated.

But the willingness of the Times to give such prominent play to the authors’ ridiculous assertions does tell us a lot about how important the smearing of Israel and the whitewashing of Iran is to the success of a foreign policy aimed at détente with Tehran. While seemingly unimportant in the great scheme of things, the dustup about Iran’s U.N. appointment shows that Americans and in particular Congress has not yet been persuaded by Kerry to think well of Iran. Those who confidently predict, as do the authors of this travesty, that Israel’s alliance with the U.S. will not stand the test of time understand neither the lasting bonds between these two great democracies nor the difference between Israeli freedom and Iranian despotism.

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A Tale of Two Letters: Why the Peace Process Went Poof

Last week Zbigniew Brzezinski, joined by five other foreign-policy experts from the past, issued an open letter entitled “Stand Firm, John Kerry,” calling for “clarity” on “the critical moral and political issues” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The letter castigated Israeli settlements and proposed “halting the diplomatic process” to “help stop this activity.” At “Pressure Points,” Elliott Abrams dismantled the letter, noting that, among other things, it ignored history.  

As it happens, tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of one of the more important items of history the Brzezinski group ignored: the April 14, 2004 letter from President George W. Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Abrams recounts how the letter went through “many drafts, as words, phrases, and paragraphs came in and out,” ending with a “headline” that was clear: “There would be no return to 1967 and Israel could keep the major settlement blocks.” In her  own memoir, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recounted spending three hours on the letter with Sharon the night before it was issued, and described the agreement to apply a “Google Earth test” for settlements: no new ones, no expanding the boundaries of them, but allowing building within existing settlements, since that would not reduce the land available for a Palestinian state. In his recent biography of Sharon, David Landau writes:

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Last week Zbigniew Brzezinski, joined by five other foreign-policy experts from the past, issued an open letter entitled “Stand Firm, John Kerry,” calling for “clarity” on “the critical moral and political issues” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The letter castigated Israeli settlements and proposed “halting the diplomatic process” to “help stop this activity.” At “Pressure Points,” Elliott Abrams dismantled the letter, noting that, among other things, it ignored history.  

As it happens, tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of one of the more important items of history the Brzezinski group ignored: the April 14, 2004 letter from President George W. Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Abrams recounts how the letter went through “many drafts, as words, phrases, and paragraphs came in and out,” ending with a “headline” that was clear: “There would be no return to 1967 and Israel could keep the major settlement blocks.” In her  own memoir, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recounted spending three hours on the letter with Sharon the night before it was issued, and described the agreement to apply a “Google Earth test” for settlements: no new ones, no expanding the boundaries of them, but allowing building within existing settlements, since that would not reduce the land available for a Palestinian state. In his recent biography of Sharon, David Landau writes:

The American-Israeli diplomacy culminated in a hugely significant exchange of letters between Bush and Sharon in April 2004. In his letter, Sharon committed to carry out the [Gaza] disengagement. In his response, President Bush committed to back Israel on two vital issues: the Palestinian refugees would not return en masse to the State of Israel; and – by clear implication – the large settlement blocs on the West Bank, close to the 1967 line, would remain part of Israel in a final status agreement. Sharon regarded the exchange of letters as his most salient achievement as prime minister. He was probably right.

Last year, as Secretary Kerry was in Israel seeking to restart peace negotiations, an Israeli reporter asked him about “a guarantee from the past”–“telling that blocs of settlements can stay.” His question was straightforward: “does [the guarantee] exist?” Kerry responded: “I remember that commitment very well because I was running for president then, and I personally have supported the notion that the situation on the ground has changed.” Indeed, four days after the Bush letter was issued, Kerry was asked directly about it on Meet the Press:

MR. RUSSERT: On Thursday, President Bush … said that Israel can keep part of the land seized in the 1967 Middle East War and asserted the Palestinian refugees cannot go back to their particular homes. Do you support President Bush?

SEN. KERRY: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: Completely?

SEN. KERRY: Yes.

The 2004 Bush letter was not simply a statement of policy; it was a negotiated deal, on which Israel relied in carrying out the Gaza disengagement, dismantling every settlement there and four others in the disputed territories as well. Sharon made the Bush letter part of the formal disengagement plan submitted to the Knesset for its approval. The U.S. Congress also endorsed the letter, in joint resolutions by the Senate (95-3) and House (407-9). The letter was endorsed in unambiguous terms by the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, who in 2013 as secretary of state correctly called it a “commitment.”

The Obama administration, when it took office in 2009, repeatedly refused to answer whether it was bound by the Bush letter. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denied there were any “enforceable” understandings with Israel. The day before Palestinian President Abbas met with President Obama, Clinton told the press Obama had been “very clear” with Prime Minister Netanyahu that he “wants to see a stop to settlements – not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions”–and that this had been “communicated very clearly, not only to the Israelis but to the Palestinians and others.” The same day, Abbas told the Washington Post he would do nothing but watch the Obama administration pressure Netanyahu. The administration eventually got a ten-month construction freeze, which both Clinton and Obama envoy George Mitchell called “unprecedented.” It produced nothing from the Palestinians other than a demand in the tenth month that it be continued.

Now flash forward five years, to Secretary of State Kerry’s April 8, 2014 Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony, in which he said “both sides … wound up in positions where things happened that were unhelpful,” but that “when they were about to maybe [resume negotiations], 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem, and poof, that was sort of the moment.” Kerry knew the 700 “settlement units” [sic] were in a longstanding Jewish area in the capital of the Jewish state; that the area will be retained by Israel in any conceivable peace agreement; that Israel had made no commitment to Kerry to stop any construction there; and that Israel was working on an expanded prisoner release when the Palestinians went to the UN.

The peace process went “poof” not because of 700 units in Jerusalem, but because–for the third time in three years–the Palestinians violated the foundational agreement of the process, which obligates them not to take “any step” outside bilateral negotiations to change the status of the disputed territories. For the third time, the Palestinians went to the UN; for the third time, there was no American response; for the third time, there was no penalty for the violation; and on April 8, there was not even an honest assessment of the situation by the secretary of state.

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Hillary’s Best Defense: She’s Not John Kerry

Yesterday the Morning Joe crew supplied a moment of unintentional comedy when they tried to name Hillary Clinton’s major accomplishment as secretary of state. As noted over at Ace of Spades, “It’s funny watching the question of Hillary’s greatest accomplishment asked and laughingly rejected as ridiculous at first, then having it slowly dawn on the panel that none of them has an answer.”

One answer offered by the panel was that this great accomplishment shall be revealed by Clinton herself upon publication of her memoir. Her greatness is difficult for mere mortals to comprehend, but the former diplomat will try her best to help Americans understand what a privilege it has been to be served by Mrs. Clinton. Just because you didn’t see any accomplishments doesn’t mean they weren’t there; the Clintons work in mysterious ways.

But in fact we may have a preview of that revelation, provided by Byron York at the Washington Examiner. York writes that Clinton was on a panel last week moderated by Tom Friedman and was asked this very question. What was her great accomplishment? York quotes Hillary’s response:

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Yesterday the Morning Joe crew supplied a moment of unintentional comedy when they tried to name Hillary Clinton’s major accomplishment as secretary of state. As noted over at Ace of Spades, “It’s funny watching the question of Hillary’s greatest accomplishment asked and laughingly rejected as ridiculous at first, then having it slowly dawn on the panel that none of them has an answer.”

One answer offered by the panel was that this great accomplishment shall be revealed by Clinton herself upon publication of her memoir. Her greatness is difficult for mere mortals to comprehend, but the former diplomat will try her best to help Americans understand what a privilege it has been to be served by Mrs. Clinton. Just because you didn’t see any accomplishments doesn’t mean they weren’t there; the Clintons work in mysterious ways.

But in fact we may have a preview of that revelation, provided by Byron York at the Washington Examiner. York writes that Clinton was on a panel last week moderated by Tom Friedman and was asked this very question. What was her great accomplishment? York quotes Hillary’s response:

“We had the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, we had two wars, we had continuing threats from all kinds of corners around the world,” Clinton said. Obama told her his top priority had to be dealing with the economic crisis, so he asked her to “represent us around the world.”

Clinton’s job was to “make it clear to the rest of the world that we were going to get our house in order.” But what did “in order” mean? Clinton described it this way: “We were going to stimulate and grow and get back to positive growth and work with our friends and partners.”

On the basis of that “stimulate and grow” policy, Clinton continued, the United States returned to strength and can now deal with foreign crises like the Ukraine without having to worry about a world economic collapse. “I think we really restored American leadership in the best sense,” she said. “That, you know, once again, people began to rely on us, to look at us as, you know, setting the values, setting the standards.”

Clinton, then, has no idea what she accomplished at State. But the answer offers an important clue as to how Clinton must manage the perception that she didn’t really do anything as secretary of state. In many ways, this was by design. Clinton knew she was considering a run for the presidency, and so didn’t want to take any risks at Foggy Bottom. She wasn’t there to accomplish big things; she was there to pad her resume and bide her time.

For this reason, you’ll recall, she lobbied against Susan Rice’s nomination as her successor in favor of the current secretary of state, John Kerry. Clinton’s caution as the nation’s chief diplomat meant she couldn’t afford to be followed by someone with competence and clear vision. She needed to be followed by someone like Kerry.

And the strategy is beginning to pay dividends. Not every secretary of state has to be Dean Acheson, and there’s something unfair about expecting greatness–and something dangerous in promoting it–in every secretary of state. Had Clinton not experienced major failures, such as the “reset” with Russia and collapse of security in Libya following her administration’s “leading from behind” intervention, she wouldn’t need any major accomplishments to justify her time there. It’s just that she could really use a better resume to at least offset the damage she did.

Kerry, however, doesn’t believe in diplomatic pacing or modesty; he wants to be present at the creation–of something. Hence his disastrous stream of diplomatic crises, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Iran to Syria to Russia. Kerry’s approach to American diplomacy is best understood as the Foggy Bottom version of the broken windows theory of economics. He will stimulate a demand for American diplomacy, whatever it takes. If there isn’t a four-alarm diplomatic fire–well, Kerry happens to have a box of matches on him.

It would be more helpful to Clinton if she could run against Kerry’s record as a contrast to her own. That’s tricky, but she’ll probably have to do so in some form. She might cast herself as more cynical toward Russia’s intentions, skeptical of Iranian “reform,” and supportive of Israel, for example, in a subtle but intentional way of responding to questions about her success by hinting that, at least, she did not set any raging fires. It’s not particularly compelling, but it’s the best she’s got.

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Why Ed Miliband Won’t Drop the Z-Bomb

The Jewish leader of Britain’s Labor party is currently in Israel expressing his support for the country, just as Prime Minister David Cameron did back in March. Yet for all his platitudes about his support for what he refers to as the “Jewish homeland” and his repeated references to his own family background, you won’t catch Ed Miliband referring to himself as a Zionist. (He almost did it once, but has certainly learned his lesson since.) The simple truth is that for a politician on Britain’s left, referring to oneself as a Zionist would be nothing short of political suicide. And Miliband is undoubtedly of the left; conservative pundits in the UK delight in referring to the Labor party leader as “Red Ed,” but more to the point Miliband has openly declared himself a socialist. How telling that Zionism—the national liberation movement of the Jewish people—is considered so much further beyond the pale than an ideology like socialism, which has a rather troubled record to say the least.

During a Q&A session with a group of Israeli students at the Hebrew University Miliband was questioned on whether or not he considers himself to be a Zionist. Knowing already the consequences of answering in the affirmative, he instead sidestepped the question by saying that he sees the matter in terms of his family, his grandmother having come to Israel following the Holocaust. Miliband’s coyness on the matter is warranted, for this is a subject on account of which he’s been burned before. Asked on a previous occasion if he considered himself a Zionist, he was reported to have responded, “Yes, I consider myself a supporter of Israel.” However, Miliband’s Zionism lasted less than 24 hours, with his office—no doubt seized with panic—releasing a prompt “clarification,” or rather a retraction.

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The Jewish leader of Britain’s Labor party is currently in Israel expressing his support for the country, just as Prime Minister David Cameron did back in March. Yet for all his platitudes about his support for what he refers to as the “Jewish homeland” and his repeated references to his own family background, you won’t catch Ed Miliband referring to himself as a Zionist. (He almost did it once, but has certainly learned his lesson since.) The simple truth is that for a politician on Britain’s left, referring to oneself as a Zionist would be nothing short of political suicide. And Miliband is undoubtedly of the left; conservative pundits in the UK delight in referring to the Labor party leader as “Red Ed,” but more to the point Miliband has openly declared himself a socialist. How telling that Zionism—the national liberation movement of the Jewish people—is considered so much further beyond the pale than an ideology like socialism, which has a rather troubled record to say the least.

During a Q&A session with a group of Israeli students at the Hebrew University Miliband was questioned on whether or not he considers himself to be a Zionist. Knowing already the consequences of answering in the affirmative, he instead sidestepped the question by saying that he sees the matter in terms of his family, his grandmother having come to Israel following the Holocaust. Miliband’s coyness on the matter is warranted, for this is a subject on account of which he’s been burned before. Asked on a previous occasion if he considered himself a Zionist, he was reported to have responded, “Yes, I consider myself a supporter of Israel.” However, Miliband’s Zionism lasted less than 24 hours, with his office—no doubt seized with panic—releasing a prompt “clarification,” or rather a retraction.

Yet, it is noteworthy that while it was unthinkable for the Jewish leader of the Labor party to confess Zionism, non-Jewish members of the Conservative party have been more unabashed in identifying themselves as Zionists. When he was himself leader of the opposition David Cameron described himself as a Zionist (although one wonders if he would still do so openly now that he is prime minister), and similarly the education secretary, Michael Gove, has defended being a Zionist as well as having long been a vocal supporter of the Jewish state.

As a politician on the left, however, Miliband finds himself in a far more complicated position. Hostility to Israel extends far beyond the radical left in Britain, with several members of the parliamentary Labor party and significant sections of the Trade Union movement actively campaigning against the Jewish state. And after all, Miliband won the race for the party’s leadership in part because he had the backing of the Trade Unions. For many of these people, Jews are tolerated provided they first establish their credentials as being anti-Israel. By expressing support for Israel in the way that he has done on occasion, Miliband is already entering dangerous territory, to come out as a Zionist Jew too might well be more than certain key constituencies could stand.

As already mentioned, Miliband has had no such qualms about calling himself a socialist and has even claimed that he is all about bringing back socialism, something that will sound pretty unsettling to many voters. Of course there have been many strands of socialism and no one would wish to suggest that Miliband has ever expressed support for the regimes that have practiced its more authoritarian and genocidal incarnations–unlike, say, Labor’s deputy leader Harriet Harman, who has expressed praise for Fidel Castro, or another prominent voice in the party, Dianne Abbott, who claimed that Chairman Mao had done “more good than bad.” Indeed, Miliband’s father Ralph was a prominent Marxist theorist and it is quite conceivable that if Ed were to refer to himself as a Marxist then he’d cause less controversy within his party than if he announced himself as a Zionist during his visit to Israel.

It might well be asked if there’s any meaningful difference between calling oneself a strong supporter of Israel as opposed to an out and out Zionist. And the answer is yes; thanks to a determined campaign, that word is now sullied with so many undesirable connotations. The truth is that, for many on the British left, the United Nations’ ”Zionism is racism” ruling was never really overturned. But at anti-Israel events and rallies, Zionism is not only declared a form of racism but rather is knowingly equated with Nazism. Images of swastikas stamped over the Star of David are common at anti-Israel demonstrations, while protestors have given the Nazi salute and had even begun goose-stepping while targeting one Israeli-owned business. It is then no exaggeration to say that there are those for whom declaring oneself a Zionist would be akin to endorsing National Socialism. No wonder that Ed Miliband is going out of his way not to drop the Z-bomb.  

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Do Unilateralists Own Israel’s Future?

Israel’s economy minister and leader of the Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, has publicly written to Prime Minister Netanyahu advocating that Israel formerly annex key areas of the West Bank so as to bring the 440,000 Israelis who live there fully under Israeli sovereignty. Of course at the moment it is hardly conceivable that the Israeli government would implement these moves—Bennett himself has previously said that there would need to be elections to provide the necessary support in the Knesset—but with some members of Likud theoretically supportive of the plan, this may come to loom increasingly large on Israel’s political agenda.   

The latest debacle that has been the U.S. attempt to bring about a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians has convinced many of the need to consider what the other options might be. Following the second intifada, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon similarly judged there to be no partner for a negotiated peace, Israel began to implement a program of unilateral disengagement. That policy was stopped in its tracks, most immediately by the stroke suffered by Sharon, but also on account of the barrage of rockets that have spewed out of Gaza, the harrowing test case for unilateral disengagement. Since then that approach has been filed away, although it is still occasionally referenced as a last resort by some commentators. In its place, those on the right have begun instead to talk about full or partial unilateral annexation of the West Bank. The most far-reaching incarnation of this strategy is presented by Caroline Glick in her new book The Israeli Solution which not only advocates for fully incorporating all of the West Bank into the Jewish state, but also absorbing all the Palestinians living there. 

In addition, there has been talk about various hybrids of current options. At the time of Sharon’s passing, one such option was suggested by former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren: that to avoid the ongoing headache of policing the Palestinians, Israel should still consider a unilateral withdrawal from much of the West Bank. However, Oren also recognized that under such an arrangement Israel would retain most settlements. Another hybrid proposal was recently offered by Hillel Halkin in Mosaic, in what he called his “Two-State-Minus” plan. This proposal advocates creating a Palestinian entity that wouldn’t quite function as an entirely independent state, but that would rather exist in federation with Israel.

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Israel’s economy minister and leader of the Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, has publicly written to Prime Minister Netanyahu advocating that Israel formerly annex key areas of the West Bank so as to bring the 440,000 Israelis who live there fully under Israeli sovereignty. Of course at the moment it is hardly conceivable that the Israeli government would implement these moves—Bennett himself has previously said that there would need to be elections to provide the necessary support in the Knesset—but with some members of Likud theoretically supportive of the plan, this may come to loom increasingly large on Israel’s political agenda.   

The latest debacle that has been the U.S. attempt to bring about a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians has convinced many of the need to consider what the other options might be. Following the second intifada, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon similarly judged there to be no partner for a negotiated peace, Israel began to implement a program of unilateral disengagement. That policy was stopped in its tracks, most immediately by the stroke suffered by Sharon, but also on account of the barrage of rockets that have spewed out of Gaza, the harrowing test case for unilateral disengagement. Since then that approach has been filed away, although it is still occasionally referenced as a last resort by some commentators. In its place, those on the right have begun instead to talk about full or partial unilateral annexation of the West Bank. The most far-reaching incarnation of this strategy is presented by Caroline Glick in her new book The Israeli Solution which not only advocates for fully incorporating all of the West Bank into the Jewish state, but also absorbing all the Palestinians living there. 

In addition, there has been talk about various hybrids of current options. At the time of Sharon’s passing, one such option was suggested by former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren: that to avoid the ongoing headache of policing the Palestinians, Israel should still consider a unilateral withdrawal from much of the West Bank. However, Oren also recognized that under such an arrangement Israel would retain most settlements. Another hybrid proposal was recently offered by Hillel Halkin in Mosaic, in what he called his “Two-State-Minus” plan. This proposal advocates creating a Palestinian entity that wouldn’t quite function as an entirely independent state, but that would rather exist in federation with Israel.

Then there have been the suggestions not to push for a final resolution of all disputes, but rather for a semi-negotiated semi-agreement. Nicholas Casey has recently written in the Wall Street Journal about the prospect of scaling back objectives and instead settling for a managing of the situation, as opposed to aiming for a definitive solution. Casey references a proposal by Shlomo Avineri who has suggested that the two sides reach an agreement on those matters that they can, with Israel transferring control of more territory to the Palestinians. Under this scenario the impossibly difficult final-status issues would be put aside and the two parties wouldn’t be obliged to recognize each other. Of course the problem here is that without the Palestinians having recognized either Israel or an end to their grievances, both the campaign of violence and the delegitimization of Israel internationally would likely continue.

There are two obvious problems with almost all of the unilateral proposals. One is security, the other is international opinion. Those plans that call for a near complete withdrawal from the West Bank risk recreating Gaza on a massive scale and on the strategically important high ground overlooking Israel’s population centers and vital infrastructure. Bennett’s plan of annexing Israeli controlled area C of the West Bank may seek to overcome this problem, but in reality it might simply lead to the creation of multiple mini-Gazas throughout the West Bank. And while this proposal may extend Israel’s sovereignty to territory inhabited by hundreds of thousands of Israelis, it is doubtful the international community would recognize this, just as they refuse to recognize the Israeli annexation of eastern Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. Of course unilateral withdrawal doesn’t solve this problem either, with the international community still wedded to the preposterous position that Israel continues to be the occupying power in Gaza.

The proposal that seeks to address both of these problems is Caroline Glick’s one-state solution. Presumably if Israel was to not only annex the territory but also extend full citizenship to all the Palestinians living there, then depending on the Palestinian reaction, international protest might be more manageable. Many object to this plan on demographic grounds. It may in fact be true that there has been significant Palestinian falsification of census data. Yet even if Glick is correct in saying that Jews would maintain a two-thirds majority, there are still serious questions to be asked about how so many Arabs could be assimilated into a Jewish state, and in the event that they all exercised their right to vote would Zionist parties still be able to hold the Knesset? None of these proposals is by any means flawless.

It is probably unwise to make forecasts here, but assuming international pressure was to considerably intensify, and with a negotiated way out unlikely, it is conceivable that something would eventually give and either left or right might implement their version of a unilateral plan.  

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Israel Has Few Options With Palestinians

The Palestinian Authority has thumbed its nose at both Israel and the peace talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry. By making it clear that it won’t back a U.S. framework for continued negotiations or to agree to any of the mainly symbolic measures that would indicate they are willing to end the conflict with Israel, it’s clear PA leader Mahmoud Abbas seized on the first flimsy pretext for walking out on the talks that came along. The fact that he has been rewarded for this intransigence with a mendacious statement from Kerry to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that turned the truth on its head and placed the blame for the collapse of his initiative on Israel will only make it even less likely that Abbas will be more amenable in the future. That leaves both the U.S. and the parties with the dilemma of what to do next.

Abbas is happily returning to the Palestinians’ pointless campaign for more recognition from the United Nations and its constituent organizations. That won’t do a thing for the Palestinian people either in terms of their desire for independence or their crying need for a better government both in the Fatah-run West Bank and in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Kerry is pondering how to find an excuse for a continuation of his fool’s errand in the Middle East.  Common sense as well as the interests of the Obama administration would indicate that putting the entire enterprise on hold is both the better part of valor and an opportunity to devote his department to more important foreign policy problems.

But it is Israel that is in the most delicate position of the three parts to this love/hate triangle. They would like to put pressure on the Palestinians to get back to the table and to do something to make it clear to Kerry that he won’t get away with scapegoating the Jewish state. But options for doing either of those things are neither palatable nor in the country’s best interests.

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The Palestinian Authority has thumbed its nose at both Israel and the peace talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry. By making it clear that it won’t back a U.S. framework for continued negotiations or to agree to any of the mainly symbolic measures that would indicate they are willing to end the conflict with Israel, it’s clear PA leader Mahmoud Abbas seized on the first flimsy pretext for walking out on the talks that came along. The fact that he has been rewarded for this intransigence with a mendacious statement from Kerry to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that turned the truth on its head and placed the blame for the collapse of his initiative on Israel will only make it even less likely that Abbas will be more amenable in the future. That leaves both the U.S. and the parties with the dilemma of what to do next.

Abbas is happily returning to the Palestinians’ pointless campaign for more recognition from the United Nations and its constituent organizations. That won’t do a thing for the Palestinian people either in terms of their desire for independence or their crying need for a better government both in the Fatah-run West Bank and in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Kerry is pondering how to find an excuse for a continuation of his fool’s errand in the Middle East.  Common sense as well as the interests of the Obama administration would indicate that putting the entire enterprise on hold is both the better part of valor and an opportunity to devote his department to more important foreign policy problems.

But it is Israel that is in the most delicate position of the three parts to this love/hate triangle. They would like to put pressure on the Palestinians to get back to the table and to do something to make it clear to Kerry that he won’t get away with scapegoating the Jewish state. But options for doing either of those things are neither palatable nor in the country’s best interests.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government are rightly outraged by Kerry’s offhand swipe at them yesterday when he claimed that the announcement of a housing project in a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem was the reason the talks collapsed. Not only did that have nothing to do with the Palestinian decision to bug out of the process, it was also false to claim that Israel had ever promised not to build in its capital, let alone in established areas that no one questions would stay in the Jewish state even in the event of a peace treaty. But there is little the Israelis can do to make their displeasure with the Americans felt that would not harm an alliance that is essential to its security. While Netanyahu has proved in the past that attacks on his policy of defending the unity of the capital only serve to strengthen him, venting anger at Kerry won’t accomplish anything. As with past insults delivered by President Obama, Netanyahu knows all too well that keeping his powder dry is the best, indeed, only option.

But Israel does have substantial leverage over the Palestinians. The PA depends on Israel for all sorts of revenue as well as on cooperation to keep their ramshackle government and the shoddy services it provides its people from collapse. Even more important, cooperation between the Israeli military and intelligence apparatus does more than deter terrorism against the Jewish state. It also ensures the personal survival of Abbas and his Fatah faction against potential trouble from Hamas and Islamic Jihad. If Israel really pulled the plug on the PA — rather than just taking symbolic steps such as Netanyahu’s order to end meetings between Israeli officials and their Palestinian counterparts, the Fatah apparatus would collapse.

While that sounds good to Israelis who dream of formal annexation of the West Bank in a one state solution that would exclude any Palestinian self-government, that is the last thing Netanyahu wants. The PA foments terrorism and incites hatred of Jews and Israel in its official media. People who have made it clear they won’t make peace with Israel under virtually any circumstances — as Abbas proved in 2008 when he fled talks with Ehud Olmert rather than accept independence — run it. But at this point it is also a necessary evil that Netanyahu understands that he must tolerate.

Without the PA, the task of maintaining Israel’s security would be even tougher. Nor is anyone in Jerusalem seriously interested in returning to the pre-Oslo status quo where the Israelis directly administered the West Bank. Netanyahu can make his displeasure with the PA felt for its UN gambit. But there are limits to how far he can go in punishing them that have nothing to do with American pressure.

Netanyahu would be foolish to go on releasing terrorist murderers to bribe Abbas to come back to the negotiations. Nor should he be asked to make any other unilateral concessions merely for the sake of talks that Abbas does not wish to advance no matter what he was offered. But this is perhaps the moment for him to return to a theme he has sounded in the past about helping make the West Bank more livable via economic development. Now that he has rid himself of the reform-minded Salam Fayyad as his prime minister, Abbas no longer has to pretend he cares much about good government. But it is on this point that he is most vulnerable. Managing the conflict rather than solving it remains the only short-term solution to either side. If Kerry wanted to do something constructive rather than promote a process that is fueled more by his ego than any reasonable prospects of success, that’s what he’d be emphasizing. But in the absence of such a change of heart, Israel has little choice but to sit tight and await the next move by both Kerry and Abbas.

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The Fierce Urgency of the Next Five Years

In his prepared testimony yesterday, Secretary of State Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “this is a world where American engagement is absolutely critical,” because “no other nation can give people the confidence to come together and confront the most difficult challenges the way the United States can and must.” He related that he hears this particularly about the Middle East peace process — “where I have yet to meet anyone who has argued to me that it’s going to be any easier next week, next year, five years from now.”  

I wish I could meet Secretary Kerry, so he would have to amend that last statement. 

Or perhaps he should just schedule a meeting with Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who last Sunday on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS said he is not only “skeptical” that the situation is “ripe for peace,” but believes it has occupied too much of Secretary Kerry’s time:

I think what we have to admit is that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, while it’s of importance to Israelis and Palestinians, it’s become a local dispute. It won’t affect the dynamics of the Middle East. It’s not going to affect the trajectory of the civil war in Syria or what’s going on in Egypt between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood or what’s happening elsewhere. This has become a local dispute, that, quite honestly, is not worthy of the time and attention the secretary of state and the United States are giving.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is irrelevant to the situation in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, North Korea, the South China Sea — all of which present challenges more serious and direct to American foreign policy than a peace process in which the Palestinians cannot even bring themselves to endorse “two states for two peoples.”

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In his prepared testimony yesterday, Secretary of State Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “this is a world where American engagement is absolutely critical,” because “no other nation can give people the confidence to come together and confront the most difficult challenges the way the United States can and must.” He related that he hears this particularly about the Middle East peace process — “where I have yet to meet anyone who has argued to me that it’s going to be any easier next week, next year, five years from now.”  

I wish I could meet Secretary Kerry, so he would have to amend that last statement. 

Or perhaps he should just schedule a meeting with Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who last Sunday on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS said he is not only “skeptical” that the situation is “ripe for peace,” but believes it has occupied too much of Secretary Kerry’s time:

I think what we have to admit is that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, while it’s of importance to Israelis and Palestinians, it’s become a local dispute. It won’t affect the dynamics of the Middle East. It’s not going to affect the trajectory of the civil war in Syria or what’s going on in Egypt between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood or what’s happening elsewhere. This has become a local dispute, that, quite honestly, is not worthy of the time and attention the secretary of state and the United States are giving.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is irrelevant to the situation in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, North Korea, the South China Sea — all of which present challenges more serious and direct to American foreign policy than a peace process in which the Palestinians cannot even bring themselves to endorse “two states for two peoples.”

 

Not next week — and probably not next year either — but maybe five years from now, the Palestinians will have an elected president, not someone more than five years past the end of his term. Perhaps they will have a president who can travel in both halves of their putative state. Perhaps they will have a president who condemns the morality of suicide bombers and groups that fire rockets at civilians, instead of simply asserting the methods are not prudent. Perhaps they will have a president who dismantles those terrorist groups, as he once promised, instead of dedicating public space to terrorist “heroes.” Perhaps the Palestinian president will endorse a Jewish state, instead of constantly re-iterating he never will, even in a “peace agreement.” Perhaps he will give a Bir Zeit speech to match the Israeli prime minister’s Bar-Ilan one. Perhaps he will give Israelis confidence that, when the Palestinians sign an agreement not to take “any step” outside bilateral negotiations with Israel, the Palestinians will actually adhere to their agreement, instead of repeatedly violate it and then ask for pre-negotiation concessions for their agreement to observe it for a few more months.

And I suspect there are more people out there, besides Richard Haass and me, who believe there are urgent foreign policy problems the U.S. is currently ignoring in its messianic quest for a Middle East peace agreement — problems that require leadership from the front, rather than self-congratulation for an asserted ability to “give people the confidence to come together.”

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Divestment Kosher for Passover at Cornell

Late in March, after a lengthy and dramatic debate, the University of Michigan’s Central Student Government voted against a resolution urging the University to divest from companies allegedly connected to Israeli activities in the West Bank. Much as one hates to give the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement credit, they have clearly learned a lesson from the defeat: don’t get involved in a debate with your opponents.

They are now applying that lesson at Cornell University, where, as William Jacobson has reported, a similar divestment resolution comes up for initial discussion by the Student Assembly on Thursday. The discussion is so last minute an addition that it was not included in an agenda for the meeting circulated on Tuesday and appeared only on a revised agenda issued at 8:42 P.M. that evening. So the resolution’s opponents have less than 48 hours to prepare.

Proponents of divestment understand that in the course of a prolonged debate, it is hard to keep one’s mask on. Some of their supporters may forget that the movement isn’t supposed to be anti-Semitic and, as they reportedly did at the University of Michigan, refer to their opponents as “kikes” and “dirty Jews.” That makes it much harder to pass a resolution.

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Late in March, after a lengthy and dramatic debate, the University of Michigan’s Central Student Government voted against a resolution urging the University to divest from companies allegedly connected to Israeli activities in the West Bank. Much as one hates to give the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement credit, they have clearly learned a lesson from the defeat: don’t get involved in a debate with your opponents.

They are now applying that lesson at Cornell University, where, as William Jacobson has reported, a similar divestment resolution comes up for initial discussion by the Student Assembly on Thursday. The discussion is so last minute an addition that it was not included in an agenda for the meeting circulated on Tuesday and appeared only on a revised agenda issued at 8:42 P.M. that evening. So the resolution’s opponents have less than 48 hours to prepare.

Proponents of divestment understand that in the course of a prolonged debate, it is hard to keep one’s mask on. Some of their supporters may forget that the movement isn’t supposed to be anti-Semitic and, as they reportedly did at the University of Michigan, refer to their opponents as “kikes” and “dirty Jews.” That makes it much harder to pass a resolution.

Proponents of divestment also understand that the more that people learn about their movement; the less likely they are to support it. It is a standard and good argument against them that they focus solely on Israel and ignore the abysmal human right records of other nations, like China, with which their colleges and universities have extensive dealings. But the argument acquires a little more force when one goes over to the blog of Students for Justice in Palestine-Cornell, which is evidently behind the resolution. The most recent entry, on Syria, literally does not mention the crimes perpetrated by the Assad regime, preferring to place responsibility for the violence in Syria squarely on the shoulders of “the U.S. and its client states.” If “a humanitarian intervention is needed,” the authors argue, “it should be through the revocation of the corporate charters of the criminal U.S. arms conglomerates.” In short, SJP-Cornell is not so much ignoring human rights violations as proposing that they would not take place if we would only join the fight against the U.S. and Israel, its partner in imperial crime.

If that kind of thing gets out, one might lose even the kind of liberal who supports a targeted boycott of West Bank settlement products. Even those who think Israel is deeply at fault, after all, are unlikely to think that they benefit from association with the view that Obama is a bigger villain than Assad. Such a liberal may fear that even a resolution narrowly drafted to oppose “the occupation,” rather than the very existence of Israel, will, if passed, be viewed as an endorsement of the odious world view of its leading proponents.

Perhaps most of all, proponents of divestment worry about what happens when the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict has a chance to be heard, as it did during the Michigan debate, courtesy of historian Victor Lieberman. At that debate, the BDS line, according to which Israel has always been the aggressor, was exposed as propaganda, and student representatives, who may already have been thinking that student governments ought not to make Mideast policy, voted 25-9 against the resolution.

So I commend the proponents of divestment for realizing that if they want their resolution to pass, they had better ram it through as quickly as possible. But their cleverness does not end there. As Jacobson explains, the period during which the resolution will be discussed on campus coincides with the period during which many Jewish students will be out of town celebrating Passover.

This resolution will be much easier to pass without the Jews around.

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Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Today in testimony before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry performed a post-mortem on the recent collapse of the Middle East peace talks. According to Kerry, the Palestinian refusal to keep negotiating past April and their decision to flout their treaty commitments by returning to efforts to gain recognition for their non-existent state from the United Nations was all the fault of one decision made by Israel. As the New York Times reports:

Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that Israel’s announcement of 700 new apartments for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem precipitated the bitter impasse in peace negotiations last week between Israel and the Palestinians.

While Mr. Kerry said both sides bore responsibility for “unhelpful” actions, he noted that the publication of tenders for housing units came four days after a deadline passed for Israel to release Palestinian prisoners and complicated Israel’s own deliberations over whether to extend the talks.

“Poof, that was the moment,” Mr. Kerry said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Poof? To say that this evaluation of the situation is disingenuous would be the understatement of the century. Kerry knows very well that the negotiations were doomed once the Palestinians refused to sign on to the framework for future talks he suggested even though it centered them on the 1967 lines that they demand as the basis for borders. Why? Because Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas wouldn’t say the two little words —“Jewish state”—that would make it clear he intended to end the conflict. Since the talks began last year after Abbas insisted on the release of terrorist murderers in order to get them back to the table, the Palestinians haven’t budged an inch on a single issue.

Thus, to blame the collapse on the decision to build apartments in Gilo—a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem that would not change hands even in the event a peace treaty were ever signed and where Israel has never promised to stop building—is, to put it mildly, a mendacious effort to shift blame away from the side that seized the first pretext to flee talks onto the one that has made concessions in order to get the Palestinians to sit at the table. But why would Kerry utter such a blatant falsehood about the process he has championed?

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Today in testimony before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry performed a post-mortem on the recent collapse of the Middle East peace talks. According to Kerry, the Palestinian refusal to keep negotiating past April and their decision to flout their treaty commitments by returning to efforts to gain recognition for their non-existent state from the United Nations was all the fault of one decision made by Israel. As the New York Times reports:

Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that Israel’s announcement of 700 new apartments for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem precipitated the bitter impasse in peace negotiations last week between Israel and the Palestinians.

While Mr. Kerry said both sides bore responsibility for “unhelpful” actions, he noted that the publication of tenders for housing units came four days after a deadline passed for Israel to release Palestinian prisoners and complicated Israel’s own deliberations over whether to extend the talks.

“Poof, that was the moment,” Mr. Kerry said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Poof? To say that this evaluation of the situation is disingenuous would be the understatement of the century. Kerry knows very well that the negotiations were doomed once the Palestinians refused to sign on to the framework for future talks he suggested even though it centered them on the 1967 lines that they demand as the basis for borders. Why? Because Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas wouldn’t say the two little words —“Jewish state”—that would make it clear he intended to end the conflict. Since the talks began last year after Abbas insisted on the release of terrorist murderers in order to get them back to the table, the Palestinians haven’t budged an inch on a single issue.

Thus, to blame the collapse on the decision to build apartments in Gilo—a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem that would not change hands even in the event a peace treaty were ever signed and where Israel has never promised to stop building—is, to put it mildly, a mendacious effort to shift blame away from the side that seized the first pretext to flee talks onto the one that has made concessions in order to get the Palestinians to sit at the table. But why would Kerry utter such a blatant falsehood about the process he has championed?

The answer is simple. Kerry doesn’t want to blame the Palestinians for walking out because to do so would be a tacit admission that his critics were right when they suggested last year that he was embarking on a fool’s errand. The division between the Fatah-run West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza has created a dynamic which makes it almost impossible for Abbas to negotiate a deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn even if he wanted to.

Since Kerry hopes to entice the Palestinians back to the talks at some point, blaming Israel also gives him leverage to demand more concessions from the Jewish state to bribe Abbas to negotiate. Being honest about the Palestinian stance would not only undermine the basis for the talks but also make it harder to justify the administration’s continued insistence on pressuring the Israelis rather than seek to force Abbas to alter his intransigent positions.

Seen in that light, Kerry probably thinks no harm can come from blaming the Israelis who have always been the convenient whipping boys of the peace process no matter what the circumstances. But he’s wrong about that too. Just as the Clinton administration did inestimable damage to the credibility of the peace process and set the stage for another round of violence by whitewashing Yasir Arafat’s support for terrorism and incitement to hatred in the 1990s, so, too, do Kerry’s efforts to portray Abbas as the victim rather than the author of this fiasco undermine his efforts for peace.

So long as the Palestinians pay no price for their refusal to give up unrealistic demands for a Jewish retreat from Jerusalem as well as the “right of return” for the 1948 refugees and their descendants and a refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and end the conflict, peace is impossible no matter what the Netanyahu government does. Appeasing them with lies about Israel, like the efforts of some to absolve Arafat and Abbas for saying no to peace in 2000, 2001, and 2008, only makes it easier for the PA to go on saying no. Whether they are doing so in the hope of extorting more concessions from Israel or because, as is more likely, they have no intention of making peace on any terms, the result is the same.

Telling the truth about the Palestinians might make Kerry look foolish for devoting so much time and effort to a process that never had a chance. But it might lay the groundwork for future success in the event that the sea change in Palestinian opinion that might make peace possible were to occur. Falsely blaming Israel won’t bring that moment any closer. 

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“Solving” Israel to Solve the Conflict

With the Israeli-Palestinian talks at an impasse, now would be the time for some fresh thinking on how to move forward. Two pieces have appeared in recent days offering advice on what could be done to make progress. Both are written in a highly skeptical tone about the probability of success, yet both essentially offer the same suggested remedy. Although they come at it from slightly different angles, when it comes down to it what they both propose is a pretty simple formula: more pressure on Israel. And while these writers may temper their arguments with a certain pessimism toward the process, they still tap into a more commonly held notion about Israeli concessions being the gateway to harmony in the region.

Writing for the Nation, Bob Dreyfuss argues that the United States must first posit its own detailed outline of what a final agreement should look like. Then what will be needed is an almighty amount of pressure to be brought against rejectionist Israel and, in all probability, the bringing down of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “ultra-right” coalition. The other piece that comes to mind here is one by Aaron David Miller that appeared in the New Republic under the title Five Lessons That Could Save John Kerry’s Peace-Process Efforts. Miller served as an advisor to Secretary of State James Baker, and so perhaps unsurprisingly Miller recommends applying Baker’s approach. If it were possible to summarize the Baker doctrine on peace in the Middle East, it might be: the application of unrelenting and non-negotiable pressure on Israel. Miller paints this strategy as having been some unprecedented example of how to operate with success. While U.S.-Israel relations became more strained during that period than they have ever been under Obama, it is not clear what Baker and Miller actually achieved for all their trouble.

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With the Israeli-Palestinian talks at an impasse, now would be the time for some fresh thinking on how to move forward. Two pieces have appeared in recent days offering advice on what could be done to make progress. Both are written in a highly skeptical tone about the probability of success, yet both essentially offer the same suggested remedy. Although they come at it from slightly different angles, when it comes down to it what they both propose is a pretty simple formula: more pressure on Israel. And while these writers may temper their arguments with a certain pessimism toward the process, they still tap into a more commonly held notion about Israeli concessions being the gateway to harmony in the region.

Writing for the Nation, Bob Dreyfuss argues that the United States must first posit its own detailed outline of what a final agreement should look like. Then what will be needed is an almighty amount of pressure to be brought against rejectionist Israel and, in all probability, the bringing down of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “ultra-right” coalition. The other piece that comes to mind here is one by Aaron David Miller that appeared in the New Republic under the title Five Lessons That Could Save John Kerry’s Peace-Process Efforts. Miller served as an advisor to Secretary of State James Baker, and so perhaps unsurprisingly Miller recommends applying Baker’s approach. If it were possible to summarize the Baker doctrine on peace in the Middle East, it might be: the application of unrelenting and non-negotiable pressure on Israel. Miller paints this strategy as having been some unprecedented example of how to operate with success. While U.S.-Israel relations became more strained during that period than they have ever been under Obama, it is not clear what Baker and Miller actually achieved for all their trouble.

Both of these pieces are only able to pursue their line of argument by refusing to acknowledge the full reality of recent events. The line that Israel is impossibly intransigent has simply become enshrined as a doctrine unalterable by real events. Dreyfuss’s recounting of the collapse of the latest talks is an all but unrecognizable version of reality. He protests that Netanyahu breached his commitments by expanding settlements and refused to release the last group of prisoners. But settlements were never subject to the concessions the Palestinians were bribed with before they would consent to their participation in talks. In any case, the last round of prisoners would have been released like all the others had the Palestinians not announced that they were about to leave talks regardless of how many additional terrorists Israel offered to let lose.  

In Dreufuss’s view pressure on the Israeli side is warranted because Palestinian leader Abbas is essentially powerless. Yet if that’s true then it might legitimately be asked whether Abbas really has the ability to give Israelis any reliable assurances of peace in return for concessions that greatly weaken Israel’s security if those assurances aren’t guaranteed. Indeed, in both the case of Miller and Dreyfuss’s article, one wonders why, if the deal on offer is really evenhanded and promises an end to the conflict, would the Israelis need so much pressuring?

Miller’s piece acknowledges that under present circumstances there is little to be gained from pressuring either side. Yet Miller seems convinced that in the event that there was an opening for peace, it would be the Israelis that would need to be forced into it and he expresses his concern that this administration hasn’t got what it takes to get tough with Israel. Not like in the good old days of Baker when the U.S. would withhold loan guarantees needed to help absorb Jews from the former Soviet Union as punishment for Prime Minister Shamir not agreeing to the additional demand of freezing construction in Jerusalem as well as the West Bank. All that any of this achieved was the spectacle of the Madrid conference, which pandered to Arab demands for an international conference from which to condemn Zionism.

Perhaps it would be claimed that Madrid somehow opened the way toward the Oslo accords, but since neither side considers that to have been an overwhelming success, it’s not clear why we should celebrate Baker’s conference. Indeed, a more concrete result of the Baker diplomacy was the move to frame Israel as the problem and thus assault its underlying legitimacy. This is the assumption that both of these pieces rest on; that to solve the conflict you must first solve Israel.

Dreyfuss has a couple of telling things to say about such a solution. As well as claiming that everyone knows what that solution will look like he also claims that “Israel holds all the high cards.” The arguments put forward by Dreyfuss and Miller are really the logical conclusion of believing that this is a territorial conflict, in which case by holding the territory Israel does hold all the high cards, and so, Israel is the problem for blocking peace by retaining territory. As such, Israel will remain vilified until it can make the case that this conflict has never been about two states, but rather the destruction of one state: the Jewish state.  

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Abbas Bets on Kerry’s Desperation

The Palestinians have had a fairly willing enabler in John Kerry so far, but if today’s New York Times report is right, they may have finally overplayed their hand. According to the Times, both sides have asked Martin Indyk to extend the talks, which were on the verge of disintegration after the Palestinians walked away. But the Palestinians are now saying they can be lured back to the table … for a price.

Apparently the Palestinians will resume negotiations on the principle that the negotiations never actually ended as long as the Israelis are made to act as though the talks crumbled and the resumption is actually a new round starting from scratch. Here’s the logic, such as it is:

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The Palestinians have had a fairly willing enabler in John Kerry so far, but if today’s New York Times report is right, they may have finally overplayed their hand. According to the Times, both sides have asked Martin Indyk to extend the talks, which were on the verge of disintegration after the Palestinians walked away. But the Palestinians are now saying they can be lured back to the table … for a price.

Apparently the Palestinians will resume negotiations on the principle that the negotiations never actually ended as long as the Israelis are made to act as though the talks crumbled and the resumption is actually a new round starting from scratch. Here’s the logic, such as it is:

Mr. Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel would take its own “unilateral steps” in response to the Palestinians’ move last week to join 15 international treaties and conventions and reiterated that a Palestinian state could be created “only through direct negotiations, not through empty statements and not by unilateral moves.”

The Palestinians said they took the contentious step only because Israel reneged on a promise to release a group of long-serving prisoners by the end of March, breaking its own commitment as part of the negotiations.

So that’s step one: the pretext. The Palestinians say they took their unilateral steps because Israel didn’t release all the murderers it was supposed to. Those unilateral steps consisted of pushing applications to join various international conventions. According to this logic, if Israel releases the rest of those terrorists, the talks should resume. Except:

Muhammad Shtayyeh, a senior Palestinian official who resigned as a negotiator in the midst of the current talks, said on Monday that Mr. Abbas’s application to join the international entities was “irreversible” and represented a “paradigm shift” in which Palestinians would pursue other options in parallel with bilateral negotiations. But he, too, suggested that there could yet be a way out of the crisis.

“We are keeping the door open for any serious talks,” he said at a briefing in Ramallah. “We have time between today and the 29th of April. If the Israeli side is serious, we are ready for that.”

So there’s no going back. But there is a way to salvage the talks, according to the Palestinians. More concessions from Israel, with no concurrent Palestinian concessions, will bring them back to the table:

Mr. Shtayyeh rejected Israel’s demand that the applications to the entities be withdrawn and said Palestinians want to separate the issues of the release of the promised fourth batch of prisoners from that of extending the timetable for the talks. He said extending negotiations would require either a freeze on construction in West Bank settlements or the Israeli presentation of a map outlining the future borders of the promised two states.

So the two sides are to treat the negotiations as if they are beginning anew, not continuing the previous round of talks? Not exactly:

“The release of prisoners is part of an agreement, and no compromise can be accepted,” Yasser Abed Rabbo, a close aide to Mr. Abbas and an officer of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said Sunday on the Voice of Palestine radio station.

Even if you are sympathetic to the Palestinian side in this argument, this is plainly transparent. If the Palestinians believe Israel must release the rest of the terrorists for talks to continue, then that should theoretically be the only requirement for Abbas to pretend to negotiate again. It would be appropriate for Abbas to then take back the unilateral action he claims he took in response to Israel’s action (or perceived inaction, as it were), since even he associates the two.

He doesn’t want to do that. He wants to exact a price for this delay. If you’re still with him so far, he gets the original prisoner release in order to return to negotiations plus a penalty of sorts against Israel for the delay by applying to join the international agencies and conventions. That should be it, right? Nope–Abbas wants another precondition, such as a settlement freeze, as though the process were starting from the beginning or Israel wouldn’t release the rest of the terrorists, when in fact he acts as though both were true.

What’s the argument in favor of a round of concessions as preconditions in addition to releasing the terrorists? Abbas is playing Kerry. He assumes that Kerry is sufficiently desperate for negotiations that he’ll lean on Netanyahu to give Abbas whatever he wants. In all likelihood, the Israeli Cabinet (except for Tzipi Livni) will get tired of this game, which suits Abbas just fine, since he doesn’t seem to want an actual peace deal but rather a disaster he can blame on the Israelis. The question is whether Kerry–or any representative of the Obama administration–can ever get tired of scapegoating Netanyahu.

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The Retrograde Israeli Left

Listening to Israel’s “progressives” you might think it was still 1994, as if two decades of failed peace efforts, Palestinian intransigence, and unrelenting incitement and terrorism had simply never happened. They speak as if they’re still living in some heyday of the Oslo peace accords. Naturally, it is the role of the political opposition in any democracy to find fault with the actions of governing political rivals, but what Israel’s left-wing politicians are saying goes far beyond normal critique of government policy despite the fact that, although they would never admit it, the current government’s strategy for peace talks is not fundamentally different from what they themselves propose.

On Monday Israel’s parliament convened from its recess for a session on the peace talks, as had been called for by 25 Knesset members, only 15 of whom bothered to show up. But perhaps those who stayed away were the wiser; in reality this supposedly urgent session was little more than a shameless opportunity for opposition politicians to capitalize on the failure of the latest round of peace talks. Pouring scorn on Prime Minister Netanyahu, left-wing party leaders called for everything from new elections to a breakup of the coalition and the formation of a new government. Political ambitions aside, what these individuals really displayed was a total unwillingness to recognize any of what has been happening in the last few months–really, the last few decades. Israel’s left is stuck in a time warp and whereas the right is increasingly looking to formulate new alternatives, the backward-looking left appears utterly unable to adapt to current realities.

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Listening to Israel’s “progressives” you might think it was still 1994, as if two decades of failed peace efforts, Palestinian intransigence, and unrelenting incitement and terrorism had simply never happened. They speak as if they’re still living in some heyday of the Oslo peace accords. Naturally, it is the role of the political opposition in any democracy to find fault with the actions of governing political rivals, but what Israel’s left-wing politicians are saying goes far beyond normal critique of government policy despite the fact that, although they would never admit it, the current government’s strategy for peace talks is not fundamentally different from what they themselves propose.

On Monday Israel’s parliament convened from its recess for a session on the peace talks, as had been called for by 25 Knesset members, only 15 of whom bothered to show up. But perhaps those who stayed away were the wiser; in reality this supposedly urgent session was little more than a shameless opportunity for opposition politicians to capitalize on the failure of the latest round of peace talks. Pouring scorn on Prime Minister Netanyahu, left-wing party leaders called for everything from new elections to a breakup of the coalition and the formation of a new government. Political ambitions aside, what these individuals really displayed was a total unwillingness to recognize any of what has been happening in the last few months–really, the last few decades. Israel’s left is stuck in a time warp and whereas the right is increasingly looking to formulate new alternatives, the backward-looking left appears utterly unable to adapt to current realities.

The reading of the failure of negotiations offered by Labor leader Isaac Herzog was hardly convincing. It essentially amounts to: Abbas is no picnic, but that’s beside the point because Netanyahu is infinitely worse. Apparently ignoring the fact that Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas is now without any democratic mandate, not to mention the way in which he already rejected the remarkably generous offers of Olmert’s Kadima government in 2008, Herzog announced before the Knesset, “Abu Mazen is a tough and infuriating partner and sometimes very exasperating, and can even be depressing, (but) he is our partner and there is no point at all in wishing otherwise.” Yet of Netanyahu Herzog had this to say: “We are on the edge of a volcano and the public does not understand the severity of the situation, and all of the blame is on a prime minister who is incapable of doing anything. The entire process has collapsed because as far as Netanyahu is concerned there is no place for taking real steps for peace.”

What these “real steps” are remains unclear, but presumably the offer of another 400 security prisoners going free and a partial settlement freeze doesn’t really cut it for those in the business of taking “real steps for peace.” Of course to admit otherwise would be to concede that Abbas is anything but the partner that Herzog insists he is. It is certainly remarkable that Herzog could claim, with a straight face, that “all of the blame” lies with Netanyahu. This desperate need to excuse the Palestinians, no matter how ridiculous, was also the order of the day for Labor MK Eitan Cabel who, during the same debate, declared “I’m not defending the Palestinians, but it’s amazing how people act like they’re shocked that the Palestinians have demands. Isn’t that the meaning of negotiations?” The Palestinian demand that Israel agree to all the final outcomes of the negotiations before they even got underway may seem a little unreasonable to some, yet, if this line of saying “yes the Palestinians don’t act like they want peace but…” was ever convincing then it certainly ceased to be so quite some time ago.  

These were the same delusions being pushed by Meretz. MK Tamar Zandberg was particularly critical of Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and chief negotiator Tzipi Livni, rubbishing the government’s efforts and asserting, “If we needed a negotiating process for them to accept the destructive thesis that there is no partner only so that they could stay in a coalition that undermines it, then thanks but no thanks. If you can’t do it then let’s break up the coalition and choose someone who can do the work.” Meretz’s leader Zahava Gal-On similarly singled out the centrist party leaders for propping up this supposedly anti-peace coalition, claiming that “this government does not really want to reach an accord” and referred to Livni and Lapid as “fig leaves which grant legitimacy to pointless negotiations.”

In her suggestion that these negotiations have been pointless, many Israelis will agree with the Meretz leader, only for quite different reasons. They know that if Abbas was ever serious about these talks it was only ever as a means for extracting as many concessions from Israel as possible. There are also many Israelis who, contrary to the statements above, doubt that the Palestinians are capable of being partners for peace and as such, figures on the right are starting to float new proposals for unilateral ways out of this impasse. The left, stuck in the past, has nothing new to offer, just more of the same. 

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Reality Check? Kerry’s Is Long Overdue

Secretary of State John Kerry’s reaction to the collapse of his Middle East peace initiative was entirely predictable. Eschewing any responsibility for having personally stage-managed this fiasco, he told the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority in a statement that they needed to understand that he had better things to do if they weren’t willing to play ball. As the New York Times reported:

“There are limits to the amount of time and effort that the United States can spend if the parties themselves are unwilling to take constructive steps in order to be able to move forward,” said Mr. Kerry, who added it was “reality check time.”

He’s right about that, but if there is anyone involved with this mess that needs a reality check, it’s Kerry.

The secretary ignored the advice of wiser foreign-policy analysts who cautioned that there was no reason to believe there was a chance of forging a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. He then plunged head first into the process convinced that he could succeed where all others had failed, all the while warning the Israelis that they would face violence and boycotts if they didn’t do as he asked. But while both Kerry and President Obama continued to praise PA leader Mahmoud Abbas as a peacemaker, it was he who always had his eye on the exit sign from the talks.

Abbas seized on the first pretext he could find to flee the negotiations and now Kerry is left looking foolish. But the problem here is not whether Kerry might be better employed dealing with more urgent U.S. foreign-policy issues like the Russian attack on the Ukraine, the Iran nuclear talks, or even the human-rights catastrophe in Syria than in wasting more time trying to coax the Palestinians back to the table. It’s whether Kerry’s grasp of reality is so tenuous that rather than backing away from a no-win situation, he decides to double down and try to shove a U.S. peace plan down Israel’s throat.

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Secretary of State John Kerry’s reaction to the collapse of his Middle East peace initiative was entirely predictable. Eschewing any responsibility for having personally stage-managed this fiasco, he told the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority in a statement that they needed to understand that he had better things to do if they weren’t willing to play ball. As the New York Times reported:

“There are limits to the amount of time and effort that the United States can spend if the parties themselves are unwilling to take constructive steps in order to be able to move forward,” said Mr. Kerry, who added it was “reality check time.”

He’s right about that, but if there is anyone involved with this mess that needs a reality check, it’s Kerry.

The secretary ignored the advice of wiser foreign-policy analysts who cautioned that there was no reason to believe there was a chance of forging a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. He then plunged head first into the process convinced that he could succeed where all others had failed, all the while warning the Israelis that they would face violence and boycotts if they didn’t do as he asked. But while both Kerry and President Obama continued to praise PA leader Mahmoud Abbas as a peacemaker, it was he who always had his eye on the exit sign from the talks.

Abbas seized on the first pretext he could find to flee the negotiations and now Kerry is left looking foolish. But the problem here is not whether Kerry might be better employed dealing with more urgent U.S. foreign-policy issues like the Russian attack on the Ukraine, the Iran nuclear talks, or even the human-rights catastrophe in Syria than in wasting more time trying to coax the Palestinians back to the table. It’s whether Kerry’s grasp of reality is so tenuous that rather than backing away from a no-win situation, he decides to double down and try to shove a U.S. peace plan down Israel’s throat.

Kerry knows that throughout this process, it has been Israel who has been forced to pay for the talks with concessions. That was true before the talks began when it was pressured into promising to release more than 100 terrorist murderers to bribe Abbas to come back to the table. It was also true during the negotiations when Israel showed itself again to be willing to withdraw from almost all of the West Bank to create an independent Palestinian state while the Palestinians stonewalled.

It’s hard to believe Kerry is truly offended that the Israelis have been unwilling to release the last batch of murderers without some assurance from the Palestinians that they will keep talking after April or that he views this sensible decision as being somehow comparable to Abbas’s walkout and decision to go back to his quixotic effort to gain more recognition for his non-state from the United Nations. Abbas’s refusal to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state—a measure that indicates he is willing to end the conflict rather than merely pause it—as Kerry asked should have alerted the secretary to the fact that the Palestinians simply aren’t interested in an agreement.

This is the moment for a reality check in which Kerry finally grasps that the division between Abbas’s Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza is too great to allow the former to sign a peace treaty that will recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. But instead of pulling back from the process and realizing that all he has done is to take a stable, if unsatisfactory situation and increased the chances that it could blow up, there is now a very real possibility that he will make things even worse by trying to impose an American plan on the parties.

Such a plan would almost certainly involve territorial concessions for the Jewish state that go beyond previous offers including a more drastic (and unworkable) partition of Jerusalem. It may also leave out some of the elements that Kerry included in the peace framework that the Israelis accepted and the Palestinians rejected. These include security guarantees and the symbolic though important provisions that would commit the Palestinians to ending the conflict. But Kerry needs to realize that no matter what a U.S. plan says, Abbas hasn’t the will or the ability to sign a peace agreement.

The secretary has two choices. He can pull back from the talks and instead seek to manage the conflict and give the Palestinians incentives to work on developing better governance, infrastructure, and a free-market economy—things that former PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad tried and failed to create thanks to lack of support from Abbas and Fatah. Or he can dive even deeper into the abyss and make another explosion of violence even more likely by setting up an even bigger diplomatic failure with a U.S. plan that is certain to crash and burn.

If he doesn’t understand that the first of those two is the only rational alternative for the U.S. at this point, then perhaps it is President Obama who needs to impose a “reality check” on the State Department.

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UN Bodies Double-Edged Sword for Palestinians

Speaking on Thursday night, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas declared that he would rather “become a martyr” than withdraw the applications that the Palestinians have submitted to 15 international treaties and conventions, as Israel has insisted he must do. Not one to pass up the opportunity for melodrama, Abbas’s pronouncement will hardly cause any shockwaves, but if he continues with this reckless policy of joining international bodies then Abbas may well find himself hoisted by his own petard. While legal experts are divided about the practical ramifications of these latest moves, there are certain international organizations that, were the PA to join them, would likely render Abbas open prosecution himself.

The events surrounding this latest Palestinian action–that likely symbolize the final blow to the latest round of talks–have already been pored over in detail, and no doubt will continue to be contested and fought over a great deal more. The simple chronology is that on Tuesday, shortly before Abbas was to meet with Secretary Kerry and while Israel was awaiting a response from Abbas to its ludicrously generous offer to release more than 400 Palestinian prisoners and partially freeze settlements in return for extending peace talks, Abbas had the PA submit requests to join 15 international conventions and treaties. This, it should be recalled, is despite the fact that the PA is obligated to refrain from such actions while talks continue through to the end of April, although strictly speaking the Oslo accords prohibit such actions in any event.

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Speaking on Thursday night, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas declared that he would rather “become a martyr” than withdraw the applications that the Palestinians have submitted to 15 international treaties and conventions, as Israel has insisted he must do. Not one to pass up the opportunity for melodrama, Abbas’s pronouncement will hardly cause any shockwaves, but if he continues with this reckless policy of joining international bodies then Abbas may well find himself hoisted by his own petard. While legal experts are divided about the practical ramifications of these latest moves, there are certain international organizations that, were the PA to join them, would likely render Abbas open prosecution himself.

The events surrounding this latest Palestinian action–that likely symbolize the final blow to the latest round of talks–have already been pored over in detail, and no doubt will continue to be contested and fought over a great deal more. The simple chronology is that on Tuesday, shortly before Abbas was to meet with Secretary Kerry and while Israel was awaiting a response from Abbas to its ludicrously generous offer to release more than 400 Palestinian prisoners and partially freeze settlements in return for extending peace talks, Abbas had the PA submit requests to join 15 international conventions and treaties. This, it should be recalled, is despite the fact that the PA is obligated to refrain from such actions while talks continue through to the end of April, although strictly speaking the Oslo accords prohibit such actions in any event.

It is unclear whether the Palestinians ever directly responded to the initial Israeli offer, but instead they issued a counter-set of demands for agreeing to continue with negotiations. That list of demands essentially amounts to an itinerary of all the things that one would presume would be covered during the talks themselves. In other words, Abbas is demanding that Israel flatly agree to meet all his requirements on borders, Jerusalem, security, etc., prior to talks being resumed, at which point there would of course be nothing left to discuss. It hardly passes for what most would understand by the term “negotiation.” And if Israel doesn’t submit to all of this then apparently the Palestinians will plow ahead with their strategy of joining UN bodies.

There is, however, significant disagreement about just how damaging these moves could really be for Israel. So far it appears that in this latest round of applications the Palestinians have restricted their requests to joining treaties and conventions rather than actual UN organizations. Among the 15 they requested to join on Tuesday are the Fourth Geneva Conventions, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, the Hague Convention respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It has been suggested that the move toward joining the Hague Convention may be part of preparation to try and prosecute Israel over construction in Jewish communities over the 1949 armistice lines, which would include any building throughout most of Jerusalem. Other observers, such as professor Robbie Sabel of the Hebrew University, have claimed that since Israel is already bound by the Fourth Geneva Convention, it will not make any difference whether the Palestinian Authority were also to become a member.   

Predictably, Amnesty International has welcomed these moves and condemned Israel for the threats that Cabinet ministers have made about sanctioning the Palestinian Authority for its breach of its obligations. Indeed, Amnesty International is even urging the Palestinians to go further, encouraging the PA to also submit requests to join both the International Criminal Court and the Rome Statute. Yet there is good reason why the Palestinians have not already attempted this. While the statement by Amnesty International was naturally gleeful about the prospect of opening the way to bringing charges against Israel for its presence and activities in the West Bank, the statement further noted that such a move would also allow for holding the Palestinian Authority to account for its “alleged” violations. Of course, one can’t help but come away from Amnesty’s statement with the impression that Israel’s “abuses” are presumed genuine; the Palestinian Authority’s are merely “alleged,” with the statement referring to how this move would “spur the Palestinian Authority into bolstering its commitment to upholding the rights of all people.” Well, that’s certainly one commitment that if ever made, could surely do with some bolstering.

The PA’s human-rights violations against other Palestinians may not be well publicized but they are no secret either. Israel’s Economy Minister Naftali Bennett has even spoken of pursuing the PA at the ICC for its sponsorship of terrorism. That is certainly a reminder that in the event that the Palestinians were ever to join these more significant bodies, we need not assume that attempts at prosecution would be all in one direction. And it is for that very reason that Abbas will no doubt be far more cautious about applying to join the international organizations that actually carry the most significant clout. In the meantime the diplomatic war of words, threats, and counter-threats goes on. We are pretty much back to where we were before Kerry’s embarrassingly ill-conceived process began: negotiating about negotiating. 

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The Peace Process Blame Game

It was to be expected that the Obama administration would seek to cast blame yesterday for the apparent collapse of the Middle East peace process championed by Secretary of State John Kerry on both Israel and the Palestinians. White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest said the president was disappointed with the “unhelpful, unilateral actions both parties have taken in recent days.” He added that “tit for tat” actions were counterproductive but that despite ominous signs, the U.S. administration still believed diplomacy had a chance.

Like the talk about a “cycle of violence” every time a terrorist attack on an Israeli target provokes a response, the decision by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to torpedo Kerry’s proposal to keep the talks going beyond April is being interpreted as being as much Israel’s fault as that of the Palestinians. Kerry, who is not giving up so easily, issued his own statement challenging both Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to lead their peoples to peace. Though he has taken on the task of trying to cut the Gordian knot of Middle East peace as a personal crusade, in his comments after Abbas’s actions, Kerry returned to the familiar theme that the U.S. couldn’t want peace more than two parties to the conflict.

But while even-handedly casting blame for the apparent failure of Kerry’s initiative enables the U.S. to continue to try to cajole the Palestinians to keep talking, this effort speaks volumes about the inherent problems in the process. It may be true that, as Kerry claimed, “The fight right now, the disagreement between them, is not over the fundamental substance of a final status agreement. It is over the process that would get you there and what you need to do in order to be able to continue to negotiate.” But the unwillingness of the Palestinians to get from point A to point B in order to achieve statehood tells us much more about the daunting nature of the task Kerry has assumed than the “tit for tat” narrative being circulated by the Americans.

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It was to be expected that the Obama administration would seek to cast blame yesterday for the apparent collapse of the Middle East peace process championed by Secretary of State John Kerry on both Israel and the Palestinians. White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest said the president was disappointed with the “unhelpful, unilateral actions both parties have taken in recent days.” He added that “tit for tat” actions were counterproductive but that despite ominous signs, the U.S. administration still believed diplomacy had a chance.

Like the talk about a “cycle of violence” every time a terrorist attack on an Israeli target provokes a response, the decision by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to torpedo Kerry’s proposal to keep the talks going beyond April is being interpreted as being as much Israel’s fault as that of the Palestinians. Kerry, who is not giving up so easily, issued his own statement challenging both Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to lead their peoples to peace. Though he has taken on the task of trying to cut the Gordian knot of Middle East peace as a personal crusade, in his comments after Abbas’s actions, Kerry returned to the familiar theme that the U.S. couldn’t want peace more than two parties to the conflict.

But while even-handedly casting blame for the apparent failure of Kerry’s initiative enables the U.S. to continue to try to cajole the Palestinians to keep talking, this effort speaks volumes about the inherent problems in the process. It may be true that, as Kerry claimed, “The fight right now, the disagreement between them, is not over the fundamental substance of a final status agreement. It is over the process that would get you there and what you need to do in order to be able to continue to negotiate.” But the unwillingness of the Palestinians to get from point A to point B in order to achieve statehood tells us much more about the daunting nature of the task Kerry has assumed than the “tit for tat” narrative being circulated by the Americans.

As David Horovitz writes in the Times of Israel today, the crisis revolves around the doubts about Abbas’s willingness to make peace under any circumstances:

The Palestinians have a weak president who, while no duplicitous, terror-fostering Arafat, never confronted the narrative bequeathed by his unlamented predecessor, to the effect that the Jews have no sovereign legitimacy in this part of the world.

Every account of the talks that have been going on the past several months agrees that while the Israelis have put proposals on the table about statehood that, while not exactly what the Palestinians wanted, were at least measures that would give them statehood and independence. But the Palestinians haven’t budged an inch on their demands or on their refusal to make symbolic gestures that would make it clear they intended to end the conflict.

While the Israelis have indicated a willingness to keep talking, Abbas has seized upon the first available pretext to abandon the negotiations to resume his efforts to gain further recognition from the United Nations, even though that will do nothing for his people and does little harm to the Israelis.

But Netanyahu is being blamed for balking at releasing another batch of terrorist murderers (including many Israeli citizens) without some assurance that the Palestinians would keep negotiating. An announcement of a housing project in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo (a 40-plus-year-old “settlement”) was also seen as provocative even though both sides know that such an area would remain part of Israel in any peace agreement. Above all, Netanyahu is being castigated for having asked Abbas to acknowledge their acceptance of Israel being the nation state of the Jewish people just as the putative Palestinian state is that of the Palestinian Arabs.

But none of that gainsays the fact that Netanyahu’s government has indicated it will accept a Palestinian state and will compromise on territory in order to make it happen. In return, the Palestinians are still willing to do nothing to indicate that this would cause them to give up their century-long war on Zionism. If Netanyahu erred, it was in his initial decision to release more than 100 terrorist murderers (who were subsequently honored by Abbas) in the first place without gaining something from the Palestinians. Having been bribed by Kerry to come back to the table, Abbas thinks the whole point of the process is to give the Palestinians what they want without making them do anything in exchange for these concessions.

As Horovitz writes:

At the heart of the impasse, however, lies a fundamental asymmetry: Israeli Jews have come to believe that their own best interests, and specifically the imperative to retain a Jewish and democratic Israel, require an accommodation with the Palestinians. There is no comparable imperative on the Palestinian side — not, that is, so long as much of the international community persists in indicating to the Palestinians that they will be able to achieve full independence and sovereignty without the inconvenience of coming to terms with Israel.

It may be convenient to blame both sides. But there is little doubt that the process is failing for the same reason that it failed in 2000, 2001, and 2008 (when Abbas fled the table rather than be forced to answer Ehud Olmert’s offer of statehood). Neither the Palestinian leadership nor their people seem as interested in ending the conflict as the Israelis.

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How Many Palestinians Would Endorse a Jewish State?

In “The Real ‘Jewish State’ Story,” Ben-Dror Yemini, a senior Maariv journalist, notes the issue of Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state was not raised first by Benjamin Netanyahu. It was not raised first by the Israeli right. It was not raised recently. It was part of the 2000 Clinton Parameters, which proposed “the state of Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people and the state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.”

Yemini notes that recognition of a Jewish state is endorsed across the entire Israeli political spectrum, both within and without the governing coalition.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) has just released a new poll, conducted March 20-22 in the West Bank and Gaza, in which one of the polling questions raised this issue:

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In “The Real ‘Jewish State’ Story,” Ben-Dror Yemini, a senior Maariv journalist, notes the issue of Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state was not raised first by Benjamin Netanyahu. It was not raised first by the Israeli right. It was not raised recently. It was part of the 2000 Clinton Parameters, which proposed “the state of Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people and the state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.”

Yemini notes that recognition of a Jewish state is endorsed across the entire Israeli political spectrum, both within and without the governing coalition.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) has just released a new poll, conducted March 20-22 in the West Bank and Gaza, in which one of the polling questions raised this issue:

There is a proposal that after the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and the settlement of all issues in dispute, including the refugees and Jerusalem issues, there will be mutual recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and Palestine as the state of the Palestinian people. Do you agree or disagree to this proposal?” [Emphasis added].

The percentage of Palestinians that “certainly agreed” was 3 percent. A total of 58.5 percent disagreed.

In other words–just as Israel’s Ron Dermer asserted at AIPAC five years ago–the Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state does not involve the refugees. The poll assumed “all issues in dispute” were settled, including the refugees. But even with no other issue remaining on the hypothetical table, a lopsided majority of Palestinians rejected a Jewish state.

The Palestinians push a specious “right of return” (which no other refugee group has ever been granted, much less Arab ones from a war the Arabs started). They express faux concern for the Arab minority in Israel, but those Arabs have far more civil and religious rights than they would under a Palestinian state (according to the PCPSR poll, only 31 percent believe people in the West Bank can criticize the PA; only 22 percent believe people in Gaza can criticize Hamas).

In 1947, the UN proposed a two-state solution involving an “Arab state” and a “Jewish state.” The Arabs rejected the resolution, rejected a state for themselves, and started a war. They still reject a Jewish state 66 years later. Yemini ends his article as follows:

[A]nyone who justifies the Palestinian refusal is not bringing peace any closer, but rather pushing the chances of a two state solution further away … On this issue [Netanyahu] deserves total support. Not to torpedo peace. But just the opposite. To pave the way to peace.

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Hamas’s Losses Are Islamic Jihad’s Gain

One of the more farcical claims popularized about the Palestinians and their war has been the notion of “moderate Hamas.” These claims have ranged from presenting Hamas as unpleasant but essentially pragmatic to Hamas as the good-willed would-be partners for peace. All of that, however, may soon become irrelevant. For as much as Hamas is very clearly anything but moderate, for many living in Gaza it appears that Hamas just isn’t extreme enough. From among a number of tiny Salafi and Islamist splinter groups that have engaged in periodic freelance rocket fire into Israeli civilian areas, Islamic Jihad is now emerging as a potential rival to Hamas’s authority in the Gaza strip. And with the backing of Iran, this small militant faction could begin to challenge Gaza’s current Islamist rulers and their hold on power.

In the past the alliance between Hamas and Iran appeared unbreakable, despite the fact that Hamas is a Sunni group and the Iranians are of course Shia. The uprisings in the Arab world destabilized this arrangement. Hamas had long had its headquarters in Damascus, but when Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite regime began butchering its mostly Sunni population, and with the backing of Shia Iran at that, suddenly this relationship was called into doubt. Yet, much to Hamas’s good fortune, these events coincided with the Muslim Brotherhood’s ascent to power in Egypt. With Hamas itself essentially existing as the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, this must have come as welcome news for Ismail Haniyeh and his government in Gaza. However, with the subsequent removal of their Egyptian allies and benefactors from power in July of last year, Hamas in Gaza has been left underfunded and isolated.

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One of the more farcical claims popularized about the Palestinians and their war has been the notion of “moderate Hamas.” These claims have ranged from presenting Hamas as unpleasant but essentially pragmatic to Hamas as the good-willed would-be partners for peace. All of that, however, may soon become irrelevant. For as much as Hamas is very clearly anything but moderate, for many living in Gaza it appears that Hamas just isn’t extreme enough. From among a number of tiny Salafi and Islamist splinter groups that have engaged in periodic freelance rocket fire into Israeli civilian areas, Islamic Jihad is now emerging as a potential rival to Hamas’s authority in the Gaza strip. And with the backing of Iran, this small militant faction could begin to challenge Gaza’s current Islamist rulers and their hold on power.

In the past the alliance between Hamas and Iran appeared unbreakable, despite the fact that Hamas is a Sunni group and the Iranians are of course Shia. The uprisings in the Arab world destabilized this arrangement. Hamas had long had its headquarters in Damascus, but when Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite regime began butchering its mostly Sunni population, and with the backing of Shia Iran at that, suddenly this relationship was called into doubt. Yet, much to Hamas’s good fortune, these events coincided with the Muslim Brotherhood’s ascent to power in Egypt. With Hamas itself essentially existing as the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, this must have come as welcome news for Ismail Haniyeh and his government in Gaza. However, with the subsequent removal of their Egyptian allies and benefactors from power in July of last year, Hamas in Gaza has been left underfunded and isolated.

While the prospect of Hamas’s decline might in itself be something to be welcomed, it is impossible to ignore that Hamas’s loss increasingly appears to be Islamic Jihad’s gain; which is after all a faction arguably even more potent that Hamas. With Iran stepping up its support for Islamic Jihad the group is now reported to have access to far more advanced weapons than was previously the case and in addition it is claimed that this faction can muster a militia some 5,000 men strong. An indication of the possible shift in the balance of power was evident in the recent barrage of rockets that struck communities in southern Israel last month. This attack was not launched by Hamas but rather by Islamic Jihad fighters, and whereas previously in such instances the Egyptian government mediated between Hamas and Israel, this time Egypt was mediating on behalf of Islamic jihad, with Hamas being consigned to the sidelines.  

This is a reminder that the improvement in Islamic Jihad’s fortunes has not simply been a matter of Iranian patronage, but rather this has also hinged on growing public support. Far more hardline than even Hamas, Islamic Jihad has shown a willingness to step up attacks on Israel while Hamas appears to be mostly observing the ceasefire—although Hamas’s grip on the strip is still such that it would not be possible for these smaller Islamist factions to keep up their rocket fire without at least the tacit consent of Haniyeh’s government. This shift in allegiances among Gaza’s residents should serve as a reminder that what wins hearts and minds among the Palestinians are clear demonstrations of aggression against Israel. This of course flies in the face of the claim that Palestinians simply voted for Hamas as a rejection of Fatah corruption, as if they were otherwise innocently unaware of Hamas’s genocidal position on extinguishing the Jewish state.   

As has often been observed, Islamism and statecraft hardly go hand in hand. Presumably Hamas is discovering that the practical day-to-day matters of governing do not exactly lend themselves to keeping up a level of purist militancy that plays out well on the Gazan street. While Hamas still managed to bring out large numbers for a recent “loyalty” rally, attendance was significantly down from what had been expected, and that is taking into account that many of those present were there under obligation, with Hamas still serving as one of the primary employers in Gaza. As such, Hamas maintains a fighting force some 20,000 men strong. 

No one should imagine that Hamas has gone soft. The unconvincing suggestion that Hamas somehow deserves rehabilitating on account of its offer of a ten-year truce in return for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines really fails to stand. Not only should no one trust Hamas to even keep to such a truce, but what kind of “peace” agreement sees one side pledge to pause its war on the other in return for the territory from which to ultimately continue that war more successfully? Nevertheless, the all-consuming task of holding onto power in Gaza has periodically distracted Hamas from its war on Israel. That has weakened the group’s standing in the eyes of many Gazans and Islamic Jihad, with its Iranian backers, has only been too pleased to welcome in Hamas’s disaffected supporters. 

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Twelve Questions About the “Peace Process”

In today’s New York Times, a letter from Dov Bruce Krulwich in Beit Shemesh, Israel, asks two questions about the possible release of Jonathan Pollard to encourage Israel to release Palestinian murderers to convince the Palestinians to discuss a Palestinian state, even though the Palestinians “refuse even to agree that the end game involves two states for two peoples”:

Shouldn’t a people who have never had a state be the ones making goodwill gestures to continue a process that will benefit them the most?

Why weren’t the previous good-will gestures, not to mention all the good-will gestures in the past 20 years, enough to expect the Palestinians to take a step themselves?

Those questions lead to some of my own:

In today’s New York Times, a letter from Dov Bruce Krulwich in Beit Shemesh, Israel, asks two questions about the possible release of Jonathan Pollard to encourage Israel to release Palestinian murderers to convince the Palestinians to discuss a Palestinian state, even though the Palestinians “refuse even to agree that the end game involves two states for two peoples”:

Shouldn’t a people who have never had a state be the ones making goodwill gestures to continue a process that will benefit them the most?

Why weren’t the previous good-will gestures, not to mention all the good-will gestures in the past 20 years, enough to expect the Palestinians to take a step themselves?

Those questions lead to some of my own:

  • Why do people have to be paid–in the form of cash, prisoners, freezes, etc.–to convince them to show up to negotiate a state for themselves?
  • Why do people who have signed a formal agreement, obligating themselves not to take “any step” outside bilateral negotiations to change the status of the disputed territories, have to be paid to convince them to adhere to their agreement?
  • Why are people who have already been offered (and rejected) a state three times in the last decade–with each offer covering substantially all of the disputed territories and a capital in Jerusalem–entitled to a fourth offer?
  • Why is a putative Palestinian state, ruled half by a terrorist group and half by a “president” currently in the 10th year of his four-year term, with the two groups unable to live side by side in peace with each other (much less Israel), ready to be a state–even assuming agreement could be reached on its borders or any other issue?
  • Why is U.S. foreign policy–with the Arab world in a state of chaos ranging from Libya to Egypt to Syria to Lebanon–fixated on trying to establish another already-failed state right next to Israel?

Which brings one again to the two questions posed by Dennis Ross last month in the course of summarizing the Israeli position in the current impasse:

[I]f you [the Palestinians] believe in two states, why is it that Israel being the nation-state of the Jewish people is something that you can’t accept?

Why is it that self-determination for the Jewish people in a part of historic Palestine is something that you [the Palestinians] can’t embrace?

As the American secretary of state reduces his goal from (a) reaching a peace agreement to (b) reaching a “framework” for an agreement to (c) simply keeping the Palestinian “president” at the negotiating table for six months, to be purchased by more Israeli pre-negotiation concessions, the pertinent questions include those that Elliott Abrams asked yesterday:

Where does it stop? What are the limiting principles? …What will [the secretary of state] want next year [from Israel] when Abbas threatens to leave the table again?

The history of the “peace process” is now several stages past tragedy and farce. The side that supposedly wants a state won’t discuss one without compensation to do so; won’t accept a state as an end-of-claims solution but only as a stage in a continuing attempt to “return” to the other one; won’t agree that “two states for two peoples” is the goal of the process, much less explicitly recognize a Jewish state; can’t even hold an election, much less manage a stable state; ignores obligations under its prior agreement with Israel while asking Israel to believe it would abide by a new one; has already demonstrated three times in less than a decade it will not accept the “Everyone [Supposedly] Knows” peace plan; and does not even have a “president” legally in office, able to negotiate on behalf of all Palestinian groups, much less enforce any agreement he might reach.

Meanwhile, the U.S. leans on Israel, because a Palestinian state remains the central goal of an American foreign policy that long ago lost sight of the fact that–under the above circumstances–a Palestinian state would not be a “solution” to anything.

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